a picnic operetta

September 22, 2010

This past weekend I volunteered my time to help with food prep for Tales of Hoffman: A Picnic Operetta, which has been touring twelve community garden spaces during the 2010 harvest season. The show is produced by Mixed Precipitation, a Minneapolis-based performance initiative dedicated to exploring text, space and dramatic form.

Not only is this opera performed in beautiful community gardens all over the Twin Cities, but chef Nick Schneider creates locally sourced food samplings that are prepared fresh and served to translate the events of the story.  How cool is that? Super rad.

For my part, I showed up at Nick’s house at eleven in the morning, drank earl grey tea, chatted with Nick and chopped, scooped and prepped my little heart out.

The menu for the operetta looked like this:

  • Elderberry Kombucha-Brew
  • Beet-Studded Pickled Crab Apples
  • Roasted Garlic-Chevre on Zelnike,
    a traditional Czech sauer kraut cracker
  • Raspberry glazed Baby Beet Jewels
  • Feta Stuffed Roasted Red Pepper, a classic greek meze.
  • Brown Buttered dinosaur kale

The morning flew by as I picked raspberries from Nick’s garden, scooped, glazed, chopped, and rolled. It didn’t hurt that the house, garden, and kitchen had me in a complete and constant state of awe and envy.

It was a great learning experience for me, talking to Nick and hearing how he comes up with ideas for all the different dishes based on the geography of the opera’s setting, as well as the themes within the story. Beyond that, Nick is just a wonderful chef and watching someone so talented in their space, doing their thing, is something quite magical.

Before I knew it, we had everything ready and set to go and all I had to do was turn up at the Bronx Community Garden and enjoy the show. The gardens’ location on a bike trail made the performance even more wondrous as random bikers would look on in surprise at the spectacle they were passing by. The food “pairings” were exciting interludes to the operetta and seemed to delight and intrigue the audience.

The Elderberry Kombucha-brew was pretty out of this world and the brown buttered kale…oh my. If you haven’t ever cooked kale in browned butter before, you have no idea what you are missing out on. Do it now.

There are but two shows left of this season’s run. Twin Cities folk: make it your last summer hoorah and I promise you won’t regret it.

Finally, here is the recipe for zelniki, the Czech sauer kraut crackers that we made and served with roasted garlic chevre. I can’t wait to make a batch myself – they were perfect zingy mouthfuls of crunch. Recipe and notes courtesy of Nick Schneider.


This cracker is of Czech origin. It is essentially a pie crust where the water is substituted out for minced sauer kraut. This makes a very workable dough.


  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 cups sauer kraut chopped fine
  • 3-4 oz unsalted butter cut on a cheese grater


  1. Combine flour and kraut and grate the cold butter into the mix. The butter can be frozen a little ahead of time to make it easier to grate. Should have a pie crust consistency.
  2. Roll out as thin as possible. You’ll need to dust each side with a
    little flour as you flip and roll out the dough.
  3. Cook for 30 min or until light brown in a 350 oven. Turn or rotate shelves half-way through the baking time.
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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

elizabeth September 22, 2010 at 8:48 am

This is such a cool idea! I like to have dinner and movie nights where I’ll prepare meals that coincide with the film we’re watching but this is hardcore.

I’d be all over this cracker, but I have a lifelong aversion to sauerkraut–loathe the smell of it.


Stephanie September 22, 2010 at 9:16 am

wow! i live in madison, but am definitely going to try to convince my friends in the cities to let me come up and visit for one of these shows! is the kale just literally cooked in browned butter? nothing else fancy about it? kale is one of my fav leafy greens, and finding new ways to prepare it is always exciting.

did you all brew the kombucha? i had elderberry kombucha from our amazing local brewers, Nessalla, and loved it. definitely want to try making it at home now!


Nick Schneider September 22, 2010 at 9:52 am

A note on the Zelniki: if you have watery sauer kraut it is good to let it drain a bit in a colander, such that the dough doesn’t become too wet.
Guten schmeckt.


brandi September 22, 2010 at 3:23 pm

I wish I had something like that around here! What a cool thing to be involved in and it sounds like it was a great experience


Erica September 22, 2010 at 5:48 pm

SO gorgeous. What a cool event to be involved with. The Feta Stuffed Roasted Red Pepper sound and look just awesome. Jealoussss!


Crunchy Granola Gal September 22, 2010 at 9:52 pm

what an awesome idea for a food + arts event! and how cool it is that you were a part of it, behind the foodie scenes! if they are ever coming to nyc (who knows?!) let me know!


Katie September 22, 2010 at 10:33 pm

Um, this is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard of. I want to fly over for the next one! Heh.

I really want to start volunteering at our local roof farm. Hope one day the my work schedule coincides with their volunteer days!


minneville September 22, 2010 at 11:38 pm

how imaginative it is to use taste to articulate a story! thank you for sharing! and kombucha? i never know such tea existed! interesting!


Madeline - Greens and Jeans September 23, 2010 at 12:03 am

That event sounds so flipping cool!


Scotty Reynolds September 23, 2010 at 7:45 am

Thanks for volunteering! And thanks for taking such beautiful pictures…. With Nick, I co-created this food / performance experience. We’re really proud to share it in such wonderful spaces. We’re at the Augsburg Community Garden and the Cornercopia Student Organic Farm this weekend.

My favorite item is the pickled chestnut crab apple (served as glowing magical eyes to sear the soul).


Holly September 23, 2010 at 8:50 am

next time you volunteer for his, holler at your girl. i’m in…if for no other reason than for the kombucha and kale.


ummm…remember how i said i was going to e-mail you? yeah, about that…i am going right now to do that!!!


Delaney September 23, 2010 at 9:18 am

I had an amazing time. What a wonderful concept with such talented people…


emily (a nutritionist eats) September 23, 2010 at 8:37 pm

Ok, first of all what an awesome event! Also, I need those crackers, they sound SO interesting! And I love brown butter on anything and I love kale so I WILL make that happen.
PS. I just added the updated url so I really am back now. :)


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