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I am delighted to present Saveur Magazine’s Best Food Blog Photographer 2015, Renée Kemps, as the host of our next Lens & Larder workshop which will take place at the beguiling Irish country estate, Ballyvolane House, April 26-29th, 2016.

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Participants will pay a special visit to Cork’s artisan English Market as well as gather ingredients from the stunning forest and walled garden of Ballyvolane House to craft their own editorial food story and discover an exciting translation of food through the lens.

Over the course of three nights and two days, students will get to learn from Renée as she demonstrates her methods of styling and photography, and gain insight into her overall process and philosophy from working with light, to composition, editing, blogging, and social media while enjoying the relaxed luxury and friendly atmosphere of historic Ballyvolane House.

Here are a few stunning examples of Renée’s work…

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Included in the retreat:  3 nights luxury accommodation at Ballyvolane House, 1 welcome reception and dinner, 3 full Irish breakfasts; 2 lunches; 2 dinners including wine and cocktails; all food with a focus on locally sourced, artisan ingredients (vegetarian options will be catered for).

Excluded: Travel to Ireland and transportation to Ballyvolane House; Travel insurance; Extras

Cost: EUR €1850/$2012USD per person sharing dual occupancy. For private accommodation, please enquire and will be available on a first come, first served basis.  An 80% non-refundable deposit will be required to secure your spot. Final 20% Payment will be due upon arrival at Ballyvolane House.

Due to timing logistics, there will be absolutely no refunds for this workshop. Please make sure you can attend before securing a space for the retreat. We strongly recommend that you to take travel insurance. Owning an SLR camera is preferable.

Please email lensandlarder@gmail.com for more details & registration.

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Renée Kemps is the author of “Harvest”, a blog about seasonal ingredients, local produce and sharing food with loved ones. She is the winner of the Saveur Best Food Photography Awards in 2015, has contributed to Food52, Vogue Magazine, and is currently collaborating with Yotam Ottolenghi for Jamie Magazine. Renée grew up in Delft, a small village in The Netherlands, and moved to the countryside when she was 10 years old. Growing up outside, with apple trees in her backyard, strawberries in the garden, and chickens running around made her fall in love with a life where we know where our food comes from, how it grows, and how we can take it into our kitchen to enjoy it together at the table, with good conversations and cozy nights.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen xx

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In the Irish countryside the true spirit of St. Patrick’s Day really lives on. My husband and his family still pick a shamrock clover and pin it on their lapel for the day, and now I am a part of that special tradition as well.

I will never forget my first St. Patrick’s Day experience after moving to Ireland. Everything in the little village nearest to us was closed on the day; the post office, the bank, a good number of shops, about the only place with open doors was the church, and I soon realized that it was not only a national holiday, but a religious one as well—though the name should have given that away.

My mother-in-law invited us to the farmhouse for dinner that day, and I could hardly contain my excitement about having my first authentic Irish corned beef and cabbage!

We sat down at the dinner table while Peggy brought out generous plates of roasted pork loin with mashed potatoes covered in a white creamy parsley sauce accompanied by a bit of boiled cabbage on the side. I was stunned. Where was the corned beef, and why on earth was there so little cabbage?

I felt it was necessary to explain to my new family that in America, most people eat corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day. My father-in-law looked at me like I was mad and then calmly reasoned, “We do not eat corned beef, t’wouldn’t be the nicest.” I could tell by the look in his eye that corned beef was not held in the same esteem as the beautiful chunk of pork loin, known as “bacon” here in Ireland. I felt at once utterly surprised and somewhat embarrassed. (I later learned that corned beef in Ireland is akin to Spam, it is a type of chopped gelled beef that comes in a square tin)

The truth is, there really isn’t a special meal in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day. Parades, yes. Parties filled with libations, yes. Shamrock-wearing, yes. But, food-wise, at least in rural Ireland, we all just sit down to a nice meal, which can be anything from roast pork to a T-bone steak, but never, ever, corned beef.

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Over the years, our Paddy’s day celebrations have evolved. We have begun a ritual of going for a long walk on the farm and visiting the fairy fort* (a circular earthen mound-style dwelling from ancient times) for a picnic. I bring all the fixings and we sit under an ivy-covered tree and nibble away, all the time being on the lookout for fairies, and heifers and calves that might be exploring the fort as well.

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Since I always like to try something a little different than roast bacon and cabbage, I found that it is fun to prepare an Asian-style potsticker dumpling with pork, cabbage, and parsley sauce. I borrowed the dumpling wrapper recipe from my friend, Molly Yeh, and went to town with traditional ingredients. A couple of hours later, we walked out the door with a basket of dumplings, dipping sauce, chopsticks and a flask of tea. With a picnic like that, who needs corned beef and cabbage! This recipe is in my chapter entitled New Traditions in The Farmette Cookbook: Recipes and Adventures from my Life on an Irish Farm. 

