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Summer 2015: The Freedom Potluck is talking all about summer

July 4th. Independence Day. America. Springsteen. Freedom.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The smell of sulfur is in the air, the lawns are littered with burned paper, the beer cans are crushed with care in the streets… It’s Fourth of July week! We at OTE hold this holiday in high esteem and as we take a break from the goodness that has been (and will continue to be) B1G 2015, we look towards all the great things that summer has to offer. So, I thought I’d do my part and asked the team to be part of a Freedom Potluck. Now, what exactly is a freedom potluck you might ask? Turns out it's basically a big ball of nostalgia. Today I asked the team to give me their thoughts on summer memories, food and drink recipes, firework knowledge, and summer sports embarrassments (or triumphs depending on how talented you were). It was a fun day, and in the name of summer, I'm declaring this a picnic. As always, the dishes each have a link to go make them. Go ahead and read our stories and then share your favorite summer pastimes.

Appetizer: Classic Deviled Eggs via Food Network

Everyone has a favorite Fourth of July memory. Mine is probably that time that we made a homemade firework, put it in a stuffed animal, duct taped it, and threw it in the lake hoping it would sink. It didn’t. In fact, it floated towards us and you’ve never seen a group of people scatter faster than when a homemade firework is flying towards you. Also, I’m pretty sure we were tresspassing… Anyhow, what’s your favorite Independence Day story? Is it remotely sports related? Do we have anything remotely sports related this week? How about freedom related? I’ll only accept stories that make you look overly sappy or overly stupid.

Candystripes for Breakfast: Not sure if this is my favorite story, but it's the one I remember best, so here goes: Summer 2006, I was part of the drumline in our marching band for my hometown's 4th parade. Basically, because I was tall, I was made to carry a bass drum that may or may not have been one-third of my weight. The reason that otherwise mostly irrelevant note is important is that it was a lot easier to walk with that thing than to just stand still with it. Thus, just as we were about to begin marching onto the parade route, I managed to break one side of the frame on my glasses while putting the chestplate-like piece the drum was attached to on. So I walked the entire parade route somewhat blind, thankful that I am near-sighted and just had to follow the people in front of me the entire way. However, the funny part of this whole story to me is that my family had a spot picked out early in the parade route, so as we marched passed them, I waved my mom over and handed her my broken glasses so I wouldn't have to carry them the entire parade. I'm not sure why that's the funniest part for me, it just is.

Graham Filler: I took my (now) wife up to Mackinac Island back in 2013. We had quite a time at the Grand Hotel’s "Independence Day Summer Picnic", which is held inside the famous Fort. Here’s a picture.


My recommendation: Support Michigan tourism and go up to Mackinac. Really a special place.

Mike Jones: My favorite Fourth of July story is when I got drunk.

Thomas Speth: Normally I go to the family cabin for swimming, fishing, and the usual northwoods shenanigans. Well one year probably about 10 years ago we didn't go up there (although it's not really up for me anymore, more sideways). Anyway my dad still had like a thousand dollars in fireworks... Well we were going to shoot off just ground stuff and what not. Well that ended up not being enough and so we started going aerial. Well one of them ended exploding really low and hit our neighbors roof. Well they weren't home and it somehow didn't start a fire but to this day there is a scorch mark on the roof of their neighbor's house.

DJ Carver: Favorite independence day story? That would probably involve when I was a kid and going down to our communities private beach to set off what amounted to probably thousands of dollars worth of fireworks purchased by most of the dads in the neighborhood.  It was always a good time, and as I got older it became amusing to me to watch everyone get drunk to do it.

Andrew Kraszewski: The year I spent the 4th at a friend's place in Mackinaw City* was pretty cool; the fireworks were launched maybe 100 yards from where we spotted up, the reflection on the lake was pretty excellent. This sort of question is the downside for writing under my real name, though, as I can't tell my entertaining 4th of July story. Nothing illegal, just...not something I'm willing to publish.

Oh, ok then. The summer after I graduated college, my roommates and I threw a party at our apartment. This was the summer wherein I learned that spiked watermelon is something of an Achilles' heel for me; it drips with vodka, yet is so yummy that one doesn't realize how much of it one has eaten until one is struggling to stand upright. This party happened sometime around the 4th of July, so I had on my American flag pajama pants.

