We cover several cities, choose one to explore!
Whisky on the West Coast

Having lived in Scotland for eight years, I've drunk my fair share of whisky. Most of it sitting in a steaming, peat-stained bath attempting to thaw out after a long, rain-soaked walk around a loch or up a munro. And although that's a pretty fine way to enjoy a dram, I can report that it's also rather fantastic reclining on a sun-warmed rock on an island in Bohuslän, on Sweden's west coast.

Which is exactly what I was lucky enough to do this week when I joined a 24 trip to Fiskebäckskil organised by Talisker. After a two hour bus journey from Gothenburg, we donned full overalls, jumped straight onto a fishing boat and set out on the glittering water to the nearby island of Flatholmen for lunch.

Idyllic Fiskebäckskil

Lunch is served

After kick-starting us with some freshly-shucked local oysters with a dram of Talisker (it had been an early morning), Brygghuset's chef Jonas Svensson served up heavenly bowls of creamy seafood broth. And if there's a better way to spend a Tuesday lunchtime than that, I'd like to know what it is.

Island nature on Flatholmen, one of some 8,000 islands and skerries in the Bohuslän archipelago

After lunch, it was back onto the boat for a bit of shellfish fishing. Lobster season isn't until late September so the crustacean queen we caught had to be thrown back but plenty of crab and langoustine (along with the odd muddy fish) came up in the pots.

According to Bobo, our fabulously-coiffed fisherman who's fished these waters his whole life, the weather conditions weren't great - fishermen like it nice and rough as they get better prices at the fish auction - but for us lucky landlubbers it couldn't have been better as we bobbed about in the sunshine spotting porpoises and watching Bobo and his wife Janni haul in the pots.

Once back on dry land in Fiskebäckskil, we gently swayed into Brygghuset's impressive whisky bar for a whisky tasting session. I've drunk whisky everywhere from Sydney to Skye while knowing shamefully little about the spirit but after an hour tasting, I felt significantly better informed.

But if there's one thing I like even more than neat whisky, it's a whisky cocktail. Happily, Emil Hed, recently named Nordic Bartender of the Year, was on hand to mix up some outstanding original drinks, all using Talisker.

Emil adding the finishing touch - porcini oil - to his 'Burnt Butter' cocktail

When you get to my advanced age, truly fresh and exciting flavour combinations come few and far between, but each of the four tailormade cocktails blew my mind in different ways. Porcini mushroom oil added to caramelly, maple-syrupy butter-washed whisky in 'Burnt Butter' was next-level delicious, 'Roasted Tomato' was a new take on a Bloody Mary, 'Honey', a refreshing long drink with meadowsweet liqueur and saffron honey came with a sprinkling of seaweed salt on the glass, and 'Coffee and Polypody' (it sounds better in Swedish) was sweetened with a sugar made from dried stensöta or polypody (a type of fern).

Four phenomenal courses. From left to right: scallop paired with 'Burnt Butter' cocktail, steamed bao bun with langoustine paired with 'Roasted Tomato' cocktail, cod with trout roe paired with 'Honey' cocktail, and 'Coffee and Polypody' dessert cocktail (Photo credit: Jennifer Kivinen)

After dinner, we listened to Danish adventurer and soldier Lasse Hansen talk about his life-changing experience rowing across the Atlantic last winter. Inspired by Lasse's adventures and fuelled by a healthy dose of Dutch (or rather, Scottish) courage, we rounded off an unforgettable day with the first sea-swim of the year in the bracing waters of the Skagerrak, from the hotel's floating sauna pontoon.

If you'd like to book this trip yourself (and believe me, you do), it'll be taking place on two weekends this summer - 28-29 June and 23-24 August. Visit Scandinavian Detours.

Every-other-week parenting without splitting up

As anyone who has ever been married or in a long-term relationship will probably agree, marriage is hard. Shit hard, you might even say in Swenglish, especially if you have children. So hard in fact that around 1 in 2 marriages in Sweden end in divorce. (I recently read somewhere that Gnesta, my home town, has the second highest divorce rate - 3.6 per 1,000 residents - in Sweden after Ockelbo, so we're battling some pretty unfavourable odds here.*)

While most children in the UK with separated parents seem to stick with the same "lives with the mother, weekends and holidays with the father" routine that I grew up with, in Sweden it's much more common to divide children's time equally between parents, with an alternating "mammavecka" and "pappavecka". Which is fantastic for equality, but possibly not always so great for the children.

When Joe and I had a trial separation a couple of years back (which I could blame on living in Gnesta, but actually there were a few other factors involved), we found we loved the freedom of having every second week to ourselves but hated being away from the children (and each other) so much.

So we came up with the genius solution of staying together but doing every-other-week parenting. I realise this won't work for everyone - Sweden's subsidised childcare and family-friendly labour laws definitely make it more doable - but I reckon it could be a relationship and sanity-saver for some families.

