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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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“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!

 

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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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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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Hi.

It’s been awhile.

Lately I feel like my blog is taking a backseat to the easiness of Instagram where I have been documenting much of where our crazy country life circuitously takes us. (For those that aren’t on Instagram, I apologise, but do have a look and not just at my profile, it’s a proverbial rabbit hole of lifestyle and food inspo)

But, as I sit here looking out onto our front garden of verdant green, bearing no sounds other than the call of the wind rustling through the trees, and the singing of cows snacking in our pasture to the right, it sure feels good to be writing.

Something.

Anything.

I have to be honest, writing isn’t coming as easy these days as it used to….perhaps it’s that life has been, well, brimming with life and business, or perhaps that I’ve spent so much time writing my book over the last year and a half, that sometimes the words are just literally not there…they seem to have been used up, putting on a disappearing act, playing a cruel joke on me…..or maybe (gasp) my writing brain is not the lavish bouquet I thought it was? Let’s hope my words have just been on a bit of a hiatus. Taking a beach break in Ibiza. Going on safari. Crossing the Great Wall of China. Going on a long, long Forest Gump-style run?

Gulp.

I know, it’ll be grand*. Before you know it, I’ll be back on a blogging binge. But, I might take the time to ask, what would you prefer? I often feel that subscribing to blogposts + recipes that arrive in my inbox every day or even every week is overload with so much other information that we are taking in….what are your thoughts? How often should a blogger post? Or more specifically, how often do you think I should post?

It’s been a lively few weeks here: we are making some exciting positive changes on the farm which I will share with you soon, our vegetable beds are growing in full force (weeds included, I might add!), I traveled to my old stomping ground of Brooklyn, NY last month for the Saveur Blog Awards as a finalist in the Best Writing Category (irony?). I didn’t win, Molly Wizenberg rightfully took the honour, but I got to meet some of my most favourite + inspiring food bloggers/journalists/photographers who were happily just as amazing in person as they are online: Nik Sharma, Molly Yeh, Phyllis Grant, Marian Bull, Kenzi Wilbur, Yossi Arefi, Linda Xiao, Ted Lee and more. The following day, I hopped around to some of my favourite spots in Manhattan, and then the last night was spent visiting friends Susan Spungen and Steve Kasher over a long, lingering meal at their beautiful Amagansett home.

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New York was utterly brilliant, but I was admittedly quite delighted to be back to the bastian of bucolic society. To a greater extent, I am more and more comfortable on this side of reality. The energy of the city seems to suit better me in teaspoons rather than the heaping cups that used to serve its purpose.

When I returned to the farm, it was straight to work. My first task was to help bring cows to some grazing land a few kilometers away from the main farm. This group of 25 cows will stay on these particular pastures until next December. It will be my job to make sure they have enough grass and water, count them each day, and move them to the next paddock of grass when needed (about every 3 days.)

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My next assignment was a wee bit more enchanting, although I still got to wear my wellies. I was contacted by Nathalie Marquez-Courtney, the young, intrepid editor from Image Interiors and Living, who rang up to see if I would be interesting in working on an Irish artisan picnic piece for the magazine. After quietly letting out a little happy squeal, followed by some soothing pranamaya breathing, I eagerly agreed as this is just the most exquisite Irish magazine, I never miss an issue.

My job was to create a menu, prepare, style, shoot, and write up an editorial for their summer issue (on newstands now, grab a copy for some fun picnic recipes!) From the minute she said picnic, I immediately knew that I wanted to photograph it in the wood down by the river where we have our honeybees and where I do a lot of foraging for wild foods. I pictured a woodland picnic with plenty of ivy and moss featuring some of my favourite small Irish food producers along with a charming High Nelly bicycle for good measure.

Here are a few outtakes from the shoot and a recipe for one of my favourite summer strawberry pies, I hope you enjoy.

