My father is notorious for driving a vehicle until it runs out of gasoline. There was the time in the Florida panhandle where the car stopped near a state penitentiary, and no one would stop to pick him up because he could have been an escapee. There was also the time on the Interstate, less than a mile from work, when he was close enough to the exit ramp to coast to the stop sign. And there was the time when he was riding his motorcycle just outside of Green Bay. Keep in mind these are only the recent occurrences, not the occurrences over a lifetime.
In Dad’s defense, he explained these events with a statement something to the effect of, “It’s amazing how far you can go if you just keep driving.” That’s actually pretty good advice if you consider the heart of it. It really is amazing how far you can go if you just keep pushing yourself to keep going.
This past summer proved no exception. My sister and her two children, ages 20 months and 5 months at the time, spent a weekend at the lake with Mom and Dad. It was a nice evening, so they all piled into the boat for an after dinner cruise around the lake.
“You see, the gas gauge hadn’t worked for a few years,” Dad started to explain as he relayed the story to me later that week. I knew right away this was not a story about meeting new, nice neighbors as he claimed, but rather a story about running out of gasoline.
“And I had the contacts replaced last winter,” he continued. “The gauge was showing about a quarter tank of gas. Before it broke, I could run the boat for two days on a quarter tank. So, we got about halfway across the lake, and well, we started to slow down. I knew right away what happened.” Of course.
“But we drifted along and eventually ran into this nice couple vacationing from the Netherlands. They gave me a two gallon gas can they had on their boat, and that was enough to make it back home okay.
When I went back a while later to give them their gas can and to offer to pay for the gas, the man told me he got to thinking about what I said after we left. He told me, ‘This was the second time a Dutchman has saved your family!’”
On October 8, 1943, my grandfather was the navigator on a B-17 bomber that was shot down after a run over Bremen,Germany. Grandpa was one of the fortunate men on the Salvo Sal that day. He parachuted to safety over Holland and was taken in by the Dutch underground. The efforts of many, and the particular courage of two fine women, Joukje and Tiny, helped Grandpa arrived safely in England on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day, he was able to send a telegram to his family to let them know he was safe. My father had told the gentleman who gave him the gasoline that he was grateful to the Dutch people for helping his father during the war.
I had the good fortune of meeting Tiny and her husband, Jildert, during one of their visits to my grandparents. I don’t recall the year, but I could not have been much older than eight. I was enthralled by Jildert. Not only did Jildert speak with an accent, he wore a monocle (!) and didn’t understand the game of baseball. I spent what seemed like hours, but in reality was probably ten minutes, doing my best to explain the rules of baseball to Jildert. I’ll never know if he truly thought the game was utter silliness as he claimed, or if he was just joking with a child.
It seems trivial to write about cookies after writing about people who risked their lives during a war. But I am going ahead based on the idea that food is a universal language. The right food can nurse a cold (chicken soup) or start to mend a broken heart (a pint of ice cream). In my case, the right cookie is a way to remember very special people. As a tiny tribute, I baked Speculaas, or Dutch Spice Cookies.
I had a really difficult time deciding what to bake, but I decided on Dutch Spice Cookies since these were for Grandpa Spicer. The cookies are very easy to make. (That is saying a lot for a girl who avoids recipes that require the use of a rolling pin.) You will dirty only one bowl, and the hardest part will likely be the wait time. The dough needs to sit for an hour or so before baking to give the spices a chance to work through the dough.
A traditional Dutch Spice Cookie incorporates the spice mixture speculaaskruiden. The spices in this mixture are cinnamon, cloves, mace, ginger, white pepper, cardamom, coriander, anise, and nutmeg. I had two of these nine spices, so I substituted pumpkin pie spice instead. The result was a subtly sweet, crunchy cookie that I can’t wait to dip into a cup of coffee.
And when I do, I will think of Grandpa.
Speculaas (Dutch Spice Cookies)
- 1 3/4 cups self-rising flour
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 7 tablespoons (not quite one stick) butter, softened
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 3 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
- 2 teaspoons orange zest
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- brown sugar
- slivered almonds
- Combine all but the optional ingredients in a large bowl and knead.
- Shape the dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside for one hour.
- Lightly flour a work surface, and roll the dough out into an even layer.
- Use cookie cutters to cut the dough into desired shapes.
- Brush each cookie with the egg wash and sprinkle with brown sugar and flaked almonds.
- Bake the cookies on a greased baking sheet at 350 degrees for approximately 20 minutes.
Speculaaskruiden can be used in place of pumpkin pie spice.