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Review: Play -The Danish Way

Iben Dissing Sandahl, one of the authors behind the international bestseller The Danish Way of Parenting, is out with a new book Play – The Danish Way. This book follows up on the wide interest in how to help children enjoy unstructured free play. It is such a great book to read here at the beginning of the summer holiday where children have what seems like endless time. It provides the readers with a great opportunity to encourage free play both for the sake of their children’s healthy and happy development and for the sanity of their parents!

Free play is so much more important to children’s development than many of us parents realize! I have to admit that before I read this book I viewed play as a way children pass their time. Just fun or maybe even waste of time compared to going to a sports class or storytime. I did not take it as seriously as I should. In fact, play is so much more than passing time. It is one of the most crucial factors in healthy childhood development. Play is children learning on their own. Coming up with new creative ideas, experimenting, learning by mistakes and thinking and acting independently. Most of their world is arranged by adults, governed by adult rules and decision making. In free play children get freedom to create their own world, however they want it. Through play with other kids they learn how to interact, not because an adult tells them how they should behave but because they experience the consequences of their actions on their own. These skills from play are so important also for how they do in school and later in life. Through free play children develop the ability to think outside the box and to take initiatives independently instead of constantly being in need of adult guidance. But most important of all – free play is a a cornerstone in parenting happy children who are emotionally, socially and physically healthy and resilient.

Unfortunately the amount of time that children spend on free outdoor play has dropped by 90% since 1970. Meanwhile, attention disorders, narcissism and even lack of physical skills have increased by a lot. Play – The Danish Way is such a great reminder of the value of children’s magical and fun universe. And the book not only reminds us to treasure children’s playtime, but also our own. Even adults can still play – it is what happens when we become so absorbed in a project that we forget about time. Just like when a child refuses to go home because they are having such a fun time playing with their friends. The same thing happens to adults every now and then when we create or do something we enjoy. Innovating, thinking and being creative is play and as a society I hope we will all keep up this ability. A playful home where parents show that they like to play or have fun is encouraging for children’s desire to play. In fact the book includes a play guide with ideas on how to facilitate your children’s desire to play and there are many things adults can do to help the play along.

I cannot encourage this book strongly enough. It provides the readers with a positive, warm and fun-loving view of the precious childhood without lecturing and preaching. Iben Dissing Sandahl truly writes with a love and passion for childhood which she passes on to her readers. Moreover, it is quick to read, well-structured and has many eyeopening and useful insights with a good balance of research and tangible examples. Play – The Danish Way is sure to become my guidebook on how to make a happy fun-filled summer with my children. More blog posts to come on my attempts to follow its fun playguide throughout the summer – so stay tuned 😉

A Summer of Free Imagination – Let the Kids Be Bored and Play

 

“Mom I’m bored, can I watch something?” says my five year old like it is the most terrible thing that could have happened to her. We have just been out for a kid event and now five minutes later she is already bored. I feel highly tempted to turn on that pony show so I can get half an hour to get some stuff done. But I stand firm and say “No, it is good to be bored – now you can come up with something yourself.” She looks at me perplexed but leaves the kitchen. Sure enough, ten minutes later I hear her singing and talking while she plays with her dolls in the family room. Yet every time she catches a glimpse of me she tries to talk me into entertaining her and I have to neglect all my feelings of guilt and let go of my inner pressure to constantly stimulate her. It helps me to know that letting children be bored and play by themselves, or with other children, is actually one of the most important things in their development… Boredom is good! Or rather the free unstructured play that children come up with without adult input is crucial for their ability to think outside the box. This is how they absorb and process their experiences and learn to be creative and imaginative. In fact children need three hours of unstructured play, preferably outside, every day according to Angela Hanscom, pediatric occupational therapist and founder of TimberNook and author of Balanced and Barefoot (Article on outdoor play)

It is not only children who want to be constantly entertained instead of creating and imagining things on their own. I recently read an article on BBC.com about an airline that had responded to the ban on carrying electronic devices on certain flights by providing passengers with a list of 12 things to do without a tablet or laptop (read article here: Why Idle Moments are Crucial for Creativity)! Like read a book or daydream. I cannot believe that we are getting to the point of not knowing what to do without electronics! What happened to independent thinking and imagination? The irony of it all is that we all – adults and children – appear to be much happier when we put our iPhones and iPads away. Of course it takes a while to get over the cravings, just like with sugar or alcohol, but after a day or two it is actually very peaceful not to check the internet or text messages all the time.

