My summers, from birth till the age of 10, were spent in Upstate New York at our family's country home. My parents had a little Swiss-style cottage in a forest community of about 40 families, a few miles outside of Livingston Manor in a hamlet town in the Catskill Mountains. There was a crystal-clear lake with docks and rowboats, and over the course of several summers I learned to fish. I also became mildly obsessed with amphibians and even started a "salamander rescue farm"—whereby I removed local salamanders from their natural habitat and provided them with the shelter they needed by putting them in a shoebox in our backyard. (Don't worry, they all escaped my captivity.)
Most days would end with a barbeque dinner, topped off with chocolate milkshakes or egg creams (a NY specialty that contains neither eggs nor cream). It was bucolic, peaceful and picture-perfect Americana. Very Norman Rockwell. Very simple. And that’s what made it so special.
I always think about that house and our summers Upstate around this time of year. The annual 4th of July fireworks show was legendary and we couldn’t wait for America’s birthday to roll around.
After I became a mother I began to consider tradition more intensely. I wanted to find things that we could predictably do year in and year out. I started thinking about ways to build memories with the hope that one day, when my boys are my age, they will look back upon those summer nights and holidays with the same fondness as I do. I wanted to find something that had a simple small-town feel (even though we live in the city of Denver) and we found it at the annual Park Hill July 4th Parade.
In addition to the parade, we’ve also adopted the tradition of watching fireworks downtown…on a great big blanket, under the stars, surrounded by friends and those gorgeous Rocky Mountains.
There’s no better way to celebrate the Continental Congress's adoption of the Declaration of Independence than by imbibing on a seasonal blackberry gin fizz cocktail. I saw this recipe in Bon Appetit and it totally hit the spot. My only regret is that I didn't make more. I used market blackberries, pureed them in sugar, strained the seeds away, added fresh lime juice and some gin. My only adaptation to the BA recipe was the addition of a big splash of lemonade.
Makes 8, or 4 for my friends!
1 6–ounce container blackberries
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups gin
1 cup fresh lime juice
8 sprigs Thai basil or sweet basil
Lemonade (good quality store bought or homemade)
Preparation Purée blackberries and sugar in a blender. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved, about 10 minutes. Strain purée through a fine-mesh sieve into a pitcher (there will be about 3/4 cup); discard seeds in sieve. Stir gin and lime juice into pitcher. Divide drink among ice-filled glasses; top with soda. Add a big splash of lemonade. Garnish each with a basil sprig.
* * *
This light, flavorful, seasonal salad is perfect for a summer picnic or a 4th of July BBQ. For a different twist you can add a splash of orange juice, some julienned mint, a tiny bit of minced shallot and a drop of honey. Agave syrup is also a nice addition.
Here's the recipe I went with...
Watermelon Salad with Feta and Arugula (Adapted from GiadaDeLaurentiis)
1 (2 pound) piece watermelon, rind removed and flesh cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 (4-ounce) block feta cheese cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 packed cup arugula (the original recipe uses watercress)
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preparation In a salad bowl, combine the watermelon, feta cheese, arugula, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Gently toss. Serve immediately and enjoy.
* * *