Editor’s note: What’s for dinner?

When our girls moved out, DH and I stopped worrying about cooking regular meals. We no longer have to put dinner on the table for our children, so we eat when—and what—we feel like eating. My favourite dinner is hors d’oeuvres, but sometimes I settle for cereal.

This summer, it dawned on me that our new laissez-faire strategy wasn’t going to work at the cottage. The cottage brings expectations, such as three squares a day, meals that are celebratory enough for vacations and special enough for guests. Even though cottage guests don’t just come for dinner. They stay for breakfast and lunch too.
So I realized, while preparing for a cottage full of family and friends this year—including five children—that I would have to organize some food. To make it easier, we agreed to divide our party of 16 into dinner teams. Each team would bring what they needed to make a meal for everyone. The result was a week of delicious food, from chicken curry to pork tenderloin. But it was a slight misstep that triggered one of the most memorable dinners.

One couple had brought lasagna. The package directions said it would take two hours to cook from frozen. We decided 
to let it thaw, instead, and cook it on the grill over indirect heat. We placed the foil container in the bottom of the fridge, a top-opening model that draws little energy and works beautifully with our solar power. Then we piled other food on top. On the assigned day a few nights later, about 30 minutes before the kids were to eat, we dug the lasagna out again. To our dismay, the whole thing was still frozen as hard as the granite outside the cottage.

What do you do when dinner’s not ready but the troops are hungry?

“Hors d’oeuvres,” I suggested.

“Hot dogs,” one of the moms said.

And then came the brilliant solution.

“We’ll start with dessert.”

Thus began what I hope will become an annual summer ritual: the backwards dinner. It was a crazy idea that couldn’t have pleased the kids more if we had planned it. By the time they had eaten butter tarts followed by salad, the lasagna was piping hot.

Backwards dinner is akin to many other meal innovations Cottage Life has encountered over the years. The way cottagers enjoy food at the lake has evolved too. While most of us have more time to cook when we’re at the cottage, lately an increase in both people interested in food and more elaborate cottages has resulted in better-equipped cottage kitchens. And these days, even small grocery stores are stocking a wide variety of foods.

How have these trends affected the way you eat at the cottage? I would love to hear about your ideas, and about your favourite meals, so that we can bring 
you tips and recipes that will be sure to work at your retreat.

Meanwhile, my experience this summer shows that it’s not worth stressing over food at the cottage. Family, guests and, especially, the kids will all adapt.