Category — Seasonal

Anatomy of a Birthday Cake VI 2

July 6, 2017


I just realised the last time I posted in this birthday cake series was a year ago. Oops. Guess I missed a kid’s birthday in between. And no matter how hard I try, I can’t recall what cake we made Little e–because she had a cake, you can be sure of that. It was good, I’m sure. Probably so complex I couldn’t find a spare second to take out the camera and get decent process photos.

This year, The Tiger was too busy playing cars and having Paw Patrol adventures on the living room floor to tell me what cake he wanted (or, actually, in reply to the question, he said, “Train. Boat. Dine-saur. Have a snack?”). So I made an executive decision. Actually several.

1. It would be a lion. I have no idea why.



Since we just moved and haven’t fully unpacked the kitchen (our old place was bigger), I simply could not locate the large sheet pan I use for birthday cakes and spend a crazed ten minutes wondering how on earth I was going to manage. Enter one life-saving revelation: cupcakes. Suddenly I was (quietly) brilliant. A round layer cake in the middle and a circle of cupcakes around it to make it larger–and serve as the mane! And the ears! I fricking was brilliant! And Google showed me several other brilliant people who had had the same brainwave. I felt kinship with these anonymous folk.

2. It would have ermine icing.

I knew I wanted to cut back on as much sugar as possible but still make a sponge cake and a generous amount of icing. I started experimenting with a kind of icing I’d had years before, when visiting my sister in Ohio when she was at university. It’s called ermine icing or boiled milk frosting (to which I say the former name definitely gets my vote, since ermine are possibly the cutest kind of weasel there ever could be). It’s an unusual concotion and method for someone used to buttercreams, but oh my goodness, does it make a nice light icing–and with much less sugar, since the sugar is not the ingredient providing structure; the milk and flour are. Yes, milk and flour. Are you still with me?

I added a freeze-dried mango powder I’d been saving for ages, which Hannah had sent me upon my astonished comment that such a marvel existed. For the mane I added almost a whole melted bar of Lindt milk chocolate (chocolate-mango icing: yes please, right?) to the remainder after covering the lion’s face.

3. It would feature a mango curd filling. Just because.



And even though it was, as usual, a mad dash to the end and I was still finishing the piping as our guests arrived, it did, as usual, work out. And it was tasty. Thank goodness (as usual).

Cake: Nigella Lawson’s buttermilk birthday cake (also see this cake I made last year)

Icing: Ermine Icing from The New York Times but flavoured with freeze-dried mango powder (sent lovingly by Hannah!)

Filling: Mango curd from Smitten Kitchen.

Whiskers, etc: natural liquorice, half-square of milk chocolate (nose) and dried cherries (eyes)






In: Food, From Ria, Kids and Parenting, Seasonal

The Rhubarb’s Farewell 1

May 17, 2017

This week we left our house to begin life in a new one. A whole new garden of woodbugs, as it were. But before we left, our sturdy, reliable old rhubarb plant gave us a final farewell. Before I moved to that house, I had never seen a rhubarb flower. I didn’t even know it did, or maybe hadn’t considered that such a leafy, quietly steadfast anchor of the vegetable patch could put blooms out.

If you’ve never seen it before, a rhubarb’s flowering can catch you by surprise. There’s something prehistoric about it, something bordering on unseemly. It looks like a kind of plant brain on top of a thick stalk. It’s bold and unembarrassed.



And when it emerged, it felt a little celebratory. Maybe not in a congratulations-you’ve-sold-your-house-and-are-moving-on-to-exciting-things kind of way, but the timing had me reaching for that sentiment. Go rhurbarb. Go us. Let’s flower the hell out of this season, whatever it brings.

And now we are in our new home and there is a small rhubarb plant in the garden. It isn’t flowering, or even doing as well as our old one. But, bless it, it’s there. The potential for a towering brain-full of rhubarb blossoms is there. Maybe next year. You never know.



This same rhubarb plant gave us this a few years ago, and Hannah blogged about this yummy recipe a year before that.



