I'd like to say I'm a crafty person, and I certainly do try - handprint mementos for Father's Day, homemade Halloween costumes, personally baked birthday cakes - but, to be honest, even with my best effort, things tend to end up, well, slightly less than perfect.
So, I admit it, I'm definitely no Martha Stewart, yet the ideas keep coming, and I keep on trying. But guess what - I think I have finally stumbled upon the perfect foolproof craft, a family activity that I call, "Dinner Time Travels"
A little background: for those of you who don't know me, my family and I love to travel - we'd do it more often if school and work and the other day to day responsibilities didn't interfere. As soon as one trip ends, I'm usually buried in another travel guidebook researching a new destination, dreaming about our next vacation. And so it was a few years back: I sat on the couch one morning, skimming through Fodor's Portugal, instead of figuring out what to cook for dinner that evening, knowing full well that whatever I planned, someone would inevitably complain. Putting down the book, I looked at my daughter spinning our globe and stated, "Wherever your finger lands, we are going to have a meal from that country!" Smiling, she spun the globe, then announced, Newfoundland. Yes, there was a bit of smugness in her voice as if she dared me to concoct a meal from such a place, but the two of us gamely headed off to the computer and started researching some recipes. Soon the other two joined us and together we came up with a meal plan: Jiggs Dinner (a type of corned beef and cabbage), a sampling of cod, and a hearty split pea soup. For dessert, we'd have Figgy Duff.
Hence, our Sunday night tradition began. We've had a Moqueca de Camarao (shrimp stew) from Brazil, Beef Stroganoff from Russia, Afghan lamb Sikh Kebabs, and bison steaks from Kansas. Only once did we veto our selected country when we determined the national food included algae and my husband firmly declared, "No."
And now almost three years later, we continue our Sunday Travels - it's not every week these days, but if too many weeks go by, someone will remind me with a simple, "Where are we going next." It's fun, educational and easy, and in the spirit of someone who hasn't figured out Pintrest yet, I share it with you here, with the encouraging words, 'If I can do it, so can you!' Bon Voyage!
Once a week (or however often you want to "travel") place a globe on the table. (A flat map can also be taped to a wall and the country can be chosen ala 'Pin the Tail on the Donkey'). Take turns spinning the globe - the rule is whoever spins has to close his or her eyes, and wherever their finger lands, that's where you travel. The only do-over is if you have already visited that particular country (or if you prefer an algae-free meal).
Once the country has been selected, start researching - pick a handful of recipes that are both easy and traditional - we usually have a customary appetizer, two or three main courses and a dessert - plus jot down some factual information such as county size, famous landmarks, language spoken, currency, etc.). Later in the week, download the country's National Anthem, print out some country specific coloring or activity sheets, and a few pictures of major sites that you can hang around the dinner table.
The cooking begins in the early afternoon (and this is where perhaps people might get a bit skittish, worrying about preparing such exotic delicacies, but trust me as I repeat, 'If I can do it, so can you.' I've already admitted I am no Martha Stewart. Well guess what? I'm no Master Chef, either) and while things are simmering on the stove, hang up the pictures and set the table. Then, when dinner is ready, try to stick to local customs, whether it means to eat on the floor, to serve the eldest first, or to use no utensils. Over the meal, listen to local music and share the information you gathered about the county.
Afterwards, 'stamp' each child's homemade passport with a small country flag you have printed off the computer. Write down the food you prepared. You can also take a picture of the kids around the dinner table to tape in the passport as well. Finally, after the plates have been cleared and the kitchen is cleaned (that's the rule on travel night and it always helps get the kids to move a bit faster!) fetch the globe and start the whole process over again.
By Jenny Tananbaum
Jenny Tananbaum is a writer, wife and mom to three. firstname.lastname@example.org