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INT. Irish country bedroom. SATURDAY morning, before SUNRISE.

“Mom, time to get up! When can we go meet the kids?”

I slowwwwly, squintedly, open one eye, blink twice, then try to focus on the ebullient face of a little farmer who seems far too jovial upon waking for my fragile morning head to manage. (note to self: making homemade mead might not be a good routine to start after all)

The clock reads 6:41am.

Confused, I mumble, “kids? what kids?”

He, in his best clever clogs lilt, points out, “Not kid kids, mother… baby goat kids! Remember?”

I pull the covers over my head.

He pulls them down.

I pull them back up.

I lose.

“Your hair looks really weird mom”

Baby goats are a treat.

We don’t have them on our farm.

We want them here, but we don’t have them here. (YET)

Farm envy. It is possible.

I throw back the duvet and drag myself out of bed. As I draw open the shades I tell myself that I should always be the one who is awake first no matter what day of the week it is. Mother guilt, can’t go without a daily dose, right?

We rustle up some brekky.

And, text our goat mama friend.

FB goat mama friend.

Wait.

Weed. (highly recommend weeding while waiting, soothes anxiety)

Wait.

Wonder if..…. “Mom, let’s just turn up at their house.”

Nah, still not quite Irish enough for that yet. Need confirmation for visitations.

Wait.

Walk to our farm to feed our own babies.

Work out a plan to visit the following day with a bonus: another new kid happened!

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INT. Irish country bedroom. SUNDAY morning, before SUNRISE.

“Mom, time to get up! When can we go meet the kids?”

I slowwwwly, squintedly, open one eye, blink twice, then try to focus on the ebullient face of a little farmer who seems far too jovial upon waking for my fragile morning head to manage. (note to self: making homemade mead might not be a good routine to start)

The clock reads 6:41am.

Confused, I mumble, “kids? what kids?”

He, in his best clever clogs lilt, points out, “Not kid kids, mother… baby goat kids! Remember?”

I pull the covers over my head.

He pulls them down.

I pull them back up.

I lose.

“Your hair looks really weird mom”

Baby goats are a treat.

We don’t have them on our farm.

We want them here, but we don’t have them here. (YET)

Farm envy. It is possible.

And, off we went…..

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Afterwards, I couldn’t resist making some fresh cheese. (see my fresh farmer cheese method here, just swap raw goats milk for cow’s milk and use a tbsp of lemon juice instead of vinegar for creamier texture)

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Followed by fresh cheesecake.

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Goats Milk Cheesecake with Woodland Honey
This is a super easy, non fussy fresh cheesecake that is always a hit with family and friends. Prepare in the morning and have it for dessert in the evening. The goats cheese provides a richer, fuller flavour than cow’s milk cream cheese, and making the cheese fresh makes it even more wholesome. The honey gives it a bit of a sweetness boost for the finish. I love my father-in-law’s honey from down in the wood, it’s delicious!
Ingredients
125 grams/ 1 ¼ cup crumbled digestive biscuits or graham crackers (Bourbon
biscuits would be nice too)
75 grams/ 6 tbsps soft butter ends ingredient
300 grams/ 10oz soft goats cheese (homemade or from the market)
60 grams/ ½ cup icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
250 ml/ 1 cup heavy cream
Honey for drizzling
Method
1. Process biscuits in a food processor until they turn to large crumbs, then add the butter and pulse again to make bring the mixture together.
2. Press mixture into a 20cm / 8 inch springform tin; press a little up the sidesto form a ridge.
3. Beat together the goats cheese, icing sugar, vanilla extract in a bowl until smooth
4. Lightly whip the double cream, and then fold it into the cream cheese mixture.
5. Spoon the cheesecake filling on top of the biscuit base and smooth with a spatula.
6. Put it in the fridge for 4 hours or overnight.
7. Drizzle liberally with honey and serve.

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Portraits for Marte Marie Forsberg

If you have ever dreamed of learning about food styling and photography in the heart of the Irish countryside, here is your chance.

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I am teaming up with Cliodhna Prendergast of Breaking Eggs  and Ballyvolane House to present a very special Lens & Larder Spring 2015, a unique opportunity to learn the art of Food Photography and Styling from acclaimed international stylist & photographer, Marte Marie Forsberg.

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Join a small group of fellow food styling and photography enthusiasts on this creative retreat to a historic Irish country house to tell your very own special food stories through the lens of your camera and the ambient light + shadows of Ballyvolane House, County Cork, one of Ireland’s most visually inspiring and intimate houses.

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For two full days, Marte Marie Forsberg will gently guide each participant in telling visual food stories using “your camera eyes” and “your styling eyes” to create beautiful, simple settings, and photograph delicious tales of gathering, preparing, feasting and lingering on food made with honest ingredients sourced from the haven of Ballyvolane estate and surrounding farms.

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This is a beginner’s level workshop, but a DSLR camera is required with an understanding of the basic elements of photography. You will learn basic natural lighting & lensing techniques, visual styling; both food and props, as well as some post production tips. This class is an invaluable introduction for aspiring food photographers and stylists starting to build a portfolio.

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Marte Marie Forsberg is a self taught food and lifestyle photographer from Norway. She’s lived in many beautiful and exciting places around the world during her studies in fashion design and art history, and after years on the road she found her tool, the camera, settled in an old thatched cottage in the English countryside, and began telling visual stories around food full time.

Whether it is rediscovered her Norwegian cultural roots and heritage, exploring the food scene around the world, or simply discovering the local pub and restaurants around her cottage in England, she takes great delight in capturing these food stories with her camera.

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Today Marte Marie, works for food and lifestyle magazines around the world and has a varied client list with in the food and fashion industry doing regular jobs for brands on location and in her charming little cottage in the English countryside.

