Sunday Bits

05 Jul 2015


Aren’t Sundays sensational?

It’s just that Sunday is the one day of the week where we can all take a bit of time off (in between milking, of course) and simply exhale. After our commitments in the morning, I love to read the newspaper (online + paper versions), a few pages of any new magazines or books that have been stacking up on my nightstand (currently Porter, White Goats & Black Bees, Garden & Gun, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying…ahhh, too many to list!) or catch up on emails, blogs, Pinterest, make some Skype calls to the USA. As a family, we’ll do some weeding (i.e. meditation), play some American football catch (yes, me too), watch a hurling match, and I usually prepare a proper Sunday lunch for anyone who wants to drop by. From morning to evening, Sunday is my absolute favorite day of the week.

So, in the spirit of Sunday and all the bacchanalia that it brings to my attention, and in keeping with various requests to post a wee bit more, I am happy to share some people/places/things that have inspired me this week. I will make this a regular blog feature and look forward to it, the best thing in this whole business is sharing ideas and forging friendships along the way….I love this kind of thing so I hope you do too.


I realllly want to visit Sophie at Mandagery Farm and attend one of her beautiful Farm Kitchen Lunches…

My Lens & Larder partner, Cliodhna Pendergast’s incredible children’s cooking films, Breaking Eggs are currently being featured in the Irish Times online, so much fun!

Pure Green Juice delivered a 3 day detox/cleanse to me today, I will report back on the results, but how wonderful to have a new Irish raw juice company available!

Ice cream! The first photo above is my little experiment with poppyseed vanilla bean ice cream made with farm fresh cream, mooooo!….the recipe is here if you fancy trying it

The most beautiful Irish crafted cutting boards, Two Wooden Horses, have opened their online shop

The Gathered Table is a fantastic concept with loads of weekly meal inspo

We’ve been listening to the Chopped podcast lately (when I say we, I mean anyone who is trapped in the jeep or tractor with me for any extended amount of time), it’s very conversational, and also really touches on some interesting food blogging tips like how to use Snapchat as a food blogger, how to improve your SEO, creative ways to grow your audience, tips on food photography and more….including interviews with professionals like Matt Armendiaz and many top US food bloggers.

Recently I was fortunate to have dinner at Skye Gyngell’s dreamy Spring restaurant in London, which was a positively heavenly experience with regard to both food and ambience. Of course, the company wasn’t bad, Claire and Cliodhna, but the food was so remarkably fresh it felt like it was literally coming from my own kitchen garden (something about food feeling like it came from steps from your own garden is magnificent and divulging in a feast like this in such a beautifully appointed, clean, dare I say, regal dining room was really a special treat for me!) everything was absolutely in step with the season. Do nip in for lunch or dinner if you are near Somerset House. Unforgettable.

According to Andrea Gentl’s insta-feed, the great Julia Turshen has a new book coming out soon, and I for one, cannot wait!

We hosted a small dinner party here a couple of weekends ago and for pre-dinner cocktail, I prepared Susan Spungen’s Pink Sangria from her Strawberries Short Stack Edition book. It went over a storm and is one of those recipes that will be made again and again. Try it!

I’m loving 31 Chapel Lane in London, lovely purveyors of Irish linens for the home and kitchen with roots to an Irish farm.

Did you know that Ashley of Not Without Salt’s amazing salted choccy chip cookie mix is available at Sur La Table? Well, they are! I wish they shipped to Ireland! Will get some when we travel to America again later this summer.

Ooooh this is really fun, do I have to stop? I didn’t think so.

Have you ever really wanted to “unplug” and can’t resist spending time on the internet? MacFreedom will free you! Amazing for productivity; even on the farm we find it easy to get sucked into too much social media time, but it’s hard to resist when you only have a herd of cows as your supervisors. Check it out. 

In keeping with the above, we’ve recently also discovered Headspace, an amazing meditation app. Ommmm. (although weeding works remarkably well too)

My hedgerow martini photo inspired by my friends at Ballyvolane House was featured by the amazing Susan Zelouf in this week’s The Gloss. Also, that leather apron!!!!


And, last but not least, our cows with hearts on their heads make our hearts swell, and a few other snaps from the holiday weekend. 2. Geoffrey “building a lake” at Ballyheigue Beach. 3. Our annual seafood boil at the farm….featuring Kerry crabs and Cork sausages with a side of crisp Orpen cider!





