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“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, 

so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

-Joseph Campbell

I met this fine-looking farmer when he was visiting the United States one particularly frigid week in February 2004. It was his second visit to the Twin Cities of the American Midwest, where I had been hunkering down in hibernation mode for the winter. He had come to visit a childhood mate who had moved to St. Paul, Minnesota after secondary school. It was only his second time in Minneapolis, the beloved city that I had recently returned to after a production stint an at Emmy award-winning television show in New York City.

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Prior to New York, I had spent a chunk of time living the hazy, surreal, set-life of Los Angeles. I loved the buzz of film sets and sound stages and just being a part of the team behind-the-scenes. I grew up an ambitious girl in small-town Wisco, and was always eager to break away to the bright lights of a big city. In Minneapolis, I had found balance working as a creative producer for an influential, (if somewhat Mad Men-esque) advertising agency, while traveling globally to execute broadcast television campaigns for international beauty and food brands. I lived comfortably in the middle of the picturesque city, and if I was going anywhere else, you could hedge your bets that it would be back to Brooklyn.

On the evening we were introduced, I hadn’t fancied going out, but I was persuaded by a colleague who was desperate for a fun night after a long workweek. I wasn’t feeling terrific that day, so I prettied myself up as best as I could and got on with it, as you do when all you really want to do is lounge around in flannel pajamas and sip chamomile tea all evening. Before I knew it, my taxi arrived, and I mustered the energy to run out the door.

We were having a laugh with friends at a newish downtown lounge when a handsome flaxen-haired fella breezed past our group, turned his head and shot us a smile. As he was waiting for his drink at the bar, my friend starting chatting with him. Or was she chatting him up? Either way, I could see that he was very polite and by the lilt in his voice, I noted that he was clearly not from the United States, though I couldn’t quite place his accent.

After a casual introduction, I learned that this striking man with the unusual accent was named Richard McDonnell. And, judging from his fair-skinned, ginger-topped mates sipping pints of Guinness, I put two and two together and wielding some heavy-handed stereotypes guessed that they were all either from Ireland or perhaps the UK.

The evening was becoming far more interesting than I had anticipated.

Later, as the others trailed off in conversation and dance, Richard and I found ourselves at a table alone and began to get to know one another. He revealed that he lived on a farm in the Irish countryside that had been in his family since the 1800’s and that he had a university degree in philosophy. What a fascinating combination, I thought. Kant, Hobbes, Plato had been impossible for me to get my head around in my university studies, and farming….well, I had never stepped foot on a real working farm in my life.  He also shared that his star sign was Aquarius, as is mine. I warmed to him. Though I occasionally found it hard to understand his thick Irish brogue, he had no shortage of charming and funny quips, which kept me in stitches all evening long.

At the end of the night, Richard said he would only be in town for a few more days and asked if I would join him for dinner the following evening. Somewhat reluctantly, I agreed. Despite enjoying our lively conversation, I was still not sure if I really wanted to see him again. I wasn’t keen on romance at the time. But, he said “think about it and choose your favorite restaurant,” and suddenly I was torn between fun visions of the best melt-in–your-mouth butterknife steak at kitsch and campy Murray’s or the only authentic spaghetti and meatballs in town washed down with goblets of Barolo at the quiet little trattoria in my neighborhood. We exchanged phone numbers and went our separate ways.

Early the next morning, he texted me to say he was looking forward to our dinner. I panicked. Happily busy with a creative career that kept me constantly working and traveling, I had convinced myself that I had no time or energy to put into developing a rewarding relationship, or was I just simply nervous and unsure of myself? If I knew one thing, it was that I had no designs on dating a farmer from Ireland! Still, Richard was awfully attractive, intelligent, and quite charismatic, so despite my hang–ups, I agreed on the stipulation that my bubbly Aussie friend and her lovely husband would join us. After all, a girl can never be too careful, right?

We met at a quaint new eatery that had been getting excellent reviews. Built into a historic neighborhood bakery, the space was intimate and filled to the brim with vintage bistro charm and personality. Looking in from the outside on a brisk winter’s evening you could see tables situated behind spacious steamed-up lead glass windows with enchanted looking people dining together in dim candlelight. The quiet sounds of Chet Baker could be heard under the commotion of lively dinner conversation, the atmosphere was romantic and convivial at once, the best sort of combination.

Richard walked in, all refreshed, pressed and dressed, and I must confess, I felt a twinge of excitement in my tummy when our eyes met. I introduced him to my friends, and the conversation, laughter, and Burgundy flowed all night long.

The food was sensational. We both ordered coq au vin, which was so rich and tender that I may have actually been able to eat it with a dessert spoon. For our final course, an unforgettable chocolate fondant with a lavender-laced molten center that took my breath away. I will never forget the perma-grin I was sporting from ear to ear all evening.

At the end of the meal, Richard excused himself and discreetly paid the entire bill. Clearly chivalry was not dead to him, but I insisted on chipping in as well. Later that evening he told me that it was his birthday. I marveled at his level of modesty, as such information would have certainly been divulged during dinner had it been my birthday.

I wondered, could he be for real?

After we said goodnight, I turned the events of the evening in my head over and over. I came to the conclusion that being selfless and humble is absolutely alluring. Not all, but plenty of men that had previously come into my life were far more preoccupied with their own interests and never seemed to cease speaking in a certain style of egoistic banter; a personality trait that Richard McDonnell did not seem to possess.

Richard was planning to return to Ireland on Valentine’s Day and inquired,

“So, tell me, who will be your Valentine this year?”

…to which I demurely replied,

“why, my father, of course”.

When I arrived at my office on the morning of his departure, I was greeted with an enormous basket of beautiful flowers and a card that read,

“Well, you’re my Valentine”.

