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.


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

Interiors Cover.indd 104619_INTERIORS_MARCH_APRIL_Low 143[3]


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.


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!!!





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,


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Finding a white egg in Ireland can be a bit of an adventure. If you live here, this is common knowledge. If you don’t, it could come as a {happy} surprise. Brown eggs are part and parcel to Irish life (and, to most other European countries as well). If you really must have white eggs, your best bet is to look for duck eggs at a farmer’s market, gourmet food grocer, or perhaps visit a local farm.

While we prefer brown hen eggs with their vivid yolks, each spring I go round-robin and gather a couple dozen white duck eggs so that we can carry on the American tradition of dyeing hard-boiled eggs for Easter. I also like to use a few of these ivory beauties to bake up a bevy of special sponge sandwich cakes layered with fresh cream and jam to share with family and friends.


Irish duck eggs are extra large with yolks that are deeper in colour and richer in flavour than hen eggs. But more importantly, they make for an extremely thick and scrumptious Victoria sandwich; a sponge cake originally dreamed up for the queen’s tea in the UK and later became a baker’s staple in Ireland as well.

Discovering the Victoria sponge is easily one of my favourite food encounters since moving to Ireland. Yes, quick and easy to make, but the best bit? You are meant to eat it with your fingers!


I’ll never forget meeting with Irish Country Living editor, Mairead Lavery, for the first time. She had invited me to her home for a chat. It was a sunny spring day.  I sat in her kitchen with a cup of tea watching in awe as she talked about farming and food and family while effortlessly whipping up a sponge. She baked it, jammed it, sliced, and then finally served each of us a generous warm wedge waxing on nostalgically about a dinner party she had recently hosted. When I looked for a fork, she informed me in her lovely Irish lilt “not all all, you pick it up with your hands and eat it like a sandwich” From that day forward, I have had a love affair with the Victoria sandwich.


This year, I scored some beautiful rhubarb at the market, {thankfully, as I cannot seem to grow more than a stem or two in our own garden!} and somewhat outrageously decided to make up a batch of gorgeous velvety rhubarb-vanilla jam specifically for slathering in between spongey sandwich cake layers. What can I say? With the unrelenting cool weather, I was craving a ‘consummate spring cake’. And, If it wasn’t for me, everyone at the farm would not have been spoiled silly with messy thick duck egg sponge sandwich slices slathered in fluffy fresh cream and rhubarb jam for days….{right?}


You may have noticed a few small adjustments here on the blog. Keeping in the spirit of spring, I’ve incorporated a new header and layout, along with a few new buttons, bells and whistles. All designed by the marvelous Graham Thew who mostly works on much more important jobs, such as designing an arsenal of cookbooks for Gill and MacMillan. I am thrilled to bits with the new look, it just feels fresh and ready for fun. Let me know what you think!

Duck Egg Sponge with Fresh Cream and Rhubarb-Vanilla Jam

6oz/170g caster (superfine) sugar
6oz/170g soft butter
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 large duck eggs at room temperature
6oz/170g self-raising flour
1-2 tbsp of milk
5-6 tbsp rhubarb-vanilla jam (see below)
¼ pint/140ml double cream, lightly whipped
caster (superfine) sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C/gas4
Grease and line two 8in/20cm sandwich (or springform cake) tins
Beat the sugar, butter and vanilla essence until very pale, light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs one at a time.
Very gently fold in the flour by hand. Add enough milk to make a dropping consistency.
Divide between the prepared tins, spreading out the mix gently.
Bake for about 25 minutes until well-risen and golden brown.
Cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out on to a rack to cool.
Spread the underside of one cake generously with jam and top with whipped cream. Lay the second sponge on top, topside up. Dust with sugar, slice into wedges or fingers and serve.

