Flex Your Mussels

02 Jun 2018

IMG_1700 (1)Truth be told, mussel eating didn’t come all that easy to me. After reading Anthony Bourdain’s excerpt on mussels in restaurant kitchens in his book Kitchen Confidential, I became preposterously paranoid about these wild bivalves and would spend an inordinate amount of time questioning wait staff in restaurants about the freshness and sourcing of their shellfish. Even after deciding to place an order, I still inspected platters of moules-frites like some sort of maniac (less than a satisfying experience indeed!)
But, I am here to tell you that the mussels of Ireland changed my mind. When I moved from the USA to this craggy isle and discovered that it was possible to literally harvest live mussels from tide pools on the beach just thirty minutes from our farm, the switch flipped. The only thing between me and my harvested wild mussels was a pail, a splash of salt water, and fresh seaweed to transport the precious commodities home. I mean, mussel harvesting = Next LEVEL, right? That alone was exciting enough to get me hooked. Now, I cook with mussels quite frequently and everyone in our family loves them– though I usually go to my local fishmonger to buy them as they are great value and I am usually in a pinch to save time.


This month I am partnering with Bord Bia (The Irish Food Board) for their #flexyourmussels campaign which is underway to encourage more Irish consumers to cook and enjoy mussels at home and to consider ordering mussels when dining out too. Irish mussels are easy to prepare, high in 
protein and iron, are great value (at roughly 5 euros per kg), and packed full of flavour. You can check out Bord Bia’s “How to Prepare Mussels” video and more recipe inspo here.


I will be posting a second recipe mid June, but here’s one of my favourites. A bit of a spin on vongole, using mussels instead of clams.


A delicious and simple recipe.  If you would like to change it up, try adding some uncooked prawns instead of the hake.
Serves 4
Time: 20 minutes
1kg large mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
200g hake, skinned and boned
1 shallot, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
120ml white wine
250ml cream
300g linguine
20g fresh parmesan cheese, grated
1 tablesp. capers
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablesp. fresh parsley, basil or dill
To serve: Tomato and red onion salad
Place the shallot, garlic and white wine in a large saucepan and bring to the boil.  Add the mussels, cover and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, shaking the pan a few times until the mussels have opened. Remove the mussels from the saucepan and discard any that have not opened. Reserve the cooking liquid in the saucepan and add in the hake. Cover and cook gently for 3-4 minutes until the hake is just cooked through – don’t allow it to boil. Put a large colander over a bowl and tip the fish into the colander, allowing the liquid to strain into the bowl. Break the hake into chunks.

Meanwhile cook the linguine as per packet instructions. When the pasta is cooked, drain, saving a couple of tablespoons of the cooking liquid. Return the pasta to the saucepan along with the reserved cooking liquid.

Rinse the saucepan the mussels and hake were cooked in, then pour the reserved cooking liquid from the bowl back into the saucepan, leaving any fine grit in the bottom of the bowl. Simmer for a minute or two, then pour in the cream and simmer to reduce a little. Add the cheese, stir and allow it to melt. Add the capers and stir through.  Pour the sauce into the sauce pan with the pasta along with the mussels and chunks of hake and mix gently. Return the saucepan to a low heat for a couple of minutes to heat through. Taste and season with a little salt and black pepper.

Divide between 4 pasta plates and sprinkle over the chopped herbs. Serve with a tomato and red onion salad.


Energy:        643kcal

Protein:        27g

Fat:                33g  (Saturated Fat: 17g)

Iron:              4.25mg

Carbohydrate:  58G

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Hope your 2018 is off to a brilliant start?

We’ve loads going on at the farm, as per usual this time of year. Lots of sweet calves and sleepless nights tending to bovine mothers giving birth each evening. I am trying to double up on self-care to stay healthy and AWAKE during this season.

Geoffrey had some major excitement over the last two months as he was asked to give several auditions for MasterChef Junior in Los Angeles. He nervously applied online last October, promptly put it out of his mind thinking it could never happen, and we got the surprise call in early January. In the end, he didn’t make the final cut, but auditioning and cooking on film was a fantastic learning experience for him. Our little farmer has grown into such a passionate little chef these days, he tells everyone that he wants to become a “farmer chef” when he grows up, so we’ll see about that! He might start some supper clubs here this summer and see how he gets on. We sure are very proud of him.

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We are planning our garden for 2018, and I think I have persuaded my friend Dermot Carey to come over and help us reorganise how we grow things here. And, I will be putting my seed order in soon, my favourite part of March. Any suggestions? Open to all! One thing that I looooved growing last year was Shiso leaf, a most incredible flavourful and versatile herb that will be going in again this spring for sure.

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I am super excited to announce a new Lens & Larder (see tab on the sidebar to find out more about the origins of L&L) workshop in April at neighbouring Glin Castle once again. This time an adaptation of our typical food photography and styling retreats; we are working with two extraordinary cookbook authors, Diana Henry and Elissa Altman for a “Literature and Larder” masterclass retreat. These ladies are FIERCE and I can’t wait to spend the weekend with them. Below are more details, if you are interested in coming or would like to share!




