Mississippi Vegan's Wild Chanterelle Mushroom Pasta

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We’re over here in the thick of a New Orleans southern summer. Let’s not romanticize it for a moment. We’re dumplings in a giant steamer basket. It’s hot, wet, sticky, and the air has an agenda to take you out. The mosquitoes are in on it too and I am down for the count. Living here in summer takes fortitude and a “we will survive” spirit. I do not have that spirit. I have a/c and ice.

However, there are always silver linings, perspective shifts, and looking deeper than my heat-induced temperament of complaints. These summer days lend to the perfect conditions for creole tomatoes, sweet roadside watermelons, okra, eggplant, blackberries, and * drumroll * wild chanterelle mushrooms.

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I was introduced to these little fungi gems by my friend Timothy only a couple short months ago. To think, I’ve lived here my entire life and never knew such treasures were growing all around me. And so, we ventured through forested areas scouring under trees and branches and through piles of leaves and I felt like a kid on Christmas morning when we stumbled upon a few. My dream has always been to “live off the fat of the land” and every moment I find a little corner pocket of earth yielding her gifts it always feels so special. Enough so, that I will brave the heat, humidity, mosquitoes, and snakes in search of those moments. And sharing those moments with good friends makes it even more worthwhile.

I was sifting through Timothy’s book, Mississippi Vegan and found his recipe for Wild Chanterelle Pasta with truffled cashew cream and it felt like the perfect way to honor these gifts from the earth. With his permission, I’m sharing his recipe below so you can make this too!

You don’t have chanterelle mushrooms? It’s OKAY! Use shiitake instead. Don’t have truffle oil? Find some, buy some, take out a payment plan if you have to for the good authentic truffle oil. Look for one with little bits of truffle in the oil and buy a small bottle if you have to watch your pennies. A little goes a long way, but noooo substituting or leaving out because it is absolutely what makes this dish decadent and elevates an everyday simple pasta to a “slap ya momma” dish. It has a rich cozy blanket of expansive umami mouthfeel and flavor that makes you close your eyes and think.. “holy cannoli, this is amazing”. And you will definitely use it again because you just have to make my favorite Mississippi Vegan recipe, White Truffle Macaroni and Cheese, which is the best macaroni and cheese I’ve ever had. Ever. Considering I’m not vegan and love cheese says it all. Trust me. I would not steer you wrong.

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The great thing about this recipe is it all comes together fairly quickly and with the exception of the truffle oil, truffle salt, and mushrooms, you likely have all these ingredients hanging around in your kitchen waiting for you to make this dish.

It begins with a modest (yet delicious) cashew cream. You’re not vegan? Cashew cream, what? Yes!! It is yummy and rich and creamy and you will not miss the cream from a cow. Not vegan, but I sure do enjoy a great cashew cream. It’s versatile and often all the ingredients are in your pantry. I did take an extra step to soak my cashews overnight in water in the fridge because I do not have a high-powered blender (one day Vitamix!) and wanted to assist in achieving the silkiest blend possible. However, cashews are such a soft nut that they will still blend smooth without the soak.

Simply blend together water, cashews, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, sea salt, nutmeg, pepper until smooth. If you’re unfamiliar with nutritional yeast, it is simply yellow flakes of deactivated yeast which is often used in vegan cooking due to it’s cheesy nutty flavor profile AND serves as a great source of vitamins and minerals. Hello, B-12! It’s fairly inexpensive and can also be purchased in the bulk food bins at many grocery stores. I first learned about it many years ago as a popcorn topping and find that outside of salt and pepper, it’s versatile enough to toss onto almost anything for a boost of cheesy nutty flavor.

After preparing your cashew cream, the pasta is boiled in water salty as the sea and you’ll want to reserve at least 1 cup of pasta water when you strain your pasta. The reserved pasta water contains starch from the pasta as well as salt which will help to marry your sauce and pasta together to the perfect consistency.

Return your pasta to the pot and toss with a bit of olive oil and cover and set aside (off the heat).

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Now, we move along to the stars of the show. Those lovely mushrooms. You’re going to heat up olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the mushrooms. My mushrooms were damp from the rain and a bit muddy, so I rinsed them and patted them dry and left them out on a large cookie sheet in our back room to use the next day. They did shrink and dehydrate a bit and I was completely fine with this because their flavor concentrates and every bite of mushroom had a rich depth of chewy flavor.

