Category Archives: Do It Yourself

Set a Beautiful Christmas Table

Candles add so much ambiance

Candles add so much ambiance

Setting a beautiful table provides an opportunity to be creative and to express your personality
by making the table attractive with lovely seasonal objects and dinnerware. An appealing table will also keep the diners comfortable and the meal pleasant.

Table setting principles are influenced by principles of art and common sense. Here are 10 basic suggestions:

  1. Place settings, evenly spaced present a balanced appearance. Shauna'sdetail
  2. Balance dark areas with light areas, large objects with small objects, tall objects with short objects.
  3. Large tables can be set with larger items, small tables with smaller and fewer items.
  4. Repetition of similar objects such as flatware and dishes also brings balance.
  5. All the objects on this table were sitting in closets, cupboards, drawers, and boxes except for the table runner which was a gift.

    All the objects on this table were sitting in closets, cupboards, drawers, and boxes except for the table runner which was a gift.

    Decorations should below enough for people to easily see each other across the table.

  6. Candles should be above or below eye level.  Use candles for evening meals.
  7. Natural items such as pine branches, pine cones, and nuts add a bit of the outdoors, texture, and possibly fragrance.
  8. Use what you have with a color scheme in mind , and/or take a trip to a thrift store and you will be amazed at how a beautiful table can be set with little expense.
  9. Allow the children to get involved.
  10. Have fun!





Get Your Yard Ready For Migratory Birds

Feeding wild brids all winter can be extremely gratifying.

Feeding wild birds all winter can be extremely gratifying.

With fall in full swing and winter on the way here are some useful tips to make sure our feathery friends make a stop in your backyard throughout the season.

1. Clean your bird feeder
Get your feeders ready for fall and winter by cleaning them up. Start by emptying the feeder. In a bucket,  combine 10 parts water to one part bleach if you wish to use a safe disinfecting solution. Using an old rag, wash and rinse the bird feeder thoroughly.  Air dry the feeder or dry it with a towel if you are in a hurry.

bird seed 2. Choose a bird feed that is high in protein and fat and stock up.
With temperatures dropping birds begin to grow in winter feathers and start storing energy for the cold weather. Try using black oil sunflower seed as your basic go-to bird seed stock.   If you are more ambitious,  you can use a mix of 60% black oil sunflower seed, some roasted no-shell peanuts, a bit of safflower and some white millet. Bird seed mixes may attract a wider variety of migratory birds.

3. Don’t deadhead your garden
Leave your flowers blooming, it’s less work for you and the birds will love eating the fresh supply of food. The wilder your garden the more lively an ecosystem.

bidsinclippings 4. Save your pruning clippings
If you have some pruning to take care of in your garden, be sure to save all the clippings in a pile. A clippings pile will provide a perfect safe spot for smaller birds to fly into and hide.

birdbath 5. Use a heated birdbath
Finding fresh water in the winter is incredibly difficult for birds, and your birdbath will be a great source! Along with using a heated birdbath it’s important to change the water regularly.

Clean Up and Cover Up for Winter

As the garden plants die, clean them up by composting them. Make sure to dispose of diseased plants in the trash. This helps to reduce the possibility of diseases, insects and their eggs overwintering.

Remove any supports, like bean stakes, tomato cages or trellises. Clean all of these items by wiping them down or spraying them with a 2 to 1 solution of water and bleach or even better, Hygrozome, a chemical free concentrate used for disinfection. This will kill any diseases that may be lingering on the supports. Store the supports for next season.

As soon as the cool weather arrives, it is a good time to make a cold frame, dig and box in raised beds, and make general repairs.

A cold frame is a bottomless box with a clear or translucent top. and can extend the growing season by one to several months.

A cold frame is a bottomless box with a clear or translucent top. and can extend the growing season by one to several months.

Cold Frames

A cold frame is a transparent-roofed enclosure, built low to the ground, used to protect plants from adverse weather.  Others describe a cold frame as bottomless box with a clear or translucent top.  When the frame is set on the ground or over a raised bed it can capture solar energy which will heat the air, soil, and plants inside.  A cold frame can extend the growing season by one to several months.

Cold frames can be made with pvc pipe, or boards, plastic, hinges, screws, and other hardware items available in the store. Here are some line drawings of cold frame projects made from simple materials. All the hardware, screws, nails, hinges, etc and plastic needed to make one can be found in the store.BasicColdFrameSouthWallCold

Covering up your garden

There are a variety of methods for covering up your garden and/or enriching the soil before the winter.  One is Composting and another is planting a Cover Crop.


