Mmmmm. Fresh yogurt. Crunchy granola. Boo Berries.

BUT, before I go into all of that crazy goodness, I’d like to express my GINORMOUS thanks to all that voted for this blog in the Saveur Magazine Best Food Blog Awards. Voting is closed and the winners will be announced on May 3rd. If you voted, it was very generous and kind of you, if you didn’t, I get that too; signing up to vote in a contest is not everyone’s cup-o-tea. I’m just delighted that you take the time to read my funny little country-living/food-loving diary. It’s a labour of love.

I really must say that I am especially grateful to Bord Bia {the Irish food board}, Marie-Claire Digby of the Irish Times, The Irish Farmer’s Journal and Irish Country Mag, along with the amazing food and blogging community in Ireland who shared an overwhelming show of support in getting the word out about this nomination. If there is one thing I have noticed that Ireland does with great pride and enthusiasm, it is supporting the people, places or things they believe in. To receive this gesture of support as an American living in Ireland is something to relish; it is heartwarming and very special to say the least. Plus, it goes a long way in making an oft homesick expat feel right at home, and that is enough of a win for me! Thank you.

I apologise for not having a post up sooner. As luck would have it, we’ve had sketchy internet. I am not going to flannel on about it, because we are lucky that we even have a fast internet connection most of the time. This was not always the case. When I moved here just a few years ago, there was dial-up. The kind where you hear the dial tone and worse-than-nails-on-a-blackboard screeching sounds. Now, we have wi-fi, but the router is located in the cowshed at the upper farmyard because it picks up a better signal from there. Which is brilliant, until rains too much {cough} we don’t get a signal. Yes, it rains fairly often. (see Fair Weather Friend)

So. Homemade yogurt. Something I probably would have never dreamed of attempting, but when you have an Irish dairy on your doorstep and the nearest supermarket is 3/4′s of an hour away, it makes no sense whatsoever NOT to milk it. This post is not groundbreaking. There are already bags of other food blogs + websites featuring DIY yogurt. It’s like a bubbling pot of live bacteria out there. So, I am not going to claim that my version is the best, but I do know that our 6 year old prefers it over fromage frais which is nothing short of monumental. I personally think the trick is vanilla bean. Takes down that tang.

And, besides the cracking taste; other mightly fine reasons for making your own yoghurt are:

  1. It’s healthier as it contains no extra preservatives, sugars or additives {i.e. gobbledy-gook}
  2. It’s less expensive {even if you’re not farming}
  3. It’s friendlier to the environment {no trees will be harmed}

As far as the granola, it’s as simple as A. my go-to gorgeous Kilbeggan Oats roasted with B. my beekeeping father-in-law’s happy honey, and C. a few other nutty & seedy bits and bobs thrown in for good measure. Of course, you can use any brand of oats and honey from the shop or market. Easy peasy.

Sharing these recipes can only mean I’ve formally become “crunchy” right?  Okay, maybe halfsies; I did go out to a fancy city dinner wearing makeup and Michael Kors last week, so perhaps I’m just a partial granola girl.

Either way, I’m down with it.

Are you?

Farmhouse Yoghurt

2 Liters or 1/2 gallon of milk

(I use full fat from our dairy for a delightfully creamy result,

but you can buy organic milk of any fat content from the

market as well)

125 ml/ ½ cup of plain yogurt

(to be used a starter, store-bought & must have “live bacteria

cultures” on label)

1 teaspoon vanilla pod seeds

Stainless steel saucepan

Candy Thermometer

Over low heat, slowly bring the milk up to 77°C/170°F in saucepan with a candy thermometer. Do not allow the milk to boil at any time. Once your milk reaches 77°C/170°F, turn off the heat and bring the temperature back down to 43°C/110°F. Once your milk has reached 43°C/110°F, stir a little bit of the warm milk into the 125 ml/½ cup of plain yogurt.

Pour the milk and yogurt mixture into to the saucepan and gently stir them together. Stir in vanilla seeds.

