I think we can all admit that at some point in our lives, we’ve felt like frauds; impostors who don’t fit in, and who though surrounded by people, are totally alone. We worry that if our secret were to get out, the jig would be up and everybody would finally see that we really don’t know what we’re doing after all. We can feel like this at work, at school, at parties, in church, at book club, browsing art galleries or anywhere sports is involved. I’ve felt it in all of those places; but for sure, I’ve felt like an impostor every time I’ve stepped into Trader Joe’s.
If you’ve not been to a Trader Joe’s market, it’s a dazzling almost choreographed circus of grocery shopping. The atmosphere is festive and tropical. The employees are friendly, chatty, and seem happy to be there, wearing casual tropical tees and box cutters on their belts. It feels like everybody else, customers and employees alike, know each other, though rationally, I’m fully aware they don’t.
Trader Joe’s is not a chicly curated organic grocery experience stylized to placate the most discerning hipsters or foodies or hipster foodies. The chain has been around since the 50’s and the customers are diverse in every way, and from what I’ve seen, utterly devoted to the place. Our closest Trader Joe’s has a line of cars that stretch for a block waiting to get into the little parking lot that is overseen by a lovely lady charged with managing all those Subarus, and pointing out the parking places, and then smiling and waving goodbye to you as leave. This morning I saw a guy peddling away from the store on a bicycle modified with so many grocery holding attachments, I was worried that once he got going down a San Francisco hill, the weight of his loot would not allow him to stop.
Guys or gals, old or young, artsy or corporate or retired, every customer to me looks like they know what they are doing. I’ve been there countless times and continue to have so many questions. “What’s bulgur? Is this healthy? Or at least healthier than other stuff I buy? Is it obvious how hard I’m having to think right now? These other people don’t look like they are thinking at all. Are they on to me? I can’t stand out that much; I’m dressed casually, but not too casually; I have a well-worn Trader Joe’s disposable shopping bag. I’m here at 10:00 am with all of these other people. And by the way, how are so many of us out on a school day?”
I’ve done my fair share of grocery shopping both as an adult learning to read labels, look for bargains, and control myself in the potato chip aisle; and as a kid when already long grocery runs with my mom were inevitably lengthened by the fact that she seemed to know and chat with everyone in the store.
At Trader Joe’s, my old crutches have been stripped away – I don’t see most of the brand name items I’ve used all my life, or at least heard of all my life; or if we’re being honest, the ones for which I have seen the commercials 39,003 times. And with so few of the brands I’ve come to rely on, there I am facing all kinds of new and mysterious stuff I’ve blissfully ignored, until now.
Where I miss my Raisin Bran Crunch, there, somehow is a jar of Hearts of Palm. I can’t find a Pepsi, but I do see Kefir. What’s Kefir? Do I need this? What do I do with it? (And this is from a girl who spends A LOT of time on Pinterest.) I’m reminded aisle after aisle about just how little I really know about food. And maybe about life.
I grip my cart tightly and grab a bag of Olive Oil Popcorn (delicious) and Triple Ginger Snaps (super delicious), tomatoes, and a 10 lb. loaf of bread. I’m confident with my familiar choices, but I know they are pedestrian. I feel certain that if you asked any of my fellow shoppers about Alkaline Water or Yacon Syrup, they could tell you what it is and how to use it. I see the Cold Brew Coffee, Speculoos Cookie Butter, Chia everything, and Pomegranate Vinegar, but walk away defeated. The store’s circular, The Fearless Flyer, probably explains it all, but perhaps I’m not fearless enough of a flyer to read it.
I wrap up my trip where I feel most at ease, in the frozen foods aisle surrounded by little frozen pizzas and hot dog pastries, tiny tacos, small dumplings, adorable chicken pot pies, mini meatballs, itty bitty feta bites, and not-so-little samosas. I’ve been known to put all of these appetizers together to create one global mish mash of a meal that requires multiple oven temperatures, and wildly different cooking times, illustrating to me that these items were not meant to be prepared for the same meal, let alone as the entire meal. (The adorable little things in very similar boxes can take anywhere from 12 minutes to 55 minutes to cook, which results in a two-hour, sweaty, math heavy, “no fuss” meal.)
Recently, I left my comfort zone and bought coconut oil, which according to the folks on Pinterest, is the most amazing product of our time. While, I haven’t had the guts to smear it through my hair as a conditioner, or across my skin as a moisturizer as suggested, I have taken the leap with a Pinterest recipe and created a delightful little snack that is reminiscent of fudge. A HEALTHY (?) SNACK THAT IS LIKE PEANUT BUTTER FUDGE!
Maybe I’ll tell my fellow shoppers about my coconut oil success next time I’m at Trader Joe’s, which might score me an invite me to one of their customer club meetings.
For you recipe fiends out there, here’s a variation of the oft copied recipe that’s floating around Pinterest: Take 3 Tbs peanut butter, 3 Tbs coconut oil, a teensy dash of sea salt and a squeeze of honey. Mix it up. I pour it over a wax paper lined pie plate, and toss it in the freezer for 20 minutes. Then you crack it apart with a knife, throw the uneven pieces in a freezer bag, and eat it whenever you want. Although yes, it reminds me of FUDGE, just a couple of pieces of this stuff makes for a delicious, guilt free, and filling snack.
Find me on Twitter @FulcrumChron and on Instagram @ColleenWeems