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I am delighted to present Saveur Magazine’s Best Food Blog Photographer 2015, Renée Kemps, as the host of our next Lens & Larder workshop which will take place at the beguiling Irish country estate, Ballyvolane House, April 26-29th, 2016.

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Participants will pay a special visit to Cork’s artisan English Market as well as gather ingredients from the stunning forest and walled garden of Ballyvolane House to craft their own editorial food story and discover an exciting translation of food through the lens.

Over the course of three nights and two days, students will get to learn from Renée as she demonstrates her methods of styling and photography, and gain insight into her overall process and philosophy from working with light, to composition, editing, blogging, and social media while enjoying the relaxed luxury and friendly atmosphere of historic Ballyvolane House.

Here are a few stunning examples of Renée’s work…

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Included in the retreat:  3 nights luxury accommodation at Ballyvolane House, 1 welcome reception and dinner, 3 full Irish breakfasts; 2 lunches; 2 dinners including wine and cocktails; all food with a focus on locally sourced, artisan ingredients (vegetarian options will be catered for).

Excluded: Travel to Ireland and transportation to Ballyvolane House; Travel insurance; Extras

Cost: EUR €1850/$2012USD per person sharing dual occupancy. For private accommodation, please enquire and will be available on a first come, first served basis.  An 80% non-refundable deposit will be required to secure your spot. Final 20% Payment will be due upon arrival at Ballyvolane House.

Due to timing logistics, there will be absolutely no refunds for this workshop. Please make sure you can attend before securing a space for the retreat. We strongly recommend that you to take travel insurance. Owning an SLR camera is preferable.

Please email lensandlarder@gmail.com for more details & registration.

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Renée Kemps is the author of “Harvest”, a blog about seasonal ingredients, local produce and sharing food with loved ones. She is the winner of the Saveur Best Food Photography Awards in 2015, has contributed to Food52, Vogue Magazine, and is currently collaborating with Yotam Ottolenghi for Jamie Magazine. Renée grew up in Delft, a small village in The Netherlands, and moved to the countryside when she was 10 years old. Growing up outside, with apple trees in her backyard, strawberries in the garden, and chickens running around made her fall in love with a life where we know where our food comes from, how it grows, and how we can take it into our kitchen to enjoy it together at the table, with good conversations and cozy nights.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen xx

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kneecaps
Picture this.

You walk into a 1960’s-style supper club/ballroom in a small midwestern American town. It doesn’t matter that it is the noughties; nothing has changed since the place first opened in 1964. There is the same wooden bar with high vinyl covered stools, the same wall-to-wall carpeted dining room with numbered round tables and upholstered swivel chairs, the same salad bar with spinach and oily hot bacon dressing, German potato salad and green aspic. Broasted chicken and potatoes feature on the menu along with a filet mignon that you could cut with a butter knife. Everything is plush and gold and burgundy and bold shades of emerald. You remember a pint-sized version of yourself holding a maraschino tinted Shirley Temple in hand, your bearded father with an extra bitters brandy old-fashioned, and your Aqua Net scented stepmother sipping a drink called “bacardi” with a small b.

You glance into a smoky side room where there are people dancing. One-two-three, one-two-three, oom-pa-pa, oom-pa-pa, couples shuffle around the room with the odd added back leg kick for good measure. They are happy. The place is abuzz. There is dim light everywhere except for this ballroom which is harshly lit with fluorescents. Everywhere you look, it’s like time stood still.

Back in the dining room there is a long table in a corner covered in white linen, and suddenly you recall a time when dozens of small deep-fried doughnuts topped with fluffy dollops of fresh cream would fill such a table. There are spotlights beaming down on the table as if to showcase whatever greatness will eventually grace its top. You can’t keep your eyes off the table. Someone plays Kenny Rogers on the jukebox in the bar and you hear people hmmm hmmmm hmmmm-ing in the distance. You do not get distracted. That table is the promised land of desserts. There will be other bits on that dessert table, but you know they will pale in comparison to the kneecaps.

