Errrr…this Manger workshop post is a LONG one! I’d suggest grabbing a cuppa, or a glass of wine before tackling it.
Oh boy, turns out my “Manger Diaries” have been super hard to put together but, a year ago today was the last day of the wonderful workshop chez Mimi and Oddur and, by way of a reminiscent celebration, by hook or by crook this post WILL be up today*.
I think one of the reasons that it has been so hard for me to finish this post (is NOT because I’m a lazy arse) is that the workshop turned out to be incredibly important for me and had such a restorative effect on me. I mean, I knew that I would love it and that the food would be glorious and everything would be beautiful but I had also hoped that a little of Mimi’s wonderful elegance – in character as well as asthetically, would rub off on me and it did, but I couldn’t have realised what an impact those few days would have on me. When I headed out to France, my ex and I had gotten ourselves into really quite a bad place and were close to being unable to communicate with each other, I’m not sure how we let that happen but that’s where we were. Whilst sitting around the dinner table one evening with the group of people I’d only just met yet still feeling surrounded by love and friendship, I had an “aha” moment, I absolutely did not want to be enemies with my ex, one of the most important and most loved people in my life. I hastened home (finishing the workshop first, bien sur) and determined that this was one friendship I could and would not lose. My ex was the first person I called when I got back and…, we’ve never looked back! Haha…No. That’s not quite how it’s gone and, therein lies my problem with finishing off this post. I wanted to write about how the workshop “cured me”, which is what I used to say, of my anger and sadness and all that goes with a breakup of this magnitude but, the truth is, it didn’t. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs over the last few months and realistically that’s to be expected after such a long time and for some reason that has stopped me from saying goodbye to Manger. But, I often tap back into that feeling I had when I KNEW that the way we were behaving was not the way we wanted to go and that helps me right myself when things go awry now – so, in a way…the workshop DID cure me!
Anyway, it was fine food and wine, lots of cooking, excursions, fun and laughter and, above all else exquisite company. It was also a year ago so…..in no particular order (and with slight misrememberings probably)…
Tales of why we were the worst group EVER!
These endive tartlets were made on the first workshop Mimi ran and when I saw them I knew I had to try making them straight away, the only problem being that I didn’t seem able to find any endives and in fact, the first time I made them was in Paris right before the workshop. I highly recommend them as they’re so simple to prepare and cook, they’re absolutely delicious and they really do have the wow factor.
I remember seeing somewhere (maybe on Manger) that this was one of Mimi’s favourite recipes from her cookery book “A Kitchen in France” and I remember being disappointed (it must have been before the book came out – a little teaser, if you will) as it just didn’t appeal to me all..bits of meat/mince wrapped up in a blinkin cabbage! So when I heard we were cooking this I wasn’t jumping for joy and full of anticipation but the other two seemed to be. I was wrong. It was fun to make and really is quite a beautiful dish and, my goodness it’s tasty! It’s so much more than meat and cabbage, it’s a mixture of meats, vegetables and spices – it’s buttery, juicy, succulent and the pork and carrots lend a subtle sweetness to it. I have to say, I’ll definitely make it again. Before the chou farci we had a little pot of parmesan soup which was one of my favourite dishes from the workshop and is something that I’ve made a few times since – you really do only want a small serving though, believe me!
I’ve no idea what Sweet Joy is making here, she could have been measuring sugar for the canelés or the chocolate meringue mixture that flopped (the first time Oddur had ever known Mimi’s meringues not to work and “she has made hundreds, maybe thousands of the things”) and had to be turned into a pavlova or one of the delicious cakes we made, perhaps it’s the lusciouslly sumptuous Far Breton or prune cake (along the lines of a clafoutis or the flognarde in Mimi’s book) or maybe it was the DELICIOUS walnut cake that also stuck to it’s beautiful bundt tin (carefully greased by none other than moi – oops!). Or maybe Sweet Joy is measuring out the sugar for a batch of Mimi’s no churn lemon ice-cream, something Mimi had perfected for her column in Elle Magazine days before we arrived and was so excited to share with us.
These were destined to be stuffed with bacon and sautéd in butter and served alongside some smashed potatoes and were followed by the chocolate pavlova aka Meringue Mishap.
