Mad May Eve

30 Apr 2016

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May Eve is the evening before May Day (April 30). Legend has it that on this night a certain type of sorcery transpires in which female evildoers called pishogues (pronounced “pish- ohh-g”) come round and do their best to make people’s lives miserable in the Irish countryside. A pishogue would do things such as surreptitiously place eggs, bread, meats, and other foods on someone’s land, and doing so would somehow take the riches from that farm and transfer them to the pishogue’s estate.

Now, these pishogues were real people—neighbors, churchgoers—and everyone knew who they were. Real people were known to be sort of possessed and forced into doing dreadful acts. This pishoguery put the fear of God into people, and villagers began sprinkling holy water on their homes, livestock, farmyards, and machinery to ward off this evil on May Eve.

No May Eve would be complete without a story involving the ubiquitous “love potion.” Yes, coaxioriums were popular on this evening as well. Allegedly, if a woman made an advance on a man and was rejected, she would slip him a potion and he’d come around.

My absolute favorite bits of holiday folklore are stories of women who had the power to turn into hares. They would morph into wild hares and get into all kinds of mischief, then return home and have a cup of tea as if nothing had happened. Often, someone would come across a lady’s dress and shoes lying near a hedge, and they would take no notice, assuming that she had likely changed into a hare and was just out gallivanting in the field.

While this all seems far-fetched, many of these accounts have credible witnesses and are steeped in traditions that have withstood the test of time. Here in our village of Kilcolman, we sprinkle holy water to be safe and all I can say is, what’s good for the gander . . .

Each May Eve, I plan a special little tea party in the garden for whoever will come. These easy-to-make tea cakes are a fun take on traditional chocolate-covered marshmallow tea cakes. If you are short on time, you can substitute any packaged round tea biscuit or cookie for the base.

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Mad May Eve Teacakes
Makes about 30 teacakes
For the Biscuit Base
1 cup (100 g) whole-wheat flour
½ cup (50 g) all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ cup (50 g) golden superfine sugar
4 tablespoons (50 g) unsalted butter, cold
2 to 3 tablespoons whole milk
For the Marshmallow
3 large free-range egg whites
¾ cup (150 g) golden superfine sugar
6 teaspoons golden syrup (or light corn syrup)
Pinch of salt
Seeds from ½ vanilla bean
½ cup raspberry or blackberry jam (or marmalade)
For the Chocolate Coating
1 cup (150 g) milk chocolate, chopped (or chips)
⅓ cup (75 g) dark chocolate, chopped (or chips)
2 teaspoons vegetable oil (or coconut oil, if you prefer)
Make the Biscuit Base
Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flours, salt, baking powder, and sugar. Rub in the butter with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Add the milk, and stir everything together to form a smooth ball. You may need a little more or less milk—the dough should be smooth and pliable but not sticky.
Pat the dough into a flat oval then dust the work surface with flour. Roll the dough to approximately ⅛ inch thick. Using a 2½-inch round cookie cutter, cut out small rounds. Place on parchment paper, and chill in the fridge for 10 minutes; this should stop them from shrinking when baking.
Bake the biscuits for 15 minutes or until crisp. You don’t want a soft texture; a crisp base is needed for the teacake.
Make the Marshmallow Filling
Place the egg whites, sugar, golden syrup, salt, and vanilla seeds in a large, heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water (make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water). While it is heating, beat the mixture with an electric hand mixer for 6 to 8 minutes until it is smooth, silky, and double in volume. The trick is to have a good, stiff marshmallow texture so that it holds when piped, without overcooking. A thick whipped cream consistency is ideal.
Spoon the marshmallow into a piping bag.
Spread each biscuit with ¼ to ½ teaspoon jam, then pipe a 1-inch dollop of marshmallow on top. Leave the biscuits to set at room temperature for 2 hours.
Make the Chocolate Coating
When ready to assemble, line a couple of trays with a silicone mat or parchment paper. Melt the chocolates and oil in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Set aside to cool slightly.
To coat the cookies, dip each one in the chocolate, then hold upside down to allow the excess to drip off. Very quickly turn right-side up and place on the prepared trays. Leave all the teacakes to set at room temperature about 1 hour.
Serve with glasses of milk or cups of hot tea.
Scullery Notes: These teacakes keep best at room temperature in an airtight container for one week. If you put them in the refrigerator, the chocolate will discolor.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos by Imen McDonnell. Styling by Sonia Chaverri Mulford.

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Smoked Porter Cake

02 Sep 2012

Batten down the hatches, it’s chocolate cake time again. Well, Smoked {Dark Chocolate} Porter Cake. So, yes, things are gonna get serious around here. Pour yourself a large glass of milk (either that, or just fast forward to the recipes at the end)

This week, Rosemary McCabe, an Irish fashion journalist that I respect, made a curious remark via social media: Okay, so I still READ I Married an Irish Farmer, but I wish it wasn’t about how a woman gave up her career for a man. ‪#sonotcool

Now, you might think I was offended. Or, you might think, why bother addressing it?  I wasn’t offended, the thing is, I can see her point. I wouldn’t give up my career for just any ole’ man either. I don’t really see it that way.

