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I am currently mesmerized by a marvelous new book entitled The Call of the Farm: An Unexpected Year of Getting Dirty, Home Cooking, and Finding Myself, by Rochelle Bilow. Rochelle is a New Yorker who serendipitously fell in love with a farm and a farmer while working on assignment as a fledgling food writer. The book weaves a tale that I know, oh, so well. She feels kindred to me. As I turn the pages, I long to meet, sip coffee, and swap farmer love stories with her. I’m prone to such sappy impulses.

At the end of each chapter there are recipes. Not just any recipes; honest dishes and pies and dinners and lunches and breakfasts that celebrate the bounty and beauty of seasonal, farm-to-table eating. Not only did Rochelle roll up her sleeves and muck out in the farmyard, she harvested many meals in the ‘Stone Hill Farm’ kitchen with each passing week, filled with heart and heartiness alike.

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About midway through her book, Rochelle describes the day when chickens are processed for their farm CSA customers. They are referred to as “meat birds” and she admits to having a surprisingly nonchalant attitude toward slaughtering the animals. This completely intrigues me.

As I pour hot water over a tea bag with one hand, with the other I hold Rochelle’s book close to my face, carefully reading and re-reading each chicken paragraph. I walk to my desk, sit down, blow the steam off my teacup and continue to scan for clues that could guide me to that place of tolerance, of accepting the cycle and sacrifice of farm livestock. It doesn’t happen. Rochelle seems to be just as struck by the notion that she didn’t have a strong emotional, visceral reaction to the activities of that day as I am.

Brave. Efficacious. Levelheaded.

Farmworthy.

The opposite of me, I think to myself.

I can’t stop reading.

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It’s worth mentioning that Rochelle’s book came in the post right on the wings of the arrival of our baby turkeys earlier this autumn. In yet another one of my Grow-It-Yerself efforts, I decided to raise a small number of turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. And, while it has been an absolute joy, it is also a massive emotional challenge. Let’s just say, even though I know I am only postponing the inevitable, our 10 turkeys have been given a pardon for Thanksgiving. See below.

Turkey Journal: October 26th, 2014
The turkeys are just about 14 weeks old and I cannot see how I will manage letting them go for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They rely on me to take care of them, and feed them, and provide fresh water for them, and keep them warm and dry and safe. I know that’s all part and parcel, but I swear they have the look of love in their eyes when they see me. Sometimes I peer out the shutters of my kitchen window with a view to Turkey Hollow secretly hoping a turkey will have found a way out. I’m beginning to think this is not for me.

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I know, I know, farmers are not in the business of rearing pets. I mean, my husband tends to the poultry raised on the home farm, but those chickens are birds that I’ve never quite connected with; I prefer to spend more time with the dairy cows and calves. Besides, ten turkeys is different than a barn full of broilers, even if they are free-rangers. For the most part, our chickens leave the farm when they are ready to be processed and the next time we see them, they are roasting in the oven.

My turkeys are different. We are intimate. And, I am finding it difficult to cope with the fact that I will personally be escorting them to their private undertaker in just a matter of weeks and walking away with packages of Aga-ready dinners.

On top of all the emotion, I keep having a strong impulse to urge all meat eaters that they should have to raise and butcher an animal at least once in their lifetime. But, then I question myself, why force this issue? Yes, it is true that more people (especially newer generations) should know where their meat comes from and how it is raised. But, not sure having to go through such measures is practical or necessary. Nor, if I am honest, will it help the uneasiness with the personal endeavour that lies ahead of me.

On the other hand, our 8-year old son seems to have no qualms about it. It seems the same goes for all the animals he has met that are being reared for food. He’s very pragmatic about it all, saying “these animals have a purpose and we are giving them a good life while we can.” I’m astonished by his candor, but quickly realize that is the difference between a child raised on a farm, and someone like myself who was a true townie until I met my husband.

I decide to make contact Rochelle herself and plea for advice. She reasons, “it is exactly your respect, regret, and hesitation to harvest them that makes me believe you are worthy to do so.”

All of this makes sense, but still,   ….can someone please pass the tissues?

And, a piece of this pie?!

