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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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chants

I rumbled into Geoffrey’s room early on Saturday morning spouting a crazy chirpy, “Tally Ho!”

There were still dishes in the sink from last night’s meal shared with kindred visiting friends from America; an epic curry feast of food and fodder that lingered long into the wee hours of the morning.

But, the wash-up could wait. I was captaining a magical mushroom mission five counties away, and time was of the essence.

“Awww mom…Janey! Not so loud,  I’m still sleeping” cried the small farmer from beneath his tractor-patterned bedding.

I gave my co-pilot fifteen minutes notice, cast a blind eye to the pile of turmeric stained plates, and we walked our wellies right on out the door.

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I had designs on attending this obscure mushroom festival since last year when I received a friendly email from a person by the name of Lady Sue Kilbracken. A reader of my column in Country Living, she had asked me to help spread the word about her unique event.  My curiosity was piqued, but I had a commitment that weekend so I sadly had to give it a miss for 2012. However, I scribbled it on the calendar for 2013, and wasn’t going to let this year’s festival fade into the past without paying a visit.

I couldn’t convince anyone to join me on this mycological adventure despite the allure of a hike in an enchanted forest brimming with over 300 species of mushrooms. So, once again, Geoffrey was appointed sole co-navigator and song-singing partner for the 3+ hour trip. Whence awake, he was much obliged.

We arrived at Killegar House, Carrigallen, County Leitrim early on a perfect, brisk Saturday afternoon. As we strolled up the lane to the 1813 Georgian estate, Geoffrey immediately spied several species of mushrooms popping out of the moss and leaves along the side of the path. From that point on, we walked to the gleeful beat of,

“look mom! A big one!

look mom! A big one!

look mom! A big one!”

…… until reaching the house where the other guests had been gathering.

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We were graciously led on a fanciful foray through the massive expanse of native Killegar woodland to learn about the mysterious role of fungi in the forest ecological cycle. Living amongst this ancient forest floor covered in russet leaves and rust-tinted conkers, were puffballs, earthballs, honey mushrooms, ceps, and many more species than we could fit into our basket. Another in the group found an amethyst deceiver, which was a stunning shade of blue/violet.

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shrooms

While most of our finds were inedible, we left with plenty of tasty apricot-scented and frankly, fallopian-tubesque Chanterelles to cherish, which I put to work into a tantalising tart of chanterelle, carmelised onion, fresh caraway, and Toonsbridge Dairy buffalo hard cheese for supper the following evening.

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Wild Chanterelle, Caramelised Onion, Caraway & Buffalo Cheese Galette

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 large sweet onion, cut in half and thinly sliced into half moons
450g/16oz chanterelle mushrooms (or any wild mushrooms)
Shortcrust pastry (here is my favourite/easy basic recipe)
Handful of fresh caraway, chopped coarsely (can sub thyme or other fresh herbs that you love)
Salt
Ground black pepper
85g/3oz grated Toonsbridge Dairy Buffalo Hard Cheese or a similar hard cheese.
Milk, for brushing

1. Preheat oven to 230c/450f
2. Add 1 teaspoon of oil to a large saute pan over medium heat.
3. Add onion, salt and pepper, tossing to coat evenly.
4. Cook 20 minutes, stirring often, until onions have softened and turned a lovely shade of golden caramel.
5. Remove onions to a bowl and set aside.
6. Add remaining teaspoon of oil and add mushrooms, caraway, a little more salt and pepper.
7. Toss to coat.
8. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms have turned brown and released most of their liquid.
9. Remove pan from heat and pour mushrooms onto a paper-towel lined plate in order to remove as much moisture as possible from them.
10.On a lightly floured surface, roll out shortcrust and transfer to a parchment-lined large rimmed baking sheet.
11.Leaving a 2 to 3-inch border around the center, spread out 1/2 of the onions on the dough.
12.Layer with mushrooms & caraway mix, evenly distributing, and finish with remaining onions.
13.Sprinkle with a little more pepper.
14. Top with the shredded cheese.
15. Fold in sides of the dough circle roughly, pressing slightly to adhere pieces to one another.
16.Brush edges of dough with milk.
17.Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until crust is golden and cheese is bubbling.
18.Garnish with remaining fresh caraway
19.Remove and allow to rest for 5 minutes before cutting into slices.

