Despite the fact that the famed Jack-O-Lantern has it’s roots in Irish lore, the pumpkin definitely does not get the same celebrity status as it does in the USA. (Case in point, see Sara Cornelius’s extraordinary #virtualpumpkinparty recipe compilation over at Cake Over Steak)

I’ll never forget the time when Richard and I were still dating and I was visiting Ireland during the Thanksgiving holiday. At the last minute, I boldly decided that I would make Thanksgiving dinner for his whole family. I mean you can’t NOT celebrate Thanksgiving just because you are traveling outside of the USA, right? It didn’t matter that I had never attempted to make Thanksgiving dinner for just me, let alone ten guests. I guess I was feeling invincible, in that mad-lovestruck-irrational-trying far too hard to impress way.

I arrived at Shannon airport very early in the morning, looking wrecked after the red-eye, alternating trying to push my eyeglasses up on my face with my right shoulder while hobbling along with a lofty suitcase covertly packed with 2-3 tins of pumpkin filling, bags of ruby red fresh cranberries and my trusty Pyrex measuring cups. When Richard offered to take my suitcase from me, he nearly fell over.

The following day, a turkey was plucked from the farm. (Yes, literally) And, on Thanksgiving morning, I was up bright and early to begin preparing an extravagant 5 course meal that I thought everyone would surely love and appreciate. Well, okay….fall over themselves in utter awe, with heaps of love and appreciation for me.


The first thing that went wrong was that I was oblivious to the fact that there would be differences in oven temperatures. Here, we use celsius, not fahrenheit, so I had to do some major conversions which, at the time, admittedly drove me mad. Then, the same story with the measurements. Everything is in metric so instead of cups I had to work in mls and grams. The last time I had used grams for anything I cannot discuss here, but let’s just say it was a long time ago, so as you can imagine converting ounces to grams to mls to cups and back again put me into a head spin more than any other grams-related incident in the past.

Still, somehow I sorted it out and a remarkable meal for everyone was served. I even got to use my (future) mother in law’s retro heated hostess trolley. I was feeling like Martha Stewart, Irish farm style.

We sat down in the formal dining room and started to eat. I was happily taking in all the compliments and actually feeling a little chuffed when I was posed with a curious question:

“So, Imen, is Thanksgiving a Jewish holiday?”

(inside voice) Really? I forced myself not to giggle, and decided they were perhaps really asking if I was Jewish. I answered eloquently, explaining the history of Thanksgiving (Charlie Brown style, of course) and that “no, it was not a specific Jewish holiday, but that Jewish people do, in actual fact, observe the holiday with all the other North Americans.” They were fascinated, put their heads down, and ate nearly every last morsel on their plates. Success!


But, then came dessert. The famous pumpkin pie. I wish I had videotaped the faces on everyone as they took their first bite of this yummy sweet/savory delicacy that we love so dearly in the USA.

No expression, just fast gobbling to get it over with.
Sheer happiness (me).

And then, out of the blue, a quote uttered by Grandma McDonnell in her best Irish lilt,

“Tis Different.”

A phrase that I learned much later had meant “It tastes rotten.” According to another relative, she actually really thought it tasted rotten (in some obscure way, if you’ve never eaten pureed pumpkin, I can begin to understand this ), but she graciously ate it all, and never, ever, said a bad word about it to me. May she rest in peace.

“Tis Different” Pumpkin Pie
I have always had an affinity for Thanksgiving.  It may possibly be my most favorite American holiday. Growing up, we had the same lovely tradition for so many years of traveling to my grandmother’s house where all of my wonderful extended family would come together on a (usually) pretty snowy day and celebrate with loads of turkey and all the trimmings. The best bit of it all? Pumpkin pie, of course.

Makes One 9 inch pie

2 cups (440g) of pumpkin pulp purée from an eating pumpkin* or from canned pumpkin purée (can also use puréed cooked butternut squash)
1 12 oz.(350ml) can of evaporated milk
1/2 (100g) cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 (66g) cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs plus the yolk of a third egg
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 9” pie crust

*To make pumpkin purée from scratch, cut a medium-small eating pumpkin in half. Scrape out the insides (reserving the pumpkins seeds to toast) and discard. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or kitchen foil. Place the pumpkin halves cut side down on the lined baking sheet and bake at 350°F until a fork can easily pierce them, about one hour. Remove from oven, let cool, scoop out the pulp. Press the pulp through a food mill and then puree in blender.

Preheat oven to 425°F/220°C

Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Mix in the sugars, salt, and spices. Mix in the pumpkin purée. Stir in the evaporated milk. Whisk together until everything is well mixed.

Pour the filling into an uncooked pie shell.

Bake at 425°F/220°C for 15 minutes. Then after 15 minutes, lower the temperature to 350°F/175°C. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes more, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool the pumpkin pie on a wire rack for at least 2 hours.

Scullery Notes: Serve with plain whipped dairy cream. Or, add a tbsp of maple syrup to the whipped cream for maple whipped topping.

Slan Abhaile,


Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell


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Snow Worshiper

07 Dec 2009

3536604102_672f4c3474 Galtee Mountains, Counties Limerick, Tipperary and Cork, Ireland

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a snow worshiper. No, I am not an avid skier, nor do I create elaborate sculptures out of snow and ice, but indeed, I have a loving relationship with snow. From the first dainty “dusting” to a full on white-out blizzard, I adore it. Powdery, heavy, sparkling, icey, fluffy, packy, soft, clean, dirty, slippery, flakey…love it all.  For me, it symbolizes the beginning of the holidays and makes everything more merry. The joy of making snowmen and snow angels and going sledding followed by sipping hot cocoa with marshmallows is absolutely priceless. I’ve never found it particularly annoying to drive in the snow, on the contrary, it’s just been a part of life.  I grew up with it and yes, I remember the days when the snow was as high as our house, and when deer would get trapped on icebergs on Lake Michigan and all that jazz. Loved it. And there it was again in the summer when the town council dug up the snow they’d buried in the winter and brought it out for the “Snow Festival” parade and made children’s eyes wide as pies.

Nowadays, everyone back home seems to complain that it just doesn’t snow like it used to and I am here to tell you that AT LEAST IT STILL SNOWS! Sure, Ireland gets a wee bit of snow, but it usually falls short of us by landing on top of the mountains or other highlands. The photo above depicts a beautiful snowfall on the Galtee Mountains which are near us so if I am driving to Limerick I can see this winter wonderland, but not fully experience it. One day last year it began to snow at our house and Geoffrey and I were so happy we nearly fell down the stairs in excitement.  We put on our outdoor gear and ran outside only to find that the flurries had stopped and all of it had melted upon impact. It’s just too mild here for the snow to stick, but I’m forever optimistic; each winter I still think maybe it will really snow this year…

Many of the Irish and English make do by taking trips to Lapland, Finland, located in the frozen Arctic Circle. The twinkling snow covered forests and northern lights-filled night skies are meant to be simply breathtaking. Perhaps we’ll go to Lapland one day, but for now Richard says he’s going to buy some type of snow machine and hmmm, I wonder about that. Would it be the same? Who knows, but there’s no doubt that I’d love it because for me, snow in Winter is like the icing on the cake {with a cherry on top!}.

3191212829_e34c218e82 Spoonbridge and Cherry by Claes Oldenburg & Coosje Van Bruggen. Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, USA

Happy Snowy Holidays!

Slán Abhaile,



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