The Concept of Hygge

a relaxing night with friends and a conversation about head trauma

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What is Hygge?

A few years ago I purchased a party game called “The Hygge Game: cozy conversation in pleasant company.” I came across it in a bookstore and was immediately intrigued by the description on the back of the box. “Hygge (pronounced hoo-guh) is a Danish word for enjoying the good things in life. It evokes an atmosphere of coziness accompanied by a feeling of contentment and well-being, and there’s nothing more hygge than spending quality time with people you love.” Inside the box are several cards with thought-provoking questions. We have used these conversation prompts many times with family and friends through the years.

For me personally, embracing the hygge life means gathering with others and getting cozy by a fire, enjoying good food and wine while the conversation flows. We recently invited a few friends over for just such an evening. Naturally the conversation lead to medical topics, and this time there were two physicians present, so it was double the fun!

Organizing an Evening of Hygge

Hygge Food

This is one of the easiest types of gatherings you can have, because the entire concept is relaxation and conversation. You could have a formal sit-down dinner, or instead you can have heavy appetizers and maybe a pot of something like chili or soup and allow guests to help themselves. You could even ask guests to bring appetizers to make life really easy. It’s up to you.

Dinner Table Doctor and I made a giant pot of pasta fagioli, or pasta and beans, which was perfect for fiber intake (and DTD loves fiber!) and warm, filling goodness. The recipe we used was courtesy of Rancho Gordo, a company based in Napa, California that grows amazing heirloom beans. It’s no wonder DTD found them, given his immense love for beans and their fiber. These are gourmet beans which you can order online, and they are spectacular. You can even join a bean club for regular shipments.

Click here for the Rancho Gordo recipe for pasta fagioli – totally different from the way I normally make it, but gloriously delicious because it has the added ingredient of pancetta, which is salt cured pork belly. I am a huge fan of pork belly, which is basically bacon on steroids and makes everything taste better. So in this recipe, I get my pasta and pancetta, and DTD gets his beans – all are yummy so it’s a win/win.

DTD also baked some wonderful roasted garlic sourdough bread to enjoy with the soup, and we created a giant charcuterie board. Lastly, we made one of my favorite appetizers, a Venetian cheese log, layering blue cheese, pears, ricotta cheese, and mascarpone cheese with walnuts on top – dangerous if you are lactose intolerant like me, but so fabulous it’s worth a tummy ache! I found the recipe in a Condé Nast Traveler article and have used it so many times. Guests always rave about it and it’s simple to create.

One of our guests brought a salmon pâté and some homemade bread, along with the perfect bottle of white wine, which was a welcome and delicious surprise.

Additionally, we added a tray of quesadillas from Chipotle. Our daughter is fundraising for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and Chipotle was offering a percentage of sales for the cause that evening, so we simply had to participate. The wonderful thing about a hygge night is anything goes, and food for a good cause definitely helped the vibe. As a leukemia survivor, I was more than happy to add Chipotle to our hygge menu.

For dessert, we made a pinolata, or Italian pine nut cake. This is our new favorite dessert recipe. The cake is easy to make, moist, delicious and different, so guests always comment on it and wolf it down. You can find the recipe we follow, courtesy of sugarlovesspices.com using this link.

Hygge Beverages

You want a variety here, just like you would for any gathering. Nonalcoholic options are always important as well. DTD and I made sure beer, wine, and a signature cocktail were available for guests to enjoy. We also had flavored water and soda.

The wine DTD selected for the evening was all from the Central Coast wine region of California. Halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, this area has hundreds of wineries producing several award-winning, premium wines. We enjoyed:

  • 2016 Paydirt Going for Broke Red Blend – a rich blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Petit Sirah and one of the more popular wines of the region.
  • 2018 Ancient Peaks Zinfandel – a lovely zin with cherry and plum aromas and some vanilla and spice undertones along with a spicy finish.
  • 2017 Tensley Syrah – a vibrant, spicy, and peppery wine layered with berries. Just yummy!

The cocktail was an Aperol Americano. Normally, an Americano is made with Campari, which has a much higher alcohol content than Aperol – nearly double – and has a more bitter taste. This version using Aperol is a little sweeter and lower in alcohol, which was important since we wanted everyone alert for a long evening of chatting without falling asleep.

  • 1.5 ounce Aperol
  • 1.5 ounce sweet vermouth
  • Top with club soda
  • Ice
  • garnish with an orange slice, preferably blood orange to make it truly impressive!

We also had plenty of decaf coffee as the night wore on, especially when dessert was added to the mix. Additionally, we offered some Hazelnut liqueur for those who wanted to add a shot to their coffee. So delightful!

Creating a Hygge Atmosphere

Personally I think a fire automatically creates a cozy atmosphere, whether it’s a bonfire outside or a cozy fire inside. Here in Ohio, February is the perfect time to gather inside by a roaring fireplace. We have a sectional sofa and one chair, but I also added some giant throw pillows for floor seating. I made sure there were plenty of side tables for food and drinks and blankets available for anyone who wanted even more warm coziness.

As we ate and drank, I broke out the parlor game and asked several hygge questions. The conversation was engaging and informative. We really got to know each other on a whole new level. Examples of questions included:

  • What would a perfect day look like for you?
  • If you could have 1 million of anything except money, what would you choose?
  • Would you want to know in advance how and when you’re going to die?
  • Can you name one good thing and one bad thing about the American way of life?
  • What actor or actress would play you in the movie version of your life?
  • What is the most common topic couples fight about?

