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By friends for friends: feel-good Christmas shopping

Just to be clear, I'm no Scrooge. I'm crazy about Christmas and gaily embrace a mishmash selection of all my favourite British and Swedish traditions: candlelit Lucia services, the smell of warm glögg, mince pies with boozy butter, turkey and stuffing (more on the controversial topic of Swedish v. British Christmas food another time), watching Elf for the 87th time, making wonky gingerbread houses, fresh snow and frozen lakes - bring it all on. I am full of the spirit (does Baileys count as spirits?) But one thing that brings out my inner Grinch more and more each year is Christmas shopping.

The thought of all the pointless tat bought and chucked away makes me want to hide in a silent retreat until January, so this year (*friends and family spoiler alert*) I've decided only to buy handmade presents from people I know and like. Handily, there are plenty of creative souls in my area making beautiful things that I (hint) - and hopefully my loved ones - would love to receive. Here are just a few:

Anyone who's been specially good this year should add one of Lina's glorious hand-dyed organic silk kaftans to their Christmas list. She used to live with us so I've seen first-hand how much work goes into creating each kaftan, kimono, poncho and scarf she makes. Each one is hand-dyed using natural dyes such as avocado, raspberry, coffee, rust and rose petals and they're true works of art.

Sonja has a pottery workshop and studio in the old engine sheds in Gnesta and makes throwing beautiful pots look ridiculously easy which, having taken a couple of her evening classes, I can tell you it most definitely isn't.

Karolina of Kajsys hand-makes all her own skin care products using organic oils and other ingredients. My brand-new baby nephew will be getting a big jar of "Snällkräm" with jojoba oil and beeswax, and I'm hoping her "Skäggolja" beard oil with apricot kernal oil and rosemary is going to transform Joe's facial hair vibe from Mr Twist to Mr Clooney.

My old school friend Molly was always the best at art in our year and she's gone on to create a successful business making her own design block-printed textiles, wallpapers and other very lovely products.

Jules walked into a North London playground and my life fourteen years ago when our two eldest boys were just babies. She somehow combines being a highly successful art director with being wonderfully scatty, a single mother to two boys and running her new art advisory service. You can hire her to transform a blank wall into a tasteful and personal gallery wall or just buy one of the hand-picked prints and paintings from her online gallery (the black and white photographic print on the left is by my extremely talented husband, Joe Maclay)

Last year was the first year since moving to Sweden that we had a turkey for Christmas lunch (our first year here we killed and ate one of the neighbour's geese by mistake, but that's another story) and finding a higher welfare bird in this country was no mean feat.

Mission Happy Turkey involved a long search and a random handover rendezvous with a lorry driver in a petrol station car park off the E4. This year, I've sourced the festive (pasture-raised, organically fed and on-site slaughtered) bird from friends who run a permaculture farm in Värmland and make monthly deliveries to Stockholm and Järna.

I've just realised pretty much all these businesses are run by women; not intentional - I'm just lucky enough to know a lot of amazing, inspiring, creative women and I'd rather support them than add more money to the likes of Jeff Bezos' bulging coffers any day.

(No) movie Sunday at Hobo

A distinct drawback of living in a different country from most of your family is that babysitting opportunities are few and far between. Having as many children as we do also rather reduces the pool of people prepared to take on the job, so when my mother was visiting last week we grabbed the chance and snuck off for a rare grown-up night in the big city.

I'd stayed one night at Hobo Stockholm on Brunkebergstorg on a press trip last year and their outstanding breakfast has remained a happy memory ever since. I regard pretty much any hotel breakfast as one of life's great pleasures, but Swedish ones can be a bit samey and limited if you're not into pickled herring and raw peppers first thing. Hobo's mini cheesy egg muffin/soufflé things were calling to me so I snapped up their "Movie Sunday" deal, which includes a night in a superior room, the aforementioned breakfast, plus popcorn and movie tickets - all for 1090 SEK.

What is this hipster hell? I could see Joe thinking as he took in the hydroponic plants and photo booth in the lobby, the pop music on ear-bleed volume and various niche products for sale in their mini-shop. Hobo's uber trendy but it's also fun, unpretentious, centrally located and I'm not sure there's any other city centre hotel in Stockholm where you can get a huge room with panoramic views of the skyline for under a hundred British pounds.

