Saturday, April 26, 2008

Dear Trader Joe

Dear Joe or Authorized Representative,

I love my local Trader Joe's. The store is bright and clean, crew members are friendly and knowledgeable, and the food is fabulous! Still, I find myself limiting my visits due to concerns about packaging. I find it confusing that I get a great re-usable paper bag filled to the top with non-recyclable plastics. Plastic are a great concern to me, so I do not buy any veggies at your store and find myself appalled by sheer volume of plastic on everything else.

Here in the Seattle area, we have a good but limited plastic recycling system and other than plastic bottles, very little of the plastics I get from your store can be placed in the bins.

Trader Joe's is so great at being environmentally friendly in other areas but this area also needs to be addressed.

I would like to see more items offered in standard canning-style glass jars. More and more of us are doing some home canning so many of the jars would be reused many times.

I would like to see more products packaged in compostable plastics. Packages that are clearly marked, "Suitable for compost bin recycling" would be a great comfort to me.

I would like to see more products including your lovely baby veggies packaged in reusable "Tupperware" style packaging.

I would like to see more products packaged in consumer reusable containers. Something I can use the contents, slip off the label and reuse. For example: Playtex Chubs Stackable Baby Wipes. These come in a re-fillable box that is also a giant Lego that can be played with for years and then recycled.

And, I would LOVE to see Trader Joe's switch to more "returnable" packaging that could be taken back to the factory and refilled.

I would also love to see more regionally produced products. My great disappointment of my last TJ's shopping trip: TJ's Spanish White Beans with Vegetables from Spain. I will never buy this product again no matter how healthy and delicious it is. The only part of the packaging that is recyclable here in Seattle is the cardboard sleeve. The tray and plastic film are trash. And, the idea of shipping cooked beans from Spain is ridiculous. I know that dealing with large companies helps to make your products consistent but Spain??? Maybe you can get the same thing in a dehydrated version and sell it in paper packaging---just add water or maybe just sell the Sofrito sauce in a big jar to flavor beans with, made in Washington State if possible. Until I see something like that, I am done with this particular product.

Alas, Dear Trader Joe, even though your goods are really, really good, I will have to limit my trips to your store to just the basic necessities.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Falafel Anyone???

Falafel is beginning to go mainstream in the US and it's about time! Anyone who enjoys hush puppies or refried beans should also like falafel since they are all basically the same thing: fried dough!

Most people will try the boxed falafel mix because it is so much easier than making it from scratch and while I agree that making falafel from scratch is more work, I do it because 1) mine is better than the boxed, and 2) mine is much less expensive! $2.00 for a batch of falafel is robbery! LOL! The recipe below hints as to how often I make traditional falafel....

Another good reason to make falafel from scratch is that you can adapt it to your personal preferences. We regularly enjoy Hybrid Falafel, which is the regular stuff with any number of additives:

Make a batch of Traditional Falafel and divide in half. Mix 1 cup of ground turkey with 1/2 of the falafel and then form into balls, fry and add to spaghetti sauce for spaghetti & meatballs.

Sautee 1 cup of finely chopped mushrooms and add them to a batch of falafel, then fry as usual.

Crumble a batch of falafel into a frying pan and brown well in place of the hamburger in Hamburger Helper.

Form your falafel ball around a cube of cheese and fry as usual.

Traditional Falafel
First make your "Vickie's Quickie Falafel Spice Mix":

4 Cups flour
3/4 Cup minced onion
3/4 Cup Italian 7 Spice
1/4 Cup garlic powder
1/4 Cup cumin
1/4 Cup baking powder
1/4 Cup Vegeta(Baltic Seasoning Salt) or salt

Mix everything together well and store in an airtight container.

Makes about 7 cups of mix or enough for about 28 batches.

For the beans I use the #10 can of garbanzo beans ($2.09 at my local restaurant supply store. Enough for 7 batches of Falafel.) Measure out the beans into 1 quart ziptop bags--2 cups of drained beans per bag. Freeze these until you are ready to use them.

To make falafel: defrost 1 bag of beans and crush them right in the bag. I use the bottom of a mug to do this.If you are using dried beans-soak 1 cup of beans over night. Or, you can use 1 15 oz can. When the beans are all mashed up, add 1/2 of a medium onion(finely chopped)(about 1/2 cup) and 1/4 of a cup of the Falafel Spice Mix. Mix together well and form into balls the size of a golf ball. Flatten slightly and fry until golden brown on both sides.

Only fry what you want for a single meal. Mixture may be kept in the fridge for up to a week.

By doing Falafel this way I can make a batch from freezer to table in 10-15 mins for about 50 cents a batch.

Hummus Nachos

Make a batch of the Traditional Falafel from canned beans but instead of draining the beans use the liquid too. Stir everything together well and place into a microwave safe bowl and microwave for 2-3 minutes until it is cooked through. Stir the mixture often while it is cooling. Spoon over tortilla chips, top with cheese and bake until the cheese is melted. Serve with salsa. YUM!