Cart (0)
Sign up for Off the Grid and get the latest Nau news and special offers. X
The Though Kitchen - Dedicated to Stirring the Pot

Posts by

Alex Hamlin

De Culinaire Werkplaats

Posted by Alex | October 14th, 2012 | Filed under Art, Design, Sustainability

When you eat vegetarian, do you see an empty spot on your plate?

If you grew up—as I did—grudgingly picking at the obligatory vegetables that garnished the evening’s meat and potatoes, an all-veggie meal has some serious cultural baggage to overcome. Through family dinners, church socials and neighborhood potlucks, we’re taught that supper is a piece of meat with two sides. The idea is so commonplace that we’ve even designed paper plates to the proper proportions.

Call it the “Chinet” approach to meal planning.

So what do you do with that big section of the compartment plate when you’re no longer working with meat? Is it a hole to be filled? Or an invitation to creativity?

These are the questions that animate De Culinaire Werkplaats (The Culinary Workshop), a conceptual test-kitchen in Amsterdam’s rejuvenated Westerpark neighborhood. Half design studio, half restaurant, it seeks to shake up visitors’ culinary lifestyle by redefining not just vegetarian cuisine, but by exploring the creative possibilities of food.

Where many vegetarian restaurants attempt to recreate the flavors and forms of traditional meals, De Culinaire Werkplaats seeks to create entirely new experiences by drawing inspiration from a wide variety of sources—from fashion to farmland, art to architecture. A springtime menu modeled dishes on the landscape of The Netherlands’ countryside; this week, a visitor can enjoy plates suggested by a visit to Shanghai. Cabbages, beans and water chestnut tumble together in the “Shanghai Laundry;” ask for “The Man in his PJs,” and you’ll get a dessert of dim sum, chocolate and tapioca.

And food is only part of the experiment. Founders Marjolein Wintjes and Eric Meursing have crafted wearable fashion from edible fabrics, produced vegetable and fruit papers and put on conceptual art projects. Even the bill challenges convention: while the drink card is traditionally priced, it’s up to you to decide what a fair value is for the five-course fixed menu.

Taken together, these experiments offer a refreshing approach to the challenge of living in a world limited resources: in the process of creating a new culinary language, De Culinaire Werkplaats are showing how imagination can fill an empty plate.

Learn more, and check out the week’s menu, at deculinairewerkplaats.nl. Open Friday for dinner, Saturday for Lunch and Dinner.

Postcard From Slovenia

Posted by Alex | October 2nd, 2012 | Filed under Outdoor Sport, Personal Reflection, Who We Are

Slovenian Alps

“Excuse me, but why would Americans come here?”

By ‘here,’ my Italian bunkmate doesn’t mean the attic dormitory of the Valentina Stamca Hut; he means Slovenia. We’ve met in one of high refuges of the Julian Alps, a range of dolomite just across the border from some better-known Italian peaks made of the same stuff. But while visiting the Dolomites conjures up images of flights into Venice, hand-pulled espressos and lasagna dinners, Slovenia…well, where the hell is Slovenia, anyway?

A pocket nation of just two million people squeezed between Italy, Austria and Croatia, Slovenia secured its independence from Yogoslavia in 1991 through a ten-day war. Yet while that conflict was largely bloodless, Slovenia still bears the scars of earlier battles. As in the Dolomites, Austrians and Italians fought in the Julian Alps from trenches and gun nests dug into the mountains. It’s here that Hemingway wrote about in A Farewell To Arms, where mountain peaks were crowned in barbed wire, and where 60,000 soldiers lost their lives just to avalanches.

Today in the Jullian Alps, the vestiges of that war remain: crumbling stone barracks, rusting gun carriages, blunted barbed wire. But it’s not this that’s brought us here. It’s the paths: beautifully graded army roads and fantastically engineered high-mountain via-ferrata. Built to give access to the high mountains, these war-time paths established new ways of moving through the steep and exposed terrain. The result is that Triglav National Park offers remarkable access to some of the world’s most dramatic mountains. What once was used to make war now accesses beauty.

Outside the bunk room window, one such peak rears up above the Austrian horizon. I point, and smile. Sure, it may not have Italian coffee, but after a long day in these mountains the goulash is pretty darn good.

Postcard From Chamonix

Posted by Alex | September 17th, 2012 | Filed under Uncategorized

Shoulder-season weather gets a bad rap in a lot of mountain towns. There’s not enough snow to ski, but too much for bagging summits or climbing crags. Town empties out. The tourists leave, and so do most of the locals, packed off to beaches in Italy or Costa Rica for a bit of sun and surf before the real storms let fly.

But if you’re willing to put up with snow in your summer hiking shoes, there are rewards to be had on these three-season days. You leave the heat of summer behind in the valley, climb through autumn past ripening myrtille and tiny, tart framboise, up toward the bright white line of winter.

