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A foodie guide to Järna, Gnesta and beyond

When we moved to Gnesta from Scotland some eight years ago, the food scene was limited to a couple of cinnamon-bun-and-filter-coffee cafés, a handful of bad pizzerias and a basic bakery. Tråkig.

Since then, Gnesta - and nearby Järna's - foodie offerings have exploded to include craft beer brewed by a Dutchman, vegan cakes and pastries baked by an Englishwoman, White Guide-listed restaurants and cafés, game and goats, biodynamic vegetable growing, artisan producers and much more.

Hop on the fast train from Stockholm Central and you can be experiencing the delights of Sörmland in less time than it takes to queue at Flippin' Burgers.

Järna

sKåPMat Squeeze onto a table at this tiny gem of a restaurant, order a glass of natural wine, their home-brewed mead or a local craft beer by Den Bryggande Holländaren and share a few dishes from the simple clipboard menu. David and the crew work their magic on whatever local produce is peaking that day. Friendly, unpretentious and always, always delicious.

Photo credit: Maria Printz

Järna Bageri I realise this is a controversial opinion to hold in Sweden, but men (and women) cannot live on cinnamon buns alone. At this outstanding bakery, the baking repertoire extends to flakey almond croissants, pretzels, seasonal pastries and even savoury delights like leek and fresh goat cheese-filled puff pastries.

Åsgatan 2 Once you've done your bread shopping next door, stop by this café for a healthy-ish fika. The coffee (from Oaxen kafferosteri) is the best in the area and the rawfood Bounty and Snickers bars will convert you from crappy confectionary forever.

De Vilda Sell moose, wild boar, venison and other kinds of game galore, along with other locally-sourced, humanely raised meat. If you still eat meat, places like this feel like the only ok place to buy it. If, like me, you used to have a thing for dodgy Peperami sausages, their ölkorv beer sausage is a must.

Saltå Kvarn It's easy to get seduced by their colourful retro packaging but that's ok because the products are top-notch and all organic too. Bulk-buy sacks of their flour and pasta and have a fika by the river.

Also well worth a visit: Taxinge Krog, one of Sweden's most sustainable restaurants, Skillebyholm for their organic lunch restaurant and biodynamically grown vegetables and check out Under Tallarna, an inspiring collectively-run urban garden where they hold courses, study visits and occasional foodie events.

Gnesta

Vår Lokal Allas Kafé I got seriously lucky when this vegetarian café opened up in the same building as my office last year. Originally a co-working space and event venue in the former hotel building opposite the train station, it now also includes a café run by the very talented Daniel Israelsson, who used to be the chef at Bio Rio before moving to Gnesta. If you're lucky you'll also find heavenly vegan cakes, cookies and pastries by @grondundermat on site.

Öster Malma If you're a carnivore in need of a fix, head down to Öster Malma castle, the headquarters of the Swedish Hunting Society, where they serve a great value daily lunch buffet. As you'd expect, game - from their own butchery - features heavily and, if you've got a heart of stone, you can go and visit the cousins of the moose and deer you've just eaten in the wildlife enclosure after your meal.

Gnesta strand is another reliable option. They serve a lunch buffet on Mondays-Fridays with meat, fish and veg options and salads and an à la carte menu on Friday and Saturday evenings from their pretty location overlooking Lake Frösjön.

Beyond

Sörbro Gård goat farm Drop by the little 'farmshop' (basically a fridge in a shed) at this goat farm near Vårdinge and buy their own goat cheese, goat meat from the freezer, fresh eggs and veg in season. If you're lucky, you might be alllowed into the barn alongside to have a cuddle with the ridiculously cute goats.

Sund Nergården I've written about them before and I'll write about them again. Johan and Niklas, quite possibly the nicest hosts you'll ever meet, have created a mini paradise next to Lake Sillen and this adults-only hideaway beats all other accommodation in the area hands-down. If you're not staying in one of their charming rooms or glamping tents, you can still book for dinner on Friday or Saturday evenings. Johan is a sommelier and, even if you're clueless about wine like me, you'll always find something delicious in your glass.

 

A wabi-sabi* kitchen made of clay

I don't know about you but I love a good kitchen renovation and can waste many a happy hour on Pinterest and Instagram looking at kitchen and larder porn, so for anyone who shares this obsession perfectly healthy interest, here's a photo journal of our recent kitchen overhaul.

Before: the kitchen as we found it when we moved in. Not totally hideous, but bits were starting to fall off and come apart and it all felt most un-fräsch..

