Light screen

Recently, I moved house. In this home, every space has one wall that’s seventy percent antique single-glazing and thirty percent inactive radiator. My interior lamps are direct competitors to overhanging street lights. They compete over darkness. Together, they are both winners. Light is always.

In bright sunshine, my laptop-screen turns blurry and my smartphone’s brightness cannot beat the sun-ray’s reflections. A day like that and it’s immediately difficult to look at any screen at all.

This year’s first card reached its receiver on a clear winter day. To make sure he’d head outside, to screen people and streets, I could not other than send him something to fold over his laptop. With light and darkness, who’s first decides who is who. I wanted him to be first.

To search and see light beyond a screen.

 

Millimeters

It’s week 20. I’ve handwritten 20 cards so far in 2014. They’re hiding on Instagram. And boy, I love this project. While writing and drawing, I learn a lot. That’s to say: I meet newness. This story is about materials.

San Francisco

In San Francisco, I made the long haul to the MUJI store, located amongst – I could have guessed – a collective of homeware,- and furniture stores. I didn’t realize American city centers apply the mall philosophy to most of their retail. The advantage: it’s a massive MUJI.

MUJI sells stationery, but also clothes and furniture, cooking utensils and bathroom necessities. All in the name of simplicity. Naoto Fukusawa and Jasper Morrison are two designers who have openly contributed to the MUJI collection. Most designers are anonymous to the purchasing public.

Supernormal

In their book Super Normal they point us to those objects, often overseen by the conscious, yet subconsciously greatly valued. The same holds for my MUJI pens: 0.38, 0.5 and 0.7 mm. Each pen makes me draw and write differently. I didn’t expect a tenth of a millimeter difference would inspire new words and images.

The new is so incredibly close.

Travel wisely

It’s strange when things really fall into place. When decluttering my home in Amsterdam, just ahead of New Year’s Eve, I decided to throw away at least 5 years of conference badges. (Why do I keep them in the first place – I wonder.)

Five minutes later, my phone rang. My mother. She pointed me to a conference in San Francisco she was eager to attend: Wisdom 2.0. It took me a split-second of Googling to realize that conference embodies a movement I’ve always felt part of. Here, speakers are monks and tech entrepreneurs, programmers and neuroscientists.

My current teachings at the Design Academy about social design, building meaningful interactions with Daniël and chairing the board at Your Lab all point to – playful – mindfulness in action. Eventually.

So, hold your horses, since I’ll definitely put down the fruits of my stay in San Francisco on Living Antenna. A virtual monastery for the mind, I’ve just learned.

TIME

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.

IMG_0136

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.

Take-A-Cucalu

Ever since I discovered that space invaders are found all across the globe, I realized what can make my day: something small, that’s easily overlooked. It’s especially rewarding when you’ve made some effort. Shit in, shit out – they say. Time in, time out – I say.

Each space invader I discovered (from Melbourne to Amsterdam, Bangkok to New York) whilst scrutinizing rooftops, obsolete viaducts and desolate alleyways would leave me daydreaming about who picked that spot and type of invader. A moment of discovery as a time-out from the present.

Cucalu

That’s how Cucalu works, too. Cut short, it’s  a smartphone game that invites you to stretch your creativity by taking photos. Photos containing basic, geometrical shapes. You know, that circle or triangle you subconsciously spot day in, day out.

By really looking out for them, you embark on a visual adventure in a familiar environment. Bonus: a new perspective. Combine your photos into unique short movies and go Dutch: share the creative effort by releasing it into a pool of new friends.

Daniel Disselkoen (who’s also mentioned here) coined the idea, and we’re collaborating on the communications. That runs from Thinking Biggy about its launch to Writing Tiny for the in-game instructions. A message is everywhere. Just as triangles, circles and squares. Go hunting.

Globistique

Home-, hand- and manmade

The past year I’ve come across so many emergent, and promising food movements, that I decided to publish a series.  This first post explains you how doing-it-yourself  (DIY) is slowly pushing away our call for convenience in the kitchen, cellar, garage, or wherever you brew your beer, stir your ricotta or store your chutneys.

The DIY movement started in Brooklyn, among people in their 20s and 30s who “have a sense of community and an appreciation for traditional methods and flavors”. We all want to know what’s in our food, but most of all it’s exciting to make food the artisan way. And get it right. Exactly right.  

By adopting traditional preservation and conservation methods,  food processors and supermarkets  are side-stepped.  Many amateur, and professional chefs prefer to do the bread-baking, the meat-curing and the cucumber-pickling themselves. Preferably at home. By hand.

The book shown here is a perfect starting point for any DIY foodie. It’s made by cook and culinary illustrator Yvette van Boven. I call her book a cross-over between a cookbook, and Instructables.

Once you’ve finished your batch of chili-jam or get fed up with your home-brewn punch, start a bottom-up initiative, where community is built through the sharing and swapping of homemade food. An overseas example is the (again Brooklyn-based) food swap where homemade goods are exchanged for other edibles as a means to combat the lingering economy. Your shelf will be happy.

A Dutch example of swapping amazingly tasty rhubarb wodka, seaweed lasagne and eggnog icecream is the Underground Farmer’s Market (Underground Boerenmarkt), where Amsterdam-based food trendwatcher Marjan Ippel brings together all types of avid home-cooks to share their produce with other cooks, and a limited (paying) public.

