We are off to New Zealand to visit Robin’s son and daughter-in-law in two weeks time. It will be just coming in to spring there and I can’t wait for cooler weather, so that I don’t have to have crazy hair all the time. We had some chores to do in town this morning (involving two trips to the local municipality and one to the tax office – opposite ends of town and it’s market day, so no possibility of driving between the two and finding a parking space). When I left home, I looked like a relatively normal person (as normal as you can be when you step out into a swamp that is over 40 centigrade and 70% humidity, that is). When we arrived at the municipality offices for the second time, having crossed town on foot twice now, I caught a glimpse of myself in the full length mirror window and wondered how I’d managed to get past security without being detained for my own safety.
By the time we got back home, I felt as though I was going to blow a gasket and just had to hurl myself into the pool and stay there until my body temperature had hit something akin to normal. As I was there, I thought I’d do a few laps, but that was scuppered by one of our favourite September visitors, Mr Giant Hornet, chasing me up and down the pool. It was like being divebombed by a cross between a Kamikaze pilot and a B52 bomber, only much louder and quite a lot more persistent.
Usually these creatures are pretty benign – they bimble along without bothering anybody and we hardly notice them pass through (apart from the fact it sounds a bit like a helicopter crossing the terrace). Their benign nature is a good thing, as those of my friends who have had the dubious honour of being stung by both the local species of scorpion and by a hornet tell me that the hornet sting is worse by far. Despite being here for over a decade, I’ve not been stung by either, and am starting to get an irrational fear of both of them. This morning’s attack resulted in my spending quite a long time sitting on the bottom of our pool, out of reach of Mr H, underneath the water. Every time I popped up for air, he was still there and the divebombing began again.
Knowing that eventually I would either drown or be stung if I didn’t take seriously decisive action, I got a grip and made a cunning escape plan – this involved re-enacting that scene at the end of Fatal Attraction where Glenn Close kind of lunges up in a truly scary way out of the bathwater. Only luckily Anne Archer wasn’t standing by with a gun, so I won and the hornet got a major soaking – I’m quite pleased to say he didn’t drown, but he was sufficiently wet and cross to fly off and leave the battle for another day. Obviously I’m not leaving the house again until there’s frost on the ground and he’s gone to play in other pastures. Probably at this very moment he is being fitted with a mask and snorkel and getting his engines fine tuned.
One of the reasons Mr Hornet is so attracted to our garden right now is that the figs are beyond ready. Our fig tree, which looked like a dead stick when Robin planted it 12 years ago, is three storeys high. Last year, fed up with caramelised figs all over the paving, and needing all sorts of long-handled equipment and a fishing net on a pole to actually pick the damn things, Robin cut it down to shoulder height, but the top branches are back up to the top floor again already. Unfortunately, after its severe pruning, the figs haven’t been good this year, so we’ve left them on the tree – big mistake, as it’s attracting every wasp and hornet in the Parish.
Luckily, for everyone else, it’s been a good fig year, so I bought a huge bag of them at the greengrocer this morning, with a plan to make fig and plum jam (more on that tomorrow). I wanted to take something into town for our friend the almond seller when we go in this evening, so I snaffled a few of them to make some muffins. Several people have told me that figs and oranges go pretty well together (I hate oranges, so can’t really judge that one), so I adapted my usual muffin recipe to accommodate both of them, with a few stray walnuts to give a bit of crunch. They look absolutely delicious and I shall hand one to Robin for QC purposes in a moment or two – meanwhile, here’s the recipe:
Sticky fig & orange muffins
Makes 12 (actually mine made 13, so I baked the extra one in a muffin liner inside a pudding cup, which worked fine)
You will need a 12-hole muffin tin lined with paper muffin liners and a spring-action ice cream scoop if you have one.
300g self-raising flour
125g brown sugar plus extra for sprinkling (I used Demerara, but any kind is fine – white would be OK at a push)
Zest and juice of one orange
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100g plain yoghurt
125ml vegetable oil (sunflower or canola are fine, don’t use olive)
A handful of chopped walnuts plus a few extra pieces for the topping
Pre-heat the oven to 200C.
Line the muffin tin with paper liners.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar and orange zest.
Trim the stems from the figs and dice the flesh of two and a half of them – the easiest way to do this is to halve the fig, put the flat side down, then slice across a few times, then turn 90 degrees and do the same again. Chop the walnuts.
Measure the milk and vegetable oil in a measuring jug, then add the egg, vanilla, orange juice and the yoghurt. Beat until well combined – it doesn’t matter if it is not completely smooth.
Make a well in the centre of the flour/sugar mix and pour in the jug of wet ingredients. Beat until smooth – this is best done with a wooden spoon or a spatula – an electric beater might over-mix the ingredients, which means you’ll end up with tough muffins. Stir in the chopped walnuts (keep a few back for the top) and then finally add the chopped figs and mix them in as gently as you can.
Use a spring-action ice cream scoop (or two spoons if you don’t have one of those) to fill the muffin cases.
Slice the remaining 1.5 figs into thick slices (cut each half into four wedges) and push one on to the top of each muffin. Add a couple of walnut pieces and sprinkle generously with brown sugar.
Bake for around 25 minutes until golden brown and bubbling, and just firm in the centre.