Gammelgaard, where my grandmother and then my mother, ran the household and where I grew up. (Father's side)

Thursday, February 20, 2014



One of the culminations of this blog; this continuing gathering of Danish traditions and culture, has been in the works for some time now, namely the ELLA stories (www.facebook/ ) This is a very exciting tale of Ella, a young girl and her two best friends, Christian, an armadillo from Texas, and Elisabeth a cute little hedgehog with haute couture tendencies. Together the trio explore the world, as they prove to us that "home" can be in many different places, shapes and forms. During the tales of Ella, the readers are introduced to many different cultures and folklore as they run into different problems to solve.

Folklore is becoming more and more extinct and forgotten as we become a more globalized and unified world reliant on technology. The ELLA stories help us remember the unique stories and creatures that our forefathers knew so well.

The first ELLA book takes place in Denmark and has thus used much information and background gathered here on the author's blog, for her English speaking children to know and understand their Danish, side but in English.

Another culmination of the gathering of information here will be when the author's Danish grandmothers' cookbooks appear in either cook book form or as little additions to one of her adult fiction books.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Italian Salad; a Hardcore Danish Component of any Self-respecting Luncheon

       Preparing for a lunch, regardless of where in the world a Dane might reside; if there is either cold ham involved or openfaced sandwiches in general; the question will arise: how did grandma make her Italian Salad? Usually when living in Denmark and for everyday use, one would purchase a premade tub of said salad and it would have the exact right taste components. Reconstructing this precise but elusive taste-combination on the other hand proves a bit harder; but finally I have figured out just how easy it is, and I thought, I would share my findings with you, so you wouldn't risk developing the same Italian Salad complex I had for 23 years!

       First let's come to grips with the Danish phenomenon, a mixture of vegetables in a mayonnaise dressing served on ham or other cold cuts. It never derived from Italy, but has it's name from the colors which are similar to the Italian flag: orange from crunchy finely cubed pieces of carrot, green from peas and asparagus, and white from either mayo, white asparagus or both. In  Denmark you can buy the exact mix for this salad frozen and ready to put in your dressing (remember to thaw the vegetables first, put them in a sieve and drain) but I recommend going to the trouble of cutting them up yourself and cooking them, to ensure a good crunch.

       You will need equal amounts finely cubed carrot, peas (if you use frozen, make sure they are thawed and drained) and white asparagus cut into 1/2 cm pieces or of a size to your liking. You may use green asparagus, as the white ones are hard to find. Salt a pot of boiling water until it tastes like mild seawater (taste it!) add sugar. Bring to roaring boil. Have a big bowl of icewater at the ready. Boil asparagus for 2 minutes, retrieve with a slotted spoon and immediately dunk into the icewater to shock them into keeping their color, and to stop the cooking process. When completely cold, spread the asparagus pieces on several kitchen towels and dry with more towels or paper towels. In same pot of still boiling water drop in the tiny carrot cubes and boil for just one minute, then dunk into icewater (you may have to replenish ice cubes between batches) When completely cold, dry carrot cubes same way as asparagus pieces. Peas, fresh or frozen (thaw and drain first) will not need to be cooked.

      In a bowl that will be able to hold everything combined. Mix an amount of mayonnaise, that will just coat your amount of greens, with salt and white pepper. One big culprit of not having your Italian salad taste authentically Danish is in the mayo, you use. Finding a Danish mayo is preferable; a Norweigian mayo will come close and I have had reports that the same is the case with a Japanese mayo; as they are all a bit sweeter and thus closer in taste to the Danish ones. Fold and mix in all the vegetables (if you used some asparagus from a glass, I only recommend using a small part of them from a glass, as they are mushy, but will add great flavor, you may add a bit of the liquid from that glass to the dressing.)

       THAT"S IT!! But, your salad will not taste the way you think it should until 1-2 days later, so have patience and put it in the refrigerator; give it a good mix once a day and taste it 2 days later. Enjoy it with your cold slices of ham or other meat and let your mind go back to Denmark and happy family/friend luncheons. Bon Appetit! Happy Easter, Glaedelig Paaske.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Jante Law-"Janteloven"- musings on a darker side of Denmark

        Most of my musings and Danish memories deal with nostalgia, recipes, happy moments and uniquely Danish traditions. I would be remiss however in describing the Danish soul if I didn't mention something less complimentary. This might come as a shock to the reader, knowing that Danes are the happiest people in the world, according to some. (Reports of the second highest suicide rate puts this a bit in perspective)
       Having moved to the US, I forgot about this element, until a friend of mine (who has also moved here) recently reminded me. My friend has become very successful with his business here in the States and I was complimenting him on it. Over dinner we spoke of the Danish people, foods and things we miss; when suddenly he interjected: "but you know, I really DON'T miss the Jante Law!".

