Rx: bread and butter

How real food, family and friends brought me back to life


The Nibbles column has survived some serious ups and downs in various publications since it debuted in 1985, but I have always made sure it got written and published. In early October, Nibbles disappeared from these pages. 

The hiatus was caused by a longstanding pain in the, well, lumbar region that turned excruciating. My back story commenced when a neurosurgeon said I needed immediate, four-level spinal fusion surgery. With my pain cranked up to “11,” I said, “Yes.” 

My four-month odyssey would feature a surgical hospital stay and a stint in a rehab hospital, followed by two days home and a dangerous sepsis infection then sent me back to the hospital. Eventually, the medical folks sent me back to another rehab spot before I went home again. By then, after experiencing roughly 200 hospital and rehab facility meals and snacks, I was ready to escape.  

I deeply appreciate those trying to feed various sick people in institutional settings with tight budgets. I wasn’t there to write a snarky dining critic review of the hospital food, which, to be fair, was significantly better than the rehab fare. 

For example, take the night the rehab facility special for dinner was “cheese pizza.” I thought: “How bad could rehab cheese pizza be?”

Well, I was delivered a single tiny wedge of white, soft, dough-like material that clearly hadn’t spent any time in an oven. The top was scarcely sprinkled with a few shreds of orange-ish cheese and some dried spices with no toppings. This rehab entrée was the worst-tasting, least satisfying example of anything labeled “pizza” I’ve encountered in my eating life. Equally horrendous was the “beef BBQ,” a single thin, tough slice of overcooked, lukewarm gray beef a knife couldn’t cut, with a glop of sweet sauce. 

I stuck to sandwiches after that. 

Almost as scary as pain, sepsis and the pizza, I became totally indifferent to food, an affliction I had almost never experienced in my decades as a food writer. I’d order food and, sitting alone in my room, ignore it. Except for visitors, the pandemic has meant that folks in these facilities almost never dine with others. 

Enthusiasm for tasting has always been my meal ticket. My talented neurosurgeon told me that many nerves in my lower back had gotten pissed off as she burned through 15 drill bits during the excavation. Some parts of me were disconnected but have come back. I started to wonder if my taste bud nerves had gotten short-circuited, too. 

I knew I was starting to recover when I began daydreaming about food, especially baked goods: Visions of buttery French pastries, garlic naan, blueberry cornbread and bagels filled my head. I wanted some Moxie Bread Co. Seeded Dark Rye — so dense, chewy and astonishing when toasted and buttered. Then, I was crushed to learn that a remarkable friend and bread visionary, owner Andy Clark, had passed away. 

As an answer to my need to feed again, a friend dropped by the rehab facility with a Babette’s baguette and some good salted butter. The satisfying chew of the caramelized crust made my palate feel alive. Family and friends brought me real food ranging from homemade dishes to spicy, chewy Thai noodles.   

I’ve got nothing but eternal gratitude to the village that has supported me. Some day maybe I’ll work on getting food served at rehab facilities that actually promotes healing and well-being. It’s not rocket science. 

Cooking and good food, exercise and a cool bone stimulator rig are helping to build my spine better than ever before. My appetite and taste buds are as sharp as ever and it tastes great to be back. 

Taste of the Week: Fleishman is Not in Trouble 

A Fleishman bagel. Photo by John Lehndorff.

It’s always an auspicious day when you find a fresh source of bagels, authentic deli foods and an unexpectedly comfy cafe in Boulder, all at the same time and place. Fleishman’s Bagels and Delicatessen is a new food truck set up Wednesday through Saturday outside Full Cycle on 30th Street near Barnes & Noble and Whole Foods Market. Owner Danna Fleishman crafts several flavors of bagels with that authentic chew and flavor. I dug into The Mudgie, a griddled everything bagel layered with bacon, cream cheese, tomato, chives and a sprinkle of smoked salt. Classic New York-style sandwiches, including pastrami, are on the menu, along with a rich, scratch-made chicken and duck broth with carrots and a tender matzo ball. You can sit and enjoy the food at Full Cycle’s surprisingly spacious café, which offers espresso, a full bar, pastries and some savory treats.  

Local Food News: New Eateries

It was great to hear that Wayne’s Smoke Shack (406 Center Drive, Superior), closed by the Marshall Fire more than a year ago, has reopened in Superior. … The Dumpling Deli has opened in the Hilltop Food Court on the Hill (1310 College Ave., Suite 230, Boulder), dishing dumplings with diverse fillings such as cheesesteak, Cuban, Buffalo chicken and apple. … Recent debuts include Stella’s Cucina (1123 Walnut St., Boulder), and Esmeralda’s Tamale House (1801 Hover St., Longmont) … Ginza Sushi-Hibachi (269 N. McCaslin Blvd.) has opened in Louisville in the former Spice China space. … In Denver, kosher dining and cryptocurrency curiously come together at Bitcoin Cafe (970 S. Oneida St., Unit 6), one of the state’s only true kosher restaurants. … Boulder’s Fresh Thymes Bodega has closed on 30th Street. … Coming soon: Postino Wine Café (1468 Pearl St., Boulder), and 99_bar Burgers & Beer (449 Main St., Longmont) … The now-closed Pizzeria Locale will reopen under the name Pizzeria Alberico in February. 

Meet Boulder’s Fine Food Finalists

Want to eat really local, ready-to-taste treats? The finalists for the 2023 Good Food Awards — the Oscars of American food — include Boulder’s Oliko ginger beer, Pastificio heirloom wheat pastas, and Mountain Girl Pickles corn relish. Other local finalists range A Salted Cucumber apple cider from Lafayette’s Stem Ciders, to Bourbon Barrel Aged Honey from Erie’s Willoughby Honey, and Cactus Spirit from Longmont’s Dry Land Distillers.   

Words to Chew On

“It will be a great day for America, incidentally, when we begin to eat bread again, instead of the blasphemous and tasteless foam rubber that we have substituted for it.”

—James Baldwin

John Lehndorff is the former food editor of the
Daily Camera and dining critic of the Rocky Mountain News. He hosts Radio Nibbles Thursdays at 8:20 a.m. on KGNU (88.5 FM, streaming at kgnu.org).