Holiday 2016

22 Nov 2016

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Given the state of things, I’ve decided to make a fist of it and dive straight right into holiday mode. Can you hear those jingle bells a-jangling? Me either, but we are going to get there people! For the first time ever, I am going to offer one of those clever little gift guides that I say I am going to do every year and never get around to actually putting together….nothing too elaborate, just a few of my favourite things from Ireland and abroad that might make terrific holiday pressies and put smiles on the faces of those you love. Because we could all do with some smiley faces, right? So, fix yourself a cup of tea (or, something a little stronger) and have a lovely little browse. I will have an exciting update on our #ShePlantedASeed project on my next post.

Of course, at the top of the list is a personalised & signed copy of my book, The Farmette Cookbook, Recipes and Adventures from My Life on an Irish Farm, I mean I have to take this opportunity for a bit of shameless self-promotion, right? But, I have SO many other goodies to share, none of which are sponsored (but, there is nothing wrong with sponsoring a brand that you love!) and all of which are honest suggestions that I have tried myself and highly recommend. For those that know me, I can get a wee bit carried away about new products and bits that I cherish, but it always comes from the heart, promise!

So without further ado,

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The Farmette Cookbook Recipes and Adventures from my Life on an Irish Farm. Signed by yours truly. Add on a fabulous Modern Farmette Butter-Making Kit or DIY Cheesemaking Kit if you fancy, for a total 50 euros + shipping. Email me: imenmcdonnell@gmail.com for ordering details.

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What a few amazing ladies had to say about my book (Well, I’ll be!)…..

“A joyful celebration of life on an Irish farm.  A super, chic book written with the appreciative eye of an outsider who reminds us of the sheer pleasure of living on a dairy farm. Rearing a few table fowl, planting a vegetable garden and an orchard, rediscovering the satisfaction of using home-grown Irish produce to make truly delicious and creative food for family and friends.”—Darina Allen

“Imen takes traditional Irish cooking to the next level with her American curiosity and ingenuity. She weaves big city cravings, like potstickers, tacos, banh mi, harissa, pizza, and more, with traditional comfort food made from scratch. Imen’s brave leap of faith and love is a boon for the rest of us: we now have this charming book full of stories and recipes I can’t wait to make.”—Susan Spungen, founding food editor of Martha Stewart Living

“There is magic in Imen McDonnell’s new book, and in her story. Her dedication to uncovering Ireland’s rich food culture and cultivating her own shines through. You’ll want to dive right in, start cooking, and build your own fairy tale.”—Sarah Copeland, author of Feast and former Food Director, Real Simple Magazine

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Reclaimed Iron Cooking Tripod.

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Reclaimed Iron Cooking Tripod crafted here at the farm. 4 ft – 6ft (adjustable) sizes. Ireland delivery only. 100 euros. Email imenmcdonnell@gmail.com for ordering details. (photo credit: Doreen Kilfeather)

  • Sturdy three leg design for stability
  • “S” hook with chain for adjustable height. 
  • Heavy duty reclaimed iron construction
  • Holds Dutch ovens, coffee pots, tea pots, etc
  • Works well to hang lanterns, water Jugs etc too
  • Perfect for hanging Dutch ovens, tea pots, coffee pots ect. over a cooking fire

 

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Honestly ladies, these are like the UGGS of Wellie boots. The AIGLE Juliette. Super hard wearing and immensely comfortable. I could seriously wear these all day, in the house and on the farm, they literally feel like slippers! For ages my friend Ella McSweeney of Ear To The Ground urged me to buy AIGLE boots, and I just finally took the plunge before our last Lens & Larder event at Ballyfin. They also have tall boots and loads of other styles to choose from, so I am kitting out the boys with AIGLES for Christmas too!

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Orwell & Browne Donegal Tweed Dickie Bows and Notebooks. I got hooked on this brand a couple of years ago, and now I have everyone who comes within a two mile radius of the farm adorned with tweed bow ties. Exceptional quality and super lovely folks behind the brand. Also, apparently they ship free everywhere in the world!