Now it is time to incubate the yogurt. You will need to keep it at a temperature of about 110°F for the next 4-10 hours. The length of time will depend on how thick and tangy you want your yogurt. The longer it sits at this warm temperature, the firmer and tangier it will get. Check the yogurt at the 4 hour mark for a taste and texture test, if you are pleased you can move onto chilling.

I recommend putting the lid onto the saucepan of yogurt, wrapping it up in towels and placing into an oven which was preheated to 50°C/120°F and then turned off. (You can try to maintain the heat in the oven by leaving the light on, which can generate enough heat to keep the yogurt active, but I find keeping the pan cosy in towels should do the trick). All ovens are not the same so play it by ear. I have also read about using a crock-pot, heating pad or, of course, a yogurt maker as well.

When the desired time is up, place the yogurt in the fridge to chill. After the yogurt is completely chilled, stir. There may be a film over the top, which you can eat or simply remove. Pour yogurt into airtight containers and store. (remember to save some to use as your next starter.) Then poon into a dish, cover in granola & fresh berries and DEVOUR.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen x

Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2012

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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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Farm Kid/City Kid

01 Dec 2009

CIMG1050

Farm Fact: as a kid here in the Irish countryside you don’t necessarily have loads of neighborhood friends. Your “neighbors” might live a mile away so it’s not as easy to meet other children (if there are any) and have a constant stream of neighborhood playmates as you might have in the city. Thankfully, Geoffrey is meeting a few new friends at his Montessori (who will attend the same grade school as well), but at the moment most of his mates are my girlfriend’s children who live in Limerick City so we don’t get to see them as often as we’d like to. (note to self, must get out more!)

We usually spend summers in the USA, which is when differences in farm vs. city life really come to light. This past summer we stayed with our friends who live in a lively city neighborhood. So, as it goes, the street is right in front of their house and all around there are loads of small children playing away in their yards. Geoffrey, the social butterfly that he is, thought this was just the bee’s knees and kept trying to run across the road, not realizing how dangerous it was. (second note to self, maybe those harnesses aren’t such a bad idea). Basically speaking, he had no real concept of how a city street operated and so he had no fear. Glad he had no fear because I now need a triple bypass.

City Fact: there is a lively stream of colourful and exciting things to do with kids when you live in the city….children’s museums, art galleries, science museums, the zoo, karate, the pool, gymnastics, yoga, T-ball, the State Fair—everything is go, go, go and it seems that there is never, ever a dull moment. Nearly every restaurant in the USA is child-friendly (the opposite of Ireland) which is so brilliant. All summer Geoffrey enjoyed nonstop playtime with friends, relatives and neighbors and was in absolute heaven. I personally grew up in a beautiful small Midwestern town where summers meant playing outside with loads of friends until at least dusk every day…we would use an entire 3-4 block area to play kickball, hide & seek, kick the can or ring-doorbell-run (ssshhhh). It makes me happy to know that my son will be able to experience at least some of the same quirky people, places and things of my childhood as he grows up too—as this is very important business!

On the flip side, I have to remember that through his eyes Geoffrey is basically living a child’s dream here in the Irish countryside…what we read in his books and see in movies, he lives!  Charming castles, enchanting forests, sweet calves, little lambs, huge trucks, noisy tractors, busy building sites, prickly hedgehogs and red foxes with big fluffy tails…this is the “stuff of his life” here. What’s more is that he positively adores all things farm. He gets to go with Daddy or Grandad on various machines(the cool new John Deere models have an additional small seat and harness for your child)and do his “work” and he loves helping to feed all the farm animals on a regular basis.  Sure, we have to use our imagination a little more and be more creative to make our fun here, but that’s not such a bad thing. He loves playing outside with the dogs and going on “adventures”. We have planted an area of trees on one part of the land and that is now his “magic forest”(thank you Cat). There is also a lovely little stream running through the front yard over which he has built a bridge for his fishing “trips”. Our two Pyrenees dogs are “polar bears” and Ted is.. just Ted I guess. I love that Geoffrey much prefers gallivanting around the yard than playing on his swing set or his toys when we are here at  home in Ireland.

