If you were to research “Surprise Parties,” you would find that virtually every article addresses how to throw one, but not whether or not you should. The advice given carefully lays out tips and suggestions on time frames, communication, parking, alibis, and even back-up plans, yet every article ignores the most important question: does the recipient want or even like surprise parties? Given my ten years of practical party planning, I strongly recommend considering this. A surprise party likely has four possible scenarios that will play out:
- The first: “Surprise!” – you pulled it off – he/she is genuinely astonished and happy about it.
- The second: “Surprise!” – you pulled it off, but the recipient is not happy.
- The third: “Surprise!” – no surprise – he/she was on to you and despite appreciating your time and effort, you’re frustrated and disappointed.
- And finally the fourth: “No Surprise!” – he/she knew in advance, isn’t happy and neither are you.
So what you’re left with is a 50/50 chance that all your hard work will be worth it in end. The fourth scenario is what played out when I tried to throw my husband a surprise 35th birthday party. We spent the better half of twenty minutes in the car arguing before putting him up to making a halfhearted appearance. Needless to say, it was the last time I did that. Reflecting back weeks later, I realized that the failed surprise party was my fault, not his. I like surprises; I love the attention and flattery that comes with it. That’s not him.
So the point is, before diving headfirst into planning this type of venue, find out whether or not this person likes surprises of any type, if he or she likes being the center of attention and if the guest of honor handles spontaneity well. If you’re uncertain, the odds are you may want to probe a little further or consider another type of party.
On a personal note, I still love surprising my husband, but now I do it with surprise trips, surprise themes (to a party he knows is going to take place) or simply surprising him by having doughnuts delivered.
For tips on how to pull off a surprise party–if you’re brave enough to go for it–watch for next month’s entry for my tips and advice on planning a surprise party.
As always, I would love to hear your stories or thoughts.
I love dining outdoors, and with 300 days a year of sunshine in Colorado we try to take advantage of every opportunity to share a meal al fresco. The key to enjoying a great picnic is to give the occasion a little forethought and planning. Here are my favorite tips for hosting an unforgettable outdoor meal:
1. Pack or purchase a beautiful picnic basket. Organizing a dedicated bag or basket with unbreakable plates, cutlery and servers, cups and glasses, salt & pepper shakers, a corkscrew and napkins will make spontaneous picnics a breeze. Just add the food and drinks and you’re good to go!
2. Consider your location ahead of time, and arrive early to set up. An area with big trees will provide both shade and sun for changing weather. If children are coming, a picnic area in a park with a play structure gives kids something to do which may in turn make the picnic more relaxing for adults. An on-site picnic table is ideal, and I like to cover it with a colorful tablecloth and arrange soft, folded blankets on the benches. In a pinch, you can spread a waterproof tarp on the ground and top it with a blanket.
3. Choose food that keeps and transports well like salads, sandwiches and finger foods. (Here are some fresh picnic menu ideas from the Food Network.) Prepare everything ahead of time (cut up the ribs, slice the watermelon, etc.) so you can relax at the picnic site.
4. Chill out. Pack everything in an insulated cooler with plenty of ice packs, and set up the picnic in the shade. Or freeze water bottles the night before, and they can serve as ice packs, and later, drinks.
5. Games like Frisbee, croquet and badminton can easily accommodate varying ages and groups of people.
6. Don’t forget bug repellent. If it’s especially buggy outside, you may want to pack citronella votive candles to place on the table.
7. Bring trash bags, paper towels or cloth dishtowels and disposable wipes or damp washcloths packed in zip-lock baggies for cleaning up after the picnic.
Are you picnicking this summer? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.
