Three things you don’t know about Iceland

Having just spent a few days Iceland, I have reaffirmed the fantastic advantage of travelling to a country to open your mind. With no more than 24 hours on Iceland’s sunny (if cold) shores, I discovered three things I didn’t imagine about Iceland. Arriving just after midnight into Reykjavik, I was welcomed by a setting sun (see below the nightscape at 1am). And yes, Iceland is home to the famous mid-summer white nights. But, you knew that.

Iceland sunset

A whale of a time

The first thing I discovered about Iceland was that they serve whale. Since I had never eaten whale, it had not occurred to me that the whale dish would be a meat dish. How naive! Would you have thought it so? Here it is:

Iceland dish

Had I not told you, would have thought this image was whale meat? I might add that it was very tasty. If you are interested, here’s a fine address to check out in Reykjavik: 3 Frakkar — which means Three French (a propos!) or Three Coats in Icelandic.

Icelandic naming device

Secondly, unique to Iceland, no child carries the father’s last name. They don’t even carry the mother’s last name. In fact, children carry a last name composed of: Continue reading

Restaurant and Tarte Tropezienne of choice in St Tropez

Among the slew of restaurants that line the port of St Tropez, it is a roll of the dice to find the right address — to avoid the overly expensive tourist trap, with slow or snobbish service, etc.  Having entered and exited the smokey and hyper-touristic (if extremely well located) Sénéquier, we finally settled on L’Adresse. Run by Jerome and Faty (expatriated from the Parisian suburbs), this was a gem of a spot. Set to an ever present background lounge music, we enjoyed it so much we went twice.

The food was refined.  From the reasonably priced (14-16E) suggestions du jour, we enjoyed the Lamb and Veal Chops, as well as some tasty Gambas and Plaice fish.

L’Adresse, which you will, of course, find among the first references in any yellow pages thanks to its AD, is a top spot — not to be mixed up with the local L’Adresse real estate agent. Its address? Officially, it is 4 Quai de l’Epi (83990). But, you need to find l’Esplanade du Nouveau Port (on the far port [left hand] side of the port).

Nice touch: check the Adresse logo where the A and D combine for the jib and mainsail of a sailboat.

Telephone: +33.4.94.56.10.73.  Read here for the QYPE writeup or on their own MYSPACE site.

For deserts, however, given the fine 20-23C weather, we could not resist hitting the gelateria. Specifically, at the famed Sénéquier where the ice cream stand was run by a charmer. And, if the Tarte Tropézienne was invented in 1945 by the Pole, Alexandre Micka, (read in French the history of la Tarte Tropézienne), the Tarte Tropezienne offered by the Patisserie of Sénéquier is a far finer affair.  If you want to order the tart from them, you had better call the evening before (04.94.97.00.90).

Measuring Quality of Life – A review between France and USA

Quality of LifeAs part of my Franco-American profile, I am naturally drawn to reading about comparisons and competition between France and the US. I came across this May 2009 article, France Beats America, which describes France’s epicurean passion for “living it up” in terms of eating, sleeping and holidaying. On the eating front, as much as obesity and over-eating might be America’s bête noire, the French make more time for eating. According to this article, “[t]he French spend more than 2 hours a day eating, twice the rate in the United States, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)…” The French spend 135 minutes per day eating versus 74 minutes for the Americans and 66 mins for Mexicans (69 mins for the Canadians). The Turks (#1) actually out-eat the French (#2) by an half hour each day! According to the OECD report, the French top the list for average number of hours slept at 8h50/day… marginally ahead of the equally surprising 8h38/day for Americans. Koreans and Japanese sleep the least among OECD countries, and an hour less per day (7h50) than the French (the OECD average is indicated as 503 minutes or 8h20/day). And, if you are thinking that not sleeping enough is bad for your health, the Japanese lifespan expectancy (86F.79M) outlasts France (85F.77M) and far outstrips the US (80F.75M) which is below the OECD average (82F.76M).