You’ll stir these occasionally until the edges begin to brown. Remove half of the mushrooms for garnish because you really won’t want to mash up and hide all these beauties within the pasta. Then, add the shallots and garlic to the pan and cook until golden brown and the remaining mushrooms are crispy.

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And then.. it all comes together.

You’re ready to pour the cashew cream into the skillet where all the mushrooms and shallots and garlic have been getting toasty. Continue to stir until the cream begins to thicken.

Once the sauce begins to thicken, remove the skillet from heat. Using tongs, add the pasta to the sauce and toss gently to thoroughly coat the pasta with sauce. I had a bit of a hiccup and allowed my sauce to thicken too much before adding the pasta. So, keep an eye out for that. If you find you do need to loosen up the sauce a bit and help the pasta become friends with the sauce, use the reserved pasta water a little at a time to achieve the desired consistency.

Now, you’re about ready to serve. All that awaits are nice plates, lovely guests to share this with, and that truffle oil and truffle salt. Hello!

I chose to plate the pasta and allow each person to drizzle on their desired amount of truffle oil and salt.

Tie it all together with a sprinkle of freshly chopped parsley and you’re ready to enjoy a beautiful meal with good friends.

Thanks so much to Timothy for teaching me all about how and where to find chanterelles and allowing me to share his recipe. Vegan or not, you can enjoy more of his recipes at www.mississippivegan.com , buy his cookbook, and follow him @mississippivegan on Instagram.

Kindness never tasted so damn delicious.

Enjoy, ya’ll !

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wild chanterelle pasta

with truffled cashew cream

ingredients

truffled cashew cream

2 cups filtered water

1 cup raw cashews

2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

dash freshly grated nutmeg

freshly cracked black pepper

pasta

16 ounces angel hair pasta

sea salt

olive oil

mushrooms

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pound chanterelle or shiitake caps, cleaned, dried, and torn or cut into bite-size pieces

2 tablespoons diced shallot

1 tablespoon minced garlic

sea salt, to taste

3 tablespoons truffle oil, or to taste

fresh parsley, for garnish


how to

Make the truffled cashew cream: In a high-powered blender, combine the water, cashews, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, sea salt, nutmeg, and pepper to taste and blend until smooth.

Make the pasta: Bring a large pot of water with a healthy amount of salt to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package instructions until al dente (keep in mind that the pasta will continue to cook). Remove at least 1 cup of the pasta water to use later and drain the pasta. Return the pasta to the pot, toss with a drizzle of olive oil, cover, and set aside.

Make the mushrooms: In a large cast-iron skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until the edges start to brown slightly, about 7 minutes. Remove half of the mushrooms for garnish. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the shallots and garlic. Cook for an additional 5 to 7 minutes, until the shallots and garlic are golden brown and the remaining mushrooms are crispy.

Pour the cashew cream into the skillet with the mushrooms and stir constantly until the cashew cream begins to thicken, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the pasta. Using tongs, toss the pasta until thoroughly coated. If desired, add some pasta water to loosen the sauce. Drizzle the white truffle oil on top and sprinkle on the white truffle sea salt. Place the reserved mushrooms on top and garnish with fresh parsley. Serve immediately.

lagniappe: If the mushrooms are dirty, rinse them under running water and dry them thoroughly in a salad spinner. You want to remove all of the moisture for effective cooking.

Setting Up An Embroidery Kit

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I wanted this post to be a recipe.. something beautiful and seductive to make your mouth water and fill your belly. But it has been too hot to think about kitchens and ovens and stoves, and these hot humid days have me grabbing the easiest thing I can to gobble down. Thus, here is a recipe of a different sort. All of my favorite “ingredients” to create the perfect embroidery kit.

For me, embroidery has always been the perfect craft for rainy days like today. It is portable, inexpensive, accessible, and the perfect project to make just about anywhere. Can I make this project in bed surrounded by a pillow fort? Can this project tuck into a backpack and be made on a plane? Does this project use minimal/inexpensive supplies? Yes, yes, and yes! Years ago, my good friend Jessica introduced me to embroidery. It was a day I wasn’t feeling my best, but still wanting to spend an afternoon together doing something creative. She picked up a pack of needles, a cheap pack of embroidery floss, a bit of fabric and a couple of embroidery hoops. For under $10 we had all we needed to stitch away for hours and that sparked many more years of embroidery projects for me.

Over the years, I’ve honed my embroidery kit to one that works great for me and I am so excited to share all my favorites so you can start a kit of your own. This is an exhaustive list of supplies I use and I find the kit is still minimal. You definitely do not need everything listed, but start with the essentials (hoop, fabric, desired thread, snips, #2 pencil, and a needle) and your kit can grow as your project needs evolve.

