Exactly one year ago January 1st, 2016 woke up with the same high hopes and gleaming fresh faced eagerness – ready to take on the new year. Much like today, the brand newness of that turn on the calendar encouraged us with possibilities and opportunity.
For many 2016 hobbled to a close last night dragging, sagging, clumsy and scarred. As a society, we have been bombarded with images, videos, news, tweets and the like that have all kicked 2016 to the curb. It was the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. Or so it may seem.
But I can’t toss 2016 out of bed for eating crackers. Yes, I will concur. Sleeping with some of those crumbs from last year may not be so pleasant. But I’m afraid many are around to stay. For awhile. So instead. Today. At the beginning of this very brand new year, once again chock full of promises for opportunities and possibility, I have to look back and see what 2016 DID give us. Give me. Give our family.
You may have toasted good riddance last night, but these are the 12 things that 2016 afforded us. And for that I am grateful.
2016 – you were a good year. I will remember you fondly. Thank you. Tak for sidst. Thanks for the last time. Taking my gratitude and turning towards 2017 with an open heart and a shit ton of patience. To you and yours, with love from Denmark. xoxo, Erin
When I say porridge – you say? Grød! No, no, no. Not grod. Grød. Listen.
When I say porridge – you say? Grød! At least the Danes do. Grød is porridge. To me, the word porridge conjures up visions of huge kettles of oatmeal that has been sitting out way too long at the breakfast buffet of your hotel when on a long weekend away with your son’s lacrosse team. Oh sorry. Just me? Maybe the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears? I always steer clear. Of the “porridge.” Goopy. Soupy. Snotty. Oatmeal. Don’t get me wrong. I love oatmeal. But it isn’t porridge to me. It is oatmeal. And that stuff in the kettle? That is not oatmeal.
Here the Danes love porridge. Specifically risengrød. Rice porridge. When presented with new foods, I instinctually scroll through my mental rolodex of experiences and tastes. As you do when trying to make connections with that strange dish placed in front of you. The closest thing to risengrød that I have tried before would probably be rice pudding. In the States, it is a salad bar staple, but often gelatinous or potentially chunky. Now before you judge, not all American rice pudding is bad, but many can be. We do love the Trader Joe’s rice pudding straight from the container. Especially when served cold with cinnamon and nutmeg. Wait. Cold? Nutmeg? Did you say NUTMEG?!?! Records screeching silent. Looks of disdain. Utter shock and horror. You do NOT put nutmeg on risengrød, says my Danish friend. Oh. Ok. Duly noted. Thanks for the tip.
When we moved here two years ago, we found a tube of risengrød at the local Netto, a local market that I can only describe as a cross between Safeway, Tesco and the Dollar Store shoved inside the space of a 7-11. But Netto is an institution here. And a shopping experience it is. You either love it or you hate it. Or you grow to love it. Nothing is ever in the same place. There are boxes everywhere and there is nary a concern for presentation or atmosphere. Of any kind. But the prices are good. Very good. For Danish prices. Before arriving, I had read a little about Danish Christmas and knew that this tube at Netto was potentially a key player. It said Risengrød. That was an important Danish dish. You can see our first attempts at testing it here. Oh what we didn’t know that we didn’t even know at that time.
In Denmark, grød is a staple. (You’re still trying to say it correctly aren’t you? Keep trying.) You can eat grød for breakfast, lunch AND even dinner. Risengrød gets elevated status as a special dish at Christmas time. Think about it. Rice doesn’t grow here in Denmark. It was imported. You had to buy it. So if you normally made your daily grød from commonly grown grains like oats or rye or barley, rice was special. A treat. As was the exotic cinnamon which topped it. A risengrød was for Christmas. And when served at the beginning of the rich Danish Christmas dinner people filled up and it helped meter the costs of the more expensive dishes like the Duck and Roast Pork. Today, when modern Danes serve risengrød to their families, they make connections to history and those cultural roots. Those roots set in early, as most children have grown up with porridge for breakfast. It is comfort food in a bowl. And my family was eating it all wrong.
It should be served piping hot. With a “knob” of butter. And covered in cinnamon sugar. COVERED. Let the butter melt, but don’t stir it all in. Nibble like a Nisse from the edges. What’s a Nisse you ask? Those mischievous little sprites that live in the forest and help at the farm, but only if you treat them well. In December they move inside. Modern children place nissedør (doors) in their homes to allow the Nisse access. Leave them a little risengrød and they might leave a present in your boot. But forget and they might hide the toaster. Or move your shoes. They’ll play tricks to remind you. I can’t help but think that the “Elf on the Shelf” tradition has some roots with the nisse. Nisse love risengrød.