Slan Abhaile,
Imen
As with all of my recipes, I use a convection oven. Please adjust temp/time to your oven guidelines) Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2013. *Janey or Janey Mac is an Irish expression of surprise and bewilderment that Geoffrey has picked up here. Not sure if this is a good or bad thing. 

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Spotted Dog

19 Mar 2013

marmaladenarrow

…or Spotted Dick as my mother-in-law calls it. I can’t seem to refer to this wonderful tea bread as Spotted Dick without turning red and giggling like a teen girl, so I’ll stick with Spotted Dog. When Peggy creates this cake-like bread formed in a rectangular shape, it becomes Railway Cake, which is lovely as well…but doesn’t look as pretty as the round loaf to me. All three variations are essentially a sweet version of white Irish soda bread. In England, Spotted Dick is considered a steamed pudding with currants. In Peggy’s day, it was an absolute treat to be able to add currants or raisins to bread, something really special to savour. At the farm, here and now, we simply devour it before it gets cold. How times have changed. I love it smeared with fresh butter and marmalade (this one…. not mine).

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Teacups

Geoffrey and I went on a hunt for Gorse over the long weekend {St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday in Ireland so it was a 4-day weekend} We have been using this lovely flower from a dangerously prickly bush to create natural dye for our eggs at Easter for the past two years. It casts a very subtle pale yellow on the eggs, but is still pleasingly pretty to the eye. An added bonus to using this plant to dye eggs is that when you harvest the flowers, your home will become filled with the fragrance of a sandy summer beach as they give off a scent reminiscent of vintage Coppertone sun cream, aka: JOY.

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Gathering Gorse followed by Spotted Dog + milky tea = a recipe for smiles.

Peggy’s Spotted Dog

Makes 1 Loaf

Ingredients

450g (1lb) plain flour

1 level tsp caster sugar

1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp salt

100g (3½oz) sultanas, raisins or currants

350-425ml (12-15fl oz) fresh buttermilk 

 Method

Preheat the oven to 230°C (425°F)

Sift the dry ingredients (incl. currants etc) into a large bowl and make a well in the centre.

Pour in most of the buttermilk (leaving about 60ml/2fl oz in the measuring jug).

Using one hand, bring the flour and liquid together, adding more buttermilk if necessary.

Do not knead the mixture or it will become heavy.

The dough should be soft, but not too wet and sticky.

Turn onto a floured work surface.

Pat the dough into a round about 4cm (1½in) deep and cut a deep cross in it. 

Place on a baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 200°C (400°F) and cook for 30 minutes more.

When cooked, the loaf will sound slightly hollow when tapped on the base and be golden in colour.

Allow to cool on a wire rack, but not too long…it’s just perfect eaten warm with butter + marmalade or jam and a cup of milky tea.

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Slan Abhaile,
Imen

Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2013

 

 

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Tipsy Cake

08 Jan 2013

Tipsy + Cake. Two of my favourite things…which I suppose not so ironically also happen to marry well. I tend to file them in the “things that make you feel good” folder. Especially in the case of coupling a super dense + buttery Madeira with rum and apricot conserve. Don’t worry, if you want to share with the children use the booze on one half and leave the other alco-free like. Just don’t forget which part is which like I did. I first saw this cake on a sample of pretty vintage wallpaper in a magazine. Then, the tempting textile introduced itself to me again on a visit to Avoca, this time printed on craft paper. I think it is a signal that I should cover the farm kitchen in it….what do you think? Swoonworthy or twee? There are many other beautiful sweet treats featured in the pattern , but the snowy Tipsy Cake first caught my eye and will now forever strike my fancy.

