Rock Cakes

18 May 2015


I ate a rock cake.

And DAMN, I liked it.

It all happened during Listowel Writer’s Week in County Kerry on a particularly blustery week in May 2012. I wasn’t intending on attending the renowned writers’ festival, in fact, I had never heard of such a gathering which is satirical because, 1. I was steadfastly working on creating a career in writing, and 2. it was taking place only 20 minutes from the farm.

No, I was on my way to the cattle mart, and it was literally lashing sheets of rain, sideways drops coming down so hard and fast that I had no option but to pull over in Listowel town. I was sitting idly awaiting a break in the rain, leafing through a beat up issue of Bon Appétit that I had found under my seat when I noticed a charming little café through the passenger window. Since there was no sign of cow evidence on my clothing and my wellies were next to new, I foraged for my brolly in the back and made a run for it.


When I walked through the door, I was struck by the warmth, of not only the bustle of interesting, clever looking patrons, but of the scent of an old wood-burning stove in the corner and steamed up windows with cushioned seats at the front. I glanced at my watch, looked back outside at the heavy rain and decided there would be no harm in staying for a spell. I found a seat at the only available table edged into a corner next to the counter and requested a coffee.

I sat sipping on a scalding hot cappuccino, peeking at literature for the writers’ festival left behind on the table while observing a group of gentlemen in tattered Irish tweed coats in lively conversation with one another in front of me. As they drifted out of the room, I noticed an array of baked goods on top of the beautifully appointed vintage bakery case. A basket of scone-like pastries with a sign identifying them as “Rock Cakes.” stood out to me as peculiar. Curious, I walked over and asked the barista what they were. She dutifully explained that rock cakes were essentially a combination of scone and cake with currants inside. “Would you like to order one?” she gently asked, “Oh, how could I resist?” I cheekily answered. She placed a rock cake on a dainty plate and handed it to me. I sat back down, took a nibble, and was absolutely bowled over by the tenderness and sweet flavour of something called a rock cake.

Before I knew it, I was finger-dabbing rock cake crumbs from the plate as the rain cleared, and it was once again time to carry on with farm business. I grabbed the Writers Week brochures and my umbrella, and bid adieu to the little café on the corner, promising to come again.


Apparently, rock cakes became popular in the UK and Ireland during the Second World War, when eggs and sugar were at a premium. They are called Rock Cakes or Rock Buns not because they are hard, but because the rough tops resemble rocky outcroppings . If made with the best possible ingredients, these cakes can rival both scones and cakes. Substitute chocolate chips for the little ones (or little ones at heart) and they are really quite a treat. Nowadays, like to pack “choccy rock cakes” for a country picnic, but they will always remind me of that rainy Writers’ Week day.

Rock Cakes

Makes 6

1 cup/225g all purpose flour
1/3 cup/75g caster (superfine) sugar, plus extra for sprinkling.
2 tsp baking powder
8.5 tbsp/125g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 egg
About 2 tbsp/30ml milk
A good pinch of salt
Plus, optional, any or all of:
1 ¼ cups chocolate chips, dried currants or sultanas,
1-2 tsp mixed spice or vanilla extract, the finely grated zest of 1 orange or 1 lemon

Line baking trays lined with nonstick paper, and heat the oven to 200C (180C fan-assisted)/400F
Sift the flour, sugar and baking powder into a large mixing bowl, add the cubed butter and rub it through evenly.
Add chocolate chips, dried fruit and/or spices.
Beat the egg with the milk in another bowl, along with any flavourings such as extracts or essences that tickle your fancy.
Pour the egg mixture into the dry ingredients and mix to a stiff, but spoonable dough – add a dash more milk, if you think it needs it.
Scoop egg-sized dollops of the dough on to the tray in rows of two, keeping them rough looking.
Sprinkle with sugar.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, until just turning golden-brown.
Cool and serve.
Scullery Notes: If prepared with currants or dried fruit, serve with clotted cream and jam.

You may have noticed that I have added an Upcoming Events page to the blog, some fun stuff on the calendar! I have two tickets to give away to the Irish Country Magazine Reader Evening on May 27th, leave a comment below to be in the draw, it would be great to see you!

Also, I’ve added a little page about The Farm for those interested in how we are set up here.

