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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I swore that I would not fall prey to copious imbibing of fish and chips. I distinctly remember putting it on a list of cons when making the decision to come and live in Ireland. “Con #6: Fish and Chip Consumption” I knew that it would be possible to give in to frequent “chipper runs” to the Pink Potato around the corner which would clearly be the demise of my yoga-fied figure that I had been so diligently been working on. We discussed it in detail. Made a plan. And I was convinced that I would not lay a hand on a fish and chip more than once or twice in a year.

Hooey.

For those of you who are Irish, fish and chips may be as ordinary and non-exciting as pork and beans would be to an American. But to me, (perhaps us?) it is nearly a delicacy. A luxury. At the very least, a treat. And of course, it tastes far different than any Friday Night Fish Fry I’ve ever encountered. Maybe it’s the malt vinegar drizzled over the top, maybe the Atlantic cod, or dare I say, maybe it’s the mushy peas that my husband puts on my plate when it accompanies an order of fish and chip at Doonbeg.  Maybe it’s because the fish from chippers comes wrapped in brown paper. Maybe it’s the cheese and garlic sauce that is sometimes on offer. Maybe it’s the batter that reminds me of all the battered goodness at the State Fair.

I don’t know. But, eating a fish and chip from time to time is simply unavoidable, if not totally unnatural.

It was not often that I would actually prepare a fish and chip dinner at home, because somehow, for me, doesn’t seem like the real thing unless you are ordering from a chipper or ordering it off the menu at someplace like this. But, since we moved out of Adare and onto the farm, I have taken to learning to make nearly everything from scratch here at home as it is less trouble than driving for three quarters of an hour for supper….especially if craving a fish and chip.

At some point, I decided it was time to create our own version of fish and chips here at home. Of course, I had to put a little American spin on it and add beer to the batter (for this post, I used a lovely new Irish craft Ale called Sunburnt Irish Red by 8 Degrees Brewing) which did not go astray, and, in fact, really boosted the flavor. I also add some freshly cut thyme or dill from our garden depending on the day.

But, the best bit is the chickpea chips (or frites if you’re fancy). Both farmers-little and big- regularly request them. The recipe is from an amazing restaurant in Napa Valley, CA called Ubuntu. These chips are somewhat time-consuming upfront, but well worth the trouble. Totally delicious and marginally more healthy than potatoes because chickpeas are protein packed.  In fact, you could make a meal out of the chickpea chips alone.

Our little boy has named this version of fish and chips, “Dunmoylan Fish & Chip” since our “chipper” is right here on the farm.  Add any Irish ale of your choosing and try the lemon aioli dipping sauce on the side if you please. (or vinegar, tartar… Ballymaloe relish goes great with the chickpea chips too!)

Irish Ale & Thyme Battered Fish

Ingredients (serves 4)

225g (1 1/2 cups) self-raising flour

1 egg, lightly whisked

375ml (1 1/2 cups) chilled light beer

Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Vegetable oil, to deep-fry

8 (about 120g each) white fish fillets (such as flathead or whiting)

Sea salt flakes, to serve

Lemon wedges, to serve

Place flour in a bowl. Add the egg and stir to combine. Gradually whisk in beer until batter is smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest.

Add enough vegetable oil to a large saucepan to reach a depth of 8cm. Heat to 190°C over high heat (when oil is ready a cube of bread will turn golden brown in 10 seconds). Dip 2 pieces of fish, 1 at a time, into batter to coat. Drain off excess. Deep-fry for 3-4 minutes or until golden brown and cooked. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towel. Repeat, in 3 more batches, with remaining fish and batter, reheating oil between batches.

Chickpea Chips

Ingredients (Serves 4)

2 1/2 cups chickpea flour , plus more for dusting (avail at natural foods stores)

1 cup cornmeal (maize meal in Ireland)

2 cloves garlic , finely grated

3 Tbsp. kosher salt , plus more to taste

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1 Tbsp. chopped rosemary

Zest of 2 lemons

Vegetable oil , for frying

In a stainless steel pot over high heat, combine chickpea flour, cornmeal, 7 cups of cold water, garlic, and salt. Whisk gently to prevent sticking on the bottom; over-whisking will cause the final product to “soufflé” and fall.

