One Small Morning in Stoke:
Tahini-Banana Loaf
with Honeyed Pecans

banana tahini loaf (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I had been feeling under the weather – in Stoke, the heavy gray of a sopping blanket – and sleep was eluding me. I’d been put up in the childhood bed of my best friend’s sister, beneath a shelf of her books and a streak of primary-colored doodles on the wall, a slip of memory left unscathed by a coat of paint applied at some later point in history. In the attic room, an eave hung low over the bed, a blue-checked cloth tied tight to the slanted window keeping out the wall of night. Giving up on sleep, I switched on the bedside lamp. My eyes, softly adjusted to the dark, jerked shut against the glare, so I slid eyes-closed to the carpet, its rough rubble thick against my knees.

Another shelf of books at the base of the eave, a clutter of time travel. German children’s books, some of which I’d had on my own bookshelves, adolescent fiction with spines thickly creased, some new books, brought home on a visit and left to live in this high-up, moonless room. I like to visit with books when I cannot sleep. Not to read them, just to run my fingers along their spines, to pull one off the shelf and read its jacket. Long ago, in the time when I was reliant on other people to take me to bookstores, I’d stand in front of the fiction shelf and pull each book one by one to read the back jacket, starting with A. It was an impossible task, and I don’t think I ever got to B. Maybe that says something else about me.

The books put me back to sleep, but a fitful sleep, with green-tinged dreams that tasted of pea soup and phantasmagorias. When at last I let the watery light wake me, I crawled out of bed and slipped my feet into a pair of the warm wool socks that C’s mum knits. A pair of wool socks will change your outlook on life, I have found. Slipping my book off the nightstand, I slunk down the two flights of mysteriously angled stairs. In this house, there were secret corners everywhere. It would take a lifetime – or a childhood – to explore them all.

The stillness of a lonely morning can be lovely, if there is coffee.

I was the first one to wake. The stillness of a lonely morning can be lovely, if there is coffee, but it is always a strange thing to make coffee in someone else’s house. The measurements are secret, the method obtuse. But a kettle is a kettle, and the aroma of beans is the same as cleverness, and soon hot water clackered against the kettle’s sides as steam puffed from its pouted mouth. The surf-like sound of grounds foaming is exactly the same everywhere.

Under my feet the cold seeped from the red brick tile through my socks. I swept my mug and myself to the couch, comfortably sagged and soft from years of children nestling into its blanketed belly. Before me, a branch snagged with gewgaws on string, brightly colored baubles of glass and metal, fabrics and paper, a sensory garland of remembered moments. Past it, out the high window, the red brick of another row house blurry through a shag of rain.

Bananas with pecans and honey
Crackers with butter (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The house stirred slowly. C crept down first in woolen socks, and found me, following the smell of coffee, on the couch. She slid onto its other end, head dropping to its bolstered arm, feet curling beneath my blanket, a steaming mug of tea warming her hands. We sat in gentle silence on the couch, seeing rather than hearing the rain, hearing rather than seeing the signs of life in the rooms above our heads.

I was very hungry, but I hadn’t known it until C said that she was very hungry and stole away into the kitchen. She came back with two large water crackers spread with taramasalata the pale pink of a fingernail and cracked black pepper. In my mouth, the snap of cracker gave way to a bright fizzle of lemon balmed by roe’s cool and casual decadence, a taste that in my mind evokes echoes of small golden spoons and fur hats and impossibly small dishes of Waterford crystal. Instead of quelling my hunger, it sent an audible grumble rumbling through my belly, but the taramasalata was gone, C said, sadly, running a finger along the inside of an almost-empty tub and popping it into her mouth.

In the kitchen, we found a banana and sliced it into thick coins, drizzling these with tahini and honey, then a scattering of sesame seeds and purposefully placed pecans. They were like small gifts. In my body, there was something like an awakening, deeper than the steady, daily itch scratched by caffeine. I remembered what it was to think a moment mattered enough to want to keep it in words, to want to stretch it like a sunned cat.

I remembered what it was to think a moment mattered enough to want to keep it in words, to want to stretch it like a sunned cat.

C’s parents snuck their heads around the door, vivacious with energy and plans for a grand breakfast of oatcakes with melty cheese and ham, and a breakfast salad bursting with herbs, crisp vegetables, walnuts, and feta. This hunger would be just this, a small morning moment amidst an abundance, of glorious fish flaked with salt and small bites of nutty sweets and the generous flow of wine and comfort and the warmth of real concern when one is feeling poorly.

Before me stretched a quiet day – the famous kilns would have to wait. Today, I would let myself feel slow and cloudy, take a long bath and rest, nestled into the folds of the couch, and listen to the old stories whispered to me by the empty house while I thought about writing my own.

Pecan, sesame, honey crumble close-up (Eat Me. Drink Me.) Tahini, banana, pecan loaf (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Tahini-Banana Loaf with Honeyed Pecans
This loaf cake was inspired by those perfect little banana bites in Stoke. It’s a bit more cake-like than a traditional banana bread, but a bit more loaf-like than a classic cake. It’s its own thing, but utterly lovely with a spot of whiskey in the afternoon, or coffee at breakfast. Today’s measurements are just in grams, folks. Sorry about that!

For the cake:
100 grams butter, softened
100 grams sugar
50 grams light brown sugar
70 grams tahini
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
200 grams mashed, overripe banana
220 grams flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt

For the glaze:
40 grams honey
20 grams butter
50 grams coarsely chopped pecans
1 tbsp. black sesame seeds
1 tbsp. white sesame seeds
Maldon salt, to garnish

Grease a loaf pan with butter and set aside. Preheat the oven to 180 °C/160 °C fan.

Cream butter and sugar until it begins to be pale and fluffy, then add tahini and vanilla. Beat another three minutes or so, then add eggs and mashed banana and beat until fully incorporated. (Here’s the part where I am honest with you and say I’m not an expert at baking. Do you think there’s a more professional way to incorporate these ingredients? Do it! You’re probably more right than me.)

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add to wet ingredients and stir to combine.

Transfer batter to prepared loaf pan and bake for 55-65 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.

When your loaf comes out of the oven, place it on a rack to cool and make your glaze: Heat butter and honey in a saucepan over medium heat. When it has melted, add pecans, white sesame seeds, and black sesame seeds. Stir for about a minute to combine, then pile along the center of your loaf. Sprinkle the topping with Maldon salt.

Allow to cool fully before serving.

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