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In the Irish countryside the true spirit of St. Patrick’s Day really lives on. My husband and his family still pick a shamrock clover and pin it on their lapel for the day, and now I am a part of that special tradition as well.

I will never forget my first St. Patrick’s Day experience after moving to Ireland. Everything in the little village nearest to us was closed on the day; the post office, the bank, a good number of shops, about the only place with open doors was the church, and I soon realized that it was not only a national holiday, but a religious one as well—though the name should have given that away.

My mother-in-law invited us to the farmhouse for dinner that day, and I could hardly contain my excitement about having my first authentic Irish corned beef and cabbage!

We sat down at the dinner table while Peggy brought out generous plates of roasted pork loin with mashed potatoes covered in a white creamy parsley sauce accompanied by a bit of boiled cabbage on the side. I was stunned. Where was the corned beef, and why on earth was there so little cabbage?

I felt it was necessary to explain to my new family that in America, most people eat corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day. My father-in-law looked at me like I was mad and then calmly reasoned, “We do not eat corned beef, t’wouldn’t be the nicest.” I could tell by the look in his eye that corned beef was not held in the same esteem as the beautiful chunk of pork loin, known as “bacon” here in Ireland. I felt at once utterly surprised and somewhat embarrassed. (I later learned that corned beef in Ireland is akin to Spam, it is a type of chopped gelled beef that comes in a square tin)

The truth is, there really isn’t a special meal in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day. Parades, yes. Parties filled with libations, yes. Shamrock-wearing, yes. But, food-wise, at least in rural Ireland, we all just sit down to a nice meal, which can be anything from roast pork to a T-bone steak, but never, ever, corned beef.

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Over the years, our Paddy’s day celebrations have evolved. We have begun a ritual of going for a long walk on the farm and visiting the fairy fort* (a circular earthen mound-style dwelling from ancient times) for a picnic. I bring all the fixings and we sit under an ivy-covered tree and nibble away, all the time being on the lookout for fairies, and heifers and calves that might be exploring the fort as well.

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Since I always like to try something a little different than roast bacon and cabbage, I found that it is fun to prepare an Asian-style potsticker dumpling with pork, cabbage, and parsley sauce. I borrowed the dumpling wrapper recipe from my friend, Molly Yeh, and went to town with traditional ingredients. A couple of hours later, we walked out the door with a basket of dumplings, dipping sauce, chopsticks and a flask of tea. With a picnic like that, who needs corned beef and cabbage! This recipe is in my chapter entitled New Traditions in The Farmette Cookbook: Recipes and Adventures from my Life on an Irish Farm. 

Paddy’s Day Bacon & Cabbage Potstickers
Makes 20 medium sized dumplings
For the wrappers
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup cold water
In a medium bowl, combine flour and salt. Gradually stir in boiling water until the mixture is mealy.
Gradually add the cold water and stir until the mixture turns comes together into a dough.
Knead dough on a floured surface, adding more flour as necessary, until the dough becomes smooth.
Transfer to a clean bowl, cover it with a damp towel, and let the dough rest while you make the filling.
For the Filling:
6 ounces cabbage, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/8 cup minced parsley
1/3 pound shredded smoked ham (or smoked Irish bacon)
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper (or freshly ground black pepper)
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon Chinese rice wine (or dry sherry)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
For the slurry
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup water
For the dipping sauce
2 tbsp sesame oil
¼ cup brown rice vinegar
½ cup scallions (spring onion)
¼ cup soy sauce
Make the wrappers In a medium bowl, combine flour and salt. Gradually stir in the boiling water until the mixture is mealy. Gradually add the cold water, and stir until the mixture comes together into a dough.
Knead dough on a floured surface, adding more flour as necessary, until the dough becomes smooth. Transfer to a clean bowl, cover with a damp towel, and let rest while you make the filling.
Make the filling Put the cabbage in a food processor and pulse until finely minced. Transfer to a large bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Let sit for 10 minutes. Pulse the ginger, parsley, ham, pepper, soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil to food processor to mix well. Set aside. Squeeze the water out of the cabbage and into the sink. Place the dry cabbage in a dry bowl and add the ham mixture. Fold together with your hands.
Make the dumplings Roll out the dumpling dough into a circle and cut out wrappers with 4-inch round cookie cutters (or the top of a wineglass or teacup). Set aside. Mix together the cornstarch and water for the slurry in a small bowl. Take one dumpling wrapper, and spoon about 1 tablespoon of the ham mixture into the middle. Dip one finger into the slurry, and paint the edges of the dumpling wrapper. Fold the bottom side of the wrapper over the filling and press into a half-moon shape. Place on a baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and repeat with the rest of dumplings. Make sure the dumplings do not touch each other on the sheet.
When all the dumplings are assembled, you can cook immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to several hours. To cook, half-fill a large pot with water and bring to boil. Gently slide in one-third of the dumplings. When the water returns to a boil, turn the heat down and simmer gently for 6 to 8 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, and repeat with remaining dumplings.
Coat the bottom of the frying pan with oil and place over medium heat until hot. Fry dumplings until they are golden on each side.
Make the dipping sauce Heat the sesame oil in a saucepan until it smokes. Add the scallions, then the brown rice wine vinegar and soy sauce. Mix well, then take off heat and pour into bowl for dipping.
Scullery Notes: Salting and squeezing the water out of the cabbage is essential. It prevents dumplings from being waterlogged and soggy. 