Once the mixture begins to thicken and bubble (after about 3 to 4 minutes), reduce heat to medium and switch to a rubber spatula. Add remaining ingredients except oil, stir to combine, and continue stirring to prevent sticking. When mixture pulls from the sides of the pot like a dough (after about 6 to 8 minutes), transfer it to a rimmed sheet pan lined with nonstick aluminum foil. Spread mixture out evenly, cover with a sheet of plastic wrap, and top with another sheet pan. Refrigerate for 4 hours until completely cold and set.

Carefully remove mixture from pan by gently lifting the bottom layer of aluminum foil onto a cutting board. Remove plastic wrap, then cut into “fries” about 3 inches long.

Heat oil in a large pot to 190°C over high heat (when oil is ready a cube of bread will turn golden brown in 10 seconds).  Toss fries lightly in additional cornmeal, and deep-fry them in small batches until crispy, about 3 minutes. Remove and set on paper towels. Sprinkle with kosher salt to taste and serve with lemon garlic aioli.

Lemon Aioli

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 clove garlic, minced

½ tsp lemon zest

3 tablespoons lemon juice

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium bowl, mix all the ingredients together.

Serve as dipping sauce.

And…drum roll please…the winner of the Farmhouse Cheeses of Ireland book drawing is: Tim Magnuson. Tim, please email your mailing address to me at imen.producer@ireland.com so I can send the book out to you straight away! A big, big thank you to everyone for participating in my first ‘official’ book giveaway. There will be more to come, promise! xx

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell. For more food styling + photography work, please contact me at imen.producer@ireland.com.

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Are You Horsey?

02 Apr 2010

The first time someone asked me this question I was foolishly offended.  It was broached while I was at my first Irish fashion show which was being held at the Dunraven Arms Hotel in Adare.  Modest fashion shows are de riguer here for fundraising. You will hear about 30 fashion shows a week in Ireland and when your first beautifully designed invitation arrives in the letterbox you feel so privileged that you’ve been included in the guest list of such a stylish, upscale event. But, then you turn up to find decorative tchochkes scattered about on tables and your friend’s teenage girls modelling clothes from the “The Fancy Faery” boutique/deli down the road.  A little different than expected. Still, fair play to them because these type of fashion shows raise loads of money for charity and are definitely a form of entertainment of one shape or another….especially for those who live in small villages or rural areas.

But back to the question of horsiness. While I was mingling with the crowd of fancy ladies…and by ladies I do mean Ladies. Lady Dunraven, for instance, could be found perusing the crowds in her sophisticated manner at such affairs. I started chatting with a particular group whom wondered if I was horsey. One lady rather emphatically asked me “Are you horsey?” (pronounced HAWR-SEE) I honestly hadn’t a clue what she meant by that and I just stood there looking at her questioning face with an equally questioning face. It almost seemed like a secret question in which I needed to know the password…a password for access to some type of secret society.  Then, after a 30 second stare-off, my friend finally nudged me and said, “you know, do you ride?” I honestly thought the woman was asking or implying that I was fat.  After all, I had a 8 month baby at home. Whew, not fat! {well, yes fat, but that’s not the point here}. But, alas, not horsey either. So when I said “oh no, no, no, not me”, I suddenly found myself alone in the middle of the room. It was definitely a horsey fashion show. And I was definitely not horsey. It’s worth mentioning that riding is of a different ilk in the States where Western riding seems to be more of the norm. Cowboy boots and denims prevail versus the tailored look of jodphurs, riding jackets and velvet helmets here.

