There are many virtues I lack, but among them Patience, which I take as a species of Fortitude, is conspicuous for its absence, perhaps even to some of my gentle readers. This is especially unbecoming in an advocate of philosophical Idleness, who holds that we direct our energies habitually towards the wrong things. There is nothing so misdirecting as Impatience, which, with such conspirators as Hastiness and Superficiality, are bound to spoil the dinner.

I was reflecting on this several evenings ago, while watching an accomplished cook of my acquaintance patiently prepare steak and potatoes for a little spontaneous gathering of old friends. We were sitting around her kitchen island with cheese and good drinks as she, for instance, sliced a formidable heap of onions, before lowering the gorgeous mass into a skillet carefully warmed, with butter gently melted into oil to dissuade the milk solids from burning. This while keeping an eye upon four or five other heating elements, and carrying on at least two overlapping conversations, with imperturbable calm.

Women are generally believed superior in “multitasking,” but it is seldom done with the serenity I witnessed — that passed almost unnoticed, as effort is meant to pass unnoticed in all fine art. Suddenly there was a dining table groaning with magnificent dishes, including a variety of vegetable sides, which miraculously delivered themselves all at the same moment.

A typically impatient person, living understandably alone, I tend to avoid making dinner until I am famished, then cook too much, too fast. My only defence is that I leave no witnesses. Against this, I must confess that it is often a curry I am rushing: in culinary terms, a grievous mortal sin.

Invariably, a curry is ruined by haste, which a fine Punjabi lady such as my heroine the late Mrs Balbir Singh could have made sublime, by small labours distributed through the day, with exactly the same ingredients. For Justice is important — it precedes even Mercy. In a curry, as in any other dish, justice requires that we treat each ingredient, including each spice, as it deserves to be treated: pounded in the right way, roasted or otherwise prepared for its entry into the pot at the right time, in the right order. Toss everything together in a blinding blaze and one will make what might better be called not a curry but a shameful Pandaemonium. Even with the humblest ingredients, the poor of India find leisure to eat well. Or once did.

Reading, thinking, prayer, and gardening, all benefit from careful, slow attention, and a spirit I associate with connoisseurship. It is true, Chesterton told us anything worth doing is worth doing badly; and the proof is that eating is better than not eating, over an extended period. But nutrition is available from any hamburger stall, supposing one likes to throw around money, as surrogate for time. The joy increases as one learns to cook better — and from it a satisfaction that goes beyond the material. God, for instance, did not make a mess in his patient preparation of the universe, and should be emulated long before that Sunday (or was it the Saturday?) when He saw that it was good.

So it is, that I account the writings of Brillat-Savarin holy, for he says dinners are a means of government, and that the fates of nations are decided at a banquet; that dinner is the final business of the day (apart from Compline). That frying gives cooks many ways of concealing what appeared the day before. That it takes little more time to fry a four-pound carp than an egg.

And Lichtenberg observed that coffee is miserable when drunk out of wine glasses, or meat when cut at table with scissors.

And both note that toast not buttered with artistry, is deleterious.