Food & Drink

Enjoy the festivities and food this Fourth of July

A holiday menu may include watermelon and blueberries with melon stars.
A holiday menu may include watermelon and blueberries with melon stars. Photo provided

This column originally ran in 2002, the year after the 9/11 attacks, so the activities mentioned are in an historic context. For an up-to-date listing of the 2016 events, go to and head to the celebration. But do save this recipe for another day when you want to get your red, white and blue on. It’s a keeper.

The ricocheting fireworks display at this year’s Fourth of July celebration between the mound at Beaver Stadium and the summit of Mount Nittany will have special significance for millions of Americans who never before realized how dear their freedoms are. It’s hard to imagine a dry eye in the crowd after the State College Municipal Area Band runs through its patriotic marches and Melanie Collins sings “The Star Spangled Banner” to the estimated crowd of 200,000 before the pyrotechnics kick off. Never before have Americans survived an assault like last September’s, but what didn’t kill us has made us stronger.

The Fourth of July always meant a kids’ parade of decorated bikes when I grew up, and the tradition is alive and well in Happy Valley. Families with young children should queue up behind Wagner Building at 1:30 p.m., with their decorated bikes, unicycles, skateboards and in line skates for the Kids Parade on Wheels. Katie O’Toole will lead the parade complete with clowns, twirlers, a fire truck and a flag corps to the Bryce Jordan Center for an afternoon of children’s crafts and music.

Music commences at about 2 p.m. on two stages outside the BJC and covers a wide spectrum of styles leading up to the rousing cymbals and horns of the State College Area Municipal Band at 8:15 p.m. No other prelude will strike as deep a chord as we celebrate what we have lost and what we have gained this past year.

Other free events on Thursday include a Family Playground sponsored by Sovereign Bank inside the BJC that will be open from 4-9:30 p.m. and a 6 p.m. cutting of a 14-foot American flag cake.

If the Wave of Fire Slide at the Playground is not your cup of tea, you may want to check out the free communitywide Fourth of July picnic at sedate, bunting draped Centre Furnace Mansion. This is the 20th year for the celebration and activities include the ringing of the Centre Furnace bell, the raising of the flag, a reading of the Declaration of Independence and the singing of the national anthem. Folks are asked to bring a family-sized main dish, salad or dessert — especially prized are old family recipes. Festivities commence at 1 p.m. and offer a shady respite for enjoyment of the day in a time-honored way.

If you are staying at home or packing a picnic to take to the stadium, cold chicken, potato salad and fruit is perfect on the hot and steamy Fourth, especially if you are lucky enough to celebrate with a free-range chicken. Chickens that have been raised pecking around a yard have a lot more flavor than those bred in a huge poultry facility — as anyone who grew up on a farm can attest — and we are lucky to have them on a limited basis in our area. Currently, free-range chickens are available at the local farmers markets. Though a little late for the Independence Day holiday, these birds are worth seeking out and including in a summer meal. Expect a lot more flavor, denser texture to the meat and a wonderfully rich, gelatinous quality to the drippings.

Enjoy your freedom to choose from so many free activities this Thursday — and when those rockets are blaring, look up and thank your lucky stars we live where we do.

For information about what to take — and what not to take — to the 4th Fest celebration, visit, where there is also information about VIP parking passes available for those who want to support the endeavor — and get a front row seat and nearby parking pass. Caution: The stadium will be crowded. You will suffer less frustration if you plan to enjoy the street party afterward, with the band Foxxy, rather than fight the traffic.

Summer Picnic Menu

Yogurt-Marinated Free-Range Chicken with Garlic and Herbs

Blue and White Potato Salad Vinaigrette with Red Bergamot Blossoms

Watermelon and Blueberries with Melon Stars


Serves 6

1 free-range chicken, about 5 pounds

1 loosely packed cup of mixed summer herbs (any combination of basil, parsley, tarragon, savory, chives, thyme)

1 bulb of garlic, cloves separated and peeled

2 cups plain yogurt

 1/4 cup Dijon mustard

salt and pepper to taste

Bathe the chicken under cold running water and pat dry, noticing the firm texture of the skin. Place the herbs, garlic and mustard in the bowl of a food processor and blend to a paste, adding a little yogurt to make it slush around a little better. Stir in the rest of the yogurt and season with salt and pepper. Place the chicken in a large bowl and pour the yogurt marinade over top, massaging it into the bird. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap (or place in a large Ziploc bag) and refrigerate overnight or for 4 hours or more (or less!). In the morning, before it gets hot, preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and put the chicken in, uncovered. Immediately reduce the heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and cook for 20-25 minutes per pound, or until a thermometer registers 180 degrees Fahrenheit, about 2 to 2 and a half hours. Chill the bird and portion it after it is very cold for maximum juiciness.