How to Stay Happy in the Dark of Winter

As we edge closer to December 22, each day gets darker and darker. I begin my day in the dark — and my day isn’t even close to ending when darkness falls again; I often have a compulsion to put my jammies on before I’ve even figured out what we’re having for dinner.

In some parts of the world, they get only a few hours of precious daylight this time of year. And some get none at all.  Despite the darkness, Denmark and the Scandinavian countries routinely top the surveys of the world’s happiest people. Last year, Denmark was #1 followed by Norway at #2, Sweden at #5 and Finland at #7.

Not coincidentally, these countries also lead the world in the strength of their collective cabin culture. In Sweden alone there are nearly 600,000 summer/winter houses and more than 50% of the population has access to one through family or friends. Scandinavian cabins aren’t symbols of privilege;  the dwellings are simple and cozy,  helping people connect with nature, connect with people, and shed the clutter and noise of the city.

Sometimes the cabin is known as smultronställer , meaning “wild strawberry spot,” a Swedish expression for a place special to your heart.


I don’t think anyone would deny that being at the cabin makes people happy. And the feelings of happiness generally come from a cozy comfort shared with people you love; it’s like we feel swaddled in physical, emotional and ambient warmth.

The Danes call this feeling “hygge” (sounds like hyoo-gah). And some theorize that hygge is the reason that Danes are among the happiest people in the world, even in the dark of winter. Because they don’t just save hygge for the cabin . . . they bring it home and live it every day. For them, hygge is a way of life.

This funny word has no direct English translation but NPR’s Claire O’Neill describes it like this:  “fireplace warmth with candles and family and friends and food and tucked under blankets on a snowy day, cup-of-coffee conversation, scarf-snuggle, squiggly, baby love.” Doesn’t that make you happy?

As the days get darker and the stress of the holiday season looms, grab some hygge and cabin it up at home. Don’t shortchange yourself! You deserve this! And here’s a place for you to start:


 “Hygge-at-Home” Tips from Cabin Crush:


 Candles  At breakfast, at dinner, at coffee time, at reading time, at TV time. Candles aren’t just for ambience; they become a ritual of slowing down and savoring the moment. Benita Larsson of Swedish blog Chez Larsson (instagram @benitalarsson) says Swedes use candles not just on special occasions but on most days during the darker months of the year: “Sitting at the breakfast table at candlelight is the best thing. Swedish households are known to use up bags of votives and boxes of tapers in no time at all.”


Winter Home Scent Collection from Restoration Hardware




I just bought these yesterday at CB2

Blankets Not just one, but many. Layer them. Share them. We have three people in our house and two of us fight over the three blankets in the room. And not just for the family room couch, either, but on just about every sitting place in your house; when you go to an outdoor cafe in Sweden, each chair will have a lap throw draped over the back and you routinely see coffee drinkers wrapped in blankets as they sip. When people in America get cold, they either put  on a jacket or go inside. In Sweden, they wrap up in a blanket. Have a basket nearby so you don’t have to scream at  people to fold their blankets at the end of the night. Here are some faves:


Faribault Woolens for Target       Faribault Woolens Recycled Wool Throw     Pendleton Yakima Camp Throw



A Seasonal House Drink  

Many people would die without their coffee in the morning. For some, it’s a reason to get out of bed. And much of that is due to the warm, comforting ritual it provides. Why don’t we have an evening drink ritual? A hot chocolate or a decaf macchiato to enjoy together by the fire (or, if you’re at my house, by The Simpsons)? My son loves the privilege of sipping a decaf sugared-up creamy cream “coffee” with the adults. It  feels special. Here’s a drink I relish. I’m totally serious, I relish it:


Freeze leftover coffee in ice cube trays. Pour cream (yes, just do it) or almond milk (if you must) over the top. Sip slowly while the coffee cubes melt and mix with the cream. It’s like forced relaxation.

Photo credit:


Lower Your Dining Room Light Fixture  I once got a comment from a Danish woman that Americans hang their dining room fixtures to high: “It’s not hyggeligt,” she said, hyggeligt being the way we describe things that encourage hygge.

A lower-hanging fixture casts a more delineated glow around the people at the table; it’s cozier, glowy-er, it makes people lean in and feel a part of the circle while everything else fades into the background.

Plus, it just looks better. Don’t think of your dining room light as a ceiling fixture; it’s really more of a table decoration. Try hanging your light 24- 30 inches above the surface of the table. Trust me on this.


Too high!!!


     So much better.


Games or Puzzles on the Coffee Table

After owning the cabin for more than a year, Liam opened a never-before-opened drawer and found a collection of playing cards that spoke volumes to me. It was like an anthropological relic — this is what these unknown people who came before us did together! If you want more cozy family time, you have to have a reason to occupy the same space while interfacing with each other. Having a game or a jigsaw puzzle at the ready, calling out to you as you pass by, will do the trick. Click here to read a piece that I wrote for about playing cards with my son in restaurants.

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And there are plenty of beautifully packaged games available today that would be worthy of space on your coffee table (hmmm…not a bad holiday gift).

Ridley’s Games Room Dominoes 


Good luck with your hygge . . .

. . . may this season of darkness be the brightest ever.


A Collection of Cabin Recipes…..even though my cooking skills are limited to those that don’t involve heat.

Because…… my mom decided to teach me to cook when I was in fifth grade and I decided that I would NOT learn to cook in fifth grade. I was all Marlo Thomas and William Wants a Doll and Parents Are People (People With Children) and it just felt like she was training me to cook for my husband. And my eleven year old self was like “Hey! That’s not okay!” and “Hey! He can cook for his own damn self whoever he is!” I just could not envision a future in which my husband didn’t have two fully functioning hands (my apologies to those who really don’t have two fully functioning hands and I will totally cook for you if you need it. Without heat, of course).

