An Irish Reuben?

18 Dec 2012

This was too impossible not to share straight away.

I will keep it brief. I’ve been trying to make sense of Irish *spiced beef* ever since I bought a silverside of it on a whim one December afternoon in 2008. It’s meant to be boiled. I’ve done that. Both in water and in stout. It’s meant for Christmas. Why, I am not sure. It’s savoury and clove-y, but not really spicy nor evocative of the holiday season through my expat lens. I have always felt that it was distinctively like pastrami or corned beef in texture and flavour, but when I broached this with friends and family  no one knew what I was talking about. Do people eat it with potatoes? Meh. Or salad? Meh-Meh. Do you eat it warm? Cold? Never could sort it.

Until this week.

On impulse I bought yet another cut of it on Sunday after seeing a tantalizing piece on last week’s Ear to the Ground featuring my butcher friend, Pat Whelan. I had used up the last of our garden cabbage for sauerkraut about 6 weeks ago, and it was prime for the taking. So, I put it all together and made a Katz deli-style reuben.

And, lo and behold, it worked!

I have mentioned before that I am a tried and true sandwich girl. This beautiful creation sent me straight back to deli days in NY. We’ve been eating our “Irish Reubens” all week and when it is gone, we will wait until next Christmas when the spiced beef makes an appearance again because that will make it that much more special. {Unless, I get creative and start to cure my own….mwahahahahaha}

Boil then simmer the spiced beef half an hour to the pound. Leave it to cool completely in the pan…if your house stays cool enough, leave it in the pan overnight for super moist and tender results. It will be beyond gorgeous sliced thinly + paired with a couple wedges of David Tiernan’s Glebe Brethan Gruyere style cheese  + homemade kraut.  Dublin’s Bretzel Bakery’s caraway rye does the trick and of course, good ole’ 1000 island dressing is key. Layer it all up between two slices and grill.

All I can say is: Just Do It.

Christmas Puds and Tipsy Cake are on deck….stay tuned.

Slan Abhaile,


Photo by Imen McDonnell 2012. Book in background Rose Bakery Paris by Phaidon

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Foreward: This is a continuation of “From Jet-Set to Farmette, Part I and II”, which you can read here and here. Often people ask just how exactly myself and himself met, so I thought it would be handy if I put together a little series of posts laying out the low-down with as many details as can tastefully be shared. If you are not into sappy love stories, I’d give it a skip.

Over the next year, I racked up many frequent-flyer miles travelling to Ireland where I was introduced to MDF’s* wonderful family and the farm. The farm was at once traditional and modern, with old stone buildings as well as Lely dairy milking robots. Despite becoming familiar with a whole new set of “fragrances”,  I was fascinated and felt great admiration for how their family farm worked as well as its deep history.  We toured all around the magical and extraordinary island of Ireland, which captured my heart just as much as the farmer himself.  During this time, we also spent two weeks together on the Amalfi Coast and Rome, Italy where we had unforgettable adventures and the most delicious food either of us had ever experienced.

Then it was his turn. He traveled back to my neck of the woods to meet family and more friends. Complete adoration. My father especially took a shine and told me that I was beginning to resemble the Cheshire Cat, which pleased him very much. My sweetheart even made his way to the Rocky Mountains for a long weekend to attend a friend’s wedding with me. It was official: we were in love.

Eventually the big decision had to be made. Who was going to relocate and when? If we were to continue our relationship, which we had every intention of doing, someone was going to be ousted from their secure little nest and make the move. As it turned out, that someone had to be me. My farmer would never leave his family business, which had been in existence for decades. He actually never told me he wouldn’t leave, but I felt couldn’t ask him to risk giving it all up and come to America to be with me in my rented, unstructured {i.e. crazy-fabulous} world. What if it didn’t work out? I couldn’t bear the thought of those consequences. Besides, I was a producer; surely I could get freelance work wherever I lived, right? {yes, this is where the love blindfold steps in}.