This is how it works for us:

  • On parenting weeks, we're responsible for picking up and dropping off children at school, food shopping, cooking, arranging playdates and basically any and all child-related admin.

  • On our free weeks, we can work as long and late as we want, go out any evenings without "permission", and even take a whole night off if we need serious peace and quiet.

  • We usually take one night of the week on our free weeks and go and stay at my mother's house nearby. I always intend to use my free evening to meditate, do yoga, take long walks and nurture myself, but usually end up eating pesto pasta and watching crap on Netflix.

  • When we're at home during our free week, we help out because we want to, not because we have to.

  • Weekends and holidays are pretty much shared but if we want to go out or go away, weekends at the end of our free weeks are the preferred time to do it.

  • As with "normal" parenting, communication and kindness are key. If we see the other parent struggling on their parenting week, we step in and help them out. Remember, karma will always bite you in the arse in the end.

  • Swaps and substitutions are allowed.

* If you want better odds, best move to Nordmaling in Västerbotten with only 0.8 divorces per 1,000 residents.

Chasing The Scream: 48 hours in Oslo

Many moons ago, I wrote my A Level History of Art dissertation on the amazing, angst-ridden Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, and ever since then I've longed to see his paintings up close and personal. So, after six years in Sweden, I felt it was time to pay our respects to our Norwegian neighbours and make a little weekend trip to Oslo.

A six hour train journey from Södertälje later, I dragged my family through howling wind and incessant rain to the Munch museum, thrilled at the prospect of finally getting to see works like Madonna, Young Woman on the Beach, the Dance of Life and, of course, The Scream.

Postcards from the gift shop: the closest we got to seeing any of these paintings

We queued up and paid our money and worked our way round the exhibition "The Swan Princess: Russian Art 1880-1910", which was full of paintings by Russian and Nordic artists like Mikhael Vrubel, Carl Larsson, Anders Zorn, and, yes, the odd painting by our man Munch. But no Evening on Karl Johan Street, no Summer Night, no Jealousy and very definitely no Scream.

In the final room I asked the guard "Is that it?" "Oh, you want to see The Scream", he answered wearily. "Well, yes, that would be nice, but also all his other paintings." "They're in storage in the basement," he helpfully informed me. "But you can see them next year when the new Munch museum opens. And you can see another version of The Scream and some of his other works at the National Gallery." "Great, we'll go there then."

But before I dragged my distinctly unimpressed family back out into the rain and over to the National Gallery, I checked their website. Closed until 2020. 25 years of waiting and I was a year too early. I did a little silent scream and moved on to see what else Oslo had to offer.

Oslo highlights:

  • Street art. Oslo has a slightly rawer, more edgy feel than Stockholm and some fantastic street art, particularly around the Tøyen and Grünerløkka districts.

  • Kon-Tiki museum. If you've never read the book or seen the film about Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl's epic crossing of the Pacific on a balsawood raft, The Kon-Tiki, do it now. A truly inspiring adventure.

The actual raft used by Heyerdahl and his crew on their 1947 expedition

Ferry across the Oslo fjord to the Bygdøy peninsula and museums (Pic: Joe Maclay)

  • Palmyra Cafe Masala Dosais and mango lassis at this great value Sri Lankan restaurant in Grønland were a taste of the tropics on a rainy day in Oslo.
  • Vigeland Sculpture Park. An easy walk from our Airbnb in Majorstuen, I didn't expect my children to get too excited about a load of sculptures but actually they loved it (possibly because of the nakedness).
  • Holmenkollen Ski museum On our last day, we took the underground (which is mainly overground) up into the hills to the north of the city, past suburbs of gorgeous wooden villas with views over the fjord, to Holmenkollen.

After admiring the terrifying downwards views from the top of the slope and out over Oslo from the jump tower and watching tall, fit Norwegians dashing about on cross country skis for a while, we walked about half an hour up to the restaurant at Frognerseteren which is worth a detour not so much for the food as the views and the traditional, tar-scented wooden building.

Oslo: you were a delight in the winter sunshine but you've left me not only pining for the fjords but screaming for my Munch hit. I'll be back.

Hunter vs. farmer

Can we talk about mental health for a moment? Two of the people closest to me have a diagnosis - one of bipolar and one of ADHD and autism - and over the years it's made me question my preconceived ideas about, well, pretty much everything.

I've spent countless hours in meetings and counselling sessions discussing how to make these beloved people "better" or to "fit in". So much time and money spent diagnosing, labelling and attempting to medicate (not on my watch). So much energy spent trying to bash a square peg into a round hole. A child who can't sit still in the classroom, a partner who can't handle too much routine or domesticity... "They" must be wrong, because "we" are right.