Rosemary isn’t the first person to spark up motivation for this post. I have had more than one email containing the unusual question: “Is love enough to marry a farmer?” or something similar. The question comes from women who have busy careers/lives, perhaps in a city, who have no inclination to become a farmer (yet), or to move to the countryside, but who are in a loving relationship with someone who farms. It’s a fair question.

For some time I have wanted to write a post about the nitty-gritty of how I got here. I’ve shared a little bit about how Richard and I met,there’s even a little interview with him, there’s the “when and why” I started this blog, along with various bits and bobs about the farm. But mostly, the blog has become about food. Food, glorious food.

I love my husband (and, still think he’s H.O.T. which is what realllly matters after 8+ years right?) and what we have created together. I’m not going anywhere. Some days my life can seem like a dream come true, others not so much. Admittedly, my biggest challenge since moving to Ireland has been rebuilding a creative career. Love is magnificent, but it is not enough ( for me, and wouldn’t be for my husband either if tables were turned). Work is too meaningful. I prefer to earn my own income. It is crucial for me to doing something creative which is valued besides being a wife + mother. Plus, I can’t really sit still or quiet for long periods of time, so I don’t really have a choice in the matter.

When I made the decision to move to Ireland to be with Richard, I fully intended to keep my job and work from Ireland. I didn’t plan on having to start over from scratch. As much as I respect farming, I didn’t plan on becoming a farmer myself. We were two people in love who had to make a choice. We simply knew that he couldn’t “relocate” his farm, and I thought my work was more flexible. I had been mostly working on overseas productions and things were becoming pretty virtual at the time so it seemed like a go. I was young and precocious and must have thought I was invaluable. In the end, that didn’t work out. Still, I believed I would be able to get freelance production work in Ireland on a somewhat steady basis once I was settled in. That started out fairly good, I found work on the production of a popular Irish television series, which happened to be shooting in the countryside near us. When that was finished, I searched for work with agencies in Dublin and Cork to no avail. If they were going to hire anyone, it seemed would be someone local or at least more mobile or Irish than I at the time. {Richard tells me I’ve “become more Irish than the Irish themselves” so perhaps I should call on them again?}

After I had a baby, I became a full-time mommy and it seemed like all serious career bets were off. I could barely manage to get a shower in when Geoffrey was an infant. He was born nearly 8 weeks premature and had some health issues. Thankfully, not serious health issues, but made for difficulty in feeding and nutrition. If you are a mother of a child who is not a “good grubber”, you know that you would die trying to make sure your child is fed.  Richard left at 6AM and didn’t return until late in the evening. I was alone with Geoffrey most of the time and didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing. I relied heavily on emails, phone calls, books and internet message boards submitting questions as banal as “what if the poo doesn’t smell?”

Since I didn’t have the security of a job anymore, I had to procure a new set of skills, including, but not limited to DIY’ing my own half-n-half. So, just when I thought my abilities were completely irrelevant here, I turned to food. At first, I started eating digestive biscuits and Hob Nobs by the packet, which wasn’t really helping matters. Then, I discovered that I could actually cook, bake and make butter and that by doing so, I could make new friends and not feel so isolated. I also discovered that I could write, which was, in fact, therapeutic, and also garnered me a job. I took small bits that I learned while producing food commercials and started styling and photographing food for this blog and also for an Irish cookery book. We’ve now turned a bright, unfinished room in our house into a little studio so that I can take on more clients if am called upon to do so. The best part is that I am bringing it full circle and have produced and directed a film on Irish food and farming that I hope will be the start of even more opportunities….and, at the risk of going all Oprah, perhaps this leap will have created ‘My Best Life’ yet?

Now, about that cake.

Porter cake is a tradition in Ireland that started when it occurred to someone that a porter would make a lovely addition to the dark, robust flavour of the popular fruit cake. Since we aren’t crazy for the fruity part of Irish fruit cakes in this house, I kept the mixed spice, but left out the fruit and added some dark, dark chocolate.  The end result is a rich, velvety, smoky chocolate cake that evenly carries the porter flavour throughout. I iced it in chocolate espresso buttercream, but to be honest, it doesn’t even need frosting, especially if you are serving it with a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of fresh cream.

Of course, you can use any porter or stout for the recipe. I used a sneaky bottle of gorgeous and ultra smoky porter that I brought back from America, which was home-brewed by Derek Sanderson in the beer mecca of Milwaukee, WI. I bet Knockmealdown Porter would be amazing. Also, a chocolate stout would be super.

To go with the cake, I decided to make malted barley ice cream, which has a lovely malted flavour (think super vanilla malted milkshake), and pairs supremely with the smoky, porter-y, chocolate-y cake. I bought the roasted, malted barley from a home-brew shop and steeped the grains in the custard before straining, adding a scoop of malted milk powder and churning.

Enough with all the seriousness already, have a slice of chocolate cake.

I am!

