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Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Dine It Forward

I've always been someone who's wanted to make a difference in the world. I know, sounds corny and stupid, but it's true. I'd love to be known as someone who was part of the bigger solution, not just the 'band-aid' stuff. I get excited and feel empowered at the thought of being able to have an impact on the world through my actions or endeavours. In saying that, to get to that stage of action, you need to start at the bottom, with the smaller communities. I've done my fair share of charity work over the years - 40 hour famine, Red Shield Appeal, chocolate selling - the usual. It can get a bit mundane, just raising money in such a way where nothing is really given back to the donator, or they don't really get that involved in the whole process.

Recently I came across this event that was circulating on Facebook called Dine It Forward. Although I wasn't "officially" invited to the event, it was a public one, and with me being such a foodie, the word 'Dine' being in the event name simply caught my attention. So I clicked on it to see what it was about, and after reading up about it I was really keen to get involved.

Basically the event is part of a campaign organised by a local youth NGO called Palmera, based primarily in Sydney. Their vision is to "channel the power of human compassion to deliver sustainable projects in the areas of health care, education and income generation to marginalised communities". Their project profile is quite impressive, having started out volunteering to help transfer skills to marginalised Sri Lankan communities, working with local NGOs to assist victims of the 2006 Boxing Day Tsunami along the way, to an extensive project profile that now branches out to other parts of Asia such as Cambodia, recently becoming a nationwide operation by expanding their family into Melbourne. This particular project of Dine It Forward aims to "build a sustainable livelihood, community hub, and a source of staple food for marginalised women in Sri Lanka". More specifically, the aim is to develop community access to milling facilities (rice milling is a significant commodity in Sri Lanka), which will in turn create employment opportunites and give residents the chance to interact and build relationships with their local government, build an economy as such and develop organisational and business skills along the way. 

The drive to fund such a project comes after the end of a long-standing civil unrest towards the Northern region of Sri Lanka, where many innocent people have been up-rooted from their communities, and their livelihoods destroyed at the expense of the war. Such a project does lie relatively close to my own heart, being of Sri Lankan heritage and all. Even though I have never taken sides or expressed an opinion on the actions of parties involved in the war, and I never will, I do express compassion towards those innocent lives who have been affected by the war. It was never their choice to be involved, and the reports of the use of human shields by either side is absolutely abhorrent. I've watched many documentaries on the topic and it can be difficult to judge what's fiction and what's real. But again, it's those innocent lives who have been disregarded and forgotten by their own who my heart goes out to.

BUT, I digress! The reason why this event really got me interested is that I can raise money for a good cause, while being able to do the thing I love - cook! And even better, I get to cook for those who are willing to get involved - the donators! Who co-incidentally, are my dearest and nearest - even better! The concept of the campaign is based on the 'Pay It Forward' one (go watch the movie if you haven't seen it!) - you cook a meal for your friends and family, and they are then propelled to host their own event where they have you over for a meal along with more of their own friends and family and so it continues, each of you raising money and creating awareness for the project the funds are being raised for.

Cookin and lookin sexay in my slacks =P
I was lucky enough to be invited to the official campaign launch next Tuesday, which I am really excited about! The event will feature some of Australia's prominent Sri Lankan cuisine experts and chefs, who will be cooking up a feast. I can't wait to post about it on my blog and tell you guys all about it! BUT, even better, you can get involved too! Palmera are hosting 2 launch parties towards the end of October, to which you can purchase tickets to - more details can be found by clicking this link. You get the chance to meet some of those famous Sri Lankan faces of our beautiful cuisine such as Paul Van Reyk (who was on the Sri Lankan episode of Food Safari) and Siva Kumaran, owner of Blue Elephant restaurant in Sydney (very popular within our community!), and dine on some scrummy food.  Tickets are only $50 ($45 for Palmera members) and you also get a goodie bag to take home containing items that will help you host your own event =D!! I think it's such a wonderful opportunity to experience and promote our beautiful and rich cuisine, as well as raising money for a worthy cause. Even if you can't make it to either of the launch parties, the campaign will be running throughout the month of November, giving you plenty of time to get involved by hosting your own event, cooking for family and friends and raising money. You can officially register your event on the website, and you'll get the free goodie bag with the spices and recipe cards, all you have to do is pay the small postage fee. You can even get together with a few friends and make it a joint effort if you feel a bit overwhelmed at the thought of cooking for a crowd by yourself - the more the merrier!! Even by just attending and donating towards an event organised by a friend will make a difference!

Nat enjoying my native food!
Needless to say, I plan on hosting my OWN event in November =D more details on that to come! And in preparation of the event I decided to make my own chicken curry! I don't really cook much Sri Lankan food at home myself, mum is the queen of that domain. So I looked up some recipes I could probably impress her with and Charmaine Solomon's famous Chicken Curry popped up. I remember watching her prepare this dish on Food Safari (I have all the DVDs - BIG fan as you can tell =P) and it just looked so yummy. I mean, mum cooks chicken curry at home of course but hers' is slightly drier and spicier - her own recipe. So, I decided to give Charmaine's a go and it turned out really well!!

I used slightly less chicken than specified in the recipe, which made it a bit thicker, so next time I'd need to either add more chicken or add less coconut milk. But it still tasted heaps nice! Goes perfectly with some fragrant rice or even a flaky roti. Definitely one you should try yourself. And if you like it maybe you could consider going to one of the launch parties or hosting your own event at home!

Chicken Curry
Recipe by Charmaine Solomon (from SBS's Food Safari)

1.5kg chicken thigh cutlets
2 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil (I only had olive oil)
¼ tsp fenugreek seeds
10 curry leaves
2 large onions, finely chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp fresh ginger, finely grated
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tbsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground fennel
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp vinegar
2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
6 cardamom pods, bruised
1 stick cinnamon
1 stalk lemon grass
1 pandan leaf (I didn't have one on hand, but it still tasted good without it!)
1 cup thick coconut milk

1. Heat ghee and fry fenugreek and curry leaves until they start to brown. 

2. Add onions, garlic and ginger and fry gently until onions are quite soft and transparent. 

3. Add turmeric, chilli, coriander, cumin, fennel, paprika, salt and vinegar and stir well (It's probably best to measure out all the spices before you start and put them together in a bowl just to make it easier to add at this point). Add tomatoes, whole spices and lemon grass. 

4. Add chicken and stir over medium heat until chicken is thoroughly coated with spices. Cook, covered, over low heat for 40 to 50 minutes. 

5. Add coconut milk, taste and add more salt and a squeeze of lemon juice if desired. Do not cover after adding coconut milk. Continue to cook through until liquid thickens slightly. Serve with rice or roti.

For those who don't know, Charmaine Solomon is a best selling cookery author known internationally for her amazing cooking repertoire when it comes to preparing traditional and new age Sri Lankan dishes, but also for her work and efforts to promote Sri Lankan cuisine, and her contribution to the Australian community in terms of her numerous TV appearances, contributions to newspaper columns, demonstrations and cooking classes. She is revered among the Sri Lankan community in Australia and her recipes are known and prepared around the world.

Clockwise from left: Yellow rice, Dhal (with a HUGE red chilli haha), Asian Greens, Chilli Sambol,
'Curried' Mushrooms and Chicken Curry
This was my brother's plate after serving up all the curries and things we had prepared, just to give you an idea of Sri Lankan cusine for those not familiar with it. It's very similar to Indian cooking, slight difference in spices and ingredients used. Oh so yummm =D.

Enjoy (and get involved!) =D xx

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