We had a great time discussing these questions and many more. It wasn’t until we moved on to dessert and coffee that a medical question finally came up, and it lead to our conversation on head trauma.

Head Trauma

Our evening of hygge was the night before the Super Bowl, so there was some discussion of football, which lead to the topic of head trauma, which led to the recent tragic death of comedian Bob Sagat. We had two doctors in the house – DTD and a forensic pathologist, which is a doctor who determines the cause of death by examining a corpse. (As a side note, if you ever have a chance to hang out with a forensic pathologist and you’re not squeamish, you will probably enjoy a fascinating and eye-opening conversation, to say the least.) The two doctors talked about all the head trauma they have seen through the years while the rest of us ate cake, drank coffee with liqueur, and peppered them with questions like these:

How often do you see people with head trauma?

DTD sees a lot of patients with concussions, or mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). Most often, these injuries are a result of falls, sports, or bike and car accidents. The pathologist, who is obviously examining a corpse, sees more brain injuries than I would have guessed. He said it is not at all unusual for a person to die several hours or even a few days after a TBI.

Why am I hearing so much about football players and brain trauma?

A recent study found that 110 out of 111 deceased NFL players had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disorder associated with repeated head trauma. More studies are ongoing, but it seems that repeated trauma may increase the risk of brain injury.

Imagine a pickle in a plastic jar. If someone hits the jar or shakes it, the pickle moves around and hits the sides. Our brains are floating in cerebrospinal fluid for protection. Imagine your brain is the pickle. If someone is hit hard enough in the head, the brain could actually be more injured on the side opposite the point of impact. Medically, these are called coup and countercoup injuries. Coup injuries occur at the point of impact, and countercoup injury occurs on the opposite side. When your head or body are shaken or hit, the brain is moving in there, even when it’s not a direct impact on the head. High contact sports repeatedly cause impact, so even with a helmet, there is a possibility of brain injury.

How do I know if someone should go straight to the hospital after a head injury?

While most of us would definitely rush someone to the hospital if there’s a head injury and blood is gushing, or if someone loses consciousness, many of us are at a loss when a head injury isn’t bleeding and the person is talking and walking. How do we know if 911 medical attention is necessary?

Not everyone loses consciousness after head trauma, which makes it even more difficult to know if there’s a serious injury. Signs to look for include:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • dizziness
  • a severe headache
  • mood or behavior changes
  • swelling or bruising
  • memory issues or confusion
  • issues with walking or talking
  • seizures

If any of these symptoms occur, or if you can’t wake someone quickly after a head injury, immediate medical attention is necessary. Honestly, you should have a very low threshold to be evaluated by a medical professional when it comes to a head injury. As DTD often says, “When in doubt, get checked out!”

What exactly does it mean when a person has a concussion?

The term “concussion” is often used to refer to a mild TBI. The American Academy of Neurology defines concussion as “a trauma induced alteration in mental status that may or may not involve a loss of consciousness.” The hallmark symptoms of a concussion are mild confusion and amnesia, sometimes with, but often without, proceeding loss of consciousness. Actually, most people with concussions don’t lose consciousness. These symptoms may occur immediately after the injury or several minutes later. Days later, a person may experience sleep disturbance, delayed verbal expressions, mild disorientation, light sensitivity, and emotionality that’s out of proportion with the circumstances. Some of these symptoms may come and go. Also, some symptoms only last a short time and others cause lifelong issues. Medical attention is necessary.

How long after a head injury are you in danger of serious complications or death?

The reason we hear so many scary and unexpected head injury stories is that symptoms don’t necessary start right after the injury. They could occur a few hours or even a few days later.

If a person blacks out several minutes or even hours after a head injury, this may mean there is bleeding in the brain and emergency medical attention is needed. As we age, our brains actually shrink. Plus, many of us are on blood thinners or taking Motrin, so a head injury is more likely to cause internal bleeding in an older person.

How is a serious head injury treated?

The vast majority of concussions require no treatment. With a more serious TBI, doctors might recommend an imaging test of your brain or suggest someone watch you for 24 hours after the injury. There are also medications that help prevent brain swelling, seizures, and bleeding in the brain. Sometimes surgery is necessary.

It’s always a good idea to see a health professional after any head injury, so you can make an informed decision on when it is safe for you to return to your normal daily activities. Driving, participating in sports, and other activities may be limited for some time after a head trauma.

These head trauma questions weren’t quite as fun as the hygge questions, but the answers made for an informative evening. Honestly, you never know where the conversation will take you when you’re feeling cozy and pleasantly full while bonding with your guests, especially when two of them have a wealth of medical knowledge to share.

Luckily Hygge is a Low Impact Activity!

Are you interested in trying a hygge night? Hopefully our gathering gave you some ideas for your own cozy evening. You certainly do not need medical professionals present in order to have a lively discussion. Good friends, a pleasant atmosphere, wonderful wine and lots of snacks will get everyone relaxed and ready to chat. Throw in a few prepared questions to get the ball rolling and the conversation will flow. Let me know how it goes! Feel free to comment, and find me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.

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