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PLASTIC EMBROIDERY BOX BY ART BIN - So far, this has been my favorite box to use. The slots are customizable and I love the secure latches. I keep thinking I'd love to make something handmade out of wood, but that would only heavy the load and what's fantastic about embroidery is the portable nature of supplies and keeping it light and easy.

EMBROIDERY FLOSS BOBBINS WITH METAL RINGS - Floss bobbins come in plastic or cardboard. I've even used bamboo clothespins or you can make your own bobbin by tracing onto cardboard. However, I find the plastic ones to work the best since they can be reused indefinitely and hold up well over time. I'm new to using metal rings for my projects, but I found this to be an excellent way to organize my projects! I love to keep all the thread colors for one project on a single ring and store it in a tiffin box with essentials such as a pair of snips and needle which make my projects even more lightweight, portable, and organized.

DMC EMBROIDERY FLOSS - When I first began embroidery, I started with the least expensive packs of colored floss because that was the most cost-effective and completely fine for my projects. As I began to embroider more, I shifted over to growing my supply of DMC embroidery floss. I find that this brand of floss gives me a much smoother and shinier clean finish to my projects. I still have loads of stash of less expensive embroidery floss and I'm utilizing those to put together a beginner kit for my niece. She is thrilled.

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EMBROIDERY SNIPS - When I started, I used my small pair of sewing scissors as snips. Scissors work just fine as well. However, having a small pair of snips in your kit is worth the few dollars. While my gold stork scissors are adorable, my favorite pair to use is the pink snips because I don't have to spend extra time getting my fingers in the holes. They're easy to grab, snip a thread end, and toss back into my tiffin box.

NEEDLE NOSE PLIERS - Many may be surprised to see pliers in an embroidery kit, but I've found these to be essential in larger projects with lots of heavy thread overlap. The thread begins to get thick and I have a hard time pulling the needle through. A quick grab and pull with the pliers makes a painful frustration easy peasy.

EMBROIDERY NEEDLES - You'll find embroidery needles in many sizes. I often choose a pack that has a decent size hole opening that easy to slip my floss through. Not too big and not too small tends to be perfect for most applications. Find what works for you.

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FELT SQUARE FOR HOLDING EMBROIDERY NEEDLES - A simple snipped square of felt works as perfect storage for embroidery needles. They tuck away nicely into your embroidery box or tiffin box.

NEEDLE THREADER - I don't use a needle threader often, but every once in a while I find it can be a helpful tool. And since embroidery supplies are fairly inexpensive and it's such a tiny tool, I thought it was a great idea to add to my kit.

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ROUND TIFFIN BOX - This is a new addition to my embroidery kit this year after a friend of mine KonMari'd his home and I inherited this sweet tiffin box. What didn't "spark joy" for him did for me and found a new purpose and home. Don't you love that?! It turns out to be a great way to store my supplies for my current working projects. I keep only the thread I need for a particular project on a ring along with snips and needles and it keeps working projects minimal. So easy to tote along or reach for just the essentials to work on a project

JAR FOR CATCHING SNIPPED THREAD - I used to have a mess of thread bits everywhere to clean up, but over time found it so nice to have a beautiful jar (that was gifted to me by my aunt) to collect threads. It keeps the mess non-existent while working and also acts as it's own art. I love the thread story and colors and sometimes set it out to display on a shelf.

LABEL MACHINE / DMC FLOSS NUMBER STICKERS - One easy evening I decided to use a labeler to batch label my floss bobbins. A much easier way is to use the DMC floss number stickers and even easier is to use a permanent marker. This works so nicely to keep floss organized and easy to find.

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PATTERN TRANSFER TOOLS:

There are many different methods for transferring patterns onto fabric for embroidering depending on the fabric you are using and detail of design, which will make itself evident as to which transfer method will work the best for your project. These are some of the tools I use to make that process as easy as possible.

