Comfort Fare

For many years now, I have taken a photo of every plate of food I’ve cooked, a practice that extended, during the homebound years of the pandemic, to lunch as well as dinner. I do not share these photos on social media. They are meant only for me, making up a visual diary that I often revisit. Lately, I have been looking back at what we ate during that first pandemic year. The photos reveal a surfeit of decidedly atypical luxury items: truffles, sea urchins, an inordinate amount of caviar. A chanterelle omelet for lunch could be followed by rabbit paella for dinner, or a biryani rich with saffron and lamb. The uncertainty of the times must have compelled me to splurge, to treat every meal as if it were a valedictory feast. Not that I didn’t, like many Americans, feel the back-to-the-homestead impulses that led to the obsessive preparation of homemade breads, macaroni and cheese … comfort foods. Fitting squarely into this category: kasha varnishkes.

In the summer of 2020, I came across an essay in Saveur magazine in which Phillip Lopate described that modest concoction of buckwheat groats, farfalle, caramelized onions, and chicken fat. (Only after I got married did I learn of this staple of the Ashkenazi Jewish kitchen; it was a childhood favorite of my wife’s.) So beautifully did Lopate elevate that humble dish into lofty, noble realms that I knew I had to make it that night.

Lopate’s essay appears in his most recent collection, A Year and a Day. It is one of the few pieces in the book not to have been first published by the Scholar. In 2016, Lopate wrote a weekly blog for our website, and I was his editor. It was always a pleasure to see how this great practitioner of the long-form personal essay would negotiate the constraints of a weekly deadline and a relatively short word count. Recently, he and I discussed his book before an appreciative audience at Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C. We caught up in the greenroom before the event, covering a wide range of subjects in only 15 or 20 minutes: Washington Irving, Adolf Loos, and of course, kasha varnishkes. I told him how much we would love to have his work in our pages again, and I was delighted to hear that he would send us something soon.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Sudip Bose is the editor of the Scholar. He wrote the weekly classical music column “Measure by Measure” on this website for three years.


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