Countdown to Christmas: Chatting Live with Margaret Johnson and Lisa McGee

The  following is a transcript from the LIVE Community Chat held here at on Friday, August 1, 2014 featuring Margaret Johnson, author of the "Flavors of Ireland" cookbook series, and Lisa McGee, Founder and Creative Director of ISLE magazine.  Some editing has been applied for clarity.

The Wild Geese: Céad míle fáilte, a chairde! So glad to see each one of you who have stopped by for this evening’s LIVE Wild Geese Community Chat here at

With us as our special guests today are two talented ladies -- one who resides in the U.S., and the other who resides in County Tipperary, Ireland.

This chat is centered around a theme we’re calling “Countdown to Christmas,” because these ladies are just the ones you want to consult as you begin thinking about acquiring thoughtful Irish gifts for the special ones in your lives this holiday season.

Margaret Johnson has authored 10 Irish-themed cookbooks, and has just released her latest, “Christmas Flavors of Ireland.” Margaret also leads “Flavors of Ireland” tours for those who share the same love of food and Ireland as herself.

Lisa McGee is the Founder and Creative Director of ISLE Magazine. ISLE Magazine is an online-only magazine offered completely free of charge to readers around the globe.  By the way, "ISLE" is an acronym for Irish Style Living and Enterprise, so Lisa (along with Margaret) is perfectly suited for our “Countdown to Christmas” theme for today’s discussion.

Welcome, ladies!

ISLE magazine: Thanks so much for having me this evening!

Flavors of Ireland: I'm thrilled to be part of The Wild Geese and especially this chat, my first ever!

ISLE magazine: Mine too!

The Wild Geese: Less than five months to Christmas!

ISLE magazine: Yikes!

Gerry Regan: LOL. When it comes to shopping overseas, early is better than late. By the way, Lisa, Margaret, I'm delighted to connect with such auspicious ambassadors of Irish culture. You have such fascinating focuses, both of you.

Flavors of Ireland: Hard to believe, but when it only comes once a year, you need to get a head start!

The Wild Geese: Indeed. Who has our first "Countdown to Christmas" question?

Fran Reddy: Where do you ladies shop for Christmas gifts?

ISLE magazine: I feel like I'm shopping all year when I travel around Ireland for the magazine. I see so many great ideas out there and I love buying from smaller craftspeople and food artisans

Fran Reddy: Keeping it local too?

Flavors of Ireland: I've always like to organize "themed" gifts around people's special interests, so I go wherever to source them. When I'm in Ireland I do as Lisa does.

ISLE magazine: Well yes, even though I'm American my home is Ireland so I feel very passionate about buying and promoting Irish products food or gift items

Bit Devine: The thrill of the "find"... a little known local crafts person.

Gerry Regan: Hey Margaret, when you find time, what's the single greatest find you've made as you travel in search of interesting recipes focused on the Irish experience. Anything retrieved from the 18th century, for example, in a musty archive?

Flavors of Ireland: Not really. My first interest in writing about Irish cooking came from my grandmother's treasure box or clipped recipes that was handed down to my mother.

ISLE magazine: And as an author myself - books are definitely top of my list - can't wait to see your book Margaret!

Ryan O'Rourke: Lisa, saw the bit in the issue of ISLE about Ceardlann craft village in Spiddal ... very close to where I live. It's a wonderful place, and just about anyone could knock out their entire shopping list just by stopping there!

ISLE magazine: Ceardlann was the first craft story I did for the magazine and there is a wealth of talent right there in Spiddal from woolen items to pottery, stained glass and wonderful paintings and much more plus a fantastic cafe

Flavors of Ireland: As an American traveler, the biggest problem is getting everything home in one piece. Thankfully, the US has great Irish shops that take some of the problem out of transport.

Gerry Regan: It seems Christmas, more than any holiday, can so powerfully connect us with our families, and by extension, our heritage.

ISLE magazine: I agree Gerry - I suppose my mission with the magazine is to re-introduce the diaspora to the more contemporary things happening in Ireland - we all know the Claddagh rings and very Irish themed gift items but Ireland today is so much more than that.