Finally, when you add that the French take on average 7.0 weeks of holidayThe Good Life - Man and Girl bouncing on Beds per year versus 3.8 weeks for the Americans, it does add up to a lot more “living it up.” I would tend to argue that the pendulum should swing back for the French, to work just a bit harder … not just any how, but by adding more pleasure, humour and emotion in the work space. And in the US, I would argue that the focus should be on eating better (not necessarily longer).

Meanwhile, among the countries included in the survey, it was reported that men have more leisure time than women. “This gender gap is largest in Italy, where men top women by 80 minutes per day. The gap is just under 40 minutes in the United States, and smallest (less than 5 minutes) in Norway.” France’s gender gap on the criteria of leisure time is 34 minutes (in line with the OECD average of 35 minutes). Is there any real correlation between a reduced gender gap on leisure time with equality of the sexes? That is far from certain. However, to the extent that women are generally at work and have the lion’s share of the responsibility for taking care of the family, clearly women will continue to suffer in terms of having their own leisure time if the burden at home is not appropriately shared. Below is the OECD report (data from 2006, published in April 2009) regarding the leisure time gender gap.

OECD Leisure Time Gender Gap 2009

While life is about good food, good company (including on holidays) and a good night’s sleep (& good health), the issue is about creating a sustainable model, i.e. (a) making the 45-49 weeks at work more agreeable and liberating; and (b) finding ways to allow women to have as much leisure as men. Quality of life should, considering how many hours are put into work, include the quality of life at work and we all need each other to be in “top” shape!

Your thoughts please!

How to Keep Hard Cow Cheese Fresh ?

Have you ever struggled to keep your hard cheese fresh? Then, here is the answer, and it comes with proof.
We did an experiment whereby we cut a wheel of Cornish Yarg (a delightful cow cheese that is wrapped in nettles) into two slices. We wrapped one slice in a cloth and put it in the fridge which was our usual way, up until now. A week later, the cheese looked as such (photo 1 below). You can see that is cracked from being too dry, although it remained as yet edible.
Old Cornish Yarg cheese
Photo 1. Cornish Yarg after a week in the fridge wrapped in blue cloth
The second slice, we put the cheese in a tupperware with a couple of cubes of sugar. This advice was given to us by the cheesemonger, Maitre de Comte, Gabriel at La Fromagerie on Moxon Street, London. And it absolutely works. You can see in Photo 2 the second slice, cut and stored at the same time as the slice in photo 1. Fresh as a daisy after a week! Not only that, but as of the writing of this post, the cheese is still as fresh three weeks on (although you have to add more cubes and occasionally rinse out the tupperware).
Cornish Yarg Cheese
Photo 2. Cornish Yarg a week later after being in a tupperware with sugar


The question is how does it work? Unfortunately, I am not exactly sure, but I thought I would provide a photo of the sugar cubes to find the clue. The cubes (white sugar in this case) dissolved and turned brown. One can assume that the sugar absorbs something (humidity?) which might otherwise render the cheese dry (how does humidity dry a cheese is a trick question, no?). Yendi’s hypothesis: the tupperware retains too much humidity (from the cheese) which is carefully extracted by the sugar!
Sugar Cubes dissolved
Photo 3: Dissolved sugar cubes that saved the Cornish Yarg

Whatever the process, the trick works. So, go ahead and put your sugar cubes to good use (rather than in your coffee or tea!) and, henceforth, place a couple in with your hard cheeses in a tupperware.
Drop in your comments if you try this and/or have any other food tips!

Some nettle-related cheeses and great service in London


During my visits to London, I tend systematically to buy cheese, English cheese that is, to bring back home to Paris… to my French wife and family. Coals to Newcastle you might think! But, no. We happen to believe that the Brits have some of the finest cheeses going, enough to hold their own any day against the Tommes, Crottins and Bries of the world. It came as a major surprise to me that Britain’s cheese exports amount to a dismal $374 million versus $2.7 billion for France, $2.4B for Germany and $2.1B for Holland (FAO via wikipedia) … It turns out, of course, that the UK isn’t even in the top 10 cheese producers in the world either.