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America Village Apothecary. Don’t let the name fool you, this brand is 100% Irish. My friend and frequent collaborator, Claire Davey, lives in a place called America Village, County Galway, Ireland. She makes unique syrups, tinctures and bitters for creating craft beverages or for use with food using unique locally foraged flavours, carefully sourced ingredients, paying attention to every last detail. I recently tried Claire’s tonic syrup, must admit that adding another step to my gin and tonic seemed rather inconvenient in theory, but after stirring up this elixir, I will never go back to store-bought tonics! Wow, what a flavour sensation and just pure, true beauty in a bottle. (and, you can pair it with some of my other gift guide suggestions below)

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holiday-9Bertha’s Revenge Gin. A gin distilled with milk whey named after Ireland’s oldest Kerry cow. Say no more. (other than the fact that the lads who started this brand are absolutely the salt of the earth, gorgeous souls inside and out) The gin is extremely botanical, and not in the usual juniper/pine sense, totally refreshing and completely festive.

 

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Pippa Holt Kaftans. I met the gorgeous Pippa Holt (Roche) last month, a fellow blow-in–from Australia–with a personality as sunny as the South Pacific and an absolute heart of gold. She’s created a line of crazy beautiful kaftans with more to be launched in NYC in spring 2017. Keep your eye on this inspiring woman and her stunning summery pieces!

 

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Some of my favourite food books this year…..

 

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Row 1: The Short Stack Cookbook by Nick Fauchald, Kaitlyn Goolen, and the Short Stack Editions Contributors. French Country Cooking by Mimi Thorisson. Fruit on the Table by Theresa Storey. Row 2: Molly on the Range by Molly Yeh. Recipes From My Mother by Rachel Allen. Small Victories by Julia Turshen. Row 3: EAT. LIVE. GO. by Donal Skehan. Treyf by Elissa Altman. Fishwives by Goatsbridge. Row 4: The Vanilla Bean Baking Book by Sarah Keiffer. The New Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg . My French Family Table by Beatrice Peltre.

 

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Arran Street East. Simple, functional and beautiful design for your home. Made by hand in the heart of Dublin. In that sea of ceramics on the scene, these pieces are speaking to me the most.  Check out their story and their stunning wares here.

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Seedlip.

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This might be THEE most exciting thing to happen to spirits in my lifetime! I can’t tell you enough how much I adore this incredibly innovative brand which is single-handedly solving the forever dilemma: “what do drink when you’re not drinking.” Seedlip is the world’s first alcohol free distilled spirit. Whoopee! Seriously, the flavour profile is so unique and enticing. My favourite is the Wood-Spice-Citrus which is all earthy and aromatic with notes of allspice, cardamon, grapefruit, oak and lemon. Seedlip is sugar free, sweetener free, has no calories or artificial flavours. Do you need anymore convincing? Wowsers.

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Easy & Oskey DIY Naked Bitters. Bitters in their birthday suit. Let inspiration be your guide as you create your very own flavor masterpiece. Fig, apricot, hops, toasted sesame, allspice, bacon, or any combination your palate longs for…there is simply no limit. I got to collaborate with Erik Eastman one half of Easy & Oskey for one of my book launch events over the summer, totally lovely fella who crafted some downright incredible cocktails using these bitters.

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Created + Found

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My friend Jette Virdi’s exciting new adventure. Jette, a Ballymaloe trained chef and food stylist, has launched a new  online boutique stocked with gorgeous kitchen goods and sundries all hand-crafted in Ireland. Have a look!  Wheeeeee!

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Hedley & Bennett

I don’t think I have ever come across someone with as much enthusiasm and verve for her brand as Ellen Bennett. Ellen, who has been known to fly through the air to announce the arrival of a new apron design, is such a peach in this business of food. Not only does her personality want to make you buy aprons for days, but all of the chef gear is beautiful, well-made and durable, just ask some of America’s top chefs. Whoop whoop Hedley & Bennett!!!

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Heritage Cured Irish Ham

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James Whelan Butchers signature heritage cure Irish ham is truly delicious. Cured on the bone, it has a distinctive flavour with a hint of smoky hickory undertones. This ham is ideal for carving and brings ham to a whole new level. Particularly low in salt, with the bone bringing a certain sweetness to the meat. My longtime friend Pat Whelan is the man behind this award-winning butcher shop which offers online ordering and delivery throughout Ireland and if we are not rearing our own meat for the holidays, he is our go-to supplier.

And, last, but not least…..

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EXPERIENCES.
I want to share some of my favourite things to do in Ireland at the moment, whether it be a place to stay,  shop, eat, an event, workshop, an outdoor pursuit or even a place of worship….as I have always said, there is so much more to Ireland than a pint of Guinness!

Litfest.

Food On The Edge.

Lens & Larder.

The Glucksman for I Went Into the Woods or Gut Instinct.

Cliff of Moher Retreat.

