Ode to Joe’s

The other night while we were celebrating getting out of the house as mothers, our conversation over Torchy’s cherry limeades turned to the topic of grocery shopping. One mom was trying to get across the street to Trader Joe’s to grab some items you just can’t find anywhere else. Another mom, unaware of the glory of a Joe’s trip, asked us, “Well, what do y’all even get at Trader Joe’s?”

What do we not get at Joe’s!?!

Our love affair with Trader Joe’s began a decade ago, when just out of college, we enjoyed browsing the aisles for the perfect-sized delectables for our young family of two (barely) adults and two rescue kittens. Yes, they needed their holistic kitty treats, and we were happy to oblige. Along with our favorite bottle of wine, a wedge of cheese, and a frozen human treat or two—we were set for a week. My, how things have changed…

Now, we are the family of five filling our cart (or two) to the brim and prompting the checkout gal or guy to ask, “Y’all live far away? Don’t get in too often?” or, “Have some visitors coming to town soon?” or even, “So, you run a boarding house?” No, Paul, we just feed these little monsters all their meals from your food, do y’all not enjoy the business? Because we can definitely find our goat’s milk elsewhere… When the reality is, we absolutely cannot.

Enter stage two of our Joe’s history: our love-hate relationship. When our first babe was approaching his first birthday and had only consumed the liquid gold momma’s size A-turned-C’s had manufactured and so painfully lovingly administered, who could blame us when we researched every possible alternative for what was next? Somewhere or someone or maybe some book had convinced me that goat’s milk was so much more natural than the overprocessed alternative coming out of the cow milk industry (no offense) and therefore closer to the human milk consumed to date. I can even remember the snapshots of milk proteins under a microscope, where size really did matter! Apparently, wee babe tummies did absorb more of the nutrition. Because in half as many ounces as our peers, all three of our babes were relatively happy, healthy, and growth chart rockstars with their goat’s milk preference. To this day, all three littles prefer goat’s milk to cow’s, but they can tolerate whole cow’s milk in a pinch. Or you know, when a global pandemic hits and momma was too scared to set foot inside an actual grocer.

We sound crazy because you can get goat’s milk at other grocery stores, even more so today than a decade ago. BUT, at the time, Trader Joe’s was the only grocer in San Antonio that carried non-organic goat’s milk. Why did that matter? Well, organic is super pasteurized in a lot of cases. Like zapped of all the good stuff we were even choosing the goat’s milk for. Alas, Trader Joe’s carried THE BEST option for us: Grade A pasteurized Summerhill Goat Dairy (whole) Goat’s Milk, at $3.69/qt. It wasn’t cheap, but it was quality. And I was so grateful to those goats for taking over each time we were done nursing (15 months, 18 months, and two years). We were slaves to Trader Joe’s. With a short (and cold) shelf life, we had to time how many milks we would need for the week. Math got really complicated when the babes started multiplying. But we never wasted a drop. And we will never forget the sweet sounds of little baby accents asking for their “go milk.” And how quickly you can pop in and out of Joe’s to grab 7–9 quarts for your three little giants without worrying about the car turning into a sauna.               

Yes, it is the smallness of Trader Joe’s that I find so appealing. There’s nothing worse to me than the rows and rows of decisions of the Bed, Bath, and Beyond-type grocery mega stores of America. I love the European feel of taking your daily outing to the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker… wait, Belle lived in France, right? Well, I was born in Germany and had a few formative years there. Our tiny German towns actually had a baker and the like. Sometimes we visited these small stores, but we still survived off the military base grocery trips. Neither the town markets nor the base commissary had everything you would ever need, like they do today. But there is something to be said for doing without. It’s living for the surprising treat when you find that item you haven’t been able to find in a while. Trader Joe’s has mastered this seasonality and specialty item market.

Some of Joe’s best seasonal items don’t last long—if you see them, grab them:

  • Holiday Kringles (Danish) in all the flavors
  • Holiday decorating/treat kits: winter mitten cookies, haunted houses, gingerbread turkeys
  • ALL THE CANDLES! They all smell delicious, and at about three bucks a pop, you really don’t need to hoard them. (So maybe OSHA Dad is right after all, hmm…)
  • Greeting Cards for all occasions, sweet and perfectly priced at just 99 cents!
  • Their flowers are ah-mazing, but they can be a long way from home. Check the bottoms of your stems. If they look strong, green or white—they are fresh. If they are discolored or slimy—pass.

Some of our favorite treats to come home with every week:

  • Whole Milk Yogurt 6-packs: Strawberry/Banana, Peach/Mango, Raspberry/Lemon (THE BEST!)
  • Orange, Peach, and Mango Juice (Everyone has copied this.)
  • Chocolate Pudding (in the dairy section)
  • Rosemary Balsamic Steak Tips (So fancy!)
  • Lemon Spatchcock Chicken (Cook with potatoes and green beans for sheet pan delish.)
  • Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches, 4-pack
  • Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups (Hide them!)

Our staples:

  • Frozen Meatballs (Just do it. Trust me.)
  • Frozen Veggies (All of them.)
  • Frozen Orange Chicken
  • And even the frozen fried rice
  • Ok, just get the whole frozen section.
  • But seriously, the frozen Naan (original and garlic) and Paratha never last at our house.
  • All the pastas
  • And all the pasta sauces
  • Their seasoning blends are super tasty and healthier than most.
  • Anything in the bread section, but especially the crumpets
  • The. Bakery. Section.
  • Deli Meats and all the cheese
  • Cocoban Wine (My new favorite.)
  • And last but not least, their shaker cat treats have saved us so many times when one or both of our kitties have tried to escape or we think they’ve escaped and we can’t find them. These are the only cat treats our sweet girls will come running for. Joe’s cannot stop selling these.

That’s my only, only gripe with Joe’s—when things disappear off the shelves. They say discontinued, I say trying to ruin my life. I just can’t handle knowing something that I love, and that seemingly sells well, can just disappear without warning. WHY??! Aren’t we buying enough of it weekly to keep it going? Where are the 12 Grain Mini Snack Crackers (with inulin)? What do you mean they’re gone? Nooooooo… But then we found them again, a month or so later. Slightly different box, slightly bigger cracker. I see you rebranding, and I raise my glass of goat’s milk to you. Bleh, how do my kids drink this stuff?!

Oh, and that mom never made it across the street before Joe’s closed—at 9:00 p.m. Trader Joe’s closes at 9:00 p.m. Trust me, I know. I’ve missed it one too many times.

Born in Germany to two true Southerners traveling the world thanks to the USAF, she went to 5 different elementary schools before calling Texas home. She was an NCAA Student Athlete, before transferring and graduating from UT Austin, BSME'08 TEXAS FIGHT! She took a victory lap for her Master's in engineering education with her ChemE husband (aka OSHA Dad) before traveling again for consulting. Missing TX and a teaching job brought her back to family in San Antone before three little longhorns were born! Kristen loves to travel, teach, and feed her family. Together with her loud and crazy family, she has two rescue kitties, one aussie, and a beta fish. Fav SA Restaurant: Panaderia Fav SA Tradition: Chispas Fav SA Landmark: Landbridge

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