Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Stroke Foundation: Food for Thought

Disclaimer: I was invited to the Food for Thought dinner as a guest of the Stroke Foundation to help spread an important message and raise awareness. All opinions in this post are my own, based on my personal experience on the night and all facts shared are ones that shocked and surprised me, that I feel everyone else should know too.

Ready for a full on post?

What do you guys know? 

I know that I failed at picking the long leg genes in my family (my brother's 6' 2" and I'm 5' 5"). 

That there's a few exercises in the gym that, when I choose to do them, are guaranteed to make me sore the next day. 

That you should be foraging for mushrooms where there are pine trees.

That Vaporeon is the best eevee evolution ever. Cause it's cute and stuff (First generation forever!). 

That the gamecube didn't have the same horsepower as the consoles that came out around the same time, but it had this 'Flipper' graphics chip thing instead which made it look just as good. 

What I didn't know is that stroke is the second biggest cause of death in Australia. There are 60,000 strokes a year in Australia. That's one every 10 minutes. 

I didn't know that one in six people will have a stroke in their life time. That stroke doesn't discriminate and it happens to men and women, young and old. That it can affect people as young as 7. 

That from those who do suffer strokes, one third recover, one third die and one third are disabled for the rest of their lives. 

That a common side effect of stroke is loss of sensation. Stroke survivors often have difficulty receiving messages from one or more of the five senses. 

That a large number of strokes are preventable. 

Or at least, I didn't know a lot of these things, until the Stroke Foundation invited me to attend their 'Food for Thought' charity dinner on the 24th of May, where we were encouraged to 'taste, discover, understand'. To use all our senses to revel in the evening and reflect on the stroke survivors who may have quite a different experience to us and how fragile life is.

The event is held to raise funds and also increase awareness and exposure about the causes and ramifications of stroke. This year in Melbourne, it was held in Peninsula C in the Docklands, on a night where the cold nipped at your toes. 

I arrived fairly early with Thanh and we were both stunned by how beautiful the room was, with tables bathed in flowery coloured lights. It was a very intimate space for being such a big room!

We had a quick walk around the room, where some of the goodies up for silent auction caught my eye. There really were some great pieces like a replica world cup or a Fender guitar that had been signed by both Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney! I was frankly quite floored to be in that guitar's presence. It's a piece of musical royalty! Am quite curious if anyone ended up taking that home with them!

The dinner itself was a six course degustation, with each dish being cooked by some of Melbourne's top chefs, who very generously donated their time and energy to this cause. Each of the chefs have also been affected by stroke in some way in their life. In fact when Gorgi Coghlan, our MC for the night, asked people to stand up if they had been affected by stroke, the majority of the room was standing and it really hit home as to how much impact strokes had. It's really not just the people who have the stroke, but those around them, those close to them, who are affected as well. Relationships change, responsibilities evolve.

Over the course of the night we had live footage of what was happening in the kitchen, the chefs demonstrating how to make their dishes and, of course, some pretty delicious food. 

The first dish was a kingfish and swiss chard 'cannelloni', with yuzu, lima bean and squid ink, from Riccardo Momesso from Sarti, who officially made 'plonk' an official kitchen term. I loved the playfulness of the dish, in particular the cute little squirt of squid ink. The flavours were light and refreshing, especially with the tangy citrus. It was a great dish to wake the palate up and get excited! 

These orange balloons were getting tied onto people's chairs after small donations were made, to symbolise the gift of giving. It was wonderful watching the room fill up with these cheery little symbols, made the room look extra festive!

Our second course came from Leigh Powers (who's name I kept mispronouncing, sorry!) from Gingerboy. Son in law eggs with chilli jam and Asian herbs. It smelt an absolute treat when placed in front of us and as per Leigh's instructions/challenge, some of us made it a 'one-bite-wonder'. Sure, it was a bit of a struggle to get it all in, but it was a lot of fun and you could still get all the textures and flavours, in that one mouthful! Oozy yolk and a bite of chilli. What's much better?

Listening to our guest speaker, Dawn Oldham was inspiring and exceptionally humbling. A mother of two, at the peak of her career, who was in very good health and possibly the fittest she had ever been, in her early 40's she had a stroke. She spoke of how she was fortunate that her husband had been watching the F.A.S.T campaign from the Stroke Foundation and acted quickly to get her to the hospital. 

Do you guys know how to look out for someone who may be suffering from a stroke? I mentioned it briefly earlier, but you may have noticed the F.A.S.T campaign that they have running. Look out for these key things:

Face: has the person's face drooped? 
Arm: can they lift both arms?
Speech: is their speech slurred?
Time: call 000 immediately!

Diana, one of the lovely ladies' who helped provide us with information about the night and who looked after our general wellbeing, put the last point in another good way, 'Time lost equals person lost'. The longer the stroke happens, the more the brain dies and along with it, who that person is. Most stroke survivors talk about not being quite the same person after the experience.

