You know the how. The where. The who. I would like to share the why behind this blog. It’s time. I’m gonna get down, dirty and frankly, a little emo here so if you can’t hang, scroll down to the cake recipe and eat cake. That’s what I’d do.

I have been writing here for just over two years. If you have been following along, this wasn’t always an entirely food-related blog. I did like to blather on about and there…but as deliciously indulgent as those posts were, it wasn’t initially the gist of it.

My focus was on the humorous, quirky treasures that are part and parcel to marrying an Irish farmer and navigating a new life in the Irish countryside. Part comedy and part scan of my life through two lenses: city + country/American + Irish and seeing bits of colour in the everyday routine of Irish country living that others might miss along the way. Eventually, I turned to traditional Irish cookery and baking, a delicious way to explore and embrace my newly adopted culture…..either that, or a damn good excuse to enjoy sinful delights like this or this on a regular basis.

BUT, it didn’t start that way either.

Rewind to confession (well, we are in Ireland): My first blog post was a complete rant.

A full-blown, sad, depressed, lonely, mofo angry, soliloquy of my life that evening. My husband was still not home at 9:30pm, pretty standard at the time. It was my 5th day spent inside alone with our little boy while it bucketed rain outside and made the windows so blurry you couldn’t see out. It was probably the 10th night we had eaten supper without daddy. Once Geoffrey was in bed, I opened my computer and began typing…well, pounding, on my keyboard. IT IS 9:30PM AND MY FARMER IS STILL NOT HOME. ALONE AGAIN. THIS IS WHAT IT IS REALLY LIKE. I AM MILES AWAY FROM CIVILIZATION. IT IS NOT IDYLLIC. I DID NOT SIGN UP FOR THIS. &%£%@$&!!!. Then I deleted it. Then I cried. No, not cried. I bawled. My brains out. Like a little girl who lost a puppy. I hurt.

Suddenly, I had realised that somehow in 4 fast years, life as I knew it had completely vanished.

Poof. Gone. Forgetaboutit.

Life 2005-2009

  • Full of absolute confidence and adulation, I left a flourishing career, loads of friends, family, my dear kitty, my cute convertible and a lovely walk-up. Yep. Picked up sticks, moved to Ireland and married the love of my life.
  • Morphed into a mummy in a new country without said family and friends.
  • Designed and self-built a home on the farm (note: do not attempt this)
  • My father became unexpectedly ill and within three months he died.
  • I died.
  • Then started this blog.

Yes, I died. A lot. Moving abroad, marriage, motherhood, building house were definitely challenging, but losing my father nearly killed me. And that fateful night at the computer, the weight of it all hit me like a ton of bricks.

Roughly one year earlier, on September 13th, 2008, my dear dad left this world. I held him in my arms with my head resting on his chest as he took his very last breath.

I don’t remember much that happened in the year after that except that my in-laws were very kind and they whisked myself and Geoffrey off to Spain with them for two weeks immediately after we returned from the States so that we wouldn’t be alone so much. Richard had taken 6-8 weeks away from the farm to be with us that summer and he would be working very long hours upon our return. The only other memory is of soaking Richard’s neck with tears each and every night for at least 8 months as I unsuccessfully tried to go to sleep. I couldn’t stop ‘hearing’ my father’s last breath. And I couldn’t stop thinking about every last detail of that summer. Nor did I want to.

We had arrived stateside on June 10th. I knew my dad had not been feeling well. He had been undergoing tests of every size, shape and acronym. The next day, he had a follow-up appointment with a specialist and I accompanied him. He had undergone a small procedure on his kidney and when we sat down in the examination room the doctor informed him that it had went as planned.

Then, the doctor put an X-ray up on the wall which lit up like an Irish country night sky all filled with starry constellations. I stood up in front of my father and quietly asked the doctor, “what are all those pretty bright spots?” He gravely replied, “You’re going to stay here all summer, right?”  I stood there staring at those stars for what seemed like an eternity while tears silently ran down my cheeks and my throat throbbed like I had swallowed a large boulder.

Two days later we were escorted into an oddly luxurious chemo suite.

Three weeks after, I moved into his hospital room with him as he fought infection.




