Within minutes of meeting Annette Sorensen and walking in the front door of her home in Colona, Illinois, I had a long, sharp knife in my hand.
The four other women in the kitchen each had jobs to do, like stirring a sauce or making a simple syrup for a pineapple-flavored cocktail.
“Our dinners are interactive,” one of them told me.
That, I learned, was Rule No. 1 of meetings of the Girlfriends’ Advisory Board, or GAB for short, the group I had been invited to join on Monday evening.
After I had helped set the table, Annette handed me two bags of bread and asked me to cut a third of each loaf in halves and, “Make it look cute” on a wooden board, adorned with the flag of Denmark, where Annette was born.
“Nobody here ever meets Danish food,” she said. “That’s what I grew up with, so I just want to share it with people.”
The bread was just one small part of a platter of food, including pork tenderloin, shrimp, roasted tomatoes, carrots, Brussels sprouts, three sauces and more, awaiting us on a table downstairs.
“When we get down there, I’ll explain how we do the smushies,” Annette said, as she cut pieces of pork tenderloin.
I could hardly wait.
I had first heard the term, “smushies,” in an email from one of the girlfriends, Julie Phelan. She invited me to this GAB meeting in response to a column I wrote about supper clubs back in May. In the email, she explained that the girlfriends get together to assist Annette on her writing project, a Danish smushies cookbook.
Julie then, thankfully, defined smushies for me as “small versions of the classic Danish open-faced sandwiches, Smørrebrød.”
“We gather, feasting on her recent recipe developments,” Julie wrote. “Joining us, you will learn more about this new smushies concept, get to build your own masterpieces, and bask in the hygge (cozy mood) of the evening.”
We emailed back and forth and set a date for a dinner at Annette’s house in Colona, Illinois.
To be honest, it all looked — and sounded — very formal to me at the time. But sitting around the table, decorated with candles and flowers and colors that all matched, with the GAB was anything but that.
Annette compared building the smushies to Garanimals, the children's clothing line in which you can mix-and-match all the separate pieces.
“Everything goes together,” Annette said. “You just try all the combinations that you want.”
So, that’s what we all did. We passed the bread and butter and bowls of toppings around and sipped the cocktails that Annette said complimented all of the food. We talked about our favorite sauces and asked for more helpings and more than one smushie was described as a “flavor explosion.”
We didn’t keep track of how many smushies were consumed. We laughed a lot and spilled food on our laps and told stories and nobody complained about their days. And then it was time for dessert — a make-your-own ice cream sundae with a caramelized bourbon pear sauce.
I don’t remember exactly at what point of the evening that the “hygge” set in, but I think it was well before I asked Annette to define the Danish word for me.
“It was invented because they have these long, cold winters and you needed something to boost the moral,” she said. “It has to do with there being no stress. All your needs are met. There’s candles lit. You have warm, cozy socks. And inevitably, you have delicious Danish food.”
Annette then went over to her shelf full of cookbooks and binders of recipes she is experimenting with. She grabbed “The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living,” a book written by Meik Wiking and released in 2016.
This is one of the books that inspired Annette to start working on her own cookbook, which is now her full-time job. She showed me a page of handwritten recipes.
“My mom will type the recipe in danish and I will translate it,” she said. “And then I experiment.”
And then, she tests her recipes with her girlfriends.
“I tied the hyggelig in with the food the whole time, because I love the idea of bringing hygge to us,” Annette said. “Because I just feel like we could use it.”
After experiencing it, I would have to agree.
When our plates were clean, we all went to the kitchen to tag-team some of the dishes. On my way out the door, Annette invited me over for the next GAB meeting and gave me a big hug.
“I loved tonight,” she said. “I love feeding new people.”