I hope you enjoy, more soon!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen xx








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Smoked Porter Cake

02 Sep 2012

Batten down the hatches, it’s chocolate cake time again. Well, Smoked {Dark Chocolate} Porter Cake. So, yes, things are gonna get serious around here. Pour yourself a large glass of milk (either that, or just fast forward to the recipes at the end)

This week, Rosemary McCabe, an Irish fashion journalist that I respect, made a curious remark via social media: Okay, so I still READ I Married an Irish Farmer, but I wish it wasn’t about how a woman gave up her career for a man. ‪#sonotcool

Now, you might think I was offended. Or, you might think, why bother addressing it?  I wasn’t offended, the thing is, I can see her point. I wouldn’t give up my career for just any ole’ man either. I don’t really see it that way.

Rosemary isn’t the first person to spark up motivation for this post. I have had more than one email containing the unusual question: “Is love enough to marry a farmer?” or something similar. The question comes from women who have busy careers/lives, perhaps in a city, who have no inclination to become a farmer (yet), or to move to the countryside, but who are in a loving relationship with someone who farms. It’s a fair question.

For some time I have wanted to write a post about the nitty-gritty of how I got here. I’ve shared a little bit about how Richard and I met,there’s even a little interview with him, there’s the “when and why” I started this blog, along with various bits and bobs about the farm. But mostly, the blog has become about food. Food, glorious food.

I love my husband (and, still think he’s H.O.T. which is what realllly matters after 8+ years right?) and what we have created together. I’m not going anywhere. Some days my life can seem like a dream come true, others not so much. Admittedly, my biggest challenge since moving to Ireland has been rebuilding a creative career. Love is magnificent, but it is not enough ( for me, and wouldn’t be for my husband either if tables were turned). Work is too meaningful. I prefer to earn my own income. It is crucial for me to doing something creative which is valued besides being a wife + mother. Plus, I can’t really sit still or quiet for long periods of time, so I don’t really have a choice in the matter.

When I made the decision to move to Ireland to be with Richard, I fully intended to keep my job and work from Ireland. I didn’t plan on having to start over from scratch. As much as I respect farming, I didn’t plan on becoming a farmer myself. We were two people in love who had to make a choice. We simply knew that he couldn’t “relocate” his farm, and I thought my work was more flexible. I had been mostly working on overseas productions and things were becoming pretty virtual at the time so it seemed like a go. I was young and precocious and must have thought I was invaluable. In the end, that didn’t work out. Still, I believed I would be able to get freelance production work in Ireland on a somewhat steady basis once I was settled in. That started out fairly good, I found work on the production of a popular Irish television series, which happened to be shooting in the countryside near us. When that was finished, I searched for work with agencies in Dublin and Cork to no avail. If they were going to hire anyone, it seemed would be someone local or at least more mobile or Irish than I at the time. {Richard tells me I’ve “become more Irish than the Irish themselves” so perhaps I should call on them again?}

After I had a baby, I became a full-time mommy and it seemed like all serious career bets were off. I could barely manage to get a shower in when Geoffrey was an infant. He was born nearly 8 weeks premature and had some health issues. Thankfully, not serious health issues, but made for difficulty in feeding and nutrition. If you are a mother of a child who is not a “good grubber”, you know that you would die trying to make sure your child is fed.  Richard left at 6AM and didn’t return until late in the evening. I was alone with Geoffrey most of the time and didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing. I relied heavily on emails, phone calls, books and internet message boards submitting questions as banal as “what if the poo doesn’t smell?”

Since I didn’t have the security of a job anymore, I had to procure a new set of skills, including, but not limited to DIY’ing my own half-n-half. So, just when I thought my abilities were completely irrelevant here, I turned to food. At first, I started eating digestive biscuits and Hob Nobs by the packet, which wasn’t really helping matters. Then, I discovered that I could actually cook, bake and make butter and that by doing so, I could make new friends and not feel so isolated. I also discovered that I could write, which was, in fact, therapeutic, and also garnered me a job. I took small bits that I learned while producing food commercials and started styling and photographing food for this blog and also for an Irish cookery book. We’ve now turned a bright, unfinished room in our house into a little studio so that I can take on more clients if am called upon to do so. The best part is that I am bringing it full circle and have produced and directed a film on Irish food and farming that I hope will be the start of even more opportunities….and, at the risk of going all Oprah, perhaps this leap will have created ‘My Best Life’ yet?

Now, about that cake.