Lens & Larder is thrilled to bring an exciting new adaptation of their very popular food photography and styling workshops to Ireland with Literature & Larder, a creative master class experience with a focus on the art of food writing in all forms.

Join James Beard Award-Winning authors Diana Henry and Elissa Altman at historic Glin Castle, home of Catherine FitzGerald and Dominic West, for an intimate weekend of literature and libations, April 13-16th, 2018.

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Workshop participants will explore food writing with an in-depth look at recipe development, food as memoir/essay, creative writing & food journalism, and touch on podcasting/broadcasting as well.

Each guest will participate in group and one-to-one discussions focused on strengthening food writing skills and exploring individual food writing goals. You’ll also gain insider information on the craft of creative food writing, how to write and pitch freelance food stories, and how to grow your platform as a professional food writer.

Literature & Larder will also cover the business side of food publishing and examine cookbook editorial with a panel featuring New York literary agent Sharon Bowers of MBD Literary representing NYC literary agent, Sharon Bowers of MBG Literary (representing acclaimed vegetarian chef and author Deborah Madison, former Chez Panisse exec chef and NYT Best Seller Cal Peternell, James Beard award-winning Amy Chaplin, health & wellness food blogger Sarah Britton of My New Roots, NOMA co-founder Mads Refslund and more) and “Ireland’s Top Cookbook Editor” Kristin Jensen, moderated by myself and Cliodhna Prendergast.

Included in your tuition:  3 nights luxury accommodation at Glin Castle, and meals: 1 welcome drinks reception, 3 dinners including wine and cocktails, 3 full Irish breakfasts, 2 lunches. All food with a focus on locally sourced, artisan ingredients (vegetarian options will be catered for).

Excluded: Travel to Ireland and transportation to Glin Castle; Travel insurance (highly recommended as there will be no refunds for travel changes); Extras

Cost: EUR €2499 per person.

More details and to book: www.lensandlarder.com or email me at lensandlarder@gmail.com.


I’ve been working on the most sensational carrot cake recipe for spring that I will be sharing in my next blog post.

Until then,

Slan Abhaile,

Imen x

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Where does the time go?

So much happening in our world at large and here with our family at the farm in Ireland and in America, it’s been hard for me to keep up with posts, although I do have heaps of updates coming and a special round up of blog recipes for the holidays (is it really that time of year?!) You can also find some recipes from me in the Irish Independent Sunday Mag as well as in the upcoming Irish Times Holiday Weekend Magazine.

Right now, I am in full production mode for our next Lens & Larder retreat, happening just down from us at the stunning Glin Castle where lies 700 years of Irish history. We still have a couple of very special openings on the workshop, so if you are interested please leave a comment or email me on lensandlarder@gmail.com.

Here are the details-

We are delighted to announce our next Lens & Larder retreat, An Irish Country Affair: Glin Castle, October 28-31st, 2017.  Please join us at one of Ireland’s most historic castles on the banks of the River Shannon for an enchanting autumn weekend to celebrate cooking, photography, and country pursuits with a special nod to Samhain, the ancient Celtic tradition of Halloween, which originated in Ireland in the 9th century.

At the helm of Lens & Larder: An Irish Country Affair will be Mimi and Oddur Thorisson, the internationally acclaimed food writing and photography team behind the award-winning food blog, Manger, and best-selling books, A Kitchen in France, A Year of Cooking (2014) and French Country Cooking (2016) published by Clarkson-Potter. Mimi and Oddur live in Médoc, France with their 8 children and 9 dogs. Together they host wildly popular cooking and photography workshops in their home and the surrounding wine country. Both Oddur and Mimi are contributing editors to Condé Nast Traveler, and their work has featured in Vanity FairNew York Times,Vogue MagazineThe Wall Street JournalHouse & Garden, Bon Appetit and more.

Lens & Larder is positively tickled to marry Mimi and Oddur’s classic country house cooking and visual aesthetic with the noble history and sensational style of Glin Castle for an unforgettable weekend of visual learning, cooking lessons, magic and mirth.

Over the course of three nights, student guests will experience cooking and demos with a bounty of indigenous and seasonal Irish ingredients, traditional music, an autumnal garden walk and history talk with renowned landscape architect and daughter of the Knight of Glin,  and welcome cocktails with her husband, actor, Dominic West; an authentic pub dinner at the charming O’Shaughnessy’s of Glin, afternoon tea in the castle, an Irish Harriers Hunt, and will finish with Mimi’s magnificent masquerade Sahmain farewell feast. All the time honing and developing the skills to capture this story in camera as it beautifully unfolds.

Glin Castle is not a hotel, but a magnificent, privately-owned property. Home to the late Knight of Glin and the Fitzgerald Family and located in Glin, County Limerick, one hour from Shannon Airport. Spaces are limited to 14 as we fill the castle and create our own spellbinding weekend in this historical gem in the Southwest of Ireland.

2480 euros per person. Includes: Private Ensuite Room, Cookery and Photography Lessons, Welcome Reception with Champagne and Oysters, Welcome Three-Course Dinner, 3 Irish Breakfasts, 1 Hunter’s Lunch, 1 Afternoon Tea (working lunch with sandwiches), 1 Pub Supper, 1 Masquerade Farewell Feast, Wine and Beverages with Meals, and Heaps of Hospitality!