My only concern is that our little boy is beginning to become sensitive to the sun. He complains when it is sunny (which is hardly ever) and when we went to the States last summer, it took a couple weeks for him to adjust to the intensely sunny days..it was really blinding to him. But of course, after he adjusted, he couldn’t get enough of it (SPF 50) and by the time we got back to Ireland the weather here really started to get to him. He kept asking Daddy when it was going to stop raining. “Because if it doesn’t Dad, we’ll just have to go back to America!”

Thank you so much for your loyal readership.  I really enjoy writing and sharing these pieces with you all. I also want to say a special thank you to Liam and Corey of Irish Fireside whom interviewed me for their holiday podcast–we had a lot of fun! They have a great website and are currently featuring a holiday gift guide with lots of Irish goodies…so have a look.

Mind Yourself,

Imen x

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Our address is Shanagolden, but our village is called Kilcolman. You see, the farm address was changed by Grandma McDonnell whom years ago decided that the post (mail) would arrive much earlier in the day if she had a Shanagolden address because their post office was larger and far better staffed. She went in, boldly stated her case and was granted her wish. She was in the habit of making her wishes come true. So ironically, Shanagolden is actually down the road about 5-6 miles, but will now always be considered our town mailing address. Nevertheless, our rural community is called Kilcolman. Kilcolman, Ardagh, County Limerick to be exact. Kilcolman is what is known as our “parish” and basically consists of 3 brambly corners where 3 narrow roads meet on top of a small hill. On each corner there are the following: 1. St. Colman’s Catholic church and Purcell’s general shop/letterbox. 2. Kilcolman National School, which is the elementary school that Geoffrey will attend, and the last stop 3. Kilcolman Graveyard.
St. Colman’s church was built in 1913. It is said that all of the material for the church was transported to Kilcolman by horse and cart. There are also church ruins in the cemetery dating back to 1253 which are likely that of an Augustinian Abbey. St. Colman’s is a quaint stone church in a small parish, but stands high on the hill and can be seen from quite a distance. Next door, Purcell’s shop is tiny and tidy—a place where you can pick up a tub of butter and a jar of instant coffee and eavesdrop on village gossip if you are so inclined. Kilcolman Graveyard, bestowed with Cypress trees and Celtic crosses is carefully maintained by a quiet gentleman who lives nearby. There is lore that there is a stone in the cemetery which can cure headaches. I have yet to try it. The Kilcolman National School is the only somewhat modern structure on the three corners. Still, it was built in accordance with planning laws that say all structures must abide by typical Irish countryside design meaning it fits cozily into the pretty parish picture.
Richard’s brother D and wife R’s house is called “The Old Presbytery” and is formerly the home of all the parish priests and visiting clergy. The house dates back to 1862 and still has a wing which was once a small chapel. Nowadays, the Parish priest lives just down the road in a small bungalow. Father Mullane (Mill-Ann) is a smiley, handsome 40-something fella with high cheekbones and a twinkle in his eye. His hair is silver, but prematurely so. He has a brand new VW which he drives fast and just always, always seems frantically busy. You’ll always see him gardening or renovating the house in some way, there has even been talk that he has been recruiting help to replace the massive stained glass windows in the church with new ones. To think! Each Wednesday morning when I bring G to Montessori we see Father Mullane frantically speeding to church at about 940am. Mass is at 930. That always makes me chuckle. In fact, the whole ride to G’s Montessori makes me chuckle because it still seems so surreal to me. We leave our gate and turn right, we are surrounded by green lush countryside dotted with cows, sheep and horses and in less than 2 minutes we arrive in Kilcolman where we meet the church, cemetery, store and school. Indeed, the picture perfect parish.

Slainte,

Imen

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