Emergency Room.


Hospice and the “Comfort Kit”

Last breath.

In the two weeks before he died, I began a feeding frenzy. Looking back, I am sure it didn’t help matters. But, my dad was going to die and I wanted him to eat all the foods he loved before it was over. Plus, my denial/fix-it mind kept telling me he needed more food. Needed to put on weight. It was ridiculous. I begged him for requests. I fulfilled each of them and then some. Lasagne, pizza, ice cream, kneecaps from Jerry’s Bakery, German Chocolate Cake. I fed him with a spoon. I remember he was exceptionally pleased with his chocolate cake even though he could only manage a bite, maybe two.

There is so much to tell about my father. And, so much to tell about that last summer. Maybe I will share more as time goes on. But for now, I want you to know that this is why I began writing here. I needed an outlet. To share the good. To leave the sad behind. Even if I didn’t know it at the time, this diary gave me one more reason to carry on, to look at the positives and laugh a little, to have company when the farm kidnapped my husband for 16 hour days….to adjust to all the crazy changes life can throw your way in such a short period of time.

But most of all, it has helped me to heal and to come back to life.

Thank you for being on this journey with me.

Now, have a slice of my dad’s cake.

It will make you smile. I promise.

Dad’s German Chocolate Cake

Makes one 3-layer 9 inch cake


1/2 cup water

4 (1 ounce) squares semisweet chocolate

1 cup butter, softened

2 cups white sugar

4 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup buttermilk

2 1/2 cups cake flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 egg whites


1 cup white sugar

1 cup evaporated milk

1/2 cup butter

3 egg yolks, beaten

1 1/3 cups flaked coconut

1 cup chopped pecans

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour 3 – 9 inch round pans. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In a small saucepan, heat water and 4 ounces chocolate until melted. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

2. In a large bowl, cream 1 cup butter and 2 cups sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in 4 egg yolks one at a time. Blend in the melted chocolate mixture and vanilla. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk, mixing just until incorporated.

3. In a large glass or metal mixing bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold 1/3 of the whites into the batter, then quickly fold in remaining whites until no streaks remain.

4. Pour into 3 – 9 inch pans Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto wire rack.

5. To make the Filling: In a saucepan combine 1 cup sugar, evaporated milk, ½ cup butter, and 3 egg yolks. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until thickened. Remove from heat. Stir in coconut, pecans and vanilla. Cool until thick enough to spread.

6. Spread filling between layers and on top of cake.

Slan Abhaile,


Photos & Styling by Imen McDonnell. Dedicated to Alfred M. Wozney 1935-2008

Also, a special thank you to Damien Mulley for encouraging me to share.

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74 Responses to “Dad’s Chocolate Cake”

  1. I just stumbled over here by accident and had to stop and tell you that I can relate to your reasons for blogging.
    I lost my sweet husband when he was only 42 and then my sweet son when he was 30. Although I don’t really write much about that on my blog, it is a release just to write about anything and everything I want and share recipes with like minded folks. I have met so many wonderful people and found a reason to get up in the morning…

    love your blog!

  2. […] little bit about how Richard and I met,there’s even a little interview with him, there’s the “when and why” I started this blog, along with various bits and bobs about the farm. But mostly, the blog has […]

  3. Barbara says:

    Imen I did not know this about your father. How very sad. Moving countries is difficult enough without having to deal with the loss of a parent at the same time. xo

  4. Kathleen says:

    What a wonderful tribute. Your writing is lovely and I really enjoy your blog. I lost my father suddenly and unexpectedly last year, 4 days after Christmas, although he had been “sleeping” since December 11. He missed Christmas, all his children gathered around him, but I held his hand as he took his last breath. I still cannot think of him without crying. He was descended from fine Irish stock – James Halloran was his name.
    I have spent a lot of time in Ireland and think of it as my second home. I was even lucky enough to study at Ballymaloe with Darina. Your blog helps me feel in touch with Ireland. I hope to visit next year.

