During the Easter school holidays we stayed at a holiday home at beautiful Jervis Bay on the South Coast of New South Wales. Seven days of relaxation and s.l.o.w. Two adolescents, an I’m-almost-done-with-six-and-don’t-we-know-about-it and a four-year old human tornado (aka The Boy) does not really mean relaxation ever happens except in precious little instances. But slow we can do; and slow is probably as close as we are going to get to relaxation for the next decade or so.
Just days of, variously: walking, paddling, kayaking, bicycling, photographing, doing jigsaw puzzles, playing boardgames, watching movies, reading. That’s it, really (minus griping, yelling, sobbing, moaning etc). Eating figures fairly significantly too.
Normally, preparing the family meals is a complete and utter exhausting chore that just has to get done – in our nasty little flatpack kitchen with its horrible stove and non-existent pantry – so kids can get to drama class or Girl Guides or into the bath or into bed. But for some reason, on holidays, cooking in a small kitchen (or when we’re camping, under the stars) is a joy.
Slow, I think, is the secret ingredient. Time to relish and savour. And an appreciative audience of hungry mouths.
None of what we simmered, baked or sautéed is terribly groundbreaking. The ingredients are mostly thoughtful, sometimes merely pragmatic: Wollongong-made pasta; grass-fed beef from down the coast purchased from our lovely local butcher, who greets me by name and dices the steak for my casseroles or rolls up a nice roast for a party; organic parmesan and local organic milk delivered by the milko; the rest from our fruit & veggie box, Woolies or the local IGA here at the Bay; but all are easily obtained (for a stress-head mother of four that means absolutely no traipsing around farmers markets with a crush of hipsters, heavy bags and over-it little ones, however much I’d like to!). But, as Maggie Beer says, it’s cooking from the heart, with time to spare.
So, five weeks’ later with el relaxo completely swamped by school/work/house, here’s a kind of recipe for the sort of good-without-en (as Mum refers to it) holiday cooking from the heart.
Roast Pears and Apples (not quite Pears Belle Helene)
This is for six-ish. Normally I do this as baked pears with vanilla and cream but I forgot to pack the vanilla seed syrup and felt like adding some apples, so . . .
A few pears, especially ones with bruises that need eating quick smart, maybe a few more
A few apples, red are lovely but use whatever you like best.
Don’t bother peeling the fruit but cut out any manky bits that offend you. Quarter and remove seeds. Add some more fruit if you can still see the bottom of the dish, or you feel like more fruit.
Place in a big baking dish. Earthenware is lovely. Don’t bother greasing it.
Now peel a few decent-sized bits of orange rind with a vegetable peeler or knife and add that to the fruit. Drizzle over some maple syrup, by which I means a good slosh you can actually hear coming out of the bottle. Then, sprinkle over a good few dessertspoonfuls of brown sugar and dot some chunks of butter on top of the fruit. I like to use a good bit for richness. I prefer to use unsalted but use whatever you like so long as it is proper butter.
Bake, uncovered for about 30 minutes in a moderate oven (about 180-200 degrees). It should cook beautifully in that time if the fruit is in one layer. I made the mistake of using a smaller dish a some weeks ago and it took forever.
The fruit will be delightfully soft, and if your oven is hotter than you thought, you’ll have the bonus of a lovely golden skin.
Finish off with a swirl of cream (thickened, pure, organic, just milked, whatever) and then serve.