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Rochelle Bilow’s Butternut & Browned Butter Pie

A fantastic idea for Thanksgiving this week. Rochelle says this version is creamier than pumpkin pie, and I’d have to agree. Maple syrup stands in for sugar and the almond extract adds another dimension to the flavour that was very welcomed in our house. Our son, an extreme lover of pumpkin pie, ate three slices on baking day and asked if we could make another for Thanksgiving. My father in law, who is not a fan of pumpkin pie, loved this version. I added rye pastry leaves for an optional festive garnish, the cutters are Williams-Sonoma from a few year’s back.  Try Rochelle’s beautiful butternut & browned butter pie for yourself!

Serves eight to ten

For the filling
3 cups peeled, cubed butternut squash
6 tablespoons (3⁄4 stick) butter, divided
Pinch of salt
1⁄4 cup maple syrup
2 large eggs
3⁄4 cup whole milk
1⁄2 teaspoon almond extract
For the crust
7 tablespoons (3⁄4 stick plus 1 tablespoon) butter, melted
1⁄4 cup maple syrup
11⁄4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
Pinch of salt
1⁄4 teaspoon ground ginger
Method
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Place the squash on a rimmed baking sheet with 2 tablespoons butter, then place in the preheated oven. Once the butter has melted, stir to coat the squash with it and place it back in the oven. Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until the squash is tender.

Meanwhile, begin making the crust: pour the 7 tablespoons of melted butter into a medium mixing bowl. Add 1⁄4 cup maple syrup and whisk to combine. In a large bowl, blend together the pastry flour, salt, and ginger, then use a wooden spoon to stir in the butter and syrup mixture. The dough will be wet and greasy.

Using your fingers, press the dough into a 9-inch glass pie pan so it is uniform thickness and reaches slightly over the edges of the pan. Trim any shaggy edges, then use your thumb and forefinger to crimp the ends. Bake about 18 minutes, until puffed and lightly golden. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Maintain oven temperature.

Once the squash is cooked, begin to assemble the filling. Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the milk solids have begun to brown and smell nutty. Set aside to cool slightly. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the cooked squash, browned butter, 1⁄4 cup maple syrup, eggs, milk, and almond extract. Puree to combine.

Spread the filling into the prepared crust, smoothing the top evenly. Lower the oven temperature to 350°F and bake 25 to 30 minutes, until the filling has just set. If the crust begins to brown too much, cover with aluminum foil. Let cool completely before serving.

I am giving away one signed copy of Rochelle’s incredible book, The Call of the Farm, for Thanksgiving! Leave a comment below & I will announce the lucky winner on my next post.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2014. The gorgeous brown linen napkin in the second photo was a gift from the lovely 31 Chapel Lane, Dublin, I would encourage a visit!

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For the first time since I moved to Ireland, we are welcoming family from America to the farm for this year’s Thanksgiving celebration and I am just thrilled! Last year, we hosted the dinner in our home with a group of our expat friends which was wonderful and this year it will be just as special again.

We will all be to traveling to Kildare on Wednesday the 23rd to visit a turkey farm and take home our fresh bronze turkey. I have freshly pressed apple cider in the fridge that we will warm and sip the next morning as we prepare for our meal later that day. Pumpkin pie(s) will be made. Martha’s stuffing. Fresh cranberry chutney. Yams. And of course, Richard’s famous Irish coffee.

In America, I think it is safe to say that Thanksgiving is nearly as big a holiday as Christmas. Here, since there is no holiday to break up the time before Christmas, everyone is already dangerously close to hitting the Christmas spirit. It is getting increasingly more difficult to wait to go Christmas cray cray until the day after Thanksgiving, but I will resist!

In the spring, I worked as a food stylist on a fantastic cookbook written by Irish butcher, Pat Whelan, and photographed by the very talented Moya McAllister. One of the recipes that really appealed to me was Pat’s sweet turkey, ham and cranberry pies. They are just the right size for a light lunch or tea in the evening. Of course, the idea is that these would be easy to whip up with leftovers from the Christmas dinner, but I love the thought of making them after Thanksgiving. With or without the ham.