As the night went on, I had some watermelon. And a whole lot of rum and coke. And more watermelon. And then a little more watermelon. And then more rum and coke. So by the time the sun's setting, I'm having some difficulty standing up straight. A fair amount of people have shown up by now, and the apartment is too small and squalid to contain the party, so people start spilling out onto the large grass common area behind the apartment building. I make my way outside, and then a guy kind of turns, sees my flag pants, straightens up, and salutes me. I start giggling uncontrollably, which attracts another guy's attention. He turns and salutes me as well. Then 7 or 8 more people are saluting me. Then someone starts singing the national anthem. Then everyone joins in singing the national anthem. Midway through the anthem, it occurs to me that at this grand, patriotic moment, the flag (me) should be waving in the wind, so I do my best to gently undulate my legs to simulate that. The assembly belts out the closing lines: "...and the hooooooome, of thuuuuuuuuh, braaaaaaaaaaave!" And then I hear applause, and turn to see people watching out of probably half of the windows in the long, 3-story building. Later, I was informed by sober witnesses that my gentle flag waving had not been gentle at all; I was told, instead, that during the anthem, with everyone singing it arrayed in a semicircle around me, I had been violently pelvic-thrusting the air while delicately balancing my drink.

Lincoln Park Wildcat: My favorite fourth of July memory is basically seeing the fireworks. I’ve seen them in downtown Chicago, in the suburbs, and elsewhere, but the fireworks always finalize it for me.

Aaron Yorke: A few years ago I went to a rooftop bar in Hoboken to watch fireworks over the Hudson River. The bar owner was there with her dog and I got a little tipsy and started petting the dog with the side of my leg (something I used to do with my old dog at home). The bar owner accused me of kicking the dog, which I did not! Almost got kicked out, but had a fun time instead.

Salad: Spinach Salad with Poppyseed Dressing via

The Fourth of July really seems to bring the best out of the Summer. As a kid, I always felt like this was sort of the de factor, "Hey guys, summer is here!" moment. It also generally meant summer sports. As the resident, "guy who was awful at every sport but still tried to no avail" my summer sports high was that time I tried to play tee ball. I’m pretty convinced that my failure there scarred me immeasurably. Anyhow, what’s your favorite summer sports moment? And yes, we’re definitely full-on nostalgia at this point. In my defense, you come up with five freedom questions?

MJ: Is soccer a summer sport? I feel like I played soccer over the summer when I was a kid. Soccer and baseball. Oh man, I was so bad at both. I was so bad at soccer that one time I scored an own goal. I was so bad at baseball that they stuck me in right field and I would only get a ball hit my way like once a game. One time I fielded a ball and was supposed to throw it to the cut-off man because a runner was going for home plate. Instead, I threw it directly to the catcher and THREW THE BALL OUT OF THE PARK. Rex Grossman would’ve been proud.

TS: My favorite summer sports moment was probably hitting my first (over the fence) home run ?  . I'm tall but not very big so I wasn't one of the kids that hit home runs. Well one of my friends was pitching and he threw a curve that didn't have much curve (lol 4th grade pitching) and I HAMMERED it. There was a dent in the left field scoreboard til they tore it down. Also this seems like an appropriate time for an Internet shoutout to the 2015 WIAA Division 1 baseball state champion Janesville Craig Cougars on my alma mater's first baseball title since 1998.

DJ: My favorite summer sports moment was probably the first time I made the baseball all-star team.  No, we weren't LLWS caliber or anything like that, but it was an awesome feeling to play in the lead ups to it.

AK: I had very little aptitude for baseball, and I'm not sure what else qualifies as a summer sport. I see people listing soccer, but that was in the fall for me; I pretty much played a lot of video games over the summers when I was a kid.

LPW: Summer sports moments? Little League baseball for sure. My dad helped out coach and I had a blast.

AY: Back at day camp, our bunk was playing the bunk below us in tennis baseball (just baseball with a tennis ball). We played outside of the tennis courts so we could use the fence surrounding the courts as a home run wall. Down to our last three outs, my squad got two runners on base and I hit my only home run of my tennis baseball career over the fence to tie the game. We won the game on the next at-bat when our best player hit it over the wall as well.

MNWildcat: As I'm doing my best to never grow up, I still spend my summers coaching tennis for a non-profit in Saint Paul designed to get inner-city, low-income kids out, learning a sport, and working on learning throughout the year, not just when school is in session. It's not a moment per se, but I really feel like I get to see the American dream in action. I currently pick up a young Karen (refugee community in the MSP from Myanmar/Thailand) boy who plays on my 18U Junior Team Tennis squad, coach a bunch of East African and Hmong students, and get to see families become Minnesotans and Americans before my eyes. It's really cool that sports are something that help these families and communities gain some sense of community and ownership. If I'm being super-nostalgic, I remember one family from the second summer I worked in this program, back in 2007. One Hmong family came to our courts and sat under a tree, sending their kids one at a time to our lessons at 8:30am, 9am, 10am, and eventually 11am. As each one of those four kids played, the other three would help mom watch the two siblings too young to play tennis. One boy, Jeffrey, taught me how to count to ten in Hmong, say "My name is __," and "I love you." Listening to those kids proudly tell their parents how _they_ were teaching the teacher...that's cool. I love my job.