We stripped out pretty much everything, apart from the wooden floors and original cast iron stove

The walls of a hundred year old house are layered in history. Stripping off the layers of wallpaper revealed this tragic newspaper snippet about a fatal car crash.

Once the walls were stripped of wallpaper, we put up reed matting for the clay to have something to hold onto. The first layer of rough clay mixture includes horse manure and bits of hay and at this point, as the distinctive fragrance of manure filled the kitchen, I was slightly wondering what we'd got ourselves into.

The stove and counter with the second layer of fine clay (left) and with final layer of clay paint, cement countertop and wooden cupboard doors.

The clay paint was sourced from a German company called Conluto and I mixed the colour myself. Slightly nervous we had created an uber-pink Barbie kitchen when it first went on but against the wood and black details it's much gentler (Did you know pink is known for its calming effect? A similar shade known as "drunk-tank pink" is sometimes used in prisons to calm inmates. Time will tell if it works on my crew).

Clay paint comes in powder form, and it's wonderful to work with as it's completely natural, non-toxic and breathable and, best of all, you can just wash paintbrushes off with water.


Clay every which way: hand-thrown ceramics by Sonja Kedem

All appliances and fixtures were second-hand apart from the tap. I found the totally impractically shaped but gorgeous French Godin gas/electric cooker on Blocket and, together with an antique butcher's block my late sister found at an antiques market, it forms a free-standing central island.

Yes, it would have been a whole lot quicker and easier to go to IKEA but, as I may have mentioned before, doing things the easy way is not really our style and I adore our wabi-sabi homemade kitchen.

* If you haven't already discovered the genius concept of wabi-sabi, it's a world view in traditional Japanese aesthetics centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. Sometimes described as beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete." Love that. So now if you do anything wrong or wonky you can just say it's intentionally wabi-sabi.

And if you like the idea of wabi-sabi, you might also enjoy Kintsugi (or kintsukuroi) -the Japanese method of repairing broken ceramics with a special lacquer mixed with gold.

Celebrating imperfection rather than trying to disguise it (or, worse, chucking the broken object or person away) seems to me a pretty fine philosophy to live by.

One foot in two countries - or why Marmite beats Kalles caviar

Don't worry, I'm not going to be discussing the relative merits of these two vaguely disgusting, overly salty spreads. I've cunningly used Marmite and Kalles caviar to symbolise my two home countries, but I do think the fact that Brits learn to love a tar-like yeast extract spread on their toast and Swedes a fishy goo in a toothpaste tube says a great deal about how liking certain foods has a lot more to do with nostalgia than taste.

Anyway, having two home countries - and a metaphorical foot in each - is something I've been thinking about a lot recently. I remember waking up on Midsummer's Eve three years ago to the news that Britain had voted to leave the EU and, on that most Swedish of days, I suddenly felt lost and unsure about where I (and my family) belonged.

Prior to that it had been easy to fool ourselves that we were citizens of Europe, and of the world, breezily gliding between Sweden and Britain, and any other European country we cared to visit, study or live in. But dancing around the maypole to Små grodorna, with the possibility that we might now be forced to leave my chosen country, I felt out place and slightly scared.

The best of both worlds

Was Sweden our home? Would we be allowed to stay? And, if so, did that mean we couldn't be British too? (Almost certainly, if the Swedish Democrats - who want to ban dual nationality - have their way). What exactly is it that makes someone British, or Swedish, anyway? Apart from strong views about Marmite.

Like most Brits living in Sweden we applied for Swedish citizenship almost immediately and, like around 2000 others, we're still waiting to hear if it'll be granted. The massive shit show that is Brexit is still a huge unknown so we find ourselves in limbo. Obviously not the kind of terrifying limbo that stateless people and refugees find themselves in but still a strange, slightly uncomfortable place to be.

Added to that, ever-increasing climate panic and flygskam (shame of flying) is making it feel like it might be time to pick just one country and stick with it. But which one? How to choose between warm dampness and cold beauty, cosy pubs and a superior design aesthetic, familiarity and freedom to roam, old friends and new, Marmite and Kalles caviar? (actually that one's a no-brainer).

Time will tell what Brexit brings and where our roots and hearts (or ruthless politicians) eventually take us but, for now, no one's kicking us out and we're free to ski in our kilts, speak Swenglish, spread Marmite on our knäckebröd and embrace the cultural mishmash of having a foot in both Sweden and Britain.

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.