Top Picks: Washington, D.C.'s Fourth of July celebrations, National Geographic's documentary on a group of US Marines, and more

Deborah Madison's book 'Vegetable Literacy' gives you recipes for your farmers' market purchases, pieces by the Emerson String Quartet show why the group is one of the world's best, and more top picks.

'Vegetable Literacy' by Deborah Madison
'A Capitol Fourth' from Washington, D.C.
Mavis Staples’s new gospel album 'On One True Vine'

Happy Birthday, America!

Tom Bergeron hosts the annual live broadcast A Capitol Fourth from Washington, D.C., on July 4 from 8 to 9:30 p.m. The Choral Arts Society of Washington will perform, along with service groups from various branches of the military. An impressive fireworks display, which will be captured by 20 cameras, and an energetic rendition of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" accompanied by a live cannon salute round out the finale.

Athletic quartet

Hear the precision and athletic lilt that have made The Emerson String Quartet one of the world's best. The two pieces on Sony Classical's Journeys – Tchaikovsky's "Souvenir de Florence" and Schoenberg's "Verklärte Nacht" – are meant to show how string composers shaped the decade of the 1890s. Both are commanding, muscular offerings. The Viennese musical society may have winced over Schoenberg's avant-garde harmonies, but his first important work barely foreshadowed what the composer would later produce.

Know your vegetables

With the growing season in full bloom, let Vegetable Literacy, by Deborah Madison, guide you through farmers' markets and suggest recipes for brimming bags of local produce. Madison shows the relationships between vegetables and how to draw out their best flavors. Every level of cook will learn something from this encyclopedia-like, warmly written cookbook sprinkled with funny stories and more than 300 recipes.

A soldier's view

Battleground Afghanistan: First Contact on National Geographic Channel, puts the viewer in the hip pockets of a group of US Marines as they head into the heart of Taliban territory. Capt. Ben Middendorf and his men of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines make up the team that stays behind as thousands of US troops head home. As the region faces an uncertain future, this is a particularly good moment for Americans to understand what the war is like from a soldier's point of view. The series launches on July 1 and concludes on July 8, with "Booby Traps & Poppy Fields." Language is raw, but bleeped.

Tap City in NYC

If you ever felt the urge to tap your toes in rhythm to a beat, then you've caught the genesis of an iconic American art form: tap dance. This summer, the American Tap Dance Foundation throws its annual celebration with a week-long festival July 6-13 in New York City. The festival culminates in Tap it Out, an explosive, free performance in Times Square on Saturday, July 13. Head over to the website for clips and archival riches at

The Gospel According to Mavis

Mavis Staples's new gospel album is light on gospel staples. On One True Vine, the onetime vocalist with The Staple Singers interprets songs by Nick Lowe, Funkadelic, and the indie band Low. Credit Wilco's Jeff Tweedy for selecting left-field songs with mostly spiritual themes. Staples's husky contralto perfectly complements the acoustic instrumentation. And you can hear her throat catch with emotion on the poignant Tweedy composition "Jesus Wept."

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