Recently I received a press release about graduation gifts for foodies. I get a lot of press releases. But then I saw that one of the suggestions was a necklace with a little silver farfalle on it. And thought OMG, kasha varnishkes!
Kasha varnishkes is one of those ur-foods for me. I associate it, madeleine-powerfully, with my long-gone Boston relatives. In fact, I did not know varnishkes had an “r” in it until I was an adult. (In the local dialect, it is “vahnishkes.”) It’s not like I ever saw the word written down. No one used a recipe for kasha varnishkes. I did not even like it that much; I was meh on the buckwheat groats, though I carefully denuded the pasta bows and devoured them.
Today, though, I love kasha varnishkes with passionate notional pureness. I powerfully associate it with sepia-toned memories of youth as a Shabbat staple, a festival of Ashkenazi beige and brown, served at a table with beloved, funny, wrinkly Boston-accented people who are no longer with us.
Suddenly, an idea was born. I did not get to write the entry for kasha varnishkes in Tablet’s 100 Jewish Foods list, what with its all-star lineup of contributors ranging from Tom Colicchio to Action Bronson to Yotam Ottolenghi to Maira Kalman to Ruth Reichl. Not that I’m bitter. Kasha varnishkes got Mitchell Davis, executive vice president of the James Beard Foundation, and frankly, his childhood’s buttery, onion-y kasha varnishkes sounds a lot better than mine. Neither of my grandmothers was much of a cook.
But I could soothe the writerly hurt by wearing a tribute to my family’s historic food as a necklace! This one, from the Delicacies “Al Dente” collection, retails for less than $100! (The gold version will set you back $580, and the one embedded with 13 diamonds is $980, but who other than a Kardashian who probably does not eat carbs wants diamonds in their pasta?) And hey, maybe other people could wear their favorite foods from the list as jewelry too! It could be like secret Jewish bandana code, letting us recognize each other when we’re not in the live audience for an Unorthodox podcast.
Are you a devotee of carciofi alla giudia? Wear an artichoke! Convinced that your family recipe produces the best chicken soup? Wear a wee chicken on a leather bracelet! If, like Rosie Schaap, you’re all about the concord grape juice, how about a macho cuff with a cluster on it? Express your hope for Middle East peace, love of martinis, or fondness for Talmudic dickering via a wee olive branch on a dainty chain! Or if you love “the Jewish soul food equivalent of chitlins” (in Michael Twitty’s lyrical phrase) that is ptcha (about which I say, beautiful writing, Michael, but NOPE), oh look, you can wear a cow. And if you are my editor-in-chief, here is a diamond-encrusted egg necklace to illustrate your Romaniote pride in huevos haminados.
All these items make lovely gifts because they come in tiny little mason jars and 10 percent of the cost goes to a food charity selected seasonally by a different chef. (Current chef: Top Chef winner and new restaurateur Kristen Kish, who chose Keep Austin Fed as the charity and provides her recipe for upscale—or as my great-grandmother would have said, fency-schmency—mac & cheese.)
But, you know, there are favorite Jewish foods that are not well-represented in delicate jewelry. Then what? If your passion is Bazooka, how about sporting a lovely linked bracelet that alternates resin-coated pieces of wrapped gum with symbolic polymer-clay wads of bright pink pre-chewed? Or you could go for glamorously beaded dangly hamentaschen earrings, or if you swing more butch than femme, how about tiny bagel-and-lox cuff links? I personally feel that babka earrings transcend gender. And if you were to google “gefilte fish earrings” thinking that no way do these exist, you would be WRONG, because everything exists on the Internet. (It’s Rule 34 but for Jewish food-related jewelry.) Though who would want to celebrate gefilte fish on their person? Most of us would not even endorse Eric Ripert’s lukewarm opening sentence, “It’s not as bad as it’s made out to be!”) But if you really want to be contrarian like some people, you could buy a huge honkin’ knuckle-duster of a signet ring with the proud word BACON on it in 1970s nameplate script.
Don’t @ me.