       I thought "Janteloven" was something uniquely Danish, but found in my research, that it covers all of Scandinavia. It is named after a typical small town where nobody is anonymous. The term negatively describes an attitude towards individuality and success in Scandinavia. A mentality which refuses to acknowledge individual effort; and places all emphasis on the collective while punishing all those who stand out as achievers. (Wikipedia)

       If you mention this law to anybody in Denmark, they will know exactly what it means; however very few people, myself included, will know of the specific points involved.

      In 1936 the Danish Norwegian auther, Axel Sandemose, defined the Jante Law as a series of rules that go as follows:

 1) Don't think you are anything special.
 2) Don't think you are as good as us.
 3) Don't think you are smarter than us.
 4) Don't convince yourself that you are better than us.
 5) Don't think you are more than us.
 6) Don't think you are more important than us.
 7) Don't think you are good at anything.
 8) Don't laugh at us.
 9) Don't think anyone cares about you.
10) Don't think you can teach us anything.
11) Don't think that there aren't a few things we know about you.

       If you transgress this unwritten law, you will be regarded with suspicion and some hostility, as it goes against communal desire in the town to preserve harmony, social stability and uniformity.

      In my mother's Danish classroom she, being the inspirational teacher she is, put the exercise to her students of posting the exact opposite rules of the Jante Law. We all need self esteem and this seemed a good way to reflect on these silly, less than inspiring tendencies.

       So if I grew up never knowing these "rules" exactly, never having seen them in writing; how much credence could they possibly have? The unspoken rules in a society, the ones you live by and learn by example by, are extremely powerful and I suspect these "rules" have been part of the Scandinavian culture for hundreds of years if not thousands. These rules are sadly alive and well, as they are part of the fabric of our otherwise well educated culture; but there is hope, when we can ask ourselves to reflect on the reverse of each rule:

     1) You are special.
     2) You are just as good as everyone else.
     3) You may actually be smarter than everyone else.
     4) Strive to be the best, we will cheer you on.
     5) You may achieve more than us.
     6) Your brains may benefit us all, and you may hold more importance than us.
     7) Believe that you are good at everything.
     8) Laugh, when you find us funny, we can take it and will laugh with you.
     9) We all care about you and about each other.
    10) We can learn a lot from you, do teach us.
    11) We all make mistakes, we won't hold yours against you.

       I know many happy Danes, in fact all the Danes I know are pretty happy, and most of them quite full of initiative and positive spirit. As we age, we all run into the experiences and ups and downs that shape our personalities. Doesn't life have enough challenges without adding those negative unwritten rules? If every Dane practiced the reverse Jante Lov, a little bit each day, perhaps the heaviness of Ingmar Bergman onto the Scandinavian image could be enlightened a bit? I have great respect for his movies and his work, but there are genuine smiles, light as air, in Scandinavia as well, let's put more emphasis on those; let's dispense with the unwritten rules. Some rules are for breaking, these are the ones!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

My Childhood Christmas Eve in Denmark. Min Jule-aften i Danmark, som barn.

      Time stands still. This is quite tangible to my brothers and I. The concept of time has changed today and is quite possibly going backwards. Although we would embrace the possibility of time travel, it is the forward motion kind, as opposed to the backwards motion, that we are interested in right now.

       It is four o'clock in the afternoon, already getting dark outside. The horses have been fed; my rider friends and I have spent a considerable amount of time this afternoon hollowing out sugar beets and filling them with layers of the horses' favorite treats: dry crumbled up rye-bread, sugar-cubes (it IS a special occasion) carrot pieces for color and apple pieces for sweetness. I am bathed, my brothers have showered, and we are now sitting damp-haired and finely clothed in the darkening sitting room. Our backs are to the tall windows so we may better utilize the quickly fading light.  Reading being our feeble attempt to make time go in it's normal direction. Finally we hear the clank-clank-clank of my mothers nice heels rapidly crossing the floor in the hall before she opens the door to the sitting room and rushes through, while waving her newly polished nails in the air. She is headed for the kitchen where we hear her open and close the oven door, set a timer, tick-tick-tick and re-adjust a lid on a pot; she sticks her head through the door to the sitting room and instructs us to put our nice coats on, and go wait in the car. Never before have children behaved so rapidly obedient, we even help each other.

