Laura Dean Bennett\r\nStaff Writer\r\n\r\nA festive, welcoming kitchen will keep you and yours warm all winter long. \u00a0After all, nothing warms you up like good friends and good food.\u00a0\r\n\r\nYes, it\u2019s that time of year when the dark comes earlier and lasts longer and our noses are always cold.\u00a0\r\n\r\nWe\u2019ve donned our long underwear, heavy coats, hats and gloves.\r\n\r\nAfter a beautiful Appalachian summer of eating outside on porches and picnic tables, we\u2019ve retreated to the indoors.\r\n\r\nThat\u2019s okay.\r\n\r\nWe\u2019ve got all the warmth and comfort we need waiting for us in the kitchen!\r\n\r\nThe kitchen is the heart of the home, especially in winter.\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s the warmest place in the house.\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s where the food is.\u00a0\r\n\r\nAnd it\u2019s where your\u00a0family and your guests always want to be.\u00a0\r\n\r\nSo give them a warm welcome.\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s time to snuggle up in a cozy chair and plan for holiday gatherings, lots of company and hearty winter meals.\r\n\r\nTime to dig out recipes for root vegetables, soups and hot drinks.\r\n\r\nBring down the slow cooker from the top shelf and get out the big stew pots in readiness for frequent use during the next several months. \u00a0\r\n\r\nAnd, oh yes, you know it\u2019s going to be a non-stop parade of baking projects, so check on your baking supplies.\r\n\r\nBut first, you\u2019ll want to set the stage.\r\n\r\nWhen you\u2019re bringing in the pungent winter greenery, don\u2019t forget to save plenty for decorating in the kitchen.\r\n\r\nPine boughs look lovely draped over the tops of cabinets and evergreens in water make beautiful seasonal arrangements.\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s fun to go out and pick your own mistletoe, which is easy to spot this time of year.\r\n\r\nAnd the best place to hang it is right there in the kitchen doorway, where you know there\u2019ll be ample opportunities for hugs and kisses as everyone enters the house.\r\n\r\nBring in a little more nature by hanging dried flowers or making arrangements of flowers you picked from the garden last summer.\u00a0\r\n\r\nAnd clutches of dried herbs are always an aromatic addition to the kitchen, plus, \u00a0they come in handy for use in cooking.\r\nPut a few candles in the windows and on the table, and maybe an oil lamp on a shelf.\u00a0\r\n\r\nDon\u2019t underestimate the effect of these little pools of light \u2013 they somehow brighten and soften the room at the same time and always add a romantic touch.\r\n\r\nIf you have a\u00a0calm and cozy place for a chair by the stove, you are blessed indeed. That\u2019s the best spot in the house.\r\n\r\nYou\u2019ll want your windows dressed lightly to let all the light and beautiful scenery in, but keep a heavy drape at hand to pull across at night to keep out the cold.\r\n\r\nKeep a few bright and cheery tea towels close at hand and a\u00a0few sticks of cinnamon simmering in a pan of water on the back of the stove \u2013 it makes a lovely potpourri.\r\n\r\nPlan ahead to have a pot of hearty soup in the freezer or fridge ready to warm up when unexpected company arrives.\r\n\r\nAnd when the kids are playing in the snow or due home from school, they\u2019ll need something hot and ready to dish up from the crockpot or the back of the stove.\u00a0\r\n\r\nAnd don\u2019t forget the hot chocolate and hot apple cider.\r\n\r\nWhether you make your own from scratch or buy the mix at the store, you\u2019ll need to stock up.\r\n\r\nBake bread \u2013 even if it\u2019s just the \u201cpre-fab\u201d kind.\u00a0\r\n\r\nThere\u2019s nothing like the heavenly aroma of bread baking to transport everyone back to their childhood.\r\n\r\nIf you decide that this is the year you want to learn to bake bread, find an easy recipe and practice every chance you get.\r\n\r\nEven if your first efforts don\u2019t turn out very well, filling the house with the lovely scent will have been worth it. And you know what my mother always said \u2013 practice makes perfect.\r\n\r\nAnd keeping the oven going just makes the house that much warmer.\r\n\r\nIf you don\u2019t have one already, you may want to add a\u00a0whistling tea kettle to your winter kitchen.\r\n\r\nIt serves a dual purpose \u2013 you\u2019ll always be ready to make tea, hot chocolate or hot cider, and it also works as a humidifier.\r\n\r\nAnd speaking of tea, you\u2019ll want to keep several varieties of tea close at hand \u2013 including\u00a0black teas, herbal teas, and one or two for congestion\/colds\/sore throat.\r\n\r\nAnd don\u2019t forget the honey, because nothing feels better on a rough throat than tea and honey.\r\n\r\nHave some cookie dough already mixed up in the fridge to pop in the oven \u2013 it will last for days. It\u2019s hard to beat the sweet smell of cookies baking, and you\u2019ll have dessert all ready.\r\n\r\nYour pantry will want to be well-stocked with all the ingredients you\u2019ll need to keep your winter kitchen chugging along like a well-oiled machine.\r\n\r\nThere will always be a call for nuts \u2013 they keep well in the freezer so you can always have those ready to go.\r\n\r\nYou\u2019ll want to keep lots of vegetables for roasting, especially spaghetti squash, butternut and acorn squash.\r\n\r\nThis is the time of year for squash and there are so many delicious ways to use it.\r\n\r\nSquash will keep all winter in a cool, dark, dry place.\u00a0\r\n\r\nBut to make it easier for inclusion in a spur of the moment meal, prepare some ahead of time.\r\n\r\nSpoon it out, chunk it, mash it or grill it and freeze lots of it already cooked.\u00a0\r\n\r\nUse every kind of squash as an easy and quick side dish, or an addition to soups or winter salads.\r\n\r\nWinter salad is just like any salad, except that it\u2019s loaded with vegetables or fruits commonly found at home or in the store in the winter.\r\n\r\nApples, beets, squash, oranges and cranberries (or craisins) often make an appearance in salads this time of year.\r\n\r\nAnother tip to help the harried hostess, is to keep ingredients for toasted cheese sandwiches on hand.\u00a0\r\n\r\nIf there\u2019s one hot sandwich that is the easiest to make and can be varied with an almost endless list of extra ingredients, it\u2019s the toasted cheese sandwich.\r\n\r\nUse your favorite cheese and add tomatoes, any kind of meat, pickles, chow-chow, vegetables, even sliced apples.\r\nNot too long ago, I had the good fortune to be served one that was really fancy \u2013 it was made with brie, sliced fig and rosemary butter on sour dough bread.\r\n\r\nToo bad brie cheese and fresh figs are so hard to find around here, but that doesn\u2019t mean you couldn\u2019t put them\u00a0on the list when company from out of town asks, \u201cwhat can I bring you?\u201d\r\n\r\nThis year, when Santa comes down the chimney, let him find some coffee and homemade ginger snaps or beetroot cake with peppermint icing.\r\n\r\nThose delicacies, along with the sights and scents in your winter kitchen may be so captivating, that Santa, and any other guests, might not want to leave.\u00a0\r\n\r\nBetter have an extra bed made up.