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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[turkey harvests.]

holidays.

new Years.

[weddings.]

Birthdays.

New beginnings.

[old friends.]

[Family time.]

farming time.

Flax Dreams.

linen Fairs.

[Milk Jam.]

beach walks.

[Cookbook Edits.]

Paris [Through the Excited Eyes of a Little Farmer.]

More life, less blogging. 

Rather than banter on with 5000+ words about all the reasons it’s been awhile since my last blogpost, I thought it might be nicer to sum it up e.e. cummings-style. Bit more poetic, right?

hen

It’s been busier than a milking parlour at 4pm these days, but let’s jump right back in with some beautiful bits of bacchanalia.

First thing’s first, the lucky recipient of Darina Allen’s book is Kit Mitchell, whom I have emailed for shipping details. Many congratulations Kit! This book is a true treasure.

I have one big blogging resolution this year and that is to share more vintage Irish recipes with you in 2015 (with more frequency too). I have been spending some clandestine time researching antique housekeeper’s books and hand-written recipes from the sculleries of some very old Irish estates and cooking hearths of thatched farms. These recipes have proven to be both extraordinarily fascinating and quite simply delicious. I hope you will agree, so please stay tuned.

It would be impossible to not be absolutely smitten with acclaimed The Year in Food blogger Kimberley Hasselbrink’s first book, Vibrant Food. I made her gorgeous grilled Halloumi with strawberries and herbs for lunch today and I swear I was instantly transported to a sunny day in Santorini.

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Kimberley creates irresistible masterpieces from fresh, vibrant, honest ingredients and there isn’t one recipe in her book that I wouldn’t want to prepare.

Baking Mad sent me a crazy good care package filled to the brim with baking goods and asked me to try my hand at some recipes on the Baking Mad website. Any excuse to make salted milk jam (aka salted caramel) right?!

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Find the recipe for salted caramel ring doughnuts (pictured at the top) below.

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I was thrilled to contribute to GIY International’s cookbook Grow, Eat, Cook along with many amazing Irish food personalities such as Rachel Allen, Donal Skehan, Clodagh McKenna and more. You can find my recipe for a Wild Chanterelle, Caraway, and Toonsbridge Buffalo Cheese Tart in the October chapter. Order the book online here.

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Some big news. I have been asked to contribute to the new (and improved) Condé Nast Traveler with Editor-in-Chief, Pilar Guzman, and Creative Director Yolanda Edwards at the helm. You may be familiar with Guzman and Edwards as the team that previously headed up editorial at Martha Stewart Living, and before that basically reinvented the parenting magazine genre with the magnificent (and much missed) Cookie magazine.

I have long been inspired by this dynamic duo, have followed their trailblazing paths throughout the years, so the invitation to be a part of their team of tastemakers was certainly a huge honor and privilege. The new Traveler feels so fresh and fun and attainable, yet still holds onto a timeless spirit of splendor, romance, and adventure. I will be submitting food stories from Ireland and abroad. Here’s a look at my first piece.  And, the cover of the fabulous February issue.

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I did a fun interview for Australian SBS Feast last month….a little bit of this and that….have a peek here if you fancy.

And finally, I have begun edits on my own book, Farmette, Stories and Recipes from Life on an Irish Farm (Roost Books). The process is moving along a bit slower than I presumed, but has been just as fulfilling as imagined. There will definitely be a post on the entire process once we are nearly ready for print. You will be the first to know the precise publishing date.

Back soon, promise!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Food Images and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Intermission

20 Jun 2014

suitcase

Tonight I sit at the table looking at life over the rim of an ingeniously crafted grilled lemon gimlet.* I am pondering this crazy, cathartic journey of love that I signed up for nearly 11 years ago.

Warm fuzzies take up residence on my forearms and I smile.

Still kismet.

As I gallop nearer to the finish of photography for this book, I am filled with emotion and pride. Looking back, I am simply struck by how life can take so many turns and twists in your one go ‘round.

Damn, destiny can be demanding.

I sip down the last gorgeous citrusy drop of my mixed drink and start wiping down the kitchen worktop.

Nine years in Ireland. (Pinch)

Where did that go? (Ssshhhh, don’t ask)

I hazily conclude that if you give life your best shot, demands are met with very handsome rewards.