You can view Marte Marie’s beautiful body of work here

When:

April 21st to April 24th, 2015

What:

2 days/3 nights = 2 full days filled with instruction interspersed with hands-on practice. There will be a small amount of time off to explore the area individually as well.

Included:  3 nights accommodation at Ballyvolane House, 3 full Irish breakfasts; 2 lunches; morning and afternoon tea/coffee and 3 evening dinners. All food will have a focus on locally sourced, artisan ingredients (vegetarian options will be catered for). One foraging for wild ingredients expedition is also included.

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

Cost:

EUR €1,550 ($1765 USD) per person sharing dual occupancy or EUR €1,775 ($2022 USD) for private accommodation. A 90% non-refundable deposit will be required to secure your spot. The private rooms are very limited so will be offered on a first come, first served basis.

Final 10% Payment  will be due on April 10th, 2015.

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 recommend that you to take travel insurance. Tripod and computer with photo imaging software are not necessary, but would be useful)

Email lensandlarder@gmail.com to register.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

 

 

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[turkey harvests.]

holidays.

new Years.

[weddings.]

Birthdays.

New beginnings.

[old friends.]

[Family time.]

farming time.

Flax Dreams.

linen Fairs.

[Milk Jam.]

beach walks.

[Cookbook Edits.]

Paris [Through the Excited Eyes of a Little Farmer.]

More life, less blogging. 

Rather than banter on with 5000+ words about all the reasons it’s been awhile since my last blogpost, I thought it might be nicer to sum it up e.e. cummings-style. Bit more poetic, right?

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It’s been busier than a milking parlour at 4pm these days, but let’s jump right back in with some beautiful bits of bacchanalia.

First thing’s first, the lucky recipient of Darina Allen’s book is Kit Mitchell, whom I have emailed for shipping details. Many congratulations Kit! This book is a true treasure.

I have one big blogging resolution this year and that is to share more vintage Irish recipes with you in 2015 (with more frequency too). I have been spending some clandestine time researching antique housekeeper’s books and hand-written recipes from the sculleries of some very old Irish estates and cooking hearths of thatched farms. These recipes have proven to be both extraordinarily fascinating and quite simply delicious. I hope you will agree, so please stay tuned.

It would be impossible to not be absolutely smitten with acclaimed The Year in Food blogger Kimberley Hasselbrink’s first book, Vibrant Food. I made her gorgeous grilled Halloumi with strawberries and herbs for lunch today and I swear I was instantly transported to a sunny day in Santorini.

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Kimberley creates irresistible masterpieces from fresh, vibrant, honest ingredients and there isn’t one recipe in her book that I wouldn’t want to prepare.

Baking Mad sent me a crazy good care package filled to the brim with baking goods and asked me to try my hand at some recipes on the Baking Mad website. Any excuse to make salted milk jam (aka salted caramel) right?!

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Find the recipe for salted caramel ring doughnuts (pictured at the top) below.

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I was thrilled to contribute to GIY International’s cookbook Grow, Eat, Cook along with many amazing Irish food personalities such as Rachel Allen, Donal Skehan, Clodagh McKenna and more. You can find my recipe for a Wild Chanterelle, Caraway, and Toonsbridge Buffalo Cheese Tart in the October chapter. Order the book online here.

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Some big news. I have been asked to contribute to the new (and improved) Condé Nast Traveler with Editor-in-Chief, Pilar Guzman, and Creative Director Yolanda Edwards at the helm. You may be familiar with Guzman and Edwards as the team that previously headed up editorial at Martha Stewart Living, and before that basically reinvented the parenting magazine genre with the magnificent (and much missed) Cookie magazine.

I have long been inspired by this dynamic duo, have followed their trailblazing paths throughout the years, so the invitation to be a part of their team of tastemakers was certainly a huge honor and privilege. The new Traveler feels so fresh and fun and attainable, yet still holds onto a timeless spirit of splendor, romance, and adventure. I will be submitting food stories from Ireland and abroad. Here’s a look at my first piece.  And, the cover of the fabulous February issue.

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I did a fun interview for Australian SBS Feast last month….a little bit of this and that….have a peek here if you fancy.

And finally, I have begun edits on my own book, Farmette, Stories and Recipes from Life on an Irish Farm (Roost Books). The process is moving along a bit slower than I presumed, but has been just as fulfilling as imagined. There will definitely be a post on the entire process once we are nearly ready for print. You will be the first to know the precise publishing date.

Back soon, promise!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Food Images and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mince pies. Those lovely little devils. If only they had been called mince pies when I was a child. There seems to be a bit more mystery to a mince pie than a minceMEAT pie. Meat was not something I desired in a pie when I was 10 and sitting at my grandmother’s Thanksgiving Day table waiting patiently for dessert. No matter if such a pie had been lovingly prepared, nestled up in a tea towel, and kept cosy on top of a warm tumble dryer alongside his sweet, fragrant friends, pumpkin and apple.

“No mincemeat pie for me,” I would say year after year, which was always followed by the obligatory “one day you’ll know what you’re missing.” (which, by the by, has now been inducted (inherited?) into my ridiculous lexicon of parental vernacular, alongside “were you born in a barn?” (close!) and “hold your horses!” (goes without saying)

Ironically, and most happily surprising, I really didn’t know what I was missing when I declined Grandma Johnson’s mincemeat pie. Turns out this mincing of meat is really pretty terrific. When it doesn’t have meat in it, that is. (Although, having learned that mincemeat pie actually originated in the Middle East, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at a savoury/sweet Ottolenghi-fied twist on the classic…but I digress…)

In my humble mincemeat research, I found a North American filling recipe that was published in 1854 which included chopped neat’s (beef) tongue, beef suet, blood raisins (yikes!), currants, mace, cloves, nutmeg, brown sugar, apples, lemons, brandy and orange peel. It was said that this mincemeat could be preserved for up to ten years. Then, on one special Monday at the turn of the 20th century, meatless mincemeat was introduced and the world was a better place. Now that I have sampled a host of variations, I am proud to point out that I am particularly partial to a cranberry-walnut blended mincemeat filling.

