Just about the entire northern hemisphere is in the grip of a prolonged heatwave, with wildfires raging and people dying. There’s disagreement on how much climate change is to blame, but a consensus that damaging heatwaves will become more frequent, and we really ought to do some planning for that now – changing the way that houses are built, and planting (and retaining) more trees and green spaces, for a start. Personally, I don’t do at all well in the heat. This week I have almost become a hermit, venturing outside only when entirely necessary. Ryan and I take it in turns to water the garden in the evening, and that’s pretty much all the attention it’s getting. I planted up a bed or basil and parsley on 11th July, and have just managed to keep some of the plants alive – one or two even look like they might be getting the hang of life now – but I have some climbing pea seedlings that really want to be planted out, but would scorch in about 5 seconds.

These are satellite pictures of where I live, taken before the heatwave, and a week ago:


So I am staying indoors, and this week I have been reading Tim Peake’s Ask an Astronaut: My Guide to Life in Space, and in some ways our current situation is a bit like life on the ISS. The harsh exterior environment means it’s unwise to nip outside without proper preparation, and we’re all forced to keep wearing a limited set of clothes (although, unlike ISS astronauts, we can at least wash ours and get them dry!). All air movement is being forced by fans, I don’t feel much like eating, and while I have more cooking facilities than an astronaut, I certainly don’t feel like using them much, and we have been quite reliant on food that comes in packets.

I wonder how Tim felt, stuck inside the ISS, because by his own admission he’s an outdoorsy kind of person, and a lot of his expeditions have been to nice cold places. It’s one thing to spend a few days in a confined environment, it’s quite another to sign up for 6 months in which any reminders of life on Earth have been delivered by a rocket.

In the book, Tim answers quite a lot of questions about what the food is like on the ISS. He has a tendency to put a positive spin on everything, but I can image that – a lot of the time – it’s a big grim. Astronauts are always thrilled when a supply ship arrives and delivers fresh produce – usually fruit – which has to be devoured in days. One of the treats Tim talks about fondly is the ‘maple-top muffin’, which is a pre-packaged MRE (Meal, Ready to Eat) included in military rations, with a long shelf-life. When I Googled it I couldn’t find a recipe (and probably wouldn’t be able to recreate it anyway), but I did find one for maple-glazed blueberry muffins, and with a sudden fit of enthusiasm I thought I would make an astronaut-inspired dinner.

The main course was easy – astronaut hotdogs with sausages wrapped in tortillas (crumbly bread is a no-no in space) with a splurge of condiment for extra flavour.


Mini polytunnel as fruit cage, over blueberries

I have a trio of blueberry plants in the garden, designed to crop over a long period. They’re called Julia, Augusta and Septa, after the months in which they provide their main harvest (in theory). We’ve eaten all the Julia already, and are harvesting the Augusta at the moment. They’re planted in a special ericaceous raised bed, although they’re currently being watered with tap water, so the pH may need adjusting when the weather calls down. The blueberries are currently enjoying their own protective environment, hidden away from the birds under my mini polytunnel ‘fruit cage’. I harvested some a few days ago, but when I started making the muffins I realised I didn’t have enough. And so, unlike an astronaut, I just nipped outside and picked some more. I had to improvise a little (and I had to search high and low for the paper cake cases – losing things is apparently a common problem in the ISS too, because they float away), so my version went like this…

Ingredients for 12 muffins:

250g plain flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
140g granulated sugar

100g salted butter, melted
50g milk
2 large eggs
50g maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
175g blueberries (reserve a handful for the topping, if you’re feeling fancy)

For the topping:
1.5 tbsp maple syrup
3 tbsp icing sugar

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas 4. Mix together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and sugar. Separately, mix together the melted butter, milk, eggs, maple syrup and vanilla extract. Then pour the wet ingredients in with the dry, throw in the blueberries and gently mix everything together. Muffins don’t like to be over-mixed, it makes them heavy. Hot weather listless stirring is perfect!
  2. Spoon the mixture muffin cases, then bake for 22-25 minutes until they’re nicely risen, golden brown and a skewer inserted into the centre of the largest one comes out clean. Transfer them to a wire rack to cool down a bit, but don’t leave them too long, as they’re most delicious warm!
  3. Make the maple glaze by combining the remaining maple syrup with the icing sugar. Exclaim at how little there is, and wonder how you’ll spread it over 12 muffins. Go to plan B – spread the maple glaze over 4 muffins, top each one with a blueberry or two, and then scoff two each. You can make more maple glaze later on when you want to eat the rest.


Blueberry maple muffins

They’re out of this world! Ryan and I had two for our astronaut dessert, and Ryan has had two more (without glaze) for breakfast. Tragically, without the special formulation and packaging used for MREs and astronaut meals, the lifespan of these muffins is very short – 2 days, tops. So, unfortunately, we’ll have to finish them all today and tomorrow 😉

For those of you who like space stuff, I have a new Twitter account – @emma_astro where I’m posting my space food/gardening and more sciency stuff, whilst I continue transmitting the more Earthly gardening and botany via my normal channel (@emmathegardener).

Happy heatwave, everyone!