Hygge (pronounced hue-gah or hoo-gah)

I’m a little slow catching onto trendy things. If it hadn’t been for David in Albuquerque, I’d still be uninformed as to the au courant meaning of “woke.” Our daughter recently explained to me that “sex positivity” was neither a nasty nor embarrassing thing to mention. And – though “hygge” was all over the U.S. news in 2017 – thanks to our son’s input, I’ve just now learned to pronounce it and appreciate it.

For those of you who share with me unawokeness, let me summarize hygge. This Danish word possibly comes from an old Norse word meaning “protected from the outside world.” The Danes, known for being some of the happiest people in the world, believe hygge to be all about emphasizing coziness and comfort.

The official website of Denmark has this to say: Hygge is often about informal time together with family or close friends. Typically, the setting is at home or another quiet location, or perhaps a picnic during the summer months. It usually involves sharing a meal and wine or beer, or hot chocolate and a bowl of candy if children are included. There is no agenda. You celebrate the small joys of life, or maybe discuss deeper topics. It is an opportunity to unwind and take things slow. 

A Hot Toddy might be perfect for your cozy evening by the fireplace – or outside in the freezing cold!

Another few recommendations for this Danish life style are that we should avoid multi-tasking, ride our bikes a lot, and wear comfortable clothing. Andy likes the bike thing; he’d also recommend fishing (see today’s Andy’s Corner). While I’m totally into comfortable clothing, I’m really, really working on the multi-tasking issue. Board games are also encouraged.

I think I’m safe to say we all need a little hygge time right now. Unfortunately, unless you have a safe and secure “pod” (and here’s a good article on forming a pod – and protecting it) to gather with around your fireplace, gatherings this holiday season may need to be outdoors. A great New Yorker article – “The Year of Hygge” from 2016 – concludes, “The hard-earned lesson of frigid Scandinavian winters is that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothes—that all you really need to get through difficult times is shelter and sustenance, kith and kin.”

Nice warm blanket, kith and kin together, snuggling close – a good example of hygge? HA!

To get into this hygge-during-a-pandemic thing I suggest that some evening soon you don some comfortable, toasty-warm clothes, invite a couple of non-pod friends or family over (of course, be sure to wear your masks except when eating and do the social distancing thing), light some outdoor-friendly candles (preferably non-scented), bring out wool throw blankets for everyone if you don’t have an outdoor heater, and serve some chicken soup. Since what gives you comfort food-wise may vary as to where you grew up, maybe you’ll want to serve our Pho, or Gumbo, or Pozole. Or try one of our two new recipes, Danish (spot-on!) Hen’s Soup or Indonesian Soto Ayam. They are oh SO good!

BUT – should you be unable to find hearty friends who are willing to share a chilly night out – you might have to resort to the Finnish concept of “kalsarikannit (pronounced cal-sar-y-cuhn-eet), defined as “the feeling when you are going to get drunk home alone in your underwear with no intention of going out.” Sounds like fun to me. It’s time for that Hot Toddy! 🙂

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The birds they sang
At the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what
Has passed away
Or what is yet to be....

from Live In London – “Anthem”

I know I’m not the only one who loved – and still loves – Leonard Cohen. Do you recall that he passed away on November 7, 2016, just one day before the U.S. Presidential Election…though his family didn’t announce his death until 3 days later. On November 12 of that year SNL did their cold open with Hillary Clinton (played by Kate McKinnon) singing Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” It was bittersweet .

I’ve listened to “Anthem” over and over the last few months. Though it’s not considered one of Cohen’s very best or most popular songs (like “Closing Time” – which I love – or “Suzanne“), the lyrics seems just right for this day and this time.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in

While I’ve been obsessing over Cohen and his lyrics, Andy has been focused on finding comfort during these rough times. What brings comfort to post-middle-aged, home-bound, masked, smoke-and fire-weary Sonoma food/life bloggers? Check out today’s Andy’s Corner.

To me listening to Cohen is not only comforting but hugely thought-provoking. What a great line – “America…the cradle of the best and the worst” – which comes from another Cohen all-time favorite song of mine and which has a moving, beautiful video that goes with it. I should wait until after tomorrow’s election to recommend that song, but here goes: Democracy is Coming to the USA.

Sail on, sail on
O mighty Ship of State!
To the Shores of Need
Past the Reefs of Greed
Through the Squalls of Hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on

May you RIP, Leonard Cohen.

Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater

Delving deep into history can be fascinating – even if you’re not by nature a history lover. Can you guess why we know that “Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater” probably came from the U.S. – and not England, as so many other Mother Goose rhymes did? Because the English weren’t familiar with pumpkins when it was written (and, apparently, they still aren’t big pumpkin fans).

From Eulalie Osgood Grover’s Mother Goose.  Chicago, [1915].  
Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater,
Had a wife but couldn't keep her;
He put her in a pumpkin shell
And there he kept her very well.

I admire Peter for being a pumpkin eater – but egads, he kept his wife in a pumpkin shell? And – as a naive little kid – I was supposed to read that and think it’s okay? It’s all for fun? And, actually, the story gets more sinister when you read that supposedly it was about unfaithful wives and murder!

Or how about another familiar ditty from Mother Goose

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe. 
She had so many children, she didn't know what to do. 
She gave them some broth without any bread; 
Then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.

Oh and there’s so much more. Babies falling from cradles (Hush-a-bye, Baby, on the tree top), drowned pussy cats (Ding Dong Bell), lady bugs with burning babies (Lady-bird-Lady-bird, fly away home), starving dogs (Old Mother Hubbard), blind mice (no doubt you know that one.).

There may be some complex political references in the rhymes, but they’re tricky to figure out w/o Wikipedia or some web search or in-depth historical knowledge. Who could possibly know that “Mary Mary, Quite Contrary” may be about England’s Bloody Mary – and “Ring Around the Roses” about the Bubonic Plague? It’s just more fun stuff for the young’uns to think about!

The cover of Eulalie Osgood Grover’s Mother Goose.  Chicago, [1915].  

Have you ever wondered who this delightfully fun Mother Goose was? In 1697 a Frenchman, Charles Perrault, wrote “Contes de ma mère l’Oye,” which gets credit as the original Mother Goose, but it’s mostly comprised of fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, and Puss in Boots. According to my 1915 edition of MG, there has been speculation that a Boston grandmother, Mistress Elizabeth Goose (I kid you not) told these stories and her son-in-law assembled her ditties and published them as Mother Goose’s Melodies for Children in 1719. Our 1916 edition of The Real Mother Goose states that the rhymes were first published by John Newberry in 1791.

Our version is the Fifty-Fourth printing of this 1916 classic, released in 1970, just before our daughter was born. We were ready to give her nightmares!

Digging out our 1916 Mother Goose book gave Andy pause about the bedtime tales he told our kids and our grandkids when they were little. Had he ruined their lives? See today’s Andy’s Corner.

But back to eating pumpkins. My grandmother may have sometimes made her own pumpkin puree (using the small pie pumpkins, of course) for her wonderful pumpkin pie, but I’m too lazy. Canned pumpkin works fine for me – and anyone who wants to simplify things. And there are so many great pumpkin recipes that it’s a shame we mostly think of pumpkin pie and Thanksgiving. Here are two winner recipes for pumpkin (eaters). And because I like pumpkin seeds maybe even better than I like pumpkin, let me remind you of some of my favorite recipes with pumpkin seeds….for snacking, for dipping, for a salad, for breakfast, for tacos (of course!).

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Too Much of a Good Thing?

Can there be too much of a good thing?

Are 11 Aussie pups too much of a good thing? Colorado’s Desert Storm, this mama, – who is related to our Aussie, Oakley – would probably say “YES!!!”
Are too many flowers too much of a good thing? And I love Brooklyn’s stoops!

Yes, this September 14, 2020, New Yorker magazine cover speaks to me. Along with many others, I over-planted this summer – as the pandemic impacted our daily lives, and colorful flowers and veggies took on a new role – a bright, lovely and healthy respite from life with masks and isolation and dreariness (as an aside, Andy finds his respite from life in one of his dresser drawers – see Andy’s Corner).

Have I said it before? I don’t “do” annuals – at least not until this year. During all of our years with our gardening business, MiniBlooms, I was happy to plant annuals for others, but I stuck with perennials and shrubs for our home. My argument? Life is too short to have to buy and replant year after year after year.