  5. KathleenC says:

    I read this when you posted it, but couldn’t find the words to respond… have decided that there are no right words. Grief is too real and too personal…
    My parents are both with me still, but I know they will not be so forever. And just the thought, the idea of losing them… I can’t see to write through the tears that spring so automatically. I know I will get through, but it will hurt. And probably hurt a little bit forever.
    BUT… it’s worth all the pain in the world to have them now. And this post tells me I must make sure to use every drop of the now I have with them, with my friends, with my husband… There is no time like now to say I love you.
    Excuse me, I must call home.
    Much hugs and thanks.

  6. Mom3boys says:

    Hi Imen,
    I am fairly new to blogging and only just finding the confidence to comment on others. I found yours on the Edible – Ireland blog this morning. My goodness did this post strike a cord. I have recently moved from Ireland to the USA. This is when I started my blog. I too gave up a great career (I was a history teacher) to follow my husband, who is working some very long days here in order to find his feet. I am desperately lost and grieving for my family, friends and familiar old life. I try not to share that, feeling as though it would just upset everyone at home. Last week my father went in to hospital for the second time since I have been here.He had lung cancer 12 years ago and had one lung removed so he is prone to pneumonia which he has again. It is so frustrating and upsetting not being able to be with him. When I read this post it almost felt as though you were writing my thoughts. I cried for both of us. Writing your post was incredibly brave, I admire you for it. Thank you for sharing and moving me to share with you. Best wishes to you. P.S. I am going to share the recipe with my sister who will hopefully bake and bring the cake to my father. He has the sweetest tooth I think he will like it x

  7. I’ve been thinking about this for a week. It touched a nerve. My Dad died in a far-away accident. One minute he was there, and the next we had a patch of earth in a graveyard that we were told contained him, but never felt like it did. Ever since I’ve loved the way the Irish Do Death. All talking, waking, holding. And yes, eating and drinking, which all help to make memories, and to heal. Keep writing Imen, it heals you and your readers.

  8. Sarah says:

    Imen, this was such a moving post. I can’t even imagine what you were going through, but I’m sure your Dad appreciated all that you did for him. The cake looks beautiful, I hope it brings back all the good memories when you have it.

    • imen says:

      Thank you Sarah. The cake is gone and when we ate the last piece it made me sad. Always brings back memories…both good and bittersweet.

  9. Sheila Kiely says:

    How refreshing to read such a real piece of writing Imen. And kind of you to share such a personal moment with us. Thank you. Sheila.

  10. […] Glad I got that off my chest. {Thank you so much for your kind comments..really, really […]

  11. nessa robins says:

    Imen, I read this post a few days ago but was unable to find the words to leave a comment. We had a similar seven weeks with our dear Mam before she passed away. I also had an awful desire to keep her well fed and brought anything to the hospital that I thought she may nibble on. I know your pain and loneliness but I imagine grieving while far away from your home town must be extremely difficult. What a beautiful, moving post that I know your father would be so proud of. You have such an eloquent way with words.
    Nessa x

    • imen says:

      Nessa. I am so sorry to hear that you lost your mother…it’s just so difficult. My heart goes out to you. Thank you for your kind words darling. xx

  12. thanks imen for opening up your heart and sharing these tender parts of yourself with so many. and thanks for posting to fb….it reminded me to visit more frequently!
    hoping you, your farmer 🙂 and your sweet boy are all well and happy as the leaves change and the light in the sky becomes less. xoxc

    • imen says:

      Cynthia, so lovely to hear from you! Thank you for the kind words….would love to see you when we are stateside next. And also see some more of you beautiful work. xx

  13. christy kendall says:

    Oh, Imen, what beautiful, beautiful words to get me to feel–really feel–with you and for you. And I have a story to share. Last month, my kid’s dear grandfather died. (Mike’s dad.) In the hour after we heard, I said “let’s do something Grandpa would have liked,” and it was decided we’d make (and eat, of course) Grandpa’s favorite chocolate cherry cake. It has a can of cherry pie filling (and not the sugarless can, either) in the middle, and melted chocolate chips, butter and a bit of milk in the thick, thick frosting. It was especially delicious. He, too, was from Sconnie. Cake coincidence? I think not.

