Three of my favorite traditions are associated with July 4th: fireworks, barbecues, and themed desserts. Call me old-fashioned, but I still get wide-eyed at the sight of lights exploding and cascading in the night sky, at the smell of meat grilling, and by the trouble people will go through to get a sheet cake to look like an American flag.

So get out your sparklers and join me in saying, Happy Birthday America!*

*Sorry, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York. You'll have to make do with flags.

Farro and Cannellini Bean Salad in a Lemon Vinaigrette

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[Photographs: Carrie Vasios]

This salad is perfect for a barbecue because it's tasty both warm and at room temperature, meaning it can sit outside while you tend to the grill. The nutty farro and creamy white beans make it hearty enough (emphasis on hearty, not heavy) to feed a crowd of hungry patriotic party-ers. A lemon vinaigrette and lightly sauteed spinach make the salad taste fresh and light. For a bit of salt, finish the salad with crumbled feta.

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Grilled Spice Rubbed Skirt Steak

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The last time I made this steak, it was served alongside hot dogs and hamburgers. I'll let you guess which item ran out in about two minutes while the others lingered sadly on a plate. What makes this steak so delicious? It's all in the rub. A blend of cumin, ancho chile powder, and paprika imparts a smokey, spicy flavor, while cinnamon adds a dash of sweetness. The steak pairs nicely with the creamy farro salad and cooling strawberry-blueberry tart.

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Strawberry Blueberry Tart

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I can't resist the kitsch factor of having a red, white, and blue dessert on the Fourth. Luckily with this tart I don't have to compromise taste for theme. This layered dessert starts with a buttery graham cracker crust, which is topped with a smooth lemon cream. In addition to lemon juice and zest, a mixture of sour cream and cream cheese makes the filling tangy and refreshing.

Placing the strawberries around the outside of the tart and piling the blueberries in the center is strategic as well as decorative: this way, every slice gets both types of berries. The finishing touch is an apricot glaze. It enhances the sweetness of the berries and adds a pretty sheen.

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