Posts from — July 2017

Proust and my Five-Year-Old 3

July 26, 2017


I’ll preface this by saying these are NOT the real Proust Questionnaire questions (designed to reveal a person’s true nature), but modified and shortened versions of some of the originals. I doubted my five-year-old could sit through answering 36 of them…though now I wonder if she actually would have. She really enjoyed it. She even asked, when we’d finished, for me to read everything over to her. She laughed at her own responses.  Now I want to do this with every five-year-old I meet. You should too!



The Proust Questionnaire As Answered By My Five-Year-Old


1. What makes you really really happy?

Um, going in space.

2. What are you most afraid of?


3. Do you ever lie about anything?


4. Which person or thing do you love the most?

I’m going to choose a person and a thing. I love you the most and my favourite food is strawberries and mango. And can I do a favourite animal? My favourite animal is a cuttlefish and an octopus.

5. When is your happiest moment in the day?

I think I like the nighttime. Because it has stars and I like to count some of them and look out for some nocturnal animals. I like to look for the big dipper and wake up late like a raccoon or a flying squirrel or an owl.



6. What thing would you like to be really good at?

Um, doing weather person stuff. Because it’s cool and I haven’t done that before. I haven’t practiced, but I just thought it would be nice to grow up as a weather girl.

7. If you died and came back as a person or a thing, what would you like to be?

I would like to be a donkey and a horse because I like them.

8. Where would you most like to live?

In different places. Like Victoria and Nanaimo and China. And what is that place…? ITALY!

9. What is your most precious possession?

My jewelry because I like shiny stuff and it’s shiny. Shiny is one of the most important things I need.

10. What do you think is the most important thing in a friend?

Um, nice and kind. A friend should not hit or punch. They should not do anything like that. A friend needs to be nice to you and care about you when you get hurt and help you get up and help you get a Bandaid. Friends definitely don’t kick their friends. They don’t scream at their parents or friends. They don’t whine. They don’t say, “Awwww, IIII waaant a driiiink!”

11. What are your favourite books?

Library books and home books. Animal books, dictionaries…What are dictionaries? [I explain] Yeah, I like dictionaries. Joke books, math books. Bird books. Dinosaur books. I like to study dinosaur bones with books.

12. Who is your biggest hero?

I don’t have one because I haven’t met one yet.

13. What is your favourite name?

Um, Harley and Emma. They’re pretty.

14. What is something you really really don’t like?

Hitting and punching and whining.

15. How would you like to die?

I would like to be digging dinosaurs when I die. When I die I want to go under a rock. Buried.

16. What are some words that show who you are?

I’m a person, not a monkey. I sort of have a teeny tail. It’s pretty short. And I know who I am. I’m [Little e].


In: From Ria, Kids and Parenting

What I know at 38 4

July 19, 2017


I turned 38 on Monday. On learning it was my birthday several people asked me if it was a “big one”. I’m assuming they weren’t guessing I was turning 30. Hmmmm.


The last years of a decade are weird. It’s not an elegant way to describe it, I know, but it’s the way a friend of mine and I have agreed is the best way to describe it. In a couple of years I’ll be looking okay for my forties, for now I’m looking pretty average for my thirties (in my personal and skewed opinion). Then there’s the laundry list of must-do’s before the clock ticks over into the next decade. It’s worse than rushing to snag a drunken snog before midnight on New Year’s Eve. By forty I MUST have accomplished this, I MUST be like this, I MUST have ditched this habit, run this marathon, published this (phenomenal, lauded) book, produced this many offspring, collected this much money, bought this, this and this and I MUST look just like that…*she points to someone airbrushed to the smoothness of a newborn. It’s all a bit much, isn’t it?


At any rate, the clock ticked over to 38 and, just like the computers at the turn of the millennium – remember that?! – nothing changed. I was just the same. Same number of silver hairs, same number of mauve stretch marks and same number of kids, all of whom had managed to wet their beds; including ours. That’s a whole other story. The fact that nothing changed gave me a strong sense of relief. It’s okay, Hannah, you’re really haven’t super-throttled that much closer to old age and death. Everything’s going to be alright, Bob Marley said so. You don’t look so bad. Besides, stop dwelling on it, you don’t have time. You’ve got sheets to wash.


But things have changed…over time. Not over night the way I was fretting it might, but gently and gradually, in the same way that wrinkles find their way onto your face and gravity starts to work it’s dark magic on the bit under your chin. I have learned some things over the years, it turns out. Things I’d love to have known at a younger age but which only slap you in the face much later. Like….



