gooseberrykettle

This summer has officially been one big rain shower.

But, at least we have gooseberries.

And, memories of sunnier days.

Right?

When the weather gets me down, I try to recall my first BBQ in Ireland for a little comic comfort. I wrote a little ditty about it in Irish Country Magazine last year, and thought it would be apropos to share here today, so here goes:

hen

Early on, I figured out that the Irish summer can be quite different from its American counterpart. Practically no matter where you find yourself in the United States during the months of June, July, and August you are basically guaranteed a daily dose of blue skies and a long stretch of strong, bright sun that will warm both your skin and your soul. At least that’s how I prefer to remember it.

If it rained when I was growing up, the pavement would literally steam. And, if you were like me and my childhood friends you would happily rejoice, splash and stomp about in the streets, getting thunderously drenched by those warm showers and simply enjoying the spectacle of it all. We couldn’t get enough of that summer rain because it occurred so rarely during the season.

Precipitation took on a whole new meaning after moving to Ireland. I first learned about “getting on with the weather” when it came to planning a summer party. Until then, the business of partying in the rain was a foreign concept to me.

During my first Irish summer, I tried my hand at hosting a garden BBQ party at the sweet little bolthole that we inhabited in the nearby village of Adare while our home on the farm was being built. This gathering was meant to be my concerted, heartfelt effort to be social and meet people in my newly adapted surroundings.

Naively, I never considered the weather report for the big day. It was summertime, right?

I had spent the entire week planning and preparing what I consider a proper, traditional, American-style BBQ feast: creating a tangy barbecue sauce and spice rub for both chicken and brisket, digging frantically through unpacked boxes to find my tried-and-true recipe for baked macaroni and cheese, ringing round robin to locate various ingredients that didn’t seem to be available at the corner market (sweet corn, watermelon, big fat marshmallows for toasting over hot coals, all of which I soon found out, was seemingly unheard of in these parts at the time), skimming through old Martha magazines for suggestions on being the hostess with the mostest. I wanted the day to be absolutely magnificent; full of fun, folly, fantastic food, and most of all: new friends!

I woke up that Saturday morning only to hear the rain bucketing down. It was worse than anything I had seen on Universal studio lot production shoots. It was coming down in sheets and looked totally unrealistic to me, it was so heavy. I just couldn’t believe my eyes.

I panicked and rang my one and only acquaintance, Yasmin, a friendly, local female expat from England who had ironically spent her years prior to Ireland working in television and film production like me and had also married an Irish farmer ten years earlier. Yasmin essentially (and very generously) created the guest list by inviting all of her family and friends.

When Yas picked up the phone, I cried out in my typical Yankee twang, “Oh my Gawwwd, what am I going to do? No one will come, it’s raining and I’ve made all this food. We must cancel. I am so, SO disappointed.”

Her response cut right through my sobbing with a calm and clever giggle followed by, “Imen, we get on with it here in Ireland. We just get on with it. Put up a tent or marquis if you feel the need. Everyone will come, you’ll see.”

Honestly, I wasn’t going for it. I thought to myself, why would anyone want to come to an outdoor BBQ party in the rain? Call me a fair weather friend, but I’m pretty sure I would have bailed on that party.

Ultimately, yet oh-so-shockingly to me, she was dead right. Every single guest showed up. And, we all milled around the garden in the cool (okay, cold!) lashing rain, eating smoky, spicy American-style bbq’d chicken, southern-style baked macaroni and cheese, beautiful fruit and salads, while happily sipping cider and shivering under a tent.

My father-in-law suited up in his rain slicker and graciously stepped in as rookie grill master, valiantly manning the bbq cooker, which was strategically placed underneath the awning of the house. My husband organized a game of spoon and egg with the children. I just kept feeding everyone with a big smile and a brolly in hand. “What’s a little rain?” seemed to be the theme of the day.

Nobody flinched. I was literally in awe of this extravaganza. To me, the idea that people would carry on like normal while it poured rain was bold and magnificent, and, well, a bit mad.

That day, that rain, those people, moved me. And, if I’m honest, it just might be the moment I fell a little more in love with Ireland.

hen

Once we moved to the farm, I found out that nothing says Irish summer like gooseberries. Geoffrey and I picked the gooseberries on the ONE sunny afternoon we had last week, and ever since then I have been experimenting with combinations and flavour blends. I hay-smoked and carmelised some of our pickings which made for a lovely compote to accompany sausages and cider gravy; and was also splendid blended into ice cream. Right now I have a pint of gooseberry sherbet on the go in the freezer (fingers crossed it’s lovely!). Still, aren’t the classics just always the best?

gooseberrypicking tartoverhead tart

Grandma’s Gooseberry Tart
The first time I picked gooseberries with my mother in law, we collected a massive basketful. It was a gloriously sunny summer’s day and gooseberries (pronounced “gooze-berry”} were most certainly a novelty for me. We divided our berries into two lots: I took one and she took the other. Peggy made jam and I decided to bake tarts. The next afternoon, I brought the first tart I made to tea, and afterward my father-in-law kindly asked me if I would try making the next tart like his mother would have done, doubled up on gooseberries with a very short crust. I went back to my kitchen with his instructions and an hour later the most beautifully fruity pie popped out of the oven, and was later granted the honor of being “just as good as Grandma’s gooseberry tart.” 

