"The Farmette Cookbook and Imen McDonnell get 5 fabulous stars!"
—Books & Benches
It brings me great pleasure to welcome Imen McDonnell, the creative talent behind the blog, Farmette.ie and The Farmette Cookbook. I first discovered Imen's blog a year after she started to share her stories and adventures about moving from the USA to settle in with her Irish farmer far from home. Her stories are poignant, humorous, and beautifully written, not to mention the stunning visual glimpses she offers of her farm and Ireland.
“Imen has beautifully captured the rich heritage of Irish farmhouse cooking and cast a 21st century spell on it!”
—Catherine Fulvio, author and award-winning proprietor of Ballyknocken House & Cookery School
5 QUESTIONS FOR IMEN MCDONNELL
From her Irish farm to your hearts and homes.
"If you have not yet visited Ireland and tasted its authentic foods, you'll want to after reading Imen's new cookbook. Living on an Irish farm has never looked this attractive. What a charming and delicious book!"
—Béatrice Peltre, author of La Tartine Gourmande
Without further ado . . .
MK: I’ve been a long-time fan of your blog, back when it was I Married An Irish Farmer, into what it’s become—Farmette. I’ve enjoyed reading about your adventures on the farm. Can you tell us what inspired you to start blogging and share your stories?
IMEN: Ironically, my blog was initially born out of a place of sorrow and survival and searching…we had just moved into our home on the farm when my father suddenly became very ill in the USA so I essentially dropped everything and headed home to care for him. We returned to Ireland 4 months later, mourning his shocking death. I suddenly I felt very alone in the Irish countryside, tending to a baby while my husband spent 14 hours days on the farm trying to catch up after being away for so long. I can still remember my first blog post, I was desperately reaching out to connect with family, friends, anyone and everyone who would listen! Soon after, I made it a personal strategy to always find and share the best of times on the farm, to really find the humour and beauty in my new life. I needed to do that for myself. To remind myself of all the good things about my new life. If I didn’t, I knew I wouldn’t make it in Ireland no matter how much I wanted to be here with Richard.
MK: I believe I speak for more than myself when I say you've inspired many with how you found a way to make such a major (and wonderful) shift. I’m not alone in envisioning what it would be like to live on a farm in the Irish countryside. While it sounds idyllic and magical, life on a busy farm can’t always be easy. Will you share with us one of the challenges you’ve faced and overcome? What about one of the greatest joys?
IMEN: Firstly, I must be said that I cannot imagine living full time anywhere else at this point. The raw beauty and organic quality of life in the Irish countryside is unparalleled. The quiet. The connection to nature. These things are now imperative to have in my life. The city bustle and convenience are not as important. This has evolved over the years; it used to be the opposite. I couldn’t sleep as it was too quiet and dark at night. Everything took too long. It looks messy. It can be smelly. The biggest challenge has been trying to reinvent myself here and adjust to country life. To redefine “making a living.” I did not realize how much my career in the USA defined me. My background was in broadcast production. I presumed I would be able to live on the farm and have steady freelance production work in Ireland. I was encouraged by the fact that I landed a brilliant position on a popular tv series here almost immediately. But, after the production ended there was no more work locally. I was a new mom. Then my father passed away. I felt stripped of my identity in so many ways. For the next couple if years, I tried lots of new fangled stay-at-home mom business ideas (babywear design, a young mums travel/food app, using our home as a film location, etc etc) all while writing my blog about all the funny changes I was experiencing.
When Geoffrey was old enough, we started going to the farm to feed calves together. On the first day, there was a sick calf and we both felt so delighted that we got her to take milk. When we came back the next day, she hadn’t made it overnight. I was devastated. I brought Geoffrey into the farm kitchen with Gran and went back out to the corner of the shed and stood there literally hunched over heaving crying. I felt like I lost a baby myself. I felt responsible for not being able to save her. I had never considered the fact that animals can die on a farm. Later that day, I watched two calves being born in the field. I weeped tears of joy over how beautiful it was to witness this act of birthing and the incredible love and pride of the mother with her offspring afterward. A farm can be a very emotional place. The cycle of life is profound and always looming.
Above all, I think my greatest joy has come by way of growing my extensive kitchen garden and learning my way around the kitchen with Geoffrey by my side. Sowing seeds and seeing them grow is so fulfilling, and something I never imagined I would be doing or enjoying so much. Cooking and baking and sharing food with family and friends is what really makes me happy. I love nothing more than a convivial farm feast using as many ingredients as possible that have been grown in our back garden and the fields of the farm. It must be the most satisfying feeling ever.
