The Fourth of July, also known as Independence Day, is the date we as a country celebrate the establishment of our nation.  Through the years, we have been truly blessed to enjoy the freedoms we hold dear.  Those freedoms, however, were not without cost.  And they still have a cost today.  Repeating words that I wrote a few years ago, which are still meaningful today:

“Parades, picnics, fireworks – all of these seem to play a huge role in Independence Day celebrations.  And each one is something that happens outdoors, so the weather is a significant factor in our plans.  After all, who likes to watch (or march!) in a parade when it is pouring down rain?  Broiling sun and air so thick you could cut it with a knife are not much fun, either.  And storms do not bode well for fireworks displays.

“Weather does not, however, play a role in determining the love of our country.  We have been a very blessed nation that enjoys a large amount of freedom.  And that is what we celebrate on July 4th.   I still get teary-eyed when the flag passes by.  It makes my heart swell with joy to sing “America the Beautiful” and I mean it with all my heart when I sing “God shed His grace on thee” because our land needs that grace now more than ever.   Those that want to remove the very mention of God are hard at work and seem to prevail quite often of late.

“Even in these days of high-tech gadgets, a good fireworks display will still draw “oohs” and “ahs” from an enthralled crowd.  Some people like to shoot off their own fireworks – several in a neighborhood can be a fun event without having to travel very far from home.  As we watch the sky show, our hearts should be bursting with pride that we live in the United States of America.  We should thank the God that created us for such a wonderful opportunity to say “Happy Birthday!” to our country.

“Although I realize we have set aside special days (Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day) to honor those who protect our freedoms, I am going to suggest that we take time from our Independence Day festivities to remember those who have served, and are serving, in the military.  And not only them, but their families as well.  Pray for those who are giving of themselves for our protection.  Pray for the ones left at home who wait for the time they will see a loved one again.  Pray for the people that make military decisions that affect so many lives.  After all, where would we be without the men and women that serve our country so faithfully?”

I am grateful to the Lord for all the blessings He has bestowed upon our nation, including the people who willingly protect it: those in the military (my own daughter among them), and those in local service as well –  police and fire departments, and emergency medical service teams being among them.  It is sad to see the lack of respect shown by all too many people for the brave men and women who place themselves in harm’s way to protect the rest of us.  Let’s take time this Fourth of July to thank at least one individual whose job to protect us in one way or another.

Food is often a part of our Independence Day gatherings.  I tried two new recipes –  a variation on potato salad, plus a frozen fruit salad that comes in individual servings.  Both passed my taste test with flying colors.  I am adding a couple of favorites to go along with them.

Sour Cream Potato Salad

8 medium-sized Russet potatoes

3 hard-cooked eggs

1 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup sour cream

1/3 cup regular Italian salad dressing

1-1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon celery seeds

2 celery ribs, sliced

3 green onions, sliced (or use fresh chives)

Cook potatoes in boiling water to cover until tender, about 25 to 30 minutes; drain and cool.  Peel and dice potatoes; set aside.

Chop eggs; set aside.

Stir together mayonnaise and next 6 ingredients in a large bowl; add potatoes, eggs, celery and onions, tossing gently.

Cover and chill, if desired, or serve immediately.  Yield: 8 servings.

Paper Cup Frozen Fruit Salads

3 cups frozen tart cherries

1 (16-ounce) carton sour cream

1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained

1 (20-ounce) can pineapple tidbits, drained

3/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Dash of salt

4 drops liquid red food coloring

1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Place cherries in saucepan.  Add 1/4 cup water and place over medium-low heat until cherries are hot through.  Remove from heat; drain and let cool.

In large bowl, stir together sour cream and next 6 ingredients.

Stir in cherries and pecans.

Place paper baking cups in a muffin pan; spoon fruit mixture evenly into paper cups.

Cover and freeze at least 8 hours.  Just before serving, remove from freezer and let stand 10 minutes.  Yield: about 20 servings.

Broccoli Salad with Lemon Pepper Dressing

1/2 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise

1/2 cup sour cream

3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon paprika

6 cups chopped fresh broccoli (about 1 large bunch)

1-1/2 cups chopped Gala apple (1 large or 2 medium)

3/4 cup dried cherries

1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted

Whisk together mayonnaise, sour cream, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, pepper, salt, and paprika in a large bowl; add broccoli, apple, and cherries, gently tossing to coat.  Cover and chill 2 to 8 hours; stir in toasted almonds just before serving.

Note: Include the broccoli stems – cut off the florets and separate them into small pieces.  Trim off the tough outside of the broccoli stems and chop them into small pieces.  The smaller pieces allow the dressing to more fully coat the broccoli instead of draining off them.

Red Hot Cherry Salad

1 (3-ounce) package cherry-flavored gelatin

2/3 cup red hots (candy)

1 cup water

1 cup applesauce

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted

In a small saucepan, bring red hots and water to a boil.  After candy is dissolved, pour over gelatin to dissolve it.  Add applesauce.  Pour half of mixture into dish (no larger than 8-by-8-inch)  and let set.  Mix cream cheese, mayonnaise, celery and pecans and spread over chilled layer.  Chill again.  Pour remaining gelatin mix over salad and chill until set.