In which I go to Wheeo

Dinner outside

There’s something about the sound of that name “Wheeo”, doncha think? It came to mind today, watching my elder son hurtle down the slide at the waterpark – it’s a sound of exhilaration and anticipation, but there’s a delicious thrill of risk to it, too. At least the first time around, you don’t know how cold it’s going to be when all of a sudden you’re immersed.

It can be a little daunting when Twitter comes to life, but like splashing down on a hot day it’s relieving and exciting all at once. I first met Tammi of Tammi Tasting Terroir (and @tammois) when she’d come to Canberra for a conference related to her PhD (yeah, it’s about food). We’d planned to go out for a drink but the combination of my small children and her tight schedule made it too hard. Instead, she came to my house, the morning after the conference had finished.

We share a lot as it turns out. We are Serious Home Cooks, both completely obsessed with food and feeding people, and we both love reading and writing about food. We hit it off, and Tammi and her family recently invited us to spend New Year’s Eve at the country house of their friends Antonia and Mark, a couple of hours drive from here. Owen was in Melbourne with an old friend for NYE itself, but joined us after a couple of days.

Hillview

The house itself was beautiful, the only drawback the sincerely expressed and repeated warnings about brown snakes. I’m not too thingy about snakes as a rule, but that’s because I live in the suburbs and never see any. So the idea of my rather silly 18 kilo toddler being bitten in a place which is out of mobile range, has no landline and is a good hour’s drive away from a hospital made me a big angsty. Fortunately Snake Education 101 from the four larger children seemed effective. The one snake that was spotted (yep, a brown one) was terrified off by Tammi’s husband Stuart’s desperate desire to kill it, by his stashing of sharp threatening spades near the scene of the spotting and by his general air of manly readiness.

clothesline

For fear of brown snakes, no clothes were washed.

I mentioned that the house was beautiful, but it was also full of beautiful things – indigenous and contemporary art, wonderful books, rooms crammed with beautiful Turkish carpets, interesting found things, such as the beautiful bowl of nests which brought Gay Bilson to mind, and linen cupboards stuffed with super-soft old white damask sheets.

bedroom view

From the bedroom we stayed in.

We had a few friends around for a drink before Christmas and my friend Chris (an ex-chef) asked laughingly while she enjoyed a Rhubarb Fizz made by one of the other guests whether my friendships were self-selecting around food. I suppose it’s no stranger than others who share a common interest coming together; probably less so because food is so social. And while it’s true that most of my friends care about food and cooking, to most of them it’s not so deeply embedded as it is with Tammi and me. We could talk about food all day, interrupting that only to read about, make or eat food. And we both left Wheoo with new treasures jotted in our little notebooks – for me in particular, Tammi’s basil and garlic hollandaise which is so good that it has returned hollandaise to my inner list of Things Worth Eating.

The books I took for my holiday reading were Richard Olney’s Simple French Food, Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook, and Julian Barnes’ The Pedant in the Kitchen. I didn’t open any of them, as it happened, although Stuart read some of the Olney. Tammi had brought her own stash of books, so I read Lauren Schenone’s The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken and some of Barbara Santich’s Looking for Flavour instead. The owners of the house are also food nerds, and in addition to the supremely well-stocked kitchen, there was a bookcase of food and wine books. Whenever it wasn’t stuffed with food, the table looked like this:

I don’t always cook well with others (sounds like it should be on my school report), particularly in my own kitchen, but Tammi and I quickly settled into a rhythm of each preparing parts of the meal. The exception was my introduction to ravioli making, and there I was very much the student. In the week I’ve been home I’ve broken my pasta machine, bought a new one and read quite a bit of Marcella Hazan.

Despite the thousands of recipes in the house, mostly we both cook improvisationally. One of us would suggest a dish, the other come up with something sympatico to accompany it. Tammi’s described some of the yummies (with pictures) at On Cooking and Feasting, Merrily.

Here were some of the highlights that occurred before my poor little camera died:

Tammi's bread proving

Tammi embraced breadmaking at Wheeo. It meant we could stay in the house and not have to go anywhere and still eat proper bread. WIN

Really Very Large T-Bones

Pasture fed Columbooka T-Bones from my sister-in-law’s farm in Southern NSW. We shall not mention the little incident with the brazier. Stuart made a giant bowl of horseradish sauce so delicious we ate it all. That would have been at least half a cup each, but in our defence it was made with yoghurt rather than cream.

Stuffed tomatoes

Tammi and I share a predisposition to frugality and a hatred of stingyness. The tomatoes were stuffed with crumbs made from one of Tammi’s loaves, herbs from the garden, olive oil and about 18 cloves of minced garlic.

Spuds

We had no cream so Tammi infused some milk with herbs from the garden to make a delicious potato gratin to eat with the pork. Stuart’s home-cured olives were what really made it sing.

Prepared pork

I unrolled a rolled boned forequarter of Wessex Saddleback Pork from Mountain Creek Farm and found some nice things to go with it. I love fennel with pork, so made Owen pull over on the way back from picking him up to join us. If you are going to pick herbs from the roadside, there are a few things to keep in mind – the less traffic the better, wash the spiders off (there were two) and if you’re in an unfamiliar place, check the goddam garden first. There’s no point foraging if it’s there to harvest.

Pork Cooked

We cooked the pork on horseradish leaves from the garden, and they became so deliciously luscious what with the pork fat, lemon, fennel and wine that we ended up slicing them finely to eat with the pork. I brought some horseradish home and planted it, so hopefully there’ll be a lot more of this in the future.