Moving up through the seasons in this way is a bit like experiencing a sped-up version of real life: like all changes, it rewards adaptability. The temperature might swing through sixty degrees; banks of cloud roll in, parting minutes (or days!) later; snow morphs from ornament to objective hazard. It’s messy and un-straightforward. You have to change your mind. So to enjoy it, a certain mental flexibility is required.

It’s good practice, though, experiencing change. It’s uncomfortable at first. You get attached to reaching such-and-such a summit, only to find that you’re knee deep in snow with cold feet and hundreds of meters left to climb. So you turn back, cross the col instead of the peak, and soon find yourself back among the berry bushes. It stops feeling like giving up, and starts feeling like something else: moving forward.

It’s still summer in Chamonix. But the occasional storms are drawing the snowline down like the tide. It’s an exciting taste of the winter that lies ahead. But I can wait. There are plenty of summits still to try for, and berries left if I have to turn around.

Midway: Message From The Gyre

Posted by Alex | August 24th, 2012 | Filed under Art, Positive Change, Sustainability

“Do we have the courage to face the realities of our time?” – Chris Jordan

In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, two thousand miles from the nearest continent, the skeletons of baby albatrosses reveal a sobering reality. Small mounds of feather and bone, their grey remains curl around unexpected piles of color: bottle caps, fish nets and cigaret lighters where their stomachs used to be.

These birds are the latest victims of a plastic plague borne to the shores of Midway Island by the currents of the Pacific Gyre. Caught in the circular currents of the North Pacific, generations of our garbage have accumulated into a soup of plastic covering thousands of square miles. Suspended below the surface, the waste is invisible from above, but is often mistaken for food by sea creatures of all sizes. In the tragic case of the albatross, it’s then fed from mother to hatchling, dooming the baby birds to a premature death.

deadbirdWe’ve often covered the Pacific Gyre garbage patch on The Thought Kitchen, it’s impact on the Oregon Coast, and other efforts to draw attention to the unfolding ecological disaster. But few of those efforts compare to MIDWAY, the latest project from photographer Chris Jordan, which documents the tragedy in unflinching detail.

Back when Nau was first starting out, one of our founders was fond of asking a simple question: “How do we ignore what we know to be true?” As an artist and photgrapher, Jordan has been asking much the same question through works that open people’s eyes to the true impacts of our consumption. Back in 2007, we covered his project “Running The Numbers,” which sought to give scale to statistics that catalog our waste—numbers like two million: the number of plastic beverage bottles used in the US every five minutes. Now he’s turned his lens to the Pacific Gyre, and with the help of Kickstarter Funds is filming a feature documentary on the unfolding horror resulting from that consumption.

Check out the trailer above, and learn more about Chris’ project on his blog. You can make a donation to support the project here.

Postcard From Amsterdam

Posted by Alex | August 21st, 2012 | Filed under Bikes, Personal Reflection, Who We Are

postcard[Editors Note: Our friend and copywriter Alex left Portland in 2010 to start a new life in Europe. This month, he’s returned as a Guest Editor of The Thought Kitchen to share some of his experiences.]

Right now I’m sitting in the shoebox-sized office of my apartment in Amsterdam, listening to the street through window blinds drawn against the sun. The electric whirr and rumble of the number thirteen Tram mixes with the squeaks and rattles of rusted-out second-hand bicycles. As waves of cars stop and go through the traffic light, snippets of Indian pop, Tupac, Turkish dance music and Goyte drifting up by turns to my window. A car horn, a shout in Dutch, a lull. Another Tuesday afternoon.

It’s the third day of the first heat wave of the summer—a season that the locals, with characteristic stoicism, had suggested might not make it to this corner of Europe. It seemed an apt prediction to my wife and me as we piled on sweaters in May, rode through the rain in June, and woke to the thundering of our downspout in July. The Netherlands has a reputation for bad weather, one we’re thinking is pretty well deserved.

windmillBut the Netherlands has other reputations as well. Depending on whom you ask, it’s a country of bike lanes, a haven of  diversity and tolerance, or a playground for drugs. It’s a land reclaimed from the sea, where global warming and rising sea levels make “sustainability” more than just a liberal buzz-word. It’s a nation of tall women and even taller men drinking small beers and (occasionally) wearing wooden shoes.  A place for cheese and windmills and international law. A place that once had an economic collapse because of the price of tulips.

But part of living in a country is sorting out what’s real, what’s imagined, and what’s simply been lost in translation. So six months ago, my wife and I—inspired by family heritage and an overdeveloped sense of wanderlust—moved here, to work and sort it out for ourselves. Over the next few months, I’ll be sharing some of those impressions, from what “bike culture” really means in a place with more bikes than people, to how one restaurant is designing vegetarian dishes with help from landscape architecture.

