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INT. Irish country bedroom. SATURDAY morning, before SUNRISE.

“Mom, time to get up! When can we go meet the kids?”

I slowwwwly, squintedly, open one eye, blink twice, then try to focus on the ebullient face of a little farmer who seems far too jovial upon waking for my fragile morning head to manage. (note to self: making homemade mead might not be a good routine to start after all)

The clock reads 6:41am.

Confused, I mumble, “kids? what kids?”

He, in his best clever clogs lilt, points out, “Not kid kids, mother… baby goat kids! Remember?”

I pull the covers over my head.

He pulls them down.

I pull them back up.

I lose.

“Your hair looks really weird mom”

Baby goats are a treat.

We don’t have them on our farm.

We want them here, but we don’t have them here. (YET)

Farm envy. It is possible.

I throw back the duvet and drag myself out of bed. As I draw open the shades I tell myself that I should always be the one who is awake first no matter what day of the week it is. Mother guilt, can’t go without a daily dose, right?

We rustle up some brekky.

And, text our goat mama friend.

FB goat mama friend.

Wait.

Weed. (highly recommend weeding while waiting, soothes anxiety)

Wait.

Wonder if..…. “Mom, let’s just turn up at their house.”

Nah, still not quite Irish enough for that yet. Need confirmation for visitations.

Wait.

Walk to our farm to feed our own babies.

Work out a plan to visit the following day with a bonus: another new kid happened!

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INT. Irish country bedroom. SUNDAY morning, before SUNRISE.

“Mom, time to get up! When can we go meet the kids?”

I slowwwwly, squintedly, open one eye, blink twice, then try to focus on the ebullient face of a little farmer who seems far too jovial upon waking for my fragile morning head to manage. (note to self: making homemade mead might not be a good routine to start)

The clock reads 6:41am.

Confused, I mumble, “kids? what kids?”

He, in his best clever clogs lilt, points out, “Not kid kids, mother… baby goat kids! Remember?”

I pull the covers over my head.

He pulls them down.

I pull them back up.

I lose.

“Your hair looks really weird mom”

Baby goats are a treat.

We don’t have them on our farm.

We want them here, but we don’t have them here. (YET)

Farm envy. It is possible.

And, off we went…..

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Afterwards, I couldn’t resist making some fresh cheese. (see my fresh farmer cheese method here, just swap raw goats milk for cow’s milk and use a tbsp of lemon juice instead of vinegar for creamier texture)

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Followed by fresh cheesecake.

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Goats Milk Cheesecake with Woodland Honey
This is a super easy, non fussy fresh cheesecake that is always a hit with family and friends. Prepare in the morning and have it for dessert in the evening. The goats cheese provides a richer, fuller flavour than cow’s milk cream cheese, and making the cheese fresh makes it even more wholesome. The honey gives it a bit of a sweetness boost for the finish. I love my father-in-law’s honey from down in the wood, it’s delicious!
Ingredients
125 grams/ 1 ¼ cup crumbled digestive biscuits or graham crackers (Bourbon
biscuits would be nice too)
75 grams/ 6 tbsps soft butter ends ingredient
300 grams/ 10oz soft goats cheese (homemade or from the market)
60 grams/ ½ cup icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
250 ml/ 1 cup heavy cream
Honey for drizzling
Method
1. Process biscuits in a food processor until they turn to large crumbs, then add the butter and pulse again to make bring the mixture together.
2. Press mixture into a 20cm / 8 inch springform tin; press a little up the sidesto form a ridge.
3. Beat together the goats cheese, icing sugar, vanilla extract in a bowl until smooth
4. Lightly whip the double cream, and then fold it into the cream cheese mixture.
5. Spoon the cheesecake filling on top of the biscuit base and smooth with a spatula.
6. Put it in the fridge for 4 hours or overnight.
7. Drizzle liberally with honey and serve.