I was hooked.

That romantic gesture launched over a year of transatlantic dating romance, the requisite meeting of the families, (my father gave his blessing the minute he realized I couldn’t stop “smiling like a Cheshire Cat” whenever we were together), and hopping around to holiday spots together as I traveled on production business overseas. Soon, we knew that we wanted to spend more time together on a permanent basis, which was a glorious notion, except this meant one of us would have to uproot and relocate.

We were two people who had fallen hopelessly in love who had to make a choice, which wasn’t going to be easy. I knew that Richard wasn’t in a position to “relocate” his family farm, and my work was seemingly more flexible, but I couldn’t be sure.

Finally, I decided brazenness could pay off; I took the risk and leaped!

 

hen

Rich Chocolate Buttermilk Cake
Over the years, I have come to the realisation that a farmer’s affinity for chocolate could quite simply be attributed to energy-craving exhaustion. Nevertheless, it is a family favorite so I decided early on that I would have to perfect a chocolate cake that the whole farm would love. I wanted to create a creamy, mellow, super moist chocolate-y-but-not-overpoweringly-so chocolate layer cake. The test was on. I started with a sour cream chocolate cake, then tried crème fraîche, and even tried cream cheese. While a couple of those tasted very nice, not until I incorporated buttermilk did I discover the ideal formula. This is a rich, dense, somewhat tangy cake with a super-buttery chocolate buttercream icing and creamy deep chocolate ganache. It is well suited for chocolate loving family and friends, yet still a treat for those who claim they aren’t crazy for chocolate. Make this decadent cake for Valentine’s Day, I swear it is totally tastes like love
Makes one 9” layer cake
For the Cake
1¾ cups (218g) all-purpose flour
2 cups (400g) granulated white sugar
¾ cup (90g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1½ tsp baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup (237ml) buttermilk
½ cup (113g) butter, melted
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 cup (237ml) hot coffee (or 2 tsp instant coffee in 1 cup boiling water)
For the chocolate filling:
7 oz (200g) dark chocolate (70 percent cocoa solids or more), chopped
2 sticks + 1 tablespoon (17 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
4 egg yolks
1 1/4 cups (156g) confectioner’s sugar, sifted
For the chocolate ganache:
5 oz (140g) dark chocolate (about 52 percent cocoa solids), chopped
1 1/4 cups (300ml) heavy cream
To decorate:
Chocolate curls
Unsweetened cocoa powder and confectioner’s sugar, to dust.
Bake the cake:
Preheat oven to 350f/175c degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch baking pans and line with parchment paper circles. Set aside.
In the large bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Add eggs, buttermilk, melted butter and vanilla extract and beat until smooth (about 3 minutes). Remove bowl from mixer and stir in hot coffee. The batter will be runny.
Divide batter evenly between the two pans and bake on middle rack of oven for about 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Allow to cool 15 minutes in pans, then run a butter knife around the edges of each cake. Pop out and allow to cool on wire cooling rack.
To make the filling:
Melt the chocolate in a bain marie or a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of hot water. Set aside to cool slightly. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter in standing mixer for at least 10 minutes at high speed, until pale and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and confectioner’s sugar and beat vigorously for another 5 minutes. Once the butter mixture is thoroughly mixed, remove 2 tablespoons and stir it into the cooled, melted chocolate. Then slowly pour the melted chocolate down the side of the mixing bowl (to prevent egg mixture from scrambling) into the butter mixture and fold it in quickly and gently until fully combined and smooth.
To make the ganache
Once the cakes are cooled, you can start making the chocolate ganache. Put the chocolate in a large bowl. Heat the cream to boiling point, then pour it over the chocolate, and stir until it melts. Set aside to cool. With a hand mixer, beat the cooled chocolate cream until it barely forms soft peaks, making sure not to overbeat it, or it will become too stiff to spread.
To assemble the cake
Split the cakes in half horizontally with a sharp serrated knife. Spread the chocolate filling onto each layer and sandwich the layers together. Frost the cake with the chocolate ganache and decorate with chocolate curls, if you wish.

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Slan Abhaile & Happy Valentine’s Day!

Imen x

Cake & farm photos by Imen McDonnell, styling by Sonia Mulford-Chaverri. 

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Banoffee Crepe Cake

09 Feb 2016

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I am delighted to announce the five recipients of my upcoming book, The Farmette Cookbook, Recipes and Adventures from My Life on an Irish Farm: Debra Dorn, Jen Kohan, Martha Bernie, Emily Grace & Sally Savage. Thank you all for your lovely comfort food comments, I had so much fun reading them all! I may be doing another giveaway in March, so stay tuned.

I have also updated my events page with some upcoming book & workshop dates, so please do have a look, we hope to see you around. I will be adding Ireland and UK book event dates very soon, promise!

Now, allow me to introduce this decadent Banoffee crepe cake. Absolutely overly indulgent, somewhat time consuming to prepare, and yet, oh SO necessary on Pancake Tuesday, an Irish holiday for which I am eternally grateful. A celebration that never fails to warm my heart and tickle my tastebuds. This recipe makes the perfect pan(cake) to be enjoyed with family and friends gathered around our table. I hope you enjoy it too.

