“Every night, just before you close your eyes and drift off to sleep, rewind your day and think about it. Ask yourself questions: What did I learn? Whom did I help? In which way did I make myself a better person? Will my day have an impact, no matter how minuscule, on the world?”
I hear these words in my head almost every night. They are spoken in a slight whisper in a calming cadence, and belong to Angela, the language teacher in my elementary school. She was tall and gawky, an older version of Olive Oyl, with horned-rimmed glasses and unflattering dark-colored dresses. She roamed the hallways smiling, perpetually lost in her imagination, oblivious to a sheet of paper scotch-taped to her back (most of the time it was blank, but would you expect anything more clever from fifth-graders?) and a gaggle of giggling boys surrounding her. She taught Serbian and Russian. I studied English and had Pavle, the grammar-Nazi, for Serbian. But we found each other at poetry recitals and literary club sessions.
I talked to her about my dreams and my fears. She listened and quoted from books. I suffered when she was ridiculed, too helpless and shy to interject and defend her. I did not understand until much later that as the queen of a beautiful world of romantic poets and chivalrous knights, she was protected by a perfect rhyme and a quill dipped in dark ink. I did not notice that the dusty smell of books enveloped her like an invisibility veil. I did not realize that her soft humming of Russian ballads could dispel the cruelest of the pranks.
I started high school with a nervous energy, excited about the change, and impatient for life to finally begin. Once in a while I would visit my siblings still in grade school, and look for Angela in dark corners. Throughout the years she did not change much – more graying hair framed her face, the slouch of her shoulders got the better of her, and long and slender hands showed faint blue rivulets underneath the pale skin. The new generations of fifth-graders pinned pieces of paper to her dress, but she was still smiling and humming, her eyes behind the thick glasses warm and understanding. Every time before we parted she would remind me “not to walk small underneath the stars” *
My life was gaining momentum and pretty soon I was at the University and then in the U.S. I never saw Angela again, but I know that she sang in the town choir with Mother. A few years back she gave Father seedlings for rainbow Swiss chard. They tell me that she is still the same.
It is not time to drift off to sleep, but I have to say that today was a pretty good day. I listened to a co-worker’s heart-wrenching break-up episode and let him cry without losing face. I made a family of four laugh. I fended off several poisonous barbs hidden in sarcastic statements of an unhappy man with a smile. I learned how to say “corner” in Spanish. I got a small editing job for Husband and exulted in his optimism of the days to come. I helped the younger Beastie make crÃ¨me caramel. My sinus cold is slowly ebbing and breathing is getting easier, even though my nose is a red, peeling mess. I read my mail, replied, checked the Skype, answered to some comments on the blog, and brought my Google reader down to a manageable size. I made dinner and planned the meals for the next several days.
In a couple of hours, after I close my book and get ready to surrender to sleep, I know I will smile. I have not wasted the day. While the line of reality and dream becomes indistinguishable, I am convinced that I will hear Angela’s voice whispering soft encouragements. And that is enough for me to bid the day good night.
*I had to put this in quotation marks, because I am sure that it is a quote, but after all these years of my paraphrasing it, I cannot find the source.
(This story has nothing to do with rice, pilav, or food. It went into a completely different direction and I did not dare bring it back).
- 2 Tbsp sunflower oil
- 1 lb boneless chicken thighs/legs (or pork â€“ country ribs are the best choice)
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- ¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
- 1 medium to large onion, diced
- 2 medium carrots, diced
- 1 pepper (I avoid green bell pepper, too bitter IMO, but anything else is fine), diced
- 1 celery stalk, diced (optional â€“ in Serbia it is not used)
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 cup short-grain rice, like Arborio
- 2-3 cups chicken stock
- 1 sprig of rosemary, leaves only, chopped
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Heat the oil in a heavy skillet on medium-high heat. Add the chicken, salt, and pepper, and brown on all sides. Remove from the skillet and add the vegetables. Sautee for 6-8 minutes until soft. Add the seasonings, rosemary, and rice. Stir for another 2-3 minutes and return the chicken. Add the stock to cover, stir and pour into an oven-ready dish. Bake for 1 hour. Let it rest for 5-10 minutes. Serve with a cucumber salad (cucumber slices dressed with vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, and minced garlic) or cabbage salad (shredded cabbage salted and kneaded for a minute, then dressed with oil and vinegar).
I am submitting this recipe to Hearth ‘n Soul, hosted by Hunger and Thirst (and the gang)