Yes, I said kneecaps. Those delicate doughnut cream puffs are called kneecaps. I always presumed that if you closed your eyes and squinted they might look like someone’s kneecap. I do not know, but that’s what they were called.

Kneecaps were in my book and they got cut. It might have been because (little did I know) kneecapping was a form of torture during the Troubles in Ireland.

Or, could be simply because they just plain don’t sound good.

But, I am here to tell you, there isn’t much better in the way of creampuffery (forgive the portmanteau). I would go as far as to dare you to show me a better form of creampuff. (yes, that really is a dare.)

Plus, if you come up with a better name, we can just change it, right?

Find my recipe below.

hen

Now, for some Sunday Bits….

My book is making its way into the world next month, and Image Living & Interiors has provided a very special sneak preview in its March issue, here’s a taste

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Our friends and world-class photographers, Andrea & Martin Hyers, have begun hosting their own intrepid photography retreats. The first one will take place in the Andes Mountains of Peru and I’d give anything to be along for the ride. Check out more details here.

We are welcoming calves night and day on the farm, spring is the season for new life and we are embracing every moment of it!

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Natural Born Feeder’s Rozanna Purcell claims that I was instrumental in getting her to start blogging about food, I don’t know if I can take credit for that, but I will vouch for her stunning book filled with nutritious, tasty recipes. For example, these Virtuous Viscounts that remind me of Girl Scout Thin Mints, minus the sugar! You can order her book here.

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I recently stumbled upon a brilliant app called Beditations. Basically you pop it on when you go to bed for an evening meditation and you are awakened with a meditation “alarm” to start your day. I can’t recommend morning meditation enough for the pursuit of daily balance, calm, and well-being. For me, this practice has been life-changing and the Beditation app just makes it easy.

Cliodhna and I are planning our next Lens & Larder retreat with the amazing Renée Kemps, last year’s Saveur Food Blog Best Photography winner. I met Renée when were in Brooklyn for the awards last June, and on top of being an incredible photographer, she is just as sweet as pie. More details on our website soon.

I’ve added a few more bits to the events page, my Limerick book launch taking place at O’Mahony’s in Limerick City at 7pm, 9th March. There will be music, wine, my best brown bread and homemade butter. Come along if you’re free! Also, I’m pairing up with Claire Ptak and her Violet Bakery in London for a special Farmette + Violet Pop-Up on the 22nd of March from 12-4pm. SO excited for that!!!

 

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Dairy Cream Kneecaps
Kneecaps were one of my greatest childhood indulgences. At many large gatherings on my father’s side of the family, there would be a seemingly endless tray of kneecaps on the dessert table where I often found myself hovering around the general vicinity for more time than I probably should have. Kneecaps are essentially tiny cream puffs, only the puff is a very lightly yeasted, raised doughnut with cream simply dabbed into a wee dent in the middle. The pastry to cream ratio is perfectly balanced. These are such a treat, especially with farm fresh sweet cream, and would be a superb addition to afternoon tea or a special celebration.
Makes One Dozen
1/4 cup warm water (105 to 110 degrees F)
2 (.25 ounce) envelopes active dry yeast
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 cups milk
6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 cups peanut or vegetable oil for frying
1 cup confectioners’ sugar for dusting
2 cups heavy cream, whipped
Pour warm water into a small bowl, and sprinkle yeast on top; set aside for 5 minutes. Cream together the shortening, sugar, and salt. Add the eggs, one at a time, while continuing to mix. Pour in the milk and the yeast alternating with the flour until smooth. Place dough into a greased bowl, and turn over to grease the top.
Cover with a light towel, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Once the dough has risen, punch down, and roll out on a floured surface to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into rounds with a 2 inch round cookie cutter, cover, and allow to rise another 30 minutes.
Fill deep saucepan with 4 inches of oil. Heat oil to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
Use your thumb to make an indent in the center of each kneecap. Fry in the hot oil a few at a time until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Remove to drain on a paper towel, and allow to cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. To serve, dust the kneecaps with confectioners’ sugar, fill the indents with whipped cream.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

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A couple of years ago, I had the fortune of being asked to talk about my greatest taste memories for a food festival in County Kerry. After agreeing to relish this summons of flavour nostalgia, I made a strong cup of tea, grabbed the last queen cake, and sat down to give my task some serious consideration.