Hic.

gimlet

I’ve been floating around in my apron and wellies for the for the past month prepping, testing, cooking, co-styling and shooting recipes nearly every day, in and around our home, the farmyard, and the many pastures and meadows that cradle and surround us.

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Fortunately for me, my fabulous friend and food stylist, Sonia Mulford-Chaverri made it across the Atlantic to be my partner in all of this food fluffing. So far we’ve been having great fun making everything look awfully pretty together.

Of course, everyone in the family has been enlisted as well, including our Airedale Terrier, Teddy, who clearly seems to feel he has some directorial talents. He takes the biscuit.

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Sure, during week 3 the dishwasher died (that one last butter bell?) and our clothes washer waned (too many tea towels?), but thanks to our local dairy co-op, we were back in business in no time. Yes, I stumbled while eagerly trying to hoist a large piece of furniture (a.k.a “prop”) and subsequently spent the day at the hospital waiting for an x-ray (no break, just a bad sprain, but plenty of colorful chinwagging with fellow Irish patients.)

As of today, I am on oven burn #6 and wearing it like a badge of cookbook courage. Also, the donkeys breaking into one of my kitchen garden beds and eating most of my strawberries and newly sprouted Georgia collard greens was admittedly quite heartbreaking.

Ahhhhhh, farm life.

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On the other hand, we had a lovely visitor from Tennessee who brought and baked her special family recipe for buttermilk pie (yes, it will be in the book!) and afterward, we made beautiful buttermilk fried chicken with a big mess O’greens, so all was not lost. Thank you Lavonda Shipley.

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I must admit, the best bits have been shooting outdoors frolicking in all of the once-foreign-to-me fauna and flora (even if the sweet heifer calves that surround us in the fields are forever trying to guttle up our picnics before we can properly photograph them). Can’t blame em, right?

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It is the absolute perfect time of year to capture the breathtaking nature of the Irish countryside at its finest. Things don’t bloom here, they BURST…virtually everything is heaving with flowers and leaves everywhere you turn. Beguiling.

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Will leave you with some other bits of bacchanalia….and back soon, promise.

Last month, I was invited to travel to the charming Inishbofin Island off the coast of County Galway to enjoy a lovely dinner and night at the Inishbofin House Hotel. The island, which translates to “The Island of the White Cow” is reachable by ferry from Cleggan and boasts breathtaking beaches and ruins chockablock with history. BBC chef, Ray McCardle, is on board at Inishbofin House consulting on the menu with head chef Taidgh McDonald and their new menu is a treasure to keep an eye on. If you are traveling to Ireland and want to try something different than the Aran Islands, hop over to Inishbofin..it is truly delightful.

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I will be blabbing about food blogging on a fantastic panel at this year’s Hay Festival in the ancient town of Kells, County Meath on Sunday, July 6th. The Hay Festival is a vibrant mash of literature, world music, politics, comedy and film and is produced every year across Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. My friends at Sheridan’s Cheesemongers asked me to participate this year, and I’m proud as punch to join this renowned gathering. Come along if you’re free! On your way, check out the Hill of Tara and put an intention on the wishing tree.

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Shake, shake, shake ♫ ♬…..come and boogie with me while making farmhouse butter at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin on July 26th. More details to come.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

*Sonia’s Grilled Lemon Gimlet recipe: one sliced lemon, sprinkled with sugar and grilled. Fill one small tumbler with ice. Pour in two jiggers dry gin, healthy splash of lemon juice, and top with grilled lemon. Suck and eat lemon slices when you’ve finished your drink. Photo of rag tree by Bruce Friedman. All other photos by Imen McDonnell 2014. 

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Irish Spring

22 Apr 2014

zwartblesfleece

If the title of this post conjures up visions

of whittling bars of green and white stripy soap,

cast those clean as a whistle notions aside…

spring in the Irish countryside is

beautiful, raw, and green

filled with birdsong and new life…

but frankly, it mostly smells like manure;

also known as “that sweet country smell”

milking spodgesI am loving this fun sketch of me milking “Sally”

by Ailbhe Phelan, a fabulous Irish illustrator living in London.

What do you think?

