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Kitchen Blender Reviews
L.A. O'Neil : Fried Chicken and Mashed Potatoes

Fried Chicken and Mashed Potatoes

Inspiring story on new beginnings, post-cancer diagnosis.

By L.A. O'Neil

I remember staring at the countertop, trying to focus on one thing. My cupboards were empty, and most of the space underneath was neatly lined with food — pantry items, mostly — plates, and a couple of cereal bowls. Before she left, Mom placed everything in the middle of the counter in two rows — not so far back that I couldn't reach them, but not so close to the edge that I could accidentally knock them off. There everything was — in two, perfect rows. Canned goods on one side, plates and glasses on the other; she knew I wouldn't be able to reach anything in the cupboards after she was gone. A couple of weeks before, my counters were uncluttered — but that was before I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Before I had bi-lateral mastectomies at age 26.

My first days home after being in the hospital were filled with pain, sorrow and a little bit of anger. I took pain meds every four hours and they lasted about three hours. Mom came in from Ohio to take care of me — she stayed for five days and then I was on my own.

Everything was so different. I knew I was different.

Mom bought groceries and she made sure I had everything I needed. Problem was, I hadn't done a lot of cooking and I wasn't sure where I should start. After all, I was a young professional woman with the proverbial places to go and things to do. I didn't have time for . . . cooking, of all things! Fried chicken sounded good, but I could barely lift my arms above my waist, let alone drive to the neighborhood KFC. So, it was up to me — I decided that I was going to make fried chicken. And mashed potatoes.

Too bad I didn't have chicken pieces. No . . . all I had was the whole chicken. I didn't know the first thing about cutting up a chicken, but how hard could it be? So what if I could barely move my upper body? I probably considered bailing and going the tomato soup route instead, but my Irish kicked in and I was determined, by God, to have fried chicken and mashed potatoes!

As you can well imagine, being a 'novice' in the kitchen had its disadvantages. The biggest was the fact that I didn't have any knives worth a . . . well, you know. All I had were steak knives, a bread knife and some kind of long, slim knife. I chose the latter.

The chicken turned out to be slipperier than I thought — it took me about an hour and a half to get it cut up, washed and trimmed. I had taken quite a few physiology courses in college, so I had a good idea of how to go about it, but it probably would have been more helpful if it were 'chicken' physiology. Nonetheless, the days that I must have paid attention in class paid off, and I finally had a cool pile of wings, thighs, legs and breasts. And it was only 5:00! Of course, I tired easily and I couldn't stand for more than about fifteen minutes at a time, so, what should have taken about five minutes or less . . .

By 7:00, I had the potatoes peeled, cut up and cooking on the stove. By 7:30, the oil was heating in the skillet and by 8:30, it was time to eat. I couldn't wait!

I set a place for one at my little table by the window. It was January, so it was pitch black and all I could see was my reflection in the glass and just a couple of street lamps outside. I couldn't pull out my chair, so I had to 'slink' my way onto it and just pray that I would be moderately comfortable. I looked at my plate — unceremoniously adorned with one thigh and a scoop of mashed potatoes, topped with a little butter. And I just sat there for a minute. I was so hungry and so tired. I ate a couple of bites of each and that's all I could do.

I didn't even clean up.

My life took a different turn that day, and I've been cooking ever since . . . six months later I moved to Colorado and since 1986 I've been living life the way I want — not for tons of money, but for tons of soul. I'm a musician and a writer — and, a dang good cook. I owned a restaurant and a catering business, focusing on food that just plain tastes good, and now I'm a freelance writer and I teach music. How lucky am I that I get to fill my soul every day . . .

You know what's interesting? On the occasions that I have moved to a different house, the very first thing I cook is fried chicken and mashed potatoes.

I wonder why that is?

I think it has to do with new beginnings.

© 2010 L.A. O'Neil. All rights reserved.

Article written by L.A. O'Neill for April Jones, who first discovered green smoothies at the recommendation of a close friend and it has developed into a fun hobby teaching others how to get started. More »

11/17/10