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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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