A Recipe for Winter: Hygge for Homesteaders

Reader Contribution by Laura Berlage and North Star Homestead Farms
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Our newest chalkboard sign, greeting visitors at the front door of Farmstead Creamery. 

As November begins, it can feel like the days are just flying past.  Winter’s approach, with its darkness and cold, can set off a cascade of grumpiness and wanting to hole up under a blanket and hibernate until it’s over.  But when you live this far north, the episode of winter can well be half of the calendar year, so there must be a better way for surviving, even thriving through wintertime.

Scandinavia has long had to find their winterer’s spirit, living even farther north on this planet than Wisconsin.  The Danes coined their own term for happy winter-making:  hygge (said “hoo-ga”), which roughly translates as “comfort.”  Stereotyped as candles and cozy interiors, hygge is actually an entire lifestyle choice that meets the challenges of seasonal affective disorder head-on.

As I’ve been studying the philosophy of Nordic hygge, I realized just how much our family and farm has intuitively built this into our practice — no wonder we look forward to wintertime!  I think we could all benefit from a greater helping of comfort, joy, camaraderie, and creative expression through the winter experience, rather than dread the oncoming season. 

Winter is inevitable — part of the natural cycle of the seasons — but our relationship to it is optional.  Throughout this winter, I’ll circle back to the elements of hygge, elaborating on how to embrace and celebrate the winterer’s spirit, but for now here is an overview.

Fresh Air and Exercise

For as long as I can remember, Mom’s favorite remedy for the blues, grumpiness, or lethargy was getting outside and doing something.  It might be going for a walk or a ski in the woods, chopping wood or shoveling snow — whatever got us off our butts and outside moving around.  There’s nothing like fresh, crisp air to wake up your senses, and being outside in what precious little daylight there is helps capture some much-needed vitamin D during the darkest time of the year. 

When you feel like you’re dragging through winter, find a way to get outside.  Walk the dog, help someone stack or split wood, collect balsam boughs for adding scented greenery to your home — whatever can help you enjoy time outside on a regular basis. 

The Practice of Centering

The holidays can make us feel like we’re being pulled in many directions at once, riddled with expectations and obligations.  They even make the list on medical stress scales, so the emotional burden is real!  Combining the severe shortness of the days with the push-pull of the holiday schedule, finding a way to center in the midst of everything is key to finding happiness in wintertime.

Swedes have a wonderful tradition of fika (said “fee-ka”), where they collectively take a break from the day to enjoy coffee “and a little something.”  It’s like taking a beat for selfcare and camaraderie, checking out from the hustle of the day and refocusing on simple pleasures and what matters.

Made By Hand

One of my favorite aspects of wintertime is that the farm workload lightens enough to bring out handcraft projects that have waited all summer.  Out comes the knitting needles and crochet hooks, the fabric and looms, the scrapbooks and drawing supplies.  Projects take over most available surfaces of our home, each in its own stage of becoming.

During the dark evenings, we gather around the warmth of the woodstove and work on projects — a cozy cowl, a coloring mandala, a prayer shawl —talking about things that matter to us or reading a book aloud.  Making something by hand not only helps ease winter evenings, they also create the self-satisfaction of watching your creation unfold.  The experience is palpable no matter what the medium.

Gathering Together

For many people, winter is isolating.  Old farming communities knew this and purposefully built in traditions of “visiting” or barn dances and quilting bees that brought rural folks together no matter the weather.  Creating space for building community is one of the central aspects of Farmstead Creamery, from Celtic music sessions to needle felting classes.

This weekend (Sat 5-7 pm) kicks off the first of our twice-monthly Community Dinner and Jam Session events, where Chef Kara will be making a huge pot of homemade soup, salad, rolls, and cookies.  Bring your needle arts project, an instrument, or just yourself for the evening to enjoy some comfort food and camaraderie in a relaxed environment.  All are welcome.

Food as Medicine

The holiday season can be filled with nostalgia foods:  cookies, pies, a giant turkey, and more.  You might spend days with family making lefsa or latkes, but the day-to-day of cooking in winter can sometimes fall under the bus for something that’s quick, easy, and filled with fat and starch (which might be what the overwintering body craves but won’t serve us well in the long-run).

Simple yet flavorful ways to enjoy wintertime vegetables, making your own big pots of soup, or learning how to find everyday joy in the kitchen are all great elements of hygge.  The “Taste of the Farm” article I co-write with Kara (currently featured in the Ashland Daily Press) is a great place to start.

Simple Comforts, Great Joy

In an age of consumerism, it’s good to remember that the smallest things really provide the most joy:  steaming cup of cocoa (fika!), fuzzy slippers or a new pair of socks, a sheepskin throw on the chair, a fresh muffin hot out of the oven. 

So, light a candle, take a sensory-infused walk, pick up a project, gather with friends, bake some muffins, and bring some hygge into your winter experience.  These are all part of a recipe for wintering in the beautiful Northwoods.  See you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453.You can read all of her Mother Earth News blog postshere.

MOTHER EARTH NEWS Winter Comfort Food Wiser Living Series

Mother Earth News Winter Comfort Foods is packed full of comfort food recipes that are wholesome and hearty. Sharing a meal with loved ones is not only a simple pleasure, but also one of the most meaningful. This issue will definitely bring the family closer together. In addition to warm and hearty meals to beat the cold, with this book you can make seasonal soups and stews, bake the best homemade pies, and much more!

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