The Crusoë Company

When cold and wet nights set in, there’s nothing more tempting than revisiting memories of a French summer’s bright and starry skies. So, that’s what I’ll do. Now, yes. Since it was quite an extraordinary summer. Having spent the beginning half of 2013 working on or with my supplementary limb – the laptop – I was in dire need of some physical routine, cooking and making. Did I know there was an island for that. In France, even.

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So I swapped eight (possibly) sunny weeks in Amsterdam for eight stove-bound weeks in Rémalard. But one does not end up in Le Perche for no reason. It’s really devoid of standard travel-entertainment. Some serendip here and there led me to the single darn pearl in the Perchean woods: d’une île. There, you can sleep, eat and wander.

The driving force behind this ‘island in time’ are Michel + Sofie. They manually turned the old countryside manor(s) into eight apartments, where unwinding is unavoidable, and desirable. Love, dedication and beauty are the main ingredient of e v e r y t h i n g you see, touch, hear, feel and taste.

Café

I crusoëd along with Michel + Sofie for the 2013 summer season, and witnessed a unique process of creation. Where many of us might feel they’re overflowing with ideas, but find too little time to realize them, I discovered it’s not (only) about time, but about space. At d’une île, there is space.

Space, because:
– you overlook les fôrets from your window, making ideas grow whilst musing.
le terroir of Le Perche rewards entrepreneurial efforts that offer quality.
there’s always work to do and mainly your own pool of creative solutions to tap from.
– moments of buzz and business are alternated with time for reconsideration and reflection.
– time takes what it needs to grow d’une île organically.

What most fascinated me was that, although the space-statements above might evoke some sense of ‘slowness’, the opposite is true. The design, reconstruction and interior of d’une île were realized within a time-frame any architect or contracter could only dream of.

To me, it feels as if the key lies with a vision rooted in the courage of two talented personalities taking some space.

Experimental Gastronomy

When I met Martin Kullik for the first time, he was exhibiting recycled men’s fashion in one of Amsterdam’s design-wise hottest hotels, the Lloyd Hotel. Martin runs the project space (Steinbeisser) in the Lloyd with Jouw Wijnsma. And, since food is en mode, his next project would be a cooking experiment.

He coined it Experimental Gastronomy and challenged himself, Jouw and his friend Alexander Gehrsberg (experienced vegan chef) to cook with only bio-dynamic and local ingredients. The quest for the right ingredients resulted in a collaboration with the oldest bio-dynamic farm in The Netherlands, Land en Boschzigt, who supplied the vegetables, and wine (amazingly flowery!).

Three days in a row, Martin and Alexander cooked a 5-course meal for a maximum of 20 guests. In a small hotel room with a kitchen. There were no tables, but many chairs, a boxbed and stairs to sit on. The far end of the room was an open kitchen – and everything was prepared in sight. On the other side, a large round table exhibited cutlery from jewelry designer Maki Okamoto. Maki loves the shape of spoons, and designed fusions of spoons and forks for the dinner. The fork shown on the picture below reminds me of a pitchfork – increasing one’s awareness of your food’s road from-farm-to-fork.

Not surprisingly, it turned out to be a true challenge to limit oneself to local and bio-dynamic ingredients. Martin and Alexander explained how they had to compromise on the use of certain oils – to guarantee a desired taste palette of the dishes.

Anyhow, the boys succeeded in inspiring all the guests to cook more vegan. Here’s an incomplete list of what tickled our tongues: nettle soup with thyme, cucumber and daisy flowers (yes, they’re edible!); pumpkin flower (the green part is the best as an after-dinner refreshment); nasturtium blossoms; falafel balls (Alexander is partly Isreali) from kidney beans with parsley, summer savory and chard; pelmeni (Alexander is partly Russian) and a strawberry-sweetened oatmeal cookie with gooseberries (full of vitamin C, fiber and potassium)..

I look forward to the next series of no-frills vegan inspiration!

My First TEDx!

Whilst I’m working on a new version of Living Antenna, things are happening in the meantime – that also contribute to a better idea of what it could, and should be. So in this under construction phase I did not want to withhold this from you: my first TEDx-talk! I was invited to speak at TEDxWageningen, the academic and business food valley of The Netherlands. The theme was “The Emergence of Bio-Based Economies”.

It was exciting to think of what I’d like express to an audience of critical strangers – and amongst some other really inspiring speakers. I decided it’d be best to speak from personal experience, and from what I’m passionate about. And that is – no surprise – about everything typically Living Antenna. In other words: how I believe food, design and sustainability relate, and contribute to each other.

Click here or on the picture to watch the talk!

Unfortunately my microphone was switched off the first three minutes, so I’ve included the first paragraphs for you to read along:

“I’ve got a terrible disease, and my disease is that, in certain areas of my life, I can experience a deep sense of joy, wonder or disappointment. At those moments, I am moved to feel at dis-ease. It happens to me all day long, and the way to cope with that dis-ease, is to ask questions and that is what feeds my personal and professional life. This story is about the symptoms of my disease, and the ideas that result from it.  