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Will be back soon with more words, a recap of the Kinfolk Gathering that I recently worked on with Cliodhna and Joi, and an exciting announcement for our next Lens & Larder retreat happening in November.

Strawberry-Rhubarb-Wild Irish Rose Glazed Tart

Each summer, I bake up a gaggle of strawberry-rhubarb tarts. I can’t resist because Irish strawberries are so ridiculously sweet and juicy, and you can’t beat the yields of homegrown rhubarb we have here in the garden. Inspired by Galway’s wild elixir guru, Claire Davey, I made my own wild rose water and wild rose simple syrup which I used to the glaze this pie. The flavour combination is really divine, this wild Irish rose, or rosa rugosa (bottom photo above) is not perfumey, it has a rather delicate and sweet taste and fragrance which, to me, is a perfect pairing with the vibrant strawberry and tart rhubarb, of course all encased in a flaky shortcust pastry.

400g/ 14 oz strawberries, stemmed and sliced
600g/ 20 oz rhubarb stalks cut into 1/2 inch pieces (Trim away and discard the leaves which are toxic; trim ends.)
125g/ 4 oz caster sugar
1/8 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of orange zest

For the glaze
100g/ 3.5 oz caster sugar
2 tbsp cornflour
180ml/ 6 oz rosewater or homemade Wild Irish or conventional rosewater (see recipe below)

23cm/ 9 inch double crust pie pastry

Preheat oven to 200°C/ 400°F. In a large bowl, gently combine the rhubarb and the strawberries with the sugar, salt, and orange zest. Let sit for 10 minutes.

Make the glaze by combining rose water, sugar and cornflour in a saucepan, stirring over low heat just until sugar is completely melted. Remove from heat and set aside.

Roll out your pastry dough and line the bottom of a pie dish with it. Trim to 2.5cm/1/2 inch from the edge. Pour the filling into the pastry lined pie dish. Evenly tip the rosewater glaze over the filling. Roll out the second pastry dough, punch venting holes all over the top and then place pastry over the pie.

Trim the edges to 2.5cm/ 1/2 inch from the edge of the pie dish. Tuck the top crust edges over the bottom crust edges and use your fingers or a fork to crimp the top and bottom edges together. (If you want, for a nice golden crust, use a pastry brush to brush a thin layer of egg white or cream over the top of the pie.)

Place pie on the middle rack of the oven, with a baking sheet on a lower rack to catch any juices that might spill over. Bake for 20 minutes at 200°C/400°F, then reduce heat to 176°C/350°F, and bake an additional 40-50 minutes longer. The pie is done when the crust is nicely browned and the filling (that you can see through the venting holes) thick and bubbly.

Remove from oven and let cool on a rack.

Serve warm or cold. If you do cool to room temperature, the juices will have more time to thicken.

To Make Wild Irish Rosewater

The Wild Irish Rose (Rosa Rugosa) can be found in hedgerows throughout the Irish countryside. To make your own rosewater, find a bush that is not located on a busy road or could be contaminated by pollution. Pick the petals two to three hours after sunrise when the morning dew has evaporated. To make the your rosewater, use only petals, not the stem and leaves.

150g/roughly 6 cups fresh rose petals
1.5 litres/50 oz spring or distilled water
Wash petals thoroughly to remove bugs and dirt particles.
Place the rose petals into large saucepan.
Add just enough spring or distilled water to cover the petals. (Too much water will give you very diluted rose water.)
Cover the pot with a lid and simmer on a low heat. The water should be steaming hot not boiling hot.
Allow the water to steam until the petals have lost their colour and the water has taken on the colour of the rose petals. You will see the rose oil floating on the surface.
Strain the water and collect in a container. Store it in a refrigerator. It will last for 6 months.

*It’ll be grand is Irish for It’ll be okay. And, I probably use this phrase 100 times a week!

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2015 with some props borrowed from Diva Boutique Bakery in West Cork. 