Many times I use my MacBook as a light-box of sorts and gently trace the pattern onto the fabric. When using this method, a handful of CLOVER WONDER CLIPS easily help me to secure my fabric to my MacBook screen. This works best on fabric that is thin enough to see through in order to trace the pattern. Then, I'll bump up the screen brightness and use the blue EMBROIDERY TRANSFER pen in order to trace my design. This works great for most applications and a little water will easily dissolve any stray lines. For other applications, I've enjoyed using the SULKY IRON-ON TRANSFER PEN. The lines are a bit thicker on this pen, but it's great to trace designs onto paper and iron on to your fabric. It produces strong clear lines that are easy to stitch over. The HEAT TRANSFER PENCIL works nicely as well but can achieve a much finer line than the iron-on pen. Keeping this pencil in the freezer can help keep a strong crisp point because the lead is soft and breaks easily. A simple PENCIL is always a handy tool to have for writing or transferring patterns. You can tape your pattern up to a window, light-box, or makeshift light-box in order to transfer patterns and a FABRIC ERASER helps with any mistakes. A CLOVER WHITE WATER-SOLUBLE PENCIL works great on darker fabrics that are still a bit see-through with a light source or for hand drawing a pattern. A small PENCIL SHARPENER is also a great kit add-in to have your writing/transfer pencils always sharp and ready.

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WOODEN EMBROIDERY HOOPS - Embroidery hoops are wonderful because they come in a variety of sizes and are inexpensive, costing only a few dollars or less. You can purchase these individually as needed for each project and are simply work by sliding in fabric and tightening the screw. They can also be stained or painted for a variety of finishes to complement your embroidery.


FABRIC (medium weighted muslin for beginners or cotton twill) - When I began stitching, my go-to was a heavier weighted muslin. It was extremely cost-effective and easy to work with in terms of stitching and transferring patterns, and I liked the look of the fabric. Cotton twill is also a favorite of many embroidery artists. I’d recommend to steer clear of too heavyweight or too thin of fabrics as it will be difficult for transferring patterns and stitching.

Once you've gathered a few supplies for your kit, you're ready to begin stitching. You can create your own patterns or find lovely free patterns on the DMC website. Even better, support small independent artists by purchasing downloadable patterns or stitch kits from some of my favorite creators such as EmillieFerris, MiniatureRhino, floralsandfloss, and StudioMME.


Happy Stitching!

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Savoring Summer

Season’s are important. They’re symbolic of change and remind us there’s a time and place for everything. Recently, I’ve had a few endings in my life. I find that remembering endings are inevitable gives an opportunity to savor and appreciate what’s in season now knowing nothing lasts for too long.

In Southern California, it feels like a year-round summer, but we do have seasons that nudge us in gentle whispers. We're nearing the end of October, but there are hints of Fall in sight, so I’m savoring the last bits of our summer.

Watermelon is a good place to end. Sweet, juicy, bright, refreshing. 

I like simple. I think an Arugula and Watermelon Salad will work nicely to bid adieu to summer.

This is easy. No recipe. Simple assembly.

Find some nice fresh bright green arugula and place a nice handful into a pretty bowl.

Dice a sweet watermelon.

So far so good!

Find the BEST balsamic vinegar you can find. Bistro Blends has nice ones. They are barrel aged and taste like a sweet thick reduction. I wouldn't go for those cheap bottles of balsamic that are watery and strong vinegary. Find a thick syrupy one. Trust me, it's going to make a huge difference in your final salad.

Next.. find a really nice feta cheese. I prefer to stay away from the grocery store brands that are already sold in crumbles in a plastic container. Find a middle eastern market or a farmers market. I prefer to buy mine in blocks and in brine. They will last longer, stay fresher for longer and when you pull out a chunk to crumble on your salad it's going to have that just crumbled fresh taste because.. you just crumbled it!

Drizzle on balsamic vinegar and a little olive oil. Opt for a good olive oil here for garnishing and and save the least expensive ones for cooking.

Add your diced watermelon and crumble your feta over top.

Finish with a little fresh cracked pepper.

Often the best meals are the ones that are the most simple. The most important thing to remember is to use quality ingredients. Less stuff, more of the good stuff.

Shopping Guide: Trader Joe's

It’s two days.. two days!! until the new Trader Joe’s is unveiled in Metairie, Louisiana this Friday, September 23rd. I’m feeling inspired and excited about the new opening in my hometown. And ya’ll should be too!!

Maybe you’ve never been to a Trader Joe’s or never heard of one or maybe your last visit was many states and moons away. So, I wanted to put together a little treat for ya’ll. A bit of a shopping guide to all things Trader Joe’s. I’ve spoken to friends, co-workers, neighbors, and foodie mentors to share their favorite finds, and compiled them together along with my own. Certainly, you don’t need a guide because anything you pick up is fantastic, but I wanted to put together a preview and help you navigate the awesome that awaits because one of my favorite things is to share my favorite things.