80% due on booking and 20% upon arrival at Glin Castle.


Mimi Thorisson is the author of Manger, a blog devoted to French cooking that was named “Saveur’s Best Regional Food Blog” in April 2013. Her best-selling cookbooks, ‘A Kitchen in France’, October 2014, and French Country Cooking published by Clarkson-Potter have been translated in many different languages. After a career in television and having lived in Hong Kong, London, Singapore, Reykjavik and Paris, she settled with her photographer husband, Oddur, their 7 children and 10 dogs in the Médoc, South of France. She is the star of Canal+ cooking shows “La Table de Mimi” and “Les desserts de Mimi” in France.

Oddur Thorisson is an Icelandic photographer. He started his career as an art director and worked his way into photography often combining the two. He has worked for countless companies and organisations and been involved in various magazines and publishing projects like Condé Nast Traveler, Elle, Vogue, Bon Appétit, Wall Street Journal, Food and Wine to name a few. He lives with his wife Mimi, 8 children and 9 dogs in the Médoc, South of France.

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Slan Abhaile,


Photos by Imen McDonnell, Oddur Thorisson and James Merrell.

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I am back with one more succulent and simple lamb recipe, because, well, you can never have too many lamb recipes in your arsenal of home cooking ideas, right?

This is a straightforward (yet smashing!) recipe; the most difficult thing is that you may need to call your butcher ahead of time and order the shanks (make sure they trim them for you too), but otherwise it’s a matter of preparing a trouble-free marinade, quickly slicing the vegetables, popping all the ingredients in a pan and boom! straight into the oven. Set the timer and go do the homework with the children or milk the cows, whatever tickles your fancy, and before you know it, you’ll have a gorgeous, robust lamb entree bursting with the rich flavours of subtly smoked paprika, orange, sherry vinegar, sweet potato, and herbs to serve for supper. You could also pop all the ingredients into a slow cooker in the afternoon and by the time the kids get hungry, it’s ready to go.

These lamb shanks are perfect for the coming autumn weather and even more enjoyable with a group of friends gathered around the table.

Tasty. Easy. Lamb. 

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Give your everyday meals an exciting twist and check out www.tastyeasylamb.ie for more recipe inspiration.

Lamb Shanks with Spanish Paprika & Sweet Potatoes
Preparation time: 15 mins
Cooking time: 1 h 20 mins to 1 hr 30 mins
Ingredients for 4 people

4 lamb shanks
1 tablesp. Spanish paprika
6 tablesp. olive oil
6 tablesp. Xerès (sherry) vinegar
1 heaped tablesp. dried oregano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
150 ml fresh orange juice
500g sweet potato
500g firm-fleshed potatoesInstructions
Pre-heat the oven to Gas Mark 4, 180°C (350°F).
Combine the paprika with 1 tablespoon oil, then add the rest of the oil, vinegar, oregano,salt, pepper and orange juice.
Wash the sweet potato and potatoes well. Cut the sweet potato into thick rounds and the potatoes in half. Spread them out in a large oven dish and add the lamb shanks. Brush them all with half the marinade.
Cook in the oven for 1 h 20 minutes to 1 h 30 minutes, depending on the size of the shanks. During cooking, turn the shanks several times and brush with the remaining marinade.
Serve hot accompanied by a salad.
Tip: you can intensify the orange flavour by adding 1 level tablespoon of grated zest to the marinade.

Slan Abhaile,

This post was sponsored by Tasty, Easy, Lamb, but #spon or no #spon I firmly stand behind cooking with lamb, it’s a huge hit in our house!

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It’s the time of year again, when I find myself shouting about the star factor of luscious lamb from thatched cottage rooftops and castle ruins. The good news is that my friends at Lamb – Tasty, Easy, Fun have given me a few lovely lamb recipes to try out like they graciously did last summer as well.

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For me, not much else beats the flavour of lamb. Whether in a traditional stew or combined with exotic spices and flavours, lamb is the perfect hero ingredient for everyday meals, whether you’re flying solo or cooking for family or friends.

Lamb is super quick and simple to prepare and can be easily transformed for a variety of ethnic cuisines. Versatility baby! From Moroccan lamb tangines (umm, helllooo!) to spicy lamb quesadillas from Mexico; Ceylon lamb curry from Sri Lanka (chomptastic) to Japanese style lamb yakitori (drool), and not least forgetting delicious lamb burgers and kebabs perfect for al fresco dining over the summer – there is something to suit all tastes and every meal occasion.

Give your everyday meals an exciting twist and check out Lamb – Tasty, Easy, Fun  www.tastyeasylamb.ie for recipe inspiration.

For the first of two lamb recipes I will be posting this month, I have prepared a simple, but incredibly divine, lamb + avocado crostini. Aka, avocado toast with gorgeous spicy grilled lamb.

