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.

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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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I have been experimenting with milk again. How can I resist when I am surrounded by such mass bovinity in all of its glory? The dairy possibilities are endless in this kitchen. There is literally milk everywhere, clearly most notably on my brain.

Over the past few years I have performed my fair share of indulgent dairy experiments. I’ve churned butter. Strained farmer cheese. Clouted clotted cream. Creamed curd cheese. Condensed milk and evaporated milk. Dairy-ed fudge. Soured cream. Creamed cheese. Used the remaining buttermilk and whey for various experiments in baking. Hell, I’ve even made bread out of milk.

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Strictly speaking, when things get a little stressful; i.e. when the weather makes it difficult to farm, we DIY ice cream.  One of my favourite playwrights’, David Mamet exclaimed, “We must have pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.” Well, I agree, but I’d swiftly say the same for ice cream too.

When our ice cream is ready to eat, we quietly share fifteen family minutes together on the farm, scooping spoonful after spoonful of cold creamy glee into our smiling mouths. I suppose the flavour du jour is whatever strikes the fancy of a certain farmer’s mind at that particular time. Triple chocolate-chocolate, cookie dough, chunky monkey, red raspberry ripple, marshmallow cream, rhubarb-n-custard….if we are feeling extremely creative, and if the season is right, we’ll steep some fresh hay into the creamy base too. Just because.

This weekend, we happened to have a bit of extra crème fraîche in the fridge so we decided to make ice cream with it. Crème fraîche ice cream is not new. It’s been done before, but it’s new to my kitchen, to my Magimix, to our time-tested palates.

After getting an email from a friend telling tantalising tales of lemon sea salt ice cream at the beach, I decided to add that to the mix as well. The result is an ultra-creamy, tangy, zesty ice cream with the slightest hint of salt from the sea.

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Crème-Fraîche-Lemon-Sea-Salted Ice Cream

200ml whole milk
175g caster sugar
600g full-fat crème fraîche (Glenisk or Glenilen are both fantastic)
Zest 1 lemon
½ tsp vanilla extract
2-3 pinches sea salt (I love Irish Atlantic Sea Salt)

1. Whisk together the milk, sugar, crème fraîche, lemon zest and vanilla over medium heat until sugar is dissolved.
2. Set aside to cool completely. Place in fridge overnight.
3. Add in sea salt and churn in an ice-cream machine, following manufacturer’s
instructions, before freezing. Or freeze for 1 hr, then give a good whisk and return to
the freezer for another hour. Repeat 3 or 4 times until it becomes solid.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

{I am away from the farm travelling stateside due to a bereavement this week, so I am sharing this post adapted from my column + recipe recently published in Irish Country Living}

Photos + styling by Imen McDonnell 2013 

 

 

 

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Last weekend Geoffrey and I picked all of the apples and pears at our little farm orchard. All I could think about was apple dumplings. Some people have visions of sugar plums. I dream of apple dumplings.  Apple dumplings are pastry wrapped baked apples. They are perfect for using up apples that don’t shine up all prim and purty…which was basically nearly all of ours this year.

I suppose it is fairly safe to say that cooking has officially consumed me. I am sure this has come as quite a shock to those who knew me B.F. (before farm)…aka, the incessant diner-outer who was better known for raiding craft services tables on production than crafting her own cider.  I categorically cherished good food; as long as someone else was preparing it. This evolution has been most surprising to me, but as I’ve come to realize, knowing how to cook and bake is absolutely essential to farm living. There is really no other option. We simply do not have the convenience of time or location to eat outside of our kitchen on a regular basis  ever. What we have is the space and potential to grow and prepare most of our own food. And so, this is what we endeavour to do. {However, a dirty dinner at The Spotted Pig wouldn’t go astray}

Still, there can be clashes in the kitchen. For instance, pastry is persnickety. Dough in general. There is a science to it. When you do it right, it can be very rewarding. But, sometimes that reward doesn’t come as often as I’d like. Generally, there are only three ingredients. It should be easy. Though mostly it’s not. The pastry I used for these apple dumplings is the same one my mother-in-law uses for her apple tart. There is egg in it. If the temperature isn’t right, it falls apart and you stand there weeping into it. (alternatively, you can scream and bang the rolling pin onto countertop until dough flies everywhere. Satisfying, but cows will think you are crazy + there’s more mess to clean up)  It is imperative that you turn the disc of pastry round and round while you are rolling it or the edges crack and badda-bing, you’re done. One day, I shall master pastry….like the little blue choo that could….maybe it will be that chicken pot pie or perhaps a daring mille-feuille, but I will get there, promise.

Peggy’s buttery sweet pastry is perfection baked around an apple sprinkled with some autumn spices. It’s well worth the meltdown effort. And, having fresh honey and milk on hand to churn scoops of beautiful burnt honey ice cream doesn’t hurt either…

Irish Apple Dumplings

Peggy’s pastry

Juice from one lemon

6 medium cooking apples (Bramley’s work well)

55g or 1/4 cup packed brown sugar

50g or 1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp cloves

Pinch kosher salt

30g or 2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

Turn out the dough onto a well-floured surface and roll into a large rectangle or square, about 1/8-inch thick.

Cut a piece of parchment paper into a 6-inch square. Using the parchment paper as a guide, cut out 6 total squares from the dough, gathering scraps and re-rolling as needed. Layer the dough on pieces of parchment paper and refrigerate while preparing the apples.

Preheat the oven to 230c/450f°.

Add the lemon juice to a bowl of ice water. Peel and core each apple and place in the lemon water to prevent browning.

To make the filling, combine the brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt in a small bowl. Sprinkle the bottom of a square of dough with sugar mixture. Place an apple in the center of dough. Put one pat of butter in the core of the apple and sprinkle additional sugar mixture inside. Bring the four corners of dough up around the apple, pinching the edges to seal and folding over excess if necessary. Continue with all of the apples.

Arrange the apple dumplings in a baking dish, leaving about 1-inch of space between each apple. Bake until the crust begins to turn golden brown, about 40 minutes.

Burnt Honey Ice Cream

125ml or ½ cup honey

1 tsp cinnamon

500ml or 2 cups milk

250ml or 1 cup double (heavy) cream

Cook honey and cinnamon in a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat for 5 minutes or until dark coloured and smoking. Add 2 tbsp cold water and remove from heat immediately.

Heat milk and cream in a separate saucepan and bring almost to the boil. Gradually whisk in burnt honey + cinnamon and stir over low heat until mixture is combined. Do not boil. Remove from heat, pour into a bowl and cool (overnight in refrigerator is ideal). Freeze mixture in an ice-cream machine and then place in freezer for 2-3 hours before serving. 

Happy Autumn.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos by Imen McDonnell 2012

 

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