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Philadelphia, PA 19130

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Fine chocolates and caramels made in small batches with fresh high quality ingredients 

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Lemon Pepper Blog

Musings about chocolate, small business ownership, urban farming, local food, wine, and whatever else strikes our fancy!

 

The comfort of noodles

Nolia Chocolates

For years, decades in fact, I have been saying that if I ever was inspired to write The Great American Novel I would title it The Comfort of Noodles.  More likely it would be a collection of short stories since I can’t even seem to write a blog post more than every two months. 

You may be asking, why not the title The Comfort of Chocolate?   Chocolate does have a very special place in my heart but I think noodles are part of the soul.  To me, and many others around our great big world, there is just something comforting, warming, and calming about noodles.

So far this winter has lived up to being the cold and dreary season it was predicted to be.   We’re only mid-way through January and I already can’t wait to be outside digging in rain soaked, sun drenched soil.  You can smell the earthy life in that fertile dirt.  

Our homegrown Meyer lemons, now inside for the winter, have all matured to a bright rich golden hue and are going into the Lemon Pepper Truffles.  A last reminder of this past summer, they soon will be just a memory. 

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Now I’m urging the sweet fragrant blossoms on my tiny eight year old Calamondin orange to bear fruit again for me.  The blood orange tree has scale that I’m actively battling and the key lime, a stunted version of a formerly five-foot tree, is holding steady still recovering from last winter’s nasty scale attack.  

Our potted herbs—thyme, oregano, parsley— are on the back porch wintering over with the strawberries.  I’ve got all my fingers and toes crossed that my rosemary makes it through this winter.   We had a beautiful hearty rosemary shrub that withered in the brutally harsh winter of 2013/2014 and, after five years of bountiful rosemary harvest, I had to start anew this past spring.  The new plant seems to be faring well enough so far that we are still using our own backyard grown rosemary for the Rosy Goat Truffles

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So yesterday, feeling under the weather myself, while looking out at the cloud shadowed now brown patch of yard that had provided such a summer bounty, my thoughts turn to noodles.  Once I crave noodles, it seems nothing will satisfy me. 

Cheese is my other constant guilty pleasure but that did nothing for me.  Even chocolate, a delicious Triple Vanilla Truffle followed by a Nut Caramel, didn't help.  Then I thought of having some peanut butter, which is another food it seems I cannot live without.  

If I were stranded on an island and only allowed five foods to eat I’m pretty sure I could not live without cheese, noodles, peanut butter, fresh peaches, and spinach.   I think I would crave these five to the point of obsession that would drive me insane if I could never eat them ever again.  Limes and fresh cherries would be extremely difficult for me to give up but I think I could live without them if necessary.

The odd thing about my list is that, with the exception of cheese, I do not eat noodles, peanut butter, peaches, or spinach daily or even weekly.  I hadn't had peanut butter in months but it’s always in the house, just in case.  I only eat peaches in the summer when they are in season.  There is nothing in the world that tastes so sweet and satisfying to me as a fresh, perfectly ripe juicy locally grown peach.  Now I want one badly but I’ll have to wait until at least July, sigh.

Realizing that I had peanut butter and a package of dried Thai rice noodles that had been sitting in the pantry for probably too long, I decided I needed cold sesame noodles.  Perhaps not the first noodle dish one would think of in the dead of winter but it hit all my cravings for comfort.  I like a bowl of chicken noodle soup or a plate piled with spaghetti as much as anyone else but I had the makings for neither in house and I wasn't feeling up to venturing out for them.

My husband and I made a huge amount of sautéed vegetables for Korean bibimbap the night before. Which means I had also made our own version of the hot and spicy Gochujang sauce:

  • 4 Tbs Korean hot pepper paste, available at Asian markets
  • 1 Tbs toasted sesame oil
  • 1 Tbs hot sesame oil
  • 1 Tbs minced garlic
  • 1.5 Tbs rice wine vinegar
  • 1.5 Tbs soy sauce
  • 1 Tbs honey

Zap it all in the microwave for 30 seconds to help easily incorporate the ingredients into a smooth thick sauce. It's an easy delicious hot sauce that can go on top of almost anything you want to add some spicy Asian sass to.  We make ours extra spicy by adding hot sesame oil instead of 2 Tbs of toasted sesame oil.

We had a good amount of Gochujang sauce left over and since many of the same ingredients go into cold sesame noodles, I used the Gochujang as my spicy base for my noodles. 

To approximately a tablespoon of Gochujang sauce I added two tablespoons of peanut butter and roughly two tablespoons of the remainder of the sesame paste I recalled having in the fridge for making tahini and hummus.

It was too thick so I added some peanut oil, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, honey, chopped ginger from the root I keep in the freezer, and soy sauce until the consistency and the taste pleased me.  I tossed it into the cooked rice noodles and topped with some fresh cilantro from the fridge that I was looking for an excuse to use up before it wilted away. 

Granted I didn't have the right kind of noodles, no crunchy peanuts to top the dish or fresh scallions.  The combination of peanut and sesame with a touch of heat coating the soft noodles made me happy, my soul and my tummy were at last satisfied and comforted against the dreariness of January.  It’s like a warm embrace from an old friend.

noodles

It helps to have a pantry decently stocked with what I’ll call the necessities: a good and varied selection of oils, vinegars, herbs, seasonings, and base ingredients like eggs, milk, peanut butter and noodles. Always have some type of noodle or the ingredients to make your own fresh from scratch.  Noodles can be turned into a wonderful comforting meal when the unexpected urge to make yourself something hits even if you think you have ‘nothing’ in your pantry.