Rhubarb-Vanilla Jam
Makes 2 x 340g jars

500g rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 2.5cm chunks
300g jam sugar (sugar with pectin)
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways

Warm the rhubarb, jam sugar and vanilla pod over a medium-low heat and cook, stirring gently and being careful not to break up the rhubarb, until all of the sugar has dissolved. Raise the heat and cook at a rolling boil for five to 8-10 minutes, until the setting point is reached.
Remove from the heat, use a fork to fish out the vanilla pod (you can snip this into four pieces and put one in each jar if you like), and leave to stand for five minutes before potting up in warm, sterilised jars and sealing. The jam will keep in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

Slan Abhaile,

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2013

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Spotted Dog

19 Mar 2013

…or Spotted Dick as my mother-in-law calls it. I can’t seem to refer to this wonderful tea bread as Spotted Dick without turning red and giggling like a teen girl, so I’ll stick with Spotted Dog. When Peggy creates this cake-like bread formed in a rectangular shape, it becomes Railway Cake, which is lovely as well…but doesn’t look as pretty as the round loaf to me. All three variations are essentially a sweet version of white Irish soda bread. In England, Spotted Dick is considered a steamed pudding with currants. In Peggy’s day, it was an absolute treat to be able to add currants or raisins to bread, something really special to savour. At the farm, here and now, we simply devour it before it gets cold. How times have changed. I love it smeared with fresh butter and marmalade (this one…. not mine).

Geoffrey and I went on a hunt for Gorse over the long weekend {St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday in Ireland so it was a 4-day weekend} We have been using this lovely flower from a dangerously prickly bush to create natural dye for our eggs at Easter for the past two years. It casts a very subtle pale yellow on the eggs, but is still pleasingly pretty to the eye. An added bonus to using this plant to dye eggs is that when you harvest the flowers, your home will become filled with the fragrance of a sandy summer beach as they give off a scent reminiscent of vintage Coppertone sun cream, aka: JOY.

Gathering Gorse followed by Spotted Dog + milky tea = a recipe for smiles.

Peggy’s Spotted Dog

Makes 1 Loaf


450g (1lb) plain flour

1 level tsp caster sugar

1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp salt

100g (3½oz) sultanas, raisins or currants

350-425ml (12-15fl oz) fresh buttermilk 


Preheat the oven to 230°C (425°F)

Sift the dry ingredients (incl. currants etc) into a large bowl and make a well in the centre.

Pour in most of the buttermilk (leaving about 60ml/2fl oz in the measuring jug).

Using one hand, bring the flour and liquid together, adding more buttermilk if necessary.

Do not knead the mixture or it will become heavy.

The dough should be soft, but not too wet and sticky.

Turn onto a floured work surface.

Pat the dough into a round about 4cm (1½in) deep and cut a deep cross in it. 

Place on a baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 200°C (400°F) and cook for 30 minutes more.

When cooked, the loaf will sound slightly hollow when tapped on the base and be golden in colour.

Allow to cool on a wire rack, but not too long…it’s just perfect eaten warm with butter + marmalade or jam and a cup of milky tea.


Slan Abhaile,

Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2013

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Tipsy Cake

08 Jan 2013

Tipsy + Cake. Two of my favourite things…which I suppose not so ironically also happen to marry well. I tend to file them in the “things that make you feel good” folder. Especially in the case of coupling a super dense + buttery Madeira with rum and apricot conserve. Don’t worry, if you want to share with the children use the booze on one half and leave the other alco-free like. Just don’t forget which part is which like I did. I first saw this cake on a sample of pretty vintage wallpaper in a magazine. Then, the tempting textile introduced itself to me again on a visit to Avoca, this time printed on craft paper. I think it is a signal that I should cover the farm kitchen in it….what do you think? Swoonworthy or twee? There are many other beautiful sweet treats featured in the pattern , but the snowy Tipsy Cake first caught my eye and will now forever strike my fancy.

Tipsy cake is classically found in Ireland, the UK, and I have now learned, also eaten in the American South. You will find many iterations of it in books and online, the only common denominator is the use of some form of liquor in which to soak the cake. I personally prefer to think of Tipsy Cake as an ornamental “ball supper cake” as described here. There is also a Mrs. Beeton recipe which calls for sponge cake adorned with thinly sliced almonds and then covered in custard which sounded lovely, but, alas, when I tried to make it I failed miserably. I tested a couple of different versions and decided to splash out and just create my own recipe. Like the wallpaper, my cake is meant to be decoratively covered in icing or cream, this is because you slice it all up, mortar with jam, and bash it back together. I told Geoffrey it was messy {fun} cake anatomy 101 class. He loved it. After that, you allow the spirits to slowly soak into the reconstructed cake. We poured royal icing over ours which is quite good at smoothing edges. Pop some sparklers on top and away you go….

