There may be no better place to spend Independence Day than at the beach, smelling salt in the air, feeling hot sand underfoot and holding an icy drink. But even in the heart of it all, it's possible to recreate some of that shoreline magic.

Suzanne Karpus from Bexley's Cornucopia catering company helped us cook up plans for hosting a backyard clambake this July Fourth.

There may be no better place to spend Independence Day than at the beach, smelling salt in the air, feeling hot sand underfoot and holding an icy drink. But even in the heart of it all, it's possible to recreate some of that shoreline magic.

Suzanne Karpus from Bexley's Cornucopia catering company helped us cook up plans for hosting a backyard clambake this July Fourth.

To elevate your gathering from laid-back to elegant, Karpus recommends re-imagining the classic clambake recipe to give lobster a starring role, and splurging on a few great bottles of wine. Seek out the highest-quality ingredients you can find, too, from farm-fresh tomatoes to clams and mussels just flown in from the coast.

Delicious as lobster is, though, it's not exactly easy to eat. So you'll need to provide the necessary gear, like lobster crackers and bibs, heavy-duty napkins and buckets for shell disposal.

Also, because the table will be loaded with food, there's not much need to go all-out with table decorations. But we added some beachy embellishments with hurricane lamps and small enameled metal lanterns.

Fill a cooler with locally brewed beers on ice so guests can grab one on their way in. For those who prefer a glass of champagne, The Twisted Vine in Grandview suggested a Pierre Gimonnet Blanc de Blancs. And to accompany the meal, a crisp Joel Gott Chardonnay balances well with the rich, buttery seafood.

Food

Our stovetop clambake calls for some summery, Southern-inspired appetizers and side dishes. Guests will want something to nibble on while the seafood's steaming, so try cheese straws (you can find great prepackaged ones at World Market), boiled peanuts and pimento cheese served with crunchy vegetables. For something sweet, serve watermelon cubes with cute skewers from Bangkok Market on the East Side.

Not much is needed to round out the main course-go with corn on the cob and a simple salad of ripe tomatoes tossed with parsley, basil, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. And to soak up all that flavorful broth in the bottoms of the bowls, pick up a loaf of bread-the crustier the better. Karpus recommends the gorgeous offerings at Omega Artisan Baking in the North Market.

Flowers

The steaming pot of shellfish is the real centerpiece here, but Blooms Direct in Grandview put together a few lovely and simple arrangements that add color to the table without taking the focus from the food. Playing off the red, white and blue color scheme, these arrangements use ice blue hydrangea as a backdrop for bright white Star of Bethlehem, dendrobium orchids and Casa Blanca Lilies. Red gerbera daisies and bouvardia add punches of color.

Invitations

On Paper in the Short North created matching invitations and menus that emphasize the Fourth of July date, with a patriotic color scheme and a stars-and-sparklers motif.

Soundtrack

Elvis Presley, Clambake soundtrack. The 1967 Elvis movie may not have been a smash, but the King's soundtrack is catchy and fun.

Beach Boys, Pet Sounds. Their debut Surfin' Safari might be a more obvious pick, but with Sloop John B, Wouldn't It Be Nice and God Only Knows, Pet Sounds is a proven crowd-pleaser.

Dick Dale, Surfer's Choice. Essential surf-rock, featuring the classic single Miserlou.

Stovetop Clambake

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds kielbasa (pork, beef or chicken), sliced into 1-inch slices
4 cups onions, cut into a big dice
3 leeks, the white parts thoroughly cleaned and diced
2-3 tablespoons canola or olive oil
2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, washed and halved
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3-4 pounds clams, soaked in a bucket of cold water with 1/4 cup cornmeal
2 pounds mussels, scrubbed and soaked in a bucket of cold water with 1/4 cup cornmeal
2 pounds large shrimp, peeled
4 lobsters, 1 to 1 1/2 pounds each, cut in half the long way
2 cups white wine

Put oil, onions and leeks in a heavy, deep pot over high heat. Saut until translucent, about 10 minutes.

Add the potatoes, then the kielbasa, pepper, drained clams, drained mussels and lobsters. Top with the white wine. Seal pot well with aluminum foil, then cover with a lid. Bring to a boil, about 10-15 minutes, then turn heat down to a simmer and let cook for another 10 minutes.

Open lid-be careful of escaping steam-and scatter raw shrimp on top of lobsters. Replace lid and let cook for another 5-7 minutes. Check to see if the potatoes are cooked through and the shrimp is opaque. If so, everything is ready.

If the pot is low enough, place it on a hot pad in the middle of the dinner table. Otherwise, transfer the food to a big bowl and put it in the middle of the table. Guests can serve themselves, family-style.

Serve the clambake in wide, deep soup bowls, with bowls of melted butter and lemon halves.

Serves 8-10.

Pimento Cheese

Ingredients

1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated
4 ounces drained chopped pimentos
1 cup mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, well minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Touch of ground red pepper, to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Serve with Ritz Crackers for that old-time feeling, or with raw carrots and sugar snap peas to be on the lighter side. (At least as far as the vegetables are concerned.)

Lemonade

Ingredients

6 lemons
1 1/2 to 2 cups sugar
8 cups water

Wash lemons thoroughly, then slice. Place lemons in a pitcher, then add sugar. Mash with a wooden spoon, and let sit overnight.

Add water, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add more sugar to taste, if needed. Add ice and serve.

Substitute Splenda for sucrose-free lemonade. Add gin for a great Tom Collins, or white rum for an Island Tom Collins.

Blueberry Cobbler with Jeni's Lime Cardamom

For the crust

2 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
4 tablespoons chilled vegetable shortening
6 tablespoons ice water

For the filling

6 cups blueberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Mix together the flour, sugar and salt. Cut in butter and vegetable shortening until the mixture looks like cornmeal, then mix in cold water. Work as little as possible so the dough will be tender. Gather dough into a flat disk and set aside.

Mix together all the filling ingredients, and put the blueberry mixture in a 2-quart baking dish that's been sprayed with a nonstick spray.

Dust the table with flour and roll out the dough. Brush off excess flour before placing dough on top of blueberries. Make a decorative pattern with extra dough, if desired. Brush dough with milk, then sprinkle with sugar. Cut steam vents in dough.

Bake at 375 F for 45-50 minutes, until fruit mixture is seen bubbling through the steam vents.

Serve warm, with a scoop of Jeni's Lime Cardamom frozen yogurt.


Recipes by Suzanne Karpus, Cornucopia. For information, call 614-231-6323.
Wine courtesy The Twisted Vine. For information, call 614-488-6113 or visit www.twistedvine.us.com.
Floral arrangements courtesy Blooms Direct. For information, call 614-487-5700 or visit www.bloomsdirect.com.
Invitations and menus courtesy On Paper. For information, call 614-424-6617 or visit www.onpaper.com.