The Magic of Memories


We walked to school as children. Alone. Granted, we were usually in groups with other kids. Buddy system, safety in numbers, and all those other lovely cliches. There were crossing guards to stop traffic on the main busy road we had to cross on our way to the local elementary school. Then we went down a slight hill, under a bridge, and across a parking lot to the school and into class.

I remember the way the bridge vibrated as cars zoomed across it while we walked under it. How the cars zipping by filled the open cavern with an echo of their engines as they revved in anticipation of the slight hill on the other side. The musty scent of the dank and dark slopes of cement and the flapping wings of the pigeons living there as they flew back and forth in the midst of our chaotic humanity.

There’s one particular walk I remember, it wasn’t to school, it was home from school. I was walking with a friend of mine, Tasha, when all of the sudden, my nose started to run. Tasha and I were talking, looking down and kicking the random rocks collected along the dingy sidewalk. She looked at me, and as I looked at her, I could tell something was wrong.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. She pointed at her nose then at me. I wiped, and it was bright red. Just on the other side of the bridge, as the hill sloped up, there was a mobile home community. Tasha ran up to one of the mobile homes and banged on the door. An older woman answered and listened to Tasha’s pleas for a napkin, a tissue, anything for my poor nose.

The woman disappeared inside and brought a handful of tissues out, instructing me to hold them to my nose and tip my head back. (I always hated that when I was a kid – tipping my head back – I am so glad we don’t have to do that anymore). We stood there for a bit until my nose stopped gushing. I think it was early spring – I remember purple irises in her little patch of dirt in front of her mobile home. (Of course, this may be a crossed memory – I have a thing for purple irises).

Once my nosebleed subsided to less than gushing, we went on our way and continued to our respective houses. Tasha turned left, I turned right.

It’s funny what memories stick with us from our childhood when we sit and think about it, isn’t it? Sometimes they’re just flashes – a scent, a colour, a taste, a texture – other times, they are very vivid and we fully remember ever exquisite detail. As we grow older, we remember more but we also tend to remember less because we are more focused on surviving life instead of living it and seeing it through the eyes of a child.

I have written about this recently but it is such an important component to who I am that I write about it often.

Looking back over my life, I have been happiest when I just let myself be in the moment instead of focusing on getting everything right or capturing it at just the proper angle to post on Instagram or Twitter. Sure, there are some things I do share but there are others that happen far too fleetingly or that I know I could never accurately portray so I take a snapshot for my soul and hold it there instead.

Last week, for instance, as I was driving, a robin paced my car through a subdivision. I slowed down, it slowed down, flying right at the height of my head on the side of the road. He diverted right before I arrived at my designation. Fleeting things like that inspire awe in me. As I sat there, at my destination, a bald eagle soared overhead as well.

Here’s the thing with allowing yourself to enjoy the little things life has to offer. Are you ready? It’s a secret, a really sneaky one. *looks around dramatically then whispers loudly:

You don’t have to make special plans to enjoy it.

All you have to do is make the decision to find the joy in whatever it is that you’re doing at the moment. Notice the feel of the pen in your hands. Admire the way it writes on the paper. Look up at the sky. Find the birds soaring there and follow them until you can’t any more. Trace the clouds with your eyes and turn them into shapes. (I saw a cloud which looked like an AT-AT the other day!) This is why I still read books made of dead trees. Why I drink tea. There’s ritual and romance in both activities. Something phenomenal about holding a book in your hands, the weight of the knowledge sinking into your hands, which makes me swoon. I own a copy of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass which is more than 100 years old. It’s not a rare copy, but it is an old copy, first printing. Some of the pages weren’t cut properly which means those who owned it previously never read the words within. For me, that’s absolutely mesmerizing. The same with tea – it is an ancient tradition steeped in cultures across the world. It’s not just tea….it’s a living, breathing thing beating with the hearts of those who enjoyed it well before me.