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I mention all of this because mince pies are the cornerstone of Irish holiday baking. They are what hot cross buns are to Easter. Quotidian. They are always the first smattering of Christmas spirit to hit the bakeries and markets across this fair country and the last to leave. When you see the mince pies, you know that elaborate Christmas cakes are not far behind. Their debut tips you off to the perfect storm of puddings that lies ahead. From that day forward, you strap on your Santa face and carry forth honorably to channel Darina Allen in your kitchen. You are granted the perfect excuse to whip up a boozy brandy butter, and sip copious amounts of mulled wine with friends and family… or, not with friends and family.

This weekend, we had our 2nd annual DIY holiday wreath-making party. The first thing I did was bake up a batch of Ballymaloe mince pies along with a few fun variations. Afterward, Geoffrey and I headed down to the wood to collect holly and ivy, evergreens and laurel leaves. We snipped branches from the olive tree and rosemary in our garden. Then, we made our traditional rosemary-mint cake, this time with chocolate instead of a snowy white sponge. My sister-in-law and her three children came over on Sunday afternoon and we gathered round the table to craft three wreaths. One for each of our homes, and another to place on Peggy’s grave with a prayer. We sipped mulled wine and nibbled on warm pies slathered up in zesty orange brandy butter and planned the big Christmas Day meal. Then, when everyone went home and Geoffrey was off to the farm to feed the calves, I cleaned up our workstations, sat down, and savoured every last morsel of the lone mince pie left on the platter.

Grandma would be proud.

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I am giving away one copy of Darina Allen’s A Simply Delicious Christmas. This epic compilation was first published in 1989, and is a much-loved cookbook, with tattered, well-worn copies surely to be found in most households in Ireland. Twenty-five years on, Darina is back with a stunning new edition, revised and updated to reflect today’s tastes. A Simply Delicious Christmas caters to every need over the festive season, from planning ahead for the Christmas Day feast to suggestions for drinks and nibbles for entertaining, including those magnificent mince pies; it really is what Irish Christmas memories are made of!

Be sure and leave a comment at the end of the blogpost to be in the drawing to win a copy of Darina’s beautiful new book before Christmas!

The traditional, tried and true, Ballymaloe House Mince Pie recipe
Ingredients
225g (8oz) plain flour
175g (6oz) butter, chilled and cut into cubes
1 dessertspoon icing sugar, sieved
a pinch of salt
a little beaten egg or egg yolk and water to bind
1lb mincemeat (see recipe below)
egg wash
Method
Sieve the flour into a bowl. Toss the butter into the flour and rub it in with your fingertips. Add the icing sugar and a pinch of salt. Mix with a fork as you gradually add in the beaten egg (do this bit by bit because you may not need all of the egg), then use your hand to bring the pastry together into a ball. It should not be wet or sticky. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/gas mark 4
Roll out the pastry until it’s quite thin – about 3mm (1/8 inch) Stamp into rounds 7.5 (3 inch) in diameter and line shallow bun tins with the discs. Put a good teaspoonful of mincemeat into each tin, dampen the edges with water and put another round on top. Brush with egg wash and decorate with pastry leaves or stars.
Bake the pies in the preheated oven for 20 minutes approx. Allow them to cool slightly, then dredge with icing or caster sugar. Serve with Irish whiskey cream (or brandy butter.)

Myrtle Allen’s Ballymaloe Homemade Mincemeat
Makes 3.2kg (7lb) approx 8-9 pots
Ingredients
2 cooking apples
2 organic lemons
900g (2lbs) Barbados sugar (soft, dark brown sugar)
450g (1lb) beef suet
450 (1lb) sultanas
224 (8oz) currants
110g (4oz) candied citrus peel
70ml (2.5fl oz) Irish whiskey
2 tbsp Seville orange marmalade
pinch of salt
Method
Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/gas mark 4
Core and bake whole apples in the preheated oven for 30 minutes approx. Allow to cool. When they are soft, remove the skin and pips and mash the flesh into a pulp.
Grate the rind from the lemons on the finest part of the stainless steel grater, squeeze out the juice and stir into the pulp
Grate the rind from the lemons on the finest part of a stainless steel grater, squeeze out the juice and stir into the pulp. Add the other ingredients one by one, and as they are added, mix everything thoroughly. Put into sterilized jars, cover and leave to mature for two weeks before using. This mincemeat will keep for two to three years in a cool, airy place.

The winner of Rochelle Bilow’s signed book, The Call of the Farm is YVONNE CORNELL. Many, many thanks to everyone for their heartfelt turkey comments, you have helped me in ways you’ll never know!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2014

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I am currently mesmerized by a marvelous new book entitled The Call of the Farm: An Unexpected Year of Getting Dirty, Home Cooking, and Finding Myself, by Rochelle Bilow. Rochelle is a New Yorker who serendipitously fell in love with a farm and a farmer while working on assignment as a fledgling food writer. The book weaves a tale that I know, oh, so well. She feels kindred to me. As I turn the pages, I long to meet, sip coffee, and swap farmer love stories with her. I’m prone to such sappy impulses.

At the end of each chapter there are recipes. Not just any recipes; honest dishes and pies and dinners and lunches and breakfasts that celebrate the bounty and beauty of seasonal, farm-to-table eating. Not only did Rochelle roll up her sleeves and muck out in the farmyard, she harvested many meals in the ‘Stone Hill Farm’ kitchen with each passing week, filled with heart and heartiness alike.