1. Your path will be hard.

You know when your Mum / Dad / guidance counselor / teacher warns you off a job or life path because it will be hard? Well, in my opinion, that’s true of ALL life paths. Someone needs to scratch out the “Easy” on the “Easy Path” sign because it’s a complete misnomer. Sitting in an office, feeling your soul leeching from your very bones, deciding how to cut labour costs – NOT easy. I can vouch for that. We all want easy, but it’s impossible to find and, trust me, boring can be just as bad as awful. If the sign says “Easy Path” I’d caution against taking it. You’re likely to have to double back anyway, once your soul is sad and wonky, and no-one great, successful or wonderfully happy ever proclaimed about their life choices – “I simply chose the least burdensome route!” As Ria Voros might say – You just gotta suck up the suck and I would add “Because it will suck.”


2. You’re probably going to need glasses at some point.

I found this so surprising! But it’s true. I had 20/20 vision for so long and now I do not. Very naively, I never imagined a time when I would need to dye my hair, get glasses or be really sure about my health insurance policy and what it covers. Your body is going to falter and fail. Young people really have no idea. How do I know? Because I was one and I was blinded. Until I was actually a bit blinded. Irony.


3. You will find the people in your batch.

Thankfully, as you get older it becomes much easier to find friends. You know yourself better, other people know themselves better, there is much, much less mucking around wondering if this person likes you or not, if this person is your kind of person; you just know. Friend-forming becomes so very easy and there’s no more of that playground bullshit. I love this. Added bonus, there’s so many ways – physically and online – to makes connections and form a community. A new friend of mine, Tom, has a theory that people come in batches. “Like cookies?” I asked him. “Yup.” He replied like it was obvious. Tom and I are different genders, different ages and have different beliefs, but we are friends. Anne Shirley Cuthbert was right about “kindred spirits” and it becomes easier to find yours as you get older. I accept the dark magic, chin sagging thing as exchange for this.


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In: From Hannah, How She (or he) Does It

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

Come with me to Brittany… 2

July 1, 2017


I recently received this lovely note from a reader, Sandi, regarding A French Wedding: ‘Wonderful book. My husband was from Brittany and we enjoyed Douarnenez every summer. His Aunt’s seafood platter and Kouign-Amann was amazing. Thank you for bringing back some wonderful memories.’


It’s such a joy (and relief) to hear from readers who give the thumbs-up on your depiction of a setting. Because places are so dear to us it’s impossible to completely capture them in a way that will satisfy everyone. This was always going to be a challenge for the location of Douarnenez, where A French Wedding is set – trying to get it right for those who know and love Brittany as much as I do, painting the right kind of picture for those who haven’t yet been. Too much fondness applied and it becomes too saccharine, a pinch too much cynicism and fictional Brittany is suddenly bleaker than its weather.



As I mentioned in my last post about it’s famous pastry, the more I learned about Douarnenez – its tiny size, its rugged geography, its fishing industry, its history and folklore – the more I knew it was where A French Wedding needed to be set. Douarnenez is exactly where Juliette would come from and where she would go back to after living in Paris, bereft and in search of, well, herself. And, of course, Max – British, wealthy, famous and similarly lost – would buy a cottage on the coast and transform it into the kind of holiday house worth showing off to friends – full of glass and brass and large wooden tables ready for entertaining.



I took these photos of Douarnenez on a research trip back in 2015, with my family in tow. We had just come from Korcula in Croatia, where the Adriatic sea glittered and the sun shone white and hot, so Douarnenez was a stark contrast. Always a fan of the underdog, I loved the town. I loved the stone houses in the village clustered around the oily marina, the gulls riding the thermals, even the brooding grey of the sky. We stayed in an incredible, ancient home – Manoir de Kerdanet – run by Sid and Monique, eating Far Breton for breakfast and sipping local cider in the evenings while Monique told us the local myths and history. We went to the local markets and ate all the local produce we could find including cheeses, salt-marsh lamb and the incomparable kouign-amann. One night we went out to a restaurant perched on a cliff’s edge and devoured fresh lobster baked in glossy copper pots, as the mist rolled in towards us.


The trip was validation that I had chosen the right place for Max to celebrate his fortieth birthday and set the story for A French Wedding. I had been seeking somewhere small, coastal, historical, unpolished and real, wild even – and Douarnenez ticked all the boxes.


Have you been to Brittany? Did you love it?


In: Food, From Hannah, Travel, Writing