The 4th of July is a birthday celebration where everyone is invited and no one has to give out any gifts. Sounds like fun? It is! No formal invitation needed either. To celebrate America’s birthday – this year 235 years-old – just show up with some food sprinkled with an infectious festive mood – this winning recipe will magically enliven all of your festivities while surrounded by friends and family. This year marks my twelfth 4th of July and after years of various observations, when it comes to the rituals of celebrating Independence Day I think I’ve learned my lesson well.
Ritual 1: As one of my friend says “It would be a crime not to grill out on the 4th of July.” Yes, you heard right… un crime! The 4th wouldn’t be the 4th if it weren’t for outdoor cookouts or summer picnics at home, at the park or by the water. While I never experienced a rainy 4th, I am pretty sure that even with bad weather Americans would still be outside working the grill and holding a backyard party. Because that’s how it goes – no matter what happens on the 4th, you cannot rain on America’s birthday parade.
Ritual 2: This is the day where only 3 colors matter: red, white and blue. Decorations, props, star-shaped patterns, stripes – it’s a gigantic assortment of good and bad taste. Streets are filled with American flags and red-white-blue-banners. Homes get the Christmas treatment for a day and are decorated to proudly display the key colors. Sometimes it can be over-the-top-tacky your eyes will hurt and demand to see another color to rest for a bit. And sometimes it’s done very well. For the French, the display of flags and all-things-American on that day is an eye-popping surreal experience. Red and white flowers in a blue vase. Blue tablecloth, white plates and red napkins. Be as creative as you want.
Ritual 3: Food, food and more food. The more food the better. The bigger the party, the more variety of food you will find and get to taste. Burgers, ribs, steaks, grilled fish and shrimp, kebabs & skewers, salads, potato salads, pasta salads, side dishes – corn on the cob! – desserts and let’s not forget drinks and cocktails. When words such as grilled, meat, corn and pies are put together in the same sentence, I can only blurt out “fantastique“! I always say that the 4th of July is the one and only day when you will put on 5 lbs in a matter of hours without really knowing how it happened. Unlike Thanksgiving and Christmas, July 4th is not stretched out over a week/weekend. It’s one intense food day.
If lucky, slow-cooked messy and saucy ribs will be on the menu glazed in a sweet and spicy smoked BBQ sauce. Skewers will be full of colors with juicy veggies and marinated chicken. Corn cobs will be grilled and slathered in butter. The potato salad will be classic yet original with slightly undercooked potatoes. And pies and cobblers will end the meal with sweet and indulging pleasures. J’ai faim!
Ritual 4: Parades, concerts and fairs – the 4th is meant to be spent outside. Before eating dinner, social and festive activities are meant to bring people together in a joyous celebration of the country’s historical past mixing entertaining shows for kids with cultural events. So grab your colonial costume and your tiny American flags to go watch the parade and enjoy the momentum.
Ritual 5: Dear fellow French citizens, you have not experienced fireworks until you’ve seen one in the U.S. Vraiment. I am lucky to live in a city labeled #2 for the most extravagant fireworks displays on July 4th. Americans taught me that there’s no lazy way to watch a fireworks show. You don’t watch it from 2 miles away. You don’t watch it on TV either. It’s a once-a-year extravaganza and you want to be right in the middle of it – or in this case, right under it. And there’s no other feeling than walking to the fireworks launch with thousands of other cheering people, owning the streets that are now pedestrian and waiting for the start of the magical event with a pounding heart and the eyes of a 6-year-old discovering it for the first time. As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, the 4th of July is a birthday celebration. And what better way to end an evening than watching America blow its candles in the sky?
Our sunny rooftop-deck celebration amongst friends included some spicy smoked grilled ribs with Bobby Flay’s Carolina-style BBQ sauce, chicken kebabs, a blue cheese potato salad with a Sriracha sauce, corn on the cob and a chorizo-fig salad with a quince paste vinaigrette (recipe below).
Since I was in charge of dessert, I thought a French flair wouldn’t be bad and I opted for a tart instead of a pie. Béa from La Tartine Gourmande inspired me with her gluten-free strawberry mascarpone tartlet post and I adapted her recipe to make a strawberry-blueberry tart with a white mascarpone-lemon curd filling. Bleu, blanc, rouge… this tart could also work for Bastille Day. But yesterday, it was only red, white and blue.
I am sure there are many other rituals out there – family ones, regional ones. For some, July 4 is very important – it’s a historical date celebrating U.S. history. For others, it’s the symbol of a 3-day party weekend filled with noise, friends and family. What does July 4 mean to you?
Chorizo-Fig Salad with Quince Paste Vinaigrette
half of a big sweet red onion – if too bitter, use a quarter
8 Calimyrna dried figs
4.5 oz (125 g) of Manchego
4 oz (110 g) of chorizo
olive oil + balsamic vinegar
salt + pepper
1 to 2 Tbsps of quince paste – aka membrillo
Wash and slice the lettuce. I used lettuce from the garden and only needed 6-8 big leaves.
Peel and chop the red onion finely.
Cut the figs in 4 – if you have big figs, cut them in 6.
Cut the Manchego in small cubes
Slice the chorizo in small cubes as well.
In a bowl, all of the ingredients together.
In a smaller bowl, prepare your vinaigrette with the following ratio: 1/3 cup (80 ml) of olive oil for 1/2 teaspoon (up to a 1 teaspoon) of vinegar. Salt and pepper. Use 1 Tbsp of quince paste at first and whisk well. The paste will dissolve in the vinaigrette with the help of the vinegar. Taste and add vinegar if the paste is not yet mixed. If you prefer it on the sweeter side, add some more paste and vinegar.
Pour the vinaigrette over the salad. Mix well and serve.