Thick layers of leaves laid down in the Fall is a great ways to compost your soil

Thick layers of leaves laid down in the Fall is a great ways to compost your soil

Probably the organic mulch you spread down on the soil during the summer months has really decomposed. It’s important to spread new mulch now – a thicker winter layer – to protect plants and soil over the winter months. The idea is not so much to keep the soil warm as it is to keep the temperature even.

Spread compost, composted manure, or leaves, onto your garden beds anywhere from 1” to 6” depending on the richness of the cover and your garden soil’s condition.

If you have shade trees, rake up the fallen leaves as use them as mulch. However, don’t use pine needles or walnut leaves, they contain substances, that inhibit your garden from growing.

Cover Crops

Winter Rye is used to enrich soil

Winter Rye is used to enrich soil

Plant Cover Crops of Winter Rye, Vetch, or Buckwheat. Seeds for these cover crops are available at Paonia Farm and Home. Growing these annual Cover Crops in the fall contributes to higher nutritional value of the soil, keeps weeds down and helps to hold in soil and soil moisture. Give them enough time to grow then allow for the winter weather to kill them back and cover them with snow. That gives a head start on their composting into the soil.

As soon as the ground can be worked in spring, even if its an unseasonably warm few days in late February or early March, turn over the mulch or cover crop and let it continue to break down until time for planting in your garden.

Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner Menu

turkeydinner copyTURKEY WITH GRAVY*
Classic Stuffing
Cranberry Relish Salad*
Mashed Potatoes
Sweet Potato Casserole*
Green Bean Casserole
Dinner Rolls
Apple Pie    Pecan Pie   Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake *

Recipes will be published at our website/blog before Thanksgiving.  Be sure to keep checking for some scrumptious, family heirloom recipes.

Do-ahead recommendations
Here are a few suggestions for planning all the shopping, cooking and baking ahead so that your Thanksgiving Dinner is delicious, memorable, and most importantly, stress free.

Turkeys are usually on sale ahead a few weeks ahead of the big day. Buy the biggest bird that will fit in your freezer and oven. Leftover turkey can be frozen in meal sized portions to
make some of the tastiest and most economical main dishes imaginable.  Remember to thaw the turkey safely.  Here are 2 recommended methods:

Refrigerator Thawing Times

4 to 12 pounds — 1 to 3 days
12 to 16 pounds — 3 to 4 days
16 to 20 pounds — 4 to 5 days
20 to 24 pounds —5 to 6 days

A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 days before cooking.

Cold Water Thawing- Allow about 30 minutes per pound.

First be sure the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent cross-contamination and to prevent the turkey from absorbing water, resulting in a watery product.

Submerge the wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed.

Cold Water Thawing Times

4 to 12 pounds — 2 to 6 hourswaterthaw
12 to 16 pounds — 6 to 8 hours
16 to 20 pounds — 8 to 10 hours
20 to 24 pounds — 10 to 12 hours

A turkey thawed by the cold water method should be cooked immediately. After cooking, meat from the turkey can be refrozen.

Planning Ahead

1. Purchase as many non-perishable items ahead when they go on sale.  Examples would be stuffing mix, canned pumpkin or cranberries.
2. Pies, rolls and breads can be baked several weeks ahead and frozen.

Week of Thanksgiving Suggestions:

1. Allow sufficient time for the turkey to thaw in your refrigerator. It may take several days for big turkeys.
2. Clean out your refrigerator and use all the leftovers several days ahead of the big day to make room for the turkey and trimmings.
3. Clear your counters of any unneeded clutter to make room for the preparations.
4.  Plan the time to start roasting the turkey so it will be ready about an hour before serving time.  Stuffed turkeys cook slower but makes yummier tasting stuffing and it also helps to save
precious oven space during that last hectic hour prior to serving.
5.  While the turkey rests, (It will stay piping hot for at least an hour on the counter) you will have plenty of time to make gravy, mash the potatoes, heat the vegetable dishes,  bake pies, carve the turkey,  and attend to any other last minute preparations.
6.  Be sure to delegate the work to family and guests so everyone can be part of the action.


Top Cookie Baking Tips

Gorgeous Cookie Assortment

Gorgeous Cookie Assortment

Measure Flour Correctly and Avoid Overmixing the Batter

Don’t overmix cookie dough or brownie batter once the dry ingredients have been added; doing so would overdevelop the gluten, which could hinder tenderness and result in an unpleasant texture.

