Forty shades of green

Mr McDonnell’s way

“Happy wife, happy life!” said Mr McDonnell as we drove (incredibly fast) in his Mercedes from Dublin to Limerick on a very grey but green afternoon in late October. It was his way of explaining why he had been prepared, on a Saturday, to drive 3 hours to Dublin airport and then 3 hours back, all the way to Glin castle on the other side of Ireland. It’s not that he’s not a busy man, as owner of a great big cow farm there are things to do, even on Saturdays, but “I’m always happy to help”. And three days later, as he drove us to the airport, albeit a closer one, we had come to understand that his mantra is true of many of the Irish in general. They are happy to help!

I had wanted to visit Ireland for most of my adult life and while it’s close enough to France, and even closer to England, where I lived for many years, I never had a good enough reason – sometimes you need a reason to do things, even things you desperately want to do. It turned out, in the end, that there were two reasons. Mr McDonnell’s wife, Imen, and her partner in crime Cliodhna. They’ve been doing their best for Ireland for years now, drawing attention to their respective home towns, local producers and traditions. Their joint enterprise, the beautifully named “Lens and Larder” is a collection of workshops usually co-hosted by them and people they invite, like Oddur and I, who also live and breathe in the world of food and photos.

The venue was irresistible, a real castle with a rich history and glorious gardens. The promise of days filled with cooking and eating and a historic pub that allegedly serves some of the best Guinness stout in Ireland – and not much else. The last part was enough to convince my husband, that and the fact that they’ve recently discovered in Iceland that their heritage is much less Norwegian than previously thought but considerably more Irish. A genetics company in Iceland, DeCode, has found through extensive studies that the Icelandic nation is comprised of around 80% Norwegian men and as much as 60-70% Celtic women. Maybe not the most romantic statistic, quite a brutal one actually, but it goes a long way to explaining why Icelanders look less like Swedes and more like, well, the Irish.

No sooner had we arrived at Glin castle before I was whisked away from my grand bedroom complete with a four-poster bed, an enormous, carpeted bathroom (incredibly practical when travelling with a 1-year-old) and a welcome bucket of Champagne to the loveliest dinner in the reddest of dining rooms. Our hosts that night were Catherine whose father was the last Knight of Glin and her actor husband Dominic West. We had started with a sloe gin cocktail (which I liked even if I am not a fan of gin) drunk out of teacups which was quite charming and eccentric, but soon moved on to the Bordeaux wine we had brought with us, several vintages of Château Lafon-Rochet – Merci Basile 🙂 – which everybody loved. When it comes to wine, nobody does it better than “us” Bordeaux people. The evening ended with a “professional” game of Charades, led of course by Dominic but by then I was safely tucked away in that four-poster bed, sleeping soundly with baby Lucian while the others moved on to Irish whiskey.

A pub and kitchen garden

Perhaps my favorite part of the entire weekend came the following morning when Catherine, a landscape gardener, took us on a tour of the family gardens, filled with centuries worth of exotic trees which, surprisingly, thrive perfectly well in rainy Ireland. She’s so passionate about her gardens, to which she’s adding and preserving, making it one of the missions of her life like her grandmother before her. Imagine an English/Irish beauty in a fairytale or a children’s book – that’s Catherine. My dearest souvenirs I take from her kitchen gardens. Classically seperated from the rest of the fields, so beautiful and practical at the same time – some of the best leafy greens and herbs I’ve ever had came from that garden and it’s inspired us to plant some new varieties in our own “potager” back home.

The huntsmen (and their children) came out in full uniform to greet us and while there was no actual hunt that day we had a fabulous huntsman lunch, complete with mackerel, ham and hot toddies. In the evening we had a pub dinner, oysters and Irish lamb stew. The music that night was traditional and beautiful but perhaps the most beautiful sentiment from that evening came from the pub’s owner or caretaker Thomas O’Shaughnessy. He inherited the place from his father, a legendary figure, and while it wasn’t particularly his dream to run a pub (he has another full-time job and only opens when he can), he considers himself the caretaker of the place and his duty to preserve it. Later I found this quote from Thomas in an article about the O’Shaughnessy pub : “O’Shaughnessy was the name above the bar when I got it. And it’ll be the name above it when I go. That’s all I can do”. This is an endearing thought to me and I found a lot of encouragement in Ireland – people seem to understand and value their heritage which is paramount in these times of globalisation and consumerism. It isn’t easy to run a small business and a small village. But it can and must be done, and we should all support it.

