Browsing the Stacks: Hygge at Home

In a time of growing instability and a vastly mobile, technology-driven society, I think a lot can be learned by the current public fascination with hygge. Hygge (pronounced “hoo-gah”) is a Danish term with no exact English translation, but when you look at the sum of its parts, it conveys the warm, bright, cozy atmosphere that can almost, on a psychological level, be mistaken for love and being present in the moment.

Hygge may appeal to two separate camps, the first being a selection of people who desire the external trappings of a homey feel without the essentials, and these will flit from one self-help/home design trend to the next, like a hummingbird flitting from flower to flower, but never returning home. The second group will be those who already have the fundamentals (love, stability) but don’t know how to add those little touches to round out home life — perhaps, because they never had experienced it themselves. It is to the latter group that I address this post.

I’ve read a number of books about hygge over the last year, and wanted to take a few moments today to share two reads on the subject that are representative of the feeling of hygge, and a sampling of what you might find between the covers (yes, that’s a cozy blanket pun). 

Tasting Hygge: Joyful Recipes For Cozy Days and Nights by Leela Cyd (2017, The Countryman Press, a division of W,W, Norton & Company).

This title has a lovely gold foil title and author font against a blue toile backdrop and in the foreground, aged silver with wildflowers, and “Swedish Selmor with Almonds and Cream”. Amongst a dozen books, this immediately stood out as something worth flipping through for the photography alone, even if you’re not a cook (Cyd is a photographer and cookbook author).

The recipes are divided into sections: warm, spiced, smooth, calm, bright, and hygge to go, and the recipes are accompanied by anecodes from the author’s background, interweaving hygge as a lifestyle behind the food and drink presented, and beautifully photographed. 

The first entry, “Dad’s Golden Biscuits and Quickie Jam wiith Warmed Stones”, describes the charming, foreign (to me) practice of heating stones to keep biscuits warm, to encourage diners to linger longer at the table. I’ve never tried warming stones, and I don’t know anyone who ever has, and this sounds both wonderful and confusing. Do people not use microwaves? How do you handle hot stones and not burn yourself? The author mentions that stones can explode in the oven — how do you choose the right ones? Speaking as if this is common practice (perhaps it is), so far removed from the culture, I can only read on and wonder at this hint of a people and a practice of hygge.

Other “warm” recipes included were shirred eggs, buckwheat crepes (and toppings!), dark chocolate disc cookies, and brioche with chocolate streusel. There are a good ten or so recipes in each of the following sections, but for space, I’ll only mention my few favorites in each category, to whet your appetite, and leave you to find a copy of the book and explore the rest for yourself.

In the “spiced” category, Cyd leads off with spiced glogg, a traditional Danish mulled wine made with a dry red wine, brandy, golden raisins, almonds, cardamon and cinnamon, vanilla, ginger, and some added citrus. The result sounds festive and heavenly, doesn’t it? Other recipes that caught my notice included the gingerbread waffles and and the braised lentils with apricots and olives on yogurt toast.

“Smooth”, a curious sensation that I normally wouldn’t attribute to hygge, takes its roots in the sensation of feeling cared for, and the treats one got as a child, think ice cream, puddings and the like. I was excited by the earl grey pot de creme, and the campfire banana boats, which made me almost want to be an outdoorsy, overnight person, just to try this recipe over a fire some morning.

“Calm” recipes encourage doing things at a slower, unhurried pace, like the slow-stirring of pistachio milk, or the making of rice porridge with cranberries and rose. In my own home, oatmeal with toppings is a common favorite for a winter morning — there’s nothing quite like facing the bracing cold with a warm belly full of oatmeal or another grain.

Hygge isn’t hygge without an element of light, and “bright” takes this to another level, adding the idea of the zing of a lemon, or the tartness in a pickled vegetable.  Recently, I had the opportunity of trying some urban farm dining and tried a delicious strawberry compote, so now I love all things compote. Cyd has a recipe for a plum compote (lemon seeds, plums, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest) that I may want to revisit someday if I get the courage to try cooking/baking at home.The strawberry thyme switchel (apple cider vinegar, syrup, herbs and ginger) did not sound appealing, but the colorful drinks look fresh and ready for a bridal party or other special occasion.

Finally, in “hygge to go”, Cyd gives instructions on how to blend teas, preserve lemons, and perform magic with honeys and salts that seems too technical for a novice, but may make some nice gifts to give for the holiday season.

The Hygge Life: Embracing the Nordic Art of Coziness Through Recipes, Entertaining, Decorating, Simple Rituals, and Family Traditons by Gunnar Karl Gislason and Jody Eddy (2017, Ten Speed Press).

This title captivates with a front cover with copper foil and layers of sheepskin that you want to sink your toes in while sitting beside a well-stoked, lit fireplace. This was another of those titles that leapt out at me and I had to bring home (lucky for my wallet, I work at a library!). This book covers much of the same terrain as the other, although the recipes are broken down into categories based on the meal type or excursion: “Starting the Day”, “Caring For Yourself”, “Staying In”, “Easy Gatherings and Holidays” and “Getting Out”. Recipes are by Icelandic chef, Gunnar Karl Gislason.

As you can gather, “Starting the Day” includes breakfast means like kleinur, a type of Icelandic beignet; fritters, pancakes and rice porridge. I see a theme of hearty fare with fresh fruits.

“Caring For Yourself” has a recipe for homemade bath salts.

If your plan is “Staying In”, you’ll find recipes for creature comforts like hot chocolate and stove-top popcorn, and bravel fare like fennel salad, or fried fish with almonds and capers, or braised pork tenderloin with oyster mushrooms and parsnips.

For “Easy Gatherings and Holdays”, the authors recommend a number of delightful-looking desserts and bitters, to compliment some sturdy haunches of mea, like braised lamb shanks with bok choy and sweet-and-sour dill oil; or baked cod with celeriac puree, chorizo, and carmelized onions; or a lamb stew.

Finally, for those occasions where you’re “Getting Out” and about, perhaps you’ll be in the mood for marinated herring on rye bread with eggs in shallott; or open-faced sandwiches with pork, pickled cabbage and horseradish mayonaise.

Eddy includes in each chapter insights into the hygge way of life that is sure to add something new to your routine, whether it’s a discussion on brewing coffee and tea, and taking turkaffe (a coffee break while hiking);  creating a cozy reading nook; practicing self-care; or finding a way to embrace hygge during a stressful plane ride.

This is one of those titles I’ll be coming back to (and probably adding to my list of ebook purchases down the road). There’s a wealth of books about incorporating hygge in the home with top 10 lists and the philosophy behind the practice, so if you’re interested in learning more about hygge, there’s a lot out there. I hope you enjoyed taking a peek at these two titles I brought home this week, and if you have any recommendations for other hygge titles, please leave a comment and share below.


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