Basic Short Pastry
2.5 cups/320g standard plain flour
1 cup/240g butter
pinch of sea salt
Scant 1/2 cup/100ml cold water
For the Gooseberry Filling
2 cups/300g gooseberries
A slug of elderflower cordial
½ cup/100g caster sugar
Place flour, butter and salt in large mixing bowl. Using your fingertips, gently rub ingredients together until they resemble rough breadcrumbs. Do not over mix or the butter will begin to melt from the heat of your fingers.
Add water and mix until a dough is formed. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes or overnight.
Gently re-work pastry before using, taking care to ensure it remains cold and firm.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out pastry into 2 round sheets about 3mm thick.
Prick the bottom of the tart with a fork before placing a sheet of baking parchment over the top. Add beans, rice or baking weights. Place in the oven for 15 minutes or until cooked but still pale.
Remove from the oven and take out the baking parchment and beans.
Put the gooseberries, sugar and elderflower cordial into a saucepan and heat on medium until the gooseberries are just softening, check the flavour and add more cordial if desired.
Spoon the gooseberry compote into the part baked pastry case, cover with pastry top, sprinkle with granulated sugar and return the tart to the oven for a further 40 minutes or until pastry is golden.
Scullery Notes: Serve with a scoop of sweet cream ice cream.

 gooseberryg

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

(excerpted from my column in Irish Country Magazine 2014. Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2015 )

 

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Our little boy became a “big kid” this week on the farm.

For his 5th birthday

we decided to make use of

what we are fortunate to have right before us

and celebrate with a

good

old-fashioned

kiddie’s farm fête.

So, we rounded up our two darling donkeys,

A sweet cow and her dotey calf

And three clucky chickens

{yes, the farmer is participating in Movember}

We made loads of fairy cakes to decorate (pictured top)

and homemade marshmallows + caramel corn

We used our very own honey for my special honey bbq beef brisket

that went with Martha’s Perfect Mac & Cheese

Our friend, Claire, created the most magnificent + yummy tractor cake

When the party was ended

each child was given a bag of goodies to take home

The sun was shining

Our faces were smiling

And our big kid was a happy, happy boy.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

My Easy Honey BBQ Pulled Beef Brisket

serves 12

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 3-4 pound beef brisket (in Ireland try the beef rib roast)

1 18-ounce bottle of high quality barbecue sauce

2 onions, chopped

1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce

1/4 cup honey

12 freshly baked soft rolls

Mix together minced garlic, salt, onion powder, paprika and pepper. Rub over the brisket.

Place sliced onion on bottom of slow cooker

In a small bowl mix the barbecue sauce, onions, Worchestershire sauce

Place the brisket in the slow-cooker and pour over the sauce. Spoon in the honey. Cook on low 10 hours or until the brisket is fork-tender. Pull the beef apart into strips.

Ladle the cooking liquid into a bowl or glass measuring cup and skim off the fat. Mix the juices with pulled beef. Serve on rolls

Photos by Imen McDonnell. Assisted by Master Geoffrey McDonnell

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Farm Fresco

07 Jun 2010

Ahhhh yes, the new season has arrived on our idyllic Irish farm.  And each year when the long winter gracefully grows into Spring, I can’t help but feel nostalgic as I ponder the contrast between my former frenzied life in the city and our sublime quiet life in the country. Ok so maybe nostalgic is not quite the right word..perhaps it’s more like agonized. Yes, agony is definitely more like it….

So, ahem…{now wiping the crocodile tears away}

Greener than green grass growing at breakneck speed, new potatoes cropping up in the garden and mummy cows constantly calving are certainly a stark contrast to the citified symbols of Spring that I used to indentify with…..and frankly, could even say I adored. For it’s at precisely this time of year that my heart longs for convertible cars (well, specifically mine I suppose) buzzing about with their tops surreptiously peeled down, busy city sidewalks aflurry with freshly pedicured feet nestled into open-toed shoes and the absolute best bit of all: dining al fresco after work with girlfriends, sipping cocktails, noshing on salads and sushi all whilst in true Bill Cunningham style–watching all the fashionable women and men trotting down the street in their best Spring hues. An invite to do this on any given night = simply irresistable.

So terrrrribly irresistible that I am constantly trying my best to emulate that experience here by creating more of a relaxed and “countrified” version of my old ways. It goes a little like this:  after a long day of working on various projects, I will change into a powdery little tee, a pair of my favourite Gap white capris and flip-flops and put on my new Cath Kidston apron. I will then proceed to make a huge Summery salad to start out our dinner. This salad will inevitable include the following (mostly locally) grown ingredients: mixed greens with plenty of rocket and watercress, red onion, vine ripened tomatoes, cucumber, steamed asparagus, grated carrot, goat’s cheese, roasted walnuts and poppyseed sprinkles tossed with one of my secret-agent vinagrettes*.  Then, I will take out anything from (again mostly locally sourced) prawns to fish, chicken or steak which has been marinating in another one of my secret-agent concoctions* all day and throw them on the BBQ.  As this protein is sizzling away on the grill, I will then make a pitcher of citrusy margaritas, Bootlegs, or G&T’s for R and I (and any visitors we are lucky enough to have) to sip on after our little boy is in bed. On dry and warm evenings we sit on our terrace taking in the absolutely stunning sunset behind the Shanid castle ruin on the hill, watching as the light changes and our trees slowly morph into those gorgeous die-cut images that seem to be everywhere these days. I call it “Farm Fresco” and though it’s not the same as those bold and bustling city evenings, it can nearly be just as satisfying…..

This Spring we welcomed a sweet preemie calf. His mum was not well so R had to induce her 4 weeks early and she produced a little boy whom we have named “Bogo”. Normally calves are up and walking in an hour, but Bogo struggled for a couple weeks before he would finally stand and now he’s up and walking, stronger than ever. Perhaps I too am like Bogo….when I came here I was nearly paralyzed by the change. Now…a few years later I am slowly, but surely, adapting to this new life and each day Ireland and the countryside are becoming more and more like home to me.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

*olive oil and a form of vinegar, crushed garlic and lemon juice or other fruit juice then close my eyes, choose some spices and hit pulse on the food processor.

photo courtesy of The Daily Telegraph

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