Paddy’s Day Bacon & Cabbage Potstickers
Makes 20 medium sized dumplings
For the wrappers
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup cold water
In a medium bowl, combine flour and salt. Gradually stir in boiling water until the mixture is mealy.
Gradually add the cold water and stir until the mixture turns comes together into a dough.
Knead dough on a floured surface, adding more flour as necessary, until the dough becomes smooth.
Transfer to a clean bowl, cover it with a damp towel, and let the dough rest while you make the filling.
For the Filling:
6 ounces cabbage, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/8 cup minced parsley
1/3 pound shredded smoked ham (or smoked Irish bacon)
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper (or freshly ground black pepper)
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon Chinese rice wine (or dry sherry)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
For the slurry
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup water
For the dipping sauce
2 tbsp sesame oil
¼ cup brown rice vinegar
½ cup scallions (spring onion)
¼ cup soy sauce
Make the wrappers In a medium bowl, combine flour and salt. Gradually stir in the boiling water until the mixture is mealy. Gradually add the cold water, and stir until the mixture comes together into a dough.
Knead dough on a floured surface, adding more flour as necessary, until the dough becomes smooth. Transfer to a clean bowl, cover with a damp towel, and let rest while you make the filling.
Make the filling Put the cabbage in a food processor and pulse until finely minced. Transfer to a large bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Let sit for 10 minutes. Pulse the ginger, parsley, ham, pepper, soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil to food processor to mix well. Set aside. Squeeze the water out of the cabbage and into the sink. Place the dry cabbage in a dry bowl and add the ham mixture. Fold together with your hands.
Make the dumplings Roll out the dumpling dough into a circle and cut out wrappers with 4-inch round cookie cutters (or the top of a wineglass or teacup). Set aside. Mix together the cornstarch and water for the slurry in a small bowl. Take one dumpling wrapper, and spoon about 1 tablespoon of the ham mixture into the middle. Dip one finger into the slurry, and paint the edges of the dumpling wrapper. Fold the bottom side of the wrapper over the filling and press into a half-moon shape. Place on a baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and repeat with the rest of dumplings. Make sure the dumplings do not touch each other on the sheet.
When all the dumplings are assembled, you can cook immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to several hours. To cook, half-fill a large pot with water and bring to boil. Gently slide in one-third of the dumplings. When the water returns to a boil, turn the heat down and simmer gently for 6 to 8 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, and repeat with remaining dumplings.
Coat the bottom of the frying pan with oil and place over medium heat until hot. Fry dumplings until they are golden on each side.
Make the dipping sauce Heat the sesame oil in a saucepan until it smokes. Add the scallions, then the brown rice wine vinegar and soy sauce. Mix well, then take off heat and pour into bowl for dipping.
Scullery Notes: Salting and squeezing the water out of the cabbage is essential. It prevents dumplings from being waterlogged and soggy. 

*The term Faerie is derived from the Gaelic word “Fé erie”, meaning the enchantment of the Fées, while Fé is derived from Fay, which is itself derived from Fatae, or the Fates. The term originally applied to supernatural women who directed the lives of men and attended births. Now it has come to mean any supernatural creature tied to the earth, except monsters and ghosts. In Ireland, the Faeries are called the Aes Sídhe, pronounced eye-shwee) Sídhe are also the name for the earthen mounds and hills that dot the Irish landscape. Irish mythology, legends, and folklore claim the Faeries live under these mounds, so the term sídhe has come to mean Faerie in general, but it more properly refers to the palaces, courts, halls, and residences of the Faeries. However they are known by a wide variety of euphemisms, including “the Fair Folk”, “the Good Neighbors”, “the Little Folk”, “the Little Darlings”, and “the People of Peace”.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos by Imen McDonnell. Styling by Sonia Chaverri Mulford 2015.

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kneecaps
Picture this.

You walk into a 1960’s-style supper club/ballroom in a small midwestern American town. It doesn’t matter that it is the noughties; nothing has changed since the place first opened in 1964. There is the same wooden bar with high vinyl covered stools, the same wall-to-wall carpeted dining room with numbered round tables and upholstered swivel chairs, the same salad bar with spinach and oily hot bacon dressing, German potato salad and green aspic. Broasted chicken and potatoes feature on the menu along with a filet mignon that you could cut with a butter knife. Everything is plush and gold and burgundy and bold shades of emerald. You remember a pint-sized version of yourself holding a maraschino tinted Shirley Temple in hand, your bearded father with an extra bitters brandy old-fashioned, and your Aqua Net scented stepmother sipping a drink called “bacardi” with a small b.

You glance into a smoky side room where there are people dancing. One-two-three, one-two-three, oom-pa-pa, oom-pa-pa, couples shuffle around the room with the odd added back leg kick for good measure. They are happy. The place is abuzz. There is dim light everywhere except for this ballroom which is harshly lit with fluorescents. Everywhere you look, it’s like time stood still.

Back in the dining room there is a long table in a corner covered in white linen, and suddenly you recall a time when dozens of small deep-fried doughnuts topped with fluffy dollops of fresh cream would fill such a table. There are spotlights beaming down on the table as if to showcase whatever greatness will eventually grace its top. You can’t keep your eyes off the table. Someone plays Kenny Rogers on the jukebox in the bar and you hear people hmmm hmmmm hmmmm-ing in the distance. You do not get distracted. That table is the promised land of desserts. There will be other bits on that dessert table, but you know they will pale in comparison to the kneecaps.

Yes, I said kneecaps. Those delicate doughnut cream puffs are called kneecaps. I always presumed that if you closed your eyes and squinted they might look like someone’s kneecap. I do not know, but that’s what they were called.

Kneecaps were in my book and they got cut. It might have been because (little did I know) kneecapping was a form of torture during the Troubles in Ireland.

Or, could be simply because they just plain don’t sound good.

But, I am here to tell you, there isn’t much better in the way of creampuffery (forgive the portmanteau). I would go as far as to dare you to show me a better form of creampuff. (yes, that really is a dare.)

Plus, if you come up with a better name, we can just change it, right?

Find my recipe below.

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Now, for some Sunday Bits….

My book is making its way into the world next month, and Image Living & Interiors has provided a very special sneak preview in its March issue, here’s a taste

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Our friends and world-class photographers, Andrea & Martin Hyers, have begun hosting their own intrepid photography retreats. The first one will take place in the Andes Mountains of Peru and I’d give anything to be along for the ride. Check out more details here.

We are welcoming calves night and day on the farm, spring is the season for new life and we are embracing every moment of it!

