Intermission

20 Jun 2014

suitcase

Tonight I sit at the table looking at life over the rim of an ingeniously crafted grilled lemon gimlet.* I am pondering this crazy, cathartic journey of love that I signed up for nearly 11 years ago.

Warm fuzzies take up residence on my forearms and I smile.

Still kismet.

As I gallop nearer to the finish of photography for this book, I am filled with emotion and pride. Looking back, I am simply struck by how life can take so many turns and twists in your one go ‘round.

Damn, destiny can be demanding.

I sip down the last gorgeous citrusy drop of my mixed drink and start wiping down the kitchen worktop.

Nine years in Ireland. (Pinch)

Where did that go? (Ssshhhh, don’t ask)

I hazily conclude that if you give life your best shot, demands are met with very handsome rewards.

Hic.

gimlet

I’ve been floating around in my apron and wellies for the for the past month prepping, testing, cooking, co-styling and shooting recipes nearly every day, in and around our home, the farmyard, and the many pastures and meadows that cradle and surround us.

IMG_2030

Fortunately for me, my fabulous friend and food stylist, Sonia Mulford-Chaverri made it across the Atlantic to be my partner in all of this food fluffing. So far we’ve been having great fun making everything look awfully pretty together.

Of course, everyone in the family has been enlisted as well, including our Airedale Terrier, Teddy, who clearly seems to feel he has some directorial talents. He takes the biscuit.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Sure, during week 3 the dishwasher died (that one last butter bell?) and our clothes washer waned (too many tea towels?), but thanks to our local dairy co-op, we were back in business in no time. Yes, I stumbled while eagerly trying to hoist a large piece of furniture (a.k.a “prop”) and subsequently spent the day at the hospital waiting for an x-ray (no break, just a bad sprain, but plenty of colorful chinwagging with fellow Irish patients.)

As of today, I am on oven burn #6 and wearing it like a badge of cookbook courage. Also, the donkeys breaking into one of my kitchen garden beds and eating most of my strawberries and newly sprouted Georgia collard greens was admittedly quite heartbreaking.

Ahhhhhh, farm life.

hen

On the other hand, we had a lovely visitor from Tennessee who brought and baked her special family recipe for buttermilk pie (yes, it will be in the book!) and afterward, we made beautiful buttermilk fried chicken with a big mess O’greens, so all was not lost. Thank you Lavonda Shipley.

IMG_8572

I must admit, the best bits have been shooting outdoors frolicking in all of the once-foreign-to-me fauna and flora (even if the sweet heifer calves that surround us in the fields are forever trying to guttle up our picnics before we can properly photograph them). Can’t blame em, right?

cows

It is the absolute perfect time of year to capture the breathtaking nature of the Irish countryside at its finest. Things don’t bloom here, they BURST…virtually everything is heaving with flowers and leaves everywhere you turn. Beguiling.

home

Will leave you with some other bits of bacchanalia….and back soon, promise.

Last month, I was invited to travel to the charming Inishbofin Island off the coast of County Galway to enjoy a lovely dinner and night at the Inishbofin House Hotel. The island, which translates to “The Island of the White Cow” is reachable by ferry from Cleggan and boasts breathtaking beaches and ruins chockablock with history. BBC chef, Ray McCardle, is on board at Inishbofin House consulting on the menu with head chef Taidgh McDonald and their new menu is a treasure to keep an eye on. If you are traveling to Ireland and want to try something different than the Aran Islands, hop over to Inishbofin..it is truly delightful.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

I will be blabbing about food blogging on a fantastic panel at this year’s Hay Festival in the ancient town of Kells, County Meath on Sunday, July 6th. The Hay Festival is a vibrant mash of literature, world music, politics, comedy and film and is produced every year across Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. My friends at Sheridan’s Cheesemongers asked me to participate this year, and I’m proud as punch to join this renowned gathering. Come along if you’re free! On your way, check out the Hill of Tara and put an intention on the wishing tree.

fairy-tree-1--hill-of-tara--county-meath--ireland-bruce-friedman

Shake, shake, shake ♫ ♬…..come and boogie with me while making farmhouse butter at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin on July 26th. More details to come.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

