Pro Tips for a Perfect Pie Crust

With the holiday season in full swing, you might want to impress your family and friends with a delicious, homemade pie at your festive gathering. Although making a pie from scratch seems intimidating, these tips from the pros will ensure that your crust turns out completely flawless.

  1. Chill everything. It’s fairly common knowledge that a good pie crust relies on very cold butter, but you can even go one step further by chilling everything (like flour, butter and shortening) before beginning.
  2. Keep things lumpy. While most recipes require you to blend or mix the dough until it’s perfectly smooth, a good pie crust relies on those small chunks of butter or other fats. This is what creates small air pockets for that lovely flaky texture once it’s done baking.
  3. Don’t over-handle the dough. The warmth from your hands can cause the gluten in the dough to seize up, so be sure to only touch the dough when transferring it into the pan.
  4. Use parchment paper. Not only does sandwiching your pie dough between parchment paper keep your kitchen cleaner, it also prevents the crust from tearing when it gets too thin.
  5. Create an aluminum shield. Because the pie’s filling and its crust tend to cook at different speeds, wrap a shield of aluminum foil around the crust’s edges during the last five minutes of baking.

10 Tips for Making Perfect Pie Crust [About Food]
The 10 Commandments of a Perfect Pie Crust [Real Simple]
6 Tips For Perfect Pies And Tarts [Food Network]

How to Create a Cheese Plate Your Party Guests Will Love

Ah, cheese. From mild cheddar to zesty Brie, there are a wide variety of reasons why people all over the world love this flavorful food. If you want to make the perfect cheese platter for an upcoming party, these foolproof tips will help you to turn your love of cheese into a perfect hors d’oeuvres for entertaining.

  1. Choose the right amount for your guests. As a general rule, it’s smart to allot at least two ounces of cheese per guest. Calculate the number of guests you’ll have beforehand and do some simple math to ensure that everyone gets their fair share.
  2. Mix soft and hard cheeses. A well-blended cheese plate includes a perfectly balanced blend of soft cheeses, like goat cheese, and hard cheeses, like aged gouda.
  3. Mix mild and intense flavors. You also want to blend mild cheeses with more flavorful options on your board. Think mild options such as fresh mozzarella combined with an intense cheese like a firm Gruyère.
  4. Serve the cheese properly. Organize the cheeses on a wooden platter, and be sure to leave enough space between cheeses. Set out a different knife for each type, and give each of your guests his or her own plate. Also, set out some neutral crackers or dry breads as palette cleansers.

Creating the Perfect Cheese Plate [Food + Wine]
How to Set Up a Cheese Platter [Food Network]
The Perfect Cheese Platter [Real Simple]

Love Birdwatching? Download These Apps!

Are you an avid birdwatcher who’s always looking for new birding resources? Lucky for tech-savvy birdwatchers, smartphone apps can help you identify birds, keep track of birds you see on your watches, and even record particularly interesting calls. Here are two great apps for birdwatching.

Peterson Backyard Birds
The Peterson Backyard Birds app is a complete field guide to the birds of North America, enabling users to identify more than 160 common types of birds. This app is ideal for the beginning birdwatcher because it helps to identify the most basic types of birds seen from most backyards, and it provides detailed illustrations of each bird’s appearance. There are even samples of each bird’s call for further help identifying it in the wild.

BirdWatching
With gorgeous nature photography and a magazine-style layout, the BirdWatching app is perfect for the more experienced birdwatcher. Lengthy, detailed articles provide information on the migration patterns and natural habitats of many interesting types of birds, while the ID Tool Kit offers helpful tips and tricks for identifying birds in your watches. If you’re a fan of BirdWatching magazine, you’ll love getting the same wonderful content right on your smartphone.

Make Breakfast More Fun With These French Toast Recipes

Dipped in batter and drizzled with sweet, warm syrup, French toast is a breakfast comfort food that eats like a treat. While many people order French toast out at restaurants, there are many simple and creative ways to make the traditional morning dish at home. Check out some of these recipes sites for a bit of breakfast inspiration.