Porter cake is a tradition in Ireland that started when it occurred to someone that a porter would make a lovely addition to the dark, robust flavour of the popular fruit cake. Since we aren’t crazy for the fruity part of Irish fruit cakes in this house, I kept the mixed spice, but left out the fruit and added some dark, dark chocolate.  The end result is a rich, velvety, smoky chocolate cake that evenly carries the porter flavour throughout. I iced it in chocolate espresso buttercream, but to be honest, it doesn’t even need frosting, especially if you are serving it with a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of fresh cream.

Of course, you can use any porter or stout for the recipe. I used a sneaky bottle of gorgeous and ultra smoky porter that I brought back from America, which was home-brewed by Derek Sanderson in the beer mecca of Milwaukee, WI. I bet Knockmealdown Porter would be amazing. Also, a chocolate stout would be super.

To go with the cake, I decided to make malted barley ice cream, which has a lovely malted flavour (think super vanilla malted milkshake), and pairs supremely with the smoky, porter-y, chocolate-y cake. I bought the roasted, malted barley from a home-brew shop and steeped the grains in the custard before straining, adding a scoop of malted milk powder and churning.

Enough with all the seriousness already, have a slice of chocolate cake.

I am!

Smoky {Dark Chocolate} Porter Cake

3 ounces/85g high quality unsweetened dark chocolate, chopped

2 1/4 cups/280g all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 tsp mixed spice (pumpkin spice works the same)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) salted butter, room temperature

1 1/4 cups/250g plus 3 tablespoons sugar

3 large eggs, separated

1 1/4 cup/350ml extra smoky porter, (or regular or chocolate stout)

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F/170C. Butter and flour two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides or 4 mini cake pans like I did. Line bottom of each cake pan with parchment paper round; butter and flour parchment.

Put chopped chocolate, butter and beer in medium metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of barely simmering water and stir until the mixture is melted and smooth. (smells wonderful) Remove bowl from over water and set aside.

Whisk 11/4 cups (250g) sugar, flour, baking powder, mixed spice, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Add egg yolks 1 at a time to (lukewarm) melted chocolate, butter, beer mixture beating until well blended after each addition. Beat flour mixture into chocolate mixture in 2 additions just until incorporated.

Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites and remaining 3 tablespoons sugar in another medium bowl until stiff but not dry. Fold 1/3 of egg whites into cake batter to lighten, then fold in remaining egg whites in 2 additions.

Divide batter between prepared cake pans (about 3 cups for each); smooth tops.

Bake cakes until tester inserted into centers comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Transfer cakes to racks and cool in pans 20 minutes. Invert cakes onto racks; remove parchment paper and cool completely.

Dark Chocolate Espresso Buttercream

4oz/114g high quality unsweetened dark chocolate, chopped

2 teaspoons instant espresso powder

3 tablespoons milk

1 cup (2 sticks)/227g butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

4 cups/500g powdered sugar

Place chocolate in medium metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of barely simmering water and stir until melted and smooth. Dissolve instant coffee in milk in glass measure. Beat butter, vanilla extract and salt in large mixing bowl for 3 minutes. Beat in melted chocolate until blended, scraping occasionally. Gradually beat in powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in coffee mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time, until desired spreading consistency.

Malted Barley Ice Cream

2 cups/475ml double cream

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

2/3 cup (90 g) malt powder

½ cup/100g roasted malted barley grains

1 cup/240ml whole milk

3/4 cup (150 g) sugar

pinch of salt

6 large egg yolks

Whisk the cream, vanilla and malt powder in a large heatproof bowl and set a mesh strainer over the bowl.  Combine the whole milk, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan and heat just until warm.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks in a bowl. Slowly add the warm milk mixture to the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Pour back into the saucepan and set over medium heat. Stir constantly until the mixture thickens enough to create a custard that coats the back of a wooden spoon. Pour through the strainer into the malt powder mixture and stir to combine. Add the roasted barley grains and let steep for 30 minutes. Strain again.

Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled (overnight is best). Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Slan Abhaile,


Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2012

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Mmmmm. Fresh yogurt. Crunchy granola. Boo Berries.

BUT, before I go into all of that crazy goodness, I’d like to express my GINORMOUS thanks to all that voted for this blog in the Saveur Magazine Best Food Blog Awards. Voting is closed and the winners will be announced on May 3rd. If you voted, it was very generous and kind of you, if you didn’t, I get that too; signing up to vote in a contest is not everyone’s cup-o-tea. I’m just delighted that you take the time to read my funny little country-living/food-loving diary. It’s a labour of love.