WELCOME:

The front of the store is always seasonally welcoming and inviting. I can't help but want to grab a handful of mini pumpkins and gourds and decorate my office, my home, and everywhere in-between. Here, in Southern California, there's always plenty succulent plants and herbs outside. I can't wait to see the local flair in the Metairie store.

FLOWERS + CARDS + POTTED HERBS:

Upon entrance of my local Joe's I'm met with loads of flowers and and fresh planted herbs which always lift my spirits. The flowers are always fresh and colorful and often times you can find unique small bouquets of baby roses or in the springtime the handful of daffodils always are my favorite buys. And don't be like me.. for many years I never even looked at the cards!! For some reason I always passed them by because my focus was groceries and thought they would probably be too expensive. All of their cards are only 99 cents!! And they are super adorable and cute. Now, I never pass up the card section. It's always rotating and changing and I love to pick up the cute ones like this when I find them. Sometimes even just for myself to washi tape on a wall for decor.

FRESH PRODUCE + READY EATS:

Now we're elbowing our fellow shoppers. Okay.. fair warning, my local store is nearly always busy and we're all trying to make our way in for our favorite finds. My suggestion is once the Metairie location gets up and running do a quick google search which will show the busy times and plan your trip during the slow times. 

I love the dressings available in the produce section and one of my favorites is this Cilantro dressing. It's delicious and actually very low in calories and fat. On Weight Watchers? It comes in at 2 smart points per 2 Tablespoons. I use it for salads and as a dip or even as a sauce in wraps.

I love these baby San Marzano tomatoes. Nice bright burst of flavor that I add to salads, wraps, simple tomato soup, sandwiches, or as a snack. 

There's an assortment of items in the produce section to make your own simple, quick, and healthy weeknight toss together meals. I love the variety of pre-cut stir fry veggies. As a single lady, if I buy all these ingredients separately it's just too much food I can't eat up in a week and then there's the time to cut them up. Toss together a handful of these pre-cut veggies in a wok with some chicken, steak, or shrimp and add on one of TJ's signature sauces like their Island Soyaki and you've got a great meal faster than a trip to the drive-thru.

The pre-cooked lentils are a great buy! A quick and easy source of versatile protein. I love to toss these in a salad, wrap, or soup and you can even make a simple dip with these.

Shishito peppers!! I first discovered these gems only in the past year or two in a farm box, and TJ’s has been the only other place I can find them. These are a mild Japanese sweet pepper and occasionally one lone pepper will pack a surprising punch. I love to blister these up with a bit of olive oil in a hot pan, and sprinkle with salt. I prefer them with eggs (or when I treat myself to the ones at my favorite local Japanese restaurant) and once made this pizza

TJ's is on point with their salad game. My all time favorite ready to go salad in a bag is their Caesar Style. I've had many salads in a bag and this is my favorite. Simple, familiar, versatile, and delicious. My lazy weeks I grab a handful of this lettuce in a bowl, sprinkle on the toppings, and to my belly it goes... sometimes topping with a few slices of pork tenderloin or grilled chicken.

If you prefer to have salads and lunches ready for the week, TJ's is your meal-prep wonderland, there’s a huge assortment of reasonably priced ready to eat salad boxes. I don’t even know where to begin. I’ve tried many and I really love them all. My best advice is grab a few that are calling to you and save yourself some meal stress. There’s also wraps and sushi and other simple grab and go items all at the front of the store.

more tomatoes.. and multi-color carrots. Simple favorites to make basic meals all that more colorful and special.

Seasonal squash is always fun!! Sugar pumpkins, acorn squash, honeynut squash, butternut squash, and delicata squash. Delicata squash is also new to me. Do yourself a favor.. buy one or two!!! It will be your new favorite part of fall. Forget the pumpkin, get some delicata squash. Roast it, stuff it, and search the internet for all the possibilities.

CHEESE:

Alright.. * ahem * let me gather myself. When it comes to cheese, I lose words. Saying cheese is my favorite is an understatement. There aren’t enough words to properly formulate my love of a good cheese. And well.. TJ’s on it. There are so many I haven’t tried and I have to force myself away because I cannot responsibly purchase cheese. But one of my favorites is this little Spanish Tapas cheese sampler. So, so good! Each section has several slices and they are a perfect snack or addition to a meal. I love pre-portioned foods and this one is a winner! Also, this Burrata cheese filled with cream will make your heart melt. If you take a bite of this you may just melt right into your kitchen floor. It is really that good. And do you see their seasonal cheese photo bombing there? Yeah.. that’s apple pie cheddar. TJ’s knows how to woo with cheese. 