*The term Faerie is derived from the Gaelic word “Fé erie”, meaning the enchantment of the Fées, while Fé is derived from Fay, which is itself derived from Fatae, or the Fates. The term originally applied to supernatural women who directed the lives of men and attended births. Now it has come to mean any supernatural creature tied to the earth, except monsters and ghosts. In Ireland, the Faeries are called the Aes Sídhe, pronounced eye-shwee) Sídhe are also the name for the earthen mounds and hills that dot the Irish landscape. Irish mythology, legends, and folklore claim the Faeries live under these mounds, so the term sídhe has come to mean Faerie in general, but it more properly refers to the palaces, courts, halls, and residences of the Faeries. However they are known by a wide variety of euphemisms, including “the Fair Folk”, “the Good Neighbors”, “the Little Folk”, “the Little Darlings”, and “the People of Peace”.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos by Imen McDonnell. Styling by Sonia Chaverri Mulford 2015.

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Banoffee Crepe Cake

09 Feb 2016

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I am delighted to announce the five recipients of my upcoming book, The Farmette Cookbook, Recipes and Adventures from My Life on an Irish Farm: Debra Dorn, Jen Kohan, Martha Bernie, Emily Grace & Sally Savage. Thank you all for your lovely comfort food comments, I had so much fun reading them all! I may be doing another giveaway in March, so stay tuned.

I have also updated my events page with some upcoming book & workshop dates, so please do have a look, we hope to see you around. I will be adding Ireland and UK book event dates very soon, promise!

Now, allow me to introduce this decadent Banoffee crepe cake. Absolutely overly indulgent, somewhat time consuming to prepare, and yet, oh SO necessary on Pancake Tuesday, an Irish holiday for which I am eternally grateful. A celebration that never fails to warm my heart and tickle my tastebuds. This recipe makes the perfect pan(cake) to be enjoyed with family and friends gathered around our table. I hope you enjoy it too.

Banoffee Crepe Cake
Serves 10
Makes about 20 crepes (depending on thickness and diameter)
1 cup plain all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
6 eggs
3/4 litre/21 fl ozs milk
Butter for frying
350ml/12 ozs caramel, toffee, or milk jam
1 tablespoons rum (optional)
300ml/10 fl ozs. heavy dairy cream
½ tsp vanilla extract
3 ripe bananas, sliced into coins
For the crepes:
Combine the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a large bowl with a spout whisk the eggs and milk together until combined. Make a well in the center of the flour and salt mixture and gradually whisk the egg and milk mixture into the flour until thoroughly mixed.
Heat a frying pan on low to medium heat and add a little butter to the pan. Pour a ladle full of batter to cover the bottom of the pan. Don’t get anxious if there are holes or your crepes aren’t perfect-they stack on top of each other. When one crepe side is cooked, gently flip it over. Stack the crepes on top of each other. Cover and cool completely.
Whip the cream and vanilla until stiff peaks form and set aside.
Loosen the caramel with the rum or with a little of the cream if it is too stiff until it is a spreadable consistency.
Assembly:
Spread one crepe with the caramel and then place another on top and place banana slices on top, place another crepe on top and spread that with the whipped cream, and keep alternating until you are on your last crepe.
Scullery notes: you can make the crepes up to two days in advance, or you can buy pre-made crepes if you are short on time.

