Profiles are to highlight people we meet along the way. Documenting our conversations with them about food and its role in communities and families.
A home cooked meal is a treat. It is an absolute delight to have Texas home-cooking 1,500 miles from home. Matt and I were in San Diego for the weekend when Matt’s college roommate, Jason, texted us that Josh’s mother was in town from Texas and cooking chicken fried steak for dinner. There’s no contest – when it comes to chicken fried steak, Texans do it best. And in a full-circle, small-world moment, two Austrians experienced their first taste of a Texan interpretation of a quintessential Austrian dish: Weiner Schnitzel1.
When Josh’s mother, Becky, came to visit, the boys immediately requested that she cook their favorite meal from home. Becky already had the German chocolate cakes cooling and the potatoes boiling when I walked into Jason’s apartment at 5:45PM. Becky, a bona fide southern cook, and Josh, a professional chef, gave me tastes as I watched the mother son duo cook together for the first time since he’s moved to San Diego. The warm background sizzle from the frying pan is audible as I played back the recording from our conversation.
Becky: “I grew up in a family with 9 brothers and sisters, and my mother always cooked dinner for the family. My favorite meal was Mexican because I knew about all the time and love that went into preparing the meal. My mother made everything from scratch; the tortillas were from homemade, the beans were homemade, even the Spanish rice was homemade.”
Becky is the family food historian and keeps the recipes passed down from her mother alive. The most frequently food request is for homemade tortillas, just the way her mother made them in her childhood. When I asked Josh about the family tortilla recipe,
Josh: “I don’t think she’ll give that recipe up yet. [Even if she did], I don’t think I could duplicate it. She could write it down and you can do it exactly like that, but it won’t turn out the way she does that. When she makes them in [Texas], I get upset that I’m missing out. She sent four dozen tortillas out here and they were gone in two days. Whenever she was in the kitchen cooking, it would be sometimes her entire family – her 9 siblings and their kids. She’d be cooking sometimes for up to 20-25 people. The kids were all playing and the big dinners really brought everyone together.”
Even away from the extended family, Becky did her best to make sure dinner time was spent together with her children. While wrist-deep in buttermilk and flour, battering each steak, Becky spoke with a wistful nostalgia about mealtime with her children:
“It was hard as a single mom, but I tried cooking for Josh and his sister when they were growing up. Jason and Josh are like brothers because his family would have dinner with us – either we’d go over there or they’d come over here and we’d all have leftovers or I’d cook dinner.”
Becky’s warm and caring nature makes her want to nurture those around her, even through trying times. Cooking for others has been one of the many ways she displays her love to those around her. Josh proudly showed me the tattoo on his chest, written in script: ‘Things will get better, they always do.’
Josh: “[My mom] would always say when we were younger growing up.”
Becky: “[Josh] would always ask WHEN are they getting better? Look where we were a few years ago, look at where we are now. You have to always look on the bright side.”
Josh used the bottom of a plastic cup to mash the potatoes directly in the pot and added heavy cream, butter and sneaks me a taste. All the chicken fried steaks have gone into the oven to keep warm while Becky thickens the frying oil with flour to make a white gravy. As she thins out the gravy (opting to use milk in the place of heavy cream), Becky shares that she wishes she had cooked healthier meals at home as the kids were growing up. She emphasized that today was not a typical meal, as it was her gift to the boys. Back in Texas, Becky and her daughter peruse Pinterest to discover new healthy recipes. She gave rave reviews for a new chicken breast recipe and was excited to try others that she had Pinned.
And then for the tastiest part – Josh announced that it was dinnertime! Becky did not have to wait long for people to get a taste (in many cases, seconds!) of the thoughtfully prepared meal. Becky relishes in her favorite mealtime moment:
“When we’re all sitting down, and hearing, well hoping that I hear ‘oh this is just what I wanted’.”
Jason had other special guests in town – he invited two Austrian friends he met while they were all backpacking through Australia, Armin and Walda. Armin and Walda had never even heard of chicken fried steak. Becky’s association with wiener schnitzel was only to the US hot dog chain. Life has a funny way of coming full-circle in which an Austrian got to try this southern favorite only to be a Texan twist to one of his staple foods while in California.
It’s supper time, y’all!
- Chicken Fried Steak Recipe