       Waiting in the car is less comfortable than waiting in the living room, but at least it brings us one step closer and proves, that in spite of our suspicion of the opposite, time is actually moving forward. The car seat is cold through my nylon stockings and my new nice shoes are so new, that they slide on every surface, I will have to be careful not to slip on the shiny stone floor in church; it isn't easy to walk in them to begin with, as they were sensibly purchased a bit too big; so they would last at least through Easter as well.
Ryde Kirke

small wax candle in holder

      We go to church quite regularly as a family: once a year exactly!

       It is a small church. All churches in Denmark are now owned by the state, but this church, Ryde Kirke, used to belong to our farm. It is very old. The church is filled with people and very inviting with the two Christmas trees up front. My brothers and I don't find it odd now, but will later in life, that the front row is always empty waiting for our family; so we never have to make up our minds about where to sit. It is a small local community, all familiar faces, that embrace traditions.

       The best part about church on Christmas Eve is, that we know all the songs; we have learned the lyrics in school as far back as kindergarten. I count each song as we go, because I can see on the board on the wall how many songs we are supposed to go through; when we get to the crack in the board, we are half way through.
candy-filled cone
        I like these songs and I know the story about baby Jesus being born, the star that led the wise men and all that. I always wonder if it was normal back then, to ride around on donkeys, it makes me think about my pony, I wonder if she enjoyed her gourmet sugar beet and I wonder if she will be able to see the stars through the stable window this evening. I shuffle my shoes a bit on the floor during the second to last song, to scuff them up a little, and lessen the risk of slipping on my way out. They really are nice shoes, they are white patent leather and have a strap that goes over the arch of my foot. I wonder if everybody else is thinking about other things while the priest talks; it probably isn't nice to do. I look over at Frode, he works for my dad on the farm, he also worked for my grandfather, when he was alive and ran the farm. Frode is really nice, and I already know, what he is thinking of, because he told me earlier in the day, that he will be thinking of the gravy and the potatoes, while in church. He winks at me. Just like me, my brothers are willing time to move; shifting from one foot to the other when standing and dangling legs back and forth when sitting. My mother looks at her watch, I know she is thinking about the timing of her cooking; and my grandmother and my is hard to tell, but I think they both just like knowing the songs and the story, like I do; they seem happy and in agreement with the events. Finally we are at the last verse of the last song, and the church bell starts ringing, I wonder if the nisse that lives in the church bell tower is deaf or wears earpugs, because it must be very loud up there. We leave the church, greet the priest on the way out, and wish other neighbors, some of my school teachers and friends a Merry Christmas. My brothers and I are very excited now, because as far as we are concerned, Christmas Eve just kicked into high gear.

       At home, mother rushes to the kitchen, grandmother goes to powder her nose, while my dad starts lighting candles. He begins with the big advent wreath in the hall. It is a big entrance hall with tall ceilings and an old black and white checkered marble floor. The large room looks magical when only illuminated by the four big candles in the wreath that hangs from the ceiling by four long wide red silk ribbons. The walls are covered with deer trophies that my grandfather once shot and they all have little shadows in the candlelight. To the left of where the wreath hangs are tall french doors. You can't see through the glass these days because our parents have draped a large wool blanket behind the glass doors. During the daytime my brothers and I tried to peek through some of the holes in the blanket, but the holes were too small to really get a look. We know the Christmas tree is in there, we are just not allowed to see it, until after dinner this evening.

       Mom and dad decorated it last night. The only thing we were allowed to do with grandmother's help, was fill the many candleholders for the branches with candles, and fill the cones with candy; grandmother said we had to whistle while we were doing it, because  you can't whistle while you have candy in your mouth. But she did allow us to have some candies though. When we were done, our parents took candles and candy-filled cones to the tree. We had helped pick out the tree earlier in the day, yesterday, when we all went out to the big forest; I suspect my father already had his eyes on this tree, but he still made it look like we had a say in it too. After this point, we were strictly forbidden to peak into the Ballroom. Part of me was curious and wanted to, but a greater part of me didn't want to spoil the big revelation that were to come, when my father would later show us the tree, magnificently decorated and with all it's flickering wax-candles.