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Natural Born Feeder’s Rozanna Purcell claims that I was instrumental in getting her to start blogging about food, I don’t know if I can take credit for that, but I will vouch for her stunning book filled with nutritious, tasty recipes. For example, these Virtuous Viscounts that remind me of Girl Scout Thin Mints, minus the sugar! You can order her book here.

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I recently stumbled upon a brilliant app called Beditations. Basically you pop it on when you go to bed for an evening meditation and you are awakened with a meditation “alarm” to start your day. I can’t recommend morning meditation enough for the pursuit of daily balance, calm, and well-being. For me, this practice has been life-changing and the Beditation app just makes it easy.

Cliodhna and I are planning our next Lens & Larder retreat with the amazing Renée Kemps, last year’s Saveur Food Blog Best Photography winner. I met Renée when were in Brooklyn for the awards last June, and on top of being an incredible photographer, she is just as sweet as pie. More details on our website soon.

I’ve added a few more bits to the events page, my Limerick book launch taking place at O’Mahony’s in Limerick City at 7pm, 9th March. There will be music, wine, my best brown bread and homemade butter. Come along if you’re free! Also, I’m pairing up with Claire Ptak and her Violet Bakery in London for a special Farmette + Violet Pop-Up on the 22nd of March from 12-4pm. SO excited for that!!!

 

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Dairy Cream Kneecaps
Kneecaps were one of my greatest childhood indulgences. At many large gatherings on my father’s side of the family, there would be a seemingly endless tray of kneecaps on the dessert table where I often found myself hovering around the general vicinity for more time than I probably should have. Kneecaps are essentially tiny cream puffs, only the puff is a very lightly yeasted, raised doughnut with cream simply dabbed into a wee dent in the middle. The pastry to cream ratio is perfectly balanced. These are such a treat, especially with farm fresh sweet cream, and would be a superb addition to afternoon tea or a special celebration.
Makes One Dozen
1/4 cup warm water (105 to 110 degrees F)
2 (.25 ounce) envelopes active dry yeast
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 cups milk
6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 cups peanut or vegetable oil for frying
1 cup confectioners’ sugar for dusting
2 cups heavy cream, whipped
Pour warm water into a small bowl, and sprinkle yeast on top; set aside for 5 minutes. Cream together the shortening, sugar, and salt. Add the eggs, one at a time, while continuing to mix. Pour in the milk and the yeast alternating with the flour until smooth. Place dough into a greased bowl, and turn over to grease the top.
Cover with a light towel, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Once the dough has risen, punch down, and roll out on a floured surface to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into rounds with a 2 inch round cookie cutter, cover, and allow to rise another 30 minutes.
Fill deep saucepan with 4 inches of oil. Heat oil to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
Use your thumb to make an indent in the center of each kneecap. Fry in the hot oil a few at a time until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Remove to drain on a paper towel, and allow to cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. To serve, dust the kneecaps with confectioners’ sugar, fill the indents with whipped cream.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

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“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, 

so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

-Joseph Campbell

I met this fine-looking farmer when he was visiting the United States one particularly frigid week in February 2004. It was his second visit to the Twin Cities of the American Midwest, where I had been hunkering down in hibernation mode for the winter. He had come to visit a childhood mate who had moved to St. Paul, Minnesota after secondary school. It was only his second time in Minneapolis, the beloved city that I had recently returned to after a production stint an at Emmy award-winning television show in New York City.

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Prior to New York, I had spent a chunk of time living the hazy, surreal, set-life of Los Angeles. I loved the buzz of film sets and sound stages and just being a part of the team behind-the-scenes. I grew up an ambitious girl in small-town Wisco, and was always eager to break away to the bright lights of a big city. In Minneapolis, I had found balance working as a creative producer for an influential, (if somewhat Mad Men-esque) advertising agency, while traveling globally to execute broadcast television campaigns for international beauty and food brands. I lived comfortably in the middle of the picturesque city, and if I was going anywhere else, you could hedge your bets that it would be back to Brooklyn.

On the evening we were introduced, I hadn’t fancied going out, but I was persuaded by a colleague who was desperate for a fun night after a long workweek. I wasn’t feeling terrific that day, so I prettied myself up as best as I could and got on with it, as you do when all you really want to do is lounge around in flannel pajamas and sip chamomile tea all evening. Before I knew it, my taxi arrived, and I mustered the energy to run out the door.

We were having a laugh with friends at a newish downtown lounge when a handsome flaxen-haired fella breezed past our group, turned his head and shot us a smile. As he was waiting for his drink at the bar, my friend starting chatting with him. Or was she chatting him up? Either way, I could see that he was very polite and by the lilt in his voice, I noted that he was clearly not from the United States, though I couldn’t quite place his accent.

After a casual introduction, I learned that this striking man with the unusual accent was named Richard McDonnell. And, judging from his fair-skinned, ginger-topped mates sipping pints of Guinness, I put two and two together and wielding some heavy-handed stereotypes guessed that they were all either from Ireland or perhaps the UK.

The evening was becoming far more interesting than I had anticipated.

Later, as the others trailed off in conversation and dance, Richard and I found ourselves at a table alone and began to get to know one another. He revealed that he lived on a farm in the Irish countryside that had been in his family since the 1800’s and that he had a university degree in philosophy. What a fascinating combination, I thought. Kant, Hobbes, Plato had been impossible for me to get my head around in my university studies, and farming….well, I had never stepped foot on a real working farm in my life.  He also shared that his star sign was Aquarius, as is mine. I warmed to him. Though I occasionally found it hard to understand his thick Irish brogue, he had no shortage of charming and funny quips, which kept me in stitches all evening long.

