American-born Ciara Cullen tells Áine Ryan about festivities at her Clare Island home, which encompasses Macalla Farm and Yoga Retreat centre
An alternative Christmas
“HERE at Macalla farm, celebrations over the Christmas season often extend beyond our immediate family, Theo (9) and Maud (6). My partner Christophe’s (Mouze) family lives in France and mine in America, so our extended family often includes those who stay on the farm (‘woofers’). This year we will be joined by a Japanese girl and a Swedish girl.
They have helped us in the gardens and polytunnels, with our small flock of milking sheep and our herd of horses, as well as with the running of various courses at our retreat centre.
We have a special day on the Solstice, December 21, when we take the horses and ponies out for a ride through the hills up to the lighthouse, or go for a long walk along the storm beach and then back through Lassau, a magical native woodland of birch, holly and hazel. It is the season to invite nature into the home: the holly and ivy and other berries and grasses and leaves have already decorated our house and the centre. Later in the evening, we exchange gifts and have a Solstice dinner prepared with ingredients produced on the farm. Living on an island and as close to nature as we do gives an extra dimension to this day when the cycle of life moves at last from darkness towards light.
THIS year, we will be running two yoga courses during the Christmas period, so the Solstice celebration is our very special time with the kids. For our guests, our remote and windswept island location provides a refuge from the excessive commercialism and stress which has become the norm for many at this time of year. In addition to the daily yoga sessions, guests join us for brunch and dinner.
During their free time, they can brave the elements and explore the island, or just sit in front of the wood burning stoves and read in accommodation separate to our own house. All year round we place great importance on the quality of the food we eat and at Christmas this emphasis becomes even more evident. We are both passionate about food and feel that how we eat is a reflection of who we are. We are vegetarian and use organic, local, or fair trade ingredients.
We produce all the vegetables that we use on our courses and for our own table, as well as some of our spices and even grain. We also preserve our garden surplus in the form of lacto-fermented vegetables, jams, chutneys, juices and country wines. We make our own cheese and yoghurt from our Friesland/Texel milking sheep and even have a hive for honey. We make our own sourdough bread and this year, for the first time, we are using Irish grown biodynamic wheat. Other foodstuffs are sourced as locally as possible, including delicious country butter from Bernie Winters, who lives on the other side of the island.”
Christmas dinner at Macalla Farm
Pumpkin stuffed with (our own home-grown) quinoa mixed with herbs and nuts
Celeriac gratin with garlic, red chilis and sheep’s cheese
Tuscan kale crisps, roasted ocas,
Salads of Jerusalem artichokes with wild rocket and red cabbage, carrot with a ginger dressing
Chocolate and apple cake served with blackcurrant coulis.
Elderflower champagne and mulled blackcurrant and blackberry juice