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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.

hen

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.

hen

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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RichChocolateButtermilkCake2

“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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milkvin

I just may be away with the fairies.*

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

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

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

hen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

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

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

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

 

 

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This summer has officially been one big rain shower.

But, at least we have gooseberries.

And, memories of sunnier days.

Right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Grandma’s Gooseberry Tart
The first time I picked gooseberries with my mother in law, we collected a massive basketful. It was a gloriously sunny summer’s day and gooseberries (pronounced “gooze-berry”} were most certainly a novelty for me. We divided our berries into two lots: I took one and she took the other. Peggy made jam and I decided to bake tarts. The next afternoon, I brought the first tart I made to tea, and afterward my father-in-law kindly asked me if I would try making the next tart like his mother would have done, doubled up on gooseberries with a very short crust. I went back to my kitchen with his instructions and an hour later the most beautifully fruity pie popped out of the oven, and was later granted the honor of being “just as good as Grandma’s gooseberry tart.” 

Basic Short Pastry
2.5 cups/320g standard plain flour
1 cup/240g butter
pinch of sea salt
Scant 1/2 cup/100ml cold water
For the Gooseberry Filling
2 cups/300g gooseberries
A slug of elderflower cordial
½ cup/100g caster sugar
Place flour, butter and salt in large mixing bowl. Using your fingertips, gently rub ingredients together until they resemble rough breadcrumbs. Do not over mix or the butter will begin to melt from the heat of your fingers.
Add water and mix until a dough is formed. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes or overnight.
Gently re-work pastry before using, taking care to ensure it remains cold and firm.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out pastry into 2 round sheets about 3mm thick.
Prick the bottom of the tart with a fork before placing a sheet of baking parchment over the top. Add beans, rice or baking weights. Place in the oven for 15 minutes or until cooked but still pale.
Remove from the oven and take out the baking parchment and beans.
Put the gooseberries, sugar and elderflower cordial into a saucepan and heat on medium until the gooseberries are just softening, check the flavour and add more cordial if desired.
Spoon the gooseberry compote into the part baked pastry case, cover with pastry top, sprinkle with granulated sugar and return the tart to the oven for a further 40 minutes or until pastry is golden.
Scullery Notes: Serve with a scoop of sweet cream ice cream.

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Slan Abhaile,

Imen

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

 

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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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Rock Cakes

18 May 2015

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I ate a rock cake.

And DAMN, I liked it.

It all happened during Listowel Writer’s Week in County Kerry on a particularly blustery week in May 2012. I wasn’t intending on attending the renowned writers’ festival, in fact, I had never heard of such a gathering which is satirical because, 1. I was steadfastly working on creating a career in writing, and 2. it was taking place only 20 minutes from the farm.

No, I was on my way to the cattle mart, and it was literally lashing sheets of rain, sideways drops coming down so hard and fast that I had no option but to pull over in Listowel town. I was sitting idly awaiting a break in the rain, leafing through a beat up issue of Bon Appétit that I had found under my seat when I noticed a charming little café through the passenger window. Since there was no sign of cow evidence on my clothing and my wellies were next to new, I foraged for my brolly in the back and made a run for it.

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When I walked through the door, I was struck by the warmth, of not only the bustle of interesting, clever looking patrons, but of the scent of an old wood-burning stove in the corner and steamed up windows with cushioned seats at the front. I glanced at my watch, looked back outside at the heavy rain and decided there would be no harm in staying for a spell. I found a seat at the only available table edged into a corner next to the counter and requested a coffee.

I sat sipping on a scalding hot cappuccino, peeking at literature for the writers’ festival left behind on the table while observing a group of gentlemen in tattered Irish tweed coats in lively conversation with one another in front of me. As they drifted out of the room, I noticed an array of baked goods on top of the beautifully appointed vintage bakery case. A basket of scone-like pastries with a sign identifying them as “Rock Cakes.” stood out to me as peculiar. Curious, I walked over and asked the barista what they were. She dutifully explained that rock cakes were essentially a combination of scone and cake with currants inside. “Would you like to order one?” she gently asked, “Oh, how could I resist?” I cheekily answered. She placed a rock cake on a dainty plate and handed it to me. I sat back down, took a nibble, and was absolutely bowled over by the tenderness and sweet flavour of something called a rock cake.

Before I knew it, I was finger-dabbing rock cake crumbs from the plate as the rain cleared, and it was once again time to carry on with farm business. I grabbed the Writers Week brochures and my umbrella, and bid adieu to the little café on the corner, promising to come again.