       Our other grandparents arrive, they went to church at their own church, but will join us this year at our house for the festivities, along with my aunt who really is so young that she doesn't want us to call her aunt; she is ten years older than me, which is a lot, but not enough to be an "aunt", which is understandable.

       Finally it is time to go into the dining room. We usually eat in the kitchen, but on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve we eat in the big dining room, even though we aren't enough people to fill the whole big table. The dinning room looks positively magical. The long shiny mahogany table is decorated with a whole forest of little golden Christmas trees, that my mother made from floral foam, fir tree twigs and lots of gold spray. It is a very simple and elegant decoration; little candles in star-shaped holders are strewn down the middle and make the trees sparkle and shine. From the crystal chandelier hangs very old silver and golden glass balls; the candles reflect in those as well. Reflections and shine is everywhere you look; from the crystal-sconces on the walls with their real candles, to the flickering real candles in the big crystal chandelier. The many tall windows of the room have darkness on the other side so all the candle lights are reflected back with a warm glow. But we are not here to admire the scenery, we are here to get through dinner so we can finally get to the tree!

       We start with  some seafood, perhaps shrimp, and lettuce on a halved avocado, smoked salmon on a slice of buttered crusty bread; we then proceed to the more traditional part, which in Denmark will be either duck, goose or roast pig with cracklings. There are potatoes (many people have caramelized potatoes), warm pickled red cabbage; if we are having duck, there will most likely be a Waldorf salad; in either event there will be a delicious sauce or gravy. We then move on to dessert which in accordance with tradition is "Ris a la Mande", which means rice pudding with chopped almonds, whipped cream and vanilla, served with a bright red cherry sauce with whole cherries that have imbibed a bit in port.

       Before the dessert is served, one brother gets to chose one perfect whole almond while the other gets to drop that one into the dessert and watch while my mother stirs it into the mix. We have now all witnessed the fact that there is only one whole almond in the mix, and we know that the person who gets it will get a prize. Traditionally the prize is a marzipan pig, but none of us care too much for that, so there is a small wrapped gift on the sidetable as an alternative. The grown-ups like to play games, and secretly pass the almond to each other; make someone turn their head and deftly drop the whole almond onto their plate. We children never understood this ....why would you want to give up the prize if you were lucky enough to get it to begin with?...Sometimes grown-ups are just incomprehensible. When we were very little, my mother would have pre-plated our servings...."to keep them cool", she said, but really I know it was to make sure we each got a whole almond, so we each could get a prize; too bad we are not that little anymore! My brother gets the prize...again! He is just so very lucky! He doesn't even like rice pudding! He got it last year too!

      My grandfather has been complaining about how stuffed and full he feels, that everything tasted wonderful, but that he really over-ate. It sounds like something he has said before, but now we get busy helping mom clear the table and get the coffee-tray ready with freshly baked cookies and assorted Christmas candies; while dad disappears into the ballroom to light the many many tiny candles on the big tree. We are now so close to, what we have been waiting for all month, and there is no longer need for a time machine to move us forward; we are exactly where we want to be.

Old photo from Danmark's Radio
       We line up in the Library, which is the room between the Dinning room and the Ball room. We line up in front of the big double doors, smallest person first, then the next smallest, etc ending with the tallest one in back, so that everyone gets the full view of the "WOW-moment". My father asks through the doors if everyone is ready, we answer in the affirmative, and everyone is now completely silenced as he opens up the tall double doors and reveals the most magnificent vision: An enormous Christmas tree that reaches all the way to the tall ceiling, with the star on top nearly touching the ceiling. The entire great room is lighted only by the flickering candles on the tree; placed carefully, so as not to catch fire on anything.  There are hearts and stars, candy-filled cones, old and new decorations, some we have made in school, and of course, beneath the tree are impressive layers of gifts. We "ooh" and "aah" while we walk into the room to truly and respectfully admire the greatness from all angles. Then we take each others' hands and form a circle around the tree. Slowly we walk around the tree like this, while singing carols, changing direction every other song, so as not to get dizzy; all the while admiring the beautiful sight. I think this moment is my favorite moment, even more than opening the gifts; although I have been eying some of them while dancing around the tree, and noticed that a couple of them, at least, had my name on them.