I'm such a sucker for a deal that I forget to ask myself whether or not I (or Joe) actually wanted to go to the movies but the SF tickets laid on our beds were valid for a year, so the pressure was off and we decided to wander the Stockholm streets in a haze of giddy child-free bliss instead.

Popcorn that is in no way Indian

Lazy/knackered parents that we are, we decided to eat in the hotel restaurant (hey, it was Sunday) and were glad we did as the slow-cooked lamb with creamy, dill-y beans, grilled salad (who knew hot cucumbers were a thing?) and chargrilled hunk of bread (also a thing) were all delish. It also turned out that our deal included 20% off the food and drinks bill which Joe, being Scottish, was especially pleased about.

The breakfast buffet the next morning was every bit as classy and creative as I remembered. Chia pudding with vanilla, cold-pressed beetroot juice and, praise the Lord, those little eggy muffins, topped with smoked salmon. A cracking way to start the week.

Breakfast bliss

Re-open: The National Museum's new lease of light

It's been a long time since I last visited the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm. The fact that it's been closed for refurbishment for the past five years is one good reason, but my memory of it as a somewhat gloomy old building stuffed with Old Masters wasn't pushing it to the top of my To Do list.

I was tempted back, however, when it re-opened last month as I was curious to see the results of the £100 million refurb but also to visit the huge, specially-commissioned glass chandelier I had seen being made at The Glass Factory in Boda last year in situ.

 

Ten glass designers, including Åsa Jungnelius and Carina Seth Andersson, collaborated on the project and each element was hand-blown at The Glass Factory. Photo credit: Tina Stafren/VisitSweden

Admiring the assembled chandelier before it makes the journey from Småland to Stockholm Photo credit: Tina Stafren/VisitSweden

 

Modern Swedish glass design and craftsmanship at its best: the eye-catching chandelier in its new home in the museum restaurant

The Old Masters are all there, of course, re-displayed against walls painted in surprisingly un-Scandi rich jewel colours. Artworks are also now collected by period rather than genre - so paintings and other decorative arts from, for example, the 17th century are now exhibited together which provides a nice simple cohesive timeline for lowbrow visitors like me.

Oddly, Sweden doesn't actually have a dedicated museum of design (there is a virtual one, though: Swedish Design Museum). But the National Museum has its own impressive collection and the furniture, glassware and other objects specially commissioned for the re-opening serve as a living, interactive lesson in contemporary Swedish design - the cutlery used in the restaurant was designed by Note, hand-blown glass vases by Carina Seth Andersson and chairs by Matti Klenell and Peter Andersson.

The totem-like "Venus in glass" by artist Frida Fjellman, specially commissioned by the Bengt Julin fund for the museum re-opening

Whatever bizarre thought process led to the rooms at the front of the building being used for offices and storage in the "old" museum has thankfully been reversed and the glorious, light-filled space with views over the water and the Royal Palace is now occupied by the restaurant. More than 300 windows have been opened up and the rooves over the two atria have also been replaced by glass-panelled ceilings, filling the sculpture park in the southern atrium with light and triangular-shaped shadows.

Photo credit: Nationalmuseum/Bruno Ehrs

Photo credit: Nationalmuseum/Bruno Ehrs

The new museum has blown away all its cobwebs and brought a new lease of life to two of the museum's (and Stockholm's) most important resources - its design credentials and stunning natural light.

The golden season: apple pressing and mushroom foraging at Haga*

Autumn is like a relaxed lunch party the day after a big night out, when you take your too-tight togs off, breathe out and have a good time, for real. It's grown-up red wine over girly rosé, apple crumble over salad. It's fire and flame colours and back to school and traffic-light trees and mist-veiled mornings and the smell of rotting fruit and it's right up my street.

When we lived in Scotland, a highlight of this time of year was apple pressing at my parents-in-law's house, so this year we invested in our very own apple press, designed and hand-made by our Danish friend Calle Christensen, a creative genius of the Heath Robinson school. Isn't she a beauty?

The specially nifty elements are that it integrates the fruit press and crusher (powered by an ordinary electric drill) in one machine, and uses a small car jack to squeeze up from below rather than press down from above.

I get a ridiculous amount of joy from the smell of the apples (and pears) as they're pressed and the satisfaction of filling the freezer with our own juice (not to mention the drinking that sweet, sweet nectar). Which is just as well as it makes probably no financial or practical sense to press your own (and other people's) apples by hand when you can just take them along to a local musteri. But that's not the way we roll around here.

