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Guest Contributor Nick

Trader Joe’s Sparkling Black Tea with Peach Juice Beverage

What a beautiful, stylish box.

What a beautiful, stylish can.

This design transcends a lot of what Trader Joe’s has to offer, the usual old-timey drawing is in the rendering of the peaches and leaves, leaving the matte black box to stand on its own. The font, the raised, metallic rose gold letters, the top and bottom. The can itself is a creamy off-white that features the same design, one so strong it can both black AND white.

It speaks to me, and sparkling water beverages do too.

The can describes this as “Sip. ‘Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!’ Repeat.” I’m inclined to agree. These have a snappy, crisp bubble, thanks to the method of first making black tea, sweetening that with peach juice and carbonating it. The only other additives are citric acid to acidify and ascorbic acid to hold color.

It’s simple, delightful, subtle. 15 calories, 3g of carbs with 2g in sugar, none added. This is as natural as a carbonated tea can be. Sweet tea lovers, beware though, this is not a carbonated sweet tea with peach juice, this is a carbonated black tea sweetened with peach juice. Big difference. A very beautiful difference. Beware.

Are you a sparkling water drinker? Like me? Somebody who likes the joy of bubbled water but has long since moved past LaCroix? Try this. For me, somebody that doesn’t actually drink full sugar/added sugar beverages, this is actually pretty sweet. I should know. I love these so much I’ve bought 4 5 cases in two weeks, and can kill a box in a thirsty whirlwind of a night. At this rate, I might need a CO2 hookup in the house, because dude, I might need to start carbonating tea. …I might need to start carbonating like, everything.

Admittedly, this can be pricey if you’re addicted, and at a dollar a can($3.99 per pack of four), a bougie summertime treat. I would buy these on recommendation from a Trader Joe’s Crew Member, and I can assure you, yeah, kinda did, but left to my own devices? On a budget? In current year? Yeaaaaaaaaaaaah, I’d still buy these.

Get them home, chill th— Okay, do what I do. Get them home, rip open the box, grab all four(big hands, I’m a big dude), throw them in the ice in the freezer, take a shower. If you’re growing mint, gently pluck some. Or not. I don’t control how you treat your mint, and it genuinely grows like a weed so punish it if you’re feeling it. That aside, a glass of backyard sweet tea might be in your future.

Enjoy. Responsibly.

Found at Trader Joe’s.

For some fun, try this: a 3:1 ratio of tea to spiced rum.

  • 2 mint leaves
  • 1 8.75oz can of Trader Joe’s Sparkling Black Tea with Peach Juice
  • 3oz of spiced rum
  • ice
  • a sprig of mint or twist of orange peel to garnish

Start with a large glass or a big Ball jar. If you’re me, you probably have a pint Ball jar hanging around. Muddle your mint, add your ice. Pour your tea into your glass. Float some rum on that and call it an afternoon.

For me, this would be sweet enough on its own, but feel free to add a dash of simple syrup if needed. Skip that and serve it up with a hit of lemonade if you need a little more of a diffusion.

August 15, 2020

Fudge Stripes Cookies Strawberry Shortcake

Okay, so. I really love Fudge Stripe Cookies. They’re my mid-year cookie of choice when I finally get another pang for Girl Scout Thin Mints and it isn’t knee-deep in freezing February anymore. I like both cold, freezing cold, straight out of the freezer. And so, when I picked these up, I knew I’d be eating them cold too. Mostly. To be fair, for review purposes, I did eat these straight from the container at room temperature.

And these are pretty great. The cookie is crispity, crunchity shortbread coated with the eponymous fudge stripes, only now, instead of chocolately brown, they’re pastel pink. And in some places, pale pastel pink to almost white. There’s an odd disarray and discoloration of the fudge stripes on some of these. Any three can be varying shades of pink, and I’m not sure if that’s on purpose.

The chocolate fudge is also now more like a snack cake icing, though without the witchery involved in making it non-pliable even at warm temperatures. My room runs hotter than most because I get cold a bit easily and running lights for photography amplifies that. The pink icing was melty out of the packaging at 76F.

