“Tasting Hygge: Joyful Recipes for Cozy Days and Nights.” By Leela Cyd. The Countryman Press. $18.95

Every cold-weather place probably has its own brand of hygge – the Danish term (pronounced hoo-gah) that roughly translates to “coziness,” but encompasses everything from holding a hot cup of tea to enjoying the company of friends.

Although the word only recently infiltrated American culture on a wave with all things Scandinavian, at least here in Maine, we’ve long embraced elements of hygge. I see it in flannel shirts, family camps and the baked goods my coworkers regularly bring in to share. Food-wise, chowder, poutine and whoopie pies are what come to mind.

The origin of the recipes in “Tasting Hygge,” by Leela Cyd, are varied. Some, like spiced glogg and Swedish tea ring, share the term’s Scandinavian roots, while others come from Germany, England and the writer’s upbringing in southern California. The dishes are broken down, not by course or main ingredient, but by adjective: warm, spiced, smooth, calm, bright. Among the nine or so recipes that fall under each are breakfast items, appetizers, main dishes and desserts.

Each section starts with a short essay, waxing poetic on the adjective’s role in hygge-style eating.

“Warmth is elevating a meal with the flickering radiance of candlelight, plopping down on the couch to daydream with a steaming cup of tea, toasting hands and faces (and marshmallows) over a campfire surrounded by friends, and pulling open a still-warm loaf of bread,” reads the introduction to the first chapter, which includes recipes for shirred eggs, pea dumplings and buckwheat crepes.

Each recipe, too, begins with a soppy anecdote or suggestion for how the dish could be made or enjoyed. The inspiration for gooey cheese toasts with mustard and cayenne came from “visiting the English countryside for a summer as a teenager.” Rice porridge with cranberries and rose petals is best with “the crackling and popping of pine logs” in the background. Baked cannellini beans with tomatoes and rosemary should be served alongside “a generous glass of red wine.”

With both New Year’s resolutions and below-zero nights influencing my food choices, the kale gratin with hazelnuts seemed like a good compromise between health and comfort food.

My approach to making the dish, however, was decidedly un-hygge. I was tired, hungry and hurried, and when I saw that what seemed like a simple dish required three different cooking vessels — a pot, a skillet and a pan — I felt overwhelmed.

Fortunately, the cooking itself was fairly simple and quick, and I was able to wash the dishes while the gratin was in the oven.

The cookbook’s introduction to this recipe calls it “a wonderful side to any … wintertime meal requiring a cozy vegetable dish.” I agree. Hearty and healthful, creamy and crunchy, it could easily stand in as both the vegetable and starch in a well-rounded meal.

But using this dish to cut corners stands in contrast to the essence of hygge, which is all about taking time to live in the moment. Maybe that’s why we don’t have a word for it.

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

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Twitter: lesliebridgers


4 servings

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing pan

2 bunches dino (Tuscan) kale, roughly chopped, ends trimmed and stems discarded

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3/4 cup whole milk

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, divided

1/4 cup white wine

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1 clove garlic, minced

Generous pinch of salt

Zest from 1/2 lemon

1/4 cup breadcrumbs

1/4 cup crushed hazelnuts

2 tablespoons olive oil

Grease a 10-inch oven-safe skillet, 9-inch pie pan, or 4 (4-inch) ovenproof ramekins. Preheat the oven to 375 F. In a large pot, blanch the kale in boiling water and remove to a strainer, squeeze all the water out, and set aside.

In a large (8- to 10-inch) oven-safe skillet on medium-low heat, melt the 2 tablespoons butter. Add flour and stir with a wooden spoon until toasty in color and smell. Add milk and whisk to combine. Stir in 1/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese, white wine, nutmeg, garlic, salt and lemon zest. Stir until cheese has melted and combined. Toss blanched kale in cheese sauce and evenly coat.

Place the kale in the prepared cookware and top with breadcrumbs, hazelnuts, and remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Drizzle the top with olive oil. Bake for 15 minutes. Broil for 30 seconds to 1 minute, until top is deeply golden. Let it cool for a few minutes and then serve.

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