Irish Spring

22 Apr 2014

zwartblesfleece

If the title of this post conjures up visions

of whittling bars of green and white stripy soap,

cast those clean as a whistle notions aside…

spring in the Irish countryside is

beautiful, raw, and green

filled with birdsong and new life…

but frankly, it mostly smells like manure;

also known as “that sweet country smell”

milking spodgesI am loving this fun sketch of me milking “Sally”

by Ailbhe Phelan, a fabulous Irish illustrator living in London.

What do you think?

The lucky recipient of Ashley English’s Handmade Gatherings is Lori Matthews.

Congratulations!

I will be back with more recipes and stories very soon.

 Life is aflurry with trying my very best to complete a

truly special manuscript & fine-tuning recipes

for my upcoming book…

while feeding calves & milking cows

and simply…

being a mother and wife (the easy part)

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In the meantime,

head over to Spenser Magazine

for a beautiful Irish spring lamb story…

read all about my bucolic Zwartbles adventure

nestled alongside some outstanding food stories

on ancient grains in Arizona, Blue Heron Goat Farm

and some amazing salt-roasted spot prawns.

I will leave you to linger with a few more outtakes from the shoot

PicMonkey Collage

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knitting

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Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2014

No Zwartbles lambs were eaten for this post

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Basic Conversions

15 Apr 2014

Volume

1 cup = 240 ml (milliliter)

1/2 cup = 120 ml

1/3 cup = 80 ml

1/4 cup = 60 ml = 4 tablespoons

1 tablespoon = 15 ml = 3 teaspoons

1 teaspoon = 5 ml

1 fluid ounce = 30 ml

1 US quart = 0.946 liter =1 liter

Weight

1 ounce = 28 grams

1 pound = 16 ounces = 454 grams

Length

1 inch = 2.54 centimeters

1 foot = 12 inches = 30 centimeters

Temperature

400° F = 200° C = gas mark 7

350° F = 180° C = gas mark 6

300° F = 150° C = gas mark 5

Dairy

Milk: 1 cup = 240 ml

Buttermilk 1 cup = 250ml

Butter: 1/2 cup = 1 stick = 4 ounces = 113 grams

Butter: 1 tablespoon = 14 grams

Cheese, grated: 1 cup = 100 grams

Chunk cheese: 1 cup = 240 grams

Crème fraîche/sour cream: 1 cup = 240 grams

Greek Style Yogurt: 1 cup = 280 grams

Regular Yogurt: 1 cup = 250 grams

Heavy cream: 1 cup = 240 grams

Light cream: 1 cup = 240 grams

Parmesan cheese, grated: 1 cup = 110 grams

Ricotta/cottage cheese: 1 cup = 250 grams

Nuts etc.

Almonds, shelled, whole, blanched: 1 cup = 125 grams

Almonds, sliced: 1 cup = 70 grams

Almond meal (a.k.a. ground almonds): 1 cup = 100 grams

Almond butter/purée: 1 cup = 240 grams

Cashews, shelled, whole: 1 cup = 130 grams

Hazelnuts, shelled, whole: 1 cup = 120 grams

Nut butter: 1 cup = 240 grams

Pistachios: 1 cup = 125 grams

Poppy seeds: 1 cup = 145 grams

Walnuts, shelled, halves: 1 cup = 100 grams

Baking

Flour, all-purpose (plain or cream) or whole wheat: 1 cup = 130 grams

Baking powder 11 grams = 1 tablespoon

Baking soda 11 grams = 1 tablespoon

Chocolate chips: 1 cup = 160 grams

Cocoa powder: 1 cup = 120 grams

Honey: 1 cup = 300 grams

Honey: 1 tablespoon = 18 grams

Salt, fine: 1 teaspoon = 5 grams

Salt, coarse: 1 cup = 220 grams

Sugar, brown: 1 cup (packed) = 170 grams

Sugar, confectioner’s: 1 cup = 130 grams

Sugar, granulated or caster: 1 cup = 200 grams

Sugar, granulated or caster: 1 tablespoon = 12.5 grams

Molasses or golden syrup: 1 cup = 280 grams

Agave syrup: 1/3 cup = 100 grams

Pans and dishes

10-inch tart or cake pan = 25-centimeter tart or cake pan
9-inch cake pan = 22-centimeter cake pan
4-inch tartlet mold = 10-centimeter tartlet mold