       Suddenly there is tapping on the french doors that lead out to the terrace. It surprises me completely at first, but then I look around the room to see, where grandpa grandma sees me and answers before I can ask:" Morfar had to go to the bathroom, his stomach wasn't so well". My dad breaks our circle of hand-holding to open the door and in comes "Julemanden" (Santa!).

"Julemanden" with my brothers and my mother
       Morfar enjoys this more than we can imagine. We know it is him, I think we have always known it is him, probably because he wears a mask; but we have always played along; it's a fun game and who would want to hurt morfar's feeling anyway? Perhaps we didn't realize it was a mask, when we were babies, but I don't remember that. The mask itself could probably be in a museum, I think it has been in the family for generations. It is easy to see his real skin under the edges of the mask, and the beard is made of a cotton ball material, only in a sheet; but all this goes away when he starts to talk; he is very engaging; just like he is in his story telling, and before you know it, everybody is enthralled by this fun make-believe. He hands us gifts, one by one, we thank him, as he leaves yelling "Glaedelig Jul allesammen" ("Merry Christmas everybody").

       A short while later, morfar comes into the room asks where we got those gifts from, and is then visibly upset, that he yet again missed Santa Claus! We open gifts one by one, also the ones from under the tree, while we enjoy the candies, the cookies and coffee for the grown-ups. We each get to chose the one candle we think will outlast all the others. There is no prize for this little game; it is just fun to be right. As the candles burn down, we light a few lamps but the room remains cozy with a nice fire in the fireplace. My brothers and I each have a designated corner of the room in which we keep our gifts. Tomorrow morning, when the grown-ups are still sleeping and the whole house is deeply silent, comes my absolutely most favorite part of Christmas, when my brothers and I come down in our pjs and new bathrobes, playing quietly with our new toys for hours. Later we will meet more family at another Christmas lunch. Christmas in Denmark lasts for many days, there is Little Christmas Eve, Christmas Eve, 1st Christmas Day, 2nd Christmas Day, 3rd Christmas Day and 4th Christmas Day. Many many lunches, dinners and hunts can be arranged during this time and then comes New Years all in all a very festive time of the year.

       This is a compilation of Christmas Eves remembered and seen with my eyes as a child. There may not have been a single one Christmas Eve that went this way, but in my memory there is. Growing up in a large historical house certainly played well into making Christmas beautiful, but really no more or no less than in any other home, as that feeling comes from the people in it.

       They were all magical Christmas Eve's, some more than others; and some just went wrong, because life cannot possibly always live up to our great expectations. The important thing to remember is, that those that stay with us, are the fond memories and THOSE we can build on, and create images of for our loved ones. We all miss people when the holidays come around, and we all may miss aspects from those innocent childhood times or even miss the traditions as our lives change and take on new form all the time; but we can keep sharing the good moments, and we can keep creating new good moments. Start a tradition today. Glaedelig Jul, Merry Christmas!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Nisse in Your Economy; philosophically, historically and monitarily

A Company of Danish Artists in Rome. 1837 by Constantin Hansen

By Alfred Jacobsen, Music Nisser. From a Christmas pamphlet 1898 now housed at Bornholm's Museum. 

       Ever wonder where those lost socks go? Or why they disappeared in the first place? And what about the keys/wallet that you could have sworn, you put in a certain spot, only to find it missing from that spot? What about the toilet paper roll that you just changed, and now it needs changing again? You may be losing your marbles on other accounts, I don't know you, so I cannot ascertain this; but when it comes to the above mentioned situations; I know for a fact, that they really are happening to you and I can also tell you why.

          "Nisse" (pronounced somewhat like: "neessah") isn't easily translated, the Danish house-nisse is a term all it's own. It is true that these days the nisser (plural) are thought of more around Christmastime, but truly they exist year round and should never be forgotten. Nisser have been around for a very long time all over Europe, from the Scottish highlands to the Roman kitchens, from the Scandinavian farmlands to the German deep woods. Called by different names (Etruscans:"lasa, lasas" (pl) Romans: "lar, laris(pl), "tomten"in Sweden, "wiht" in ancient English and so on and so forth) in all these places and had different features depending on where you were, but essentially all these spirits/creatures stemmed from the same basic belief.