Side Dish: Grilled Corn on the Cob with Lime Butter via Cooking Channei

Since this is a very Midwest blog, it would not be complete without a legitimate shoutout to the summer potluck. I remember my mom forcing me to peel like, 20 lbs of potatoes and shelling a couple dozen eggs for potato salad. Her trick was always pickle juice, relish, mustard, and no onions because onions were for chumps. Oh, and lots of mayo because mayo. Anyhow, give me your best summer side dish. Bonus points if you have any idea how to make it.

C4B: My mom usually makes deviled eggs for potlucks. Since I don't eat eggs, I'm going to cheat and talk about a potluck main dish that I at least have some knowledge of: pulled pork the way my dad makes it. He takes a pork loin, cuts it into chops, sticks the chops in a crock pot, pours a package or three of mesquite seasoning over the chops, and lets them cook until it's very easy to shred the chops. Voila, pulled pork that you don't need barbecue sauce to eat (but is still pretty good with it anyway, or so I've heard).

GF: I can’t cook, but I do have an amazing infrared grill, which takes care of all visitors to the Filler house. So…we threw a 55 ounce Tomahawk Steak on that grill, cooked it medium-rare (maybe rare in some places), and enjoyed the char flavor. Mmmmmm Midwest summer.

MJ: Baked beans, obviously. Start off by using some fancier beans like Bush’s. Do NOT get the kind with bacon in them. You need to cook and add your own bacon. Then add brown sugar, ketchup and mustard. Baking for like 6 hours is a must. There should be a nice glaze over the top.

TS: PBR. Go to store. Select 30 can case. Pay cashier. Go to place of your choice. Sit outside with assorted friends and family. Open can with appropriate amount of leverage. Enjoy.

DJ: So, unlike the others who have answered so far, I sort of know how to cook and am probably a fairly decent griller (Jesse copped out here, he can use a smoker).  Anyways, my favorite side dish is actually a very simple one.  Grilled zucchini and squash is fantastic, especially when you get a nice char on the outside.  Cut the ends off of each, cut in half, then turn and slice into 1/4" thick slices (half circles if you're keeping up).  You'll need a vegetable grill pan or otherwise a flat surface to keep the zucchini and squash from falling, but place on there for about 2 minutes per side to get a solid char on them, and you're good to go.  Season with olive oil, salt, and pepper prior.  Bonus points if you're using charcoal.

AK: Made Rite chips. They come in a bag which means I don't have to turn the oven on. I'll cook elaborate stuff when it's cold out; for now, I mostly want to subsist on rum Slurpees.

LPW: Is farmstand corn a side dish or part of the main dish? Still, there’s nothing better than an ear of fresh from a farm corn.

DJ: BONUS RECIPE! Dessert, mainly because my wife just made it again and had some leftovers she kept at home.

Chocolate peanut butter muddy buddies: These are rough estimates, but here you go.  9 cups of chex mix, bag of semi sweet chocolate chips, 1/4 cup of butter (stick butter), 1/4 cup of peanut butter, 1 cup of powdered sugar.  you'll also need wax paper.

Step 1: combine chocolate chips, butter, and peanut butter over a double boiler (pot of boiling water, bowl on top).  Stir semi-frequently until chocolate is melted and the peanut butter and butter are completely incorporated.

Step 2: In a large mixing bowl, pour in the Chex Mix.  Pour chocolate mixture over top and toss until completely coated on all chex mix.

Step 3: Put half of the powdered sugar in a ziplock bag along with half of the chex mix.  seal and shake to completely coat in powdered sugar.

Step 4: On a 11x17 pan, or baking sheet, place a sheet of wax paper in.  Dump the coated chocolate chex mix onto the wax paper and spread into a thin layer.

Step 5: repeat Step 3 for the other half, then repeat step 4 for a second layer right over top the first.  Don't worry it's not sticking to the wax paper.

Step 6: Place in refrigerator for a few hours until completely cool.

Step 7: Attempt, as feeble as it may be, to not eat all in one sitting.  You think it's a lot, but you won't stop eating them.

AY: My mom makes a really good cold noodle salad, but I've never tried to replicate it. I mostly just focus on the hot dogs and burgers.

MNW: Snicker bar salad: two packets of vanilla pudding, a tub of Cool Whip, two diced Snickers bars OR a full sleeve of crushed fudge-striped shortbread cookies, and a green apple, cut into small cubes. Mix and serve cold. You're welcome.