To name a few of the celebrated cheese halls I tend to visit in London, there is Selfridge’s, Harrods and Whole Foods on Kensington High Street, testament enough that there is definitely a good cheese culture in England. However, I have two special addresses to share with you:

La Fromagerie on Moxon Street (London W1U 4EW; tel: +44 20 7935 0341), which remains my absolute favourite cheese shop in London. Here I picked up my usual suspects (CORNISH YARG and STICHELTON, a sumptuous Stiltonesque cheese from unpasteurised milk). And, along the way, I picked up some great advice on how to store your hard cheeses from the resident Maître de Comte, Gabriel: put the cheese, unwrapped, in a tupperware with a couple of cubes of sugar. You can store the cheese as such in the fridge for a couple of months. Merci Monsieur Gabriel.

And, at the South Kensington tube station, there is La Cave à Fromage (24-25 Cromwell Place, London SW7 2LD; tel: +44 845 10 88 222). Aside from the fact that the owner went beyond the call of duty to get me a reservation and a glass of champagne at a restaurant, late on a packed Thursday evening (thanks!), I also picked up a glorious MAY HILL GREEN cheese with its nettle coated rind, and sister cheese of the famed Stinking Bishop (BTW, the link sends you to cookipedia which has 21K+ pages of recipes, ingredients, etc.).

So a couple of nettle-related cheeses to recommend when you next go shopping in London, from fromage shops that provide service a slice above!

Permanent Changes arising from the Economic Crisis

Changes? What Changes?
Change InvertedThe ongoing worldwide economic crisis has created many obvious changes in behaviour, mostly focused on the effects of reduced funds. Whether it is the fear that makes a salaried person “tighten” his or her budget or someone who actually has less money coming in (for example, an entrepreneur struggling to make ends meet or, worse yet, someone who has been fired), there is less money floating around. However, given human nature, once the world’s economies recover and businesses reignite, with fuller employment, most of these shifts in behaviour will inevitably revert back in pavlovian style to the habits of the past.

The question that interests me most, however, for this post is which of the changes will be permanent. The profound changes in culture and the creation of related new processes are what will cause the change to stick. Many of the changes pre-date the recession, at least in their origin. The recession has also provoked new business models and practices. Among the lingering changes in behaviour, clearly, from a corporate standpoint, managers who have never had to face such difficult times will have plentiful learnings which should augur well for being better prepared in future downturns. A perfect example is how management at internet companies have managed this crisis much better since getting their proverbial fingers burned in bursting of the internet bubble in 2000-2001.

I will present below which four major changes I believe will have staying power, at least in the much of the developed world.

Durable Sustainable Development Effects

Instant Sustainable Development

As the need to green has invaded mass media, I have three thoughts here about the more lasting cultural shifts: (1) There is clearly a move away from heavy consumption of fossil fuels (SUVs and cars in general), creating new habits such as walking to work or taking public transport which may, in turn, help justify and finance more public transport development. (2) Purchasing “green” for the long term should have, by definition, a long tail. An example is the purchase of long lasting LED lights whose benefits of durability and low energy consumption are slowly gaining traction, even if they present a higher upfront cost. (3) Attention to reducing water consumption has meant walking away from bottled water (at restaurants as well as at home) and perhaps showering a little quicker and, perhaps, less frequently… On average, every minute under the shower represents 2 gallons or 7 1/2 litres. (Find out how much water you use daily with this handy USGS calculator here). There’s a continuing business opportunity for the water filter companies, although it is not so good for the shower gel business.