At the end of the night, Richard said he would only be in town for a few more days and asked if I would join him for dinner the following evening. Somewhat reluctantly, I agreed. Despite enjoying our lively conversation, I was still not sure if I really wanted to see him again. I wasn’t keen on romance at the time. But, he said “think about it and choose your favorite restaurant,” and suddenly I was torn between fun visions of the best melt-in–your-mouth butterknife steak at kitsch and campy Murray’s or the only authentic spaghetti and meatballs in town washed down with goblets of Barolo at the quiet little trattoria in my neighborhood. We exchanged phone numbers and went our separate ways.

Early the next morning, he texted me to say he was looking forward to our dinner. I panicked. Happily busy with a creative career that kept me constantly working and traveling, I had convinced myself that I had no time or energy to put into developing a rewarding relationship, or was I just simply nervous and unsure of myself? If I knew one thing, it was that I had no designs on dating a farmer from Ireland! Still, Richard was awfully attractive, intelligent, and quite charismatic, so despite my hang–ups, I agreed on the stipulation that my bubbly Aussie friend and her lovely husband would join us. After all, a girl can never be too careful, right?

We met at a quaint new eatery that had been getting excellent reviews. Built into a historic neighborhood bakery, the space was intimate and filled to the brim with vintage bistro charm and personality. Looking in from the outside on a brisk winter’s evening you could see tables situated behind spacious steamed-up lead glass windows with enchanted looking people dining together in dim candlelight. The quiet sounds of Chet Baker could be heard under the commotion of lively dinner conversation, the atmosphere was romantic and convivial at once, the best sort of combination.

Richard walked in, all refreshed, pressed and dressed, and I must confess, I felt a twinge of excitement in my tummy when our eyes met. I introduced him to my friends, and the conversation, laughter, and Burgundy flowed all night long.

The food was sensational. We both ordered coq au vin, which was so rich and tender that I may have actually been able to eat it with a dessert spoon. For our final course, an unforgettable chocolate fondant with a lavender-laced molten center that took my breath away. I will never forget the perma-grin I was sporting from ear to ear all evening.

At the end of the meal, Richard excused himself and discreetly paid the entire bill. Clearly chivalry was not dead to him, but I insisted on chipping in as well. Later that evening he told me that it was his birthday. I marveled at his level of modesty, as such information would have certainly been divulged during dinner had it been my birthday.

I wondered, could he be for real?

After we said goodnight, I turned the events of the evening in my head over and over. I came to the conclusion that being selfless and humble is absolutely alluring. Not all, but plenty of men that had previously come into my life were far more preoccupied with their own interests and never seemed to cease speaking in a certain style of egoistic banter; a personality trait that Richard McDonnell did not seem to possess.

Richard was planning to return to Ireland on Valentine’s Day and inquired,

“So, tell me, who will be your Valentine this year?”

…to which I demurely replied,

“why, my father, of course”.

When I arrived at my office on the morning of his departure, I was greeted with an enormous basket of beautiful flowers and a card that read,

“Well, you’re my Valentine”.

I was hooked.

That romantic gesture launched over a year of transatlantic dating romance, the requisite meeting of the families, (my father gave his blessing the minute he realized I couldn’t stop “smiling like a Cheshire Cat” whenever we were together), and hopping around to holiday spots together as I traveled on production business overseas. Soon, we knew that we wanted to spend more time together on a permanent basis, which was a glorious notion, except this meant one of us would have to uproot and relocate.

We were two people who had fallen hopelessly in love who had to make a choice, which wasn’t going to be easy. I knew that Richard wasn’t in a position to “relocate” his family farm, and my work was seemingly more flexible, but I couldn’t be sure.

Finally, I decided brazenness could pay off; I took the risk and leaped!

 

hen

Rich Chocolate Buttermilk Cake
Over the years, I have come to the realisation that a farmer’s affinity for chocolate could quite simply be attributed to energy-craving exhaustion. Nevertheless, it is a family favorite so I decided early on that I would have to perfect a chocolate cake that the whole farm would love. I wanted to create a creamy, mellow, super moist chocolate-y-but-not-overpoweringly-so chocolate layer cake. The test was on. I started with a sour cream chocolate cake, then tried crème fraîche, and even tried cream cheese. While a couple of those tasted very nice, not until I incorporated buttermilk did I discover the ideal formula. This is a rich, dense, somewhat tangy cake with a super-buttery chocolate buttercream icing and creamy deep chocolate ganache. It is well suited for chocolate loving family and friends, yet still a treat for those who claim they aren’t crazy for chocolate. Make this decadent cake for Valentine’s Day, I swear it is totally tastes like love
Makes one 9” layer cake
For the Cake
1¾ cups (218g) all-purpose flour
2 cups (400g) granulated white sugar
¾ cup (90g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1½ tsp baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup (237ml) buttermilk
½ cup (113g) butter, melted
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 cup (237ml) hot coffee (or 2 tsp instant coffee in 1 cup boiling water)
For the chocolate filling:
7 oz (200g) dark chocolate (70 percent cocoa solids or more), chopped
2 sticks + 1 tablespoon (17 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
4 egg yolks
1 1/4 cups (156g) confectioner’s sugar, sifted
For the chocolate ganache:
5 oz (140g) dark chocolate (about 52 percent cocoa solids), chopped
1 1/4 cups (300ml) heavy cream
To decorate:
Chocolate curls
Unsweetened cocoa powder and confectioner’s sugar, to dust.
Bake the cake:
Preheat oven to 350f/175c degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch baking pans and line with parchment paper circles. Set aside.
In the large bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Add eggs, buttermilk, melted butter and vanilla extract and beat until smooth (about 3 minutes). Remove bowl from mixer and stir in hot coffee. The batter will be runny.
Divide batter evenly between the two pans and bake on middle rack of oven for about 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Allow to cool 15 minutes in pans, then run a butter knife around the edges of each cake. Pop out and allow to cool on wire cooling rack.
To make the filling:
Melt the chocolate in a bain marie or a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of hot water. Set aside to cool slightly. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter in standing mixer for at least 10 minutes at high speed, until pale and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and confectioner’s sugar and beat vigorously for another 5 minutes. Once the butter mixture is thoroughly mixed, remove 2 tablespoons and stir it into the cooled, melted chocolate. Then slowly pour the melted chocolate down the side of the mixing bowl (to prevent egg mixture from scrambling) into the butter mixture and fold it in quickly and gently until fully combined and smooth.
To make the ganache
Once the cakes are cooled, you can start making the chocolate ganache. Put the chocolate in a large bowl. Heat the cream to boiling point, then pour it over the chocolate, and stir until it melts. Set aside to cool. With a hand mixer, beat the cooled chocolate cream until it barely forms soft peaks, making sure not to overbeat it, or it will become too stiff to spread.
To assemble the cake
Split the cakes in half horizontally with a sharp serrated knife. Spread the chocolate filling onto each layer and sandwich the layers together. Frost the cake with the chocolate ganache and decorate with chocolate curls, if you wish.