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We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring 

Will be to arrive where we started 

And know the place for the first time.
-T.S. Eliot

Finally. I picked the blackberries. I have no less than ten thorny incisions on my violet-stained fingers to prove it. In Geoffrey’s words, I’ve more than earned a brave brambleberry scout badge.

In a concerted effort to “will” or tame the season….to somehow preserve traditions of y’ore, I patiently lingered until just a day shy of autumn to tackle our humble creepers bursting with ripe fruit.

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When the day came, I packed up a punnet of necessary things: a flask of strong coffee, some bits to nibble, a special book, gloves and nippers. I set up a workstation by the old cottage at Ballyhahill, and set out to pluck a bucket of deep purple berries from the wall of prickly vines that surround and protect it.

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Despite my efforts to reclaim the bounty of a true fall harvest, to go back to a time when seasons could be held accountable, the swallows have gone and packed up to soar south for their holidays. And, believe it or not, red berries are already beginning to dot our shiny, sharp-leaved holly trees. Hedgerow sloes have been ripe for the picking since mid September…usually not ready until after the first frost. Dare I ask, do these signs point to an early, hard winter? Seasons just seem to come earlier and earlier, but just how far can back can they go….in a nod to a T.S. Eliot poem, could nature somehow arrive back to where it all started?

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Ten years ago, I couldn’t have told you the difference between a swallow or sparrow and I certainly never knew that sloes were a fruit that grew on a tree; rather, a putrid syrupy “gin” poured as a cheap fizzy cocktail. I, ashamedly, was not at all concerned about climate change or farming or growing my own food. It was far easier to go through life eyes wide shut, worrying about my next new pair of shoes or how many air miles I was stacking up. I had a career that could cunningly give you a false sense of influence; a feeling that honestly never quite sat right with me, but also a feeling for which now I will embarrassingly admit, sure was easy to get used to…

Today, I am forced to reckon with raw nature, and well, it can be daunting. There is no sense of superiority here that’s for certain. We are ruled by nature. It affects everything we do here on the farm. From rearing animals on grass to growing crops for winter fodder. Sowing and cultivating the kitchen garden, and even allowing our new heritage turkeys to frolic in Turkey Hollow, it’s all down to what Mother Nature decides.

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So, I picked the blackberries and left some behind, and I will stubbornly, and perhaps ridiculously, wait every year until it’s truly autumn to take them again.

And now, we feast.

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Blackberry & Apple Tart with a Hint of Sweet Geranium

I learned straight away that any and all things Blackberry and Apple reign supreme here in Ireland during the autumn harvest season. It is certain that any manner of tarts, crumbles, cakes and puddings will be found on the dining tables of Irish country houses at this time of year. It is a tradition that was uncommon to me initially, but one that makes perfect sense as the two fruits do truly sing together. I experimented with adding a hint of sweet geranium essence to these individual tarts and we really enjoyed the subtle addition. Sweet geranium is unrelated to the flowering garden geranium and has leaves in a variety of scents from rose to lemon and even a mint-y version. Of course, you can leave out the sweet geranium syrup infusion altogether for a classic fruit tart with full-on jammy blackberry/tart apple flavour.

Makes 3 miniature tarts, or one standard pie.