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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 weekend Geoffrey and I picked all of the apples and pears at our little farm orchard. All I could think about was apple dumplings. Some people have visions of sugar plums. I dream of apple dumplings.  Apple dumplings are pastry wrapped baked apples. They are perfect for using up apples that don’t shine up all prim and purty…which was basically nearly all of ours this year.

I suppose it is fairly safe to say that cooking has officially consumed me. I am sure this has come as quite a shock to those who knew me B.F. (before farm)…aka, the incessant diner-outer who was better known for raiding craft services tables on production than crafting her own cider.  I categorically cherished good food; as long as someone else was preparing it. This evolution has been most surprising to me, but as I’ve come to realize, knowing how to cook and bake is absolutely essential to farm living. There is really no other option. We simply do not have the convenience of time or location to eat outside of our kitchen on a regular basis  ever. What we have is the space and potential to grow and prepare most of our own food. And so, this is what we endeavour to do. {However, a dirty dinner at The Spotted Pig wouldn’t go astray}

Still, there can be clashes in the kitchen. For instance, pastry is persnickety. Dough in general. There is a science to it. When you do it right, it can be very rewarding. But, sometimes that reward doesn’t come as often as I’d like. Generally, there are only three ingredients. It should be easy. Though mostly it’s not. The pastry I used for these apple dumplings is the same one my mother-in-law uses for her apple tart. There is egg in it. If the temperature isn’t right, it falls apart and you stand there weeping into it. (alternatively, you can scream and bang the rolling pin onto countertop until dough flies everywhere. Satisfying, but cows will think you are crazy + there’s more mess to clean up)  It is imperative that you turn the disc of pastry round and round while you are rolling it or the edges crack and badda-bing, you’re done. One day, I shall master pastry….like the little blue choo that could….maybe it will be that chicken pot pie or perhaps a daring mille-feuille, but I will get there, promise.

Peggy’s buttery sweet pastry is perfection baked around an apple sprinkled with some autumn spices. It’s well worth the meltdown effort. And, having fresh honey and milk on hand to churn scoops of beautiful burnt honey ice cream doesn’t hurt either…

Irish Apple Dumplings

Peggy’s pastry

Juice from one lemon

6 medium cooking apples (Bramley’s work well)

55g or 1/4 cup packed brown sugar

50g or 1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp cloves

Pinch kosher salt

30g or 2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

Turn out the dough onto a well-floured surface and roll into a large rectangle or square, about 1/8-inch thick.

Cut a piece of parchment paper into a 6-inch square. Using the parchment paper as a guide, cut out 6 total squares from the dough, gathering scraps and re-rolling as needed. Layer the dough on pieces of parchment paper and refrigerate while preparing the apples.

Preheat the oven to 230c/450f°.

Add the lemon juice to a bowl of ice water. Peel and core each apple and place in the lemon water to prevent browning.

To make the filling, combine the brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt in a small bowl. Sprinkle the bottom of a square of dough with sugar mixture. Place an apple in the center of dough. Put one pat of butter in the core of the apple and sprinkle additional sugar mixture inside. Bring the four corners of dough up around the apple, pinching the edges to seal and folding over excess if necessary. Continue with all of the apples.

Arrange the apple dumplings in a baking dish, leaving about 1-inch of space between each apple. Bake until the crust begins to turn golden brown, about 40 minutes.

Burnt Honey Ice Cream

125ml or ½ cup honey

1 tsp cinnamon

500ml or 2 cups milk

250ml or 1 cup double (heavy) cream

Cook honey and cinnamon in a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat for 5 minutes or until dark coloured and smoking. Add 2 tbsp cold water and remove from heat immediately.

Heat milk and cream in a separate saucepan and bring almost to the boil. Gradually whisk in burnt honey + cinnamon and stir over low heat until mixture is combined. Do not boil. Remove from heat, pour into a bowl and cool (overnight in refrigerator is ideal). Freeze mixture in an ice-cream machine and then place in freezer for 2-3 hours before serving. 

Happy Autumn.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos by Imen McDonnell 2012

 

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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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