winter sun | grapefruit, honey + almond mini muffs

We lived in England years ago, when I first started school. Thinking back, I feel like I watched a lot of TV. I spent a fair bit of time in class, a lot of time playing in the garden and mucking about outside generally, reading too, but it was then that I watched the most TV I ever have. Maybe because I had the most free time I ever had, but either way, TV was a pass time for dark, wet days. For the most part it was those kiddie cartoons, with animated animals that teach things like to be truthful, to embrace differences, standard lessons that may or may not be relevant as you grow up. Later I also liked wildlife and art shows, but from even when I was very young I could watch the travel channels endlessly. In those days (I'm talking 13-14 years ago) the big tour operators had their own channels - Thomson, Thomas Cook, the whole crew shot footage of their hotels and cruise ships. If you read this blog now and then you'll know that we adopted some kind of semi nomadic lifestyle (kidding) and in those years those of movement my travel channels disappeared, perhaps with the high street travel agents themselves.

At age 5 you could've quizzed me on the Balearics, The Canary Islands, the Spanish costas, north Africa and the Caribbean. I could've told you the main resorts, the nearest airports and the hotel chains operating in each area. It's funny because these are pretty much the exact places and types of resort I'd scorn now, but through the eyes of a curious 5 year old who didn't quite understand package holiday crowds, these places were dreams. There's no denying many of them are beautiful. I have the most vivid footage of Fueterventura etched in my mind - a white stone house with purple shutters under a clear blue sky, dusty desert grounds, a wooden chair with a straw-hatted man dozing. That stereotypical Mediterranean music playing in the background - you know, the gentle acoustic guitar that leaves you lusting after cobbled plazas and stone buildings covered in bougainvillea, an evening breeze ruffling the leaves of palms. I knew that Rhodes had the best water parks, I was fascinated by Lanzarote's black sand beaches, I knew which cruise ships had skating rinks and climbing walls, the Dominican Republic had the bluest sea (and you call it the Dom Rep). I wanted to see them all, to swim in all those pools, to stand on the balconies, to climb onto the flights with blue tail wings, to run barefoot on the golden arcs of sand.

The tour operators sold packages at all times of year - Easter, summer, but their biggest campaign was for the winter. 'Winter sun', they called it, and if you've ever lived somewhere that is hit hard by winter, the power of that name is really something. With the sun setting by 4pm and not rising till 8am, the thought of going anywhere with blue skies, sand and long sunshine hours is like a magnetic pull. We did eventually make it to Fuerteventura when I was about 12, to a sprawling resort where I played beach volleyball most of the day and we walked to an Italian restaurant on the promenade in the evening. We'd visited Malta and southern Spain, I'd taken on playgrounds and raced through hotel corridors, there had been mild sunshine and warm winds, I remember glasses of fresh orange juice on a Maltese pier, and being sent to the bar by my dad to ask for the bill for the first time. The year we went to Spain, my mum and I were down with chest infections, but there was just enough dry air and subtle heat that our lungs remembered to breathe and I could eventually shed my sweater. I learnt to ride the swings standing on the seat, how to climb up a slide and not use the staircase, how to read a map and bus timetables. 

We made friends with other kids, from similar families, with parents who worked hard and liked to take their little ones traveling as much as possible so they'd be part gypsy all their lives. I remember driving around Spanish hillsides, looking at property, since my parents were considering a small second home, so we could easily leave northern Europe to dry out. As you've probably seen, we don't holiday loads in Europe anymore, nor do we tend to go with all four of us  (ever since we became a family of six). We visit France often, driving from village to village, shopping in local markets, I try to speak French and we stake out a small village in the big French countryside to rent a charming place. Very different to the European trips growing up - no pool, no restaurants, no waterslides, no one my age.

It's funny to think I'll never go back to those places. I'll never see most of those islands or coastal towns that were my daydreams all that time ago. No Carribean cruises on the horizon. But in a way that's ok, the pools and the slides, the pizza dinners and the boulevards can stay, as they are, in my head. Sometimes on rainy days in February I'll think of them, and they'll bring light and warmth, just like winter sun.