INGREDIENTS
For the shortcrust pastry
Scant 1.5 cups/113g butter, softened
Scant 1 cup/200g caster sugar
1 small egg
4 drops vanilla extract
2.5 cups/300g standard plain flour (all purpose)
For the filling
5 sweet geranium leaves
200 mls water
150g caster sugar
80 g butter, plus extra for greasing
100 g golden caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
4-5 Bramley apples, cored, peeled and each cut into wedges
200 g blackberries
1 large free-range egg, beaten
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
METHOD
To make the pastry
1. In a large mixing bowl, lightly beat butter and sugar with a wooden spoon until a light creamy consistency has been achieved.
2. Add egg, vanilla and mix until combined. Add flour and mix to a paste just until pastes comes clean off bowl. (Be careful not to over mix or pastry will become elastic and doughy.)
3. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or even better, overnight.
To make the sweet geranium syrup
1. Place 5 sweet geranium leaves in a saucepan with the water and sugar.
2. Heat until sugar is fully dissolved. Take off heat and set aside to cool.
For the filling
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4.
2. When syrup has cooled to room temperature, pour over blackberries and steep for at least one hour.
3. Put the butter and sugar into a saucepan and, when the butter has melted, add the apples.
4. Slowly cook for 15 minutes with a lid on, then add the infused blackberries, stir and cook for 5 more minutes with the lid off.
Assembly
1. Remove your pastry from the fridge.
2. Dust your work surface with flour, cut the pastry in half and, using a floured rolling pin, roll one of the pieces out until it’s just under 1cm thick. (Rolling the dough between two layers of greaseproof paper will also stop it sticking to your rolling pin.)
3. Butter a shallow 26cm pie dish or three mini tart tins and line with the pastry, trimming off any excess round the edges using a sharp knife.
4. Tip the cooled apples and blackberries into a sieve, reserving all the juices, then put the fruit into the lined pie dish so you have a mound in the middle.
5. Dot each mound with a teaspoon of remaining butter
6. Spoon over half the reserved juices. Brush the edge of the pastry with beaten egg. 6. Roll out the second piece of pastry, just as you did the first, and lay it over the top of the pie.
7. Trim the edges as before and crimp them together with your fingers.
8. Brush the top of the pie with the rest of the beaten egg, sprinkle generously with sugar and the cinnamon, and make a couple of slashes in the top of the pastry.
9. Place the pie on a baking tray and then put it directly on the bottom of the preheated oven for 55 to 60 minutes, until golden brown and crisp.
10. To serve, slice the pie into portions and serve with a generous dollop of custard.

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2014. 

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Intermission

20 Jun 2014

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Tonight I sit at the table looking at life over the rim of an ingeniously crafted grilled lemon gimlet.* I am pondering this crazy, cathartic journey of love that I signed up for nearly 11 years ago.

Warm fuzzies take up residence on my forearms and I smile.

Still kismet.

As I gallop nearer to the finish of photography for this book, I am filled with emotion and pride. Looking back, I am simply struck by how life can take so many turns and twists in your one go ‘round.

Damn, destiny can be demanding.

I sip down the last gorgeous citrusy drop of my mixed drink and start wiping down the kitchen worktop.

Nine years in Ireland. (Pinch)

Where did that go? (Ssshhhh, don’t ask)

I hazily conclude that if you give life your best shot, demands are met with very handsome rewards.

Hic.

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I’ve been floating around in my apron and wellies for the for the past month prepping, testing, cooking, co-styling and shooting recipes nearly every day, in and around our home, the farmyard, and the many pastures and meadows that cradle and surround us.

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Fortunately for me, my fabulous friend and food stylist, Sonia Mulford-Chaverri made it across the Atlantic to be my partner in all of this food fluffing. So far we’ve been having great fun making everything look awfully pretty together.

Of course, everyone in the family has been enlisted as well, including our Airedale Terrier, Teddy, who clearly seems to feel he has some directorial talents. He takes the biscuit.

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Sure, during week 3 the dishwasher died (that one last butter bell?) and our clothes washer waned (too many tea towels?), but thanks to our local dairy co-op, we were back in business in no time. Yes, I stumbled while eagerly trying to hoist a large piece of furniture (a.k.a “prop”) and subsequently spent the day at the hospital waiting for an x-ray (no break, just a bad sprain, but plenty of colorful chinwagging with fellow Irish patients.)

As of today, I am on oven burn #6 and wearing it like a badge of cookbook courage. Also, the donkeys breaking into one of my kitchen garden beds and eating most of my strawberries and newly sprouted Georgia collard greens was admittedly quite heartbreaking.

Ahhhhhh, farm life.

