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Over the past six months, I have somehow picked up cooking as a hobby. It's kind of strange, as I never liked to cook before and kind of regarded it as a chore, but as I get better at it I find it more interesting. (Of course, this also means I mostly like to cook things I find interesting, which means lots of trying new, complicated things but not much just making routine dinners; from what I understand this fits very well into the stereotype of men who cook. Oh, well, I get good food out of it.)

Tonight we had pan-seared steaks with a green peppercorn sauce recipe from my favorite food blog, with the addition of some demi-glace, because it makes sauces more delicious. It turned out very nicely.

It's been an interesting experience moving from carefully following recipes to increased improvisation. The fact that I can throw together, say, veal Marsala, or chicken Parmigiana, or wild mushroom risotto without a recipe still kind of surprises me every time I do it. (Indeed, I find I often get out a cookbook and look up a recipe anyway, and then proceed to ignore or modify it -- I feel like I need to have the recipe even if I pay little attention to it.

Other things I have learned: Somehow the French have discovered how to make food that is better than everybody else's food. I just picked up one French cookbook and seem to have filled my Amazon wish list with others. We've also been trying all the local French restaurants; the food at casual, bistro-style French restaurants amazes me and makes me wish we had them everywhere (as they, presumably, do in France.) Alas, we live in the woods, and going out for French food of any sort requires a 45-minute journey into Seattle. Still, I feel lucky to be living 45 minutes from a major metro area; back in Indiana I wouldn't have been able to get it at all. At this point we plan on taking a food-and-wine vacation to France next year; we'd planned on doing it this fall, but this year we kind of spent all our discretionary income on home improvement instead.

Also, kitiara pointed me to Penzey's Fox Point Seasoning. The stuff is amazing; we dump it on every vegetable we see these days, not to mention chicken (and, to be honest, we at least try it on most everything else.) It's just salt, shallot, chive, and scallion, but it's so good. We also joined a local CSA and get a big box of fruits and vegetables delivered every other week, which has given us the opportunity to try all sorts of things we never would have thought to buy otherwise -- it turns out that beets and turnips are delicious. (I love Brussels sprouts, too, but my wife thinks they taste like armpits so I don't eat them much.) The CSA is frankly very expensive; it's like buying all our vegetables at Whole Foods and I could get them a lot cheaper at the local grocery, but the advantage of it is that it sends me stuff I'd never buy at the local grocery -- I wouldn't have ever thought to pick up chard, kale, beets, arugula, turnips, pluots, nectarines, etc. because I'd never really eaten them before. In the long run we may just start going to the farmers' market instead, but for now it's been a fantastic way to try new fruits and vegetables.

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