My year-round Christmas tree gets its decorations changed monthly, so naturally, this month it is decked out in patriotic red, white and blue. I guess that makes it Christmas in July. It's all around us, so maybe we join the fun.

Most of us think the holiday items are introduced for purchasing way too early, and I'm one of them, yet nods to Christmas in July seem to be very popular. Our Christmas in July is one meal to surprise family and friends with a cool treat on a hot day.

No sweaters and no hot chocolate. Just a little Christmas spirit as you watch those Christmas movie offerings out there. Remember me? I keep my Christmas tree up all year long.

Start with appetizers. Arrange your cheese cubes in the shape of a Christmas tree with layers of cherry tomatoes as well as sliced cucumbers. Serve a cheese ball shaped like Santa or skewer tomatoes, mozzarella and a basil leaf for a festive bite.

Entree kabobs with cherry tomatoes and zucchini added automatically get those Christmas colors. Ham and roast are traditional Christmas dinner fare and are always met with approval and make fabulous leftovers.

Serve some cool fruit in some cool ways. Cut small pieces of watermelon into triangles. Cut the rind into smaller boxy shapes and place at the triangle bottom. Voila. Christmas trees.

You can also use your Christmas tree cookie cutter for great shapes. Cut fresh strawberries into pieces and layer with yellow or angel food cake chunks, whipped topping and vanilla pudding. Add the Christmas touch by tinting the whipped topping green. Strawberries also make cute Santas when whipped topping dabbed on makes a hat and eyes or just a swirl on top makes a hat.

Dessert starts with melting snowmen topping on cookies. Frost with white frosting then add a marshmallow with a decorated face and hat and he looks like he's been in the summer sun too long. Shape sugar cookie dough into tree shape, bake, then add green tint to white frosting, then decorate with strawberries. Add red or green tint to the melted Rice Krispies treat marshmallows.

Cupcakes are easy to holiday decorate. Make ice cream sandwiches with peppermint ice cream between two chocolate cookies. A sprinkling of coconut on your desserts can conjure up thoughts of snow. Check out your grocery shelves for Christmas in July Little Debbie tree cakes. No need to wait five more months.

A little Christmas in July hopefully won't take away from your traditional December celebration, so dig out your Santa hat and have some summer fun. And this is a good time to remember the giving spirit of Christmas in the summer when there's so many in need.

Today's first recipe is from jessicagavin.com and keeps that oven off. This ham will give your Christmas in July meal a little tropical taste. You will need to turn on the oven for the potatoes but not for very long and it's worth it. This is a perfect ham side dish. This recipe is from huffingtonpost.com. Taste of Home supplies the cool icy recipe. It's even the right color for a Christmas celebration.

Stay cool, and happy eating!

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Slow cooker ham

5-pound fully cooked ham, boneless or spiral cut

1 cup pure maple syrup

1 cup pineapple juice

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1/4 teaspoon each cinnamon and nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon cloves

Whisk together all but ham. Pour half into slow cooker; place ham, cut side down, on top. Pour remaining sauce over ham. If spiralized, place slices facing up. Cover and cook on low 3 to 4 hours, until internal temperature of 135 degrees to 140 degrees.

Transfer to cutting board; cover with foil and let set 15 minutes. Pour juices from slow cooker into saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until it bubbles and thickens and is reduced to 1 cup, 15 to 20 minutes. Brush glaze over ham; let set 5 minutes then brush again. Serve remaining warm glaze with ham. Serves 10.

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Oven roasted potatoes

2 pounds new potatoes

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 garlic gloves

Sea salt and pepper

Wash and peel potatoes. Cut into cubes and place on baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and add cloves. Sprinkle on salt and pepper generously and toss to coat. Bake at 400 degrees 30 minutes or until brown and crispy. Yields 6 servings.

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Strawberry ice

5 cups fresh or frozen strawberries, thawed

2/3 cup sugar

2/3 cup water

1/4 cup lemon juice

Process berries in blender until smooth. In saucepan, bring sugar and water to a boil. Cook and stir until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Cool slightly. Add to blender. Add lemon juice and process until combined. Pour into shallow freezer container and freeze for 4 to 6 hours or until almost frozen. Just before serving, whip mixture in blender or food processor. Yields 6 servings.

Cheryle Finley is a food columnist for The Joplin Globe. Address correspondence to Cheryle Finley, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802.