Tipsy cake is classically found in Ireland, the UK, and I have now learned, also eaten in the American South. You will find many iterations of it in books and online, the only common denominator is the use of some form of liquor in which to soak the cake. I personally prefer to think of Tipsy Cake as an ornamental “ball supper cake” as described here. There is also a Mrs. Beeton recipe which calls for sponge cake adorned with thinly sliced almonds and then covered in custard which sounded lovely, but, alas, when I tried to make it I failed miserably. I tested a couple of different versions and decided to splash out and just create my own recipe. Like the wallpaper, my cake is meant to be decoratively covered in icing or cream, this is because you slice it all up, mortar with jam, and bash it back together. I told Geoffrey it was messy {fun} cake anatomy 101 class. He loved it. After that, you allow the spirits to slowly soak into the reconstructed cake. We poured royal icing over ours which is quite good at smoothing edges. Pop some sparklers on top and away you go….


This cake can last for over a week, and if kept under a cloche, improves in flavour with each passing day.

Enjoy.

Imen’s Tipsy Cake

Ingredients

175g/6oz butter, at room temperature

175g/6oz caster sugar

3 free-range eggs

250g/9oz self-raising flour

2-3 tbsp milk

1 lemon, zest only

60ml/4 tbsp apricot or red currant conserve

75ml rum, brandy, whiskey or sherry {optional and to your own taste}

Royal Icing

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Grease an 18cm/7in round or decorative cake tin, line the base with greaseproof paper and grease the paper. (if decorative tin, spray with nonstick)

Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating the mixture well between each one and adding a tablespoon of the flour with the last egg to prevent the mixture curdling.


Sift the flour and gently fold in, with enough milk to give a mixture that falls slowly from the spoon. Fold in the lemon zest. 


Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and lightly level the top. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 40-50 minutes, or until golden-brown on top and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and set aside to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn it out on to a wire rack and leave to cool completely. Cover and leave overnight. 

Slice cake neatly into four equal pieces. Spread a generous amount of apricot or red currant (or jam of your liking) conserve on each slice and bash back together gently. Pour over white or dark rum , brandy, whiskey or sherry and allow to soak in completely. Prepare desired amount of royal icing as directed on package, and pour over the top of the cake. Allow to dry and harden. Decorate with sprinklers or candles, say “hurrah for Tipsy Cake!” and serve. Good morning, noon, or night.

 Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2012

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Milk Jam

28 Nov 2012

Milk jam. Confiture de Lait. Dulce de Leche. The beautiful byproduct of a simmering pot of milk + sugar. A prime suspect in the mystery of the ill-fitting jeans. A case as easily solved as Nancy Drew’s Case of the Crooked BanisterI could eat milk jam by the spoonful, which is why it is only made for special occasions. Special occasions like “Hey mom, it’s Wednesday!”

Thought I’d share how to make milk jam with you as it’s another fun adventure in dairy farm living. The milk I use is from our cows, but you can use any whole milk (grass-fed and organic would be superior, but not necessary.)

Pour it over ice cream, pudding, cake, apple pie or crumble, prepare it with goat’s milk for cajeta, spread onto sandwich cookies, gift it for the holidays…or just simply put it in a jar and dip a spoon in when the mood strikes. Yes, it takes a wee bit of patience…these time-honoured traditions take time. But, by all means, just make it.

Farmhouse Milk Jam

1 Litre (4 cups) whole milk


300g caster sugar


½ tsp sea salt


½ tsp baking soda


1 tsp vanilla extract

Method

In a large pot add milk and stir in the sugar, salt, baking soda and vanilla extract.

Turn heat to med-high and bring the milk mixture to a boil without stirring. Once you see the milk start to boil and bubble slightly, lower the heat (the milk will froth and rise rapidly if it is overboiled.)

Once it’s boiling, turn the heat down to low and skim the foam from the top. Continue to simmer uncovered for around 2 hours, stirring constantly. (consider it the workout before indulgence!)

It’s best to cook it as low and slow as possible. If the heat is too high, the milk will boil and form a skin that won’t disappear no matter how much you whisk.

Check your consistency at about 2 hours. I usually stop it now when I want a runnier caramel to use in other recipes. Cook it a little longer if you want a thicker jam to use as a spread or to sandwich cookies. Just remember that it’ll thicken up more while it cools and when it’s in the fridge.