Get excited about things you love. For instance – F1 starts this week and I cannot WAIT. I may even stay up to watch it even though it’s in Australia and this means my sleep will be all sorts of screwed up. But.. but.. F1!!!

With the onset of F1, there’s another milestone in the year just around the bend.

Spring is soon. According to the calendar, it will be here in eleven days. I’ve lived long enough to know that just because the calendar says it’s spring doesn’t mean the weather will listen. This much I do know right now:

  • There’s visible grass
  • The sky has been blue more than it’s been grey the past week
  • There’s visible grass
  • I didn’t need a jacket yesterday or today.
  • We can almost see our entire deck
  • Trees are sprouting buds holding the promise of new leaves and SPRING.

I cannot wait for the world to explode in colour and warmth. To open the windows and turn off the heat.. oh, wait.. we did that yesterday afternoon until the sun went away. I cannot wait to have the windows open for an entire day even if it does make me sneeze and cry.

Life. It is a cycle, one which whirs forward with or without us. Our cycle of life is what we manage to make of it. Does that mean I want to go back to being a little girl who bravely walked to school, taking the time to notice the flapping wings of pigeons under the bridge?

No.

What it means is I don’t ever want to lose that little girl’s ability to turn the most benign thing into the most magical thing ever.

Today’s magic was noticing the landscape reappear as the snow pack is slowly melting.

What was your magic today?

Advertisements

Choosing Happy


Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product. 

~Eleanor Roosevelt~

Happiness is a direction, not a place.

~Sydney J. Harris~

Think about those quotes for a few minutes, letting their truth sink deep into your psyche. Sip your coffee, tea, juice, or water, and let it wash over you.

What do they say to you? How do they feel in your heart?

It is difficult to remember, in the depth of depression, that happiness is not a goal nor is it a place. It is instead, a by-product of life and more in the journey than in the destination. All too often, we focus on reaching a final ‘state’ and forget that our ‘states’ are instead fluid and are pulled with the ebb and flow of life.

I’ve written before about whether happiness is a choice. I did not believe happiness was a choice until I finally chose it. You see, happiness does not equal a constant cheerful demeanor. Happiness doesn’t mean everything is giggles and confetti.

Happiness, to me, is flowing with what life throws at you. It is knowing what to do when things turn negative, it is taking care of yourself in the midst of the whirlwind. Happiness is realizing that life happens and the majority of it is how you choose to react to it.

Let’s take, for example, a young woman in a grocery store. She’s in a rush to grab a few last minute items to cook dinner for her boyfriend. She runs around the store, grabbing the items, and goes to the front. All the self-checkout lanes are taken and she is left with choosing between two open registers with cashiers. One has a young mother with three children and a very full cart while the other one has an elderly woman with not much in her cart. The young woman chooses the aisle with the elderly woman. But the elderly woman is very chatty with the cashier and very slow with her wallet. She also decides she doesn’t want to purchase a few of the limited items in her cart so the young woman has to wait for a manager to come over and do a return. By this time, there’s someone in line behind her so she’s stuck and can’t go anywhere.

This young woman would have every right to be frustrated and angry. Instead, she takes a deep breath and enjoys the few moments of peace this has granted her in between her very busy job and the busy rush of cooking ahead of her. She looks around the store and notices the colours of balloons floating above displays for an upcoming holiday, she listens to the children in the aisle next to her giggle and play with each other as their mother manages getting all the groceries on the conveyer belt.

We have a choice in the way we respond to external stimuli. One of the most popular things I hear people with disabilities or mental health challenges say is that they may have x,y, or z, but x,y, or z doesn’t have them. It truly is the best way to view things because when x,y, or z doesn’t have you, it doesn’t have power over your mind which means you know how to handle it.

And as we children of the 80’s remember, knowing is half the battle.

The Gift of the Sun


When was the last time you looked up into the sky as if you were a young child, in awe of nature, believing everything up there was pure magic?