In a matter of moments, in true thought-bubble style, ideas started rushing to my head. I quickly scribbled notes, bandying between surprising things like bratwurst and bologna, Boston cream pie and pierogi. Just as I was about to start devising a way to satisfy an acute Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch craving, Geoffrey walked up with a jumbo marshmallow in hand and pleaded with me to allow him to roast it over the flaming turf in our sitting room fireplace.

The kid in me smiled and said, “sure, go right ahead” while the mom in me flashed him my “you better be careful” eyes.

As I glanced over at Geoffrey merrily toasting his marshmallow over the fire, I put my No. 2 pencil behind my ear and just sat and pondered how important food memories are, specifically when you are an expatriate.

I realized that there are things that I eat solely for memory’s sake that I definitely would not consider as special if I were still living the USA. Absolute Americana: Sloppy Joes, S’mores, Angelfood cake (so much better from scratch!), Chicago-style hot dogs, to name a few. I also must confess that I have gone as far as to whip up a bowl of glow-in-dark green “pistachio” Jell-O brand boxed pudding brought back from a Stateside trip years ago.

It sucked.

But, certain food hankerings undeniably hinder homesickness.

Are food recollections and their delicious by-products meant to be crucial remedies for melancholy when adjusting to a new culture? And, if so, are the edible results of these nostalgic cravings really just another form of soul food?

In the U.S. “soul food” tends to be evocative of a certain style of food prepared in the American south. While I don’t disagree with that, I do wonder how to define the soul nourishing foods that I now prepare here on the farm, or the chinked with time classics that I’ve left behind which now provide me with an odd form of heightened, toothsome, soul-affirming pleasure.

Each year that I live in Ireland, I embrace what our farm and the bounty of the land lends to us. For me, I am building new taste memories, and for Geoffrey these ingredients, techniques, and traditional skills will become lodged in the fabric of his food and taste memory bank. They are his soul food.

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One of the most extraordinary, yet absolutely unsullied wild Irish ingredients that I have come to love are ramsons, otherwise known as ramps, wild garlic, or spring leek.

We have a wooded area on the edge of the River Shannon where you can see clear across to County Clare, where the honeybee hives live, and where there is a wellspring of wild edibles. Each spring we look forward to our excursion to collect ramsons, sorrel, ground elder, and stream watercress as well as seaweed and dulse on the shoreline.

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Today I built a bridge between wild Irish soul food and an eponymous soul food from the American south.

And, it was SAVAGE.

We collected a modest amount of ramps, cleaned, and simply dipped in a bit of olive oil for the grill, then served them charred and hot on a bed of creamy, cheesy, country grits.

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Comforting doesn’t even touch on the feeling that went with the satisfaction of preparing and sharing this simple yet exceptional dish with our family and friends.

What foods nourish your soul?

Country Grits with Grilled Wild Irish Ramps
Serves 4
1/2 cup/75g of yellow, stone ground grits (can substitute polenta or coarse ground maizemeal if absolutely necessary, or just order grits online at Amazon.co.uk)
2 cups/500ml boiling water
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
15-20 freshly cultivated wild ramps (could sub spring onion here if you don’t have access to ramps)
1 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt
Light a charcoal fire in your grill and allow coals to get white hot, or prepare and oil a grill pan. Coat the wild ramps with olive oil. Set aside.

