“For me, hygge is about being present, content, slowing down and spending time with people you enjoy. It is also about taking time for oneself and taking a pause from doing, to just be, content and calm.”
Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershøi painted simple, minimalistic interiors bathed in calm earthen tones that invite contemplation and hygge. Hammershøi’s De fire stuer, a dreamlike, minimalistic sweep of a room opening into a room, and into another, introduces the foreword to Danish chef and prolific food writer Trine Hahnemann’s decadent cookbook, Scandinavian Food.
“I always feel drawn to Hammershøi’s paintings,” Hahnemann says. “I like to just sit on a chair and observe quietly with my hands folded in my lap. Even though this was painted more than 100 years ago, there is something profound going on for me—a sense of belonging. I can imagine myself as a child sitting on the chair listening to the silence while I swing my legs in my own rhythm, waiting for something to happen.”
Scandinavians “a part of our everyday life, so ingrained in our culture, that it’s just a part of who we are,” says Hahnemann. “For me, hygge is about being present, content, slowing down and spending time with people you enjoy. It is also about taking time for oneself and taking a pause from doing, to just be, content and calm.” Call it the “Scandinavian Way.”
With her work and her luscious cookbooks, Hahnemann is considered the expert on hygge. She is also an indefatigable advocate of sustainability. She began working as a chef in the early 1990s and acquired her canteen (catering) business not long after. The business, Hahnemanns Køkken, quickly grew. Located in Copenhagen, not far from the hospital in which she was born, the Køkken, which is Danish for kitchen, is a lively, inviting, collaborative think-tank for learning, cooking deliciously and eating healthily and sustainably. It is comprised of an eatery and event space and housed her canteen division, which she recently sold.
This was a pivotal move for Hahnemann. An opportunity arose for the sale of the canteen to a larger corporation, allowing for a greater reach of her philosophy “that everyone should have one good meal a day.” At the time of the sale, she and her team were cooking and serving lunch to 3,000 people daily.
The sale will also give Hahnemann the ability to devote herself completely to her mission of promoting sustainable eating, organic farming, and the importance of eating a plant-based diet.
“I think the world is asking us all to slow down, to spend less, waste less and be more present. Both hygge and a sustainable future are all about that,” she says.“Right now, I believe it is important that we always question if we as a people are on the right path. We need to listen to each other. We need to cook, eat and talk to each other. I believe food could be the center of understanding this. If you cook daily, set the table, sit and eat with your family and friends, you will create memories. I like to think civilization starts at the dinner table.”
Hahnemann’s cookbooks are about comfort, and they ooze hygge, with their sinews and sweeps of the beauty and intrigue of Scandinavian culture. “My books are about the way I cook and eat. All my work is based around food—organic and sustainable—and a good life. In a Danish context, this always somehow involves hygge,” she says. Colorful, and laced with prose that takes the reader back in time, her books celebrate living well. Her hope is that she will change the way people eat—for personal health and that of the planet.
With Comfort Food, she embraces the art of hygge. In Copenhagen Food, we are treated to stories and traditions. Open Sandwiches dives into 70 ideas for smørrebrød, the classic, open-faced sandwiches made on traditional Scandinavian rye bread. Eating Nordic features the ‘ultimate diet,’ along with seasonal eating. And then there are the winter favorites, Scandinavian Baking and Scandinavian Christmas.
December and the celebration of the Christmas holiday can be defined as quintessential hygge, and for Scandinavians, it begins with the First Sunday of Advent and lasts long and deliciously into the New Year. While quick to state that she loves every season, each transition, and the shift in how and when to nourish with different ingredients and cooking techniques, it is winter— and Christmas in particular—which holds a special place in her heart. She savors the early morning twilight as December takes hold, lighting candles, drinking hot beverages, baking, enjoying root vegetables, fermenting and pickling, watching the first snow, staying indoors and gathering together in a warm kitchen. And always, a visit to Royal Copenhagen is on order, for the beautiful porcelain displays, especially the Christmas Table.
“We love to decorate our homes, and we love to entertain, and of course we love to eat,” says Hahnemann. Saffron buns are now a year round treat, but Hahnemann sticks with tradition and reserves them for December. Æbleskiver—similar to a doughnut hole—enjoyed with homemade jam, are a Copenhagen favorite. Hot chocolate, glögg-a seasonal, sweet and spicy mulled wine, and lots of Champagne are the beverages of choice. “The season is all about comfort and good cheer, and we spend as much time as we can at home,” she says. “A festive home, a cozy home, is a must, it is where we entertain. It is how we entertain. Our homes are an extension of who we are, our stories. In fact, the greatest compliment you could give a Dane is to say that their home is hyggelig!”
How to embrace your own art of Scandinavian living, dining and entertaining this winter? Begin by emulating Hahnemann, and “savor the intermission.” Dissolve into her cookbooks. Channel your inner hygge, gather in the kitchen, tap into a bit of decadence. Bake. Revisit your family traditions. Now is the time to slow down, take time and, in the words of poet E. E. Cummings, stay “locked in foreverish time’s tide at poise.” Hygge. Nourishment for the soul.
by Paige Farrell