I do it at least twice a day. Sunrise and sunset.

Throughout the rest of the day, sometimes a cloud pattern or group of birds will catch my attention but it is the sunrise and sunset which capture my soul.

This morning, I awoke to a blushing sky, pale pink expanding across a barely lit atmosphere as the sun caressed the wisps of clouds drifting through the atmosphere just beyond the trees at the edge of the field across the road. Pale pink gave way to a golden glow, setting the naked trees afire, eventually dancing across the icy snow at their feet.

A lone black bird soared to one of the larger trees, settling in the highest branch, clinging hold as the wind waved him to and fro. Traffic echoed just below, an invasion of the solitude of the dawn cascading across the sky.

Most of the morning was filled with blue, then this afternoon, the clouds expanded, obfuscating the joy promised us by the bright blue sky in the midst of a dreary winter. But the evening sky apologized for this infraction, providing a spectacular range of colours as the sun nestled into the other side of the world.

Corals, reds, purples, blues, greys, they all mingled together just below the houses at the edge of the field, the sort of sunset which one can only witness with eyes and not capture on film.

Although I have bemoaned the existence of a sub-zero winter and being buried in far too many inches of snow, it has brought some of the most phenomenal sunrises and sunsets I have ever witnessed, including those I saw as a young child growing up near the beach.

Witnessing a sunrise and a sunset is a gift. It is sheer magic. Both a re-affirmation of life, of finding the beauty in the littlest things. It’s as if our entire day has a bookend of amazing art on either end. To ignore it, to not take the few minutes it exists and stare at it as if you are four years old again and the world is made of magic is foolish.

If I don’t take the time to do witness the beauty that is the sunrise and sunset, my day feels empty. The colours fade so quickly, the magic even faster. Sometimes I may sleep through the sunrise (who doesn’t on occasion), but on those days, I am sure to take in the state of the sky before I do anything else – even reach for my phone. The sky is the first thing I focus on when my eyes wake in the morning. It’s also the last thing I look at before I go to bed – I look for stars, for the moon, for clouds… and now that I am sleeping with the blinds opened, if I wake in the middle of the night, I get to see the moon as it drifts through the onyx sky.

Do yourself a favour this next week. Take the time to look up at the sky with the wonder of a child who hasn’t been jaded by the responsibilities of a fast-paced world. Breathe in the artistry and beauty right in front of you. Drink it in, commit it to memory, to your heart. For if you carry beauty in your heart, there won’t be room for much else.

A Few Ramblings About Love


When I was younger I foolishly believed in fairy tales, in the happy every after. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, animals sing, dwarfs get all ga ga, and well, happily ever after, right? Wrong.

In between, there’s housework, there is the daily mundane, the impossibly difficult discussions, the little things, the actual WORK required to make the happily ever after happen. You know, stuff which doesn’t fit neatly into a Disney movie and is over-dramatized in their sitcoms accented with a cheesy laugh reel.

Life isn’t some sitcom. It’s not a Disney fairy tale either. It is somewhere in between, it is not easy, and it requires work. Most of all, it requires intimacy, patience, trust, and the willingness to talk the hard stuff through without jumping to conclusions. It means listening instead of deciding what you’re going to say next. A partnership, a marriage.. it’s not about the day you say “I do”…it’s about all the days after.

The next time you see a couple who appears to have it all together, remind yourself you are only seeing a slice of their life. Do not compare yourself or your relationship to what they have. I used this example a few weeks ago – the story of the ugly duckling – he started out completely different from his siblings but ended up being the most beautiful and graceful creature of them all. It is also a perfect analogy for relationships. In my experience, people who have been through a lot together (and survived) have the strongest relationships.

Over the past few years through my work as a peer support advocate for women and families struggling with Perinatal Mood Disorders, I have had the deep honor of getting to peek behind the curtain of some of the most amazing people I have ever “met”. I say “met” with quotations because most of them I have only had the pleasure of talking to on through a digital medium.