9-by-13-inches baking dish = 22-by-33-centimeter baking dish
8-by-8-inches baking dish = 20-by-20-centimeter baking dish

6-ounce ramekin = 180-mL ramekin

9-by-5-inches loaf pan = 23-by-12-centimeter loaf pan = 8 cups or 2 liters in cap

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Handmade Gatherings

08 Apr 2014

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Rhubarb. Buttermilk. Bread. Pity it’s already gone. Gone in 60 seconds style. I blame the PMS hungry farmers. But, no worries, this loaf of rhubarb-buttermilk amazingness can be yours too. The recipe is in a most divine new book by cookery and craft writer, Ashley English.

Handmade Gatherings is filled with gorgeous recipes made from honest ingredients, but the best bit is that Ashley encourages everyone to bring something special to the inspirational celebrations she shares with us. Potluck, for me, is just a golden nugget of Americana childhood memories, and a girl who writes a book all about seasonal potluck gatherings is undoubtedly after my own heart.

Ashley says, “Anyone can put a call out that a party is happening. What makes a gathering truly memorable though, is the amount of thought put into its planning.” This is why all the parties in her book were conceived as communal affairs…meaning you share a great deal of the work with you guests. Conviviality in its best light.

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I never stopped smiling as I sipped tea from a flask and flipped through four fabulous chapters which chronicle parties for each season, all of which are beautifully photographed by the fiercely talented Jen Altman. I opened the book to the chapter on Ashley’s “Spring to Life” gathering, complete with a Maypole dance and setting seeds together. On the menu: pistachio crusted asparagus with feta vinaigrette, fried chicken, spring onion tart, buttermilk rhubarb bread and many more ambrosial goodies to delight in.

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Ashley is signed to the same publishing house as I, the very special ROOST (sidebar: keep your eyes peeled for some great new titles coming out this spring if you are into farming, crafting, nature and DIY) so we are automatically kindred, but as irony would have it, we transatlantically connected when both of our films were screened at the Chicago Food Film Festival last autumn.

My sassy friend and design director for Small Green Fields, Cassie Scroggins, met Ashley at the event and they had a right old natter that evening. Cassie emailed me the very next day to tell me “You should meet Ashley English, I’m pretty sure you would like her.”  I clicked on the link to the film vignette and instantly fell in love with her laid-back, homegrown style.

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Now, 8 months later, I am here to happily share Ashley’s new book with you, and compliments of ROOST, I even have one lucky copy to share.

Just leave a comment below sharing your favorite way to throw a party, and I’ll put your name in the draw to be announced on my next post.

But first, make Ashley’s bread…it tastes just like spring!

Rhubarb Buttermilk Bread
Ingredients
For the Topping
¼ all-purpose flour
2 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp unsalted butter, cubed
¼ cup chopped hazelnuts
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
For the Batter
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp baking soda
½ tsp sea salt
2 large eggs
½ cup buttermilk
6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
Zest of one lemon
Seeds from 1 vanilla bean
¾ cup chopped rhubarb
Method
Preheat oven to 350f.
Generously butter 9×5 inch loaf pan and set aside.
Prepare the topping:
Place all ingredients in a medium bowl. Using clean hands, mix everything together until the ingredients are fully combined and the butter is in pea sized clumps. Set aside while you prepare the bread batter.
Prepare the batter:
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl, using either a whisk or a fork. Add the eggs, buttermilk, melted butter, lemon zest, and vanilla bean seeds. Whisk together until the ingredients are fully combined.
With a mixing spoon, stir in the chopped rhubarb until it is well blended into the batter.
Assemble the bread:
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Use a spatula to evenly distribute the batter across the surface of the pan. Sprinkle the topping evenly across the batter.
Place the pan in the over. Bake for one hour, or until the top is golden and a knife inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Blogpost food + styling by Imen McDonnell. Handmade Gatherings photography by Jen Altman. Handmade Gatherings is available here, here and here and essentially anywhere great books are sold.  

