Entertaining Tips
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Holiday Entertaining at the Cabin:

31 Fresh Ideas for Festive Occasions
By Sally A Kane, J.D.
Published: November 8, 2010
All those extra ornaments, ribbon and wrapping paper can be put to good use turning your table into a festive spread!
Photo by © Jaren Wicklund
What better place to celebrate the holidays than your cabin? After all, cabin retreats are all about friends, family and creating happy memories. However, hosting a holiday celebration at the cabin can pose unique challenges. Crowded quarters, under-equipped kitchens and the need to transport gifts and supplies from home can put a damper on holiday preparations. These ideas can help you pull off a fabulous celebration with ease.

Decorating With Style

Light It Up – A few well-placed candles go a long way in creating ambiance for your holiday event. Flameless wax candles are an easy and safe solution for adding soft candlelight to your festivities.

Instant Tree-trimming – Instead of toting boxes of ornaments to your cabin, ask your guests to bring an ornament in lieu of other gifts and watch the tree grow more beautiful as the celebration progresses.
Holiday Wall Art – For quick and easy holiday artwork, purchase inexpensive picture frames and fill them with holiday-themed scrapbook paper. Or, cut scrapbook paper to fill your current frames for some fun temporary holiday décor.

Photo Wreath – Refashion snapshots from past holiday events into artwork that will enhance your décor and serve as a conversation piece. Hot-glue a selection of black-and-white photos (use copies if you don’t want to damage the originals) to a wire wreath form or affix snapshots to lengths of ribbon and adorn the room and mantle.

Festive Doors – Cover strategically placed doors (such as your front door or the doors to the kitchen or guest bedrooms) with bright and cheery wrapping paper, complete with bow.

Nature's Centerpiece – For show-stopping centerpieces, bring in nature from your surroundings. Artfully arrange driftwood, seashells, leaves, branches, pinecones, berries or acorns to create beautiful centerpieces.
Floating Floral – For a fresh twist on floral arrangements, fill glass vases or bowls with water and add a few drops of food coloring. Snip the buds off a few flowers like mums, carnations or roses and float them in the water. Or line up a group of similar vessels and float a single large bloom in each.

It's a Wrap – For one-of-a-kind wrapping paper, photocopy your favorite clothing – textural fabrics such as a cable knit sweater or sequined blouse work best – and use the paper to wrap small gifts. Other unique takes on wrapping paper include thrift store scarves, wallpaper and craft paper. Or stamp designs on brown paper bags, wrap your gift, tie it with raffia and embellish with pinecones, pine boughs or acorns from your cabin yard.
Taking store-bought treats and presenting them in fun, inventive ways can up the wow factor of your holiday spread without breaking your back or your bank.
Photo by © Christopher Elwell, dreamstime.com
Setting the Stage

Think Beyond the Dinner Table – If your dinner table won’t accommodate all your holiday guests, improvise. Throw together a few folding card tables, lay wooden planks across two sawhorses or bring in the picnic table from the backyard. Once you cover your makeshift table with a festive tablecloth, it won’t matter what lies underneath. Or banish the table altogether and serve your meal buffet-style and let your guests dine anywhere they please.

Take a Seat – To entertain large groups, purchase inexpensive folding chairs. For a festive touch, drape the chair with fabric and wrap a ribbon around the base of the backrest, fashioning it into a bow at the back. For more casual celebrations, long benches and floor pillows are easy and economical ways to provide seating for large groups.

Fun for the Little Ones – If your event includes small children, plan an activity to keep them occupied. Spread a sheet of butcher’s paper across the table and supply plenty of crayons; decorate sugar cookies with sprinkles, candy and frosting; or create birdfeeders by spreading peanut butter on pinecones and rolling them in bird seed.

Pretty Place Cards – For a twist on place cards, incorporate the natural elements outside your cabin. Apply spray adhesive to pinecones, gourds or other natural objects and roll them in glitter. Make a clean cut at the top of the object and insert a card bearing the guest’s name. Tie a ribbon around its circumference for embellishment.

Place Mats that Pack a Punch – Create one-of-kind place mats by layering two sheets of construction paper in contrasting colors. Punch holes in the top layer with a themed paper punch – think snowflakes for cold-weather celebrations (or stars for the Fourth of July) – to expose the layer underneath. These mats are inexpensive, disposable and a snap to create.

Table Toppers – To add flair to plain table linens, use stylish, high-quality gift wrap to create a decorative table runner or table topper. To dress up the edges, use craft scissors with a scalloped or decorative blade.

Get Scrappy – Use decorative scrapbook paper or ribbon to create fun, unique and inexpensive accessories that coordinate with your holiday theme. Wrap the paper or ribbon around vases and candle holders (making sure there’s enough clearance between the paper and the flame) or you can use paper ribbon to create festive place cards, napkin rings, placemats, food and beverage table signage, party invitations and thank you notes.

Keeping the appetizers deliciously simple helps you cut costs and save time – two things we can all appreciate during the holidays!
Photo by © Elena Elisseeva, dreamstime.com
Cooking for a Crowd

Plan Ahead – Planning menus in advance can help relieve the stress of holiday entertaining at the cabin. If possible, make dishes in advance (either at the cabin or at home) and freeze them until serving day. When packing for the cabin, you can save space by only bringing the amount of ingredients and spices you’ll need.

