A Pretty Irish Easter

23 Apr 2011

Easter is one of Ireland’s most notable holidays. There are so many special Irish traditions which have been celebrated at this time of year throughout  history. Herring funerals, cake dances and the Cludog (in essence, the roasting of eggs on a farm) are all very old rituals that are not as widely in practice today, but are, nevertheless, nostalgic. Another practice that came as a bit of a surprise to learn was the observation of a ban on alcohol on Good Friday. Let’s just say, Easter is serious business around here.

In our Irish-American blended home, we enjoy a mix of traditions.  Richard loves  the big chocolate eggs and we prepare gorgeous leg of local Irish spring lamb for Easter dinner which is a popular Irish Easter feast.

Growing up stateside, we had the illustrious Easter Bunny whom, if we were good , our parents allowed to creep into our home in the dark of night to drop in a basket filled with Peeps, a fabulous chocolate bunny, tiny chocolate eggs and loads of other goodies.  We would wake up in the morning to find a little note under the pillow, which was inscribed with a clue as to where to look for our eagerly awaited Easter Basket.  One clue would lead to another, and another, and yet another, until we joyously discovered our Easter basket treasures!

Another lovely Easter tradition in our home was dyeing eggs with little kits that were purchased at the local dime store. They included little round colourful tablets of dye (that someone inevitably always thought looked delicious), a wire egg holder for dipping and perhaps a crayon. You mixed the dye with vinegar, dipped the eggs and voila! Beautifully hued hard-boiled eggs.

In the past, I’ve kept a stock of the PAAS colouring kits and have hosted Easter egg colouring parties here on the farm for my friends and their small children. The kids coloured their own tiny basket of eggs and then got to go out and milk feed the baby calves, always a treat!

This year, our shipment from American grandma did not arrive on time so we had to be more creative. At the last minute, Ivan Varian informed me that you could use Gorse flowers to create a yellow dye. Gorse or Furze is a yellow flowering bush that grows wildly in Irish countryside hedgerows. You steep the gorse in boiling water for an hour and you will obtain a yellow hue in which to die your eggs. We also used this lovely article from Williams-Sonoma, and decided to try red cabbage {robin’s egg blue} and beetroot {salmon pink} for natural dyes as well. {Warning: when cutting Gorse, wear gloves as the stems are full of hearty thorns-Sonia cut her finger trying to harvest the Gorse from our hedge!}

A Very Happy Easter To You All!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell. Assisted by Sonia Mulford Chaverri.

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Sex And The Country

11 Apr 2010

When R and I first met he insisted that I was the midwest’s equivalent to Carrie Bradshaw. While I found this idea flattering, if not humorous, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the episode in which she and Aidan go to his rustic cabin in the country and how she barely survived two days there. I thought to myself, oh yes, that would be me. Then I thought to myself, oh nooo!…I am falling in love with a farmer!  A real live F-A-R-M-E-R. Farmers live in the country surrounded by animals and well water.  I won’t even drink filtered tap water and I never leave the house in flat shoes. Ever.

Fast forward six years. I married him. We live in the Irish countryside and the closest thing to my former Sex and the City lifestyle is a walk-in wardrobe filled with the residual Mui-Muis and Manolos of days past. They seemingly have no use in these parts. Nope, nowadays life is more like an episode of “Sex and the Country”. Not saying it’s not fascinating…even entertaining, just “tis different”. Quite different indeed…

Life then: Sunday breakfast or a bagel and coffee at the perfect city café around the corner chatting away with friends followed by reading the beautiful New York Times newspaper and magazine.

Life now:  Sunday morning awake with fingers crossed that we have everything for me to make breaky in the fridge because the store is ages away and I can’t be bothered to drive it.  Followed by reading the news on nytimes.com followed by witnessing two cows getting it on in the pasture.

Yes, cows getting it on. Or “bonking” as an English friend calls it. With all the mating rituals I’m witnessing round’ here I think it is safe to say that there is definitely more sex in the country than sex in the city that I used to live in.  I have to admit, I just could not believe my eyes the first time I witnessed a cow mounting another cow. A bull just wanders around the pasture jumping on random heifers whenever the mood strikes him.  Very aggressive.  It just doesn’t look right. They’re too big for heaven’s sake! The act appears to be really clunky and awkward. Not sexy AT ALL. Plus, it looks like the girl cow is not happy. Plus, they are in the middle of a pasture and there’s no privacy…just not right. And it looks just as strange to me with all of the animals out here; sheep and horses too (yes, it is shockingly true what they say about horses.eeeewwwwww) Even our dogs seem to constantly be humping around with eachother and they are all males. Way too many country pheromones in the air for me to handle at times. Way too many indeed.

R is in charge of animal health and animal reproduction at the farm. He sees that the heifers hook up with the bulls and if that doesn’t work he works his A.I. magic.  A.I., or artificial insemination, is quite an interesting process to go through with cows.  Let’s just say that there is a 3-foot long glove which needs to be worn whilst doing the procedure.  And it’s not the cow wearing it. I’m sure now you’re wondering where the “inseminatory” fluid comes from to begin with, aren’t you? (yes, I made that word up because I don’t think you can say the S word on a blog or at least I’m not going to).  Well, I just happened to find out whilst watching a farming program on the telly the other night. Let me try to paint the picture…generally speaking, there is a very important man in County Meath who is an aficionado in this area and he goes in and intervenes and collects it just as the sire is mounting the cow. He uses an apparatus that he designed that so realistic that the bull doesn’t know the difference. Again, really TMI to watch.

