I’ve mentioned before that T and I grew up in a small town in central Kentucky. And, if you’d ever spoken with someone from Campbellsville, you would know that the city’s Fourth of July celebrations are the pride and joy of anyone who calls it home. The much-anticipated festivities—the parade, the hot air balloon race, the fireworks finale—make up the largest celebration in the state, and bring wanderers, college students and long-since relocated Campbellsvillians back home year after year.
I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve missed a Fourth of July in Campbellsville. So I wasn’t looking forward to being 14 hours away from home this year. I spent the week leading up to the holiday dreading the inevitable homesickness that would come with being away from the traditions that were so much a part of my life. It was going to be an “Independence” Day on an entirely different level, and I wasn’t looking forward to it.
That’s why, on July third, I decided that T and I needed to have a plan for the next day. We needed our own celebration to keep the ache of being away from home at bay. So we decided to throw a party. T invited his co-residents and their families over to our apartment for a cookout and we crossed our fingers that they’d say yes (despite the fact that we barely knew them). Thankfully, the short notice didn’t seem to matter; like us, the other residents knew no one in the area and had no other options for Independence Day plans.
At one point before everyone arrived, T and I acknowledged the possibility that our guests wouldn’t click and that the cookout had the potential to be awkward or uncomfortable. But we tossed some burgers on the grill, whipped up some coleslaw, threw the front door open and hoped for the best. Once everyone arrived and the introductions had been made, I could see that we’d been concerned for nothing.
That evening when we sat down for dinner, I was reminded of the power of a shared meal. When people sit down around a table full of food, they’re instantly united. The table provides common ground, a link between us, and gathering around it requires us to look one another in the eye—to put down our phones and turn off the distractions—and to truly see and hear each other. At the table, we share more than just food; it’s here where we let down our guards and go beyond the small talk.
That, I think, is why I have grown to love inviting people into our home and feeding them. It’s about more than just “entertaining.” It’s about creating a comfortable place where friendships can be created and cultivated. I happen to believe that the best place for that is around the table, with plates of hot food and people with full bellies. And I saw proof of that on a hot, humid evening in July when a group of Florida transplants ate burgers and hot dogs and drank sweet tea and—if only for a moment—forgot about the hometown celebrations they were missing.
It’s true that I felt a slight longing for home as we watched fireworks in a nearby park later that night. I’ll be the first to admit that I have no plans to make missing Campbellsville’s Fourth of July a regular occurrence. And while I’ll always choose tradition when it comes to the holidays, this year’s Independence Day had a different purpose; it was for celebrating a new chapter, and bringing together a group of strangers who somehow found themselves in the same stage of life at the same time. As it turns out, all we need to not be strangers anymore is a picnic table to gather around…and bug spray. Lots and lots of bug spray.
The first time I took this dish to a potluck, someone came up to me and said, “I consider myself a coleslaw connoisseur, and I think this is delicious!” Not one to argue with expert opinion, this coleslaw became my go-to for picnics and cookouts and any other outdoor eating event. And, on top of the fact that I rarely come home with leftovers, I can throw it all together in ten minutes or less. To me, that makes it the perfect summer recipe. Enjoy!
- 1 16 oz package of shredded coleslaw mix
- ¾ cup mayonnaise (Duke’s is my favorite)
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2-3 green onions, chopped
- ½ teaspoon Old Bay seasoning (or more, to taste)
- 3 tablespoons parsley (fresh or dried), chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
In a small bowl, stir together mayonnaise, sugar, vinegar, onions, Old Bay, parsley, salt and pepper to make the dressing. Chill until ready to serve.
Just before serving, pour coleslaw mix into a large bowl and toss with dressing. Adjust seasoning by adding more Old Bay, salt or pepper if needed.
Recipe adapted from “How to make the best creamy coleslaw” by FoodieCrush.