Surprisingly enough, the fourth of July has always held a special place for me. As a kid my family used to spend the week of the fourth in Pennsylvania with our relatives from my grandfather’s side. My entire family – aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents – would take the 7 hour road trip out to the rolling green hills in a caravan of cars, cheez-its, and general familial hilarity. Some of my fondest childhood memories come from these excursions. My cousins and I still reminisce about them. In the very early years all of us would pile into the home of my great grandparents, instantly transforming the quaint little country abode into a family shelter strewn with luggage, makeshift beds, and screaming children (and adults). The best part of this for the kids was the field across the street from the house. You see, it was not an ordinary field, at least not for us suburban dwellers. Just as the sun reached the end of its set and dusk began to spill over into a blanket of nighttime, the field would light up with the clumsy, lantern-colored streaks of fireflies. We would run towards the lights with clear plastic cups and use our hands to trap the little creatures inside. Back on the porch we would set the cups down and watch as the insects illuminated their temporary plastic huts with soft, incomprehensible light in a slow and steady pulse, much like adjusting the wick on an old time oil lantern.
As the years went on, our great grandparents passed away, the house was sold, and the family invasion moved to the home of my Aunt Jennie and Uncle Nick. They lived (and still do) on a long and hilly mountain road. There were so few houses and thus so few cars that one could lay down right in the middle of the pavement and take a nap without even the slightest twinge of worry. The hills made for incredible bike riding for the adventurous preteen. We would ride ourselves to the top of one of the steeper crests and launch ourselves down, pedaling furiously to see who could get the farthest before losing momentum. In the evenings Uncle Nick would let us pile into the back of his pickup truck and drive us 30 minutes down the mountain to get soft serve ice cream, all the while keep our eye out for deer in the fields as we drove by. And lets not neglect the fact that fireworks were not illegal in PA at the time (not sure if they are or not now). One can’t imagine the fun that can be had with a pile of those junky little Japanese-made light bombs, poppers, and the like. Such good times.
Nowadays things are much different of course. All of us are grown up and scattered all over the place. Fourth of July has taken many forms for me in my adult life, from watching fireworks at a hillside picnic in Aspen to spending the day grilling out with my roommate and her family in Orange County. It should come as no surprise that I spent this fourth with a gaggle of fellow starving artists, most of us musicians and composers. Luckily for us there is a non-starving artist in our circle who has a gorgeous little house in Venice beach, complete with backyard and wide open dining area. He also happens to have a smoker, which is the perfect cooking vessel for his tried and true recipe for ribs, complete with his own rub and his own homemade barbecue sauce. Have I died? Is this heaven? Though the ribs were far and away the centerpiece of the festivities, this was just like any other holiday gathering in that there was a full on cascade of ridiculous food that kept coming in a steady stream for like 7 hours. The kind of situation that by the time midnight rolls around you’re so full and are pretty convinced you won’t wake up the next morning, yet you can’t help but stand at the food table and continue to shove bits and pieces of all the crusted leftovers still sitting on the table from 5 hours ago shamelessly into your mouth. It’s the American way – exactly what the 4th is all about.
My contribution to this culinary tsunami was a double batch of my super easy and amazing banana pudding, which was very well received. Also, because these friends attended my birthday party and experienced the inescapable awesomeness of my Costco birthday cake, they purchased one for the party – an unexpected treat. And what party would be complete without potato chips and french onion dip? Sherri made a corn pudding that was divine. Joe, the rib maker, also made an outstanding batch of guacamole that was devoured in a matter of minutes. There was also baked mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, and Joe even smoked salmon. Utterly divine. Once we were sufficiently gorged we did the 20 minute walk down to the beach for fireworks, which was glorious. I forgot how amazing the beach is at night, even if you are inundated with drunken fools lighting off fireworks.
While it may not have been a trip to Pennsylvania, this fourth of July was full of love, laughter, friendship, and food – a combination that is always a success for the starving artist.