Banoffee Crepe Cake
Serves 10
Makes about 20 crepes (depending on thickness and diameter)
1 cup plain all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
6 eggs
3/4 litre/21 fl ozs milk
Butter for frying
350ml/12 ozs caramel, toffee, or milk jam
1 tablespoons rum (optional)
300ml/10 fl ozs. heavy dairy cream
½ tsp vanilla extract
3 ripe bananas, sliced into coins
For the crepes:
Combine the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a large bowl with a spout whisk the eggs and milk together until combined. Make a well in the center of the flour and salt mixture and gradually whisk the egg and milk mixture into the flour until thoroughly mixed.
Heat a frying pan on low to medium heat and add a little butter to the pan. Pour a ladle full of batter to cover the bottom of the pan. Don’t get anxious if there are holes or your crepes aren’t perfect-they stack on top of each other. When one crepe side is cooked, gently flip it over. Stack the crepes on top of each other. Cover and cool completely.
Whip the cream and vanilla until stiff peaks form and set aside.
Loosen the caramel with the rum or with a little of the cream if it is too stiff until it is a spreadable consistency.
Assembly:
Spread one crepe with the caramel and then place another on top and place banana slices on top, place another crepe on top and spread that with the whipped cream, and keep alternating until you are on your last crepe.
Scullery notes: you can make the crepes up to two days in advance, or you can buy pre-made crepes if you are short on time.

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Slan Abhaile,
Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2016. 

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Geoffrey pulled the winning name for the Irish Taste Club flavour box, and the winner is: Brenda Smith. Congratulations Brenda! And, thank you to everyone else who left a comment to be in the draw, you are also winning as Irish Taste Club is offering a 10% discount on all orders, just plug in the code FARMETTE10 when you are checking out!

I was planning a long wordy post, mostly to warble on about how crazy things always are around here at this time of year; inspired by the fact that we were recently asked by a journalist to chat about how we work straight through the holidays (animals need to be taken care of 24/7 which puts a damper on any designated holiday time off) and yet still manage to prepare and sit down to enjoy a feast or two of celebration. By and by, there’s no question that it takes nimble planning and a bit of Irish luck…..

……however,

this week I received a timely passage from a dear friend stateside who always reminds me to see things in the best light, and that you can find balance even when you are in a #panickedtiredholidayfarming state of mind.

So, I shall leave you with her simple, earnest, words and a festive recipe for my smashing holiday Gingerbread layer cake with champagne marmalade and juniper-infused fresh dairy cream.

“the holidays are best if you have a spirit of gratitude for what you have….”

 hen

We all have so much to be grateful for….I am certainly grateful to you all! Thank you for following along with my recipes and adventures. Happy holidays!

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Gratitude Gingerbread Layer Cake with Champagne Marmalade & Juniper Cream
This cake is a bit of a show stopper so if you have an event coming up, there will be plenty of oohs and ahhhs when this smashing beauty arrives on the dessert table. Having said that, the cake is easy to make and assembly with a little bit of time and planning. I bake the cakes and infuse the cream the day before so just need whip cream and put it together the following day.

Serves 8-10
For the cake (2 layers):
220g/1 cup butter
300g/ 1 1/4 cup light muscovado sugar (brown sugar)
6tbsp black treacle (molasses)
6tbsp golden syrup (sub more brown sugar)
2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
6 medium eggs
240ml/1 cup milk
700g/ heapng 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3tsp baking soda
Pinch of salt
8tsp ground ginger
3tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp cardamom
215g/2/3 cup of medium cut marmalade (I used Fortnum & Mason’s champagne marmalade because they sent me some and totally merry! You can order Christmas Hampers here)
250g/1 1/2 cups heavy whipped cream
¼ cup juniper berries
Edible Gold spray (optional)

1. To be done a day ahead: Place juniper berries into a container, add heavy cream. Cover and place back into fridge until the next day. Strain cream and then whip cream until firm.
2. Preheat the oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 and grease and line 2x 20cm round cake tins with greaseproof paper.
3. Gently heat the butter, brown sugar, golden syrup, treacle and grated ginger in a saucepan on a low heat stirring often.
4. Measure and combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Sift the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, ground ginger, allspice, cardamom and pinch of salt and stir until well combined. Leave to one side.
5. Once the sugar has dissolved in the saucepan take off the heat and set aside to cool down. Gradually add in the eggs, continuously stirring. Next, add in the milk. You can use a whisk at this point or just continue to beat with a wooden spoon. (or use a stand mixer)
6. Pour the wet mixture in with the dry ingredients and stir/fold until the wet and dry ingredients are thoroughly combined.
7. Separate the mixture into even portions in the 2 x 20cm cake tins and bake in oven for 45-50 minutes until baked through and a knife comes out clean . Turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool.
8.To assemble your cake, spoon a little of the marmalade onto your cake plate and pop on the base layer, the marmalade will help to hold the cake in place like icing would. Cover the base layer in a heavy spread of the marmalade using a palette knife or spatula. Next, dollop the juniper-infused cream onto top of the marmalade. Add second ginger cake layer.
9. For the top of the cake, top with sugar-glazed clementine, lime, or lemon slices. Decorate by studding with juniper berries and shimmer with gold spray.
10. Best served on the same day, or store in the refrigerator covered in plastic wrap. It should keep in the  for up to 3 days.
Scullery Notes: This type of cake is loosely based on the classic Victoria Sponge. In keeping with tradition, serve small slices and eat with your hands like a sandwich!

Slan Abhaile,

With Gratitude,

Imen xx

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2015

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Sunday Bits

22 Nov 2015

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Oh dear.

It’s been far too long since I last put together one of these sassy Sunday Bits. But, between farming, mothering, cooking, writing, homework and every possible other thing I can commit to (mad woman), having a free moment to blog is becoming as scarce as hen’s teeth.