    • imen says:

      Ohhh Christy. Thank you for your comment. I’m very sorry to hear of Earl’s father’s passing. I love that you made a chocolate cherry cake. That is SO something you would come up with…..I often channel you here in Ireland, I was always inspired by how creative and dedicated you were in the parenting department. This post was a long time coming…I was nervous to put it out there so I appreciate your words here. Yes. Sconnie = cake. xxoxoxo

  14. Hermione says:

    I lurk here regularly, having discovered your beautiful blog years ago from a recommendation from Trish Deseine, but rarely comment. I love your stories of life on a farm and that you finish posts with slán agus beannacht, the same way my Dad finishes telephone calls. This was the most beautiful post, Imen. I empathise so much with you on your loss, and your words resonated with me and described so well how lost I felt when I lost my mum. Thanks so much for this post – míle, mile buíochas. May your Dad rest in peace. Ní bheidh a leitheád ann arís. (His like shall not be seen again).
    Denise x

    • imen says:

      Thank you….I really appreciate your kind comments. And I love love love Ní bheidh a leitheád ann arís……unbelievably perfect. Thank you thank you. xoxo

  15. I felt an ache reading this. My normally fit and active father had a couple of health scares in the past year, with the first phone call coming from my mom at a weird hour, staring the call with not hello but ‘Your father’s fine, but…’ I haven’t had to face this thing you have, but I have had to face the possibility, so I understand a fraction of what you’ve written about here. And being overseas. And being in the middle of nowhere. You’ve created a beautiful, inspiring blog out of your angst. What an incredible tribute to your personal strength, your love for your father, and your determination to make a beautiful life where you are.

    • imen says:

      Okay Michelloui, now you’ve made me cry!!!!! You so nailed it. I am determined to make this life as beautiful and fulfilling as possible. For my family, for me, for my dad..Thanks for your comment. xxoxo

  16. A beautiful post Imen. Not easy to write, I know, but very brave of you. It’s soul destroying to lose your sense of self through these devastating events so I am glad to hear you are on your way back. xxx

    • imen says:

      Hi Rosanne, I know you can appreciate what it’s like to lose a parent…..something changed recently and I feel I am coming back. It’s why I had to write it down. How are you these days? I think of you often. xx

  17. What a beautifully written post, Imen. It’s clear that your dad meant so much to you and that there was lots of love shared between the two of you, as well as lots of cake! Life can be tough but love and kindness makes it all worthwhile in the end. *hugs*

  18. Krista says:

    I’m crying as I finish reading this Imen. I relate to so much of what you wrote here and ache for you, rejoice with you, and smile through my tears because somehow it’s comforting to know I’m not alone in the things I’ve gone through. You’ve been there, you’ve survived, and thrived and brought so much beauty to so many. And now I’m chuckling to myself because just yesterday I was feeling so sad as MY farm swallowed MY man. Thanks for reminding me of all the good things sprinkled with the horrid. xo

    • imen says:

      I feel terrible that I’ve made so many reading this cry…..I thought I was the only one doing that as I wrote it. Krista, I’ve known that you could relate for some time…..looking at the good is a wonderful thing. And baking the good is too!!!!! Thank you for your sentiment here. xx

  19. Sinéad says:

    Hi Imen – I don’t usually leave my tuppence-ha’penny on blogs but this stuck fast last night when I read it – twofold – your story and your immense love for your dad. And the intrinsic link (as you noted) between love and food – I have been fortunate in my life to have had that through my granny and mother (hanging onto apron strings) and have constant memories of my granny’s apple tart (I saw you recently blogged a family favourite too) amongst other warm, full-of-love meals. Thank you for sharing such tough memories and your dad’s chocolate cake recipe! All the very best…..

    • imen says:

      Yes, there is a total link between food and love. I have recognised this even more since I moved to Ireland and finally figured out the way to love Ireland is through it’s cooking and the amazing history behind it! You’re very welcome and thank you for leaving a comment here. xx

  20. Hi Imen,
    I found this post very moving. It is sad, honest, warm and wise. Words are such funny creatures they only truly come to life and leap off the page when they are written from the heart. Bx

  21. Catherine says:

    Beautiful post, Imen (and a beautiful cake!) Your dad would be so proud of your bloggy adventures and where they’ve brought you.