Okay, I need a second. The cheese still has a hold of my heart and mind. * sigh *

DIP + SNACKING

... Moving right along. Are you the kind of person that when eating at a restaurant you want to order a bunch of food and share with everyone? I am. I like tasting a little bit of everything and this is why I really enjoy this hummus sampler pack. I get to try a little of each and mix and match for maximum variety with only one purchase.  Aside from this, I’m a fan of their salsa and creamy spinach and kale yogurt dip. I still have so many more to discover!

And these crackers are my favorite delivery method for the dip and along with their cheese. I wouldn’t steer you wrong.

FREE FOOD + COFFEE

Joe knows how to treat us well. Once you make it to the halfway point, you get a bite to eat. There are ALWAYS samples and ALWAYS little cups of free coffee. Enjoy! And take it as an opportunity to taste all the items you keep passing over. There are hidden gems. Really.

NEW ITEMS:

At the back of the store, there’s a section stocked with new items, which are constantly being introduced to the store. I love checking out this section and find it’s a great place to find gifts. Housewarming gift or a friendly, “I’m thinking of you” gift, birthday gift, or client gift. There’s often candles, or interesting tea flavors, new kitchen towels, or box of chocolates. Grab one or two items, flower bouquet and card, and you’ve got a great gift anyone would love.

NUTS + SEEDS + DRIED FRUITS --- OH MY!

TJ’s is THE place, in my humble opinion, to put together your own trail mix. You can find almost any nut or seed you are looking for. Salted, unsalted, raw, roasted, etc. They have it all. And not only do they have tons of varieties of dried fruits which are perfect for snacking, baking, and trail mix making, but they also have a unique variety of freeze dried fruit which is great! They are pretty much like candy chips that you can sprinkle pretty much anywhere your imagination can take you or eat as a snack on their own.

Some of my favorites in this section are these Thai & Chili Lime Cashews. They are spicy and a little bit sweet and pack a flavor punch. Great choice for keeping in your desk drawer at work for an afternoon snack or for traveling snacks.

I’ve really grown a love also for the Chili Spiced Mango. Don’t let it scare you, it’s not eye-watery spicy. It’s a bit of spice and flavor bomb with sweetness..

The roasted coconut chips are just as you can imagine, crunchy sweet bits of coconut that eat like a chip. Sprinkle THAT on your hot fudge sundae!!

FROZEN AISLE:

Narrowing down the frozen aisle to a couple items is nearly impossible. This is a slim representation of options, but I’m going to go with top favorites here.

Their Mac and Cheese is almost always sold out. It’s a fan favorite. I haven’t yet tried the full everything one, but I have purchased the lightened version on a couple occasions and do enjoy it. I usually purchase it if I know I need a quick easy weekday meal with no fuss. You can see how I fancied mine up a bit HERE!

I’ve got to admit, I have not tried the orange chicken, but felt required share because of the popularity. People buy this stuff almost by the cartful. I trust it's a winner.

You MUST try these mashed potatoes!! They are frozen in small little hockey puck portions. Perfect for making just what you need. I’ll grab a handful of little mashed potato pucks and toss in a baby saucepan with a little bit of water, cover, and within minutes I’ve got creamy mash. Grill a piece of fish and steam some veggies and you’ve got a perfect meal in less than 15 minutes.

Keep an eye out this fall because they sell the sweet potatoes pucks seasonally!

Any of my NOLA friends I’d typically steer away from the seafood because you can get fresh local seafood for much cheaper, but I do like these tuna burgers. They’re great for a quick healthy lunch and grill up quickly. 

SAUCE:

There has never been a cocktail sauce I've loved more. That's all.

MORE FROZEN AISLE:

If you’re the kind of person that is a fan of convenience.. and oatmeal. This one’s for you. The Steelcut Oatmeal is frozen in one-cup sections and ready to pop in the microwave and add all the toppings of your desire. Remember the dried fruit aisle? There are endless variety of things there you can add to your quick oatmeal. And I promise to keep it a secret if you stir in a spoonful of cookie butter.

One of my favorite treats are these mini ice cream cones. I like treats, but often want just a taste. In this country, everything is super-sized and upsized. I don’t need a gallon of ice cream, and have a hard time portioning on my own. One scoop of ice cream quickly turns to two or three. I find this is the perfect treat and solution for that. They come in chocolate and vanilla and perfect mini portions to satisfy my need for sweet.