ChangeGoods that are good for you and the end of consumerism
I would argue that, for an ever growing part of the population, there is going to be a true and lasting trend away from hyper consumerism. Ownership is not all it is be cracked up to be. Beyond the worry of reduced finances, the issue of buying and owning goods is one of quality of life: people will come to the realisation that owning too much is actually a burden, a headache, often times actually creating additional embedded costs and hassles; and, it certainly does not lead to greater happiness.

Someone who owns more than two homes knows what I am talking about: each home creates multiples of paperwork, presumably having to adjust to different rules and regulations. Just making sure that each house is stocked with the basics, much less complete dinner settings, etc. is quite the ongoing exercise. If you are someone who owns a super expensive car, you know that investing in spare parts and getting little scratch marks fixed is a hassle — especially as you roam away from the local dealership. Finding “protected” parking when you decide to take your jazzy car for a ride in town is an extra constraint. Of course, having too much of anything means that you need to have the space to store it… extra hassle and expenses. One of the more potent trends that plays to avoiding owning yet another holiday house: swapping homes (whether for the holidays or not). Here’s a plug for a friend’s initiative, Geenee, which allows for a swap with the “world’s best.”

Slow FoodOn another level, eating at home as opposed to going out to the restaurant will create a new culture of homecooking, with a sharper attention to the ingredients (not just their cost). There has apparently been tremendous growth in cooking school enrollments. And, in a similar vein, there is also the notion of SLOW FOOD*, as promoted diligently and valiantly in the US by Alice Waters (check out her restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley CA where they serve only in-season fruit and vegetables).

So, the lasting trend here is a move away from amassing goods that crimp my space, burden my mind and waste resources. Instead, people w
ill focus on goods that bring mental freedom, physical health and, hopefully, a smile to the face. As the literature and media coverage latches on to this trend, I see this trend going mainstream even in the rich circles. Recommended reading: The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard and The Art of Simpe Food by Alice Waters.

Buy Local
Buy Fresh Buy Local LabelThere are two driving forces to buy local: “sustainable development” and latent protectionism. If you buy locally produced goods, the concept is that the items didn’t use as many resources travelling from faraway lands, and at the same time that you are supporting your local community. There are two sBuy Local Posterubplots to this trend: the potential revival of the feelgood effect of buying from a local shopkeeper who knows you (even by name!), and greater attention to the content (“made in” labels) and ingredients (“made of”). In economic tough times, this may be a counter-intuitive trend in that mom & pop stores have a hard time competing on price. Nonetheless, I would look for this “Buy Local” trend to prosper on the other side of the recession.

How Well do You ShareSharing, renting and leasing versus buying

There are certainly economic reasons for not being able to buy something and, to the extent the item you are looking to buy is for limited use (e.g. a new dress for a party, a bigger car for a 2 week family holiday…), the option of sharing, renting or leasing becomes more inviting. Sharing & renting may also be collateral plays on the reduced need/desire to buy and own (point 2 above) as the need to preserve and store the item(s) is less onerous. Sharing & renting also pander well to the green conscience. With this burgeoning trend, there are many new offers that have cropped up. I cite a few of the more interesting ones that I have come across:
  • Zipcar: a for-profit, membership-based carsharing company providing automobile rental to its members, billable by the hour or day.
  • ArtRentandlease.com: providing “rotating monthly rental packages, Fine Art Leases and direct sales… Individual prices start at just $20 per month, including eco-friendly Green Art.”
  • Avelle, or BagBorrowSteal: Rent by the week, the month or for as long as you’d like top fashion brand names for jewelry, handbags, sunglasses, watches, etc. “There’s never a late fee.” You don’t have to be a member, but if you are, the prices are better.
  • Babyplays: A membership-based online toy rental site. About time kids’ closets stopped bursting with just-opened, barely used toys, no?
Craigslist, Olx and eBay are the leading internet plays on the circulation of second-hand goods (and services). With Craigslist and Olx, there is the local play as well.

Underpinning virtually all these structural changes in behaviour are (1) the internet and (2) sustainable development.