Crostini with Spiced Lamb & Avocado
Preparation and cooking time: 20 minutes.
Ingredients for 12 pieces:
150 g lamb stir-fry strips or leg steaks cut into strips
4 tbsp. olive oil
1 level tsp ground cumin
1 level tsp ground coriander
1⁄2 tsp chilli powder
1 ciabatta loaf
1 ripe avocado
1 lime
salt and pepper
fresh chopped coriander
In a medium size bowl mix together 2 tbsp. olive oil, the cumin, ground coriander and chilli powder. Add in the lamb and stir to coat the lamb with the spice mixture. Then cover and leave to rest at room temperature.
Cut the ciabatta into 12 medium diagonal slices. Lightly coat with olive oil on both sides. Toast under the grill or on a grill pan.
Mash the flesh of the avocado with a fork and add the lime juice (quantity depending on your taste) until it reaches a creamy consistency. Season to taste.
Heat a frying pan and add the meat. Brown the meat on a high heat and season to taste.
Spread the avocado cream on the toasted ciabatta, then add the meat on top and finish witha scattering of the chopped coriander.
Serve as a canapé.
Tip: You can grill the bread in advance as it does not need to be hot. However, you should wait to garnish it until the last minute so it remains crisp.

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Slan Abhaile,

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Blimey. It’s been ages since I last wrote.

Wait a minute, can I even say Blimey?

How about Crikey? Have I been here long enough to warrant the use of such wackadoodle colloquialisms? I realise we are in Ireland, not England (or Australia for that matter), but folks here are constantly uttering the likes of blimey, and crikey and other funny expletives that I never, EVER would have imagined spewing out of my own mouth like I do now. I also say things like GARE-EDGE (Garage) and toilet instead of bathroom (Ewwww) too.

God help me.

Lo and behold, it looks like my last post was a potato post too. Sorry. But, this is Ireland, right? Spuds are a staple. Plus, since it’s time to dig up some new season potatoes, so why not slice them up and make a pizza out of them while you’re at it? I knew you’d agree.

So, Potato.ie and Lovepotatoes.co.uk are doing a fun campaign called Potatoes: More Than A Bit On the Side, and they reached out to ask if I’d want to develop a recipe for it. Clearly, they did not realise that I am essentially the Potato Queen of Kilcolman.

It went like this…

#TastyPotatoes: Hi Imen, want to do a potato recipe for us?

Me: (3 cartwheels and a herkie later) Are you kidding, I’d love to! I love spuds!

#TastyPotatoes: Great, thanks!

Me: I’ll be perfect, I even have a whole chapter in my book dedicated to the art of potatoes, I loooove potato pancakes, lefse, latkes, potato bread……

#TastyPotatoes: Fantastic, thank you!

Me: Did I tell you how much I love potatoes?! (round-off into the splits)

#TastyPotatoes: Okay, we will be back in touch.

Me: Omg wait! potato pizza!!!

#TastyPotatoes: Talk soon.

Me: …..Roasted potatoes………colcannon…..tatties….ahhhhh (back flip, Can-Can)

Here’s what I came up with: a recipe inspired by an unforgettable pizza with a layered potato “crust” we experienced at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York last year that Geoffrey has been begging me to try and recreate in our kitchen ever since. We improvised on how to create the crust and you can go crazy with any combination of toppings, we love this little mash-up, and looking forward to our next experiment too.

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I hope you will love it as much as we do!

Potato Crusted Pizza with Gruyère, Carmelised Onion, Rosemary & Thyme
Serves 4-6
The potato crust is the star of this crispy, savoury pizza that is super easy to prepare, gluten-free and delicious.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 1 (12-inch) pizza

1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly-cracked black pepper
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 pounds waxy, round potatoes (about 4 medium), scrubbed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
40ml beef, chicken or vegetable broth
250g gruyere cheese, shredded
125g prepared caramelised onions (here’s a great technique)
Sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C.

In a small bowl, stir together the salt, pepper, and cornstarch; set aside.

Using a food processor or mandoline, slice potatoes very thinly and place them in a large mixing bowl.

Sprinkle half of the cornstarch mixture over the potato slices; toss the potatoes, then sprinkle them with the remaining cornstarch mixture, and toss again.

Brush 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over a 12-inch round pizza pan or pizza stone covered with parchment paper.

Layer the potatoes, overlapping the slices in concentric circles. Sprinkle the potatoes with the broth, brush them with the remaining oil, then press the potatoes down firmly with your clean hands to compact them into a crust.

Move the oven rack to its lowest position, and bake the potato crust for 20 to 30 minutes or until edges are browned and potatoes are tender.

Remove the potato crust from the oven and spread the carmelised onions, gruyere and herbs over the potatoes.  Return the pizza to the oven for another 10 minutes, or until cheese is softened and the pizza is heated through.  Remove from the oven and cut into wedges and devour.

Slan Abhaile,



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28 Feb 2017


Boxty on the griddle
Boxty in the pan
If you can’t make Boxty
You’ll never get a man

That is a traditional Irish rhyme that would NOT go over well in 2017, but it’s Pancake Tuesday and I’m in the mood for a savoury griddle cake so I guess I’ll let it slide.

Boxty, occasionally spelled “boxdy,” is basically a potato cake, eaten mostly in the north of Ireland, especially in counties Cavan, Fermanagh, Derry, and Tyrone. Boxty vies with champ and colcannon as Ireland’s best-known potato dish. It may have originated in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when potato harvests began to fail, as a way of using poor-quality potatoes that were deemed useless for boiling. The potato pulp was shaped into cakes and baked on heated flagstones or a griddle.