In: From Ria, Seasonal

Our Anzac baby 2

April 25, 2017


The sun has set on another Anzac Day, the day New Zealanders and Australians commemorate those who served in wars. It is a public holiday and always rather special – even aside from the important acknowledgment of our forces and our country’s current peace – it is the beginning of autumn, often a bright, bluebird kind of a day, close to Easter and the last public holiday for some time. The meaning and beauty of the day lends itself to family catch-ups, walks, feeling grateful and baking. But five years ago someone made this day significantly more special for us.



B2 was born before dawn, in time to see the sun rise, in a manner that is just like her: on time and textbook perfect. B2 is a stickler for rules. She’s also the only one of my births that went to some kind of plan and didn’t require assistance, as B2 hardly ever requires assistance. I still remember my sleepless, post-birth elation, staring at this perfect being – smooth, flawless skin and rosebud lips, bundled up like a glowworm. B2 was the baby of the family for some time but we should have known she wasn’t destined to stay that way with her resolute independence, huge roar and ceaseless curiosity. She was born in the year of the dragon and has lived up to that creature too – both fierce and shiny, full of fire and magic; something you can’t help but stare at. I cannot wait to see the life she leads. For now she’s off to school and not half-excited about it. She’s been begging for homework for months, literally climbing the walls (well, the columns in the hallways, shimmies up them with her feet like a monkey) when we drop big sister off to her classroom and is busting to join the ranks of the big girls in the playground at lunchtime. I really hope she thrives there. I hope they are prepared for handling her particular brand of firework.



In honour of our joyful, full-of-life, always singing / giggling / roaring Anzac baby and because they happen to be the best version of an Anzac biscuit I have ever eaten, I am sharing this recipe for Anzac squares. These biscuits are caramel and oat, crunch and chew, in exactly the right balance. The trick, in my opinion, is the addition of walnuts, which don’t often feature in an Anzac biscuit but, quite frankly SHOULD. I’m sure you’ll agree after you taste them. They give the biscuit an edge. A complex, resin-y, tannin-y, all-round-pleasing kind of an edge.  Drizzling your squares with chocolate is entirely optional and I won’t judge you for doing so. Share these with your babies and the ones that are no longer babies, those that are lurching off on their own new adventures.



Anzac Squares


1 cup flour

1 cup coconut

2 cups rolled oats

120g walnuts, chopped

pinch of salt

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

230g butter

4 tsp golden syrup

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp vanilla paste / essence



Preheat the oven to 180 degrees / 350 fahrenheit and line a shallow baking tin (approx 30cm x 45cm)

Combine flour, coconut, rolled oats, salt and walnuts in a large bowl. Add the sugars and mix well.

Put the butter, golden syrup, sifted baking soda in a saucepan and melt gently together over a medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until the mixture begins to froth. Pour into dry ingredients and add vanilla paste / essence.

Stir until well combined and then press mixture evenly into your shallow baking tin.

Bake for 10 minutes and then rotate the tin. Bake for a further 5 – 10 minutes until it is golden brown.

Cut into squares while it is still hot. Cool till warm before transferring to a container and storing airtight. Will last up to a month, if they are not all devoured within 24 hours. Can be drizzled with melted chocolate, if you are that way inclined.

Makes 40+ squares


With love,


In: Food, From Hannah, Includes a recipe!, Seasonal, Sweet Little Something

Forward Motion 4

March 29, 2017

Friends, March just tipped over into spring and the snowdrops are out. The coldest, snowiest winter we’ve seen in a lot of years (because we are spoiled with warm, rainy winters most of the time) has become an archived story filled with even more of those superlative adjectives. Now it’s time to move on.

As in, move house.

The quaint old character home we’ve lived in since before the kids were born is soon to belong to someone else. We are soon to leave this city for a bigger one. Find new friends, playgrounds, bookstores and food spots. Opening the proverbial new chapter.




It’s funny how nostalgia creeps into your thoughts even before you’ve left a place. I’m already walking through rooms picturing them bare and sunlit, like when we moved in. I think about how much younger we were. How much older we are.

I’ve started compiling photos from the seven summers we’ve lived in this house, the first few years concentrating on food and garden, unsurprisingly. Memories of sleeping in and making self-indulgent breakfasts. Long afternoons in the garden digging potatoes, the dog waiting at the edge of the patch for a stray tuber to roll his way. Cutting flowers for the kitchen table.

