Nollaig Bheag Na Mban

06 Jan 2012

Today is Nollaig na mBan or Women’s Christmas. It’s a holiday celebrated here on the farm with great care and joy. I will never forget the first Little Christmas I celebrated here in Ireland when my father-in-law wore a polka-dot apron and served us a massive roast goose dinner from a heated retro hostess trolley. Let’s just say, I have photos.

The tradition of Little Christmas or Women’s Christmas is still very strong especially in the southwest of Ireland and is so called because Irish men are required to take on all the household duties for the day. Most women hold parties or go out to celebrate the day with their friends, sisters, mothers, and aunts. Bars and restaurants serve mostly women and girls on this night. Children often buy presents for their mothers and grandmothers. We usually have a lovely dinner made at the farm prepared by grandad who he also does all the cleaning for the day as well. While some people think this holiday should be binned, I think it is sweet, but could certainly be “celebrated” more than once a year!

This year, we are having a big ‘ould gorgeous roast duck for dinner complete with walnut stuffing and some beautiful side dishes, all inspired by the cookbook shoot that I styled last Spring.

Are you celebrating Little Christmas?

Roast Duck with Walnut Stuffing


3kg/5-6lb duckling

2 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp clear honey

2 tbsp plain flour

300 ml/ 1 cup of chicken stock

Salt & Pepper

Walnut Stuffing

1 tbsp oil

1 onion chopped

125g/1/2 cup chopped roasted walnuts

125g/1/2 cup fresh white breadcrumbs

Grated rind of one lemon

1 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley

1 tsp chopped marjoram

1 egg beaten


Preheat oven to 220c/425F/Gas Mark 7

Prepare stuffing first. Heat oil in pan and fry onion until soft

Stir in walnuts, breadcrumbs, lemon rind, parsley and marjoram. Season to taste.

Lightly beat egg and pour into the mixture to bind the stuffing

Dry the duck with kitchen paper and prick all over with a fine skewer

Fill the cavity of duck with stuffing, truss and set on wire rack in roasting pan

Mix the lemon juice and honey together and smear over duck

Sprinkle with salt and pepper

Place into hot oven for 10 minutes then lower heat to 190c/375f/Gas Mark 5 for a further 2-2.5 hours

Baste the bird several times during cooking

Leave to rest for 15 minutes

Use the duck fat drippings to make a lovely duck gravy

Happy Nollaig bheag na mban!


Photo by Moya McAllister, styled by Imen McDonnell 2011

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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)


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,


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

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Springtime brings new growth and here on the farm there are definitely some wonderful new things afoot, including baby calves by the day and soon we welcome new baby chicks and bid farewell to the last group {keep an eye out for our free range whole chickens in Dunnes Stores, labelled with R. McDonnell Farm}

On a personal + creative note, I will be taking the plunge on my first assignment as a food and prop stylist as we begin shooting an exciting new cookery book by master butcher, Pat Whelan, of James Whelan Butchers in Clonmel, County Tipperary.

If you are in Ireland, you are likely aware of Pat and his dynamic business model and ebullient personality.  If not, I think New Yorker turned Londoner and Jamie Oliver business partner, Adam Perry Lang, said it best when he visited Pat’s shop this week and exclaimed, “beyond inspired in Ireland, Pat Whelan Butcher shop has lit a fire. Shop is genius. Old School meets new school answer to industry. Star!!!”  Pat’s new book project is a follow-up to his first release which came out last year and was a great success. If all goes well, this book will be printed and distributed in the Autumn just in time for the holiday gift giving season.

Pat approached me in March at the Grow It Yourself IrelandButter Live event that I participating in with Ella McSweeney and Alan Kingston of Glenilen Farm He complimented this blog and asked if I would be interested in working on his book. Flattered and thrilled, I jumped at the opportunity and also put on my producer hat to assist him in sourcing the perfect photographer to be at the helm of shooting the gorgeous, meaty recipes that he put forward.

Ironically, I had been swapping emails with NYC-based photographer, Moya McAllister, about the prospect of coming over to work on a photo documentary on Irish rural living when I discovered that she also shoots beautiful food and had recently completed a stunning campaign for Bertolli in the USA.  When I asked if she would be interested, she didn’t miss a beat and said absolutely. Moya grew up in Long Island, NY, the daughter of Irish born and bred parents. Her talent with the camera and her passion for all things Irish make up the perfect ingredients for this cookery book shoot.

Our home has officially been transformed to a production kitchen & studio which we have affectionately coined “Farmhouse Productions”. We have put together a tiny production team including a tremendous talent (and one of my best girls), Sonia Mulford Chaverri, who has a great deal of experience working in studio production. Sonia just so happened to be on an extended Irish visit to lend a hand on our farmhouse restore project and will now be assisting me with styling.

Guess it was bound to happen, you can move the producer out of the city, but you can’t take the producer out of the producer…..even if you do live on a farm in the middle of the Irish countryside. And now, I add to my treasured production repertoire, a new adventure in food and prop styling……let the journey begin!

We will be shooting for nearly the entire month of May and I will be sharing brief blog posts about my experience {tweeting too}…hope you stay along for the ride.

Slan Abhaile,


Instagram photo taken by Moya McAllister at the Whelan Abbatoire, County Tipperary.

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