BY JOHN LEHNDORFF
When my son Hans was born in 1994 I was the food editor of the Boulder Daily Camera writing a weekly column called Nibbles. In 2000 I became the dining critic of the Rocky Mountain News. Over those years and in many other publications I’ve written about eating with Hans and used him repeatedly for my journalistic needs. Plus, we had to eat.
Hans graduates May 15 from Willamette University in Salem OR with a double major in economics and religious studies, joining Phi Beta Kappa, nationally ranked track athlete and as winner of the school’s male student-athlete of the year. Yes, my heart soars like an eagle because Hans is a good man and he knows how to make a great apple pie. Before he and his absolutely wonderful friend Becca Brownlee head to Europe to decompress, I just want to say thanks for the memories. Cook on.
We have been as guilty of this as the next parents. When Hans is preoccupied at the table, we have time to get ourselves and the house together. But we make a concerted effort to slow down, sit down and eat with him. At 18-months-old, Hans still speaks some form of Bulgarian — interspersed with the word “milk” — but he still tells us about his day and shows us how much he loves Pad Thai noodles. We instruct him that spitting his honeydew melon on the floor is inappropriate. He infects us with his unbridled sense of wonder. – Knight-Ridder Newspapers, September 5, 1995
This two-week excursion provided my son with an opportunity to expand his already wide culinary horizons. He took the opportunity to order escargot every time he could. He also appreciated the French way with hot dogs. On the second level of the Eiffel Tower, we watched as the snack bar guy stabbed a baguette on a wide round spike, squirted mustard in the hole, slipped in two hot dogs and heated it with a coating of gruyere. Hans also developed a severe craving for Nutella, the silky milk chocolate and hazelnut spread that is layered on bread and warm crepes at streetside windows. We finally had to cut him off. – (A Diner’s Tour de France An American Critic and His Family Eat Their Way Through Paris By John Lehndorff, Rocky Mountain News, November 6, 2004)
My guest for this pilgrimage was my 8-year-old son Hans, fresh from learning to ski on the slopes at Keystone. In a fatherly fashion I reminded him that I had only one rule: He had to sample everything. “I will,” he said, “except for deer.” Fair enough. A childhood encounter with odd venison meatballs had tainted his taste for game. … Our pretty house salad was graced with slivers of sweet yellow beet, white beans, pecans, and pickled carrot with a wonderful blood orange vinaigrette. I knew Hans would hate it. He managed a mouthful or two but refused greens, especially the frizzy frisee. “This looks like a weed from the lawn,” he said. “I hate weeds.” … Hans chose the only thing that looked “safe” to him: grilled beef filet done medium. Though surprised when he bit into some peppercorns, he heartily defended his portion of truly melt-in-the-mouth meat from my fork incursions. – Rocky Mountain News, April 12, 2002
“Daddy. Did they have lollipops back when you were a little boy” The question— asked by my inquisitive kindergartner — took my breath away for a moment. Perhaps my tales of life before computers, color TVs, Lunchables and indoor plumbing had given Hans a too-dismal view of my baby boomer youth? Scratching the white hairs in my
mustache, I assured the tyke that in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, not only did we have lollipops, but candy corn, Almond Joy, M&Ms, Good & Plenty, Sugar Babies, Baby Ruths and more. What was his favorite? Warheads, he said. “They’re TOO sour,” he continued, explaining that love/hate relationship we sometimes have with food. I started telling him about Sweet Tarts, “the grandfather of Warheads,” but he was bored. Hans held up one finger and said solemnly, “There’s one rule about candy: Not too much.” Even though I had witnessed his candy consumption, I was still impressed with my 5-year-old’s embrace of moderation. In the way-too- festive season ahead, “not too much” is probably a motto we can survive on. – Chicago Sun-Times, December 8, 1999