The summer of 2020 was SO different. I enthusiastically, almost obsessively, brought home 6-packs of zinnia orange ‘Profusion,’ 4″ pots of mango-colored calibrachoa, and a few of the fabulous little petchoa (a cross between calibrachoa and petunias) in an amazing dark reddish-brown color. I stuck those between the ‘Vancouver Centennial’ fancy leaf geraniums – that are normally considered annuals but actually survive our Northern California winters.

It was a great summer diversion. But in the long run, it wasn’t my style. I still love my more simple and permanent perennial beds. Now we’ve got the lovely echinacea ‘Tangerine Dreams’ (from Cottage Gardens of Petaluma), sempervivum ‘Centennial’ (from Sonoma Mission Gardens), achillea ‘New Vintage Red’, and chrysocephalum apiculatum ‘Mini Gold Buttons’ (both from Friedmans). If you live in Northern California, fall is a perfect time for planting perennials.

And do I have advice about planting your perennial beds? Of course! The biggest mistake I see folks make is planting just one or two of something. You need repetition of the same plant to unify the bed. Don’t plant too many different varieties. Stick with drought tolerant if you’re in the west. Mulch. Don’t line plants up. And PLEASE have a color scheme!

Our annual bed – summer of 2020.
Our newly-planted (and still very young) perennial bed – fall of 2020

Vegetable gardens can also produce way too much of a good thing. Take zucchini plants, for example. We have neighbors who wince when they get their box of CSA (community-supported agriculture) produce, dreading the amount of zucchini that may be included. While we are one of the few who are only fair at raising zucchini, we have enough Thai chile peppers on our one plant to burn our tongues and make our eyes water and noses run through about 20 meals. Actually, make that 40 meals. The plant has more than 20 little red hot chiles and we can’t bear to put more than half of one into any recipe.

Can you have too much zucchini? 🙂 I hear “YES!” from y’all. Whether or not they’re a “good thing” might be debated.

If you’ve got too many zucchini – and maybe don’t even like them much – I heartily recommend our zucchini bread recipe. I guarantee that even the biggest zucchini hater won’t detect their presence. And it’s such a refreshing change from banana bread! If you have lots of zucchini and just need some more recipe ideas, you can’t go wrong with Zucchini Fritters, Zucchini and Mint Frittata, Zucchini and Mint Turkey Burgers, or Sesame Noodles with Zucchini and Ground Beef.

Are the 20+ crazy-hot peppers on our Thai chile pepper plant too much of a good thing! For sure.

If your one Thai chile pepper plant is over-producing, try Thai Spicy Basil Chicken (which just happens to be from one of our daughter’s cookbooks). And, of course, a teeny bit of minced Thai pepper can go into any recipe calling for Serrano or Jalapeno pepper. Just remember that Thai chiles are about 20 times hotter than a Jalapeno, using the Scoville Heat Units.

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One Handshake Away

Six Degrees of Separation.  Or the Six Handshakes Rule.  The notion that everyone in the world is separated by just six other people.

Sociologists and mathematicians and political scientists have played around with this concept ever since 1929 when the Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy wrote a short story suggesting a game be played in which the players tried to make those links. 

University researchers in the 1950’s and 60’s were fascinated with the idea of human connectedness and started crunching numbers and publishing papers.  Intellectual stuff.  Andy remembers one of his sociology professors during his graduate school days at Colorado State University lecturing about how many folks we were just “one handshake away from.” The idea is you shake the hand of a person who has shaken the hand of a famous person, and that puts you one handshake away from the famous person.

(an update on these numbers:  Facebook research done in 2016 indicates we are now connected to everyone else in the world by only 3.57 people!) 

Well, I’m kind of fascinated with this too.  And I too suggest that in these days of isolation and boredom you might want to try outdo someone with a game of “I’m one handshake away from…”   Do it via Facetime!  Or Zoom!  Or Facebook (if you must).  Better yet, sit outside on your patio with a space heater going, carefully distanced,  and play it in person with your Besties.

Here’s our offering.  I’m covering the bright light side; Andy in Andy’s Corner has the sordid and seamy side (think David Duke!) covered. See if you can outdo us.  I’m upping the ante a little by demanding that there be not only a handshake from your go-betweens – but a conversation.  In other words, just a “meet and greet” – and no talk – doesn’t count.

I’m one handshake away from Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower.  (My granddad was a U.S. Congressman for 18 years.)

Should I brag about my grandfather and THIS handshake?

