Sunday Bits

10 Aug 2015

ropebridge

I know, it’s Monday, not Sunday. And, that photo up there is not food, nor farm, but of our recent expedition to the rope bridge on the Northern Coast of Ireland in the blowing wind and rain. See those little people in yellow slickers? (Black Dog Martha’s Vineyard, the best!) they are Richard and Geoffrey making their valiant crossing…..yes, you can cue a little Wes Anderson film theme music now ♩ ♪ ♫ ♬ ♭ ♮ ♯.

I really wanted to try and do these posts every Sunday, and apologies, I’m finding it’s just is not working out that way. We’ve been chockablock busy here (like everyone else, right?). Fine tuning things on the farm and staycationing because we couldn’t travel to the USA this summer due to farm demands (massive sob session, followed by a good ‘ole Irish “get on with it”).

We are also now in the process of fine tuning my book; I will be getting full proofs from ROOST in the next two weeks, it’s really all happening people! (For those that are not following along on other various social media platforms where I am VERY chatty, my publishing date was pushed back to March 17th, 2016. Yes, that is St. Patrick’s Day, and 2016 also commemorates the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, so will be quite a remarkable time for my book to be released) The date got pushed because of a Random House (who prints/distributes) new timeline policy with illustrated cookbooks. I have seen a few pages of the interior design and I have to say I am really proud and blown away by the creative direction. The designer also just worked on the new Vermont Country Store Cookbook (squeal!) amongst others, have a look at her work if you’re interested.

Okay, sidetracked! These posts are supposed to be less about my life and more about others, so without further adieu, here are some things that have tickled my fancy over the last couple of weeks…..

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Freckle. So, we staycationed on the North Coast of Ireland (my husband’s family ancestral home is Dunluce Castle in Bushmills, crazy!) last week, and I hope to contribute a magazine piece about our AMAZING experience, but until then you’ll see a few bits here. I stumbled upon Freckle magazine while having an incredible meal at Harry’s Beach Shack in Portstewart, County Derry. Freckle is one of those totally warm and fuzzy beautifully curated thick paper matte mags, and this one focuses on visual stories of kindred people and the rugged landscapes of Northern Ireland. Worth seeking out.

The Irish brown bread at Mustard Seed in Ballingarry, County Limerick. HOLYThe Mustard Seed is a restaurant and inn housed in a former convent, so it’s only fitting that this creation is absolutely heavenly.  I popped in for tea and left with a fresh-out-of-the oven loaf of their signature brown bread thanks to the ever-charming  maître d’, John Edward. The sweet, nutty fragrance took over the jeep* on the way home and I am not ashamed to admit that I had to break off a piece halfway through the journey to nibble on because I couldn’t make it home without doing so! If you haven’t dined or stayed at the Mustard Seed, it is truly a MUST when visiting the southwest of Ireland.

Cheerz Polaroids. Pick and choose your favourite Instagram images to be printed vintage Polaroid style, in glossy or matte. I had so much fun with this! Leave a comment to be in the draw for a collection of your own, I will choose 2-3 winners who will each receive a voucher for free prints.

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Pudding Row, Sligo.  Darling Dervla James, co-founder of the hugely successful Pepper Pot Café in Dublin, has returned to her hometown, the picturesque Easkey Village, to set up Pudding Row Café along with her husband Johny Conlon and daughter Edith in tow. I can’t wait to visit.

 This Char-grilled salad is the epitome of summer to me, thanks Phyllis!

Pasta with Benefits? This new Irish plant-based pasta brand sent me a sample and it was actually really quite good. Gluten-free pastas usually aren’t too great, but do give this one a go if you’re Ireland based.

Isn’t this just the prettiest dress ever?  Draper James.  (Thank you kindly Reese Witherspoon!)

We are looking at this farm management software program, does anyone have any experience with it, or would anyone like to recommend another program for us? If not, we may just have to design our own. (slim pickings)

Clandeboye Estate YoghurtFor the packaging alone, but the fresh ingredients and utter creaminess of this Northern Irish yoghurt sure measures up to that gorgeous artwork on the seal.

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Our lovely friends, the Gastronomic Duo, are back in action after a move from Seattle to the wilds of Bozman, Montana. They’ll even come cook for you, here’s an example menu (WHOA).  Best of success Lori and Justin, we hope to visit one day!

Just a little reminder that myself and the little farmer will be doing our butter thang at this years’ Electric Picnic so please come along if you can get there! We are delighted to be using gorgeous Glenisk organic cream for the demonstration and you will get a voucher to go home and do a little DIY too.  If butter is not your thing, then check out all of the other incredible food “acts” at John and Sally McKenna’s brilliantly tasty brainchild, the Theatre of Food.