Does anyone else feel like winter's just dragging its feet now? It's not properly cold anymore, just vaguely mild and sooo wet. If it's not going to be winter, it might as well be spring. Anyway, I made these muffs as a crossover, the citrus still at its winter prime, but bright and light. Grapefruit are at their best at this time of year and we tracked down these beautiful ruby fruit, but pink or white would work too. Equally if you're not into grapefruit, blood oranges would be lovely but even regular oranges or lemon would work. The thing with grapefruit is it gives this occasional bitter edge that goes so well with the sweet honey, almond meal and mild oat flour. It really gives them a little lively kick that is kind of sophisticated - think tahini in something sweet. If you would like to make regular sized muffins, that would work well too you'd just need to add a few minutes to the baking time - I haven't tried, so just keep eye on them. These muffins are also totally gluten free and dairy free depending on which yogurt route you choose, so I hope you try them. Either way, hope that you have a lovely weekend with a little bit of sunshine and maybe a muffin. Hugs xx


grapefruit, honey + almond mini muffs

makes 18 minis or 9 regular // gluten free

1 cup (100g) almond meal
1 cup (90g) oat flour, certified gf if necessary
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon (15ml) extra virgin olive oil
2 free range eggs
6 tablespoons (120g) honey
1/4 cup (60ml) natural/plain yogurt (I used goat yogurt, regular or coconut would work too)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Zest of one large grapefruit, about 2 teaspoons 

1 large  grapefruit 


Preheat the oven to 180'c, 350'f. Grease/line a mini muffin pan, or a regular one. 

Prepare your grapefruit. Cut the two ends off the fruit, then keep cutting the skin so that the flesh is in a rough block. Use the knife to remove as much of the pith as possible, and slice the flesh into small chunks. This is called supreming the fruit, fyi, in restaurant speak. 

In a large bowl, stir together all the dry ingredients. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, beat together the oil, eggs and honey till well combined. Add the yogurt and grapefruit zest and stir again till well combined.

Add the wet mix to the dry mix and stir gently with a flexible spatula. Fold in the grapefruit pieces.

Portion out the batter into your prepared pans of choice, filling minis to the top and regular muffins 3/4 full. 

Bake for 19-21 minutes for mini muffs, till the tops are golden, spring back when touched and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow 5-7 minutes more for regular muffins.

Cool for 5 minutes in the tin, then turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely. They'll keep in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 days or will freeze and defrost well. 

Notes

As I mentioned, if grapefruit isn't your thing, this would be amazing with blood oranges, or even a regular orange or lemon, so have fun with it. 

I started of filling the tin with two spoons but used a medium cookie scoop in the end and it was sooo much cleaner, if you're using mini muffins and have a scoop now is the time to use it :) 


more winter recipes

like a cold snap | pear-cocoa muffins with a walnut crumb

nutmeg and pear | honey-sweetened pear-cocoa muffins with walnut crumble (gf+dairy free)
nutmeg and pear | honey-sweetened pear-cocoa muffins with walnut crumble (gf+dairy free)

"L'hiver", he said to me. "Il fait froid". I had a working understanding of French, I understood more than I could speak. Winter, he'd said, it's cold. And it was bitter, Belgium was snowed in. The flakes had fallen, thick and hard for the past few days, it was Friday afternoon. Our first snow day. I think we almost died when we heard school was cancelled. Our bedroom was the loft room so the sloped windows were blacked out and the garden had become - just white, like Jack Frost had been visiting. The skeletal ribs of trees were lightly dusted, the whole garden looked soft and downy, it was magic. There was a sweet hush, a feeling of coziness, that the neighborhood was under a soft quilt.