So being “horsey” is admired in Ireland. I didn’t know this before I moved over. If I had, perhaps I would have spent more time riding with my friend A.T. before leaving.  Point to Points, The National Hunt, The Irish National Stud…if you’ve anything to do with horses I’d say you definitely get a gold star approval rating in this country. The most famous horsey events are the big races, and the fierce fashion competition that goes with them, called “Ladies Days”.  For example, the world renowned Galway Races have discerning judges that not only judge the racing, but also how stylish the ladies in attendance are….and the winner gets a prize too. The society pages of Irish magazines are chock full of photos featuring all the fancy “ladies” dressed to the nines from top to toe in gorgeous designer headpieces to Louboutin heels as they walk around and graciously pose for photographers on the grassy racecourse grounds.

R gave me Clonshire riding lessons for Christmas so when it warms up a bit I will keep you posted on any upcoming riding adventures….and any hints of horsiness that might ensue.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo courtesy of Stella McCartney

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Like + So + Now

10 Feb 2010

Sorry, but I need to write about this. I think about it all the time. I could be swinging away on a beautiful Spring day and still pondering. Not sure why, but I must confess, I’ve become utterly fascinated with the cacophony of incidental language twists here in Ireland.

Oh yes, wait a minute.  I am sure why….

Too much time on my hands. Pure and simple.  (See #5 on the “On Marrying An Irish Farmer” tab)

Anyway, it’s just that people tend to use the words LIKE, SO and NOW an awwwwful lot here.  And not really in the way you’d think they would. When I first starting hearing these words all the time it was a bit perplexing. This is because when Americans use the words LIKE, SO and NOW we tend do it in ways which all seem far different than the manner in which many Irish speakers are using them.

You see, the word LIKE is used significantly more as an afterthought here. For instance, you might hear someone say, “That cow is really sick LIKE.” or  “He went to the shop LIKE”.  Whereas, in the USA, we might say something more along the lines of this: “LIKE, oh my God, that’s awesome” or “I LIKE your new Hummer” or maybe this: “That Bergdorf blonde has very straw-LIKE hair”.  But rarely, if ever, would we say “I know LIKE”.  And consider it a complete sentence. And say it  just to say it. No, we tend to use our LIKES in the beginning of a sentence. And, if you must know–our EXPLETIVES at the end of sentences &%$#*&^!!!

Then, in equal measure, the word SO gets loads of action here too. You’ll hear: “He’s going to the match, LIKE, SO”. In this case, the addition of the word SO can be a question without the added upward inflection…rhetorical I suppose. If you buy something at the store you will always experience the SO word at least a few times during your transaction. “It will be 2.80 then SO.” You give the money and they say “thank you SO” and then when you receive your change “ok SO then”. Not usually a thank you or a you’re welcome, but I’m pretty sure it means the same thing. There is also the very important “RIGHT SO” which, in our house, basically means we’re finished here and usually occurs after a long pregnant pause in conversation………………………………………………………………………….RIGHT SO. {moving on}

I have to admit that the NOW’s really shook me though. Twas my first time going to the little market in Adare when the shopkeeper, a lovely elderly woman, said “NOW” (sharply and succinctly pronounced NE-OW as heard here) as I set my eggs and apples on the counter. It was totally out of context for me. And something about the timbre or the emphatic tone that she used made me feel like I was being scolded (scolded is the only word to describe it because it had that weird shame element to it). I immediately flashed back to 2nd grade with Mrs. Luther who scolded us all the time for being too “talkative” in the classroom. Yes, this market lady’s NOW literally startled me and she knew it because she asked if I was okay. To which I replied with a nervous and slightly guilty laugh, “oh sorry, I’m fine, umm, did I do something?” She ignored my question and went on to say “NOW” again after scanning the apples. And “NOW” again when she put them in the bag. And then when she took my money she said “NOW SO”.  And, finally, when she bid me farewell, one last “NOW” as she waved goodbye.  Incredulous. I walked home in a complete state of total bewilderment.

Five years later I can honestly say that I’ve not succumbed to the Irish LIKE SO’s. But, as friends and family will attest, I do find myself using NOW (yes, in that tone) from time to time….and time again (it is oddly addictive)

RIGHT SO.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

(photo courtesy of ffffound)

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