The lucky recipient of Ashley English’s Handmade Gatherings is Lori Matthews.

Congratulations!

I will be back with more recipes and stories very soon.

 Life is aflurry with trying my very best to complete a

truly special manuscript & fine-tuning recipes

for my upcoming book…

while feeding calves & milking cows

and simply…

being a mother and wife (the easy part)

hen

In the meantime,

head over to Spenser Magazine

for a beautiful Irish spring lamb story…

read all about my bucolic Zwartbles adventure

nestled alongside some outstanding food stories

on ancient grains in Arizona, Blue Heron Goat Farm

and some amazing salt-roasted spot prawns.

I will leave you to linger with a few more outtakes from the shoot

PicMonkey Collage

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justborn

knitting

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heather

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Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2014

No Zwartbles lambs were eaten for this post

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Handmade Gatherings

08 Apr 2014

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Rhubarb. Buttermilk. Bread. Pity it’s already gone. Gone in 60 seconds style. I blame the PMS hungry farmers. But, no worries, this loaf of rhubarb-buttermilk amazingness can be yours too. The recipe is in a most divine new book by cookery and craft writer, Ashley English.

Handmade Gatherings is filled with gorgeous recipes made from honest ingredients, but the best bit is that Ashley encourages everyone to bring something special to the inspirational celebrations she shares with us. Potluck, for me, is just a golden nugget of Americana childhood memories, and a girl who writes a book all about seasonal potluck gatherings is undoubtedly after my own heart.

Ashley says, “Anyone can put a call out that a party is happening. What makes a gathering truly memorable though, is the amount of thought put into its planning.” This is why all the parties in her book were conceived as communal affairs…meaning you share a great deal of the work with you guests. Conviviality in its best light.

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I never stopped smiling as I sipped tea from a flask and flipped through four fabulous chapters which chronicle parties for each season, all of which are beautifully photographed by the fiercely talented Jen Altman. I opened the book to the chapter on Ashley’s “Spring to Life” gathering, complete with a Maypole dance and setting seeds together. On the menu: pistachio crusted asparagus with feta vinaigrette, fried chicken, spring onion tart, buttermilk rhubarb bread and many more ambrosial goodies to delight in.

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Ashley is signed to the same publishing house as I, the very special ROOST (sidebar: keep your eyes peeled for some great new titles coming out this spring if you are into farming, crafting, nature and DIY) so we are automatically kindred, but as irony would have it, we transatlantically connected when both of our films were screened at the Chicago Food Film Festival last autumn.

My sassy friend and design director for Small Green Fields, Cassie Scroggins, met Ashley at the event and they had a right old natter that evening. Cassie emailed me the very next day to tell me “You should meet Ashley English, I’m pretty sure you would like her.”  I clicked on the link to the film vignette and instantly fell in love with her laid-back, homegrown style.

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Now, 8 months later, I am here to happily share Ashley’s new book with you, and compliments of ROOST, I even have one lucky copy to share.

Just leave a comment below sharing your favorite way to throw a party, and I’ll put your name in the draw to be announced on my next post.

But first, make Ashley’s bread…it tastes just like spring!

Rhubarb Buttermilk Bread
Ingredients
For the Topping
¼ all-purpose flour
2 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp unsalted butter, cubed
¼ cup chopped hazelnuts
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
For the Batter
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp baking soda
½ tsp sea salt
2 large eggs
½ cup buttermilk
6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
Zest of one lemon
Seeds from 1 vanilla bean
¾ cup chopped rhubarb
Method
Preheat oven to 350f.
Generously butter 9×5 inch loaf pan and set aside.
Prepare the topping:
Place all ingredients in a medium bowl. Using clean hands, mix everything together until the ingredients are fully combined and the butter is in pea sized clumps. Set aside while you prepare the bread batter.
Prepare the batter:
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl, using either a whisk or a fork. Add the eggs, buttermilk, melted butter, lemon zest, and vanilla bean seeds. Whisk together until the ingredients are fully combined.
With a mixing spoon, stir in the chopped rhubarb until it is well blended into the batter.
Assemble the bread:
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Use a spatula to evenly distribute the batter across the surface of the pan. Sprinkle the topping evenly across the batter.
Place the pan in the over. Bake for one hour, or until the top is golden and a knife inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Blogpost food + styling by Imen McDonnell. Handmade Gatherings photography by Jen Altman. Handmade Gatherings is available here, here and here and essentially anywhere great books are sold.  

