Last year's was the first fun fireworks display our family has seen in ages.
Everybody was old enough to stay up for it, although we did make the kids put on their PJs in advance. Nobody can see what you're wearing in the dark anyhow, right?
Nobody was scared -- a huge improvement over the several years when our son was deathly afraid of fireworks. He didn't even want to watch my brother set off a couple of Roman candles in the driveway, much less see (or, more accurately, hear) a full-fledged display. One year we parked the van in the Crafton Giant Eagle parking lot, my husband and I set up our lawn chairs on the pavement beside the van, and our son sat in the van and howled through the whole display. Now it's hard to imagine there was ever a time when this rowdy kid did not love noise.
And my husband wasn't on call for work last year, so he didn't have to be in bed (or on his work computer). All four of us, wonder of wonders, got to go together, and everybody was happy. Some friends even came over and watched with us. A short walk out to the road puts us in perfect view of the fireworks, and the friends even thought to bring snacks, which helped the kids to wait patiently until the show started. It was great. I love fireworks.
Of course, my son's years of being fireworks-shy were my comeuppance; my mom says I didn't like fireworks either when I was just a little tot.
I can't remember that fear, though. The Fourths of my childhood memories are all sunshiny wonderfulness.
The Fourth was my grandfather's birthday, so we always had a picnic party at my grandparents' farm, just over the hill from our farm. My Nan is the only person I've ever known who served picnic dinners on white linen tablecloths.
There wasn't a standard menu. I can remember pasta salad one year when it was first coming into vogue. I think we made grilled kebabs one year. Dessert varied: Some years it was a red-white-and-blue birthday cake decorated by my mom; others it was Cherikee Red "red-pop sodas" with vanilla ice cream. Sometimes Nan made homemade ice cream, a recipe we reprise to this day because it's my dad's favorite and because the ingredient list is so easy to remember (see recipe).
I was too little to remember this one, but during the country's bicentennial year, 1976, I was 3 and my brother was 1, and my mom made us red-white-and-blue sunsuits to wear for the occasion.
The Fourth usually included a rousing game of croquet (with my cousins, even croquet could be rousing) and some firefly catching.
After our picnic/birthday party, we all piled into my uncle's gigantic green station wagon, which my cousins had dubbed "The Green Hornet," and bumped our way over the back roads to watch the fireworks display by the old (and since-imploded) Monongahela Bridge.
Good times all. I can only hope my kids grow up with half as many happy memories of the Fourth of July.
Local foods dinner
Garden Variety: A Farm to Phipps Dinner: Outdoor dinner features food from Pittsburgh-area farms. 6:30 p.m. July 21 at Phipps Conservatory, Oakland. $175 ($150 for Phipps members). Reservations: 412-622-6915 ext. 6505.
Bee Curious: Joe Zgurzynski of Burgh Bees discusses honeybee biology, beekeeping techniques, and local fruits and vegetables that are dependent on pollination by bees; includes samples of local honey. 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 17, at East End Food Co-op, Point Breeze. Free, but register ahead: 412-242-3598.
Miriam Rubin: The Post-Gazette freelancer and cookbook author conducts demos and signs copies of her latest book, "Tomatoes," in four different appearances: 10 a.m. this Saturday, July 6, at the Farmers' Market Cooperative of East Liberty; 9 a.m. July 13 at the Mt. Lebanon Uptown Farmers Market; 11 a.m. July 27 at Giant Eagle Market District in Robinson; and 3 p.m. July 27 at Market District in Bethel Park (register ahead for that at marketdistrict.com).
Food, Farm & Field:
Intensive two-week program investigating the relationship between food, farming and the environment, run by Chatham University's School of Sustainability and the Environment and open to undergraduates, graduate students and continuing learners. July 28-Aug. 10 at Chatham's Eden Hall Campus. $3,000, including course materials, lodging and meals. 412-365-1343 or chatham.edu/sse/programs/foodfarmfield.
Farm to Table Assembly: Farm to Table Pittsburgh now offers assemblies for elementary schools, middle schools and high schools on topics such as healthy diets, local farms and where food comes from. The organization is now scheduling events for the 2013-14 school year. For information, see farmtotablepa.com or call 412-563-7807.
Fruit Bowl Delivery: If your office is like the Post-Gazette's, there's too much cake and junk food hanging around. This Farm to Table program offers year-round delivery of fruit bowls to your office or apartment complex; choose 50-, 75-, 100- or 150-piece bowls. Oranges, apples, bananas and seasonal fruit are provided, all from U.S. farms (except bananas) and locally sourced when possible. Information: 412-563-7854.
'Six threes' ice cream
Any kind of milk may be used. The higher the fat content, the creamier the ice cream (but the higher the calorie count). The choice is yours.
-- Rebecca Sodergren
3 cups heavy cream (or half-and-half)
3 cups milk
3 cups sugar
Juice of 3 lemons
Juice of 3 oranges
3 bananas, mashed
Combine all ingredients and process according to the manufacturer's instructions for your ice cream freezer.
-- Norma Beinlich, Rebecca Sodergren's late grandmother