Denmark

Hej! This weekend took us to the first of the “D” countries, Denmark, which has also become known in recent years as the happiest country in the world. Derek is one eighth Danish, through his maternal grandfather, so we already knew a little bit about Danish culture. I’ve also made a few Danish desserts in the past, including this little guy:

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Danish children celebrate their birthdays with a kagemand (“cake man”), so I had decided it would be fun to make one for Derek’s grandfather’s birthday a few years ago. I made Danish pastry dough from scratch, and a raspberry filling, and shaped the pastry into the shape of a man. Derek helped decorate the cake with some glaze, red licorice and other candies, plus a printout of the Danish flag attached to a coffee stirrer. (A more traditional kagemand might also have marzipan, either as a filling or decoration, but we had skipped it because Derek’s allergic to almonds.)

Although the cake had been a success, we decided not to make another one this weekend. Globetrotting is about learning and trying new things, and we had plenty of other Danish recipes to try. In addition, there was still a lot we didn’t know about Denmark or Danish culture. So–onward!

On Friday night, I started preparing Saturday’s breakfast, rundstykker, breakfast buns. Danes often eat bread for breakfast, and a recipe like this one might be a nice weekend treat. Rather than wake up early on Saturday to make these, I decided to make them the night before so we could sleep in a little more.

The next morning, we enjoyed our buns with dill Havarti cheese imported from Denmark, some marmalade, and tea.

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Derek and I both ran errands after breakfast, and for lunch, Derek prepared a vegan version of sommersalat (“summer salad”). The traditional version of sommersalat is made from a smoked soft cheese called rygeost. While we would have loved to make the more traditional dish, we couldn’t find the cheese, nor did we have a smoker to make the cheese. But we could find all the ingredients for the vegan version, so we gave it a try. We ate the sommersalat on thinly sliced rye bread. Danes call these open-faced sandwiches smørrebrød, and often eat them for lunch. Many smørrebrød are topped with meat or fish, but sommersalat is one of the vegetarian-friendly spreads available.

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In addition to our smørrebrød, I made a Danish split pea soup. Typically, the soup calls for a ham hock, but the recipe I followed (which was also coincidentally vegan) was plenty tasty without any meat.

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After lunch, we shared an apple danish, which I had purchased at the local farmers market that morning. What we call danishes, the Danes call weinerbrød, which means “bread from Vienna.”

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As we often do, we turned to Geography Now for an overview of the country. While it was informative and entertaining as usual, I was perhaps more excited about the short documentary Derek had found about Danish cuisine. Both smørrebrød and weinerbrød get mentions in the documentary, in addition to numerous other dishes. (Note that while the below video is 50 minutes, you only need to watch the first half, since the second half appears to be just a repeat.)

Shortly after we finished this video, Derek started to prepare a Danish dinner for us: a vegetarian version of frikadeller (meatballs), rødkaal (braised red cabbage), agurksalat (cucumber salad), and kartofler (caramelized potatoes). (He had made a similar potato dish during our globetrot to Iceland.)

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After dinner, we watched the 2010 Danish film In a Better World, which has won numerous awards, including the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2011. The film follows two Danish boys and their families.

While the movie was rather grim, I thought it was well-made, and that it addressed issues like bullying, masculinity, and revenge, all of which are very applicable to American society. Derek didn’t like the film as much (“What happened to the happiest people in the world?” he blurted out at one point), but at least he enjoyed the dessert we had while watching, aeblekage, apple cake that I had made earlier in the day. Here’s a picture of the cake before we cut into it:

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We started the next day with more breakfast buns, Havarti cheese, marmalade, and tea, before we did some chores to prepare for the work week ahead. We finished with a little time before lunch, so we watched a Rick Steves’ piece that gave us a tour of various places in Denmark. It was easy to see why Denmark often gets described as a fairy tale kind of country (and not just because it was the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen) with its beautiful castles, gardens, cottages, cobbled paths and rolling fields.

After a lunch of leftover split pea soup and sommersalat over rye bread, we decided to turn our attention to Greenland, which is a sovereign state of Denmark. First, we watched a video that gave us a glimpse of Greenland’s capital and largest city, Nuuk. Then, we watched a National Geographic piece on the diet of the Greenland Inuits. Traditionally, their diet has been all-meat, and includes whale, seal, fish and polar bear–not my idea of an ideal diet, but it makes sense given their Arctic surroundings.

We went for a walk in the drizzly afternoon, and then enjoyed some apple cake when we returned to the apartment. As we had our snack, we watched a Danish documentary called Denmark on the Prairie, about Elk Horn, Iowa, a town with a large Danish American population. Elk Horn hosts an annual festival called Tivoli Fest (Tivoli is an amusement park in Copenhagen), celebrating Danish heritage, and a large part of the documentary follows residents as they prepare for the 2013 festival. But the town’s Danish identity is endangered, as older residents pass away and younger people move out of Elk Horn, in search of better opportunities. The documentary was very interesting, but I would have also liked to learn how Danes reacted to this documentary, and what they thought of their Danish American counterparts in Elk Horn.

For dinner, we had more frikadeller, potatoes, cabbage and cucumber salad.

There are big, government-level things that make Denmark the happiest country in the world, such as free healthcare, generous maternity leave policies, and free to low-cost childcare. While we don’t have those things here in the United States, I’d like to think that Derek and I did get to enjoy hygge, a Danish concept that’s usually translated as “coziness” in English–we got to enjoy good food in our comfortable home, and spend more time together than we do during the work week. So, thank you, Denmark–tak, Danmark! Farvel!

– Jess

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4 thoughts on “Denmark

  1. Jess what a beautiful blog post about Derek and your adventures in cooking Danish food and learning more about Denmark! The food sounds so yummy. I go to a Scandinavian Fair every year in Massachusetts, where we have somrrebrod, (open face sandwiches) and Danish pastry! What a fun way to travel to different countries right from your very own home. Mange Tak!

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