Once Upon A Danish Yule

A Danish Christmas (or yule) is celebrated on December 24 in the evening (like the Peruvians). While there are many different family traditions, the evening will be something like as this…

It will be dark as the sun may have set around four in the afternoon. There may be a light layer of slush or sleet on the trees, glinting in the streetlamps. If you are lucky, there will be snow providing a soft sparkle to the night. As you make your way to the family celebration, you will walk the decorated streets, festooned with garlands of lights, candles flickering on window sills, and the smell of onions frying.

When you get to your destination, all dressed in red or green, you will be hugged and kissed by your hosts. Warmth will greet you as you enter the home. The windows and doors may be decorated with paper cut outs of Christmas elves, some of these may be less Disney and more Dickens in style and may, every year, be carefully preserved in tissue paper, to once again every year, get taped to the walls to tell their stories of tricks or goose chasing. The elves can be in sets of activities, some doing winter sports, or playing in a band, or cooking. Some are hand-made and others are bought every year and carefully cut out. The tree will be decorated with heirloom decorations (perhaps a small decorated bottle cap star that grandma made when she was but a wee thing) and tinsel. Some people even keep up the old tradition of live candles on the tree. img_1693

(The Danes, most of whom are Lutheran, may go to a Christmas church service. This, for some, is the only time of the year that they will go to church. Otherwise, the churches are used mostly for baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and funerals.) Christmas music will be playing everywhere and even the non-religious will still get into the Christmas spirit.

Perhaps you will be offered mulled wine, adding a smell of warm wine, spices, and raisins to the air. The dinner will include roast duck or pork roast with crackling (goose in old times, and in modern times, turkey). The meal includes small caramelized potatoes, chestnut colored and slightly sweet. There will be brown gravy, boiled potatoes, warm red cabbage, stuffing made of cooked apples and prunes, and there will be lots of everything. For Christmas dessert, the Danes eat rice pudding. It’s a rice, cream, and chopped almond dessert served with cooked cherry sauce (or strawberry — something to evoke the red and white colors of Denmark). The special thing about dessert is that the rice pudding is actually a game — one of the almonds is left intact and whoever finds it without chewing it, wins the “almond gift.” Many grandparents make special bowls for the grandchildren (usually for those under 15) who will then miraculously find an almond in their portion! In the old days, the prize would be a pig made out of marzipan, and indeed, it is still possible to buy or make your own marzipan pig to enjoy at Christmastime.

Another fun thing about the Danes is that they have a “practice” Christmas dinner on November 10, which is Saint Martin’s Eve, when one would eat a roast goose and thus practice making a Christmas meal. Really, it’s often just another reason to get together with friends and family and enjoy some “hygge” or coziness. In the time up to Christmas there will be many parties, including the Christmas lunch but I’ll blog about that later. Sometimes one is invited, or hosts, a Christmas decoration/craft party during which Christmas tree decorations are made, paper elves are cut, table centerpiece tableaux are made, and sometimes candles, cookies, and candy are cooked. Often mulled wine is served at these parties as well.)

After dinner which will include a few toasts (the Danes have a special ritualistic way that they toast including always make eye contact with everyone around the table when they toast. The clinking of glasses is less important). After dinner, there will be a break. Sometimes the break is to walk the dogs, air the room, or do some clearing up of the dishes. Then there will be coffee and brandy served, and people will move into position around the living room. But, first, there is singing and dancing!

Everyone holds hands and dances around the Christmas tree singing Christmas carols. Often it’s just the first two verses and in many families, the carols are chosen by the youngest person and all the way up to the oldest (everyone knows that grandpa likes a certain song, so out of deference, one does not pick that song!). Dogs are included so sometimes you will be holding a wagging tail… or the bark. Generally, the direction one dances around the Christmas tree changes with every song, and at the end, there is one particular song, “Now it’s Christmas Again” which is sung with such gusto that someone will peel away from the tree and lead everyone in a conga line around the house until ending up back at the sofas, where the coffee, brandy, and cigarettes (in the old days), are waiting.