This potato cake would have been considered an indulgent dish, and here boxty is a bit of a delicacy on the farm simply because it takes some time to prepare. Serve it on a cold winter evening; it’s wonderful with a bit of homemade crème fraîche and preserved apple sauce from the orchard.

Serves 4
6 medium potatoes
1⁄4 cup white AP flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon butter (or sunflower oil)
Fresh herbs, chopped, for garnish

Peel the potatoes. Line a colander with cheesecloth and place over a large mixing bowl. Using a box grater, grate the potatoes into the colander. Gather the corners of the cheesecloth together and squeeze the liquid from the potatoes into the bowl. Put the dry grated potato in another bowl and discard the liquid.

Add the flour and salt to the grated potato and mix gently.

Melt the butter in a heavy iron pan, and pour in the potato mixture to make an even layer, about 3⁄4 to 1 inch thick. Cook over medium heat until nicely brown on one side, about 15 minutes; flip and cook on the other side for another 15 minutes, or until brown. It’s much better to cook the boxty slowly than too fast. It should be crisp and golden on the outside and cooked through on the inside.

Remove from the heat, cut into quarters, and serve.

Scullery Notes: Boxty may be eaten hot or cold and may even be reheated. Top with crème fraîche and applesauce, if you like.

Slan Abhaile,

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Fine Fettle Farm

06 Jan 2017


January 12, 2017

These last few weeks, I have found myself looking back on my time in Ireland, life on the farm, my relationships with family, friends and food over the years. I’ve always said that I came to this country too early; that I wasn’t ready for full-time Irish farm living, but who would be? By now I’ve probably warn out my welcome, but, hey, I’m not going anywhere.

It was a circuitous road that led me to life in the Irish countryside, but as the years go on, it seems clear that I was perhaps always meant to live with my feet a little closer to the ground, more connected to the land, to grow and nurture and harvest and forage the fruits of the earth like I would a baby, to simply be more present and mindful because that is what truly makes me feel alive.

Don’t get me wrong. City life replete with the convenience of an endless array of drinking holes and restaurants, the seminal scullery of Whole Foods Markets, theatre, music, museums, and body contorting yoga classes on every corner will always be a craving, but I’ve never appreciated all those things more than I do now when it is an occasional occurrence, a half a world away.  #That’s how to feel gratitude. 

Rural living can be very isolating, and as well meaning and loving as my husband is, the growth of the family farm has forced him to not be as present here as he wished he could be over the years. Especially when we first moved into our country home. This blog and all that it has manifested was born out of that solitude. Out of all the changes and adjustments to my life in Ireland, I gotta say that the bits that have been most challenging have been becoming a mother in a foreign country and creating a new vision of my “life’s work” without a social element; without family and friends from America nearby to show me the ropes, provide pep talks and high-fives. (Waaaahhhhh, but thank goodness for social media!) While Richard wholeheartedly supports all of my ideas, it’s been up to me to navigate, put myself out there, carve out a niche for myself, and just get things done. Thank goodness necessity is the mother of invention.  #That’s how to feel pride.


So, here I am working on an exciting new beginning again. Starting another evolution in farm life from scratch. #That’s how to feel scared and invigorated (and crazy) at once.

Now that Geoffrey is older, he and I can both spend more time on the home farm working. But, we will also start working the land for other projects, and we have an extra special new endeavour to embark upon which needs us. And, it also needs more people than us. And, since we are both people persons, this project means we get to invite people over to play. Whooopppppeeeee! #That’s how to feel JOY.

If you’ve been following along with this blog, you may remember a post awhile back where I described a charming little farmstead which is a part of our farm. It was purchased primarily for the land a few years ago and is a listed period property that includes a thatched cottage and a few small stone outbuildings. To others, she is NOT pretty at the moment. But, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I think she is just divine. Her thatched roof has caved in and the buildings are crumbling, but there is so much soul in this farm.  The townland is called Graigoor, which translates to “the hamlet” in English. Which perfectly suits because it feels like a sweet little settlement when you walk through the gate to see the cottage with a Shamrock over the door, tiny stone sheds, and small parcels of land strung together in the back. #This is reverence


I’m calling her #Fine Fettle Farm, because being there makes me feel good. (To understand the meaning of the term “fine fettle” read this story) Sure, this is not a totally new concept for me, but, now is the EXACT right time that I should be doing it. It will be a HUGE undertaking. But, I just can’t let it go. It’s calling me. This work is all about feeling alive and connected. Growing food has become one of the most unexpectedly rewarding experiences of my life. I feel completely exhilarated and in my element while sowing, weeding, harvesting, cooking, sharing the bounty, and just plain getting dirty. It is truly a gift.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Graigoor and have been looking into restoration ever since the very first time I first stepped foot in those lovely lush fields crowded by trees dripping in strands of ivy.  After my dear mother-in-law passed away, I got notice that I had been approved for a small amount of funding to begin the restoration process. But, it just wasn’t the right time to dive into such an undertaking when there were so many other changes afoot on the home farm. Now the time is nigh, and I am working with the local Rural Development Programme to hopefully secure more substantial assistance to get my idea off into the ground. Either way (with or without financial assistance) I am taking it forward. #This is how to feel determined 


The restoration of the cottage and buildings is just a portion of the main objective, which is to develop a thriving CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) programme that will serve those who cannot grow their own and want to partner with a farmer for fresh weekly produce. In addition to growing vegetables, fruits, and herbs, we will offer subscriptions for honey, raw milk, cheese, yoghurt, and foraged edibles such as wild garlic, mushrooms, sloes, blackberries, elderberries, rosehips and whatever else the season and our hedgerows bring. Fine Fettle Farm will operate with the generous help of volunteers and part of the proceeds from each CSA box will go to a revolving charity.


