Taking a look at Scotland's answer to the Danes' hygge
Comfort can be derived in many ways, but how Scots go about finding it is special. We have learned to harness the power of our surroundings to find happiness over the centuries, hunkering down in a cosy place with a dog at our feet, sipping a single malt while the weather rages outside.
We even have a word for it. If the Danes have hygge and the Swedes lagom, Scots have ‘coorie’. Once a word to describe cuddling into a loved one, it is now used to sum up a distinctly Scottish way of living, where a loch swim before breakfast followed by a steaming bowl of porridge to warm up evokes the perfect coorie scene.
There isn’t a better time of year to think about how to build on coorie credentials than the festive period. When it’s dark and cold outside, and we’re short on time and money, there are plenty of small and simple ways to amp up happiness by using what’s around us.
Here are ten ways to embody coorie this Christmas.
1. Buy heirloom pieces from Scottish makers
This year, look inside Scotland for gifts. A raft of homegrown creative talent has toiled away to come up with covetable fashion accessories, homeware and pieces of timeless design – and I’d wager it’s our responsibility to support them. Even better, many are keeping archaic production methods alive with their slow-grown goods. On my 2018 Christmas wish-list is a soft alpaca cushion by the Leith-based weaver Araminta Campbell, which takes two days to make on her 100-year old loom. Or if I’m really lucky, a set of jolly hand-thrown ceramics from Fife’s Natalie J Wood.
2. Bleach pine cones to decorate presents
This wrapping tip comes from Jane Adams of Author Interiors, an Angus-based interior designer. I like the idea of spending December days walking in the forest and finding my cones, then having a crafting afternoon to distract from the Christmas chaos. Jane says, ‘Wearing gloves, bleach the cones, leaving them for less time if you prefer ashy grey or longer for white’. She also recommends bleaching leaves to make leaf skeletons or spray painting holly leaves and pine cones in metallic tones.
3. Swim in a loch to sharpen the senses
Yes, even in winter. I got into loch swimming a few years ago as form of selfcare, despite the fact that it sounds like punishment. A quick dip in a freezing loch is enough to send you rushing back to the car squealing in pursuit of your chittery piece (or shivery bite, depending on where in Scotland you’re from). Sitting with the heating on full blast munching a jam sandwich and warming up slowly feels like heaven to me. Wild swimming also feels like a good antidote to screen time when the weather is miserable and the temptation to sit in front of the telly all day is strong.
4. Use pine needles as flavouring for food and drink
Grand and Douglas Fir pine needle oil or essence can be added to food and cocktails to give an alpine sweetness, but go easy to avoid an overwhelming taste of Domestos. There are a couple of ways to incorporate pine needles into cooking. The easiest is to dry the needles completely, whizz in a blender and sprinkle as a powdered garnish onto puddings. Or you can add bruised needles to salt or sugar and leave to infuse for two weeks before using this as the base for curing meat and fish.
Add bruised needles to salt or sugar and leave to infuse for two weeks before using
5. Forage greenery to create festive mantle displays
This is another way to force yourself up and out of the house on dark mornings. If you’re lucky enough to have a big garden with lots of trees it’s just a case of heading out armed with secateurs. If not, it’s an excuse to head into the wild (or the park). Try to find arms of Douglas Fir intermixed with moss, ivy and holly arranged on a mantelpiece in a loose, organic display.
6. Make a face scrub from porridge oats
A few years ago, a colleague told me a story about her beauty journalist friend who eschewed expensive facial scrubs for a homemade version that contained oats. Mind blown. One of the most traditional Scottish ingredients, the simple porridge oat is now being adopted by experts as a way to brighten the complexion. It’s especially good at bringing dull skin back to life in the colder months when you’ve overindulged with rich food and drink. Just mix two tablespoons of ground rolled oats with one tablespoon of honey, add a tablespoon of warm water and mix so it becomes a paste then apply to the face.
7. Weave a Christmas wreath from forest finds
Where the pinecone gathering for gifting started, this crafty pursuit continues. It involves collecting all sorts of treasures from the forest, including your choice of foliage, plus other bits and pieces you’ll find in the shops such as cinnamon sticks, dried orange slices, and ribbons. The result is a fragrant wreath you’ll smell before you see every day. The making part is a little tricky but there are plenty of designers running workshops at this time of year. East Lothian’s Laura Thomas is my best bet. Her Christmas wreath classes run throughout December at her HQ in North Berwick.
The simple porridge oat is now being adopted as a way to brighten the complexion
“You can hot-smoke meat and fish with an empty metal tin, tin foil, a metal grid and wood shavings
8. Pour a Humble Doddy
End the night with this winter warmer, which is a twist on the classic hot toddy. Its name comes from the Doric term for ‘mittens’, or ‘hummel doddies’. A berry reduction with cinnamon, sugar and lemon is added to 50ml of good whisky, 50ml of chamomile tea and cloves. The hard part is stopping at only one.
9. Make your own gin to use up extra Christmas booze
Scotland now accounts for 40% of the UK’s gin export production. Not bad for a spirit that was synonymous with London until fairly recently. DIY gin is definitely cheating, but who’s going to tell? It short-cuts weeks of waiting for a quicker alternative because no one has space for a huge copper still in their laundry cupboard. Instead of distilling botanicals to release their flavours, bootleg gin steeps juniper berries, dried angelica root, cardamom pods and peppercorns in vodka (yes, really) for a couple of days. Simply strain, serve and enjoy.
10. Smoke food for a Christmas feast
Smoking is up there with the world’s most primitive cooking methods. There’s no need to buy a pricey home smoker when you can make a rudimentary one yourself. Humans + fire + food = happiness. It’s just basic maths. You can hot-smoke meat and fish with an empty metal tin, tin foil, a metal grid and wood shavings. Teach yourself how with an online tutorial or sign up to a course with Tasting Scotland, the culinary tour specialist.
Above: Hand-crafted Christmas wreath from Laura Thomas Co in North Berwick.
Below: Leith-based weaver Araminta Campbell at the loom.