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Sustainability

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.

Fear of flying and a Japanese spa

Wanderlust and climate anxiety is a frustrating combo. I want to see the world, and show it to my children - but how to justify jetting around the planet when I'm destroying it for them in the process? We've recently come back from a month-long trip that involved flying across the Atlantic, thereby using up our carbon allowances for pretty much the rest of our lives, so no more foreign travel for us any time soon.

(Have you ever used an online calculation tool to measure your carbon footprint? Even if you consider yourself fairly green I guarantee you'll be shocked by the result - check out the WWF's one here, if you dare.)

Anyway, instead of getting too morose about all this, I've decided to focus on making the most of the Swedish winter (and not just by getting "mysig" by an open fire, but really getting out there and embracing it), as well as finding ways to experience the world without leaving the country.

First stop, Yasuragi Hasseludden, the Japanese spa just outside Stockholm. I'd visited once before about fifteen years ago, but it's had such an extensive revamp since then that I barely recognised it. The Japanese theme and aesthetic runs strong throughout, from the walkway up to the building and surrounding Japanese gardens to the food (there are three different Japanese restaurants and a sake bar), the yukatas (cotton robes) that all guests wear and, of course, the spa.

I must admit I'm not a massive fan of spas per se. Too much hush-hush, dodgy music, unripe fruit and icky things floating in hot tubs, but Yasuragi's new spa area is on a whole new level. It's the shogun of spas, the emperor. There are indoor saunas and hot tubs and cold plunge pools and salt scrub steam rooms and three outdoor hot pools and an outdoor sauna and a sparkling water pool and it just goes on and on. You could sauna and bathe here for hours and barely park or dip your bits in the same section twice.

If, like me, you get a bit claustrophic in saunas and hot baths, the outdoor pools are the highlight, especially in the winter. Sitting emerged in atmospherically steaming hot water with your face exposed to the cold, fresh air and a view out over the icy water and snow-covered Scots pines and villas of Hasseludden is a pretty hard experience to beat.

The whole place is gorgeously designed in a modern Japanese/Nordic aesthetic with masses of concrete and panoramic windows and everything felt sparklingly fresh and clean - partly achieved, I would imagine, by giving all spa guests brand new, complementary (and rather flattering) black swimming costumes to wear and instructing us all on the proper pre-spa washing ritual. I expect state-of-the-art filtration technology plays its part, but either way I'm happy to report I didn't spot a single unidentified floating object or rogue body hair.

Since I've never visited a Japanese onsen (hot spring baths) I don't know how Yasuragi compares but there's no getting away from the fact that it's huge, with some 600 rooms, and a lot of conference guests. But the size and design of the spa, together with the the fact that everyone is dressed in anonymous swimmers or the yukata you're given to wear at all other times, including meal times, means it never feels too crowded or corporate. There's also a ban on using mobiles in all public areas, which is a revelation in phone-obsessed Sweden (and explains why these pics are all high-quality press images and not my own iPhone snaps).

I'm planning on an annual winter visit, at least until someone invents a zero-emissions way to fly to Japan. Keep an eye out for their special deals and an overnight spa package can be surprisingly good value. Definitely cheaper than a return ticket to Tokyo in any case, plus better for your skin and easier on the conscience.

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.

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