Last week our family had staycation at our house where we left the iPhones attached to their plugs like old-fashioned landline phones and only checked them once a day. The kids did not watch any tv. Instead, we spent time relaxing together doing yard work while the kids played outside. It definitely also helped that their grandparents stayed with us for a while being fun and playful. This inexpensive vacation ended up being one of our best vacations! Everyone relaxed and felt happy spending time together instead of in some non-real world online. No deadlines, no schedules, no stress – or rather we just forgot about our commitments… and it was great!

So my goal for this summer is a “go-with-the-flow” attitude where we make the most out of not having to get ready for school every day. This is my chance to undo my own and my children’s screen addiction. Our chance to enjoy the freedom of long days of free play that is not squeezed into a tight schedule. I hope for a summer of fairies and dump trucks, dirt and flowers, endless amounts of berries and lemonade, lounging on the beach or by the pool. A summer where the mom (me…) will not care about sand or grass carried inside on wet shoes, about swimsuits and towels drying all over the house because her imagination has made her house into a “beach house” and she is on vacation even when at home.

Dream Cake from Brovst

Dream Cake from Brovst is such a classic from my childhood in Denmark. Originally invented by the Danish woman, Jytte Andersen, who took part in a baking competition in 1960 in the Danish town Brovst, Jutland (See Droemmekage on Wikipedia). This woman would be a millionaire if she had got the copyrights for the recipe because it is a favorite everywhere in Denmark. So much so that it was voted the fourth most popular cake in Denmark in a cake research/questionnaire conducted by the newspaper Metroexpress. I have already received feedback from enough Americas to know that this cake will become a classic over here as well.

It is similar to a pound cake – heavy and moist with lots of eggs and butter. But it is the topping with coconut and brown sugar that makes it. It is pretty simple to make and will be a hit at any social get-together.

 

Droemmekage fra Brovst / Dream Cake from Brovst Recipe

Ingredients:

250 gram / 9 ounces all-purpose flour

3 tsp baking powder

50 gram / 2 ounces softened butter

250 / 9 ounces gram sugar

1/8 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

4 eggs

2 deciliter whole milk

For the topping:

130 gram / 4.6 ounces butter

260 gram / 9.2 ounces brown sugar

125 gram / 4.5 ounces shredded coconut

3/4 deciliter milk

A large rectangular metal baking pan with tall sides (38 x 24 centimeter or 15 x 9 inches).

 

How you make it:

Mix flour and baking powder in a medium bowl.

Beat butter, sugar, salt, vanilla in a mixing bowl until creamy and soft. You have to beat for a long time. Beat in the eggs, one at a time and for a long time. Add some of the flour.  Stir in the milk and the remaining flour.

Then you cover the baking pan with parchment paper so it is covered all the way up on the sides and bottom. Pour the batter into the pan and bake it on 190 degrees fahrenheit in the middle of the oven. Bake for 20 minutes. When a chopstick or another stick comes out clean it is done.

While the cake bakes you boil butter, coconut and brown sugar in a medium pot while constantly stirring.

When you take the cake out of the oven, you spread the brown sugar and coconut topping evenly on it right away and put it back in the oven to bake for another 6 minutes on 440 degrees fahrenheit.

The cake can be served when it has cooled off. You can can simply cut the pieces out in the baking pan and serve as is. And don’t forget the coffee!

 

 

 

Danish Pancakes

It seems that every country has its own version of pancakes – Denmark included. Some would say there is nothing more Danish than pancakes and that Danish pancakes are certainly a way to Danish happiness. Danish pancakes are typically an afternoon treat that often end up becoming dinner as well because the kids will eat so many that there is no room for anymore food that day. They are very similar to French crepes, topped with whatever you like but strawberry/raspberry jam and powdered sugar is the most classic version. I guess the Danes just love their red and whites! I enjoy a summer version with fresh berries and powdered sugar sprinkled on top. Banana slices and nutella works too.

