Kitchn Love Letters

These Trader Joe’s Brownies Will Always Make Me Think of My Late Husband

published Oct 15, 2021
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Credit: Cassiohabib

I became a Trader Joe’s fan very late in the game. Like, embarrassingly late. I didn’t grow up near one and, even after I moved to Manhattan, I couldn’t understand the obsession (what the heck were Joe-Joes’s?). I kept meaning to check one out based on the dozens of recommendations from friends, but I never got around to it. That was, until COVID-19 hit New York last March.

At the very same time, my late husband, Jon, was also nearing the end of a long battle with brain cancer. It had been 25 months of heartache for all of us, and at this point I was worn down to the core. Food was one of the only things that provided joy for either of us, so grocery shopping became a therapeutic activity for me. I could shop for our two-person family and bring back things for us to savor together. I figured checking out Trader Joe’s would be a good way to get my mind off things and an easy way to try some new-to-us groceries.

Credit: Erica Finamore

On my first run to TJ’s, I picked up all of the popular items I had heard about, like Cauliflower Gnocchi and Everything But the Bagel Seasoning Blend, but as I hit the dessert section, I went rogue. On the second shelf, fixed between the flashier brookies and madeleines, was a plastic container labeled as “Sea Salt Brownie, $4.49.” I’ve always been of the firm belief that brownies are one of the most underrated desserts — and these brownies looked moist and delicious, so I threw a container into my cart, feeling a little extravagant about buying a third dessert (I had already grabbed the pancake bread and oatmeal raisin cookies).

To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting much. As much as I love brownies, store-bought brownies just never seem to be as good as the ones you make at home with a boxed mix. Or so I thought. When I got home, I put out the array of snacks and desserts on Jon’s tray and we started sampling. It was all tasty, but then I took one little bite of brownie and my mind was totally blown. He loved them, too. The center was chewy and gooey, and the top had a little bit of crackle. Each piece was perfectly bite-sized, and as I popped them into my mouth, I’d get a bit of the sweet chocolate followed by the punch of French sea salt; it was the ideal sweet-and-salty combination.

We ended up finishing that container within a couple of days and the brownies became a normal part of my, now weekly, TJ’s routine. Jon was getting worse and he could no longer enjoy these brownies with me. Still, I’d buy them for myself. A little treat. Each time I’d buy a new bucket, I’d tell myself I’d ration them and only have two per day. But as his health declined even more, I’d help Jon to bed and end up eating six. Okay, 10. During a stressful time when everything was so difficult, those brownies were a bright spot and a major comfort. Jon has since passed and I still buy these brownies regularly. For starters, because they’re amazing. And also because they’re a nice reminder of something sweet toward the end of his time on earth. I can still picture the smile on his face while he ate them for the first time. And for that reason, they make me smile.