Summer food reads 2016

In the hammock with Elvis’ favorite sandwich, Ozzy’s scary chicken and Alice Trillin

Courtesy of John Lehndorff

You have to love a cookbook that puts warning labels on some of its recipes:

“Warning! Recipes marked with this symbol are INEDIBLE and shouldn’t be attempted.”

It makes sense in 1988’s Rock N’ Roll Cuisine (Billboard) by Robin Le Mesurier and Peggy Sue Honneyman-Scott, a collection of recipes from 1980s rock bands with big hair to benefit Phoenix House.

Others look quite tasty such as Julian Lennon’s Chicken Cinnamon Soup, Cher’s Boyfriend-Approved Macaroni Salad and the almost inevitable Meatloaf’s Meatloaf. Each recipe page was created by the musician, often hand-written with snapshots, or in the case of Ozzy Osbourne, a cartoon recipe for Ozzy’s Chicken Curry.

The volume emerged as I was digging through the recesses of the Nibbles book archive for something new to read this summer. By “new” I mean a book I forgot I had. Fifteen years as a food writer for the Daily Camera and the Rocky Mountain News delivered an onslaught of food books to my desk. I only kept a tiny fraction, maybe 800 or so, but two moves in 10 years has culled the library to a reasonable number I’ll trim again. However, there are some books I’ll never sell.

One of those is 1992’s Are you Hungry Tonight? Elvis’ Favorite Recipes (Grammercy) by Brenda Arlene Butler. It focuses on the young Elvis’ taste for Southern and Midwestern classics from Biscuits and Red-Eye Gravy to Banana Coconut Chiffon Pie. There is a chapter titled “Yes, The King Ate Vegetables,” featuring a recipe for Fresh Kale with Cheese.

“At some point in the ’50s Elvis became fond of a dish which is now frequently associated with him,” Butler writes, offering a recipe for a Fried Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich. Elvis’ taste in sandwiches got more excessive later in life and that’s where Colorado comes in.

The way I heard it, the King and friends were hanging out on Feb. 1, 1976, at Graceland. Something reminded Elvis of the Fool’s Gold Loaf he had sampled at the long-gone Colorado Gold Mine Company in Glendale. The $50 “sandwich” was a hollowed-out loaf of white bread stuffed with a pound of cooked bacon, peanut butter and grape jelly. The entourage ended up taking Elvis’ jet that night to Stapleton Airport where they were met on the tarmac with several Fool’s Gold Loaves.

Over the years several eateries have tried to duplicate the monstrosity, but it hasn’t caught on. Maybe some hipster café will revive it with gluten-free bread, artisan boar bacon, hand-ground peanut butter and wild berry conserve.

The newest volume in my seasonal pile is a great addition to my pie bookshelf,  2015’s Empanadas: The Hand-Held Pies of Latin America (Stewart, Taboori & Chang).The book takes you through 10 dough variations, dozens of savory and sweet fillings plus salsas, sauces and other toppings. While I might quibble with her account of hand pie history, I have developed a hankering for candied pineapple empanadas.

Finally, there is one volume I have re-read every summer for decades. Alice, Let’s Eat: Further Adventures of a Happy Eater (Random House) by Calvin Trillin was published in 1976, and I was given a copy soon thereafter. It’s a revelation — the voice, the sharp humor and the On the Road sensibility. Trillin writes that “Marriage is not merely sharing the fettucini, but sharing the burden of finding the fettucini restaurant in the first place.” He describes the food at private dining rooms as being “so tasteless because the members associate spices and garlic with just the sort of people they’re trying to keep out.”

I wanted to be Calvin Trillin and find my own Alice with whom to traverse America’s blue highways in search of the last slice of banana coconut chiffon pie, and reading the book started me on my path to writing this column this week.

If you see my book, Denver Dines: A Restaurant Guide and More (Johnson, 2005), please don’t buy it. I’m proud of it, but now it is mainly a historic artifact full of eateries long deceased.

What’s your fun food read for this the summer? Let me know, and I’ll share it:

Food News

The Capital One Cafe, a hybrid bank/espresso place, will fill the space at 1247 Pearl St., left vacant by the closing of the 20-year-old Boulder Café. The site is thought to be the location of the first ever Boulder dining place. … Get your Cubanos and mojitos while you can. Cuba Cuba Sandwicheria will close by the end of June at 2525 Arapahoe Ave. … Sushi Aji is open at 489 U.S. Highway 287 near Baseline Road in Lafayette. … New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins and Ben & Jerry’s will release Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ale this fall to raise awareness about climate change. In 2015 the collaboration produced Salted Caramel Brownie Brown Ale.

minutecornJohn Lehndorff

Worst New Food Product

The worst new food product I’ve seen on local supermarket shelves in awhile is So Natural Microwave Corn on the Cob, available at the Lafayette Wal-Mart. It is two, pre-cooked mini corn cobs vacuum-sealed in heavy plastic and on the shelf next to the canned corn. Thank goodness it’s non-GMO. Cost: $1.58. Or maybe just eat an ear of fresh sweet corn?

Taste of the Week

Keep an eye out for the new season of organic “Cotton Candy” grapes. I don’t always endorse fruit, but this remarkable result of luck and selective breeding is the best-tasting grape I’ve ever sampled. The yellowish-green fruit does initially taste a bit like cotton candy but mostly it’s a great juicy flavor balanced between tart and sweet.

Words to Chew On

“Cookbooks hit you where you live. Cookbooks say to the person reading them, ‘If you will read me, you will be able to do this for yourself and for others. You will make everybody feel better.’” — Laurie Colwin in More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen (Harper).

John Lehndorff is the former food editor of the Aurora Sentinel and bluegrass music critic of the Rocky Mountain News. Read his blog at: Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles at 8:25 a.m. Thursdays on KGNU (88.5 FM, 1390 AM,