I felt sure that I would settle right in since I was a well-travelled and very adaptable person who treasured new experiences. There wouldn’t be a language barrier and I had finally become convinced that I was ready to trade my hectic life for a quiet life in the Irish countryside with my beloved farmer. We agreed that I would move to Ireland and if it didn’t work out he’d give it try in the USA. There was no choice, we could no longer live an ocean away from one another; we just had to be together.

One weekend, as we were enjoying a lazy loved-up Sunday afternoon in the Twin Cities, he lured me into Tiffany’s “just for the craic of it” and began asking me what type of rings and jewelry I fancied.  When we walked out of the store, I was giddy with excitement and couldn’t help but wonder what he had up his sleeve.

The next time I would see him, it would be in Manhattan. After a somewhat disappointing meal at Tavern on the Green, we decided to head back to our hotel.  I walked to the closet to hang up my coat and when I turned around, there he was, on one knee, with a ring box in hand. He proudly and nervously proposed to me, quietly and privately, right there in our room at the Tribeca Grand . I was smitten and stunned, and there was absolutely no question in my mind, so with tears in my eyes, I said, “yes, yes, yes!” {Remember that recent gallivant in Tiffany’s?}

We spent the rest of the weekend starry-eyed….discussing our amazing plans, hopes and dreams for our future together.

When I boarded the plane back to Minneapolis, I was the happiest girl in the world.

End of Part, III

Happy Valentine’s Day,


MDF = My Dashing Farmer

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Without even knowing, I first met Helen some years ago when we both happened to be living in NYC.  At the time, I worked for a television series that was filmed at NBC Studios in 30 Rockefeller Center.  After a long day of shooting, some of the crew + many other tv/film/casting people would head downtown to The Scratcher, the tiniest, yet most charming Irish pub in Manhattan. Helen would often be there with her rocker beau, (now husband) Mark Geary. The place was always abuzz; flowing equally with creative conversation and the Black Stuff.

Fast forward, Helen leaves behind the big fashion houses of New York and returns home to Ireland to design her own line of stunning clothing & accessories {her headpieces are absolutely priceless} and to start a family.  Later, I inadvertently reconnect with her via the extraordinary Eilis Boyle, whom I had met through the blogosphere. Turns out they are the best of friends. {For the record, I find this fantastically uncanny and delightful at once}

Very quickly I discovered that Helen is one of the most talented designers in Ireland. Not only is she a talented designer, but she has been a shepherd and mentor to young creatives and an avid supporter of local artistic enterprises as well as the Slow Food Movement. She has made remarkable contributions to the Irish creative community at large and her work has been nationally recognized by top Irish newpapers and magazines on a regular basis.

Helen recently made the decision to move back to New York and is currently designing for Donna Karan Home, utilizing yet another dimension of her imaginative and romantic eye. As is clear through the breadth of her work as well as the trappings of her blog­­­­­­, Helen has vision that reaches great lengths. In an interview for the Irish Sunday Business Post, she exclaimed,  “As long as my eyes are open, I’m working”. Clearly this statement applies to wherever she may find herself, from Ireland to just about anywhere in the world.

I asked Helen if she would share a little about herself and life back in the Big Apple to which she very politely and generously obliged.

So, with great pleasure, I give you, Helen James.

Hi Helen, can you please tell us where you are from originally….as in where/how did you spend your childhood days? And where do you reside now? Many Irish people who emigrate imagine themselves back in Ireland in later years, will you come back “home” to live here again?

I am from Dublin. I grew up on the grounds of the Chester Beatty Library when it was located at Shrewsbury Road. My Father was the Islamic Curator there. I remember, from a very young age, walking around the collection studying the Chinese wedding Robes and little carved snuff bottles. I am sure my love of textiles is born from this experience. My mother had (and still has ) impeccable taste. She was a flea market junkie long before it was fashionable. I can remember hiding in the car while she went through a skip, feeling absolutely mortified, but the scavenger gene rubbed off and now my kids are cowering while their mother rummages through other people’s detrius!  I lived in NY before for 10 yrs and returned to Ireland full of sentimental dreams…… now I am back in NY. Who knows where I will retire, I can’t really see myself growing old in NYC, but it depends on my family, wherever my 3 boys are I guess that’s where I’ll be too.

