gooseberrykettle

This summer has officially been one big rain shower.

But, at least we have gooseberries.

And, memories of sunnier days.

Right?

When the weather gets me down, I try to recall my first BBQ in Ireland for a little comic comfort. I wrote a little ditty about it in Irish Country Magazine last year, and thought it would be apropos to share here today, so here goes:

hen

Early on, I figured out that the Irish summer can be quite different from its American counterpart. Practically no matter where you find yourself in the United States during the months of June, July, and August you are basically guaranteed a daily dose of blue skies and a long stretch of strong, bright sun that will warm both your skin and your soul. At least that’s how I prefer to remember it.

If it rained when I was growing up, the pavement would literally steam. And, if you were like me and my childhood friends you would happily rejoice, splash and stomp about in the streets, getting thunderously drenched by those warm showers and simply enjoying the spectacle of it all. We couldn’t get enough of that summer rain because it occurred so rarely during the season.

Precipitation took on a whole new meaning after moving to Ireland. I first learned about “getting on with the weather” when it came to planning a summer party. Until then, the business of partying in the rain was a foreign concept to me.

During my first Irish summer, I tried my hand at hosting a garden BBQ party at the sweet little bolthole that we inhabited in the nearby village of Adare while our home on the farm was being built. This gathering was meant to be my concerted, heartfelt effort to be social and meet people in my newly adapted surroundings.

Naively, I never considered the weather report for the big day. It was summertime, right?

I had spent the entire week planning and preparing what I consider a proper, traditional, American-style BBQ feast: creating a tangy barbecue sauce and spice rub for both chicken and brisket, digging frantically through unpacked boxes to find my tried-and-true recipe for baked macaroni and cheese, ringing round robin to locate various ingredients that didn’t seem to be available at the corner market (sweet corn, watermelon, big fat marshmallows for toasting over hot coals, all of which I soon found out, was seemingly unheard of in these parts at the time), skimming through old Martha magazines for suggestions on being the hostess with the mostest. I wanted the day to be absolutely magnificent; full of fun, folly, fantastic food, and most of all: new friends!

I woke up that Saturday morning only to hear the rain bucketing down. It was worse than anything I had seen on Universal studio lot production shoots. It was coming down in sheets and looked totally unrealistic to me, it was so heavy. I just couldn’t believe my eyes.

I panicked and rang my one and only acquaintance, Yasmin, a friendly, local female expat from England who had ironically spent her years prior to Ireland working in television and film production like me and had also married an Irish farmer ten years earlier. Yasmin essentially (and very generously) created the guest list by inviting all of her family and friends.

When Yas picked up the phone, I cried out in my typical Yankee twang, “Oh my Gawwwd, what am I going to do? No one will come, it’s raining and I’ve made all this food. We must cancel. I am so, SO disappointed.”

Her response cut right through my sobbing with a calm and clever giggle followed by, “Imen, we get on with it here in Ireland. We just get on with it. Put up a tent or marquis if you feel the need. Everyone will come, you’ll see.”

Honestly, I wasn’t going for it. I thought to myself, why would anyone want to come to an outdoor BBQ party in the rain? Call me a fair weather friend, but I’m pretty sure I would have bailed on that party.

Ultimately, yet oh-so-shockingly to me, she was dead right. Every single guest showed up. And, we all milled around the garden in the cool (okay, cold!) lashing rain, eating smoky, spicy American-style bbq’d chicken, southern-style baked macaroni and cheese, beautiful fruit and salads, while happily sipping cider and shivering under a tent.

My father-in-law suited up in his rain slicker and graciously stepped in as rookie grill master, valiantly manning the bbq cooker, which was strategically placed underneath the awning of the house. My husband organized a game of spoon and egg with the children. I just kept feeding everyone with a big smile and a brolly in hand. “What’s a little rain?” seemed to be the theme of the day.