Stir grits into a saucepan of rapidly boiling, salted water. Cook and stir until the boil comes back up then over and continue to cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cheese, cover, and let sit on stovetop while grilling the ramsons.

Place ramps on your grill and cook until just charred. Remove and set aside.

Spoon creamy grits into individual bowls, top with 4-5 grilled ramps, sprinkle with sea salt and serve.

Scullery Notes: When digging ramps, unless they are scarce in your area, be sure and get the whole root where the most profound flavour is found. The leaves are also great for making pesto, and the bulbs are great pickled and used for dirty martinis! Be mindful of how much you are taking from the land in relation to what is available to you. Never forage on the side of busy roads or where there is a lot of foot traffic which can be contaminating.  

I have some amazing news! Saveur Magazine has named me a finalist in the Writing category of their 2015 Food Blog Awards. I am stunned and so grateful for this honor. Out of 50,000 nominations, they have chosen 6 finalists for 13 categories. I am amongst writers that I totally revere and respect. The voting is open from now until the end of the month, so if you fancy, the link is here. If it wasn’t for you reading this blog, I would not be recognized in this way, so many, many thanks to all!

SAV_15_SBA_Badges_Finalists_writingSlan Abhaile,

Imen x

Photos and styling by Imen & Geoffrey McDonnell 2015

 

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Farmhouse Apple Cider

25 Oct 2011

A few weeks ago, I blogged about one of my favorite autumn traditions in America: sipping apple cider and nibbling on cider doughnuts at the local apple orchard or pumpkin patch. Some of you may have already seen + heard me carrying on via Twitter or Instagram sharing our happy success with, “Rosie”, our charming new fruit press, and the first batches of pressed cider here at the farm this week. And, yes, we sipped cider with doughnuts by the turf fire immediately! Now all is good in the world.

Some excellent questions popped up during my initial exploration into cider making, a fellow blogger asked, “So, what is the difference between apple cider and apple juice anyway?” Of course, my farmer questioned how/if we could make batches of boozy cider with our apples and new press. {In case you were wondering, YES, WE CAN!}

The truth is, fresh cold-pressed apple juice is nearly the same as apple cider. It can be made any time of year when apples are available, but is most commonly pressed in the autumn when apples are plentiful. Cider and juice are both made in the same way, but the difference is that apple juice is pressed and strained through a thinner mesh than cider. Cider tends to be cloudier and darker in colour than juice and has a more tart and raw flavour than the juice. Also, the bottom line is, depending on the quality of apples, which vary from year to year, the taste, sweetness and consistency of apple juice and cider can vary widely.

Alcoholic cider or perry (pear-based cider), an institution in Ireland, UK and France, is made by fermenting the juice after pressing, either by a naturally occurring fermentation or by adding a yeast strain.  This type of cider is one of my favorite drinks here on the isle, something that was new to me when I first arrived in Ireland & which I took an affinity towards….rather quicky. Fermented alcohol cider, such as Bulmers or Strongbow have dry, complex flavours and are not sweet. Perfection. I have also just learned of a new craft cider in Ireland called Stonewell which we will be sampling soon.

Thankfully, this type of cider libation has also been making a comeback stateside. In doing my cider research, I discovered that during the 18th century, hard cider was actually the drink of the people, from farmers to fighting men, and deservedly so as President John Adams himself drank a tankard of cider every day. Children drank a less potent version, called ciderkin.

However, when the Germans arrived in America, beer fell more into favour and after the prohibition, cider was virtually nonexistent. Now, with wonderful artisanal ciderys cropping up across the country such as Bellwether and Tieton, the cider tradition is swiftly being reborn in America.

Whether a warm mug of autumn apple cider or a cold glass of dry {alcoholic} cider suits your fancy, I say long live apple cider!

