This post first appeared on And Anyways…
In the thirty-odd years that Grant and I have been together, even though we always eat at the dining table with the TV off, we’ve made a deal of Saturday night dinners – barring social stuff, of course. We’d cook a couple of courses, set the table properly, put some music on, light a candle maybe, and take our time over dinner talking about more than just the day. In making a production of Saturday nights, in making a little more effort, somehow it adds a little special to the ordinary.
It’s something we’ve always done – even when Sarah was a baby (although it took a little extra juggling then). As she got older, she’d have a version of what we were eating. I think it made her a more adventurous eater and Saturday family dinners were something she used to look forward to – still does when she’s home for the weekend.
Anyways, it’s always been a thing, but there came a time late in 2018 when we found ourselves wandering around the markets on Saturday mornings debating about what would be on the menu that night and cooking the same old favourites. I grew bored and for the first time, felt that the magic had gone from this little ritual of ours.
The Destination Dinner Bowl was launched.
Out of the cupboard came a little Chinese bowl that had previously had a candle in it and into the bowl went slips of paper with cuisines on it.
The idea was simple. A cuisine is drawn out every Wednesday night and that’s what I cooked on Saturday. (Mostly I cooked – Grant cooks most of our midweek evening meals, so that’s perfectly fair.)
Some nights it was a chance to recreate a taste from a place we’ve travelled to, other nights it was an opportunity to do some google research about ingredients or the classic dishes of a place we’ve never visited. It was also an excuse to go diving into the cookbook bookshelf for ideas.
To avoid arguments or the inevitable screwing up of the nose at the thought of an unfamiliar cuisine or dish, there were rules posted on the fridge so no one (ie Grant) could say they didn’t know:
- A cuisine can’t be drawn out more than once a month
- There should be at least one course that involves a recipe I haven’t tried before
- Each person gets one veto each quarter
- If a veto is exercised, the person calling the veto must accept whatever is next drawn out
- In the event of an argument, my decision is final
I loved the whole process of designing the menu each week and spending a Saturday afternoon in the kitchen with the music up loud relaxes me. And it worked. Each week there was discussion and banter and possibilities thrown about. In researching and cooking the meals I learnt a lot – and I think I’m a better cook for it.
Some I found to be easy, some got cheers when they were drawn out (Sarah always made sure she was home for Italian night), some have been greeted with (misguided) wariness (hello Canada and Wales – both of which were deemed successful), and some presented an interesting challenge. Some I blogged – if the meal was either photogenic or I remembered to take a photo – but most I didn’t. (You’ll find Australia, Bali and Ireland here).
In the last year or so – since Sarah left home – the decision bowl has been ignored and we’ve fallen back into the same old anything-goes pattern. I’ve still cooked something nice on a weekend, but the sense of inventiveness and trying something new has gone. Given that this year is about change and creativity, it’s time to bring back the Destination Bowl.
The Chinese bowl is out and it’s full of cuisines and themes. Some are listed as individual countries eg Wales, Scotland, Ireland, England; some as regions eg Bali, the South of France; some as a cuisine not specific to a particular country eg Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Scandinavian, Eastern European. Where I have multiple books by the same author, specific cookbook authors have their own slip of paper – eg Ottolenghi, Nigella, James Martin, Rick Stein – and I’ve even included a few themes eg retro dinner party, dude food, curry night, pub classics.
The rules are also back and if there’s a national day that I remember to recognise, that will take precedence (remember the rule about my decision being final?) eg we celebrated the Lunar New Year and last weekend it was Destination Scotland to (belatedly) celebrate Burns Night.
The idea is not so much that I create something classical or traditional, but that I take the flavours and ingredients of the week’s theme and work the menu around that. As an example some weeks I might try and recreate a special meal we had somewhere that doesn’t resemble the cuisine of that place at all, but still reminds us of it.
This time round I’ll try and blog it a little more diligently too. Join in if you like by either tagging me in a photo on Instagram #destinationdinner or by leaving a link or a comment under the posts on BKD.
I love that idea… and you are welcome to visit and cook for us anytime! I’m curious, does the U.S. have a piece of paper in your bowl? I’m not sure what type of cuisine that would be since we seem to eat a hodge podge of everything. My husband made a wonderful chicken pot pie last night… I wonder if that would be considered uniquely American?
The US is in there. From memory last time it came up we did bourbon glazed pork ribs and a key lime pie… Yes, your chicken pot pie would make the cut. Australia is in there too & that’s tough as well as we’re a fusion with so many Asian cuisines – although native ingredients are coming to the forefront these days.
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I love this idea – might have to steal it actually. What a great way to experiment and try out new foods and recipes. I look forward to seeing what you cook up.
Go for it!