Bit Devine: I have tried introducing more modern Irish works into our shop, Lisa... but the preference is still towards, Claddaghs, Guinness, shamrocks and sheep.

ISLE magazine: I understand that Bit and suppose it is just a process.

Gerry Regan: What's your favorite 'comfort foods' around Christmas, Margaret and Lisa?

Ryan O’Rourke: I have Margaret's book called "The Irish Spirit", and I can highly recommend it. Bought that a few years ago, and it's brilliant. I intend to add to my collection of Margaret's books later this year.

ISLE magazine: Gerry - I'm a huge fan of curries since I moved here and while I had no idea that they were so prevalent in this country before I moved here I love the spice mixes from Green Saffron - as I've said in my blog post you feel like a curry master using these amazing mixes - based in Cork

Flavors of Ireland: Amen to that, Lisa. When I do speaking engagements here I often have to convince people that there's so much more to modern Ireland cooking that stew and scones---not that I don't love them both, but people need to look beyond the expected.

The Wild Geese: Almost more Indian restaurants per capita in Ireland than in India!

Bit Devine: I am forever fielding that question, Margaret! A lot of people think that all of the food in Ireland is bland and boiled.

ISLE magazine: Not at all - food in Ireland is amazing.

Geraldine Callaghan: My favorite food at Christmas was the wonderful fruit cake with the almond and hard white sugar icing, now they use Fondant, not the same.

ISLE magazine: Sounds delicious Geraldine - have become fond of that myself now.

Flavors of Ireland: For me, I only eat Irish when in Ireland. Not very cosmopolitan, i know, but I feel "when in Rome, etc" so stay away from Asian, Indian, and the like although I know they are all extremely popular.

Ryan O’Rourke: Me I like that approach, Margaret. I agree.

Fran Reddy: When we traveled to Ireland, all the food was fabulous!

ISLE magazine: I'm amazed how far the food has come along since I've lived here - big changes in a short seven years.

Geraldine Callaghan: Irish cooking has come a long way. It's really good now.

Gerry Regan: I'll never forget the Chicken Maryland I ordered when in a hotel restaurant in Virginia, County Cavan in June 1974, when I traveled the countryside as an undergrad. It came with a feather, not exactly the garnish I was thinking of. LOL I think Ireland has come a long, long way since then. The feather, I hasten to add, was attached. :-)

Bit Devine: One of the best steaks I've ever had in my life was eaten at The Purple Onion in Tarmonberry.

Geraldine Callaghan: Bit, when I took my Granddaughter on Spring Break we took her to the Purple Onion and she loved the steak. Wants to go back for more. I grew up not too far from there.

Flavors of Ireland: I'm leading a tour to Ireland in October and have all things Irish planned for my group.

Bit Devine: Wishing I could sneak into a duffle and go with ya, Margaret.

ISLE magazine: I'd love to do that full tour with you Margaret - your itinerary sounds amazing.

Flavors of Ireland: Welcome aboard! We should mention that since our initial encounter on the Wild Geese site we've discovered we have lots in common and will actually meet in Adare in October -- the beauty of the site!

Peggy Clancy-Flyte: How often do you lead a Flavors of Ireland tour? It sounds really interesting.

Flavors of Ireland: This will be my first and I have spaces left so come aboard

ISLE magazine: I think many companies are embracing foreign shipping for Christmas although food wise it is not so easy.

Bit Devine: I've yet to find a recipe for Faerycakes that match the ones I've eaten in Strokestown.

ISLE magazine: I have to say here in Nenagh, County Tipperary we have a very good selection of restaurants - I had lunch today at a great place a bit out in the country known for their seafood.

Fran Reddy: I adored the Irish salmon I had at two different places. :-)

Flavors of Ireland: So many ways to prepare salmon, it's incredible.

ISLE magazine: Can't beat Irish Salmon! I know Margaret is visiting the Burren Smokehouse on her tour and we did a big feature on them in our first issue.