Cheese Stuffed Burgers

Main Dish: Cheese Stuffed Hamburgers via Food Network

Oh, and what else makes us very Midwest? Getting our damn drink on. I would be remiss to talk a little bit about the best summer cocktails. Or, you know, your summer beer of choice.

GF: Went to NYC for the Belmont this year and I truly enjoyed a Belmont Jewel. It’s a great summer drink, but can be easily modified for taste.

•    1.5 ounces of bourbon (the race track recommends Knob Creek, but use what you like)

•    2 ounces of lemonade

•    1 ounce of pomegranate juice

Shake that all together with ice, pour it into a rocks glass and garnish with a cherry or lemon. May your bets be lucky, and if they’re not, may you have enough Belmont Jewels to be in a good mood anyhow.

MJ: Busch Light. Is…wait this is a serious question? Busch Light.

TS: Awwww damn it this is what  I get for not reading the questions first. Well PBR is great all year so I'll go with the Mai Tai. Take my man card all you want but those things go down like water. All if you've never had Bell's Oberon Wheat Ale- 10/10 would drink forever

DJ: Bourbon.  Lots of bourbon.  Or whiskey in general works too, but bourbon is the preference, followed in order by Scotch, Rye, Jack (it gets its own category), and Canadian whiskey bringing up the rear.

AK: What you need to do is get yourself a ghettoblaster. Get a 2-liter of store-brand Sprite, drink it down to the label if not a little further, fill it back up to the top with whiskey, and blast off. My personal preference is Canadian Club, but Jack works as well. If I need to be in public or otherwise cannot imbibe liquor, Oberon is good if served with an orange, but I also find Arcadia's Whitsun to be a great wheat for a hot day.

LPW: Beer of choice in the summer? I like Goose Island summerfest.

AY: I usually just go for a Sam Adams Summer Ale or a Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy. I have some Sam Summers in my fridge right now!

MNW: Cocktail of choice: Three shots gin, three shots club soda, a squeeze of lemon, a squeeze of lime. Stir. Drink. For beer? That's a more complicated one. Indeed Daytripper has so far been one of my favorites of the summer, so I'd recommend starting there if you're in the Cities. But that's hardly American enough. Every June for the last five years, the gal and I have gone to Country Jam in Eau Claire. This year will mark the third year in which I have brought about 24 of these bad boys: . Why yes, that is the American flag thrown up on a can, whose designers then decided, "No, there aren't enough stars and stripes on there, so we're gonna toss on the motherfuckin' Pledge of Allegiance." Oh, and did I mention? 24 of those tall boys run you $11 at the local beer store. Buy 24 at a time, and before taking the first sip, recite the Pledge. America.

Strawberry Shortcake

Dessert: Strawberry Shortcake via Food Network

5.    Finally, it’s time for the fireworks. Go ahead and tell us all about your favorite fireworks show. If you can find a video of it, all the better. Mine? Honestly, my favorite was going to Rosenblatt as a kid, fighting traffic, and balling to the local radio station synching "Proud to be an American" when the rockets are firing in every direction. Always great stuff.

C4B: My town has a decent show for a small town, Indianapolis' is quite good, but there's still nothing like watching the show from Boston as the Pops accompany it with the 1812 Overture.

GF: I was in San Diego that one year they accidentally shot all the fireworks off in 4 seconds.

And to be honest, we were wrapped up in cigars and discussion, so that malfunction definitely made us pay attention. And to double down on that, fireworks shows are sometimes cool and sometimes disappointing – they are rarely "Sort of Hiroshima-looking". So I feel like that’s a memorable one.

MJ: Fireworks are dangerous and I don’t partake in dangerous activities.

TS: My favorite are probably the ones me and my dad put on at our cabin. Especially when we almost blow up our pier. Which is like every other year. There's nothing like blowing things up, not even watching other people blow things up.

DJ: Oh, see answer 1.

AK: For all its problems, my hometown, Saginaw, actually puts on a pretty decent fireworks show. The city would close most of the bridges over the river for the show so that people could watch from them, so we'd often go out, sit on the Court Street Bridge, and get the reflection of the fireworks on the river.

LPW: I really enjoyed going to the fireworks on the Third of July at the Taste of Chicago with a million or two of my fellow Chicagoans in Grant Park.

AY: Fireworks over the Hudson River are the best, but I also love fireworks after a baseball game. No one leaves early! The home team is always in the game! I think the last time I did baseball fireworks was at a Buffalo Bisons game last summer. It was also Pirate Night. Arrrrggghhh.