Rhubarb Fizz

There were a great deal more veggies and salads that it may seem here, and considerably more wine, as it happened. This wasn’t wine, however, but the Rhubarb Fizz made by my friend Jem. It was supersweet, but a nip of gin balanced it up nicely.

It struck me thinking about it afterwards that Tammi and I cook together like musicians jamming – confident, mature, communicating with a glance, riffing off each other and then getting to feast too. Neither setting out to impress the other, but to make something that is impressive, something coherent, satisfying and enriching to the people we care about.

Since coming home I’ve finished the Julian Barnes book I took away and neglected (hmmm, in my best Marge Simpson voice. Despite long experience of sophisticated cooking he has remained a bloody kitchen pedant, and I’m no friend of them) and I’ve started the Olney (a proper book, with long complicated sentences).

My favourite food of all to make is a composed salad, a meal on a plate, heavy on the veg. It was the first food I made for Tammi, and I can’t think of a more perfect example of food guided by experience and taste rather than recipes. It is the joy of food that is never the same twice, the ingredients, company, location, mood, season, changing but never losing the heart-joy of placing on the table something that you are hopeful – and confident – will be enjoyed. Richard Olney is speaking here on the subject of such salads, and their endless variation, but I hope that his words are as true of these friendships born in front of the computer screen and cemented at the table –

… One could go on forever, and, in practice, one does.
Richard Olney Simple French Food

Tammi

Tammi in the kitchen.

19 comments ↓

#1 Meg on 11.01.10 at 5:49 pm

This is fantastic, Zoe! Evocative and inspiring.

#2 dogpossum on 11.01.10 at 8:35 pm

That looks like the perfect new year.

#3 Pavlov's Cat on 11.01.10 at 9:02 pm

What a very lovely post this is.

*drools*

#4 Dr Sister Outlaw on 11.01.10 at 10:38 pm

Posts this nommy should be made illegal. Alternatively, they could offer a prize to the most lasciviously salivating reader, who would get to go and gaze out those lovely windows whilst smelling the incredible smells of all that bread and meat resting and cooking and hearing all that wonderful, informed (but never deadly serious) conversation.

But tell me Zoe, was the husbang polite when he discovered fennel to be present in the vege patch, as well as along roadsides?

#5 ThirdCat on 12.01.10 at 2:52 am

Most awesomely awesome post.

V pleased you did not run into any more snakely adventures…you might like to know that St John’s does a good small kit with everything you need for snake bite (that is, bandages and instructions and so forth, it does not have anti-venom, a helicopter or a landline). I’ve got about three of those kits and am such a scaredy-cat I often walk around with one in a backpack.

#6 Cristy on 12.01.10 at 9:25 am

Yum. Now I want to spend the day in the kitchen – despite the ridiculous heat.

#7 FDB on 12.01.10 at 11:44 am

“It struck me thinking about it afterwards that Tammi and I cook together like musicians jamming – confident, mature, communicating with a glance, riffing off each other and then getting to feast too. Neither setting out to impress the other, but to make something that is impressive, something coherent, satisfying and enriching to the people we care about.”

What a wonderful description. I’ve got a few friends like this – some musical, some culinary – where each others strengths and weaknesses are tacitly acknowledged and the best of everything comes through.

#8 dylwah on 12.01.10 at 1:19 pm

looks like fun Zoe, i esp like that last pic, with a cut of meat and an open book it is a great way to spend time.

#9 Zoe on 12.01.10 at 1:23 pm

was the husbang polite when he discovered fennel to be present in the vege patch, as well as along roadsides?

I think it would be fair to say he was in stitches, DSO, and I can’t say I blame him …

#10 Dr Sister Outlaw on 12.01.10 at 2:11 pm

tee hee hee!

#11 Speedy on 12.01.10 at 3:00 pm

ooOOoOoooOOOOooo ZoooOOoOoOOOOeee,

you make me jealous on so many levels. in a very caring and supportive way, of course :-)

#12 ampersand duck on 13.01.10 at 8:39 pm

Nommy indeed! I can’t decide what dish makes my mouth water more…

#13 Tammi on 14.01.10 at 11:16 am

Such a lovely, warm and eloquent expression of our week, Zoe! It was all of that and more! I feel like I should apologise for the snakes, but that would be pretty stupid, eh? Love love love cookin’ with you, my friend! :-)

#14 another outspoken female on 14.01.10 at 2:21 pm

Beautiful. You’ve got to love the way the internet inspires some real friendships in the flesh. Hope you guys have many more culinary and inspiring adventures together.

#15 kate on 15.01.10 at 3:00 pm

You’ve made me all, well, homesick, for cooking with my mate A at her parents’ holiday house. Homesick probably isn’t strictly the right word, what with me being at home, but she is currently experiencing snowstorms, so perhaps I am homesick on her behalf.

#16 dan on 16.01.10 at 10:14 am

oh yeah, here’s to long complicated sentences, and collaborations born of the tacit and genial. Food ,music, art, life.

#17 AnzacDayGirl on 16.01.10 at 2:35 pm

An eloquently expressed description of your food experiences, which made it sound so wonderfully OK to be food nerd. Thank you. I also really related to your description of cooking with someone who is sympathico with one’s own approach to food. Daughter in London…… come home!

#18 Emica on 17.01.10 at 6:04 am

oh what a lovely piece Zoe. That’s exactly how i feel about feeding people and having a bestie to do it with.

I guess I’d better come home, eh AnzacDayGirl??

#19 Zoe on 18.01.10 at 11:56 am

You two are very sweet ;)

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