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.
Three-Way Marinade and Sauce
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.
Skillet White Beans
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 and Texas Tomato Chutney
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.
Run with It
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?
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.
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.
Trip Journal Take-Away
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.