A feeling of being at home can be brought about by a lot of situations and people. Although this time of year, we tend to define it by the moms in our lives and the love they heroically and selflessly have shared and continue to share with us in countless ways. Here’s our homage to all the many, many different ways that the moms in our lives take to expressing their love via cooking and baking.
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Renee Schettler: David.
David Leite: Mm-hmm.
Renee: What do you consider to be home in terms of food?
David: Oh, gosh. I mean, there’s so many things. Well, for the last 27 years, it’s been Sunday suppers, usually made by The One. His big thing is this roast chicken, and he roasts it on top of onions and carrots and potatoes, and they just absorb all of that incredible schmaltzy goodness, and it’s one of our favorite meals. Baking is a big thing. I love the smell of something sweet baking in the oven.
David: And do you know that real estate brokers actually will bake cookies or a cake in the house that they’re selling, just to evoke that strong memory of home in potential buyers?
Renee: I’ve always suspected that, actually.
Renee: But thought maybe it was my imagination.
David: No, it’s true. And of course, there’s always Mama Leite and all of her incredible Portuguese meals that she used to make. What about you?
Renee: That’s beautiful. There’s a lot of things. I mean, a few things stand out in my memory. My mom didn’t like to cook a lot, but she always tried to make things that we loved, whether it was hot dogs or baked bread. Or my brother loved tuna casserole with Velveeta cheese. She would make me grilled cheese instead. I think, in terms of home cooking, it’s hard for me to narrow in on any one specific thing. She didn’t have too many specialties, but it was the care that she put into it.
David: Oh, that’s sweet. What about you, Adam? What do you think of home when it comes to food?
Adam Clairmont, our producer: I guess the first thing that comes to mind is… My wife is a mom of three. And one of my favorite parts of the day is coming home and sitting around the table to the meal that she’s prepared. And while we don’t have a whole lot of family food staples because our kids are such picky eaters, but it really makes me respect and admire the time and energy that she puts in each and every day to prepare all the different meals to make each one of us just feel special and happy while we’re sitting around the table and just talk about our wins of the day, our favorite parts of the day.
Renee: That’s lovely.
David: Hi, I’m David Leite, the founder of the website Leite’s Culinaria.
Renee: And I’m Renee Schettler, editor-in-chief.
David: And this is Talking With My Mouth Full. And today, we’re revisiting our very first Mother’s Day show, all the way back in 2013, in which we celebrated some remarkable women and moms in our lives. We start off with the great Lone Star state with Lisa Fain of the award-winning blog, Homesick Texan.
Renee: And reader Beth Kujawski chats with us about what’s become one of the hottest topics on our site, brownies.
Brownie Elf: Did somebody say brownies?
Renee: And we’re going to chat with the woman who gave birth, to the savior of the food world–I can’t say that!
David: Read the script, Renee, read the script.
Renee: All right, bring on Mama Leite.
Lisa Fain of Homesick Texan
David: Renee, have you ever spent any time in Texas?
Renee: Yeah, I did actually. One summer, I spent there with my ex-mother-in-law and my nephew, whom I simply adore. We were in Austin, small town, great barbecue, nice people.
Renee: What about you?
David: Yeah. I spent time in Dallas and Fort Worth and also Austin, and I love the brisket down there. And those folks really know how to do beef. And our next guest is from Texas, as her eponymous blog indicates. Lisa Fain is the Homesick Texan, both online and on the page. Lisa, welcome to the show.
Lisa Fain: Well, thank you. Thank you for having me. It’s good to be here.
Renee: So, Lisa, I have a question for you. New Yorkers like to think that we can get anything we want in this city. And actually, someone I know likes to say that if you want a shrunken head on a stick at 2:00 AM, you can get it.
Shrunken Head: Ooga-ooga.
Renee: Exactly. But that’s New York. David, you live there too. You know.
Renee: But I kind of think you can’t get everything from Texas here in the city. Lisa, are there certain things you can only get in Texas?
Lisa: That is very true. Things have improved since I’ve moved here. Barbecue is actually, there’s a lot of Texas barbecue here now, but there are certain things, Tex-Mex and chicken-fried steak, that you just cannot find at restaurants here. I mean, some places serve it but it’s always wrong. And that was kind of the impetus for me starting my blog was because I needed these foods, I missed them desperately. And so, I got into my kitchen and started cooking them.
