As I've mentioned here before, Independence Day is my favorite holiday. I have many reasons for this, but the main one is that it's the most carefree of all the holidays. On the Fourth, you don't have to stress over buying gifts. You don't have to cook anything elaborate (unless you want to). There's an atmosphere of celebration, but pressure and expectations are at a minimum. You can go to parades and fireworks, or to the beach, or you can lay around watching movies. You can throw some hot dogs on the grill and spend a relaxing day with friends and family, and everyone is happy. It's pretty much perfect.
My brother Kevin came home for the long weekend, and we went with my parents to the Bartlett fireworks. The display was excellent this year! However, at the very end of the big finale, they set off a row of HUGE fireballs - you know, the kind that actually looks like a bomb exploded. So, in Kevin's words, "We all went from pure joy to OMG IS EVERYONE OKAY OVER THERE?!?" I'm still laughing about it. Here are our Concerned Faces:
For a post-fireworks gathering at my parents', I made Smitten Kitchen's Strawberry Summer Cake, using the barley flour she recommended (available at Whole Foods). It was so easy to make, and deliciously jammy. If you have to bring a dessert to a cookout anytime soon, you can't go wrong with this.
On Sunday night I threw my annual Fourth party! Although it wasn't the big bash I had imagined, it was wonderful. Almost none of the people who came knew one another, but it wasn't awkward. I was touched to see people I care about from diverse social groups and eras of my life enjoying each other's company. :) I have happy memories from all my parties, but this one was special.
My favorite menu item was these "sparkler" pretzel sticks (inspired by some chocolate-covered pretzel sticks at a baby shower several months ago). I bought several bags of braided pretzel twists at Kroger, then dipped them in melted white chocolate and rolled them in red and blue decors that I already had. (The cute container is from the Target dollar spot.) I felt very accomplished. :)
Kevin kindly stopped on his way from Indiana and picked up some real sparklers. They were a huge hit with the kids.
I started making flag cakes for the Fourth in 1996. The tradition continues! My recipe has evolved over the years, and now I'm back to a simple preparation. Just white cake, berries, a Cool Whip and cream cheese frosting, and blueberry pie filling between the cake layers.
People liked it. :)
Finally: the best thing about this weekend was seeing my middle- and high-school BFF, Amy. We lost track of each other in college, and I've always been sad about losing that friendship and wondered what happened to her. A few months ago, she found me on Facebook! She was in town this past week, and we were able to get together several times (including the party). I also got to meet her daughter. Say what you will about Facebook, it's reunited a lot of people, and for that reason I'm thankful it exists!