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Slan Abhaile,
Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2016. 

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milkvin

I just may be away with the fairies.*

On top of my work and life at the farm, developing recipes, writing about food and getting ready to promote my first book , organising Lens & Larder Retreats (with many more exciting workshops coming in 2016 that will involve writing as well as styling and photography) and, being a good mammy** by shuttling our son to the city twice a week for trombone lessons (quite an unexpected instrument, but he’s absolutely taken with it, and I piggyback these trips with necessary errands to be justly footprint pragmatic)

….……Clearly, I was not doing enough (this is the part where “away with the fairies” comes in) so I decided to go back to university this autumn to earn a multidisciplinary degree with an emphasis on food, farming, mindfulness and healing the environment. My first area of college study was journalism and mass communication, which circuitously carried me to the path of broadcast production, which, as I have spoken about before, was a very contrasting lifestyle than the one in which I now live.

Of the ten years I’ve spent in Ireland, eight of them have been on this farm in the southwest part of the country where the land is fertile and you meet more farmers than people who work in other professions. In fact, this may be true throughout the country, outside of the major cities. Every conversation seems to go back to farming. Or the weather. Then, back to farming again. No one cares about the time I got to work with Cruise or Clooney. That isn’t real life out here.

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There are definitely more animals than people where we live. The grass is lush and many shades of green; everywhere you turn is a vision of verdant and I often wonder what would happen if the cows didn’t eat the grass, and the hedgecutters didn’t do their trimming. I imagine an island completely grown over in ivy and holly and dock leaves and evergreens and heather and just grass, grass, grass.

As I complete my weekly coursework, I am becoming a student of the food system; learning how it works, and how it doesn’t, in essence, just how broken it is. I am grasping how political leaders have reshaped policies and regulations and laws to benefit just a handful of massive agribusinesses and corporations who now control almost every aspect of the food system in the USA. I am carefully studying every detail of the Farm Bill, the primary agricultural and food policy tool of the United States federal government. I am watching endless video talks, reading books, articles and films on the subject of the complex global food system. I am comparing and contrasting with the Irish and European agricultural administrations.

It’s no surprise that I have long been an advocate for local food. I left America and married a 7th generation farmer. We grow much of our own food, which is rewarding, but also necessary and cost-effective. I am constantly inspired by how the world is embracing the farm-to-table movement. I have written and shared countless articles on this trend, which seems so exciting and positive and like everything is going in the right direction and all will be peachy keen. But, the sum of what is happening to our food system is much more menacing than even I presumed.

As I sit at my desk, I can see out onto a pasture where my striking husband is carefully checking on a group of maiden heifers. He looks tired and worn, and yet he always, always works with so much passion and pride. Richard is absolutely relentless in caring for the land and the health of the animals, trying everything to make our farm more efficient, more sustainable, and to bring in more revenue in order to take a rare break every once in awhile from his 7-day work weeks. He will never give up nor will he ever leave this land. Watching and working alongside him makes my heart swell with love and adoration and respect. And, it also incenses me. Hard-working farmers are not rewarded enough for what could be considered the most important work there is on earth, the work of feeding human beings. We don’t need to make riches, but a bit more respect and the ability to make a profit against all the expenses sure would be nice.

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If you eat, you have a stake in the food system. In Ireland, in America, in every country in the world. Eaters must join farmers in saving the world’s food system.

Family farms in most developed countries are being backed into a corner by big agribusiness and corporations. Often the result is highly profitable factory farms which are not only unfair to animals, but are toxic to our environment. This current paradigm is damaging and unsustainable. And, sadly, it is moving full steam ahead. Fortunately, Ireland currently does not have any true factory farms, but they are cropping up in the UK and it could just be a matter of time before Irish farmers get hoodwinked into this type of intensive farming as well. We do, however, have big agribusinesses that commercial farmers absolutely rely on for their livelihood. And, if TTIP passes, Ireland’s food sovereignty will certainly be at risk. 