In the end we didn’t see much of Ireland, just a glimpse and a rosy, curated one at that. But we saw enough to want to come back very soon and one thing stands out above all – the green isle is truly green. Everything is so (in local speak) bloody green. I think I remember correctly that Imen’s husband told us Johnny Cash wrote his song “forty shades of green” as he was taking off in a plane and flying over Ireland. No wonder, that’s the impression you get, so so green and moist and inviting. Only thing is though, the shades are more like a million.

Johnny Cash’s song is beautifully written, here are the lyrics:

I close my eyes and picture
The emerald of the sea
From the fishing boats at Dingle
To the shores of Donadea

I miss the river Shannon
And the folks at Skibbereen
The moorlands and the meddle
With their forty shades of green

But most of all I miss a girl
In Tipperary town
And most of all I miss her lips
As soft as eiderdown

Again I want to see and do
The things we’ve done and seen
Where the breeze is sweet as Shalimar
And there’s forty shades of green

Green, green, forty shades of green

I wish that I could spend an hour
At Dublin’s churching surf
I’d love to watch the farmers
Drain the bogs and spade the turf

To see again the thatching
Of the straw the women glean
I’d walk from Cork to Larne to see
The forty shades of green

But most of all I miss a girl …

The ballad of Sam and Niamh

Two people who I haven’t mentioned yet but had a great, positive if gently quiet influence on our days in Ireland were Sam and Niamh. They live across the great river Shannon in county Clare but had come across for a few days to help out with Imen and Cliodhna’s workshop. They made us the best breakfasts, lunches and dinners, cocktails and hot toddies but most of all they were just lovely. He’s a real renaissance man, good with his hands as they say and she works wonders in the kitchen. I’m hoping to lure them over one day to teach us a trick or two (my husband could use a tip or two when it comes to gardening and carpentry) but as they’re expecting a baby that will probably have to wait. One of my favorite things they made was a crab salad served on a fresh endive – I might add that recipe to this post later on – but for now, here is their recipe for the traditional Irish soda bread that I couldn’t get enough of during my stay at Glin castle.

Traditional Soda Bread Recipe (see last picture in post)

Makes 1 loaf

Total time to make: 55 minutes


225 g/ 1 3/4 cupswhole wheat (wholemeal) flour
225 g/ 1 3/4 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
50 g/ 3 tablespoons/ mixed seeds, such as sesame, pumpkin, or sunflower, or golden flax seeds (linseeds) (optional)
25 g/ 2 tablespoons butter, softened (optional)
1 egg
375–400 ml/ 1 2/3 cups buttermilk or soured milk

Preheat the oven 180C/ 350F

Mix dry together and then rub in butter and add wet all in one, knead as little as possible. Sprinkle with seeds or oats on top and slit with a serrated knife down the middle. Just like a cake get it into the tin and in the oven ASAP

Bake at 180C/ 350F for 45 mins.

Stick in a pin in the middle and if it comes out clean, it’s done.

Cool on rack before serving.

Onwards and upwards

Those who are interested in finding out more about what Imen and Cliodhna (or Climen as my husband likes to call them) can go to their site lens & larder. They are always plotting something and might even lure us back to Ireland in the spring – which is very tempting, we’ll see 🙂

On another note, it’s worth mentioning that Glin castle, which has had many lives – one as a hotel – is potentially up for event letting, meaning that if you’re interested to head to Ireland with a sizeable group and play castle for a few days, then that’s utterly possible. It’s a dream I might add.

And finally, regarding our own workshops here in Médoc (and elsewhere) since we announced last summer we’ve had an overwhelming response and most touchingly over 100 requests from people who want to or are at least considering returning. Many workshops are completely full but some have a little leverage (sometimes people change their plans etc) – so if you’re interested don’t hesitate to write and we’ll see what we can do.

82 thoughts on “Forty shades of green

  1. Hello Mimi ! so happy to see your posting this morning !had been a while ! I am just leaving California to spend the Holidays in my summer country home in the Landes region (Herm ) , I am bringing with me one of your cookbooks for inspiration ! I might take a spin into the Medoc !very Happy Holidays to you and gang !!Cheers

  2. A wonderful email to find in my inbox this morning. Your pictures and text are always “just right”. I hope to get to one of your workshops someday. Thanks for sharing your fabulous life.