Fran Reddy: Yes, fabulous Lisa. :-)

Jilly Walsh: I second that!

Gerry Regan: Best chef working in an Irish establishment today -- who do you select, Margaret, Lisa?

Flavors of Ireland: I have to give kudos to my dear friend Chef Noel McMeel at Lough Erne in Fermanagh but to say who's the best is a hard one!

ISLE magazine: Gerry - I have to admit I haven't gotten to too many restaurants outside of Nenagh but there are amazing chefs throughout the country - in Dingle I love Fenton's.

Jilly Walsh: Local cheeses are beyond-belief delicious !

ISLE magazine: I agree Jilly Walsh - we did a lovely feature on Cashel Blue and Crozier Blue made in Tipperary - I always buy Cashel blue when flying home to USA from Shannon.

Bit Devine: many cheeses!!! Love the Burren Cheese shop.

Flavors of Ireland: I used to wait to get to duty free to stock up on Cashel Blue and Cooleeney among others, but Kerrygold now imports Cashel blue and you can find cooleeney in some good cheese shops.

ISLE magazine: Okay my Favourite Cheese shop is the Little Cheese Shop in Dingle! Amazing!

Bit Devine: I am thinking I shouldn't have missed my lunch today ...

Gerry Regan: Bit, never a good idea to skip meals, I then tend to overeat later. Keep some cheeses and bread and a cutting board under the counter.

The Wild Geese: "ISLE" Magazine = Irish Style Living and Enterprise. Tell us how those three facets (Style, Living, and Enterprise) manifest themselves from issue to issue of your magazine, and how we can peruse the magazine to help with great ideas for Christmas shopping.

ISLE magazine: Okay so ISLE focuses on travel, arts and crafts, food and drink producers, chefs and entrepreneurs and much more - we are a lifestyle magazine about Ireland.

Bit Devine: Lisa, in your travels, if you get over to Lahinch ... there is a small gallery there with local crafts. The name escapes me right now.

ISLE magazine: I may have been there Bit - I've visited a few galleries there.

Fran Reddy: Margaret and Lisa.. what is your favorite dish to serve up during the holidays??

ISLE magazine: Margaret and I chatted about this a bit - I do make a great sticky toffee pudding which always disappears!

Fran Reddy: Oh, my favorite!!

Gerry Regan: Disappearing pudding -- sounds like a problem every chef would relish! ;-)

Flavors of Ireland: My family is not so thrilled about Christmas pudding as I am so I do sticky toffee pudding as well. Everyone loves the sauce.

Bit Devine: The sauce IS the best part ... LOL.

Fran Reddy: Is there Irish whiskey in the sauce? ;-)

Flavors of Ireland: Not usually, but you can add a few drops of Irish cream liqueur.

Peggy Clancy-Flyte: I had delicious sticky toffee pudding at the Rock House cafe in Cashel in June.

ISLE magazine: Also for Christmas prefer Ham myself but the irish like turkey but for me it's too "Thanksgiving."

Bob Nagle: My wife cooks a mean colcannon, with the addition of some fresh ginger (she's Chinese). Sadly we can't get the Irish boiling ham here down-under.

ISLE magazine: Bob - colcannon with ginger sounds fantastic! I like that combo.

Flavors of Ireland: Like sticky toffee pudding, anything that resembles mashed potato with or without ginger is okay by me!

Bit Devine: In our house..if it isn't chocolate it doesn't get served.... I was lucky enough to be given a recipe for the Dense dark chocolate cake they serve at the tea room at the base of Dún Aonghasa

ISLE magazine: Chocolate is definitely big here in Ireland!

Bit Devine: Skellig Chocolates!

ISLE magazine: Lough Derg Chocolate, Bit! Loads of chocolate companies these days.

Gerry Regan: Gang, any thoughts on what informs Irish recipes, what makes them unique, understanding that there may well be a fair amount of cross-fertilization too? For example, mead -- does that flavor any Irish dishes these days, as an ingredient, or game such as the Druids may have bagged?