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About midway through her book, Rochelle describes the day when chickens are processed for their farm CSA customers. They are referred to as “meat birds” and she admits to having a surprisingly nonchalant attitude toward slaughtering the animals. This completely intrigues me.

As I pour hot water over a tea bag with one hand, with the other I hold Rochelle’s book close to my face, carefully reading and re-reading each chicken paragraph. I walk to my desk, sit down, blow the steam off my teacup and continue to scan for clues that could guide me to that place of tolerance, of accepting the cycle and sacrifice of farm livestock. It doesn’t happen. Rochelle seems to be just as struck by the notion that she didn’t have a strong emotional, visceral reaction to the activities of that day as I am.

Brave. Efficacious. Levelheaded.

Farmworthy.

The opposite of me, I think to myself.

I can’t stop reading.

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It’s worth mentioning that Rochelle’s book came in the post right on the wings of the arrival of our baby turkeys earlier this autumn. In yet another one of my Grow-It-Yerself efforts, I decided to raise a small number of turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. And, while it has been an absolute joy, it is also a massive emotional challenge. Let’s just say, even though I know I am only postponing the inevitable, our 10 turkeys have been given a pardon for Thanksgiving. See below.

Turkey Journal: October 26th, 2014
The turkeys are just about 14 weeks old and I cannot see how I will manage letting them go for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They rely on me to take care of them, and feed them, and provide fresh water for them, and keep them warm and dry and safe. I know that’s all part and parcel, but I swear they have the look of love in their eyes when they see me. Sometimes I peer out the shutters of my kitchen window with a view to Turkey Hollow secretly hoping a turkey will have found a way out. I’m beginning to think this is not for me.

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I know, I know, farmers are not in the business of rearing pets. I mean, my husband tends to the poultry raised on the home farm, but those chickens are birds that I’ve never quite connected with; I prefer to spend more time with the dairy cows and calves. Besides, ten turkeys is different than a barn full of broilers, even if they are free-rangers. For the most part, our chickens leave the farm when they are ready to be processed and the next time we see them, they are roasting in the oven.

My turkeys are different. We are intimate. And, I am finding it difficult to cope with the fact that I will personally be escorting them to their private undertaker in just a matter of weeks and walking away with packages of Aga-ready dinners.

On top of all the emotion, I keep having a strong impulse to urge all meat eaters that they should have to raise and butcher an animal at least once in their lifetime. But, then I question myself, why force this issue? Yes, it is true that more people (especially newer generations) should know where their meat comes from and how it is raised. But, not sure having to go through such measures is practical or necessary. Nor, if I am honest, will it help the uneasiness with the personal endeavour that lies ahead of me.

On the other hand, our 8-year old son seems to have no qualms about it. It seems the same goes for all the animals he has met that are being reared for food. He’s very pragmatic about it all, saying “these animals have a purpose and we are giving them a good life while we can.” I’m astonished by his candor, but quickly realize that is the difference between a child raised on a farm, and someone like myself who was a true townie until I met my husband.

I decide to make contact Rochelle herself and plea for advice. She reasons, “it is exactly your respect, regret, and hesitation to harvest them that makes me believe you are worthy to do so.”

All of this makes sense, but still,   ….can someone please pass the tissues?

And, a piece of this pie?!

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Rochelle Bilow’s Butternut & Browned Butter Pie

A fantastic idea for Thanksgiving this week. Rochelle says this version is creamier than pumpkin pie, and I’d have to agree. Maple syrup stands in for sugar and the almond extract adds another dimension to the flavour that was very welcomed in our house. Our son, an extreme lover of pumpkin pie, ate three slices on baking day and asked if we could make another for Thanksgiving. My father in law, who is not a fan of pumpkin pie, loved this version. I added rye pastry leaves for an optional festive garnish, the cutters are Williams-Sonoma from a few year’s back.  Try Rochelle’s beautiful butternut & browned butter pie for yourself!

Serves eight to ten

For the filling
3 cups peeled, cubed butternut squash
6 tablespoons (3⁄4 stick) butter, divided
Pinch of salt
1⁄4 cup maple syrup
2 large eggs
3⁄4 cup whole milk
1⁄2 teaspoon almond extract
For the crust
7 tablespoons (3⁄4 stick plus 1 tablespoon) butter, melted
1⁄4 cup maple syrup
11⁄4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
Pinch of salt
1⁄4 teaspoon ground ginger
Method
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Place the squash on a rimmed baking sheet with 2 tablespoons butter, then place in the preheated oven. Once the butter has melted, stir to coat the squash with it and place it back in the oven. Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until the squash is tender.

Meanwhile, begin making the crust: pour the 7 tablespoons of melted butter into a medium mixing bowl. Add 1⁄4 cup maple syrup and whisk to combine. In a large bowl, blend together the pastry flour, salt, and ginger, then use a wooden spoon to stir in the butter and syrup mixture. The dough will be wet and greasy.

Using your fingers, press the dough into a 9-inch glass pie pan so it is uniform thickness and reaches slightly over the edges of the pan. Trim any shaggy edges, then use your thumb and forefinger to crimp the ends. Bake about 18 minutes, until puffed and lightly golden. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Maintain oven temperature.

Once the squash is cooked, begin to assemble the filling. Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the milk solids have begun to brown and smell nutty. Set aside to cool slightly. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the cooked squash, browned butter, 1⁄4 cup maple syrup, eggs, milk, and almond extract. Puree to combine.

Spread the filling into the prepared crust, smoothing the top evenly. Lower the oven temperature to 350°F and bake 25 to 30 minutes, until the filling has just set. If the crust begins to brown too much, cover with aluminum foil. Let cool completely before serving.