Over the last few weeks….we’ve welcomed at least a dozen new calves, celebrated our son’s first decade, minded our 10.5 year old Airedale Terrier, Ted, while he has been struggling with some health issues, I traveled to Dublin to give an extremely passionate talk on Irish dairy farming for Catherine Cleary’s Appetite Talks, spent an evening at the American Ambassador to Ireland’s residence in Dublin listening to Danny Meyer talk about hospitality as a part of the Creative Minds series, and hung out with many, many fabulous foodcentrics like myself (pictured with me are Domini Kemp, Jo Murphy and Susan Jane White all in our celebratory green), our 3rd Lens & Larder workshop took place at Ballynahinch Castle in Connemara with Susan Spungen and Gentl & Hyers (we are building our L&L website with my designer friends, Hayes Design across the Atlantic on Martha’s Vineyard right now so stay tuned for more images there, but the top image was taken by Gentl & Hyers of our big table feast moment), I harvested potatoes, French blue leeks, parsnips, celery, horseradish, purple kale and loads of lettuces and herbs from our kitchen garden, foraged for sloes, rosehips, bramble and elderberries, harvested honey with my father in law, went to an incredible ladies sidesaddle meet at the local Franciscan Friary, attended a thought-provoking “SpeakEATsy” dinner at Cloughjordan Community Farm and Eco-Village, and spent the night at the remarkable Cloughjordan House, where we will hopefully be producing a Lens & Larder retreat next year, and, of course, there has been plenty of baking to go around….including gypsy pie!

…….And, in other dalliances,

I am going to be co-teaching a workshop in Australia next April!!! Yes, still pinching myself and relishing in this news. I feel so honored to be partnering with the super lovely fellow farmer, Sophie Hanson of Local Lovely, and the incredibly talented photographer, Luisa Brimble to present a workshop of food, photography, and traditional Irish farmhouse kitchen skills with a few recipes from my book at the gorgeous Kimbri Farm in the Rydal Blue Mountains, about 2 hours from Sydney. For more details and registration, visit Local-Lovely.

I was recently introduced to The Irish Taste Club, magnificent gift boxes filled with very special Irish artisan food products such as Ed Hick’s fabulous bacon jam, Dunany Flours, Wild Irish Sea Vegetables Kombu, and many more exclusively Irish products that can be delivered to the USA and abroad each month. Leave a comment below to be in the draw for your own free gift box, and spread the word! The owners of this company are just darling, and these gift boxes make for the perfect holiday pressie for homesick Irish abroad!

I have begun collaborating with Aran Sweaters, writing recipes and taking photos for their beautiful blog…have a peek!

The beautiful Swedish watch company, Daniel Wellington, asked us to photograph one of their timepieces, so I let Richard do the modelling, as seen in the image below….click here for 15% off using the code MODERNFARMETTE.

I filed my first online food/drink column for Town & Country (UK) this week, will share the link when the first piece is published on Tuesday. Very excited about this new work!

Ballymaloe Litfest has announced their line-up for their sensational spring event. Again, holiday pressies people!!

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Okay, I think that it is for now…….over and out, shall be sharing a lovely new winter recipe soon. Don’t forget to leave a comment to be in the draw for an Irish Taste Club gift box!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

 

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milkvin

I just may be away with the fairies.*

On top of my work and life at the farm, developing recipes, writing about food and getting ready to promote my first book , organising Lens & Larder Retreats (with many more exciting workshops coming in 2016 that will involve writing as well as styling and photography) and, being a good mammy** by shuttling our son to the city twice a week for trombone lessons (quite an unexpected instrument, but he’s absolutely taken with it, and I piggyback these trips with necessary errands to be justly footprint pragmatic)

….……Clearly, I was not doing enough (this is the part where “away with the fairies” comes in) so I decided to go back to university this autumn to earn a multidisciplinary degree with an emphasis on food, farming, mindfulness and healing the environment. My first area of college study was journalism and mass communication, which circuitously carried me to the path of broadcast production, which, as I have spoken about before, was a very contrasting lifestyle than the one in which I now live.

Of the ten years I’ve spent in Ireland, eight of them have been on this farm in the southwest part of the country where the land is fertile and you meet more farmers than people who work in other professions. In fact, this may be true throughout the country, outside of the major cities. Every conversation seems to go back to farming. Or the weather. Then, back to farming again. No one cares about the time I got to work with Cruise or Clooney. That isn’t real life out here.

hen

There are definitely more animals than people where we live. The grass is lush and many shades of green; everywhere you turn is a vision of verdant and I often wonder what would happen if the cows didn’t eat the grass, and the hedgecutters didn’t do their trimming. I imagine an island completely grown over in ivy and holly and dock leaves and evergreens and heather and just grass, grass, grass.

As I complete my weekly coursework, I am becoming a student of the food system; learning how it works, and how it doesn’t, in essence, just how broken it is. I am grasping how political leaders have reshaped policies and regulations and laws to benefit just a handful of massive agribusinesses and corporations who now control almost every aspect of the food system in the USA. I am carefully studying every detail of the Farm Bill, the primary agricultural and food policy tool of the United States federal government. I am watching endless video talks, reading books, articles and films on the subject of the complex global food system. I am comparing and contrasting with the Irish and European agricultural administrations.

It’s no surprise that I have long been an advocate for local food. I left America and married a 7th generation farmer. We grow much of our own food, which is rewarding, but also necessary and cost-effective. I am constantly inspired by how the world is embracing the farm-to-table movement. I have written and shared countless articles on this trend, which seems so exciting and positive and like everything is going in the right direction and all will be peachy keen. But, the sum of what is happening to our food system is much more menacing than even I presumed.

As I sit at my desk, I can see out onto a pasture where my striking husband is carefully checking on a group of maiden heifers. He looks tired and worn, and yet he always, always works with so much passion and pride. Richard is absolutely relentless in caring for the land and the health of the animals, trying everything to make our farm more efficient, more sustainable, and to bring in more revenue in order to take a rare break every once in awhile from his 7-day work weeks. He will never give up nor will he ever leave this land. Watching and working alongside him makes my heart swell with love and adoration and respect. And, it also incenses me. Hard-working farmers are not rewarded enough for what could be considered the most important work there is on earth, the work of feeding human beings. We don’t need to make riches, but a bit more respect and the ability to make a profit against all the expenses sure would be nice.