This cake can last for over a week, and if kept under a cloche, improves in flavour with each passing day.


Imen’s Tipsy Cake


175g/6oz butter, at room temperature

175g/6oz caster sugar

3 free-range eggs

250g/9oz self-raising flour

2-3 tbsp milk

1 lemon, zest only

60ml/4 tbsp apricot or red currant conserve

75ml rum, brandy, whiskey or sherry {optional and to your own taste}

Royal Icing

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Grease an 18cm/7in round or decorative cake tin, line the base with greaseproof paper and grease the paper. (if decorative tin, spray with nonstick)

Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating the mixture well between each one and adding a tablespoon of the flour with the last egg to prevent the mixture curdling.

Sift the flour and gently fold in, with enough milk to give a mixture that falls slowly from the spoon. Fold in the lemon zest. 

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and lightly level the top. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 40-50 minutes, or until golden-brown on top and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and set aside to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn it out on to a wire rack and leave to cool completely. Cover and leave overnight. 

Slice cake neatly into four equal pieces. Spread a generous amount of apricot or red currant (or jam of your liking) conserve on each slice and bash back together gently. Pour over white or dark rum , brandy, whiskey or sherry and allow to soak in completely. Prepare desired amount of royal icing as directed on package, and pour over the top of the cake. Allow to dry and harden. Decorate with sprinklers or candles, say “hurrah for Tipsy Cake!” and serve. Good morning, noon, or night.

 Slan Abhaile,


Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2012

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Stinging Nettle Tea

10 May 2012


They sting.

Yeah, me and nettles haven’t exactly been fast friends over the past few years, but that is changing. If you will allow me to get a bit metaphorical, I will explain.

When I first moved to Ireland, I didn’t know what to expect. I was head over heels in love and braying-like-a-donkey-excited to embark on this new chapter of my life. As anyone who knows me personally will attest, my most profound challenge after relocating to Ireland was obviously not “marrying a farmer.”  It’s pretty easy to be married to my husband, no matter how rough things have gotten, we’ve managed to stay in love (no small feat). No, the hardest part was something I naively never anticipated: losing the stubborn identity that went along with a career that, for better or worse, defined me.

It’s not like I had a six-figure job, nor was I the president or CEO of a Fortune 500 company. When I moved to Ireland, I was working in the wacky world of advertising, producing television commercials that shlepped global beauty, fashion and food brands. The work often involved collaborating with talented directors and took me around the world. Before that, I was at the Rosie O’Donnell Show in NYC. But, don’t get too excited; I was very young and merely a serf who spent a whole lotta time buying Christmas pressies on behalf of Ms. O’Donnell. Memories of maniacally running around the west village in search of rare redcoat army figures for Tom Hanks, or toy shopping for Cruise-Kidman clan will forever more be imprinting on my brain.

Still, I was passionate about my work because I got to be creative and work with people who inspired me on a daily basis. The work was very social and there was always something new on the horizon. Of course, this was before the recession when clients still had bottomless pockets of money to be spent on hefty advertising budgets (yes, somewhat Mad Men-esque despite being the noughties).  I lived, breathed, ate, and drank work. I was so consumed by it that there was room for little else in my life (ahem, like farmers). Sure, at times, I would become keenly aware that I needed more balance. And, those days became more frequent as Richard and I became serious about our relationship.

When we decided it would be best for me to be the one to move, I genuinely assumed I would still be able to work as a producer. If not for the agency I had been with for 5 years, then in a freelance capacity in Ireland. I was excited to experience new opportunities.

Suffice to say, those options didn’t really pan out. I became a mommy. CEO and chief nappy changer of the house. When Geoffrey was still a baby, I designed a line of infant one-pieces that fell through when I discovered my BABY EIRE branding was not acceptable in Ireland (There are still 300 of them sitting in the attic, if you want one). I worked on one television series, and also some small food-related production projects on a gratis basis. I help out on the farm. I am paid a small salary to write a country living column in a national newspaper. I am trying to restore a period thatched farm, whose potential is not seen as clearly to others than to I. I have done a handful of cookery demonstrations at events around the country. I started this blog, which has evolved into so much more than I anticipated…but, as much as I am committed, a blog alone is not a career.

