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26 September 2006

long loving mornings, sunny side up

risotto and eggs, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

The Chef and I like eggs.

Let me rephrase that, to approximate the force of our feelings: the Chef and I really, really like eggs.

We must, because we eat them nearly every morning these days. Scrambled, poached, sunny side up, and sometimes even fried — eggs appear on plates in our kitchen, side by side on the countertop near the stove, about 11 every morning.

I have never been a morning person. Not once, in my entire life, have I been thrilled in the gloaming hours just after dawn. When I was a full-time teacher, that alarm clock bleated at me, strenuously, at 6 am. And every time I heard it, my heart beating fast, I had the exact same thought, “No. Not this morning. I can’t do it this morning.” I wanted to beat that damn contraption into shards of plastic and head back to sleep, every time. In the winter, when the sun didn’t rise until well after I was in the school building, I often did go back to sleep. I hit that snooze alarm so many times I lost track of the time. Then, I sat upright in bed, looked at the late hour — all of 7:10 — and bolted down the stairs for the bus without even combing my hair. That was no way to start a day.

These days, though, I adore the mornings. After all, I wake up in the Chef’s arms, after we have held each other all night long. We wake up laughing, instead of panicked. There is no need for an alarm clock. And when we wake up — by the sunlight or other natural mechanisms — it is 8 or 9 am, and we are not late for anything. We are where we need to be.

One of the greatest gifts of being a full-time writer now is the late mornings with the Chef. Before the book deal came through, we were trying to steel ourselves for seeing each other only rarely. After all, chef hours and teacher hours do not match up. We would have had that dratted hour after six am, and then a brief window of time after 10 pm. I was contemplating power naps. Instead, we have these long, luxurious mornings together. We have a life.

Besides, late mornings means late nights. And since I have been a teenager, I have worked best from 4 pm to midnight. My body wakes up, gloriously, after a long stretch, and my mind starts focusing fast. Here I am. Time to write.

Writing for eight hours a day is much easier when I have started the day with food made by the Chef.

Every morning, after we have risen late, lingered in bed, drunk our coffee, left the house for a long walk or run, then read two newspapers (the comics first for the Chef, so he starts off every day with laughter), we start to think about breakfast.

“Honey, what are we going to eat?” I call out from the kitchen, looking into the refrigerator. I wait a beat, look over at him in the living room, finishing up the newspaper, and start to laugh before I even hear his answer.

“Um, how about eggs?” he says, his face lit up in boyish anticipation.

How can I resist? After all, during the mornings of the alarm clock, I rarely ate well. A piece of gluten-free bread, thrown into the toaster and smeared with peanut butter. A few spoonfuls of yogurt. A bowl of Peanut Butter Panda Puffs. It rarely satisfied. I felt as though I was eating for sustenance, and never for pleasure. There really isn’t much pleasure for me at 7 am. And the Chef never ate breakfast. It's a little-known secret to those who don't work in the restaurant world: chefs have crappy eating habits. Until they meet someone who insists they lavish as much attention on themselves as they do their customers.

making eggs on the double boiler

So now, when the Chef suggests he makes eggs again, in some spectacular new way, I can’t help but say yes.

Of course, our cholesterol is probably shot to hell. But actually, I think we’re doing okay. We don’t have one of those obscene American omelets with eight eggs and half a pound of cheese. Instead, the Chef collects the best leftovers from the night before, and magically turns it all into something of just the right proportion. After years of eating without any real knowledge of what I was eating, I am eating better, and even healthier, with this man in my life.

So we eat eggs. My brother and sister-in-law keep chickens, so sometimes we have eggs laid by their hens. The butcher’s down the street have spectacular brown eggs, laid by hens at a free-range farm not thirty miles from here. In a pinch, we run across the street to the tiny grocery store for another dozen. We have eaten eggs with crab, eggs with avocado, eggs with creme fraiche, and eggs with all three. We eat eggs and chicken sausage, eggs with tiny bits of sautéed bacon mixed in, eggs with roasted potatoes, and eggs with all three. Poached eggs land on top of mushroom risotto, quinoa made with chicken stock, and leftover mashed potatoes from the night before. We sing their sunny yellow praises, and I moan with pleasure and still remember to say thank you to the Chef, every morning.

(Lest you start to worry about our cholesterol too much, I also make gluten-free pancakes a few times a week. I have made gluten-free scones with candied ginger, banana bread with nutmeg and cinnamon, and smoothies in the summer when we rose to heat. We are contemplating even buying a waffle iron, since I finally have that recipe down. But still, most of those baked goods still contain eggs.)

