A Drop of Irish Cream

11 Mar 2015

irishcream2

“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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Yip, I’ll admit it.  I was once a bona fide corned beef-n-cabbage, green beer sipping girl. Each St. Patrick’s Day, without fail, me and a posse of friends would head out to at least one Irish pub each year on the 17th of March, and happily belly up to a hot paper plate of corned beef and watery cabbage with a side order of green tainted lager…or two {hic}.

It was a ritual, never gave much thought as to why we would do such a thing, we just did….and ohhh, was it fun. Fast forward to life in Ireland where the closest thing to corned beef is that chunk of spiced beef found in the supermarkets at Christmas time or another option resembling something very close to SPAM. My first truly Irish St. Patrick’s Day celebration at the farm probably confirmed my father in law’s suspicions that I was mad when I asked if he had ever eaten corned beef on St. Paddy’s Day. And, while I have come to grips with no longer enjoying corned beef served out of a Nesco on the Day, I have yet to work through the 5 stages of grieving my beloved corned beef and swiss on rye for lunch.

Nowadays, Paddy’s parties are a bit more civilized for myself and our family. We tend to go to the local afternoon parade and then come home and have our “tea” (tea = supper on the farm); a picnic of whatever cold cuts, cheeses, spreads, vegetables I’ve picked up from the farmer’s market along with a quick baked loaf of brown soda bread and a little dessert. I’ve written a piece for the Dean & Deluca Gourmet Food Blog about that first St. Patrick’s Day experience and also what delicious Irish eats we’ll have this year, have a look and see.

This weekend we also celebrate another holiday in Ireland: Mother’s Day! Yes, Mother’s Day is in March, not May on the craggy green isle. Therefore, I am entitled to two special days, in theory. Not so much on paper or in real life, but the option is there if ever a certain farmer would like to be generous {cough cough}.

One of the best parts about Spring in Ireland has to be fresh rhubarb. Rhubarb compote, rhubarb ice cream, rhubarb clafoutis, rhubarb cake, rhubarb muffins, rhubarb crumble and a personal favourite, my very special rhubarb pudding. This recipe for rhubarb pudding came about by happenstance a few years back when I realized I didn’t have oatmeal for my spring rhubarb-berry crumble to bring to the farm for Easter dinner. I had made the oaty version for Mother’s Day the first year I was here and everyone really loved it, especially Grandma whose compliments were ever so heartwarming. I was asked to bring it again for Easter that year, but that morning I suddenly realized we didn’t have the oats to make the crumbly part so I sub’d flour and came out with a cakey, cobbly, crispy on top, cray cray good rhubarb…umm, pudding.  I brought it to dinner and we ate it for dessert with dollops of vanilla yogurt and everyone said it was even better than the crumble. {yippee!}

I submitted my recipe which I named “Farmhouse Spring Pudding” to Sweet Paul magazine’s “Happy Dish” competition last month and he chose it for his Spring 2012 issue, which is online now! I am still pinching myself. I love, love, love reading Sweet Paul; his motto is “ chasing the sweet things in life” and the magazine always lives up to that….beautifully designed and filled with easy + elegant recipes, fun + stylish crafts, entertaining ideas, shopping tips and more.  Pour yourself a cup of tea and give it a good browse when you have some time. Here is a link to the recipe (mag photo and styling by Sweet Paul) and another link to the NY Times Diner’s Journal who also enjoyed reading about my “rhubarb cake”! Give it a go when your rhubarb roosts and let me know how you like it =)

Have a Happy St. Patrick’s & Mother’s Day!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen xx

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2012

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