The inclusion of ingredients that include both palm oil and whey give this an odd, milky, creaminess at times that my tongue fights against. It’s a hazard of eating modern sweets. Palm oil is everywhere and in everything, and sometimes, it hits my stomach wrong. Other than the new, artificial taste of the icing, do they taste like strawberry shortcake? Yes… and no. The cookie is shortcake, no contest, but the icing stripes and the coated back are almost there. There’s a taste to it that yes, is creamy, and yes, is strawberry, but it misses that unctuous, drippy, jammy quality of well, jam.

But it’s a mass produced cookie from Keebler. Am I mad? No. Will I finish the pack? Yes, absolutely, of course. Fresh out of the freezer alongside an ounce of limeade mixed with some sparkling water on ice. It’s summer, and this, this is a light, sweet, delicious, beautiful summer cookie.

And so, to us, a toast. Let’s happily destroy our beach bods together, yeah? Cheers.

Found at Publix Super Market.

August 12, 2020

Hostess Birthday CupCakes

The dog days of summer are rolling hot this year. It’s normally been a balmy 90+ outdoors for me this year, while California has been a fry-an-egg-on-your-hood 109+ some days. For what it’s worth, summer is actually my favorite season. Cicadas hailing in bearably warm evening hours, the sounds of kids doing cannonballs, the smell of fresh cut grass. The way that East Coast states have sun until almost 10pm. Extended family time without school and lukewarm, lazy cheeseburgers with knock-off Kraft singles, store brand buns and ketchup.

My birthday.

As an newly old man, I have plenty of summer memories, plenty of remembered birthday cakes, plenty of times I had vanilla ice cream and Betty Crocker box cake from a glass baking dish. There’s always been a certain amount of melancholy involved. With a July birthday, smack dab in the middle of family vacation time and school being out, I’ve never had huge parties or big expectations. Sometimes, the biggest things come in small, unexpected packages. Sometimes you’re trying to be efficient and buy $25 in face wash for your oil-inflected skin. And then sometimes you round a corner and yo, Hostess Birthday Cupcakes. It took like .5 seconds before I grabbed the pack and said LET’S. GO.

These are described as frosted yellow cake with creamy filling, and it isn’t wrong. Inside the pack were two Funfetti, Twinkie-esque yellow sponge cakes dotted with rainbow sprinkles(the Funfetti part!), and that signature thin white Hostess cupcake swirl atop a frosting cap permanently adhered to the cake via a subset of snack demonology and the power of sugar.

The sponge is non-descript: it’s a sweet cake and its odd Twinkie-like or Twinkie-perfect formula is light and airy in the best way a high fructose corn syrup cake can be. The cream is fun-fair sweet and the iced topping? The stuff of legends. I’m like 99% sure this is a Twinkie, just shaped like a cupcake. Why remake something if you could reshape something?

Bitten all together, the dense, fondant-lite icing takes the cake and dominates other flavors. The sprinkles make a good texture change in an otherwise, one note soft cake and creme affair. If these are Twinkies, I enjoy them more than the eponymous snack cake. The change in gear the Funfetti sprinkles add are a little, tiny bit of crunch, but in the overall product are little bits of sugar inside of a sugar rush of a cake.

This might be the first and last time I have a pair of these, because Jesus they’re small, but dense and absolutely PACKED with sugar. They feel like a blood sugar surge in an adorable baby blue tray.

Friends, if you can eat a ball of sugar, hats off to you, but at my age, it seems like old boy can’t hang anymore.

Found at Walgreens.

August 5, 2020

Sprite Lymonade

1% juice is both a statement on lack of quality and a good time. 1% juice is walking down the aisle with your mom in the 90s and watching her pick up a gallon of orange drink. 1% juice is chugging one of those grenade shaped drinks afterschool with your friends and feeling your throat burn as you seared it with blue 1 lake and high fructose corn syrup. 1% juice wasn’t good for you, but it tasted good.

And sometimes, 1% juice is in a soda called Sprite Lymonade. Lime-on-ade? Lemo— okay look, Coca-Cola company made up a word— okay, I watched a Youtube video and they pronounce it as LIME-onade. Since Sprite is a lemon-lime soda and they’ve added just a touch of lemonade, this is Coca-Cola’s way of being quirky with their naming. It’s fun. It’s also super confusing to order if you aren’t doing it for yourself. Keep in mind, it’s not *much* lemonade. This “made with real juice” soda is still only 1% real juice.

