I was fortunate to grow up with both of my grandmothers alive during my childhood, and enjoyed diverse cooking between the two of them (Italian and Jewish). And while they both made amazing dinners, especially for the holidays, my Jewish grandmother was favored more by my sister and I as a baker. Anytime you walked into her home, you’d know to go straight to the kitchen to see what was newly baked and sitting on the table waiting to be devoured. Of all the sweets she baked, I think her lemon iced lemon cake was by far my absolute favorite. And it’s likely why I have a penchant for it til’ this day. But aside from the smell of bread or cake baking, there was always another familiar scent that occupied her kitchen. I never knew what exactly it was and just associated it with the baking process.
When my grandmother passed away a few years ago, my family made sure one of the things we didn’t discard was the tool she possessed for over 50 years which helped bring her creations to life – a chrome Sunbeam Model 11 Mixmaster.
It sat undisturbed somewhere, packed away for a few years, complete with the glass bowls it came with it. I can’t recall if it was used since my grandmother’s passing prior to this Christmas but the minute I turned it on, that familiar smell buried deep in my brain woke up. It was then I realized that the scent which accompanied all of her baking came from the mixer. This model mixer, manufactured in 1955/56, still functions perfectly after all these years. I was able to make a cake with it, and while I did I admired this machine as it churned away, thinking about the hundreds of desserts my grandmother lovingly made for her family. I think the motor needs a replacement as it gets pretty hot on the higher speeds, but until it completely conks out I continue using it and thinking of the woman to whom it once belonged.
I tend to associate the word Chachke (more correctly spelled Tchotchke) with people who have nothing better to do than collect worthless trinkets and display them amongst the clutter in their home. Which makes sense, since according to Wikipedia, the term has a connotation of worthlessness and has long been used by Jewish-Americans and in the regional speech of New York City. (The word “tchotchke” derives from a Slavic word for “toys.” Apparently, tchotchkes are often given at Chanukkah as part of a game.)
I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised then, when after admiring my souvenirs from my last trip I realized that I was a Chachke Chick. Considering I am 1/2 Jewish and from NY, this would be the only justifiable reason for it. That, and probably because I consider myself a sentimental person. I admit that I am guilty of buying these cheap souvenirs. I enjoy squeezing them into my already over packed luggage, so I can then take them home to add to my expanding collection of trinkets, or just admire them for a day and then pack them into another case for safe keeping. I’ve even gotten my family into chachke collecting, though not voluntarily.
When I recently returned from my trip to San Francisco and reflected on my chachke shopping, I thought about how many other things I had brought home or collected over the years, or better yet given to my family. I started to wonder if every time I gave someone something they secretly rolled their eyes. But then I realized something. Although these toys might be worthless to everyone but the person who buys it, they most certainly do have value. For me, each time I look at them, I’m reminded of where I was, who I was with, the type of day, the weather, and everything else associated with that moment. Who’s to say that the only things worth buying and collecting are those that cost tons of money? Yeah, maybe they’ll have a great resale value in 50 years, but should I forego buying a memorable souvenir simply because it didn’t make me broke? I think not.
And so, when I came back from SF, I brought with me:
- 4 ceramic vases with bamboo stitching from Chinatown – thoughtfully signed by the artist
- A toothpick holder, tree magnet and wine bottle cork, all from Muir Woods
- Two spoons (that can be used as necklace charms) I bought from a street vendor that have little images of SF, covered in colorful beads and coated in resin
- A hat made to look like a cat, that I bought from a woman on a street corner (perhaps this doesn’t really constitute a chachke, but nevertheless it’s on the list.
- A pin from the hotel I was staying at (Hotel Des Arts), promoting one of their artists
While some of these do serve a purpose, a few of them really don’t. However, I will say that I made it a point to buy something that was built or created in SF. When I’m visiting a city/town I want to support that community, and so I would rather buy a spoon covered in resin from a guy that lives in SF, than some expensive scarf made in Malaysia.