A secondary goal of Fine Fettle Farm is that it will be a place to maintain physical and mental health while focusing on eating clean, seasonal foods grown and harvested on the farm. All who come to volunteer will be fed nourishing meals and accommodations will be provided if necessary. My hope is that city dwellers from here and abroad will come to lend a hand and experience a bit of bucolic rejuvenation as well. Eventually I’d love to offer workshops and events around food and wellness, but that will be after the buildings have been restored to their former glory and we’re up and running strong.

Wish us luck.

And, please message me if you’d like to get on the volunteer roster. We can’t do this alone!

In Gratitude,

Imen & Geoffrey McDonnell



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Holiday 2016

22 Nov 2016


Given the state of things, I’ve decided to make a fist of it and dive straight right into holiday mode. Can you hear those jingle bells a-jangling? Me either, but we are going to get there people! For the first time ever, I am going to offer one of those clever little gift guides that I say I am going to do every year and never get around to actually putting together….nothing too elaborate, just a few of my favourite things from Ireland and abroad that might make terrific holiday pressies and put smiles on the faces of those you love. Because we could all do with some smiley faces, right? So, fix yourself a cup of tea (or, something a little stronger) and have a lovely little browse. I will have an exciting update on our #ShePlantedASeed project on my next post.

Of course, at the top of the list is a personalised & signed copy of my book, The Farmette Cookbook, Recipes and Adventures from My Life on an Irish Farm, I mean I have to take this opportunity for a bit of shameless self-promotion, right? But, I have SO many other goodies to share, none of which are sponsored (but, there is nothing wrong with sponsoring a brand that you love!) and all of which are honest suggestions that I have tried myself and highly recommend. For those that know me, I can get a wee bit carried away about new products and bits that I cherish, but it always comes from the heart, promise!

So without further ado,


The Farmette Cookbook Recipes and Adventures from my Life on an Irish Farm. Signed by yours truly. Add on a fabulous Modern Farmette Butter-Making Kit or DIY Cheesemaking Kit if you fancy, for a total 50 euros + shipping. Email me: imenmcdonnell@gmail.com for ordering details.


What a few amazing ladies had to say about my book (Well, I’ll be!)…..

“A joyful celebration of life on an Irish farm.  A super, chic book written with the appreciative eye of an outsider who reminds us of the sheer pleasure of living on a dairy farm. Rearing a few table fowl, planting a vegetable garden and an orchard, rediscovering the satisfaction of using home-grown Irish produce to make truly delicious and creative food for family and friends.”—Darina Allen

“Imen takes traditional Irish cooking to the next level with her American curiosity and ingenuity. She weaves big city cravings, like potstickers, tacos, banh mi, harissa, pizza, and more, with traditional comfort food made from scratch. Imen’s brave leap of faith and love is a boon for the rest of us: we now have this charming book full of stories and recipes I can’t wait to make.”—Susan Spungen, founding food editor of Martha Stewart Living

“There is magic in Imen McDonnell’s new book, and in her story. Her dedication to uncovering Ireland’s rich food culture and cultivating her own shines through. You’ll want to dive right in, start cooking, and build your own fairy tale.”—Sarah Copeland, author of Feast and former Food Director, Real Simple Magazine


Reclaimed Iron Cooking Tripod.


Reclaimed Iron Cooking Tripod crafted here at the farm. 4 ft – 6ft (adjustable) sizes. Ireland delivery only. 100 euros. Email imenmcdonnell@gmail.com for ordering details. (photo credit: Doreen Kilfeather)

  • Sturdy three leg design for stability
  • “S” hook with chain for adjustable height. 
  • Heavy duty reclaimed iron construction
  • Holds Dutch ovens, coffee pots, tea pots, etc
  • Works well to hang lanterns, water Jugs etc too
  • Perfect for hanging Dutch ovens, tea pots, coffee pots ect. over a cooking fire



Honestly ladies, these are like the UGGS of Wellie boots. The AIGLE Juliette. Super hard wearing and immensely comfortable. I could seriously wear these all day, in the house and on the farm, they literally feel like slippers! For ages my friend Ella McSweeney of Ear To The Ground urged me to buy AIGLE boots, and I just finally took the plunge before our last Lens & Larder event at Ballyfin. They also have tall boots and loads of other styles to choose from, so I am kitting out the boys with AIGLES for Christmas too!



Orwell & Browne Donegal Tweed Dickie Bows and Notebooks. I got hooked on this brand a couple of years ago, and now I have everyone who comes within a two mile radius of the farm adorned with tweed bow ties. Exceptional quality and super lovely folks behind the brand. Also, apparently they ship free everywhere in the world!




