Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


The Iron Horse.

Titles roll. Music.

Scene one: day

Tableau: the ancient shed at the end of the yard leans to the east. It was built in the 1940s, a simple rectangular steel frame with sheet-iron walls and a corrugated roof. It has one door, no window, and no light, because power was never connected. It is pitch black inside. You prop open the north-facing door to admit light. This works best in winter when the sun is further north, slanting in.

Action: I enter screen left and pull open the crooked shed door. Ancient hinges complain. My eyes become accustomed to the darkness, and a great shape can be made out in the corner: a hulk of cast iron on wheels. Covered in dust, it resembles an abandoned steam train in some long-forgotten rail yard shed. Tracking shot: I somehow I drag it out into daylight. Locked-off camera: I hose the dust off the iron horse, and exit screen right. It dries in the warm air.

Scene two: evening

Against a painted backdrop of a line of ornamental pear trees and a hedge of x. cupressocyparis leylandii, I load the iron horse up with coal, beautiful coal; bane of the eco-warrior (yet to exist, of course) and friend of the locomotive engineer and the barbecue lover alike.

Extras furtively enter stage right and steal pieces of unlit coal for their tepee fires. I light the coal pan with some kerosene-soaked firelighters, and that dramatic fiery moment signals the commencement of barbecue season, a quasi-religious experience akin to the lighting of candles at the start of Advent, coincidentally occurring in the same week.

Cutaway: barbecued lamb.

The meat
Take four lamb leg steaks, beat them with a meat mallet to flatten out slightly and arrange them on a plate. Over the meat, scatter four finely chopped cloves of garlic and ten chopped mint leaves. Add the juice of two lemons, a squirt or two of olive oil and sprinkle cumin, salt and pepper.

The salad
Meanwhile, rinse, spin and chop a bunch of parsley as finely as possible. Take a dozen mint leaves and despatch the same way. Cut six spring onions finely and mix all three together.

Rinse and drain 75g of bulgur (use couscous if you have no bulgur but don't rinse) and mix with the juice of two lemons and three finely chopped tomatoes. Digression: there's only one way to cut a tomato and that is with a very sharp knife. Hate to state the obvious, but many people are afraid of sharp knives. A chef recently said that the old saying about blunt knives being more dangerous is nonsense, and that a very sharp knife can do severe damage in the wrong hands. He was right. Tracy, for example, refuses to use a sharp knife at all and prudently uses a serrated knife on nearly everything in the interests of safety. She should have been called Prudence, but was stuck with Tracy, because she was born in 1965 and in that year every girl in Australia was christened Tracy. Whence (sic: SOED, entry 4) there were sixteen Tracys in her Grade One class at Doveton Primary School in 1971. Sixteen! The rest of the girls were Cheryls, Susans and Donnas.

Meanwhile, back on set so to speak, combine the tomatoes, lemon juice and bulgur mixture with the parsley, mint and onion mixture. Fold through a few tablespoons of olive oil and watch the mesmeric blend of deep green, bright red and white gain a sheen as the oil does its unctuous job. It will be difficult to prevent yourself eating it on the spot, because the aroma that arises from the mixing bowl is as irresistible as any aroma ever smelled by mankind.

Sauce or dressing?
You decide. Blend a can of butter beans (as a change from the ubiquitous chick pea) with a cup of yogurt, a few leaves of mint, a clove of garlic and salt and pepper. It will have a runnier consistency than hummus. That makes it a sauce or a dressing rather, than a side. But that's just pedantry.

Scene three: the meal

The coal blazes, lighting up the frontier set and casting a golden radiance on the faces of milling extras. As the flames die and the coals glow, meat sizzles, chargrilling and spreading tantalising aromas across the set. Extras queue. Meat is distributed, sauce/dressing added and plates piled high with tabouleh and yogurt, and served with fresh flat bread. As the night cools and the colour drains from the painted desert sky, extras gather around the iron horse, which radiates its comforting warmth. You need heat. Heat is good. It keeps people alive. It's the cold that kills them.


The Iron Horse, directed by John Ford, 1924.

"One hundred cooks were required to feed the 5000 extras involved." – Peter Cowie, from John Ford and the American West, Harry N. Abrams, New York, 2004


It feels like that around here. I should have worked in movies.

1 comment:

Dr. Alice said...

I love the line about "extras furtively stealing coal for their teepee fires." Just perfect. The dressing/sauce also sounds great and I shall try it.

It is raining heavily here. Looks as if we may get some decent rain this season. I certainly hope so.