Poured out of the bottle, Lymonade has that look to it that added lemon juice does, with free-floating juice and noticeable solids on its surface. Not even soda can hide that real quality about lemon juice.

Everything about Sprite is here, with just a little extra. There’s still that light taste, satisfying flavor and crisp bubble. It’s what is says on the bottle, and if you find regular Sprite or zero calorie Sprite enjoyable, you’ll like this. It’s a little sweeter, and still not ever near anything tart like maybe it is in an alternate universe, but it’s good.

I first found Lymonade through Coke Freestyle machines at Wawa stores near me. Usually, I’m a Coke Zero fanatic, and don’t touch normal versions of sodas unless I’m curious. To date, I’ve only drank normal versions of Coke Orange Vanilla, Sprite Cranberry and now Lymonade. It takes a lot for me to decide to try the regular version, and if you’re like me, the zero calorie version(if you’re used to drinking zero calorie and know its taste) is tasty and definitely worth it. It tastes lighter, and cleaner than it’s more syrupy, heavier normal version.

But hey, don’t take my word for it.

Found at Walgreens.

August 3, 2020

Trader Joe’s Cranberry & White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

Over the past couple of years, there have been some changes to Trader Joe’s items. Selection for bakery items has always been seasonal, for sure, with half loaves of breads available in New York stores and great San Francisco sourdough only available in California. As bread becomes a less popular staple in some cities, the company has pulled some of its lines and subsequently the baguettes, rolls and ubiquitous pretzel rolls(RIP sweet prince), but in their place, more versatile offerings have appeared. There are several gluten free breads, bagels and desserts at my regular stop now, and for non-sensitive and non-celiac customers the company has seemed to go all in on a few choice favorites rather than stick to experimenting. Vegan banana bread, pancake bread and the new line of boxed, bakery-side fresh cookies are keepers. While not all offerings are amazing(looking at you Pearl Sugar Cookies), some are better than they have any right to be.

Trader Joe’s Cranberry & White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies feel like I was made to try them. To poke fun at ourselves here, Erin isn’t too hot on white chocolate and I like to pretend that it wasn’t my wit and tastebud expertise that the lovely lady brought me on for, but my willingness to subject myself to any and all white chocolate offerings. Alternatively, these cookies were made for me: I was the kid that loved raisins and saw the little red boxes that made their appearances on Halloween as a treat: dried cranberries are their grown up cousins. I was the kid that looked forward to dollar store oatmeal cookies because they had that high fructose white icing and stiff, crisp crunch. Granny didn’t eat them, but she did buy them for the grandkids.

These are bendable, pliable, soft cookies stacked into a cardboard box with a plastic window to peep them through. You can taste the oats and brown sugar immediately, a hint of cinnamon, the weight of butter and oil. The oats on top are crunchy and craggy, the ones below soft and more texturally intact. Some are circular, some are a little oblong, but they’re all jam-packed with dried sweetened cranberries and chunks of white chocolate that remain solid and toothsome until cracked into. Perfection. Heaven. A way to ensure that I definitely will snack myself into a sugar-induced coma.

The other types, Pearl Sugar and Chocolate Chip, simply don’t compare to something done so well. On another pro note, while there is palm oil in these cookies through the margarine used, the white chocolate does not include it, leading to a flavor that isn’t so creamy and is more of a crunchy surprise suspended mid-brown sugar and cinnamon.

Simply delightful.

Found at Trader Joe’s.

August 1, 2020

Paqui Haunted Ghost Pepper Chips

This is the part where I’m supposed to say hey, hello, hi. I introduce a thing with playful banter and we have a good time while I do my best to use my wordsmithing abilities and either make you laugh or make you… cry? I don’t… I— didn’t have a good time this go around, not with these chips, and I tried. I really, really tried. I slotted these into my calorie count for the day, and I finished the whole bag in an attempt to find something nice to say about them, and I came up with nil.