*Sonia’s Grilled Lemon Gimlet recipe: one sliced lemon, sprinkled with sugar and grilled. Fill one small tumbler with ice. Pour in two jiggers dry gin, healthy splash of lemon juice, and top with grilled lemon. Suck and eat lemon slices when you’ve finished your drink. Photo of rag tree by Bruce Friedman. All other photos by Imen McDonnell 2014. 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

· · · ◊ ◊ ◊ · · ·

Irish Dulse Butter

28 Feb 2012

At around this time last year, food courtesans from all over Ireland were flocking together in Donegal to celebrate Inishfood, Ireland’s “Glastonbury of Food” as Suzanne Campbell aptly implied. Inishfood was a renegade event organised by the remarkable (and indefatigable!) Donal Doherty of Harry’s Restaurant with Kristin Jensen and Caroline Hennessy of the IFBA and supported/promoted/assisted/accompanied by a myriad of proud Irish artisan food enthusiasts/producers/journalists/bloggers and broadcasters. Even Parisienne Trish Deseine, a Norn-Irelander, who is one of France’s most celebrated food writers, joined us virtually with encouraging + inspiring words that were read over coffee during the welcoming gathering on Saturday morning.

The farmer and I drove from the southwest of Ireland to the stunning northernmost Inishowen Peninsula on a rainy and cold Friday afternoon. In total, the drive took about 5 hours, and even though we did not know exactly what to expect once we were there, there was a feeling that we would be participating in something really special and unforgettable. For the record, ‘special and unforgettable’ was a mass understatement.

We arrived at our beautiful riverside B&B at dusk and were greeted by Margaret and William Grant, the charming couple who own Westbrook House. We sat in their cozy kitchen breezily chatting away about farming, inn-keeping, and relations between the north and the south. In that time, I also spied a vintage butter churn on the countertop and explained that I would be doing a butter making demonstration at the festival the following day. Margaret insisted that I take along their churn. It was kismet because I had been looking for that exact style of churn to use in my presentation as a reference and wasn’t having luck sourcing it. Talk about Irish hospitality!

They showed us to our comfortable bedroom; all the rooms were named after a child in their family and we had one of the daughter’s rooms whose name was written on the door, but I cannot recall it at the moment. What I do remember is that this was my first time staying in an Irish B&B and it couldn’t have been a better experience.

After we freshened up a bit, we were collected and taken to Linsfort Castle for some “to be revealed” evening festivities. We were dropped at the entrance of the large country house with a group of others and then were escorted down a torch lit sandy lane to Darren Bradley’s cottage on the sea. As it was still winter, there was a damp chill in the air, but once we joined the group huddled around Darren’s handcrafted outdoor brick oven with pizzas popping out every 5 minutes, we were fine and toasty. When we were handed a bottle of Irish craft beer and a slice of hot pizza creatively topped with black pudding, potato and rosemary, we were officially all warmed up…have a look: (and listen to that lovely Northern Ireland dialect!)

After plenty of chat and cheer at the pizza and beer party, we gathered inside Linsfort Castle where traditional Irish folk stories and music were shared in front of a blazing hearth fire. We all gobbled down bowls of hot venison stew and sipped on more craft brews. I kept pinching myself to see if it was all for real because I felt so transported to a magical place that when I looked around the room it was hard not to imagine that we were all characters playing out scenes in a beautiful Irish arthouse film.

The next day, everyone gathered at Harry’s in Bridgend where a series of food demos and chat took place with the group happily sharing the same love and enthusiasm for Irish food and the idea of Ireland: The Food Island. Sally McKenna, of The Bridgestone Guides, Mag Kirwin of Goatsbridge Trout Farm, David Tiernan of Glebebretha Cheese, Ella McSweeney from Ear to the Ground, Craft butchers, Ed Hick, Pat Whelan, Jack McCarthy, TJ Crowe of Crowes farm, Seanean and Collin from L Mulligan Grocer in Dublin to name just a few. A plethora of blogger friends, new and not so new, mingled around a smorgasbord of food for everyone to sample, it was an Irish food paradise.

