Americans will be celebrating the country's largest secular holiday this weekend (the 234th anniversary of America's divorce from Great Britain) with outdoor barbecues, picnics, parades and pyrotechnic displays.
For my July Fourth contribution, I'm going to dish up some folklore, creative holiday suggestions, and recipes that are also healthful alternatives to the traditional angioplasty-beckoning fare, plus a presidential food quiz.
The inaugural July Fourth shindig at the White House took place in 1801, while Independence Day wasn't declared an official holiday until 1941. Today, Americans wolf down Costco-quantities of baked beans, coleslaw, potato and other salads doing the backstroke in a pool of mayonnaise, and about 150 million dogs on the holiday, a comparable number of burgers, and thousands of pounds of pork butts, ribs and steak.
I hate to be a carnivore fun-sucker, but move over moo and oink — try some savory and delicious newbies. Dogs come in an assortment of flavors, shapes and sizes, from thick and chunky fennel and feta, jalapeño cilantro or sun-dried tomato turkey and chicken sausages and bratwursts to slender uncured hickory chicken, turkey, soy and even salmon and seafood dogs.
Burgers can be half-pounders of lean turkey, chicken, lamb or salmon, or mini-slider appetizer size. If you must have beef, make it organic and grass-fed.
My fave is a vegetable patty solidly packed with an assortment of gorgeous grains, roasted veggies and exotic mushrooms. And remember, meat, fish, fowl and mushrooms need to be prepared like Goldilocks' porridge — just right. Burnt offerings can be carcinogenic, along with undercooked foods, especially portobellos that can be toxic if eaten "rare."
Now try some red, white and blue dishes including an old glory pizza shaped in a rectangular cookie sheet to simulate a flag. Top it with red pepper and mozzarella strips for the stripes and black olives for the stars.
Whip up a patriotic potato salad with red, white and blue spuds tossed in a balsamic-and-olive oil dressing that is more hot-weather forgiving than mayo, or a sweet and savory slaw with red and white cabbage, and a sprinkling of dried cherries, blueberries and pine nuts.
Dessert can be a simple and elegant American-style tiramisu with ladyfingers drenched in rum and layered with mascarpone cheese, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries in a big brandy snifter. And stay hydrated at all times with your favorite flavored H2Os that you can concoct using extracts, essences and natural food colorings.
In honor of the three presidents who died on July Fourth — Thomas Jefferson and John Adams (1826), and James Monroe (1831) — Calvin Coolidge, who was born on July 4, 1872, and other beloved presidents, here's a quiz and a divine recipe for grilled corn on the cob to enjoy on the Fourth and all summer long.
White House kitchen fun
This first lady was so dangerous in the kitchen, her husband lightheartedly suggested "the road commissioner should be willing to pay something for her recipes for rock-hard biscuits and tough-as-nails pie crusts."
a) Grace Coolidge
b) Mimi Eisenhower
c) Mary Lincoln
d) Hillary Rodham Clinton
President Kennedy's White House chef, Jacques Pepin, who previously served France's Charles de Gaulle, prepared his favorite soup several times a week:
a) French onion
d) New England clam chowder
Thomas Jefferson, the first presidential foodie who spent four years in Paris, brought this dish back to America and quickly popularized it:
a) Foie gras
c) Macaroni and cheese
George Washington's favorite food was not the apocryphal cherry pie, but rather:
a) Apple dumplings
b) Pot roast
c) Crab soup
d) Johnny cakes
Mimi Eisenhower, known for her pitiable hospitality skills, offered the king of England on his visit to the White House:
a) A TV dinner
b) A hot dog
c) A hamburger
d) Canned chicken noodle soup
Answers: 1a), 2 d), 3c), 4c), 5b)
Grilled Corn on the Cob
- 10 ears of corn
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon pink salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon fresh chopped rosemary
In a small saucepan, combine the ingredients and heat on low until the butter is melted. Keep warm. Pull the husks down and remove the silk. Brush the mixture on the kernels, then pull the husks up.
Cook on a hot grill, turning the corn constantly until tender (8 to 10 minutes). Remove the husks and grill on low for an additional 2 minutes. Slather more mixture on the kernels and sprinkle with grated Parmesan if desired.
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