Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Browned Butter Sauce

The house is quiet.  Amazingly, Blessedly quiet.  I've been longing for quiet lately.  It's a craving in my gut.  I can't think of a time in my life when the noise of life has felt like such a heavy weight to bear.  At 6:30 p.m. last evening I went to my room - like a teenager.  I went there by myself.  I curled up in bed and read some.  Then my eyes felt heavy and I let myself doze a little.  After that I read some more.  I didn't feel like eating more than I felt like staying put.  So I stayed put.  Every time the door to my room opened the noise felt deafening, jarring.  I didn't want to interact. No questions, thank you very much, because I'll feel coerced to answer.  No music.  No voices from a computer screen or tv coming at me.  I even turned a fan on in my room so that I couldn't hear anything from the floor below.  I stayed in my room until 8:30 a.m. this morning.
I'm not sure if I'm an extrovert or an introvert and to be quite frank, I don't care.  I get impatient with labels (I'm remembering, back in the early nineties, a friend of mine peddling and pushing personality tests like doing it would get me into heaven) because I think that it can prevent us from truly listening to our 'self' and to what we need at any given time.  It can also excuse a hell of a lot of behaviour that we should in all honesty seek to change.  So this weekend I'm an introvert.  Next weekend or even tomorrow, I might be an extrovert.  Maybe not today but on another day and in a moment of gritty honesty I would tell you that I'm some of both and that I think we all are.  I would also add that it's probably really important that we are all some combination of both.  Can we allow this duality to exist within our 'self' (I'm not sure why I'm putting that word into quotes but it seems like the right thing to do at this moment).

Admittedly, I'm not comfortable with duality.  We've been socially conditioned for generations now to avoid it.  All black or white.  Not a blend and never both.  It's wrong politically.  It's wrong religiously. It's wrong morally... and all that.  I'm working on relearning those ideas.  I'm working on feeling okay about how much I squirm when faced with it.  I'm working on embracing the idea of needing that duality.  We need to have both right and left in our society and in ourselves.  We need each other.  We need the happy and the sad, the good and the bad.  It gives us the depths of feeling, emotion and appreciation that connect us together.  We need *ahem* the black and the white.  And we need the quiet and the loud. Today I'm happily hugging up the quiet.  We're drinking each other in with gusto.

There are certain constants for me though and the desire to get my hands dirty both outside in the garden and inside the kitchen doesn't change.  Whatever the emotional place I'm in, the getting of my hands dirty feeds it in the best of ways.  Given that my sweet potatoes were nearly on the outs and that I had been meaning to make something like this for a long time, today was the the perfect day to dive into the project.  These definitely make a winter meal and would go beautifully with some kind of braised meat.  I choose to serve mine with some winter greens and bacon.  The greens are definitely a must, the bacon definitely optional.  I've cooked up enough for all of us to have a taste and then I put the rest (uncooked) into the freezer.  I still didn't feel much like eating today but I did down some of these and I'm the better for it.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi adapted from Aida Mollencamp
serves 6 - 8

3 med sized sweet potatoes, halved
2 med/sm russet potatoes, halved
oil of choice
2 tsp + a sprinkling of salt
dash or two of pepper
1/2 cup parmesan, grated
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup whole wheat (or Red Fife) flour
1 - 1 1/2 cups unbleached, all purpose flour