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Naomi from Farm to Table Feasts featured my Lens & Larder partner, Cliodhna Prendergast on her blog recently, super lovely interview.

Here’s the welcoming purple pink bovine Shanid castle sunset that we came home to on our return from the North….always good to be home.  Moooooo.

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Back soon,

Slan Abhaile,

Imen x

(Photos by Imen McDonnell 2015. *Jeep, in Ireland every vehicle that is an SUV or pickup truck is simply referred to as a “jeep”, so despite the fact that our SUV is not a Jeep brand, it is called a jeep. There you have it!)

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currantpie

One of the very first meals I shared with Richard in Ireland occurred at the ridiculously charming Mustard Seed. I’ll never forget driving up the hill that evening to the stately restaurant and inn, which he explained, “was housed in a former 19th century convent.”  I had been prepared to enjoy a romantic dinner for two, but I suddenly began to worry: could my dashing and devout Irish farmer be shipping me off to a nunnery for a bit of parochial polishing up?

Deep breath.

We parked the car and found ourselves being graciously greeted at the grand entrance door by a handsome and attentive maître d’ whom swiftly handed us each a crisp and cordial glass of bubbles.

Exhale. 

After taking our coats we were shown into a wonderfully wabi sabi yet classically drawn sitting room oozing with warmth and tartan and books and pictures and bottles of scotch filled with smoke and history. We lingered on the davenport and sipped our bubbly glasses dry while giddily holding hands in front of a roaring fireplace.

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After just the right amount of time, we were summoned to a beautiful dining room all dressed in blue where we feasted on pan fried Kerry scallops, nasturtium jelly, wild mushrooms, freshly-caught roasted trout, a tender fillet of local beef and puddings galore which we washed down with chalices of wine and spirits and tea and coffee until the early hours of the morning.

Unforgettable.

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That night, there was no way of knowing that years later I would move and marry and become simmered in the spectacular world of Irish food, embracing traditional skills and championing artisan producers as I have done.  Perhaps involuntarily that meal at the Mustard Seed planted this special seed. A nice notion to ponder.

Last month, I paid a visit to the Mustard Seed to collect a gift certificate just as they were expecting a large group of local guests. The ebullient proprietor, Dan Mullane, was in the front of the house preparing glasses of fresh black currant cordial with soda + sprigs of lemon verbena for the impending arrivals. When he handed me an amethyst-coloured glass of the refreshment I more than happily obliged.

The flavour was out of this world.

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I am ashamed to admit that black currant offerings were a bit lost on me when I first came here. I tended to associate black currant with the flavour of bittersweet grapes, as the black currant juices that line supermarket shelves here resembled a certain deep purple grape juice that I never fancied in America.

Ignoramus.

That all changed once I had a taste of my mother-in-law’s homemade, fresh-picked black currant jam. To this day, both Peggy’s homegrown black currant and gooseberry jams are the conserves that I cherish most. They are also two jams that I never had in my life before moving to Ireland {and for the record, two more reasons to make a girl never leave Ireland.}

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Peggy’s black currant jam changed my mind about black currants. And, Dan’s black currant lemon verbena cordial at the Mustard Seed took my love for this little berry one step further. {and yes, I am reading your mind, indeed this clever concoction pairs wonderfully with a finger of gin and a splash of tonic, I know this from obligatory experimentation}

I contemplated: if fresh black currants were so damn good in jams and drinks, wouldn’t they be great in a tart? Because the lemon verbena matched so beautifully in the cordial, I decided experiment with a vanilla bean + lemon verbena glaze over fresh picked black currants. The result was a splendidly tangy (but not tart) velvety vanilla, bursting berry flavour with a cornmeal crust that comfortably cradles its filling.

currantpie

See what you think!

Black Currant Lemon-Vanilla Verbena Glazed Tart with Cornmeal Crust
INGREDIENTS
CRUST
300g/2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
30g/1/4 cup corn (maize)meal (medium ground)
3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
113g/1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
55g/1/4 cup nonhydrogenated solid vegetable shortening frozen, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 tablespoons (or more) ice water

GLAZE
2 teacups (or handfuls) washed fresh lemon verbena leaves
1 vanilla pod
450g/2 cups sugar
120ml/1/2 cup water

FILLING
750g/5 cups fresh black currants (about 27 ounces)
175ml/3/4 cup lemon verbena glaze
120g/1/2 cup caster sugar
30g/1/4 cup cornstarch
Milk (for brushing)
1 1/2 tablespoon raw sugar

METHOD
FOR CRUST
1. Blend flour, cornmeal, sugar, and salt in processor.
2. Add butter and shortening; blitz on and off until mixture resembles coarse meal.
3. Add 4 tablespoons ice water and blend just until moist clumps begin to form
4. Gather dough into ball.
5. Divide dough in half; flatten each half into disk.
6. Wrap disks separately in plastic and chill at least 1 hour.