This work, this advocacy, has not only allowed me to enable others to move forward with their lives through the boulder of Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders but it has also taught me quite a bit about love and relationships. You see, when you are supporting a family through a PMAD episode, you have to be aware of everything going on in their life because every little thing matters. Is she getting enough support at home? Is he sleeping okay? Does he have support too? How’s work going? Are the in-laws a source of stress? Are they communicating? Are they sharing the care responsibilities? Are they taking time for each other as a couple? There are a lot of little nuances which can add up to an explanation of why she’s had a bad week or why he seems a little snippy. These are the things which must be teased out to empower a couple to communicate and move past the potholes before they become sinkholes.

In no particular order, the following are things I believe empower a strong and successful relationship. They are things I strive to do in my current relationship and don’t ever intend to stop doing:

1) Listen. I don’t mean nod your head and “uh huh” at every little thing your partner says. No. I mean actually listen. Follow the conversation, ask questions, repeat things back. Validate their feelings, their concerns, make them heard. You would expect the same from them, yes? Everyone wants to be heard, deserves to be heard and this is particularly true with your partner.

2) Check in with your partner on a daily basis. Sure, ask them how their day went but dive deeper and ask pertinent questions beyond the surface. Get them talking abut their interests or offer to listen as they vent a problem they’re having at work.

3) Hold hands just because. Holding hands has got to be one of the most intimate things you can do with a person. I’m serious! It’s a quiet yet sweet way to let them know you care and you want to be near them. I adore holding hands and it means the world to me to be able to just sit and hold hands as we watch TV.

4) Discuss serious issues like adults. I don’t mean rage at each other, yelling and screaming. I mean sit down, and in a calm, rational voice, state your side of the situation, and then listen to your partner state his side of the decision. Sometimes you may need to wait until you both calm down. Work together instead of against each other to solve problems. You are both on the same team, here. I realize this is easier said than done but when both of you are capable of this it truly is a beautiful thing, trust me. (this is where checking in with each other comes in handy because there are less likely to be blow ups if you are actually communicating to begin with!)

5) Go on a date with each other. It doesn’t have to be ritzy, heck, it doesn’t even have to qualify as a “date”. Just spending time alone, the two of you, is great. You may have kids now but that doesn’t mean you are *just* a mom & dad. You are still the people you were when you fell in love. Nurture that, celebrate it, and don’t ever lose sight of yourselves as a happy, giddy couple madly in love with each other.

6) Surprise each other with little romantic gestures. These things are cheesy but they work. Texts, notes in work bags, mailed cards. I had to travel last summer and I left a well-planned scavenger hunt for my boyfriend at our condo while I was gone. All the clues were in a coupon holder with the dates written on the outside of the envelope. I had a blast planning it and he enjoyed all the little mementos. It really is the little things which matter in the long run.

7) Laugh together, often. Laughter really is the best medicine and if you can’t be utterly ridiculous with the one you’re with? Then you’re in trouble. It’s good for the heart, the soul, the abs, and your relationship.

8) Try new things together. Chances are you’ll both be nervous but it’ll be a bonding experience and hopefully one you’ll never forget. Just make sure you wear all the proper safety gear if you decide to leap out of a plane.

9) Give each other your own space. Know who you are and respect the person your partner is by allowing him/her to indulge in his/her interests without guilt. There is the potential for abuse of this (ie, someone hogging all the alone time and not allowing their partner to have their fair share). Love should never demand someone change their interests or who they really are just to be accepted. Love is about finding someone who is amazing and accepting them for WHO THEY ARE right then and there, not the person you plan on molding them to be.

10) Love with wild abandon. There’s no other way to love the person you are with than deeply. Love so hard your heart hurts and aches and you can’t wait to jump into their arms when they get home from work. Fall in love with them all over again every day for no reason at all than the fact that they love you right back.