MORE SAUCE:

Remember when I said take advantage of the sample stand? This is how I found this awesome sauce! It’s a lotta bit sweet savory bbq and a little bit sriracha. And yes, it’s pretty awesome. Buy it! And please tell me what you put it on.

SWEET STAPLE:

The best lemon curd other than homemade. Now, you have to have a tea party with scones and curd. Or.. just put it on anything. 

You musn’t confuse coconut milk with coconut cream. This is thick and wonderful and delicious. And a steal for $1.49! Put it in a smoothie, make it into a knock your socks off vegan clotted cream for your tea party, add it to your curry, or just eat it with a spoon.

CHIPS + CHIP-LIKE SNACKS:

The crunchy plantain chips are a favorite of mine and comes as a friend favorite as well. Remember all that trail mix you’re making now? You should pour in some of these into the mix.

The Partially Popped Popcorn is a fairly new item that you’re likely to not find anywhere else and they are crunchy little bits of buttery goodness. A must try! And that Baconesque White Cheddar popcorn peeking from behind? Yeah!!! You won’t believe there’s no bacon, but it tastes just like bacon and cheddar and it’s incredibly awesome.

 

My favorite Cheeto alternative is these little guys. You won’t get a film of cheddary cheese layers on your fingers or the bright powdery orange cheese grill when you smile. These are milder and more delicious in my opinion. 

QUICK DINNER FAVORITE:

I’m a big fan of quick assembly dinners that are nourishing, warming, and make me feel happy that I don’t have a sink full of dishes to wash afterwards. One of my favorites is a packet of the Miso Soup along with Steamed Chicken Soup Dumplings. It takes only 10 minutes or less to steam half the package of dumplings and the soup packets couldn’t be easier. Simply stir in boiling water. The two together? Magic. When you bite into the dumpling the pocket fills with the soup and adds a mouthful of extra flavor. It becomes a soup dumpling. For a single serving I use half the soup packet and half the package of dumplings.

QUICK TREATS:

TJ’S is known for their cookie butter. It tastes just as you imagine.. cookie mash and butter together in a creamy spread. Spread on fruit, crackers, or spoonfuls right out of the jar when you get a late night craving.

The truffle brownie mix is a nice staple to have in your cupboard. These brownies are simple, fast, and most importantly DEE-LICIOUS!! Need a quick potluck item or treats for the office or neighbors? This one is a win.

PANTRY STAPLES:

I know I should be narrowing down the guide, but when it comes to all the oils and vinegars I simply couldn’t. There are too many great options to choose from. A friend of mine loves using the Clarified Butter. According to Chef Ludo Lefebvre, clarified butter is the secret to his fries that were recently listed at one of the top 10 in Los Angeles. Chef Cherie Twohy recommends the California Estate Olive Oil. Additionally, the Balsamic Glaze is a trick to make any dinner go from a cheap weeknight meal to gourmet dinner in seconds. 

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UPLEVEL YOUR PANTRY:

Jars of roasted red peppers are my secret pantry ingredient. I love adding them to panini sandwiches or rolling them up with a few slices of deli turkey for a snack. They make great additions for wraps and are versatile flavor punches.

My go-to broth is TJ’s brand. There’s vegetarian, beef, chicken, and options for organic, conventional, and free range. A few of these are the best way to uplevel your Monday Red Beans, pot of gumbo, or simple rice. Stock up, they sell out fast and have a long shelf life!

The 10 minute Farro and Harvest Grains are a recommendations from Chef Cherie Twohy, aka #1 Trader Joe’s fan. She has written several Trader Joe’s cookbooks. I highly recommend. For the Harvest Grains, she says, “I usually sauté them in a little butter or olive oil, then cook in water or stock until tender and liquid cooked away. Good as a hot side dish, but also cold with some vinaigrette.” 

FOR YOUR BODY:

This is my new favorite hand cream. As someone who has suffered with eczema on my hands and struggles with the Southern California dry air, finding hand lotion has always been a sampling experiment. This one is a winner. It’s moisturizing and creamy and soft without the greasy feeling. My hands just feel like soft protected silk.

My neighbor suggested the Nourish hair products. She says they are inexpensive, work well, and aren’t chemically laden. I’m going to give this a try on my next trip!