Heat oven to 350°F.
Rub the halved sweet potato and regular potatoes with oil, sprinkle with salt and roast on a roasting pan for about 30 minutes or until soft.  Remove from oven and cool.  Scoop the insides of the sweet potatoes and potatoes into a bowl.  Mash with a masher, forks or a hand blender (that's what I used).
Add in the 2 tsp of salt and a dash or two of pepper.  Mix and add the parmesan cheese, beaten egg, the whole wheat flour and about 3/4 - 1 cup of all purpose flour.  Mix well.  If the dough is still damp but doesn't stick to your hand then it's fine and you don't need to add any more flour.
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface.  Form the dough into a square(ish) kind of shape and slice into about 8 logs.  Flour your hands and roll the log out until it's about 1/2 - 3/4 inch in diameter.  Slice into about 1 1/2 inch long pieces.  You can roll each piece with the fork tines or leave them as is.
[At this point you can place the pieces on a cookie sheet and freeze.  Once the pieces are frozen then you can put them into freezer bags - you might want to do this if you won't be eating them all at one time.  Once the gnocchi are cooked they don't keep.
You can also refrigerate for a few hours and bring to room temperature before cooking. ]
Bring a med/large pot of water to a boil.  Once boiling add a dash of salt.  Add the gnocchi to the boiling water and simmer for about 6 minutes.  The gnocchi will resemble the texture of dumplings at this point.
Have sauce ready.
Remove gnocchi from the simmering water with a slotted spoon and toss in the sauce that's ready.
Pour the gnocchi onto a plate and sprinkle with a little more parmesan cheese.

Brown Butter Sauce
will do about half of the gnocchi

1/4 cup butter
1/8 - 1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
12 (or so) fresh sage leaves

Heat a heavy bottomed sauce pan over med heat.  Add the butter and onion.  Continue to simmer the butter over medium heat.  Add the sage leaves for about 2 minutes and then remove with a slotted spoon.  Once the butter starts to turn brown then turn the heat down.
Toss with the gnocchi and add in the sage leaves.

Oatmeal Red Fife Bread

I'm writing this post while waiting for Kid #1 to get herself to the shower.  This sounds utterly backwards but, if you can believe it, I've scheduled it with her since last night.  Twenty four hours later and my frustration is reaching proportions.  It feels like I'm forcing a dog into soapy water.  You have to hold the dog there, getting yourself thoroughly wet and soapy in the process, just to get it done.  Admittedly, there are many things about twelve year olds that I find perplexing and, as a parent, infuriating.
Here are a few of the things that I find absolutely confusing:
Sleeping - We don't sleep at night, we sleep in the morning.  Unless it's a weekday and then we must get up at 6:15.  If, by some strange fluke, our alarm does not go off and we wake up at 7 a.m. then we must run downstairs in tears using our loudest foot stomp and wailing about how our Mother (saint that she is) was supposed to wake us up because she must know that we get up at 6:15 EVERYDAY.
Eating - We eat all of the meals served to us by our saintly and gorgeous Mother (except maybe breakfast if we've slept in and are very upset) but we also eat snacks.  Lots of snacks. And we like to eat them right after our meal.  Or before our meal.  Or anytime.  We get our own snacks.  We never get our own meals.
Cleaning - Since we have to do our own laundry we choose to simply not do it.  Unless of course, we are threatened with the loss of something we hold dear.  Smelly clothes, especially underthings, do not factor into our decision about when laundry is necessary to do.  The same logic applies to cleaning our room (i.e. 'mess' is not a factor in deciding how much and when we clean) and generally any mess we make throughout the house.
Dress - 90% not important mostly because all of our clothes (decent or otherwise) are either in our dirty clothes hamper, on our floor or under our bed.  It is 99% probably that you will not find any article of clothing that we actually wear either on a hanger or folded and in a drawer.

I could go on but I think that you get my point.  Do I remember being twelve, you ask.  A little.  I remember wearing winter clothes in the middle of the summer (hot summer) because I liked how they felt on my body. (Pin Stripe Jeans were the thing)  I remember eating a whole bag of chips after school.  I remember having incredible amounts of energy when I was with my friends and being overwhelmingly lethargic once I got home.  I do have a certain level of understanding and I know that this is a phase.   Just for the record, I'm ready for the phase to pass so that we can move on to thirteen and see what that holds.
While I wait impatiently I'm making bread.  Bread helps with patience.  It doesn't require heavy labour or deep thought.  Just patience.  That's just what I needed last weekend.  I'm pretty sure that I've posted copious amounts of bread with oatmeal and honey on this blog.  I'm going to justify my repetition by telling you that making this bread made a goodly portion of my day feel a little more sane.  The calmness that it provided my addled nerves with allowed me to complete everything that I needed to with a smile and a sense of balance.  That alone makes it worth posting... and I think that I finally hear the shower running.

