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THRIVE DURING COVID: “HYGGE” AND EASY ROAST CHICKEN


Recently, I stumbled on a really interesting website. It was for the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, an independent think tank in whose mission is “exploring why some societies are happier than others.” Ok, the name sounds a bit hokey, but these guys are serious social scientists. They use both quantitative and qualitative techniques to find out how people feel about their lives.


Last year they published a study, called Well-being in the Age of Covid-19, which found a huge rise in our anxiety, boredom and loneliness due to the pandemic. No surprise there!! Their report contained an Action Plan of six activities to help protect us from the emotional effects of Covid-19. These included spending time outside, doing crafts or projects, meditating, helping friends and family, keeping in touch using virtual connections, and exercising.


Next I discovered that the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, Meik Wiking, had written a book called The Little Book of Hygge. The Danish concept of hygge (pronounced “hoo-guh”) applies comfort, coziness and simple pleasures to achieve everyday happiness. It’s about creating an environment and lifestyle to nurture yourself. Wiking says “the Danes are exceptionally good at decoupling wealth and well-being… We focus on the small things that really matter, including spending more quality time with friends and family and enjoying the good things in life.” That mindset probably has something to do with Denmark's ubiquitous rank as the #1 or #2 happiest country in the world since 2012 (when the first World Happiness Report was issued by the United Nations).


And then--voila--it dawned on me that the Happiness Research Institute activities and hygge complement each other. Connecting with and helping loved ones, enhancing our well-being with exercise, meditation, hobbies, self-care and a creating a soothing environment all reinforce happiness. And right about now, in the middle of winter, with a pandemic raging and stress bombarding us from all sides, this sounds like a great survive and thrive strategy!


So, let’s get specific--what exactly are we talking about?


1. Basics:

-Linger and savor (no hurrying, no multi-tasking!)

-Self-care


2. Go for the cozy:

-Candles, twinkle lights and low lighting

-Warm throws, weighted blankets, soft pillows and rugs

-Fuzzy slippers and socks, knitted sweaters, sweatpants, toasty beanies

-Fireplaces

-Comfy couches and chairs (preferably with blankets/pillows in front of the fire)


3. In your home:

- Soft textures, colors and minimalism

- Natural materials like wood, fur (real or faux), wool

-Vases of flowers, houseplants

-Soft music

-A snug nook by a window outfitted with cozy items

-Spa set-up in the bathroom: fluffy towels, steamy water, scented soap, and a cozy robe


3. Eating:

-Hot tea or chocolate served in a favorite cup; mulled wine

-Hearty food like stews, soups, casseroles (things that taste and smell delicious)

-Roast chicken (fragrant, yummy and easy; my contribution to hygge!)

-Popcorn (eaten on the couch)

-Homemade treats like cookies, cakes or breads (offset by time spent outdoors)

-Seasonal strawberries (big for the Danes!)

Activities:

-Hanging out with favorite people--

(ok, probably not feasible right now, unless they’re in your Covid bubble!)

-Board games, card games

-Reading a good book

-Hobbies and crafting

-Long, leisurely walks in all seasons

-Netflix and chill

-Petting your pet

-Bike rides

-Meditation

-Sleeping in

-Coffee dates, brunches, backyard BBQs, garden parties, bonfires (also not feasible now)

-Zooming with loved ones (not considered hygge per se, but a good alternative these days!)



Roast Chicken for Les Paresseux (Lazy People!)

Serves 4

My favorite roast chicken recipe is adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s cookbook Around My French Table. I love it because, as the name suggests, it’s not a lot of work, but it’s fragrant while cooking and oh, so delicious! (And btw, you’ll be wrestling your co-diners for the yummy bread in the bottom of the pot!)


Olive oil

2 large slices of baguette

1 chicken, 4 ½ to 5 pounds, at room temperature

Salt and pepper

2 sprigs each of rosemary, thyme and oregano

1 garlic head, unpeeled, cut in half horizontally

2/3 cup white wine or water

4 small potatoes, quartered

2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks

4 shallots, left whole, or 1 onion quartered


Position the oven rack in the center, then preheat to 450F. Oil the entire inside of your Dutch oven, then arrange the bread in the middle of the pot.


Pat the chicken dry with paper towel (no need to rinse it); sprinkle the cavity with salt and pepper. Put half of the garlic and half the herbs inside the chicken, then put the chicken in the pot, resting on top of the bread. Rub the chicken with a little olive oil, then throw the remaining garlic and herbs into the pot. Add the wine or water, and a few tablespoons of olive oil into the pot. Now put the pot in the oven (uncovered) and set your timer for 45 minutes.

In the meantime, prep the veggies by putting them in a bowl and giving them a light coat of olive oil, with a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper.

When the timer rings, add the veggies to the pot around the chicken, then roast (uncovered) for another 45 minutes. The chicken should be done, with the juices running clear and crispy skin. You can check using a meat thermometer—the internal temperature should be 165F. Let the chicken rest outside the oven for 5 or 10 minutes, then slice and serve with the veggies and the yummy bread at the bottom of the pot.


For maximum hygge:

Serve your roast chicken dinner at a small table in front of the fireplace. Use a tablecloth and unscented candle and put on your sweatpants and fuzzy socks.

You’re welcome!



Recipe Notes:

-Re: the veggies: I always add more than called for, because they taste so good roasted! I use whole little baby potatoes with carrots and shallots.

-Measure the liquid and leave the lid off the pot in the oven. The idea is to roast the chicken, not steam it!

-A large Dutch oven is perfect for this recipe, but a high-sided casserole dish will also work.

-There will be almost no pan juices (the bread soaked them up), but the chicken will be moist with crispy skin.

-Total roasting time is 1 ½ hours, plus resting time.


Other Notes:

-Happiness Research Institute (2020) Wellbeing in the age of COVID-19, Copenhagen: Happiness Research Institute. This is a study of the emotional toll the pandemic has taken on people’s well-being, due to the loss of life and livelihoods, and worries about the health of loved ones.

https://6e3636b7-ad2f-4292-b910-faa23b9c20aa.filesusr.com/ugd/928487_f35139968bca4668b456726d010e8d45.pdf


-Other cultures have rough equivalents to Denmark’s hygge. In Scotland, it’s called cosagach (pronounced COZE-a-goch). Sweden calls it mys (pronounced mize); in Germany it’s gemutlichkeit (pronunced guh-myoot-lish-KYT); and in the Netherlands it’s called gezellilgheid (pronounced ge-ZELL-ick-heid).



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