(by Stephanie Foster)
I don’t cook. In fact, I’d mess up making a bowl of cereal if I tried. My mother is what most would describe as a magician in the kitchen. She likes her recipes vague and open for interpretation. She goes solely by taste, and knows exactly what is needed to balance out a flavor. Her ability in the kitchen knows no bounds; she’ll wow you with a lasagna one day, an apple pie the next, and then serve a soup that will knock your socks off shortly afterward. She shows her love through food, and her love leaves you feeling warm and full. How could I possibly grow up in her household and not have learned anything, you ask? To that I would respond: a well practiced rebellion and an unfounded ego. I despised the way women were regulated to the kitchen during family holidays, while the men got to relax and watch football. I decided at a very young age that this situation was an outrage, and I would be the patron saint of not learning any cooking skills whatsoever.
The differences between my mother and me run deep, and ever since I can remember, I felt a desire to prove my uniqueness. She is maternal, feminine, religious, and extremely good with finances and math, while I take pride in my political opinions and yoga practice, my status as a feminist, and my budding sneaker collection.
In 2008, we found ourselves on very different sides of the heated presidential election. It felt personal, even aggressive, that she voted for the candidate I was so staunchly against, as well as all of the things he represented. I created distance between the two of us, not understanding how I could come from someone who supported the exact things I was fighting so hard to protect. We went from regular phone calls to very sparse ones that usually ended in one of us hanging up in the middle of the other’s sentence. I was so hellbent in her seeing things from my view that I completely forgot that she had a view at all.
Time passed, and life caused me to grow up quickly in a short amount of time. I found myself newly single, in a foreign country, and very hungry. With so many parts of my identity stripped away, it was hard to answer the question, “Who am I?” Living abroad will do that to a person. It’s a painful yet rewarding process of chipping away at all of the excess in your life and revealing what you are made of, what’s important, and what you truly want in this one, precious life. I was celebrating Christmas alone for the first time. I craved the closeness of my family and the warmth of my mother’s cooking. So I reached out and asked for her recipe for “trees”—our family name for fried broccoli, a staple at any Foster family holiday gathering. We are from Texas, and we do like our vegetables on the battered side of life.
My mother responded almost immediately, she was downright giddy that I had asked. I gathered my ingredients and got to work. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t curse through the entire experience, and that I didn’t burn the majority of the trees, but for Christmas dinner that year, I sat alone without feeling alone. Exhausted from the effort, I ate slowly and recognized my mom again—for her dedication to our family, her consistent love no matter how far I try to push her away, and how she is so much more than someone on the other side of the political fence.
My new year’s resolution that year was two-fold: I was going to figure out how to mend the gap that I so willingly created, and I wasn’t going to do that by being my mom, but by being as fiercely me as possible, because all along that’s what she had taught me to do. She loves cooking the way that I love writing and making people laugh. And at the end of the day, we are both stronger women for it.
We still disagree on so much, but now we see our differences as the glue that holds our relationship together. We learn so much from each other and have so much adoration for what the other one is able to do; because it happens to be the thing we are lacking ourselves. My mom thinks I’m so brave for being a female comic, even when she is the butt of the joke I’m telling. Like the one where I ask the very liberal, California audience if there are any 45 supporters in the crowd, and when no one responds, I feign surprise, “Oh no, my mom couldn’t make it?” And I admire her relentless drive to keep our family close, even when that means I need to be okay with being the only one who feels a certain way. We’re spending less time trying to mold each other into what we had imagined the other would be like and more time appreciating each other for exactly what they are: different.
frozen broccoli florets
salt and pepper, to taste
2 - 3 eggs
1 – 1 1/2 c. flour
Steam frozen broccoli florets until al dente.
Spread florets out on wax paper.
Cut off long stems and cut large florets in half.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and let cool.
Beat eggs in a medium bowl, add flour and enough water so that it has the consistency of thick pancake batter.
Add salt and pepper, to taste.
Heat enough oil in a skillet so that the battered broccoli will be half-covered.
Test oil by dropping in a bit of batter; it’s hot enough if it sizzles.
Coat each floret in the batter, and place in the oil.
Fry until golden brown, then flip and use a spatula to flatten a bit.
Once both sides are golden brown, drain on paper towels to drain.
Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve hot.