To preface, I’m a heatseeker, firecracker, tongue torturer kind of eater. If it’s hot, I want hotter. I use a habanero hot sauce with the pained expression of a man in a backwards hat on its label as sauce of choice. Tabasco is little more than a, “yeah that’ll do” sauce for homefries and eggs. I order Thai and Indian “hot” when I eat out. A packet of chips labelled Haunted Ghost Pepper seemed like I just had to eat them.

These chips aren’t good.

They take an odd amount of pressure to bite through and into, and the texture combined with the amount of spice mix on each chip makes them taste and feel like a harder, ground corn version of pork rinds. On the looks side, these could be cousins of the Dorito. They look like large, grown-up sized triangles of childhood favorites Cool Ranch and Nacho Cheese. But if the seasoning on those were made of salt, and fire.

Oh, I did come up with a positive. These are a sniffly, runny nose creeping heat, my favorite kind, and a sign of good flavor: but with that said, there’s so much spice mix coating each huge chip that that the amount of salt in my mouth at any one point made my tongue want to revolt. As a home cook, I do not regularly ingest large amounts of salt outside of deli meats, so everything is saltier to me. I looked at the back of the bag. 18% daily value or 420erryday mg of sodium in them. Big no.

Midway through eating these, I had to dust my body off. On top of that, the chips were so hard to break through, I started closing my eyes in fear of blasting myself in the ocular cavities with ghost pepper dust. I took precaution in eating them, using a pair of chopsticks to bring them to my face at the beginning and transitioning to using a paper towel when they proved too hard to steadily keep a grip on and bite at the same time. The plate I ate over was L I T T E R E D in spice mix.

These aren’t something I would have bought to satisfy a snack craving, and I bought them solely out of curiosity and had them with a meal. I would have bought my regular bag of salt and vinegar kettle cooked Lays for that.

Their only saving grace is their heat. Yes, the chips are hot, but not devastatingly so for somebody like me looking for that satisfaction. They’re enjoyable for what the give, but having to ingest that level of heat in this way? Let’s just say: it was an experience.

After noticing that these chips from Paqui are born and Austin, Texas-bred, I’m even more disappointed. These are a pretentious take on a spicy chip, with an overly hard, stale-tasting tortilla chip and salty, salty, dusty spice mix. They’re hot, yes, but like the ground corn tortilla chip that hot spice dust lays upon, a hard pass.

Found at Walgreens.

July 30, 2020

KitKat Duos Mint + Dark Chocolate

It seems like for the foreseeable future, my new lot in life is to peruse the candy aisle in various stores on different quick stops after work. This really isn’t any different than any other time in my life, but now, it has magical purpose. No longer am I just grabbing a Twix or Snickers and making my way to the front. No longer do I scoff at other choices and pursue what I feel are my favorites(I still do, so much candy feels so… boring). No longer do I avoid a simpler bar, because a simpler bar can still fill a specific niche. On my last venture, when I grabbed the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate and Reese’s Pieces Bar, these KitKat Duos were sitting next to them. I remember thinking I would pick them up next time.

Then came next time. I grabbed my usual stuff, I grabbed the KitKats, and I made my way home. I was so hungry(a reoccurring after work theme), that I set up and shot pictures for this and then chowed down. And let me first say, I have some questions, I may have some answers, but overall, I felt minty.

Mint is a strong flavor, a few drops of oil of peppermint can be enough to overwhelm the nostrils, and it seems like it hits me in my sinuses. I wouldn’t recommend this bar to the anybody who doesn’t like mint, and at the time of night I had it, this bar definitely woke me up. But in a good way. This KitKat bar feels like a late night road trip snack, something you have with a hot drip coffee. That mint and chocolate combo hits in a way that I think would pair well with a medium dark or dark roast.

My second concern is that with so much mint, I could hardly taste the chocolate, and with the mint creme being so sweet, it didn’t contrast in the way I thought dark chocolate would. Putting this bar up to my nose, I smelled only mint, even when I flipped it around in my fingers. This bar is so minty in fact, that with my stomach being a bit sensitive to creamy textures(eggy and mayo heavy things being the triggers) a full four KitKat servings was enough to make my stomach flop a bit. The minty creme flavor lingers too.