Post stroke, Dawn spoke of the difficulties she faced, from being the sort of person who would read the Financial Times, front to back, she struggled to get through the first paragraph. In communication, she found her unconscious thoughts would slip into her emails to clients, one time having typed "I have to remember to take the washing out" in the middle of one email and not realising until she had stepped away for a bit and come back to proofread. Even in understanding why she had a stroke was a struggle. She was playing basketball, so fairly fit, she didn't smoke, rarely drank and ate quite healthily, which really emphasised it could happen to anyone at anytime. 

And although it must have been a hard experience to go through, what I loved about listening to Dawn was her humour as she talked through her story and now, just how much she appreciates life and just wants to spend more time with her girls, her family and her friends. Just being able to slow down and do what she wants. I think that's something a lot of us can take away from a message like that!

As we listened to Dawn intently, we also nibbled on Michael Fox's (from Henry and the Fox) rabbit terrine with rhubarb compote jelly and salad brioche. I'm not very well versed in terrine's, but this was lovely and light in texture, the sweetness of the rhubarb was a perfect addition. And the brioche, so shiny, and so yummy!

Course four was from Mathew Hart from Balgownie Estate, who presented vine smoked spiced spring chicken with sticky apricot chutney and sage thyme jus. Oh my, the vines that the chicken was smoked with were brought from Balgownie Estate and just gave a wonderful rich, comforting, smokey smell to the chicken. It kind of intensified the longer it sat in front of us. The meat was just falling off the bone, beautiful!

I had had an opportunity to sneak in to the kitchen a little earlier in the evening, only to be quickly booted out as waiters and chefs started rushing around. Fortunately, we got one more sneak peek into the kitchen, to watch the chefs in action, as they prepared our 5th course. 

It was crazy, there were hands, knives and meat everywhere, but there was also laughter and chatter (at least from the big 6 (sounds like I'm on safari now, haha!)) and it's amazing to see how efficient a team the chefs are! I think it's still wonderful that such an amazing team can come together to support a cause like this.

Owner of the Estelle in Northcote, Scott Pickett really outdid himself this night with his course. When the slow cooked wagyu rump with field mushroom puree, black garlic vinaigrette, shaved celeriac and ox tongue (which I thought looked like bacon) came out, I think our table just took a moment to sigh happily. It was immaculately presented, with every element absolutely belonging to the dish. Oh my, and the flavour? 

I was dreaming and raving about that piece of wagyu for a few days. I know for sure it is one of the dishes I took my time to really enjoy, with each bite you could taste the beautifully marbled beef, there was a gleeful fattiness with each chomp. Loved the celeriac, loved the ox tongue. I don't mean to play favourites, but this dish just won my heart over. 

As part of the evening there were a number of raffles and live auctions, which were fun and energetic. One of my favourite raffles was the 'Lucky Key', where you could buy one of 100 keys and have the chance to walk away with a great suite of prizes, if your key was the one that unlocked the padlock! Surprisingly had to go through a lot of keys until the winner was found, who very generously donated back the money he won. 

To announce the raffle prize winner, we briefly got to hear from Andrew, who suffered a stroke when he was just 17 years old. Two years on, although the results of the stroke still affects him everyday, it was inspiring to hear that he is hardly as stressed out as he used to be and is now studying a double degree with a goal to become a neuropsychologist. Have to dream big! 

Dessert had to naturally be from Nicolas Poelaert from Embrasse. We were treated to his hazelnut parfait with chocolate and buttermilk crumbs…and other elements that I'm not too sure of. Teehee! The dessert for being so delicious, certainly does have a very earthy to look to it, supposedly like a forest floor in autumn. Light in texture, with a nice richness to the chocolate and overall, not too sweet surprisingly. Incredibly moreish. Not big enough!

I might have to add here, I don't normally like to advertise my birthday too much, since it feels a little bit narcissistic at times, but I had told Sofia on twitter that the event was on the same day. And being as sweet as she is, she brought a few candles along so that I would have cake and candles after all! How is this really not the best birthday cake ever?! Thanks again Fi, it really made my night! 

The night was really fantastic. I don't know if I could honestly think of a better way to spend my birthday. Supporting a great cause, eating wonderful food and being surrounded by fun people! I think whilst everyone was indeed having a lot of fun, there were a lot of hearts touched by the speakers and the stories and a lot of learning that happened as well. I think one of the biggest things that surprised me was that on the whole, the steps needed to lower your chances of having a stroke, aren't all that extreme! 

One just needs to eat well, keep a healthy weight, not smoke, keep blood pressure down, exercise regularly and keep alcohol consumption to a minimum. Just the general living a healthy life stuff! …so we may have not followed all the rules this particular night, but life in moderation too right? 

Thanks again to the Stroke Foundation, and in particular Diana and Anna, for inviting me along for a wonderful evening (I apologise this post has come out later than I would have liked!), and to Lee, Fi, Helen and Nick, Kenneth, Thanh, Simon, Chelsea and Ellie for being such wonderful company! 

