Now, I'm no masochist. As a general policy, I avoid pain as much as possible. But sometimes, the best things in life are made all the sweeter if you have to suffer a little to get them.

    I went on vacation in Greece a few weeks ago, which was wonderful. I could tell you all about the beaches on the Greek Isles with the sand and the water and the hot foreign shirtless guys and the baklava and the spanikopita. I could tell you about Athens, a modern city thriving all around the crumbling marble ruins of an ancient civilization. But I'd rather tell you about all the stuff that sucked.

    My flights to and from Athens sucked. On my way home last Thursday, I had to wake up at 3 in the morning to get to the airport. I went through airport security a total of 3 times (but only got patted down once) while navigating various airports to catch my 2 connecting flights. I gained 10 hours from all the time zones I crossed, which basically made it the longest. day. ever. I was flying economy, of course, so I got to spend my 3 flights jammed into dinky little seats behind people who invariably chose to recline all the way back on me. My ears finally unpopped on Sunday, after 3 days of impaired hearing.

    The showers in Greece sucked. For one thing, they're tiny. I don't know what Europeans have against spacious bathrooms, but showering in a little 18-inch square behind the toilet just doesn't cut it for a spoiled American like me. Also, on the islands, the tap water is salty. You definitely can't drink it, unless you want to make yourself sick. Showering in it is distinctly unpleasant; it makes your eyes sting and your hair never really seems to get clean.

    Thing is, all the inconvenience and discomfort I had to go through was worth it just to be in Greece. Not only was it worth it, I think it enhanced the experience. It wouldn't feel all that special to go to Greece if it didn't involve flying halfway around the world and if everything in Greece was just the way I'm used to it being back home. The challenges that come with travel are half the fun.

    And all of this is just a very long-winded way to explain that there is nothing quite like a blackberry plucked fresh from the midst of a patch of brambles, warm from the afternoon sun on a summer day.

    The day after I got home from Greece, I went up to the Santa Cruz mountains with my parents. We have a little cabin up there, where my brother is currently living with his girlfriend. All around the cabin are towering redwoods and patches of wild blackberries. Every year since I was too small to remember, we've gone up to the cabin in the summer and picked blackberries. So I can tell you with authority that the sweetest blackberry on earth is the one you pick for yourself,  ignoring the many scratches on your arms as you reach up through the thorny bush to gently pull the darkest, plumpest berry off the plant.

    Now imagine taking a couple baskets full of the best blackberries on earth, and baking them into a pie with a flaky, buttery crust. Sound good?

*makes one 10-inch pie

2+1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 tbsp vegetable shortening

3 cups of fresh blackberries
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp cornstarch

    To make the crust, mix together flour and sugar. Cut the butter and shortening into the flour and sugar until the butter is in chunks about the size of a dime. Add a few tablespoons of water at a time just until the dough holds together. Divide the dough into two balls, cover in plastic, and refrigerate for at least an hour.

    After and hour, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Remove one of the dough balls from the fridge. On a floured board, roll the dough out into a 12-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Carefully transfer the circle to a ten-inch pie tin. In a medium bowl, mix together blackberries, sugar, and cornstarch. Spread this mixture into the bottom crust of the pie. Now roll the other dough ball out into a 12-inch circle. Cut the dough into strips about 1 inch wide and about 12 inches long. Place the first strip across the pie, slightly off-center. Press the edges onto the edge of the bottom crust. Place the second strip perpendicular to the first, again slightly off-center. The third strip should be parallel to the first strip, spaced about an inch apart. Continue placing strips until the pie is covered with a woven pattern. Bake the pie at 400 degrees F for about 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 250 degrees and bake another 15-20 minutes, until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbly.