cooking with brenda

So far I have managed to get through Covid without watching a single TikTok video, and I am fairly proud of that. On the other hand, I have spent time every day mindlessly scrolling through Leslie Jordan videos on Instagram, watching stand up comics and Allbirds ads on Facebook, avoiding, if I can, anything political, which is hard.

Then, on Facebook one day a cooking video popped up, and there was just something about it. A smiling woman was standing in her red kitchen with the big round Coca-Cola sign on the wall, in front of a large butcher block, her hair pulled back with a wide band that looked a little like a winter ear warmer. She was videoing with her phone, which kept moving around on her. She charmed me no end.

She had been working in the yard, she told us, and she had just popped in to whip up a casserole, explaining she had her old work jeans on because when you are having a hectic day, what else can you do? She was making squash casserole Alabama. With her soft and distinctive Alabama accent, I wanted to visit her every day, I wanted to spend as much time with her in her kitchen as I could.

And I have.

She has let me hang while she has made fried chicken, biscuits, pot roast, marinaded salad, cheese balls, potato salad, barbecued baked beans, anything you could find on a southern Sunday table or at a Wednesday night church pot luck. She does breakfast, too, with locally smoked sausages and grits she cooks for an hour to velvety perfection, and this is how I got to talk to her, in person, and it was a thrill.

I had to get me some of those sausages.

She hails from Andalusia, Alabama, down in the southern part of the state, not all that far from the Alabama and Florida beaches. You may have driven by Andalusia, as it is one of the two “best” routes to the beach that people argue about. She also runs a B&B, the Cottle House, and those sausages are local—smoked right there at the Hill Top Restaurant and Meat Market.

In a few weeks I’m heading that way and I thought, why not stay at the Cottle House, toddle over for dinner at the restaurant and procure a bunch of sausage while I’m there, then head on down south? I figured it was a long shot, since Brenda’s videos, “Cooking with Brenda Gantt,” have become some popular, but it was worth a try.

I phoned the number for the B&B, and guess who answered the phone? Brenda! There, down the line, was that soft, distinctive accent, she was a little breathless, as if she had just run in from somewhere else, which is familiar, if you watch her videos. She usually has. Of course the rooms are booked until February, which I figured they might be, and then she asked about where in Florida we were going. She thought we would be okay after Hurricane Sally in our particular spot.

I gushed a little about how exciting it was to talk to her in person, and she was as gracious and kind as can be. Warm, loving, even. I think that is why I tune in for my daily dose of Brenda. She reminds me of my own grandmothers — kind and in command of the kitchen like one, bustling and busy and energetic like the other.

She has that great accent, yes, but she has an even better smile. She welcomes us into her kitchen and demystifies the cooking process. If you don’t like something, leave it out, if you don’t have something, add something else. Except for when you shouldn’t.

Her grandchildren stop by on occasion, and she leaves us sitting alone in the kitchen while she lets them in and whispers, “I’m videoing.” Then she brings them over to meet us. We often catch her in the middle of things—all dressed and ready to go out or fixing breakfast before church. Or with make-up on and awaiting friends for lunch, or just in from mowing the grass.

It doesn’t matter, she is never too far from the enterprise of feeding her family, which now includes us. She shops at the Piggly Wiggly. She uses old beloved knives and spatulas, cast iron and chipped enamel bowls.

And love. Lots and lots of love.

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