    • imen says:

      Thanks Catherine. He’d probably actually be mad at me for this….he never, ever, ever wanted to be fussed over in any way shape or form. But I think he is looking down and understanding why I have shared this and I think it was him to got me to start that night. I need to catch up on your blog Catherine, one of my favorites! Thanks again xoxo

  22. Kim says:

    wow, what a touching, open and honest post. Thank you for sharing, due to many terrible results am not a big baker myself but am feeling very inspired! Is on my ‘to do’ list

  23. Mag says:

    hi Imen
    Very moving tribute to your father . Human resilience is astounding . You make that cake and think of your father . I walk in the beautiful rose gardens in mount Juliet and think of my little brother Jack . It is important to remember with love , to mourn , to cry ,to share .
    Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.  ~From a headstone in Ireland

    • imen says:

      Ohh Mag, I had no idea about your brother. And I am sorry to hear of it. I also lost my brother, a whole other type of grief I think….I look forward to coming to yours for a night and getting to know you better. I love your spirit and energy Mag. I love that quote from a headstone (your brothers?) Someone gave me a plaque at the funeral that said, “If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever”. So true. Thanks for your comment xx

  24. Aoife Mc says:

    Oh, Imen. Thank you so much for sharing this. So sad. And so wonderful that your beautiful blog has helped you through such turbulent times. The cake looks absolutely amazing. I’m sure your Dad was so happy he had you there that last summer. Can’t even imagine how much it must have meant to him, and to you.

    I definitely need a slice of cake after reading this post! x

    • imen says:

      Aoife, thanks for your kind message. The hardest part of that summer was that I really don’t think he knew he was dying…it happened to quick but so slow. Can’t describe. I was very lucky that I could be there to care for him all summer. If I had still been producing I would not have been able to be there so that was a blessing. Eat some cake girl. Hope to see you soon. xoxoxo

  25. TheGlutton says:

    Imen this is such a beautiful and touching post – so brave of you to share x

    • imen says:

      Thanks hon. I was not a hard decision to make. It was time…and a certain somebody let me know that =) xx

  26. English Mum says:

    This was lovely. And moving. Thanks for sharing x

    • imen says:

      Thanks you very much Rebecca. It wasn’t easy to write…tears and tears, but was time to share. Now, must have a good long catch up on your blog. How is life?! xx

  27. Móna Wise says:

    a lovely tribute to your Dad Imen. I told someone recently that I go to my blog and write for therapy. When I need to have a chat with someone, to get something off my mind, to share, unburden myself with whatever it is that is bearing weight on my mind. I think you blog beautifully .. Every word and image.

    • imen says:

      It is most definitely therapy. Thank you for your kind words and appreciation. I feel the same about your blog. xx

  28. Rosemarie m says:

    Magnificent post ! delighted to discover you via Donal skehan this morning. Fitting tribute to your father . Thanks for sharing cannot wait to try the cake. R

    • imen says:

      That Donal sure can lead to new discoveries! Love him….he inspired me to start writing about food and I haven’t turned back. Thanks for comment. Do try the cake. It’s wonderful. xx

  29. Grainne says:

    How beautiful is your love for your Dad! Thank you for sharing it with us. First time I have read your blog. I will try to make the Chocolate Cake and pray for you and your family as I make it. Thanks.

  30. Sweetpea says:

    I have just discovered your blog, so delighted to find it. My husband is of 100% Irish ancestry although an American citizen. He works longer hours than any human should ever have to…ever…and I’ve swallowed resentment about this in huge doses.
    But that is all neither here nor there…
    Your father’s story is all there should be at this moment. And this cake for him/of him! SPLENDID.
    I hope you’ll keep writing, talking about all these hard things. I would like to listen.

    • imen says:

      Thank you…the work thing must be Irish. I thought Americans worked hard….farming is a whole different kettle of fish. It’s been a challenge. But things are on the upswing….thanks for your kind comment. xx

  31. Ellen Townson says:

    What a lovely tribute to your very loved Dad. I discovered your blog several months ago and have wondered the “why”, the exact moment specifically. I get it now, and just might try a blog myself some time for very similar reasons. Well done Imen, I’m sure your Dad is looking on so proud.