I’m not sure why all this animal breeding business makes me feel so uncomfortable. What I do know for sure is that writing about it has made me feel the urge to immediately book a divine, girly city holiday as soon as possible.  {Ok sweetie?}

Coming up: I will be featuring a very different kind of Irish sexiness, Trish Deseine, the best-selling author who was born in Belfast, now living in Paris and whom has been dubbed “The Irish woman who is France’s Nigella.”

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo courtesy of Easy Living

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A Irishwoman in Paris

03 Feb 2010

Born and raised on a farm in the countryside near Belfast, Trish DeSeine fell in love with France on a childhood visit.  Little did we know that she would later become a celebrated French cookery writer and television personality living in Paris. {Don’t you just love how life works sometimes?}

After 20+ years in Paris, Mme. DeSeine could be dubbed a real Parisian…but she’ll always have that warm Irish spirit and charm in her heart. I am honored to be able to share a little about about Trish and her Irish heritage with you this week.

Bon Appetit!

What was it like growing up on a farm in Ireland?

Of the three of us (I am in the middle of two brothers) I was probably the one who took most interest. I would spend many Saturday mornings with my father as he  did his weekly check on the cattle over at Belfast’s Cavehill. We helped out a bit when the hay was made, and that was great fun, but my father had an ace team of 5 burly brothers from Belfast who looked after everything. My mother was a teacher, so away during the week, but diligently cooked for any farmhands needing sustenance on Saturdays. This was nearly always mince, potatoes and carrots.  Or sometimes a pot roast or chicken and vegetable soup with barley.

Which Irish dishes do you miss…or have redesigned to be more ooh la la?

None really, you can get most ingrédients all over the world now, and happily Irish ones are pretty simple.  I do love cream and butter from home, though, and barmbrack and wheaten bread.  I certainly would not redesign Irish food. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It’s true attraction is in its very simplicity, quality and purity. I cannot imagine destructing an Irish stew or beef in Guinness !

Are there Irish traditions or sensibilities that you get nostalgic about?

I ‘d like to be romantic and affectionate but, you see, I grew up in County Antrim, in a fiercely Unionist, Presbyterian family and community during the worst of the Troubles. Irish traditions, ie « Southern » were certainly not celebrated ! My family’s affinities leaned more towards Scotland and Great Britain. Therefore, both traditions and cultures got a bit diluted, somehow.  I studied  English in school, a Protestant Grammar school in Belfast, where only a few Irish authors and poets found their way onto the curriculum .  It’s only now that I can see how biased our upbringing was. It’s very sad, I think, that due to the violence , our entire childhood we were being prepared to « get out »  The result of this is not true nostalgia, but a type of retro-nostalgia, for an imaginary Irish childhood I would loved to have had.I always suspected people on the other side of the border were having a hell of a good time . I realise now this was absolutely true.

When I did my TV shows for RTE, this  fantasy came alive for me a little, I started to believe that the nearly unified Ireland was indeed now ALL mine, and that it embraced me right back. Now, with the situation so bad again, I’m not so sure. People  in the street or in pubs and shops are adorable when I’m in Dublin. But I was treated very shabbily by RTE Cork, despite my shows’ good ratings and that spoiled the homecoming expérience slightly.

I guess I miss the way folk would pop in unannounced, for a cup of tea and a piece of cake, and how we would call with friends in a very unceremonious way.  The Irish kitchens of my childhood always had a good stash of traybakes, scones or Victoria sandwich.

Do your children love their Irish heritage..what do they like about Ireland?

They know very little of it, having spent much more time in Scotland and London. They feel more what the French would call « Anglo Saxon »  or « from an English speaking culture » than Irish.  Hopefully we’ll have time in the future to go back and explore a little more.

Do you ever use Irish slang?

Rarely, I don’t get much of a chance in France ! But my nows and my downs with that NornOrn impossible vowel sound are still perfectly intact. My children have a slight NIrish accent in their English which is really lovely.

Any tips on acclimating to another culture?

Fall in love !

What are some of your favourite places in Ireland that you would recommend visiting?

The Hugh Lane in Dublin and the Bacon exhibit in particular. Ballyvolane House near Cork for a long lazy weekend and fantastic food .

Would you ever move back to Ireland?

No. Home is here in Paris with my children.

Luckily, even though she now calls Paris her home, we can still have her via her remarkable culinary treasures.

Trish has written a hugely popular series of illustrated cookbooks. Her most recent is “Comme Au Resto” which shows how to take the latest trends and le presentation from restaurant meals to give your own entertaining a bit of glamour without all the cheffy fuss. My favourite? “I Want Chocolate”, you will never think of chocolate in the same way again. You can find Trish’s books available worldwide on Amazon, Barnes & Noble & Easons or for more information visit her beautiful website Trish DeSeine.com

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

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