If you’d sell your homemades there, what would you like to make perfectly?

Liquid Smoke

My Malmö friend is a vegan. That means she refrains from eating or purchasing animal products (meat, fish, dairy and eggs). I am fascinated by the food habits that come with veganism. Her cupboard is filled with dried beans, nuts, seeds and formerly to me unknown soy products. The first night she cooks me a pasta bolognese with soy crumbs. I’m curious how you cook a bolognese without cheese, or minced meat. But she does, by using Liquid Smoke. What? Yes, smoke from a bottle.

I was stunned. I could not other think of it than as a chemical additive, but Liquid Smoke promotes itself as a natural process. It’s just water, with a smokey flavor. The smokey flavor I like so much today, has never been the intention of smoking food. Smoking of foods, using freshly generated smoke, has been used for preserving foods for thousands of years. In particular suitable for perishable foods such as fish and meat, it turned out to also impart color and flavor to food. Whilst researching liquid smoke, I found a fascinating movie promoting it as a sustainable alternative to traditional smoking methods:

Of course, I could not resist to bring a bottle home, also to go along with all the dried soy products I bought from Astrid och Aporna, an organic, vegan and vegetarian grocery store. I like my vegetarian cassoulettes smokey. Meanwhile, today’s liquid smoke flavorings are used to replace traditional smoking of foods, but they can generate undesirable substances that may be hazardous to human health. The European Food Safety Authority has been researching this since 2010. Maybe better to stick to smokey eyes, then.

Ekologiskt Kafé

Last weekend I visited goods friend in Copenhagen (Denmark) and Malmö (Sweden). Often, Scandinavians ask me what it is that many Dutch people love their territory. For me, it’s their appreciation of quality. Every coffee-shop is run by experienced baristas, who spoil you with cloudy, heart-shaped soy milk on top of your espresso, most restaurants use organic ingredients by default, interiors look smart, yet don’t feel overly designed and they can run unlimited breakfast buffets without people plundering the lot. Because it’s value for money.


The most impressive breakfast buffet I ate was at Chez Madame, a Berlinesque café, located on a corner with walls as windows. Perfect to let the October sunshine warm the wooden chairs and tables. The bar is laid out with Swedish pastries, boxes with organic apples are stored in the corner, newspapers spread over the tables. For around 7 Euros you have a breakfast buffet with quinoa, homemade bread and muffins, yoghurt with muesli, lentil salad, and a number of spreads. At first glance the spreads look like sweet jams or marmalade, but then their carrot taste takes you by surprise! Delicious. And since the biggest take-away from this trip for me was: don’t move to a place cooler than yours – instead, make your own place cool, I’ll have to start thinking of how to get this breakfast to Amsterdam!

The window with spreads to choose with your bagel. Black beans, carrot, and what not.

Herbalicious!

As a newcomer to the American West Coast, after one week spent in food-heaven New York, I was happily surprised by Poppy, a Seattle-based restaurant. Its owner, Jerry Traunfeld, masters the application of herbs and spices on the level where he challenges everyone who claims to know his bit about spicing up a meal. At least, that’s what I think.

Jerry spent a long time of his working life at the HerbFarm, a restaurant around 100 km south of Seattle. As a complementary to his alchemistic approach to cooking with herbs, he traveled India to find out what spices could add to that. He returned with more than knowledge on spices – he decided to introduce the Indian thalis in Seattle.

A thali is a selection of different dishes, served in small bowls on a round plate. Exactly, just like the picture. At Poppy’s, they sometimes compare it with the Dutch rijsttafel, a selection of Indonesian dishes, shared among the dinner guests. This turned out to be a faulty comparison, since Jerry admitted that the best thing about the thali is “that you don’t have to share your food!”


At the back of the restaurant, you find Jerry’s impressive herb garden – this is where the Japanese herb is grown that finishes off the half-shell kushi oysters, the burdock and sunchocke that truly made the carrot pickle rock and the lavender in the dessert shortbread. Although some herbs were familiar, most of them seemed exotic. In summer you can have dinner in this oasis of floral perfumes.

After our dinner, we bought his book The Herbal Kitchen, wherein Jerry not only shares his recipes from Poppy (his personal favorite is on page 155!), but also tips and tricks on how to grow the herbs yourself. After Poppy, you really only want to go herbalicious.

Have A Mom-and-Pop Take Over

At Sitka & Spruce in Seattle, they invented a great way to keep your restaurant open for seven days a week, without putting too much of a strain on your workforce. Six days a week, Sitka & Spruce runs its own menu, but on Mondays they give the key to a Mexican family, who run a totally different menu – offering the food of the “Malafacha”. Actually, my first encounter with this type of Mexican kitchen was in New York, at La Superior. To me, Mexican is what Dutch supermarkets consider Mexican: pre-baked tortillas, artificial guacamole without avocado and red sauce with pieces of something. Well, these guys proved the opposite, look at this taco:

On these Mexiacan mondays, no reservations are taken. As a result, you walk in on the night itself, get a drink at the bar around the corner whilst waiting – and one look at the menu justifies it all. Thus, loosening the strings, and giving a mom-and-pop or other cooking collective the chance to use a professional kitchen one night a week leads to successful surprises, and enterprises – at least when your place is called Sitka & Spruce.