Robyn and Joel's Blog: Chronicling our Copenhagen Adventures

Yes, we're that interesting.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Danish Christmas Delights

Well, today is the day after Christmas. I hope everyone had a joy filled holiday! The day after Christmas is a holiday in Denmark, so I thought I would take this opportunity to educate you on a few Danish holiday traditions.

As I already mentioned, Christmas is a HUGE deal here in Denmark. However, Santa is not a big part of the celebration. Instead, you will see lots of Nisser decorating store-front windows and Christmas displays. Nisser are Scandinavian relatives of the pixie, the gnome, the elf and the imp and wear grey trousers (or grey skirt for Mrs. Nisse), wooden shoes and a long pointed red cap.

Advent is celebrated here in Denmark – you see advent wreathes everywhere. Children keep highly decorated advent calendars. They open the windows of their advent calendars to find a small gift, a piece of chocolate or perhaps an inexpensive toy.

Another important part of Danish Christmas Celebration is the Christmas brew. Danish breweries add to the spirit of Christmas by creating their own specially brewed Julebryg, or 'Christmas Brew'. Not to be outdone, Aalborg Akvavit comes out with a limited edition of 'Christmas snaps' . And, in case beer and snaps isn’t your thing, there is Gløgg, a potent variant of mulled red wine, served steaming hot and heavily spiced with raisins, almonds, cinnamon sticks and cloves steeped in pure aquavit or snaps.

Drink is an important part of the Danish Christmas celebration, but food is too. It is no surprise that sweets are a big part of it. Here are a few of my favorites:
Klejner, (flour, butter, egg and lemon cut into elongated rectangles, knotted in special way it's impossible to describe, and finally deep fried), brune kager (gingerbread dough sliced thinly, flattened and sprinkled with finely chopped nuts) and pebbernødder (small round cookies made of dough spiced with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg and baked hard). Add to these, marzipan animals, fruit and nisser and the traditional accompaniment to gløgg: Æbleskiver, which are a special kind of doughnut usually served with a dusting of icing sugar and a heavy dollop of blackcurrant jam. Duck and goose are the preferred meats for Christmas Eve dinner and red cabbage is the appropriate side dish.

Here are a few recipes I found to make these wonderful Danish delights!
Ris à l'amande
4 oz (120 g) Patna rice
1 1/4 pints (3/4 l) water
½ vanilla pod
½-3/4 pint (3-4 dl) whipping cream
3-3½ oz (75-100 g) finely chopped almonds
2 tablesp. sugarcanned or bottled cherries
Cook the rice in the water until tender, together with the vanilla pod and sugar. Stir in half the cream and the chopped almonds. Whip the rest of the cream and fold into the mixture. Serve cold with slightly heated preserved cherries.
It is a Danish custom to hide a whole almond in the rice. The lucky person who finds the almond receives a small prize.

Æbleskiver - Danish Doughnuts
1/4-½ pint (2½ dl) cream
½ lb (250 g) flour
4 eggs
3-4 tablesp. stout
1 tablesp. sugar
6 oz (175 g) butter
1 teasp. lemon juice
½ teasp. cardamom
Beat the cream and flour together and beat in the egg yolks one at a time. Stir in the stout, sugar and cooled, melted butter. Flavor with lemon juice and stir in the stiffly beaten egg whites. Allow to stand for a while. Place a little butter in the hollows of a doughnut pan (the butter is necessary for the first batch only), and fry the doughnuts, turning on all sides until brown. Serve hot, sprinkled with icing sugar and raspberry or strawberry jam.

Brune kager - Brown Cookies
It is recommended to make the dough a couple of days before the actual baking.
1 lb (450 g) syrup
9 oz (250 g) butter
9 oz (250 g) brown sugar
1 oz bitter orange peel
1 tablesp. cinnamon
1 tablesp. ground cloves
½ teasp. cardamom
1 teasp. baking powder
2 tablesp. rosewater
2 lb (1 kg) flour
Warm the syrup in a saucepan, add the butter, orange peel, spices and sugar. Stir in the baking powder, dissolved in the rosewater. Gradually add the flour, kneading thoroughly after each addition. Turn into a bowl, cover with a cloth and keep cold.
Before baking, roll out thinly and cut into rounds. Place well apart on a greased baking-sheet, brush with water and decorate with sliced almonds. Bake for 8-10 min. at 400o F (200o C).