The first idea is about what I think is the missing link in (effectively) tackling sustainability issues, then I move on what in our daily lives is one of the major overlooked elements on the road to realize a sustainable future, and I’ll finish by why you, sitting right in front me, can make a difference without any effort whatsoever.

My first observation concerns the whole production and consumption system, where sustainability thinking mainly focuses on optimizing either the pre- or the post-consumption phase. Pre-consumption includes energy efficiency, fair trade and logistics, whereas post-consumption deals with materials, waste and emissions.

But our daily routine of using the products and services we buy, is hardly addressed in present sustainability thinking. It seems as if this consumption phase is a foggy, grey box that we don’t want to look into.

And that is an example of what made me feel at dis-ease, because a substantial part of “unsustainabilities” are hidden in these daily routines. In our standards of normality. The power of standards is that you never question them. Apparently, it’s next to normal to shower for ten minutes, to throw away your boiling water, to only eat perfectly shaped veggies, to turn your home into a tropical paradise in the middle of winter. To me, these standards of normality are an unquestioned opportunity to contribute to a sustainable future.. “

For more, it’s best to just sit back, and watch the talk. I’m really curious what you think of it, so feel free to comment or contribute to the ideas.

The Art of Fruit

In some homes, fruit is always displayed so beautifully. In my home, it’s often a pile-up of a day’s score at the market in too small a bowl. The worst is that some fruits don’t go well together, or disappear below dominant apples and oranges and start decaying before you know it.

At Pecha Kucha Amsterdam, Rogier Martens showed how he, accidentally, solved this problem. He turned some of his glass experiments into an upside-down oriented fruit bowl, based on the Jonagold apple. True fruit art. This movie shows you how the mold-blowing of glass really works. Worth a look.

And from today, I’ll treat my fruit bowl as a canvas.

Photo credits: Rogier Martens

Everything I Have

Writing a thesis on sustainable consumption makes you inspect your lifestyle. Actually, I look at what I do and buy in gloriously geeky detail. And so far, it makes me want to experiment. Not that I want to downshift, no. But it’ll be interesting to see what value I actually assign to everything I own. Of course, all my stuff seems to be relevant to me. Seems, yes. I’m not sure. In a Facebook-discussion with my friend Justus Bruns, I was pointed to this talk of Bruce Sterling by Alper Çuğun.

In his talk, Bruce explains how you go about such a Relevant Personal Stuff Assessment. Start by dividing everything you own into four categories:

1. Beautiful things. Aesthetics are very important. But is it so beautiful you’d want to show it off? Exhibit it? Do you tell your friends about it? If not, it’s not beautiful. Take a (beautiful) picture of it, get the bar-code in case you’d want to re-buy it and share the picture with your external hard-drive, only. Because, “you weren’t born with it,” according to Bruce.

2. Emotionally important things. Also, emotional attachment is important. But, are you going to tell anybody about it? Does the object carry a narrative worth sharing? Or is it just emotionally blackmailing you? If there’s no associated story, better to get rid of it. Again, take the picture. Write the unworthy-of-sharing story too, if you wish.

3. Tools, devices and applications. With getting rid of tools, you lose nothing. Bruce: “You’re only gaining time, space and health.” If you want to keep tools, make sure they’re of highly technical standards. Do not duck-tape your tools. Or make do with tools. They probably break more than they fix.

4. Everything else. Get rid of stuff you never touch. Or haven’t touched in a year.

Amazing project by Simon Evans: Everything I Have

Then, Bruce emphasizes that there is stuff that should be of the highest quality imaginable. Those are objects you use everyday and are physically close to you. That’s a bed, yes – because you spend almost a third of your lifetime in it. Sell Everything else and buy that bed, and a back-friendly chair. And proper cosmetics, because they sit on your cheeks, and eyelashes. Proper shoes. The stuff you wear, and touch on a daily basis. He promises that your “quality of life will skyrocket.”

He even promises that “you will look different, you will act differently – you will become much more of what you already are.”

I have a notebook. And a pen. And lots, and lots of stuff. Time to make some.. lists.

NOTE Although I endorse the idea of getting more value out of less stuff, it is also important to think of what you do with all the books, clothes, crockery and toolboxes you’re going to get rid of. Make sure they get a second life into someone else’s list of Beautiful things or Emotionally important things.

Fine Food Fairytales

Deviating from my traditional blogging-a-story-path, I just wanted to share a number of food-related finds with you. The first is an article I stumbled upon on My Modern Met, an inspirational blog for all of us aesthetics-loving urbanites. They featured an interview with photographer Christopher Boffoli, on his little-people-in-food series, a concept previously (not sure who was first) applied by Slinkachu in  The Little People Project. Although it might seem like an easy job – a lot of skill, and passion for food is required to create these tiny visual fairytales.