 

 

 

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At precisely this time each year, I become consumed with any and all things garden. It starts with the pull of Down the Garden Path by Beverley Nichols from the bookshelf and onto my nightstand. For the past few spring seasons, I have read this book in its entirety in bits and pieces before bed in the evenings. And each year, the words seem to re-introduce themselves to me as if we’d never met and everything is new again. (Surely those are the best books?) Mostly pertaining to floral and formal planting, there are chapters detailing the flamboyant author’s very colourful conundrums with both his kitchen garden and orchards as well.

Down the Garden Path is wildly entertaining, but mostly it gets me thinking about what I intend to plant in our very own vegetable and flower beds for the year. It also creates a bit of an obsession in planning for time when I can get out and make a clean sweep to prepare for new growth. (By obsession, I mean waking up in the middle of the night worrying about how far the horseradish root has invaded into artichoke territory over the winter months, and how very sad, but very likely it is, that one of the Wisteria isn’t going to make it this year.)

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rhubarbduo

So it begins. With a pencil behind my ear, I peruse seed catalogues, gardening books, GIY Ireland meeting times and fancy landscape magazines. I chat with friends and neighbours, and begin scribbling and planning.

Essentially I decide that I am just looking for a few new offerings in the veg and fruit department, and perhaps a new tree or two. Luckily, I was gifted a peony plant from my generous neighbour, and I can see new growth already so blossoms will be something to really look forward to in July

hen

Right now there is an abundance of rhubarb and rosemary with pretty lavender flowers around the farm. I’ll make some rhubarb jam and slather it on a duck egg sponge, but first l shall dig into unknown territory with a syllabub featuring two ingredients that I can’t help but imagine will love each others company.

Syllabub is a classic dessert on this side of the Atlantic where people have been enjoying it centuries. It is essentially a dish made of milk or cream with the addition of wine, cider, or other spirit, and often enhanced with a natural flavor. In this case, I have decided to cut the cream with Poitín (formerly known as Irish moonshine) and sweeten it with a simple syrup made from rhubarb and rosemary.

For me, syllabub  simply spells spring garden party in BIG BLAZING LETTERS. And, while we’re not quite there yet, I am already dreaming of such a sunny afternoon dalliance. Admittedly, this is especially easy to visualize while spooning sweet, boozy, creamy bites of said fluffy syllabub into my eager mouth.

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Geoffrey already has his pumpkin and Purple of Sicily cauliflower seedlings started; his bumblebee garden packet at the ready for sprinkling. He gets a bed or two to himself; last year he grew upwards of 30 Romanesco courgettes, the long stripey ones. He was quite proud of himself, but he missed the pumpkins that he had planted the year before with great success so we are back onto those again.

I have seed envelopes from Ireland: Brown Envelope seeds from Madeline McKeever in West Cork, and from America: Baker Seed Company, an organic and mostly heirloom seed company out of Missouri.

I begin the whole seedy selection process. Colorado Red Quinoa and Collard Greens from Georgia go in the “TBP” (to be planted) pile while White Scallop Squash in  “NY” (next year). As usual, the amount of seeds I’ve ordered is dizzying and I make a note to cut back in future.

I look at the time a few hours later and then glance around the table. The syllabub is whipped, biscuits are dipped, tea is sipped, and the seeds are finally picked.

It’s spring, after all.