I am giving away one signed copy of Rochelle’s incredible book, The Call of the Farm, for Thanksgiving! Leave a comment below & I will announce the lucky winner on my next post.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2014. The gorgeous brown linen napkin in the second photo was a gift from the lovely 31 Chapel Lane, Dublin, I would encourage a visit!

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The Lens & Larder maiden voyage was a great success and I’m happy to report that I am already plotting and planning another retreat for Spring 2015…stay tuned for more details. It was positively wonderful to work with my partners, my dear friend, former chef, and fellow food enthusiast, Cliodhna Prendergast of Breaking Eggs, and her husband, Patrick O’Flaherty, the ebullient and charming general manager of Ballynahinch Castle. Thank you for giving so much of yourselves and the idyllic and raw setting of your home in Connemara, and for offering so much at such a fair tariff. Your latest Condé Nast Traveler accolade could not be more deserved.

We were also privileged to share several very generous gifts from friends: Helen James, Makers & Brothers, Jameson Select Reserve Irish Whiskey, Hen and Hammock, Feast Journal, 31 Chapel Lane, Superfolk, The Tweed Project, and Connemara Marble. A massive thank you to each and every one of you for your support, our students were absolutely thrilled with their magnificent bag of treats.

We were exceptionally fortunate to have special contributions from modern medicine girl, Claire Davey of America Village Apothecary, stylist, Triona Lillis  who kept us fed at the schoolhouse and even provided extra pretty props from her vintage store, and The Ashe family who graciously gave us the run of their schoolhouse on Inishlacken Island. Gosh, we were certainly a lucky, lucky bunch, thank you all. (or, as Beth would say, thanks y’all!)

Our instructors, Beth Kirby and Susan Spungen were incredibly liberal with their teachings which all felt very natural and informal over the two days that we spent making, styling, and shooting together. Everyone seemed to take away something a little different, which is a positive in my view. I feel honoured to have had the chance to work with these two exemplary women in food. Thanks so much again ladies!

Above all, I’d like to extend extraordinary gratitude to the fantastic creatives who took the plunge and came along on this first Lens & Larder retreat. The group was just a savage bunch; I couldn’t have curated a lovelier mosaic of bloggers, photographers, stylists, chefs, bakers, and food crusaders who gathered together from very different backgrounds, levels of experience, and parts of the world. I loved meeting and sharing the experience with each and every one of you and your inspiring, individual, kindred spirits. I’m so grateful that you came along.

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Lily Ramirez-Foran

Skye McAlpine

Claire Ptak

Kristin Perers

Nessa Robins

Anthony O’Toole

Hung Quach

Susan Bell

Mairead Jacob

Brittany Darrah

Niamh Browne

Jette Virdi

Shannon Butler Keane

Hannah Fullenkemper

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I’ll be back with some autumn recipes and a turkey update soon!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Images by Imen McDonnell 2014, Mushroom foraging with brush photo by Skye McAlpine. 

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We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring 

Will be to arrive where we started 

And know the place for the first time.
-T.S. Eliot

Finally. I picked the blackberries. I have no less than ten thorny incisions on my violet-stained fingers to prove it. In Geoffrey’s words, I’ve more than earned a brave brambleberry scout badge.

In a concerted effort to “will” or tame the season….to somehow preserve traditions of y’ore, I patiently lingered until just a day shy of autumn to tackle our humble creepers bursting with ripe fruit.

handbasket

When the day came, I packed up a punnet of necessary things: a flask of strong coffee, some bits to nibble, a special book, gloves and nippers. I set up a workstation by the old cottage at Ballyhahill, and set out to pluck a bucket of deep purple berries from the wall of prickly vines that surround and protect it.

closeupdiary

Despite my efforts to reclaim the bounty of a true fall harvest, to go back to a time when seasons could be held accountable, the swallows have gone and packed up to soar south for their holidays. And, believe it or not, red berries are already beginning to dot our shiny, sharp-leaved holly trees. Hedgerow sloes have been ripe for the picking since mid September…usually not ready until after the first frost. Dare I ask, do these signs point to an early, hard winter? Seasons just seem to come earlier and earlier, but just how far can back can they go….in a nod to a T.S. Eliot poem, could nature somehow arrive back to where it all started?

bucketblackberry

Ten years ago, I couldn’t have told you the difference between a swallow or sparrow and I certainly never knew that sloes were a fruit that grew on a tree; rather, a putrid syrupy “gin” poured as a cheap fizzy cocktail. I, ashamedly, was not at all concerned about climate change or farming or growing my own food. It was far easier to go through life eyes wide shut, worrying about my next new pair of shoes or how many air miles I was stacking up. I had a career that could cunningly give you a false sense of influence; a feeling that honestly never quite sat right with me, but also a feeling for which now I will embarrassingly admit, sure was easy to get used to…

Today, I am forced to reckon with raw nature, and well, it can be daunting. There is no sense of superiority here that’s for certain. We are ruled by nature. It affects everything we do here on the farm. From rearing animals on grass to growing crops for winter fodder. Sowing and cultivating the kitchen garden, and even allowing our new heritage turkeys to frolic in Turkey Hollow, it’s all down to what Mother Nature decides.

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So, I picked the blackberries and left some behind, and I will stubbornly, and perhaps ridiculously, wait every year until it’s truly autumn to take them again.

And now, we feast.

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Blackberry & Apple Tart with a Hint of Sweet Geranium

I learned straight away that any and all things Blackberry and Apple reign supreme here in Ireland during the autumn harvest season. It is certain that any manner of tarts, crumbles, cakes and puddings will be found on the dining tables of Irish country houses at this time of year. It is a tradition that was uncommon to me initially, but one that makes perfect sense as the two fruits do truly sing together. I experimented with adding a hint of sweet geranium essence to these individual tarts and we really enjoyed the subtle addition. Sweet geranium is unrelated to the flowering garden geranium and has leaves in a variety of scents from rose to lemon and even a mint-y version. Of course, you can leave out the sweet geranium syrup infusion altogether for a classic fruit tart with full-on jammy blackberry/tart apple flavour.