I wrote a while back about how inter-related I felt web 2.0 and sustainable development are (read here), and when you overlay the evident economic benefits, I can only reinforce how this crisis will accelerate the changes and how, coming out on the other end, we will all be that much more on the web, taking advantage of new behaviours and goods & services, indeed creating a kind of new ‘unpop’ eco-culture.

*Slow Food, a non-profit, eco-gastronomic member-supported organization, was borne out of the anti-fast food movement in France in 1989 and is headquartered in Bra, Italy. Slow Food stands against “the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world. To do that, Slow Food brings together pleasure and responsibility, and makes them inseparable.” The organisation boasts over 100,000 members in 132 countries.

Hammy the Hamster Goes Organic…

Which tastes better: organic or conventional food?

This Hammy the Hamster Goes Organic video (and especially the out-takes further below) is bound to produce a smile. And, if you are sensitive to the quality of the food you eat, then you could find the experiment of interest. Created by the authors of the The Cooks Den blog and posted just March 2nd, this clip has already had nearly 1/2 million views, a very quick offlift (thanks to an MSN posting).

“At The Cooks Den, we decided to apply the scientific method to that important question. We brought in an unbiased test subject — one who has superior taste buds, is unaffected by marketing hype, and is unafraid to express her opinions publicly.”

What if a food company latched on to this? Shouldn’t some organisation like Whole Foods sponsor Hammy? I can imagine a deal that allows Hammy to do some purchasing decisions? “This aisle for Hammy products…”

Here are the outtakes of Hammy. A quick 1 minute spin, worth the watch … at the very least to authenticate the techniques!

A few more pieces of information that you can discover on the Cooksden site: Hammy prefered conventional walnuts over the organic variety. The odd thing was I didn’t even know that organic walnuts existed. The broccoli left Hammy indifferent the most. The item for which organic was most important was cheese. Gives a whole new meaning to who moved my cheese.

Next up: organic milk and apples, I hope.

Value of a Facebook Friend placed at 37 cents – What a Whopper.

How much is your friendship worth? Just 37 cents!

Burger King Whopper SacrificeI love this. Burger King is up to its notorious self, finding all sorts of ways to gain rebellious publicity. In this most recent activity, Burger King announced that it would give any person that drops 10 Facebook friends a coupon to buy a Whopper. With a Whopper priced at $43.69, that would effectively put the price tag of a friend on Facebook at 37 cents. The campaign, called Whopper Sacrifice, is now closed as some 24,000 people quickly sacrificed 10 of their friends to reap the Whopper coupon. Here is the story from the New York Times. If you want to check out the Whopper Sacrifice application, it’s here. And, if you are one of the people on the losing end, who got dropped by a now “ex-friend,” the Burger King team were sufficiently foreseeing, to provide the angry-gram application directly on their site (photo top right), with the ability to write to your ex-friend a nasty letter (replete with an angry hamburger). Here below s a neat little artistic rendering of the program from a Kenyan, Joe Ngari.

Facebook Friends versus Burger King Whopper Sacrifice

Frankly, it’s a wonderful piece of marketing, (a) getting at the notion of those who have oversubscribed their Friends, (b) giving out a free burger during the difficult economic times, and all this (c) with an application on Facebook, the second most visited site, after Google, over the Christmas period. Kudos to the BK marketing team and the Crispin Porter & Bogusky ad agency that came up with this counter intuitive program. And the cost? Ok, let’s say $10,000 for the FB app. Add $20,000 for the 2 light websites (angry-gram and Sacrifice Whopper) including the hosting for the sake of argument. And, let’s say there’s a whopping 30% uptake on the coupons (30% of $88,560) meaning $26,568 worth of redemption of the coupons sent out electronically, of course, taken at a reasonable cost of goods of perhaps 15% (I have no idea of the fast food COGS), adds less than $4,000. Of course, there are the agency fees to add. So the total cost would be $35K plus agency fees. Not bad from where I sit, even if I don’t like fast food.

