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

….Merry memories were made.

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

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

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The girls arrived, and we played for hours….

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

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

Snowy White Cake with Rosemary-Peppermint Icing

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

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

Rosemary-Peppermint Icing

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

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

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos by Imen McDonnell 2013. 

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Stinging Nettle Tea

10 May 2012

Nettles.

They sting.

Yeah, me and nettles haven’t exactly been fast friends over the past few years, but that is changing. If you will allow me to get a bit metaphorical, I will explain.

When I first moved to Ireland, I didn’t know what to expect. I was head over heels in love and braying-like-a-donkey-excited to embark on this new chapter of my life. As anyone who knows me personally will attest, my most profound challenge after relocating to Ireland was obviously not “marrying a farmer.”  It’s pretty easy to be married to my husband, no matter how rough things have gotten, we’ve managed to stay in love (no small feat). No, the hardest part was something I naively never anticipated: losing the stubborn identity that went along with a career that, for better or worse, defined me.

It’s not like I had a six-figure job, nor was I the president or CEO of a Fortune 500 company. When I moved to Ireland, I was working in the wacky world of advertising, producing television commercials that shlepped global beauty, fashion and food brands. The work often involved collaborating with talented directors and took me around the world. Before that, I was at the Rosie O’Donnell Show in NYC. But, don’t get too excited; I was very young and merely a serf who spent a whole lotta time buying Christmas pressies on behalf of Ms. O’Donnell. Memories of maniacally running around the west village in search of rare redcoat army figures for Tom Hanks, or toy shopping for Cruise-Kidman clan will forever more be imprinting on my brain.

Still, I was passionate about my work because I got to be creative and work with people who inspired me on a daily basis. The work was very social and there was always something new on the horizon. Of course, this was before the recession when clients still had bottomless pockets of money to be spent on hefty advertising budgets (yes, somewhat Mad Men-esque despite being the noughties).  I lived, breathed, ate, and drank work. I was so consumed by it that there was room for little else in my life (ahem, like farmers). Sure, at times, I would become keenly aware that I needed more balance. And, those days became more frequent as Richard and I became serious about our relationship.

When we decided it would be best for me to be the one to move, I genuinely assumed I would still be able to work as a producer. If not for the agency I had been with for 5 years, then in a freelance capacity in Ireland. I was excited to experience new opportunities.

Suffice to say, those options didn’t really pan out. I became a mommy. CEO and chief nappy changer of the house. When Geoffrey was still a baby, I designed a line of infant one-pieces that fell through when I discovered my BABY EIRE branding was not acceptable in Ireland (There are still 300 of them sitting in the attic, if you want one). I worked on one television series, and also some small food-related production projects on a gratis basis. I help out on the farm. I am paid a small salary to write a country living column in a national newspaper. I am trying to restore a period thatched farm, whose potential is not seen as clearly to others than to I. I have done a handful of cookery demonstrations at events around the country. I started this blog, which has evolved into so much more than I anticipated…but, as much as I am committed, a blog alone is not a career.

Which brings me to why I’ll never forget my first nettle sting. I was working in the garden. My first garden ever, I might add. Somehow summer Sundays had always been for shopping at Sephora or sitting by a pool, not gardening. Anyway, I accidentally brushed up against a nettle. What the hell was a nettle anyway? The sting was painful, but didn’t warrant my reaction. I swore at that blasted nettle. I damned it.

Then, oddly, I began to cry.
One of those horrendous heaving cries.
I cried about the hurt of the damn nettle sting.
I cried for my father.
I cried about the bloody Irish weather.
I cried that Geoffrey would never play Little League.
I even cried about not getting Rosie her tuna fish on poppyseed bagel anymore.
I cried the kind of cry that keeps your cheeks a slappy shade of red for the rest of the day.
Then, I rang Richard and screamed at him for the nettle abuse.
Nettles were just one more reason why we should move to America in my mind.
America, my imaginary land of opportunity, where I could have fulfilling work again. Where I could be me.
It was ridiculous.

Yes, life had a bit of a sting to it at the time.

This is why me and nettles haven’t been on the greatest terms. But, this is changing. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been bravely experimenting with nettles. We’ve had a few good natters, the two of us. We’ve made a deal: if I wear gloves and blanch them in hot water, they won’t make me cry. In fact, I discovered that if you put them in hot water for long enough, you will create a most flavourful and completing cup of tea, especially with a tiny drip of honey. Perfect for the wintery weather we can’t seem to shake here.

I’m now embarking on a special new film project, Food Island. I get to take everything I’ve come to learn here on my food-and-farming-filled Irish adventure, and combine it with those good old production skills. For me, this feels like a match made in heaven. Next week, two wonderful friends will arrive from America; one a producer and one a cinematographer. We will be journeying around the country as I direct a short film about Ireland’s exciting new food culture. Not quite a new career, but definitely a good start.

That sting is history.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos by Imen McDonnell 2012


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