Then it’s gift time! But, there is no mad ransacking of the gifts in a Danish Christmas. Usually, someone (with able knees — so that they can crawl under the tree) will put on an elf hat and be the designated Santa Claus helper. The person will find a gift for the youngest person, read the gift label (“To Uncle Jens, Merry Christmas, you are wished a wonderful new year, with dearest love, your nephew Michael” or some such thing), and hand the gift to the person. Everyone will watch, cameras poised, for the look of delight when the gift is opened, someone will have the trash bag at the ready, another will have scissors or a pocket knife in hand ready to assist with a troublesome ribbon or dastardly piece of tape. Then, the person will look ever so pleased and say, “we agree to do the thank yous after all the gifts are opened?” And so on. This will go on until everyone is sitting with a neat pile of gifts, perhaps with wrapping bows stuck to their sweaters or hair, and looking happy. As the gifts thin out under the tree, the santa helper will make sure to hold back one gift for each person for the final round. After all the gifts are unwrapped, everyone gets up to say thank you and hug.

The next day, and certainly within a week, thank you cards will have been sent out. (Another thing about Danes: after a gathering, the next time you see someone, it’s important to say, “tak for sidst” or “thank you for the last time.”) Everyone goes to bed waiting to see what’s in their stocking in the morning.

Idealistic, right? That’s how it should be. Tis the season.

Merry Christmas! God Jul (pronounced “go yule”)!

Sloe Drink from a Slow Walk

The sloe berries are blue when ripe and they grow on tall bushes/low trees (clearly my grasp of botany is limited) in temperate climes like Denmark. They look like blueberries but are super sour and probably not delicious in their raw state (my friend tried one and I surmised this from the look on her face).

To make a sloe drink, you pick the berries, freeze them for a few days, and then put them in to the alcohol (vodka? gin?), let them marinate for a few days. Then drink.

flU5CY62z8JAtY9SMO7cxDGkMN6chmfBEIb6IIGGwnPCKbgQXlCMk0Dx3MU17LDRNPFh8h1HQXEqPzMam6RuYbw-RYrbKI8HnddFXCrEZ_1q3Uv7HGpIlYWfH4RjBgZ62t5djwK487-wWfWJJL1dtZbWdZ4PCRmn26ibJAcbb4mzBr2mUdrbsBm6ZpLast year, when on a bike ride through Amager Faelled in Copenhagen, I noticed this guy picking something from the bushes. After racing over to him like an excited puppy, I asked him what he was doing.

The berries matched his eyes, and he was accommodating enough to model the sloe berries for me.

West Market Food Hall in Copenhagen

There is a new indoor-outdoor market in Copenhagen. It just opened a week ago but looks set to be a popular food hall, just like Papirøen and Torvehallen, on Amager to the south and Nørreport to the north. Located at Vesterbrogade 97, it has a Netto in the Istedgade side and a gray facade on the Vesterbrogade side. 

The stalls inside are a mixture of artisanal coffee, fine gin, middle eastern vegetarian, French cheeses, ramen, fish and chips, Danish health foods,  vegetable market, beer on tap, tapas bars, and so on. The only thing blatantly missing was a Danish cheese stall. 

No free WIFI yet. Delicious!

Danish Pastry

IMG_3797.JPGIn Danish, a danish is a “viennese bread” because it was brought to Denmark in the 19th century by immigrants from Vienna. There are many names and many types of pastry sold in Denmark and the bakeries, although no longer on every corner, are still to be had (today, 7-11 bakes fresh every few hours).

My favorites are actually not the well-known pretzel shaped “kringle” or the “duck breast” or “snail” but, one that is hard to find and the other that is more common. My favorite one is so popular that it’s sold at the airport. It’s called a “tebirkes” or “tea poppy seed” and it’s a rectangular shape with a covering of poppy seeds. Inside, the bottom layers are held down by a thin layer of almond paste mixed with sugar. The tebirkes isn’t overly sweet and I like to splice it open, slather it with Lurpack butter and a slice of smelly strong cheese. The second pastry that I always get, if I can, is called a “rosenbroed” or “rose bread”and it’s made from the basic kringle puff pastry but in a long plank shape. It’s covered with a thick layer of icing and sliced into long strips. Pure sugar, butter, and puff pastry!

