Celebrate July Fourth On The National Mall

Fireworks over the National MallIf you’re looking for a unique and fun way to celebrate Independence Day today, and you’re fortunate enough to live close to Washington D.C., you may want to drop by the National Mall to take part in the annual festivities. The iconic monuments and memorials that make up the Mall should make for an inspiring backdrop to a full day of events.

Among the more memorable attractions on the National Mall are the Washington Monument and the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. The three presidents to which those sites are dedicated all played a vital role in forging the U.S. as a nation and today they will each be remembered for their leadership.

Activities on the Mall begin with a parade along Constitution Avenue that gets underway at 11:45 a.m. and runs through 2 p.m. Following the parade a group of park rangers will gather at the Jefferson Memorial where they’ll present a portrayal of life in America circa 1776. The nearby Sylvan Theater will play host to activities for the Junior Rangers from 3-8:30 p.m. and a live concert featuring the U.S. Army Band will begin at 6 p.m. Each of these activities will help set the stage for the impressive fireworks display that will take place between 9:10-9:30 p.m.

Directions to the Mall can be found on the NPS website and visitors are encouraged to arrive early. There are no entrance fees to any of the events or monuments and it is sure to be both a fun and educational way to celebrate the occasion.

Happy Independence Day!

[Photo credit: Leafsfan67 via WikiMedia]

Fireworks in Austin from July 4th, 2010

With Independence Day arriving tomorrow, many Texans are wondering just how to celebrate the 4th of July without fireworks. The sparkling display has been canceled this year due to the extreme drought in the area. I recently published a piece on Alternatives to Fireworks for those of you afflicted by firework-less regions. My favorite suggestion in the piece, cheesy as it may sound, was a fireworks film projected onto a wall. Some of my friends are having a BBQ tomorrow for the special day and I’m not kidding when I say: I totally plan on making everyone celebrate via the Austin fireworks show from last year’s July 4th.

Check out the video and honor the USA by way of YouTube video tomorrow if you have no other way to set off or see fireworks. And if you have seen or will be seeing fireworks for the holiday? Feel free to share your video link in the comments on this piece.

Tube, Mine, and Shell Fireworks

More things to do in the national parks this weekend

Spend the Fourth of July weekend in a national park!Earlier this week we recommended a number of fun things to do this long Fourth of July weekend in the national parks. Those suggestions included fireworks displays on the National Mall and a picnic at Valley Forge, amongst other things. It turns out we were just scratching the surface, as here are even more great events happening in the parks this weekend.

Colorado National Monument will once again play host to their annual July 4th rock climbing event, during which skilled climbers will scale the 450-foot tall Independence Monument to plant an American flag at the top. Climbers are encouraged to bring their gear and join in on the fun, while others can simply enjoy the spectacle and take part in the ice cream social and jazz concert.

On Saturday, the Ozarks National Scenic Riverways, located in Missouri, will play host to a good old fashioned Midwest picnic in the form of the “Alley Independence Day” celebration. The event, which is held at Alley Springs, will include music, games, food, and more, all in a turn of the 20th Century setting.

Visitors to Cowens National Battlefield in South Carolina, can celebrate the holiday a few days early with fireworks and live music on the 2nd. Throughout the day there will be Ranger-led walks across the battlefield and demonstrations of Colonial-era weapons, as well as other educational activities for the kids. Fireworks begin promptly at 9 PM.In Maryland, the Antietam National Battlefield, site of one of the most important battles of the Civil War, will hold their festivities on the 2nd as well. They’ll begin the evening at 7:30 PM with the Maryland Symphony Orchestra performing a “Salute to Independence” concert. That will immediately be followed up with a fireworks display at 9:45 PM.

Finally, the birthplaces of two of America’s most important presidents will also be holding special events on the 4th as well. In Kentucky, the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park will host a concert performed by the Saxton’s Cornet Band beginning at 11 AM. Not to be outdone, George Washington’s Birthplace National Monument will be holding a costumed interpretation events and other hands-on activities for the kids.

Needless to say, there will be plenty to do in the national parks this weekend. Thanks to the National Park Foundation for these suggestions and checkout NPS.gov for more events in the parks near you. Enjoy the weekend!

Barbecue and picnic tips for a safe, delicious (and seasonal) Fourth of July

fourth of july food safetyFor Americans, there’s no holiday more synonymous with eating outdoors than the Fourth of July. It’s the ultimate summer dining event, one that largely emphasizes regional foods and seasonal ingredients.

Tomatoes and corn are perhaps the two most iconic summer foods served on the Fourth (just because we live in an era where we can purchase certain ingredients yearound doesn’t mean they taste good). Other featured foods are more regional. Midwesterners are more likely to feature cherry pie and beef (happily, hamburgers are always in season). On the East Coast, clam bakes, lobster, and crab are more traditional than meat, but out West, it’s almost unthinkable to celebrate Independence without firing up the barbecue. In the South, pit barbecue is a permanent staple, as is fried chicken. But the Fourth of July also means sweet tea, pickles, chilled watermelon, peach cobbler. Potato salad, on the other hand, is a nationally ubiquitous dish, but the recipe often varies regionally.

All of the above are stereotypes, of course. Yet, looking back on the states I’ve lived in or visited for the Fourth, I can see the menus usually had a sense of place. I grew up in Southern California, so if we weren’t grilling beef tri-tip or at the beach, we’d hit up KFC for a pre-fireworks picnic in the park. I’ll be the first to admit that a bucket of fried chicken and “fixin’s” is about as devoid of terroir as you can get, but for millions of Americans, it’s emblematic Fourth fare (my mom is definitely not alone in her dislike of cooking). When I lived in Hawaii for a summer, I went to a co-worker’s luau, and in Colorado, we’d grill corn and lamb or beef.

