Saturday Kitchen – and the Decision Bowl

Okay, so I was going to continue my bloggy trip through The Cotswolds today, but it was a long day yesterday and I had an RWA Committee meeting that went quite late last night and I’m still tired so instead I’m going to tell you about The Decision Bowl.

I first wrote about this over on my author site a couple of years ago (don’t worry, you don’t need to go look). It came about because I got sick and tired of every Sunday morning having the same discussion – “what are we doing today Mum?” – following which we’d generally go to the same old place for lunch; even though there were so many places new to us that we’d been wanting to try.

The Decision Bowl was invented. 

The Decision Bowl

The bowl, an old Chinese bowl which used to hold a candle that I’d bought at the markets one time, now holds folded pieces of paper on which are written Sunday lunch destinations. 

The process is simple: anyone can add to the bowl, with the draw happening on a Wednesday night – in case a booking or preparation (picnics are also in the bowl) is required.

There were, of course, some rules around it – it had to be cheap eats or moderately priced (Grant insisted on this rule), it can’t be in a food court (that rule is there for Grant), you can’t write the same place down multiple times (also for Grant), you can’t just specify a cuisine eg yum cha and leave someone else (ie me) to find a place that serves it (yep, Grant again).

It has been a success – well, it was before covid-19 put a stop to it – and we actually got around to trying places that we’d been wanting to try but would forget about the fact that we’d been wanting to try them.

The idea had been so successful, in fact, that a few months later we found another use for it…

The Destination Dinner Decision Bowl

Ever since Grant and I have been together, 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.

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. These days, of course, some nights Sarah’s home and some nights she isn’t – that’s as it should be.

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.

Out of the cupboard came another Chinese bowl that had previously had a candle in it (can you see a theme here?) and into the bowl went slips of paper with cuisines on it.

The Destination Dinner Bowl was launched.

A cuisine is drawn out every Wednesday night and that’s what’s cooked on Saturday. Some nights it’s a chance to recreate a taste from a place we’ve travelled to, other nights it’s an opportunity to do some google research about ingredients or the classic dishes of a place we’ve never visited. It’s also an excuse to go diving into the cookbook bookshelf for ideas.

Again, there are some rules – which are posted on the fridge so no one (ie Grant) can 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 has to accept whatever is next drawn out
  • Mum’s decision is final

Mostly I cook – Grant cooks most of our midweek evening meals, so that’s perfectly fair – and mostly I’ll do two courses, sometimes three. I love the whole process of designing the menu each week, and spending a Saturday afternoon in the kitchen with the music up loud actually relaxes me. In researching and cooking the meals I’ve learnt a lot – and I think I’m a better cook for it.

While we’ve always made a point to eat at the dining table with the TV off, we don’t linger over dinner during the week – there are other things to be doing. Saturday nights are different. Saturday night dinners are savoured, we talk about more than just the day. In making a production of Saturday nights, in making a little more effort, even though we’re (usually) eating with the same people who are around the table every other night, somehow we’re adding a little special to the ordinary.

As for the cuisines, we have so many in there – 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 Meditteranean, Middle Eastern, Scandinavian, Eastern European. Some we’ve found to be easy, some get cheers when they’re drawn out (Sarah always makes sure that she’s home for Italian night), some have been greeted with wariness (hello Canada and Wales), and some have presented an interesting challenge.

Some I blog – if the meal is either photogenic or I remember to take a photo – and most I don’t. (I am, however, trying to get into the habit of doing so once a month – you can find them here.)

The idea was actually the inspiration for the novel I’m currently working on Escape To Curlew Cottage. In that, four friends get together once a month to cook a feast out of a single cookbook.

Where am I going with this? I’d like to share a little of the magic of Saturday night, or Saturday Kitchen as I call it. It doesn’t need to be every Saturday night and it doesn’t need to be multi-course or decadent or feature a particular theme – it just needs to be a little different from what you do every other night of the week. Perhaps try a new cuisine, something meat-free, something healthy, change-up your normal salad, light a candle, play some music… If one person cooks, try switching it – or drawing the chef’s name out of a bowl too (thanks Donna). As long as it’s fun, not stressful and absolutely not judgmental – this isn’t Masterchef and your family aren’t judges…unless, of course, a little healthy competition is what floats your boat, in which case, go for it.

I haven’t yet decided whether I’ll do a bloggy link-up, or just encourage people to share photos of their Saturday Kitchen on my Facebook author page. I’d love to know if anyone would be interested in joining in…

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter…

Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

13 thoughts

  1. We used to have a decision bowl when I was living at home with my parents (years ago). Hubby and I need to revive that tradition. I like it!

  2. Love the decision bowl concept and love your Saturday kitchen decision bowl too! I’m really the only cook here in this house (the others do occasionally cook some basic stuff) but I don’t cook meals as exiting as you do! I think you’re far more experienced in the kitchen & of course you’ve travelled far more than me and therefore more culturally aware of the foods eaten in various countries! Saturday night is actually one of my easy nights where I get a break – might be home made pizza’s or burgers or taco’s – something like that. Sunday night is a bit more formal – often a roast dinner. Wednesday night seems to have become the night where I try new recipes. Strange how we get into these little routines isn’t it?

  3. I love this idea! A bunch of my lovely colleagues used to have a dinner club and we’d have a decision bowl full of names of the suburbs in Canberra. We’d pull out a name for the next month’s dinner and then the person who pulled it out had to pick a restaurant in that suburb. We tried so many new places that way – it was such fun. I never thought to do this for dinners at home as we go through quite a few different meals (I am food obsessed, as you may have guessed). I think it would be great for decisions around holidays though (when we’re finally allowed to travel again). Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. What a fabulous idea! We lived in Canberra for a number of years (my husband was brought up there) but we tended to go to the same places in the same suburbs.

  4. The Decision Bowl is a great idea, Joanne. It seems to be resurrecting with many people staying home. Groups of friends used to hold these types of parties. And then there was the progressive dinner parties. A maybe on whether we are in. In a weird way we are booked up with virtual cocktail parties each weekend for awhile. Big question: would I have to dust my house beforehand? I will talk my to my husband about it. I know Donna has been in. They (Creighton) have been making quite elaborate meals.🙂

    1. We used to do a similar thing with friends many years ago, but it all dropped away. And as for your dusting question? Yeah…nah…

    1. And you too! Look forward to seeing what you come up with. We’re off to Burgundy this weekend…

  5. I love this idea Jo! We order in once a week to help support our local eateries during COVID. We take it it in turns as to who decides what we eat and where we get it. It’s getting harder to decide. The decision bow would work a treat!

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