Flavors of Ireland: I also have a great a great recipe for Cashel Blue potato cakes in one of my cookbooks that comes from Denis Cotter of Cafe Paradiso in Cork. Fantastic.

Bit Devine: Potatoes & cheese?! Be still my heart.

ISLE magazine: Okay so we are talking about food - what about gifts to go with food? Love Nicholas Mosse Pottery to serve food. Bunbury boards are amazing, too.

Gerry Regan: What' a Bunbury board?

ISLE magazine: Bunbury boards are these beautiful chopping boards made in County Carlow from old timber.

Fran Reddy: Nice.

Bit Devine: Thomas Diem creates some amazing pottery dishes, as well.

Bit Devine: And of course Louis Mulcahy.

Gerry Regan: Would love to acquire a good, evocative Irish-made cutting board.

ISLE magazine: Exquisite Irish made products - we did a feature on them in Issue 2 or 3 - can't remember now. LOL :-)

Flavors of Ireland: My next dream cookbook is to have all the food photography feature Irish items like Nicholas Mosse pottery, Waterford crystal, and other small craftspeople. Any publisher out there interested?

ISLE magazine: I think that sounds great Margaret - perhaps a collaborative project? :-)

Fran Reddy: That sounds fantastic, Margaret!

ISLE magazine: Check them out -

Bob Nagle: Boards sound heavy on postage - anything we can by over the internet and afford postage?

ISLE magazine: Bob we'll have to sort you out personally! :-)

Flavors of Ireland: Bob, come on my tour.

ISLE magazine: Nicholas Mosse has USA retailers.

Gerry Regan: Here's a perfect metaphor for the new, diverse Irish urban culture:

ISLE magazine: Yes Gerry - great product - I'm actually giving away the Bunbury Board pizza board on my Facebook page next week so make sure you like our page. :-)

Gerry Regan: I'm there, Lisa! Keeping my fingers crossed!

ISLE magazine: Amazing glassware out there too - love Jerpoint glass.
Flavors of Ireland: Back to food again, I've discovered lots of high end food catalogues like Dean and DeLuca carry some good Irish foods.

Gerry Regan: Just bought my first Christmas present, Margaret, a copy of 'Christmas Flavors of Ireland.'

ISLE magazine: Good man, Gerry!

Flavors of Ireland: My head is spinning with all these great ideas. Thanks, Ryan and Gerry, for facilitating these wonderful chat.

ISLE magazine: It's certainly a great chat.

The Wild Geese: Folks, Margaret will be giving away a few copies of her latest cookbook, “Christmas Flavors of Ireland,” and Lisa will be giving away some lovely Irish Christmas coffee mugs. To be eligible for the random drawing, just check in to the conversation with a comment or question!

ISLE magazine: Yes, Nicholas Mosse Reindeer Pattern coffee mugs!!

Ryan O’Rourke: Nice!

Gerry Regan: And if we're not fortunate enough to win, don't despair. They can be acquired on Margaret's 'Flavors of Ireland' website, at

Flavors of Ireland: This has been a great experience ... thanks for including me.

Bob Nagle: Sorry to join you so late, but it's early morning' here in Melbourne, Australia. Great experience chatting and learning from you all.

Geraldine Callaghan: This was the first time I participated. It was fun!

Peggy Clancy-Flyte: Yes, I hope you offer this again!

The Wild Geese: We most certainly will, Peggy. :-)

ISLE magazine: Thanks so much for having me this evening it was a wonderful experience . I am honored to be a Wild Geese Irish Heritage Partner!

Flavors of Ireland: Yes, being a Wild Geese Irish Heritage Partner is the best investment I've made.

The Wild Geese: Thanks for those fine testimonials, ladies, and thanks to all for joining in on today’s chat.

Flavors of Ireland: Slainte!

The Wild Geese: Have a good night, everyone. Oiche mhaith, gach duine.

Views: 464

Tags: Arts, Christmas, Food, Hospitality, Tourism, Travel, Visual Arts


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