But, there is hope. As consumers, we can take action to work to change/stop this dynamic. Let’s try to look at food as GOLD. It should not be cheap, especially when you think of what goes into honest farming. Farmers should be paid more, not less, and less, and less. But, I digress.

If you can’t afford organic, local, “Whole (Foods) Paycheck”style shopping, you can still participate in making cultural change. Become an informed shopper: is your milk from your region? Are your greens locally harvested? Is your chicken from your country? We can all engage to change the laws and rules in our countries. We all have a stake in our food system and we should all be working (even in small ways) to balance the power between corporations and people. We can choose democracy and participate in a rally, start a local petition, or even simply vote for a candidate who is an advocate for change. We can sign up for a CSA, buy direct from farmers, shop at your local farmers market….even once a month will begin to make a change. Everyone can do these things. There is no special skillset.

Grandma Johnson’s Milk Vinaigrette
My grandmother used to make the most perfect and simple salad dressing. For every meal, we would have this light, creamy and tangy dressing ladled over freshly picked, ultra buttery Bibb lettuce from her massive kitchen garden that she insisted on maintaining long after she moved from farm to town. To this day, when I make this dressing and eat a salad, I dream of sitting on her back porch watching bed linens float in the wind behind flourishing rows of lettuce, cucumbers and sweet peas. When you make this recipe, I challenge you to buy your milk from a farmer, or if you buy at the store, buy the milk that comes from a local independent creamery. The same goes for the lettuce and greens. You could even buy local eggs and make your mayo from scratch and use apple cider vinegar from a local orchard. I promise it will taste of ambrosia, in many varied, sustainable ways.

Grandma Johnson’s Milk Vinaigrette
Serves 4
½ cup/120ml fresh milk
4 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbps white vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl
Toss liberally with freshly harvested salad greens
Eat and Feel good.
Scullery Notes: Store in sealed container in fridge, will last up to a week.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

*Irish slang for crazy, mad, nuts…you get the gist.

**Irish term of endearment for mommy, mother, mom

Photo by Imen McDonnell, Styled by Sonia Mulford-Chaverri and Imen McDonnell 

 

 

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We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring 

Will be to arrive where we started 

And know the place for the first time.
-T.S. Eliot

Finally. I picked the blackberries. I have no less than ten thorny incisions on my violet-stained fingers to prove it. In Geoffrey’s words, I’ve more than earned a brave brambleberry scout badge.

In a concerted effort to “will” or tame the season….to somehow preserve traditions of y’ore, I patiently lingered until just a day shy of autumn to tackle our humble creepers bursting with ripe fruit.

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When the day came, I packed up a punnet of necessary things: a flask of strong coffee, some bits to nibble, a special book, gloves and nippers. I set up a workstation by the old cottage at Ballyhahill, and set out to pluck a bucket of deep purple berries from the wall of prickly vines that surround and protect it.

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Despite my efforts to reclaim the bounty of a true fall harvest, to go back to a time when seasons could be held accountable, the swallows have gone and packed up to soar south for their holidays. And, believe it or not, red berries are already beginning to dot our shiny, sharp-leaved holly trees. Hedgerow sloes have been ripe for the picking since mid September…usually not ready until after the first frost. Dare I ask, do these signs point to an early, hard winter? Seasons just seem to come earlier and earlier, but just how far can back can they go….in a nod to a T.S. Eliot poem, could nature somehow arrive back to where it all started?

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Ten years ago, I couldn’t have told you the difference between a swallow or sparrow and I certainly never knew that sloes were a fruit that grew on a tree; rather, a putrid syrupy “gin” poured as a cheap fizzy cocktail. I, ashamedly, was not at all concerned about climate change or farming or growing my own food. It was far easier to go through life eyes wide shut, worrying about my next new pair of shoes or how many air miles I was stacking up. I had a career that could cunningly give you a false sense of influence; a feeling that honestly never quite sat right with me, but also a feeling for which now I will embarrassingly admit, sure was easy to get used to…

Today, I am forced to reckon with raw nature, and well, it can be daunting. There is no sense of superiority here that’s for certain. We are ruled by nature. It affects everything we do here on the farm. From rearing animals on grass to growing crops for winter fodder. Sowing and cultivating the kitchen garden, and even allowing our new heritage turkeys to frolic in Turkey Hollow, it’s all down to what Mother Nature decides.

