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 »