Always fascinated by food — people who are indifferent to food would be appalled by how many of our conversations start with questions about veal stock or wonderings about what vegetables to serve at the restaurant that night — we look for new ways to make eggs. One morning, as I was reading Cooking for Mr. Latte on the couch, I read this quote to the Chef: “I remember a story I did once about making scrambled eggs with Daniel Boulud. He prepared his in a double boiler, whisking the entire time, so that the eggs became more like a custard than any scrambled eggs I had ever seen. They were extraoridinarily delicate.” (289) The Chef jumped up and found a silver bowl in our kitchen, brought water to a boil in a saucepan, and made the eggs he had just heard described.

My god, they were delicious.

Today is our five-month anniversary. It seems hard to believe it has been that little time, since it truly feels as though we have been together for five years. In the best way. So, tonight, as a surprise, I am making him the dinner I put in my profile, the one he read online: roast chicken with rosemary and lemons; garlic mashed potatoes; flourless chocolate torte. We will eat it about midnight, laughing and smiling. There will be no eggs involved.

However, tomorrow morning. I am certain we will be eating eggs.

eggs with crab and pistou manchego

Pisto manchego, adapted from Tapas, by Penelope Casas

The Chef was making Spanish food for three months. His lovely little restaurant changes the world focus every shift in season, based on the wines they are featuring. The Chef investigates the tastes and spices of that part of the world, ponders, talks to everyone he knows, researches, then cooks spectacular food. On top of that, he changes the entire menu every month. I don’t know how he does it.

A few weeks ago, he brought home a small container of this side dish. You could even call it a thick sauce. Originally from La Mancha, this dish is apparently quite traditional, served hot or cold, with a multitude of foods. It won’t make you go knocking at windmills when you eat it, however. It’s quite amazing. The Chef spontaneously mixed it in with that morning’s scrambled eggs. Sighs around the breakfast table — we both loved it. I have been thinking of it ever since.

3 tablespoons of fruity olive oil
one green pepper, cut into medium-sized dice
one yellow onion, chopped roughly
one medium zucchini, cut into thick slices, then cubed
five cloves of garlic, minced
three large tomatoes (heirlooms are best here), chopped
one tablespoon minced parsley
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt or Maldon salt
1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper

Bring a heavy skillet to heat on a medium-high burner. Add the olive oil and bring it to heat. Sauté the pepper, onion, zucchini, and garlic together until the onion has become translucent and soft.

At this point, put the chopped tomatoes, minced parsley, salt, and pepper to the skillet.

Reduce the heat on the stove to medium and cook the mixture — uncovered — for thirty minutes.

After thirty minutes, when all the flavors have blended and the ingredients have become something new, bring up the heat to reduce the liquid a bit. Ideally, the pisto manchego should be juicy without being soppy.

19 September 2006

A Life Beyond Wonder Bread

Gluten-Free Girl, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

As soon as I learned to read, I wanted to write. As soon as I knew that a book was created by a mere human being, I wanted to write one. Over the past thirty-plus years, I have read thousands upon thousands of books. I have filled countless journals, from childish ones with beige paper and teddy bears in the corners, to expensive ones lined with quotes about writing, to thick black artist sketchooks with plain paper. Personal essays, short stories, bad poems, dense analysis of the Baudrillard’s take on Disneyland — I have written them all. When asked why I write, I have no other answer than, “Because I have to breathe.”

One of my dear friends dubbed me Seymour, years ago, because of a quote from J.D. Salinger’s book, Seymour: An Introduction. When asked to respond to his brother Buddy’s short stories, Seymour responds with the following response: “Were most of your stars out? Were you writing your heart out?”

For the past year and more, I have been writing my heart out, here on this website. I have been writing about my joys, my favorite tastes, my discoveries, and — lately — my love, the Chef. When I started this blog, I honestly thought I was only keeping it for my friends in far places. When people I had never met began leaving me comments, I clicked on their names to find out who they were. Thus began my grateful connection with the food blogging community. I am moved, all the time, by the people who have entered my life through my website, and through my love of food. The thousands of readers I have met through my blog - the ones who write to thank me, ask me questions, and share their own stories - inspire me to cook more and more.

You have become an integral part of my life.

