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Crawfish on the Newspaper

I spread the black and white pages of The Ocala Star Banner and The Miami Herald across two picnic tables, always double or triple layering them on top of one another. Most prints were from the current week, but some had been collecting in a drawer in the kitchen since February; it was now May. I placed candles and baskets on the paper to hold the place of the feast that would soon be laid on top of it—though highly unlikely that a strong gust of wind would wipe the table clear of the papers during the toasty, central Florida summer. I queued country music on the speaker and set out solo cups for sweet tea along one of the benches. Now the tables were ready for the crawfish boil. 

     Crawfish boils, while predominantly known for being a Lousianna classic after the Acadians (now Cajuns) arrived from Canada in the 1700s and ate crawfish out of necessity, have their hold across most of the southern states. The tiny crawfish, which look nearly like a cross between a lobster and a shrimp, are often accompanied by baby potatoes, corn on the cob, and Andouille sausage; the Floridians can’t help but often add Gulf shrimp to the mix as well. These ingredients are tossed in seasoning, traditionally Cajun seasoning, and then left to boil. When done, what’s left is a mass amount of fresh seafood and hearty vegetables with a slight kick to it, and all for the sharing. The steaming food gets rushed onto the picnic tables and into the waiting arms of the daily newspapers, as grabbing hands try to claim the most fresh crawfish or shrimp. 

     Crawfish boils are more than just a meal, as people often wouldn’t make one just for themselves. The boils are a community event. Every other high school graduation party consisted of one, and even birthday parties or anniversaries centered around a giant boil. Last Christmas, instead of having a traditional Christmas meal, my grandmother—whose family is all from Louisiana—insisted on having a crawfish boil. So, after opening gifts around the Christmas tree, my cousins and I got to chopping away the bags of potatoes and shucking dozens of cobs of corn. 

     The process to create this meal is not tedious. The food is not gourmet. The seafood is not exotic. However, boils have maintained their popularity because of the experience that comes with them. It takes many hands to feed as many people as the meals are able to; it takes even more effort to shell the crawfish and shrimp with each bite that is taken. People are brought together throughout the entire process of the boils, from collecting the daily paper to prepping the food all the way to spreading the meal across linked picnic tables. 

     The spirit of the crawfish boil has infiltrated other parts of the states, with even boil restaurants experiencing success in Boston. My roommate, Fizah, and I recently ventured to the Bootleg Special, a modern and trendy restaurant where the entire menu is focused on creating a custom boil mix. Each table has a little metal bucket with stilts at the end of it, and while much more posh than the southern boils, the meals nonetheless still bring people together. While they might not be making headlines, crawfish will continue to sit on the front page of the paper.

Cover photo courtesy of BostonMagazine

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My Danish Hygge

We laid on the floor, the five of us, all resting on each other as if we were playing a grown-up version of Twister. Maks laid his head on my stomach, Astrid on his, mine on Frederikke, and Frederikke and Rune both on Astrid. We were in a perfect position to hear the satisfied movements of each others’ stomachs, full with the sweet Danish pastries from Anderson’s bakery down the road. I had a lukewarm fastelavnsboller, the Danish version of a cream puff, which had cooled in Astrid’s front wooden basket during her bike ride back from the bakery. 

     Mine had a perfect, circular coating of milk chocolate glaze around the top with a singular pink dot of frosting the size of a ladybug directly in the middle. When I bit into the soft, thin dough, the mildly sweet vanilla custard spilled out of the middle, collecting in the corners of my mouth. Rune snuck me a bite of his kanelsnegle, which is similar to a cinnamon roll. He unwound the long, skinny piece of dough from its circular formation; some of the cinnamon sugar butter gathered on his fingertips. I offered him some of my now custard-less fastelavnsboller in response. 

     Our perfect Twister formation was broken as Frederikke wiggled out and Maks pulled a blanket over the remaining four of us. The water was finished in the kettle for our lemon ginger tea. My mind was quiet, but in a good way. My body was warm, despite it being freezing outside. My stomach was full. It was hygge time. 

     Denmark has consistently been ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world for years, according to the World Happiness Report. It’s not the weather, where most of the fall and winter days are short, cold, and rainy. A part of it could be the location, but it ranks higher than many of its neighboring countries on the happiness scale.

     It’s the hygge. 

     Hygge is the Danish term for coziness, comfort, or the feeling a person gets when sitting by a fire on a cold night with a loved one while sipping on a cup of mint tea. To the Danes, hygge is a way of life–they have rules of hygge. 

     Candles, books, cards, blankets, and food make up the hygge environment. Each friend and family group conducts hygge time in their own way, and when I was living with my twelve Danish house mates, hygge time was always complete when we had the traditional Danish buns, cheese, and rhubarb jam. 

       Hygge sometimes required preparation. Frederikke and I would wander into the kitchen together at night—once everybody else was asleep and the kitchen was quiet—to prepare the dough for the buns. They required no fancy ingredients, just bread flour, whole wheat flour, yeast, and water. We would always stir the damp mixture longer than needed as we would get carried away telling stories and gossiping. Then we would put it away in the fridge until the morning. 

     The dough rose with the sun. Frederikke and I would wake before the others. She would form the dough into balls on our baking sheets while I pulled out the plates and retrieved the milky comté cheese and jar of beloved rhubarb jam. Once the subtle aroma of the buns reached the end of the hall, the hygge time had commenced. 

     The Danish pastries and buns were delicious on their own but made perfect because of the environment. The thought of them now evokes more fond memories of the people and emotions experienced while eating them than of the taste itself. Danish hygge is finding contentment in the coziness. It’s being satisfied with the food, content with the loved ones around, and grateful for the calmness that covers a hygge environment like a knit blanket. 

     For some of my roommates, their favorite hygge time was marked by knitting or baking. Mine was with them, all cozied together in our beautiful, disorganized way. And sometimes with a hot bun. 

Cover photo courtesy of planmygetaway