Slan Abhaile,





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May 27, 2015 6-9pm

Irish Country Magazine Reader Evening

Longueville House, County Cork

I will be chatting about life on the farm and creating a career out of the unexpected.

Book here


July 25, 2015 1-2pm

Irish Country Cooking Demonstration


Edina, MN, USA


September 4-6th, 2015

Butter Disco

Electric Picnic

Theatre of Food

Stradbally Hall, County Laois, Ireland




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The Farm

17 May 2015


The farm at Dunmoylan has been in the McDonnell family since the early 1800’s. Dunmoylan, which refers to the townland on which the farm is situated, is Irish gaelic for “Land of the Fort” or the “Fort of Maolin.” Farming at Dunmoylan had very humble beginnings, starting off with only a handful of milking cows, a horse and cart to deliver dairy to the creamery, and a hearth fire to prepare food in a thatched stone dwelling house that would have been attached to the cow shed. Richard and his brother, David are the 7th generation of McDonnells to be the honorable custodians of this land.

Today, Dunmoylan is a modern grass-fed dairy and free-range poultry farm with a focus on sustainability and renewable energy. The farm is split into two sections that work together in forming a self-renewing circle of agriculture: the traditional farmyard which is managed by my husband and consists of the dairy and poultry sectors; and the other half, run by David, which handles wind power, anaerobic digestion, and the development of other renewable energy projects.

We have adopted the traditional intergenerational approach to Irish farm living. There are three homes that are part of the farm at large. The “home” farmhouse which is inhabited by my father-in-law, Michael and would have been where the original 18c dwelling house was located. Our little homestead, adjacent to the farmyard, which is named Dunmoylan Grove, with “Grove” symbolizing a row of very old Ash trees that line the hedge on the northern side of our house. And, David’s home across the road which was the original Presbytery built in 1872 for the local parish priests. David is married to Rosanne, who hails from a local O’Connor farming family. They have three lovely children.


In the farmyard, Richard milks Holstein Freisian dairy cows which are on grass from spring until early winter. Grassland management is a huge responsibility for him with a number of fields to juggle at a time. In the spring, maize and oregano is planted for an autumn harvest. The maize, herb and grass silage makes up the winter feeding diet for the cows, but only when the weather proves too harsh to be outdoors.

Richard also raises free-range poultry, which was proudly implemented on the farm in the 60’s by my late mother-in-law, Peggy. The chickens are fed a uniquely developed diet which encourages them to forage for food on the lush green pastures outdoors while also having barn shelter.

There is a small, rather overgrown, orchard on the home farmyard which was originally planted in the 1940’s for the purpose of supplying an Irish cidery, and has since been cut back to a scale that provides just enough for our families with a bounty of apples, pears, plums, gooseberries and currants each summer and autumn.

My father-in-law is also a beekeeper. He has three buzzing hives in a wooded area near the Shannon River that keeps us in honey all year round. In time, the beekeeping duties will be passed on to Richard or perhaps Geoffrey if he is brave enough!

Dunmoylan Grove is my “farmette.” This is where we grow many of our vegetables, some fruit, and raise small amounts of pastured livestock for meat. It’s where I make wholesome magic with the milk from the home farm and press orchard apples and pears into juice. We are currently developing this homesteading farmette concept to include more growing space and a center for mindful cooking and learning.

While the farm and its working practices have been updated over time, my husband’s family remains very much a traditional Irish farming family with regard to the beliefs and etiquette systems that are observed within the family as well as the local community. Raw milk in the tea, big roast dinners at lunchtime each day, quaint country suppers, inviting the Wren Boys to entertain our family with traditional Irish music and dance in the farm kitchen on St. Stephen’s Day, the blessing of the farm on May Eve, a fresh shamrock on a lapel for St. Patrick’s Day, a protective cross made of reeds for St. Brigid’s Day, a penny for luck on a sale of land or cattle, and unwavering support of small local businesses. Here in the Irish countryside, there is a such a strong appreciation for tradition and sense of community that it can sometimes feel like we’ve stepped back in time.




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A couple of years ago, I had the fortune of being asked to talk about my greatest taste memories for a food festival in County Kerry. After agreeing to relish this summons of flavour nostalgia, I made a strong cup of tea, grabbed the last queen cake, and sat down to give my task some serious consideration.