I am thrilled to announce that we will be packing up “Rosie” and heading to Kilkenny at the weekend to press cider at Savour Kilkenny, a fabulous food festival in it’s fifth year running. Please come along and sample a taste of sweet cider with me in the Forgotten Skills tent on Parade Plaza from 11:30AM on Saturday. I’d love to see you there! There is an amazing schedule of events at the festival including food demos by Donal Skehan, Catherine Fulvio and Edward Hayden. The Great Irish Food Debate, a panel discussion about whether or not ‘Irish Cuisine’ exists will take place during the Food Camp on Friday, and reknowned American food writer/food historian and founder of Saveur magazine, Colman Andrews, will be weighing in. Not to be missed!  www.savourkilkenny.com

So, here’s how we made our apple cider:

Procure a mix of apple varieties. Apple juice tastes much better if sweet, tart and fragrant apples are mixed together. We used the two types of apples that we currently have in the small farm orchard: Bramley and Pippin varieties. Yields can vary widely, but as a general guide, 20 lb/10kg apples will yield a gallon/4 litres of juice.  Wash the apples by running cold water over them and removing any dirt or other contaminants. Remove any obviously rotted or discolored parts of the apple. Be cautious when using apples that have been picked up from the ground after falling from the tree as these will require extra cleaning to remove possible contaminants. Never use “ground apples” from an area where livestock graze.

Chop and mash the apples. For larger quantities, an apple chopper is the easiest method. For smaller quantities, you may use a food processor, meat grinder, or just cut the apples into very small cubes. I used our food processor. Do not worry about stems, seeds or peels–they can all be included in the mash. (I originally cored all the apples, a waste of time!) 

Insert a mesh bag into the fruit press. Our model came with a two bags. Bags with larger diameters are used for cider, while a smaller mesh will product a more juice-like product. Place a large pot under the spout of the fruit press to catch the juice as it is pressed.

Fill the fruit press with apple mash. Add 1 tbsp. lemon juice, if desired, to help reduce oxidation ofthe apple juice. Apples and apple juice, will react with oxygen and produce a brownish color. Lemon juice will lessen but will not eliminate this effect.

Tighten the fruit press to begin the flow of juice. Keep tightening the press until the flow of juice comes to a halt, which takes approximately 10 minutes. The pressed mash can be composted, discarded or fed to local wildlife or in our case, resident donkeys, Conor and Cormac.

Pour the apple juice into plastic or glass containers. Drink. If you plan to freeze the juice, fill the containers three-fourths full, to allow room for expansion.

If the apple juice has not been heated, it will keep in a refrigerator for one or two weeks before yeast naturally present in the juice starts the fermentation process.

APPLE CIDER DOUGHNUTS

Makes Approx 20 Doughnuts

1 cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted

¼ cup buttermilk

½ cup apple cider

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

4 cups all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon allspice

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup sweet apple finely chopped

Topping

1 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

Mix 1 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons cinnamon in a brown paper bag. Set aside.

To Make the Doughnuts

  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat eggs and sugar until thick and creamy
  • Add the melted butter
  • Combine the milk, cider, and vanilla. Set aside.
  • In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and salt
  • Alternately add the flour and milk-cider mixture to the eggs, beginning and ending with the flour. Combine thoroughly.
  • Fold in the apple
  • Turn out the dough onto a large piece of parchment paper.
  • Fold the paper to cover the dough and place in freezer for 30 minutes. Dough will be very sticky but will become workable after it firms up in the freezer.
  • Roll out firm dough on a lightly floured surface ½-inch thick.
  • Cut 2-1/2-inch circles with 1-inch center holes (or use a doughnut cutter). Dough will be soft, which makes light, tender doughnuts when fried.
  • Let cut doughnuts rest five minutes on a cookie sheet.
  • Heat 3 to 4-inches oil to 360 degrees in a large pot.
  • Fry three to four doughnuts at a time for about 1-1/2 minutes per side or until golden brown. (Be sure to maintain the temperature of the oil, lowering or raising stovetop heat accordingly).
  • Shake fried doughnuts in the cinnamon sugar mixture.
  • EAT IMMEDIATELY WHILE SIPPING WARM APPLE CIDER! (do not take snaps, if you want to see what they look like, here’s a great example)

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos by Imen McDonnell.

