Tag Archives: Nostalgia

May Day!

I have a love-hate relationship with ritual. I usually love the first couple of times through something, but then I end up hating too much repetition. How many times will I sing “Merry Month of May” in my life? I’ve already lost track, and we have six more years! The May Day festival at my son’s school has morphed over time. It’s better now–the 5th-8th graders perform Morris dances so that it’s not an endless k-8 stream of dancing around and around. It’s colorful, and there’s always festive music. Add a Welsh native in a kilt bedecked in flowers and ribbons as the emcee, it’s a pretty fun time.

This year, I approached the day, actually celebrated on Friday since school was in session and May Day landed on a Sunday,with some amount of trepidation. As I noted in this blog post a year ago the date had been tinged with melancholy for me the last few years. I went to the festival this year more annoyed that it was still 44 degrees and overcast. I carried my umbrella with me sure that we were going to be standing in a muddy field. To my surprise, the weather held and the slight misting that did appear was a far cry from the thunderous downpour I was expecting.

My anger at my mom’s death has dulled, and I’ve found the last year has taken me along way to being more nostalgic and allowing me to share with my kids little things about my mom so she can live on in their memories as well as my own.

As I was getting ready for my annual dessert and charade party that I host for the school as a fundraiser, I found myself rummaging around in the liquor cabinet. No, it’s not so stressful it sends me careening off the wagon. I was making a cookie that requires a quarter cup or so of whiskey. I found this bottle (pictured to the right) in the back of the shelf. I know it’s a little bit of a disconnect for someone with 23 years of sobriety under her belt to be holding a nearly empty bottle of booze, but I’m safely past any kind of temptation to go on a binge.

My mom bought this bottle during her last trip her in 2006. She didn’t quite finish it, and I couldn’t just dump out perfectly good bourbon. I let it get shoved back behind the cognac and calvados until I went searching. It was finding this bottle of whiskey that sent me into a moment of thinking about my mom and the fact that we were coming up on the anniversary of her surgery. I used what I needed for the cookies and put the bottle back in the cupboard. Given the rate I use up booze around here, that little connection with her will be sitting around for another year at least.

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Filed under Cooking, Grief, Holidays, May Day, Mourning, Moving On, Uncategorized

Comfort Foods

Tuna a la Sunday

When I was growing up, my mom had a rule about church; You had to attend until you were confirmed. This pretty much meant that we dropped out of the Sunday ritual one by one–first my brothers and then me. Once we were confirmed in the Lutheran church, each and every one of us pretty much stopped going. Well, I hung on a little longer than the boys did, but not by much.

When we lived in Pensacola, Florida, we drove to a place I thought was “way across town” but probably wasn’t so far as it seemed. On the way home, we would stop at the 7-11 for treats. We usually were allowed one comic book and one candy bar. I can’t remember if we had rules around when we were allowed to eat the candy, though I seem to think it was after lunch.

Once we got home, she would make lunch. This would entail either tuna fish sandwiches or grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato and rice soup. Campbell’s of course. Occasionally, the soup would be bean with bacon or split pea, but I liked the tomato with rice the best. She made it with water, not milk, too. She would make an entire tray of grilled cheese in the broiler–which makes it easy to make a whole bunch of sandwiches. She’d pile the sandwiches on a plate and serve them to the whole family. And we were allowed to dunk our sandwiches into the soup. (My daughter was at a friend’s house when she was little and was admonished by the mother who had served her, “that’s a nasty habit!” Oopsie…)

While my religious views have veered into another realm, I find it interesting that my after church rituals are not entirely unlike the ones I had growing up. I sometimes stop at PCC (Puget Consumer’s Co-op) to pick up food, though no candy bars or comic books are part of that little errand. And, I’ve taken to making sandwiches for lunch. Of course, that’s a bit different too. Since the daughter doesn’t eat dairy or wheat, I tend to make tuna. And I put olive oil and capers in mine. There’s something comforting about coming home and making (a much smaller) pile of tuna sandwiches.

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“C” is for Cookie

A pretty standard pool at Holiday Inn.

