“Thank you for the food. Can I take a bath? Because I smell like cheese.”
This is the phrase little Emmet uttered after our first meal in Denmark. He wasn’t smelly and he didn’t take a bath– it’s just an expression. He did it in Danish, of course, which goes something like this:
Tak for mad,
må jeg gå I bad,
for jeg lugter lidt af ostemad.
And yes, of course Dorthe had to spell that out for me. It is also important to point out that it rhymes in Danish. Emmet is the youngest of Dorthe and Keith’s three kids (Maya, Vera Luna, and Emmett) and as he is four, he adorably responds to most things in Danish. As Willy said on about the second day, “I love Emmet so much. I don’t understand anything he says, but he’s so cute!”
We arrived in Denmark on Saturday the 22nd and took the train from Copenhagen to Odense, where Keith and Dorthe live. Dorthe is an incredible cook and had a constant stream of authentic traditional Danish Jul foods ready for us. She started easy with homemade pizza, and then quickly moved into Honning Hjerter or Honey Heart cookies. This recipe includes mixing honey and flour and letting it stand for a month. The cookies are made and baked, covered in chocolate and then iced. Not a quick bake, to say the least. The flavor was delicious, something akin to gingerbread (but softer and not quite the flavor of gingerbread).
The kids played great together, with Maya (11) teaching us all some sweet dance moves (floss is out, y’all) and Vera Luna (7) showing Alice all kinds of funny videos for kids on YouTube. Dorthe took me into town for an evening of quick shopping and then we made a grocery store run to get all kinds of goodies for the holiday. Every store offers pepernoten by the cash register for patrons.
Dorthe had arranged lodgings for us at a friend’s house, which was a huge gift—it was a beautiful home with tons of space and looked the way we often think of traditional “Scandinavian” style—pale wood flooring in every room, open clean spaces in muted colors, with funky cool lighting and art. It was so perfect it could have come from a catalog. Dorthe and Keith’s place is much more modern—with even funkier art and lighting (as they are both artists, they always have amazing art that they’ve made or their friends have made for them). Their house was filled with light and lots of creative shelves and such to maximize storage and space. I had to stop myself from taking photos of every thing for future inspiration on maximizing space at our house.
On the 23rd we (Keith, Mike, and I) took the kids ice-skating while Dorthe prepped the Jul meal. I worried a bit that the rink would be over crowded and we would be the only ones who couldn’t skate. This was not a problem, as it wasn’t too hectic at all and tons of people of all ages were just as bad as we were at skating. Hooray! They have these helpful penguins you can use to help and a larger version for taller people that looks almost like bicycle handlebars on a pyramidal stand. With the help of lots of these anti-falling accessories, we were able to skate for hours. When we arrived home Dorthe had prepared a sort of puffy pancake served with jelly and powdered sugar, which was a great snack for the kids to get them to dinner. For dinner she made delectable chicken tartlets, in a béchamel sauce with summer asparagus. It was almost like mini chicken pot pies in individual tart shells. They were incredible.
On the 24th we woke and headed over to Keith and Dorthe’s. She was planning the traditional Jul meal of duck, red cabbage, and potatoes three ways: boiled, pan-caramelized, and as chips (something for everyone). Everything homemade, everything prepped by hand. Dorthe spent hours and hours making everything and then would say something like, “I really wanted to make you the traditional salted caramels that we have at this time of year, but I ran out of time!” Her hospitality was an amazing gift from someone who works full time and certainly has enough on her plate without spending days and days cooking for guests.
She prepared a stunning feast. We started at about 4PM which Dorthe said was early, but a concession for families with young kids. We had a long, lovely meal, followed by rice pudding served with a warmed cherry sauce. If you are lucky enough to find the whole almond, you get a prize. You cannot eat the almond, as you need evidence to cash in for your prize. It was really important to emphasize this a lot with the kids. We had two dishes, therefore two prizes—and they went to Keith and Willy! One gift was a pair of marzipan pigs, the other was licorice chocolate balls.
Then it was time to prepare for the arrival of the Jul man (Danish Santa Claus). We cleared around the tree and pulled it into the center of the room, taping down the lighting wires for safety. Then Jul man delivered gifts under the tree (with help from the adults). We all circled the tree and skipped around it holding hands while singing carols– some of them in English, some in Danish—which was super fun. We had no idea of the words or pronunciation for the Danish carols, but we tried. Whatever we did, it worked! Then it was time to open gifts. Of course for our kids, the gift is our trip (and maybe a couple of birthdays thrown in as well)—but Jul man knows all about that, and also knew we were traveling light, but still managed to wow us with lots of fun things to open and enjoy. It was an incredible fun-filled day, and still not “technically” Christmas yet.
Because Keith and Dorthe are a Danish/American family, they also celebrate on Christmas day with a feast (of course!) and “stocking stuffers” from Santa. We woke early on the 25th to head over to their house where their kids were waiting very patiently for their gifts. Santa had left a huge stocking for our family with more gifts for us to enjoy. It was then time for little pancakes and sausages. Then we had some outside time to burn off all the sugar. Dorthe had another feast underway with a pork roast, cabbage, and a range of sausages, cheeses, and accouterment (like an enormous charcuterie). There was also a homemade cheese that was almost like a very fancy cream cheese served with crayfish and salmon. She managed to serve this fab meal, then take us back to the other house to pack and clean up, and finally deliver us to our train. In our second major train error of the trip, we somehow managed to buy reserved seats for the train but not actual tickets. I am still not sure how I managed this. Dorthe said it was important to buy seats so that they are guaranteed, but I didn’t understand this nuance of Danish travel. I should have realized when the price for five tickets was so very reasonable. The kind train officer helped us figure it out and we were able to correct our mistake and pay mid-journey. She didn’t penalize us because we were clearly idiots, not cheats!
We headed back to Copenhagen for a night at the Urban House hostel—it is a huge place. We reserved a private family room with four bunk beds, a double bed for the parents, and a private bathroom. It was amazing—a great spot that was safe, clean, and comfy. Most importantly, it allowed us to be up early and to the Copenhagen airport for our flight to Prague on the 26th.
Photos below, from top left:
Emmet, Vera Luna, and Alice enamored with a snack machine; Honning hjerter, and Bioswales in Odense
Bike shop, Church in Odense, very cool-named Danish candy
Playground with Emmet and Alice, potatoes, duck
Tree, James and Maya on the trampoline, and Willy and Emmet playing
Now we’re in Prague with the amazing Tereza, Tony, Eda, Emma, and Rosie.
For those counting:
Plane rides: 4
Taxi rides: 5
Train rides: 5
Car rides: at least a dozen