I’ll never again order chicken fried steak at a restaurant. I’ve done that recently at two highly regarded central Nebraska restaurants, only to be disappointed. There wasn’t anything wrong with either meal, but the recipes were different than the chicken friend steak Mom made.
I placed the orders because I wanted to relive the memory of a meal my farm mom made regularly — something that made me feel better mind, body and soul. That created unfair expectations for chefs who specialize in different versions.
Mom’s recipe was simply steak coated in flour, salt and pepper cooked in a cast-iron pan. The goodie bits of coating left in the pan were the base for the cream gravy that was spread over the steak and homemade mashed potatoes.
The restaurant versions had more of a fried chicken coating. Both types of cream gravy were more stiff and bland than Mom’s made-in-the-cast-iron-pan version.
Mom’s chicken fried steak plate included a cooked vegetable, usually green beans, a roasting ear or some of the frozen corn we packaged every late summer.
All great chefs probably make family favorite "mom" foods. Because each mom uses different ingredients and cooking methods, the only food memories the chefs truly can replicate are their own.
Maybe someday I’ll have enough time and interest in cooking to figure out how to make Mom’s chicken fried steak and other basics such as her rice, hamburger and mixed vegetables casserole, chicken and noodles, and chocolate sheet cake. Maybe I can determine how much nutmeg is just enough for an apple pie, apple crisp or custard that tastes like hers.
If I want those good memories in my mouth, I need to evolve into a do-it-myselfer.
I miss much more about Mom than her cooking, of course, especially as my third Mother’s Day without her approaches.
I miss talking to a great listener who knew me better than I know myself and always was on my side even when she didn’t truly understand what had me all riled up.
It’s always difficult to say goodbye to a parent, but I expect it’s somewhat easier for people who are parents and can continue a parent-child relationship. There is no transition or shift in roles for those of us who have no children, only the cutting of an earthly bond and the end of an era.
If Mom were still here — she would have reached her 100th birthday on July 3 — we probably would spend this Mother’s Day in ways similar to how we spent nearly every Sunday during the 14-plus years (2001-2015) she lived at Northridge.
We went to church, ate dinner in the Northridge dining room and then went to my house, where she played with my kitties. During the summer months, we’d often walk around my yard looking at plants. Many times while I hand-watered some plants, I’d come around the corner and see Mom bent over pulling weeds.
It’s those small, routine moments I miss most.
If you still have your mom with you, please don’t take Mother’s Day lightly and don’t think Mother’s Day is the only day to appreciate your mom. I guarantee you will miss those opportunities when she’s gone.
I wish I was more like my mom.
I’m not nearly as patient, calm or thoughtful. I’m not as accepting of life’s ups and downs or as likely to count my blessings every day. I’ll never have her green thumb or soft heart.
And I’ll never measure up as a cook or person in general.
Lori Potter is a Hub staff writer.