Our house was on top of a small hill, the driveway was at least 250m long and very steep. Since school was cancelled anyway, we persuaded our dad not to start shovelling - we were going sledding. We didn't have those nice wooden sleds, rather these plastic things, almost like saucers, that you just sat on, pushed off, curled your legs under and hoped for the best. They made for a pretty exhilarating ride and pretty wet clothes. So we spent the next few hours happily running up the driveway, finding new and more perilous ways to 'ride' those sleds.

Our neighbors were an elderly couple who lived at the bottom of that hill. Number 6 was a charming white cottage, mint green shutters, a small wooden deck, a row of tidy trees. They kept two sheep in their hilly garden, a few greenhouses and all winter I'd watch the smoke rise from their chimney, smell the veggie soup. They often spoke in Dutch with my dad, I knew they were nice people, but I was a shy 12 year old who didn't speak much of the language, I'd offer a wave and a smile when we passed them. The man's name was Frans and he'd come out along his snowy driveway to check his mailbox, which is where my sister and I crash landed every time our sleds brought us down. I knew he spoke both French and Dutch and under pressure to say something, I think I mumbled 'bonjour', he'd said hello, big smiles, weather talk for the 2 kids who enlivened the neighborhood. I think he was happy, to see us scrambling around in the snow, the town was aging, we brought with us the shrieks of laughter and spontaneous joy that add something to a white Christmas. After that he'd often wave, and we started to bring Therese and Frans muffins. Nothing fancy, maybe banana, blueberry if we were feeling creative, just a friendly neighbor thing.

In their garden they grew beautiful fruits and vegetables in weathered glasshouses. the vines were heavy with purple grapes, green stalks slumped under the weight of tomatoes and zucchini in summer, when they'd bring the overflow of their produce. Quiet, hardworking people who'd toiled away for years, actually living for a while in what became our house while they worked to build their own. They'd made something out of that small, hilly patch of land.

nutmeg and pear | honey-sweetened pear-cocoa muffins with walnut crumble (gf+dairy free)

I grew up fast in those years. Snow went from being a fun novelty to an added chore, 4am we'd be out in -15 degrees darkness, listening to the tune of a Siberian wind that ate through our ski jackets. The charm quickly faded, and so did Frans. Dementia gets the best of them. It was fast, sudden, bitter, like a cold snap. My first funeral, gray February, dark spirits, black clothes, stone village church. He'd written us a letter, probably one of the last he wrote, he thanked us for the muffins, said he remembered us. Therese would visit him at the care home often, and we'd go down to the cottage, with muffins. To share with Frans, we'd say. And he remembered us as the two girls with the snow and the hill, the sleds. That winter had been years ago, I was way too cool to play in the snow, I preferred to clear it, salt it, watch it melt. I wondered what Frans would think, the melting snow made me think of childhood, giving way under the grit that life throws at it.

nutmeg and pear | honey-sweetened pear-cocoa muffins with walnut crumble (gf+dairy free)

Till the day we left Belgium we went to see Therese. We branched out from muffins to tea - Therese loved tea, we'd buy it whenever we went anywhere new. Peppermint tea from Tanzania, earl grey from England, Darjeeling from India all passed through the doorway of that stone cottage. We'd talk about frans sometimes (my Dutch had improved to monosyllables at this point. It's not so hard to say 'ja' is it?) and she'd always say, whenever she brought the muffins and said it was from the snow girls, his face would light up, like that weak winter sun.

I have a little folder in my desk drawer. A few birthday cards from my sister, some from my grandparents and my dad. The rest are letters from Therese. She writes in her spidery script, I write back in my broken Dutch. If there was one person who I wish could see this blog, it's her. It doesn't snow much here, but when it does, I think of that house, when they were both there, the smell of a wood fire and the small figure of Frans, fetching logs, him raising a pale hand in greeting. Bittersweet, just like the winter.

nutmeg and pear | honey-sweetened pear-cocoa muffins with walnut crumble (gf+dairy free)