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So, I picked the blackberries and left some behind, and I will stubbornly, and perhaps ridiculously, wait every year until it’s truly autumn to take them again.

And now, we feast.

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Blackberry & Apple Tart with a Hint of Sweet Geranium

I learned straight away that any and all things Blackberry and Apple reign supreme here in Ireland during the autumn harvest season. It is certain that any manner of tarts, crumbles, cakes and puddings will be found on the dining tables of Irish country houses at this time of year. It is a tradition that was uncommon to me initially, but one that makes perfect sense as the two fruits do truly sing together. I experimented with adding a hint of sweet geranium essence to these individual tarts and we really enjoyed the subtle addition. Sweet geranium is unrelated to the flowering garden geranium and has leaves in a variety of scents from rose to lemon and even a mint-y version. Of course, you can leave out the sweet geranium syrup infusion altogether for a classic fruit tart with full-on jammy blackberry/tart apple flavour.

Makes 3 miniature tarts, or one standard pie.

INGREDIENTS
For the shortcrust pastry
Scant 1.5 cups/113g butter, softened
Scant 1 cup/200g caster sugar
1 small egg
4 drops vanilla extract
2.5 cups/300g standard plain flour (all purpose)
For the filling
5 sweet geranium leaves
200 mls water
150g caster sugar
80 g butter, plus extra for greasing
100 g golden caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
4-5 Bramley apples, cored, peeled and each cut into wedges
200 g blackberries
1 large free-range egg, beaten
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
METHOD
To make the pastry
1. In a large mixing bowl, lightly beat butter and sugar with a wooden spoon until a light creamy consistency has been achieved.
2. Add egg, vanilla and mix until combined. Add flour and mix to a paste just until pastes comes clean off bowl. (Be careful not to over mix or pastry will become elastic and doughy.)
3. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or even better, overnight.
To make the sweet geranium syrup
1. Place 5 sweet geranium leaves in a saucepan with the water and sugar.
2. Heat until sugar is fully dissolved. Take off heat and set aside to cool.
For the filling
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4.
2. When syrup has cooled to room temperature, pour over blackberries and steep for at least one hour.
3. Put the butter and sugar into a saucepan and, when the butter has melted, add the apples.
4. Slowly cook for 15 minutes with a lid on, then add the infused blackberries, stir and cook for 5 more minutes with the lid off.
Assembly
1. Remove your pastry from the fridge.
2. Dust your work surface with flour, cut the pastry in half and, using a floured rolling pin, roll one of the pieces out until it’s just under 1cm thick. (Rolling the dough between two layers of greaseproof paper will also stop it sticking to your rolling pin.)
3. Butter a shallow 26cm pie dish or three mini tart tins and line with the pastry, trimming off any excess round the edges using a sharp knife.
4. Tip the cooled apples and blackberries into a sieve, reserving all the juices, then put the fruit into the lined pie dish so you have a mound in the middle.
5. Dot each mound with a teaspoon of remaining butter
6. Spoon over half the reserved juices. Brush the edge of the pastry with beaten egg. 6. Roll out the second piece of pastry, just as you did the first, and lay it over the top of the pie.
7. Trim the edges as before and crimp them together with your fingers.
8. Brush the top of the pie with the rest of the beaten egg, sprinkle generously with sugar and the cinnamon, and make a couple of slashes in the top of the pastry.
9. Place the pie on a baking tray and then put it directly on the bottom of the preheated oven for 55 to 60 minutes, until golden brown and crisp.
10. To serve, slice the pie into portions and serve with a generous dollop of custard.

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2014. 

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Farmhouse Films

29 Nov 2013

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Looking back, around the time that I first landed in Ireland, I remember being absolutely fascinated by how many potatoes were eaten in this country.  Of course, my perspective was somewhat obscured having been on a self-inflicted-American-fad-diet-potato-strike for so many years. Here, spuds were revered and described at the dinner table with such compassion and gusto, it was both astonishing and honorable…and, for a starch-starved food lover, even a wee bit romantic. I recall boldly declaring that one day “I will make an extraordinary film about the potatoes of Ireland!” I even proudly gave it the title of “Práta!” That’s Irish for potato, you see.

