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Photo: Susan Reimer

Photo: Susan Reimer

I’d love to meet you next month, during a special class I’m hosting for the University of Denver’s Enrichment Program in conjunction with the Central City Opera Guild.

Every year the Guild’s L’Esprit de Noël Holiday Home Tour kicks off the yuletide season with a tour of historic Denver homes decorated by some of the city’s leading table and floral designers. Have you ever toured those elegantly appointed homes and wondered, “How do they do that?”

Home for the Holidays: Secrets to a Memorable Celebration
will be held on two consecutive Saturdays. The first session is Saturday, November 16 from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. at my home. During this workshop,  you’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at how those designers take simple objects and transform them into elaborate yet tasteful decorations.

First, we’ll cover the planning process, starting with tips for creating a noteworthy invitation and steps to conceiving the perfect mood for your event. You’ll enjoy a cooking demonstration and get expert advice on creating a delicious yet easy to accomplish menu, compliments of cookbook author Eliza Cross. We’ll talk about décor and how to create a beautiful holiday table, and floral designer BJ Dyer of Bouquets will lead you through a variety of ideas for stunning floral arrangements and holiday decorations.

The following Saturday, November 23rd at 10:30, you’ll enjoy a docent-led tour of the 2013 L’Esprit de Noël Holiday Home Tour in the old Crestmoor Park neighborhood. You’ll see firsthand how these impressive techniques are used in some of Denver’s finest homes. Discover the designer secrets for your own memorable and beautifully decorated holiday celebration.

The cost for the two-week class is $95, and Central City Opera Guild members receive a 10 percent discount. To register, visit http://www.universitycollege.du.edu/enrichment or call 303-871-2291.

I hope to meet many of you in person during this fun, festive event!

Hugs,

~Maury

Father's Day at Celebrated Gatherings

Dad – The Unsung Hero. Photo by princedd.

If we remember our mothers for their loving, quiet influence, then our fathers must stand as unsung heroes. Too often relegated to practical, financial, logistical and practical roles, we could easily lose sight of their contributions, sacrifices and influences. It’s our mothers who often bask in the recognition of a successfully brought up child, but somewhere—steadfast, proud, courageous, but out of the limelight—stand our fathers. On Father’s Day, we honor their sacrifices and commitment.

Have you ever wondered how Father’s Day originated? History.com provides some fascinating facts and details. The holiday’s first celebration took place in West Virginia in 1908, and was a one-time event to commemorate fathers who had been lost in a mine explosion.

Sonora Smart Dodd at Celebrated Gatherings

Sonora Smart Dodd

In 1909, Sonora Smart Dodd, raised by a widower, actively campaigned for a Father’s Day in her hometown of Spokane, Washington. Her campaign produced results any father would admire: In 1910, Washington State held its first state Father’s Day. But the holiday only spread slowly through the following decades—a delay often caused by fathers themselves. Men scoffed at the sentimentality and attempts to commercialize fatherhood, leading to gifts ironically often paid for by the fathers. Meantime, Mrs. Dodd had established a tradition of wearing a white rose to honor a deceased father and a red rose for a father still living.

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson “honored the day by using telegraph signals to unfurl a flag in Spokane when he pressed a button in Washington, D.C.” Eight years later, President Calvin Coolidge encouraged states to observe Father’s Day, purportedly calling it “the occasion to establish more intimate relations between fathers and their children and also press upon fathers the full measure of their obligations.” June 19th slowly became a recognized and celebrated holiday, and in 1972, President Richard Nixon established the third Sunday in June as a national Father’s Day—trailing the creation of Mother’s Day by 58 years.

If you need a little inspiration, you might enjoy these tips from the article, “Give Him a Father’s Day He’ll Never Forget.” You could also make Dad a batch of homemade BBQ sauce or take him on a perfect picnic.

How will you be celebrating with the fathers in your life? I always love hearing your thoughts and ideas.

Happy Father’s Day,

~Maury

Jack-o'-lanterns

Photo: William Warby

     An Irish folk tale is said to have inspired the modern day Jack-O-Lantern. According to legend, a man named Jack — who was something of a cheapskate, a drunkard and a practical joker — convinced the Devil to climb up a tree. Once the Devil was in the tree, Jack surrounded it with crosses, trapping him there. In exchange for removing the crosses so he could get down, Jack made the Devil promise not to take his soul when he died.
     However, when Jack died he was denied entrance to heaven because of his stinginess, pranks and drinking. When he tried to get into Hell, the Devil reminded him of their deal and told Jack he was doomed to forever wander through the cold darkness. When Jack complained that he couldn’t see, the Devil tossed him a burning ember from Hell to light his way, which was then placed in a hollowed-out turnip to last longer. Thus, Jack’s Lanterns were born. Because pumpkins grew more bountifully than turnips in America, the tradition eventually evolved into pumpkin lanterns – often carved with spooky or silly faces.
Happy Halloween!
~ Maury

It’s a Surprise!

Surprise Party at MauryAnkrum.com

"SURPRISE!!" Photo by Ubo Pakes

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.

~Maury

Throw a great picnic with Celebrated Gatherings

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.

~Maury

The Occasional Affair | Father's Day BBQ sauce

© Andrea Berger - Fotolia.com

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

Servings: 48

Yield: 6 cups

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions

  1. 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.
  2. 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

by: WEIRDMUSIC657

“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

Servings: 64

Yield:  1 gallon

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions

  1. 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

By: YULANDA_US

“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

Servings: 28

Yield: 3 1/2 cups

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

  1. 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

By: JFREE44

“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

Servings: 12

Yield:  1 1/2 cups

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

  1. 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!

~ Maury

Maury Ankrum shares best Mothers Day inscription ideas

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…”)

3. Borrow a quote, a song lyric, a verse or a line from a poem that expresses how you feel.

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!

~Maury

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