Rhubarb & Rosemary Spring Syllabub with Poitín
Ingredients
300g whipping cream
50g rhubarb & rosemary simple syrup
25ml Irish Poitín (or white wine, hard cider, champagne, sherry)
A stack of Ginger Nut biscuits, to serve
Rosemary stems to garnish
Method
For the simple syrup
1. Cut one large stalk of rhubarb into small pieces
2. Place in saucepan with two stems of fresh rosemary and 80g caster sugar.
3. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and let simmer until all sugar is dissolved.
4. Take off heat and let cool at room temperature. Strain into container and refrigerate.
For the Syllabub
1. Whip the cream and syrup together until soft peaks form. Stir in the Poitín.
2. Spoon into glasses or bowls, garnish with rosemary.
3. Serve with Ginger Nut biscuits or rhubarb compote.
 

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2014.  

 

 

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Hot Cross Buns !

25 Mar 2014

My very first taste of a warm hot cross bun arrived during the springtime of my second year in Ireland. We were invited to a friend’s farm for an afternoon garden party. The country estate was sprawling, with a main “big house,” several stone farm buildings, and other various dwelling houses dotting the acreage. There was a charming, if a bit battered, vintage grass tennis court and a sweet little lake, which was called The Leap. Dogs and cats roamed freely with the hens, sheep, cattle and horses.

It was a beautiful sunny day and her husband had baked loads of delicious goodies to share with us. I recall that we all sat perched on colorful tartan wool blankets surrounded by blooming daffodils happily feasting upon hot cross buns, brownies, and tiny slices of Simnel cake whilst sipping copious amounts of Ceylon tea under the canopy of a (long-awaited) crayon blue Irish sky. At one point, a striking ringneck pheasant cock strutted across the field in front of us, and we all marveled in awe. I felt like I was an extra in a Merchant & Ivory film.

It is a magnificent memory to say the least, and I was again reminded of it this year when I began seeing hot cross buns in the markets for Easter. I decided I would try my hand at making a batch and perhaps swap currants and sultanas for something a little different.

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Hot cross buns are sweet, yeast-leavened, spiced buns made with currants or raisins, often with candied citrus fruits marked with a cross on the top. The cross can be made in a variety of ways including: of pastry; flour and water mixture; rice paper; icing; two intersecting cuts. They are traditionally eaten at Easter and are massively popular in Ireland and the UK at this time of year.

I was delighted when I stumbled upon a basic Martha Stewart recipe for these yummy yeasty hot cross buns, but I wanted to add a bit more color to the classic original so I substituted sour cherries, toasted almonds and a touch of cardamom to her instructions. The end result is still spicy and sweet, but the cherries and cardamon add a little more pizazz.

These buns can feed a gang of farmers for breakfast on Saturday morning, or make the perfect spring hostess lunch or dinner party gift.  Also, hot cross buns are fantastic for french toast if you actually have any leftover!

After all the ingredients are mixed together,

the dough is kneaded on a floured surface

to ensure cherries + almonds are distributed evenly

Using a pastry sleeve to pipe on the icing crosses is easy and makes less of a mess

I came across this sweet little tidbit while doing my research on these lovely treats: Sharing a hot cross bun with another is supposed to ensure friendship throughout the coming year, particularly if “half for you and half for me, between us two shall goodwill be” is recited at the time.

Goodwill and Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell. Assisted by Sonia Mulford Chaverri.

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I woke up bright and early on the first morning of midterm break to a heartfelt request from an energetic little farmer, “Mom, can we pleeeease watch Attack of the Crab Monsters together this morning?”

I rubbed my eyes and blinked twice before yawn-smiling and stretching my arms out wide, “Morning sunshine, of course we can sweetie, now come here and give mommy a hug.”

But he was long gone on an intrepid search for a 1957 Roger Corman B-movie viewing device.

Lately there is far too much testosterone in this house.

I peel myself out of bed and totter on a trail of upsided darts Lego pieces that lead to the bathroom. The same Lego Ninjago trail that gets picked up and magically set down like clockwork every day.