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On the other hand, we had a lovely visitor from Tennessee who brought and baked her special family recipe for buttermilk pie (yes, it will be in the book!) and afterward, we made beautiful buttermilk fried chicken with a big mess O’greens, so all was not lost. Thank you Lavonda Shipley.

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I must admit, the best bits have been shooting outdoors frolicking in all of the once-foreign-to-me fauna and flora (even if the sweet heifer calves that surround us in the fields are forever trying to guttle up our picnics before we can properly photograph them). Can’t blame em, right?

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It is the absolute perfect time of year to capture the breathtaking nature of the Irish countryside at its finest. Things don’t bloom here, they BURST…virtually everything is heaving with flowers and leaves everywhere you turn. Beguiling.

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Will leave you with some other bits of bacchanalia….and back soon, promise.

Last month, I was invited to travel to the charming Inishbofin Island off the coast of County Galway to enjoy a lovely dinner and night at the Inishbofin House Hotel. The island, which translates to “The Island of the White Cow” is reachable by ferry from Cleggan and boasts breathtaking beaches and ruins chockablock with history. BBC chef, Ray McCardle, is on board at Inishbofin House consulting on the menu with head chef Taidgh McDonald and their new menu is a treasure to keep an eye on. If you are traveling to Ireland and want to try something different than the Aran Islands, hop over to Inishbofin..it is truly delightful.

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I will be blabbing about food blogging on a fantastic panel at this year’s Hay Festival in the ancient town of Kells, County Meath on Sunday, July 6th. The Hay Festival is a vibrant mash of literature, world music, politics, comedy and film and is produced every year across Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. My friends at Sheridan’s Cheesemongers asked me to participate this year, and I’m proud as punch to join this renowned gathering. Come along if you’re free! On your way, check out the Hill of Tara and put an intention on the wishing tree.

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Shake, shake, shake ♫ ♬…..come and boogie with me while making farmhouse butter at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin on July 26th. More details to come.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

*Sonia’s Grilled Lemon Gimlet recipe: one sliced lemon, sprinkled with sugar and grilled. Fill one small tumbler with ice. Pour in two jiggers dry gin, healthy splash of lemon juice, and top with grilled lemon. Suck and eat lemon slices when you’ve finished your drink. Photo of rag tree by Bruce Friedman. All other photos by Imen McDonnell 2014. 

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I woke up bright and early on the first morning of midterm break to a heartfelt request from an energetic little farmer, “Mom, can we pleeeease watch Attack of the Crab Monsters together this morning?”

I rubbed my eyes and blinked twice before yawn-smiling and stretching my arms out wide, “Morning sunshine, of course we can sweetie, now come here and give mommy a hug.”

But he was long gone on an intrepid search for a 1957 Roger Corman B-movie viewing device.

Lately there is far too much testosterone in this house.

I peel myself out of bed and totter on a trail of upsided darts Lego pieces that lead to the bathroom. The same Lego Ninjago trail that gets picked up and magically set down like clockwork every day.

After washing my face, pulling my hair back into something resembling a bobtail, and covering myself with the first three things I see in the closet, I go to my next order of early morning business: loading up the washer with slurry soaked dungarees and jumpers. Two pods/scorching hot/pre-wash/intensive/ medical rinse. Repeat.

Lately there is far too much testosterone in this house.

I go downstairs and make coffee. Standing at the kitchen counter I quietly slurp coffee and look out the window at the my garden beds which are weeping and weathered, but still alive with bits of chard and kale and new globe artichoke foliage peeking up. I smile. I turn to the living room and see Teddy’s dog grit smeared all the way across the top edge of our stone-tinted sofa (I know, you told me so). I drop my coffee cup and, well…..cry. No tears, but still.

Just then, Geoffrey skids into the room with an open iBook shouting in a burly voice with a timbre as towering as an NFL announcer, “YES! We can watch the Killer Crab Monsters now!”

I fall to the ground.

Lately there is far too much testosterone in this house.