America Village Apothecary. Don’t let the name fool you, this brand is 100% Irish. My friend and frequent collaborator, Claire Davey, lives in a place called America Village, County Galway, Ireland. She makes unique syrups, tinctures and bitters for creating craft beverages or for use with food using unique locally foraged flavours, carefully sourced ingredients, paying attention to every last detail. I recently tried Claire’s tonic syrup, must admit that adding another step to my gin and tonic seemed rather inconvenient in theory, but after stirring up this elixir, I will never go back to store-bought tonics! Wow, what a flavour sensation and just pure, true beauty in a bottle. (and, you can pair it with some of my other gift guide suggestions below)



holiday-9Bertha’s Revenge Gin. A gin distilled with milk whey named after Ireland’s oldest Kerry cow. Say no more. (other than the fact that the lads who started this brand are absolutely the salt of the earth, gorgeous souls inside and out) The gin is extremely botanical, and not in the usual juniper/pine sense, totally refreshing and completely festive.




Pippa Holt Kaftans. I met the gorgeous Pippa Holt (Roche) last month, a fellow blow-in–from Australia–with a personality as sunny as the South Pacific and an absolute heart of gold. She’s created a line of crazy beautiful kaftans with more to be launched in NYC in spring 2017. Keep your eye on this inspiring woman and her stunning summery pieces!


10272882-b_1 pipph3a


Some of my favourite food books this year…..



Row 1: The Short Stack Cookbook by Nick Fauchald, Kaitlyn Goolen, and the Short Stack Editions Contributors. French Country Cooking by Mimi Thorisson. Fruit on the Table by Theresa Storey. Row 2: Molly on the Range by Molly Yeh. Recipes From My Mother by Rachel Allen. Small Victories by Julia Turshen. Row 3: EAT. LIVE. GO. by Donal Skehan. Treyf by Elissa Altman. Fishwives by Goatsbridge. Row 4: The Vanilla Bean Baking Book by Sarah Keiffer. The New Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg . My French Family Table by Beatrice Peltre.



Arran Street East. Simple, functional and beautiful design for your home. Made by hand in the heart of Dublin. In that sea of ceramics on the scene, these pieces are speaking to me the most.  Check out their story and their stunning wares here.






This might be THEE most exciting thing to happen to spirits in my lifetime! I can’t tell you enough how much I adore this incredibly innovative brand which is single-handedly solving the forever dilemma: “what do drink when you’re not drinking.” Seedlip is the world’s first alcohol free distilled spirit. Whoopee! Seriously, the flavour profile is so unique and enticing. My favourite is the Wood-Spice-Citrus which is all earthy and aromatic with notes of allspice, cardamon, grapefruit, oak and lemon. Seedlip is sugar free, sweetener free, has no calories or artificial flavours. Do you need anymore convincing? Wowsers.



Easy & Oskey DIY Naked Bitters. Bitters in their birthday suit. Let inspiration be your guide as you create your very own flavor masterpiece. Fig, apricot, hops, toasted sesame, allspice, bacon, or any combination your palate longs for…there is simply no limit. I got to collaborate with Erik Eastman one half of Easy & Oskey for one of my book launch events over the summer, totally lovely fella who crafted some downright incredible cocktails using these bitters.


Created + Found


My friend Jette Virdi’s exciting new adventure. Jette, a Ballymaloe trained chef and food stylist, has launched a new  online boutique stocked with gorgeous kitchen goods and sundries all hand-crafted in Ireland. Have a look!  Wheeeeee!


Hedley & Bennett

I don’t think I have ever come across someone with as much enthusiasm and verve for her brand as Ellen Bennett. Ellen, who has been known to fly through the air to announce the arrival of a new apron design, is such a peach in this business of food. Not only does her personality want to make you buy aprons for days, but all of the chef gear is beautiful, well-made and durable, just ask some of America’s top chefs. Whoop whoop Hedley & Bennett!!!



Heritage Cured Irish Ham


James Whelan Butchers signature heritage cure Irish ham is truly delicious. Cured on the bone, it has a distinctive flavour with a hint of smoky hickory undertones. This ham is ideal for carving and brings ham to a whole new level. Particularly low in salt, with the bone bringing a certain sweetness to the meat. My longtime friend Pat Whelan is the man behind this award-winning butcher shop which offers online ordering and delivery throughout Ireland and if we are not rearing our own meat for the holidays, he is our go-to supplier.

And, last, but not least…..


I want to share some of my favourite things to do in Ireland at the moment, whether it be a place to stay,  shop, eat, an event, workshop, an outdoor pursuit or even a place of worship….as I have always said, there is so much more to Ireland than a pint of Guinness!


Food On The Edge.

Lens & Larder.

The Glucksman for I Went Into the Woods or Gut Instinct.

Cliff of Moher Retreat.

Ballyhoura Trail Riding.

Dzogchen Beara Zen Buddhist Centre.