Ballyhoura Trail Riding.

Dzogchen Beara Zen Buddhist Centre.

Glenstal Abbey Conventional Mass. (complete with massive incense & Gregorian chants sung by a choir of monks)

The new and improved 7* Adare Manor (I got a sneak peak and WHOAAAAA! re-opening spring 2017)

Ballyfin Demesne (just named the best hotel in the world by Condé Nast, and just an incredibly warm, private, beautiful place to stay, I recently produced an event there which I will share about soon)

For another taste of Ireland, my friends at Perennial Plate are releasing a series of stunning short films on Irish food and the people and places behind it.

Só Collective.

Forest & Marcy

Heron & Grey

La Cucina Centro (Henry Street, Limerick)

The Mews (closed until spring 2017)

Two Boys Brew

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For Irish New Yorkers, stay tuned for the next Fare Plate spring 2017

There are so many more bits and bobs that I would like to mention, and I may continue in a future post (also, if you feel I have missed something, please do share in the comments below), but for now I hope you enjoyed this little slice of gift giving ideas!

Hope & peace to all.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In the Irish countryside the true spirit of St. Patrick’s Day really lives on. My husband and his family still pick a shamrock clover and pin it on their lapel for the day, and now I am a part of that special tradition as well.

I will never forget my first St. Patrick’s Day experience after moving to Ireland. Everything in the little village nearest to us was closed on the day; the post office, the bank, a good number of shops, about the only place with open doors was the church, and I soon realized that it was not only a national holiday, but a religious one as well—though the name should have given that away.

My mother-in-law invited us to the farmhouse for dinner that day, and I could hardly contain my excitement about having my first authentic Irish corned beef and cabbage!

We sat down at the dinner table while Peggy brought out generous plates of roasted pork loin with mashed potatoes covered in a white creamy parsley sauce accompanied by a bit of boiled cabbage on the side. I was stunned. Where was the corned beef, and why on earth was there so little cabbage?

I felt it was necessary to explain to my new family that in America, most people eat corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day. My father-in-law looked at me like I was mad and then calmly reasoned, “We do not eat corned beef, t’wouldn’t be the nicest.” I could tell by the look in his eye that corned beef was not held in the same esteem as the beautiful chunk of pork loin, known as “bacon” here in Ireland. I felt at once utterly surprised and somewhat embarrassed. (I later learned that corned beef in Ireland is akin to Spam, it is a type of chopped gelled beef that comes in a square tin)

The truth is, there really isn’t a special meal in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day. Parades, yes. Parties filled with libations, yes. Shamrock-wearing, yes. But, food-wise, at least in rural Ireland, we all just sit down to a nice meal, which can be anything from roast pork to a T-bone steak, but never, ever, corned beef.

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Over the years, our Paddy’s day celebrations have evolved. We have begun a ritual of going for a long walk on the farm and visiting the fairy fort* (a circular earthen mound-style dwelling from ancient times) for a picnic. I bring all the fixings and we sit under an ivy-covered tree and nibble away, all the time being on the lookout for fairies, and heifers and calves that might be exploring the fort as well.

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Since I always like to try something a little different than roast bacon and cabbage, I found that it is fun to prepare an Asian-style potsticker dumpling with pork, cabbage, and parsley sauce. I borrowed the dumpling wrapper recipe from my friend, Molly Yeh, and went to town with traditional ingredients. A couple of hours later, we walked out the door with a basket of dumplings, dipping sauce, chopsticks and a flask of tea. With a picnic like that, who needs corned beef and cabbage! This recipe is in my chapter entitled New Traditions in The Farmette Cookbook: Recipes and Adventures from my Life on an Irish Farm. 