Smoky {Dark Chocolate} Porter Cake

3 ounces/85g high quality unsweetened dark chocolate, chopped

2 1/4 cups/280g all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 tsp mixed spice (pumpkin spice works the same)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) salted butter, room temperature

1 1/4 cups/250g plus 3 tablespoons sugar

3 large eggs, separated

1 1/4 cup/350ml extra smoky porter, (or regular or chocolate stout)

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F/170C. Butter and flour two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides or 4 mini cake pans like I did. Line bottom of each cake pan with parchment paper round; butter and flour parchment.

Put chopped chocolate, butter and beer in medium metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of barely simmering water and stir until the mixture is melted and smooth. (smells wonderful) Remove bowl from over water and set aside.

Whisk 11/4 cups (250g) sugar, flour, baking powder, mixed spice, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Add egg yolks 1 at a time to (lukewarm) melted chocolate, butter, beer mixture beating until well blended after each addition. Beat flour mixture into chocolate mixture in 2 additions just until incorporated.

Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites and remaining 3 tablespoons sugar in another medium bowl until stiff but not dry. Fold 1/3 of egg whites into cake batter to lighten, then fold in remaining egg whites in 2 additions.

Divide batter between prepared cake pans (about 3 cups for each); smooth tops.

Bake cakes until tester inserted into centers comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Transfer cakes to racks and cool in pans 20 minutes. Invert cakes onto racks; remove parchment paper and cool completely.

Dark Chocolate Espresso Buttercream

4oz/114g high quality unsweetened dark chocolate, chopped

2 teaspoons instant espresso powder

3 tablespoons milk

1 cup (2 sticks)/227g butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

4 cups/500g powdered sugar

Place chocolate in medium metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of barely simmering water and stir until melted and smooth. Dissolve instant coffee in milk in glass measure. Beat butter, vanilla extract and salt in large mixing bowl for 3 minutes. Beat in melted chocolate until blended, scraping occasionally. Gradually beat in powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in coffee mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time, until desired spreading consistency.

Malted Barley Ice Cream

2 cups/475ml double cream

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

2/3 cup (90 g) malt powder

½ cup/100g roasted malted barley grains

1 cup/240ml whole milk

3/4 cup (150 g) sugar

pinch of salt

6 large egg yolks

Whisk the cream, vanilla and malt powder in a large heatproof bowl and set a mesh strainer over the bowl.  Combine the whole milk, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan and heat just until warm.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks in a bowl. Slowly add the warm milk mixture to the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Pour back into the saucepan and set over medium heat. Stir constantly until the mixture thickens enough to create a custard that coats the back of a wooden spoon. Pour through the strainer into the malt powder mixture and stir to combine. Add the roasted barley grains and let steep for 30 minutes. Strain again.

Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled (overnight is best). Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2012

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Wanna Be A Cowgirl

23 Nov 2011

A couple of weeks ago, Richard asked me if I’d help out with herding a group of cattle. The cows were going from a paddock about three kilometers up the road back down to the home farmyard. He just needed someone to block off one of the lanes along the route until he passed through with the girls.  Of course, I said no problem. I was delighted to give him a hand.

He explained that all I had to do was simply drive up to the crossroad near the graveyard and park the car three-quarters across the lane so that traffic would not be able to get through. He instructed that if someone came along, I would just need alert the driver to the fact that cattle would be crossing soon. No bother. Easy enough.

I swiftly pulled my hair into two braided pigtails, slipped on my lovely new wedge-heeled wellies brought back from NYC, grabbed my rain slicker and off I went out the door with a big smile on my face.

The minute I arrived at the crossroads, it started bucketing down rain. That was okay because until I suspected the cows were coming I could sit in the toasty car and page through my new Make Bake Love cookbook in search of something lovely and sweet to bake for tea that evening.

However, within minutes, cars started approaching from front and back. I was popping in and out of the car and letting drivers know what was going on. No sooner was I back in the car when a new vehicle would drive up again.

For some reason, every single person that I spoke to seemed to stare at me in disbelief as I shared the reason why I was blocking the road. I knew it was an inconvenience, and I was making apologies, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the look on their faces actually had anything to do with the cow-crossing situation.

Did I look suspect wearing my elevated wellies? My bright, flower patterned jacket? Perhaps the mere fact that I probably over-explained things a bit {as we Yanks tend to do} seemed peculiar. I’ll never know, but I suddenly felt very self-conscious as I stood there in the rain waiting on the cows with cars piled behind me on the road.

Finally, I could hear hipping and hollering from down the way. They were coming! We waited. And waited. Hipping and hollering carried on, but still no sight of them. I glanced back at the waiting drivers. I was soaked to the skin. Then, after fifteen more minutes, I began to hear the loud clicking and clacking of hooves and I spotted Richard, running fast and leading the girls who were following behind him like lightning. It was quite a sight to behold.

And just like that, the cows passed, the cars peeled out of sight, and I was on my way back home.

I believe I’ve advanced one step closer to becoming a cowgirl.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Imen McDonnell

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

Slainte,

Imen

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