FOR GLAZE
Put all ingredients into saucepan and slowly heat just until sugar dissolves and creates a thick syrup. Remove from heat and let cool and steep for 2 hours (or longer if you can, the longer you steep the more pronounced the flavour) Strain leaves and pod. Reserve syrup for glaze.

FOR FILLING
1. Combine black currants, lemon verbena glaze, sugar, cornstarch in large bowl; toss to blend.
2. Let stand at room temperature until juices begin to form, about 30 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 200c/400ºF.
4. Place rimmed baking sheet in bottom of oven.
5. Roll out 1 dough disk between 2 sheets of generously floured parchment paper to 12-inch round.
6. Peel off top parchment sheet; invert dough into 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish.
7. Carefully peel off second parchment sheet.
8. Gently press dough into pie dish, pressing any cracks together as needed to seal and leaving dough overhang.
9. Spoon filling into piecrust.
10. Roll out second dough disk between 2 sheets of generously floured parchment paper to 12-inch round.
11. Peel off top parchment sheet. Carefully and evenly invert dough atop filling.
12. Peel off second parchment sheet.
13. Trim overhang of both crusts to 1 inch.
14. Fold overhang under and press to seal.
15. Crimp edges.
16. Cut five 2-inch-long slits in top crust of pie to allow steam to escape during baking.
17. Lightly brush top crust (not edges) with milk. Sprinkle with raw sugar.
18. Bake tart 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 175c/350ºF and continue baking until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling thickly through slits, about 1 hour 15 minutes.
19. Cool pie completely on rack.
20. Serve with scoops of ice cream, custard, or whipped cream.

The lucky recipient of Nessa Robin’s, Apron Strings, randomly picked out of an old milk pail by our little farmer, is ORLA O’BRIEN. Congratulations Orla! Please email your address to me at imenmcdonnell@gmail.com.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2013. Black currants for the tart were graciously gifted to us by the Mustard Seed, and also picked from our own orchard at the farm. 

 

 

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Teddy McBeddy

09 Nov 2009

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I was reminded of a funny story when we were out with David & Rosanne for dinner here on Saturday night. We started chatting about our beloved dogs–for which there are many around here; the McDonnell’s are huge dog lovers and we have plenty of space so they are very happy pups. Our conversation immediately began to focus on the weekly antics of Ted, our quirky Airedale. There just always seems to be a Ted story. He’s such a comical creature with remarkably strong scavenging instincts and a heart of gold.

You see, Ted is “my dog”. When I first came to Ireland, we didn’t move straight to the farm, we lived in the village of Adare which I thought would be the perfect bridge between city and country living. But, because Richard left before I woke up in the morning and didn’t arrive home until nearly 9pm each evening,  I often felt completely overwhelmed by loneliness and boredom. Having previously been very busy and social virtually every moment of every day, my life suddenly felt like it was at a standstill. I had always longed for an Airedale Terrier (to name “Teddy”) and on one teary-eyed Saturday, Richard said he’d found a breeder in Cork and that we would arrange to go pick out my puppy. I was delighted beyond belief.

When we were introduced to the busy litter of pups, Ted immediately stood out to us—sure, he was smaller than the rest, his tail was nearly nonexistent and demeanor a bit timid, but he had the sweetest twinkle in his eye and he just seemed so special. We worried that he wouldn’t be anyone’s first choice and decided immediately that he would be ours. Over the next few months, I played with him, housetrained him, groomed him, cuddled with him, napped with him, danced with him, cried with him (ok, so only I was crying, but still). We became the very best of friends. Later, during my pregnancy, he became obsessed with resting his scruffy chin on my belly all the time. It was part of his nature, he knew something special was inside. He was completely adorable.

When it came time for me to go the the maternity hospital to have our real baby, I was simply not prepared to leave Ted. I was positively gutted over having to leave him behind while I went to the hospital. It was ridiculous, but he was my buddy, confident and protector. I needed him! I felt so strongly about this that I insisted on having Richard bring Teddy to the hospital every day. Since I was pre-term they had me in the hospital on pseudo-bedrest for 6 days before I was induced. Richard would bring Ted and I would sneak out to the jeep (our Freelander. All SUV’s or 4×4’s are simply called “jeeps” here) and I would cuddle with him for 10 minutes each day. The nurses/doctor hadn’t a clue. They would have not allowed it whatsoever!

I had totally forgotten that experience until Saturday night and I was so happy when Richard began talking about it. I love it when you are reminded of things that you forgot to remember. ..especially when they are wonderful loving moments frozen in time.

Slainte,

Imen

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