Pebernødder - Peppernuts
1 cup butter
1-1/3 scant cups sugar
2 eggs
4 cups flour
1 tablesp. soda
1 tablesp. ginger
1/2 tablesp. anise extract
1/4 tablesp. nutmeg
1/2 tablesp. salt
1/2 tablesp. cinnamon
½ cup sorghum
½ tablesp. vanilla
Work all ingredients together and roll in tiny balls about the size of a nickel. Put on cookie sheet. Bake 9-10 minutes at 300o F. Quantity depends on size of the nuts.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from both of us!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The good, the bad, and the ugly...

Well, here is the good news… the worst is behind us. With Winter Solstice behind me now, the days are getting longer… YEA! Today, the sunrise was officially at 8:37am and sunset will happen at 3:39. By Christmas we will have another full minute of daylight! It may seem slow, but just knowing that we are now finally moving in a positive direction can really help improve one’s outlook!

Now, the bad news: Well, it was bound to happen. I was hit by a car while riding home from work. I was riding through an intersection (I had the green light) and a car hit me while turning right. I am fine – I was riding slowly and managed to fall away from the car (which drove right past me and never even stopped!). I was a bit shaken but managed to ride the rest of the way home. I was especially upset because a mother and her two-year old (who was riding on her bike behind her) was recently hit by a car turning right about two blocks from where I work. Sadly, the mother was killed and the child is in critical condition.

I am trying to think of ways to make myself move visible while riding – I have a large light on the front and back of my bike, but my coat, helmet, and helmet are black (not ideal for riding in the dark). I may look for some clip-on lights to put on my backpack and street-side arm. We’ll see. I still have to look good while I ride, although, it is hard to look cool while picking yourself and your groceries up from the middle of the road, regardless of how stylish you are dressed!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Our New Dog

As is well known, Robyn continues to lament the fact that we had to leave Bodhi and Lola behind with her parents in Austin. At least once a day--generally in the evening, when she's curled up on the couch watching television--Robyn will suddenly blurt out, "I MISS MY DOGGIES!" Well, she now has a new canine friend. A package full of presents just arrived from my parents. While all of the gifts were gorgeously wrapped and are now resting under our tiny tree... little present accompanying the others made the journey "naked". Here is Robyn and her new pal, Cinnamon:

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Grandma Ginny said it best!

Except for two years of my life, I never lived in the same state as my grandparents – or the rest of my extended family, for that matter. Incredibly, I am very close to my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. in part, no doubt, to my family’s heroic efforts to keep us together. I grew up “summering” in Florida where I would play with my cousins at the beach and in their pools. My extended family would also caravan to wherever we lived each summer… and fill our home with bodies, laughter, and fun. My grandparents even travel internationally to see me – both England and Denmark! Borders mean nothing to this family!
That said, we did miss a few major events. I wasn’t able to attend my great-grandparents' funerals and there were lots of missed birthday parties and Easter Egg Hunts. As sad as we were to miss these events, my grandmother always said that what’s important is that we want to be together… even if we can’t be. And she is right. Just knowing that we all want to be together is sometimes enough to make not being together tolerable.

I am sharing this with you because we decided to not return home for Christmas. This is a big deal for us. Even after we married, we managed to construct a cross-country Christmas tour to make sure we had quality time with each side of our families. We decided to stay in Copenhagen, in part, because it was very expensive to return home. And, we also wanted to experience a “Danish” Christmas, especially because the Danes do Christmas BIG TIME (example: my office “Christmas Lunch” was 10 hours long – see previous post).

While I am sad we aren’t going home, I’ve decided to make the most of it and have a “Danish” Christmas. The Danes really embrace tradition and Christmas is really important. So… we are doing Christmas in Copenhagen this year, and we are going to love it. Stay tuned for lots of pictures and info on traditions, recipes, and our report on our Christmas goose. Yes, goose. Christmas Eve dinner just wouldn’t be proper without a goose… and I’m gonna try it (don’t worry, I am also cooking a ham in case the goose decides to not to cooperate!).

Here are some pictures we took around Copenhagen on our way home from church. The pictures fail to capture the true sights, sounds, and smells of Christmas in Copenhagen, but they will give you a hint of the excitement that fills the air!

God Jule!

Street decorations on Stroget. The Danes use hearts for Christmas decorations.

The sidewalks are crowded with flower vendors selling Christmas flowers -- tulips are just in!