The same argument could be used against mushroom hunting - why spend hours rootling around in the forest when you can just buy them in the supermarket (where you can be sure they won't kill you)? But this is one of the things I love about Sweden - that most people here are still sufficiently closely connected to nature to get satisfaction from finding their own (free) food and pleasure just from being in the forest. And that many have the knowledge to find and identify edible mushrooms, even if it's just the trusty chanterelle.

Never a basket around when you need one

I'm proud to report that after four years of living here, we busted out of the 95% of people who "only" pick kantareller and can now fairly confidently identify other tasty fungi including Karl Johan (porcini), trattkantareller (funnel chanterelles), svart trumpetsvamp (Horn of Plenty) and blomkålsvamp (cauliflower mushroom), which looks like a bathroom sponge.

Fun fact: dried porcini have more protein than any other commonly eaten vegetable, except soybeans

Karl Johan, king of mushrooms

Trattisar (funnel chanterelles) drying

For the rest of the month I shall be mainly filling up the larder, and my senses, with the bounty and colours of autumn, to see me through the more monochrome months ahead.

 

*Not the palace where the Crown Princess lives, our (more modest) home is also called Haga

Stockholm's second-hand clothes shops: treasure hunting for grown-ups

A few years ago I came to the somewhat disturbing (but ultimately liberating) conclusion that I didn't enjoy clothes shopping any more. Shopping for new clothes I didn't really need in big, soulless highstreet shops with questionable environmental and ethical practices made me feel guilty and sad and all empty inside. At the same time, I love clothes and like to try to look not too obviously like a shagged-out, middle-aged country bumpkin when I leave the farm. So what to do?

Second-hand clothes shopping! Buying from charity, vintage and second-hand clothes shops is a total win/win solution, for the following reasons:

  • Remember that feeling as a child when you used to dig your hand down into a lucky dip and come up with a really great toy? Second-hand clothes shopping is treasure hunting for grown-ups.
  • You can afford much better - even designer - clothes. Thought Balenciaga boots or a Maje knit were out of your price range? Not if you spot them in a charity shop.
  • Vintage and/or designer clothes are generally much better made than new ones, with higher quality materials (just compare the look and feel of old velvet with new) and timeless design so they'll last even longer.
  • If you buy clothes you really don't need at a charity shop, you can justify it by thinking of it as donating money to charity with a free outfit thrown in.
  • The world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year. You can feel extremely smug and pleased with yourself knowing you haven't contributed to the huge environmental cost of fast fashion.
  • Clothes are pre worn-in for you. According to my mother (who knows about such things), the 12th Duke of Bedford used to get his butler to wear his suits in for him for a year and what's good enough for a crusty old English aristo is good enough for me.

Balenciaga bargains - 250 SEK from Emmaus

The only downside (or possibly upside, depending on how much you enjoy shopping) is that in order to find the real gems you need to scour the shops fairly regularly. Every few months I do a tour of my favourite Stockholm charity, second-hand and vintage shops and it goes a little something like this:

  • First, to Arkivet, handily located close to the Thatsup offices. They hand-select the clothes, bags and shoes they sell on commission so they're all top-notch quality, with lots of chichi Scandi brands like Acne and Rodebjer. You pay probably around 50-70% less than if you'd bought new.

  • Over to Slussen and the Emmaus Stockholm charity shop just off Götgatan. The flowery-roofed flight of stairs of the smaller side store leads you down to a treasure trove of garmentary delights - this is where they sell their edited vintage and designer things. I don't usually have the patience or energy to sift through the clothes in the huge main store but the children's section is fab.

  • Along Hornsgatan, checking out the various charity shops including Myrorna Hornsgatan and Stadsmissionen.
  • Finish at Judits Second Hand. Probably a good thing this is the last stop as it's also the most exclusive/expensive but it always has a beautifully-edited selection. I've found some real gems such as this & Other Stories skirt (which I tried on new in their store about a year previously and then found waiting for me at Judits, pre-loved and half the price - second-hand shopping is full of serendiptious moments like that):

Check out this Thatsup guide for more fab second-hand shops: Where to find Stockholm's best vintage and second-hand shops.

Happy treasure hunting!