Makes 3 miniature tarts, or one standard pie.

INGREDIENTS
For the shortcrust pastry
Scant 1.5 cups/113g butter, softened
Scant 1 cup/200g caster sugar
1 small egg
4 drops vanilla extract
2.5 cups/300g standard plain flour (all purpose)
For the filling
5 sweet geranium leaves
200 mls water
150g caster sugar
80 g butter, plus extra for greasing
100 g golden caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
4-5 Bramley apples, cored, peeled and each cut into wedges
200 g blackberries
1 large free-range egg, beaten
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
METHOD
To make the pastry
1. In a large mixing bowl, lightly beat butter and sugar with a wooden spoon until a light creamy consistency has been achieved.
2. Add egg, vanilla and mix until combined. Add flour and mix to a paste just until pastes comes clean off bowl. (Be careful not to over mix or pastry will become elastic and doughy.)
3. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or even better, overnight.
To make the sweet geranium syrup
1. Place 5 sweet geranium leaves in a saucepan with the water and sugar.
2. Heat until sugar is fully dissolved. Take off heat and set aside to cool.
For the filling
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4.
2. When syrup has cooled to room temperature, pour over blackberries and steep for at least one hour.
3. Put the butter and sugar into a saucepan and, when the butter has melted, add the apples.
4. Slowly cook for 15 minutes with a lid on, then add the infused blackberries, stir and cook for 5 more minutes with the lid off.
Assembly
1. Remove your pastry from the fridge.
2. Dust your work surface with flour, cut the pastry in half and, using a floured rolling pin, roll one of the pieces out until it’s just under 1cm thick. (Rolling the dough between two layers of greaseproof paper will also stop it sticking to your rolling pin.)
3. Butter a shallow 26cm pie dish or three mini tart tins and line with the pastry, trimming off any excess round the edges using a sharp knife.
4. Tip the cooled apples and blackberries into a sieve, reserving all the juices, then put the fruit into the lined pie dish so you have a mound in the middle.
5. Dot each mound with a teaspoon of remaining butter
6. Spoon over half the reserved juices. Brush the edge of the pastry with beaten egg. 6. Roll out the second piece of pastry, just as you did the first, and lay it over the top of the pie.
7. Trim the edges as before and crimp them together with your fingers.
8. Brush the top of the pie with the rest of the beaten egg, sprinkle generously with sugar and the cinnamon, and make a couple of slashes in the top of the pastry.
9. Place the pie on a baking tray and then put it directly on the bottom of the preheated oven for 55 to 60 minutes, until golden brown and crisp.
10. To serve, slice the pie into portions and serve with a generous dollop of custard.

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2014. 

tart

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“Hold on, hold on, hold on…let me go and see, I know there is one tree out there with sweet fruit on it.” My father-in-law pulled on his wellies and rushed out the kitchen door to what Geoffrey and I like to privately call the baby orchard.

I had ambled in moments earlier after checking the gooseberries and black currants (sadly, very sparse this year) along with the young apple, pear and plum trees that he and Peggy planted about six years ago only steps from the scullery.

When I explained that I noticed one tree with a gang of green plums and wondered out loud if they were Greengages, Michael scratched his head and told me he couldn’t be sure, “Peggy wrote the names of all those new trees down when we planted them, but I can’t recall where that list might be now.” These are things you don’t think a second about until someone is gone and you can’t ask them anymore.

He just wanted to get to the sweet. Who cared about those sour green plums. We needed to plunge into a sugary candy-like plum, like the ones he and Geoffrey shared the week before. I couldn’t shake the subtle hint of metaphor between sweetness and sorrow.

cake

Michael came back into the kitchen with one piece of deep purple fruit, opened the cupboard and pulled three more from a brown paper bag. We stood in front of the kitchen sink eating those perfect plums. No words, just the sounds of bite-slurping into the fleshy fruits followed by the telltale mmmm’s and ahhh’s of pure taste ambrosia. When we finished our impromtu picnic, I thanked Michael and he suggested that I head out to the back orchard to check on the older fruit trees.

overheadjam

 

This “old” orchard, which dates back about one hundred years, was heaving with ripe fruit. When I say heaving, this is partially due to the tremendous storm earlier this year that downed several large beech trees and blew over the fruit trees with such a vengeance that they mostly now look more like arched Espaliers than Bramleys; the whole scene suggestive of a fine Dr. Seuss story.

I filled a basket with plums, most of them ripe, and a few with a way to go. And, in the spirit of summer fruits, this sweet surprise was born.

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Orchard Plum + Black Currant Madeira Cake with Mascarpone-Cassis Icing

Madeira Cake did not originate in the Madeira Islands, rather from the Portuguese Madeira wine that would have traditionally been served with this tea cake in Ireland and the UK many years ago. This wildly popular (and, once new-to-me), beautifully buttery, dense cake is normally prepared with just a touch of lemon zest, but I’ve pushed the limits and made it rich with summer fruits, balanced with a creamy mascarpone, cassis-spiked icing. I added black currant jam and a touch of smoked sea salt to the frosting, which is lovely, but definitely optional and not necessary if you prefer a less profound flavour profile. The pretty green plums in the photos were not used in the cake mix; sweet, ripe plums are a must for this recipe. You could cut the recipe in half and leave out the layers + icing altogether for a simple summer fruit Madeira. 

