Eating with friends and family is the epitome of hygge, especially at Christmas which, with its focus on home-based family time coupled with the need for twinkling lights and open fires, is the ultimate hyggelig event. I’m sure there are plenty of Danes who wear themselves out preparing for a dinner party, or wake in the night worrying about whether they remembered to buy almonds to hide in the Risalamande (concealing an almond in rice pudding is the Danish equivalent of putting a coin in the plum pudding), but in theory, entertaining hygge-style is relaxed, sociable and totally stress-free. Here’s how:
Share the workload. Someone has to provide the venue, but everyone can bring a dish. Alternatively, ask people to bring raw ingredients and turn the cooking into a group activity. Open a bottle, put on some music, light the candles and make the preparation a hyggelig event in itself.
Keep the food simple. Christmas brings its own menu – in Denmark that most often means roast pork; roast duck stuffed with apples and prunes; boiled potatoes, caramelised potatoes and red cabbage followed by Risalamande and a marzipan pig for the lucky finder of the almond. For other gatherings, think slow-cooked, one-pot dishes that fill the room with appetising smells and require minimal intervention. Start with good-quality ingredients and let the natural flavours speak for themselves. And stay in your comfort zone. If you can only do one dish, do that and make it your signature.
Don’t pander to the whims of your guests. This might not sound like hygge, but I was interested to discover that because hygge requires everyone’s full and equal participation, fussy food preferences are rather frowned upon.
For her PhD thesis ‘Food and Health in Late Modernity: An Insight into Hygge and Related Food Practices’, Heidi Boye carried out a series of in-depth interviews. Her research revealed that, while food allergies were tolerated, refusing to eat the Brunede Kartofler (caramelised potatoes), for example, because you are cutting out carbs, would be considered unhyggelig in the extreme.
It’s a tricky one – forcing someone to eat something they hate doesn’t seem very hyggelig, either – but having recently cooked for a group that included a coeliac, someone who ‘felt more energised’ by not eating dairy and another convinced that tomatoes increased the risk of early-onset arthritis, I can certainly vouch for the stress that twenty-first century food angst can cause. My solution?
Don’t ask about food intolerances – if someone has an allergy or a serious objection to a certain food, I’m sure they will tell you.
Forget formality. The table setting should be as understated as the food. In the English summary of her dissertation, Heidi Boye states that one of the elements that does not contribute to hygge is ‘nice crockery’.
I don’t think this is a call to serve Christmas lunch on paper plates, but it is a reminder that you don’t need to worry about digging out the easily chipped matching dinner service you inherited from a great-aunt and which won’t go in the dishwasher.
Take it slowly. Meals with the people you care about should be savoured, so slow down and take your time. Put your phones away.
Repeat the mantra everyone is here to have a good time. Including me.
Repeat the mantra. Everyone is here to have a good time. Including me.
Hygge by Charlotte Abrahams is published by Hachette Australia RRP $32.99