Angela vs. the Windmills

“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 crème 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).

SERBIAN PILAV

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 lb boneless chicken thighs/legs (or pork – 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 – 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

Directions:

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)

H‘nSHungerandThirst

13 Responses to Angela vs. the Windmills

  1. Lana,I saw the thumbnail picture pop up just now at three in the morning in new york and I smiled huge because I knew it was YOU. I always look forward to your visits on the hearth and soul hop, but I wondered, am I too tired to enjoy her piece? My curiosity got the better of me, and over my last cup of tea, I read your lovely story and my heart when out to your angela! What a wonderful person to have in your life. I also had a woman teacher named maria in fifth grade as well who was quite similar to me in my heart! She taught me that being different was of benefit to me! It is a good day, and we both did well. Our guardian angels would be proud! P.s. The recipe looks lovely too, but the words are what I come to feed on! LOVE YOU! Alex

  2. Ruby says:

    What a lovely story about Angela, and beautifully written. I enjoyed all the more because I’m currently re-reading Don Quixote. :-) Delicious-looking recipe too!

  3. Lana – I’m so excited to see you share one of your Serbian recipes with the Hearth and Soul hop, but like Alex, it’s your stories that get me every single time. When I sit down to read them, it’s like time stops, and I get to have a completely calm and wonderful time. As always, thank you, you’ve written a lovely post.

  4. Christy says:

    Lana,
    I forgot I was here for a recipe – I am so glad you followed the trail your story led you. I have copied the quote at the top to put in my prayer book – what a powerful way to look at your day. The pilaf – well I am glad it was at the end, it sounds wonderful. Thank you so much for linking this to the hearth and soul hop!

  5. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by christyisrc, Butter Poweredbike. Butter Poweredbike said: @bibberche – If you're a fan of a good stories with your recipes, check out Lana's site http://bit.ly/aiMmsd #hsoul […]

  6. Lana says:

    @Aww, Alex, thanks for staying up to read my story! That is the best compliment.If it were not that late, I would have found a connection, but Husband was after me to watch “House”. You know, I had several teachers who influenced my life, but I always think of Angela as a favorite. And she really was not my teacher…
    @Ruby, thanks for visiting. I admire your determination to give Señor Cervantes another try. I’ll have to wait till retirement:)
    @BPB (sorry I shortened your nick:), I have been silent for so long, and now the stories are crowding, ready to come out. I am so happy you like them. I feel sorry for the pilav (in my part of the world we write it like that, although there are many variations). It is truly the best a simple fare has to offer, but it got lost and untethered:(
    @Thanks, Christy! I guess once in a while I can allow myself to meander away from food thoughts:)

  7. girlichef says:

    I saved your entry for last..because I wanted to end my journey with what I knew would be amazing words ringing in my ears. And of course, you didn’t disappoint. Being the sensitive type myself, your memories really resonate with me…and I want to look back and be conscious of what I’ve done each moment of the day. Thank you. Plus, the pilav is fabulous :) Thanks for sharing with the hearth and soul hop .

    • Lana says:

      Heather, you always manage to make me grin from ear to ear. I am happy that my Angela can touch sensitive souls even across the ocean:) Thanks for reading!

  8. Jelena says:

    Draga Lana, krem maslac je malo žitkiji od Philadelphia cream cheese. Nadam se da će se ove priče jednog dana pretočiti u knjigu. Mogla bi da kontaktiraš izdavačku kuću Laguna, imaju sjajan sajt i dobru izdavačku politiku.

    • Lana says:

      @Jelena, hvala za objašnjenje bilo mi je potpuno nepoznato. Što se knjige tiče, hvala:) Jednog lepog dana, možda:) A zapamtiću izdavačku kuću, za svaki slučaj.

  9. Hi Lana. What a wonderful, touching story – thank you so much for sharing your Angela with us – it is so wonderful that through your words her message can live on and be an inspiration to all of us. I love the quote, and you have reminded me that although I try very hard to live consciously each day, I can do more. Your pilav also looks wonderful – have bookmarked that for a must try.
    Sue :-)

    • Lana says:

      Thanks, Sue! Some experiences we had as children grow exponentially when we travel through the adulthood. So many people determine who we are and what kind of person we become… Pilav is really wonderful and I feel bad for pushing it in the corner.

  10. maya says:

    hi i am going to try your recipe tonight on my 2 year aniversery ;)
    ps:love your story

Leave a reply