Ingredients
350g/12oz butter, at room temperature
350g/12oz caster sugar
6 free-range eggs
500g/18oz self-raising flour
6 tbsp milk
300g/10 oz peeled, pitted, thinly sliced sweet plums
200g black currant conserve
Method
1. Pre-heat oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Grease two 18cm/7in round cake tins, line the base with greaseproof paper and grease the paper.
2. Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until pale and fluffy about 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating the mixture well between each one and adding a tablespoon of the flour with the last egg to prevent the mixture from curdling.
3. Sift the flour and gently fold in, with enough milk to give a mixture that falls slowly from the spoon. Fold in the sliced plums.
4. Spoon the mixture equally into the prepared tins and lightly level the tops. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 40-50 minutes, or until golden-brown on top and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
5. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, turn it out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.
6. Level out each cake layer with a serrated cake knife so that they easily lay flat on top of one another.
7. Spread a thick layer of black currant conserve on top of bottom cake layer.

Cassis-Mascarpone Icing
Ingredients
450g/1lb mascarpone cheese, softened
350g/12oz unsalted butter, softened
450g/1lb confectioners’ sugar, sifted
3/4 tsp. oak-smoked sea salt (optional)
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3-4 tbsp crème de cassis
1 tbsp black currant conserve (optional)
Method
1.In a large bowl, beat the mascarpone and butter with the mixer on medium speed until very smooth and creamy, about 1 minute.
2. Add the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, crème de cassis, optional sea salt and black currant conserve and beat on medium high until blended and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
3. Cover the frosting and set aside at room temperature until ready to frost cake.
4. Dab a bit of icing on the cake plate. Carefully set the bottom layer of cake (the piece with black currant conserve spread on top) down on the frosting. Sandwich second layer on top.
5. Using a metal spatula, evenly spread a thin layer (about 1/3 cup) of frosting over the entire cake to seal in any crumbs and fill in any gaps between layers. Refrigerate until the frosting is cold and firm, about 20 minutes. Spread the entire cake with the remaining frosting.
6. Refrigerate the cake for at least 4 hours or up to 2 days. This cake is best served slightly chilled or at room temperature.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Recipe, Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2014

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Lens & Larder

14 Aug 2014

ballynahinch

lenslarder10

{SOLD OUT}

I swear I have been dreaming of putting together a gathering that would bring people together to share a convivial food + learning experience in my adopted country for as long as I have been on this farm. My first instinct was to organize a series of farm-to-table harvest weekends. By and by, we’ve done this in small ways, knocking up country suppers with visiting friends which warble on till the wee hours of the morning, leaving little time before milking. So fantastic. Times to relish. Imagery to cherish. Pity, yet hopefully only “for now,” we don’t have the space to host more than a couple of folks. But, since serendipity is no stranger in our lives, after meeting and working with brilliant new friends in the West of Ireland, a plan was hatched to create a harbinger of food, photography and adventure….escape is the pastoral word that pops to mind; to a haven which feels a half a world away.

So now, I am absolutely thrilled to share the very first Lens & Larder creative retreat which will take place this autumn in the breathtaking Connemara region of Ireland. This workshop will focus on food photography and styling, and I am honored to announce that the magnificent talents of photographer, Beth Kirby and seasoned food stylist, Susan Spungen will be at the helm of our maiden voyage.

bethkirbybook

susansquare

Have you ever wished for someone to take you through selecting the best camera angle and lens, or how to make the best use of natural available light to create your own food story?

Have you ever wondered how to style that big bowl of creamy chowder to make it just as appetizing as the beautiful slice of bread with butter on the table next to it?

squash soup bread

Have you struggled with how to layer and compose a shot to compliment the food? Where does it all start? The food? The props? The camera angle? The light or location?

SSP1-25

 

SSP1-24

Allow Beth and Susan to guide you in creating your very own repertoire of basic camera and styling techniques while exploring the stunning setting of Ballynahinch Castle in the Connemara region of Ireland. During your stay, you will find yourself foraging for wild edibles in the lush ancient woodlands on the estate of the 16th century Irish castle, rolling pastry like a styling pro and baking up a rustic galettes in a classic AGA stove, venturing to a bay on the Wild Atlantic Way to pull lobster and crab pots while jigging for mackerel (or just watching the action while breathing in the fresh sea air, if you please) and afterward gathering in a centuries-old island schoolhouse for lunch and more learning. Each evening you will retire to the stately and luxurious Ballynahinch Castle Hotel, voted best hotel in Ireland by Condé Nast Traveler in 2013, but more importantly, a sacred place that has provided artistic inspiration to kindred creatives for hundreds of years.

Participants will receive focused, personalized guidance in photography & styling for natural light settings—we will touch on camera basics, post-processing, food and prop styling and more.

BootRoom

When:

October 21st to October 24th 2014

What:

2 days/3 nights = 2 full days filled with instruction interspersed with hands-on practice. There will be a small amount of time off to explore the area individually as well.

Included:  3 nights accommodation, 1 welcome reception with oysters and Stout, 3 full Irish breakfasts; 2 lunches; 3 dinners including wine, beer and cocktails; all food with a focus on locally sourced, artisan ingredients (vegetarian options will be catered for). One foraging expedition with photo and styling technique, one kitchen demo with photography & styling workshop, one boat trip from Roundstone to Innishlaken Island with schoolhouse location shoot and styling workshop. Tradition Irish music on one evening.

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

Cost:

USD $1,960 – EUR €1,470 per person sharing dual occupancy. If you prefer a private room, please add a surcharge of USD $160 – EUR €120.

A 90% non-refundable deposit will be required to secure your spot.

Final 10% Payment  will be due on October 10th, 2014.