I really must say that I am especially grateful to Bord Bia {the Irish food board}, Marie-Claire Digby of the Irish Times, The Irish Farmer’s Journal and Irish Country Mag, along with the amazing food and blogging community in Ireland who shared an overwhelming show of support in getting the word out about this nomination. If there is one thing I have noticed that Ireland does with great pride and enthusiasm, it is supporting the people, places or things they believe in. To receive this gesture of support as an American living in Ireland is something to relish; it is heartwarming and very special to say the least. Plus, it goes a long way in making an oft homesick expat feel right at home, and that is enough of a win for me! Thank you.

I apologise for not having a post up sooner. As luck would have it, we’ve had sketchy internet. I am not going to flannel on about it, because we are lucky that we even have a fast internet connection most of the time. This was not always the case. When I moved here just a few years ago, there was dial-up. The kind where you hear the dial tone and worse-than-nails-on-a-blackboard screeching sounds. Now, we have wi-fi, but the router is located in the cowshed at the upper farmyard because it picks up a better signal from there. Which is brilliant, until rains too much {cough} we don’t get a signal. Yes, it rains fairly often. (see Fair Weather Friend)

So. Homemade yogurt. Something I probably would have never dreamed of attempting, but when you have an Irish dairy on your doorstep and the nearest supermarket is 3/4’s of an hour away, it makes no sense whatsoever NOT to milk it. This post is not groundbreaking. There are already bags of other food blogs + websites featuring DIY yogurt. It’s like a bubbling pot of live bacteria out there. So, I am not going to claim that my version is the best, but I do know that our 6 year old prefers it over fromage frais which is nothing short of monumental. I personally think the trick is vanilla bean. Takes down that tang.

And, besides the cracking taste; other mightly fine reasons for making your own yoghurt are:

  1. It’s healthier as it contains no extra preservatives, sugars or additives {i.e. gobbledy-gook}
  2. It’s less expensive {even if you’re not farming}
  3. It’s friendlier to the environment {no trees will be harmed}

As far as the granola, it’s as simple as A. my go-to gorgeous Kilbeggan Oats roasted with B. my beekeeping father-in-law’s happy honey, and C. a few other nutty & seedy bits and bobs thrown in for good measure. Of course, you can use any brand of oats and honey from the shop or market. Easy peasy.

Sharing these recipes can only mean I’ve formally become “crunchy” right?  Okay, maybe halfsies; I did go out to a fancy city dinner wearing makeup and Michael Kors last week, so perhaps I’m just a partial granola girl.

Either way, I’m down with it.

Are you?

Farmhouse Yoghurt

2 Liters or 1/2 gallon of milk

(I use full fat from our dairy for a delightfully creamy result,

but you can buy organic milk of any fat content from the

market as well)

125 ml/ ½ cup of plain yogurt

(to be used a starter, store-bought & must have “live bacteria

cultures” on label)

1 teaspoon vanilla pod seeds

Stainless steel saucepan

Candy Thermometer

Over low heat, slowly bring the milk up to 77°C/170°F in saucepan with a candy thermometer. Do not allow the milk to boil at any time. Once your milk reaches 77°C/170°F, turn off the heat and bring the temperature back down to 43°C/110°F. Once your milk has reached 43°C/110°F, stir a little bit of the warm milk into the 125 ml/½ cup of plain yogurt.

Pour the milk and yogurt mixture into to the saucepan and gently stir them together. Stir in vanilla seeds.

Now it is time to incubate the yogurt. You will need to keep it at a temperature of about 110°F for the next 4-10 hours. The length of time will depend on how thick and tangy you want your yogurt. The longer it sits at this warm temperature, the firmer and tangier it will get. Check the yogurt at the 4 hour mark for a taste and texture test, if you are pleased you can move onto chilling.

I recommend putting the lid onto the saucepan of yogurt, wrapping it up in towels and placing into an oven which was preheated to 50°C/120°F and then turned off. (You can try to maintain the heat in the oven by leaving the light on, which can generate enough heat to keep the yogurt active, but I find keeping the pan cosy in towels should do the trick). All ovens are not the same so play it by ear. I have also read about using a crock-pot, heating pad or, of course, a yogurt maker as well.

When the desired time is up, place the yogurt in the fridge to chill. After the yogurt is completely chilled, stir. There may be a film over the top, which you can eat or simply remove. Pour yogurt into airtight containers and store. (remember to save some to use as your next starter.) Then poon into a dish, cover in granola & fresh berries and DEVOUR.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen x

Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2012

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