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Good Tempered Food

(article, Tamasin Day-Lewis)

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h3. From the introduction

Look, I am no purist hardliner. There are days, if not weeks, when I crave easy food: a quickly frazzled bacon sandwich dribbling unsalted butter; pasta with handfuls of fresh herbs and raw fava beans from the garden thrown after them; a crab-and-avocado salad spritzed with lime, for which Phil, my fishmonger, has done the picking and pressing; a one-pan, flame-colored pipérade or Spanish omelet oozing a tangle of oily wilted onion and spinach and yesterday’s potatoes. 

But none of these quite fits our notion of fast food, which is as much about provenance, or the lack of it, as it is about speed and convenience, two words which fill me with the same sense of gloom as “hygiene” when applied to food.

h1. About the book and author

Her books may have cheeky titles ([%bookLink code=0375504923 "The Art of the Tart"], [%bookLink code=0297843761 "Tarts With Tops On"]), but when it comes to food, Tamasin Day-Lewis is all seriousness. 

A television producer and director as well as the host of multiple food shows, Day-Lewis advocates buying fresh, clean, local food and cooking it with respect. 

In Good Tempered Food, she encourages home cooks to think of the kitchen not as a place of drudgery but as a haven where, with thoughtful planning, the good life can be found. 
Excerpt reprinted with permission of Hyperion (2004).


The very expression “fast food” is a misnomer, an insult, an indicator of something inferior — mere fuel to be ingested at speed, to provide energy, be convenient, serve a purpose. Does this equate with pleasure, goodness, love, care, attention, nurture? To the scents and smells of a fresh yeast loaf cooling on a rack, a stock simmering, a chicken roasting, a stew stewing quietly and unobtrusively in its own juices, the bitter whiff of January’s Seville oranges filling the kitchen as they osmose to marmalade, clots of strawberries bubbling into jam, the raw depths of a garlicky aïoli, toast cooking, cookies baking. 

Food cooked slowly isn’t better by definition, but every process, from conception, gestation, seeding, fruiting, to picking, plucking, peeling, paring, preparing is also about waiting. As in cooking itself. The alchemy of food, its transformation from raw to cooked, or raw to plate, is about our transforming touch. Once we are no longer involved with that part of the process, once we don’t know how to perform the simple but satisfying tasks that even basic food demands, we are no longer cooks, nor are we heir to the traditions that food has been about since man first cooked it.

Somehow we have fallen for a myth: the notion that food that isn’t fast-prepared and fast-cooked is inherently more difficult, more time-consuming, more of a sweat, almost not worth the effort, or, at least, only worth the effort some of the time. I lay the blame first at the feet of the supermarkets and fast-food outlets whose interest, and by that I mean profits, this is in; second, with the consumer, easily led, lazy, wanting to spend less rather than invest in quality, better nutritional value, taste, and sustainable methods of production; third, with the food manufacturers whose advertising, as dishonest as it is, is often brilliantly executed and faultless in its powers of seduction; and fourth, with the television chefs who are force-feeding their audience a diet that perpetuates the myth, telling people how quick and easy everything is, and choosing recipes that make-believe technique is unnecessary, time a luxury you can’t afford, patience and attention to detail curious anachronisms from the past.

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Well, I’m here to tell you that slow-cooked food, and what I like to call “good-tempered food,” food that you can cook a bit of now, a bit of later, prepare today for tomorrow, or the next day or even next week, tinker with, macerate, freeze, finish, or reheat in another life, add to, subtract from, reincarnate, is what proper cooking is really all about. In fact, it’s the chief pleasure of cooking, and if you find cooking pleasure enough to read about, buy into, and experiment with, you’re being short-changed if the writer is advising you exactly how to get the whole thing over and done with as fast as pulling a tooth, so the pain is past tense, and you can get on with things that really give you pleasure.

Cooking is a test without the paper, the questions, or the answers, in the sense that you, the cook, are constantly trying to please a disparate bunch of people, who most often, being family, will not hold back on the criticism. You are coping with other pressures — budgetary constraints, an imperfect kitchen, no kitchen slaves to scrub, chop, wash up — but still, something as simple as a clove of garlic sizzling in good olive oil, shelling a tightly packed pea pod, smelling the readiness of the simplest of dishes can transport, relax, infuse with a degree of pleasure that the smallest of things can so cunningly do with the greatest of impact. Take the lid off a fat piece of pork belly that has been idling in the oven doing time for five, maybe six, maybe seven hours, steeped in its gluey juices, black-breathed with the sweetness of molasses, brown sugar, star anise, and you should feel not far short of paradise.

It is, after all, appetite that induces pleasure and inspiration, and which, on contemplating the creating of something out of nothing, is all the better stimulated. The elaborate and the refined have their place, too, but food was always a necessity before it was a luxury, so maybe it is down to some ancient atavistic urge that the most satisfying of dishes are usually those that excite through their very simplicity and through the power of memory.


h1.Featured recipe


Let us not forget the simple art of roasting, and those of baking, poaching, pickling, preserving. More than that, the greatest gift we can bestow on the next generation is educating them in the art, science, lore, tradition, and pragmatic experience of the kitchen: the quiet, unhurried, unchaotic ritual of preparation for the table, its simple repetitions, its satisfying processes, and its accompaniments — conversation, music, a glass of wine. Savor them, enjoy them, afford them the time and the respect they deserve. They are more than what life is all about; they are life itself.

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