Which brings me to why I’ll never forget my first nettle sting. I was working in the garden. My first garden ever, I might add. Somehow summer Sundays had always been for shopping at Sephora or sitting by a pool, not gardening. Anyway, I accidentally brushed up against a nettle. What the hell was a nettle anyway? The sting was painful, but didn’t warrant my reaction. I swore at that blasted nettle. I damned it.

Then, oddly, I began to cry.
One of those horrendous heaving cries.
I cried about the hurt of the damn nettle sting.
I cried for my father.
I cried about the bloody Irish weather.
I cried that Geoffrey would never play Little League.
I even cried about not getting Rosie her tuna fish on poppyseed bagel anymore.
I cried the kind of cry that keeps your cheeks a slappy shade of red for the rest of the day.
Then, I rang Richard and screamed at him for the nettle abuse.
Nettles were just one more reason why we should move to America in my mind.
America, my imaginary land of opportunity, where I could have fulfilling work again. Where I could be me.
It was ridiculous.

Yes, life had a bit of a sting to it at the time.

This is why me and nettles haven’t been on the greatest terms. But, this is changing. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been bravely experimenting with nettles. We’ve had a few good natters, the two of us. We’ve made a deal: if I wear gloves and blanch them in hot water, they won’t make me cry. In fact, I discovered that if you put them in hot water for long enough, you will create a most flavourful and completing cup of tea, especially with a tiny drip of honey. Perfect for the wintery weather we can’t seem to shake here.

I’m now embarking on a special new film project, Food Island. I get to take everything I’ve come to learn here on my food-and-farming-filled Irish adventure, and combine it with those good old production skills. For me, this feels like a match made in heaven. Next week, two wonderful friends will arrive from America; one a producer and one a cinematographer. We will be journeying around the country as I direct a short film about Ireland’s exciting new food culture. Not quite a new career, but definitely a good start.

That sting is history.

Slan Abhaile,


Photos by Imen McDonnell 2012

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Clotted Cream

26 Mar 2012

Naturally, I had to crack the clotted cream. It was only a matter of time. My reasoning? Well, we do live on a dairy farm for god’s sake. The only question remaining is: what on earth took me so long. After dipping into a tub made by a fellow farmerette at a recent photo shoot, there was no stopping me.  To put it plainly, the flavour and texture of homemade clotted cream is absolute pure ambrosia.

The first time I tasted clotted cream was at a little afternoon tea party that I organised for a dear friend’s engagement. It took place in the very unlikely, but ultimately ohhh sooo perfect, Murray’s Steakhouse “Home of the Silver Butterknife Steak”. Murray’s is a supper club and cocktail lounge in downtown Minneapolis which opened in the 40’s and is so authentically retro that the dining room is darkly lit even during their lunchtime service. As I recall, the main room is adorned in mirrored walls, chandeliers, salmon pink draperies, and wall to wall carpet with art deco patterning. I wanted to plan something really unforgettable, and just knew Rebecca would love a bit of a mad tea party with all of her girls. Murray’s was the only place that offered such a service at the time. Don’t ask me why.

We all showed up in our frocks and sipped tea and champagne, pawed at dainty cucumber sandwiches and gobbled down white scones with clotted cream and jam in the lowly lit room for over two hours. It was not The Plaza, and no one wore white gloves, but it sure was divine.

After I was living in Ireland for a couple of years, I decided it would be nice idea to invite my mother and sister-in-law to an afternoon tea at Adare Manor. We arrived to the 1800’s Neo-Gothic estate and were seated in the tea rooms. From where I was sitting there was a picture window introducing a view of the most tremendous formal gardens behind one shoulder, and an enormous hearth fireplace that seemed so large that one could stand inside of it, beyond the other. A very reserved waiter served us Darjeeling tea with light egg + cress, salmon + crème fraiche, and ham sandwiches along with delicate cakes, scones, and petit fours. We were all spoiled with clotted cream on that day as well.