As we’re learning, moving isn’t always easy. But the rewards of movement—across space and through cultures—is that it can change your perspective on everything: even what’s just outside your window.


Finding Simplicity in Complexity

Posted by Alex | February 7th, 2012 | Filed under Environmental Change, Sustainability

Can three minutes change your life? For TED Senior Fellow Eric Berlow, the above three-minute Micro-TED Talk opened the door to a new world. In a matter of weeks, he went from being a university ecologist to a global expert on applying a system-based approach to problems ranging from international conflicts to recycling rates. We caught up with Eric during a recent traverse of the French Alps—he’d been navigating deep powder and farmer’s fields before we spoke—to learn what understanding ecosystems can teach us about solving our biggest problems.

So on this topic of complexity and simplicity: Randonée or Telemark?
Telemark, of course! Yeah, I love it. I’ve been doing it forever; I just love the feel.

So you’re obviously someone who loves the mountains. How have the outdoors shaped your work?
I got into ecology before I was into the outdoors: I was into environmental stuff in college, but I hadn’t spent a lot of time camping. I was just really into the theory, about how everything was connected. So I did a degree in marine biology and ecology, and started spending a lot more time outside in Oregon, and got really into backcountry skiing and all the rest. And then I did my doctorate at UC Berkley, and started doing field work in the Sierra Nevada, and spent weeks and weeks on end in the Sierra and couldn’t get enough of it. I think when you study ecology, no matter what you’re doing, the only way to do good science in ecology is to have a big-picture view.

In your Ted Talk, you explain how embracing complexity can help lead to simplicity. How does this kind of systems thinking apply to issues of Sustainability?
To me, if we can provide people the tools to think more holistically about problems, to say, ‘yeah, everything is connected, but that doesn’t make it harder to understand,’ we can get over the fear factor. So many issues around sustainability have to do with just thinking a little bit bigger, and seeing the connections between things. I feel like if people thought about their problems a little more systemically, then the sustainability stuff would also fall into line. They would elect leaders who had holistic visions. So that’s my idea: to help people think about mapping out the ecosystem of problems, so that they can start thinking more holistically about everything.

How has being a Ted Fellow impacted your work?
For the first time in my life, I’ve seen that having a Ph.D in biology has value to other things. When I got the Ted Fellowship, it was a chance to speak to other people who are outside of my fishbowl.

During my talk—Jullian Assange of WikiLeaks spoke right before me—I was like, ‘Oh, man, I don’t know what I’m doing here!’ But then afterwards I started getting hundreds of emails, and I ended up quitting my job at the University because I had so many neat opportunities to apply a holistic approach to mapping the ecosystem of complex problems, and trying to find leverage points.

I worked on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, mapping expert knowledge of Palestinians and Israelis who were committed to non-violence to understand the ecosystem of that problem—so that if you’re going to throw money at it, you know where are the biggest points of leverage. And there was another one looking at recycling in America: how can we bump up recycling of Aluminum from like 20% to 80% in five years, again, mapping expert thinking and the ecosystem of the problem. What are all the moving parts, how do they influence one another, and use the network structure to find self-reinforcing feedback loops and points of leverage.

So it’s been really interesting: I started in academia, and now I’m working on a lot of other kinds of problems.

It sounds like a really powerful tool you can bring to a wide range of problems.
Yeah, and I didn’t realize that until now. It seems like there’s a real appreciation for a systemic approach, and we have some new tools now in complexity theory about how to take a really big system and find the subset of that system that maybe drives it the most.

You can learn more about Eric’s work through the TED Senior Fellows, or his website, ericlberlow.net

The Invisible Man

Posted by Alex | November 7th, 2011 | Filed under Uncategorized


Chinese artists have been attracting more attention recently; both from the international art community and—more troublingly—the Chinese government. With the detention, release and subsequent $2.2 Million dollar fine “back taxes” imposed on dissident artist Ai Weiwie, China is proving itself to be both a dangerous place for artistic expression, and—ironically—one where such expression matters most.

Check out the awesome bike sculpture Ai Weiwie welded up from hundreds of frames made by the Chinese state-run bike company over at Adventure Journal.

LIUBOLINIt’s that context which makes the impressive trompe l’oeil photographs of Liu Bolin more than simply grand optical illusions. And it is a great illusion: one doesn’t need to understand the politics of political repression in China to appreciate Liu’s clever trademark of painting himself into the Chinese landscape. In each of the massive prints—up to 5′ wide in a recent exhibit titled “Hiding in the City” at Stockholm’s Fotografiska Museet—he is literally painted into the landscape.

Ostensibly, the purpose of the project is to “explore the relationship between people and their environment.” But given the history of censorship under the Chinese regime, enforced by a chilling ability to make artists literally disappear, it’s also a powerfully revealing work of camouflage. And, as the exhibit draws crowds to art galleries around the world (including New York—check out the film below), it’s proof of the power of art to make change.

