Laura Dean Bennett
Staff Writer

A festive, welcoming kitchen will keep you and yours warm all winter long.  After all, nothing warms you up like good friends and good food. 

Yes, it’s that time of year when the dark comes earlier and lasts longer and our noses are always cold. 

We’ve donned our long underwear, heavy coats, hats and gloves.

After a beautiful Appalachian summer of eating outside on porches and picnic tables, we’ve retreated to the indoors.

That’s okay.

We’ve got all the warmth and comfort we need waiting for us in the kitchen!

The kitchen is the heart of the home, especially in winter.

It’s the warmest place in the house.

It’s where the food is. 

And it’s where your family and your guests always want to be. 

So give them a warm welcome.

It’s time to snuggle up in a cozy chair and plan for holiday gatherings, lots of company and hearty winter meals.

Time to dig out recipes for root vegetables, soups and hot drinks.

Bring 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.  

And, oh yes, you know it’s going to be a non-stop parade of baking projects, so check on your baking supplies.

But first, you’ll want to set the stage.

When you’re bringing in the pungent winter greenery, don’t forget to save plenty for decorating in the kitchen.

Pine boughs look lovely draped over the tops of cabinets and evergreens in water make beautiful seasonal arrangements.

It’s fun to go out and pick your own mistletoe, which is easy to spot this time of year.

And the best place to hang it is right there in the kitchen doorway, where you know there’ll be ample opportunities for hugs and kisses as everyone enters the house.

Bring in a little more nature by hanging dried flowers or making arrangements of flowers you picked from the garden last summer. 

And clutches of dried herbs are always an aromatic addition to the kitchen, plus,  they come in handy for use in cooking.
Put a few candles in the windows and on the table, and maybe an oil lamp on a shelf. 

Don’t underestimate the effect of these little pools of light – they somehow brighten and soften the room at the same time and always add a romantic touch.

If you have a calm and cozy place for a chair by the stove, you are blessed indeed. That’s the best spot in the house.

You’ll 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.

Keep a few bright and cheery tea towels close at hand and a few sticks of cinnamon simmering in a pan of water on the back of the stove – it makes a lovely potpourri.

Plan ahead to have a pot of hearty soup in the freezer or fridge ready to warm up when unexpected company arrives.

And when the kids are playing in the snow or due home from school, they’ll need something hot and ready to dish up from the crockpot or the back of the stove. 

And don’t forget the hot chocolate and hot apple cider.

Whether you make your own from scratch or buy the mix at the store, you’ll need to stock up.

Bake bread – even if it’s just the “pre-fab” kind. 

There’s nothing like the heavenly aroma of bread baking to transport everyone back to their childhood.

If you decide that this is the year you want to learn to bake bread, find an easy recipe and practice every chance you get.

Even if your first efforts don’t turn out very well, filling the house with the lovely scent will have been worth it. And you know what my mother always said – practice makes perfect.

And keeping the oven going just makes the house that much warmer.

If you don’t have one already, you may want to add a whistling tea kettle to your winter kitchen.

It serves a dual purpose – you’ll always be ready to make tea, hot chocolate or hot cider, and it also works as a humidifier.

And speaking of tea, you’ll want to keep several varieties of tea close at hand – including black teas, herbal teas, and one or two for congestion/colds/sore throat.

And don’t forget the honey, because nothing feels better on a rough throat than tea and honey.

Have some cookie dough already mixed up in the fridge to pop in the oven – it will last for days. It’s hard to beat the sweet smell of cookies baking, and you’ll have dessert all ready.

Your pantry will want to be well-stocked with all the ingredients you’ll need to keep your winter kitchen chugging along like a well-oiled machine.

There will always be a call for nuts – they keep well in the freezer so you can always have those ready to go.

You’ll want to keep lots of vegetables for roasting, especially spaghetti squash, butternut and acorn squash.

This is the time of year for squash and there are so many delicious ways to use it.

Squash will keep all winter in a cool, dark, dry place. 

But to make it easier for inclusion in a spur of the moment meal, prepare some ahead of time.

Spoon it out, chunk it, mash it or grill it and freeze lots of it already cooked. 

Use every kind of squash as an easy and quick side dish, or an addition to soups or winter salads.

Winter salad is just like any salad, except that it’s loaded with vegetables or fruits commonly found at home or in the store in the winter.

Apples, beets, squash, oranges and cranberries (or craisins) often make an appearance in salads this time of year.

Another tip to help the harried hostess, is to keep ingredients for toasted cheese sandwiches on hand. 

If there’s one hot sandwich that is the easiest to make and can be varied with an almost endless list of extra ingredients, it’s the toasted cheese sandwich.

Use your favorite cheese and add tomatoes, any kind of meat, pickles, chow-chow, vegetables, even sliced apples.
Not too long ago, I had the good fortune to be served one that was really fancy – it was made with brie, sliced fig and rosemary butter on sour dough bread.

Too bad brie cheese and fresh figs are so hard to find around here, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t put them on the list when company from out of town asks, “what can I bring you?”

This year, when Santa comes down the chimney, let him find some coffee and homemade ginger snaps or beetroot cake with peppermint icing.

Those 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. 

Better have an extra bed made up.