And risengrød has to be the perfect consistency. Recipes allow for any short grain rice, but Danes only use grødris. Follow a recipe. Keep stirring and stirring. Don’t walk away or the milk will burn. The rice shouldn’t be al dente, but definitely not mush. You want to feel the grains when you chew. It needs some tooth. Too much to take in? Not interested in making your own risengrød? But you are intrigued by this Danish tradition? Don’t worry. You can try it. At GRØD.
Yes. There is a restaurant that serves only porridge. In bowls. Piping hot. In fact, GRØD loves to claim that they were “the world’s first porridge bar.” You can visit the mother ship in Nørrebro on charming Jæggersborgade or in the glass market at Torvehallerne. Lucky for me, my Danish friend loves GRØD and we have one right here in our Østerbro neighborhood.
Today, we met for a bowl of the klassisk risengrød. Served just how she taught me. It’s simple. But homey. And definitely not soupy. Just right. Let the butter melt. Don’t stir it in. Warm and filling. Do I need it everyday? Probably not. But I would not say no to another bowl of porridge served hot.
A warmed spiced cider with elderflower.
Ready to nibble like Nisse?
My little Nisse, still not so sure.
GRØD serves many different kinds of porridge beyond the simple and traditional risengrød. They want to elevate what they believe a classic and elegant meal in a bowl. I will admit that last time I visited I enjoyed the curried lentil porridge. Been to GRØD? It is definitely worth seeking out. What did you try? This time of year – don’t miss the risengrød. Cozy Danish Christmas in a bowl.
WHERE TO FIND GRØD
Torvehallerne Glass Market
Hall 2, Stade 8A, Linnésgade 17
1362 Copenhagen K
Monday – Friday: 07.30-19-00
Saturday & Sunday: 9:00 to 18:00
Jægersborggade 50, kld. TV
DK-2200 Copenhagen N
Monday – Friday: 7:30 a.m. to 21:00
Saturday – Sunday: 9:00 to 21:00
Nordre Frihavnsgade 55,
2100 Copenhagen Ø
Monday – Friday: 7:30 to 21:00
Saturday – Sunday: 9:00 to 21:00
Additional locations in Frederiksberg and on Jutland in Aarhus.
This will be our third Christmas in Copenhagen. Wow – really? Yes. I know. It’s crazy. But true. And when you land in a country like Denmark at the beginning of December, Christmas becomes an iconic bookmark of sorts for your experiences here. This isn’t so bad. Danes love Christmas. Good thing I do too. And I truly love Danish Christmas.
Tonight I met a Dane who also loves Christmas. To be honest – I haven’t met a Dane that really doesn’t like Christmas yet, but Trine Hahnemann REALLY loves Christmas. Trine is a professional cook and cookbook author and tonight she shared stories, recipes and tastes of her own Danish Christmas. Thank you to Isabella Mousavizadeh-Smith, owner of Books and Company, an international book cafe in Hellerup, Denmark for hosting an evening with Trine to learn about her personal Scandinavian Christmas traditions.
2017 UPDATE: Meet Trine this season at Books & Company on Wednesday, December 6th from 19-21. RSVP for the event here.
Trine loves celebrating Christmas. For her it is more than the religious holiday. Like many Danes, holidays here have a rich and historic tradition that goes back even further than the arrival of Christianity to this part of the world. For her, Christmas is a way to celebrate the year that is ending. New Year’s is more of a look to the year ahead. But Christmas – this is a time to stop and take a pause. She believes that almost all cultures have a way of marking an end to each cycle. A natural way of stopping. Christmas is that for her. And for many Danes. And stop Danes do. Christmas takes up a full three days here. Shops close. The streets are quiet. People are together.
By the time December rolls around here in Denmark – it is dark. For me, it’s really dark. I’ve spoken of it before. There still a few weeks left before school lets out for our winterferie, or winter break. My children are now rising before the sun and coming home in the dark. By the winter solstice on December 21st, there will be only seven hours of daylight. Celebrating and feasting and communing is necessary and has been done at this time in Scandinavia since the Vikings and probably before. I might celebrate too if Ragnar Lothbrok was coming to my feast. (Sorry – I just started watching the HBO series, the Vikings. I’m a tiny bit obsessed. With the show people. Not Ragnar. But if Chris Hemsworth would ever make an appearance as Thor – put a fork in me. I’d be done. What a present. Merry Christmas and Glædelig Jul. Oh sorry, I digress.)