Valentines came and went. We suffered a devastating gale the night before so Geoffrey challenged me to a fierce game of Settlers of Catan by candlelight while Richard was away with a group of men on farm business in England.

Lately there is far too much testosterone in and out of this house.

On a side note, we are surrounded by estrogen-charged maiden heifers ready to give birth any day.

Somehow there is still far too much testosterone here.

I patiently watch Attack of the Crab Monsters with my son. It is actually quite good.

I then try to convince him to take a shower. A task he once enjoyed.  We have to bargain about it.

Lately there is far too much testosterone in this house.

After watching one too many American sitcoms, my husband now has a man cave for when he’s home from the farm cave. There is a desk, a chair worthy of Larry Flynt, farm paperwork, whiskey books, a writing diary, a clunky old weight machine. Oh, and a weird wood carved wall hanging of Road Runner and the Tazmanian Devil.

I’m putting on my prettiest pinny and making sticky toffee pudding.

With whiskey.

And yeah, those are fighting words.

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Sticky Whiskey Toffee Pudding

Ingredients

85g softened unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing

225g soft Medjool dates, pitted and coarsely chopped

100ml Irish (preferably peated) Whiskey (optional)

175g flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

150g dark brown sugar

2 large eggs

For the sauce

300ml heavy cream

200g dark brown sugar

60g unsalted butter

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan160°C/gas 4. Butter 6 x 200ml individual pudding moulds.

2. Put the dates, whiskey and 100ml boiling water (or omit whiskey and add 200ml water) into a small pan and bring to the boil over a medium heat, then simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the dates are very soft. Set aside to cool.

3. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and a pinch of salt into a bowl and mix together well. In another bowl, cream the softened butter and sugar together with an electric hand whisk for 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, mixing well after each addition.

4. Alternate adding in the flour mixture and dates, a little at a time, mixing in each addition well before adding the next. Spoon evenly between the moulds, smoothing the tops. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of each pudding comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.

5. Meanwhile, make the toffee sauce. Put the cream, sugar and butter into a pan and bring to the boil. Cook for 3 minutes, until the sauce is smooth and thickened. Pour the sauce over the warm puddings and serve immediately with or without ice cream.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

PS. My blog is listed on The Kitchn’s Homies Awards…so far it has 22 nominations for best blog from abroad, but it sure would be lovely to get more as today is the last day for voting! Have a look if you like. Thank you ♥

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Images and styling by Imen McDonnell 2013. The plate was handcrafted by the very talented Trish Riley  for Sweetgum Co

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Last week, I hosted our first freshly-foraged DIY wreath workshop at the farm.  I served up winter salads with freshly baked soda bread, spiced mulled wine, and my best snowy white cake all covered in rosemary-mint icing, garnished with herb sprigs from the forest of rosemary growing in front of our house.

….Merry memories were made.

The evening before the gathering, I wandered down to the wood to collect branches of laurel, holly, pine & cedar for the occasion….

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 ….and,  set up a wabi-sabi DIY Wreath Bar in my wee little workshop space

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The girls arrived, and we played for hours….

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One friend decided to make holiday dinner name cards which nestle right into little pine cones…so sweet.

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It was a wonderful afternoon which will hopefully be the first of many freshly-foraged workshops on the farm. I was also able to experiment with some of Sony’s new portable lenses for smartphones on the day. The image of the wreath bar was shot using the amazing Sony QX-10 lens which easily attaches to your iPhone or Android and takes endlessly lush images that rival those shot on my big girl camera. In the spirit of gifting, Sony sent me an extra Sony QX-10 lens to give away as a holiday present to a reader of this blog. Simply leave a comment below to be in the draw. I will announce the winner on Christmas Day.  THE WINNER OF THE SONY QX-10 LENS IS CLAIRE KENNEDY, Congratulations! I will email you for your shipping details. 