Wherever you live, whatever you serve, al fresco dining can present food safety hazards–most of which are temperature and sanitation-related. Fortunately, a few simple steps can ensure your food stays safe, so you can have a foodborne illness-free holiday. Because E.coli should never be on the menu, regional, seasonal, or otherwise.

After the jump, food prep, storage, and transportation tips for healthy holiday dining:

Grilling Burgers, Hot Dogs and Steaks

  • fourth of july food safetyAs obvious as it sounds, wash your hands before preparing food, and after handling raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs. If you’re assembling an outdoor meal, wash as often as necessary: pack antibacterial gel and hand wipes if you don’t have access to hot running water and soap. And remember: you need to scrub for at least twenty seconds to kill germs.
  • Avoid cross-contamination by using a separate cutting board and knife for raw proteins such as the above. Alternatively, wash knives and cutting surfaces with hot water and soap or diluted bleach before using for other ingredients. The same practice goes for grilling: always use separate or clean utensils and plates for the transfer of raw and cooked proteins.
  • Bacteria breed more quickly in a hot climate, so plan menus accordingly. As a general rule of thumb, food can be safely kept at room temperature for about two hours (the USDA has more specific views on the subject: click here for details). You don’t need to be paranoid–our germophobic culture isn’t building stronger immune systems for future generations–but don’t be stupid, either. As the saying goes, “If in doubt, throw it out.”
  • fourth of july food safety
  • Use a cooler filled with ice or ice packs to keep cold foods chilled until ready to cook or eat. Storing food in separate Tupperware (or other reusable) containers keeps ingredients fresh, dry, and free from cross-contamination, so you can assemble on-site.
  • If you’re planning an outdoor meal where you don’t have access to refrigeration, it’s best to skip ingredients such as mayonnaise or other egg-derived foods; fresh or soft cheeses or other fresh or fluid dairy products, and raw meat or seafood dishes (oyster shooters: not a good idea). Cured meats and hard or aged cheeses are safer bets.
  • Produce, as we’ve all learned from the media, can also harbor foodborne illness. The culprit is usually poor sanitation. Wash produce prior to use, and be sure to bring anti-bacterial hand gel and wipes so everyone can clean their hands before digging in.
  • Don’t allow leftovers to fester in the sun or attract insects. Wrap things up and get them back in the cooler or refrigerator.
  • Be sustainable. If it’s not feasible to use your usual silver- and dinnerware, look for reusable, recyclable, or compostable products made from bamboo, sugar cane, palm leaf, or recycled, unbleached paper. Instead of paper napkins, opt for cloth. Pack leftovers in reusable containers to cut down on plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Bring a container to take compostable scraps (excluding meat, dairy, and seafood) with you, if you have a facility that will accept them. If you can’t use your leftovers, donate them to a homeless shelter or other facility for those in need.

[Photo credits: burgers, Flickr user Markusram; hands, Flickr user wiccked; cooler, Flickr user Rubbermaid Products;

Alternatives to fireworks for July 4th


It’s been 35 years since the city of Austin canceled its July 4th fireworks display, but due to the extreme drought in Travis County, Austin‘s fiery light show has been canceled. Because of the hot, dry, and windy conditions in this section of Texas, the Travis County Fire Marshal decided not to approve any permits for fireworks throughout the county. “We just can’t take that chance”, said Austin’s Fire Chief, Rhonda Mae Kerr. And although I’m disappointed, as an Austin resident who loves fireworks, I’m also comforted, as an Austin resident who doesn’t want to see my house burn down.

So what’s a July 4th celebration without the big bang of those patriotic fireworks? I’ve been doing some brainstorming. I’ve been tracking my memories of July 4th events back to, well, as far as I can remember, and I’ve come up with some tried and true and undeniably traditional ways to celebrate July 4th for those of you also currently living under a burn ban.

  • Grill. As far back as I can remember, grilling has been a part of my July 4th celebrations. I spent several July 4ths in NYC at a party where I was unable to actually see the fireworks shooting off into the thick city air, but still able to successfully grill. An old-fashioned cook-out, even sans fireworks, is a perfectly fine way to spend your holiday.
  • Bake. If you’re hosting or attending a cook-out, summon the baker in you and bring something red, white, and blue to the table. From American flag cakes to red and blue M&M cookies, show your team spirit for America with one of the most popular things in America: sugar.
  • Go outside. One of the things the USA has going for it is the outdoors. No matter where in the states you reside, there’s natural beauty awaiting exploration throughout this country. As a nod to our founding fathers, spend the day outside. Whether you’re soaking up the sun while lounging on a boat or hiking deep within the forest’s shade, you’ll be honoring America by spending some time in its great outdoors.
  • Embrace community. Independence Day has long been a day reserved for community activities. Even if you rarely get out and involved with your community, Independence Day is a good time to start. Honor your country via its residents. Take advantage of the parades, concerts, parties, and other events the members of your community have organized to celebrate this holiday.
  • Dress to Confess–confess your pride in being an American, that is. Red, white, and blue are the colors of the day. Do it up! (And then take photos and tag yourself on Facebook so all of your friends abroad know just how American you are).
  • Faux Fireworks. If you need to have some sort of firework action in your life on the holiday, but you can’t have actual fireworks, then go for some fauxworks. What are fauxworks? Videos of fireworks going off projected onto the wall of your house, fireworks sounds blasting from your speakers, images of fireworks tacked anywhere you can see them, or even a light show aimed to emulate the sparkling rockets.

If you have ideas on how to fill the firework void for those living in a firework-free zone, please comment! Let us know. The more ideas those of us living in these areas have, the more like a regular July 4th this one will be.

July 4th Summer Party Ideas