The Destination Bowl

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.

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 – over on BKD. 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.

Linking up with Donna from Retirement Reflections and her co-host Deb The Widow Badass Blog in their #whatsonyourplateblogchallenge.

Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

25 thoughts

  1. I try to plan one new dish a week when I do menus but the theme r country makes it very interesting.
    Now of course I am wondering what you cooked for Canada.

      1. Cedar plank salmon is really easy. We glaze ours with many things and always enjoy it. Maple syrup – definitely can’t go wrong there. It goes well with ice cream, waffles, pancakes, and coffee and is the secret ingredient in my granola. The Nanaimo bars … had not realized that Graham wafers weren’t a thing elsewhere nor that they had cinnamon in them. It’s such a good treat. As to the rest of the list– saskatoon pie is the number 1 thing I serve to international guests. Poutine is good occasionally, and tourtiere is a once a year treat. I have a friend who makes many and gives them away. Sadly, she moved to BC. As a big country we have a lot of regional specialities and so I can see how it’s hard to nail down just a few items to cook. I think you picked well. Bernie

  2. Hi, Jo – I am delighted that your Destination Bowl has returned. Borrowing your great idea, Richard, Creighton and I tried this a few times in 2020ish when Creighton was home. We not only drew out the dinner theme, we also drew out which of the three of us would cook it. It worked well but I did hear a few “no fairs” when Creighton deemed to have his name drawn more than his share (it was honestly even). I definitely should have pre-posted your cardinal rule: “Mom’s Decision is Final”! 😀

    1. Mum’s decision is always final. I learnt the art of negotiation from my mother: “I’m mother so I’m right – when you’re mother you can be right, but until then you’re wrong.”

  3. Hi Jo, I love your phrase “a little special to the ordinary.” It is interesting to see how other couples keep the magic and fun going. Well thought out with ‘rules.’ 😊Thanks for my smile ‘…my decision is final.’ A fun and inspirational post! xx

  4. I recall a few of your posts about the Destination Bowl and thought it was a brilliant idea. I’m not that much of a cook…maybe I should try it for a date night destination?! I’m sure we have restaurants around our city for almost every cuisine. Definite thought for my future re-imaging I’m about to embark on.

    1. We’ve missed the destination bowl while it was in hiatus and fell back into borning habits quickly…as you do. Date night destination sounds like a great idea.

  5. What a creative way to breathe new life into the selection of meals. I am all of a sudden so tired of thinking of what to fix. And nothing I fix tastes these days. This might be a great way for me to break out of the routine of tired old recipes and meals.

Comments are closed.