Today, I am in my very own kitchen with a pinny making clotted cream from scratch. Didn’t see that happening in my lifetime, but must admit, I am delighted with my success. It’s not difficult, but when you make it for the first time, it’s very easy to get the feeling that it’s not working. I also made the mistake of thinking that the cream underneath the crust was the actually clotted cream. It is not. That crusty golden top is just that, pure gold.

Clotted cream is not Irish, but I would venture to say it features on all formal afternoon tea menus across this fine country. It is mostly associated with dairy from the southwestern part of England; and in particular the counties of Cornwall and Devon. In fact, Cornish Clotted Cream is another one of those protected foods (PDO) so long as the cream is from Cornwall.

My clotted cream proudly comes from milk from our happy Irish Dunmoylan cows, but you don’t need a dairy farm to make it from scratch. If you can get unpasteurized, unhomogenised cream from a local dairy that would be ideal, but if not, use double or heavy organic whipping cream.  Don’t ask yourself why you’re making clotted cream, just do it. And bring it to a friend’s house with homemade scones on a sunny afternoon, it’s a slice of heaven.

Homemade Clotted Cream

Preheat oven to 100C/200F

1000ml/4 cups double or heavy cream (unpasteurised is best)

Pour the cream into a heavy bottom shallow pan. I used a stainless steel roasting pan.

Put it in the oven

And, forget about it for 8-10 hours

When it is done, it will have a thick golden crust forming on the top, like this

Take it out of the oven and let it sit in a cool place for 10-12 hours

Remove the “clouted” top with a slatted spoon, put into jar(s) and place in refrigerator for 2-3 hours

The clotted cream will last for 3-4 days

You can use the reserved cream underneath for other purposes if you wish…such as baking scones!

Slather on scones with jam.

{you will thank me}

Slan Abhaile,


Photos + Styling by Imen McDonnell 2012

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Bakewell Tartelettes

16 Jan 2012

In Ireland, school kids have a longer break during the holiday season. The little farmer was home from school from the 19th of December until the 9th of January. In the States, I believe most children head back to school sometime during the first week of January. This lengthy vacation seems to be justified by having a far shorter summer break, again, opposite of the American school system. {repeat mantra: tis different, not better or worse, tis different, not better or worse….}

The weather was too poor for assisting daddy on the farm, so let’s just say we had a lot of time on our hands here in the house. And too much time on our hands in the house = baking up a storm together (it also means dressing up our Airdale, Teddy, each morning; planning month-long trips to outer space, and building no less than fifty forts and obstacle courses…but, I digress).

Another new baking discovery for me here in Ireland is the beautiful Bakewell tart. Originating in Bakewell, England (thank you for enlightening me, Angharad), it is a firm fixture in bakeries, shops and cafes around this fair country as well.  The Bakewell tart (which would be called a ‘pudding’ if you were in Bakewell itself) is essentially a jam tart filled with a little almond-y (frangipane) cake on top. The story goes back to the 1860’s when a kitchen maid accidentally poured the almond mixture into a jam tart, a winning mistake if I do say so myself!  It’s modest: not too sweet nor gooey, and goes perfect with a cup of tea or coffee in the afternoon.

The first time I enjoyed a slice of Bakewell tart was in the sweet little cafe at Brown Thomas department store. On a Sunday afternoon city-fix with the baby farmer in tow, I collapsed in for a cappuccino. Upon spying a pear almond version of the tart in the pastry case, my nutty sweet tooth could not resist. The waitress brought a slice out topped off with a dollop of whipped vanilla cream and a persimmon on the side. The rest is history.

We decided to make a chocolate version since there are more than a few chocoholics at the farm and I thought it would be a nice treat. We baked a dozen tartelettes, had a little tea party and they were gone in a flash. Here’s the recipe:

Chocolate Bakewell Tart

Serves 4-6

For Pastry

75g/5 tbsp unsalted butter

140g/1 cup plain flour

25g/2.5 tbsp caster sugar

1 egg yolk

2 tbsp water

For the Filling

3 tbsp dark, chocolate grated

150g/2/3 cup butter

150g/2/3 cup caster sugar

75g/2/3 cup self-raising flour

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1 tsp vanilla

150g/3/4 cup ground almonds

grated zest of one lemon

3 tbsp lemon juice

6 heaped tablespoons of raspberry jam

icing sugar

Preheat oven to 220c/425F/gas mark 7

Work the pastry ingredients together to form a dough, and chill inthe fridge for 30 minutes Roll out pastry and use to line a loose-bottomed (springform) flan tin that is 25cm in diameter and 5cm deep (or 10 mini tart tins). Chill again and bake blind for 10 minutes.

