Happy 4th of July! To me, the 4th of July is a small-town holiday, and not just because of the inevitable disappointment of San Francisco's fog-shrouded fireworks. This is a day for shiny fire trucks and kids with red-white-and-blue ribbons woven through the spokes of their bikes riding down Main Street, for the scent of hamburgers grilling at the neighbors' house, for popsicles dripping sticky down your arm and the magic glow of sparklers in the deepening twilight, an appetizer to the fireworks booming over the high school football field.
Walking down the street in Novato, where I'm house-sitting for the next few weeks, every shop is festooned with flags, glitter, and red, white, and blue. From Mill Valley to Noe Valley, goofy patriotism wins the day when it comes to decor. Can there be too much bunting? Too many Uncle Sam hats covered in stars and stripes? Too many cupcakes topped with raspberries and blueberries?
Unlike, say, Thanksgiving, the 4th of July is a holiday where everyone wants to eat, but no one really wants to cook. For one, unless you live right in chilly San Francisco, it's too hot to be in the kitchen, not when there's ice-cold beer in the cooler and lemonade on the patio. Get someone--your husband, your butch spouse--to man (or woman) the grill, pile up the sausages, salmon, or burgers around them, hand them a cold drink and presto! Your entree is complete. There remains only the sides, and anyone can pour out a bowl of chips, put out some hummus and salsa (we're a melting-pot country, after all), toss together some potato salad and lay out the buns, pickles, lettuce and tomato.
Oh, would that it were that easy! I've been to many, many summer barbecues like that, and there's always a catch. You see, getting the grill started is the duty of the host. And somehow, the host is always too busy cracking beers and kicking back with the bros to notice how half the guests (usually, in my experience, the less chip-inclined female half) are ready to gnaw their own arms in hunger by the time the charcoal is finally ignited. Note to grillers: charcoal takes a long time to heat up and burn down. Longer than you think! Really! Even you with the flick-the-button propane grills, some preheating is necessary, especially if you're doing ribs or chicken.