The Lockdown Kitchen Bucket List: A perfect bowl of imperfect gnocchi

After a week that, in it’s busyness, felt distinctly pre-lockdown, I have spent very little time in the Mountpleasant Kitchen. So after waking hungry and relatively clear-headed on Sunday, having wisely snuck away early from the garden cocktails the night before, I set to, clearing away the debris of the night before just enough to make pancakes. The heat of the day before was gone, the sunshine had given way to clouds and there was a distinct chill sneaking in through the open kitchen windows. It was comfort food weather.

A well-worn weekend routine, I laid out the weights and measures of ingredients, took up the steady pace of whisking to combine wet and dry, fell back into the now mechanical muscle-memory routine of boiling the kettle, grilling bacon, turning pancake, whetting tea, stacking the plate. And a lazy hour passed in front of something foodie (on this occasion, Samin Nosrat’s SALT, FAT, ACID, HEAT) as the rest of the house came to life, it was just the gentle start I needed.

But by late lunchtime I was still craving comfort food, and in an effort to make some progress on the Lockdown Kitchen Bucket List I’d tasked myself with a few weeks before, I decided to put the leftover baked sweet potato in the fridge to good use. A quick browse of suitably simple recipes and before long, I was kneading the sticky sweet potato into a smooth, floury dough on the counter-top.

Adding nothing more than a little sea salt, I probably overworked the dough and inevitably man-handled it a little too much in grooving of the gnocchi but it was a thoroughly satisfying task. Anyone who’s turned to bread-baking in lockdown will know the gratification to be had in making from scratch, particularly where leftover or on-the-turn ingredients such as bananas are involved. Gnocchi brings the same simple joy in a quicker, more savoury burst of activity.

The practical steps – mashing (or ricing if your kitchen is so equipped) the potato, combining with flour to make dough, dividing, rolling out and cutting up, followed by the optional groove-making – can be a bit of a sticky affair but it’s easily got through without too much faff. I suspect a quiet kitchen helps, and while I was finishing off an episode of The High Low, I also had the tune of Making Whoopee winding its way through my head throughout (with the word whoopee substituted for Gnocchi, obviously).

With the kettle boiled and a small selection of the floury orange bites dropped into the pot, I sought out a complimentary selection of dried herbs and put some butter on to melt in a heavy-bottomed pan. By the time the gnocchi had bobbed to the surface of the water on the next hob, the pan was fragrant with browning butter, rosemary, thyme, garlic and black pepper. In went the gnocchi (almost unappealingly slimy) fresh from the boil and within just a few minutes, there was a bowl of delicious, herby carbs in my hand.

Nothing makes me feel more like an adult than cooking myself something small, lavishly labour-intensive and doused in butter. Such bowls of food, and they are always bowls, should be eaten standing up in the kitchen, on this occasion on a quiet Sunday afternoon while the rest of the house wrestled their respective hangovers, but also on dimly-lit late nights long past dinner time when there’s no need for the ceremony of more than one piece of cutlery.

In the passing of a podcast, its quite possible to create something relatively impressive from scratch, to have snuffled it and have the dishes washed and drying on the rack, with enough boxed up for tomorrow’s lunch. Having never actually (to my memory) eaten gnocchi before, I’m sure my first attempt would make a more seasoned cook wince and I’m looking forward to improving with some wider market research but for today, a bowl of imperfect of sweet potato gnocchi was simply perfect.

Picking up where I left off..

Thinking about it, I have been picking up and leaving off various blogs for a decade. Generally it’s quite easy to come and go, metaphorically picking the pen back up after a few blank pages or, if too many chapters have passed, starting fresh with something new and allowing the predecessor to gather dust on some forgotten shelves of the internet. But in this case, even though it’s been a year since I put pen to paper here, it doesn’t feel necessary to start fresh.

Which is odd, because in every other respect, I have done.

It’s a long, and at times, a bit of a sticky story, but the facts are that last Easter my view of the future changed dramatically. In July, I made a decision. In August I accepted a dream job in the city I had left aged seven, and been heart sore for since. In September I said goodbye to friends and loved ones in the city I had called home for twelve years, and took a one-way flight home.

I settled in. I was fortunate to have family to stay with while I got on my feet. In December I found a house in a neighbourhood I had adored from afar for years. In the first few days of January 2020, I moved in. Again, I settled in, feeling right at home. And thank goodness, because in March, we went into lockdown.

And every day since, I’ve counted my lucky stars that I am here, in Dublin, in a house I can call home, with a garden, and sound housemates, and tree-lined roads and nearby parks to run through, and a job that I love, with a network of friends, family and colleagues on the other side of a Zoom call. Like everyone else, I can’t wait until this is all over, but I have family in hospital, a grandparent cocooning, friends and family working on the front line, if the only thing I can do to help us all get through this alive and well is to stay at home, I will do it.

I miss Liverpool. I miss my friends and family there. But I am home.

Which is perhaps, 12 months later, why I find myself back on these pages, picking up where I left off, still eating, reading and rambling (within a government mandated 2 kilometre radius for the time being), and without the same distractions of everyday life, returning to the age-old storytelling I’ve been doing for over a decade now. Even though everything has changed, some things never will.

So, here I am, adding to the internet clutter yet again with a few words and heavily edited pictures, telling some stories. At least until the pubs reopen anyway…

Catching up on some reading – February and March Reads bumper edition

OK, brace yourselves folks, we’re going on a three month roller-coaster of reading with some wham-bam-thank-you-mam write ups because I have been lax, negligent even, in my monthly bookish thoughts and it has become a thing bigger than myself, casting a shadow over my to do list, looming over me while I cower in shame.

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January Reads

It has been quite a fruitful month for reading – apparently holidays and being ‘funemployed’ are the answer to the staggeringly impressive reading paces I’ve admired on Bookstagram.

It’s been rather a balanced month in terms of fiction and non-fiction too. Three of each. A good habit to stick to this year I think. And here’s something I haven’t been able to say in a while – I would wholeheartedly recommend each and evey one of them. So if you’re looking for some 2019 reading inspiration, here’s what I’ve got to offer…

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Safe Sounds by Carol Ann Duffy

I’ve been pondering the most suitable poem to open this year’s selection all month. January calls for inspiration, motivation to persevere with New Year’s Resolutions, hope and promise to see us through what is for many, the darkest month of the year. But I like January.

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Five Things: Thoughts on Turning 30

What a weekend.

On Saturday I bid a fond farewell to my twenties with a jam-packed, boozy day full of food and surrounded by good friends. On Sunday morning I woke up, miraculously hangover-free, and heralded in my thirties with more food, the same bunch of pals and a bloody huge Happy Birthday balloon which had to be manoeuvred home on the windiest day of 2019 so far.

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Field Notes: New Years in Malta

This year I knew no fewer than three newly wed couples who were jetting off to sunnier, or at least different, climes for the Christmas festivities, and while I can understand the desire to getaway and make the most of the annual leave, for me, Christmas begins at home.

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December Reads

The last push for the Good Reads challenge saw me overtake my 35 book target and rattle through another couple of reads during the festive period. Of course, having so much time to kill in departures and on flights has aided that. My desk today is from a cosy corner in Malta, looking out on a blue sky, white-capped waves and sunshine on sandstone rooftops. Not a bad way to ease back into things.

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Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath

On Friday morning I jolted awake at 5.45am, startled by a door slamming behind me in my dream. Unable to get back to sleep and irritated by a new clicking in the rotation of my ankle, I started to think about my body and how it’s held up in what has been its thirtieth year on this earth.

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