Hygge, Hearts and the Solstice

IMG_20171205_131721.jpgLast year the New Yorker named 2016 as the year of hygge — the Danish tradition of “getting cozy” during the winter months; for those of us with Danish and other Nordic roots, hygge — and open faced sandwiches are routine parts of the winter holidays and that the New Yorker, is sort of way behind. Candles and wool socks, warm rice pudding and pea soup are not a new things, and in fact, many of us grew up this way — along with grandparents with accents from all of the Scandinavian countries (hygge is not limited to Denmark). The idea of hygge is one of comfort — in both the environment around us, and in our own skin — which sometimes craves wool, snowflakes and soup. Hygge is not a fad, but an emphasis on the beauty of the soul and our relationship to nature; there is never bad weather, but there can be the wrong outerwear.

So to kick the hygge season off, here are a few of my favorite things:

Danish Sandwiches or Smorrebrod : during cozy times, it’s important to eat well — sandwiches offer creativity, variety and fresh flavors — and the opportunity to gather friends and family to partake in preparation. More on sandwiches from Serious Eats for further ideas on how to concoct delicious creations. Of note: if you’re looking for an excellent, and easier-than-roasting-a-20-pound-bird Thanksgiving, consider smorrebrod with a turky-ish and cranberry flair. We went this route this year, and a total success — amongst our variety we included a turkey (chicken works well) salad with dried cranberries, walnuts, honey and mustard resting atop a rustic sourdough cranberry bread, lightly toasted, with plenty of Finlandia butter as a base. Always open-faced, always use a knife and fork.

Juleharter = Danish woven hearts: a quick tutorial and template from the site Bits of Ivory. Red and white are the traditional color scheme, but going a little rogue is okay. Scandinavian holiday decorations lean towards the natural with use of materials such as wood, wheat, wool and of course these hearts which may adorn trees filled with treats or as a simple exchange with a friend. Legend has it that Hans Christian Andersen invented this simple woven treasure — like Santa, this is a legend I think is worth embracing.

Aebelskiver – round, ball-like pancakey donuts: a little trickier than sandwiches and a special pan is needed to create these treats, or a weeknight dinner or brunch in the winter months depending on how you choose to fill them. This recipe is excellent, but I simply use pancake mix and modify — whether with jam filling, ricotta, bacon or really any ingredient that is choppable and droppable into the batter in the aebelskiver pan. Tip: us a wooden skewer (kabob) stick to turn the sometimes wiley rounds of batter — this will take practice, and is totally worthwhile once you’ve conquered the pan and there is no smoke simmering from your stove. Do not use any cooking spray on this pan, unless a black tinge is something you crave with pancakes.

Bokaflod or Julebokaflod: book flood i.e. buy books and read books for the holiday season. This is an Icelandic tradition and most publishers there issue all their new releases in November to get folks ready to celebrate; and if you’re going to pursue hygge — a stash of books purchased for or during the holiday season, then you’re half-way to sandwich making. Think — a mug of strong coffee, a few butter (spritz) cookies, a few candles (pine or balsam scent) your brand new woolen socks and perhaps a high-performance fleece — a fire and now your stack of reading material. You’ve now achieved hygge nirvana.

As the solstice approaches — remember the outerwear — get yourself outside and enjoy the natural world, as there is no better way to begin to understand the majesty and wonder that abounds when darkness merges to light.

Happy Hygge!

p.s. don’t forget to post a few gnomes!

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