In his book Attention Deficit Disorder: a Different Perception, Thom Hartmann suggests the hunter vs. farmer hypothesis that makes a lot of sense to me. Most or all humans were nomadic hunter-gatherers for hundreds of thousands of years, but this gradually changed as agriculture developed in most societies and more people worldwide became farmers.

Most humans adapted to farming cultures, but Hartmann speculates that people with ADHD retained some of the older hunter characteristics - apathy towards social norms, hyperfocus, poor planning and organizing ability, impatience, attraction to variety, novelty and excitement, and impulsiveness. These days "hunters" are seen as reckless and irresponsible and we try to force or medicate them into behaving like farmers.

If you're an organised, routine-loving farmer like me, living with a hunter isn't always easy. A hunter won't compare car insurance policies to find the best deal, they won't always say or wear the "right" thing at a family gathering, they could never hold down a "normal" office job and nine times out of ten they'll turn up at least half an hour late for any appointment.

They will, however, definitely be up for a skate in the moonlight, skiving off work or school to go cliff jumping on a perfect autumn day, building an epic den in the woods, telling you the painful truth and really all the things that make life actually worth living.

Whether or not the hunter/farmer theory is true, I think it's a helpful way of understanding that we can be different without being seen as wrong, lesser or abnormal. Imagine your child's teacher saying: "Well, of course your child finds it difficult to sit still all day at school, he/she is a hunter", rather than "your child has ADHD and needs to be medicated."

I also believe it's important to talk about mental health and different ways of being in a neutral, accepting way. I went to a fantastic talk about addiction and co-dependency by Swedish journalist Sanna Lundell last year and she mentioned something that really stuck with me.

No one ever asks children who have parents with mental health or addiction issues how they are or discusses the issue with them in a concerned but neutral way, as they would if they had a parent with cancer or heart disease. And it's exactly the same thing. But there's still an underlying, sub-conscious belief among many people that mental health or addiction is the person's own fault, unlike physical illness.

Let's try to get past our very British/Swedish embarassment and and talk about how we are, how we really are, and how we really want to live. No shame, no judgement, no labels and a willingness to embrace all kinds of normal - hunter, farmer and a million things in between.

 

A good book and a hipster brownie

I had high hopes of fulfilling my intentions of embracing winter these past couple of weeks and writing inspiring things about wholesome activities like long-distance skating, cross-country skiing and ice bathing.

However, an absent spouse, grey skies, a broken washing machine, too much/not enough snow and a nasty case of head lice have put the kibosh on that so instead I'm going to write about the two things that are really getting me through the days at the moment: books and brownies.

These rawfood vegan brownies (or hipster brownies, as Joe calls them, slightly disparagingly, before scoffing another one) are ridiculously quick and easy to make and the best thing is my children don't like them enough to eat them all in one go, so there are plenty left for me. Here's what to do:

Whizz up 200g pitted dates, 3 dl oats, 1 dl cocoa, 1 dl nut butter, a teaspoon of cinnamon and a pinch of salt in a food blender with enough water (about 1 dl) to make the mixture soft enough to spread out into a shallow dish.

For the icing, don't bother to wash up the bowl, just chuck in another 80g of dates, 1/2 dl coconut oil, 1/2 dl cocoa and 3/4 dl water. Blend together, spread over the brownies and let it all chill in the fridge for an hour or so before sprinkling over some sifted cocoa, sea salt and/or dessicated coconut. Grab a handful and retire to a quiet spot with a good book.

My current bedside table book tower is in danger of collapsing and, while Marie Kondo may not approve of the storage method, all these books are sparking plenty of joy so I'll share my tips before dismantling it:

  • Half Of a Yellow Sun is set in Nigeria during the Biafran War in the Sixties. It's skilfully written, touching and heartbreaking.
  • I recently re-read The Poisonwood Bible and am now working my way through Barbara Kingsolver's back catalogue. She writes brilliantly about nature and particularly the effects of climate change in Flight Behaviour.
  • The Hidden Life of Trees is funny and fascinating. You'll never walk in a forest or look at a tree in the same way after reading this.
  • If you only ever read Steinbeck as a set text in school, give The Grapes of Wrath - and all his other books - another go. His female characters aren't particularly positive or inspiring on the whole but he's a master storyteller and his themes are just as relevent today as they were in the Forties. In my top ten books of all time.
  • Even if you're not a fan of spiritual/self-help books, everyone should read The Power of Now. And then re-read it regularly, whenever you need some perspective or your ego's getting a bit out of control. Life-changing, literally.
  • Swing Time: Love Zadie Smith. Her books make me nostalgic for London and her characters are funny and real.
  • A Little Life: I can't decide whether I enjoyed this or not. It's long, traumatic, difficult to read and I couldn't relate to any of the characters but I couldn't stop thinking about it for ages afterwards.