  3. Mimi,
    What a wonderful surprise to find you in my “mail.” I have missed your “musings.”
    Nothing “warms the soul” more than being able to unwrap something beautiful…Thank you for this “gift” on this cold November morning.
    I don’t know what it is about Manger but it is always so heartfelt and beautifully written. And Oddur’s pictures are wonderful.
    You have this way of “enchanting” your readers with noteworthy places and share with us the “charming” people who continue to embrace their enduring legacy.
    Your soft embrace of moments and memories ALWAYS leave me with a smile on my face.
    La vie est belle!

  4. Ireland does indeed enchant and it was a treat to read your blog post as I listen to Irish Christmas tunes while doing Thanksgiving preps . I was there many years ago and visited some distant family and will return soon I hope – it looks like it was a great success for all involved !

  5. Hello, hello. Welcome back! Always a delight that you share your travels. Yes, the green of Ireland is almost impossible to describe. Hope your garden for winter is ready to offer sumptuous bounty. We, in Australia, are moving into summer. I have 2 very useful books near my kitchen.

  6. Love the pictures and stories! Definitely a different feel and look from your worlds of France and Italy! Homey and earthy!

  7. Fabulous to read another post from you! The Emerald Isle, how I love it, my husband’s childhood home was in Co. Galway. The little boy on the pony looks less than happy! Wonderful photos as always. We were going to come and see you at Gordon Ramsey’s in Bordeaux on Saturday but as always seems to be the way with a big family, someone else had something more pressing planned and it never quite worked out! Susan x

  8. Beautiful photos!! We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in Ireland this summer – all along the Wild Atlantic Way. From Kinsale to Dingle, it was all magical, earthy, filled with music & good food, breathtaking views and definitely green! Following your Ireland story on Instagram was a treat, as always – you & Oddur fit so well into a Lens & Larder event. But, of course, having one of your blog posts to read through is the best ! Big holiday dinners starting this week, amazing how your recipes have brought new traditions to my table. Lots of love to you & your beautiful family, Mimi – xx Linny

    1. Hello dearest Linny,

      Thank you for being so warm and kind, I can always feel your happy soul everytime I hear from you! Ireland is magical and so authentic, I loved my short stay and longing for more! Wishing you the happiest thanksgiving. Mimi x

  9. What a glorious story and photos to wake up to this morning. I have missed your stories and your husband’s photos. Lovely to have further insight into your trip to Ireland that I had followed avidly on instagram

    1. Thank you Paola. It was such a thrill to discover Glin Castle and all the lovely gang I stayed with. I caught a small but beautiful glimpse of Ireland, lost in time and beauty! Mimi x

  10. I kept wonderful culinary memories from my Irish days. Hope to meet you and your lovely family in Morvan
    ( Burgundy) not so far from Lacanche …

  11. A FEAST for the EYES and ENCHANTMENT All the way through……
    Since, I married a 100% ITALIAN I need to get myself to IRELAND as well……as his last name is KIRKPATRICK!
    Don’t ASK!!!!!!Maybe one day I will explain on the BLOGGY!

  12. Hi Mimi, it is wonderful to see you back here miss your posts and adventures.
    Beautiful photos of Ireland love their nature, castles and farms. I am sure you enjoyed Imen, she is so lovely I admire her a lot.
    PS I emailed you last sept and Oct concerning your workshops but didn’t get a reply yet,
    Best wishes and much love
    Rowaida xx

  13. Hi Mimi,

    This really seemed a beautiful trip and cooperation. So close to what you stand for, I can imagine your days in Ireland where very inspiring and magical.
    Bis, Saskia

  14. Wow, what a delight for me! You really killed two birds with one stone for me Mimi. Firstly, it’s so nice to see a blog post from you. They are always an interesting read – you have a way of weaving words, not just recipes together. But also on this occasion since I am Irish myself, this post of course is extra special. I am so happy you enjoyed your trip. I hope you got a chance to taste the cream there. I live in Germany now and loved in England for a while too and I’ve never eaten cream like it either in a place I’ve lived or travelled to. It’s nectar from the gods, at least in my opinion and no doubt related to those millions of fields, a million shades of green. Thank you for such a treat on Monday evening.


  15. Hi Mimi, I’m new to your blog and just bought your cook book. I absolutely love the book and you blog! I was curious about the workshop that you talked about and wanted to know how do I get information about that?

  16. Love the post and the way you enjoyed Ireland. To me its exactly the forty shades of green that’s so inviting and inspiring. Hoping you will be back for more.

