Fall in cottage country is beautiful—crisp, clean air; a quilt of coloured trees lining the hills; and sparkling, shimmering water undisturbed by summer’s eager boaters.
Thanksgiving at the cottage can be something special too—if you do it right. Chances are, that weekend is also close-up, and while you want to get everything ticked off your to-do list, you want to enjoy the spirit of the season as well.
Here are five ways to hack your Thanksgiving feast, so you can get your work done and still have time to relax and enjoy those last precious cottage moments.
Do as much ahead of time as possible
Most popular side Thanksgiving side dishes—squash, pumpkin soup, dinner rolls, pie crust, even cheesecake—can be frozen in advance and simply reheated. Others, like stuffing, can be prepped and assembled a couple of days ahead of time, then popped in the oven or microwave on the day itself. Invest in a big cooler, and you’ll have Thanksgiving dinner mostly ready before you even hit the road.
If you’re going to take serving and cooking dishes up with you, label each one with a sticky note before packing it so you know exactly where everything’s going on the big day. Do the same with the necessary serving utensils. Also, don’t forget Tupperware and Ziplocs so you can cart home the leftovers.
Keep it simple
No one—seriously, no one—is going to care that your carrots weren’t glazed with maple-bacon-caramelized shallot sauce as they roasted. Likewise, unless you’ve done it successfully before, closing-up weekend is not the time to attempt deep-frying your turkey. Cook a turkey breast, rather than a whole turkey. Make one pie, rather than three. Better yet, stop at that great small-town bakery you keep meaning to visit and get a pie there. The less food you have to stress about, the more you’ll enjoy the long weekend.
Keep everyone occupied
Cottage kitchens are notoriously tiny. If yours is cramped and people are getting underfoot (and under your skin), figure out something that will get everyone out of your hair while you work. Send folks on a hike to gather pine cones for a table setting. Set up a board game tournament on the dock or deck. If it’s raining, ask kids to draw placemats for everyone illustrating something they could be thankful for. Or find a special movie and save it for that crunch time when everything needs your attention, all at the same time. If you would like people to help out, draw up a specific list of who-does-what chores and instructions so you’re not bugged by questions.
Try, if you can, to take a mental step backwards and enjoy the weekend. After all, you’ve got your loved ones together, people are having a good time (or at least better time than you think), and you’re at the cottage. No one’s going to care that you got the cranberry sauce out of a can because they’re all too busy chasing after crayfish down at the dock. And that store-bought pie? It tastes pretty darn awesome when you bundle up, carry it out onto the deck, and eat it while watching the first stars come out. So let go a little, and savour the really important things.