Alas, nobody was very excited about my idea, so I shelved it in the hope that one day it would sprout to life.

Well, “Práta!” didn’t happen, but Small Green Fields did. Along with Farmhouse Films, our latest farm endeavour.

So, without further ado, (best viewed in hi-res by clicking on Vimeo link on bottom right hand corner)

Small Green Fields from Imen McDonnell on Vimeo.

I would like to thank everyone who worked on this special little film, both behind and in front the camera, who came together to create this evocative picture of Ireland’s food and farming landscape to share with the world. Last weekend, we were lucky enough to be chosen to screen at the 2013 Chicago Food Film Festival, where I am proud to say the film was very well received, and that we were able to arrange for guests to sample gorgeous Goatsbridge Trout Caviar and Sheridan’s Brown Bread Crackers on the evening.

My hope is that this short piece is just the beginning of more Farmhouse Films projects focusing on Ireland’s incredible food and farming culture. Many thanks to Hayes Design for our lovely Farmhouse Films logo and website.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Small Green Fields is dedicated to the memory of David Tiernan of Glebe Brethan Cheese & Mary Davis of Ballymore Farm

 

 

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oystercollageAka: three of my guiltiest pleasures.

Three things that I think about more than a farm any girl should. Three things that must really be done all in one day to fully appreciate. Add champagne to any and all and you’ve upped the totty. The best.

I have a few bits of bacchanalia I wanted to share this week in between recipe posts. They involve oysters, cake, and cinema.

I am doing a cookery demonstration at The Galway International Oyster Festival this year. What will I be preparing? Something oysterlicious, of course.  And, 50’s style Americana. Using amazing local Irish artisan ingredients and a drop of smokey Connemara Whiskey. The festival takes place today, 26th September through the Sunday the 29th with a schedule filled with remarkable oyster and seafood events. I’ll be there on Saturday afternoon at 3pm, after Birgitta of Burren Smokehouse and before Michelin star chef, Kevin Thornton. (don’t ask me how that happened!). On Sunday, the fabulous Clodagh McKenna will be cooking for everyone. Do come along!

Galway Native Oysters back in season for the Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival, 26-29 Sept 2013 (Large)[1]

Our film, Small Green Fields, has been selected to screen at the Food Film Festival in Chicago in November! We are so thrilled to share the stories of incredible artisan Irish food and farming personalities with audiences across the pond. In the Windy city where so many people can say they are proud to be Irish, I’m hoping will be a big hit. Have a look at the other films screening, fun + impressive company.  Also, on October 17th, Small Green Fields will screen at the IndieCork Film Festival in Cork City. More details to come.

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My friend and fellow Irish food blogger/author, Lilly Higgins along with Patrick Ryan of Firehouse Bread will be baking cakes for ACT for Meningitis at Bake Fest Galway this year.  The national festival takes place on Saturday 5th & Sunday 6th of October. Organised by Goodness Cakes, in association with charity ACT for Meningitis, Bake Fest Galway will be Ireland’s biggest baking festival and competition for both novices and professionals.

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Back soon with a new farm adventure + recipe to share.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

 

 

 

 

 

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Apron Strings

07 Aug 2013

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She…

is a scratch-made girl who swears by using wholesome, honest ingredients. she is genuinely endearing….salt of the earth, if you will.  you want to eat and linger in her kitchen for days surrounded by sweet children soaking up every bit of tender love in the air. you want to watch butterflies and pick berries in her garden and then sit outside for tea and tart al fresco. she radiates a supreme goodness, yet has absolutely no pretense…….she’d make me a damn fine neighbour.

This is Nessa Robins.

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When I opened my copy of Nessa’s beautiful new cookery book, Apron Strings, I read it through from top to tail. This was not an entirely easy task given the fact that I was in wellies mucking out a shed in between chapters. The book embraced me, much like Nessa’s personal warmth. I went into the kitchen and immediately made a comforting crock of her potato soup for everyone. Not just any Irish potato soup; a savoury + spicy white onion, potato and chorizo number. It was pure velvet heaven on a drizzly, fresh day.