Accidentally, I found out that Christopher is a food writer as well, which might explain the effort put in these carefully curated series, that seem a small side-project when looking at his extensive portfolio – covering pretty much every corner of the globe. You can find his work here.

For now, I’m contemplating of ordering a print to remind me of the beauty one can find in detail. Time to find the fairytales on my own plate.

Who’s At Your Ideal Dinner Table?

Sometimes I envision myself how it must feel to find a pearl in an oyster. To be honest, I’m not even fond of oysters, nor have I ever fished for oysters, but this romantic sense of opening an oyster (actually, a very ugly shell) housing a tiny, shiny perle feels must be ecstatic. For me, this pearl is often a new magazine, just like finding out about ABOVE Magazine last year.

This year, I stumbled upon Condiment – Adventures in Food and Form, a Melbourne-based “publication and project-base exploring the relationship between food and creativity and food and community”. As mentioned on LSN Global, initiator Chris Barton “likens the production process to hosting a dinner party”, where the guests of his launch issue included design virtuoso Martino Gamper, describing the art of clam gathering in New Zealand, Los Angeles-based sculptor Ricky Swallow, sharing his pottery collection, and writer EC Large, going over the philosophy of watching an onion. Food for thought, so it seems.

Condiment’s visuals are mouth-watering, even if the food does not look edible anymore. From now on, I will try to turn every meal into an aesthetically pleasing experience, which so far has only complicated the matter, since I haven’t figured out how to make my goat’s cheese sandwich with honey-vinegar and alfalfa look other than a little out-of-control.

I guess the only remedy is to order Condiment online, since it is not available in The Netherlands yet, and features some promising recipes, too. But, stepping into curator Chris Barton’s (and co-creator Jessica Brent’s) shoes, who would be at your ideal dinner table?

How Fashion’s Getting Its Feet Wet

Honestly, until today I wasn’t familiar with the business model of a fashion week. I’m still not, but I did get the message that a truly Green Fashion Competition is an exception. This year’s Amsterdam International Fashion Week teamed up with the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation and allowed its catwalk to be dedicated to biodiversity for thirty minutes.

The show was neatly organized. Rosemount wine vouchers, green apples by OrganiceYourLife and crispy paper goodie-bags provided an adequate welcome. The models strolled, walked stiffly, or swayed their hips across the forty meters of white catwalk, on a variety of musical interludes. Eight finalists showed their work, ranging from classy, light feminine overalls in oceanic colors,  voluminous winter-proof menswear and incredibly put-together pieces of open sandals and woolly socks materials to biodegradable sneakers, shown on a practically nude and spray-tanned Baywatch-model. Diverse it was, indeed. But bio?

Winners of the first and second prize won a respectable financial injection of €25.000 or €15.000. The first prize went to Elsien Gringhuis, who showed “how to combine couture fashion with sustainability”, whereas the second prize was awarded to two guys from the Technical University of Delft, who had researched for two years and engineered a stylish, and decomposable shoe under the start-up name OAT.

So, the biggest cash flow got into Elsien Gringhuis’ pocket, because she wonderfully interweaves complicatedly simple design with sustainably produced materials, showing us that sustainability is not a drawback for creativity or avant-garde aesthetics.

OAT represents a more technical side to sustainability in fashion. They prove that a product based on the principles of closing material cycles can be fashionable, too.

In that sense, the – diverse – Green Fashion Competition jury of a senior banker, former top model, policymaker, fashion journalist, sustainability consultant and a social entrepreneur  – accidentally? – awarded an immaterial, as well as a more material and measurable take on green. And the competition gets a second chance, in 2012. But maybe green’s out of fashion by then.

Hair Cut Without Mirror

I wonder why, I wonder why people are afraid that getting their hair cut can turn into an irreversible nightmare. (Since your hair is apparently.. an important asset.) That is why they examine themselves from every angle through numerous mirrors while the Master of Scissors runs through their dead ends, hard-to-handle curls or endless knots. To be honest, that would drive me crazy. I leave the fate of everything that is rooted in my scalp into the hands of one very skilled hairdresser (only twice a year, so I’m extremely happy those days, one of which is today). He has so many curls that I would even consider him not-in-control of his own locks. Yet, I trust him. Maybe more of us should trust other people. Even when it concerns their appearance. We all have a very fixed idea on when we look gorgeous and when we look absolutely horrible. But it’s wonderful to have someone else decide which of your facial features should be underlined by a certain haircut. And going to my hairdresser is relaxing, because I don’t see myself losing hair all the time; only at the end of the Master’s hard work do I get to see how different I look. And I would have never come up with it myself. Make someone else get you over the threshold, and trust, a little bit more. Move that mirror.