I have decided to start sharing some inspiring bits + bobs that I come across during the month. all the time.  Will post on an ad hoc basis and call it Bits of Bacchanalia.  {I love the term bacchanalia, by definition, a gathering of people eating, drinking and having a good time…aka, our kind of people!} 

Tis the season, right? I hope you enjoy.

{Bits of Bacchanalia}

Last weekend, I spent a night at the bucolic & welcoming Barnabrow House in East Cork. Geraldine Kidd is the consummate host, and Scottish Chef Stuart Bowes prepared an absolute *mean* Feast of East Cork. We went home happy with holiday puddings and bottles of Cork’s own 8 Degrees Brewing seasonal Winter Ale. 

The Christmas Market opens at Doonbeg on the 7th of December. We will surely be going, beautiful location + wonderful gift ideas. Not to mention, aul’ Santa.

The first commercially brewed Belgian style ale, Dr. Rudi, has been produced in Ireland under the Brown Bag Project label.  According to head brewer, Brian Short, ‘Dr Rudi is best enjoyed poured into a stemmed glass that tapers in at the top, to concentrate all the lovely big fruity aromas of the hop. Serving temperature should be about 10 degrees Celsius to allow the flavours to shine through.’ Available at two of our favourite Dublin haunts  L. Mulligan Grocer + W.J. Kavanaghs 

RTE Lifestyle did a wonderful little recap of the Kitchen Archives: From Spoon to Screen discussion that I participated in at the National Library in Dublin last week.

My butcher buddy, Pat Whelan, has launched his {first in the world} Beef Bonds this month. Exciting! 

We received a this beautifully illustrated book in the post this week from a Dublin PR co….compiled by Bord na Móna for Focus Ireland…proceeds go to fight homelessness in Ireland. 

Apparently, the New York Times was jazzed by juniper junket last week too.

I have just completed Jeanne Oliver’s Creatively Made Home e-course, I recommend it highly. Now, apparently I can gift it to you at a discount price of 38 USD since I am a former student! Leave a comment below if interested.

My farming friend, Kimberly Taylor, of Blackberry Farm, has just opened her Tiggy + Grace online shop..nip over there now!

Keep an eye out for the fabulous new Foodie Crush holiday issue

I just love Ilana’s blog….how could I resist, she likes to refer to it as  “the blob”

I’m on Instagram if you want to follow along for more farm + food adventures!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos, styling, and slurping by Imen McDonnell 2012

 

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Smoked Porter Cake

02 Sep 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, about that cake.

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

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

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

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

I am!

Smoky {Dark Chocolate} Porter Cake

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

2 1/4 cups/280g all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 tsp mixed spice (pumpkin spice works the same)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

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

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

3 large eggs, separated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dark Chocolate Espresso Buttercream

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

2 teaspoons instant espresso powder

3 tablespoons milk

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

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

4 cups/500g powdered sugar

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

Malted Barley Ice Cream

2 cups/475ml double cream

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

2/3 cup (90 g) malt powder

½ cup/100g roasted malted barley grains

1 cup/240ml whole milk

3/4 cup (150 g) sugar

pinch of salt

6 large egg yolks

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

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

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

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2012

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My Funny Valentine

18 Feb 2011

I know this is a little late for Valentine’s Day, but I have a perfectly good excuse. I planned on making these sweet heart-shaped deep chocolate Guinness cakes for my special ♥ post, but as luck would have it, I came down with a terrible, knockdown cold this week and was quarantined to the bedroom until today. This illness came shortly after I finally recovered from the worst jet lag I had ever experienced coming back from America on the 6th.  Note to self: don’t forget sleep tabs for flight next time!

The good news is even though I was under the weather, I still managed to have a pretty good week. We’ve welcomed at least 15 new calves since the weekend, which always makes my heart smile and when I checked emails on Valentine’s morning, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this blog has been nominated in four categories for the Irish Blog Award this year! The categories are Food, Photo, Personal and Specialist. Am deeply flattered by this although I have to admit that I am not quite clear on what exactly I “specialize” in just yet! Check out all of the great Irish blog nominees here.

