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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Here We Go Again

Didn’t we just do this? You know what I’m talking about. The “H” word is heading straight towards us like a giant galactic iron meteoroid. Yep, the end is near. The holidays are around that hairpin turn and I’m feeling the need to blast Eminem.  Don’t get me wrong, unlike Halloween, I love the holiday season, it’s the shopping that kills me. Maybe I just have this self-inflicted pressure to present my friends and family with creative, unique gifts—otherwise known as gifts that require time, thought and effort. This is not easy.
We don’t really have a choice here since the holidays keep coming back like a bad headache, but I say, get a head start before your Halloween buzz wears off. Strap on your high-interest credit cards, we’ve got some shopping to do. Now, honestly, I’m not a mall shopper. My mall visits consist of me dropping my teenage daughter and friends at the Macy’s entrance, them bolting out of my vision within 5 seconds, me heading straight upstairs to drool in the Apple Store and then next door to dream in the Anthropologie store and then I leave and grocery shop at Trader Joe’s.
I guess I’m too sensitive for the mall. The air doesn’t seem to agree with me. I tend to break out into a sweat before the lady at the cosmetic’s counter blinds me with the newest sickly fragrance. I feel like the laws of order are too disregarded. People walk the wrong way—stay to your right—it’s easy. The Yankee Candle shop gives me a headache. Abercrombie gives me a worse headache. I want to enjoy Starbucks, but I’m too hot and thirsty, and the clothing, I just don’t get most of it. I really regret not saving my hideous ‘80s sweaters and leggings, but I will not be buying new ones. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to fashion and would never resort to “mom” jeans, but the clothing choices out there right now are dismal.
Ikea is on to something with its new MĂ„NLAND concept. Basically it’s a husband-sitting service that provides mancave-like entertainment for the husbands such as video games and foosball, while their wives shop. The wives are even given a beeper in case they need to be reached. This is brilliantly wrong on so many levels and, unfortunately, not offered yet at the White Marsh Ikea. Actually, Ikea is on to something, but they aren’t the ones that need it. I think we should get rid of the mini play land for kids at the mall and put a manland in its place. Instead, maybe it could be “adultland” and feature a martini bar. Surely, mall sales would sky rocket. I may have just solved the recession.
Ok, enough complaining. Here’s the plan.
  1. Hit the Starbucks in Towson and get your teacher, coach, mail carrier gift cards. They all need caffeine. Get yourself a cup too, since you won't be overheated yet.
  2. Skip the mall—already established
  3. Visit my friends at With Gratitude for unique hostess gifts and locally produced holiday gifts.
  4. Check out Urban Outfitters' tchotchkes section. They have some really unique, funny books and things.
  5. Try shopping online on Etsy. Basically, this is massive site for all things hand made. Think of it as Ebay for crafters. Beware, it’s highly addictive.

    By the way, don’t give me a bottle of wine as a hostess gift. I feel uncomfortable keeping it to drink at my leisure. There’s too much pressure to serve it at the dinner party or cocktail party. If I don’t serve it, you might think I don’t like it and if I do serve it, then it’s not really a gift any more.
    Happy shopping!

    Wednesday, November 2, 2011

    Grocery Shopping is Fun at Trader Joe’s

    Who doesn’t love a store that thinks “sale” is a four-letter word and has happy employees who ring bells and wear funny hats with Hawaiian shirts?
    I am well known at the Towson Trader Joe’s for my recipe binder and frequency of visits. After slipping into my secret parking spot, I can be found sipping, and sometimes spilling, my mini cup of free coffee while holding my free food sample (aka,lunch), several days a week due to incredibly poor time management.
    I love my TJs visits. Socially, I always run into a neighbor and sometimes an old friend. The overly-caffeinated employees are always smiling and very eager to help with what ever you need, even if it’s just a little conversation. Like a good bartender, they have the perfect ability to stay productive, yet make you feel like every word you’re saying is fascinating.
    Philosophically, I love a grocery store that says no to trans fats, artificial flavors, colors or preservatives, MSG and GMOs and provides the shopper with handy, quick-read product labels such as vegan, gluten free and vegetarian, all packaged together with constant low prices.
    Shopper cards make me crazy. My key chain is so cluttered with those barcoded trinkets that I recently found myself trying to scan my Preferred Shopper Card at the gym. As a recovering Whole Paycheck, I mean Whole Foods shopper, I’ve found that you can get nearly twice as much food at TJs versus Whole Foods.
    The TJs Fearless Flyer keeps you updated with helpful product information while providing some witty comic relief along the way. They admit that eating cheese makes them want to “start singing Dickensian show tunes.” Would that be a song that starts with “There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate?”  There’s even a cartoon section. It ranks up there with the New York Times in our house.
    I do have some product favorites right now too.
    The Dark Chocolate Bar with Caramel and Black Sea Salt
    Beware, once you try this sweet and salty block of umami, you’ll never be able to resist grabbing one at checkout again. It’s even better in the freezer.
    Chocolate Cake Mix
    I admit I’m wary of cake mixes, but with two fall birthdays in our house, I was forced to venture there. Pillsbury, with its artificial everything was not an option. This cake mix, with a homemade cream cheese frosting, is decadent. Truly, it has the depth and moistness of a homemade cake.
    On the slightly healthier side:
    The Sesame Seed Bagel Spinoza
    1 gram of fat, 9 grams of protein and it boasts to “bagel the mind.” How can you resist?
    Trek Mix Granola Cereal
    This is my late-night snack and works great when you’re having cereal for dinner too. Put some blueberries on top and you have a meal.
    My only criticism, this hip, progressive company has the equivalent of snail mail for communication. Come on Trader Joe’s, get a Facebook and Twitter page so I can banter with you. You could have shared this with your loyal customers.

    Now I get to eat that chocolate bar I just photographed.