And if there was one person who'd love these muffins it would be Frans. A gluten and dairy free, honey-ish muffin with a walnut streusel is sort of a far cry from those muffs but hey, proof of my improvement as a baker. This recipe makes quite a few muffs, but it's that giving season. You could give some away - maybe you know an elderly neighbor who's spending their first Christmas alone? Or there's the Amazon delivery guy who brings you a parcel at 9pm on a freezing Friday night when you're sitting in front of a fire feeling smug/snug. Or you could freeze some, or just eat them, they're mostly fruit, if you need persuasion. If you don't want/need them gluten free, I've added a spelt flour variation in the notes under the recipe. Chocolate, pears and substitutions? I spoil you. The crazy starts now, you ready? Wishing you a warm + cozy festive season, give a lot if you can, stock up on salt. Jeez I'm a cynic. Go string up your lights, this grinch did plans to do sothis weekend! Hugs guys xo


PEAR-COCOA MUFFINS WITH A WALNUT CRUMB

// dairy & gluten free // makes 12-14 medium muffs

A cozy cold weather muffin, light from seasonal pear and slightly sweet with honey, but rich with cocoa. Sprinkle with a nutty crumble that's a nice contrast to the fudgy muffin


3/4 cup (68g) oat flour, certified gf if necessary
3/4 cup (98g) buckwheat flour
1/4 cup (50g) natural cocoa powder
2 tablespoons (14g) flax meal
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 free range egg
1/3 cup (80ml) milk of choice – I used almond, use what you have
3 tablespoons (45ml) honey
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (45ml)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 medium pears (about 400g) ripe but firm pears, grated

// crumb topping
Heaped 1/4 cup walnuts (35g), chopped
1/4 cups rolled oats (24g)
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar *
1 tablespoon soft / room temperature coconut oil

preheat your oven to 180’C or 350’F. Line about 13 muffin tin – holes, evenly over 2 trays.

start by making the crumb topping. Add all the ingredients to a small bowl, mix with your fingers till the oil is no longer clumpy and the mix looks sandy. Leave in the fridge till you need it again.

in a large bowl, mix the flours, flax meal, baking powder and soda, salt, cinnamon and cocoa powder till evenly combined

in another medium bowl, add the honey, vanilla, oil, and milk, whisk till well combined; add the egg and whisk again

add the wet mix to the the dry flour mix and gently combine – once evenly moist, add the pear and again gently fold to combine

add about 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) to each muffin case, they can be filled quite high . Sprinkle a heaped tablespoon of streusel on top of each and pat it down gently, to adhere.

bake for about 20-22 minutes, till the top of the muffin springs back when touched. Because of the moisture of the pear, they always appear ‘underdone’ if you test with a skewer, so check the tops. The moisture is what makes the muffin so fudgy and special

they keep in an airtight container for about 3 days, but the extra freeze well in feeezer bags.

notes

*Turbinado sugar is also known as raw sugar, which it is, essentially (it’s a sneaky one- in the UK It goes under demerara sugar).  Where you want some texture, you’ll often find turbinado – crumbles, streusels, I also use it in cookies and pies. It’s a pretty golden brown color with big grains and is very unrefined, which is my jam of course. It’s made by simply crushing sugar cane and dehydrating the juice so it retains all the minerals and vitamins which is pretty sweet for sugar (lame pun). It’s also easy to find at any supermarket, I can find the supermarkets own brand.

You can use any nuts you want in place of the walnuts, hazelnuts would be good too. And of course, the streusel is entirely optional, but fun! For another option, you can use 1 1/2 cups + a heaped tablespoon (175g) spelt flour instead of the gf flours and flax. I’ve tried it, they are the tiniest bit less fudgy but no less great and maybe easier for some of you.
I think you could halve this for about 6-7 muffins if you’re ok with having half an egg hanging around – whisk the whole egg and weigh it, add half. Use the other half in scramble eggs or I think you could keep it in the fridge for a few days for egg wash for pies or scones? Never tried, just a thought.