I’m one handshake away from Julia Child (our daughter, Sara, sat beside her at a luncheon in Napa.  But Julia was elderly and slept most of the time; the conversation wasn’t great).

Julia – years before she met our Sara. Nice knife, Julia! Are you missing the point?

On a more modern note, I’m one handshake away from Maya Rudolph and Natasha Lyonne (our L.A. friend, Danielle, heads up their Animal Pictures.  FYI – Animal Pictures will have an apropos comedy special out on Netflix late October starring Sarah Cooper. The title? “Everything’s Fine.” We need that to be true!).

This New Yorker virtual “Festival” sounds great. Eclectic group, including Natasha and Maya…we’re one handshake away! 🙂

But here’s one that I think is a game-changer!  I’m one handshake away from Bobby Zimmerman Bob Dylan.  This is what my friend Carolyn has to say about Bob:

Here’s the scoop. We were both from Minnesota. We were both Jewish. So it was inevitable that we ended up at Herzl Camp together. Bobby Zimmerman was adorable (and became my best friend’s boyfriend at camp). He wrote poems that made us cry (about the drunkard’s son, and about a dog that got run over . . . if memory serves me right). I still have copies of those poems in the mimeographed camp newsletter circa 1954. Some four years later we ended up at the University of Minnesota together. He was a frat boy (Sigma Alpha Mu) and would pull out his guitar at parties and sing in his gravelly voice that didn’t impress us one bit 🙂 He claimed he was Bobby V and that he had recorded “Suzy Baby.” I have such a clear picture of him (end of summer, 1960) in his shades and a leather cap announcing that he was going off to New York to make it big. Ha! we said. Sure! we said. Lots of luck! we said. Little did we know.

Bobby and Carolyn at Camp Herzl

And here’s an amazing video – a must watch – of Bob just a few years after he left Minnesota “to make it big.” It’s a 1963 TV appearance; Dyan is 21, and he’s singing his fabulous – and still relevant – “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

It’s weird to be writing about handshakes when the news of the day is filled with stories about the end of handshakes, given the virus – and maybe viruses to come.  I hope – when safe – we keep hugging and shaking hands.  Amazing how much human contact seems to be needed.

Now to the recipes.  I could post a martini recipe in honor of Winston Churchill.  Too simple! He apparently preferred them with just gin – no vermouth.  Maya Rudolph is well known for the disaster following her Brazilian steak dinner in the film Bridesmaids. Maybe a recipe for a Brazilian steak? 🙂 Or I could find some famous Minnesota recipe in honor of Bob Dylan.  But then there’s Julia.  How can I resist? We are a food blog…theoretically. The problem with Julia Child is that I generally find her recipes way too complicated for the lives we’re living. But here’s an easy one and a delicious one: Clafouti. It’s perfect for the pears, plums and apples available in early fall.

Julia Child’s Clafouti

Julia Child's Clafouti

This was originally made with pears – in Mastering the Art of French Cooking – but you can use peaches, apples, plums and – to be most French-like – cherries.

  • 1 1/2 lb firm, ripe pears – or peaches, apples, plums, all thinly sliced – or cherries; if you are using apples, see the footnote below
  • 1 1/4 cup milk
  • 2/3 cup sugar – divided into 1/3 and 1/3
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 T vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup flour


Preheat oven to 350F.

Combine the milk, 1/3 c of sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt, and flour in a blender. Cover and blend at top speed for about 30 seconds, scraping down the sides as needed.

Pour a little of the batter (about a 1/4-inch layer) into a buttered 9″ or 10″ baking dish or pyrex pie plate about 1 1/2 inches deep (a cast iron skillet also works nicely). Place in the oven for about 5 minutes–until the batter has slightly set in the bottom of the dish.

Spread the fruit on top of the slightly-cooked batter.  Sprinkle with the extra 1/3 cup sugar (unless you’re using apples – which you’ve already cooked in sugar). Pour on the rest of the batter.

Bake in the middle position of the oven for about an hour, until the clafouti has puffed and browned and a toothpick stuck into its center comes out clean.

Serve warm or at room temperature, with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.

If using apples, saute the slices, 2 T lemon juice, and 1/3 c of the sugar in 2 T butter in a frying pan over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring and turning. Add a pinch of cinnamon. Add that to the slightly baked batter and cover with the remaining batter. Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

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