I’m constantly racking my brain for creative, cost-effective gifts to give. With Father’s Day quickly approaching, I wanted to come up with something different and useful that my girls could help me create. We have enough artwork to cover a few miles of the great wall; we have enough painted mugs, bowls and plates to keep Tavern on the Green up and running and enough painted pots, patio pavers and bird feeders to remain to eyesore of the neighborhood. Not that I don’t adore and cherish each an every one of these handmade projects, but one can only have so many…
While making a list of my husband’s favorite pastimes, I kept coming back to how much we enjoy spending our evenings outside. Grilling is a big part of that. So this year, we are going to make him three different types of homemade barbeque sauce. It’s a fun activity that the kids can help with, and the gift is practical because we know he’ll use and enjoy it. Plus, it won’t clutter the front porch or the front of the refrigerator!
I’ve listed a few of my favorite BBQ sauce recipes below, each with its own distinctive flavor and style. You might enjoy trying one style you’re familiar with, and one that’s new to you. You can find a variety of bottle styles and sizes at many different retailers such as The Container Store.
Have the kids decorate a different label (a simple piece of paper that can be glued onto the bottle). Finally, secure the bottles in a nice box among some hickory wood chips (found at most grocery stores). The wood chips are a great packing material as well as grill starter. If you don’t have the time or desire to make your own BBQ sauce, purchase a favorite store brand, soak off the label and affix your own for the same effect.
Here are some of my preferred BBQ sauce recipes, all from the wonderful site AllRecipes.com:
Big Al’s K.C. Bar-B-Q Sauce
By: Alan Arthur
“This is a Kansas City-style sauce that I make in my restaurant. It is sweet and smoky with a little bite.”
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Ready In: 35 minutes
- 2 cups ketchup
- 2 cups tomato sauce
- 1 1/4 cups brown sugar
- 1 1/4 cups red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
- 4 teaspoons hickory-flavored liquid smoke
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
- In a large saucepan over medium heat, mix together the ketchup, tomato sauce, brown sugar, wine vinegar, molasses, liquid smoke and butter. Season with garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, paprika, celery seed, cinnamon, cayenne, salt and pepper.
- Reduce heat to low, and simmer for up to 20 minutes. For thicker sauce, simmer longer, and for thinner, less time is needed. Sauce can also be thinned using a bit of water if necessary. Brush sauce onto any kind of meat during the last 10 minutes of cooking.
North Carolina BBQ Sauce
“This sauce is vinegar-based with no ketchup. It’s very tangy, very thin, and wonderful on pork, chicken, and even tofu!”
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Ready In: 35 minutes
Yield: 1 gallon
- 1 gallon white vinegar
- 1 1/3 cups cayenne pepper
- 1 1/8 cups ground black pepper
- 3/4 cup mustard powder
- 1/2 cup salt
- 3 lemons
- 2 (10 fluid ounce) bottles Worcestershire sauce
- Combine the vinegar, cayenne pepper, black pepper, mustard powder, salt, lemons, and Worcestershire sauce in a large pot; bring to a simmer. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and simmer for at least 30 minutes.
Applesauce Barbeque Sauce
“Applesauce gives this sauce a nice thick texture that coats well on meat. It has a sweet spicy flavor that is excellent on chicken or pork.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Ready In: 30 minutes
Yield: 3 1/2 cups
- 1 cup applesauce
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 2 cups unpacked brown sugar
- 6 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- In a saucepan over medium heat, mix applesauce, ketchup, brown sugar, lemon juice, salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, and cinnamon. Bring mixture to a boil. Remove from heat, and cool completely. Use to baste the meat of your choice.
Mustard Based BBQ Sauce
“This is a great version of the traditional mustard-based BBQ sauce. Most sauces are ketchup based, but in the South we prefer the mustard variation. You ought to try it at least once.”
Prep Time: 2 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Ready In: 7 minutes
Yield: 1 1/2 cups
- 1 cup prepared yellow mustard
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- Ground black pepper to taste
- In a saucepan over medium heat, stir together the mustard, honey, brown sugar and vinegar. Season with black pepper. Bring to a boil, and let simmer for 5 minutes. Pour over cooked pulled pork or beef. If you want more flavor, let the meat simmer in the sauce for about 30 minutes.
Happy Father’s Day!
