Ode to the Fourth

From backyard burgers and hot dogs to seaside clambakes, the Fourth of July features memorable feasts...

The Fourth of July is one of our most nostalgic holidays. Yes, it's a huge birthday party with fireworks, barbecues,  grills and gatherings, but it's also the last holiday before the end of summer and filled with memories for me.

As a kid on Cape Cod, I'd spend the Fourth of July with family and friends on the beach overseeing our clambake, a New England tradition that requires digging a hole deep in the sand then layering it with lobsters, clams, corn on the cob  and whole onions, topping it off with a layer of seaweed and letting it slowly bake for hours to perfection. While it cooked, we'd run around in the waves, bury ourselves in sand and toss a frisbee until the sun began to set, then gather on the beach and feast for hours until we were nearly too tired to make it up the sandy path, past the beach rose bushes and on up Grandfather's Lane to home.

The clamback was so popular, we recreated it for a few summers in Princeton, N.J., where I grew up. My dad dug a deep hole in our backyard the night before, and the next morning we loaded it with up fresh lobster and littleneck clams, shucked corn and onions and covered it with seaweed. It slow cooked all day, until our neighbors arrived in time to help eat it. As night fell, sparklers were distributed among the kids and we'd run across the lawn, creating trails of light with the sparklers as they fizzled and flickered in the darkness.

When we first moved to Princeton, in the late '60s, we lived up the street from a neighborhood park, where I went to a daytime summer camp. We built little boxes out of popsicle sticks and made brightly colored hot pads. On the Fourth of July, the park would host a neighborhood grilling feast, and I still remember the taste of those hot dogs, slathered with mustard, ketchup and relish, and hamburgers, burned to a crisp but still delicious on a warm, griddled bun. As we ate, we were entertained by bottle rockets and other smal fireworks exploding around us.

I also recall backyard barbecues where we'd grill up burgers stuffed with blue cheese, onions olives and oregano. Or my mom would make her famous barbecue sauce, for the best barbecued chicken I ever tasted. She also made a mean potato salad, a German-style dish with bacon and warm vinegar.  For dessert, we had strawberries and blueberries with biscuits and fresh whipped cream or Julia Child's amazing Chocolate Almond Cake.

Each of us likely has a recipe or two that we make every Fourth of July, from a marinated steak with grilled mushrooms to roasted potatoes and grilled corn. Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa, certainly has one of her favorites, a Fourth of July Flag Cake with a buttercream cream cheese icing, topped with blueberries and raspberries, all to resemble the American flag. (See the recipe here.)

So here's to the Fourth of July. May your feast be memorable!

Blue-Cheese Herb Stuffed Burgers (Serves 4)

1 pound organic ground beef
1 small red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
¼ cup Kalamazoo olives, chopped
3 teaspoons oregano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 ounces blue cheese

Place beef in mixing bowl and add onion, garlic and seasonings, adjusting for taste.

Shape burgers into four patties and place 1ounce of blue cheese into the center of each patty. Fold sides of meat up and around cheese.

Grill burgers until done, about 12 minutes for medium rare.

Warm Red Potato Salad (Serves 6-8)

3 pounds red potatoes
½ pound bacon
1 red onion, roughly chopped
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup red wine vinegar
⅓ cup roughly chopped parsley
¼ cup roughly chopped oregano
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Prick potatoes all over with a fork and wrap each one in foil, separately. Place on grill and bake until tender,  about 45 minutes. When cool, slice and place in large serving bowl.

Meanwhile, cook bacon until done and set aside until cool.

Whisk together onions with oil, vinegar, parsley, oregano, salt, and pepper in a bowl until combined well. Pour over potatoes, crumble bacon into mixture, toss and serve warm.

Blueberry Slump (Serves 8)

2 cups flour
1 ¾ cups sugar, plus more for sprinkling
4 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 ¼ cups milk
1 ½  pounds fresh blueberries
1 cup orange juice
¼ cup lemon juice
Lavender ice cream

Whisk flour with ¼ cup sugar, baking powder, and half the salt in large bowl. Using a pastry knife or your fingers, work butter into flour until pea-size crumbles form. Stir in milk until dough becomes moist, cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Pre-heat oven to 400°.  In a skillet, add sugar, remaining salt, blueberries and citrus juices and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves, then remove from heat.

Form chilled dough into dumplings, place  on top of skillet y mixture and sprinkle them with sugar. Bake about 25 minutes, until dumplings turn golden brown. Serve warm with lavender ice cream.

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