David: Well, I love the fact that you said, “They’re wrong.” So, tell me what is right chicken-fried steak.
Lisa: Well, correct chicken-fried steak is round steak, and it is pounded flat, and it’s breaded with egg and flour that’s been seasoned, which has pepper and cayenne and salt and it’s fried. And it’s served with white gravy. It’s a very simple dish. The reason why it exists is that people had gristly meat and they needed to make it palatable and this is the way they did it.
Lisa: And so, the things that you might see here in New York is, you might see it with brown gravy and it’s not supposed to be made with brown gravy.
David: It’s a no-no.
Lisa: And someone might get highfalutin and make it with like ribeye, which is also wrong because the whole point is that it’s supposed to make cheap, tough meat more palatable.
Renee: Exactly. So, tell us a little bit more about this brown gravy versus, I think you call it cream gravy in Texas.
Lisa: Cream gravy. Well, cream gravy is a very simple dish. It’s basically milk, flour, and bacon grease or pan drippings.
Renee: Mmm, bacon grease.
Lisa: It’s really great with bacon grease and then, it’s seasoned with salt and pepper. And some people have said that it’s the fourth Texan food group because it’s pretty ubiquitous. I mean, you can smother it over everything.
Lisa: Biscuits, rice, fried chicken, chicken-fried steak.
Lisa: It’s really good on eggs. And it’s a sort of thing that when I was growing up, it was just, my mom made it almost every night. And it was just at the end of the meal, after you’ve cooked everything in your cast iron skillet. You take out the meat or whatever, and then you put in the flour, you put in the milk, and then boom, you have gravy. And it’s simple. It’s not actually the most flavorful thing. I mean, you really have to jack it up with pepper and stuff like that, but it’s just very comforting, very smooth, and very good.
David: Now, talk a little bit about your dad. This is your dad’s recipe, so you must have incredible memories about him making chicken-fried steak.
Lisa: Absolutely. And it’s funny, everyone in the family always, when I mention chicken-fried steak, everyone in the family, both sides, “Oh, your dad’s is the best.”
Lisa: So, and his recipe was actually his mom’s, and his mom’s recipe was her mom’s. And so, it’s, you know. And who knows.
David: It’s a great-grandmother recipe.
Lisa: Yeah, it was my great-grandmother’s recipe. So, and the story my father likes to tell is that the night before he married my mom, his last meal that his mother, my grandmother, made for him was chicken-fried steak. That was kind of like his final request.
David: For his last meal.
Lisa: His last meal.
David: Dead man walking.
David: Something before he gets married.
Lisa: But it was something that when I was growing up, he made every week. And it was just, you know…
Renee: And I would imagine there was never a recipe actually written down.
Lisa: Oh, no.
Renee: This is a recipe that just exists in his mind.
Lisa: Yes. And also like cream gravy. I mean, and a lot of the recipes that I’ve written about and stuff, I mean, I’d go back to my parents or my grandparents and I’m like, “How do you do that?” And it’s the kind of thing they would just say, “Oh, a handful of this.”
David: Yes, yes.
Lisa: And I’d have to go and watch them or experiment with what I thought it was. So, yeah, there was no written-down recipe.
David: I had one of the same issues with my mother with some of the Portuguese recipes. And I tried to ask her, I tried to follow her, I tried to watch her, cook with her. I finally videotaped her.
Lisa: That’s smart.
David: And that’s how I finally got some of the secrets.
Lisa: That’s real smart.
David: And I also got a lot of family history too.
Lisa: Yeah. See, that’s… My uncle is a videographer, and he started doing that with my grandmother. And that’s the thing. I mean, with her, he started with her peach pie recipe, and you do, I mean, as they’re doing it, they tell stories that–
David: They do.
Lisa: Then it’s just precious.
Renee: You can’t disentangle the two. They’re just intrinsically intertwined.
David: Well, Lisa, thank you for stopping by.
Lisa: Well, thank you for having me.