For the filling, place the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of hot water then remove from the heat when melted. Cream the butter and sugar together. Fold in the flour, adding the eggs and vanilla extract, melted chocolate, ground almonds and lemon zest. Add lemon juice until the mixture is of a dropping consistency.

Spread the jam over the bottom of the pastry case, then spoon in the chocolate mixture. Bake for 15 minutes at 220c/425f/gas mark 7, then reduce the heat to 180c/350f/gas mark 4 and bake for a further 15 minutes or until the filling is cooked.

Sprinkle with icing sugar if you please.

Serve warm or cold with a big dollop of cream…and a persimmon on the side if you wish =)

I am very excited to announce that I have been asked to share recipes on Irish Abroad, a lovely online community for Irish expats, descendants and persons wishing to travel to Ireland…should be loads of fun!  I chose a classic Victoria Sponge for my first recipe, have a peek here.

Slan Abhaile,


Photos & Styling by Imen and Geoffrey McDonnell 2012

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Each October, Ireland welcomes the tradition of baking Barm Brack, a fruit-filled tea bread. This sweet tea bread was traditionally eaten on Halloween, when a token is baked into it to be used as a form of fortune-telling. The eater may find a ring (predicting impending marriage); a button or thimble (portents of bachelor or spinsterhood respectively); or a coin, (presaging wealth). In earlier, less sensitive times, items may have included a rag or dried pea, (for poverty); or a matchstick, (for an abusive spouse). These days, the tokens aren’t always included, but the tradition of eating brack at Halloween remains. {if you buy a brack at the supermarket or bakery that is labelled “Halloweeen Brack” there still will be a ring or another piece hidden inside}

As I have noted before, my magnificent mother-in-law still insists on preparing an enormous roast lunch with plenty of boiled potatoes, gravy and fresh vegetables for everyone who is working each day. There is always a hot cup of tea afterwards and something sweet like an apple tart baked on a plate or a fruity brack to accompany . Often, she will make one of her favorites, “Railway Cake”, which is basically a tea brack that is bespeckled with black currants (each currant symbolizing a train stop, of course).

In the spirit of Autumn on our farm, I would like to share the “Farmer’s Sunday Cake”, which is essentially a Barm Brack risen with soda instead of yeast. It could also be considered a dressed-up version of Peggy’s Railway Cake. I like it fresh out of the oven in the morning with a little butter and a cappuccino, but most would have it with a cup of afternoon tea.

I know everyone on the farm will love a loaf of this today and I hope you will enjoy it too…

Farmer’s Sunday Cake

From” The Country Cooking of Ireland” by Colman Andrews

6 ¼ cups/625 g white flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cream of tartar

1 cup/200 g sugar

¾ cup/170 g butter, softened. Plus more for greasing

1 cup/150 g sultanas {golden raisins}

1 cup/150 g dried currants

2 tbsp candied orange or lemon peel finely chopped

Grated zest of 1/2 lemon

2 farm fresh free range eggs, beaten

2 ½ to 3 cups/600-720 ml buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450 F/230 c {Gas mark 8}

Lightly grease 2 loaf pans

Sift flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and sugar together into a large bowl and mix well..

Rub butter into the flour mixture with your hands until the mixture resembles course bread crumbs. Add sultanas, currants, orange or lemon peel and lemon zest. Mix well.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the eggs and 2 ½ cups/600 ml of the buttermilk. Stir liquid into the flour mixture, working in a spiral motion from the middle toward the sides of the bowl, and adding a bit more buttermilk if necessary to make a moist but cohesive batter. Do not overmix.

Spoon batter into the loaf pans and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce over temperature to 400 F/200 C {Gas mark 6} and bake for 20-30 minutes longer.