What do you see as the main differences between the Irish and American fashion industry?

I feel I do not have the authority to broadly compare the industry in Ireland and NY as my experiences were so different in the two places. In NY I worked for big fashion houses, I was mainly a freelancer, I devised textile works for them and then developed them into products, I also worked in the inspiration part of the business. I was involved purely in the creative area. When I returned to Ireland I had my own line……. anyone who owns their own business knows that this is a whole different scenario, so I cannot really compare my experience in one place with the other. I will say Ireland is an extremely difficult place to have your own fashion business! The market is small, and even though I sold internationally to places like Harvey Nichols you are relying on your local customer to keep the business ticking over. As far as I can see, there seems to be so much more support for designers in NY , through the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and other organisations.

You worked for Donna Karan before and now again. How is your experience different this time around? You certainly have an eye for interiors and garden, do you prefer homeware design to clothing?

This time I am more involved in the whole picture, the whole process from a spark of an idea scribbled on a napkin through to a finished bed with all the acoutrements, I am involved in every stitch, button and bead. I am loving working in home, as you know I have always been drawn to interiors and I am finally getting to express that. I have a lot to learn about the business but I work with a great team and they are helping me figure it all out.

Which Irish designers do you admire?

So many…

Tim Ryan knitwear.- such innovation, . I have known Tim for a long time and seen his work evolve. I believe he is only at the beginning of his journey.

Lucy Downes of Sphere One- Beautiful cashmere pieces that are classic but with a real edge. Lucy is a head down and get on with it girl and has a serious international business, but does not covet press and publicity. Her pieces are real investments

Peter O’Brien, Ireland should be so proud of this man and what he has achieved. I truly admire the work he has done with A-wear and now with Arnott-. It is easy (easier) to make an elegant collection with an unlimited budget but far more challenging when funds are finite

Eilis Boyle, simplicity, elegance and focus. I not only admire her work which is breathtaking but also very wearable, but she is one of my dearest friends and a constant inspiration

Who or what inspires you?

The truth is I am constantly inspired. Most creative people I know draw inspiration from everything around them. That is why we carry notebooks. Being in a city like NY is hugely inspiring, there is creativity all around you, the way people dress, shops, theatre. I realise that being around creative people is what truly inspires me.

Do you wear your own designs? How would you describe your personal style?

I do. My personal style?  I am very drawn to menswear for women, in my own style, I have always been a bit of a tomboy at heart, so, I will wear a little quilted silk bedjacket from my collection but with boy-cut suit pants and brogues.

Your clothing and accessory designs have been worn by many celebrities and models, do you design with a certain muse in mind?

No, I design mainly by draping and evolving the collection, so, last seasons top will evolve to next seasons dress, then there may be a new wrap the following season which has evolved from that. So each season begins where the last one left off. I constantly battled with the whole concept of “seasons” in Fashion.  For me creativity is a constant flow, it doesn’t stop and get thrown out and the slate wiped clean every 6 months.

What type of profession would you pursue if you weren’t a designer?

I am visual so if I wasn’t a designer I think I may have pursued photography or styling. Doing the shoots was always such a highlight for me I could have done one a week, had budget permitted

If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be?

If I could, I would divide my time between New York, Paris and Dublin, with a home in each!

What things do you miss about Ireland?

Family and Friends, Friends, Friends

What career advice would you give to young students currently studying fashion?

Work for someone else for at least 5 years before even considering setting up your own line. Believe in yourself, be prepared to work really really hard. Get involved because you love the work not the applause. If you are interested in making money become an investment banker.

Coffee or Tea?

coffee in the morning,
tea in the afternoon

You can keep up with Helen James here.

Slan Abhaile,


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