Oatmeal Red Fife Bread adapted from 'Good to the Grain'
makes 1 large loaf

2 1/2 cup whole wheat or red fife flour
2 cups unbleached, all purpose flour or bread flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 tbsp salt
2 cups warm water
2 1/4 tsp (1 pkg) dry yeast
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp unsulphured molasses
2 heaping tbsp honey
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

Combine the flours, rolled oats and salt together and set aside.  (Since I am kneading by hand I kept about a 1/2 cup of the all purpose flour back to save for kneading - if you are using a mixer then you don't need to do this)
Combine the warm water, sugar and yeast together.  Mix and set aside in a draft free spot to bloom (or you could do this in the bottom of the bowl of your stand mixer if you are using one) for about 10 minutes.  It should be bubbly, yeasty smelling and have risen somewhat.
Once the yeast has bloomed combine the flour mixture, the yeast mixture and the melted butter.  Mix together using a wooden spoon until everything is incorporated.  Cover with a clean cloth and set aside for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, start kneading the bread  - by hand: adding the reserved flour as needed for about 10 - 15 min./by machine: adding tablespoon or two if the dough gets sticky for about 6 min. on medium.  The dough should be slightly tacky and soft.
Place the dough in a buttered/greased stainless steel or glass bowl.  Cover and let rise for about an hour (or until doubled in size) in a draft free spot.
To form the dough: Butter/grease a large loaf pan OR line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicon liner.
Punch down the dough and form into a loaf sized log and place in the loaf pan OR into a dome shape and place on the parchment or silicon.  Cover with a clean cloth and place in a draft free spot to rise for about an hour (dough should have risen half it's size again and be just over the edge of the loaf pan)
After about an hour preheat the oven to 400°F.
Bake for about 40 minutes (rotating once through the baking) until the bread is dark on the top.  Use the knock test (the bread should sound hollow if you knock it).
Cool completely before slicing.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

There are times in your life when you just need chocolate.
(Disclaimer: Some serious self-congratulation is about to ensue)
Today was one of those days.  In fact, the whole weekend was 'one of those days'.  It started on Saturday.  Kid #1 was having a birthday party (her birthday is at the very end of December - like the 31st of - which is not a good day to celebrate anything other than the end of one year and the beginning of another) with 3 friends.  They were coming over to take over the main floor of our house - watch movies, make pizza and have some space to themselves.  That's all good.  I made sure that before anyone arrived I had finished my workout for the day, gotten breakfast done with, made pizza dough, gotten the tomato sauce ready and had the house in order.  D, Kid #2 and I then made a quick getaway out of the house until the early evening.

Today I was having some serious cravings for a house all to myself.  A place to curl up and read or look outside and think, to experience some quiet and calm.  What I got was making fresh waffles for the girls (one of the party attendees slept over) and kid #2.  Making bread (recipe to follow very soon). Have 3 kids play nerf gun through my house.  Getting a run in (8k today, thank jeebus for sunshine and bearable temperatures) and then... going to have a leisurely and quiet lunch with KT... oops scratch that... dealing with Kid #1 who is getting frantic because her afternoon mall date with a friend is not happening.  Wait, she's not sure because they talked about it last Monday and it was happening.  Wait, I'm sure she'll be here any second.  Wait - Ahhhhh, WHY ISN'T SHE HERE.  Wait.  I don't have her phone number because we only email.  WHY DOESN'T SHE EMAIL ME BACK.
So what happened is I ran out the door stuff two still slightly warm cookies into my mouth just for the endorphin rush.  I arrived at my lunch late and frustrated (thank you for my long suffering best friend who takes me at my worst).  Was joined about 1 hr later by Kid #1 so that she and I could wander around the mall together.  I love my kid immensely but I have to admit that my idea of quality time with her does not consist of wandering around a store, let alone a store that calls itself 'Forever21'.  Because my kid got stood up, I decided to be the adult and help her feel better.  It worked for her but I came home feeling slightly nauseous, very tired and entirely frustrated.  The worst part is that I didn't even get to fully enjoy those two, still warm, cookies.  These cookies deserve to be savoured and not stuffed down your gullet so that you can get a quick 'happy' rush.  So with an evening tea I decided to enjoy two more of those cookies.  I savoured and closed my eyes and pretended that the house was mine.  I pretended that if I opened my eyes that the toy area would tranform into a lovely office space and that if I so desired, I could lie down on my couch and watch a movie of MY choosing.  The cookies helped me go there.