    • imen says:

      I think many people enjoy the blog but have wondered why. Thanks for your candor. Do try blogging… it for yourself, and if it feels good, share.xx

  32. Hello, I can fully empathise with you, especially after losing my own dad in a similar way just a few weeks ago. Thankyou for sharing your thoughts with “us”, that must have been a tough decision to post something like that but I’m glad I follow this blog (and not just for the excellent stories or the food). All the best 🙂

    • imen says:

      I am so very sorry to hear of your loss. I’m not going to sugar coat it (obviously), losing a parent is the hardest thing a person will go through….except losing a child I suppose. The thing is, most of us are wrapped up in what we hope to achieve in order to please our parents and make them proud and when they leave us, it’s hard to sort out why we are here.. At least that has been my experience. Put that together with living in a new place with no career and being a new mother… it didn’t leave me in a good place for awhile there. Thanks for your comment. Sending big hugs through the interwebs to you. xoxox

  33. Rosemary says:

    I’m, in general, a lurker rather than a commenter – but this post was so moving that it felt wrong not to leave a comment just to say thanks. Thanks for sharing, thanks for writing. Thanks for cooking for your dad; he can’t say it now, but I can promise you he appreciated it.

    • imen says:

      Ahhh Rosemary, your a doll. Thanks for you comment. Made me cry. Made me feel it was worth putting it out there…..xoxo

  34. Bec says:

    A beatiful story of a terrible time… And a damn fine looking cake too! Thanks for sharing.

  35. Lorna says:

    I’m so sorry to hear that you lost your dad Imen and under what dreadful circumstances too. I can empathise with your frustration re your husband working such late hours and the loneliness of being in a country far from home. I’m delighted that you found blogging to be such a help though and when you think what it has brought you, it really is incredible.

    • imen says:

      Lorna, thanks so much. You always know when to remind me of the all the good. I thank you for that. xx

  36. Susan says:

    I am touched by your story, thank you for sharing. Will write you a note. The chocolate recipe sounds nice, I will have to try this soon. xx

    • imen says:

      Hey Sus, thanks for you message and email. Very difficult time. But feel like things are turning…it was time to write this. xx

  37. I don’t know what to say. But I’m happy that the blog helped you to leave sad behind.

  38. Laura says:

    Oh, Imen. I’m so sorry. Sending love. I’m going to bake the cake in your dad’s honor this weekend.

  39. H says:

    Imen, this post was very moving and full of heart, thank you for sharing it. To me, telling stories like this is keeping a soul alive, like a legacy somewhat. Continue to let your stories out when they surface, I’m sure your readers will find them touching & it only helps you. Also: I’m soooo making that cake. I follow your blog from time to time, for the recipes & the picture perfect window to Ireland. Ironically now, I might end up on the same path next year. I’m working things out with my long distance Irish guy to get us in the same place, so there’s been talk of a possible plan to move me from a US east coast big city… to a small village outside of Cork. I’ll probably become a serial poster on your older “just got here” posts at that time, I’ll def need to refer to them for some advice… eek…don’t trash them! Thanks : )

    • imen says:

      Thank you for your comment…..def not one of my “picture perfect” window to Ireland posts! If you come over please get in touch. I’d love to meet. xx

  40. laura says:

    May your father rest in peace. Losing a parent is very hard. Watching someone slip away slowly is the worst experience ever. When I am at a low ebb it kills me that I can’t pick up the phone and call my mother to talk to her or ask her for the help I sometimes desperately need. She died in 2008 after a long battle with cancer. I felt like an orphan. I miss her every day. Farming wise, I hope every day is not a sixteen hour day. That must be very difficult. I know I am always so pleased when I hear my husband come in after work to eat dinner with our daughter, the nights he is away travelling are always less fun.

    • imen says:

      Cancer SUCKS. I can relate to the orphan feeling. For me, he was wrapped up in who I was/my self-worth so things were pretty grim for awhile there. Thanks for your warm message, I really appreciate it. Sending you love as well. xx

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