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If you eat, you have a stake in the food system. In Ireland, in America, in every country in the world. Eaters must join farmers in saving the world’s food system.

Family farms in most developed countries are being backed into a corner by big agribusiness and corporations. Often the result is highly profitable factory farms which are not only unfair to animals, but are toxic to our environment. This current paradigm is damaging and unsustainable. And, sadly, it is moving full steam ahead. Fortunately, Ireland currently does not have any true factory farms, but they are cropping up in the UK and it could just be a matter of time before Irish farmers get hoodwinked into this type of intensive farming as well. We do, however, have big agribusinesses that commercial farmers absolutely rely on for their livelihood. And, if TTIP passes, Ireland’s food sovereignty will certainly be at risk. 

But, there is hope. As consumers, we can take action to work to change/stop this dynamic. Let’s try to look at food as GOLD. It should not be cheap, especially when you think of what goes into honest farming. Farmers should be paid more, not less, and less, and less. But, I digress.

If you can’t afford organic, local, “Whole (Foods) Paycheck”style shopping, you can still participate in making cultural change. Become an informed shopper: is your milk from your region? Are your greens locally harvested? Is your chicken from your country? We can all engage to change the laws and rules in our countries. We all have a stake in our food system and we should all be working (even in small ways) to balance the power between corporations and people. We can choose democracy and participate in a rally, start a local petition, or even simply vote for a candidate who is an advocate for change. We can sign up for a CSA, buy direct from farmers, shop at your local farmers market….even once a month will begin to make a change. Everyone can do these things. There is no special skillset.

Grandma Johnson’s Milk Vinaigrette
My grandmother used to make the most perfect and simple salad dressing. For every meal, we would have this light, creamy and tangy dressing ladled over freshly picked, ultra buttery Bibb lettuce from her massive kitchen garden that she insisted on maintaining long after she moved from farm to town. To this day, when I make this dressing and eat a salad, I dream of sitting on her back porch watching bed linens float in the wind behind flourishing rows of lettuce, cucumbers and sweet peas. When you make this recipe, I challenge you to buy your milk from a farmer, or if you buy at the store, buy the milk that comes from a local independent creamery. The same goes for the lettuce and greens. You could even buy local eggs and make your mayo from scratch and use apple cider vinegar from a local orchard. I promise it will taste of ambrosia, in many varied, sustainable ways.

Grandma Johnson’s Milk Vinaigrette
Serves 4
½ cup/120ml fresh milk
4 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbps white vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl
Toss liberally with freshly harvested salad greens
Eat and Feel good.
Scullery Notes: Store in sealed container in fridge, will last up to a week.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

*Irish slang for crazy, mad, nuts…you get the gist.

**Irish term of endearment for mommy, mother, mom

Photo by Imen McDonnell, Styled by Sonia Mulford-Chaverri and Imen McDonnell 

 

 

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Sister Mary Custard

09 Sep 2015

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I can recall my first glorious taste of custard on this side of the pond. I was in the maternity hospital the day after Geoffrey was born and a nurse delivered a dainty bowl of stewed apple (i.e. applesauce) topped with warm custard after lunch. This was the nurse that insisted on calling me “princess,” and not the nurse who told me they don’t call it labor for nothing! as I tossed and turned, moaning in excruciating pain on my wrought iron hospital bed the night before.

I didn’t know what to expect when I was admitted to the hospital nearly 8 weeks prior to my due date with Geoffrey. I think I was in such a state of shock that my entire being just switched over to autopilot after my water broke (note: broke is by far an understatement, gushing would be more accurate) that fateful morning. You could say, I just went with the flow, and before I knew it we had a bouncing baby boy weighing in at just over 2kg, a wee bit larger than one of our free-range chickens. Thankfully, despite being such a little mite, he was hale and hearty and after 10 days in neonatal we got to take him home.

hen In Ireland, there are specific hospitals for pregnant women and their gynecological concerns. This is reassuring in a way; it’s nice to know you are in a place that has a focus and expertise on your specific lady bits. But, many are still ruled by Catholic nuns, so if the idea of having a nurse named Sister Mary looking after you is a bit intimidating, you may want to book your delivery into one of those 5-star American spa-style birthing suites complete with a private chef and a manicure before induction.

The offering of that much welcomed postpartum dessert made me feel comforted and cared for in my fragile state that afternoon. And, ever since, I have had an affinity for all things custard and the warmth and nurturing it always seems to bring to our table.

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Sister Mary Custard
Custard is a bit of a national treasure in Ireland. It is served as a comforting dessert throughout the year and is easy to prepare. Of course, we use dairy from the farm so it’s super wholesome, but any good quality milk and cream will create the same cosy, creamy topping. Perfect for autumn orchard crumbles, tarts or just plain stewed or roasted fruits.

Serves 6

570ml/1 pint milk
55ml/2fl oz heavy cream
1 vanilla pod or 1⁄2 tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs, yolks only
30g/1oz caster sugar
2 level tsp cornflour (cornstarch)

1. Bring the milk, cream and vanilla pod to simmering point slowly over a low heat.
2. Remove from heat and let cool slightly
3. Remove the vanilla pod (wash the vanilla pod, dry and store in jar with caster sugar to make vanilla sugar).
4. Whisk the yolks, sugar and cornflour together in a bowl until well blended.
5. Pour the milk and cream on to the eggs and sugar, whisking all the time with a balloon whisk.
6. Return to the pan,(add vanilla extract if using) and over a low heat gently stir with a wooden spatula until thickened.
7. Pour the custard into a jug and serve at once.
Scullery Notes: To keep hot, stand the jug in a pan of hot water and cover the top with cling film to prevent skin from forming.