In a matter of moments, in true thought-bubble style, ideas started rushing to my head. I quickly scribbled notes, bandying between surprising things like bratwurst and bologna, Boston cream pie and pierogi. Just as I was about to start devising a way to satisfy an acute Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch craving, Geoffrey walked up with a jumbo marshmallow in hand and pleaded with me to allow him to roast it over the flaming turf in our sitting room fireplace.

The kid in me smiled and said, “sure, go right ahead” while the mom in me flashed him my “you better be careful” eyes.

As I glanced over at Geoffrey merrily toasting his marshmallow over the fire, I put my No. 2 pencil behind my ear and just sat and pondered how important food memories are, specifically when you are an expatriate.

I realized that there are things that I eat solely for memory’s sake that I definitely would not consider as special if I were still living the USA. Absolute Americana: Sloppy Joes, S’mores, Angelfood cake (so much better from scratch!), Chicago-style hot dogs, to name a few. I also must confess that I have gone as far as to whip up a bowl of glow-in-dark green “pistachio” Jell-O brand boxed pudding brought back from a Stateside trip years ago.

It sucked.

But, certain food hankerings undeniably hinder homesickness.

Are food recollections and their delicious by-products meant to be crucial remedies for melancholy when adjusting to a new culture? And, if so, are the edible results of these nostalgic cravings really just another form of soul food?

In the U.S. “soul food” tends to be evocative of a certain style of food prepared in the American south. While I don’t disagree with that, I do wonder how to define the soul nourishing foods that I now prepare here on the farm, or the chinked with time classics that I’ve left behind which now provide me with an odd form of heightened, toothsome, soul-affirming pleasure.

Each year that I live in Ireland, I embrace what our farm and the bounty of the land lends to us. For me, I am building new taste memories, and for Geoffrey these ingredients, techniques, and traditional skills will become lodged in the fabric of his food and taste memory bank. They are his soul food.


One of the most extraordinary, yet absolutely unsullied wild Irish ingredients that I have come to love are ramsons, otherwise known as ramps, wild garlic, or spring leek.

We have a wooded area on the edge of the River Shannon where you can see clear across to County Clare, where the honeybee hives live, and where there is a wellspring of wild edibles. Each spring we look forward to our excursion to collect ramsons, sorrel, ground elder, and stream watercress as well as seaweed and dulse on the shoreline.

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Today I built a bridge between wild Irish soul food and an eponymous soul food from the American south.

And, it was SAVAGE.

We collected a modest amount of ramps, cleaned, and simply dipped in a bit of olive oil for the grill, then served them charred and hot on a bed of creamy, cheesy, country grits.

IMG_0202 grits

Comforting doesn’t even touch on the feeling that went with the satisfaction of preparing and sharing this simple yet exceptional dish with our family and friends.

What foods nourish your soul?

Country Grits with Grilled Wild Irish Ramps
Serves 4
1/2 cup/75g of yellow, stone ground grits (can substitute polenta or coarse ground maizemeal if absolutely necessary, or just order grits online at
2 cups/500ml boiling water
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
15-20 freshly cultivated wild ramps (could sub spring onion here if you don’t have access to ramps)
1 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt
Light a charcoal fire in your grill and allow coals to get white hot, or prepare and oil a grill pan. Coat the wild ramps with olive oil. Set aside.

Stir grits into a saucepan of rapidly boiling, salted water. Cook and stir until the boil comes back up then over and continue to cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cheese, cover, and let sit on stovetop while grilling the ramsons.

Place ramps on your grill and cook until just charred. Remove and set aside.

Spoon creamy grits into individual bowls, top with 4-5 grilled ramps, sprinkle with sea salt and serve.

Scullery Notes: When digging ramps, unless they are scarce in your area, be sure and get the whole root where the most profound flavour is found. The leaves are also great for making pesto, and the bulbs are great pickled and used for dirty martinis! Be mindful of how much you are taking from the land in relation to what is available to you. Never forage on the side of busy roads or where there is a lot of foot traffic which can be contaminating.  

I have some amazing news! Saveur Magazine has named me a finalist in the Writing category of their 2015 Food Blog Awards. I am stunned and so grateful for this honor. Out of 50,000 nominations, they have chosen 6 finalists for 13 categories. I am amongst writers that I totally revere and respect. The voting is open from now until the end of the month, so if you fancy, the link is here. If it wasn’t for you reading this blog, I would not be recognized in this way, so many, many thanks to all!