SEASONAL END CAPS:

We don’t have much seasonal weather shift here in California. It’s always sunny and warm. So, it’s a nice treat to see the seasonal shifts in the end caps. Of course, fall means everything pumpkin. So, Pumpkin Butter, Pumpkin Pancakes, Pumpkin Cookies, and Spiced Apple Cider. Enjoy them while they last!

SEASONAL TREAT:

I’ve not yet tried the Pumpkin Caramel Kringle, but it’s definitely worth sharing. The company that makes these sells them for over $20 on their website, and being a rare seasonal item, I think this will make you the office favorite if you bring this in to work. 

WINE + CHOCOLATE:

You can’t forget about the Two Buck Chuck when you’re at TJ’s. Sure, the price went beyond two bucks, but for a bottle of wine under $3, this is still a great pick. Check out this article for blind taste test rankings by a Sommelier.

As far as chocolate, there’s plenty variety to choose from at the check-out stands as well as filtered throughout the aisles. I love the small 100 calorie portioned chocolates and sometimes pick up a bar of dark chocolate. Yes, there’s a Bacon Ganache.

On your way out, TJ’s wall is full of an ever changing wall of re-usable bags ranging from totes of various materials and even cooler bags. Did you pick up gift items? These totes make great gift bags that are practical and adorable! Remember to bring back your totes for your next shopping trip.

Enjoy your new store, Louisiana!! I can’t wait to visit at the end of the year. 

I’d love for you to share in the comments below your favorite purchases or what you’re excited to try.

Now, go make some groceries, ya’ll!

Life Palate Cleansing

A few weeks ago, I picked up a watermelon at the market. Melon hunting continues to be a mysterious experience for me. I have never quite picked up on what I’m listening for with all the thumping and knocking. I usually look for one heavy for its size and scratched up. I’m told the discoloration and ugly lines mean it has ripened in the field and is full of sweetness. The uglier the better. Even still, it’s a guessing game, each time crossing my fingers hoping to win the watermelon lottery. 

So.. I cut into this melon and it’s bright red. Yay! And then I give it a taste. Mehh.. at this point, I’m thinking I had picked a rotten one. The taste was off and I was ready to toss it when I had a friend try a bite. She seemed to think it was good. I tried another bite and realized that maybe it is okay. Maybe it’s not the melon, but me. I had just finished eating a giant salad with a myriad of ingredients tossed in a cilantro-lime dressing. I put the chopped watermelon in the fridge and tried it again later. Delicious! Sweetest watermelon I had purchased all summer and maybe the sweetest one I’ve purchased in the past two years.

Strange thing, isn’t it? Something tasted with a fresh palate changes the experience. My tongue had been tainted by what I ate previously and I wasn’t able to fully experience the sweetness of the watermelon. Not only did I not experience how great it was, but I was ready to toss it out thinking the melon was bad.

I see how true this is in life. All of our experiences, we judge as good or bad. Are we “tasting” life with a fresh new palate or are we experiencing life through a mask of old beliefs and limited thoughts that we have not yet let go of?

When I go out for sushi, it’s always served with a bit of ginger as a palate cleanser. Other times, I’ve been to a teahouse where they serve a small sorbet, which serves the same purpose. A palate cleanser is a way to cleanse the taste buds of previous flavors so that each course or bite can be experienced fully as intended, it’s pure essence, and enhance the experience of the meal.  

Certainly, we’ve got to have some sort of palate cleansers for life. What a muddled mess my life has become when I’ve brought old beliefs and stories and fears to my current experiences. How often I have brought fears and stories from old relationships into the new ones. And how often have I stopped myself from new life experiences from the fears of how previous ones turned out? What if I could begin each experience new and fresh? Untainted with previous fears, perceptions, false story telling, and the old monkey mind.

I’ve discovered that an asana based yoga practice as well as meditation is the best life palate cleanser for me. In each spinal twist, in each ujjayi breath, and every warrior pose, I’m forced into a stillness and quiet. And in that space, I squeeze out a little more of my past story. A little more of that cilantro-lime dressing that’s masking the sweetness of this fresh new sweet watermelon gets cleansed away. That big salad with cilantro-lime dressing was perfect when I had it, but it belongs in the past, in the moment I ate it. It doesn’t belong in my bowl of watermelon. What are your old stories and beliefs that are holding you back from enjoying this moment?

If yoga doesn’t call to you, the essence of the practice is found along many paths. Maybe you find it in running, nature, being near water, prayer, church, a long hug, swimming, cooking, etc. Seek out and spend some time with those things that create stillness and quiet in your body and mind. That place where everything feels fresh and new. There, you’ll find the secret to life.