Orchard Apple Crumble (with optional Fine Fettle Farmette version)
Every autumn we have buckets of apples, pears, and plums from the orchard. I usually core, peel and slice many of the baking apples and freeze so that we have plenty for apple tarts and crumbles throughout the year. This is one of my favorite recipes, the filling is sweetened with our honey and I use a fair bit of vanilla and spice to take down the tartness of the Bramley apples. 

Serves 6

150g/ 1 ¼ cup almond flour (ground almonds)
150g/ 1 ¼ cup organic oat flakes (oatmeal)
175g/ scant 1 cup light brown sugar
200g/ 1 ¾ cup cold butter, cut into pieces
For the filling:
600g/ 4 ½ cups apple, cored and cut into chunks
60g/ scant 3 tbsp honey
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp cinnamon
Seeds from ½ vanilla bean pod

1. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F)
2. Place the flour, oat flakes, brown sugar and butter in a large bowl.
3. Using your fingertips, rub all the ingredients together until it resembles chunky breadcrumbs.
4. In a large baking tin, toss the apples with the honey, lemon juice and spices until combined.
5. Add the crumble mix on top of the filling and spread over the top until everything is evenly covered.
6. Bake in the oven for 35–40 minutes or until the crumble topping is golden brown and the fruit is soft and bubbling beneath.
7. Serve in generous portions with heaps of Sister Mary Custard.
Scullery Notes: For a fine fettle farmette version, you can adapt this recipe to be gluten and dairy-free. Just make sure to use gluten-free oatmeal and substitute coconut butter for dairy butter.

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2105.

The winners of the Cheerz polaroids are: Heather McGlaughlin and Natalie from An American in Rome! Check you email for your Cheerz freebie code! 

Slan Abhaile,

Imen x

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{sold out}

 

We are absolutely thrilled to announce that registration is now open for our next Lens & Larder retreat. For this workshop, we are offering the rare opportunity to study with acclaimed photography duo, Andrea Gentl and Martin Hyers, along with celebrated food stylist and longtime collaborator, Susan Spungen at the magnificent Ballynahinch Castle in the stunning wilds of Connemara, Ireland.

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During an intensive master class in visual storytelling through photography and styling, participants will take their tuition at the Ballynahinch Castle estate in County Galway where Andrea, Martin & Susan will make use of indigenous ingredients, historically lush interiors, the flora and fauna at the foot of rugged wilderness, and the treasured talents of local artisans to guide each student in the making of their own distinctive visual food and lifestyle story.

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A Moveable Feast

We believe that the art of food photography and styling is much more compelling when it involves telling a story that makes use of the cinema of the local environment and the vibrant personalities of its makers. In keeping with this ethos, our Lens & Larder workshop will be designed to focus on two areas: food still life & styling and visual storytelling.

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For the still life food and styling portion, the craft of food preparation and styling, scene composition, natural lighting, and simple editing tools will be discussed and demonstrated. Andrea and Martin will be shooting tethered to a laptop computer so that changes in photography and styling will be easy for students to view in real time. Susan will demonstrate the preparation and styling of both ingredients and finished plates for photography; making use of the Ballynahinch kitchen, larder, and dining rooms. Each student will get the chance to practice the techniques learned using simple tools that every photographer and stylist should have in their kit. A discussion of story telling, styling and editing will be present throughout the workshop.

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For the storytelling segment, we will meet colourful locals who will share their unique Irish stories and perhaps even a bit of Connemara folklore. We will also be working with talented crafts people from the community who will provide an array of indigenous props and tasty elixirs for our workshop.

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Andrea Gentl and Martin Hyers are renowned freelance photographers living and working in New York City and Delaware County, New York. They have collaborated for over twenty years as the photo team of Gentl and Hyers, shooting still life, travel, food, lifestyle and interiors. They are regular contributors to Bon Appétit, Martha Stewart Living, Real Simple, InStyle Magazine, Condé Nast Traveler and more. They also work with cookbook authors, recently photographing  Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food by Jody Williams and the Julia Turshen’s forthcoming, The Small Victories Cookbook, Chronicle 2016.  They are on a constant quest to reexamine their personal style and to embrace change through personal experience. They are most inspired by travel. They build on the experiences they gain through that form of photography. A few years ago, Andrea started the blog, Hungry Ghost Food and Travel, to expand on those experiences and to focus on personal projects and collaborations. Through her blog she has gained a following in the photography and food community. She and Martin have traveled extensively around the world and they are delighted to bring their combined experience to our workshop to Ireland.

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Susan Spungen is a distinguished cookbook author, entertaining expert, culinary consultant and food stylist for both print and film, having brought the food to life in major feature films such as Julia & Julia,  It’s ComplicatedEat, Pray, Love, and Labor Day. She was the founding Food Editor of Martha Stewart Living, and is a frequent contributor to national magazines such as Bon Appétit, Food & WineMore Magazine and Rodale’s Organic Life where she is a Contributing Editor. Susan is the co-author of Martha Stewart’s Hors D’Oeuvres Handbook, and is the author of RECIPES: A Collection for the Modern Cook. Her latest book is What’s a Hostess to Do? a guidebook for entertaining in the modern world. We welcomed Susan to Ireland last year where she was at the helm of our first Lens & Larder retreat at Ballynahinch Castle. Our students were stirred and inspired by the generosity of her styling knowledge and expertise and, it must be mentioned, by the warmth and ebullience of her personality.

