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Monday, July 2, 2007


I have spent the last two weeks planning the menu for one day of the year, July 4th. After our seventh bedtime conversation about dry rub versus marinade for the ribs, my husband stated that I give more energy to planning meals than I do to, say, the laundry or weeds in the yard. My response to him was, “Doesn’t everyone?”

Apparently not. I can’t speak for non-foodies, but I love the culinary opportunity to win them over. You see, I am a hopeless foodie, and summer holiday gatherings are the high holy season for me. Give me a special occasion, some hungry people with the day off work, a ball game on the radio - and I accelerate into ecstatic high gear of menu research and guest appeasement.

It’s my thing.

I have torn through the recent issues of food magazines and my library of season-based cookbooks, and I believe I’ve got a winning menu this year. I’m sticking with what works – fresh fruit, grilled meats, cold salads, non-baked desserts and lots of bottled water.

So if you don’t want to, can’t find the time to, or simply don’t have the inclination to plan a menu for the festive, sunny days of July – let me help. I won’t overwhelm you with recipes, I offer only tips to make the most out of your summer parties. My only belief about the month of July is that it should be fun – for children, for adults, but also, for the designated chef.

Wet everyone’s appetites with the freshest fruit and vegetables you can find.
Crack open a sweet watermelon and let everyone serve themselves. Squeeze some lemon juice and coarse grain salt over ripe avocados and watch them disappear. Slice some fresh cucumber on the bias and drizzle with rice wine vinegar and red pepper flakes – the idea is, keep it simple. You need this time to apply sunscreen on youngish cheeks.
The most complicated thing I plan to do for the first stage of my holiday menu is make fresh salsa.

Main Course
Who has time to stand in front of a hot grill all day when you could be playing Marco Polo, a pick up baseball game, or building a sand castle? Do a few things ahead of time to expedite the cooking.
Cook ribs partially ahead of time in the oven so the grill time is minimal (and the meat more tender). Put the cheese inside of the burgers and allow yourself to get carried away in nostalgic conversation. Brine chicken breasts the night before (yep, overnight) so the meat doesn’t dry out on the grill.
Seafood cooks up evenly and is so aesthetically pleasing on the grill, especially when skewered. I’ll be plucking some Meyer Lemons off the backyard tree, squeezing over the shrimp kebabs, drizzling some olive oil and salt before they go over the flames – that is really all they need.
The toughest decision I’ll be making over my main course is what to stuff the burgers with – feta or bleu? What to top the chicken with, barbeque sauce or mango salsa?

Side Dishes
Let’s talk about barbeque cookware. Throw some sliced mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant, or peppers into a grill pan and they cook in no time. How about quesadillas? A tortilla on a barbeque skillet topped with cheese, fruit, herbs or vegetables - finger food for the kids, done.
Salads you can take credit for (mostly) – cooked fusilli pasta tossed with your favorite vinaigrette dressing, sun-dried tomatoes, green beans and goat cheese…things you have on hand. How about just buying a potato or macaroni salad from the deli and doctoring it up when you get home?

Ever done a s’more on the grill? Try it this year. Assemble as usual – graham cracker, marshmallow, chocolate, graham cracker – and wrap in foil before placing on the grill, or use another clever grill pan. Watch the pool or salt-water soaked little ones wrapped in terrycloth towels gather around you as you lick the chocolate off your fingers.
You won’t find me inside the house frosting a cake made from scratch. I’ll be at the head of the outdoor assembly line with the other Mommies, scooping mounds of store-bought vanilla ice cream into plastic bowls, topping with fresh berries, and almonds toasted on, you guessed it, a clever grill pan. If that isn’t putting a healthy, sophisticated and easy spin on a classic American sweet treat I don’t know what is.

Now go enjoy yourself. You’ve done your share. Summer is appointed the literary metaphor for high points and bliss for good reason. Savor every morsel while you can.

Samantha Gianulis is an author, editor and columnist living in southern California with her husband and their three children. To read more from Sam, log on to her website, or her blog,

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