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Tailgating in style: Far, far beyond hot dogs and beer

October 12, 2010
photo - A look at part of the spread at a tailgate party before the game between Air Force and Navy on Oct. 2 at Falcon Stadium. Photo by KEVIN KRECK, THE GAZETTE
A look at part of the spread at a tailgate party before the game between Air Force and Navy on Oct. 2 at Falcon Stadium. Photo by KEVIN KRECK, THE GAZETTE 

Denise “Buns” Richardson turns into a Martha Stewart-type hostess on steroids when Air Force Academy football tailgate season kicks off.

Self-anointed Tailgate Mistress and Benevolent Bartender, Richardson has been organizing AFA tailgate parties for 10 years.

It’s right in line with her realm of expertise: She earned her executive sommelier designation from the International Wine Guild at Metropolitan State College in Denver. And she’s the wife of a retired 28-year Air Force officer.

Her tailgate get-togethers are far from hot dogs on the barbie paired with beer. We’re talking themes, like “My Big Fat Greek Tailgate,” “A Taste of Cuba,” “Mama Mia Italy,” “Tapas of Barcelona” and “A Nantucket Lobster Fest.”

“The lobster fest was my largest effort to date,” she said. “We ordered 50 lobsters and got steam pots for cooking them. We had corn on the cob, coleslaw and rolls. That took some major coordination and assistance from all.”

Richardson and a few of the faithful tailgate ladies start planning the year’s worth of parties as soon as the AFA football schedule is set in stone.

“We meet for dinner at Biaggi’s to set the themed menu for each of the games,” said Carole Traylor, who has been going to the tailgate parties for seven years. “We try to come up with creative themes to vary the usual tailgate fare.”

Because of Richardson’s connections with the wine industry, she is able to get most of the alcoholic beverages donated.

“People chip in money so that I can bring great wines, martinis and beers for all to sample,” she said.

“If folks taste something they really like, my friends and associates Dirk Stamp and Matt Stephen at The Wine Seller in Monument have the stock in the store for anyone to purchase them.

The Falcon Tailgaters, as Richardson calls the group, attract 25 to 85 people per game.

Much depends on the weather.

“For some of the colder games (snow or freezing temperatures), only a few hardcore show up in the parking lot,” she said. “Last September we had planned a Mexican food and margarita theme, but the weather was a frigid 19 degrees. So we put the food on Coleman stoves and opted for Mexican hot chocolate spiked with orange liqueur to stay warm.

“There were just 10 people — dressed in down parkas, ski gloves and snow boots­ — shivering together, but the hot chocolate was fabulous!”

For the Air Force-Navy game Oct. 2, the theme was “Seafood and Martinis.” The party invitation, sent to an enormous e-mail list, was irresistible: “Seafood and Martinis: We shuck ’em, you suck ’em. Slide ’em down raw with cocktail sauce or lemons. Slimy mollusks not your thing … bring shrimp, fish tacos, crab cakes, chowder, crawfish gumbo, shrimp and grits casserole, or favorite seafood concoction. Drinks: Falcon-tinis and Squid-tinis ... Oh, Baby are these GOOD!”

She always serves martinis at the inter-service games. For those, she rented 50 clear martini glasses into which she shook and served the blue-tinted Falcon-tinis. Richardson also has a recipe for Grunt-tinis for Army games.

“A couple of years ago, when we (a few of us) traveled to Las Vegas for a football game and won the game, we went back to the hotel bar and taught the bartender how to make Falcon-tinis,” Traylor said. “When other AF fans arrived in the bar, they also ordered the drink, so we started an AF trend at the hotel bar.”

Why all the enthusiasm and work for a tailgate party?

“The best thing about this tailgate gathering is meeting with old friends, but also that it is open and friendly, newcomers are welcome and the food is always great,” said Linda Meyerrose, who has been coming to the parties since 2002.

For Richardson, her feelings go out to the cadets.

“Our real reason for the tailgate spirit is to support those young men and women attending the Air Force Academy,” she said.

“It’s up to those of us who have spent years of military service to give back and instill in them the sense of community and camaraderie. The Air Force won’t just be a future job for them, it will be their family.”

One last burning question for Richardson: How did she get the nickname “Buns”?

“My husband, Doug, (who has the handle ‘Spider’), used to call me ‘Honey Buns,’” she said. “Well, the ‘Honey’ dropped and the ‘Buns’ stuck … And that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!”


Yield: 2 servings

2 1/2 oz. Tanqueray Rangpur Lime Gin or citrus gin
1 oz. Triple Sec
2 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice
1/2 oz. Simple Syrup
Splash of Blue Curaçao (for perfect Air Force color)

1. Pour all ingredients into shaker with ice; shake and strain into martini glasses.  

2 cups sugar
2 cups water

1. Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat; cool completely.
2. Will keep in refrigerator for 1 month.

Denise "Buns" Richardson



Yield: 2 servings

2 ounces Yazi Ginger Vodka
2 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 ounces Simple Syrup (see recipe)
1 ounce Koval Organic Ginger Liqueur
Slivered lemon rind, for garnish optional)


1. Pour all ingredients except lemon rind into shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into martini glasses.
2. Garnish with slivered lemon rind, if desired.

Denise “Buns” Richardson



Yield: 1 serving

1 cucumber
1 honeydew melon
2 ounces SKYY Melon Vodka
4 basil leaves (stems removed)
1/2 ounce Simple Syrup (Page 1)
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice

1. Peel cucumber; remove rind and de-seed honeydew melon. Put both into a juice extractor (Breville, Cuisinart, Magimix). Collect the combined liquid. (This will make a large amount, enough for multiple martinis.)
2. Add 2 ounces liquid to blender with basil leaves. Pulse to shred basil into tiny bits (so it looks like “camouflage”).
3. Add remaining ingredients, shake vigorously with ice and strain into martini glass.

Denise “Buns” Richardson



Yield: 8-10 servings

10 strips bacon, chopped
1 cup each chopped onion, yellow bell pepper and green onion
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup good dry white wine
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can petite diced tomatoes (preferably fire-roasted), drained
1 tablespoon Tony Chachere’s
    Creole Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 pounds large fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
White Cheddar Grits (see recipe)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Sliced green onions or chopped chives, for garnish

1. In large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. With slotted spoon, remove bacon from pan and drain on paper towels. Reserve 2 tablespoons bacon drippings in skillet.
2. Add onion, bell pepper, green onion and garlic to drippings; cook over medium heat 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender.
3. Add wine and cook 2 minutes. Stir in diced tomatoes, Creole seasoning and salt.
4. In medium bowl, combine shrimp and flour, tossing gently to coat. Add to vegetable mixture and cook 2-4 minutes, or until shrimp are pink and sauce is slightly thickened. Remove from heat and add lemon juice.
5. Spoon shrimp mixture over White Cheddar Grits and garnish with green onions or chives.

Debbie "Buns" Moorhead



Yield: 8-10 servings

2 (32-ounce) cartons reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups white stone-ground grits
2 cups grated extra-sharp white cheddar cheese

1. In large saucepan, combine broth, cream and salt. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Slowly add grits, whisking until combined. Reduce heat and cook, stirring frequently, 40 minutes, or until grits are thickened and done.
2. Stir in cheese and serve immediately.

Debbie "Buns" Moorhead

Call Farney at 636-0271. Hear her “KVOR Table Talk,” radio show noon to 1 p.m. Saturdays on 740 AM.

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