This year, celebrate the Fourth of July with hot dogs and ice cream, or go for a conversation-starter menu of ribs and cola cake.
Easy now. With sparklers to light, this is no time to fuss in the kitchen. Consider baked beans you don't have to bake. Or tap into a versatile marinade that goes with whatever your pleasure: ribs, chicken, or pork roast.
Too complicated? Hot dogs will do -- because frankly, franks are just perfect for the Fourth. Choose a recipe or two, then fill in the rest with easy options like potato chips and ice cream. This holiday is all about independence, so do it your way.
Here are more choices than meet the eye. The marinade plays three ways: Mexican, Asian, or charged with orange and sage. Use it on ribs, chicken, or pork roast.
Old-world character, new-world ease. A touch of balsamic vinegar and a drape of creme fraiche add Italian and French angles to our simplified take on this all-American dish.
Hot dogs do it all. Served solo on a bun, they're a kid's idea of the perfect feast. Paired with grape and tomato chutney, they switch into something-special mode, definitely appreciated by the over-10 crowd.
Red, white, and blue carry the day, but this year, let freedom ring. Liberate yourself from banners and bunting.
Show off your own style while celebrating America's diversity. Pick up supplies at paper and fabric stores, ethnic markets, and unusual gift shops. A glue stick and scissors are all you'll need to cut and paste your way to the crafty eye candy here.
Everything else is simply a matter of see-and-do arranging. Follow our lead or improvise with what's on hand.
Make your table decor as elaborate as you please. Maybe an Indian-inspired fabric will bring all the pattern and color you need. If not, top it with a solid-color table runner. Want more? Use a star punch to fancy-up a 7-inch band of decorative white paper. See what we mean by choices?
While at the supermarket, pick your posies. For red blooms, look for dahlias (shown), roses, zinnias, cosmos, and scarlet salvia; for white blossoms, choose Queen Anne's lace (shown), chrysanthemums, cosmos, or phlox. For the blue? Count on a vase to add that hue.
With Asian-style plates, bamboo cutlery, and a stamped-tin star from Mexico, this pastiche of inexpensive tableware from different cultures celebrates the many faces of America. Tuck in a true-blue napkin and tie it all together with a patriotic ribbon.
Just as Lady Liberty beckoned newcomers to America, these chair banners make everyone feel welcome. They're easy to make using a computer, paper or fabric, scissors, and glue or adhesive.
It's the frills that signal to guests that they're in for a great time. To pull it together in a memorable way, poke around town for some ready-to-hang touches.
A trip to ethnic markets and out-of-the way gift shops for unique table decor and party favors will kick the good times up a notch and make for a merry family outing in itself. While you're out, look for unexpected treasures at art supply stores and charity shops.
Pinatas are often used to celebrate birthdays, so why not pick one in red, white, and blue for the country's birthday? Besides, once kids spot a pinata, they'll know they're in for a good time.
Of course, you could let fruit-filled summer recipes play out the red, white, and blue theme. Feel free to spin any idea your own way. Can't find pinatas? Try whirligigs or pinwheels from a garden supply or party supply store.
If you love the patriotic gist of the Double-Berry Cooler but forgot to plan ahead, remember -- the fruits show off just as colorfully if you serve them as toppings for a simple ice cream sundae.
Make it fun. Make it yours.
Snap up some votives and trays in Fourth of July hues. By day, they'll add color to the table; later on, they'll keep the night sparkling after the fireworks are over.
Add flair with Chinese-style lanterns in varying shapes and sizes. Hang them from your balcony, around your deck, or in front-yard trees to let everyone know "The fun's right here!"
Whip up an extra-large batch of this spirited dual-purpose dip and sauce. Try it one day with chips, veggies, and chicken; the next day, spoon it generously over grilled pork.
Hello gorgeous! This tall beauty is the best kind of summertime dessert -- light, sweet, tart, and refreshing.
Say it with food! For an easy way to show your true colors, layer sorbet and ice cream for patriotic stripes, and dot with blueberries.
It's our nation's birthday, and everyone deserves a little something. Remember the thrill of the quirky dime-store find? Tap into that spirit with old-fashioned candies and little treasures, catching them wherever you can.
While you're out shopping for everything else this weekend, head down uncharted aisles, scope out bottom shelves, and dig deep into bargain bins. If it's red, white, or blue -- and inexpensive -- go ahead and pick it up. Bring your treasures home, then wrap 'em, stack 'em, or just tuck in a ribbon or two.
Chosen with family trips in mind, little games can be tucked into little ones' backpacks for the journey home.
Bulk candy stores, supermarkets, and corner candy shops all stock sweets in Fourth-of-July hues (above). Pile them into a take-away container (or a look-alike available at crafts shops) for a kid's favorite kind of takeout.
It's family vacation time, so give everyone a journal they can use to help preserve trip memories. Kids can use them as scrapbooks or drawing tablets to while away the hours in a car.