Glenstal Abbey Conventional Mass. (complete with massive incense & Gregorian chants sung by a choir of monks)

The new and improved 7* Adare Manor (I got a sneak peak and WHOAAAAA! re-opening spring 2017)

Ballyfin Demesne (just named the best hotel in the world by Condé Nast, and just an incredibly warm, private, beautiful place to stay, I recently produced an event there which I will share about soon)

For another taste of Ireland, my friends at Perennial Plate are releasing a series of stunning short films on Irish food and the people and places behind it.

Só Collective.

Forest & Marcy

Heron & Grey

La Cucina Centro (Henry Street, Limerick)

The Mews (closed until spring 2017)

Two Boys Brew

1826 Adare

For Irish New Yorkers, stay tuned for the next Fare Plate spring 2017

There are so many more bits and bobs that I would like to mention, and I may continue in a future post (also, if you feel I have missed something, please do share in the comments below), but for now I hope you enjoyed this little slice of gift giving ideas!

Hope & peace to all.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen xx








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She Planted A Seed

15 Nov 2016



She planted a seed.

And, it will grow.

If you are like me, you may have spent the last week trying to make sense of how America elected someone like Donald Trump to its highest office. He was not elected to mayor, not appointed to be an aide or a local ombudsman (no offense to any those positions). He was elected to the presidency of the United States of America, arguably the most powerful country in the free world.

This was a candidate with a reality show resumé and a mouth as raunchy as a 1980’s high school locker room after football practice on a Tuesday night. This is a grown man who mocked a disabled person at a campaign event. And, this is now a president who has the KKK staging rallies of celebration for his triumph. We are living in scary times people. Batten down the hatches.

Even if you didn’t care for Hillary, the truth is, she has spent her entire adult life fighting for human rights, and was the most qualified person for the job on that ballot. She should have won. Yes, she was victorious with the popular vote, and I’m not gonna downplay how much solace I take in this. (to the tractor drivers on the our country roads: No, that bumper sticker is not coming off anytime soon!), but unless something changes, I don’t have the Madame President I was hoping for, and whom we were led to believe by the media would be shattering that glass ceiling in New York’s Javits Center last Tuesday night.


But, back to trying to make sense of things. Trying to assess feelings. I’ve been on a rollercoaster of emotions, frankly. Worse than any hormone jag I’ve ever experienced. Firstly, this really does bite. Like when someone you love dies and there is nothing you can do about it except accept it as fact, grieve your loss, and gradually go on with your life. I am grieving. I can’t cook or bake and have no appetite, which, as I try to squeeze into my denims from last winter, would customarily be welcomed. My son and my Irish family and friends want answers that I do not have. They are absolutely stunned too. For Ireland, as with many countries in the world, America symbolises greatness and garners a great deal of respect–in large part due to its cultural diversity. It is a country that is stronger together. Even though I do not currently live in the USA, I am a proud dual citizen of America and Ireland. I have voted in every US election since moving to Ireland, and we still spend a fair bit of time in the states. Our son also has dual citizenship. I love my home country. And, I am heartbroken over the outcome of the election.

I’ve been trying to distract myself with everything from taking more time to work the fields of the farm, to going completely mad and trying out extreme sports  (hilarious, but highly recommended!)

Despite my anguish, I still feel uplifted by Hillary’s hard-fought, very significant campaign. It was not for nothing! I also feel strengthened and inspired to #liveuptomygodgivenpotential, and spurred on by the powerful words of her concession speech,

“Because, you know, I believe we are stronger together and we will go forward together. And you should never, ever regret fighting for that. You know, scripture tells us, let us not grow weary of doing good, for in good season we shall reap. My friends, let us have faith in each other, let us not grow weary and lose heart, for there are more seasons to come and there is more work to do.”

There IS more work to do. We must pick ourselves up. Which is why I have decided today, that I will plant a massive victory garden* in Hillary’s honour. Growing food gives me tremendous pleasure, beats any anti-anxiety remedy by a longshot, and takes me out of my head. I’m not a master like my friend Dermot, but I do have a bit of a green finger. The best bit is that when you sow a seed, watch it grow, and then harvest your abundance, it is an act of compassion that never fails to provide hope, joy, and wellness in your life.

So, together with my family we are breaking ground on a ½ acre allotment on the farm and planting seeds this week. I’m calling it my Hillary Garden. Never mind that it’s not the season for planting, there are plenty of overwintering vegetables with our name on them (along with a few flower bulbs too). We’ve got work to do and we will build on what we already have, and grow more and more.


Will you join me and #growitforward by planting your own seeds (even sprout or herb seeds on your window sill!)? Or, by leaving your name below and we will plant a seed for you in Ireland? (you are welcome to come visit anytime and do some weeding  too!) As the weeks, months and seasons go on, I will be documenting and sharing our progress on this blog and on social media, and hope you will too. If we all use the hashtag #sheplantedaseed #growitforward #hillarygardenwe can see and support eachother’s growth.

She planted a seed.

And, we will harvest it.

Because when they go low,


*Victory gardens were vegetable, fruit, and herb gardens planted at private residences and public parks in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Germany during World War I and World War II. Besides indirectly aiding the war effort, these gardens were also considered a civilmorale booster” in that gardeners could feel empowered by their contribution of labor and rewarded by the produce grown.

Slan Abhaile,



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