"as July 4th is to...?"

"as July 4th is to...?"

Originally published June 2013

You know those intelligence test questions that go something like this: leaf is to tree as petal is to (a) bicycle, (b) flower, or (c) door-to-door salesman? I made up a question of my own, “Christmas is to family, as July 4th is to (a) Thomas Jefferson, (b) bottle rockets, or (c) community.”

 For me, the answer is clearly “c” community.

Christmas is all about family. We certainly see friends during that holiday but for most of us, we spend much of that time with those to whom we are related.

Independence Day is different. We may be with our own family but many of us connect with other families for picnics, cookouts, parades, and fireworks, making the 4th of July a community celebration for many of us.

When my wife and I moved to Indiana in 1995 neither of us had ever experienced small-town living. We were city people. For the first few years we were here, we still didn’t experience it. We were small-town sleepers. We had chosen Lebanon as a place to live simply for logistical reasons. I was working at Purdue and my wife worked in downtown Indy. Lebanon split the difference for us. Not only did we work pretty far from home, we usually hit the road on most weekends, seeking the city life of Chicago, Louisville, Cincinnati, and beyond.

In fact, we didn’t celebrate a 4th of July at home until 2001 when our first child was born. I can clearly remember walking a half block with our two-week old baby in the stroller, to take in our first 4th of July parade. It was like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life and making its way down Meridian Street.

This was about the same time we were finally finding a community as Hoosiers. We joined a church, met other couples with young children, and we’ve been enjoying the 4th of July holiday with many of them ever since. We even plan our summer vacations around the big day to insure we are home for the festivities.

Every year our community packs more into the weeks leading up to Independence Day, this year kicking it off with a “Red, White, and Blues” event complete with a Frog Jumping Contest. Outdoor concerts, whacky group games add to the fun throughout the week. Along with these events is lots of invitations to neighborhood cookouts and get togethers.

The price of admission to most of these events is usually a real bargain, a side dish to share and maybe a six-pack of your favorite beverage. The host nearly always provides the main dish – some beer-soaked brats, burgers, dogs, and the like.

One of my go-to side dishes is one I came up with a few years ago and its been a big hit ever since. I had been on a grits kick at the time, and came up with this recipe for Baked Grits with Sharp Cheddar and Roasted Jalapeño.

Creamy, cheesy, and with just a little heat from the peppers, this dish is always a big hit, even for those who are typically not big grits fans. Also, its just as good at room temperature as it is right out of the oven, making it perfect for a picnic or pitch in. 

Whether your July 4th is mostly about family or community, I hope you’ll enjoy ample portions of both this year and if you’re invited to bring a dish, these grits might go over with nearly as big a bang as the fireworks.

Baked Grits with Sharp Cheddar and Roasted Jalapeño

  • 6 jalapeño, whole
  • 1-1/2 cup instant grits (uncooked)
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch cubes
  • 1 pound shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 6 dashes of hot pepper sauce (i.e., Frank’s Redhot)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and place the jalapeños on a small baking dish. Roast for 30 minutes (reduce oven to 350 when peppers after peppers are roasted).

Remove the peppers from the oven. After they’ve cooled, slice in half lengthwise and remove the the seeds b scraping with a knife. Leave a few seeds of you want to throttle up the heat a little bit. Dice the flesh of the peppers.

While the peppers are roasting, prepare the 1-1/2 cups uncooked grits as instructed on the package. Once the grits are cooked, add in the cheese, salt, and hot sauce. Stir to melt and combine. Let mixture cool before adding the eaten eggs. Stir to incorporate eggs. Place in a greased 9x13 baking pan and place in the 350 oven for one hour.

Serve straight from the oven or let cool and serve at room temperature.

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