Despite the fact that I was bed-bound, I was able to have a little fun as evidenced by the #foodiefridgeflash that I jumpstarted in the Twitterverse on Wednesday. I like to call it an international flash mob of fridge innards. It was loads of fun watching the twitpics stream in all day on my laptop from the comfort of my bed. Have a peek at some of the photos here.

I also received my long awaited new P. Allen Smith, “Seasonal Recipes From The Garden” cookbook. If you have not heard of this gardener extraordinaire who has been deemed the “Martha Stewart of the South” by the New York Times, I highly recommend adding this book or any of his previous gardening books to your library. I turned on the kettle, lit my  favorite candle, slathered on some happy hand cream (I truly believe that aromatherapy heals) and proceeded to turn page after gorgeous page of inspiring seasonal recipes. I put the beautiful book down with fresh anticipation for the spirit of spring and getting into our garden again. I mean, poached egg & spring spinach salad? Delicious!

To top the week off, I was invited by Donal Doherty and the Irish Food Bloggers Association to share some of my butter-making love for their “foodies on tour” event next month at Harry’s Restaurant in Donegal. I will be presenting in the esteemed company of Ed Hick and TJ Crowe who will also be sharing their skills on the day. Donal says he has even more surprises planned….Burren Salmon? Artisan Chutney? You never know, as he’s always got something exciting up his sleeve! I am really excited to meet Donal, whom has really made a name for himself here in Ireland for his unwavering support and use of local (sometimes unsual) ingredients at Harry’s. If you are foodie, we welcome you to attend. You can find all the details on the IFBA website here.

So, the moral of this story is that sometimes being sick and in bed isn’t the worst. Except for physically feeling quite awful, I had a fantastic week. And, it’s all really because of this blog and those who follow along, so big thanks to you!

Happy {belated} Valentine’s Day.

Here’s that little Irish chocolate cake recipe I wanted to share with you…

Enjoy!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Imen McDonnell. Photographs in P.Allen Smith’s book by Ben Fink.

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The Queen of Puddings

18 Aug 2010

I know, right? And yes, it tastes as divine as it looks…especially right out of the oven. Mmmmm.

Last week I was graciously given an old Irish cookery and home economics book that was used here in Ireland during the 1940’s and 50’s.  It is called “All in the Cooking, the Colaiste Mhuire book of Household Cookery”. Steeped in tradition and an absolute true gem to add to my cookbook collection, I had been pouring over it’s pages for days looking for the perfect first recipe to feature on my blog.  There are so many fascinating and historical recipes to choose from; from sweet puddings to savory sauces, a muriad of potato preparations to special “invalid cookery” dishes and the list goes on. But when I came upon the gorgeous and aptly titled, “Queen of Puddings” recipe, in all it’s glory….marked up and checked off as if it had been made a dozen times, I instantly {and giddily} decided that this would be the one.

Using meringue in Irish desserts was very common years ago as eggs were easier to come by than other more elaborate ingredients at the time. The same could be said for using jam and other conserves for sweet treats as well. Whatever the reason, this bread-ish pudding is utterly delicious.

I did a little research to see how many of my Irish friends had ever tried this and recieved a smattering of responses, a few who never had and many whom it brought back the fondest childhood memories. One of which, Tom Doorley, former Irish Times food writer and current Irish Daily Mail food columnist, commented via Twitter that this was a favourite of his when he was growing up, his mother had mostly used orange zest, but he prefers the lemon as prescribed in the forthcoming recipe.

Sweet, but also very light in flavour and texture…the perfect dessert to end a lovely Sunday family lunch or to accompany as part of a girly afternoon tea party or picnic.

I have provided the original recipe and also an updated version with oven temps and ml measurements.

Enjoy.