David: And I think one of the things I’m going to do, which I don’t know about you, Renee, but after this, I’m going to go home and I’m going to make your chicken-fried steak recipe, which is by the way, everyone, on the site, with its cream gravy.
Renee: Thank you, Lisa. I’m definitely stopping by the store on the way home to get me some grizzly meat.
David: Lisa Fain is the author of the cookbook, The Homesick Texan, and she’s currently at work on another book, which we can’t wait to see.
Beth Kujawski on Brownies
David: Renee, you’re a big brownie fan, aren’t you?
David: Yeah, it’s obvious because we have what, 6,479,222 brownie recipes on the site.
Renee: Chocolate brownies. Who doesn’t love chocolate brownies?
David: Well, here’s a question. Cakey or fudgy?
Renee: Fudgy. You?
David: Me too.
Renee: No way.
Renee: We agree.
David: I know.
Renee: On something.
David: That’s bizarre. Okay, here’s another one then. Do you like the crispy edges on the outside or do you like the soft inside?
Renee: Oh, that’s easy. Crispy edges.
David: Crispy edges. Oh, my God. That’s two things. It’s two for two.
David: This never happens. Honestly, this never happens, everybody. All right, so let’s get another opinion. Every once in a while, we like to talk to real hardcore LC fans and on the phone right now we have Beth Kujawski, all the way from the windy city, Chicago. Hello, Beth.
Beth: Hello, there.
Renee: So, Beth, what about you? Cakey or fudgy?
Beth: Well, yeah, I’m in the fudgy camp.
Beth: All the brownies that I make, they were once described to me as cake-like, yet fudgy, yet not so fudgy that they’re not cake-like. So.
David: Ah, boy, that’s an enigma wrapped in a conundrum.
Beth: Well, I like to think my brownies are all things to all people.
David: Ah, so, they’re–
Renee: That’s hard.
David: …the democratic brownies.
Renee: So, how do you achieve this?
Beth: I don’t think it’s me so much. I think it’s the combination of ingredients.
Renee: Cocoa or chocolate?
Beth: I use cocoa powder. That’s the beautiful thing about my recipe is there’s no need for a double boiler. You’re not potentially scorching chocolate. It’s very straightforward.
Renee: Is it one of those old-fashioned, one-saucepan brownies where you only have to dirty one pan and not a million different bowls.
Beth: Yeah, that’s the great thing. You just get out your ingredients, you melt your butter in the bowl in the microwave, and everything goes into that bowl. Stir it all up, toss it in the oven. 30 minutes later, you’re good to go.
David: Well, there is something to be said for having many bowls, and taking a lot of time to make a masterpiece. I’m sorry.
Renee: Well, absolutely. I didn’t mean to diminish…
David: My cooking prowess?
Renee: The wonderful wonderfulness. Yes, but now, Beth, all that aside, tell me something. Frosting or no frosting?
Beth: Oh, frosting.
Beth: Why wouldn’t you?
Renee: Well, because frosting’s for cake, not brownies.
David: Brownies are a flat cake.
Renee: No, they’re fudgy. David, you said you like fudgy.
David: I do, but I also like frosting. It’s fudgy frosting. So, Beth, since I’m the one who loves frosting on brownies, why don’t you talk us through your frosting?
Beth: It’s so simple, which is also the beauty of it. Simple brownies, simple frosting. You melt however many tablespoons of butter you need for your frosting. You use an equal amount of cocoa powder. You stir that until it’s beautiful and velvety and smooth. And then you just start dumping in powdered sugar and a little bit of milk until you get the sweetness you want and the consistency that you want. And I frost my brownies when they’re still a little warm because then you get a nice sheen to your frosting.
David: Renee, what is wrong with that?
Renee: Everything’s wrong about that. It’s frosting on a brownie. Beth, that frosting sounds amazing, but I want it by the spoonful. I don’t want it on my brownie. I’m sorry.
David: So, you want naked brownies.
Renee: I want naked-ass brownies.
David: I like mine fully clothed for winter.
Renee: Now, I understand, Beth, that you sent David some brownies.
David: Yes, she did.
Renee: Brown noser.
Beth: Well, they’re democratic brownies.
David: They are. They went to everyone.