          Most primitive cultures had the belief, that a spirit owned the land or the water, the mountain, the rock or the tree. So if you had to fell a tree for it's timber for instance, you would make sure to ask permission, give reason for the felling, and then thank this spirit. If you were to build on a piece of land, you would first have to ask that particular spirit of that piece of land, if building there was acceptable to him.  Without the nisse's approval, you could be sure, that all kinds of bad luck were to fall upon your house, livelihood, livestock and family.
This house spirit would bring you good luck and help with your chores if you were respectful of it. This spirit could on occasion be asked to follow you, when you moved; and it was reported that it did sometimes do just that ; but mostly it stayed with the tree/land/rock/hill/ship that it "owned". As time went by, people would then also see, in the nisse, the spirits of the people who had lived on that land/in that house/on that farm, and found the need to appease those spirits as well, again by: treating the nisse well.

      All along there is never any doubt that the nisse  has quite a temper and can cause severe damage; on the other hand, if he is treated well, he will be of immeasurable help. He will carry buckets that need to be carried, he will mend things that need mending, he will brush the horses till they shine, sweep the floor; in short make sure all your tasks are tended to; IF you are on his good side.

      To be on his good side, you must feed the nisse his favorite Christmas porridge and not be stingy with the butter put on top. He will often also appreciate  a bit of Christmas beer to go with it, even though, he is quite good at producing his own beer. You also must continue to show your appreciation and respect for the nisse, by actually asking for the favors of protection and help in your life. There are several written examples of such pleas, that look almost like prayers. It is easy to see, that this particular part suffered as Christianity was introduced. However, even after most Europeans became Christian, the little nisse in Denmark remained helpful and dear, oftentimes on farms.

       It was a group of rather homesick and patriotic Danish artists who spent years studying in Rome, that were mostly accountable for the initial creation of an actual "julenisse" (Christmas nisse) rather than the usual everyday farm-nisse, ships-nisse or shop-nisse.
Photo by Jens Haulund taken for  the launch of "Ella's Christmas Castle"
J.Th. Lundbye (1818-1848); Henrik Olrik (1830-1890) and H.C. Ley (1828-1875) and several other artists would spend Christmas in the far-away city of Rome, and write to friends about Danish Christmas traditions.  Their imaginations were most probably inspired by J.M. Thiele's  "Stories of a farm-dweller"(1818-22). In their illustrations the little nisse with the red cap appeared more and more often. Lundbye especially is said to have become quite obsessed with this creative outlet, drawing nisser whose faces looked like his own. Very quickly the jule-nisse concept took hold and by mid to late 1800s whole industries developed around him, something that has continued ever since and is quite unique for the Scandinavian countries as none of the other original folksy spirits have attempted to follow suit. Countless stories have been written about the little Julenisse (Christmas-nisse); including some by yours truly. A more in-depth description of the yule-tide chap will have to follow at that time of year. In the top right hand corner of this web page you can find reference, and a couple of audio chapter's from "Ella's Christmas Castle"(It will be put up as a web-calendar, where you may enjoy one chapter each day (audio) for 24 days again in Dec. 2011, starting Dec 1st. Enjoy!).

C.W. Eckersberg, Copenhagen w. Rosenborg Castle in background
       When the above mentioned Danes studied in Rome it was at the time in Danish cultural history, often referred to as the Golden Age, ca 1800-1850 ("Guldalderen") a very romantic period, a period with incredible artistic talent and also a period with significant historic events, good and bad. The battle on Rheden where DK-Norway was beat by the Brits 1801; The terrorist bombardment of Copenhagen (by the Brits), 1807, which killed many civilians and left the city in ruins (ill. shows the night between Sep. 4th and 5th,1807). Currency revision failed, which is referred to as the Danish State's bankruptcy; 1813.

 Losing Norway to Sweden, 1814, did not bring up morale. The French Revolution helped push Denmark towards signing Danish democracy into law 1848, which of course was to great excitement and celebration. The Three Year War, 1848-1850, a terrible war in which an age-old territorial dispute in the most southern part of the mainland (Jutland), which is connected to Germany; was resolved, but not until both England, Russia, France, Austria and Preussia (sp?) became involved essentially firming up status quo!
.........I haven't even mentioned the cholera outbreak!