“Cou cou” “Anne, where are you?” This brocante and Anne, the woman who owns it, are a real feature on Manger so we were all eager to pay it a visit. But when we arrived Anne was nowhere to be seen and we thought that we might have to set off back to the house without getting a look inside. Happily Anne turned up after not too long and we all went inside for a little mooch around and, we ALL bought something. I must say, Anne has curated a great collection of bits and pieces. I was mostly interested in crockery and bought a cake stand and three plates (one of which got broken about two days after being unpacked!). I managed to resist buying the twelve plates that matched the cake stand (and do still sometimes wish that I hadn’t). I normally feel a little like a white elephant when I’m in shops like these – nobody wants to mention it but everyone is thinking that it might be safer for all the contents of the shop were I to just step outside. But I felt completely comfortable at Anne’s.
Here I am above “doing an Anne” and below is Anne doing a real “Anne” – I reckon she does it better.
Mimi organised a special treat for us one afternoon – we were visited by the incredibly charming Gilles de Marcellus who runs the nearby guesthouse Château Ormes de Pez. Gilles is a keen cook and had come to teach us how to make the Bordeaux speciality of canelés. Because the mixture really needs to be made ahead Gilles had brought some with him but we did make up a fresh batch of the batter too which I think got used for the children the next day. Sweet Joy was staying at Ormes de Pez so already knew Gilles but Kathleen and I warmed to him immediately. We spent a lovely couple of hours chatting away and whisking up our slightly boozy batter, we greased the gorgeous copper moulds and each had a go at filling them with the special contraption Gilles had brought along with him for the job. We popped them in the oven, waited and then…”Ta dah” they had stuck! Shock horror, this wasn’t supposed to happen and in fact, rarely does happen (not to Gilles, anyway)! You can almost see Gilles in the photo below thinking to himself “this has to be the worst group ever”. Anyway, we managed to salvage enough canelés for us each to have one and saved a couple for Johanna. Mimi thought that she’d seen some of the copper moulds in a local supermarket and we all agreed that we’d like to do a mini trip to get some.
We were all just minding our business, Oddur watering the plants, Johanna erm..leaning out of a window, me hanging about on street corners when a great group of cyclist sped by – I managed to catch this one as he’d slowed down to say hello.
I just found the area beautiful and so peaceful. Everywhere that you look is like a painting or a backdrop. There was a house right by Mimi’s that was for sale and believe you me.., if I’d have been able to release some of the equity from my current house, I’d have bought it like a shot!
Here’s Anne doing all the work (for a change – haha) removing the breasts from the pigeons to make the squab pie.
One evening, we got to talking about our exercise regimes, I explained how I did a lot of strength training, and it transpired that I actually did the most exercise!? The following day our exercise routines were put to the test when the family car wouldn’t start and, because of where it was parked it had to be pushed out onto the road before we were able to jump start it. I threw myself in alongside the men, huffing and puffing and pushing with all my might and strength while the other women looked on. Finally, to choruses of “Hey! We could do with some help here” Sweet Joy skipped up (literally, she was wearing little sandals and a cute white sundress) and oh so daintily laid just her fingertips on the bonnet. And just like the straw that broke the camel’s back, that seemed to do the trick and we were off heaving the car up the alleyway and onto the road where a cavalry of locals came to our rescue. I’m not quite sure why but that really was a brilliant moment, it was so unplanned and such good fun and we really were part of the action.
Once the car was sorted out we headed out in convoy to check out the indoor market at Soulac-sur-Mer which reminded me of the covered markets we have in the UK. We also planned (if it hasn’t all gone by the time we got there) to buy some bread from an Oddur and Mimi favourite, ‘Le fournil de J & J’. This expedition allowed Oddur to really display his boy racer tendancies and a dice with death (this IS an exaggaration) proved to be too much for Kathleen who rode home with Tim and so missed out on an impromptu scenic drive home which included a little stop at the candy pink Château Loudenne.
There was a little sign right before this patio area that said something along the lines of No Entry or…Do Not Trespass (in French, of course) and to me, the intrepid explorer that I am not, that means turn around and get outta here! I’m glad that we didn’t though as this place is a delight.
So this is what all the fuss is about!? These vines produce some of the best wine in Bordeaux. Don’t look like much, do they?
On our last day Kathleen and Sweet Joy went back to Anne’s Brocante to have another little nose but I’d spent my allowance and only had money left for wine and, in any case, I fancied going for a little walk and taking some photos. Unfortunately I seemed to walk straight back to my room where I fell straight to sleep waking up a good couple of hours later. I thought that I’d agreed with Mimi that I’d come back down to the house and then head in to St Estephe with Johanna to pick up the meat from the butcher for our final meal and to go and buy some wine (we had already been to the Village of Bages** where I’d picked up a few bottles of white wine but I was after a particular wine, Lynch Moussas, that I’d tried and fallen in love with).