Renee: Did you frost the ones that you sent to David?
Beth: Of course I frosted the ones I sent to David.
Renee: So, tell me your secret to shipping, because shipping frosted things is not the simplest thing.
Beth: Well, here’s the thing. I don’t receive the brownies I ship. So, they may not arrive in the condition I intend them, but I’ve never had any complaints.
Renee: I have a vision of David licking plastic wrap.
David: Plastic wrap. I didn’t, Beth. They arrived in absolute perfect condition.
Beth: Well, there you go.
David: Actually, I do have one more question for you though. It’s one of those either or. Nuts or no nuts.
Beth: Oh, nuts. Always. Unless you’re allergic to them. Then, of course, I can make an exception.
Renee: You need nuts in brownies. Something to just kind of mix up the… No?
David: No, no, no, nuts don’t belong in brownies or cakes or cookies. No, no, no.
Beth: Oh, oh, David.
Renee: Well, David, we went two for three. That’s pretty good.
David: We did. And Renee and I, that’s unusual for us to like the same thing that often, but no, I’m sorry Beth, I think yours actually had nuts and I ate them.
Renee: But did you eat around them?
David: No, no. I think I ate them. Sometimes I have done that where I eat it and then lick everything off and then take the nut out.
David: I know, but it’s, I just happen not to like, I don’t like that crunch in my soft gooey ooey things.
Beth: Well, I think that’s terribly misguided.
David: Well, there you go, passing judgment, but that’s perfectly fine. I’m strong enough. My skin is thick enough.
David: So, Beth, even though we do not agree upon the nut issue, I want to thank you very much for coming on. It was a pleasure.
Beth: Oh, it’s my pleasure.
David: And please keep coming back to the site. We love your comments. We love your humor. We love the fact that you love us.
Beth: Oh, I will absolutely be back.
David: Beth Kujawski is a writer, editor, singer, baker, and devoted Leite’s Culinaria fan. So, send her some Twitter love at @Beth4158.
Mother’s Day Gifts
Renee: So, David, you know Mother’s Day is coming up.
David: I do. What are you getting your mother?
Renee: Chip clips.
David: Chip clips?
Renee: Chip clips.
David: What’s chip clips?
Renee: You know, the clips that you use–
David: Oh, a chip bag?
Renee: When you open up a bag of chips.
David: Oh, okay.
Renee: My mom loves potato chips, loves them.
David: Chip clips. Okay.
Renee: And I got her these little hand-painted ones, and they actually say, “Home is where mom is.”
David: Oh, that’s sweet.
Renee: Aw. What about you?
David: Well, I got my mother her present a long time ago.
Renee: Oh, what?
Renee: Oh, brother.
Mama Leite on Portuguese Cooking
Renee: We’ve got Mama Leite on the line. Mama Leite, hey, it’s Renee. How are you?
Mama Leite: I’m doing well, Renee. How are you?
Renee: I’m good, thanks.
David: Hi, Ma.
Mama Leite: How are you doing, David?
David: Good, Mama.
Renee: So, Mama Leite, David was just telling me that he’s already got you your present for Mother’s Day.
Mama Leite: Oh, really? And what’s that?
Renee: Are you ready for this?
Mama Leite: I’m ready.
Renee: He says it’s him.
Mama Leite: Okay. That sounds good.
David: I mean, Mama, I made you a mother 52 years ago. Right?
Mama Leite: And that’s why, Renee, every day is Mother’s Day.
David: See? I told you.
Mama Leite: Every day.
Renee: But now, Mama Leite, what about jewelry? Perfumes. Isn’t there something else that you want besides David?
Mama Leite: He throws that in occasionally.
David: And this is why I adore my mother because she adores me so much.
Renee: That makes one of us.
Mama Leite: Way to go, Renee.
David: Oh, great. Okay, is anyone here on Team David? Hello? Anyone on Team David?
Renee: Oh, David, you know I love you. Some days.
David: So, Mama, Mother’s Day is coming up soon. What are you going to make for Mother’s Day? Are you going to cook on Mother’s Day?
Mama Leite: Well sure.
David: Of course, well. What are you going to make?