After washing my face, pulling my hair back into something resembling a bobtail, and covering myself with the first three things I see in the closet, I go to my next order of early morning business: loading up the washer with slurry soaked dungarees and jumpers. Two pods/scorching hot/pre-wash/intensive/ medical rinse. Repeat.

Lately there is far too much testosterone in this house.

I go downstairs and make coffee. Standing at the kitchen counter I quietly slurp coffee and look out the window at the my garden beds which are weeping and weathered, but still alive with bits of chard and kale and new globe artichoke foliage peeking up. I smile. I turn to the living room and see Teddy’s dog grit smeared all the way across the top edge of our stone-tinted sofa (I know, you told me so). I drop my coffee cup and, well…..cry. No tears, but still.

Just then, Geoffrey skids into the room with an open iBook shouting in a burly voice with a timbre as towering as an NFL announcer, “YES! We can watch the Killer Crab Monsters now!”

I fall to the ground.

Lately there is far too much testosterone in this house.

Valentines came and went. We suffered a devastating gale the night before so Geoffrey challenged me to a fierce game of Settlers of Catan by candlelight while Richard was away with a group of men on farm business in England.

Lately there is far too much testosterone in and out of this house.

On a side note, we are surrounded by estrogen-charged maiden heifers ready to give birth any day.

Somehow there is still far too much testosterone here.

I patiently watch Attack of the Crab Monsters with my son. It is actually quite good.

I then try to convince him to take a shower. A task he once enjoyed.  We have to bargain about it.

Lately there is far too much testosterone in this house.

After watching one too many American sitcoms, my husband now has a man cave for when he’s home from the farm cave. There is a desk, a chair worthy of Larry Flynt, farm paperwork, whiskey books, a writing diary, a clunky old weight machine. Oh, and a weird wood carved wall hanging of Road Runner and the Tazmanian Devil.

I’m putting on my prettiest pinny and making sticky toffee pudding.

With whiskey.

And yeah, those are fighting words.

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Sticky Whiskey Toffee Pudding

Ingredients

85g softened unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing

225g soft Medjool dates, pitted and coarsely chopped

100ml Irish (preferably peated) Whiskey (optional)

175g flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

150g dark brown sugar

2 large eggs

For the sauce

300ml heavy cream

200g dark brown sugar

60g unsalted butter

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan160°C/gas 4. Butter 6 x 200ml individual pudding moulds.

2. Put the dates, whiskey and 100ml boiling water (or omit whiskey and add 200ml water) into a small pan and bring to the boil over a medium heat, then simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the dates are very soft. Set aside to cool.

3. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and a pinch of salt into a bowl and mix together well. In another bowl, cream the softened butter and sugar together with an electric hand whisk for 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, mixing well after each addition.

4. Alternate adding in the flour mixture and dates, a little at a time, mixing in each addition well before adding the next. Spoon evenly between the moulds, smoothing the tops. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of each pudding comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.

5. Meanwhile, make the toffee sauce. Put the cream, sugar and butter into a pan and bring to the boil. Cook for 3 minutes, until the sauce is smooth and thickened. Pour the sauce over the warm puddings and serve immediately with or without ice cream.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

PS. My blog is listed on The Kitchn’s Homies Awards…so far it has 22 nominations for best blog from abroad, but it sure would be lovely to get more as today is the last day for voting! Have a look if you like. Thank you ♥

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Images and styling by Imen McDonnell 2013. The plate was handcrafted by the very talented Trish Riley  for Sweetgum Co

