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The Family That Cooks Together

What happens when a mother and daughter who love to cook together go their separate ways in the kitchen?
Becky Johnson and her daugher, Rachel

My daughter Rachel stood in the kitchen in a floral sundress, her brown hair up in a ponytail. I was overjoyed to see her. She’d just flown in from Texas, where she and her husband, Jared, lived. Our favorite thing to do on mother-daughter visits like this? Cook.

Rachel opened the refrigerator door and poked her head in.

“Mom,” she said, turning toward me with confusion in her eyes. “I see lots of milk, yogurt and cheese.” She looked again. “And eggs.”

“I know you don’t eat meat now,” I said, “so I got a bunch of eggs and dairy for you.”

“Mom, Jared and I aren’t just vegetarian—we’re vegan. That means we don’t eat meat, dairy or eggs. No animal products at all.”

“Wow,” I said.

What will I feed them? I wondered. Rachel had told me how she and Jared listened to an audiobook about the health benefits of a vegan diet. More normalized blood glucose levels. A reduced risk of heart problems.

Our family history of hypertension and arrhythmia was a problem I figured I’d deal with later. Rachel was more proactive and decided to give veganism a try. Jared was on board too.

At the time, though, I thought it was just a temporary thing. A fad. Who ever heard of vegans in Texas?

“It’s great,” Rachel said. “We eat fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and beans. When prepared right, vegan food is delicious. You’d be surprised, Mom.”

It didn’t sound great to me. What harm is there in the occasional cheeseburger or piece of fried chicken? Or a dollop of sour cream on your baked potato every once in a while? A person needed some variety.

Tonight, I’d planned on making a cheesy lasagna loaded with veggies—no meat in that. For dessert I thought we’d whip up my aunt Etta’s famous chocolate pie. But hearing that Rachel didn’t even eat dairy, I didn’t know what to do for dinner.

When Rachel and my other kids were young, I was a bit of an absent-minded cook, sometimes forgetting a crucial ingredient or burning the breakfast toast. But by the time she was a teenager I’d found my groove, and even worked as a caterer.

For her part, Rachel always loved the kitchen. By ninth grade, she packed her own healthy lunches for school. Then, when she got married, her interest in the kitchen—and in healthy eating—grew even stronger.

I remember once visiting Rachel and Jared in Texas before they became vegans. I sat down to a delicious meal: salad, garlic bread (not burned), and spaghetti topped with a rich and creamy pesto sauce. She had made everything from scratch.

Rachel and I bonded over cooking. I loved experimenting on my own, watching the Food Network in my spare time and serving elaborate meals to my husband and guests. I posted pictures of what I made on Facebook: casseroles, bourbon brown sugar pork loin, you name it. Rachel did the same.

Soon, we were blogging to share recipes. We’d call each other, testing the same meals and chatting as we cooked.

But now, Rachel had gone vegan, and I couldn’t help fearing that her new diet would destroy the fun of our bond, one that brought me such joy. I tried to squeeze a prayer between my panicky thoughts.

“Are we cooking today, or what?” Rachel asked, a playful gleam in her eye. I relaxed.

“Don’t we need a specialty supermarket for vegans?” I asked.

“Nope,” she said. “I’ll bet we can improvise a meal with whatever you have here.”

Rachel glided around the kitchen, the way she always did. It was almost a kind of ballet. She examined the bowl of sunny yellow peppers I had gotten for the vegetable lasagna.

“What about the yellow pepper soup you tried that one time?” she asked. “Let’s make that—vegan-style!”

I frowned. “But the recipe calls for chicken broth and cream, and I know you can’t eat those anymore.”

“Don’t worry,” Rachel said. “You just start chopping up the yellow peppers and I’ll see what else I can find in your kitchen.”

While I put the peppers on a cutting board and set to work, Rachel grabbed a sweet potato, a clove of garlic, an onion, nutmeg, and then, drifting to the pantry, she returned with a carton of vegetable broth. I’d forgotten I had that.

“Ta-da!” she said. “Here’s everything we need to make a vegan yellow pepper soup. The sweet potato will make it creamy.”

Soon, the soup was simmering on the stove, and Rachel and I were sitting at the table, catching up, swapping stories and laughing like we always did. I’d lost track of time when Rachel looked at her watch and said, “Let’s see if it’s done!”

With eyes closed, I brought a spoonful of soup to my lips. A complex, pleasant mix of flavors filled my mouth. I had to hand it to her: This soup was delicious.

Not that I was ready to go vegan just yet. But knowing how healthy the soup was made me enjoy it even more. Best of all, we were having fun. Rachel may have gone vegan, but that didn’t mean we had to change the way we cooked together. Joy was one ingredient we’d always share.

Try Becky and Rachel's Yellow Pepper Soup for yourself!

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