3: The Inside Story

3: The Inside Story

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Food and Love

The Inside Story

I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate.

~Julia Child

I stared at the chicken section in the grocery store, trying to figure out why there were so many options. There were legs, thighs, whole organic chickens, split breasts, breasts with skins, skinless breasts, fryer chickens and roaster chickens. The choices seemed endless. At least I knew I wanted to make a whole chicken. But which one? Should it be the fryer or the roaster?

I had never cooked a chicken before in my life. I had just moved into my new home with the man of my dreams and I had a baby on the way. The tears started stinging my eyes. My only option was to pick up my cell phone and call my mom. I told her where I was and what my great dilemma was. There was a familiar sound on the other end of the phone. Still staring at the chicken choices in front of me I sighed, “Mom, are you laughing at me?”

I believe she hiccupped and erupted into another fit of hysterics. At that point I hung up. Yes, I hung up on my mother. Here I was, young and ambitious, willing to showcase my love for my family through food, and the chicken was defeating me. And all my mother could do was laugh at me? I almost stormed out of the grocery store and ordered pizza for dinner.

Instead, I called her back, “Are you done yet?”

Gasping for breath she replied, “Yes,” and then started laughing again.

I stood in front of all that chicken while my mom tried to catch her breath and I struggled with the great chicken debate.

“You... should... get... a... roaster...” she replied between gasps of breath.

“Thank you, Mom,” I said, with an attitude that said I wasn’t playing around, and hung up.

I grabbed my roaster chicken, paid for my other groceries and went home. I took the chicken out, grabbed a pan, gathered some spices and was getting ready to cook that bad boy up when my phone rang.

“Yes?” I said.

It was my mom again. She had taken control of herself.

“Are you cooking the chicken?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Did you take the innards out?” she said softly.

“The what?” I pulled the phone away from my ear and stared at it like she could see me.

When I put the phone back to my ear she was saying, “...inside the chicken. You have to take that stuff out.”

I looked at the chicken. I saw the little opening where its head used to be. “I’m not sticking my hand in that.”

She snickered into the phone, “Oh yes you are, if you’re cooking that chicken and not trying to kill anyone. You need to take the plastic bag with the innards out before you cook it.”

I believe at that point I made a sound that was something akin to, “blechhhgrossill-ick-ick-ick!”

My mom’s voice went soft in my ear. “I’ll tell you a story while you take the insides of the chicken out.”

“Okay, I’m listening,” I said while having an internal conflict about sticking my hand inside the chicken.

“I didn’t always know how to cook.” I could hear the smile and whimsy in her voice. “And, I can still remember the first meatloaf I tried to cook for your father. I was so young. All I wanted to do was make a home-cooked meal for my family. So I gathered all my ingredients, mixed up that meat, added eggs, breadcrumbs, seasoning and then I flattened it as I put it in the pan.”

“Why?” I might not have been the best cook around but I had never heard of flattening a meatloaf.

“Well, my dear, I thought that my meatloaf would rise in the oven just like bread rises. It turns out, it doesn’t.”

“You didn’t!”

“I did. I’ll never forget that meatloaf. Just like you’ll never forget your chicken. Did you get the insides out?”

I had not noticed but I was holding a dripping bag filled with neck, liver and who knows what else in my free hand. I had just plunged my hand right in, grabbed that bag and pulled it out while my mom told me her story.

“Yes, I got it,” I said into the phone.

“Just throw them away for now. I’ll tell you how to use them on your next chicken,” she said with a slight hitch in her voice. I think she was about to laugh again.

“Thanks, Mom,” I said, and suddenly I was reassured that it was okay. It didn’t matter if my chicken didn’t come out perfect or if my mother’s meatloaf never rose. It only mattered that I wanted to do something for my family and was making the effort to do it. That was the whole concept of food and love that my mother had taught me growing up.

“Don’t forget to give the chicken a good butter massage before putting your spices on it,” she said and hung up.

“What?” Wasn’t sticking my hand inside it enough? Now I had to give the bird a spa treatment before eating it. I was never going to cook a chicken again. Never. Ever.

It has been ten years since my first chicken. I’ve grown quite experienced in the art of cooking a chicken. I have cooked hundreds of chickens over the years — some fryers, some roasters, each one better than the last. I’m no longer grossed out about sticking my hand inside a bird or having to feel it up before cooking it to a tender juicy crisp. And, I know that one day I’m going to have to tell my son the story of the first chicken I tried to cook for his father when he calls me up to complain that my future daughter-in-law doesn’t know the difference between halibut and flounder. I may have to tell him about Grandma’s meatloaf too.

~Linda St.Cyr

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