With Mother’s Day fast approaching, many of us will sit down with pen in hand to write a heartfelt inscription on a card for Mom. Trying to sum up a lifetime of gratitude and emotions on a greeting card can be a daunting task, though, which is why I’ve compiled a list of ideas to fuel your card-writing inspiration:
1. Make a list of all the reasons you love her (her great advice, the way she cooks the perfect omelet, the TLC she gave you when you were sick, etc.).
2. Share a special memory or two. (“I’ll never forget when we went camping in Estes Park and it snowed in June, and how happy I was when you got up and made coffee…”)
4. Tell her about things in your life that make you think of her. (“The kids and I picked lilacs today, which reminded us all of your perfume…”).
5. If you have children, tell her why the grandkids love her. Better yet, if they’re old enough to write let them pen a line or two on the card. (Your pets can also write sentiments to your mom.)
6. Write about something you learned from her. (“Along with teaching me the secret to your chocolate chip cookies, you taught me how to choose my battles, open a bottle of champagne and ask for a raise…”)
7. Compile the reasons you are most thankful for your mom. (“I am grateful for your patience, wisdom, support and faith in me these many years…”)
Do you have any suggestions to add to the list? I always love to hear your ideas. Happy Mother’s Day to all the hard-working moms out there!
Kate Middleton and all of your event planners: It’s officially time to panic.
I don’t often follow gossip or the lives of celebrities, but like billions of others, I too, am anxiously awaiting the wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton. I was nearly in tears of laughter after reading Samantha Bee’s article in the Wall Street Journal, offering her “tuppence” for the royal nuptials.
With four days and counting, it is time to panic: the world will be watching, waiting and looking for every misstep, every wardrobe malfunction and every mishap with the tanning cream. This is also true for the countless party and event planners responsible for everything related to the wedding from menus to stallion grooming. There are thousands of things that can go wrong, and while any mistakes Kate might make will ultimately come across as charming and endearing any mistakes the royal planners might make will not be so graciously forgiven. It’s not exactly “Off With Their Heads!” but the event will put hundreds of reputations and livelihoods on the line. I — like Ms. Bee and the billions of others — will be gripping my tea and scones at 4:00 am, wiping away tears as Kate and William exchange their vows with “to honor” instead of “obey,” partake in the famous balcony kiss and ride away in a horse -drawn carriage towards the happily-ever-after we are all expecting.
So, good luck and best wishes to the happy couple and the same to the myriad individuals who have spent the last five months working feverishly and holding their breaths to make April 29th perfect. Because as Ms. Bee reminds us, come Saturday the big day will be over and people will move on to thinking about new things…like whether Kate has a baby bump or not…
Easter is one of my favorite holidays, but if you have children it can be challenging to manage the hunt for Easter eggs and also serve breakfast all in the same morning. The following quiche recipe is perfect for a mid-morning brunch; it’s kid friendly, and easy to prepare. The hash browns form a crispy crust which is topped with a ham and egg mixture. Feel free to add or subtract filling ingredients depending on what your family likes. Sometimes I arrange asparagus spears or chopped artichoke hearts on top before adding the eggs, and I’ve also substituted cooked, crumbled bacon for the ham.
- 1 24-ounce package frozen hash browns, thawed
- 1/3 cup melted butter
- 1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
- 1 cup shredded Emmenthaler or Swiss cheese
- 1 cup diced cooked ham
- ½ cup half and half
- 2 eggs
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Press thawed hash browns between paper towels to remove moisture. Arrange hash browns into a greased 9-inch pie plate, forming a solid crust. Brush the crust with melted butter, including top edges. Bake for 25 minutes; remove from oven. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Sprinkle cheeses and ham evenly over bottom of crust. Beat half and half with eggs and salt and pepper. Pour over cheeses and ham. Bake uncovered for 30 to 40 minutes, or until eggs are set and a knife inserted in center comes out clean. 6 servings.
If you have any favorite recipes or Easter traditions, I’d love to hear about them!