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As we gallop toward the holidays, I wanted to do a series of cookbook giveaways to feature some of our favorite cookbooks of the year. Most of the books we'll give away in the coming weeks are from authors we know personally, but all of them are books that made us stop and take a second look.

I know folks are always looking for easy breakfasts that they can just grab in the morning, and I have just three words to say about that: I feel you. While I love cooking (I love it so much that it became my job), there's something about cooking first thing in the morning, when you're only three sips into your coffee, that I find really unappealing. It's just a bit much, really.

We have a jam problem. It's an easy problem to have if you do any preserving at all. Jams and preserves are the gateway to canning. They're easy and delicious, and as the seasons roll by you catch yourself saying, "Well, we're going to need to make a batch of strawberry jam" or "We can't go through blackberry season without putting up some preserves." This, my friends, is how it all begins.

For all their voluptuous beauty, eggplants are one of the most misunderstood vegetables in the summer kitchen. Many are familiar only with the purple-skinned Italian eggplants that are as big as your calf and less yielding. Thankfully, there are varieties of eggplant as diverse in hue and flavor as many heirloom tomatoes are from one another.

My great grandmother, who grew up on a farm in rural North Carolina, vividly remembers when chicken was a special occasion dish. She would go outside, catch a hen, kill it, pluck and eviscerate it, and cook it for Sunday dinner. These days, she tells me she's perfectly happy to pick up a chicken at the supermarket.

I grew up on a very familiar basis with corn. Both sets of grandparents grew it every year, and we would eat what they put by year-round. Every summer, we would gather in my grandmother's basement or out in the carport and shuck, de-silk, and cut corn off the cob. Most of it was frozen for later use, but for about a month, corn on the cob was on the menu every day.

I’m not sure why, but somehow shanks have become very special. Of course, most of the credit goes to Osso Bucco… marrow from the cross-cut bone and creamy, saffron-scented risotto comes standard. Who are we to complain?

If I could describe this summer with one word, it would be "parched." This is my third summer living in western Oregon, and while my family and friends back east seem to think it rains constantly, I've learned that Oregon summers are remarkably dry. Everything is brown and...crispy.

When I left home the winter of my junior year in college to study abroad, I don't think I could've been more ready. I had a yearning bordering on obsession to go beyond what I knew. And go I did. I lived with a French family in their attic apartment for six months. I went to classes with French students. I traveled around France and Germany and the Netherlands.

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