Thursday, December 22, 2022

Holiday Dinners and D N A


As the year comes to a close, I'm trying to do some year-end cleaning on my DNA match list. Yes, there are a lot of those matches—far too many to conquer in the last ten days of this month. But I can try, right?

At the same time, all the cooks in our family are trying to finalize their shopping lists for the special meals we'll be preparing for the holiday weekend. When I put those two items on my to-do list side by side, I have to laugh. I know there are many people out there who talk about their holiday menu choices in the same breath as they describe their family's heritage. Those two would be horribly mismatched in my book.

Let's take a look at our family's making and baking plans for the next few days.

My daughter just came home from a shopping trip to pick up fresh ingredients so she can make a certain type of donut from scratch—sufganiyot—the kind some people make during Hanukkah. Are we celebrating Hanukkah? No. Are we ethnically Jewish? Well, my DNA results at MyHeritage currently indicate I've got 1.9% Ashkenazi roots—possibly a trace from my mystery paternal grandfather's past—but that couldn't be why those donuts will be calling my name later this evening.

On a separate grocery-shopping expedition, my husband rounded up all the ingredients for our traditional Christmas Eve dinner: cioppino. Did I marry an Italian? Nope. He's mostly Irish, thanks to his father's eight great-grandparents who were all born in Ireland. Round that out with a smidgen of English and northwestern European, and that's about as close as he's gotten to an Italian heritage. And even though we'll be throwing in a recipe for baked brie in a sourdough round, don't think that French cheese reveals any genetic connection to France—well, maybe a mere two percent from his mother's side of the family, but that's it.

Yesterday morning, we braved the winter cold (California style, in the fog) to stand in line outside for almost an hour to purchase some sausages from an old-fashioned butcher. The store piped polka music outside through their sound system, as if anyone out there needed to get in the mood for this shoppers' endurance trial. Perhaps that food choice came a bit closer—I am, after all, a descendant of Polish immigrants—but as to German roots, no sign according to my DNA.

So where did these food choices come from? They are hardly reminiscent of our family's heritage. Perhaps the secret lies not in the long-long-ago roots of our families, but in some factors which lie much closer to home. We are, after all, residents of a state known for its fusion food traditions. Cioppino, for instance, while Italian in inspiration, actually was a tradition evolving from the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco, a region once populated by Italian immigrants. San Francisco is very much a part of our lives, as it is the biggest city within driving distance from our home.

The sausages? They will find their place within a hearty lentil soup I've made to tide us over until the holiday festivities begin. They come from a local business which has kept its old-fashioned traditions alive in both assuring quality products and business practices—a throwback to an earlier era. Our family likes to support places like that. Perhaps that, in itself, is a family tradition for us, since not only our generation, but the generation before me, have run small family businesses. Perhaps that is a nod to heritage, though not quite the way most people mean when they enjoy their holiday dinners.

And the sufganiyot? Once again, from the riches of our family's business experiences. This comes from years ago, when our daughter tutored the children of a local rabbi, and learned about the family's culture and food traditions. We shamelessly borrow any delicious food traditions when we make personal connections through our work, our friendships, and our neighborhoods.

What about you? Are you getting ready to prepare the same holiday treats your great-grandmothers once made for your family? Or have you, like us, learned to borrow from the more recent traditions of your own "F.A.N. Club"—the friends, associates, and neighbors of your own generation?  


  1. Enjoy those holiday foods, with family! Our family does a big seafood feast for Christmas - and we all are land-locked midwesterners. LOL

    1. Sara, LOL indeed! Enjoy your feast! Sounds delicious!

  2. Gosh, everything sounds delicious!

    1. Sometimes I wonder whether all this holiday cooking sounds so delicious, simply because the cold weather conjures up an appetite. Besides, it's the middle of winter, when people couldn't do much of anything else. It's the perfect time to get in the kitchen and be creative.


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