This July 4th, set your table with the works. Among the many attributes of this holiday is its built-in color scheme: You simply can't go wrong striping, spangling and starring your settings in red, white and blue.

Begin by crafting your own Uncle Sam centerpiece hat from cardboard - a round vertical cylinder for the crown and a horizontal circle for the brim. Glue on metallic ribbons in sapphire, crimson and silvery white; fill with cheerleader pompons in patriotic colors or just slip a vase inside to hold a firecracker burst of flowers in colors that pop: snapdragons, daylilies and blazing star (liatris) are just some of the blooms bursting in air.Another option is to turn flower planters into patriotic pots: Base-coat unglazed clay pots using acrylic paint; let dry, then add details like native folk art stars, squiggly stripes and polka dots in a con-trast-ing color. Use as containers for flatware in a buffet setting, or fill with plants as a blooming centerpiece.

Include a flag cake in your decorative menu: Cut fresh-flower-arranging foam into the shape of a rectangle, and insert red, white and blue carnations wired to picks to replicate flag motifs. Alternatively, use a florist's foam suited to dry flowers (like Sahara) and predried flowers on wired stems to create the same, and even longer-lasting, effect. Dried flowers to choose among include roses, pearly everlasting, strawflowers, peonies and celosia.

Make roman candle favors with paper towel tubes wrapped in appropriately covered gift tissue and tie with ribbons at either end. Fill with red-hot cinnamon candies, lollipops, gumdrops, rock candy and sparklers.

Or let your favors sparkle too: Recycle baby food or jam jars as glittering "snow globes": Fill each with water and sprinkle in a single glitter color - red, silver or blue. Twist on the lids and shake. If you're holding a fireworks viewing party, use glow-in-the-dark paint to letter name cards for each place setting.

At this time of year, collectibles on my most wanted list always include Uncle Sam himself. He was once one of America's most famous advertising images, so he pops up frequently in vintage postcards. You might also come across old candy containers in the form of Uncle Sam in his flag suit. Don't forget to dress the part yourself!


3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter, softened

8 ounces almond paste

3 large eggs

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1/4 cup flour

1/3 teaspoon baking powder

Confectioner's sugar

1 pint fresh raspberries or strawberries (or 12 ounces frozen)

2 teaspoons sugar or to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour an 8-inch round pan. Combine sugar, butter and almond paste and blend well. Beat in eggs and almond extract. Add flour and baking powder. Beat until just mixed. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until tester comes out clean. Cool on cake rack, invert on serving plate and dust with confectioner's sugar.

Reserve some of the whole berries for decoration; puree remaining berries with sugar in food processor. Serve over slices of cake.