As I write this, on the run-up to the best holiday of the year, I still am uncertain of our Thanksgiving plans. The rest of my friends and relations are happily shaking out clean sheets for the guest beds or deciding whether whole-berry or jellied cranberry sauce — or both — should grace the table, while I’m still in the dark as to where or when any turkey will be eaten at our house. It all depends on whether the resident deer hunter bags his buck between now and the appointed feast day. If so, we’ll have dinner as usual. If no buck appears, there is the possibility that, on the day before Thanksgiving, we will be making a 10-hour drive to the wilds of central Pennsylvania, where the hunting is better, but cooking a holiday feast in an off-the-grid cabin is challenging.

It’s not that I can’t cook a turkey in a wood-fired oven. I did it weekly when I cooked on a Maine windjammer, where the final Friday-night meal of the weekly cruises was full-on turkey dinner with all the fixings. But back then it was summer, I had a messmate to help bring in the wood and peel potatoes, and it didn’t get dark until late in the evening, a different scenario from cooking in a cabin while tending two woodstoves, having a limited supply of water, and working by the light of feeble gas and kerosene lamps as I try to get everything done before dusk, which falls around four o’clock. Still, it’s not the cooking that’s the challenge; it’s the planning beforehand that’s tricky. I’m going for a pared-down dinner that’s still festive, whether it will take place at home or in a 180-year-old log cabin.

A last-minute Thanksgiving dinner is not that unusual an event, in any case. A bad storm or delayed flights, an unexpected family or work emergency can make a change in anyone’s plans. So I’m passing on some of my ideas for a moveable feast, just in case you find yourself hosting dinner at the last minute. A few recipes are included as well.

First, while you may think to skip all the frills, and go for the basics, Thanksgiving is all about the frills: the handsomely appointed table, the sparkling wine, the elaborate side dishes and fanciful desserts. While you may have to keep a last-minute meal simpler, it can still be a cut above basic. For table decor, grab some candles and a few small pumpkins or carnival squashes that can be hollowed out and filled with blooms from an inexpensive supermarket bouquet. While you may not have time to make any elaborate appetizers, you still need to have some for nibbling while meal preparation is going on. There are plenty of fancy cheeses that can be set out on a board along with an assortment of crackers, grapes and figs. Get a variety of olives, marinate them with lemon and garlic overnight, and put them out in bowls. Don’t forget the nuts: what’s Thanksgiving without big bowls of walnuts and pecans around for the cracking? All of these appetizers go well with sparkling wines and ciders and have the added advantage of being easily transported if needed.

Then there’s the bird. At this late date, you have to go with a fresh one, as there’s no time to defrost. If you can’t find one, most markets offer fresh turkey breasts, which can be butterflied and stuffed. True, there’s no bones for the post-holiday soup, but make two and you’ll at least have leftovers. As an added benefit, a turkey breast slices nicely, for those who have a fear of carving.

Sides for Thanksgiving can be very elaborate, but concentrate on the seasonal and traditional: mashed potatoes, stuffing, a sturdy green vegetable like Brussels sprouts, broccoli and winter squash. All of these are plentiful in the markets right now and easily made special: sprouts sautéed and gussied up with a balsamic glaze, broccoli almondined, squash roasted with lashings of maple syrup. Canned cranberry sauce can be improved with the zest and juice of a fresh orange or made crunchy with chopped nuts or grapes. In our family, alas, there is the creamed onion lobby to be dealt with. Buying teensy onions to float around in a cream sauce seems foolish, as we have easily 50 pounds of homegrown onions stored in the root cellar, all of them more flavorful than white boiling onions. So this year I am making an executive decision to prepare an onion gratin — a nice compromise, if I do say so myself.

Then there’s the dessert, which has to be pie. If you want to make your own but have no time to prepare and roll out crusts, there are good ones available premade, but I do think the graham cracker ones are best. I’m planning to use one to hold a pumpkin cheesecake filling, which will serve as two desserts in one. It can be made well ahead, and whipped cream is optional.

L E M O N   M A R I N A T E D   O L I V E S

112 lbs. mixed olives (your choice; feel free to add roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts,
    mozzarella balls or whatever)
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
112 tsp. fennel seeds, crushed
2 tsp. coriander seeds, slightly cracked
12 tsp. black peppercorns, slightly cracked
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, minced
1 tsp. fresh thyme, minced
1 lemon, zest slivered and juice added
14 cup olive oil
Combine all ingredients in large plastic container with a lid or plastic zip-top bag. Shake to blend ingredients. Refrigerate at least one day and up to three days, shaking or turning the bag a couple times a day. Transfer olives and some marinade to a bowl and let stand for an hour at room temperature before serving.

C R E A M E D   O N I O N   G R A T I N

3 lbs. sweet onions (Vidalia, Walla Walla, or Maui)
3 Tbsp. cream sherry or balsamic vinegar
6 Tbsp. butter, divided
14 cup flour
1 cup whole milk
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
12 cup dry bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a gratin dish or medium casserole. Halve onions lengthwise, peel, then slice lengthwise into thick wedges. In a Dutch oven or heavy pot, melt two tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and caramelized, about 40 minutes. Add sherry or vinegar and simmer until it evaporates. Remove the onions and let them drain through a sieve while making the bechamel sauce. In the same Dutch oven, melt three tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Stir in flour and cook for one minute. Add milk slowly while whisking constantly, until sauce is very thick. Remove from heat, fold in the cheese and stir until completely melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add onions and toss to thoroughly coat. Pour onion mixture into the gratin dish. Melt remaining butter and toss with bread crumbs. Sprinkle over the top of the onions and bake until bubbly and golden brown, about 30 minutes. Serve warm.

P U M P K I N   C H E E S E C A K E   P I E

1 9-inch graham cracker crust
2 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, room temperature
12 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp.vanilla extract
2 large eggs
12 cup pumpkin puree
2 tsp. pumpkin spice (or 1 tsp. ground cinnamon, 12 tsp. ground ginger, 14 tsp. ground nutmeg,
    18 tsp. each ground allspice and ground cloves)
whipped cream, optional
Preheat oven to 325°. In a large bowl, combine cream cheese, sugar and vanilla extract. Beat until well combined. Blend in eggs one at a time, until smooth. Remove 113 cups of the cheesecake batter and spread it into the bottom of the graham cracker crust; set aside. Add pumpkin puree and pumpkin spice to remaining cheesecake batter and whisk gently until well combined. Carefully spread the pumpkin layer over the plain cheesecake layer with a spatula. Bake in preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until center is almost set. Allow to cool, then refrigerate for a minimum of three hours or overnight.