If you watched Children in Need, you will not have failed to be hugely moved by film about a little girl called Vanessa.
This poor little girl lost her fight with Neuroblastoma in September of this year. She had spent many months undergoing treatment in hospital and during that time, a charity called Spread a Smile arranged for her to sing with a singing teacher. Vanessa had a beautiful voice and the chance to learn to use it and just to sing seemed to bring her so much happiness.
Her family had bravely allowed the BBC to show film of Vanessa over a period of time, hugging her father and two sisters and singing her heart out. I was not the only one left in a soggy heap of tissues.
Coincidentally, I had been invited to a fund-raiser for the same charity earlier in the week. A cooking demonstration by the married couple behind the extremely popular restaurants, Honey & Co and Honey & Smoke and food store, Honey & Spice, Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer.
More than eighty women had bought tickets to see the pair cook up saffron carrot soup; apricot and pistachio tabbouleh with orange blossom; cauliflower 'shawarma'; madfunia — a festive chicken tagine-style dish topped with strands of kadaif pastry (fine vermicelli-like strands); and chocolate and olive oil mousse.
With a front row seat, I could smell the flavours as they cooked — exotic saffron and orange flower water; sweet caramelising onions; nutty roast cauliflower and the addictive, pungence of chocolate. It all tasted every bit as good. So good that I made the carrot soup th next day. I love their recipes and have both of their (award-winning) books, but there is something about watching recipes being made and tasting them that is so inspiring.
I sat down with Itamar and Sarit afterwards, and they filled me in on what's been going on for them. I'll share that in a separate blog. They're rushed off their feet but still finding time to help out with causes like this.
Apart from droolworthy recipes, I left with, huge admiration for the amazing and impressive founders of Spread a Smile — Josephine Segal and Vanessa Crocker. They raise between £250,000 and £300,000 every year to fund visits by entertainers and experiences for children being treated in several London hospitals. The children are also treated to theatre trips (with their silblings), taken to dinner and sent them home with goodie bags. Anita, whose son Varan has been supported by the charity shared her gratitude for what they had done for his morale.
Segal was inspired to set up the charity when her nephew spent months being treated for cancer in hospital. "I sent a magician to visit him and it completely brought a smile to his face. He was so sad that the magician was not allowed to visit his friends on the wards, so I set up this charity to do that." Her nephew is currently in remission but for the countless other children spending months in hospital wards, the charity changes their world.
Eighty five women paid to watch a cookery demonstration, bought raffle tickets and ate delicious food. Countless poorly children will benefit.