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Slan Abhaile & Happy Valentine’s Day!

Imen x

Cake & farm photos by Imen McDonnell, styling by Sonia Mulford-Chaverri. 

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Banoffee Crepe Cake

09 Feb 2016

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I am delighted to announce the five recipients of my upcoming book, The Farmette Cookbook, Recipes and Adventures from My Life on an Irish Farm: Debra Dorn, Jen Kohan, Martha Bernie, Emily Grace & Sally Savage. Thank you all for your lovely comfort food comments, I had so much fun reading them all! I may be doing another giveaway in March, so stay tuned.

I have also updated my events page with some upcoming book & workshop dates, so please do have a look, we hope to see you around. I will be adding Ireland and UK book event dates very soon, promise!

Now, allow me to introduce this decadent Banoffee crepe cake. Absolutely overly indulgent, somewhat time consuming to prepare, and yet, oh SO necessary on Pancake Tuesday, an Irish holiday for which I am eternally grateful. A celebration that never fails to warm my heart and tickle my tastebuds. This recipe makes the perfect pan(cake) to be enjoyed with family and friends gathered around our table. I hope you enjoy it too.

Banoffee Crepe Cake
Serves 10
Makes about 20 crepes (depending on thickness and diameter)
1 cup plain all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
6 eggs
3/4 litre/21 fl ozs milk
Butter for frying
350ml/12 ozs caramel, toffee, or milk jam
1 tablespoons rum (optional)
300ml/10 fl ozs. heavy dairy cream
½ tsp vanilla extract
3 ripe bananas, sliced into coins
For the crepes:
Combine the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a large bowl with a spout whisk the eggs and milk together until combined. Make a well in the center of the flour and salt mixture and gradually whisk the egg and milk mixture into the flour until thoroughly mixed.
Heat a frying pan on low to medium heat and add a little butter to the pan. Pour a ladle full of batter to cover the bottom of the pan. Don’t get anxious if there are holes or your crepes aren’t perfect-they stack on top of each other. When one crepe side is cooked, gently flip it over. Stack the crepes on top of each other. Cover and cool completely.
Whip the cream and vanilla until stiff peaks form and set aside.
Loosen the caramel with the rum or with a little of the cream if it is too stiff until it is a spreadable consistency.
Assembly:
Spread one crepe with the caramel and then place another on top and place banana slices on top, place another crepe on top and spread that with the whipped cream, and keep alternating until you are on your last crepe.
Scullery notes: you can make the crepes up to two days in advance, or you can buy pre-made crepes if you are short on time.

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Slan Abhaile,
Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2016. 

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Forest to Sea Odyssey

29 Jan 2016

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I am delighted to present Mimi and Oddur Thorisson of A Kitchen in France and the blog Manger as the hosts of our next Lens & Larder workshop in the wilds of Connemara at the stunning Ballynahinch Castle Hotel & Estate, February 23-26th, 2016.

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Under the guidance and energy of Mimi & Oddur’s unique perspective and casual elegance, we will collect indigenous ingredients from the land and sea to create recipes, which participants will use to craft their own visual story and discover an exciting translation of food through the lens. Over the course of three nights and two days we will engage in the most tactile way with our ingredients foraging the shore and estate while enjoying the relaxed luxury and friendly atmosphere of Ballynahinch Castle.

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Included:  3 nights luxury accommodation, 1 welcome reception with oysters and Stout, 3 full Irish breakfasts; 2 lunches; 3 dinners including wine and cocktails; all food with a focus on locally sourced, artisan ingredients (vegetarian options will be catered for).

Excluded: Travel to Ireland and transportation to Ballynahinch Castle; Travel insurance; Extras

Cost: USD $2440 USD– EUR €2250 per person sharing dual occupancy. If you prefer a private room, the tuition will be USD $2650 – EUR €2450.  An 80% non-refundable deposit will be required to secure your spot. Final 20% Payment will be due upon arrival at Ballynahinch Castle.

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Due to timing logistics, there will be absolutely no refunds for this workshop. Please make sure you can attend before securing a space for the retreat. We strongly recommend that you to take travel insurance. Owning an SLR camera is preferable.

Please email: lensandlarder@gmail.com to register your interest.

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Mimi Thorisson is the author of Manger, a blog devoted to French cooking that was named “Saveur’s Best Regional Food Blog” in April 2013. Her best-selling cookbook, ‘A Kitchen in France’, published by Clarkson Potter in October 2014, has been translated in Germany, France, Italy, China, Taiwan, Holland and Poland. After a career in television and having lived in Hong Kong, London, Singapore, Reykjavik and Paris, she settled with her photographer husband, Oddur, their 7 children and 10 dogs in the Médoc, South of France. She is the star of Canal+ cooking shows “La Table de Mimi” and “Les desserts de Mimi” in France. Her new upcoming cookbook, “French Country Cooking” will be published in October 2016 with Clarkson Potter.

