So good, you have to say it twice :).
Some of you may remember when I reviewed Chocolate Chocolate: The True Story of Two Sisters, Tons of Treats, and the Little Shop That Could (Thomas Dunne Books, 2011), and interviewed co-authors Frances Park and Ginger Park. We rhapsodized about half-moon buttercream dreams, le bouchon, chocolate covered pretzels and dark almond bark.
We learned how Frances and Ginger opened Washington, D.C.’s, first independent, high-end sweet shop featuring decadent delights from all over the world. We met some of their most memorable customers and marveled at how they launched their writing careers on a rented Selectric typewriter in the store’s tiny backroom.
Most important, we reinforced our staunch belief that writers and chocolate naturally go together — the creamy, dreamy combination seems to create magic in its wake, forging lifelong friendships, steeling sisterly bonds, and inspiring award-winning books.
You may also remember that Chocolate Chocolate was my hands-down favorite food memoir of 2011. I gave everyone I could think of a copy for Christmas, and I gave my brother’s family a copy when I visited them in Hawai’i last November.
Well. My 13-year-old niece Julia absolutely loved the book and shared it with her friends. Going to Chocolate Chocolate and meeting Frances and Ginger was at the top of her must-do list when she visited us in Virginia recently.
I don’t know who was more excited! I’d never been to the shop either, though I’d met Francie and Ginger at two library events.
We got there shortly after the store opened Saturday morning and was sorry to hear Ginger wouldn’t be in since she wasn’t feeling well. But we were greeted warmly by Francie and the famous Koomo, store manager extraordinaire, who is known for his quirky charm, funky neckties, shot glass collection, hot pepper plants and ramblings in Middle English. (Ladies, he’s even more adorable in person.)
Julia and I were beside ourselves, snapping photos left and right and making hard decisions about which chocolates to sample and/or purchase. Familiar favorites like Lake Champlain and Neuhaus beckoned alongside exquisitely presented collections by Michel Cluizel and Laderach. No chocolate snobbery to speak of with a nice balance of nostalgic favorites (marshmallow pillows, pecan turtles, non-pareils, English toffee, mint meltaways).
What’s your pleasure? A hand-selected box of bon bons, a darkest of the dark bittersweet chocolate bar, maybe a big bag of chocolate covered espresso beans or raisins from one of the plastic bins? It’s all about your mood that specific day — childhood nostalgia or an artisan brand?
Well. I was most curious to try a few pieces from Lillie Belle Farms of Oregon. I’d read about hippie chocolatier Jeff Shepherd via the Chocolate Chocolate Facebook Page. He grows all his own marionberries, raspberries, strawberries and boysenberries, etc., on his organic family farm in Southern Oregon and sources fair-trade chocolates from all over the world for his scrumptious award-winning artisan creations.
They’re touted as some of the best chocolates in America and, *wait for it* — they’ve even been on the tour buses of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Steely Dan, and, *BE STILL MY HEART!*, ♥Bob Dylan♥ (tangled up in Blue Berry Bon Bons).
Where was I? Oh yes, Lillie Belle. Naturally I didn’t know which ones to pick so I asked Koomo for advice. “You must try a Lavender Caramel . . . Boysenberry Buttercup. Strawberry Passion Fruit Buttercup. Jamaican Spiced Caramel.” Julia and I thought the Raspberry Cordial Butterflies were pretty so I also got two of those.
O.M.G.! I’ve always loved raspberries and I’ve had other raspberry filled chocolates before. But these were so, sooooo good! What you really notice is the fresh fruit taste, truly a symphony of flavor, perfect sweetness, just rich enough. Definitely in my top 3 of all time!
BUT. My absolute favorite is the Lavender Caramel. This took me by surprise. Unlike some of the other beautifully handpainted pieces, this caramel, a modest, unassuming little dark square topped with Fleur de Sel salt, doesn’t need a fancy calling card to call attention to itself. One bite, and you know you’ve just tasted the best caramel on the planet. The lavender infusion is perfection, a very subtle note with big impact. I know I am sometimes prone to exaggeration (who, me?), but this is truly THE BEST. You MUST try one — both Oprah and Martha Stewart have given it the nod as well as Sunset Magazine, which deemed it “the best of the West.” NOM!
Meanwhile, Julia grew giddy spotting the bin of Baci Kisses, which she’d read about in Chapter One: “Starry foil wraps velvety dark chocolate around a creamy hazelnut nugget and a love note to remember.”
Also exciting was trying the dark chocolate orange peel, a favorite of the National Geographic Editor who walked into the shop one day, went nuts over the orange peel, learned F&G were writers, and commissioned their first picture book (Goodbye, 382 Shin Dang Dong). (Yes, the stuff of fairy tales!) Julia and her mom also got some chocolate covered pretzels and naturally couldn’t leave the shop without a box of Ginger’s House Truffles — you should have been there for the squealing and swooning when they first tasted them at home. Both pronounced those handmade, homemade truffles as the best piece of chocolate they’d ever had in their entire lives.
Now, Julia wants to visit Virginia every summer and Christmas, meet Ginger and her husband Skip, work part-time at Chocolate Chocolate, and egads — she plans to buy property adjoining ours and build a house with a connecting tunnel — so whenever the mood strikes, she can pop over, help me bake cookies, play with Cornelius and Hatley, and of course, EAT MORE CHOCOLATE!
Sigh. We read, we saw, we tasted. Chocolate Chocolate is pure magic, I tell you. Like walking into a dream, only it’s divinely real.
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Chocolate Chocolate DC
1130 Connecticut Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20036
Toll Free: 888-466-2190
Order Online or by phone. Nationwide shipping.
**Learn more about the Park Sisters’ books at their Official Website.
Enjoy this cool video produced by Voice of America:
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Thank you so much, Francie and Koomo! We missed you Ginger, but look forward to seeing you next time :).
Oh, did I mention the Lavender Fleur de Sel Caramels?
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This post is being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts (recipes, fiction/nonfiction/cookbook/movie reviews, photos, and musings, etc.). Come join the fun and check out all the deliciousness!
Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.