My mom had a pretty limited repetoire of foods that she served. She really didn't like cooking at all and pushed it off on me as early as she could get away with it. Fortunately, I liked cooking, but I couldn't always make supper because I was at work or at soccer practice or whatever, so she had to. As I was making Parmesan chicken for supper tonight, I realized that this was the only time I'd ever made it in our 18 years of marriage. This was largely because it was Mother's alternate Sunday dinner. The one Sunday a month that she didn't want to make a roast with potatoes and carrots, she made Parmesan chicken.
But hey, Parmesan chicken is good stuff and so is roast, in moderation. So I mused on the things that Mom made over and over again. Here are 13 of them.
1. The aforementioned Parmesan chicken. The recipe called for sauteeing a sliced clove of garlic in olive oil in which to dip the chicken before you coat it in bread crumbs and cheese. Mom was the kind of cook who would buy a head of garlic for Parmesan chicken, and then it would shrivel up and become dust in her cabinet, never having yielded another succulent clove or two to flavor a dish. I, on the other hand, have more of a heavy hand with garlic. Mom always said that, if she walked down my street blindfolded, she'd know my house from the garlic aroma wafting over it. I take that as a compliment, although it may not have been intended as such. So I put twice as much garlic in my olive oil as Mother, which shows great restraint, for me.
2. The aforementioned roast with potatoes and carrots. This one I do make every once in a great while. Doug and the children really like it and it has the added benefit of being very easy. It used to have the benefit of also yielding enough leftovers for another meal but that benefit no longer applies.
3. Meatloaf. Meatloaf was Mom's go-to dinner if she couldn't think of anything else to make. That happened about once a week. As a result, I loathe meatloaf. I loathed it then and I really don't like it now. Friend Husband, however, thinks that meatloaf is just grand. Again, it's cheap and easy to make, so I usually make it for him at least once a winter.
4. Spaghetti. Mom loved spaghetti. We loved spaghetti. She made it every week. My stepfather developed an aversion to it and told her not to make it anymore (or at least not to make it every week) so that was the end of our spaghetti dinners. When he went out of town, though, we had us a big ol' pasta gorge. Man, was that good. I do make spaghetti (again, with much much more garlic than Mother dreamed could exist in the universe) at least once or twice a month.
5. Chicken with rice. When I was young, Lipton or Campbell's (I think it was Campbell's) did a campaign for something they called "souper rice". This is rice over which is poured a can of cream of mushroom soup mixed with water and cooked with chicken atop it. This was just lovely for Mom. Easy and economical. We had it once every two weeks or so.
6. Pork chops with rice. Not the same thing as the last entry. This one featured rice mixed with chicken broth and cooked with seared pork chops atop it. I make this once every 5 years or so, with lots of onions on it. I don't cook pork chops too often, though.
I will point out here that these last two dishes were about the only thing that my mom ever made rice with. She wasn't much of a rice person. We tend to eat it at least twice a week, but usually more often.
7. Strawberry-cream cheese Jello salad. I'm sure that you've seen these salads at church dinners or something like them. Mom's had strawberry Jello, cream cheese, and pineapple, I think. I did get the recipe from her a long, long time ago but I don't make it because Friend Husband is lactose intolerant and couldn't eat it. Incidentally, this dish was the one that outed Mom's feelings toward Friend Husband after we became engaged. She invited him over for dinner one Sunday and that dish was prominently featured in the array of foods. I think she may also have made Parmesan chicken. Anyway, he pointed to the salad and asked if he could eat it. I, knowing about his inability to digest dairy, told him no, because it had cream cheese in it and the chicken had Parmesan in it. Friend Husband happily loaded up on other food that he could eat (being a graduate student, he was happy with any sort of homecooking) but Mother was embarrassed and livid. She thought he was making up this "lactose intolerance" just to diss her food. To be honest, it wasn't that well-known of a disorder at the time, so she probably hadn't heard of it, but I think she was convinced for years that Doug just didn't like her food (which couldn't be further from the case).
8. Ambrosia. This was one of Mother's crowning jewels on the Christmas table. For the uninitiated, it is orange pieces, banana, maybe pineapple (although I don't think Mom used that), coconut, and sugar all mixed together. Mom put extra coconut and marischino cherries on top to make it look nicer. It was good and it was only and always served at Christmas. I usually make it once a winter, but with a lot less sugar than was on Mother's.
9. Canned green beans. These were the bane of my existence as a child. Canned green beans (we didn't know that fresh were even available) just made me gag and I hated them with a passion. Mother, on the other hand, really relished the ease with which she could put a vegetable on the table by opening a can of green beans. I didn't serve canned green beans for years after we were married. That was actually one thing that I vowed never to have on my table. Funny enough, the twins dig them so I buy them for the twins and Rachel, who also likes them. But I'm an adult now and I don't have to eat them.
10. Ranch-Style beans. These cropped up as a side dish many times. I like them ok but they're not something I seek out. It's hard to find them in Ohio anyway, but I usually bring back a case for Friend Cindy when we go to OK in June, and sometimes I bring back a can or two for us.
11. Black-eyed peas on New Year's Day. I don't know whether she was serious or not, but if you ate at her house on New Year's Day, you knew you would be having blackeyed peas for good luck. I carry on this tradition by making Hoppin' John from a recipe that dates from the dawn of our country.
12. Lutefisk. Mother, being a full-blooded Swede, granddaughter of immigrants, tried to have this most Christmases. I was never thrilled about it.
13. Pecan pie on Thanksgiving. Mom was a big fan of pecans, and we got them by the bushel in my grandmother's front yard, so more's the better. Them's good eatin'!
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