The second group of photos: the kid-filled ones. The painted wooden stork on the porch that proclaimed both babies’ arrivals. The birthing pool in the living room where The Tiger was born. A multitude of food-splattered faces at the dinner table. Christmases, Easters, Halloweens. All in this house.

We knew we wouldn’t stay here forever. We knew it would be less than a decade. It feels good–really good–to move on. But. This house is ours, and it will be ours forever, even when it’s someone else’s. Just like the house I grew up in, now renovated and repainted and a hundred kilometers away, is still and always will be mine.

This morning Little e’s newest pet, a woodbug, died. She’d had him for fourteen hours. We talked about the lifespans of wood bugs and the abruptness of death and how many other woodbugs exist in our garden and she accepted it all with a five-year-old’s gravity and openness. We talked about memory and gratitude, though not in those terms. Then we went out and found another woodbug.

And soon we go out to find another house, and though there is nothing dead about our current one, it does feel like that sort of loss. A choice to stop and turn. A choice to abort one life-course and start another. All the things we could do in this house will never come to be. We have chosen it that way.

But we will pack those things up and move them somewhere new. We will find new woodbugs in a new garden. Find a new house that could never not be ours, for however long we will be in it, and beyond.




In: From Ria, Seasonal, Travel

A Recipe for Snow 2

February 8, 2017

We’ve been waking up to snow all week. This island on the west coast doesn’t get a lot of snowy days, and even though this winter has been colder and snowier than most, it’s still enough of a novelty that snowy wake-ups are awe-filled moments. Norman Rockwell moments, as DH put it this morning, watching Little e and The Tiger leaning on the back of the couch, heads together as they gazed out the window.



Last week also marked something I’ve been waiting for for over two years. Back then I started work on an old novel idea, reworking it for an older age group, and it morphed into a huge project, much bigger than my other two novels. It also took much longer to complete (something to do with now having two kids and house, I imagine). But finally, FINALLY, it went out to find a publishing home last week. Pushing art out of your life and into others’ can be terrifying, but this time, maybe because it seems to have taken so long (though I’m aware two years is not that long for a novel), I’m just relieved and excited.

Maybe nothing will happen. Maybe it will all be no, thank you. It’s not like I haven’t dealt with that before. But another voice says: who cares? It’s done. It’s out there. I did it. The feeling of achievement, the elation at having taken one sentence and grown it into a collection of thousands that make up a story that matters, is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had. On par with childbirth (maybe because it’s just another kind of birth). It’s floating and warm and grounding all at the same time. It’s yes.



So in celebration and affirmation, I naturally looked up yummy things to be made with our abundance of snow, and I came across one for frozen hot chocolate.




Snow Hot Chocolate

Adapted from this recipe


(makes about six full cups of snow hot chocolate)

10 oz good quality chocolate, chopped (or choc chips)

6 tsp cocoa powder

3 tbsp sugar

1 tsp vanilla

3 cups whole milk

1 cup whipping cream


Melt the chocolate slowly over low heat (or in the microwave if you’re good at that), then add a little of the milk and the cocoa powder and whisk into a smooth, runny sauce. Add the rest of the milk and whisk until combined. Chill in the fridge until cold. Whip the cream either by hand with a whisk or with a machine, adding a little sugar if you like a bit sweet. Collect a large bowlful of fresh (and clean) snow–I’d estimate my bowl held ten cups or so–once the chocolate mixture is chilled. Scoop a cup of snow into as many mugs or teacups as you’re using and then pour the chocolate mixture over, just enough to wet the snow. It will shrink down and look like the snow is absorbing the liquid; stir until you have a chocolate slushie. You can add a bit more chocolate sauce if you like it less solid. Dollop with whipped cream–and chocolate shavings if you feel so inclined. Eat with spoons or drink from straws. Expect that you’ll want a second serving.



So here’s to sweetness, now and in the future, both creative and culinary.





In: Food, From Ria, Includes a recipe!, Seasonal, Writing