The bunting has been hung; the flags are flapping in the breeze. The sparklers, hoosker doos and hoosker donts and the nipsy daisers (with and without scooter sticks) are lined up, ready for igniting in the neighborhood fireworks display. The youngest in the 'hood are decorating their bikes while the older crowd is mashing a medley of patriotic songs for the parade around the island. And up and down the street, pages of recipe books are frantically flipping, as every cook seeks just the right dish to place on the Almighty Altar - the Potluck Table. The food has to be star-spangled stellar fare for the Fourth of July neighborhood picnic.
Selecting the right dishes is no easy job. Since life is uncertain, I decided to begin with dessert.
Keeping true to my Eat Local philosophy, I wanted to use whatever fruit was available now from our local farmers. It was midweek when the muse hit me - I couldn't wait for the farmers' market, so I took a short drive to Kordell's Produce and Nursery to see what was gracing their shelves.
This is the ninth summer Kordell Blair has operated his produce stand and nursery at the corner of Stafford and Rosemont roads. He is diligent on offering the finest produce he can find, and makes a point to buy local produce when it is available. Some items are organic, some not; all the items looked as if they were just freshly picked.
Kordell had plenty of plump red local strawberries; local blueberries, Hood River cherries and raspberries were just starting to come in. Walla Walla onions were ready, as were Rainier cherries from Washington. He had a large variety of melons, peaches, nectarines and plums, corn, beans, artichokes, tomatoes and lettuces - not local, but beautiful examples of farm fresh food.
Inspiration hit while I was at Kordell's and I bought cherries and Walla Walla onions to make a salsa to accompany barbecued pork roast. And I couldn't resist buying heirloom tomatoes and a sweet smelling honeydew melon.
Kordell is often asked if the farmers' markets hurt his business. He replies emphatically 'No. The farmers' markets are great for my business! People get hooked on eating farm fresh produce there and come here to buy it any day of the week they want - not just on Saturday.'
If your plans for the Fourth involve outdoor eating, be sure you take precautions to keep the food safe for consumption.
Make sure chicken, hamburger and steak are completely cooked. Rare meat is more likely to be a source of bacteria than well cooked meat. Thoroughly cooking the meat kills bacteria.
Avoid having salmonella as a guest at your picnic. Wash melons of all kinds with soap and water before cutting into them. Remember that chicken and steer manure are often used as fertilizers and that melons grow on the ground. Though you don't eat melon rinds, if you cut into a melon that has been contaminated, you could drag the bacteria through the melon on the knife blade.
Make decorative ice displays to keep condiments and salads cold, especially those with mayonnaise-based dressings. If foods are left out to accommodate second servings, make sure you have ice enough to keep them cold for the duration of the party.
Cross contamination can happen so innocently. Remember that raw meats should never come in contact with ready to eat foods. Use a separate set of tongs when putting raw meat on the grill. When the cooking is complete, remove the meat with a clean set of tongs to a clean serving plate; don't put it back on a plate raw food touched.
What do you do with leftovers? Any foods that were unrefrigerated for more than three hours should be tossed. The rule of thumb is 'When in doubt, throw it out.'
So what will the Feast on the Fourth include?
For the appetizer, I chose Review editor Martin Forbes' Shrimp Cocktails Disguised as Crabs on Parade. Festive and simple to prepare, they will march across a bed of ice to keep them icy-cold until devoured.
For dessert, I will prepare a simple Cherry Clafoutis (prounced klah-foo-tee). It has four-star spangled flavor with minimal effort and most of the ingredients are household staples. Try substituting the cherries for berries, too!
Happy Fourth of July!
Bon Appetit - Eat Locally!
disguised as Crabs
36 large shrimp, (24 per pound), shelled and deveined
2 large lemons, one cut into rounds and the other cut in half for more rounds and to squeeze over shrimp
Purchased cocktail sauce
Fill cups about half full with ice, hang 6 shrimp from the cup lip by the meaty end so they resemble crab legs, three on each side. Top with a slice of lemon to represent the crab back. Add a dollop of cocktail sauce to the lemon slice, and squeeze lemon juice over the shrimp cocktail.
Martin Forbes, food stylist and managin editor of the Lake Oswego Review and West Linn Tidings
This recipe calls for unpitted cherries, which will give the dessert more flavor and juice. Place small plates around for collecting the pits.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound sweet or sour cherries, washed and stemmed
1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar (1/3 cup for sweet cherries, 1/2 cup for sour cherries)
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 eggs, separated
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 pinch salt
Powdered sugar for dusting
Melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. When the butter is foaming but hasn't begun to brown, add the cherries, 1/3 or 1/2 cup sugar, cinnamon, and lemon zest. Cook for 7 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the cherries are tender when pierced with the point of a small knife and the juices have begun to thicken. Arrange the cherries in the bottom of a 9-inch baking dish.
Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
Beat the egg yolks and 3 tablespoons of sugar together for several minutes, until light and creamy. Beat in the flour, vanilla, almond extract, and cream.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form soft peaks. Fold the whites into the batter just until blended, and pour the batter over the fruit.
Bake in the upper third of the oven for about 20 minutes, until the batter is puffed and well browned. Let the clafoutis cool slightly, dust with powdered sugar and serve.
Adapted from Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Fruit