Be sure to check out Fi's recollection of our great night too!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Foraging Frolic with the Fringe Food Festival

If there's one thing I've learnt about Fringe Food Festival events….it's that you gotta be quick. 

Which is why, the day after the first mushroom 'Foraging Frolic' was posted, I ran around my house screaming at my mum and dad, frantically called Canada to check if my cousins were interested (which if they weren't I would have made them interested!), whipped out a credit card and booked 9 tickets for the event. 

This led to another episode though. Of running around the house at 9 on a Saturday morning trying to wake the cousins and get them ready on time to leave so that we would arrive at Bress Winery at a fairly reasonable time. I know most Asians are on their own time schedule, but I'm a mutant and am adamant about punctuality! 

Having driven 4 hours a day the two days prior, the one and a half hour drive up to Harcout was a breeze and in no time at all, we were surrounded by insanely delicious cakes, magnums of cider, jugs of fermented pear juice, the beginnings of something that smelled delicious on the paella pan and a whole lot of chatter and excitement at Bress Winery.

Mum's a boozin' nice and early in the morning….

Before we headed out in a convoy to the forest, we all collected bags of wood oven roasted chestnuts. The perfect warm snack on a cool autumn morning and for getting someone's car completely covered in fuzzy chestnut peeling (sorry Suzanne!)!

Oh yes, we brought Chai along for a forest frolic. He loves chestnuts too.

Matt from Mushrooms Anonymous and Adam from Bress, were our well informed guides, giving us tips on where to look for mushrooms and being incredibly patient as we all grew bolder in our mushroom picking expedition and helping us identify the hoards of mushrooms we kept bringing back. 

Mushrooms are usually found under pine trees and are generally more plentiful a few days after rain. Considering it had been fairly dry though, we seemed to pull a pretty good haul!

My dad and my uncle tapped into their manly survival mode and really got into the whole foraging thing. They were often calling for us from the complete opposite side of the hill we were all on and poking around every nook and cranny. Hilarious!

Some of the varieties we picked were pine mushrooms, grey ghosts and slippery jacks! 

We arrived back at Bress, greeted by the alluring smell of pine mushrooms cooking in a paella pan (as you do) and wood oven cooked potatoes. 

There was no shortage of fabulous wines from Bress, Adam was even generous enough to let us have a sample of his silver and gold shiraz's straight from the vat! The gold shiraz in particular was a favourite, at least amongst my family!

Adam seems to be questioning if he should really be sharing with us though…

Lunch was cooked by Jo from The Commoner, which naturally meant, the meal was absolutely stunning. Paella pan cooked pine mushrooms, with a decadent buttery aroma, were served with fluffy and warm bread buns. Perfect for wiping up whatever sauce might be left afterwards! Even my cousin who's not crazy about mushrooms, tucked into these enthusiastically, there was a nice meatiness to them. 

I also loved how brilliant the colour inside the mushrooms were when cross-sectioned. So orange still!

Next up, the mushroom croquettes served on a cauliflower puree was a stunner. It won many hearts that chilly afternoon. Light and crisp outside, but creamily delicious inside. And topped with that cauliflower puree? Just beautiful.

The mushrooms were organised out into piles for identification. I in particular loved the above mushrooms. I forgot their exact names, but it was something something parasol. So cute!

Grey ghost mushrooms had a very different flavour to their meaty pine mushroom counterparts. I found them a little more herbaceous, a little bit more chewy but completely delicious in their own right. 

How brilliant are the golden wood-oven cooked potatoes? My heart sighs happily for carby, carby love. 

The potatoes were partnered with the most decadent beef cheeks and truffled polenta I had ever come across. I'm pretty sure everybody was absolutely drooling when this dish came out, it smelt and tasted amazing. The beef just melted in your mouth!

Mum made sure Chai didn't miss out on the fun as well and sneaked him a little piece of beef with bread, which he chomped down with vigour! She can't help but spoil him…

Matt gave us a quick demo on how to prepare a slippery jack for eating, which is a simple case of getting your knife and peeling off the skin off the top. 

Dessert was a simple but incredibly enjoyable affair. A poached pear, sitting in a delicious puddle of syrup with a healthy dollop of cream. So sweet and so moreish. Really just the perfect way to end the meal. 

It was really a fabulous day, I think we all learnt a lot and had a lot of fun. I personally feel that I do have a bigger appreciation of mushrooms in general now, I really wasn't aware of all the edible forest mushroom varieties and all the different flavour profiles they had. 

Thanks again to SJ and the Fringe Food Festival for helping organise, Bress for the wonderful venue and drinks, Matt for his patience with such a large group and of course, Jo from the Commoner for a beautiful meal.

I think there might be one more of these events coming up on the 2nd of June, but tickets may or may not be sold out already? Worth checking out anyway methinks!

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