If you've ever wondered if whole wheat and chocolate might work in a cookie together, wonder no more.  They do.  This cookie had none of the 'granola' feel that I would have expected from something whole wheat.  I would highly recommend the cocoa nibs.  I ordered mine online a couple of years ago and this is the first recipe where they've gotten some use.  They do add something tangible here.
Here's to long suffering best friends who walk around a mall with you even when it's the last thing they want to do too.  Here's to knowing that maybe the next weekend will be a little more 'Wanda-friendly'.  And... Here's to some serious chocolate cookies to help get you to next Friday.

Whole Wheat, Chocolate, Chocolate Chip Cookies adapted from 'Good to the Grain'
makes about 5 dozen medium/small sized cookies

1 cup unsalted butter
8 oz dark chocolate (about 70% cocoa solids), chopped
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups Red Fife or Whole Wheat flour
1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1tbsp + 1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp espresso powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon
8 oz dark chocolate, coarsely chopped or in chunks (or chips, or whatever - it doesn't really matter at this point)
Optional: Cocoa Nibs

Melt the butter and chopped dark chocolate together in the top of a double boiler over just simmering water.  Once melted and mixed together, remove from the double boiler and set aside to cool a little (about 10 minutes is what I did with mine - just cooled enough that the eggs won't cook once they're added).
Combine the flours, baking powder, salt, espresso powder and cinnamon together and set aside.
Using a mixer or by hand beat together the eggs and the sugar until they're light and frothy - like you want to whip them.  Continue whipping for about 3 minutes (or more if you are doing it by hand).  Scrape all, All, ALL of the melted chocolate mixture into the sugar and continue whipping until combined.
Add the flour mixture to the chocolate mixture and mix well until combined.
Add the dark chocolate chunks or chips and mix well.
Refrigerate for at least 2 hrs and up to 3 days.
Preheat oven to 350°F and line a cookie sheet with parchment or a silicon liner.
Scoop about 2 tbsp's worth of dough out and form into a ball.  Dip the top of the ball in the cocoa nibs (optional) and place on the cookie sheet.
Bake for about 16 - 20 minutes depending on your oven and your cookie preferences.  (I went for 16 or so because I wanted gooey cookies so a little undercooked in the middle was fine with me)

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St Michael's Choir School is celebrating it's 75th anniversary year of service to St Michael's Cathedral. Part of the school celebration is a trip to Italy where our boys from Grades 5 - 12 will be performing and celebrating Mass. This blog will be chronicling our adventures. Wanda Thorne is the Vocal Coach at St Michael's Choir School. Gerard Lewis is the Grade 7/8 Homeroom teacher at the Choir School.

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About Me

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Wanda Thorne
St Michael's Choir School is celebrating it's 75th anniversary year of service to St Michael's Cathedral. Part of the school celebration is a trip to Italy where our boys from Grades 5 - 12 will be performing and celebrating Mass. This blog will be chronicling our adventures. Wanda Thorne is the Vocal Coach at St Michael's Choir School. Gerard Lewis is the Grade 7/8 Homeroom teacher at the Choir School.
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