BEING PRESENT IN THE RITUALS OF CHRISTMAS
Christmas is a perfect time for being present in the ritual of celebrating the end of every year. Trine believes that we need to celebrate each year. Even the bad years. “Life is a roller coaster,” she says. We should enjoy the ride. Even the downs. And of course the ups. Christmas is that for her.
Her ritual, not unlike many Danes, is steadfast. She has a plan. A Jule template if you will. And it starts the four advent Sundays before the 24th of December. That is Danish Christmas you know. But what about the 25th you may wondering? Here, that is known as 2nd Christmas, when you visit the other side of the family. And the 26th is for 3rd Christmas – I guess a day dedicated to the familial outliers and outlaws or, as we refer to them in our family, the “in-law-in-laws.”
There is no “boxing day” here in Denmark. Only more ritual, tradition and FOOD. Lots and lots of rich and very specific food. For each part of it. Each day. Trine reminds us how much emotion we tie to specific food. And what eating that food can do to create community and connection and reinforce culture and tradition. Dare I say hygge. She doesn’t stray from recreating those quintessentially Danish Christmas foods every year. Her children know by now that they…
Don’t mess with Mama’s Christmas.”
– Trine Hahnemann
And why should they? It’s good. We got to sample some of Trine’s own rugbrød with hjemmelavet rullepølse. Homemade rolled pork. It is one of those things that I see in the shops often and am always a little squeamish and slightly suspicious of. What exactly IS in rullepølse? Tonight, I didn’t process it so much or think about it too intently. I just tried Trine’s. It was delicious. Especially when served on her chewy, dense, dark malted rye bread with a little mustard and pickled asier. Also known as marrow in the UK, asier is a member of the zucchini family available only for short time during late summer.
This gives you a small sense about how much planning goes into the traditional Danish Christmas meal. You have to start preparing and preserving and pickling when ingredients are in season. Luckily for you and me – if you didn’t know all the dishes necessary for each Danish Christmas days in advance – you can still buy most of the items from your local market. Even Trine will admit that the importance in attempting your Danish Christmas is to keep it fun. She wants you to enjoy the whole process. Keep it hyggeligt. So if this means prioritizing only some of the recipes, while including some ready made items, she is all for it. For you. She won’t be doing it. But she won’t judge you.
The base of the Danish Christmas menu is pretty standard across the board, as evidenced by the prevalence of the following items in EVERY grocer, butcher and market across Denmark. And while Trine will concede that there are some potential tweaks to the ritual menu even between different Danish families, she doesn’t stray from year to year. Does your family serve risengrød (rice porridge) to start? Or risalamande (a creamy sweetened rice pudding) served cold with warm cherry sauce and almonds for dessert? From what I have gleaned – it’s an either or for the Danes. And nary the tween shall meet – you don’t serve both. Your choice, tradition and conviction about where and what type of the rice porridge to serve is almost as serious as the consternation you’re sure to receive when you forget to put down the divider on the conveyer belt at the grocery store.
So what does Trine serve her family EVERY Christmas? Seriously. She isn’t joking. I told you she loves Christmas. Don’t mess with Mama’s Christmas.
TRINE HAHNEMANN’S TRADITIONAL DANISH CHRISTMAS MENU
Roast Pork with Crackling
Sautéed Red Cabbage
White Potatoes with Gravy
Risalamande with Hot Cherry Sauce
Brussels Sprouts with Clementines
Kale Salad with Pomegranate
She knows that the menu is rich and not exactly health conscious. But the Danes have an “everything in moderation, including moderation” approach when it comes to the holidays. Especially Christmas. This is a once a year meal. And she thinks it is worth waiting for. Enjoying. And sharing. This is julehygge. Cozy Christmas community. Danish style.
I had to laugh at her explaining the process for the caramel potatoes chastising those who thought you could leave this seemingly simple side dish to the end like an afterthought. Oh no. She said. Oh no. I thought. Cringing a bit in my folded chair, was she literally talking to me? How could she know about my last Christmas dinner? Gah. Ok. Ok. I admit it. I seriously messed up the caramel potatoes. Unrecognizable. To any Dane. For sure.
