Weather report: extremely grumpy. Violent flashes, thunderous bangs, strong winds, torrential rain and a whole crop of waterspouts. For Pete’s sake people, we’re in the Mediterranean, it’s supposed to be sunny. The weather has forgotten how to behave.
We don’t like waterspouts – they start like the photo on the left below, then they can do this to your house:
That was just one of the many houses destroyed 18 months ago, across the lagoon from us on the Kaş Peninsula, when a giant waterspout made landfall. It is not surprising that we all begin to twitch nervously when we see them forming on the horizon.
However, the good news from the garden is that Pip, our Bodrum Bergamot tree, is not only in full bloom, but has actually formed some baby fruit for the first time. We acquired Pip five years ago on a cold, snowy, January road trip which included a visit to Bodrum. Unfortunately, Bodrum was the first stop, so Pip had to stand on the hump between the foot-wells in the back of the car for the rest of the week. He was actually taller than either of our backseat passengers and it was rather unnerving glancing around from the driving seat – like having a fifth person in the car with us.
While varieties of bergamot grow in many regions of the world, the Bodrum Bergamot is peculiar to the Antalya/Aydın region of Turkey, of which we live bang in the middle. It is a hybrid of various species, including our native bitter orange and a sweet lime. One can only assume that the limes arrived from Persia, courtesy of the Silk Road, as they are not part of the cuisine here.
The grower assured us that we only needed one tree, as long as there were other citrus nearby, but, as the years passed, we were beginning to think he’d made an error – every time Pip bloomed, the flowers came and went, but no fruit. This year, our little tree is covered in flowers and there are at least a dozen baby fruit already, with much of the tree still in bud. I just hope that today’s weather hasn’t put paid to most of them.
If we have success, our baby fruit, as photographed (above left) yesterday when it was sunny, will turn into the large, rather knobbly, grown-up fruit as shown in the photo on the right. They should be ready by the time we return in September, all the better for adding to lemons, grapefruit and limes for my super-easy marmalade. If you ever see bergamots in the market, I urge you to try some – they add a subtle ‘Earl Grey’ flavour and also make wonderful juice, mixed with oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit, or any combination of the above.
We’ve had a quiet ten days, as Robin has been more than under the weather with some kind of superbug infection, which has particularly affected his throat and jaw. Two courses of antibiotics down and he is finally emerging from the other end, looking much better than a week ago, if a little slimmer and definitely quieter in the vocal cord department.
On Saturday evening, I temporarily abandoned my Emergency Ward 10 duties, and went out unescorted to play with our friends for dinner. Looking forward to solid food for the first time in nearly a week, having survived on soup and smoothies in solidarity with Robin, I decided some kind of dessert offering was in order. One of our playmates is particularly partial to carrot cake, so I decided to make some in muffin form, making transportation a little easier. Luckily, our friend Cafer, who owns the restaurant, is partial to British desserts and never minds if we bring our own, so long as there are extras for the waiting and kitchen staff.
Obviously, carrot cake wouldn’t be carrot cake without the cream cheese frosting, whatever form it is in. I kept my frosting simple, flavoured only with vanilla, but a little orange, lemon or lime zest never goes amiss here, so don’t feel compelled to stick with vanilla. Similarly, if oranges are your thing, by all means add some zest to the muffin mix, and of course you can swap the ginger for cinnamon or mixed spice. In the autumn, if you have a surfeit of pumpkin or butternut squash, you can use that to replace the carrots – proceed in exactly the same way.
I used the food processor, as I like the carrot to be fairly finely shredded, but you can easily mix this up in a bowl. If so, do grate the carrot finely, or you will have discernible chunks, which may spoil the texture of the finished muffins.
*If you would like your muffins to be chunkier, you could replace half of the flour with wholemeal flour or oatmeal, in either of which case add an extra teaspoon of baking powder.
My mixture made 14 muffins – if you have mixture left over and don’t have another muffin tin, just line some ramekins or dariole moulds (pudding cups), or even some oven-proof tea cups, with muffin papers.
Carrot & ginger muffins with cream cheese frosting
Makes 12 – 14
You will need a 12-hole muffin tin, lined with muffin papers*
2 medium carrots
200g brown sugar (I used Demerara – any kind is fine)
125ml vegetable oil
150g plain yoghurt (or buttermilk if you can get it)
250g self-raising flour*
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
Generous pinch of salt
150g sultanas, raisins or mixed dried fruit
For the cream cheese frosting:
150g icing (powdered) sugar
75g softened butter
75g cream cheese
A splash of vanilla or the grated zest of a lemon, orange or lime
A few chopped nuts to decorate – I used hazelnuts, but pistachios or walnuts would be good too
Pre-heat the oven to 190ºC (fan).
Wash and grate the carrots – if you are using a food processor, grate the carrots before you begin the rest of the mixture. If you are making the muffins by hand, grate the carrots on the finer side of a box grater.
Mix together the brown sugar, vegetable oil, carrots, ginger, eggs and yoghurt until smooth. Add the flour, baking soda and a pinch of salt, then mix briefly until just combined or pulse until the carrots are the texture you like. Add the dried fruit and stir in or pulse briefly to mix.
Use a spring-action ice cream scoop to scoop the mixture into the lined muffin cups (and extra ramekins/dariole moulds/pudding cups, if using).
Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the tins around and bake for a further five minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the muffins to cool in the tins.
For the frosting:
Put all of the ingredients into a bowl and mash with a fork until combined, then beat with a fork or small whisk until smooth and fluffy (if your butter/cream cheese is a little too firm for mixing, give it a 10-second blast in the microwave and try again).
Once the muffins are completely cold, put a generous teaspoon of frosting onto the top of each one and spread with the back of the spoon, before sprinkling over the chopped nuts.