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 recommend that you to take travel insurance. Owning a SLR camera is preferable)

Beth Kirby is a Tennessee based photographer, writer, recipe developer, and stylist, and she is the creator of the blog Local Milk, a space devoted to seasonal recipes inspired by the south as well as travel, home, fashion, and entertaining. Local Milk was the winner of the 2014 Saveur magazine readers’ & editors’ choice award for best photography on a food blog, and her work aims to capture the beauty of the mundane & provide inspiration for slow living. When not behind the stove, lens, or keyboard she can be found combing farmers markets & flea markets alike in search of inspiration.

Susan Spungen is a Cookbook Author, Entertaining Expert, Culinary Consultant and Food Stylist for both print and film, having brought the food to life in major feature films such as Julia & Julia, It’s Complicated, Eat, Pray, Love, and Labor Day. She is a frequent contributor to national magazines such as Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, More Magazine, and Dr. Oz The Good Life, where she is a Contributing Editor. Susan is the co-author of Martha Stewart’s Hors D’Oeuvres Handbook, and is the author of RECIPES: A Collection for the Modern Cook. Her latest book is What’s a Hostess to Do?, a guidebook for entertaining in the modern world.

To make a booking for this workshop, please email lensandlarder@gmail.com.  Registration will close on  August 27th, 2014.

We hope to learn with you at Lens & Larder……Pip Pip!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Images provided by Ballynahinch Castle Hotel, Beth Kirby & Susan Spungen.  

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Intermission

20 Jun 2014

suitcase

Tonight I sit at the table looking at life over the rim of an ingeniously crafted grilled lemon gimlet.* I am pondering this crazy, cathartic journey of love that I signed up for nearly 11 years ago.

Warm fuzzies take up residence on my forearms and I smile.

Still kismet.

As I gallop nearer to the finish of photography for this book, I am filled with emotion and pride. Looking back, I am simply struck by how life can take so many turns and twists in your one go ‘round.

Damn, destiny can be demanding.

I sip down the last gorgeous citrusy drop of my mixed drink and start wiping down the kitchen worktop.

Nine years in Ireland. (Pinch)

Where did that go? (Ssshhhh, don’t ask)

I hazily conclude that if you give life your best shot, demands are met with very handsome rewards.

Hic.

gimlet

I’ve been floating around in my apron and wellies for the for the past month prepping, testing, cooking, co-styling and shooting recipes nearly every day, in and around our home, the farmyard, and the many pastures and meadows that cradle and surround us.

IMG_2030

Fortunately for me, my fabulous friend and food stylist, Sonia Mulford-Chaverri made it across the Atlantic to be my partner in all of this food fluffing. So far we’ve been having great fun making everything look awfully pretty together.

Of course, everyone in the family has been enlisted as well, including our Airedale Terrier, Teddy, who clearly seems to feel he has some directorial talents. He takes the biscuit.

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Sure, during week 3 the dishwasher died (that one last butter bell?) and our clothes washer waned (too many tea towels?), but thanks to our local dairy co-op, we were back in business in no time. Yes, I stumbled while eagerly trying to hoist a large piece of furniture (a.k.a “prop”) and subsequently spent the day at the hospital waiting for an x-ray (no break, just a bad sprain, but plenty of colorful chinwagging with fellow Irish patients.)

As of today, I am on oven burn #6 and wearing it like a badge of cookbook courage. Also, the donkeys breaking into one of my kitchen garden beds and eating most of my strawberries and newly sprouted Georgia collard greens was admittedly quite heartbreaking.

Ahhhhhh, farm life.

hen

On the other hand, we had a lovely visitor from Tennessee who brought and baked her special family recipe for buttermilk pie (yes, it will be in the book!) and afterward, we made beautiful buttermilk fried chicken with a big mess O’greens, so all was not lost. Thank you Lavonda Shipley.

IMG_8572

I must admit, the best bits have been shooting outdoors frolicking in all of the once-foreign-to-me fauna and flora (even if the sweet heifer calves that surround us in the fields are forever trying to guttle up our picnics before we can properly photograph them). Can’t blame em, right?

cows

It is the absolute perfect time of year to capture the breathtaking nature of the Irish countryside at its finest. Things don’t bloom here, they BURST…virtually everything is heaving with flowers and leaves everywhere you turn. Beguiling.

home

Will leave you with some other bits of bacchanalia….and back soon, promise.

Last month, I was invited to travel to the charming Inishbofin Island off the coast of County Galway to enjoy a lovely dinner and night at the Inishbofin House Hotel. The island, which translates to “The Island of the White Cow” is reachable by ferry from Cleggan and boasts breathtaking beaches and ruins chockablock with history. BBC chef, Ray McCardle, is on board at Inishbofin House consulting on the menu with head chef Taidgh McDonald and their new menu is a treasure to keep an eye on. If you are traveling to Ireland and want to try something different than the Aran Islands, hop over to Inishbofin..it is truly delightful.

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I will be blabbing about food blogging on a fantastic panel at this year’s Hay Festival in the ancient town of Kells, County Meath on Sunday, July 6th. The Hay Festival is a vibrant mash of literature, world music, politics, comedy and film and is produced every year across Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. My friends at Sheridan’s Cheesemongers asked me to participate this year, and I’m proud as punch to join this renowned gathering. Come along if you’re free! On your way, check out the Hill of Tara and put an intention on the wishing tree.

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Shake, shake, shake ♫ ♬…..come and boogie with me while making farmhouse butter at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin on July 26th. More details to come.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

*Sonia’s Grilled Lemon Gimlet recipe: one sliced lemon, sprinkled with sugar and grilled. Fill one small tumbler with ice. Pour in two jiggers dry gin, healthy splash of lemon juice, and top with grilled lemon. Suck and eat lemon slices when you’ve finished your drink. Photo of rag tree by Bruce Friedman. All other photos by Imen McDonnell 2014. 

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