In just a few days, it will be time for the annual fourth of July parade and picnic. After a long winter and school finally letting out for the summer, everyone is ready to celebrate with family and friends. We are already feeling nostalgic, my friend Deb and I, about this event as our oldest children blossom into teenagers and the youngest are not far behind. How much longer will they indulge their mothers by dressing in red, white and blue, waving flags in the air and actually hang out with us?
I began dragging my family to the 4th of July parade in the tiny village of Quissett, MA when Ava was about three and Declan, already walking but still a pudgy baby, barely a toddler. Deb tipped me off to this quaint, little parade with it's low key vibe, grass roots gathering styled mixed with a little humor about current politics as the participants dressed in costume and made signs to illustrate their point. An ultimately patriotic celebration along a small harbor nestled between Woods Hole and Sippewisett at base of the Knob.
Early on the morning of the 4th, year after year, I drag out my decorations: finds from Christmas Tree Shops, Job Lot and the Dollar Store. I've decorated strollers, wagons, bikes and bike helmets, adhering stars and stripes pinwheels, tiny flags, sparkly stars and bunting with duct tape. My work makes me sweat as the time ticks by and the sun rises in the sky. I holler for Rob when it's time to load it all into the car, carefully, as not to disturb all of my handiwork. I watch over him as he struggles to make it all fit and curse and threaten when he appears to not be taking enough care with my works of art.
Of course, this part of the day never takes place in advance. There is no pre-planning organization unlike most happenings in the rest of my life. Independence Day always seems to creep up on me. The inevitable snow day make-ups for school tacked onto the end of the school year force us to keep the academic schedule until the very end of June. The last day of school finally comes and I can barely take a breath before it's time to dig out the patriotic gear and get ready to celebrate the birth of our nation.
As if all of the decorating weren't enough, once all of the wagons, bikes, chairs, umbrellas and blankets are loaded up, it's time for me to focus in the kitchen. Of course, there needs to be snacks for such an event. We cannot survive on the melting Hershey Kisses and slimy peppermints tossed haphazardly to parade spectators by children riding in their grandparents' cars adorned with painted poster board and red, white and blue streamers. No. That won't do. After all, it will be close enough to lunch time when the parade finally passes by the second time and leads everyone to the grassy hill with a view overlooking the harbor where there are cold cans of cheap beer and a bathroom in the old clubhouse perched at the top. Someone starts the crowd singing a few public-spirited songs: The Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful. The kids run around and make forts under the few tall bushes along the old wooden fence using the towels and blankets I brought for the adults to sit on. We dragged our wagons filled with coolers, chairs and umbrellas onto the grass. Deb begins to set up a luxury picnic area and demands her in-laws be seated before the kids steal all of our stuff. She has a fold-out picnic table and multiple coolers filled with Prosecco, ice, cold beers and drinks for the kids, too. We've figured it out after a number of years. She brings the drinks and I bring the sandwiches, chips and cookies. My menu hasn't changed much since the first picnic. Roast beef with "Russian" dressing and Quick Pickled Onions, Turkey with mango chutney and crisp garden lettuce, both piled high onto palm-size snowflake rolls: small round balls of Portuguese bread, soft and pillowy. They are the perfect size to hold in your hand while you hold a glass of bubbly in the other. Those, salty, crunchy, Cape Cod Potato Chips, (duh), one bag for those grubby kids hands and one for the adults. To top it all off, a fresh batch of All-American Chocolate Chip Cookies-easy to transport. I love it when the dark chocolate chips get cold when the Ziploc bag of cookies ends up at the bottom of the cooler with the ice packs.
When we pass the cookies around, that's the signal to begin packing up. A few cups of Prosecco or a couple of beers in the midday sun calls for a nap or a dip in the ocean. We have most of the day and a lot of celebrating still ahead. Time to enjoy the beach and get ready for whatever festivities this holiday brings. But for now, our bellies are full and there is a relaxed contentment in the air. And for me, I'm just happy that my kids consented to another year at the annual 4th of July parade.
These sandwiches are super easy. A couple of sauces that jazz up everyday cold cuts make them seem fancier than they really are.
Roast Beef Sandwiches with "Russian Dressing"
(makes about 8 small sandwiches)
1 pound thinly sliced deli roast beef
1 1/2 cups "Russian Dressing" (see recipe below)
pickled red onions (see recipe below)
8 Portuguese snowflake rolls* or small slider buns
Slice rolls in half. Slather Russian Dressing on both sides of bread. Be generous but not sloppy. Layer one slice of roast beef onto each half of bread. Place a few pickled onions on top of roast beef of one half, being careful to shake off any excess liquid. Put sandwich together and wrap in wax paper. Store sandwiches individually wrapped in wax paper in a larger container so that they stay neat in the cooler.
*Portuguese snowflake rolls can be found in most Portuguese bakeries. They are tiny versions of Portuguese bread and perfect for finger sandwiches.
Not exactly sure why this is "Russian" but this is my version of the popular deli classic.
(makes about 1 3/4 cups dressing)
3/4 cup ketchup
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 heaping Tablespoons dill pickle relish
2 teaspoons French's Classic Yellow Mustard
1 teaspoon spicy horseradish
1 teaspoon sriracha
1 pinch each salt and pepper
Mix all ingredients together. Keep refrigerated up to one week.
Quick Pickled Onions
(makes about 1 cup)
1 red onion, cut in half, then sliced
1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon pickling spice (bundled in cheese cloth and tied with kitchen twine)
Slice the onion in half then slice each half of red onion and place in a small saucepan. Add vinegar, water and sugar. Stir to combine. Place pickling spice onto a square of cheese cloth about 4" by 4" and tie the ends with kitchen twine. Add bundle to onion mixture. (If you don't have pickling spice, a bay leaf, a few peppercorns and some dry mustard sprinkled into the onion mixture will do the trick.) Bring everything to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off heat and allow onions to cool in vinegar and spices. Refrigerate onions submerged in pickling liquid for up to one week.
Another ridiculously easy picnic sandwich recipe....
Turkey and Mango Chutney Sandwiches
(makes about 8 small sandwiches)
1 pound deli turkey, sliced thin
1 jar Crosse & Blackwell Hot Mango Chutney
1 small head fresh lettuce
8 Portuguese snowflake rolls
Slice rolls in half. Spread chutney on each half of bread. Layer one piece of turkey on each half of bread. Rip a few pieces of lettuce so that it fits neatly on the snowflake roll and just hangs off the edge. Place lettuce in between the two halves of bread, in between turkey layers. Wrap each sandwich in wax paper. Place individually wrapped sandwiches in a container to keep them neat in the cooler.
All American Chocolate Chip Cookies
(makes about 36 cookies)
1 stick of unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup Crisco
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1 12 oz. bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Mix butter, Crisco, sugar and brown sugar in a stand mixer until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes). Add eggs and mix well to combine. Add salt, baking soda and vanilla. Mix well, again. Remove bowl from mixer and add flour. Stir with a wooden spoon until incorporated. Add chocolate chips and stir to combine. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto lined cookie sheets (silicone baking mats or parchment paper). Bake for 9-11 minutes until edges and tops are golden brown. Allow to cool for a few minutes on the pan, then remove cookies to racks to cool. Store in an airtight container.