To prepare for the picnic, we shop at the local farmers' market, buying as many fresh vegetables and fruits as we can carry. On the 4th we spend the day cooking for the pot-luck picnic we organize with a dozen of our friends. So we'll have a good spot to watch the fireworks, we meet at 6:30pm at the park opposite the high school. We look forward to the picnic because we can catch up with our friends. Even though the picnic is pot-luck, we make extra just in case... Some of our friends who like to cook bring their specialties, like Lesli's mixed berries, while others make a run to Bay Cities or Gelson's and bring containers of deli treats and rich desserts.
By 9:00pm cars are double-parked on both sides of the street and people have crowded into the park, taking up every square inch of space. Everyone is ready for the fireworks to begin and yet...the sky is not yet completely, definitively dark. In the cool night air we bundle up and pull closer together. Only when all traces of the departing sun have been drained from the sky will the fireworks begin.
And when they do, they are a treat. From the first high-streaking skyrocket that bursts into a hundred points of light to the last crescendo of a dozen overlapping explosions, the crowd oohs and aahs. With the last firework dying in the sky, we get up slowly, feeling the dampness of the ground, hug and kiss our friends goodbye, and make our way back to our cars through the haze of gunpowder smoke still hanging in the air.
4th of July Picnic
In our experience salads work well at the picnic: beet salad, carrot salad, potato salad, egg salad, and corn salad. Finger food is good too: bread & butter pickles, salt-boiled corn on the cob and grilled artichokes. This year we'll also contribute a platter of deliciously salty and sweet Brown Sugar Ribs.
Brown Sugar Pork Ribs
1 rack of pork ribs
1 pound brown sugar
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
6 ounces Italian tomato paste
1 small yellow onion (peeled, finely chopped)
2 garlic cloves (peeled, finely chopped)
Trim excess fat, the membrane, and flap from the ribs. (Caprial Pence the owner-chef of Caprial's Bistro in Portland, Oregon and a fellow contributor to Eat Drink or Die shows how to prep the ribs with easy-to-follow photographs.) Reserve the flap, trimmed of its membrane, to grill for tacos.
Spread a piece of plastic wrap on the counter 5” longer than the rack. Dust the meat side of the ribs with the cayenne. Mix together the brown sugar and kosher salt. Spread half the dry mix on the plastic wrap. Lay the ribs on top, then cover with the rest of the dry mix. Cover with a second piece of plastic wrap, seal, fold in half and place into a Ziploc or plastic bag. Refrigerate in a pan overnight.
In the morning remove the ribs. The dry mix will have transformed into a slurry. Very alchemical! In a sauce pan sauté the onions and garlic with olive oil until lightly browned, season with pepper. Remove the ribs from the plastic bag. Use a rubber spatula to remove most of the liquid from the ribs and plastic bag and transfer to the sauce pan. Add the tomato paste and simmer the sauce on a low flame for 20 minutes. Taste and adjust the flavor if necessary.
Line a large baking tray with tin foil. Place a wire rack on top of the baking tray, then lay the ribs on the rack. The ribs can either be cooked in a 350 degree oven or on the “cold” side of a covered grill with the heat on high. Cook the ribs 30 minutes on each side, then baste the ribs with the sauce another 30 minutes on each side or until done. Remove from the oven, cut apart the individual ribs, and serve.