Oddur Thorisson is an Icelandic photographer. He started his career as an art director and worked his way into photography often combining the two. He has worked for countless companies and organisations and been involved in various magazines and publishing projects like Condé Nast Traveler, Elle, Vogue, Bon Appétit, Wall Street Journal, Food and Wine to name a few. He lives with his wife Mimi, 7 children and 10 dogs in the Médoc, South of France.

Back soon with book recipients announcement and a spring recipe!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Images by Oddur Thorisson. Ballynahinch Castle photo by yours truly.

 

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I know, I know, it’s January and according to every well-meaning food magazine I am supposed to be in full throttle detox-n-dry damnation mode. But, despite my best intentions to become a “new me,” I seem to keep turning up in the kitchen on tippy toes peering into a piping hot oven to supervise blistering dishes of creamy cinnamon and cardamom-scented baked rice pudding. I simply can’t look away from that bubbling picture of gooey goodness; I’m like a school marm with beady eyes on a busy playground, like a magpie on a blackthorn branch ready to swoop down on it’s delicious prey. About every second day, I inevitably find myself hunkered down at my writing desk savouring spoonfuls of irresistibly milky rice pudding by the bellyful.

Someone call Slimming World, I might need an intervention.

In the meantime, I shall choose to view this habit as a sort of restorative treatment, a body wrap of warming and protective wholesome comfort food in preparation for my big year ahead. It’s all about the FOMO on rice pudding. (because you never know when this dairy delight will be extinct) and the YOLO relating to rice pudding (it is actually sort of dangerous.)

The BIG year that I am banging on about would be the year that my first book (aka second baby) is due to hit stores around the world (GULP!) this spring. March 8th to be exact. And, honestly, despite all the minutes, hours, days and years that have gone into bringing this lovechild to life, it still feels like some sort of apparition to me. I suppose until I am actually holding the bouncing hardcover book baby in my hands, I can continue to live my rice pudding dreams. Right?

The Farmette Cookbook, Recipes and Stories from My Life on an Irish Farm is now available for pre-order here, herehere and via all good book outlets. I will be cordially giving away 5 copies upon publication date, so do leave a comment below describing your favourite comfort food (or drink), and your name will be included in the lucky draw.

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Some of my very favourite food heroes got an early sneak peek of the book, and I am gobsmackingly flattered and humbled to share what they had to say (with a heartfelt thanks again to all!)…

“A joyful celebration of life on an Irish farm.  A super, chic book written with the appreciative eye of an outsider who reminds us of the sheer pleasure of living on a dairy farm. Rearing a few table fowl, planting a vegetable garden and an orchard, rediscovering the satisfaction of using home-grown Irish produce to make truly delicious and creative food for family and friends.”—Darina Allen

The Farmette Cookbook is a lovely combination of personal tale and transportive recipe, and it makes me want to come to Ireland tomorrow. In a world full of culinary flimflammery, Imen McDonnell is the real thing: wonderful storyteller and creator of delicious recipes with a traditional edge, all mouthwateringly evocative of this magical place she now calls home.”—Elissa Altman, author of Poor Man’s Feast

“Imen has beautifully captured the rich heritage of Irish farmhouse cooking and cast a 21st century spell on it!”  —Catherine Fulvio, author and award-winning proprietor of Ballyknocken House & Cookery School

“There is magic in Imen McDonnell’s new book, and in her story. Her dedication to uncovering Ireland’s rich food culture and cultivating her own shines through. You’ll want to dive right in, start cooking, and build your own fairy tale.”—Sarah Copeland, author of Feast & Food Director of Real Simple Magazine.

“Imen takes traditional Irish cooking to the next level with her American curiosity and ingenuity. She weaves big city cravings, like potstickers, tacos, banh mi, harissa, pizza, and more, with traditional comfort food made from scratch. Imen’s brave leap of faith and love is a boon for the rest of us: we now have this charming book full of stories and recipes I can’t wait to make.”—Susan Spungen, food stylist, cookbook author & founding food editor of Martha Stewart Living

“It was Imen’s endearing and touching personal writing on all things Irish that first drew me to her beautiful blog.  Her personal journey into the history of traditional Irish recipes is celebrated throughout this carefully considered cookbook.  Filled with stories of old and inspirations from Ireland’s exciting new cooking scene, Imen is putting Irish Farmhouse Cooking firmly back on the map.”—Donal Skehan, Irish food personality and author of Kitchen Hero 

“If you have not yet visited Ireland and tasted its authentic foods, you’ll want to after reading Imen’s new cookbook. Living on an Irish farm has never looked this attractive. What a charming and delicious book!”—Béatrice Peltre, author of La Tartine Gourmande

“A beautiful story of an American city girl falling in love with a dashing Irish farmer and the food that she began to create once settled in rural Ireland. With recipes for everything from Nettle, Sweet Pea and Turf-Smoked Ham Soup to Irish Stout and Treacle Bread, this evocative cookbook will have you wanting to don your wellies and your best apron to grow, cook, and preserve Imen-style.”—Rachel Allen, Irish food personality, bestselling cookbook author, and teacher at the Ballymaloe Cookery School.

Here’s a handful of recipes & images that I love….

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Farmhouse Rice Pudding
One of my mother-in-law’s favorite desserts was a simple creamy, dreamy rice pudding with a spoonful of orchard jam. It took me a few tries to create my own working recipe, and eventually I realized that a simple, old-fashioned baked version yields the perfect consistency to please everyone on the farm. Still super creamy, but with a golden, carmelized skin on top that everyone fights over, this recipe is easy to knock up and serve any day of the week.