Snowy White Cake with Rosemary-Peppermint Icing

Ingredients
2 1/4 cups/280g cake or cream flour
1 cup/250ml milk
6 large egg whites
2 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups/350g granulated sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp table salt
1 1/2 sticks/170g unsalted butter, softened but still cool

Method
1. Heat oven to 350f/176c. Prepare two 8-inch cake pans.
2. Pour milk , egg whites, and extracts into medium bowl and mix with fork until
3. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of electric mixer at slow speed.
4. Add butter (cut into cubes) and continue beating on low for about 1-2 minutes.
5. Add milk mixture to flour mixture and beat at medium speed for 1 1/2 minutes.
6. Pour batter evenly between two prepared cake pans.
7. Bake until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 27 to 30 minutes.
8. Allow cake to cool to room temperature, and then ice with rosemary-peppermint icing.

Rosemary-Peppermint Icing

Ingredients
1 cup/227g unsalted butter room temperature
3-4 cups/375-500g confectioners (powdered) sugar, SIFTED
¼ teaspoon table salt
1/2 tablespoon peppermint extract
¼ tbsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp rosemary simple syrup
2 Tbsp milk or heavy cream

Method
1. Beat butter for a few minutes with a mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed.
2. Add 3 cups of powdered sugar and turn your mixer on the lowest speed until the sugar has been incorporated
with the butter.
3. Increase mixer speed to medium and add peppermint and vanilla extract, rosemary simple syrup, salt, and 2
tablespoons of milk/cream and beat for 3 minutes. You can add more milk or cream as needed.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos by Imen McDonnell 2013. 

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One of the very first meals I shared with Richard in Ireland occurred at the ridiculously charming Mustard Seed. I’ll never forget driving up the hill that evening to the stately restaurant and inn, which he explained, “was housed in a former 19th century convent.”  I had been prepared to enjoy a romantic dinner for two, but I suddenly began to worry: could my dashing and devout Irish farmer be shipping me off to a nunnery for a bit of parochial polishing up?

Deep breath.

We parked the car and found ourselves being graciously greeted at the grand entrance door by a handsome and attentive maître d’ whom swiftly handed us each a crisp and cordial glass of bubbles.

Exhale. 

After taking our coats we were shown into a wonderfully wabi sabi yet classically drawn sitting room oozing with warmth and tartan and books and pictures and bottles of scotch filled with smoke and history. We lingered on the davenport and sipped our bubbly glasses dry while giddily holding hands in front of a roaring fireplace.

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After just the right amount of time, we were summoned to a beautiful dining room all dressed in blue where we feasted on pan fried Kerry scallops, nasturtium jelly, wild mushrooms, freshly-caught roasted trout, a tender fillet of local beef and puddings galore which we washed down with chalices of wine and spirits and tea and coffee until the early hours of the morning.

Unforgettable.

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That night, there was no way of knowing that years later I would move and marry and become simmered in the spectacular world of Irish food, embracing traditional skills and championing artisan producers as I have done.  Perhaps involuntarily that meal at the Mustard Seed planted this special seed. A nice notion to ponder.

Last month, I paid a visit to the Mustard Seed to collect a gift certificate just as they were expecting a large group of local guests. The ebullient proprietor, Dan Mullane, was in the front of the house preparing glasses of fresh black currant cordial with soda + sprigs of lemon verbena for the impending arrivals. When he handed me an amethyst-coloured glass of the refreshment I more than happily obliged.

The flavour was out of this world.

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I am ashamed to admit that black currant offerings were a bit lost on me when I first came here. I tended to associate black currant with the flavour of bittersweet grapes, as the black currant juices that line supermarket shelves here resembled a certain deep purple grape juice that I never fancied in America.

Ignoramus.