Odlums Recipe:

Ingredients

600ml/1pt Milk

25g/1oz Butter

50g/2oz Sugar

Rind of 1 Lemon

2 Large Eggs (separated)

125g/4oz Breadcrumbs

Topping

2 Tablespoons Raspberry Jam

Meringue

The Egg Whites

Pinch of Salt

125g/4oz Caster Sugar

Method

Preheat oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas 3. Grease a casserole or Pyrex dish.

Put the milk, butter, sugar, and lemon rind into a saucepan and gently heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool.

Beat the egg yolks and pour the heated milk onto them. Put the breadcrumbs into the prepared dish and pour over the liquid.

Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes until mixture is ‘set’ and golden in colour. Remove from oven.

Meanwhile, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until dry looking in appearance. Add the caster sugar and beat until shiney.

Spread the jam over the base then pile on the meringue, return to the oven until ‘set’ and golden brown.

Serve while hot.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Imen McDonnell. Assisted by Master Geoffrey McDonnell

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RICHARDPROFILE

Here we go….Mr. McDonnell: UNCOVERED. Well, not really uncovered…I wouldn’t go that far-at least not for the purposes of this blog anyway. Between cows calving and garden ploughing, I was able to corner R to sit down and answer a few questions that had been submitted by readers and a couple thrown in from me. {can you tell whose are whose?}

How on earth did you meet Mrs. McDonnell?

I met Imen when visiting my friend Aiden who is living in the States.  We got together a couple times for dinner and I was very intrigued. Let’s just say that there was a universal pull towards Imen and a very big WOW factor to say the least. She told me that her Dad was going to be her Valentine that year and so when I was leaving to go back to Ireland on the 12th of February, I arranged to have a large basket of flowers sent to her office for Valentine’s Day. The card with the flowers said, “Well, you’re my Valentine.”   I think that won her over a little bit.

What have been the challenges of marrying someone from another country/culture?

It has been a bit difficult for the Imen to settle in at times here and I can totally understand because her life is completely different from before and also because she lost her father in 2008 which was very hard on her. We are constantly working to strike the balance in bringing elements of both of our cultures into how we live our day-to-day lives here.  Her distinctiveness is also what I love about her. But honestly, the hardest thing would have to be accepting that fact that the word “awesome” is now frequently heard on the farm.

Tell us about the farm, what do you love about farming?

The farm is a family farm in which myself, brother and parents run the business. We specialize in dairy, free-range poultry and renewable energies. I have a great love for animals and the land. I‘m my own boss, which is brilliant. For me, there is a tremendous sense of pride that goes with farming and producing quality foods for the Irish marketplace.

What do you do for fun when you’re not working on the farm?

I work really long hours on the farm so when I have some time off I try to make the most of it. We have taken some brilliant holidays and there are many more to come… We all love the cinema so we try to go for a Sunday matinee and lunch on weekends. I play soccer on Tuesday evenings with a group of friends in the area and enjoy going sailing with my father when the weather conditions are good.  I am a big fan of gardening and we’ve just begun planting an organic kitchen garden which will be a family endeavour.

What is the best thing(s) about Ireland?

Guinness. Hurling. The relaxed pace of life. Irish pride. To put it simply, Ireland is my home.

What do you think of this blog?

I was pleasantly surprised when I first read the blog…. My wife has amazing talent for writing, a talent I’d love to have! It’s a funny yet fact-based blog that will inform you and keep a smile on your face. I am proud of her and really love it.

How is Ireland different from America?

The big thing that comes to mind is attitude. Bono once proclaimed that the main difference between Ireland and America is this: There is a huge, beautiful mansion on a hilltop. The American says “Someday I’m going to be that guy in that house.” The Irishman says, “Someday I’m gonna get that guy in that house”  Also, the weather is far nicer where Imen is from and the people seem to be more positive and are so open and friendly–especially when they realize you are Irish!

What is the biggest challenge facing farmers today?

Surviving poor costs for our products. For example, milk prices are the same now as they were in the 80’s, yet costs to produce have soared. Also, the more extreme weather conditions of late makes farming a constant challenge to be reckoned with.

What would you be doing if you weren’t farming?