Am I saying that if you do all of these things you’ll have the perfect relationship? No. Because not all of us are built the same and some of us need different things from a relationship. But for me? This is it. This is my list. Some of it may work for you, the whole thing possibly.

Underlying all of this, however, is the definitive need to communicate because without communicating, you may as well build a house without a foundation in the Everglades and just wait for the whole thing to sink beneath the swamp. And that’s not getting you anywhere but in a gator’s belly.

My Happy Place


The cool breeze skimmed over the dark water, tracing the ripples all the way to the rocky shore where it broke into pieces and scattered into the forest just over the pine-needle laden floor. The tree branches above danced as the wind wound its way upward in a tango toward the star speckled sky.

She sighed deeply, closed her eyes, and inhaled. The frogs and crickets chirped and sang, echoing back and forth across the dark liquid expanse. The fire flickered behind her. This peace, this quiet, this was exactly what she needed.

The night, especially the night in the middle of nowhere, hugged her closer than any other creature on the planet. It leaped into her heart and squeezed her from the inside out. This, this simplistic, primal, natural gorgeous place was where her soul was formed. She ran her hands through the pine-needle covered dirt beside her and let the dirt sift through her fingers.

Hugging her brown cable sweater a little closer, she shivered in the dark. Time to go sit next to the fire, she thought. Lingering just a little longer, she stared into the sky, briefly identifying a few constellations here and there. She’d been away too long and could only identify a basic few – Orion, the Big Dipper, and The Little Dipper. In a galaxy far far away, a long time ago, she could identify several more but that knowledge had been left behind in the distant past, buried. She sighed, slowly stood, and walked carefully back to the fire pit.

The flames danced rhythmically with the gentle breeze, sparks flying here and there. The crackles and pops served as the percussion as the frogs and crickets sang along in a falsetto. Oh, how she had truly missed camping.

When she was a child, her parents went camping quite a bit. Her favourite place to camp as a kid was at the beach. There was nothing like sitting next to a campfire with the roar of the ocean behind you and the cool sand behind your toes. It’s quite something to realize the sand isn’t always wont to burn the bottom of your feet off. And s’mores on the beach – oh my goodness. That’s a whole ‘nother level of heaven right there.

But this – the mustiness of the trees, the soothing constant lap of the lake as it played endlessly with the breeze which frolicked just above it, the echoing of the various creature calls – this, this was camping – this was heaven. Solace. Solitude. Peace.

She sat there, book in hand, reading, until the flames flickered one last time as they sank deep into the dirt to sleep for the night and await rekindling in the morning. Unzipping her tent, she climbed in, took off her boots, and climbed into the sleeping bag. As she drifted off to sleep, the lake whispered a lullaby as the breeze intensified, helping the trees cradle the night just above her.

Everyone has a happy place in their head, a place to which they escape when things get tough. If you don’t, you should. I’ve just described mine to you. Tell me about yours. Where is your happy place? What does it look like? How does it make you feel?

Whatever Wednesday: Doughnuts at the Carwash


Do you remember when you were a kid? The littlest things made us happy, didn’t they? Like those machines that you put quarters in and get tiny toys that break the instant oxygen hits them? They were fabulous for all of 1.5 seconds, right? Or how about sitting in your room, building things out of Legos or playing with Play-doh? It did not take much to put a smile on our faces. Ahhh, those were the days.

Flash forward to adulthood. Get up at the break of down to drink did coffee, run around like crazy to get ready for work and/or get the kids ready for school and/or both, ultimately forget something, have to go back for it, drop the kids off, go to work, or run errands, then finally get home at the end of the day, dinner, maybe a little time to yourself, and then bam. Bedtime. How the hell bedtime get here so fast? Close your eyes after setting your alarm so you can do it all again the next day.

Did you take any time for joy? Any little things tucked into your day that made you smile and giggle as if you were a 5 year old who just got the toy you wanted out of the quarter machine? No? Well, that’s a damn shame.