All Recipes
All Recipes has a whole collection of unique French toast recipes that just about anyone will love. The Crispy French Toast is covered in corn flakes for an added crunch, while the Easy Pina Colada French Toast gives the usual recipe a little island flavor. Pumpkin Pie French Toast is even great for the fall and winter holiday season, and it’s an easy way to get the whole family to gather around the breakfast table.

Martha Stewart
No one does comfort foods better than Martha Stewart, and her French toast recipes certainly won’t disappoint. Banana French Toast is a sweet and delicious way to get your kids to eat their fruit, and it’s just as easy to make as your regular recipe. If you’re feeling fancy, the Brioche French Toast with Asparagus and Orange Beurre Blanc is a savory brunch dish that will impress even your foodie friends. No matter your guests, you’ll find a French toast recipe for every occasion on the Martha Stewart website.

Quick and Easy Home Decor Projects

You'd like to spruce up your apartment, but you don't want to spend a lot of time doing so. Lucky for you these fast and easy projects will make a big impact without a big commitment.

  1. Add some simple artwork. With just one trip to the art supply store and a few minutes at home, you can create a beautiful gallery wall or a statement piece in any room. Fill frames with family photos, old wallpaper, or vintage prints from the thrift store to add a bit of character in one simple step.
  2. Spray painted vases. If you have a few mason jars, old vases, or just about any type of glass container, create a matching set of colorful, stylish vases with bright spray paint. Paint the whole thing, or use a sweeping motion to add a gradient look to just the bottom.
  3. Cover pillows. You don’t have to be an expert seamstress to cover those drab, old pillows with something fresh and stylish. There are a number of online tutorials that show you how to make your own pillow covers in just minutes, and some don’t even require sewing!

Fast and Fabulous Decorating Projects [Better Homes and Gardens]
10 Décor Projects for a Quick and Easy DIY Fix [Mashable]
5 DIY Decorating Projects [Real Simple]

How to Improve Your Penmanship at Any Age

Having good penmanship is an invaluable life skill, and even if it’s been decades since you first learned to write in cursive, it’s something that you can always try to improve. Here are a few helpful tips to help you improve you handwriting or teach your children the proper way to write.

  1. Point out the flaws. Write a few sentences and evaluate them to see where you’re going wrong. Is the slant uneven, or are the letters spaced too far apart? Do you write with straight, bold lines or are they shaky and fine? Deciphering where your handwriting needs improvement will help you to make it better.
  2. Use the right muscles. Most people with less-than-perfect handwriting draw the letters on the page with only their fingers instead of using their full arms to write properly. Try writing with your entire arm and shoulder in order to put the right amount of force behind each letter.
  3. Go back to the basics. Many bad habits begin when people start writing letters in a way that is different than the proper formation. Using a kindergarten-style alphabet worksheet, re-train yourself to write each letter the way it should look. This will help you to make your writing more consistent and, in turn, more legible for those who have to read it.

How to Improve Your Handwriting [wikiHow]
8 Easy Tips to Improve Your Handwriting [Matador]
Improve Your Handwriting by Writing With Your Shoulders, Not Your Fingers [Lifehacker]

How to Keep Drawers Neat and Tidy

Just about every home has a junk drawer. You know the one: You fill it with your extra batteries, pens, a few stray kids’ toys, and a variety of other things that simply don’t have their own place. If your junk drawer drives you crazy, these simple tips will show you how to organize it once and for all.

  1. Clean it out. It’s definitely not the most fun task, but in order to maintain clean drawers you have to first empty the drawer out entirely. Toss out anything that you don’t use, and put everything else in a pile to be organized before going back into the drawer.
  2. Invest in a few organizers. If your drawer is particularly large, it may be helpful to add a few organizers to create separate areas for all of the items inside. Most home goods stores carry plastic or mesh drawer dividers that fit just about any drawer.
  3. Think of different ways to store items. If you’re tackling a dresser drawer, don’t be afraid to “file” t-shirts instead of stacking them. Although this may not be the way that you were taught, it certainly helps you to access items more easily and keep the drawer neater.
  4. Add a sachet. Even basic items like office supplies or clothing can start to smell musty when stored in a drawer, so add a scented sachet to keep things smelling fresh.

