It’s a glorious fall day, and you get the urge to host a dinner party, but instead of keeping everyone stuffed up inside, you want to bask in the distinctive glow—and crisp air—of a Colorado autumn evening. The trick to making it an enjoyable outdoor event? Steal a few “hygge” entertaining moves, courtesy of the Danes.
The popular Danish cultural concept of hygge—pronounced “hoo-GUH”—jumped the pond a couple of years ago, as Americans embraced the idea of creating and enjoying cozy contentment through the simple joys in life: comfy blankets, flickering candles, delicious (but not fussy) food, and conversation uninterrupted by tech devices.
Among the converts is Vail Valley resident Alexandra Gove, who discovered the feeling after moving to Europe with her now-husband Koen van Renswoude in 2012. The couple made the concept the hallmark of Hygge Life, an online home-goods shop and blog they started while abroad in 2013. After the pair returned to Colorado, Gove opened a brick-and-mortar shop in Avon last year.
To give others a taste (literally) of this beloved cultural phenomenon, the duo hosted their first hygge-themed outdoor farm dinner at century-old Milston Well Farm in Boulder County—with help from Margaret Shutze, an interior designer who lives on the property with her family. Plush furniture placed beneath trees, benches topped with sheepskins, a chef cooking over open flames, and fresh-cut flowers (from Boulder’s Fawns Leap) in ceramic vases set the mood. It was “a true extension of having a big dinner party at our house,” Shutze says. So this autumn, when the perfect afternoon entices you to invite your friends over for a meal, take your cues from this beautiful—and cozy—event.
Good news: You get to enjoy the party, too! “It’s not about making a dinner table perfect or extravagant,” Gove says. “It’s really about focusing on the time that you have with these people.” Create a menu that allows you to prep a few dishes before everyone arrives (or even the day before) so you can be present with your guests. For example, Gove suggests preparing the pie filling and crust ahead of time, then baking the pie while guests are around to enjoy the delicious aroma.
An abundance of simple decorations sets the vibe: “Candlelight is an essential part of hygge,” Gove says, so gather up candles of all shapes and sizes and create small groupings atop your table. Fresh flowers—cut blooms, greens, or even short branches—or small succulents, again grouped in clusters, add texture and natural beauty. Drop a handwritten menu in the center of the table or on top of each place setting. If you have metal chairs, consider draping sheepskins or blankets over them. String up outdoor lights to cast a friendly glow when the sun sets. And, last but not least: Use the good china! “Hygge is about bringing beautiful things out and using them because they make you happy,” Shutze says.
Comfort food—served family-style—rules at a hygge-inspired meal. Gove and Shutze kicked off the evening with an elaborate charcuterie board (paired with champagne) and followed it with a meal built around lamb cooked over an open flame. (Grilling is another great option.) Roasted potatoes, sautéed mushrooms, and golden trout with peas and carrots rounded out the main meal. And because indulging is a big part of hygge, the duo ended the night with poffertjes (traditional Dutch pancakes) and a homemade strawberry rhubarb pie. You should, too.
The Dessert: Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
Courtesy of Kevin Grossi, the Regional
¾ pound strawberries
½ pound rhubarb
1 tablespoon vanilla paste
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 ½ cup cane sugar
½ cup cornstarch
2 pie crusts (homemade or store-bought)
3 tablespoons water
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Rinse the strawberries and rhubarb, and let them dry on a kitchen towel. Cut the stems off strawberries and then cut into quarters. Place the cut strawberries in a large mixing bowl. Cut the rhubarb in half lengthwise, then cut into 1-inch pieces. Place the cut rhubarb in the mixing bowl with the strawberries.
Toss both the strawberries and rhubarb
with the vanilla paste, sea salt, and cane sugar. Let the mixture macerate for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
Remove the macerated fruit from the refrigerator and add the cornstarch. Mix together carefully until the cornstarch is incorporated. Roll out one pie crust and line a 9-inch pie dish with it. Pour pie filling into the dish. Roll out the second pie crust and place it on top of the filling. Cut the excess pie dough from the edges. Pinch both layers of pie dough together to create a fluted pie crust.
Make egg wash by whisking egg and water together. Cut six 2-inch-long vent marks into the top crust. Brush the top of the pie dough with the egg wash.
Bake the pie for 30 to 40 minutes at 375 degrees. Once the pie is removed, let it cool for 30 minutes before serving.
The Drink: Dill Martini
Courtesy of Nick Touch,the Family Jones Spirit House and the Bon Vivants
1 ½ ounces dill-infused vodka
¾ ounce aquavit
1 ounce blanc vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters
Stir all of the ingredients together, strain the drink into a chilled glass, and garnish with orange zest and a dill sprig.