Here’s Pat’s recipe

Makes 8 (In a regular 12 hole bun/muffin tray. I used tart molds which are a bit larger so recipe would make 6)

Ingredients

500g Shortcrust pastry

250g/9oz/1 1/2 cups shredded turkey

100g/3/4 cup cooked ham cut into small pieces

8 tbsp creme fraiche

8 tsp cranberry sauce

1 egg beaten

Roll out pastry

Cut 8 circles to line holes of the tin and 8 smalled circles for the pie lids

Grease the holes in the tin and line with pastry

Divide the turkey, ham, cranberry sauce and cream between the 8 holes

Season with salt and pepper

Brush the edges of the pastry and apply the pastry lid to seal

Place tray into the fridge to chill for about 30 minutes

Heat oven to 180/Gas 6

Brush pastry lids with egg wash and bake for 25 minutes

Can be eaten hot or cold!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Moya McAllister. Food Styling by Imen McDonnell 2010.

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Possibly my favorite American holiday

is the heartwarming tradition of  Thanksgiving.

Always filled with fun-loving family + friends

and loads of delicious food.

So this weekend,

an early Thanksgiving was celebrated at our farm

The menu was planned with great care;

using many local & farm fresh ingredients

along with a few exotic choices

We invited 11 wonderful Irish and expatriate friends

whom we are so fortunate to have in our lives

to share our feast and give thanks with us

It was a magical evening filled with laughter, joy & warm wishes…

and then, as tradition would lend itself,

was ended with a pretty slice of pumpkin pie

Happy Thanksgiving!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Libby’s Famous Pumpkin Pie

serves 8

Ingredients

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

2 large eggs

1 can (15 oz.) LIBBY’S® 100% Pure Pumpkin (can be purchased in Fallon & Byrne or Donnybrook Fair, Dublin)

1 can (12 fl. oz.) NESTLÉ® CARNATION® Evaporated Milk

1 unbaked 9-inch (4-cup volume) deep-dish pie shell

Whipped cream (optional)

Mix sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger and cloves in small bowl. Beat eggs in large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture. Gradually stir in evaporated milk.

Pour into pie shell.

Bake in preheated 425° F oven for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350° F; bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 2 hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate. Top with whipped cream before serving.

Photos by Imen McDonnell

other recipes:

Spinach Salad w Warm Lardons & Apple Cider Dressing

Creamy Celeriac Soup

Wolfgang Puck Brined Roast Turkey with Pan Gravy

Tarragon Green Beans

GOOP’s Cranberry Chutney

Amy Vanderbilt’s Oyster Stuffing & Sweet Potato Pie via Clare





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Here I go writing about food again, but how can I resist when Thanksgiving is right around the corner? I have always had an affinity for Thanksgiving.  It may just possibly be my most favorite American holiday. 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? The PUMPKIN PIE of course!

Now, as far as I can tell, pumpkin pie would not be something that the Irish necessarily love…even though the famed Jack-O-Lantern has it’s roots in Irish lore, the pumpkin does not get the same celebrity status as in the USA.  I’ll never forget the time when Richard and I were still dating and I was visiting Ireland during Thanksgiving. I decided on a whim that I would make Thanksgiving dinner for his whole family. I mean you can’t NOT celebrate Thanksgiving, right? I brought over pumpkin and cranberry and other pantry items to be on the safe side..along with my trusty Martha Stewart recipes that I had chosen for that year. We used a turkey from the farm (don’t ask the details about that) which was lovely and I began making this extravagant meal that I thought everyone would surely love and appreciate. Well okay, maybe I just wanted them to love and appreciate ME.

So. 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 drove me a bit mad. Then, the same with the measurements! Everything is in metric so instead of cups I had to work in mls and grams. The last time I 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 completely did my head in.  Still, somehow I sorted it out and made a gorgeous meal for everyone.

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 the question of “So, Imen, is Thanksgiving a Jewish holiday?”.  Huh?  I told myself not to giggle. I answered eloquently, explaining the history of Thanksgiving (Charlie Brown style, of course) that no,  it was not Jewish, but that Jewish people do, in actual fact, observe the holiday with all the other Americans. They were fascinated and nearly ate every last morsel that I had prepared. 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.  Surprise. Delight. Terror. No expression just fast gobbling. Sheer happiness (me).  And then, out of the blue, a quote uttered by Grandma McDonnell, “Tis Different”.  A phrase which I learned much later had meant “It’s Rotten”.  I find this quite humorous and touching. She actually thought it tasted rotten, but ate it all and never said a bad word to me.

Oh well, it’s still my favorite. And Richard and Geoffrey love it too. (Really!)

Mind Yourself,

Imen

Photo courtesy of Food Network

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