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Baby Banoffees

14 Jul 2011

Banana + Toffee = Banoffee

Banoffee is {but, clearly, should not be} one of my besties.

I can explain. You see, the supreme flavor combination of banana and toffee draws to mind a very distinct memory of having the most wonderfully romantic dinner with my father as a small girl. We were eating at one of those old fashioned ‘supper clubs’ whereby my dad would order an old-fashioned for himself and a kiddy cocktail for me in the lounge as we awaited our table in the –highly upholstered- dining room. We had a lovely meal and when it came time for dessert, a handsome man in a white coat and special shiny cart promptly arrived at our table.

Through my little girl wide-as-pie-eyes, what happened from there appeared to be like a fantastical scene out of Willy Wonka. As the man calmly and professionally sliced up fresh bananas, whipped, poured, stirred and magically created a flame of blue fire, he described each detail of his process with humour and prose. In the end, he eloquently presented each of us with a piping hot, creamy, caramel-y Bananas Foster on silver plates. The aroma and flavor were like heaven on earth. *Unforgettable*

Fast forward to 2005. I walk into an Irish café and see the Banoffee in the dessert case onnnnce again {it’s everywhere} and decide to dive in and give it try. The banana + dulce de leche flavor sends me right back to being daddy’s best girl all dressed up at a supper club on a midsummer’s night. Instantly, I am committed to Banoffee.

Banoffee can be found around Ireland at most cafes’ and on the dessert menu at many restaurants, but, in fact, as I researched for this post, I discovered that this pie originated in England.  As the story goes, the cake’s invention is claimed by Ian Dowding and Nigel Mackenzie at The Hungry Monk restaurant in Jevington, East Sussex. They developed the dessert in 1972, having been inspired by an American dish known as “Blum’s Coffee Toffee Pie”, which consisted of smooth toffee topped with coffee-flavoured whipped cream. Dowding adapted the recipe to instead use the type of soft caramel toffee created by boiling a can of condensed milk, and worked with Mackenzie to add a layer of bananas. They called the dish “Banoffi” and it was an immediate success, proving so popular with their customers that they couldn’t take it off the menu.

Yes, the recipe calls for boiling a can of condensed milk. Yes, it works. But go on, give it a try because I know you just want to see for yourself. It’s a fun and easy no-bake treat to make with children. You can prepare one big pie or a few baby sized like I did.

…and if you can get farm fresh cream, even better.

Banoffee Pie

For the toffee sauce:

1 (405g) tin of condensed milk

For the Base:

350g of digestives or tea biscuits of your choice (in the USA, graham crackers

would work)

150g of butter, melted

300ml whipping cream

3 bananas, sliced

Cocoa or choc shavings (optional)

To make the toffee sauce, remove the label of the condensed milk and immerse it in boiling water. Boil the tin for 2 – 3 hours. The longer you boil it, the darker and thicker the toffee will be. Make sure that the tin is FULLY immersed in water at all times, otherwise, the tin could explode.  (You can also buy pre-made caramel in tins or make the dulce de leche from scratch like this )

For the base, crush the digestives and mix it with melted butter (you can blitz in a food processor as well). Using a pestle or back of a spoon, press the digestives into a 9″-diameter tart base with a removable bottom (or 4-6 mini tart tins). Chill the crust in refrigerator for at least one hour. Meanwhile, whip the cream until it’s stiff.

Fold sliced bananas into whipped cream. Spread a layer of toffee and top with the banana cream. Sprinkle with cocoa or dark chocolate shavings.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell. Assisted by Master Geoffrey McDonnell

 

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