  17. Great post Mimi! Although it was a short visit for you and your husband, you grasp the heart of how I see and feel Ireland. I lived in Ireland for many years, just moved from there last year and I absolutely love the country, culture and the people… and yes genetically they are close to us Icelanders. In fact one of the magnificent Icelandic settlers a woman named “Aud the Deepminded” was before fleeing to Iceland, the Queen of Dublin and her husband Olaf the White was one of the founders of Dublin. I live in Denmark now, but always miss The fair green isle a lot. Luckily I go often with my clients and am blessed to have the opportunity to show them around and introduce them to the greatness of the country. I truly hope you will be able to visit again. County Cork has for instance amazing food trails, that I am sure you would like. Best to you and your familiy.

    1. Thank you for sharing all these wonderful stories. When I first went to Iceland, I made sure to read a few Icelandics saga tales to give me a magical and historical background of the country. Ireland has so many of Iceland’s elements, i always told Oddur how the landscape reminded me so much of Iceland. Lucky you to have lived there! Now I have to read more about Aud the Deepthinker, I like her already! Mimi x

  18. You’ve captured the beauty of Glin Castle in both words and photographs. I love the misty autumn beauty, and oh, the greens! Thank you for a lovely post. It’s been too long!

  19. Hello Mimi! This is absolutely breathtaking! The vegetation in that garden is amazing – Looks more like South America than Ireland! And that little boy is the cutest! He reminds me of my son when he was much younger. Thank you for sharing your beautiful words & Oddur’s photos!

    Best wishes! -Rebecca

  20. Delighted to read one of your posts again. Can you clarify what type of tin you used for the soda bread, please? A loaf tin?

  21. Just stunning!! My daughter and I spent over a month in Ireland last August and absolutely loved it– of course we didn’t get hosted in any castles… next time! My partner is half Irish but grew up in Costa Rica (his father is from Ireland). Although he holds an Irish passport, he has never been to ‘the mother land”! We’re planning a trip this coming summer to visit his relatives, road trip, and chase the craic. Thank you for sharing your experiences, the Emerald Isle is truly enchanting.

  22. Loved reading about your wonderful time in Ireland and looking at the beautiful pictures. I will be making your Roquefort walnut Gougeres tomorrow as we wait for the turkey to roast. Wishing you and your wonderful family a very Happy Thanksgiving.🦃🍁

  23. Hello Mimi, thank you for your inspiring posts! I started to read Manger in 2015, being pregnant with my second son, and it was so… comforting and amazing, like a fairytale before going to bed: your beautiful family, beloved home in Medoc, and of course nice recipes for great moments at the table. We like travelling by car in Europe in summer, I hope we could visit some of your workshops one day.

  24. Hola Mimi!! Le felicito por su excelente y original blog!! Me encanta todo!!! : la comida, el paisaje, las fotos, los cultivos , etc. Una Feliz Navidad y un excelente Año Nuevo 2018!!!

  25. Thank you for sharing your wonderful time in Ireland. Can you update us about your online magazine? Thanks.

  26. Bonjour Mimi, always a delight to see your blog show up in my email Although I am a few days late reading your latest posting, it’s such a delight to read about what you and Oddur and the family had been up to. what a lovely time you had in Ireland and glad you enjoyed it. Wishing you well!

  27. Hi Mimi I’ve been your fan for quite some time now though I’ve never posted. Love everything about your blog. The style the pictures and above all the children dogs and oh the food!
    I’m writing to you from India , not sure how many you have reading from here. .
    I tried out your stuffed chicken with rosemary and thyme with wine sauce – my husband simply loved it. Wish I could post a pic for you to see.
    I have a request- could you post more vegetarian recipes.
    Love what you do .the way you do. And why you do it. Truly inspirational.
    Keep it up. Keep up the blog.

  28. Hello Mimi,

    Thankyou for making all our festivities special by giving us beautiful dishes to create. We made your vanilla chestnut cake for NYE and everyone loved it. We play your music recommendations too and it just adds more magic! We can’t wait to meet you at a workshop hopefully this year. Lucette still adores your TV shows as much as she did at six months of age! I have wanted to buy a locket to put her dear little face in since birth and I am still searching. Where did you find this one you are wearing in the photo? Wishing you and your family a wonderful new year. Kate xo

    1. Happy new year! So sweet to hear about Lucette! Glad you enjoyed the cake, and the playlist! I found the locket in Torino, in a little antique store… perhaps you can find one on ebay? It’s such an old-fashioned style. Mimi x

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