15 Organizing Ideas for Your Drawers [Real Simple]
Have a More Organized Monday: 5 Tips for Tidying Your Dresser Drawers [Apartment Therapy]
How to Organize Your Dresser [Real Simple]

How to Plant Your Own Terrarium

If you pay attention to interior design blogs, you’ve likely seen colorful terrariums popping up all over the place. These intricate indoor gardens may seem difficult to make, but with the right supplies and a few slow-growing plants, you can create your own terrarium to make your home look just like the pros’.

  1. Find the right structure. Terrariums should be built inside of a clear glass or plastic container so that you can see what’s going on inside. Something like a fish bowl, mason jar, or even a store-bought terrarium will work best. Do your best to choose the size based on how large you plants are.
  2. Form the garden bed. The success of your terrarium depends on the base. Start by lining the container with a one-inch layer of pebbles for drainage, and then add a ½-inch layer of activated charcoal. A 1 ½-inch layer of pre-moistened sphagnum moss goes over that to prevent the soil from slipping in between the pebbles.
  3. Plant your plants. Whether you choose succulents or herbs, they need to go on top of this well-draining garden bed. Remove your plants from their pots and cut away pot-bound roots. Place a layer of soil in your terrarium that’s just taller than your plants' roots, and plant the plants inside where the leaves won’t touch the glass.
  4. Decorate. Now that your terrarium is complete, it’s time to make it look pretty. Add some decorative rocks inside, and then place it in front of a well-lit window where your guests can easily see it.

How to Make Your Own Terrarium [HGTV]
How to Make Terrariums [About Home]
Terrariums: A Guide to Plants and Care [BHG]

Easy Ways Be More Productive at Work

Even the most model of employees is susceptible to the 3 p.m. slump. But that doesn't necessarily mean productivity has to suffer. Check out these three tips for improving your workflow at the office.

1) Let your body dictate the day.
It's likely that your energy levels take a nosedive at certain times during the workday, while other times you feel lively and awake. Take mental note of these ebbs and flows in energy, and plan your day's tasks around them. Schedule routine tasks for when your energy dips, and plan tasks requiring more brain power during the hours when you're feeling more lively.

2) Don't multitask.
If you get everything done at once, you'll have more time to complete other tasks, right? Not really. It's impossible for your brain to devote equal attention to multiple tasks being performed simultaneously; you'll be more apt to make mistakes, which will cost you valuable minutes somewhere down the line.

3) Take a break.
You probably feel pressure to soldier on through your lunch break, but staying chained to your desk is actually counterproductive. Instead, aim to take five minute breaks every two hours. Walk around, stretch, and get outdoors, if you can. This will improve blood flow and help you feel more energized.

10 Easy Ways To Be More Productive At Work [Forbes]
11 Ways To Be More Productive At Work [AskMen]
10 Ways to be More Productive at Work [U.S. News]

4 Low Calorie Snacks That Won’t Sabotage Your Diet

Your diet provides rules and regulations for each of your daily meals, but what about when your stomach rumbles in between meals? Sometimes snacking is inevitable, but you still want to make informed, healthy choices. These four snack recipes are low in calories but still delicious and filling.

Almond-Honey Power Bar [Eating Well]
Stop paying for expensive meal bars and start making your own nutritious versions right at home. These almond-honey power bars are filled with all-natural ingredients, and they’re high in protein that makes them ideal for a post-workout snack.

Guiltless Guacamole [Delish]
Regular restaurant guacamole isn’t the worst dip in the world, but it certainly isn’t a healthy snack. This flavorful recipe offers the same delicious guacamole taste, but with far less calories than the original.

Lemon-Parm Popcorn [Eating Well]
Popcorn is already a low calorie snack, but it’s often bland and flavorless. This zesty lemon and parmesan version is much tastier than the original, but it’s still as healthy.

Spinach and Cannellini Bean Dip [Cooking Channel]
Whether you pair it with fresh vegetables or sliced and toasted pita bread, this Mediterranean-inspired cannellini bean dip makes a great low-calorie snack. It’s flavored with fresh lemon juice and balsamic vinegar, and the baby spinach adds nutrients that most snacks simply don’t have.