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I am sorry if this seems a bit heavy handed, but the truth is, I can’t say enough about how special this cookery book is…..I mean, there is a chapter called Home Nurse. Emmmm, can I move in for a weekend, Nessa?

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For the record, this is not a review. We bought Nessa’s book; and will buy a few more before the holidays. However, her publisher has generously offered to give away a copy to a fortunate reader. If you are interested in being in the draw, please leave a comment below. Of course, will ship domestic or international. {If you are not chosen to win, you can buy Nessa’s book here or here}

Other quick bits of bacchanalia to share…

The very first Ballymaloe Garden Festival is on Aug 31-Sep 1st. We are hoping to attend; maybe will see you there?

Our short film, Small Green Fields, has applied for an Arthur Guinness Project grant to produce a feature length version…will the big dogs support a small dog? We will have to wait and see….you can vote here if you like.

Does anyone else use Eden knives? I recently bought two and they have changed my world in the kitchen. Would love to hear other experiences with this {new to me} brand.

Expedia recently asked me to review their new travel app. Since I don’t do formal reviews on this blog, I declined, but I will give it a mention it here as we frequently use Expedia for booking our travel to America and the app will surely come in handy.

Still going gaga over Toonsbridge Dairy water buffalo cheeses that I picked up at the Milk Market over the weekend, you can find it in the The Real Olive Oil Co. stall.

My friend, Niamh Shields, is writing a new BACON book and needs our support, here is a link to her Kickstarter campaign for Project: Bacon

Food 52’s Provisions has opened it’s virtual doors! I am coveting more than a few items in stock….

Oh, the Irish Blog Awards are coming up. They are accepting nominations from Irish diaspora this year too so if you are Irish and living abroad with a blog there is now a category for you.

Listening: Jake Bugg

Insta-loving: @dashandbella {Dash and Bella blog}

Hope you are all enjoying the summer.

Next post: An Irish Country House Tea…and a very special berry pie

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos of book by Imen McDonnell 2013. Nessa Robins did all of her own photography for the book.

 

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Small Green Fields

30 Mar 2013

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After many months of working to finish Small Green Fields, at last we have wrapped the production.  I am absolutely thrilled with how it turned out and feel so lucky to have had the fortune to work with such incredibly talented and passionate individuals both in front of and behind the camera.

I have been sharing periodic updates on the project, but if you are new to this blog, I will explain. After one-too-many conversations concerning the misconceptions and quality of Irish food, I decided to combine my production experience with my food and farming enthusiasm to create a little film on the matter. Last summer, Richard and I invited a small crew from the USA to come over and travel with me cross-country to meet and interview a handful of inspiring Irish food personalities.

On the production path we ventured to the Inishfood Festival in Donegal and mingled with a group of Irish food enthusiasts, bloggers, editors and chefs while foraging on the beach, fishing on Lough Swilly, and breaking bread over an evening feast arranged by Inishfood host, Donal Doherty of Harry’s Restaurant. We visited fifth generation craft butcher, Pat Whelan, and his herd of Irish Waygu cattle to discuss his artisanal approach to beef in Tipperary. We got up-close-and-personal with Mag and Ger Kirwan’s gorgeous Goatsbridge trout in Kilkenny. We sipped Black Rock Stout and chatted with the brewer behind Waterford’s Dungarvan Brewing Company. We enjoyed a magical picnic of lamb stew and sheep’s milk ice cream at Suzanna Crampton’s Zwartbles sheep farm in Bennetsbridge. Donal Skehan shared a tart and a tour of his favourite Howth fishmonger with us. On the last day of filming, we celebrated with Kevin and Seamus Sheridan and loads of other remarkable artisans at the Sheridan’s Food Festival in County Meath. The sun was shining and it was absolutely glorious. Again, thanks a million to all who contributed their time and thoughts on defining Irish food for Small Green Fields.

