I look forward to the big Fourth of July celebration every year! Summer is in full swing, and I love to gather family and friends together for a huge blowout and to celebrate Independence Day with fabulous food.

I don't even try to keep the menu simple. It's time to grill hamburgers and hot dogs with all the fixings, along with hot and sweet Italian sausages. I prepare plenty of coleslaw, potato salad, baked beans and grilled corn on the cob. You think I would stop there, but no, I just can't help myself—this is a celebration! I also grill chicken that I marinate overnight and a million pounds of baby back ribs because who doesn't enjoy succulent, fall-off-the-bone barbecue?

Grilled Summer Veggies
I add a lot of vegetables and summer fruits into the mix as well. Grill up a medley of freshly sliced vegetables by brushing olive oil over both sides, add a sprinkle of kosher salt and crushed black pepper, then fire them up. I fill a beautiful, large platter with grilled zucchini, eggplant, red, green and orange bell peppers, thick onion slices and asparagus. It's delicious!

Naturally Sweet, Fresh Summer Fruits
For the fruit platter, I look for the best summer fruits available, such as organic strawberries, peaches, raspberries, blueberries, Crenshaw melon, watermelon and red and green grapes. Chop 2 to 3 tablespoons of mint and sprinkle it over the top of your beautifully arranged fruit platter for a refreshing, cool, naturally sweet and good-for-you treat!

Vegetarian-Friendly Salads
Salads are big in our house because we have a lot of vegetarians in our family, so I make sure to serve at least two—including coleslaw. A big bowl of baby arugula and small chunks of Parmesan cheese with a lemon and olive oil dressing and a Caesar Salad is a must!

Drinks That Are Good for You
I'm not a soda person, so I like to make my own drinks. To do this, I brew mint or peppermint tea bags to make cool and satisfying pitchers of iced tea sweetened with agave syrup (found in health food stores and some supermarkets), with fresh lemons and mint!

I also make my own pitcher of lemonade with 1 cup of fresh lemon juice and 2 quarts of water sweetened with 1/2 cup of agave syrup dissolved in 1/2 cup of really hot water. I then add 4 to 5 stems of fresh mint and serve over ice! This lemonade will not be as sweet and sugary like the frozen ones in your grocery store. It's lighter and more delicate in flavor, but it's very refreshing and satisfying. If it's not sweet enough for you, add more agave syrup—it's better for you than sugar. Remember, there is a lot of food and washing it down with drinks that have too much sugar or artificial flavors is not the way to go.

For a smooth slushy, add a few splashes of cranberry juice into the lemonade and mix. Pour into a blender with 1 cup of ice and blend until smooth! You can also mix the lemonade with the ice tea for an Arnold Palmer! Or, you can have a great soda drink that is natural and good for you by using Perrier water or soda water added to your favorite juice, mixed well and poured over ice.

Patriotic Salute to Dessert
I'm not big on serving overly sweet desserts because they get everyone—including the kids, which is not my favorite part—overly stimulated, hyper, running around in circles looking for matches to light sparklers, eventually irritable and in a bad mood. Instead, I serve the fresh fruit platter with frozen yogurt—it's refreshing and leaves everyone satisfied.

But what kind of a celebration would it be without cake? That's why I make one using ladyfingers, fresh strawberries, lemon pudding and whipped cream. The fun part is to take all of those ingredients and shape the cake to look like an American flag. It's fun and so easy to do! Get the American Flag Cake recipe.

Get inspired by Cristina's gorgeous table setting and festive decorations


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