I’ve come to the end of a three-week writing retreat. My husband and I have both been working on writing projects as visiting scholars at the Whiteley Center  at the Friday Harbor Labs on San Juan Island, Washington. Over the years the labs have become more than an academic setting for us; it’s a second home for our family. Although we’re only seasonal and short-term residents, we’ve come to know people at the labs and in the community with whom we renew ties every year.
One of the biggest community celebrations here is the San Juan County Fair, and we try to plan our work time on the island to catch at least one day of the fun. It’s by far the best fair I’ve ever been to. As with other county or state fairs, there are 4-H competitions and lots of cows, sheep, goats, pigs, and llamas to pet. I hear there are even rabbit races this year, in addition to the Zucchini 500 (giant zucchinis on wheels). There’s the quilting and knitting barn with exquisite handiwork. Artists of all ages and talent display original artwork and photographs. I especially love the fruit and vegetable exhibits—how can a judge possibly choose a blue-ribbon tomato or pick out the “Best in Show” broccoli? There seems to be a category for everyone to enter the competition, and it’s fun to look at the entries and recognize the names of people we know. It really does feel like an event where the whole community participates. While we were in line at the grocery store yesterday, the clerk asked my children what they were going to enter in the fair. My son felt a bit panicked because although he’d tossed around a few ideas, he hadn’t yet come up with a plan. After a scramble this afternoon, we found a quick and easy solution. While I looked on and offered bits of advice here and there, he prepared our family-favorite brownie recipe, just in the nick of time, ten minutes before the entry deadline! It’s definitely not a health food, but it’s easy enough to whip up when we’re having a chocolate craving (I feel it’s important to instill in my children an appreciation for quality chocolate desserts, in moderation of course!). And my daughter entered a painting she called “Bubbles” to be on display in the junior art barn, right next to the pony rides. We’ll have a great day tomorrow wandering through the exhibits, watching puppet shows, petting animals, braving a ride or two, and of course looking for our entries on display, maybe with ribbons?
Here’s my son’s decadent brownie recipe (it always wins blue ribbons at our house):
5 oz unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup butter, plus a bit more for the pan
1 cup flour, plus spoonful for the pan
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla (Bourbon vanilla or Cook’s cookie vanilla is great)
1/2 tsp salt
Melt chocolate & butter in top of double boiler (or melt slowly and gently, directly on the stove, stirring frequently). Stir to combine, and cool until comfortable to touch.
While butter and chocolate melt, butter an 8” square baking pan and dust with flour, tapping out excess. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt until well combined. Whisk in chocolate, and then stir in flour.
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake at 375o until set but slightly soft in the center, about 21-23 minutes. Cool, but for ultimate enjoyment eat one while still a bit warm!