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Farmhouse Films

11 Feb 2014

http://www.farmhousefilms.ie/projects/

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Milk & Citrus Cake

06 Feb 2014

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Just dropping in with a few bits of bacchanalia, some snaps of life over the past few weeks, and a farm fresh/super simple/crazy good cake recipe. I have been mad busy writing stories and testing recipes for my book, so much that I am actually beginning to feel like a real writer. Hopefully my editor is in agreement there! Speaking of editors, I am really excited to be on a panel at this year’s Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine in May. Myself, Donal Skehan, Lily Higgins, Caroline Hennessy, Nessa Robins, Tom Doorley, and Tom Parker Bowles will be discussing “Blogging: No Publisher, No Editor, Is It Good Enough?” (what do you think?) The event will be chaired by celebrated food writer David Prior (who has an amazing feature on Sydney food in this month’s Bon Appetit, check it out!) The festival, hosted by Darina Allen, Rachel Allen, and Rory O’Connell is going to be a smash with Yotam Ottolenghi and Rene Redzepi coming along, as well as Minneapolis filmmakers Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine of The Perennial Plate and many, many more outstanding personalities in food, wine, craft beer and whiskey from around the world.

In addition to writing for the weekly Irish Farmers Journal/Country Living, I have also committed to a brand new column in Irish Country Magazine which is a real honor as I love the new glossy and all the inspiring ladies at the helm. In this month’s issue, I talk about the nitty gritty of romancing the countryside…is that even possible?

In March, I will be heading to an extraordinary sheep farm in the West of Ireland to shoot a small feature for Spenser Magazine, all going well, there will be recipes for a spectacular Spring lamb feast in the upcoming issue.

We are moving ahead again (finally) with the thatched farm restoration. I have applied for a heritage grant and fingers crossed we will get funded this time and really dig in. The Irish name of the farm is Graigoor, which translates to The Hamlet, such a fitting name for this little hideaway where I hope to one day host workshops and cook with friends.

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In July, I will be making beautiful butter for an episode of Breaking Eggs, a cooking series for children near and dear to my heart and produced/directed by the ever-inspiring Cliodhna Prendergast.

I ordered a dynamite plate from Beth Kirby‘s new Sweet Gum Company shop and she sent me a gorgeous bottle of sorghum syrup which I doused on griddle scones for two days in a row last week. She also included a copy of Home and Hill magazine, what a beauty!

Ever wanted to stay in a treehouse? Okay, maybe not during the winter time, but when the time is right….this is one dream house in a tree.

At the end of January, I travelled to Florence for a girls weekend filled with food adventures. As recommended by Clodagh McKenna, we spent a fair amount of time in the Mercato Centrale di San Lorenzo and had the most amazing Panino Con Bollito (boiled beef sandwich) at the Slow Food endorsed Nerbone (see photo of beef on cutting board).  There was offal of every form and variety, wild boar legs hanging from rafters, pasta made right before your eyes, charcuterie for days..just an absolute feast for the senses. My friend, Carlotta, is a Florentine and she made sure we had Bistecca (massive steak for 4) and had a proper aperitif each evening before dinner. I even snuck into the only Eataly in Italy which was a real treat (I know, shame on me).

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Here at the farm, Geoffrey is keeping Grandad busy with hurling and nature hikes. He is learning to identify “bazillions of birds” and how the hares, foxes, and pheasants all get on together in the countryside. The donks are growing like gangbusters. Calving season has begun so stayed tuned for some cuddly calf captures. Richard has been researching another top secret farm project that could prove to be quite exciting for us all.

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More soon, but first, let’s have cake.

Milk & Honey Citrus Cake

Makes 2 6 inch round cakes or 1 8×8 inch square tin

Ingredients

335g all-purpose flour

1 tbsp baking powder

185g unsalted butter, softened

1-2 teaspoons vanilla extract

100g chopped citrus (blood orange, oranges, grapefruit sections)

220 caster sugar

3 eggs

185ml milk

Honey for pouring over (or icing sugar)

Method

Preheat oven to 180c/350f. Grease and line cake tin.

1. Sift flour and baking powder into large bowl (or stand mixer). Add butter, vanilla, sugar, eggs, citrus and milk. Beat for 3-4 minutes until smooth.

2. Pour mixture into the tins and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until golden brown and a skewer poked into the center comes out clean. Leave in tin for 5 minutes, then turn out and let cool.