Serves 6

1 3/4 cups (414 ml) Evaporated Milk
2 cups (475 ml) whole milk (raw, if you can get it)
4 oz (110 g) pudding or aborio rice
1/3 cup (40 g) golden granulated or superfine sugar
1 whole nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom
2 tablespoons (25 g) butter
1 jar of your favorite jam (optional)

Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C). Lightly butter a 9-inch (23-cm) round or similar sized ovenproof baking dish.
Mix together the evaporated milk and whole milk in a bowl. Stir in the cinnamon and cardamom. Put the rice and sugar in the baking dish, pour in the liquid, and stir well. Grate the whole nutmeg over the surface, then dot the butter on top in little pieces.
Bake on the center shelf of the oven for 30 minutes, then slide the shelf out and stir the mixture well. Bake for another 30 minutes, then stir again. Bake for another hour without stirring.
At the end of the cooking time, the rice grains will be swollen, with pools of creamy liquid all around them, and a carmelized coating on top. Allow to cool slightly then. Slather the top with jam, if you like, and serve.
Scullery Notes: If you cover the pudding completely with a layer of jam, it will be freshest if eaten within two days; otherwise, it will last for week in the fridge.

Which foods bring you comfort?

Slan Abhaile,
Imen

Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell and Sonia Mulford Chaverri.

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Geoffrey pulled the winning name for the Irish Taste Club flavour box, and the winner is: Brenda Smith. Congratulations Brenda! And, thank you to everyone else who left a comment to be in the draw, you are also winning as Irish Taste Club is offering a 10% discount on all orders, just plug in the code FARMETTE10 when you are checking out!

I was planning a long wordy post, mostly to warble on about how crazy things always are around here at this time of year; inspired by the fact that we were recently asked by a journalist to chat about how we work straight through the holidays (animals need to be taken care of 24/7 which puts a damper on any designated holiday time off) and yet still manage to prepare and sit down to enjoy a feast or two of celebration. By and by, there’s no question that it takes nimble planning and a bit of Irish luck…..

……however,

this week I received a timely passage from a dear friend stateside who always reminds me to see things in the best light, and that you can find balance even when you are in a #panickedtiredholidayfarming state of mind.

So, I shall leave you with her simple, earnest, words and a festive recipe for my smashing holiday Gingerbread layer cake with champagne marmalade and juniper-infused fresh dairy cream.

“the holidays are best if you have a spirit of gratitude for what you have….”

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We all have so much to be grateful for….I am certainly grateful to you all! Thank you for following along with my recipes and adventures. Happy holidays!

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Gratitude Gingerbread Layer Cake with Champagne Marmalade & Juniper Cream
This cake is a bit of a show stopper so if you have an event coming up, there will be plenty of oohs and ahhhs when this smashing beauty arrives on the dessert table. Having said that, the cake is easy to make and assembly with a little bit of time and planning. I bake the cakes and infuse the cream the day before so just need whip cream and put it together the following day.

Serves 8-10
For the cake (2 layers):
220g/1 cup butter
300g/ 1 1/4 cup light muscovado sugar (brown sugar)
6tbsp black treacle (molasses)
6tbsp golden syrup (sub more brown sugar)
2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
6 medium eggs
240ml/1 cup milk
700g/ heapng 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3tsp baking soda
Pinch of salt
8tsp ground ginger
3tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp cardamom
215g/2/3 cup of medium cut marmalade (I used Fortnum & Mason’s champagne marmalade because they sent me some and totally merry! You can order Christmas Hampers here)
250g/1 1/2 cups heavy whipped cream
¼ cup juniper berries
Edible Gold spray (optional)

1. To be done a day ahead: Place juniper berries into a container, add heavy cream. Cover and place back into fridge until the next day. Strain cream and then whip cream until firm.
2. Preheat the oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 and grease and line 2x 20cm round cake tins with greaseproof paper.
3. Gently heat the butter, brown sugar, golden syrup, treacle and grated ginger in a saucepan on a low heat stirring often.
4. Measure and combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Sift the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, ground ginger, allspice, cardamom and pinch of salt and stir until well combined. Leave to one side.
5. Once the sugar has dissolved in the saucepan take off the heat and set aside to cool down. Gradually add in the eggs, continuously stirring. Next, add in the milk. You can use a whisk at this point or just continue to beat with a wooden spoon. (or use a stand mixer)
6. Pour the wet mixture in with the dry ingredients and stir/fold until the wet and dry ingredients are thoroughly combined.
7. Separate the mixture into even portions in the 2 x 20cm cake tins and bake in oven for 45-50 minutes until baked through and a knife comes out clean . Turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool.
8.To assemble your cake, spoon a little of the marmalade onto your cake plate and pop on the base layer, the marmalade will help to hold the cake in place like icing would. Cover the base layer in a heavy spread of the marmalade using a palette knife or spatula. Next, dollop the juniper-infused cream onto top of the marmalade. Add second ginger cake layer.
9. For the top of the cake, top with sugar-glazed clementine, lime, or lemon slices. Decorate by studding with juniper berries and shimmer with gold spray.
10. Best served on the same day, or store in the refrigerator covered in plastic wrap. It should keep in the  for up to 3 days.
Scullery Notes: This type of cake is loosely based on the classic Victoria Sponge. In keeping with tradition, serve small slices and eat with your hands like a sandwich!

Slan Abhaile,

With Gratitude,

Imen xx

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2015

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On Sunday afternoon, we joined Grandad on an adventure down to the wood to check on the honeybees. We had very little honey this harvest, so he is keeping a very close eye on the little buzzers. When we arrived, I was surprised by all the holly berries already on the trees, although the last few years when I’ve gone down in December to harvest bits for our annual girly DIY foraged wreath party, the berries had all been eaten by the birds. I suppose the wood is their home after all.

