A week goes by fast when you’re not doing much of anything. The day after New Orleans, I packed up my car and drove seven hours to my parents’ house in North Carolina. They bought it a year and a half ago, from my brother and his wife. They bought it as a homestead for us, a central place for holidays and to run away. One not tainted by the gravitas of childhood arguments and grudges we hold onto and fortify each Thanksgiving. It’s beach-themed, though it’s three hours from any beach. It’s only half-done, the foyer is still the color of bruised floral patterns and wicker.
I brought Milo on my trip. He sat and licked my hand when it started to get dark, when the traffic slowed down, when the thunder hit the distant Appalachia. He’s a nervous dog when he’s alone, when he’s unsure if he can sleep and what he’ll miss if he closes his eyes. He slept well the first night, curled up on the pillow beside me, his small breaths swaying the threadbare pillowcases just gently enough to know he was dreaming. He sat by my side for hours while I worked, stepped on my booked and wrinkled their pages when he got bored. His favorite time was our morning walk, when the sun hadn’t hit its shadowless apex.
He sat at my feet while I was baking. So small, but never in the way. He spent his first three months as a stray, I think he got used to dodging people’s footsteps. Batter would fall from my spatula and he would dutifully clean up my mess. My little helper, my copilot. The dog I took back to Pennsylvania with me when my world had fallen apart.
And for four days I did nothing but bake and do dishes. Tested recipes, threw away the leftovers that had gone stale. I went through a carton of eggs and two bags of sugar. I forgot to set a timer and burned a dozen cookies. I forgot to turn the water off when my mother called to say she missed me. I’m not used to living alone; it takes practice and the wet kitchen floorboards reminded me of that. And the day I left North Carolina, I stopped by my brother’s house for the first time in my life. I dropped off a cake I’d made and hugged his wife. We talked for ten minutes and I left when I could. We don’t see each other much, and maybe the time apart has been a good thing.
Almond Plum Loaf
One last glance at summer's stone fruit before Fall sets in.
- 1 cup AP flour
- ½ fine almond meal
- 2 TB cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ½ unsalted butter, softened + 2 TB for topping
- ¾ cup sugar
- 3 eggs + 1 yolk
- 2 plumed, pitted and halve
- Prepare an 8 or 9-inch loaf pan with butter and parchment paper
- Preheat oven to 350*F
- In a medium-sized bowl, sift together flour, almond meal, cornstarch, and baking powder, set aside
- In a small measuring cup, whisk your cream, zest, juice, and vanilla
- In a large bowl (or a stand mixer, but it’s honestly easier to do by hand), cream together your ½ cup butter and sugar with a wooden spoon until well-mixed and light
- Add eggs and yolk, one at a time, until each one is fully incorporated. The mixture will appear curdled, but will set once you add your remaining ingredients
- Alternate between wet and dry ingredients, stirring slowly and constantly, until a batter forms. It will be velvety and a pale, pale almond color with a yellowish tinge
- Pour into your prepared loaf pan
- Lightly press your plums, cut side up, into the top of the batter
- Sprinkle top with brown sugar and dot with remaining butter
- Bake for 42-50 minutes, checking at the 40-minute mark for any browning
- Cake will be done when a toothpick comes out clean and edges pull away from side of pan
- Allow to cool and remove from pan.
- Eat within a day or tw