 

 

 

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Tis true. I am writing a book! Umm. Rewind and playback: “Imen, you are writing a book.” Sorry, but I have to do that at least once a day for it to really sink in. At least that was formerly true until my lovely and amazing editor, Rochelle Bourgault, assigned my first deadline last week.

YIKES!

I guess we are all aware that I have been on one helluva(n?) epic journey, both culturally and gastronomically since moving to Ireland. However, I have only been able to reveal small snippets via this blog, insta-love, FB, and the twittaverse.

Now, I get to share, no-holds-barred, all the nitty-gritty, slurrifically soaked bits about life on this Irish farm and the pantry of pretty remarkable food that goes along with it. Perhaps my beginner’s step-by-step guide to milking your first cow? How-to pluck-n-process a chook? Dressing tripe 101? Or, new recipes like Farm Fresh Buttermilk Beignets, Lobsta Blaas and Peggy’s Potato Stuffing? There is so much to share, and I am thrilled and honoured to do so.

With the generous assistance of my patience-of-a-saint literary agent, Sharon Bowers, my book will be published in the USA and Ireland/UK by ROOST in autumn 2015, is provisionally titled FARMETTE: Adventures and Recipes From Life on an Irish Farm, and will be an illustrated cookbook/food memoir chock full of modern recipes, stories, and vibrant imagery from our kitchen and farm.

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Since leaving urban America for my Irish farm(er), I have tackled the task of building a foundation of kitchen skills and time-honoured cookery traditions, gaining wisdom from my dear mother-in-law, and other amazing connoisseurs of cooking both in Ireland and abroad.  Building that base, has been for me, an absolute essential requirement of my lifestyle change. I have become a home cook and baker in my own right, first by necessity, and now as one of my life’s greatest (and most creative) passions.

If I do it right, Farmette will become an absolute devilishly delicious + stunning diary of my expat journey into Irish country cooking, following my five-year culinary home/farm schooling—or as I like to think of it, a charming confusion of cake and cream and all things in between.  

Thank you, as always, for taking the time to visit here and hold my hand on this journey. I only began blogging to record the crazy happenings of my new life to share with friends and family overseas. Over time, this journal has healed homesickness and forged some fantastic new friendships. And now, it will create a book. (rewind and playback) I am astonished and so very grateful.

But hey, it’s not all about me! I don’t know about you, but I was taught that it is not courteous to applaud when others are celebrating your achievements. So, in keeping with that mantra, I would like to share a extraordinary new book authored by a very dear friend. The Irish Beef Book by 5th generation master butcher, Pat Whelan (with Katy McGuinness) is the consummate guide to Irish beef (and beef in general!) As the doyenne of Irish cookery, Darina Allen says, “This book is filled with recipes that use every scrap of meat from nose to tail, and provide a noble end for the animals Pat rears and butchers.” I am giving away one copy to one lucky reader. If you want to be in with the draw, please leave a reply below telling me your favourite cut of beef. Will announce/ship on my next post!

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Now, a toast to new books, good friends, and plenty of plum pudding…..cheers!

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Wild Sloe Gin Rickey

Since moving to the farm, we have made a ritual of searching for sloes in our hedgerows each autumn. They are usually put to use in a gin or vodka infusion. But, I have also made sloe jelly, which is a lovely compliment to game dishes as well. The Gin Rickey is a classic American cocktail, and since citrus pairs so well with the sweet, tangy sloe, why not call it a Sloe Gin Rickey? Slurrrp. 

Makes One Serving.

1.5 oz Wild Sloe Gin (here is link to my somewhat science experimental-esque step-by-step recipe for lavender + sloe gin)

1 squeeze of  1/2 lime

carbonated water (or tonic), depending on strength/taste preferred

ice

Pour juice of lime and gin into a highball glass over ice cubes. Fill with carbonated water and stir. Add the wedge of lime and serve. You can also shake gin and lime juice and pour over cubes in a highball or lowball glass.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos & Styling by Imen McDonnell 2013. 

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