That’s a hard question. I have a wide range of interests. I studied philosophy and history at University and am very interested in theories and universal laws. I’d love to write a screenplay. I’d like to learn more about economics and global business and get my MBA. When I was a boy, I wanted to become a zookeeper!

If Imen could persuade you to move to the USA what would you be doing?

Well, first she would have to promise to get VISA’s for all of my girls (cows) to go along.  But seriously, if that were ever the case (very doubtful), maybe I could farm or teach Irish history or open a real traditional Irish pub which would be Irish through and through from the turf in the fire to the Guinness in the glass…with poetry and politics and a regular named Paudy always sitting at the bar.

If you have any questions about R or the farm we would love to hear from you….

I am off for a long weekend in NYC….and next week is St. Patrick’s Day so fun times ahead. Have a great week!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

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Like + So + Now

10 Feb 2010

Sorry, but I need to write about this. I think about it all the time. I could be swinging away on a beautiful Spring day and still pondering. Not sure why, but I must confess, I’ve become utterly fascinated with the cacophony of incidental language twists here in Ireland.

Oh yes, wait a minute.  I am sure why….

Too much time on my hands. Pure and simple.  (See #5 on the “On Marrying An Irish Farmer” tab)

Anyway, it’s just that people tend to use the words LIKE, SO and NOW an awwwwful lot here.  And not really in the way you’d think they would. When I first starting hearing these words all the time it was a bit perplexing. This is because when Americans use the words LIKE, SO and NOW we tend do it in ways which all seem far different than the manner in which many Irish speakers are using them.

You see, the word LIKE is used significantly more as an afterthought here. For instance, you might hear someone say, “That cow is really sick LIKE.” or  “He went to the shop LIKE”.  Whereas, in the USA, we might say something more along the lines of this: “LIKE, oh my God, that’s awesome” or “I LIKE your new Hummer” or maybe this: “That Bergdorf blonde has very straw-LIKE hair”.  But rarely, if ever, would we say “I know LIKE”.  And consider it a complete sentence. And say it  just to say it. No, we tend to use our LIKES in the beginning of a sentence. And, if you must know–our EXPLETIVES at the end of sentences &%$#*&^!!!

Then, in equal measure, the word SO gets loads of action here too. You’ll hear: “He’s going to the match, LIKE, SO”. In this case, the addition of the word SO can be a question without the added upward inflection…rhetorical I suppose. If you buy something at the store you will always experience the SO word at least a few times during your transaction. “It will be 2.80 then SO.” You give the money and they say “thank you SO” and then when you receive your change “ok SO then”. Not usually a thank you or a you’re welcome, but I’m pretty sure it means the same thing. There is also the very important “RIGHT SO” which, in our house, basically means we’re finished here and usually occurs after a long pregnant pause in conversation………………………………………………………………………….RIGHT SO. {moving on}

I have to admit that the NOW’s really shook me though. Twas my first time going to the little market in Adare when the shopkeeper, a lovely elderly woman, said “NOW” (sharply and succinctly pronounced NE-OW as heard here) as I set my eggs and apples on the counter. It was totally out of context for me. And something about the timbre or the emphatic tone that she used made me feel like I was being scolded (scolded is the only word to describe it because it had that weird shame element to it). I immediately flashed back to 2nd grade with Mrs. Luther who scolded us all the time for being too “talkative” in the classroom. Yes, this market lady’s NOW literally startled me and she knew it because she asked if I was okay. To which I replied with a nervous and slightly guilty laugh, “oh sorry, I’m fine, umm, did I do something?” She ignored my question and went on to say “NOW” again after scanning the apples. And “NOW” again when she put them in the bag. And then when she took my money she said “NOW SO”.  And, finally, when she bid me farewell, one last “NOW” as she waved goodbye.  Incredulous. I walked home in a complete state of total bewilderment.

Five years later I can honestly say that I’ve not succumbed to the Irish LIKE SO’s. But, as friends and family will attest, I do find myself using NOW (yes, in that tone) from time to time….and time again (it is oddly addictive)

RIGHT SO.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

(photo courtesy of ffffound)

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