Monday, October 24, 2011

Forgotten No More: A Happy Day on Staten Island When Trader Joe's Opens It's Doors; Gifting the Guacamole

A Little Less 'Forgotten'
Staten Island is oftentimes referred to as 'the forgotten borough.' Citing lack of a direct subway link to New York City, high bridge tolls and less funding from the city coffers than Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan, Staten Islanders have been accused of being a bit whiny and actually a lot more. But the claim of being a 'forgotten borough' fades when you consider that many jokes about the Island borough abound. Sorry, there I go whining a bit.

One thing is for sure, though family-centered Staten Islanders love to cook and eat, it has largely been ignored by trendy food chains like Whole Foods, King's, Wegman's and until recently, Trader Joe's.  But after a spring and summer of construction, 'Trader's' finally opened it's doors on Richmond Avenue in the New Springville area of the Island.

Thank you.

I had never been to a Trader Joe's and wasn't sure what to expect. The chain started out as small convenience food stores in the 1950s and were originally called Pronto Market. It was changed to Trader Joe's in 1967 when they opened under that name in Pasadena, California. Lucky friends and family who already had one in their community intimated that it was a place to find organic produce and great prices on their in-house brands of foods and wines...and they were right (though the Staten Island store does not carry wine). What they didn't mention was the friendly service, the open floor layout which made the store easy to navigate and the array of cut flowers and freshly baked breads—two items always on my list. Outside the store, Hawaiian-shirted workers helped load my car....a service I thought was indigenous to Florida only!

But that's not all: Trader Joe's is community friendly. In 2010 the chain donated more than 102,000 gift baskets to community-sponsored events. Did you hear bells while shopping?  Keeping with it's island theme, the store devised this system of communication. Translation: one bell lets staffers know when to open another register. Two bells mean there are additional questions that need to be answered at the checkout. Three bells call over a manager-type person. A store that cares about it's customers? to my ears! Get more information at their website below. 

Not getting into the variety of merchandise, today I'm focusing on one item I purchased and tried out at my family Sunday dinner yesterday. While perusing the produce isle, I came across a small plastic container with ingredients for guacamole dip, a family favorite. I have my own recipe (actually, it belongs to my sister) that I've already written about but I saw other possibilities in the compact package and purchased it for today's blog post. 

The Gift of Guac
If you're lucky enough to be invited as a weekend guest, it's usually appropriate to bring a small house gift. Using the not-too-attractively packaged items, I reworked the idea using a interesting-shaped glass vase I had in the house (the better thing to do would be to purchase a dish to hold the items before and after the preparation. The dish would be gifted to the host or hostess). I wrapped the ingredients in cellophane then tied with a ribbon. I added a sprig of parsley from my garden to decorate the bow. It can be used as a garnish after the guacamole is prepared. If you have a computer, it might be fun to redo the recipe on colored card stock and tie it onto the bow. There are lots of websites out there with templates to help you along. One follows. Click on 'inspiration' for some ideas.

Preparing the Guacamole
The recipe was easy though in the end I might have added a third avocado to make it less juicy. But the ingredients packaged by Trader Joe's were very fresh and within minutes I had a healthy appetizer to put out before dinner. On a personal note: the jalapeno pepper was a no-go for my family but I tried the  Trader Joe round tortilla chips which were fresh and a great buy with lots of varieties to choose from.

Give the recipe a try, give Trader Joe's a try if you haven't already. If your community is a bit 'forgotten' like Staten Island, send the company a note, you never know!

Trader Joe's Guacamole
Yields 2 cups

2 avocados (I would add one more)
2 roma tomatoes
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
1 lime
1 jalapeño pepper (didn't use this ingredient)

  • Peel and dice the onion and garlic cloves.
  • Combine with diced jalapeño pepper (optional) and avocado. 
  • Mash to desired consistency.
  • Add juice from the whole lime and fold in dice d tomatoes. 
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.

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