Note: Nibbles, my personal food column, will appear weekly n the Boulder Weekly in Boulder CO. The following is the introductory column: boulderweekly.com/article-15425-how-the-sausage-was-made.html
How the sausage was made
Pulling up a chair again at Boulder’s big community dinner table
The earliest known comment on my future career choices was uttered by Grandma Alice, my dad’s mother, in 1954 a few months after I was born.
Rose Mazzola was a nurse and the daughter of entrepreneurial Sicilian immigrants who owned a small grocery store where they made Italian sausage, the essential ingredient in our Thanksgiving stuffing. My Dad, Peter, and his parents were all physicians and wartime refugees from Austria. His parents were apparently less than thrilled with who their son fell in love with and unhappy that my mother kept having more kids. I was the third of five Lehndorff siblings.
Upon first seeing yours truly, Grandma Alice remarked:
“He looks like a Mazzola. He’ll become a butcher just like his grandfather.”
That’s the story Mom liked to tell me but she didn’t mention it until I’d progressed through school with mostly straight A’s and had brought home a B.A. in English.
Mom was more upset with the prediction than I was. Even back then, I couldn’t escape my dominant genetic predisposition toward all things edible, drinkable and cook-able. I’m a little bit cannoli, a little bit wienerschnitzel and all American.
I was the overweight child who hung out in the kitchen to talk and learn how to make lasagna. High school summers I worked for a catering company putting on clambakes for hundreds of people, not interning with a newspaper.
After moving to Boulder in 1976, I worked in restaurants, cooked for a sorority, catered events, taught cooking classes, judged food competitions, ran food benefit events and started penning stories about food and music for various publications.
In 1985, as the Daily Camera’s new food editor I named my column Nibbles and penned it weekly for 15 years. Before the Internet was a thing, a wire service version of Nibbles was distributed to newspapers nationally. I wrote about everything from Boulder County’s nascent natural foods and brewing scene, to the first things that my son Hans ate, to the fact that too many local parents and kids living among us were — and still are — malnourished.
(If I could go back and talk to the younger me writing his first Nibbles column, I would tell me to have a lot more fun, to save a lot more money and to consider writing less about SPAM, the canned ham-pork loaf.)
I became the dining critic for the Rocky Mountain News in 2000, reviewed more than 400 eateries and reinvented Nibbles as a restaurant column until that paper ceased to publish. Nibbles moved with me to Yellow Scene Magazine for a time, then to the Aurora Sentinel for a couple of years. It is the name of my blog and for many years I’ve talked about food weekly on my Radio Nibbles show on KGNU.
Life has a way of coming full circle. Now I’m a freelance writer again and I’m thrilled that Nibbles has found a home in Boulder Weekly. I can say with some authority that the eating, dining, drinking and grocery shopping have never been better in Boulder County.
From the beginning Nibbles has been a personal column that happens to be about food … or maybe it’s the other way around. I won’t be reviewing restaurants. I don’t eat out often but when I do, I promise to report back about the best and worst things I discover locally and across the state.
You will read about food news and trends and what I cook at home in Lafayette. I will sometimes share recipes even though I loathe them. (That’s a column for another week). I am appalled at the steadily worsening cooking skills of several generations of cooks and plan on doing my part to entice them back to the stove. Other columns will profile some of Colorado’s legion of artisan chefs, cheesemakers, vodka distillers, bakers, chocolatiers, coffee roasters, canners, craft brewers, cooking teachers and farmers.
Nibbles isn’t a food history feature but I’ll occasionally get nostalgic for a more innocent time before I went to Casa Bonita to taste “real” Mexican food. Pie will always be on the menu. I have devoted an inordinate amount of my life to all things enclosed in crust. Sometimes I Google “Lehndorff Pie” and wonder, as I scroll through pages upon page of items, where I would be now if I had been obsessed with kale instead.
I’m a lucky man. My Christmas present has been to cook for and with my son, who will graduate from college in May with a degree in economics and quite a good palate. He just made his first batch of pretzels and used half the yeasted dough to make cinnamon rolls. I made him vegetable pancakes that fused latkes, Indian uttapam and a recipe I learned in college from The Tassajara Cookbook.
Grandma Alice may have been right about me. I have ended up in the family business and there’s nothing I like better than seeing how the sausage is made.
In the kitchen
I recently grabbed a jar of vanilla beans that was in the markdown bin at a local market. I used one of the two black beans to season a Thanksgiving cranberry-cherry-rhubarb pie and then I remembered how much I like vanilla sugar. I put the other bean in the glass spice jar, added white sugar to the top, sealed it tightly and promptly forgot about it for two weeks. When I opened the jar that wonderful floral aroma filled my brain. I have used it sprinkled on buttered toast, whole grain hot cereal and pork chops. Raw sugar, maple sugar, cinnamon sugar and even brown sugar can also be used. When the jar is empty, add more sugar. After several refillings the perfume will lose its intensity but don’t compost the sugary vanilla bean yet. First, add it to a pot of coffee or simmer it in a batch of apple sauce.
On the Menu
How good could an egg salad sandwich possibly be? Pretty damn fine if it is made at Cured, the Boulder cheese and fine foods purveyor. The kitchen uses carefully boiled fresh local organic eggs in a silky mix that is generously spread on a pretzel roll along with fresh greens and house-pickled red onions. The sandwiches are pre-made and only sold on Saturdays at Cured until they run out (which is usually very quickly). To gild the lily, add a few paper-thin slices of prosciutto.
Words to Chew On
“What I say is that, if a man really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow.”
— A.A. Milne, author of Winniethe-Pooh (1926)
John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles at 8:25 a.m. Thursdays on KGNU, 88.5 FM, 1390 FM, kgnu.org. To listen to archived shows and read John’s blog visit news.kgnu.org/category/features/radionibbles.
Send your comments, questions, baked goods and quibbles to: Nibbles@ boulderweekly.com.