(As an aside, I am always inspired by this Thoreau quote which feels so relatable to me: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear.”)
MK: Okay, you just had my eyes tearing up there! What lovely memories you've created from what began as challenges. Now, I have to ask more about the food! You often talked about food and cooking on the farm, but at some point there was a shift in your blog, with a more culinary focus. Were you always a foodie, or did that come from living on the farm?
IMEN: I always very particular about food, but in a consumer type of way. I did love to entertain and cook sprawling fancy cookbook/food mag-style spreads for friends and loved ones, but there was a rare opportunity for me to do that. I was very busy with work and a lot of travel. I would often find myself in a Michelin starred restaurant in my work travels which was always gratifying. When I was home, my fridge would be stocked with ingredients from the gourmet grocer and/or the local co-op. I bought local without putting much thought into what “local” meant, I simply associated local foods with quality. So, becoming a bonafide cook really came after I moved to the farm, when it was necessary (and ultimately happily and wholeheartedly embraced) by proxy.
MK: The Farmette Cookbook is one of the most beautifully designed cookbooks I’ve seen in a long time, and you were the photographer! What was the process of both cooking and photographing like?
IMEN: Thank you! I am really proud of the book and love how it looks. I feel so fortunate that Roost hired one of the best book designers in the business, Shubhani Sarkar. (http://sarkardesignstudio.com) She came to my book launch in Brooklyn and was so gracious and lovely! I am in awe of her work. Yes, I took all of the photos and my great friend, Sonia Mulford Chaverri, came to Ireland to work with me on the food styling so I had fantastic help! We shot and styled 5-6 recipes a day, sometimes more, but because many of them were shot on location on the farm, the process took a bit longer. It was intense, a total learning curve, but just incredible and an unforgettable life experience.
MK: You also contribute to other publications in addition to the Farmette blog. Where else can readers learn more about you, your recipes, and your farm adventures?
IMEN: I am a member of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild and have contributed to several magazines and newspapers including to Condé Nast Traveler (USA) and Town and Country Magazine (UK), but have mostly been busy doing interviews since the book release this spring! I am currently in talks to resume an Irish newspaper column that I used to pen, and looking at doing a series of short films from the farm and my kitchen. Update on those soon!
Thank you, Imen, for spending a little time with us and sharing a bit about your farm life and your lovely work on The Farmette Cookbook. For readers who would like learn more about and connect with Imen, visit Farmette.ie. or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
You can also read my review of this fabulous cookbook! Whether for a gift or yourself, this cookbook is a lovely addition to any kitchen library.
Imen McDonnell and her handsome farmers.
The Farmette Cookbook:
Recipes and Adventures from My Life on an Irish Farm
“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
American city girl marries Irish dairy farmer; cooking, growing, foraging, fishing, preserving, and baking ensue: 150 delightful classic Irish recipes updated for the modern home cook. The Farmette Cookbook documents Imen McDonnell's extraordinary Irish country cooking journey, which began the moment she fell in love with an Irish farmer and moved across the Atlantic to County Limerick. This book's collection of 150 recipes and colorful stories chronicles nearly a decade-long adventure of learning to feed a family (and several hungry farmers) while adjusting to her new home (and nursing a bit of homesickness). Along the way she teaches us foundational kitchen skills and time-honored Irish traditions, sharing wisdom from her mother-in-law and other doyennes of Irish cooking. We learn the ritual of Sunday lunch, pudding, and tea. We go along with her on wild crafting walks--the country version of foraging for wild edibles. We visit her local fishmonger to see what we can create with his daily catch from the sea. Along the way we see how she's deviated from classic Irish recipes to add contemporary or American twists. The Farmette Cookbook is a compilation of tried-and-true recipes with an emphasis on local, fresh ingredients and traditional Irish kitchen skills, which for Imen have healed homesickness and forged new friendships.
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Roost Books
Publication Date: March 8, 2016
Imen McDonnell is an American cook, writer, and farmer who contributes to Irish Country Magazine, Condé Nast Traveler and more. In a former life, she spent her days working in broadcast production while living in New York, Minneapolis and Los Angeles. She now resides with her husband, Richard, and their young son, Geoffrey, on a centuries-old farm in rural Ireland and shares illustrious stories of farm life & food on her popular blog, Farmette.ie.
Imen and her modern Irish recipes have been featured in The New York Times, The Irish Times, The Sunday Times (UK) The Los Angeles Times, Food and Wine Magazine, Huffington Post Taste, Saveur Magazine and more.