My mother, although multi-talented, had an aversion to the kitchen and has often said that I learned to cook at an early age “out of self-defense.” When she made chicken à l'orange by smearing a chicken with powdered Tang, I quickly developed a necessary passion for creating tasty things to eat. Somewhere in the family photograph album is a picture of me at the stove, age ten, happily stirring marinara sauce.

I developed a lifelong fascination with food; good food. There was even a foray of working as a chef’s assistant at a French restaurant during my mid twenties, just for fun. I had always loved watching Julia Child and knew that Mastering the Art of French Cooking was to be revered. It wasn’t until I read her biography (long before the Julie & Julia movie) that I really became fascinated with her work. From that book, I decided to prepare her recipe for mayonnaise.

Upon tasting it, I wept. . . .

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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Butter and Budgie

"Food should be cooked with lots of love and lots of butter."

My grandmother, "Budgie", had those words hanging in black wrought-iron on the wall of her kitchen for as long as I remember.

From age 10 to 18, I was raised by my mom and Budgie. 

A more loving, extroverted, exceedingly happy woman would be hard to find. She was a frantic, joyous, Edith Bunker-Hazel-Ellen Degeneres being all rolled in one spastic whirlwind of exuberant overwhelming LOVE whenever you met her.

Budgie was THE most appealing person you'd have ever met.

Needless to say, such a lover of everyone could hardly spend any time in the kitchen. As a wee lad, I can still see her plopping a pot on the stove and then scurrying out to enjoy any guests; to revel in anyone who might happen by.

The quality or quantity of food seldom mattered as far as Budgie was concerned. If there was company, there was enough to feed them. It was the company that mattered; not the stuff in the kitchen.  Anyway, everyone loved her and any experience to "be with Budgie" was in-and-of-itself what any meal at her house was all about.

I never recall any meal being served in dishes on Budgie's table and passed around.
No. Never.

Whether there were two or two-dozen guests, everyone filled their plates from pots and pans from the stove. Never, EVER was a meal served from anything than the kitchen stove, from the pot or pan from it was prepared. We'd never have a Sunday dinner without several guests, but everyone would have to file into the kitchen, scoop out the pot roast, potatoes and carrots from that speckled navy-blue roasting pan on the stove and then scoop out some mac-n-cheese and then some gravy from the pot laying beside it to spoon over white bread.

Every Sunday before church, I'd hear her searing a big chuck roast. She'd have it in the oven, surrounded by potatoes, carrots and onions, and whisk us all off to Sunday School (She had been the Sunday School teacher at the local Baptist church since 1945 - - none of her children or grandchildren had ever NOT attended Budgie's Sunday School classes!)

Back then, a Baptist preacher gave a good-ol' 45-minute sermon. I remember when we got a new, young preacher who liked to give shorter sermons. This was back in 1972 or so. Budgie invited him and his family over for Sunday dinner. She told him, "Now, Brother Thornton, I have my roast timed for your sermon. If you preach too long, you're gonna get a burnt offering. If you don't preach long enough, there might be a blood sacrifice!"

Then she just laughed and gave him a big hug.

To this day, I prefer to serve a meal buffet style or to plate everything up in the kitchen. To place an entree and sides in serving dishes to be passed around -- well -- that just seems to be so inefficient.

I still recall all the Thanksgiving meals and of every Sunday dinner with everyone traipsing through the kitchen past the aqua Formica counter tops and serving themselves from the stove.

It never mattered to anyone, I guess.

And I never knew what butter was until I was 25 years old. 

Budgie was always there, chirping, laughing, hugging and making everyone feel like they were the most loved person on this earth. She really had that innate ability to instantly make you feel as though you were the most appreciated and loved being in the whole wide world. Her love toward you was always genuine; the moment you'd walk in her door, she'd let out a little shriek of delight, run up and hug you, "Oh, Baeebeee!"

She had lots of "sayings". One of her favorites was, "If you ain't lovin', you ain't livin'!"
And then she'd laugh and say, "Now, that's from the 1st Book of Budgie!"

To this day, just about everyone in my home town will probably give you a first-hand account about how much Budgie loved them.

Budgie passed away, quietly, at the age of 91 in 2002.

I was SO extremely fortunate to have her as a primary caregiver since the age of ten. Budgie was always my best friend; she was my soul mate. She and I loved writing letters to each other ever since I was a child. We continued this practice well into my adulthood and into her old age. I've saved all her letters and she, apparently, save quite a few of mine.

I have 865 of her letters dating to 1981.
They're an incredible treasure of wit, love, and wisdom.

Oh, and I was 25 years old when I first tasted butter. I do not once remember Budgie ever using butter. Not once. "Oleo" was much less expensive. Margarine could serve more people and that what was important.

I never obtained any "grandmothery" recipes from Budgie. The woman spent as little time in the kitchen as possible. The minute she'd put something on the stove, she'd scurry out to the front door to greet a guest or to grab the phone for a 2-hour chat with one of her best friends (Louise, Bess, Clint, or Claire) There was the occasional root-beer float and then she'd whisk my brother and me away to wade in a creek or pick wild blackberries.

Recipes handed down from my Budgie?
Never.None at all.
Same goes for her two daughters, my mom and aunt.

She had that wrought-iron plaque in her kitchen saying  
"Food should be cooked with lots of love and lots of butter."

Budgie never, ever used butter that I can recall.

She made up for it with lots and lots of pure, unfettered love.

More than you can imagine,.
An over-abundance.

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