As I headed back down to Mimi’s, Johanna pulled up next to me – I thought she’d come to pick me up but it turns out that she was off on her meat mission, completely oblivious to the fact that I was requiring her taxi services. I hopped in and joined her and Hudson (Mimi’s son) on a sweet little trip into town. I’m happy to say that I my wine expedition was successful and we did pick up the meat. We did not, however, pick up the rest of the bounty we had been despatched to get as we’d not quite realised that there was more to the shopping list. Oops.
I’d never even heard of smooth fox terriors before I came across the Thorissons and whilst I had more or less quashed the dog person in me, I always knew that were I ever to get a dog it would be a big ‘proper’ dog, something like a labrador or an alsatian. I’ve no interest in small dogs and yet, here I am drooling over this little cutie. Dotty belongs to Anne and Tim and she’s actually in a bit of trouble here because she’d been back with her litter whilst Anne and Tim were away for a few days and she’d, apparently, been screaming blue murder and causing a right royal commotion. She was super excited to be reunited with her owners – Oddur was Not Impressed with her behaviour. So now I find myself lusting after a Thorisson smooth fox terrior!
Taking a final look at Rue de Loudenne as the sun set before our last supper.
And so, our final meal…was one of my favourites. I’d dressed for dinner, wanting to make a bit of an occassion of it and I’m glad that I did – it felt right. The mood was extra special and so too was the food. The starter of spinach and gorgonzola balls was sublime, honestly…it’s a must try – so few ingredients and such a simple dish (and so unexpected) turn into something just magical on the palete all rich, smooth, velvety and deep flavours. YUM. We followed this with the exquisite Tournedos à la Russe, tender as anything beef tenderloin fillets wrapped in a pancake (which seemed like an odd idea to me but, I’ve made this dish a fair few times since so I was obviously won over) topped with a red pepper ‘rose’ and a flavour packed red wine sauce. Wow, wow, wow. Dessert was a chocolate chestnut cake and those elusive chocolate meringues (Mimi actually made them on the sly, not quite trusting us with her beloved meringues and wanting to make sure that she hadn’t lost her touch!). And we washed this all down with gallons of champagne and excellent wine. Johanna and Sweet Joy couldn’t resist getting up at one point and dancing along to a little bit of Ella Fitzgerald and after we’d finally finished, and it was way past midnight, Oddur couldn’t resist jumping up on the ktichen table to photobomb our last group shot (sadly that one wasn’t on my phone so I can’t share it with you all).
Mimi asked if I minded that Audrey be in this shot…absolutely not! That sweet little girl had been with us for almost all of the workshop (I think we went on one excursion without her) and she’d charmed us all and impressed us with her appetite for pretty much any food.
And so it came to be time to leave. I had the absolute pleasure of being chauffeured one more time by Johanna. We were to drop Mia (Mimi’s daughter) off at Bordeaux airport and Hudson came along for the ride. Now, I thought the agreed pick up time seemed slightly on the late side but, as I’m so bad with time I just went with the flow. When Johanna pulled up outside La Hourquere, I said my fond goodbyes to Corine and Kathleen, threw my bags in the back, jumped in the car and away we went. It seemed to take forever to get to the airport and time seemed to be marching by, Johanna didn’t seem to be that bothered and certainly didn’t appear to be in any great hurry. I worried that we weren’t going to make it in time but I also worried that I didn’t want to freak Johanna out as I’m not sure that she is the most confident of drivers. As it turned out, Johanna hadn’t at all realised how cutting it fine we were and when she did, which was just as we approached the airport, she stepped on it and drove like a mad woman, skidding into a parking spot right outside the airport and leaving me to negotiate ( in French) with ther person in the next parking space who was rather peeved at how close we’d parked to them. At the check in desk we were told that we were too late and Mia wouldn’t be able to fly!!!…AAAAAARGH…What followed was a little (lot) of negotiating and finally they relented and allowed Mia to join the other unaccompanied travellers on her flight. PHEW. Hearts pounding, and in our mouths, we said goodbye to Mia and sauntered out to the car.