See more of Liu Bolin’s photographs from The Invisible Man project, visit the website of the Eli Klein Gallery.

Bikes Belong: The Data

Posted by Alex | October 31st, 2011 | Filed under Bikes

Last month, as part of our House Mix: Bikes featured picks, hundreds of Nau customers joined us in supporting Bikes Belong, an advocacy group whose work helps to promote cycling nation-wide. In getting to know the Boulder-based organization, we also got exposed to their trove of thought-provoking data. But while the numbers are great, a picture is better. So we made one:


Find tons more information, and support the work of Bikes Belong to get more people on bikes more often, at BikesBelong.org.

How do you end Hunger?

Posted by Alex | October 25th, 2011 | Filed under Partners for Change

As a hunger crisis spreads across East Africa and the Somalian Peninsula, famine—and the efforts to stop it—are once again in the news. Celebrities are raising their voices and politicians are offering bromides. In short, this crisis seems in many ways like so many before it; it’s victims suffering from a cycle of poverty, conflict and ineffective aid going back generations.

Because solving famine is so much more difficult than simply providing food to the hungry. It requires solutions to regional conflict, the establishment of strong institutions and the education and empowerment of local communities. It takes a system wide approach: the kind of approach that our Partners For Change at Mercy Corps bring to alleviating suffering around the world. Check out their film for World Food Day, above, and learn how you can help Mercy Corps fight the worst famine in Africa in 60 years.

Can a Ski Resort Be “Green”?

Posted by Alex | October 20th, 2011 | Filed under Environmental Change, Partnerships, Sustainability

NAU0068Our winter stoke Giveaway is going on now; sign up here!

Let’s face it: sometimes a love of the outdoors can force an environmentalist into uncomfortable positions. Road trips to the desert require gas, your kayak is made out of petro-chemicals, and that long dreamed of trip to Patagonia is going to require one CO2-heavy flight. Then winter rolls around, and if you love to ski (as I do), you might start to wonder if all those lifts, groomers and lodges we use are contributing to a global warming trend that means less pow, and more slush.

So what’s a responsible skier to do? Yes, everything we do to enjoy the outdoors has an impact—even ski-touring has a carbon footprint—but that’s not a reason to throw up our hands. Making an educated decision about where you ski, just like what you drive, can have a powerful influence over the impact of your actions.

That’s because there are important choices to be made when it comes down to how to run a ski resort. Resorts are large, meaning the choices they make—good and bad—have a bigger environmental impact than those we each make individually. How they make snow, how they deal with waste, whether they serve on disposable dishware: when you serve thousands of people a day, these choices add up.

NA0185That’s why we’ve been so glad to see the steps that some of our favorite ski areas have begun to take to address their energy efficiency, water usage and carbon footprint. As part of our Winter Stoke giveaway (sign up here to win one of two full-value prize packages, including lift tickets, Nau gear and more) we checked in with Mt. Hood Meadows and Stratton Mountain Resort to see what they’re doing to make their operations more sustainable.

Just up the road on Mt. Hood, our friends at Meadows are taking advantage of the abundant wind in Oregon and powering 100% of their operations with Wind Energy Credits. They’re also saving over a quarter million gallons of water each year with newly installed water-efficient appliances. And, true to Oregon’s strong locavore spirit, they’re sourcing local produce and serving it on china, not paper you throw away.

Across the country in Vermont, the folks at Stratton Mountain are also showing how investing in efficient infrastructure can save money and help the environment. They’ve installed 300 new high-efficiency snow guns, which—given how much snow they make each year—could save almost two million kilowatt-hours of electricity. Stratton was also the recipient of the Clif Bar/NSAA Sustainable Slopes Grant this spring, which they’re using to install four Big Belly Solar trash compactors, greatly reducing the the number of waste disposal trips required. They’ve also eliminated disposable dishware, a change they estimate will save roughly 75,000 soda cups, 61,000 spoons, 30,000 forks, 28,000 paper plates, 23,000 knives and 17,750 soup containers.

Of course, the ski areas have as much invested in a healthy planet as skiers do: saving energy is just good business. As skiers, we can help make it make even better business sense by choosing to enjoy those resorts who take seriously their responsibility to be good environmental stewards.

So educate yourself on the efforts your local hill is taking; it’s a step toward positive change, and toward ensuring that there will be snow for future generations.

Like what you’ve heard? Sign up here for our Winter Stoke Giveaway to win lodging for three nights, one dinner, rentals and lift tickets for two at Stratton Mountain Resort in Vermont or two 10-time passes at Mt. Hood Meadows in Oregon. Each winner will also get a Nau winter jacket, pants, down top and insulation layer.