This weekend, the dishwasher worked overtime, as did the oven. The kitchen bustled with holiday excitement and children sneaking tastes and dogs underfoot and enticing aromas drifting into every corner of the house…. And my camera stayed put, tucked away in its case in the closet the whole time. I took almost no photos of any of it, aside from a few on my phone because, the truth is, there are days when I just want to cook – messily, in all directions, with flour in my hair, dishes on the counter, crumbs on the floor, towels draped over the chair, and plastic cookie cutters strewn across the table (so NOT photogenic!). Would I be amiss to say that I think all food bloggers, photographers and recipe developers go through this at some point? We forget that we don’t constantly have to be creating in the kitchen. We don’t always have to come up with something new or original, it’s okay to follow someone else’s recipe and enjoy the process of cooking without a camera in hand, racing to finish before the sun sets and takes with it all the precious natural light needed for a good photo. It’s okay to just cook. As much as I love dreaming up new recipes, staging and styling a beautiful scene, it doesn’t excite me the way it used to, and I know that when something I love is no longer inspiring, it’s time to take a step back and give it a break.
What does inspire me right now? Being with my kids in these days leading up to Christmas. I enjoy each second with them, and with every Christmas that passes I am painfully aware that they’re growing up too fast and the innocent magic of the holidays with them is limited. Connor is turning 13 this year. That means thirteen Christmases have passed; only five remain until he is 18 and off to college. I have to make those five count. So we will make Christmas cookies in a messy kitchen with plastic cookie cutters and flour on our faces, and I will let the dishwasher take care of the mess, and I won’t feel the need to get out the camera and futz and fluff with everything to get the perfect shot. Because it’s already perfect, and this is what’s real right here, right now. It’s in the mess that lies just outside the edges of a beautifully styled food photograph, it’s in the periphery where the magic happens.
These apples are just one of the things we baked over the weekend, and the only thing I took photos of on my iPhone. I love the simplicity of old-fashioned desserts like these, especially in the busy days leading up to the holidays. They are unpretentious and humble and perhaps they will never win a beauty contest, and people won’t “ooh and aah” over them like they do when they see a lovely layer cake dressed in buttercream with fondant roses, but we all know that beauty is only skin deep. It’s what’s on the inside that counts, and inside these apples are mounds of raisins, drenched in caramelized brown sugar, heady cinnamon, nutmeg and butter, that when served with a little ice cream, creates the most decadent apple-scented syrup. And though they won’t ever win the prize for being “Miss Most-Photogenic,” perhaps they will be remembered as a most comforting autumn dessert.
6 smallish, firm apples
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1 – 2 TBSP butter
Butter a baking dish that’s just large enough the hold the apples. Preheat the oven to 375 F (190 C).
Chop the raisins and place them in a small bowl. Add the brown sugar, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. Mix well and set aside.
Cut the tops off of the apples and reserve. Using the small end of a melon-baller, scoop out the cores, being careful not to cut through the bottom of the apple. Place the apples in the pan and fill each cavity with the raisin mixture, pressing down to make sure each apple is filled completely. Place about 1/2 teaspoon of butter on the top of the filling, then place the reserved apple tops back onto each apple.
Pour about 1/4 inch of boiling water into the bottom of the pan. Place in the oven and bake the apples for 45 – 50 minutes. Keep an eye on the water in the pan and if it becomes too dry add a little more.
Cool and serve the apples with vanilla ice cream, spooning the sauce from the pan over top of each apple.