We learned that Florida got its first Trader Joe’s recently and I was determined to pay a visit. We were delighted when Trader Joe’s opened their first store in Pittsburgh right around the corner from our house. It became our convenience store, our go-to for quick meals and an invaluable resource for appetizers and company treats, not to mention an almost daily destination on our cafe and shopping crawl.
The Florida Joe’s is the only one south of South Carolina, so many of the shoppers weren’t familiar with the concept and the offerings. I, on the other hand, felt right at home. So much so, in fact, that I stood in the first aisle and slowly turned, taking it all in, and wishing I could get back to what I think of as our life. It nearly brought me to tears.
Food is a big part of our life. Planning it, shopping for it, cooking it and eating it, and I make no apologies for that. As a vegetarian, I’ve become much more thoughtful through the years about what I eat and how it’s prepared. Maybe it comes from living in the Meat Belt, but eating out is rarely the enjoyable experience for me that it is for carnivores. At most restaurants I generally have the choice of a bland and heavy pasta dish or a bland salad. I always want to ask the chef, “Does this look good to you? No? Well, me neither!” I don’t know what they think we eat. And finding healthy and delicious meals as we travel, especially in the meaty South, is a constant challenge.
I worked hard for many years to learn to cook vegetarian food that’s full of flavor, yet healthy. It’s definitely harder than frying up a pork chop or roasting a chicken. Trader Joe’s was a big help when I needed to make quick meals, or had unexpected dinner guests. Even for day-to-day menus I kept the pantry stocked with various basic broths, grains, sauces, dressings, and nuts. We made fresh sugar-free sorbet by blending frozen fruits with a little plain yogurt. And I stopped spending half a day making hummus from dried chickpeas because Joe’s Mediterranean is way better than mine.
But sadly, we have no kitchen, no pantry and no refrigerator, so we filled up a shopping bag with our favorite treats to take to our hosts in Miami. And when we finally get a boat, wherever we are you can bet we’ll stock it from Joe’s.