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As Michael, Richard and Geoffrey carefully peeked at the hives, armed in their suits and smokers, I looked on curiously, while daydreaming about creating some sort of masterful honey-baked revelation.

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Honey, Pumpkin & Sage Cake

Since Thanksgiving is tomorrow I thought adding pumpkin to a sweet honey cake was maybe not revelatory, but definitely apropos for the occasion and something a little different. The sage just gives it a lovely rounded out flavour…..I love herbs & spices in cakes, I have an amazing caraway seed cake in my upcoming book as well. When used in the right measures, sage in a cake is never superfluous. For this recipe, it is simply infused in the honey mixture for a subtle sage note that pairs beautifully with the pumpkin and honey. If you don’t have access to self-raising flour, you can use all-purpose flour with 2 tsp of baking powder and ½ tsp salt as a substitute.

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 170g/6oz raw honey
140g/5oz butter
85g/3oz light muscovado or light brown sugar
2-3 fresh clary sage leaves, plus more for decorating
2 eggs, beaten
55g/2 oz pumpkin puree
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
225g/8oz self raising flour, sieved
For the glaze
55g/2oz icing sugar (optional)
1 tbsp raw honey
hot water

Preheat oven to 180C/350F/Gas 3 and butter and line the bottom of a 7in/18cm
springform cake pan.
Measure the honey, butter, sugar and sage leaves into a medium saucepan and heat gently
until melted. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Once cooled slightly
remove sage leaves.
Combine honey mixture, eggs, pumpkin, vanilla, cinnamon and flour in a mixing bowl
and beat until smooth.
Spoon into the cake pan and bake for 40-45 minutes until the cake is springy to the touch
and shrinking slightly from the sides of the pan.
Cool slightly before turning out onto a wire rack.
While the cake is still warm, make the icing by mixing the sugar and honey together with 2-3 teaspoons of hot water. Poke the top of the cake with a toothpick and drizzle honey sauce over the top and decorate with sage leaves
Scullery Notes: for less sweet version, leave out the glaze, it’s just as lovely with a dollop of freshly whipped cream, or brandy cream!

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I will announce the Irish Taste Club recipient on my next post! Happy Thanksgiving!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

 

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Sunday Bits

22 Nov 2015

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Oh dear.

It’s been far too long since I last put together one of these sassy Sunday Bits. But, between farming, mothering, cooking, writing, homework and every possible other thing I can commit to (mad woman), having a free moment to blog is becoming as scarce as hen’s teeth.

Over the last few weeks….we’ve welcomed at least a dozen new calves, celebrated our son’s first decade, minded our 10.5 year old Airedale Terrier, Ted, while he has been struggling with some health issues, I traveled to Dublin to give an extremely passionate talk on Irish dairy farming for Catherine Cleary’s Appetite Talks, spent an evening at the American Ambassador to Ireland’s residence in Dublin listening to Danny Meyer talk about hospitality as a part of the Creative Minds series, and hung out with many, many fabulous foodcentrics like myself (pictured with me are Domini Kemp, Jo Murphy and Susan Jane White all in our celebratory green), our 3rd Lens & Larder workshop took place at Ballynahinch Castle in Connemara with Susan Spungen and Gentl & Hyers (we are building our L&L website with my designer friends, Hayes Design across the Atlantic on Martha’s Vineyard right now so stay tuned for more images there, but the top image was taken by Gentl & Hyers of our big table feast moment), I harvested potatoes, French blue leeks, parsnips, celery, horseradish, purple kale and loads of lettuces and herbs from our kitchen garden, foraged for sloes, rosehips, bramble and elderberries, harvested honey with my father in law, went to an incredible ladies sidesaddle meet at the local Franciscan Friary, attended a thought-provoking “SpeakEATsy” dinner at Cloughjordan Community Farm and Eco-Village, and spent the night at the remarkable Cloughjordan House, where we will hopefully be producing a Lens & Larder retreat next year, and, of course, there has been plenty of baking to go around….including gypsy pie!

…….And, in other dalliances,

I am going to be co-teaching a workshop in Australia next April!!! Yes, still pinching myself and relishing in this news. I feel so honored to be partnering with the super lovely fellow farmer, Sophie Hanson of Local Lovely, and the incredibly talented photographer, Luisa Brimble to present a workshop of food, photography, and traditional Irish farmhouse kitchen skills with a few recipes from my book at the gorgeous Kimbri Farm in the Rydal Blue Mountains, about 2 hours from Sydney. For more details and registration, visit Local-Lovely.

I was recently introduced to The Irish Taste Club, magnificent gift boxes filled with very special Irish artisan food products such as Ed Hick’s fabulous bacon jam, Dunany Flours, Wild Irish Sea Vegetables Kombu, and many more exclusively Irish products that can be delivered to the USA and abroad each month. Leave a comment below to be in the draw for your own free gift box, and spread the word! The owners of this company are just darling, and these gift boxes make for the perfect holiday pressie for homesick Irish abroad!

I have begun collaborating with Aran Sweaters, writing recipes and taking photos for their beautiful blog…have a peek!

The beautiful Swedish watch company, Daniel Wellington, asked us to photograph one of their timepieces, so I let Richard do the modelling, as seen in the image below….click here for 15% off using the code MODERNFARMETTE.

I filed my first online food/drink column for Town & Country (UK) this week, will share the link when the first piece is published on Tuesday. Very excited about this new work!

Ballymaloe Litfest has announced their line-up for their sensational spring event. Again, holiday pressies people!!

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Okay, I think that it is for now…….over and out, shall be sharing a lovely new winter recipe soon. Don’t forget to leave a comment to be in the draw for an Irish Taste Club gift box!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

 

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