3. Poke top of cake with toothpick, then drizzle over honey to your hearts delight (or sift icing sugar on top to sweeten)

4. Save one and serve the other.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2014. 

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Fine Fettle Flapjacks

12 Jan 2014

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Fact: Flapjacks put you in fine fettle.

I can explain. During the time that we were building our own little nest on the farm, we took up residence in the nearby village of Adare, County Limerick. Adare, which in Irish is: Áth Dara, meaning “ford of [the] oak” is a precious little town with a population of about twenty four hundred and is regarded as one of Ireland’s prettiest villages. At the time, it had championed the “Tidy Town” award for five years running and it was easy to see why. To me, Adare village looked and felt like a scene out of medieval times; which, from my urban American point-of-view, proved to be a simultaneously charming and somewhat tricky territory to settle into at that moment in time.

If you strolled the village from top-to-tail in 2006, you would find two spectacular stone cloistered churches built in the 13th century, one petite corner grocery store whose clerk was the face of my stern second-grade teacher, a fish-n-chipper called the Pink Potato, a string of pubs seemingly all owned by one (Collins) family, two quiet fine dining restaurants, a Chinese takeaway that once charged me 5 euro for a side of soy sauce, a filling station with an unusually popular deli counter, a perfect little café. Turf smoke hung in the air over riverbank castle ruins, an itty-bitty post office that closed for two hours every afternoon, a friendly pharmacy with a glowing green cross on its facade, a row of thatched-roof cottages, a small library, the bank, a handful of B&B’s and two estate hotels once inhabited by Lords and Ladies.

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By now you are wondering what this post has to do with a stack of flapjacks. I mentioned a perfect little café. About two blocks from our little bolthole was Lloyd’s. Like most businesses in Adare, Lloyd’s Café was a family-run venture. Small, quaint; a tiny dining room with 4-5 small wooden tables inside and 2 tables outside for when the weather was cooperating.  The simple menu was chalked onto a board daily and consisted of just breakfast and lunch.  A hearty full Irish, buttery scrambled eggs with a pinch of curry powder (the BEST), velvety soups, stews, sandwiches, salads, cakes, scones, and, most importantly, the only good coffee in town. It was one of those buzzy little places filled with excellent food and chatty locals, and if you stayed long enough you could file the village’s full gossip report upon your departure.

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One day after ducking in for a quick lunch, I made my way up to the cash register to pay the bill.

“Would you like anything else?”

I pointed to the large glass cookie jar next to the till, “Em, sure, may I have two of these gorgeous looking granola bars please?”

“Two Flapjacks for takeaway?”

Puzzled, “Oh, no, no, the granola bars in the cookie jar.”

“Those yokes? They are flapjacks”

“Wait, what? Flapjacks are pancakes in America.”

With that lilting Irish irony, “Well, Flapjacks are Flapjacks in Ireland.”

“Really?”

She grinned, “Really. And sure, they’ll put you in fine fettle.

Eventually I figured out that flapjacks are not flapjacks, but yet they are flapjacks, and they are considered a healthy treat in this neck of the woods. I learned that “fine fettle” means to be in good health or good humor, and ended up taking home three flapjacks (combination embarrassment + pregnancy clause.) They were devoured before the end of the day.

I had eaten my weight in them before I figured out that they were basically bars of butter, golden syrup (like corn syrup), and rolled oats. Not exactly a recipe for health. So, now that we live on the farm and have our own honey, I DIY swapping out the golden syrup for honey and adding nuts, seeds, fruits, and various healthy grains to the mix. They are a versatile snack to nibble with tea, after feeding calves or a run, and super fantastic for the lunchbox. We are butter lovers, but you can swap coconut oil, sunflower oil or nut butter for the butter for a dairy-free version.

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However you proceed, I can promise that they sure will put you in fine fettle. Here is my favorite recipe which is packed with healthy grains and boasts the perfect balance of chew + crunch. Delicious!