The drive from the airport to the train station was pretty uneventful, Hudson quizzed me on pretty much everything, what I did, what I thought about this and that, what was the most gory thing I’d seen, why had my husband and I split up (at which point Johanna admonished him, but I didn’t mind…he’s such a little darling) and on and on. Johanna wanted to drive me down to the port but, true to the WWE, every road seemed to be blocked off and every other road seemed to be on diversion. In the end we gave up and pootled off to the station. I said goodbye to both and felt genuine sadness to be waving them off.***
Looking out to fields and fields of blazing yellow, speeding back to Paris and wondering when I’ll next be able to visit this beautiful area and this incredibly special family.
Ways in which we were the Worst Workshop Ever (WWE)
- We ALMOST jinxed Mimi’s meringue making skills
- We ALMOST jinxed Gilles’ canelé making skills
- We made half of the walnut cake get stuck to the tin (that was actually sort of me)
- We broke a cork in a very good and pretty expensive bottle of wine (that one was me really)
- **We got caught stuffing our faces with truffle crisps (still inside the deli at The Village of Bages) by Jean-Michel Cazes himself (it was slightly embarassing) because we (Sweet Joy) were so hungover that we had to eat something NOW.
- We failed to buy spinach for the spinach and gorgonzola balls (luckily Mimi did have a little so we all had to have a slightly smaller than planned starter on the final night)
- We took turns in being hungover (Sweet Joy and me) which in such a small group did have an impact on the vibe
- We broke the family car
- We were there (me) when Mia almost missed her flight
- Pretty sure I’m missing something out so, insert something plausible sounding for yourselves.
The workshop is very expensive, let’s not kid ourselves…it just is. I’m not saying that the Thorissons have overcharged for what they delivered because I don’t think that they have – the days are very long and filled with excursions, and cooking and eating and wine. Forget the preparation time (that must also be costed in when you are thinking about how much to charge for something like this) but, just the actual workshop days with us there ran from 9.30am to midnight (more or less). For most people though, that is a large chunk of money to come out of one’s pocket for a four day trip, as one of my friends pointed out to me “You could have gone on a ‘proper’ holiday for a week or two for that amount” and yes, that’s true..and this year that’s exactly what I’ll be doing (but I’m sad that I can’t do both). But last year, that was the BEST holiday I could have hoped for, I honestly couldn’t have spent my money more wisely if I’d tried. So, is it worth it? I think it depends what you’re after – I think if you really want to learn how to cook, and are not so interested in the experience, this might not be the best for you. I thought this workshop was more like getting together with friends and all cooking together rather than cookery classes, and Mimi’s recipes are so well written that if you follow them you’ll soon have an arsenal of dishes you can depend on. But if you’ve ever dreamt about upping sticks and moving to the country to live a ‘better’ life, or you want to learn about taking wonderful photographs (afterall Oddur doesn’t have a tome where he tells you how to do it, or any classes on Skillshare, or anywhere – so far as I know), or you just want to learn about how to eat, or even – dare I say it – how to live (that’s a bit over the top but I know what I mean) then yes, it’s almost certainly worth it if you can afford it. Mimi is so calm and her style of cooking is relaxed where mine is frantic (and I’ve definitely incorporated a more chilled out approach to cooking since taking part in the workshop), Oddur is so energetic. Both are incredibly generous, hospitable, and kind and their household just feels alive, there is always something going on, there is always an idea or a new project on the go, there is vibrancy and I absolutely loved that. I came away feeling so utterly rejuvenated and excited about my life, my brain whirring with possibilities and my self feeling a new contentment and peace. If I could go back every year I absolutely would.
Let me tell you – that’s some of the best money I’ve ever spent.
Thank you so so much Mimi, Oddur, and family (with a special mention for Johanna). Thank you too to the cast of characters you shared with us in particular Anne and Tim, Allegra, Corine, Esmerelda and, of course, the lovely dogs.
Thanks too to the lovely Kathleen, who I’m so happy to have met, for helping me with the details.
*Today being yesterday. Yes, my hooking and crooking wasn’t quite enough to get this post up on the anniversary of the end of the workshop (a small matter of an epic Hen Weekend scuppered my last minute plans rather – more of that in another post). But this time last year, I was on the journey from St Yzans to Bordeaux with Johanna, Mia, and Hudson. And by Jove, I think that’s a perfect point to mark as the deadline for this anniversary (ahem) post.
** See the bullet points above about Sweet Joy munching crisps
*** I think I may have a bit of a woman crush on Johanna