The Royal Copenhagen and George Jensen stores on Stroget were beautifully decorated inside and out!

No one can escape the decorating in Copenhagen!

Many of the parks in the city are transformed into ice skating rinks in the winter. This is Kongen's Nytorv (King's Square). Rochelle and Ronnie... guess what we are doing when you visit!

The Christmas Market at Nyhavn.

Joel on the bridge behind the Nyhavn Christmas Market. Notice the lights on the back of the stalls!


In early November I began to hear rumors and mumblings at work about this year's Julefrokost. Julefrokost is the office Christmas party, or Christmas Lunch and it is a big deal! First, it is important to understand, Christmas Lunches are NOT lunches. My Lunch began at 2pm and went until midnight! And, many of my colleagues went out to bars after that! The public transportation runs all night, so everyone knows they can stay out all night. In fact, the metro (subway) has cards you can stick to your coat with your stop on it in case you fall asleep/pass out -- the conductors will wake you up when you arrive at your stop! The Christmas lunches are also controversial because wives and husbands are not invited -- the night of the Christmas Lunch is called the Night of Affairs!

I arrived at my campus canteen at 2 and was handed a glass of champagne. The hall was BEAUTIFULLY decorated with lots of Christmas candles and decorations. The Danes do love their candles! After welcoming speeches, a choir performance (don't know where they are from... everything was in Danish), and a"comedy routine" (don't know if it was funny... everything was in Danish!) we finally sat down and had our lunch. Lunch began with several types of herring and rye bread (several of which were actually pretty good... and by this point I was very hungry!). Then we had a buffet of traditional Christmas Lunch foods including country style liver pate with crispy bacon, comfit of duck, roast pork, cabbage, selection of cheeses and a special Christmas rice pudding called ris à l’amande, all lubricated with Christmas beer and snaps. The meal lasted several hours and we were entertained with another comedy routine and a very good jazz band. Once everyone was full and drunk, the dancing began. Now, remember, these are only work colleagues. I figured I would avoid most of the dancing... just a bit too much for me. But, I was wrong. Everyone dances. And, I did. I danced for several hours until they brought out another live rock band and hot snacks for us to eat (which was good because I was hungry again!). I finally biked home around midnight (I left a bit early).

It was a nice time... and a great cultural experience. I have really friendly colleagues and most workers in Denmark make collegiality a priority (lunches together etc.). I wish I had pictures to share with you, but there was a clearly understood but unspoken rule at the Christmas Lunch... what happens at the lunch stays at the lunch!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Getting ready for Christmas

I my last post I mentioned that we had been busy in the past few weeks... so I thought I would briefly share with you a pictures of what we've been up to:

These are a few pictures of us preparing for our first dinner party. We had two couples from church over for dinner. Nothing fancy, but it was very nice to just relax and chat. And, I was pleased that we all fit in our flat -- and quite comfortably!

Here are a few pictures of our friend Rebekah and her son John. They came to our house to make Christmas cookies. John really liked our computer and decided to help Joel with a his work!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Darn Dark

Well, I took my bike in for its 2 month “tune-up.” I pick it up tomorrow morning. I miss it already. I can’t tell you how much I love to ride – even in all kinds of weather. Believe it or not, wind is the biggest challenge. I can handle rain, sleet, and even snow (although, I would wear a pair of goggles to keep the water out of my eyes except for the fact that I would look totally ridiculous). But, the wind is my biggest foe. A good strong gust can stop me dead in my tracks! I can’t wait for it to get a bit warmer… who knows… maybe I will bike across Denmark!

It’s been a while since I last blogged. It’s not that we’ve been bored… we’ve been very busy with work and social events. But, I do feel a winter melancholy settling in. I am normally very chipper around the end of the semester and Christmas, but I just can’t shake the feeling of melancholy. I have to attribute this feeling to the darkness. I can’t explain how dark it is here. The sun rises in the morning around 8:30-9 and then starts to set around 2:30-3. The worst part is that it is cloudy/rainy most days, which means it feels like the sun never really rises. My Danish colleagues tell me I should just like candles in my flat. I am all for candles, but seriously… how many candles can a girl light before her whole flat catches fire! And, candles are pretty, but they don’t replace the sun!

I remember when Joel and I first arrived in Copenhagen and we would walk at 10:00 at night. The street lights would just start to flicker on. We wondered what it would be like in December. Now we know… it is darn dark!