Paddy’s Day Bacon & Cabbage Potstickers
Makes 20 medium sized dumplings
For the wrappers
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup cold water
In a medium bowl, combine flour and salt. Gradually stir in boiling water until the mixture is mealy.
Gradually add the cold water and stir until the mixture turns comes together into a dough.
Knead dough on a floured surface, adding more flour as necessary, until the dough becomes smooth.
Transfer to a clean bowl, cover it with a damp towel, and let the dough rest while you make the filling.
For the Filling:
6 ounces cabbage, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/8 cup minced parsley
1/3 pound shredded smoked ham (or smoked Irish bacon)
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper (or freshly ground black pepper)
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon Chinese rice wine (or dry sherry)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
For the slurry
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup water
For the dipping sauce
2 tbsp sesame oil
¼ cup brown rice vinegar
½ cup scallions (spring onion)
¼ cup soy sauce
Make the wrappers In a medium bowl, combine flour and salt. Gradually stir in the boiling water until the mixture is mealy. Gradually add the cold water, and stir until the mixture comes together into a dough.
Knead dough on a floured surface, adding more flour as necessary, until the dough becomes smooth. Transfer to a clean bowl, cover with a damp towel, and let rest while you make the filling.
Make the filling Put the cabbage in a food processor and pulse until finely minced. Transfer to a large bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Let sit for 10 minutes. Pulse the ginger, parsley, ham, pepper, soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil to food processor to mix well. Set aside. Squeeze the water out of the cabbage and into the sink. Place the dry cabbage in a dry bowl and add the ham mixture. Fold together with your hands.
Make the dumplings Roll out the dumpling dough into a circle and cut out wrappers with 4-inch round cookie cutters (or the top of a wineglass or teacup). Set aside. Mix together the cornstarch and water for the slurry in a small bowl. Take one dumpling wrapper, and spoon about 1 tablespoon of the ham mixture into the middle. Dip one finger into the slurry, and paint the edges of the dumpling wrapper. Fold the bottom side of the wrapper over the filling and press into a half-moon shape. Place on a baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and repeat with the rest of dumplings. Make sure the dumplings do not touch each other on the sheet.
When all the dumplings are assembled, you can cook immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to several hours. To cook, half-fill a large pot with water and bring to boil. Gently slide in one-third of the dumplings. When the water returns to a boil, turn the heat down and simmer gently for 6 to 8 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, and repeat with remaining dumplings.
Coat the bottom of the frying pan with oil and place over medium heat until hot. Fry dumplings until they are golden on each side.
Make the dipping sauce Heat the sesame oil in a saucepan until it smokes. Add the scallions, then the brown rice wine vinegar and soy sauce. Mix well, then take off heat and pour into bowl for dipping.
Scullery Notes: Salting and squeezing the water out of the cabbage is essential. It prevents dumplings from being waterlogged and soggy. 

*The term Faerie is derived from the Gaelic word “Fé erie”, meaning the enchantment of the Fées, while Fé is derived from Fay, which is itself derived from Fatae, or the Fates. The term originally applied to supernatural women who directed the lives of men and attended births. Now it has come to mean any supernatural creature tied to the earth, except monsters and ghosts. In Ireland, the Faeries are called the Aes Sídhe, pronounced eye-shwee) Sídhe are also the name for the earthen mounds and hills that dot the Irish landscape. Irish mythology, legends, and folklore claim the Faeries live under these mounds, so the term sídhe has come to mean Faerie in general, but it more properly refers to the palaces, courts, halls, and residences of the Faeries. However they are known by a wide variety of euphemisms, including “the Fair Folk”, “the Good Neighbors”, “the Little Folk”, “the Little Darlings”, and “the People of Peace”.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos by Imen McDonnell. Styling by Sonia Chaverri Mulford 2015.

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kneecaps
Picture this.

You walk into a 1960’s-style supper club/ballroom in a small midwestern American town. It doesn’t matter that it is the noughties; nothing has changed since the place first opened in 1964. There is the same wooden bar with high vinyl covered stools, the same wall-to-wall carpeted dining room with numbered round tables and upholstered swivel chairs, the same salad bar with spinach and oily hot bacon dressing, German potato salad and green aspic. Broasted chicken and potatoes feature on the menu along with a filet mignon that you could cut with a butter knife. Everything is plush and gold and burgundy and bold shades of emerald. You remember a pint-sized version of yourself holding a maraschino tinted Shirley Temple in hand, your bearded father with an extra bitters brandy old-fashioned, and your Aqua Net scented stepmother sipping a drink called “bacardi” with a small b.

You glance into a smoky side room where there are people dancing. One-two-three, one-two-three, oom-pa-pa, oom-pa-pa, couples shuffle around the room with the odd added back leg kick for good measure. They are happy. The place is abuzz. There is dim light everywhere except for this ballroom which is harshly lit with fluorescents. Everywhere you look, it’s like time stood still.

Back in the dining room there is a long table in a corner covered in white linen, and suddenly you recall a time when dozens of small deep-fried doughnuts topped with fluffy dollops of fresh cream would fill such a table. There are spotlights beaming down on the table as if to showcase whatever greatness will eventually grace its top. You can’t keep your eyes off the table. Someone plays Kenny Rogers on the jukebox in the bar and you hear people hmmm hmmmm hmmmm-ing in the distance. You do not get distracted. That table is the promised land of desserts. There will be other bits on that dessert table, but you know they will pale in comparison to the kneecaps.