That all changed once I had a taste of my mother-in-law’s homemade, fresh-picked black currant jam. To this day, both Peggy’s homegrown black currant and gooseberry jams are the conserves that I cherish most. They are also two jams that I never had in my life before moving to Ireland {and for the record, two more reasons to make a girl never leave Ireland.}

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Peggy’s black currant jam changed my mind about black currants. And, Dan’s black currant lemon verbena cordial at the Mustard Seed took my love for this little berry one step further. {and yes, I am reading your mind, indeed this clever concoction pairs wonderfully with a finger of gin and a splash of tonic, I know this from obligatory experimentation}

I contemplated: if fresh black currants were so damn good in jams and drinks, wouldn’t they be great in a tart? Because the lemon verbena matched so beautifully in the cordial, I decided experiment with a vanilla bean + lemon verbena glaze over fresh picked black currants. The result was a splendidly tangy (but not tart) velvety vanilla, bursting berry flavour with a cornmeal crust that comfortably cradles its filling.

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See what you think!

Black Currant Lemon-Vanilla Verbena Glazed Tart with Cornmeal Crust
INGREDIENTS
CRUST
300g/2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
30g/1/4 cup corn (maize)meal (medium ground)
3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
113g/1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
55g/1/4 cup nonhydrogenated solid vegetable shortening frozen, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 tablespoons (or more) ice water

GLAZE
2 teacups (or handfuls) washed fresh lemon verbena leaves
1 vanilla pod
450g/2 cups sugar
120ml/1/2 cup water

FILLING
750g/5 cups fresh black currants (about 27 ounces)
175ml/3/4 cup lemon verbena glaze
120g/1/2 cup caster sugar
30g/1/4 cup cornstarch
Milk (for brushing)
1 1/2 tablespoon raw sugar

METHOD
FOR CRUST
1. Blend flour, cornmeal, sugar, and salt in processor.
2. Add butter and shortening; blitz on and off until mixture resembles coarse meal.
3. Add 4 tablespoons ice water and blend just until moist clumps begin to form
4. Gather dough into ball.
5. Divide dough in half; flatten each half into disk.
6. Wrap disks separately in plastic and chill at least 1 hour.

FOR GLAZE
Put all ingredients into saucepan and slowly heat just until sugar dissolves and creates a thick syrup. Remove from heat and let cool and steep for 2 hours (or longer if you can, the longer you steep the more pronounced the flavour) Strain leaves and pod. Reserve syrup for glaze.

FOR FILLING
1. Combine black currants, lemon verbena glaze, sugar, cornstarch in large bowl; toss to blend.
2. Let stand at room temperature until juices begin to form, about 30 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 200c/400ºF.
4. Place rimmed baking sheet in bottom of oven.
5. Roll out 1 dough disk between 2 sheets of generously floured parchment paper to 12-inch round.
6. Peel off top parchment sheet; invert dough into 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish.
7. Carefully peel off second parchment sheet.
8. Gently press dough into pie dish, pressing any cracks together as needed to seal and leaving dough overhang.
9. Spoon filling into piecrust.
10. Roll out second dough disk between 2 sheets of generously floured parchment paper to 12-inch round.
11. Peel off top parchment sheet. Carefully and evenly invert dough atop filling.
12. Peel off second parchment sheet.
13. Trim overhang of both crusts to 1 inch.
14. Fold overhang under and press to seal.
15. Crimp edges.
16. Cut five 2-inch-long slits in top crust of pie to allow steam to escape during baking.
17. Lightly brush top crust (not edges) with milk. Sprinkle with raw sugar.
18. Bake tart 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 175c/350ºF and continue baking until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling thickly through slits, about 1 hour 15 minutes.
19. Cool pie completely on rack.
20. Serve with scoops of ice cream, custard, or whipped cream.

The lucky recipient of Nessa Robin’s, Apron Strings, randomly picked out of an old milk pail by our little farmer, is ORLA O’BRIEN. Congratulations Orla! Please email your address to me at imenmcdonnell@gmail.com.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2013. Black currants for the tart were graciously gifted to us by the Mustard Seed, and also picked from our own orchard at the farm. 

 

 

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