Nobody flinched. I was literally in awe of this extravaganza. To me, the idea that people would carry on like normal while it poured rain was bold and magnificent, and, well, a bit mad.

That day, that rain, those people, moved me. And, if I’m honest, it just might be the moment I fell a little more in love with Ireland.

hen

Once we moved to the farm, I found out that nothing says Irish summer like gooseberries. Geoffrey and I picked the gooseberries on the ONE sunny afternoon we had last week, and ever since then I have been experimenting with combinations and flavour blends. I hay-smoked and carmelised some of our pickings which made for a lovely compote to accompany sausages and cider gravy; and was also splendid blended into ice cream. Right now I have a pint of gooseberry sherbet on the go in the freezer (fingers crossed it’s lovely!). Still, aren’t the classics just always the best?

gooseberrypicking tartoverhead tart

Grandma’s Gooseberry Tart
The first time I picked gooseberries with my mother in law, we collected a massive basketful. It was a gloriously sunny summer’s day and gooseberries (pronounced “gooze-berry”} were most certainly a novelty for me. We divided our berries into two lots: I took one and she took the other. Peggy made jam and I decided to bake tarts. The next afternoon, I brought the first tart I made to tea, and afterward my father-in-law kindly asked me if I would try making the next tart like his mother would have done, doubled up on gooseberries with a very short crust. I went back to my kitchen with his instructions and an hour later the most beautifully fruity pie popped out of the oven, and was later granted the honor of being “just as good as Grandma’s gooseberry tart.” 

Basic Short Pastry
2.5 cups/320g standard plain flour
1 cup/240g butter
pinch of sea salt
Scant 1/2 cup/100ml cold water
For the Gooseberry Filling
2 cups/300g gooseberries
A slug of elderflower cordial
½ cup/100g caster sugar
Place flour, butter and salt in large mixing bowl. Using your fingertips, gently rub ingredients together until they resemble rough breadcrumbs. Do not over mix or the butter will begin to melt from the heat of your fingers.
Add water and mix until a dough is formed. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes or overnight.
Gently re-work pastry before using, taking care to ensure it remains cold and firm.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out pastry into 2 round sheets about 3mm thick.
Prick the bottom of the tart with a fork before placing a sheet of baking parchment over the top. Add beans, rice or baking weights. Place in the oven for 15 minutes or until cooked but still pale.
Remove from the oven and take out the baking parchment and beans.
Put the gooseberries, sugar and elderflower cordial into a saucepan and heat on medium until the gooseberries are just softening, check the flavour and add more cordial if desired.
Spoon the gooseberry compote into the part baked pastry case, cover with pastry top, sprinkle with granulated sugar and return the tart to the oven for a further 40 minutes or until pastry is golden.
Scullery Notes: Serve with a scoop of sweet cream ice cream.

 gooseberryg

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

(excerpted from my column in Irish Country Magazine 2014. Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2015 )

 