The internet of course is a great tool too, especially when I’m looking for a recipe idea to help use up ingredients or suggestions for what to make with what I already have. But now I’m now out of noodles so I’ll have to get some more.

Ps: Our favorite place for excellent spices is Savory Spice Shop started by a husband & wife based in Denver, CO.  A good friend told me about them and I sought them out while on a work trip to Denver a few years ago. I fell in love with the store and the quality of their products as soon as I walked in the door. We use spices and herbs from Savory for both our home cooking and in our chocolates. 

Have a food that comforts you or a food you can’t live without?  Please like, comment, and share this post!  

In the beginning, there was Chocolate...

Nolia Chocolates

Shock. Surprise. Bewilderment. That was my initial reaction a few years back when I was told that I was being laid off from what I considered to be my dream job.  I was swept up along with millions in the wave of the Great Recession.

Ok, perhaps my reaction was not quite surprise.  I had some inkling something was going down since the economy was tanking fast.  It did catch me off guard though.

After I managed to pull my heart out of my stomach, I felt an odd sort of elation.  I was almost giddy. That surprised me even more. 

The job market was still okay and a quick search and some phone calls revealed that there were good, interesting positions available.  I had options. Maybe even a better job than the one I loved despite getting the boot. 

My employer generously let me stay on for a few months. I was still technically employed while seeking a new situation, a major plus. I had good recommendations. I knew I was much better off than most who were also finding themselves suddenly, unavoidably jobless.  

Sighhhh. Relief set in.  I had been spared the worst and would bounce back before the economy sank even further.  

Wrong. I had never been so wrong in my life.

Before I coaxed my heart out of my stomach, I think I went on stress induced auto-pilot.  Couldn't process, need air, need something… comforting. Something to quell the trauma of my life being suddenly turned on its head. 

I left the office for a walk to clear my head on that chilly morning.  Still on auto-pilot, I found myself in a good local chocolate shop ordering a half pound of my favorite dark chocolate caramels.  No box, please.  Just put them in a bag.  I paid, I have no idea what, but it was worth every. single. cent.

That first bite, the snap and taste of the smooth slightly bitter chocolate, teeth sinking into the chewy sweet buttery caramel, was heaven.  The flavors blended together on my tongue- intense, complex, aromatic- that one delicious confection melted my stress away. 

I ate another.  It was reviving, my head was clearing.  I pulled my heart out of the pit of my stomach and marched myself back to the office and got down to business. 

After a couple days, I had inhaled my entire half pound of delicious soul quenching dark chocolate caramels.  They were sustaining, keeping my stress at bay, they kept me going and focused.  I needed more. 

By now, that irritatingly rational and practical little voice in my head took over.  Girl, you’re losing your job, you can’t afford this good chocolate!  But I wasn't about to just settle for a candy bar either.  I had lost my appetite for everything, except the subtle complexities of good quality chocolate.

I sought out a more affordable source for my chocolate caramel fix.  Yes, this substitute did the job but just weren't as satisfying.   

Weeks, then a month, then another month and another passed by. 

My prospects, which had seemed hopeful, dried up or turned into one dead end after another.  Grudgingly, I told myself I had to prepare for the worst and that included cutting out any unnecessary luxuries. It was down to absolute basics now.

Chocolate and I were torn apart, reluctantly, tearfully. 

Sadly, I went about my days feeling sluggish and unmotivated.  I tried nursing a glass of red wine to help with stress relief.  Although enjoyable, that just made me tired which made me cranky.  I switched from drinking tea back to coffee.  That just made me loopy and manic, tortured with sleepless nights.  I pined for my beloved chocolate.  I could not live without chocolate.

AH-haaa!  (yes, a momentary bright light bulb blinking above my head).  Could I make my own chocolate covered caramels?  

Sure!  Why not.  I could have my chocolate and eat it affordably too, I supposed.  In fact, this was a logical progression. I always found cooking to be therapeutic.  In particular, the challenge of conquering a seemingly difficult food and succeeding in making it from scratch.  By this point, I need some SERIOUS therapy.  

I liken myself to a version of Tita from Like Water for Chocolate, raised in the kitchen as my mother’s sous chef.  I learned a lot from my mother in the kitchen but it took me decades to appreciate what she taught me.  Coming of age in the 80’s I had visions of becoming an (over) educated career woman not a homemaker.  I wanted cooking to be fun, done on my terms, and not an everyday chore. Nope, that would not be me slaving over a hot stove for a bunch of picky eaters.

Sometimes it takes us a while to come around to things which, in case you’re wondering, is where this is all going.  One of the most important lessons my mother taught me is that recipes, unless you are baking, are to be used more as a guide instead of a rule. Experimentation is fun.  It’s exciting and disappointing.  Sometimes you cook something amazingly delicious and sometimes it’s just not.  

So, what the hell. I decided to take on chocolate, the nectar of the gods, as my next conquest.  I had nothing to lose.  My life was in disarray, I had cut all the other vices out of my life, and I needed good chocolate. Now.

I jumped right in: melted a bar of half decent dark chocolate and dipped some of those store bought bagged caramels in the chocolate with a fork and plopped them on a dish.  Hummm.  Not stellar results but not a complete disaster either.  Mediocre at best and they were far from looking pretty.  The chocolate was yummy but disappointingly sticky and melted between the fingers, the caramels were definitely lacking.   Still, I was happy to eat every single last one.

If it’s not obvious, it should be clear, I dove in eyes closed seeking direction, purpose and satisfaction and I found it in...Chocolate, it was always you!