The key, as a lot of people will tell you, to staying happy, is to maintain a stranglehold on that childhood innocence and wonder. Pick up just enough common sense and cynicism to function in the grown up world but dear GOD don’t let that childhood innocence and wonder dissipate. Do stupid stuff. Let go. Have fun. Laugh inappropriately and loudly at everything, anything, and nothing at all. Do things that make you smile, often, with people you love.

Stuff like I do with J.

Stuff like what we did tonight at the car wash.

We ran to the grocery store to pick up a few things to finish off dinner. Then, we spotted the doughnuts. Lately we had denied ourselves this guilty pleasure but tonight they were salacious sirens nestled in a forest of sweet treats, begging to be rescued. We reluctantly (okay, not so reluctantly) rescued six of them, planning to take them home and hug them ever so gently with our stomachs after sending them for a ride down the esophagus flume.

After the grocery store, we checked to see if the car wash was open. The past week and a half has covered the car in salt, snow, and other random ick but because of the frigid temperatures, we have been unable to wash it because well, the water would just freeze instantly.

The car wash was open, so we turned in after a horde of cars passed by. Two lanes were open, and we, we chose the one with the idiot. His driver side door was open, his feet on the ground, a cigarette hanging from his lower lip as if it were a man clinging to a cliff waiting for a stiff breeze to come along. He wore a hat, a fedora style hat, and glasses. He slid his card into the slot, tapped the screen, and stared curiously at the screen. One of the employees came over to help him, sliding his card in for him. As we idled behind him, we watched the vehicle in the other lane surge forward.

I evaluated the situation after we sat there for a couple more minutes, put the car in reverse, and headed for the other lane. We pulled up, I activated the screen, made my choices, paid, and moved forward as the winner in the other lane sat there, continuing to struggle with the machine.

An employee directed us onto the auto-fed car wash. As I popped the car into neutral, J grabbed the doughnuts.

“Which one you want? The cruller?”

doughnut in carwash“Sure! Just a minute.” I put my wallet away, then took the doughnut. I squealed like a little kid. Doughnuts. In the car wash. I took out my phone and snapped a pic. There was just something so gleefully delicious about eating a sweet donut whilst hidden in the soapy flaps and rollers of the car wash. It felt so wrong yet so damn good. Best damn cruller ever.

Joy in life is found in the simplest of things, the things we forget how to see when we get past a certain age. Just like Journey advises… don’t stop believing.

And now? I’m gonna have a doughnut at 10pm at night.

Because joy.

Heaven is Baked Gnocchi & Cheese (Oh So Much Cheese)


We just finished dinner.

It was…phenomenal. Fantastic. Deliriously and deliciously divine. Scrumptiously swoon-worthy.

Oh.mah.gawd.

I am sitting here, in shock, to be honest. Why? Because I made dinner without a recipe. Hell, I even went to the store for this without a real plan and ended up grabbing stuff on the fly. I often cook from scratch using just my imagination and it usually turns out absolutely delicious but tonight’s dinner stretched me beyond my comfort zone a bit in using an ingredient in a standard recipe. It was daring and I prayed like hell it would work out. It did – obviously. I had to stop at just one serving because it is the kind of dish in which you could easily over-indulge.

Bacon. Cheese. Potatoes. Onion. Garlic. Breadcrumbs. BACON. CHEESE. POTATOES.

For additional nutritional value, I tossed in a can of quartered artichoke hearts which actually worked quite nicely to balance the dish.