I have kept this blog for the joy of it, and because I have felt I am helping other people, directly. I never, in my life, imagined that it would lead to what has been handed to me. After such a year and a half of gifts, what more could I expect?

How about fulfilling a lifelong dream?

I am pleased and humbled to announce that I recently signed a book deal with Wiley and Sons publishers, in New York. They have signed me to complete a book for publication next fall, a book entitled Gluten-Free Girl: A Life Beyond Wonder Bread. Yesterday, Publishers Weekly announced the deal in its pages, so it’s time for me to share my secret with you.

Filled with funny essays, tempting photographs, and readable, easy-to-follow recipes, A Life Beyond Wonder Bread will break down the mysteries of the kitchen and teach its readers to find themselves, laughing, in the process.

Of course, I intend this book to help everyone who cannot eat gluten. I hope that you all will find it essential. But it is also a book for anyone with food allergies, anyone who wants to become more comfortable in the kitchen, and anyone who loves food. (Hopefully, that’s a lot of people!)

Since I’m in the midst of writing this book — more on this in a moment — I find it a bit hard to epxlain exactly what it is. And so, I’d like to quote from the book proposal I spent months writing and honing, a brief description of what I envision:

“If you want to set a room full of people of the Brady Bunch generation talking, ask them about the cereal they ate as kids. ‘Count Chocula!’ someone shouted once, after a twenty-minute, heated discussion of Honey Bunches of O's, Lucky Charms, and Cocoa Pebbles. At the sound of the name, this group of lawyers, engineers, and teachers turned ten years old again. “Oh, my God, Count Chocula!” We each had our favorite brands, and the daring among us would mix: a bit of Trix, some Life, and mostly Alpha Bits. Sugar and more sugar. We just craved that sugary milk and enriched white flour. My friend Paul says that his most vivid food memory as a kid was going to a friend's house, where he discovered that they ate Raisin Bran for breakfast. Pouting, he put three spoonfuls of sugar in his bowl before he could even stomach the taste. We were raised on the sugary stuff, almost all of us. And my friends with the mothers who insisted on hot cereal and grainy flakes without sugar still talk about feeling deprived, because they couldn't eat what everyone else in America ate.

An entire generation was raised to believe that cooking meant opening a box, ripping off plastic wrap, or adding water. Television commercials informed us of what food we should put in our mouths, and we paid attention. But after a lifetime of grabbing burgers from fast-food joints and eating in the back seat of our cars, we are a cooking-illiterate generation. We're fascinated by food, and we know we should be more healthy, but we don't know how. A Life Beyond Wonder Bread is a narrative cookbook for every one of the 54 million members of Generation X, raised on sugary cereals and microwaved snacks, who long to eat well and be confident in the kitchen.

Almost all of the tastes of my childhood were cloying, even suffocating. With everything packaged for convenience, that food fooled me into thinking that everything should taste sickly sweet or overly salty. I was completely out of touch with the way food was actually made. Everything arrived in such a state that the manufacturers might have already chewed it for me. Polystyrene, plastic, cardboard - those were the substances I knew. If Mom let me make the pudding from a Jell-o box by stirring milk into the bowl with the powder, then I felt like I was really cooking. I never knew that I could enjoy eating food in its whole state. For years, I did not know what food truly tasted like.

After my junk-food childhood, I slowly, over time, began to love real food. But it was not until I was told that I had to eat gluten-free that I became a gourmet.

I have to read every box, decipher every ingredient, and ponder every bite I eat. Some people with celiac disease subsist on foods in boxes stamped gluten-free, switching the pre-packeged allegiances of their youth to different packages. However, with the suffocating tastes of my childhood still on my tongue, I knew that I could not live my food life longing for what I once had. I started saying yes to foods I had never eaten before, as long as they did not contain gluten.

Suddenly buoyant with energy after years of being flattened with exhaustion, I spent more and more time in the kitchen, teaching myself to cook with whole foods instead of pre-packaged foodstuffs. Soon, I started making my own corn tortillas - much more satisfying than anything I had ever bought in a store - and topping them with chunks of creamy avocado, grated artisanal cheese with spices from Madagascar, and small cherry tomatoes at the height of their season. That led to making my own salsa, explosive with peppers and rich with tomato flavor. Polenta appeared on my table at least once a week, and then more often. Like the northern Italians, I far prefer it to gluten-packed pasta, especially an organic polenta from Argentina, which cooks up sunny yellow in just one minute. I let it rest overnight, then grilled thick wedges of it in a fruity olive oil from Spain, and ladled over it slow-simmered pasta sauce with ten cloves of garlic, a few shavings of nutmeg, and a touch of ginger.