Mama Leite: Aw, probably make a nice roast.
David: Now, you’ve never had my mother’s carne assada.
Renee: Tell me.
David: Tell Renee about the carne assada, Ma.
Mama Leite: Oh, carne assada. First of all, Renee, you have to pronounce it. Tell me.
Renee: Oh, I took French, not Portuguese.
David: Carne assada.
Renee: Carne assada.
Mama Leite: Hey, that sounds good.
David: It’s not bad.
Mama Leite: That sounds good. Yeah, roast meat. It’s marinated with a wine that Papa Leite makes, and…
Mama Leite: Garlic, crushed pepper.
David: That my father makes.
Mama Leite: Paprika and put in chouriço. That’s homemade by Papa Leite’s sister.
Renee: Of course.
Mama Leite: David’s aunt.
David: Chouriço. That’s the Portuguese sausage. Chouriço.
Mama Leite: Yep. And brown potatoes, carrots. And I may make a little dish on the side of rice with the same gravy that comes, very beautiful gravy that comes from the roast meat. Nice and dark, rich.
David: Gets sucked up in the rice. It’s fantastic.
Renee: Oh, God, I am so hungry right now, Mama Leite.
Mama Leite: Well, I’ll tell you what, there’s a place at the table for you, sweetheart.
Renee: Oh, thank you.
Mama Leite: Oh, yeah.
David: And the recipe is in my cookbook. Mama Leite’s recipe is in the cookbook.
Renee: I have that cookbook.
David: So, you can always cook from it.
Renee: Mama Leite, I may have to call you for advice though. Is that okay?
Mama Leite: That’s perfectly fine.
David: Well, Mama, I just wanted to wish you a very, very happy Mother’s Day, and I want you to tell Daddy that I love him, too.
Mama Leite: Well, thank you, son. This is very special for us and God bless you and know that we love you and anyone that you love, we love.
David: Well, there you go.
Renee: Oh, happy Mother’s Day, Mama Leite.
Mama Leite: Thank you so much, Renee. Take good care.
Renee: Mama Leite is the mother of our fearless Leiter, David. Seven decades have not slowed her down nor dulled her sharp wit or her tongue. She can’t be found anywhere online because she has no idea what social media is, and she’s got no books. You’ll probably just find her in church.
Renee: You are really something else, David.
David: And not only that, I’m a mother, as I have written in one of my blog posts.
Renee: Ladies and gentlemen, here’s David Leite in his inimitable way, reading his rendition of, “If I Were A Mother.”
David Reads “If I Were A Mother”
David: A little sage advice: Be careful what you say about yourself, because yesterday’s jest could be tomorrow’s character-defining statement.
Let me explain. Seventeen years ago, The One and I were invited for a wintry weekend in Washington, CT, long before we ever bought a home there. We were guests of our then brand-spanking-new friends, Matty and Janet R. Janet had worked with The One in real estate for a few years, but this was only the second time we were in Matty’s company.
How to describe Matty R? Born and raised in the Bronx, he could have walked onto the set of the “The Sopranos,” sat down alongside Sal “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero, Paulie Gualtieri, and Silvio Dante, and no one, not even the director, would have been the wiser. He says bootifull when he means beautiful. He’s all diamond pinkie rings, sharp suits, and combed-back hair. He hits the racetracks in Saratoga Springs, NY, and Baden Baden, Germany, in equal measure, and usually wins. Bottom line, had it not been for Janet, our worlds never would’ve collided.
Late one February night, after a dinner that The One and I cooked for them, I was complaining that I was tired of my advertising copywriting job.
“So, whassamadda? Do somethin’ else,” Matty said, as casually as if I were grousing that the ice cream parlor was out of my favorite flavor.
“Whadda wanna do wit ya life, kid?”
And without so much as a millisecond of hesitation, out came the words (and from where, I know not), “I want to lie in bed in pink fluffy slippers and eat bonbons all day.”
He paused. Then he burst out laughing. No, not laughing: wheezing. Matty has a high, fatally infectious, hyena-like wheeze. Then we were all laughing. And from that night, I have never been allowed to forget my off-handed comment. So much so that I’ve been given boxes of bonbons over the years, and even fluffy slippers. Mercifully, none pink–and thankfully not a marabou mule among them.