There has never been a recipe that I know of for this wonderful potato sausage stuffing. I know that the formula encoded in my memory will guide me as I stand before my stove as it did when I learned it from my mother Rose who learned it from her mother Vincenza. Each year I remember her by writing about it again. This year my son, 8-monthold Hans, will assist me and begin his apprenticeship and learn the secrets of stuffing. – Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, November 14, 1994
Never let it be said that I won’t go the distance to find a good hot dog. Between July 31 and Aug.10, my 11-year-old son and I drove about 3,500 miles along the George Brett Super Highway, the Mark McGuire Highway and Pete Rose Way in search of the ultimate ballpark fare. Along the interstates, bliss was chocolate saltwater taffy in Kansas. Astonishment came in the form of frog’s legs, mac ‘n’ cheese, broccoli beef and ice cream at the Triple Dragon Buffet near Evansville, Ind. Relief from a humid 100-degree afternoon was luscious Ritter’s Frozen Custard in Columbus, Ohio. At our first game (in Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark), we chomp on nachos, peanuts and an OK Skyline Coney Dog. At PNC Park in Pittsburgh, we watched costumed pirogies race down the warning track before being awed by the outrageously good Pittsburger. This $6 mouthful is slices of white bread bulging with a beef patty, coleslaw and fresh, hot french fries. It’s brilliant! We heckle the Yankees fans and nibble a Sushi Combo No. 1 and a Polish dog at Cleveland’s Jacobs Field. Chicago-bound, we sidetrack to Wisconsin for perfectly sweet Bing cherries and to Port Clinton, Ohio, to eat a fried walleye sandwich on Lake Erie’s shores. At US Cellular Field we wolf down fine World’s Fair Franks with sauteed onions and watch the White Sox win before a final stop at the venerable Wrigley Field to see the Cubs lose. Here we encounter the greatest of all dogs, a sloppy footlong with chili, kraut, tomatoes,
peppers, pickle, onions and good, shiny, orange cheese sauce. Yow! Trekking home to Colorado past endless fields of beans, we detoured to Iowa’s Field of Dreams. I had a catch with my son, he took batting practice, and art and life melded as we disappeared into the corn in right field. Pulling back one ear’s husk, we nibble some kernels. They are as sweet and memorable as this heavenly American adventure we’re on. All in all, we had a ball. – Rocky Mountain News, September 9, 2005
Gourmet Boy was sitting across from me at lunch recently at Masalaa, an Indian vegetarian restaurant. Gourmet Boy is the superhero alter ego of my peanut butter-loving, baseball playing, 10-year-old son. He tends to appear only during dining review meals. Gourmet Boy loves the paneer tikka masala with basmati rice and the raisin- and cashew-studded, coral-hued sweet semolina, but he also willingly tasted the dahi vada (a white lentil doughnut) and the various chutneys. He even sampled the unexpected lime pepper pickle that tasted simultaneously flowery, salty, tart, licorice-y and challenging even to this critic’s been-there, tasted-that taste buds. Marveling at his bravery, I asked Gourmet Boy if he had any tips for kids who refuse to eat anything but macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets. “Taste different foods. It can’t kill you. You don’t have to eat a whole plate of it, just try it,” he said as he dipped a piece of onion uttappam, a rice and lentil pancake, into mild coconut chutney. I asked him if he secretly resented being made to taste everything. “I’m glad you do. This stuff is good!” he said. We agreed that it’s the parents’ responsibility to introduce kids to new food experiences. “You have to eat it yourself if you want your kids to.