So we have a system in our house in which I do all the meal planning and grocery shopping and Mike willingly and skillfully does all the cooking with heat. I’m happy to whip up a salad or a side dish or some kind of appetizer, I just don’t know what “braise” means. Basically, I could eat dinner with Cher in the movie Mermaids every day and be perfectly happy.

When I plan food for the cabin (because I am the meal planner), I settle on a single breakfast to be repeated twice, a single lunch to be repeated twice, and two dinners to cook on the grill (with heat. Mike, you’re up).

Here’s what I’m packing for this holiday weekend, all of them winners from past cabin weekends:

First Breakfast:
Peaches, granola and Thai Kitchen coconut milk (from the can!).

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When I rise, I’m usually alone. The boys are out fishing and it’s quiet. They’ve presumably eaten something but I have no idea what and I need a little something to tide me over until they get back for…..

Second Breakfast:
Eggs and bacon are the traditional makings of “second breakfast,” which comes after fishing and before hot dog thirty.

Hot dogs. Just hot dogs. Every time hot dogs. It doesn’t even deserve a photo. Don’t get fancy with lunch because no one appreciates it. Save yourself a giant headache in the middle of the day and just stick your wiener on the grill (if you’re laughing right now, you can party at my house).


Here’s where we get creative. Dinner is nice and long because we’ve got nothing to do and nowhere to go so we might as well take the time to make it good. The following are some of our favorites so far.


Char Siu Chicken 

Adapted from the May 2015 issue of Saveur Magazine, we call this “Two Day Chicken” because it requires two days of marinating. Don’t skimp on the marinating! I’m going to go all Rachael Ray here because the only descriptive word I have is “Mm…Mmm” (pointing at food with mouth full).  You’ll be fighting over those little blackened pieces of charred chicken skin.

We use bone-in thighs for extra flavor.


14 cup brown sugar

14 cup honey

14 cup ketchup

14 cup soy sauce

2 tbsp. rice vinegar

1 tbsp. hoisin sauce

12 tsp. Chinese five-spice powder

1 (4-lb.) chicken, halved lengthwise, backbone discarded

2 tbsp. canola oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


  1. Mix sugar, honey, ketchup, soy sauce, vinegar, hoisin, and Chinese five spice in a bowl. Toss marinade with chicken, cover, and refrigerate for 2 days.

2. Build a medium-heat fire in a charcoal grill, or heat a gas grill to medium. Remove chicken from marinade, and season with salt and pepper; grill skin-side down, turning once, until charred and cooked through, about 30–35 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of the thigh reads 165°. Transfer chicken to a cutting board and let rest 15 minutes before carving.


Vietnamese-Style Pork

Also adapted from the May 2015 issue of Saveur Magazine. Again with “Mm…Mmm” and the pointing at food with mouth full.


14 cup fish sauce

14 cup fresh lime juice

14 cup sugar

4 cloves garlic, peeled

1 serrano pepper, stemmed and roughly chopped

1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 lb. boneless pork collar or shoulder, trimmed

Sliced cucumber, lettuce, and tomato, for serving


  1. Combine fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, garlic, serrano pepper, cilantro, salt and pepper and transfer to a bowl with pork.  Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or up to overnight.

2.  Build a medium-heat fire in a charcoal grill, or heat a gas grill to medium. (Alternatively, heat a cast-iron grill pan over medium.) Remove pork from marinade, pat dry with paper towels, and season with salt and pepper; grill, turning as needed, until slightly charred and cooked to medium, 1 hour and 15 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of the pork reads 140°. Let pork rest 10 minutes; slice against the grain into 12-inch-thick slices. *this is like a foreign language to me.

3. Serve with sliced cucumber, lettuce, and tomato


Banh Mi Hot Dog

There are lots of hot dogs at the cabin. And that’s okay. But sometimes I crave something a little more adventurous in the woods. Maybe a little less juvenile. Ketchup is a children’s food and we big girls prefer veggies and fancy mayo on ours. I got the idea from My Name is Yeh, a food blog by a New Yorker living on a North Dakota farm.

In addition to hot dogs and the optional bun, you’ll need the following:


hoisin sauce
sriracha mayo (1/2 c mayo + 2 tsp sriracha, or more if desired)

fresh cilantro sprigs
pickled veggies (see recipe below)


Drizzle, stack, sauce your dog and eat.


Pickled Veggies

I use the pickling recipe from Recipe Girl’s Bread and Butter Pickles but instead of using sliced cukes, I use thinly sliced carrot, onion and red pepper along with some diced cucumber. I use it like a slaw or a sauerkraut, adding a quasi-addictive tang to hot dogs, burgers or chicken.

Don’t be afraid of this. This is a lot of directions for me but it’s definitely worth it – I even had to turn on the stove but I didn’t mind because it was a simple “dump and heat” situation; don’t ask me to put something in a pan, do something with heat, and then put other things in the pan at different intervals. That is just too much.


5 1/2 cups (1 1/2 pounds) thinly sliced and diced carrots, peppers, and cukes

1 1/2 Tablespoons kosher salt

1 cup thinly sliced sweet onion

1 cup granulated white sugar

1 cup white vinegar

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup light brown sugar (packed)

1 1/2 teaspoons mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon celery seeds

1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric


1. Fill glass jars with chopped veg.

2. Combine remaining ingredients in a medium saucepan; bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves.

3. Pour hot vinegar mixture into veggie jars; let stand at room temperature 1 hour. Cover and refrigerate 24 hours. Store in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 2 weeks.

You’re welcome. Now make a list, go to the store and get your holiday weekend on.


Photo credist: luna—belle, Kristin Nilsen, Saveur Magazine, Saveur Magazine ,Molly Yeh and Kristin Nilsen.