Now before you judge – I will tell you that I feel fairly adept at the roast pork now and can fashion a mostly moist and tasty duck. If you know me, you know I love to roast a duck.* I can handle the cookies and the chocolates and definitely the gløgg. Even the rice and red cabbage seem right. But the potatoes. Those christmassy caramel ones anyway. Utter FAIL.
Last Christmas, my darling Danish guests were sweet and took tastes. They wondered, out loud, if this was my American addition to their Danish meal tradition – the rest of which I’d apparently been successful at administering. Um. No. I said. Those are brunkartofler. Caramel potatoes. Nej. No they aren’t. Not really. Now I know. This year I’ll do better. I’ll prep and prepare and stir and stir and layer and layer. The golden buttery sugary layers of caramel for my Danish Christmas potatoes. Thank you Trine! Tusind tak!
Want Trine’s recipes for your own? You can pick up her Christmas cookbook at Books and Company in Hellerup along with her other titles focusing on Scandinavian Baking and Scandinavian Comfort Food. She is charming, effusive and engaging. If she comes to your town on tour, I recommend seeking her out. I can’t wait to try some of her techniques and more than one of her recipes.
A photo posted by Books & Company (@booksandcompanydk) on
Have you attempted the Danish Christmas dinner? Ok. Back up. Are you a Dane? Unfair advantage. Oh you aren’t? Have you? You have? How did it go? I’d love to hear your trials and tribulations around your Christmas table. I shared mine. Please do yours. Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin
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*Roasting Ducks is somewhat of a hobby for University of Washington alumni. Especially this year. GO HUSKIES! WOOF!
Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Denmark. There is no time off work. The kids get no break from school. We will not be traveling anywhere. Unless you count my husband’s day trip across Denmark to a meeting in Aarhus, delivering him back home late. My eldest son was busy delivering pizzas. The youngest had studies for a spelling test today. It was a regular day here in Denmark. It was Thursday. Torsdag to the Danes.
But that is ok. Full turkeys are hard to come by. If you do find one, it may cost you a pretty penny. Or plenty of kroner. Probably both. And good luck finding a Russet or a Yukon gold. There is some crazy nut tax that makes pecan use prohibitive or down right luxurious depending on your position and wallet. Canned pumpkin is equally overpriced and only found at the “American/British” aisle in certain grocers popular with expatriates. Maybe you have an inside source at the American Embassy. Or maybe you thought ahead and smuggled back a few cans of Libby’s and the requisite evaporated milk.
Most everything else you can find for your traditional recipes that you may or may not have printed, preserved and packed over the border with you when you passed. But, I didn’t make them yesterday. It’s ok. We’ll do it tomorrow. When we have time and can tune in some American college football via the old rabbit ears of streaming internet with VPN hiders. Yep. We may even head to the nearby park and toss the pigskin around. The football. Not the futbol. The football. It’s brown. And has laces. At least ours does. At Thanksgiving.
And while it may not be traditional or specifically timely, thankful we are. Grateful that we can. We miss family and friends celebrating afar, especially on days like Thanksgiving. But we are grateful that we have had this opportunity to explore this life across borders. Over here in Denmark. These are some of the things that I’m thankful for. Things that make this our Danish life.
Happy Thursday! In Denmark – they call it lille Fredag or little Friday. I’m ready for the weekend this week. It has been an interesting one being an American living abroad. And while the outcome of the U.S. election was not what I had hoped for, I am trying to remain positive and spread love. We are all part of #TeamHuman. And the world is watching. BIG TIME.
As a travel and culture writer, one of the things I have loved most about starting this blog is being exposed, enlightened and educated about how beautifully diverse yet similar we all are, the world over. What makes us different should not divide us. Sometimes what we don’t know or understand makes this difficult. But I am not going to spread fear. I believe in love. I’m trying hard. I will continue to try and build bridges. Between my world community. With my American community back in the States. I have lived and loved in red states AND blue states. And while I feel much pride about the results from my Oregon, I believe there is much work to be done. In many places. But that it can be done. It must be done. Let us build bridges. Together.
It may seem simple to think that a travel blog community could help. But stay with me here – I believe it can. Show us your corners. Your faraway places. Educate and inspire. Please continue to share and connect and illuminate. Bring us together, however far apart.