What does all this have to do with Mother’s Day, you ask? A lot. I think any time Hallmark and local bakeries conspire to make a special day for you (in order to make money for them), from birthdays to bridal showers, it’s a cue to indulge. And to me, the height of indulgence is lying in bed with a big box of candies, preferably Teuscher, watching “The Today Show,” “Modern Family,” “Glee,” and my new favorite, “Body of Proof.” Slippers optional.
And that’s exactly what I’d do on Mother’s Day, if I were a mother and had my own brood. I’d make it clear to all who could hear my voice (pets included) that this is my day. And my day requires that all whom I’ve spent the past 364 days catering to suddenly turn into my flunkies. “Bow down unto me!” I’d bellow, and take delight as they genuflect at the foot of my bed, watching their heads slowly, recalcitrantly drop, revealing the Antarctica-shaped bald spot of The One and the unruly cowlicks of my progeny.
I’d order up a menu the likes of which had never been seen or eaten in my bed—everything made by them and presented unto me.
I’d start with a mother of a Mother’s Day drink, maybe a Sparkling Ginger Daisy. Or if I wanted to eat my cocktail, I’d opt for Grapefruit in Moscato. If I were in a breakfast-y mood, I call out for Sunday Morning Pancakes or Café Benedict. Maybe even both. In the very likely event that I lolled in bed past noon, I’d place an order for Lyonnaise Salad, making sure my little ones left nary a gossamer veil of white hanging from the poached egg. Pea Shoots and Goat Cheese Salad could feature prominently, if I were counting calories. But why would I? It’s my day. And on my day, physics wouldn’t deign to bore me with anything as trivial as calories. Which is why Risotto Alla Milanese would never be out of the question.
Then there’s dessert. Nothing would be more fitting for Mother’s Day than Peanut Butter-Pretzel Bonbons and Mocha-Hazelnut Truffles. All I’d need is Matty, my own personal wise guy, feeding them to me to make it bootifull.
Renee: Bravo. Bravo.
David: Adam, that is certainly not enough. Can you help me out here?
David: Now, that, Renee, is the kind of reception I should have gotten.
Renee: Oh, brother.
Southern Waitress: I ain’t need no teef to eat my beef!!
David: So, what do we have on the specials board that mothers around the world will adore?
Renee: We have a lot. We have a Hoosier sugar cream pie.
Renee: It’s also known as crack pie because it’s that addictive.
Renee: But it’s basically made out of pantry staples: flour, sugar, cream.
Renee: Not a lot else. Right? You can knock that together anytime you need something, satisfy everybody in the household, I swear. In fact, you may as well just make two. We also have a barbecue pork burgers recipe. This was my nephew’s favorite. He would ask for it for breakfast in the morning. It’s just ground pork, your favorite barbecue sauce. I used to do it in a skillet, but you can also do it on the grill. It’s fantastic. We have a turkey meatballs with angel hair pasta recipe. It’s perfect for everybody in the house because moms get to think they’re sneaking a little healthfulness into their kids’ diet. Kids still get spaghetti and meatballs.
Renee: We have a breakfast cookies recipe.
Renee: Right? It’s essentially granola in cookie form, so delude yourself or not, but we’re going to put that out there for you. And we’ve been seeing a lot of people searching for fried chicken recipes lately. We’ve got a million amazing recipes for that, but we went a little bit different this next week. Change of pace, southern fried chicken wings. Little spicy, little sass, but still palatable.
David: Oh, that sounds great, Renee. Oh, I think mothers across the world are going to be very satisfied.
Renee: I think so, too.
David: This podcast is produced by Overit Studios, and our producer is the ever mothering Adam Clairmont. You can reach Adam and Overit Studios at overitstudios.com. Remember to subscribe to Talking With My Mouth Full on your favorite platform and listen to us wherever you go. And if you like what you hear, and we hope you do, and you want to support us, leave us a review and rating on iTunes.
David: We’d like to thank our sponsor, Abbio Kitchen. You can try Abbio right now by going to abbiokitchen.com and using the code LC15 for a whopping 15% off all Abbio.