       I am listing all these events from so long ago to show you, that we are not so different today from back then, in fact when listing the above events it is almost like reading the daily headlines of today. We tend to arrogantly think, that the world is falling apart now more than ever, and then leave it as an exclamation point with no solutions.

      The homesick Danish artists studying in Rome were on to something: you need to preserve your nisse and remember him ALL year long; you need to respect him, and treat him (by the way, he also was assigned a family, his own wife and kids, in 1850, something that was quite endearing to the little fellow and very workable for the entire nisse-industry) well. If you do that, I guarantee, that the amount of lost socks in your household will decline, the roll of TP will last as long as such a roll is intended, and both your wallet and your keys will be exactly where you left them, as your nisse is less likely to play these tricks on you, in his efforts to remind you of his presense. In the meantime, if you start up a little nisse-industry and save the economy at the same time....well it's a total win-win situation. The little nisse, unlike Smurfs (nothing against the blue guys, in fact I adore them!), is something from far back in our roots, something we all can agree on, something quite endearing and unifying.

       Remember your nisse today, and check back at Christmastime, when I will share a most magnificent nisse world with you ! Click below and find ELLA's stories, give her a "like" and keep informed on all ELLA news and release dates.

Post by Ella.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sommerbukken-Summer Stag

      There is something magical and dreamy about the woods this time of day. It is very early, in fact so early, that we haven't slept, but then again we did stay up quite late. The days are long during the summer in Denmark which means that sunset and sunrise are not very far apart from the night's perspective. These events dictate hunting hours. It is still slightly dark, but things are about to change as nature goes from dead-calm sleepy woods to sweet "good mornings" from wildlife all around us. We have quietly settled ourselves, in a spot my friend has been observing diligently for many weeks now; he knows that this is where the buck he has selected, is most likely to appear. My friend takes wind direction and weather into consideration. He knows this area better than his own proverbial back-pocket.

My brother with a beautiful little uneven summer-stag

      I am a hunter myself, always have been; but I was never a rifle hunter; so I am accompanying my friend. He manages his fathers estate and part of that job, is to keep the deer population healthy and not overpopulated, as this would create hunger and disease.
May 16th -July 15th is the period in which you may manage your herd and make the gene pool stronger by shooting those stags that you have observed to be weaker; a selection that would normally happen quite naturally in the purest of nature's "survival of the fittest-regulations".

       My mormor's recipes reflect the event of the arrival of the summer stag with great celebratory anticipation. My mormor would accompany my morfar on his early hunts, also called "Pursch"; they were quite the pair enjoying this nature experience together completely in sync with each other.
  Aside from managing their own deer-population, my morfar was often asked to help a widow friend of theirs shoot the occasional summer stag on her lands. She wasn't a hunter herself, but knew how much my grandfather enjoyed hunting, how good he was, thus how quite reliable in procuring some meat for her freezer.

       Along with the new Nordic Cuisine movement comes a broader appreciation for Danish game; but some Copenhagen restaurants have always served these delicacies. This year "Zeleste" went one step further and both promised and advertised meat shot the same day. This can only be done with very young deer, as they otherwise will have to age for a while to tenderize. The hanging and aging of the meat is much more the norm. My culinary friend, Nethe Plenge ( lets the meat from the summer stag mature, then she makes a sauce on it's own bones, to which she adds Saffron from Moroccan  fields and mushrooms from Danish this she adds a gentle dreamy sigh of contentment.

       The deer in question is of very small stature compared to the White Tail deer seen over most of the US for instance. In fact the hares in Denmark are so big and the deer so small that sometimes, when you see them running over a field in the distance, the untrained eye might mistake the two for a moment.

       My friend didn't shot anything that particular morning, because the stag he had selected went a different route that day. We did however see a marvelous display of other deer, hares, pheasants, doves and a myriad of other birds bidding their good mornings. We sat, quite camouflaged, in the long grasses on the side of a ditch between a wooded area and a field with green winter wheat; and we just watched nature unfurl the day before our very eyes. Nature is astoundingly beautiful when "nobody" is really looking!

       The small size and the relatively short hunting season make wild Danish deer quite a delicacy. The tenderloin cooked so it is still slightly pink in the middle or the thigh smoked to perfection are both delicious. One of my mormor's recipes serves the thigh of a deer with home made potato chips, glazed chestnuts and applesauce jelly. An old fashioned fancy dinner menu that I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see in revival-version at the finer Nordic restaurants any day now.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Day at the Beach,"Strand"- Seaweed is your Bathing suit?!