Oat-Millet-Chia-Banana Flapjacks

Ingredients:

6 tbsp / 1/3 cup raw honey

200g / 3/4 cup unsalted butter

1 medium ripe/soft banana, mashed

1 tsp cinnamon

Pinch of sea salt

330g / 2 cups organic porridge oats

115g/1 cup organic millet flakes

55g/1/2 cup chia seeds

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C/Gas 4

2. Butter a 23cm x 33cm / 9″x 13″ Swiss roll tin and line the base with baking parchment.

3. Place the honey, butter, banana mash and cinnamon into a large saucepan and heat gently, stirring well until the butter has melted completely.

4. Put the oats, millet, chia seeds into a large mixing bowl, add a pinch of salt then pour over the butter and honey mixture and stir to coat the oats mixture.

5. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and spread evenly to fill the tin making sure the surface is even. Sprinkle a small handful of millet flakes over the top.

6. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven while the flapjack is still slightly soft, they will harden once cool.

7. Place the tin on a wire cooling rack, cut the flapjack into squares and leave in the tin until completely cool.

8. Try not to eat them all in one day!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2014

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Last week, I hosted our first freshly-foraged DIY wreath workshop at the farm.  I served up winter salads with freshly baked soda bread, spiced mulled wine, and my best snowy white cake all covered in rosemary-mint icing, garnished with herb sprigs from the forest of rosemary growing in front of our house.

….Merry memories were made.

The evening before the gathering, I wandered down to the wood to collect branches of laurel, holly, pine & cedar for the occasion….

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 ….and,  set up a wabi-sabi DIY Wreath Bar in my wee little workshop space

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The girls arrived, and we played for hours….

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One friend decided to make holiday dinner name cards which nestle right into little pine cones…so sweet.

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It was a wonderful afternoon which will hopefully be the first of many freshly-foraged workshops on the farm. I was also able to experiment with some of Sony’s new portable lenses for smartphones on the day. The image of the wreath bar was shot using the amazing Sony QX-10 lens which easily attaches to your iPhone or Android and takes endlessly lush images that rival those shot on my big girl camera. In the spirit of gifting, Sony sent me an extra Sony QX-10 lens to give away as a holiday present to a reader of this blog. Simply leave a comment below to be in the draw. I will announce the winner on Christmas Day.  THE WINNER OF THE SONY QX-10 LENS IS CLAIRE KENNEDY, Congratulations! I will email you for your shipping details. 

Snowy White Cake with Rosemary-Peppermint Icing

Ingredients
2 1/4 cups/280g cake or cream flour
1 cup/250ml milk
6 large egg whites
2 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups/350g granulated sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp table salt
1 1/2 sticks/170g unsalted butter, softened but still cool

Method
1. Heat oven to 350f/176c. Prepare two 8-inch cake pans.
2. Pour milk , egg whites, and extracts into medium bowl and mix with fork until
3. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of electric mixer at slow speed.
4. Add butter (cut into cubes) and continue beating on low for about 1-2 minutes.
5. Add milk mixture to flour mixture and beat at medium speed for 1 1/2 minutes.
6. Pour batter evenly between two prepared cake pans.
7. Bake until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 27 to 30 minutes.
8. Allow cake to cool to room temperature, and then ice with rosemary-peppermint icing.

Rosemary-Peppermint Icing

Ingredients
1 cup/227g unsalted butter room temperature
3-4 cups/375-500g confectioners (powdered) sugar, SIFTED
¼ teaspoon table salt
1/2 tablespoon peppermint extract
¼ tbsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp rosemary simple syrup
2 Tbsp milk or heavy cream

Method
1. Beat butter for a few minutes with a mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed.
2. Add 3 cups of powdered sugar and turn your mixer on the lowest speed until the sugar has been incorporated
with the butter.
3. Increase mixer speed to medium and add peppermint and vanilla extract, rosemary simple syrup, salt, and 2
tablespoons of milk/cream and beat for 3 minutes. You can add more milk or cream as needed.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos by Imen McDonnell 2013. 

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