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Fair Weather Friend

07 Sep 2009

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We are just back from a glorious week’s holidays on Martha’s Vineyard and I must admit, it was disappointing to arrive home to a rainy, gray Ireland. Not that this would be abnormal, the weather here is generally dull, but it probably seems worse after you’ve come home from a beautiful vacation under mostly sunny skies.
And with that, I am going to write about the weather. I cannot avoid it, it must be discussed and described in full detail in order to really set the scene and understand the Irish way of life. The weather here is as significant as being a part of a family or a supporting actor in a film…kind of like that entity who is always in the background somehow influencing your life—indeed, a very important ingredient in the recipe of Irish life. And if you are anything like me, you’d be affected by its force in the same way one might experience a rollercoaster ride: one minute things are one way and the next minute things have changed. Repeat this cycle over and over and then just throw in the towel and go with it. The weather literally changes so often that you cannot settle into one mode before being whipped into another mode and its accompanying state of mind. We have a 16-foot window in our family room that looks out onto the horizon where you see acres of majestic green hills and the ancient Shanid castle ruin. I often find myself sitting in an armchair in front of that window entranced by the ebb and flow of the weather; witnessing the tumultuous skies flying by, always in flux–heavy and dark one minute, then fluffy and gray the next, followed by the purest cornflower blue before the rain suddenly starts lashing down. Circus clouds, changing from bears to rabbits to torpedoes in an instant. Rainbows, rainbows and more beautiful rainbows. All so alive and gorgeous really, but somewhat unsettling just the same.
The Irish embrace this weather in a humorous way. They tirelessly chat about it, always acknowledging-even damning the rain and gray, but if it’s sunny for more than 3 days, the fear sets in and the grave grumbling of too much heat commences. You will hear weather discussion no matter where you go, it is more than just small talk; it is embedded in the culture–in the very fabric of Irish life. I personally believe it is a clever coping mechanism…a form of therapy if you will. You know, “talk it out” though I doubt any Irish person would agree. There is also a native weather language–for instance, when it is humid, it is described as being “close” and when it is cool it may be referred to as “fresh”. The term “close” initially seemed quite strange to me, but you’d have to admit that our “muggy” is pretty odd itself. The truth is, if it didn’t rain all the time Ireland wouldn’t be as magnificent and lush as it is. And it would also not leave much to complain about. Two things that this country cannot live without.
When I first came for a visit to Ireland it rained nearly every day. Hard. Richard took me to Lahinch in County Clare where we went to the beach and it downpoured and where surfers just kept on surfing. Then we went to the Ring of Kerry. And it downpoured. Bunratty. And it downpoured. Of course, I didn’t bring the proper attire with and became soaked each time we went on an adventure. Hair looking worse than a messy Osprey’s nest and my colorful dainty skirts with little fitted cotton jackets became a second skin. Richard loved it. My next trip I came prepared with beautiful striped new Wellies from Smith & Hawken and a cute raincoat which was, well, more cute than rainproof. My favorite thing became sitting inside charming old pubs and restaurants alongside a turf fire sipping Irish coffees and looking at the beautiful landscapes with my handsome Irishman from the inside out. Still, being the optimist that I am (was?) I never assumed that the weather was always so wet, after all, it was either Autumn or Spring when I visited so bad weather was to be expected, right?
When I moved to Ireland I literally became chilled to the bone for at least 2 years. I moved over on June 1st, the beginning of summer in the USA. In Ireland, it had already been summer for a month because the seasons were on a different timeline (until this year actually) so summer was May, June, July; Autumn August, September, October and so on. I fully expected it to be sunny and gorgeous. Wrong. It rained every day for a month. No matter how warm I dressed I still felt cold. The heat was on in our house, but the air felt damp to me. It was the strangest sensation that I just could not shake. I noticed about a year and a half ago that I was finally warming up. I thought to myself ‘finally, my body has adjusted to Ireland’ but in reflection, it was more likely due to our underfloor heating in our new home.
Over this past weekend it was gray and misty at times, but not rainy. Whilst playing in the garden (yard) with Geoffrey and the doggies, we spotted Richard in a field seemingly admiring the weather….sort of looking up into the sky and taking it all in with a smile on his face. We hiked over and asked him what he was doing to which he replied, “it’s a beautiful day isn’t it?”. He always says this when it’s gray and not rainy with a tiny bit of a breeze. It’s his absolute favorite weather. Of course, I think it’s awful. Call me a fair weather friend, but I think we need a little sun each day to be happy. (Not too much, I remember feeling stifled by the sun when I briefly lived in Los Angeles…sunny every day, too much light, too exposed, it was just too, too, too everything actually.) But for Richard, the overcast days feel calming and comfortable. Probably easier for him and his crew to work as well so I can’t knock him. And, as he says, you must decide that you are doing something outside no matter if it rains or not and just do it. Needless to say, our home is now stocked with every type of waterproof item in existence. And in every color too, of course.
Slainte,
Imen

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