Wednesday, 28 September 2011

My Trader Joe's Joy, and the Disappointment of So-Called Tortilla Chips

FRIDAY: It's been over a week since I've written anything at lunch because I've been engrossed in a book. And strangely enough for me, it's a novel. I don't normally read novels, as I've never got over my post-university craving to constantly learn from my reading, not that it's made me any wiser. But to keep myself grounded I allow some fiction every now and then, as long as it's good quality classic stuff. And The New Confessions by William Boyd is definitely a modern classic, written so realistically that it's easy to mistake it for an amazing autobiography.

My lunch is vegetarian Italian sausage and cream cheese with sun-dried tomatoes and red peppers in a crusty sunflower seed baguette: a novel sandwich, I must say. As I'm going out this evening directly from work I'm travelling light today, so no 450-page novel. Instead I'm going to write about a source of pride and joy followed by one of disappointment. A year ago when I visited America my dear friend Kimmer gave me, as a goodbye present, a Trader Joe's tote bag containing a small jar of Marmite and a packet of Sen-Sens. The jar of Marmite, a staple of mine, has been consumed by now; and the Sen-Sens, a nostalgic taste of olfactory magic, as well as a pop-culture icon, are still lying unopened and on display next to my classic Photo On Car, purchased years ago in Los Angeles's Little Tokyo. But the Trader Joe's tote bag -- a gorgeously super soft and comfortable canvas bag printed in my favourite colours, red and black -- was until about a month ago lying forgotten on a bedroom shelf. I've only just started using it, stashing it folded up in my backpack or handbag to use for post-work and pre-pub shopping. And I have to admit, with a tiny bit of embarrassment, that I've fallen in love with it. For one thing, if I have nothing more to carry than a bottle of wine, it cushions the bottle so I don't have to live in fear of knocking a plastic bag over onto the pavement, possibly breaking the bottle and creating a huge mess, not to mention wasting good wine. And when I'm waiting for the bus and I've bought more than I intended, there is plenty of room for everything without things flopping around and without the big heavy macho items squashing the delicate little items under their heavy boots. And the handle is so luxuriously soft and comfortable to hold. And the bag says TRADER JOE'S in gorgeous red and black.

Trader Joe's is definitely one of the plus sides of being an American on the Pacific Coast. After all these years of its existence, it is still a fine, fine establishment and concept with a wonderful selection of reasonably priced and often excellent quality food and drink products. Every time I come back from the US to the UK, or an American friend or relative comes to visit, I always purchase or put in a request for a jar of Trader Joe's unsalted almond butter and perhaps a packet of their handmade corn tortillas -- two items I still cannot find in the UK.

This brings me to my other item of discussion. Recently I was surprised and very excited to spot a brand new product being featured at Marks & Spencer: tortilla chips that do not have wheat flour as an ingredient. Up to now I had pretty much given up on ever finding real tortilla chips in this country, eg. made of cornmeal, water, salt, and often lime. This is why I avoid anything made with so-called "corn" tortillas, because not only does the addition of wheat make them tasteless but it also imparts the texture of cardboard.

So I went back to Marks & Spencer another day, fully intending to treat myself to some non-cardboard tortilla chips. On the display was a variety of flavoured tortilla chips such as Nacho Cheese (flavoured with "Nacho Cheese seasonings"), Chorizo and Red Pepper (flavoured with "Chorizo and Red Pepper seasonings"), Mediterranean Black and Green Olive (flavoured with "Mediterranean Black and Green Olive seasonings"), and several other flavours -- but not one packet of the "Lightly Salted" (flavoured, I hope, with a bit of salt and not "Lightly Salted seasonings"). I didn't fancy some sort of overly salted -- and probably sweetened as well -- "seasonings" on my tortilla chips. I wanted plain and simple tortilla chips. So why were they out of the plain style? Could there have been a rush on that flavour? I doubt it seriously -- they probably just didn't stock very many of the plain ones. Must every British food be either seasoned with special "seasonings" or drowned in gravy or sweetened with sugar?

Sorry to be so grumpy, but I do so miss my Mexican food. It's only natural.

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