I did not miss gluten.

With all these tastes dancing on my tongue, I wanted more. I bought my food locally, directly from the farmers at Seattle's seasonal markets. I learned how to make jam from the wild blackberries growing by the side of the road in summer. Stocks from scratch, flourless chocolate tortes, homemade potato chips - nothing daunted me anymore. I connected with the community of food bloggers, making friends, and being inspired by other people’s food passions. Night after night, I made three-course meals for friends, or for myself, never making the same dish twice.

The more I connected with the foodies I met, throughout the world, the more I knew: I had found my home.

There is much more to life than Wonder Bread.”

What does all that mean? There will be horrifying, funny stories of junk food we all remember eating, even if we don’t want to admit to it now. There will be stories of living with the Crazy Famous People, and how I learned to eat great food with them while I lived in Sting’s house, in London. There will be guidelines on how to set up a kitchen after finding out one has to be gluten-free, how to cook with the best ingredients, how to eat local and seasonal and organic, how to truly enjoy one’s food. It will, in essence, be my life story, told through food.

Along with this, there will be dozens and dozens of recipes. Some will be updated recipes from this website — I would love to hear which ones you would like to see in the book — but many will be new to the book. I want the book to be far more than a mere transcription of this website. Those of you who are faithful readers of this blog might recognize some stories and passages, but the book really will be its own entity. And the same will be true for the recipes. Every single recipe will be safe for people who cannot eat gluten, but the recipes will be — first and foremost — meant to produce simply great food. They also will, every one of them, be tested and tweaked so they are fool-proof. The Chef is making sure of that.

When I began writing the proposal for this book, back in December, I had no idea that it would end up as a love story. Of all the gifts that have arrived in my life — even more than this wonderful book deal — the Chef has been the best so far. We are deeply in love, wonderfully committed to each other, playful, alive, and aware that we’re blessed. Perhaps some of this — if not much of it — is because we both live and think and work with food, all day long. We live in our bodies and dwell in our senses. We are blissfully happy. And we want to turn that goofy bliss into something good for everyone else.

And so, after we wake up in the mornings, drink a pot of strong coffee and read the newspaper, we start working on recipes. (We are playing with gluten-free olive bread, at the moment.) We talk about food. He teaches me little tricks I have never known, about how to bring out the flavors of food and season meals. We drive to his cozy restaurant, on the edge of Lake Washington, together in the early afternoon — hours before customers will arrive— and start to work. He goes into the kitchen and starts simmering veal stock and putting together mustard sauces and braising baby ribs. I sit at the bar, by the window, look out at the lake, and write for three or four hours. Yes, we both stop frequently to kiss and talk and tease each other. But really, we are made more productive by being in that quiet space together, with the smells of the food he is making inspiring me to sentences I never dreamed would spill out of me. And then I stop to ask him about a butternut squash recipe, and he makes one up on the spot. Before dinner service starts, I drive home, or to one of my favorite coffee shops, and write all night, until the Chef is done at the restaurant. Late at night, we eat an incredible dinner, drink some wine, and watch a movie before we go to bed at one.

I am in heaven.

Those of you who have been reading for awhile may be asking, “What about your teaching job, Shauna?” Well, as much as I adore teaching students how to write well, I am happy to be focusing on my own writing, at the moment. The book advance, while modest, gives me enough money to make writing the book my full-time job. And it has to be. In order for the book to be published next fall, I need to complete the manuscript by January 2nd. Yes, that is just over three months from now. Can I do it? You bet. I have never wanted anything more in my life.

What will I do for a living after January? I don't know yet. My school decided to not grant me a leave of absence, and instead find a full-time teacher for this year, so I will not be going back. I miss the students — and I always will — but it seems clear that I am on the right path. I will pursue my writing, doing as much as I can to help those of us who must live gluten-free.

True creativity and happiness require taking a great leap. Whee!

And so, there you go. A book. Next fall. Stories and recipes. More writing from me. I cannot put into words how thrilled I am.

I want to formally thank you, all of you who have been reading and commenting, coming to this site, and making all this possible. I am writing this book for you.

And I hope that everyone buys it!