Growing up a Navy brat has its disadvantages. One of them being that my dad was never stationed close to Montana where his and my mother’s families lived. Most of my aunts and uncles lived in Montana, and all our family reunions have been in Montana. As a consequence, our family vacations involved getting into the car and driving to…you got it…Montana. We’d drive at a determined clip that would require the least number of pit-stops and hotel stays. And, we always, always, always, stayed at a “Holiday Inn.” The smell of chlorinated indoor pools conjure up summer in a big way for me.

Once in Montana, we divided our time between my mom’s family and my dad’s family. Dad’s folks lived in Billings and Mom’s lived in a place most people have never heard of, a tiny town called Roberts that is close to Red Lodge. I know there was some intermixing of families, but I can’t recall them all that clearly. This post, however, was urged by a summertime craving that has kicked in big time for me. And I know it’s related to my Herbert family visits in Roberts.

My grandma owned and operated the Robert’s cafe. It was a homey place with a long counter lined with red leather and chrome stools that seated my generation in one fell swoop–there are thirteen of us. (If you are family and happen to read this, correct me if I’m wrong!) Across from the stools were several booths made of fir, I think, and thin barely bottom-relieving cushions. Were there dear antlers on the end of the booths as coat hooks? I can’t remember, but they wouldn’t have been out of place.

The kitchen was straight back from the front door, and there was an open sort of extra space to the right and behind the main counter wall that was used for family meals and storage. I don’t know where my parents slept, and I think my brothers slept in the garage. I do, however, remember where I slept. And this brings me to my craving.

My grandma was a down-home cook. I have her recipes compiled in a book and they go something like this:

“Chocolate Cream Pie”
Make a vanilla custard. Add 3-4 tablespoons cocoa.

Plain and simple...rolled and flattened. No rolling pins or fancy shapes.

She didn’t need to be told how to make a vanilla custard, she just did it. Her food was simple and unencumbered by capers, truffles or exotic spices. She had a daily special which came with a dessert. The dessert was ice cream and a cookie, your choice of vanilla or chocolate ice cream and your choice of cookie. She may have had a greater repertoire of cookies than I recall, but I only remember two kinds–chocolate chip and sugar.

When I was younger, I slept in the room off of the kitchen in a crib. I slept in that damn thing until I got too big and had to sleep with my knees up to my chest. I think I might have been eight or nine before I began sleeping somewhere else on our visits. Right above the crib was a shelf. On the shelf were several green (red? green and red?) coffee cans filled with…you got it…cookies! The secret to why I wasn’t so upset at being crammed into that crib was the perks that came with the spot. An unlimited supply of cookies just feet above me.

My grandma didn’t just bake a dozen or so cookies at a time, either. In my memory there were always thousands of cookies, but I’m sure it was more like ‘several dozen.’ The chocolate chip cookies were good,but they were not my favorite. It wasn’t hard to stand up in the crib, reach into a coffee can filled with cookies and snatch a couple. Or a dozen. I don’t know how many cookies I snitched as a child, but I probably didn’t fool my grandma. She never called me on it, but I do remember getting to help her make a few batches during our visits. The craving that seems to sweep down on me every year is for the sugar cookies. And, it always seems to come in the summer time. Like, right NOW. It’s linked with memories and nostalgia, but it is always sugar cookie time in the summer for me.

Cookie presses. My mom had one with four hearts in a circle.

Her recipe was simple. No rolling on the counter and using cutters for this busy woman. The dough is made, made into little balls, and then flattened. I can’t remember if she used a glass to press them flat. My mom had a set of cookie stamps that she used to make them, and I’ve since purchased a set of my own. Whether they are plain flat or intricately patterned, they taste the same.

Oh, and since you’re going to ask anyway:
Grandma Herbert’s Sugar Cookies

1 Cup Margarine
1 Cup Shortening
1 Cup granulated sugar
1 Cup powdered sugar

Cream the above.

Beat in:
3 tsp vanilla
1tsp salt
2 beaten eggs
4 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp soda
1 tsp cream of tartar

Roll into 1″ balls and flatten with glass or cookie press dipped in sugar.
Bake at 375 degrees F until done. Makes a lot.

We’re having a reunion next year…in Montana. I’ll be bringing some cookies.

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