Sift Nuts and Chocolate

Sift any chopped nuts or chocolate that are used in a light-colored cookie dough. Eliminating the “dust” from these ingredients will help maintain the color of the dough and keep flavors distinct.

rolloutdoughChill the Dough Before Baking

Chilling the dough helps softer doughs keep their shape and makes the dough easier to work with. I find that chilling the dough improves the flavor and allows the dough to relax a bit.

Use a Silicone Rolling Pin 

With this new rolling pin, you won’t have to use as much flour when rolling out doughs and your cookies will be more tender. You can also purchase a Marble Rolling Pin and chill it to keep the dough cold while you’re working with it. Or use a Rolling Pin Cover and Cloth. You won’t have to use as much flour with these cloth accessories. Rub flour into the rolling pin cover (also called a stockinette) and the cloth that is placed on the work surface, and the dough won’t stick. Using a combination of powdered sugar and flour to dust the work surface will also help keep the cookies more tender.

Use an Oven Thermometer

Be sure that your oven is accurate with a thermometer, then bake cookies at a slightly lower temp. The instructions for your stove or oven will tell you how to adjust the heat if necessary. I have a digital oven, so when a recipe calls for a 350 degrees F oven, I set the temperature to 345 degrees F. This small reduction in temperature ensures the cookies won’t over bake and over brown, especially on the bottom. With each batch of cookies, the baking time will be reduced because of the increased humidity in the oven from the cookies.

Soften Butter Properly

It’s difficult to soften butter properly in a microwave oven; too often part of the butter melts, which will change the structure of the cookies. Butter and sugar form the basic structure of the cookies; the sugar cuts small air pockets into the butter, which are stabilized by the flour and filled with C02 from the baking powder. Soften butter by letting it stand at room temperature for a couple of hours. You can also grate the butter into a bowl, then it will soften in a few minutes.

Freeze Dough

Making and freezing doughs ahead of time not only is a great time saver, but it improves the texture of the cookies. Icebox cookies are shaped into a log, wrapped, and chilled or frozen until it’s time to bake. You can form drop cookie dough into balls and freeze; bake from the frozen state, adding a few minutes to the baking time. This technique also lets you make all the doughs one day, then take another day for the fun part: baking and decorating!

Use fresh eggs, butter, flour, sugar, baking powder, etc.

Use fresh eggs, butter, flour, sugar, baking powder, etc.

Use Fresh Ingredients

Make sure that all of your ingredients are fresh. Buy new baking powder and baking soda, vanilla and spices, flour and sugar. Most of us don’t bake often during the year, and it’s a good bet that your ingredients are more than a year old. You’re putting a lot of effort and heart into these cookies: start with the best ingredients!

Baking Times

I set the timer for 2-3 minutes less than the cooking time called for in the recipe. I take the cookies out of the oven just as they’re beginning to look done because the residual heat from the cookie sheet will continue to bake the cookies. Also, slightly under baked cookies are more tender and moist.

 Rotate Baking Sheets

Always rotate baking sheets, usually once about halfway through the baking time. Turn the sheets front to back, and, if you have sheets on both the upper and lower racks of the oven, swap their positions. Most ovens have hot and cold spots, so this will ensure that the cookies bake evenly.

Using cookie scoops means your cookies will all be exactly the same size.

Line Cookie Sheets for Easy Cleanup

Bake perfect Christmas cookies with expert baking techniques, including ingredient substitutions, freezing and storing tips, and more. Lining cookie sheets with parchment paper or nonstick baking mats eliminates the need for greasing. Liners also make it possible to lift a whole batch of cookies at once — and they make cleanup easy. Butter the baking dish, then place a sheet of parchment, also buttered, inside, allowing about 2 inches to extend beyond two opposite sides. Bake according to the recipe’s instructions, and let cool. Pull up on the parchment to lift the dessert from the pan before cutting.

How to Store Cookies

When storing cookies, do not combine crisp and soft cookies in the same container, as this will cause the crisp ones to soften a bit. You can restore the crisp texture of cookies that have softened by heating them in a 300-degree oven for about 10 minutes.

How to Freeze Unbaked Cookies

Many kinds of cookie dough can be frozen raw and baked later. After the cookies are formed, place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet and chill in the freezer until firm, about one hour. Transfer to resealable bags, and freeze for up to a month, until ready to bake. There is no need to thaw the dough; however, you may need to add a few minutes to the baking time.

Now that you are a cookie expert, enjoy the time you spend in the kitchen with family and friends, baking wonderful cookies.

Store Cookies in Seasonal Containers

Store Cookies in Seasonal Containers