Fourth of July barbecue

I hadn’t intended to throw a party for the Fourth of July. My honey and my roommates were out of town all weekend long, and I was going to take a few days off to relax after working seven days a week for almost a month. But just as nature abhors a vacuum, I seem to abhor a weekend that’s not filled with food and cocktails and friends, so on Friday afternoon I emailed an invitation to a casual barbecue to be held on Sunday.

With less than 48 hours to plan, clean the house, shop, and cook, the party was necessarily a little slapdash. But I had two things going for me: 1) a barbecue is, by definition, a pretty casual affair, and it doesn’t require much more than throwing some slabs of meat on the grill; and 2) our friends really know how to pitch in and throw a party.

I spent a lot of this Fourth of July being grateful for the friends we have and their willingness to get s*#( done. Although I occasionally love to host fancy dinner parties or showers where I don’t want the guests to lift a finger, it’s just not practical to do that every week, which is about how often I like to entertain.

That’s why I have so many parties like I did today. I got the ball rolling by re-stocking the liquor cabinet and planning a few specialty cocktails, like today’s mojitos and cherry sidecars. I threw a six-pack of beer in the cooler. I made a pile of Moroccan-spiced burger patties and prepared a few nibbles, like homemade hummus and candied walnuts. I put out some veggies and dips.

After that, I stood back and kept the cocktails flowing as my thirty guests arrived with big bowls of pineapple-basil salad and ribs for the grill. With a big bottle of tequila and a bottle of plum wine. With sauages, both porky and vegan, and corn on the cob for the grill. With six packs of beer and pasta salads and lemony roasted potatoes. One guest even showed up with a bottle of both crème de violette and Crème Yvette, earning her a big wet smooch. A few hours after the party started we were madly shuffling things around on our kitchen table trying to make more room for all the new dishes that were arriving.

Obviously, it would have been nice to provide all the food for my guests from soup to nuts, but if that were my only choice, there would have been no party, which ended up lasting from 2 pm until after midnight. More evidence that (almost) everyone loves a party, and if you just take a little time to create the space for it to happen, it will take on a life of it’s own.


  • Cherry Sidecars
  • Mojitos
  • Apricot iced tea
  • Candied Walnuts
  • Homemade hummus with za’atar and pita
  • Vegetables with blue cheese dip and with peanut butter-curry dip
  • Moroccan spiced burgers
  • Corn on the cob
  • A great quantity of dishes brought by other guests, including this beautiful pineapple-basil salad (unfortunately, I neglected to take photos of all the other awesome food that folks brought)

A couple of guests asked for the recipe for the burgers, which turned out well, especially considering they took all of about 10 or 15 minutes to prep. This recipe could also be made with a not-too-fatty ground lamb, which would be much more authentic (but a bit more expensive).

Moroccan Hamburgers
Makes about 9 burgers

2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup harissa, plus more for serving
3 pounds ground chuck (preferably with 15 or 20% fat content)
Hamburger buns, for serving
Lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles, for serving (optional)

Prepare a hot fire in a gas or charcoal grill.

Put the fennel and cumin seeds in a small dry skillet and toast over medium heat, tossing frequently, until they are very fragrant, about 2 minutes. Watch them carefully to make sure they don’t burn. Using a mortar and pestle, grind them to a fine powder. In a small bowl, stir together the ground fennel and cumin with the coriander, salt, and harissa.

Put the ground beef in a large bowl and add the spice mixture. Using a light touch, mix together with your hands just until the spices are thoroughly blended.

Form the meat into about 9 patties of equal size. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Grill, turning once, until they reach the desired doneness, about 3 minutes per side for medium-rare. Meanwhile, toast the hamburger buns.

Serve each burger on a toasted roll with harissa on the side for those who want to spread it on the bun to add more heat. Add lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles, if desired, and serve.


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