Denmark is known for its Danish and in the U.S., there are a few places that claim to do the original kringle or Danish. But, Danish pastry is like New York pizza… it’s something in the water… if you can, go to the source.

 

 

The Little Merman

img_3669Everyone outside of Denmark has their image of the Disney mermaid but, in reality, the little mermaid is quite different. Mostly, tourists find her to be much smaller than they expected. And now, just to confuse things even more, there’s a new merman in town.

Specifically, he’s up in Helsingor (Elsinore, where Hamlet’s castle is located according to Shakespeare), and he’s a lot shinier than the little mermaid. Otherwise, he’s a good reflection (yup, he’s shiny) of the old gal down in Copenhagen. Plus, his location is much better for photo-ops.

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Danish Strawberries

Once upon a year, in a little tiny land, at the top of Europe, there are strawberries so ruby and sweet. They arrive just after the sweet pea season. Visit Denmark in late August and you may may be able to get both. The strawberries are red like claret in the sun. Eat them fresh or covered in fresh cream. img_3802

Then, if you can find sweet peas in the pod, enjoy them as they are as succulent as crisp morning dew. But nuttier.img_3834

Oh, and they are healthy for you. How sweet is that!

Airport Reality

A real bed-like bench in Copenhagen airport.
A real bed-like bench in Copenhagen airport.

Having been to a fair number of airports, I wish many things of them. One is a flat padded surface for sleeping. Copenhagen Airport is actually one of the ones that is beginning to address the realities of travel. Kudos to Copenhagen for providing padded leather benches the size of a bed. Plus, they have good shops. Singapore airport is another great airport and not just because of its free foot massage machines. Sometimes, a completely bed-like bench is all I need. That, and free WIFI. Please, my deep veins beg you.

Bucket List Foods – Fresh Hazelnuts in Denmark

Some people have places they must see before they die on their bucket list. To me, certain interesting people and certain foods are the destination. Fresh hazelnuts in Denmark is a destination.

Hazelnuts in shell and two ready to eat (one I have started…). These are not completely fresh.

Fresh hazelnuts are juicy and crisp. Try them. Make it a part of your trip if you are in Denmark in September.

One Year of Madventures.me – Still Mad for Food and Adventure

Madventures.me is one year old. One year ago, I started this blog in preparation for new adventures in food and travel. One year of great food and travel in Amman, Copenhagen, Dhaka, Doha, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Krabi, Luang Prabang, Mumbai, New Delhi, New England, Singapore, and many more.

I started this blog to share some of my adventures with family and friends. As I’ve blogged, my blog has evolved into a source for providing information on restaurants in Dhaka, shopping, and how much one can do in Bangladesh. As a blogger, I’ve been enormously happy when readers from all over the world visit my blog. Thank you for stopping by… from almost the entire world:

Map of visitors to madventures.me in the first 11 months.

As my readership expands beyond people I know, I’m curious about what leads readers to my blog. So here are the top search terms people have searched for in the past year:

Top search terms on madventures.me.

Thank You for Loving Bacon

Danish bacon frying up in a pan.

I was wrong. In recalling Danish bacon, I simply remembered that it was my favorite kind of bacon. When I got to Denmark this time around, I set out to fry some up. When I cooked the pack of bacon, all 250 grams of it,  and realized that no fat came sputtering out of it because the bacon is much more  akin to pancetta, thin and not woodsy in smell… (the Danes have their own breed of pigs called the Antonius). When I ate the first crinkly mahogany strip, I realized that I had been utterly wrong. The Danish bacon was much better than the bacon of my memory.

The sticker says “thank you for loving bacon”.

 

Tivoli Amusement Park Open for Halloween

An otherworldly park caught in the spirit of Halloween.

Tivoli is almost open all year round. This fall they are open for Halloween. The park is great and I enjoy it in all its moods and costumes. The park fills a whole city park and is smack in the center of the city. Lots of things to do, eat, and buy. Enchanted tourism!

The gate of Tivoli. Enjoy a walk around.