12 September 2006

five foods we would eat before we die

blackberries on the vine, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

If you truly want to set my mind racing, ask me about my favorite foods. If you want to see the Chef concentrate, his forhead furrowed above his eyes, and then listen to his silence for long moments, ask him about the foods he most likes to cook. They are impossible questions. How can we choose? Strawberries in early June? Braised beef ribs in poblano pepper sauce? Good goat cheese crumbled on top of scrambled eggs? Lamb chops with lavender and dijon mustard? The possibilities are endless. Every day, we are discovering new tastes we adore, together.

So, when I read a few weeks ago that Melissa at Traveler's Lunchbox had set a new task for the world's food bloggers, I balked at first. Good god -- how could I possibly lay out the five foods everyone must taste before he or she dies? Five? Five?! I adore Melissa, but really -- what was she thinking? That seeems a cruel and unusual punishment for those of us who love food. I could be scratching away at that answer until I am on my own death bed. (Which, of course, I hope is decades worth of tasting and wondering and writing.)

However, when I teach students how to write, one of the first lessons I give is this: first thought, best thought. First uttered by one of my most influential teachers, a Tibetan lama named Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, this aphorism has been informing my work for years. Seized by the need to be perfect or impress others, we freeze. When we trust our first instincts, the image that shimmers to the surface of ourselves, unbidden, we start to walk down the right path. Continuously, I have trusted "first thought, best thought." It has guided me in my life, mostly from a place of joy. When I met the Chef, I knew at first glance that I loved him. Second thought would have been doubt, fear, naysaying, and "Don't be silly, Shauna." Luckily, I had enough practice to stay with the sentence that sang inside me before I could begin to question it. I simply loved him.

And so, the other day, as he sat on the couch beside me, after one of our late-morning breakfasts, I posed this question to him: "What five foods should everyone eat before he or she dies?" He looked at me askance, as though I had suddenly lost my mind. When I explained it was a blog task, he understood more. We floundered for a moment, and then I said, "Let's limit it to foods from Seattle." And naturally, we both agreed they should be gluten-free.

(This lovely man. He has adapted to my gluten-free life so quickly. It would never occur to him to list foods that I could not share with him.)

In the end, it really wasn't that difficult a choice. There are so many extraordinary foods in the world that never contain gluten, foods that make Seattle extraordinary. You would think we would have deliberated for hours. However, it is only an exercise, something to make us all hungry. These answers tumbled out of us in two minutes. Gratitude always comes fast for me.

1. The "oh my god" peaches at Sosio's produce stand in Pike Place Market.

Seattle - late summer. I am wandering through the Pike Place Market, almost drunk on the smell of dahlias, the intense blue of the sky outside, and the sounds of people thronging in the aisles. When I stop at my favorite produce stand to see what they have in store for me today, I gasp. They're here. The “Oh my god, they're so good” peaches. (They actually do label the peaches that way.) I catch the eye of my favorite produce guy, tilt my head toward them, and he knows. He picks one up, tenderly, and gently cuts off a slice, then extends it toward me with juice-dripping fingers. I take a bite and close my eyes to experience this more fully.

Summer sweetness, a rich flesh - the taste of indolent freedom.

In summer, when they're in season, I eat peaches every day. Most of the time, I simply bite into the fuzzy skin and let the peach juice dribble down my chin.

2. Washington-grown asparagus, available in May and June.

That dusky fresh taste, acidic and green. Roasted and slathered with olive oil, these entice the mouth to bite down. Perfectly browned, the tips crips, the stalks still juicy.

Sure, we can buy asparagus any time of the year, if we don't mind the miles it has flown to meet us. And in early April, the asparagus travels up from California, bearing the harbingers of spring upon its stalks. But nothing matches the taste of local-grown asparagus, grown by Washington farmers, driven twenty miles to the farmers' markets after it was picked that morning, in my hands by noon, then nibbled up by two in my kitchen.

I am willing to wait for that taste.

crab legs

3. Dungeness crab legs, cooked, then chilled, and eaten with drawn butter.

We are in Tucson, or just outside of it, in the home of the Chef's parents. Outside, the desert terrain, a glowering sky, threatening lightning. Inside, two beautiful people, the ones who raised my love. It is his birthday, and we are eating one of his favorite foods: crab.

The Chef's mother, Rosemary, has boiled the enormous crab legs, in preparation for our feast. She lays it out before us: little bowls of warm butter; Dungeness crab legs, already cracked; empty plates soon to be covered in bits of shell. His father, GW, sits patiently, awaiting. And the Chef squirms in his chair, eagerly anticipating the first taste of this food he loves, the food he has requested for every birthday dinner since he was a child. And this year, for the first time, I am beside him, sharing in the sensory pleasure.

