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One of the biggest secrets to cooking well has nothing to do with the stove. It has nothing to do with cookbooks. Nothing to do with cookware. It has to do with shopping.

Cooking with fresh ingredients is easy. Cooking with old one or poor quality ones takes real skill. Look at French cuisine—all those wonderful sauces were created to improve the flavor of things. Why would you need to improve the flavor of something that tasted good in the first place? I like easy things. When I cook, I try to get the freshest ingredients possible.

This weekend, we had the good fortune of being invited to the country. Our friends Jim and Muriel have a house in upstate New York, and they’ve been generously asking us to visit for the past few years. We finally took them up on their offer, and we had a blast.

Humming birds (or as Pinta called them, “Humus birds”) danced at their feeder off their kitchen window. Crickets chirped in the woods beyond the meadow. We swam in their naturally-chlorinated pool, making a sport out of dodging horseflies. Jim and Muriel like to drink and Muriel expertly whipped up cocktails each evening. There’s nothing like the taste of a cold margarita made by someone else. Fresh ingredients are good. Fresh ingredients handled by others are even better. Fresh ingredients handled by someone else involving alcohol are the best.

We brought food on our trip, and I cooked dinner Friday and Saturday nights. The first night, the Greek Tuna Salad increased its list of positive attributes by proving that it travels well (at least the ingredients for it do). The second night, I pan-fried wild salmon fillets (frozen, they travel well too) and experimented with a topping of oil, salt, pepper, and fresh fennel fronds from their garden. I served the fish with a simple mayonnaise-less potato salad  (olive oil, salt and pepper, scallions, and parsley), and steamed, fresh-picked broccoli.

The broccoli came from Jim and Muriel’s deer-proof garden, a fenced in spit of soil at a neighbor’s house. Nina and Pinta picked the broccoli themselves. It was a treat to see them walking into the house holding the green heads up like a bouquet of flowers. Now that’s a fresh ingredient.
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