There was a moment when Eloise was alone on the plane, or at least it felt like she was. The flight attendants didn’t see her, in her seat all the way in the back row against the window and for a few long minutes, Eloise stayed glued to the blue fabric seat and tried to remember how to breathe.
The flight attendant that noticed her looked pinched and more than a little confused as she hurried toward her down the aisle. “Ma’am?” she asked with impatience in her voice. It had been a long flight, nearly ten hours and outside, the sky was pink. “Ma’am, you have to get off the plane.”
“Right. Sure.” Feeling like a fool, she stood, on shaking legs.
“Are you all right?”
No. “Yes,” Eloise replied. “Fine.”
She had no bags but a small purse. Everything she owned would be waiting for her in the baggage claim, four large suitcases. Eloise had worried about her bag when she first sat down; everyone else seemed to have brought on small libraries to entertain them during the long flight, books and laptops and headphones, tablets everywhere. She hoped she could watch a movie on the small screen on the back of the seat in front of her but it turned out not to be needed. For 10 hours, she sat with her eyes wide open and did nothing but think. It was like someone tazed her as she sat down and she remained that way, frozen, for the whole flight.
Every step she took now felt like a month. 12 months ago when she lost her job. 11 months ago when her father died. 10 months ago, 9, 8 when they sold her father’s house and all of his belongings and handed her a check, more money than she’d ever seen in her life. 7 months when Jonathan broke up with her- it wasn’t his fault, she thought now with a big, staggering step, he didn’t know what to do with her mountain of grief over a man she’d never known and the burden of his gifts. 6 months, 5 months, 4 months ago when she wandered into that strange building across the street from the Thai place, the one that promised “peace”, a meditation room where Eloise sat down on the floor and finally, finally wept and found peace. The man who owned the studio, who gave her a cup of tea and told her, in such a calm and lilting and knowing way that she should go to France. He was not French and he looked as surprised to have said the words as she was to hear them. 3 months, 2 months, 2 weeks ago when she went to the airport and bought the ticket. Last night, when she said goodbye to no one and boarded the plane.
And then… just hours and hours of shock. What had she done? Was she insane? Eloise felt the flight attendant’s eyes on her back as she finally left the plane, descended the stairs, shocked to find herself outside on the tarmac. Did they still do this, she wondered as she swayed on the steps, still wheel stairs up to the massive plane and let people disembark, like she was the president or Marilyn Monroe. Eloise felt the foreignness of her own life sink in then and the air stung her eyes. She reached the last step and touched the ground. And then a smell hit her. Rosemary. It punctured the air, through the stink of gasoline and the man in the vest who hadn’t showered in weeks. She stared at the ground, at the narrow path before her and saw that someone had jammed rosemary plants on either side of the door to the airport. They were out of place and lopsided but she took them as a sign- they meant well, their intentions were good. And more than that, the smell reminded her of her aunt and the small pots of it she kept on her windowsill. She lived in a big house all alone in Maine, and Eloise sought refuge there as a girl when they’d go to the lakes and into the woods and sit on the wide front porch and shuck corn and listen for the cows in the distance. Eloise took one step in front of the other and thought of her aunt, when her mother would shake her head and say, “What would possess a single, childless woman to buy such a big house in the middle of nowhere?” Probably the same thing that would possess your lost child to move to France because a stranger suggested it, Eloise replied silently to her mother. She took one step closer to the rosemary, to refuge.
A few notes on this beautiful almond cake… I used ground almonds in place of toasting and grinding them. And sour cream works in a pinch if you’re “out of creme fraiche” like some kind of peasant. 😉 I also have a theory that it would be amazing with roasted pears… like this Cornmeal Cake from our holiday collection.
Almond Cake with Lemon and Creme Fraiche Glaze
1 Stick of unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for the pan
1 Cup of unsalted raw almonds
1 and 1/3 Cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 Cup of instant polenta
1 Tablespoon of baking powder
1 Teaspoon of minced rosemary
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 Teaspoon of salt
4 Large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 Cup of granulated sugar
3/4 Cup of crème fraîche
1/2 Cup of water
1/2 Cup of granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
1/2 Cup of confectioners’ sugar
3 Tablespoons of crème fraîche
1 Tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
Make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350° and butter an 10-inch springform pan.
On a baking sheet, spread almonds and bake for about 4 minutes, until toasty and fragrant. Let the almonds cool completely, then coarsely chop them. In a food processor, pulse the almonds until they are finely ground but not pasty. (Or buy ground almonds- just as good and a few less steps… if you do, I used about 1 and 1/2 cups of ground almond flour. Turned out fine.)
In a large bowl, whisk together ground almonds, flour, polenta, baking powder, rosemary, lemon zest and salt.
In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with a whisk, combine eggs and sugar and beat at medium-high speed until tripled in volume, about 10 minutes. With the mixer at low speed, add crème fraîche (or sour cream thinned with a bit of water), then drizzle in the melted butter just until incorporated.
Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg mixture into the dry ingredients in 3 batches. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 30 minutes, until a paring knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
In a small saucepan, combine the water, sugar and lemon juice and boil for 3 minutes. Let cool.
Set the hot cake on a rimmed baking sheet and pour the syrup evenly over it. Let the cake cool completely. Remove the side and bottom of the pan and transfer the almond cake to a platter. You can also use boxes for cakes for a better presentation for the guests on your special event.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, crème fraîche and lemon juice until smooth. Spread the glaze all over the top of the cake. Let stand until the glaze sets slightly, then cut into wedges and serve.