The wafer, however, the KitKat staple, is THE SAME™, something I very much value. After Cookies and Creme Twix and several oddly tasting mashups, the reliability of knowing that yes, that KitKat wafer is still that same KitKat wafer might make it the best part of the bar. I can say with confidence that Hershey/Nestle has some spot-on quality control within these confines.

Overall, were I a regular Kat enthusiast, this would be a go-to. The creme is flavorful, but engaging, and what would a twist be without the twist being noteworthy? I also would have preferred a darker chocolate to contrast, but in the grand scheme of things, this KitKat is a treat and an addition I welcome to my candy aisle.

And imagine, if you were a child and Hershey’s made minis of these for Halloween? I’d have to add a new favorite onto kid me’s list.

Found at Walgreens.

July 28, 2020

Trader Joe’s Sea Salted Saddle Potato Crisps

A few summers ago, Trader Joe’s introduced a ton of mango-themed items into its repertoire, a trend that would continue for a few years until all that remains is Jerk Chicken Skewers with Mango Chutney. This post is not about Jerk Chicken Skewers with Mango Chutney. It is, however, about a new item that arrived this summer, this month, in fact, at Trader Joe’s. I’m sure we’ve all noticed that sometimes our beloved TJ’s gives things very goofy, but kinda accurate-in-that-same-goofy-way names.

This tube of knock-off Pringles is blindingly orange. You could use them as traffic cones.

Sea Salted Saddle Potato Crisps. They’re Pringles. Trader Joe’s own knock off Pringles, original flavor only, ten ingredients listed on the label. Of that ten, only two are things you might not be able to pronounce(corn maltodextrin and mono/digyclerides).

These come in a blindingly decorative tube with a green-skinned, mustachioed man in a flowered suit jacket and checked pant riding a horse, gripping its saddle. But there isn’t a horse, and the saddle is a Prin— potato crisp.

I haven’t had Pringles in a long, long time, so I’m not apt to compare how they stack up(and these are completely stackable, by the way), but their flavor is… well, it’s pretty good. You can smell the almost-potato(that’s dried potato) and rice flour(that’s rice flour) as they come to your mouth, and a hint of neutral oil hits the palate being barely noticeable and exquisitely tolerable. It’s sunflower oil, a neutral oil I like to cook with in place of canola and vegetable these days.

Delicious but pale in color, one might wonder if they're cooked thoroughly.

I will say, these look rough. Straight out of the tube, they look downright uncooked, and the subtle rocky texture scarring them from a hot sunflower oil bath looks a bit off putting. But then again… Pringles are like that too, yeah? But the original is more of a golden color, while these are an even tone of pale potato. These are so pale a relative of yours might be this color.

They’re definitely tasty though. For anybody into that not-quite chip but still fried potato feel, give these a shot. They’re almost McDonald’s fry-esque, as TJ’s Spud Crunchies before them were(though those felt a lot closer), so maybe its a Russet potato and oil taste. For somebody who doesn’t eat much snack food anymore, they’re salty. But each time I popped the lid on these, I did have to fight myself not to grab a few more; luckily they’re low on calories.

My verdict? Pick them up, pop them open, and maybe think about stopping. You won’t. But these don’t have a slogan, anyway, so you have nothing to feel bad about. Nobody’s teasing you for eating too many snacks here.

Also hey, those Jerk Chicken Skewers with Mango Chutney are seasonal, and they’re absolutely delicious.

Found at Trader Joe’s.

July 25, 2020

Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Reese’s Pieces Candy

Sometimes, but not all the time, okay, all the time, yes. I’m always hungry after work. I fast most of my day, and my lunch break is a combo breakfast/lunch thing. I don’t eat very heavily during that time, and most of my beverages are water or on the ten calorie side.

So sometimes, you get off work a little early, you stop somewhere on the way home, and from the brightly lit candy aisle, you make a choice. No, I will put back the Pop Tarts cereal(I should have bought it, but alas, no pantry space). Yes, I will go against my Twix and Snickers habit. Yes, I’ll buy a Hershey’s bar so I can cover it for the blog. Yes.


HERSHEY’S Milk Chocolate infused with perfectly placed candy-coated REESE’S PIECES Candy in every bite makes life more delicious!