We bite down, together. Ahhhh, the gift of a taste. Mild sweetness, tender meatiness, something solid, something of the sea. Cool flesh against warm butter, and the saltiness drips down our throats. No matter how many bites our forks grab, we want more. Everyone is quiet, the sign of a good meal. And now, it is clear -- we are all part of the same family.

4. Salmon, in season, done any number of ways.

"Do you think Copper River salmon is over-rated?" I ask the Chef, beside me.
He nods, vigorously, then returns to reading the paper. There is no need to discuss it.

Once a year, around here, all the grocery stores go mad, selling salmon from the Copper River in Alaska with enormous banners fluttering above the entrance, and a $30 per pound price tag on the fish. The season only lasts about a month, and everyone seems to hunger for it, and so the prices rise every year. It is good -- lip-smacking good -- but there are salmons just as good. The Yukon River salmon. The sockeye fillet sitting in my freezer right now, which my friend Pete caught himself, when he was in Chignik, Alaska. The bright-red flesh of the fish I ate in Sitka, caught the day before by the Wilbers' father. And even salmon caught off the coast of Washington, sometimes. They don't cost nearly as much as Copper River salmon, and it feels good to be eating a secret.

However, for me, any salmon, any way it's done, is good. Homemade gravlax cured with salt, sugar, and dill. Salmon baked on rock salt. Salmon on the barbeque. Or even a small fillet, seared on both sides for one minute in a skillet, then thrown into a 500° oven and cooked until it is medium rare. Any way it is cooked -- as long as it is not overdone -- salmon satisfies. Its oily flesh and cheerful pinkness always makes me happy. There's something rich, with unexpected depth, every time, about a great piece of salmon. I feel as though I am eating the Pacific Northwest --- the green trees; the briny sea; the wind in January; the blue skies of August; the Olympic Mountains at sunset; all that life -- whenever I eat salmon.

5. Blackberries, warmed by the sun, right off the vine.

Last week, I was walking with my nephew, Elliott, in the wilds of the woods behind his house on Vashon Island. His parents were both working, and I was babysitting him for the day. He swung his arms from side to side as he walked down the path, his sturdy little three-year-old body guiding him toward goodness. He led me to a blackberry patch, still yielding life, even though summer was nearly over.

He put up his hand, his fingers reaching for the fattest, blackest berry. He plopped it in his mouth, then chewed down. Upon his face, a sweet smile like sunrise on a Sunday morning. I grabbed one, as well, feeling the warmth of the sun on my fingers, the prickles of the berry trying to prevent me from eating it, and the juice already spilling from the purple pockets. Slowly, trying to enjoy the moment, I raised the berry toward my mouth. Aching beauty. Dark sweetness. A bit of tartness. The entire summer of freedom and loving and laughter and long nights concentrated into one taste. One glorious taste, of blackberry.

Elliott turned toward me, and said "Blackberries are just my favorite, favorite fruit."
And I agreed.

Then, he reached for another one.

Blackberry Jam

blackberry jam

There is no way to stop the summer from leaving. Believe me, if there were, I would have found it. However, there's really no need, since the autumn brings its own bounties. And without autumn, there would be no cold mornings that call for gluten-free toast and blackberry jam.

Meri made this for us, late in August, the last of the berries, full of flavor and almost weeping with sadness at the summer being over. And the joy of being alive.

Three cups fresh blackberries, crushed
Five cups of sugar
One cup of water
One package of pectin

Crush the blackberries, one cup at a time, in a large bowl. Add the sugar -- yes, you will need that much, because blackberries can sting you with their tartness. Let this stand for ten to fifteen minutes, to become juicy and combined.

In a small saucepan, bring the water and pectin to a full boil. Be sure to stir it, constantly, for at least one minute.

Add the hot pectin and water mixture to the fruit and sugar. Stir and stir and stir, for at least three minutes. This is how you will combine this mash into a jam. Be patient.

Carefully, spoon the mixture into jam jars, leaving a bit of space on top for air. Twist on the caps, then set the jars on your counter for a few hours. This will allow the jam to set. Afterwards, put most of the jam jars in the freezer, and a few into the refrigerator.

This should make about six, eight-ounce jars. Use the jam up to three weeks after you have put it in the refrigerator. (You won't have any problem eating it that fast.) The jars in the freezer can remain there up to one year.