Double Duty – If your cabin lacks the bells and whistles of your home kitchen, get creative and let your dishware pull double duty. For example, use martini glasses to serve dessert or shot glasses to serve appetizers like shrimp cocktails. Your slow cooker can substitute for a chafing dish to keep foods warm on the serving table. To add height to centerpieces or food tables, flip small bowls upside down and use as pedestals for larger bowls.

Kaper Charts – A kaper is a short-term job or activity to be accomplished by an individual or a small group. If you have guests eager to roll up their sleeves and pitch in, kaper charts can help you distribute tasks equally and are a great way to get the kids involved in meal preparation and clean up. In the chart, you can outline and assign tasks for each meal – setting the table, chopping the vegetables, loading the dishwasher, etc. – or assign meals to each family for the entire weekend.

Punch It Up – Punch is a fun, tasty way to serve beverages to a crowd with minimal effort. For a crowd-pleasing, non-alcoholic party punch, combine two 12 ounce cans of thawed frozen lemonade, two liters of ginger ale, one 64-ounce jug of Hawaiian Punch, one bag of frozen strawberries (optional) and plenty of ice and stir it all together in a large punch bowl.   

What a Crock – Crock pots can simplify meals at the cabin, especially if you will be away all day. For a super-easy, delicious meal, mix ²/³-cup maple syrup with ½-cup Dijon mustard and spread evenly over 3 pounds of country-style pork ribs. Place the ribs in the crock pot over a large, sliced onion, cover and cook on low for about eight hours. Your slow cooker can also double as a warm punch bowl for hot apple cider, mulled wine, hot cocoa or your favorite toddies.

Appetizer Affair – Another way to cook for a crowd is to prepare a variety of appetizers in lieu of a full course meal. A table full of small bites allows guests to sample a variety of different items. Flavorful dips, tasty bruschetta and roasted vegetables are a good bet, or keep it simple with shrimp, cheese and meat trays and heat-and-serve hors d’oeuvres such as cheese puffs, mini-quiches and spinach bites.

Turkey Tip – If time is short, prepare your turkey a day in advance. The day before, cook the turkey (stuffed or unstuffed) and cool it completely. Place the stuffing in a covered casserole dish and refrigerate. Remove the turkey’s skin, slice the turkey, place it on a cookie sheet and re-cover the turkey with as much skin as possible. Pour chicken broth generously over the turkey skin, making sure the skin is very moist. Then, cover the turkey tightly with foil and place in the refrigerator. On serving day, bring the turkey and stuffing to room temperature and then cook the turkey, covered tightly, in the oven at 275 to 300 degrees F for 30 to 45 minutes. Pour melted butter over the stuffing, cover and reheat it in the oven or microwave. The turkey and stuffing will be moist and delicious.

Snappy Clean-up – Shorten clean up time with non-stick removable oven liners. Most liners fit ovens up to 30 inches and can be trimmed to fit smaller ones. After your meal is cooked, wipe down the liner or throw it in the dishwasher. Reusable non-stick baking sheet liners are also easy to clean and can be cut to fit any size baking sheet as well as your toaster oven or microwave.

Supplying your guests with little touches, like books to read or fresh flowers, can really add to the peaceful feeling of a holiday at the cabin.
Photo by © Stephen Coburn, dreamstime.com
Hosting Overnight Guests

Overnight Essentials – Create a basket containing toiletries and other items that your guests might need during their stay. Items you might offer include soaps, lotions, toothpaste, shampoos, conditioners, cotton balls, emery boards, and shower caps. Stock up on travel-sized items when they are on sale or stockpile them from the free samples supplied at hotels.  

Creative Sleeping Arrangements – If your cabin is small or you have many guests, improvise on sleeping arrangements. Save space with bunk beds, pull-out sofas or trundle beds. Cots, futons and inflatable mattresses work well in a pinch and fit into small spaces. (Inflatable mattress options have really improved lately.) If all else fails, just throw a few sleeping bags on the floor for the kids – they’ll love it.

Privacy Please – Create a “Do Not Disturb” sign that guests can hang on their door. Or mount a whiteboard outside the room where you and guests can write messages.

Comforts of Home – Providing extra touches can help make guests feel at home. Place little luxuries in guest bedrooms and bathrooms such as scented candles, fresh flowers, a bowl of fruit, a bottle of wine, extra pillows and blankets, alarm clocks or a coffee/tea station.

Can You Spare a Square? – Keep extra rolls of toilet paper handy for your guests by storing them in attractive wicker or wire storage baskets in the bathroom.

Reading Nook – If your guests have downtime during their stay, providing magazines and books for their reading pleasure can enhance their stay. You don’t need to stock a dedicated library – a closet, bookshelf, magazine rack, coffee table, drawer or basket will do. Leave a small note suggesting guests may want to donate any books or magazines they brought with them and have already read.

Catch-all Bowl – Keep a bowl, box or shelf by the front door to store extra cabin keys, sunglasses, sunscreen, fireplace matches and other small necessities your guests may need during their stay.

Custom Postcards – Convert photos of your cabin and its beautiful surroundings into postcards for your guests by adhering a special backing to the photo (try services such as www.the2buds.com). The backing consists of post office-approved, heavy postcard stock backing bearing a stamp box and address lines. You can purchase 10 postcards for less than $4.

Freelancer Sally Kane hosts New Years and Fourth of July parties each year at her mountain cabin.

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