A couple weeks ago, I introduced my mother to a dear friend over lunch in Midtown Manhattan. Along with my husband, we dove into a Sichuan spread. Between starter servings of mung bean jelly noodles and a giant bowl of braised fish fillets floating in fiery red chile sauce, my friend turned to my mom and clasped his hands together. “Angela,” he began in mock seriousness, “I have questions.”
“Hit me,” she said, reaching for a piece of scallion pancake.
“Tell me about baby Osayi. When did you know that all this” — he gestured across the table toward me in a sweeping, circular motion — “was going to be . . . a situation?”
Minutes into their relationship, they were sharing knowing looks. I laughed into my bowl. I had expected them to bond over grape varietals. My mom, Angela Rushen Ross, a former reporter, news anchor and media manager, rested her chopsticks. I braced myself. “When did I know she was going to be independent, go her own way?” she asked. “Early.”
She described how I’d “up and left” school during my first week of kindergarten near Berkeley. I’d successfully completed several days, each one culminating in an adult-chaperoned walk — me and many classmates — to the day-care center about a half-mile away. But on this day, after lunch, I took my backpack and left — the campus. A neighbor happened to be driving past my route, so she pulled over, concerned that I was out of school and more importantly, alone. She asked me where I was going.
At the restaurant, my mother thrust her chin outward mimicking an indignant child: “‘I’m going to day care!’” My mother continued, “Osayi wouldn’t get in the neighbor’s car because we’d told her to never take a ride unless we’d instructed her to do so. She marched to day care with the neighbor driving 3 miles per hour, to keep an eye on her.”
I was barely 5 years old.
Like many kids, I determined how I felt about things by differentiating my opinions from those of my parents. Mom shows me the blue dress, I choose the red. I say college in New York, she says stay in California. (She won.) Mom makes a vibrant salad with romaine, grilled prawns, hearts of palm and grape tomatoes in a lemon vinaigrette; I’ll have a burger, thanks.
But there were similarities. I tried out for cheerleading because I was enamored with the gorgeous photos of my mom in her gold-and-blue uniform of Los Angeles’ Locke High School. Bored with age-appropriate books I’d read twice, I regularly dipped into her collection (and got in trouble for reading rock icon Tina Turner’s memoir at age 9).
She helped me thrive. She would record me reading aloud using her reporter equipment so I could hear that my rushed words raked me into a stutter. She oversaw my essay revisions before I ever dreamed of becoming a writer; so what if the teacher said it was fine. Not long ago, I texted her from my home in Florida about this “amazing” salad I’d been evolving. Mild greens and fresh herbs, pan-seared spicy shrimp with cherry tomatoes, sliced Braeburn apples and daikon, all tossed in a tahini-lemon dressing. “Well, there you go,” she wrote back. Ah. Right.
I am fortunate that my well of resources is based in my mother’s love and guidance. It hasn’t always been easy. Sometimes I felt judged; I know she sometimes felt dismissed. But I always knew love lived in the gaps. Lately, I’m figuring out that being the best version of myself often means pulling from the best of where I come from, even if that means I change the recipe a bit.
I love to build this salad. To watch the bowl fill as the kitchen becomes fragrant with fresh basil, bright daikon, juicy tomatoes. But my favorite part is making the dressing. I start with a dollop of tahini and mix in honey, apple cider vinegar and a squeeze of lemon, then slowly add coconut milk until the texture is light and smooth. It has a calming effect that lets the disparate salad ingredients come together, but without losing their unique qualities.
My mom gets me. I get her, too.
Endolyn is deputy editor of “Gravy,” a publication by the Southern Foodways Alliance. She lives in Gainesville, Fla.
From food writer Osayi Endolyn.
For the dressing
1 tablespoon tahini
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
Juice of ½ lemon (at least 2 tablespoons)
½ cup regular or low-fat coconut milk
Freshly ground black pepper
For the shrimp
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 to 8 ounces medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
Pinch garlic powder (granulated garlic)
Pinch sweet paprika
Pinch ground cayenne pepper
Pinch kosher salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
Juice of ½ lemon
For the salad
2 to 3 handfuls homemade salad mix, such as a blend of butter lettuce or green leaf lettuce, watercress, radicchio, basil leaves, fresh dill
2 ounces daikon radish, peeled and thinly sliced
½ cup halved cherry tomatoes, preferably a mix of colors
½ Braeburn apple, cored and thinly sliced
Flesh of ½ avocado, cut into chunks (optional)
For the dressing: Whisk together tahini, honey and oil in a large liquid measuring cup, until smooth, then add the vinegar and lemon juice. Gradually whisk in the coconut milk to form a smooth, emulsified dressing. Season lightly with salt and pepper. The yield is ¾ to 1 cup.
For the shrimp: Heat a tablespoon of the oil in a large cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium heat. Combine the shrimp, the remaining tablespoon of oil, the garlic powder, paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper, tossing to coat evenly. Transfer the shrimp to the skillet; sear for 2 to 3 minutes, then turn them over and cook for about 1 minute. The edges of some shrimp should have a bit of char. Transfer to a plate and sprinkle with the lemon juice.
For the salad: Toss together the salad mix, daikon, tomatoes, apple and the avocado, if using, in a mixing bowl. Add half the dressing; use tongs to gently mix so the components are evenly coated. Add more dressing, as needed.
Divide between plates, then arrange equal portions of shrimp atop each salad. Drizzle with the remaining dressing. Serve right away.
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