SAV_15_SBA_Badges_Finalists_writingSlan Abhaile,

Imen x

Photos and styling by Imen & Geoffrey McDonnell 2015



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A Drop of Irish Cream

11 Mar 2015


“Come in, make yourself comfortable in the sitting room.” The blood rushed to my cheeks as I said thank you, and nervously sat down on a beautifully upholstered high-backed armchair facing an identical chair positioned in front of a tiny, ornate fireplace burning with hot coals. “Can I get you a drop of sherry or a drop of Baileys?” I quietly breathed a sigh of relief as I chose the Baileys, a very warm and welcomed icebreaker.

It was my first time at the farm. I’d already had the great privilege of meeting Richard’s mother, father, and briefly, his brother, but it was time to meet the matriarch of the family, Mary McDonnell (may she rest in peace), otherwise simply known as “Grandma.” Grandma lived in the little flat attached to the main farmhouse. But, where she slept was only a matter of semantics, she clearly still ruled the roost at Dunmoylan. And deservedly so, in her day she could milk 20 cows by hand in less than an hour before coming in to cook breakfast for her family of 7. Badass.


After I moved to the farm, my chat sessions with Grandma became more frequent. Over drops of Irish cream served in delicate cordial glasses, we swapped stories with one another; she was kind yet opinionated, and as curiously interested in me as I was in her. At a certain stage, Richard told me, “Well you passed the muster with Grandma,” which was no easy feat apparently. I felt welcomed and proud.

I loved listening to Grandma yarn astonishing tales of banshees, gun hiding and squabbles between political parties, which became very colourful because she cheekily favoured the opposite party of her husband and his family. She, like many Irish of a certain generation, believed in a bit of folklore, and recanted the time she found herself on a magic road in County Louth where her car actually rolled uphill in the Cooley Mountains, an anecdote for which I had no idea how to respond. (But look, Andrew McCarthy proves it’s true!)

Grandma had a certain savoir-faire and impeccable style, and, luckily for me, a generous sense of humour. I recall during one of our chinwags, her telling me about a weekend break she had taken to a beautiful, remote island on a lake in the northwestern part of Ireland. She described how breathtaking it was, and that you had to go barefoot and walk on rocks across the water to the Island and only drink a sort of broth with salt and pepper for three days. When I presumed she’d been to a natural spa retreat for some type of intensive 3-day cleansing detox, she thought I was absolutely mad because it was Lough Derg, a world-reknowned religious pilgrimage in Donegal. Again, something I could not fathom, but also could not help but respect.

With Mother’s Day this weekend here in Ireland, I’d like to propose a toast to ‘drops of Irish cream’ and a good old natter with the special ladies in your life. What are some of your favourite Grandmother memories?

Homemade Irish cream is second to none (sorry Bailey’s!) and super straightforward to make from scratch. Bring this tipple out at the end of a long lingering dinner party as a decadent way to end your feast, and the perfect invitation to share some more stories together….

Irish Cream
Makes 24 ounces
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. instant coffee powder
½ tsp. cocoa powder
¾ cup Irish whiskey
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
Combine 1 tbsp. cream and the coffee and cocoa powders to make a smooth paste. 2. Slowly add remaining cream, whisking until smooth.
Add whiskey, vanilla extract, and sweetened condensed milk; stir to combine.
Pour into a 24-oz. jar and keep refrigerated until ready to serve, up to 2 weeks.
To serve, pour into a tumbler filled with ice.

Slan Abhaile,
Photo by Imen McDonnell 2014


My beloved late mother-in-law, Peggy, and Richard’s grandmother, Mary (RIP)


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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.


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


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

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


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!


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!
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
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.


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.






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.







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.


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.


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.


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


April 21st to April 24th, 2015


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


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 to register.

Slan Abhaile,


Photos by Marte Marie Forsberg, James Fennell, Ditte Isager and Jorg Koster. 




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[turkey harvests.]


new Years.



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?


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.


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?!


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


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.


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.


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,


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.


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.


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
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
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
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
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,


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.


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.


The opposite of me, I think to myself.

I can’t stop reading.

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.


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?!


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
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,


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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