So I bought the Hershey’s bar. Yes. Okay, but let’s get down to it. It’s Hershey’s, yes, and I would never buy just a Hershey’s bar unless it was that coveted Cookies and Creme, but hello, they put Reese’s Pieces in this bar. I wanted it. I just, I wanted it.

This is one of Hershey’s thinner bars, lovingly laced with mini Reese’s Pieces. At first this troubled me, I wanted big pieces, in a big bar, for big boys. But more often than not, the hungry stomach makes deals our minds would not, and it ends up spoiling our dinner.

Unwrapped from its back seal, this bar shattered into pieces instead of breakable bricks.

But lo, this bar kept trying to disatisfy me. Upon opening it, the bar simply shattered. Morsels of secret-recipe-milk-chocolate crumbled into bits and Reese’s Pieces candy shell shards threatened to spill out onto my desk. It seemed like the thin chocolate bar was simply a means to hide and stuff Reese’s Pieces into it at this point, but everything checked out on the cross-section: the mini Pieces were allowed to sit and set into the chocolate and some of the candy coated shell sticks up under the Hershey’s stamp on the top. The bottoms aren’t uniform unlike a normal Hershey’s mold, the Pieces make cute bumps on the bottom, here and there.

For all of this bar’s splintering and snapping, it tastes like a Hershey bar should. Classically sweet, a little waxy like American chocolate(and admittedly, this very brand) tends to be, but the Reese’s? They elevate. The mini Pieces are the perfect bite-sized golden nugget of peanut buttery, fudge-like delight.

The classic Hershey's stamp is on each bar, with the orange, yellow and brown of Reese's Pieces showing through.

A word to the wise, be cautious of breakage and candy shell shards.

Overall, Hershey’s with Reese’s Pieces turned out to be satisfying team-up twist on two titans. Definitely try it if you haven’t, just maybe uh, don’t drive and snack with this one.

Found at Walgreens.

July 24, 2020

Trader Joe’s Joe-Joe Slims

I don’t know when, but at some point in my recent life I swore off Oreos. Now, don’t get me wrong, Oreos are great, Oreos are life. But when you’re in your thirties and you need to make a decision between a couple of cookies for a big calorie count and maybe just not having them, we know what wins. …and then you’re eating half the pack of Double Stuf telling yourself “just this once” yet another time. No. Nope. Swore off Oreos.

But then, I was in Trader Joe’s, Land of the Snack, Home of the Mandarin Orange Chicken. At my local Joe’s, the cookies and candy are stocked above their frozen goods, except when the crackers used to be, but this year they extended the cookies on one side and the candy on the other. Over time, it seems like their Joe Joe Collection(the really delicious knock-off Oreos) have been gaining more and more flavors. They have vanilla, mango, neopolitan and even a gluten free version(NO. DO NOT. THEY ARE DISGUSTING.). And now. Now they have slims. Joe-Joe Slims.

The fun, white box of the Slims decorated with brown lettering.

…sometimes we crave things we shouldn’t have, and have told ourselves we weren’t going to eat anymore. Chocolate Coconut Almonds, Oreos, Coke. And it’s easy enough not to buy those items, but something about the time, the place, the white box and cute, fun– I bought them.

Trader Joe’s Joe-Joe Slims come in a fun white box with cute lettering and a plastic sleeve with two rows of cookies. They look delicious, and despite being stacked like maybe the crew member doing the work really wanted to empty that box, none were broken.

A stack of delicious Joe-Joe Slims.

The slims are majority chocolate cookie with a very thin layer of white creme in the middle. The chocolate cookie disks are so thin it seems like somebody took a normal Joe Joe, sliced it in two, squeezed the bare minimum of creme inside and slapped it back together. Kinda like filling your parent’s liquor back up with water when you were a teenager.

Unlike watered down vodka, these cookies taste great. Although light on creme, the chocolate cookies themselves are amazing. Good snap, minimal crumble. They feel almost yesterday-made and today-ready, with such a toothsome feel and response, it’s hard to say that maybe they weren’t. That maybe, just maybe, somebody made them, let them cool, and packed them up yesterday, just for me.

They’re magical.

Found at Trader Joe’s.

July 22, 2020