Food lovers often express themselves through food. Your child makes you breakfast in bed. Your lover makes you a romantic candlelit meal. Your friend drops off a tin of homemade cookies. While the preparation and sharing of food with another often expresses so much more than we can articulate at times, words remain ever powerful. This begs the question: What kind of greeting cards do foodies share with each other when it’s time to express love, birthday wishes or an anniversary? Meet Julie Morelli and her husband Andy, both graphic designers at Letterform and the “bouillabaisse brains” behind Nourishing Notes, a letterpress printed greeting cards company, focused on foodie fun. Think about all the great food puns out there: “soup-er” (instead of “super”), “Holy Mole” instead of (“Holy Moly”) and an artichoke heart (instead of a generic “heart”). Julie and Andy provide classy, food laughs that amuse foodies. We first stumbled on Nourishing Notes’ greeting cards at a boutique shop in Philadelphia. Their “Sole Mates” card (yes, that’s a fish pun) was a huge hit when wishing friends a happy anniversary. We wondered what kind of great food memories the Nourishing Notes gang might have. We decided to find out, and indeed, they have some great foodie tales. We caught up with Julie via email — Nourishing Notes is based out of Chicago — and shared some “Nourishing” Chocolate Covered (and letterpress printed) Memories …
How did you find yourself in this niche of the industry?
I went to the School of Art & Design at the University of Michigan for graphic design, which directly led to my husband Andy and I starting Letterform, our graphic design studio. Nourishing Notes, our stationery line, is a combination of illustration, writing, puns, letterpress printing, and all of that is self taught. As for the food part of my work, that all comes from love. Food is my first love. Well, food … and my husband and family, that is.
Any food industry jobs as a child growing up?
My first job was at an Italian restaurant. I was obsessed with cooking shows on TV, and coming from an Italian-American family that cooked constantly, I thought an Italian restaurant would be perfect for me. It only took about two weeks until I realized I was not cut out for the hardcore restaurant world. I moved on to various cafes, bakeries and ice cream shops, which were much better experiences for me. There was also a short stint at a banquet hall where I had to wear a tuxedo — very “glamorous.” My friends made fun of me for wearing that tux until they heard I received — not one but — two staff meals during our longer shifts. In college, free meals were a really big deal.
What are your earliest childhood memories of food?
I have two very distinct early memories of food. First, when I was really little, my mom had a small cake baking business, based out of our home. I remember sitting at the counter watching her make the cakes and waiting to lick the beaters from the mixing bowl. As if that wasn’t enough sugar for one afternoon, once the cakes had baked and cooled, my mom would trim them to just the right shape and size. I would conveniently still be sitting there, waiting for the pieces that didn’t make the cut.
Second, I clearly remember the first time I was allowed to pour my own syrup onto my waffles one morning. The bottle was huge, but I was determined to do it all by myself. Once the plate had completely filled with syrup and it was spilling over the edge onto the floor, I put the bottle back upright. I thought I did a great job; my parents, however, thought otherwise.
From where does your love of food stem?
I’ll break it down into two parts: eating and cooking. My love of eating definitely comes from my parents. Despite the early days of TV dinners, my brother and I started seeing things like bran muffins, tofu, whole wheat bread, fresh fish and dark leafy greens in our kitchen — which we, of course, thought were disgusting. So I was exposed to new and different foods when I was young. Although I complained that we weren’t eating like the other families in the neighborhood, that curiosity for food has stuck with me, and I’m always game to try something new. My love of cooking came from my grandparents on my dad’s side — the Italian ones. I don’t care what time of day or what day of the week you show up at their house, they are always cooking something and are ready to feed our entire extended family of 40-plus people in a moment’s notice. They have taught me how to make pasta, can tomatoes, roll out pizza dough, properly dress a salad, cook gizzards (yes, gizzards!), make sausage and more. Some of my favorite childhood memories — not just the food ones — are from their house.
What foods remind you of childhood?
Velveeta cheese, croissant dough that came in a tube, canned tuna fish, BBQ sauce (I used to put it on everything!), lunch meat that had no resemblance to any animal in particular and … luckily, my grandma’s red sauce.
Were you a picky eater as a kid? Have you overcome those childhood fears or do they still remain to this day?
I hated peppers and onions. Big time. I also thought my parents made me eat crusty bread because they wanted all of my baby teeth to fall out at the same time. It turns out that they were just giving me really good bread! Now I don’t think I can go through the week without peppers, onions or crusty bread.
What do you think of Hallmark and the major greeting card companies? Is there any parallel to the food world (big industry versus small restaurants)?
Hallmark? I think there’s an audience for it, and it’s not my audience. All of my customers that I’ve talked to understand that we are a small operation, and they really appreciate the work we do by hand. They know what they’re paying for and actually want to support us. It’s pretty incredible, and I’m extremely grateful. I’ve never had to justify our prices to anyone or had to listen to anyone say: “Well, I can get a card cheaper at Hallmark.” People shopping at Hallmark might not even know something like Etsy exists, so our paths will never cross, and that’s fine with me.
I think it’s a great parallel to the food world — Andy and I can spend hours seeking out a tiny restaurant doing really creative food with a lot of heart and thought, and we’re willing to pay more for it. We want to support them, and we want to eat really good food. Eating at a big chain isn’t even an option for us anymore; however, I’m very well aware that it’s easier for us to avoid those chains by living in a big city like Chicago.
What recipe do you want to share with us?
La Manastra — or “manasht,” as my family shortens it — is something that is almost always cooking at my grandparents’ house. I hesitate to call it a recipe per se since it changes every time it’s made, depending on what you happen to have on hand. In the spring, it’s filled with fresh greens. In the fall, it’s overflowing with pumpkin. A steaming bowl of this dish, some crusty bread, and plenty of homemade red wine… and welcome to my family! Enjoy my grandparents’ La Manastra!
Julie and Andy Morelli are the co-owners of Letterform, a graphic design studio in Chicago. With Letterform’s Nourishing Notes, this food-loving duo makes hilarious letterpress printed greeting cards — and other fun foodie goods (like kitchen towels!) — all about food. Julie and Andy believe that there’s nothing better than food, family, friends and laughter. For more information about Nourishing Notes, visit: NourishingNotes.com. To purchase Nourishing Notes cards and towels, visit their Etsy site here.