Entertaining Tips
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Food, Glorious Food

How to kick back and really enjoy entertaining your cabin guests
By Deb Mallin
Published: June 1, 2006
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Photo by Grzegorz Wolczyk, dreamstime.com
This weekend we’ll have 11 members of my husband’s family to the lake. No longer an overwhelming number to me, I will plan just a few days in advance. Had you asked me how this would feel when I was a new bride, I would have broken out in a cold sweat. But, now, after 14 years, this is a piece of cake.
   
I happen to really like my husband’s family. (And, if they’re reading this – Hello!) In fact, I enjoy having them with us at Balsam Lake and so I take particular care and time to plan the daily menus for their stay. After all, food preparation and family meals are all part of the fun and pleasure of weekends at the cabin.  
   
In preparing for my guests I ask myself a series of questions:

How many people will I be cooking for each day? This is very important because too many people and too much tinkering in the kitchen could dock me at the kitchen sink, watching everyone else having fun on the water. (I learned this Year One.) I want the food to be special, but not too time consuming.  
   
What about food preferences? Are these guests vegetarians, followers of the latest diet craze, low maintenance, gourmet gurus? Also, when I extend an invitation to any guest, I casually ask them questions such as: "Do you or your children have any food allergies? Are you fish eaters? I was thinking about grilling steaks …"  Most often if there is an issue related to food people will say something. In any case, with appetizers, an entrée, sides, salad and dessert, no one should end up going hungry.
   
How am I feeling? Is the summer new and exciting? Or am I burned out and ready for reservations at a local restaurant? If I’m feeling fresh, menu planning is fun and the food preparation is enjoyable. However, if I’m at the end of my happy hostess rope, it’s time to take a step back and find another way.
   
Breakfast
Early in the season when I’m fresh, I love to prepare a good, hot and hearty breakfast. Fresh buckwheat banana pancakes, scrambled eggs with cheese, turkey bacon and fruit can easily keep your group going until a late lunch. 

Lunch   
You can prepare your lunch fixings early in the day as your company helps clear the table and clean up after breakfast. That way you can be outside with your guests until the last possible moment in the afternoon, when lunch is served. I love to toss together a big salad. I simply leave off the salad dressing until just before serving. You can throw in all kinds of wonderful summer vegetables, pre-washed Romaine, and leftover cut-up steak or chicken from last night’s dinner. Then, add in some toasted almonds or dried fruit.

Dinner   
At our place, dinner is a wonderful gathering time at the end of a long, active day outside. And for me, there is nothing easier than firing up the grill. Less mess, fewer dishes make for a less tired hostess. Aside from the usual grilled meats and fish, I also like fresh vegetable kabobs. Simply chunk-cut your favorite veggies, stack them on a stick, brush them with olive oil, and lay them across the fire. Mix together some corn bread and bake in your oven for a wonderful home cooking smell throughout the cabin. Later in the evening, after everyone has a bit more room in their bellies, gather up the graham crackers, Hershey bars and marshmallows and return to the fire. Voilà! A perfect ending to a perfect day.
   
On the other hand, if this is a weekend during which you’d prefer to take a step back and keep it really low key, listen carefully:  You deserve a break today!  Head for one of the local restaurants. Entertaining should be a pleasure, not a burden. 
   
Mealtime is really just another excuse to gather together and a chance to refuel so you can get back to the great outdoors. Find your balance as a generous and kind hostess because, after all, we know that a happy hostess makes for happy guests.  

Food writer Deb Mallin believes that fresh air, outdoor activity, good conversation and laughter with family and friends are what make time at the cabin so special.

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Photo by Steve Degenhardt, dreamstime.com
Keeping Meal Time Simple
  • Accept offers from your guests when they ask: What can I do? How can I help? That can range from assigning them a meal to plan and prepare – to cleanup duty.
  • You can have fabulous cabin fare on paper plates. The true ambiance is set by the outdoors that surrounds you.
  • Give yourself permission to go with the old standbys for breakfast. Buy a variety of cereals, put out some bananas and dried fruit and let everyone serve themselves.
  • Likewise, for lunch there is nothing wrong with cold cuts on various kinds of store-bought bread. Add condiments, sides and serve buffet style.
  • I can think of no easier dinner preparation than a phone call and a reservation. If you’re feeling guilty that you didn’t do the cooking yourself, get over it. Back at the cabin, make a fire and enjoy an old-time s’mores fest.
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