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{From left to right: Kevin + Seamus Sheridan, Sheridan’s Cheesemongers; Food Writer and TV personality, Donal Skehan; John + Sally McKenna, McKenna’s Guides; Suzanna Crampton, Zwartbles Sheep Farmer; Mag + Ger Kirwan, Goatsbridge Trout Farm; Food Writer + Editor, Aoife Carrigy; 5th Generation Butcher, Pat Whelan; Blogger + Editor, Kristin Jensen; Kevin + Donal Doherty and Ray Moran of Harry’s Restaurant and Inishfood Festival, Cormac O’Dwyer + Claire Dalton of Dungarvan Brewing Company, Karl Purdy, Coffee Angel; Food Writer & Blogger, Caroline Hennessy}

We ended up with about fourteen hours of footage and began the editing process. It was nearly impossible, but I narrowed Mike’s stunning footage down to single-digit hours of selected scenes, then handed off to our amazing {magician} editor, Carrie Shanahan at Ditch in Minneapolis. The finished taster/mood piece is about twelve minutes long. The extraordinarily talented {& ahem, single + beautiful!}, Cassie Scroggins, designed the animation, title design and artwork {see poster above} in Chicago. My great friends, David Howell + Todd Syring composed and produced the music score which I love so much I could listen for days. Matt Collings finished the film with such a seamlessly vibrant and magnificent look and Ditch producer, Rick Zessar generously gave Small Green Fields its post-production home. I am indebted to the entire crew, I thank you so much again for all of your liberal and creative contributions!

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{From left to right: Michael Hartzel, Cinematographer; Carrie Shanahan, Editor; David Howell, Music Producer; Matt Collings, Colourist + Online Editor, Ditch Edit; Cassie Scroggins, Animation + Design; Meighan McGuire, Producer; Todd Syring, Music Composer + Producer; Rick Zessar, Executive Producer, Ditch Edit}

I like to think of Small Green Fields as a little celebration of tantalizing, innovative, and nostalgic stories of food in Ireland, drawing from then and now.  The twelve-minute piece is only the beginning; I have high hopes to produce a feature length film or even a television series, and at the very least will continue to produce more work in this category via our newly formed Farmhouse Films production company.  In the meantime, we will be spreading the Small Green Fields message of magnificent Irish food far and wide via film festival short category submissions.

You can follow Small Green Fields @farmhousefilms on Twitter or check back here for updates. After we finish the pitching process, I will finally be able to share Small Green Fields with you all!

Back with a lovely new recipe next week. Why is it lovely? Because it involves CAKE……

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

 

 

 

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Irish Cream Pavlova

20 Feb 2013

I made this for Richard’s birthday about a fortnight ago. He is mad for meringue so I surprised him with a  special pavlova that he could have all to himself. Instead of topping the crunchy-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside bowl of sweet and light eggwhite delight with traditional fruit and berries, I decided to go with an Irish Cream whipped topping, and finished later with white chocolate curls scattered over the top before the big celebration. Meringue + Irish Cream + Chocolate. Let’s just say, it works.

I am in the USA at the moment finishing our taster piece for Small Green Fields with a team of very talented friends, most of which have strong Irish ancestory I have recently found…Shanahan? Quigley? McGuire? Is féidir linn! Stay tuned for more.

In the meantime, be extra kind to someone and make them a dreamy Irish Cream Pavlova for dessert or tea sometime soon…here’s the recipe

Perfect Irish Cream Pavlova

150ml egg whites (approximately 4 eggs)

220g/1 cup caster (superfine) sugar

 2 tablespoons cornflour (cornstarch), sifted

 2 teaspoons white vinegar

 250ml/ 1 cup single (pouring) cream

 2 tablespoons Irish Cream (Bailey’s or Coole Swan or use Shaina’s recipe for gorgeous homemade)

½ (or more to taste) bar of white chocolate, grated (shredded or curled) 

Preheat oven to 150°C (300°F). Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk until stiff peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, whisking well, until the mixture is stiff and glossy. (really take your time with the sugar, one tablespoon at a time is best)

Add the cornflour and vinegar and whisk until just combined. Shape the mixture into an 18cm round on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper. Reduce oven to 120°C (250°F) and bake for 1 hour 20 minutes. Turn the oven off and allow the pavlova to cool completely in the oven. Whisk the cream with the Irish cream until soft peaks form. Spread over the pavlova,  sprinkle white chocolate over the top. Serve immediately. Serves 8–10.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2013

 

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