Growing up with multiple holiday traditions—among them, Christmas from my dad’s side of the family and Hanukkah from my mom’s—I was truly blessed. Over the years, we have gone through a patchwork rotation of celebrations inspired by a variety of factors: our close proximity to Chicago (we lived in the ’burbs), a love of food-themed parties, and our decidedly global family tree. It was not unusual for us to feast on blintzes at a Russian tearoom in the city one year (because my father had studied Russian and wanted to show off his language skills), only to follow it up with a gingerbread-house-building party the next (we made houses with pretzel sukkahs in yards made of shredded coconut).
(Slash your cholesterol, burn stubborn belly fat, solve your insomnia, and more—naturally!—with Rodale's Eat For Extraordinary Health & Healing!)
But by far the silliest and tastiest tradition we practice is our annual Dumplings of the World Party. The idea grew out of our blended Chinese–Eastern European heritage and is based on the notion Mom and I share about what constitutes a good time: getting all of our favorite people under one roof and cooking together.
For the party, my mom and I set up prep stations around the house with dough, rolling pins, and fillings, where guests can construct their own dumplings. The recipes come from our family cookbook, an old three-ring binder in which an entire soy sauce–stained chapter is devoted to dumplings. Some of the recipes hail from a dim sum class my mom took 20 years ago. As new people married into our family, we added others, such as the ricotta pierogi from my brother-in-law’s mom, who has strong Polish roots. As family members tried out new diets—like my sister’s short-lived veganism—recipes for items like soy chorizo empanadas made their way into the binder.
These days, the party takes place at the farmhouse on the border of Minnesota and North Dakota where I live with my husband, but it’s as sprawling and mixed up as ever. Every gathering includes at least six different types of dumplings. Gingery chicken pot stickers always make the cut, as do big, fluffy steamed buns—stuffed with cross-cultural fillings like PB&J, American cheese, or barbecued chicken—served out of a huge double-decker steamer. With so many fillings and so much dough (and wine) being passed around, it’s easy to create mash-ups, such as sweet Nutella-filled sesame balls, savory tomato jam sufganiyot (Hanukkah doughnuts) and samosa knishes, as well as Cornish pasties, arancini, blintzes, and tamales. Not all of them are totally textbook, but to my family any food stuffed inside another food qualifies as a dumpling.
Our parties are chaotic, and the decorations are limited to a light dusting of flour around the house, which might be taken as a metaphor for snow, except that it’s not at all intentional. We eat dumplings throughout the night whenever they are ready; we never sit down for a formal meal. The huge proportion of dumplings to guests (we aim for a ratio of 50 to 1) guarantees that everyone present will slip into a food coma by the end of the evening—which means it’s time for our other immutable holiday tradition, a screening of Tim Allen’s The Santa Clause.