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Apparently, rock cakes became popular in the UK and Ireland during the Second World War, when eggs and sugar were at a premium. They are called Rock Cakes or Rock Buns not because they are hard, but because the rough tops resemble rocky outcroppings . If made with the best possible ingredients, these cakes can rival both scones and cakes. Substitute chocolate chips for the little ones (or little ones at heart) and they are really quite a treat. Nowadays, like to pack “choccy rock cakes” for a country picnic, but they will always remind me of that rainy Writers’ Week day.

Rock Cakes

Makes 6

1 cup/225g all purpose flour
1/3 cup/75g caster (superfine) sugar, plus extra for sprinkling.
2 tsp baking powder
8.5 tbsp/125g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 egg
About 2 tbsp/30ml milk
A good pinch of salt
Plus, optional, any or all of:
1 ¼ cups chocolate chips, dried currants or sultanas,
1-2 tsp mixed spice or vanilla extract, the finely grated zest of 1 orange or 1 lemon

Line baking trays lined with nonstick paper, and heat the oven to 200C (180C fan-assisted)/400F
Sift the flour, sugar and baking powder into a large mixing bowl, add the cubed butter and rub it through evenly.
Add chocolate chips, dried fruit and/or spices.
Beat the egg with the milk in another bowl, along with any flavourings such as extracts or essences that tickle your fancy.
Pour the egg mixture into the dry ingredients and mix to a stiff, but spoonable dough – add a dash more milk, if you think it needs it.
Scoop egg-sized dollops of the dough on to the tray in rows of two, keeping them rough looking.
Sprinkle with sugar.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, until just turning golden-brown.
Cool and serve.
Scullery Notes: If prepared with currants or dried fruit, serve with clotted cream and jam.

You may have noticed that I have added an Upcoming Events page to the blog, some fun stuff on the calendar! I have two tickets to give away to the Irish Country Magazine Reader Evening on May 27th, leave a comment below to be in the draw, it would be great to see you!

Also, I’ve added a little page about The Farm for those interested in how we are set up here.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

 

 

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A Drop of Irish Cream

11 Mar 2015

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“Come in, make yourself comfortable in the sitting room.” The blood rushed to my cheeks as I said thank you, and nervously sat down on a beautifully upholstered high-backed armchair facing an identical chair positioned in front of a tiny, ornate fireplace burning with hot coals. “Can I get you a drop of sherry or a drop of Baileys?” I quietly breathed a sigh of relief as I chose the Baileys, a very warm and welcomed icebreaker.

It was my first time at the farm. I’d already had the great privilege of meeting Richard’s mother, father, and briefly, his brother, but it was time to meet the matriarch of the family, Mary McDonnell (may she rest in peace), otherwise simply known as “Grandma.” Grandma lived in the little flat attached to the main farmhouse. But, where she slept was only a matter of semantics, she clearly still ruled the roost at Dunmoylan. And deservedly so, in her day she could milk 20 cows by hand in less than an hour before coming in to cook breakfast for her family of 7. Badass.

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After I moved to the farm, my chat sessions with Grandma became more frequent. Over drops of Irish cream served in delicate cordial glasses, we swapped stories with one another; she was kind yet opinionated, and as curiously interested in me as I was in her. At a certain stage, Richard told me, “Well you passed the muster with Grandma,” which was no easy feat apparently. I felt welcomed and proud.

I loved listening to Grandma yarn astonishing tales of banshees, gun hiding and squabbles between political parties, which became very colourful because she cheekily favoured the opposite party of her husband and his family. She, like many Irish of a certain generation, believed in a bit of folklore, and recanted the time she found herself on a magic road in County Louth where her car actually rolled uphill in the Cooley Mountains, an anecdote for which I had no idea how to respond. (But look, Andrew McCarthy proves it’s true!)

Grandma had a certain savoir-faire and impeccable style, and, luckily for me, a generous sense of humour. I recall during one of our chinwags, her telling me about a weekend break she had taken to a beautiful, remote island on a lake in the northwestern part of Ireland. She described how breathtaking it was, and that you had to go barefoot and walk on rocks across the water to the Island and only drink a sort of broth with salt and pepper for three days. When I presumed she’d been to a natural spa retreat for some type of intensive 3-day cleansing detox, she thought I was absolutely mad because it was Lough Derg, a world-reknowned religious pilgrimage in Donegal. Again, something I could not fathom, but also could not help but respect.

With Mother’s Day this weekend here in Ireland, I’d like to propose a toast to ‘drops of Irish cream’ and a good old natter with the special ladies in your life. What are some of your favourite Grandmother memories?