 

Danish Pancake Recipe

Ingredients:

4 eggs

8 deciliter/3 cups whole milk

400 gram/14 ounces all-purpose flour

2 tbsp sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Butter for frying

How you make them:

In a medium sized bowl beat together the eggs and flour while adding the milk a little at a time. When the dough is smooth you add sugar, salt and vanilla extract. The dough will be much thinner than American pancake dough. Cover the bowl and set aside in a cozy place for about 1/2 hour.

Then you heat up a frying pan and melt one teaspoon of butter on it. Next you pour about 1/4 cup of pancake dough on the pan while you move the pan around so the dough is evenly divided on the whole pan. When the dough is light brown on the edges you flip it with over and fry it on the other side until it is golden brown on both sides. Transfer it to a plate covered with aluminum foil. Then you melt about a teaspoon of butter on the pan and start frying up a new pancake and so forth until you have a nice stack of pancakes. My children usually eat them while I make them so I never get a stack. The pancakes disappear quickly!

Serve them with a selection of different toppings – such as strawberry or raspberry jam, powdered sugar, nutella, berries, banana slices – so people can design their own pancakes.  Putting toppings on is an important part of the fun! Roll them up and eat them with your fingers.

Hindbaersnitter / Raspberry Slices of Happiness

Summer and heat is here and hygge has moved outside. Outdoor summer hygge makes me crave the Danish pastry called “Hindbærsnitter” or “Raspberry Slices”. In fact, I cannot think of a happier cake than a Hindbærsnitte (except for maybe a cupcake or birthday cake). Just take a look at it! A real slice of happiness… Raspberries on a flaky crust glazed with sugar to give you that happy kick. And kids seem to go crazy for them – just cut the slices into halves for small children so the sugar doesn’t make them go truly crazy!

Hindbærsnitter have a lot in common with Pop Tarts but are not quite the same. You can find Hindbærsnitter in every Danish bakery. It is a true Danish classic. Good news is that you do not have to travel all the way to Denmark to bring them to your coffee table – they are actually pretty easy to make! So here you go – a recipe on how to make your own slices of happiness:-)

Hindbærsnitter / Raspberry Slices Recipe

Ingredients:

300 gram / 10.6 oz all-purpose flour

100 gram / 3.5 oz confectioners sugar

200 gram / 7 oz butter, softened

2 egg yolks

250 gram /8.8 oz raspberry preserves with seeds

Icing:

270 gram / 2 1/2 cups confectioners sugar

4 tablespoons cold water

Multicolored sprinkles

How you do it:

Mix butter, flour, confectioners sugar in a mixer with paddle attachment or just with a spoon until crumbly.

Add the egg yolks and increase the mixing speed and mix until the dough is smooth and forms a ball but do not over-mix. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Divide the dough into two. And here comes the trickiest part – at least for me – rolling each ball out on parchment paper so it forms a square of 25 cm 25 cm (9.5 x 9.5 inches). The dough kept sticking to the rolling pin. It helped to knead in a tablespoon or two of cold water and keep the rolling pin covered with flour. You can also use your hands to flatten the dough out. Repeat with the other dough ball.

Transfer each square of dough on parchment paper to a baking sheet. Then bake them one at a time for about 12 minutes on 390 degrees fahrenheit until light golden. Cool down for about 15 minutes.

Stir the raspberry preserves so it becomes more liquid and then spread it evenly on top of the first cake. Then carefully transfer the second cake piece on top of the first.

Mix the icing in a bowl. If necessary, carefully add a little more cold water drop by drop until it is thick and smooth like syrup. Cover the top piece with icing and spread the sprinkles over immediately after so they will stick.

Now you have to wait till the icing is completely dry before you cut it into 12 pieces or more. Use a big sharp knife and cut with a press, not a sawing motion. You might also want to cut the edges of so the slices are nice and straight on the sides.

The second hardest part is that you have to wait until the frosting is completely settled before you start eating. I recommend waiting a couple of hours before you serve them because they will taste better then.

And don’t forget to serve them with coffee – or a glass of cold white wine. They can be stored in an airtight container for several days. No need to refrigerate.