That evening, we enjoyed an unbelievable “no menu” meal at Harrys. Shared serving platters which were continuously delivered to our communal style tables were adorned with food all sourced within minutes from the restaurant. During the night, I had a conversation with Zack Gallagher of The Irish Food Guide. He encouraged me to use dulse (he recommended pepper dulse) to flavor my farm butter. I went home thinking about doing just that and like so many other brilliant suggestions, it took me a bit to get there. Last week, I finally got my hands on some dulse and decided to make butter with it. The flavour knocked our socks off. Spicy, salty…this seaweed adds a dimension of flavour to the butter that you can’t quite put your finger on, but brings enormous satisfaction and makes you want more (umami?).

I brought my dulse butter to the table of a photo shoot that I took part in last week at the stunning Village at Lyons in County Kildare. The shoot was for a feature on food and rural living that will be published in the exciting new Irish glossy Irish Country Magazine coming out on 29th March. Here’s a fun snap from the day (from bottom right to left, Ella McSweeney, Pat Whelan, Yvonne Kerr (deputy editor), me, Lorna Sixsmith)

You can learn how to make your own butter with my DIY editorial here; afterwards, just finely chop up a handful of softened dulse and massage into your butter. You won’t be disappointed.

Inishfood will return again this year over the May 18-20th weekend, and we already have the Westbrook House booked!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Dulse butter photo by Imen McDonnell 2012. Irish Country Magazine photo taken on location by food stylist,  Sharon Hearne-Smith.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

· · · ◊ ◊ ◊ · · ·

A Tale of Two Trifles

02 Dec 2011

I once compared our crazy marriage to sherry trifle: there are lovely sweet creamy bits, some definite fruity parts and pieces that go down hard.

Trifle is a new holiday tradition for me here in Ireland. I’m afraid the closest we came to trifle at Christmas when I was growing up was probably something involving Jell-o, whipped cream and fruit….unfathomably, the liquor part never caught on at our family gatherings Stateside.

Since I am in charge of the turkey and trifle for this year’s Christmas dinner, I decided to try my hand at whipping up a bowl this afternoon using a combination of both my mother-in-law and sis-and-law’s recipes that we could taste-test before the big event. I need to be positive that it’s juuuuusst right, no? {cough}

Every year my mother-in-law makes what we like to call her “Pioneer’s Trifle”. Pioneer, because as a young girl she took a lifelong vow to abstain from drinking alcohol, which in Ireland earns you the ‘Pioneer title.  And ‘Pioneer’s Trifle’ because:

Me: How would you describe your mother’s trifle?

Farmer: It’s a Pioneer’s Trifle.

Me: Why do you call it that?

Farmer: Because you wouldn’t want to be driving after eating it.

Her trifle is basically a massive jelly (Jell-o) shot with fruit and sponge suspended in it. The sponge has nearly disintegrated from being soaked in lashings of Sherry or Cognac. We spoon it up and serve it with a dollop of cream on top and it goes straight to your head. As far as the pioneer status? Eating alcohol is different than drinking it.

My lovely sis-in-law uses her own mother’s recipe which is a creamy, custardy version sans alcohol with fresh berries. Different, but equally glorious.

The hybrid of the two turned out positively divine. If you wanted less sponge, you could take out one layer. You can also omit the sherry or cognac, but I wouldn’t…

Next Wednesday, the 7th of December, I will be donning my butter apron for a fun holiday butter demo at The Tipperary Food Producers Christmas Cookery Extravaganza, taking place at the Clonmel Park Hotel in Clonmel, County Tipperary. The event features Rachel Allen preparing a variety of delicious dishes including her unique take on traditional Christmas favourites. Clonmel-based wine expert, Gary Gubbins of Red Nose Wine, will be giving guidance on wines to accompany the variety of dishes from the cookery demonstration. Doors open at 7:30PM. Homemade butter makes for a lovely edible Christmas gift! Come along to learn how to make your own and present it in pretty, festive packaging. I’d love to see you there =) xx

Holiday Sherry Trifle

Ingredients

600g/20oz Madeira or sponge cake, halved and cut into thick slices

300g/10oz fresh strawberries

6-8 tbsp sweet sherry or cognac

1.5 pints of prepared raspberry gelatin

500ml/ 2 cups thick custard, ready made or homemade

500ml/ 2 cups double or whipping cream, softly whipped

Handful, toasted, flaked almonds and fresh red currants

Directions

The trifle can be made in one large glass dish or into individual dessert glasses

Line the bottom of the dish or glasses with the cake slices.

