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Friday, July 1, 2011

christmas in july

So here we are.
Let’s see... what to write about today... Golly. I got nothing. Feeling lazy and disjointed. It’s quiet outside. Quiet and hot. 
The mass Independence Day Weekend exodus from the city has begun, and the residential, non-touristy neighborhoods of New York City are that special kind of dead that I so enjoy. You don’t have to wait for the “walk” sign because there’s hardly any traffic barreling at you. That brunch place with the long Sunday lines? This weekend, you can walk right in. It’s a sweet little reward for staying in the sweltering city while everyone else is having a holiday among water and sand, trees and grass. 
Sometimes I wonder why so many New Yorkers leave the city for the country in the summertime, especially when equal or greater numbers of tourists flock here and leave their quiet front porches behind in favor of the concrete hustle. Sure, it’s hot here, but it’s hot everywhere. 

They’ll do it again at Christmastime, too, the grand locale swap. The well-heeled will head to the tropics and the Floridians will come up here to marvel at the snow and have that idyllic holiday experience that everyone so desperately seeks as the days grow colder and darker.
I think there’s a connection there, and there’s just as great a need to find that idyllic summer moment over the Fourth of July weekend, whatever that means. Why summer has that sort of weight to it I don’t know, though if I had to guess I’d say it has to do with childhood. Next to the Christmas holidays, summer was the most looked-forward-to time of year back in the day. To a kid, both Christmas and summertime held some sort of promise of magic, even if the reality meant family dysfunction and disappointment, or lame plastic kiddie pools and mowing lawns in between the presents and popsicles. 
Only recently have I realized that my husband and I have created Fourth of July traditions that are even more consistent than our Christmas/Hanukkah/New Year’s traditions. They are clichéd, to be sure, filled with hot dogs and apple pie and mandatory viewings of Yankee Doodle Dandy and 1776. If we go to the ballpark at all during the season, it’s almost always that weekend. 
I guess it’s a little like Christmas in July. I always thought that was just a phrase stores threw around as a gimmick to sell mattresses. But maybe not. This secular, American holiday has it all: travel, family, and twinkling lights in the form of fireworks, all crammed into a three-day weekend. It even has its own comfort food: barbecue, corn on the cob, ice cream, lobster and/or shrimp rolls, huge hunks of watermelon... and memories of summer treats of yore, like the strawberry Jell-O cake with Cool Whip we’d make and transport to the grandparents’ houses every single year for the 4th. Oh, the Jell-O cake... I haven’t had it in at least 20 years but I can taste it like it was yesterday.
Even though there’s no need to exchange gifts on this holiday, I want to give you this cake recipe: make a white cake from a mix (following the box directions) and bake it in an ungreased 13 x 9 cake pan. Then, mix a packet of strawberry Jell-O with a cup of boiling water. Allow that liquid cool to room temperature. Then, take a fork and poke holes in the top of the cooled cake, and pour the Jell-O liquid over it. Cover it with cellophane wrap and stick the whole thing in the fridge to chill (overnight is great), and top with Cool Whip when you’re ready to serve. The Reader’s Digest cover version includes taking blueberries and strawberries to make a nifty American flag design on the Cool Whip-covered cake, but it’s not necessary at all. It's delightful. It tastes like low-rent summer. 
Happy Independence Day, Charlie Brown. And remember, don’t play with fireworks. Even those little sparklers can burn you if you grab them after they’ve gone out. (Another gift, from the 10 year-old me to you.)
Yes indeed. Welcome to me. 


  1. Jell-O ... what? Jell-O and cake? Together? Jell-O cake? Well goodness me.

  2. Glad to know that your 4th of July tradition doesn't involve competitive eating.

    I'm plotting my course for the weekend, as well... to wit:

  3. To Anonymous---

    The Jell-O doesn't get jell-o-y in the cake except what's left on the top... it's really just a way to flavor and moisten the cake in a delicious trashy way. Goodness indeed.

    To Thomas---

    Actually, competitive eating is a small part of our tradition... no, we don't do the eating, nor do we brave the Coney Island crowds to see it in person, but for some reason we find that it's a must to watch the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest on ESPN, if only to see how the broadcast gets bigger coverage and fancier graphics each year. The gravity is quite humorous, indeed. And I enjoy your blog, doll!