Dumplings of All Nations is an annual event that takes place at an undisclosed location in Little Village. I learned about it a few years ago when the hosts invited me to read an essay about food to the audience. I chose a thing about the Egg Palace, a gone and, blessedly, mostly forgotten diner on Cermak.

On Wikipedia there’s an impressive alphabetized list of dumplings which I’m sure is incomplete.

When I get this year’s invite I ask whether I can read again in lieu of cooking. No dice; they don’t like having repeat readers. The host suggests I just pick up some takeout from a favorite spot. That sounds like a copout. I could skip it this year or actually make something.

I’ve loved pelmeni since I was little. It’s a foundational Russian dish, like pad thai or meatballs & spaghetti.

I have a memory of visiting family friends in NYC and watching the woman of the house roll out dough on the kitchen table and cut out circles with a drinking glass. There’s flour all over the place. When I call my mother she says the memory’s right but it was Montreal rather than New York. I ask her about making pelmeni and she tells me her recipe.

The three or four recipes I look over online all recommend using a Kitchen Aid or such but I’m not about to invest hundreds of dollars for a one-off. I do get a rolling pin and a couple mixing bowls from the thrift store. Then I spend most of the rest of the day turning my kitchen into a flour- and dough-covered disaster area.

I add chili oil to the filling but otherwise mostly go by the recipe. I put three or four pelmeni in a boiling pot of water and stow the rest in the freezer for Saturday. They taste alright. Better than what I expected in the hours of their assembly.

On the day, I go back to the thrift store and buy a cheap porcelain serving dish. I’m one of the first guests to arrive and spend the next half hour waiting for water to boil while people squeeze by to get drinks or put away their coats. It’s kind of stressful and by the time I put the steaming dish out on the living-room table among all the other dumplings of the world I’m ready to go home.

I think the people who tried them liked them but next year I’ll make something different if they invite me back. It’s one of those things where the payoff isn’t nearly as satisfying as the build-up.

But maybe that’s always the way.

I talked to writer/podcaster/lover of remote locales Tyler Dempsey about many things.

My aunt sent me back an old sketchbook of mine that I’d given to my grandmother. I spent an entire day photographing and formatting for my site. It’s from a pretty crucial time. Covers my first stint as a cabbie, my move back to Chicago, and records traces of many long-gone places and people. I’ve never kept diaries so sketchbooks help me to remember.

There’s a drawing in there that’s the first thing I made towards what became Hack. Before I’d written a single word.

A shame this comment on a previous letter is spam:

“Thank you for your sharing. I am worried that I lack creative ideas. It is your article that makes me full of hope. Thank you. But, I have a question, can you help me?”