In a pickle.

You may have noticed an absence of Fresh posts in the last couple of weeks, and I do apologize for those of you who have been checking in. For one thing, I needed to devote more time than usual to an ongoing job search. Yes folks, I am one of the lucky ones to be making a career change during our season of economic discontent. The upshot of the search is that it is an excuse to go out and meet lots of talented, intelligent and driven people. I've been lucky to come across so many kind people in the process, all of whom have helped or advised me in some meaningful way. Almost every day, I learn something new and interesting about the communications industry or a particular organization or company. And I get to eat my lunch at home. Those are the perks. I probably don't have to tell you that there are a few detractors, like an excess amount of pajama wearing in front of the computer, though I imagine that for some that doesn't sound so bad.

But enough about that, the good news is that I've also been busy with lots of Fresh-related activities, though the research meant less time to write. Kind of a pickle, is it not? Not to worry, I'll be sharing what I've found over the next couple of weeks. But back to the subject of pickles...

In Pennsylvania, we've hit our bumper crop of squash and cukes. At a nearby farm*, until about a week ago when a nasty bacteria devoured the remaining cucumber plants, we couldn't eat these crops fast enough. For my part, I was dumping handfuls of shredded zucchini into chocolate chip cookies (which is a really good idea, though it wasn't mine), eating plenty of raw zucchini and cucumber salads and generally fretting about the still looming pile of cucumbers in my crisper drawer. I knew what had to be done, but to be honest, it scared the crap out of me.

What exactly was I so afraid of? In a word, preservation. Dehydrating. Pickling. CANNING. Sure, I've frozen large batches of pesto, pumpkin puree and tomato sauce, but when it comes to the more advanced preservation tactics, I chicken out. Maybe it's the multiple rounds of blanching for pickles or the exacting nature of perfecting the PH level for safe canning, but the idea has always intimidated me. But not this year my friends.

I decided to start small with refrigerator pickles. Using the basic outline from this recipe, I sliced up my cukes, prepared the brine and anxiously waited 24-hours to taste the transformation. The result was crisp, tart and tasty. Not the perfect pickle by any stretch, but they certainly perked up our sandwiches and were good enough to inspire me to take the next step.

Before the end of the summer, I'm determined to conquer this recipe for pickled red onions, and can some of the crushed heirloom tomatoes that Justin can't get enough of during the summer. Wish me luck, and I'll keep you posted.

*Skunk Hollow Community Farm is operated by Greener Partners, a sustainable farming organization that I've been volunteering and working with for the past year. I'm looking forward to telling you more about their mission later, but feel free to check out their site in the meantime.

I eat pralines for breakfast.

Well, not always. But this morning, when a box of River Street Sweets arrived at my front door, I decided to seize life by the collar, throw a couple of pralines in the microwave and pour myself a glass of milk. And while I wouldn't recommend this as a daily routine, it certainly got the day off to pleasant start. I jest, but I do think it's important to balance consideration for a healthy diet with occasionally relaxing and enjoying a sugary hunk of pecans. After all, it's not often that you wake up to two boxes of original and chocolate pralines, care of some very thoughtful parents, straight from your favorite sweet shop in Charleston.

Hoping you all find a little something to indulge in this weekend...

Welcome, summer.

In the wake of a weekend filled with blue skies, fireworks and BBQs, please allow me to introduce our old friend, summer... Albeit a few days late. Yes folks, as you may have noticed our Fresh summer surprise has arrived in the form of the strawberry-themed artwork* you see here. Like the food we seek, Fresh content is also seasonal, and it seems only fitting that our look change with the weather.

That said, this quarterly change-up seemed like a much better idea in theory than when I cracked open blogger last week and set to work updating the design. In fact, if Fresh carried a sound, you would hear one long sigh of relief coming from this author, followed by the snap of a Yuengling being opened. Sad, I know, but HMTL tends to make me a little skittish. But between blogger's user-friendly format and a few tips from the pros and a blog-saavy friend, Fresh made it through the change-over unscathed. It's a fourth of July miracle.

With that in mind, I plan on spending the next week or two seeking out and enjoying the sweet end of the strawberry harvest. I'll want to enjoy the strawberries' flavor before it's gone, so my thought is to keep it simple with a shortcake like this one, or possibly crank up the ice cream maker for a cool treat. And you?

. . .

*An enormous thank you again to my friend Lauren for volunteering her design services and delivering such lovely artwork... And then doing the same thing three more times. Thank you, thank you my friend.

Dust off the grill

A wise woman once said, "Deciphering html, even if it's beginner html for dummies, is no way to kick-off 4th of July weekend." I'll admit, I know this woman, and I trust her. That said, we're going to have to hold off on the Fresh surprise until first thing next week. Hopefully, you're already outside prepping your grills and soaking up the sun, and won't even think about computers, blogs or pesky html until Monday.

So have a safe and happy fourth all, here's hoping it's filled with good food! And if you're interested, here's a look at what's on our menu for the weekend...

Lemony White Bean Hummus with garlic and tahini
Forks Farm grilled chicken
Bikini Zucchini Salad (a clever name for a delicious diet-worthy mix of raw zucchini and lemon dressing, with a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts, Parmesan and basil- from one of my new favorite blogs)
Super Orzo Salad (made with whatever looks good at the farmer's market this afternoon... I can't get enough of this stuff!)
Grilled sweet white corn
• Buttermilk biscuits (the recipe comes from a Southern cookbook that was passed to me from my grandmother, and marked up by my mom and all of my aunts. Needless to say, it's a family heirloom.)

And because I would never end a meal without something sweet...

Black Raspberry-Blueberry Pound Cake
• Vegan Coconut, Chocolate Chip, Pecan cookies based on this recipe (okay, so this last one isn't exactly local, but I am a true believer that no holiday is complete without a bit of chocolate)

As always, we would love to hear about some of your must-have July 4th dishes (or drinks as the case may be). Fill us in next week!