The warm smells from dinner still lingered in the house. Smells from perhaps a “fall off the bone” tender beef stew, maybe chicken and dumplings or my mother’s delicious chicken and wild rice soup with her homemade dill bread. The dishwasher was humming. The voices from the TV were soft. Distant. I made my way down the long, darkened hallway toward the single glowing lamp above the piano. I sat down on the bench, sighed and pushed up the lid to reveal the keys.
I opened my book and searched for Mr. Burke’s distinct, purposeful handwriting that marked this week’s assignment. As I reluctantly placed the correct song against the stand, my father quietly slipped into the living room and took up his place in his favorite chair. With his feet up, his hands clasped over his chest and his eyes closed, he would say to me, “I love to listen to you play.” And there, he patiently sat. Sat while I banged out songs like “Candy Man” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag” or the occasional “Für Elise.” He sat there during the weeks when I threw myself down on the bench in tears claiming that, “I will not practice the piano tonight!” He quietly waited as I pulled myself together, wiped the tears and began again with the “Blue Danube.”
And now, when I look back, I’m so grateful for those practice sessions. The smells. The darkness. The hushed tones. My father’s presence. The sound of the piano. I felt safe. Even knowing that my father may be leaving soon, to stand guard at some far flung destination in the world…still, I felt safe.
That same piano sits in the living room of my home. The one my mother was determined her children would play. The one that my parents had to carry up a winding path. The one with the salamander burned into the wood, just behind the stand.
And, in the deep fall, when the kitchen has been put away, the dishwasher is humming and the baby has been put to bed, I’ll pass that piano and something will pull me over to it. Whether it’s the smells from our dinner of chicken sautéed with garlic and tomatoes, the early darkness of the evening or knowing that the eldest children are in their rooms reading and I, for a minute, have no one needing me, I will flick on the lamp, pull out the bench, put up the familiar music and start to play. My fingers will trip over themselves at first. Out of practice since the piano tends to sit unused for all of spring and summer. But, soon, they will remember the way and I will play, song after song. From Winter Peace to Thanksgiving to Jessica’s Theme. I will play. I will be lost in the music and I will feel safe. At this moment, in this place in the world, we are all here in this home, enveloped by the smells and the darkness and we are safe.
Then, whether it be a sixth sense or mother’s intuition, I will feel a presence with me while I play. Something will cause me to stop and look. There, in the semi-darkness of the stairwell, are my eldest children. Jammies on, peering through the railings and quietly listening to me play. And, there, in the darkness of the kitchen, I can just make out the shape of my sweetie.
All Is Safe and Sound Chicken
(Inspired by Caroline Conran’s Poulet À La Provencal)
8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, or 4 thighs and 2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts or 4 chicken breasts
2 tbls olive oil
1 tbls butter
3 large shallots, coarsely chopped
2-4 cloves garlic, sliced lengthwise
6 ripe sm-med sized, tomatoes, cut in half
4 sprigs fresh thyme, coarsely chopped or a pinch or two of dried
salt and pepper to taste
For this recipe, I like to use a Le Creuset type of pot. Begin by seasoning your chicken pieces with salt and pepper. In our household, I’m a bit of a short order cook based on the type of chicken people like. Some want dark meat, some want white. Whatever mix of pieces you use, just make sure they are bone-in, skin-on. The meat will be much more flavorful and tender than boneless, skinless and you can always pick off the skin once it is cooked. Next, heat/melt the olive oil and butter in your pot. Add the chicken pieces to the pot and cook them on all sides until they are lightly browned. Add the shallots and the garlic and lightly brown them also, but do not let them burn.
Next, take your tomato halves, squeeze out most of their seeds and some of their liquid. Coarsely chop them and add them to your pot along with the thyme and salt and pepper to taste. One note: should you not be able to find decent tomatoes this time of year, a 15-oz can of drained, diced tomatoes would work as well. Cover the pot and cook, turning the chicken from time to time, for 15-20 minutes or until the meat is cooked through. Smell and enjoy the aromas that will linger in your home the night through.
I like to serve this with couscous and steamed green beans or broccoli. Or, instead of dirtying another pot, you could just cut up some in-season pears or apples, and call it good. Make sure not to let any of the delicious “sauce” go to waste. Spoon that on top of your couscous. Heaven.
Happy Thanksgiving, my dear friends!
All original text and photographs copyright: Carrie Minns 2009