Slan Abhaile,


Photo by Imen McDonnell. Assisted by Master Geoffrey McDonnell

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The first time someone saluted me on the road it actually startled me. You see, it was one of those pointy, fingertip salutes whereby the person wags their finger a wee bit as if, in my mind, to say, “hey, you shouldn’t do that”.  I immediately checked to make sure I was driving on the right side of the road, which I was (for a change) and then I tried to mentally devise what I could have possibly been doing wrong. Soon another car came racing by and did the same action, which further boosted my anxiety. After 5 more cars and 4 pointy salutes (btw, I was in Tipperary and I rarely see this type of salute in our neck of the woods…we seem to have a lot of hand waves and head nods) I finally arrived at my destination. I immediately described this strange behaviour to my friends and, after a laugh at my expense, they explained that sure, it was merely a polite way to acknowledge you and say hello.

This is rural hospitality. And I am struck by it. Now, it is not to be mixed up with urban hospitality, i.e. scribbling “wash me please” on a dirty car or graciously keeping your head down on the subway. No, saluting and a few other lovely gestures are a true callback to times past…where being a decent and helpful person was simply a selfless act of kindness. Not saying that city dwellers are inhospitable, I won’t generalize-but I can’t claim to have ever been saluted in this way by a driver in L.A., NYC or MPLS. Unless, of course, you consider flipping a certain centrally located finger or sounding a wailing horn the same thing.

Calling in for a cup of tea unannounced is another one of those courteous gestures. Where we live you will always hear of “so and so” calling over to “so and so’s” for a warm cuppa and a chat to catch up on all the latest gossip (funerals, pregnancies, the priest and the weather, for example). Around here it still is nearly as much a ritual as going to church every Sunday. On the other hand, where I come from in the USA, the door doesn’t get answered unless it is known in advance whom the caller may be and what exactly they want with you. It is practically considered to be rude or perhaps even sneaky to pop by unannounced. You’d have to nearly “book in” at least a day in advance and declare your intentions for the visit with someone even as close as your best girlfriend. These are two extremes and at this stage I fall nicely into the middle.

Give me a ring to make sure I am home, and I will be happy to see you.

And if I drive past you on the road, I will salute.

Slan Abhaile,


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Ireland: In America

04 Jun 2010

Beans-Irish Style

Well, here I am….I have arrived at my sweet home away from home. And I’m loving it. It’s day three so I am fully adjusted once again to driving on the right side of the road and getting into the opposite car door {okay, so that’s not entirely true}. It’s interesting because each time I return home I am far more aware of how much I am changing and just how much I appreciate the little things that I think Americans do best: incomparable customer service, eternal optimistic enthusiasm and, in a word, just plain“convenience”.

Back home in Ireland, I have *painstakingly* learned to do things on my own a bit more. It’s called “getting on with it” I’m told.  Let’s be clear, I do understand that this “getting on with it” business for me has more to do with living on a farm in the middle of the Irish countryside than it has to do with living in Ireland as a whole.  Still, some things like having your groceries lovingly bagged and delivered to your car for you at the supermarket or having an amazing gourmet pizza transported to your home via rocketship on any given night are things that can really put a smile on your face {and the children’s too}. It would appear that you can have anything you want at virtually any time of night and day here. I admit that found it a bit of a challenge not being able to have this citified life of convenience upon moving to Ireland, but now I realize that having to do more stuff on my own has instilled in me a certain amount of pride that I hadn’t really embraced before. Another plus? It makes things remarkably rosy when we are back for visits.

One of my favourite things to do when I first arrive back home is…drum roll please: Glorious food shopping! Whole Foods, the local co-ops, Trader Joe’s and Lunds/Byerly’s are my happy haunts here. I could giddily browse for hours and hours just examining all the new items and trying all the delicious samples. I am especially loving the locavore movement and being able to find so many fresh local ingredients everywhere. There is an importance placed upon this like never before and it is refreshing especially to “us farmers”.  Still, out of curiosity, I decided to take a look and see which, if any, authentic Irish exports I could find in stock.

I found these…

And these…

And then I was reminded that, at the end of the day, a nice cuppa can always put a smile on our faces too…..

Here or there.

Slan Abhaile,


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