Yes, I said kneecaps. Those delicate doughnut cream puffs are called kneecaps. I always presumed that if you closed your eyes and squinted they might look like someone’s kneecap. I do not know, but that’s what they were called.

Kneecaps were in my book and they got cut. It might have been because (little did I know) kneecapping was a form of torture during the Troubles in Ireland.

Or, could be simply because they just plain don’t sound good.

But, I am here to tell you, there isn’t much better in the way of creampuffery (forgive the portmanteau). I would go as far as to dare you to show me a better form of creampuff. (yes, that really is a dare.)

Plus, if you come up with a better name, we can just change it, right?

Find my recipe below.

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Now, for some Sunday Bits….

My book is making its way into the world next month, and Image Living & Interiors has provided a very special sneak preview in its March issue, here’s a taste

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Our friends and world-class photographers, Andrea & Martin Hyers, have begun hosting their own intrepid photography retreats. The first one will take place in the Andes Mountains of Peru and I’d give anything to be along for the ride. Check out more details here.

We are welcoming calves night and day on the farm, spring is the season for new life and we are embracing every moment of it!

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Natural Born Feeder’s Rozanna Purcell claims that I was instrumental in getting her to start blogging about food, I don’t know if I can take credit for that, but I will vouch for her stunning book filled with nutritious, tasty recipes. For example, these Virtuous Viscounts that remind me of Girl Scout Thin Mints, minus the sugar! You can order her book here.

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I recently stumbled upon a brilliant app called Beditations. Basically you pop it on when you go to bed for an evening meditation and you are awakened with a meditation “alarm” to start your day. I can’t recommend morning meditation enough for the pursuit of daily balance, calm, and well-being. For me, this practice has been life-changing and the Beditation app just makes it easy.

Cliodhna and I are planning our next Lens & Larder retreat with the amazing Renée Kemps, last year’s Saveur Food Blog Best Photography winner. I met Renée when were in Brooklyn for the awards last June, and on top of being an incredible photographer, she is just as sweet as pie. More details on our website soon.

I’ve added a few more bits to the events page, my Limerick book launch taking place at O’Mahony’s in Limerick City at 7pm, 9th March. There will be music, wine, my best brown bread and homemade butter. Come along if you’re free! Also, I’m pairing up with Claire Ptak and her Violet Bakery in London for a special Farmette + Violet Pop-Up on the 22nd of March from 12-4pm. SO excited for that!!!

 

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Dairy Cream Kneecaps
Kneecaps were one of my greatest childhood indulgences. At many large gatherings on my father’s side of the family, there would be a seemingly endless tray of kneecaps on the dessert table where I often found myself hovering around the general vicinity for more time than I probably should have. Kneecaps are essentially tiny cream puffs, only the puff is a very lightly yeasted, raised doughnut with cream simply dabbed into a wee dent in the middle. The pastry to cream ratio is perfectly balanced. These are such a treat, especially with farm fresh sweet cream, and would be a superb addition to afternoon tea or a special celebration.
Makes One Dozen
1/4 cup warm water (105 to 110 degrees F)
2 (.25 ounce) envelopes active dry yeast
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 cups milk
6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 cups peanut or vegetable oil for frying
1 cup confectioners’ sugar for dusting
2 cups heavy cream, whipped
Pour warm water into a small bowl, and sprinkle yeast on top; set aside for 5 minutes. Cream together the shortening, sugar, and salt. Add the eggs, one at a time, while continuing to mix. Pour in the milk and the yeast alternating with the flour until smooth. Place dough into a greased bowl, and turn over to grease the top.
Cover with a light towel, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Once the dough has risen, punch down, and roll out on a floured surface to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into rounds with a 2 inch round cookie cutter, cover, and allow to rise another 30 minutes.
Fill deep saucepan with 4 inches of oil. Heat oil to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
Use your thumb to make an indent in the center of each kneecap. Fry in the hot oil a few at a time until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Remove to drain on a paper towel, and allow to cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. To serve, dust the kneecaps with confectioners’ sugar, fill the indents with whipped cream.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

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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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gingerbreadsponge
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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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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gooseberrykettle

This summer has officially been one big rain shower.

But, at least we have gooseberries.

And, memories of sunnier days.

Right?

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

hen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

hen

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

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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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