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Together, this incredible team will lead our two-day/three-night workshop at Ballynahinch Castle, County Galway. They will discuss and demonstrate photography and styling from the perspective of a working professional. Each participant will have one-on-one time with each instructor to discuss their goals for the workshop. At the end of the retreat, there will be a short critique. Each participant will have gained experience in visual story telling & food styling and how to use their new techniques and gear to build their own unique style and vision going forward.

When:

November 4th to 7th, 2015

What:

2 days/3 nights = 2 full days filled with instruction interspersed with hands-on practice. Included:  3 nights luxury accommodation at Ballynahinch Castle Hotel, welcome cocktail reception, 3 full Irish breakfasts; 2 lunches; 3 evening dinners. Wine and non-alcoholic beverages. All food will have a focus on locally sourced, artisan ingredients (vegetarian options will be catered for)

Excluded: Travel to Ireland and transportation to Ballynahinch; Travel insurance; Extras

Cost:

2150 EUR (2450 USD) per person sharing dual occupancy or 2350 EUR (2790 USD) for private accommodation. A 90% non-refundable deposit will be required to secure your spot.

Final 10% Payment will be due upon arrival to the hotel on 4th November.

Due to planning logistics, there will be absolutely no refunds for this workshop. Please make sure you can attend before securing a space for the retreat.

(We recommend that you to take travel insurance. An SLR camera and basic camera knowledge is necessary for this course. Computer with photo imaging software is recommended, but not mandatory)

Email lensandlarder@gmail.com to register.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

PS. Will announce Cheerz winner on my next post! x

(Images and styling credits: Gentl & Hyers, Susan Spungen, Michael Graydon, Christopher Testani, and Roland Bello)

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Sunday Bits

10 Aug 2015

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I know, it’s Monday, not Sunday. And, that photo up there is not food, nor farm, but of our recent expedition to the rope bridge on the Northern Coast of Ireland in the blowing wind and rain. See those little people in yellow slickers? (Black Dog Martha’s Vineyard, the best!) they are Richard and Geoffrey making their valiant crossing…..yes, you can cue a little Wes Anderson film theme music now ♩ ♪ ♫ ♬ ♭ ♮ ♯.

I really wanted to try and do these posts every Sunday, and apologies, I’m finding it’s just is not working out that way. We’ve been chockablock busy here (like everyone else, right?). Fine tuning things on the farm and staycationing because we couldn’t travel to the USA this summer due to farm demands (massive sob session, followed by a good ‘ole Irish “get on with it”).

We are also now in the process of fine tuning my book; I will be getting full proofs from ROOST in the next two weeks, it’s really all happening people! (For those that are not following along on other various social media platforms where I am VERY chatty, my publishing date was pushed back to March 17th, 2016. Yes, that is St. Patrick’s Day, and 2016 also commemorates the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, so will be quite a remarkable time for my book to be released) The date got pushed because of a Random House (who prints/distributes) new timeline policy with illustrated cookbooks. I have seen a few pages of the interior design and I have to say I am really proud and blown away by the creative direction. The designer also just worked on the new Vermont Country Store Cookbook (squeal!) amongst others, have a look at her work if you’re interested.

Okay, sidetracked! These posts are supposed to be less about my life and more about others, so without further adieu, here are some things that have tickled my fancy over the last couple of weeks…..

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Freckle. So, we staycationed on the North Coast of Ireland (my husband’s family ancestral home is Dunluce Castle in Bushmills, crazy!) last week, and I hope to contribute a magazine piece about our AMAZING experience, but until then you’ll see a few bits here. I stumbled upon Freckle magazine while having an incredible meal at Harry’s Beach Shack in Portstewart, County Derry. Freckle is one of those totally warm and fuzzy beautifully curated thick paper matte mags, and this one focuses on visual stories of kindred people and the rugged landscapes of Northern Ireland. Worth seeking out.

The Irish brown bread at Mustard Seed in Ballingarry, County Limerick. HOLYThe Mustard Seed is a restaurant and inn housed in a former convent, so it’s only fitting that this creation is absolutely heavenly.  I popped in for tea and left with a fresh-out-of-the oven loaf of their signature brown bread thanks to the ever-charming  maître d’, John Edward. The sweet, nutty fragrance took over the jeep* on the way home and I am not ashamed to admit that I had to break off a piece halfway through the journey to nibble on because I couldn’t make it home without doing so! If you haven’t dined or stayed at the Mustard Seed, it is truly a MUST when visiting the southwest of Ireland.

Cheerz Polaroids. Pick and choose your favourite Instagram images to be printed vintage Polaroid style, in glossy or matte. I had so much fun with this! Leave a comment to be in the draw for a collection of your own, I will choose 2-3 winners who will each receive a voucher for free prints.

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Pudding Row, Sligo.  Darling Dervla James, co-founder of the hugely successful Pepper Pot Café in Dublin, has returned to her hometown, the picturesque Easkey Village, to set up Pudding Row Café along with her husband Johny Conlon and daughter Edith in tow. I can’t wait to visit.

 This Char-grilled salad is the epitome of summer to me, thanks Phyllis!

Pasta with Benefits? This new Irish plant-based pasta brand sent me a sample and it was actually really quite good. Gluten-free pastas usually aren’t too great, but do give this one a go if you’re Ireland based.

Isn’t this just the prettiest dress ever?  Draper James.  (Thank you kindly Reese Witherspoon!)

We are looking at this farm management software program, does anyone have any experience with it, or would anyone like to recommend another program for us? If not, we may just have to design our own. (slim pickings)

Clandeboye Estate YoghurtFor the packaging alone, but the fresh ingredients and utter creaminess of this Northern Irish yoghurt sure measures up to that gorgeous artwork on the seal.