       The sand is hot on our freshly liberated feet. We have reached a more sandy part of the dunes and can now run barefoot. Ignoring the risk of the few sharp reed-stubs still sticking out of the sand, we run in one long line, my brothers, my cousins and myself. Mormor and morfar trail behind with the coolers and the large blanket, while we each carry our own towels under one arm and our sandals now in the other hand.

Old photo of Danish beach dunes

       It is fun getting to the valley between the two large dunes, you simply run as fast as you can down the decline from the first dune. It is very hot and the air is still down here; but we don't spend long, as the reason for building up so much speed was so that we could get up the next dune in a relatively speedy fashion. You see, as always, it is a race to see who gets there first; well perhaps not as much a race, perhaps we are more fueled by the excitement of getting to the coolness of the water.

At the top of the second dune and just before the last bend in the path to the water; morfar stops us all:
       "Now wait a minute!! You have to be very careful here!" We all worriedly look around for the most dreaded of all beach creatures: THE WASP! Or perhaps the other worrisome items: broken glass or rusty nails. He holds his index finger up in a lecturing manner, leaning forward so he is at our height, his face very serious with scrunched up wrinkles on his forehead, as he slowly and deliberately delivers his message:
       "You have to be very careful today, because the water just might be wet!!" We are still young enough, that this joke takes a minute for us to register. With smiles on our faces and relieved, that no wasps were involved, we leave the path, to find a higher part of the dune from which we then leap. Our feet sink into the hot sand and our knees hit the soft material as we let ourselves fall in forward motion, before we get up again and head for the water, as fast as our little feet can carry us; jumping over the high-tide mark with it's thin strip of fun bubble-seaweed.

       When we have all tested the temperature of the water with our bare feet, mormor calls us up to our spot on the beach "don't get your clothes wet!" She knows, as all mothers do, that it is only a matter of nanoseconds before one of us will venture a bit too far into the water while still wearing clothes or holding towels. Soaking wet towels are not very useful on the beach.

Map of Denmark

       While the weather might not always co-operate in Denmark; on those days that it does, you are never far from a beach. Denmark is a small country comprised of lots of islands (406 to be exact) and certainly abundant coastline (no less than 7300 km, the equivalent to 1/6th the earth's circumference), often with lovely beaches. Endless sandcastles to build, shells to collect, dunes to jump from, cold water to cool off in and on some beaches: ancient pieces of amber to be found.

       Danes don't stand on ceremony when it comes to beach attire. With a very natural attitude towards the naked body you will meet all degrees of bathing suits. In my childhood, I found that many Germans would seek out the Danish shores to feel liberated themselves. But this doesn't generally make Danish beaches nude beaches per say. If you chose to go completely attire-less, you must be respectful of others who do not share this approach. Women's tops however, are an option everywhere, something you see in many parts of Europe. Growing up, this seemed completely natural to me, but living for 21 years in the States, I have become more shy in this regard and no longer find it so natural to be without all or even just parts of the  bathing suit.

Sand-design in more southern locale, Barbados
       I have a black and white photo of my grandfather (born 1898) on the beach in Denmark with a bunch of other young men and boys. They are standing in a line facing the camera, all with big smiles, all buck-naked, and all holding a large bunch (like a flower bunch, but upside down) of seaweed in front of their privates. I have been looking high and low to locate that photo but to no avail; I will however post it here as soon as I find it, I love that photo so much!

       What is it about beaches that draws us? Nobody likes getting sand everywhere, and in some places you cannot even walk barefoot, as the sand gets too hot! There are of course many things, all individual, but one perhaps universal reason we are drawn to beaches is the water. I look at the water and feel a great sense of calm and serenity and especially for an expat, a sense of connectivity, because the waters I am looking at, are connected to the waters my loved ones far away are looking at. There has been peace, love and war on beaches everywhere. The sand is old and will likely become much older still, so it gives a sense of an almost constant in an otherwise ever changing world. Pack your cooler, bring your towel, go check it out! And if you are far away from the ocean go to a lake, man-made or natural, or even just a pool and let the waters cool you. Enjoy! Summer is here!