Pour over sherry or cognac

Pour over cooled gelatin

Hull the strawberries and then layer evenly over the cake. Press lightly with a fork to release the juices.

Spoon over the custard in a thick layer.

Finish with a thick layer of whipped cream either spooned over or piped on using a piping bag

Decorate with toasted flaked almonds and pearls of red currants

Put in fridge to set for 2-3 hours before serving.


Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2011

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

· · · ◊ ◊ ◊ · · ·

My Funny Valentine

18 Feb 2011

I know this is a little late for Valentine’s Day, but I have a perfectly good excuse. I planned on making these sweet heart-shaped deep chocolate Guinness cakes for my special ♥ post, but as luck would have it, I came down with a terrible, knockdown cold this week and was quarantined to the bedroom until today. This illness came shortly after I finally recovered from the worst jet lag I had ever experienced coming back from America on the 6th.  Note to self: don’t forget sleep tabs for flight next time!

The good news is even though I was under the weather, I still managed to have a pretty good week. We’ve welcomed at least 15 new calves since the weekend, which always makes my heart smile and when I checked emails on Valentine’s morning, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this blog has been nominated in four categories for the Irish Blog Award this year! The categories are Food, Photo, Personal and Specialist. Am deeply flattered by this although I have to admit that I am not quite clear on what exactly I “specialize” in just yet! Check out all of the great Irish blog nominees here.

Despite the fact that I was bed-bound, I was able to have a little fun as evidenced by the #foodiefridgeflash that I jumpstarted in the Twitterverse on Wednesday. I like to call it an international flash mob of fridge innards. It was loads of fun watching the twitpics stream in all day on my laptop from the comfort of my bed. Have a peek at some of the photos here.

I also received my long awaited new P. Allen Smith, “Seasonal Recipes From The Garden” cookbook. If you have not heard of this gardener extraordinaire who has been deemed the “Martha Stewart of the South” by the New York Times, I highly recommend adding this book or any of his previous gardening books to your library. I turned on the kettle, lit my  favorite candle, slathered on some happy hand cream (I truly believe that aromatherapy heals) and proceeded to turn page after gorgeous page of inspiring seasonal recipes. I put the beautiful book down with fresh anticipation for the spirit of spring and getting into our garden again. I mean, poached egg & spring spinach salad? Delicious!

To top the week off, I was invited by Donal Doherty and the Irish Food Bloggers Association to share some of my butter-making love for their “foodies on tour” event next month at Harry’s Restaurant in Donegal. I will be presenting in the esteemed company of Ed Hick and TJ Crowe who will also be sharing their skills on the day. Donal says he has even more surprises planned….Burren Salmon? Artisan Chutney? You never know, as he’s always got something exciting up his sleeve! I am really excited to meet Donal, whom has really made a name for himself here in Ireland for his unwavering support and use of local (sometimes unsual) ingredients at Harry’s. If you are foodie, we welcome you to attend. You can find all the details on the IFBA website here.

So, the moral of this story is that sometimes being sick and in bed isn’t the worst. Except for physically feeling quite awful, I had a fantastic week. And, it’s all really because of this blog and those who follow along, so big thanks to you!

Happy {belated} Valentine’s Day.

Here’s that little Irish chocolate cake recipe I wanted to share with you…

Enjoy!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Imen McDonnell. Photographs in P.Allen Smith’s book by Ben Fink.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

· · · ◊ ◊ ◊ · · ·
Saveur Sites We Love
Recent Posts