They’ll be willing to try it instead of saying ‘Ugh!’” he said. Gourmet Boy added that when parents acquiesce to kids’ bland dining demands, “then the kids are controlling the parents,” he said. Despite the fact that he was nurtured from the prenatal state to be a foodie (and ordered gored gored when he dined on Ethiopian food with his mother and I later that day), Gourmet Boy can disappear faster than a frozen custard sundae. He was nowhere to be found a day later as my son happily headed off on a summer camp expedition to Casa Bonita. It’s OK. I know that when it’s time to savor kimchi on pibimbap, Gourmet Boy will dine again. – Rocky Mountain News, July 23, 2004
The other delight this night is fresh mustard greens stir-fried with julienne pickled ginger ($6.95). The verdant leaves and stems are refreshing, with a hint of bitterness. My son refuses them, saying simply, “It’s horrible already.” I can’t complain after he was willing to taste a baby fish. – April 27, 2001 Rocky Mountain News
In a moment of parental largess, I told my offspring he could order anything he wanted from the menu. The clever 7-year-old opted for lobster and winter squash ravioli ($18), served in a light lemon butter with sage. While I was busy appreciating the nuances of chef Franklin’s stunning sesame-crusted sea bass ($20) with a lively citrus vinaigrette and mashed potatoes, the boy was wolfing down the tender pasta pockets and the nice, large pieces of buttery lobster and cubes of orange squash” “Hey,” I said, “save some for me. Remember, it’s my job to taste it.” He only grudgingly complied. – December 21, 2001 Rocky Mountain News
A 13-year-old child stands on the threshold of adulthood. In many cultures, rites of passage are observed, be it confirmation, bar mitzvah or an aboriginal walkabout. To mark this historic day in my son Hans’ life, we engaged in an ancient family ritual involving meaningful gifts and a magnificent cake. My wife and I wanted a transitional event to mark the advent of increasing privileges and responsibilities. That’s how we found ourselves watching our baby boy floating in thin air as he went indoor “sky diving” at SkyVenture in Lone Tree. I liked the flying symbolism, and Hans looked quite grown-up in his jumpsuit. He enjoyed the experience but said, “It’s harder to do than it looks.” That sounds like life to me. A feast was in order, but we couldn’t use the event to introduce him to “adult” dining. The son-of-a-critic already enjoys foie gras, escargot, and flying fish roe and raw quail egg sushi. He’ll need a great career to support that palate. – Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO) March 9, 2007
When grown-ups find out that my Dad reviews restaurants for the Rocky Mountain News, they always say: “That must be the greatest job in the world!” He does have an interesting job, but I think it would be cooler if my Dad played for the Broncos. He makes me and Mom go out to eat with him. If he invites you out on a review dinner, you have to follow the rules because it’s not like normal eating at all.
Rule 1 You have to taste everything even if it’s something you think is disgusting like jellyfish, pig’s ears and weird green vegetables.
Rule 2 During dinner, you have to pretend you are not doing what you are doing, which is reviewing a restaurant, especially when the waiters are around.
Rule 3 No matter what you want, you can almost never order it. Even worse,
you have to pretend you want to order whole steamed sea bass with lemongrass even when you really, really want to order sesame chicken.
Rule 4 You might get to order a steak, but you NEVER get to eat much of it. You have to let my Dad and everyone else at the table taste it.
Rule 5 You have to be patient. Sometimes it takes an hour to get there. Dinner will take a really, really, REALLY long time. Make sure you come hungry. Everybody has to order an appetizer, then a main dish and then dessert.
Rule 6 You always have to eat at some new restaurant you’ve never heard of with food from places that are far away.
Rule 7 Nothing you say during dinner is ‘off the record.’ That means if you say, ‘These frogs legs are really gross and disgusting,’ he might write it down and put it in his review. Just like in school, we have to give the restaurant a grade after we eat there. My Mom always checks out the bathroom and if there’s no hot water or it’s really grungy she gives it a D.
Rule 8 Always bring a backpack or, if you are a mom, a large purse, so that you can steal a menu for my Dad.
Rule 9 You have to order dessert, even if you are full. Yay!
Rule 10 After dinner my Dad holds everybody hostage. You have to sit in our car and talk to my Dad about what you ate while he takes notes. I think he calls it ‘disgorging.’ My Dad gets mad if you use bad words like ‘delicious,’ ‘tasty,’ ‘different,’ ‘yummy’ and ‘yucky.’ If you use words like ‘nuance’ and ‘infuse’ you’ll get to go home faster. If you are a kid I recommend bringing your Game Boy Advanced with you…and better bring two games to play. It will be a long night. (From 10 Simple Rules for Dining with My Dad Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO) March 7, 2003 By John and Hans Lehndorff)