Homemade Irish cream is second to none (sorry Bailey’s!) and super straightforward to make from scratch. Bring this tipple out at the end of a long lingering dinner party as a decadent way to end your feast, and the perfect invitation to share some more stories together….

Irish Cream
Makes 24 ounces
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. instant coffee powder
½ tsp. cocoa powder
¾ cup Irish whiskey
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
Combine 1 tbsp. cream and the coffee and cocoa powders to make a smooth paste. 2. Slowly add remaining cream, whisking until smooth.
Add whiskey, vanilla extract, and sweetened condensed milk; stir to combine.
Pour into a 24-oz. jar and keep refrigerated until ready to serve, up to 2 weeks.
To serve, pour into a tumbler filled with ice.

Slan Abhaile,
Imen
Photo by Imen McDonnell 2014

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My beloved late mother-in-law, Peggy, and Richard’s grandmother, Mary (RIP)

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[turkey harvests.]

holidays.

new Years.

[weddings.]

Birthdays.

New beginnings.

[old friends.]

[Family time.]

farming time.

Flax Dreams.

linen Fairs.

[Milk Jam.]

beach walks.

[Cookbook Edits.]

Paris [Through the Excited Eyes of a Little Farmer.]

More life, less blogging. 

Rather than banter on with 5000+ words about all the reasons it’s been awhile since my last blogpost, I thought it might be nicer to sum it up e.e. cummings-style. Bit more poetic, right?

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It’s been busier than a milking parlour at 4pm these days, but let’s jump right back in with some beautiful bits of bacchanalia.

First thing’s first, the lucky recipient of Darina Allen’s book is Kit Mitchell, whom I have emailed for shipping details. Many congratulations Kit! This book is a true treasure.

I have one big blogging resolution this year and that is to share more vintage Irish recipes with you in 2015 (with more frequency too). I have been spending some clandestine time researching antique housekeeper’s books and hand-written recipes from the sculleries of some very old Irish estates and cooking hearths of thatched farms. These recipes have proven to be both extraordinarily fascinating and quite simply delicious. I hope you will agree, so please stay tuned.

It would be impossible to not be absolutely smitten with acclaimed The Year in Food blogger Kimberley Hasselbrink’s first book, Vibrant Food. I made her gorgeous grilled Halloumi with strawberries and herbs for lunch today and I swear I was instantly transported to a sunny day in Santorini.

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Kimberley creates irresistible masterpieces from fresh, vibrant, honest ingredients and there isn’t one recipe in her book that I wouldn’t want to prepare.

Baking Mad sent me a crazy good care package filled to the brim with baking goods and asked me to try my hand at some recipes on the Baking Mad website. Any excuse to make salted milk jam (aka salted caramel) right?!

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Find the recipe for salted caramel ring doughnuts (pictured at the top) below.

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I was thrilled to contribute to GIY International’s cookbook Grow, Eat, Cook along with many amazing Irish food personalities such as Rachel Allen, Donal Skehan, Clodagh McKenna and more. You can find my recipe for a Wild Chanterelle, Caraway, and Toonsbridge Buffalo Cheese Tart in the October chapter. Order the book online here.

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Some big news. I have been asked to contribute to the new (and improved) Condé Nast Traveler with Editor-in-Chief, Pilar Guzman, and Creative Director Yolanda Edwards at the helm. You may be familiar with Guzman and Edwards as the team that previously headed up editorial at Martha Stewart Living, and before that basically reinvented the parenting magazine genre with the magnificent (and much missed) Cookie magazine.

I have long been inspired by this dynamic duo, have followed their trailblazing paths throughout the years, so the invitation to be a part of their team of tastemakers was certainly a huge honor and privilege. The new Traveler feels so fresh and fun and attainable, yet still holds onto a timeless spirit of splendor, romance, and adventure. I will be submitting food stories from Ireland and abroad. Here’s a look at my first piece.  And, the cover of the fabulous February issue.

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I did a fun interview for Australian SBS Feast last month….a little bit of this and that….have a peek here if you fancy.

And finally, I have begun edits on my own book, Farmette, Stories and Recipes from Life on an Irish Farm (Roost Books). The process is moving along a bit slower than I presumed, but has been just as fulfilling as imagined. There will definitely be a post on the entire process once we are nearly ready for print. You will be the first to know the precise publishing date.

Back soon, promise!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Food Images and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Intermission

20 Jun 2014

suitcase

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.

gimlet

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.

hen

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.

home

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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