I did not keep track of exact measurements of ingredients but I will do my best in recreating the recipe below because you HAVE TO MAKE THIS and then bask in the heaven that is Baked Gnocchi & Cheese (OH SO MUCH CHEESE). You HAVE TO…it’s a food coma-inducing meal.

baked gnocchi

Baked Gnocchi & Cheese (OH SO MUCH CHEESE)

  • DeCecco Potato Gnocchi (1 pkg made a 9×13 pan)
  • 3 cups 2% milk
  • 8 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 lb Peppercorn crusted Center Cut Bacon (Or any Center Cut/Thick cut bacon will do)
  • 1/2 finely chopped/diced red onion
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp Paprika
  • 1 tsp Kosher Salt
  • Fresh ground pepper as needed
  • Pinch Cayenne Pepper
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups Sharp Cheddar Cheese, Shredded
  • 2 cups Swiss Cheese, Shredded
  • Sargento’s Cheddar Blend, 2 cups
  • Panko Bread Crumbs

Preheat oven to 375.

Cut 1lbs of bacon into quarters. Cook in large deep saute pan over medium heat until crispy, place in a bowl lined with a paper towel to absorb fat. Let drain. Set pan aside. (If you’re the drinking sort – you can save the bacon fat, put it in a clean mason jar, add 1 cup of Vodka, cover, then let it sit overnight in the cabinet. Then put it in the freezer, let the fat freeze. Remove fat. Strain through tea filter, then coffee filter, then cheesecloth. Bacon Vodka. Boom.) Ahem. Where was I? Oh yes.

Large pot – fill with water, add a couple tablespoons of sea salt (kosher will do too), bring to a boil. Add Gnocchi. Once it starts floating, strain it. Put strainer (if you can) over the large pot to let the Gnocchi continue to drain while you start on the cheese sauce.

Chop garlic into fine pieces. Dice/chop onion as well.

Drain the bacon fat from large saute pan. Discard if you want or use it as recommended above. Add 3 tablespoons of butter to pan. Then add garlic. Let it saute for a few minutes before adding onion. Once onion starts to get translucent, add half of the gnocchi, place the other half on a clean plate. Pan fry gnocchi until it is golden brown, 4-5 minutes if you leave it alone and don’t stir it a lot. (Live and learn!) Remove pan fried gnocchi to colander you used to drain the gnocchi after boiling it. Add other half of gnocchi and pan fry until golden as well, removing to colander once complete. While you’re waiting for the gnocchi to pan fry, put 2 cups of milk in the microwave for 2 minutes.

Add 3 tablespoons of butter to pan. As it melts, add all spices – Cayenne, Paprika, Salt, (1/2 tsp or so), few turns of the pepper grinder. Using a wooden spoon, stir until spices and butter combine and turn a light caramel colour. Add flour. Stir until combined. Add slowly (and I mean SLOWLY), warmed milk. Whisk constantly as you’re adding it in order to avoid any creepy lumpage. You don’t want lumpy cheese sauce. Seriously. Trust me. EWWW. Stir constantly, and lower heat to low medium. Get your cheeses.

Add 2 cups of mixed cheddar, 1 cup of swiss, 1 cup sharp cheddar. Stir until melted. Lower heat and add additional milk to thin, up to 1 additional cup. Let simmer for a few minutes.

Open can of artichoke hearts, drain, and squeeze until no more liquid releases. Toss into cheese sauce along with bacon and pan fried gnocchi. Stir until combined and turn off burner, letting it gently simmer in remaining heat.

Spray 9×13 pan with non-stick spray. (We use Misto so we don’t use propellant chemicals). Pour cheesey deliciousness into pan. Top with remaining swiss cheese, then with remaining sharp cheddar cheese. Sprinkle lightly with 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs.

Bake for 25 minutes at 375 degrees.

Melt remaining butter in small bowl.

Remove pan, sprinkle with additional panko, maybe 1/2 cup. Drizzle with melted butter.

Adjust oven temperature to 400. Bake for an additional 10 minutes or until top is golden.

Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes before serving to let cheese settle & cool. We want to enjoy the cheese, not have it sear our taste buds off. Warm gooey cheese is good. Molten searing cheese is bad.

Eat intentionally, savoring every single bit, wishing time would stop so you could eat this forever.