Recipe adapted from Mydanishkitchen.com

So, my “Friday Cake” series has ironically caused me more stress than hygge because I rarely have time to bake, hygge and write on Fridays plus it has turned me into a heavy sugar addict (Danish cake portions are really meant to share with guests…). And after all, what is the point of a hygge cake if you are so busy baking that you do not get to the hygge part? From now on I am just going to bake and post cake recipes when I have someone to bake them for and the time for it. This does not mean there won’t be more cakes on happyasadane – just not every week. I am already excited to try out more Danish cakes so lets see how long I can wait…

The Essence of Hygge

I have been trying to come up with a definition of the “essence of hygge” or the “basics of hygge” and I think my conclusion is that the essence of hygge is taking your time to enjoy something. Or in other words, hygge means no stressing or rushing. Even coffee and cake is no guarantee for hygge if you don’t take your time to enjoy it. Imagine indulging in a nice sweet and sticky piece of cake with a cup of hot brew and then suddenly you discover that you have to leave the house in two minutes? Gone is all the hygge in a flash of a second!

Almost anything can be hygge as long as you do not stress or rush through it. That is why I think the most important factor for hygge is the absence of stress or rush. You have to allow yourself to take your time in order to get that hygge feeling.

Hygge does not have to include wool socks, hot chocolate, cake or a lamb skin throw (although all these things certainly help). All you really need is the time to enjoy the pleasure of being in the moment. It can be enjoying your shower for five minutes longer, taking your time while carrying out everyday tasks such as cooking, baking or watering the flowers. If you play nice music and turn on some warm lights you can create an atmosphere that encourages you to get into the hygge feeling even while cooking. Maybe even while folding laundry… although I think it might take a lot of hygge-practice to be able to enjoy that one…

The other day I was in the backyard with our two-year old son who is my little “hygge mentor”. Eager to get inside for lunch I was about to rush him out of his hygge time in nature when we suddenly discovered a beautiful caterpillar with lightblue dots on a burned orange background. We had never seen anything like it and he enjoyed touching it and tried to feed it like a little pet. There we sat for one of those moments where you forget about time – and even hunger – while the sun warmed us and made the moment even more beautiful. It is one of those “Golden memories” that I can see clearly in my mind even though I did not get a photo of it. I was too absorbed in the moment. Yet again, our little son showed me how to take time to enjoy some hygge instead of rushing.

This is what hygge is all about – seizing opportunities to enjoy the simple pleasures that life offers us. All around there are lots of things just waiting to be turned into moments of hygge and joy! Maybe you could even go as far as to call hygge a form of everyday meditation as you create a moment where you focus on the joy of the moment and forget about stress and worries for a little while. If you have comments on this topic or would like to share some examples of how you get hygge into your life I would love to hear from you. You can leave a comment below or contact me on happyasadane@gmail.com. Thank you!

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My little “hygge mentor” in his “hygge-pants”…

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Caterpillars might not mean hygge for everyone at all times, lol! So go ahead all mothers out there – enjoy flowers and wine! These peonies and my Kahler vase sure help bring on the hygge in my house.. As does the wine:) Happy Mothers Day!

Hygge is… Watering the Flowers

 

My toddler son was screaming and protesting – he was not ready to go inside. I let him stay in the backyard longer and he went to get his little blue watering can. As soon as he started watering the flowers he was in a zone of peaceful hygge. I believe he was even humming to himself. It was such a pleasure to watch him that I instantly felt the calm of this hygge event in the warm afternoon sun.

That same evening after the kids were put to bed, instead of cleaning dishes I went outside and watered the flowers. It was a very nice feeling, just being outside on a quiet warm spring evening helping the flowers grow. There is something satisfying about watering plants. Perhaps because it reminds us to appreciate nature and its beauty. It brings happiness and a peaceful patience to watch plants grow and makes us feel like we are doing something meaningful and rewarding. If you truly take your time to enjoy the task of watering it is quite hyggeligt.

Spring and summer can be so full of hygge and I cannot wait for the weather to turn warmer again so I can create hygge nooks in our backyard. And if you are in doubt about how to find hygge and happiness just let children guide you – they seem to know all about enjoying the simple pleasures of nature and being in the moment…

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