It’s a Thursday night in Brisbane at the end of the mango season when Dr David Schlect welcomes a crew of local men into his home kitchen for a night of preserving.
The challenge is ostensibly to turn a tray of Piñata Honey Golds into mango chutney to accompany a Stephanie Alexander-inspired baked ham, but the result is much more than a meal.
David, a well-known radiation oncologist, is a community man.
“This has been a tradition in this kitchen with myself inviting men of the parish, men of the shire, men of the school over to cook chutney,” David says.
“We often hold it on an important football night and there’s a certain amount of conflict in the men’s minds as to whether they should be at the football or here but generally speaking they are very keen to be here and their wives are keen for them to be here too.”
The Thursday night preserving team is made up of men with strong opinions on the best varieties – Kensington Pride (65 per cent of the market) for the traditionalists, R2E2 (six per cent) for those who like to be on to something different.
It’s night of tasks and talking; a few drinks and a lot of laughs.
FOOD AND FAMILY
David describes food planning, preparation and enjoyment as a fundamental and important part of family life in the Schlect household.
“Food is central to our family life and we are all cooks. My wife, Gabrielle, and myself cook and so do our four daughters. On Sunday morning we have crepes and always have done.”
The Schlects try to eat three meals a day together, despite the family’s busy schedule and many food preferences.
The food is home-made and handmade, artisan and sourced locally, David says.
“We had a very close domestic and family life growing up in north Queensland. My mother was a great cook and encouraged us to become interested in food.
“My grandmother was also a great preserver and it was a part of the war-time era and English traditions.
“A lot of my interest in food came from watching my mother cooking and how she conducted family life.”
JAM JARS AND YOU’RE IN BUSINESS
David tells those new to preserving: ‘you don’t need any special equipment at all, you just need empty jam jars and you are in business’.
While he uses a steamer to sterilise the jars he says this crucial step can just as easily be done in the oven.
EAT WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY
As a radiation oncologist David is often discussing diet with his patients and adopts the approach ‘eat what makes you feel happy’.
“The food rules for me are basically simple – happy food, not too much, green, locally sourced, mostly vegetables but plenty of meat as well.
“People undergoing cancer treatment often need to look at their diet and we are helped by a dietician at our practice.”
HOPE: AS IMPORTANT AS A NEW DRUG?
He believes a person’s emotional outlook influences their cancer journey, to the extent that he has authored a book with colleague and friend, Damien Mason.
HOPE: A cancer doctor’s life secrets aims to ‘raise the spirits’ of patients during treatment and has been well received.
“Hope is the ability to look forward to something positive in the future and it varies for different people at different times of their life and phases of their illness,” David says.
“Hope can be measured and improved and relates very much to how well we lead our lives.
“We feel that hope is absolutely crucial to the outcome of cancer treatments and also other severe illness, so people who are pessimistic or despairing don’t do very well, it’s been measured.
“They don’t respond to treatments, they don’t survive as long, and we feel that hope might be an important ingredient – as important as a new drug.”
On the writing list are topics on hope and food; and hope and men’s health. In the meantime, it’s pineapple season and there is preserving to be done.
Click here to order HOPE: A cancer doctor’s life secrets.
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