When I moved to the south of France, I expected skies in the exact shade of blue as a Swedish hunk’s eyes, sun-drenched river banks, warm terracotta soaking up the sun, and me, lounging in my garden with a chilled cocktail clasped leisurely in hand.
Now, a year later, I can only testify to the heavy shelf of cloud blocking me from that brilliant blue, the violently aggressive wind, and my frigid flat. The sofa is lined with blankets under which we huddle every night, and my slippers may have added 30 years to my age but my feet have been incredibly grateful for it. Doesn’t scream the south of France does it?
There was one day last summer when Gaylord and I explored the city. It was scorchingly hot, which wasn’t helped by the fact that we had to wear masks as we traipsed through the deserted city centre, my sandals gathering dust and offering little protection from the baked pavements. There was a moment, though, as we passed the river, and I gazed up at the overhanging balconies, at the vines of leaves creeping up the buildings, and was bewitched by that delicious contrast of orange on blue, terracotta on sky, the vivid colours of the south. In that moment it hit me – here I was in the south of France.
Not gonna lie, haven’t really noticed since. This picture captured that rare occurrence called sun. What’s a girl gotta do to get some vitamin D?
However, this week has helped. Finally the weather is behaving as it should. My over-worn and oversized jumper and my thick woollen cardigan saw a lot of action during the last few months, and now, today, I sit here writing this in shorts! And a sleeveless top! Slippers and blanket are safely ensconced in the cupboard, and I can almost taste the summer which is the flavour of strawberries, cherries, peaches and pineapple.
Toulouse, in refusing to deliver the weather that it promised simply by its general location, is rather like a grouchy teenager and at long last is being dragged along by its busy parents, the rest of the south.
Under that bowl of blue, yesterday Gaylord and I drove two hours to the beach. We stretched out our towels on the soft sand facing the waves, alone apart from a few couples and families, and ate chicken paprika sandwiches. I slathered myself in sun cream, adorned a floppy hat with only the slightest self-consciousness, and we dozed and read, and I swam (Gaylord was a baby). Everyone seemed so happy and the beach was alive with the colour of bikinis and parasols, frisbees and sunhats, along with numerous bare breasts hanging heavily like bunches of ripe grapes over leathery brown skin. It’s France after all.
While I wait a few more weeks for those strawberries, cherries and peaches, I have a little longer with the fruits of spring. Just like in the UK, there are a hella lot of apples and pears here – for about six months mind – so I branched out to the tropical flavours of summer. Pineapple, banana, coconut and passionfruit. This pina colada-like concoction happens to make one of my ultimate favourite cakes called Hummingbird cake, the recipe of which I have in fact already baked and shared, so this has a twist.
Adding the tropical notes of coconut and passionfruit to my Hummingbird cupcakes not only gave the squidgy soft texture a delectable lightness, but oh boy the scent of the passionfruit was enough to transport me on a summery cloud to my own island. This recipe can be plopped into a loaf tin and thickly coated in a cream cheese frosting, much like me with the sun cream yesterday, or you can try these Hummingbird cupcakes, a simple and addictive morsel of pineapple and banana cake with the flavours of summer singing through.
Now, I can finally sit in the sunny garden. But probably with a plate of Hummingbird cupcakes instead of a cocktail. Summer is finally within my grasp.
Hummingbird cupcakes with coconut and passion fruit
- 2 bananas soft and ripe
- 200 g sugar
- 165 g crushed pineapple in a can For the life of me I couldn't find crushed pineapple anywhere, so I bought pineapple chunks in a can and crushed them with my hands. It worked however crushed pineapple is best.
- 200 g self-raising flour
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 eggs
- 130 ml vegetable oil
- 35 ml pineapple juice
- 35 ml coconut milk
- 80 g desiccated coconut
For the cream cheese frosting
- 150 g soft unsalted butter make sure the butter is not a cheap basic range – I used one from Lidl and the frosting didn't work!
- 260 g full fat cream cheese it must be full fat otherwise, with the icing sugar, it will turn to liquid
- 200 g icing sugar
- 2-3 tsp lemon juice
- 2 fresh passion fruits
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly grease the moulds of two cupcake trays with butter.
- In a large bowl, mash the bananas, then add the sugar and pineapple. Sift over the flour and cinnamon then stir all together until combined.
- In another bowl or jug whisk together the oil, pineapple juice, coconut milk and eggs. Pour into the banana cake mixture, add the desiccated coconut and stir until smooth.
- Pour the batter into the cupcake moulds until almost full – the cakes won't rise very much. There is enough batter to make 16-20 cupcakes so if you don't have two trays, you can leave the leftover batter to stand as the first tray bakes.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes until the cakes are springy and golden around the edges. The centres may seem a little wet but that's because the batter is very moisture-heavy with fruit.
- After 5-10 minutes of resting the cakes in the cupcake tray, remove them onto a cooling rack. Now it's time for the frosting!
- Take two large mixing bowls. In one, add the softened butter and 150g of cream cheese. Beat them together with an electric whisk until creamy.
- In the second bowl, add the remaining cream cheese and sift over the icing sugar. Beat with the electric whisk again – no need to clean the whisk if you're lazy. The cream cheese will soften and appear like liquid. Add the lemon juice and beat again.
- Now, pour the sweetened cream cheese mixture into the butter-cream cheese a little at a time, beating well and scraping the sides with a spatula after each addition. Don't add it all at once as it could become liquid. The frosting should remain pillowy soft and thick.
- Spread the frosting on top of the cooled cakes. Halve the passion fruits and, using a teaspoon, scoop out the seeds and juice and drizzle it over the surfaces. Scatter with some extra desiccated coconut.