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Our lovely friends, the Gastronomic Duo, are back in action after a move from Seattle to the wilds of Bozman, Montana. They’ll even come cook for you, here’s an example menu (WHOA).  Best of success Lori and Justin, we hope to visit one day!

Just a little reminder that myself and the little farmer will be doing our butter thang at this years’ Electric Picnic so please come along if you can get there! We are delighted to be using gorgeous Glenisk organic cream for the demonstration and you will get a voucher to go home and do a little DIY too.  If butter is not your thing, then check out all of the other incredible food “acts” at John and Sally McKenna’s brilliantly tasty brainchild, the Theatre of Food.

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Naomi from Farm to Table Feasts featured my Lens & Larder partner, Cliodhna Prendergast on her blog recently, super lovely interview.

Here’s the welcoming purple pink bovine Shanid castle sunset that we came home to on our return from the North….always good to be home.  Moooooo.

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Back soon,

Slan Abhaile,

Imen x

(Photos by Imen McDonnell 2015. *Jeep, in Ireland every vehicle that is an SUV or pickup truck is simply referred to as a “jeep”, so despite the fact that our SUV is not a Jeep brand, it is called a jeep. There you have it!)

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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:

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Slan Abhaile,

Imen

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

 

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Sunday Bits

05 Jul 2015

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Aren’t Sundays sensational?

It’s just that Sunday is the one day of the week where we can all take a bit of time off (in between milking, of course) and simply exhale. After our commitments in the morning, I love to read the newspaper (online + paper versions), a few pages of any new magazines or books that have been stacking up on my nightstand (currently Porter, White Goats & Black Bees, Garden & Gun, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying…ahhh, too many to list!) or catch up on emails, blogs, Pinterest, make some Skype calls to the USA. As a family, we’ll do some weeding (i.e. meditation), play some American football catch (yes, me too), watch a hurling match, and I usually prepare a proper Sunday lunch for anyone who wants to drop by. From morning to evening, Sunday is my absolute favorite day of the week.

So, in the spirit of Sunday and all the bacchanalia that it brings to my attention, and in keeping with various requests to post a wee bit more, I am happy to share some people/places/things that have inspired me this week. I will make this a regular blog feature and look forward to it, the best thing in this whole business is sharing ideas and forging friendships along the way….I love this kind of thing so I hope you do too.

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I realllly want to visit Sophie at Mandagery Farm and attend one of her beautiful Farm Kitchen Lunches…

My Lens & Larder partner, Cliodhna Pendergast’s incredible children’s cooking films, Breaking Eggs are currently being featured in the Irish Times online, so much fun!

Pure Green Juice delivered a 3 day detox/cleanse to me today, I will report back on the results, but how wonderful to have a new Irish raw juice company available!

Ice cream! The first photo above is my little experiment with poppyseed vanilla bean ice cream made with farm fresh cream, mooooo!….the recipe is here if you fancy trying it

The most beautiful Irish crafted cutting boards, Two Wooden Horses, have opened their online shop

The Gathered Table is a fantastic concept with loads of weekly meal inspo

We’ve been listening to the Chopped podcast lately (when I say we, I mean anyone who is trapped in the jeep or tractor with me for any extended amount of time), it’s very conversational, and also really touches on some interesting food blogging tips like how to use Snapchat as a food blogger, how to improve your SEO, creative ways to grow your audience, tips on food photography and more….including interviews with professionals like Matt Armendiaz and many top US food bloggers.

Recently I was fortunate to have dinner at Skye Gyngell’s dreamy Spring restaurant in London, which was a positively heavenly experience with regard to both food and ambience. Of course, the company wasn’t bad, Claire and Cliodhna, but the food was so remarkably fresh it felt like it was literally coming from my own kitchen garden (something about food feeling like it came from steps from your own garden is magnificent and divulging in a feast like this in such a beautifully appointed, clean, dare I say, regal dining room was really a special treat for me!) everything was absolutely in step with the season. Do nip in for lunch or dinner if you are near Somerset House. Unforgettable.

According to Andrea Gentl’s insta-feed, the great Julia Turshen has a new book coming out soon, and I for one, cannot wait!

We hosted a small dinner party here a couple of weekends ago and for pre-dinner cocktail, I prepared Susan Spungen’s Pink Sangria from her Strawberries Short Stack Edition book. It went over a storm and is one of those recipes that will be made again and again. Try it!

I’m loving 31 Chapel Lane in London, lovely purveyors of Irish linens for the home and kitchen with roots to an Irish farm.

Did you know that Ashley of Not Without Salt’s amazing salted choccy chip cookie mix is available at Sur La Table? Well, they are! I wish they shipped to Ireland! Will get some when we travel to America again later this summer.

Ooooh this is really fun, do I have to stop? I didn’t think so.

Have you ever really wanted to “unplug” and can’t resist spending time on the internet? MacFreedom will free you! Amazing for productivity; even on the farm we find it easy to get sucked into too much social media time, but it’s hard to resist when you only have a herd of cows as your supervisors. Check it out. 

In keeping with the above, we’ve recently also discovered Headspace, an amazing meditation app. Ommmm. (although weeding works remarkably well too)

My hedgerow martini photo inspired by my friends at Ballyvolane House was featured by the amazing Susan Zelouf in this week’s The Gloss. Also, that leather apron!!!!

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And, last but not least, our cows with hearts on their heads make our hearts swell, and a few other snaps from the holiday weekend. 2. Geoffrey “building a lake” at Ballyheigue Beach. 3. Our annual seafood boil at the farm….featuring Kerry crabs and Cork sausages with a side of crisp Orpen cider!

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I hope you enjoy, more soon!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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