Somehow, I managed not to get dropped, but I’d love to hear your reactions!

Visit to Banaue via Cabanatuan in the Philippines‏

Map of Luzon, Philippines
Having boarded a 6 a.m. flight in Guam, we arrived 3 1/2 hours later in Manila at 7:30 a.m., and headed straight north by car toward Banaue, to see the beautiful Ifugao rice terraces (acclaimed UNESCO historical site since 1995). The drive, as it turned out, was 10 hours long on the nose, if a little long in the teeth. En route, we visited the city of Cabanatuan, site of several POW camps in WWII, including Cabanatuan Prison Camp #2 in which my grandfather was imprisoned for a little over 2 years (1942-1944). Nothing is left of the camp sites which were actually located 5 miles east of Cabanatuan at Pangatian, so we pressed on. A roadside lunch of fish and chicken tamarind tided us over. The drive was diverting for the perpetual overtaking of overloaded jeepneys, motorcycles and 10-to-a-tricycles, zigzagging between uniformly sized dogs, thin chickens, pedestrians and kids all ages able to walk. It was not uncommon to find young kids (6-7 years old) carrying infants on their backs. Since all the homes (and businesses) line the road, the road was the children’s principal, if perilous, playground. Other sites included the drying of rice in one of the lanes (to make the two-way road a single lane), cows, carabao (local buffalo), goats and, of course, oncoming traffic.

We arrived at Banaue at 6 p.m. and, installed ourselves at the government-run Banaue Hotel, ate at the hotel restaurant which was a mistake. The buffet of chicken wings, fish sticks and spring rolls was classified as hot, but the only true part of H0T was the o as in zero, which is shared with C0LD. The canned fruit salad rounded off the meal. Next, we scurried off to reserve our seats for the hotel’s Cultural Show, a demonstration of the local dress, music and dances. The 40-minute show was performed by mostly Elders (as pictured below). Despite one dynamic younger male dancer, the tinny drum and rustic flute (seemingly improvised) music chased us out. A suggestion might have been to present a younger, more attractive set of dancers.

Banaue Ifugao Elders (Luzon, Philippines)
Another worthy side note for the Banaue Hotel were the “House Rules” announced in the room’s pamphlet. Neither visitors nor gambling are allowed in the rooms. Likewise there was a prohibition of cooking, ironing or hanging of wet clothes. Favourite rule: “Please inquire/arrange with Front Office for hotel items you may want for souvenir.” On the good news, the hotel had comfortable beds. However, on balance, it reminded us of communist style hotels. Zero charm, dour (if low consumption) lighting and minimal amenities.

Banaue Map, Luzon Philippines
The following morning, awoken by an array of roosters at the crack of dawn, we were met by the appropriately named Dawna, daughter of the notable Hangdaan family in Banga-an village (3300ft ASL), an hour’s drive from Banaue (SPOT 8 in the map above). The drive was scenic, if bumpy. The road is under improvement; the widening and paving project is as yet 1/8th complete after eight years. That would place termination around 2064. The surrounding rainforest was filled with small waterfalls, lush with greenery, if denuded of any wild animals. The last of the monkeys apparently disappeared some ten years ago.

Banaue Rice Terraces, Philippines
While we had been systematically warned of the “freezing” conditions at Banaue — it being 3000+ft above sea level — we were more than amply prepared for the 14•C temperatures. The lack of a sunny day did little for the photography of the rice terraces. However, the sun’s appearance when it appeared was always welcome in the mountains (see below this shot at dawn).

Banaue Mountains, Luzon Philippines

Once at Banga-an, we were challenged to a 1000-step descent to the lower village, in the midst of a vast array of rice paddies. We were welcomed with heart-warming generosity by mother of nine, Mrs Hangdaan, married at 14-years-old to her husband, a year older. We ate native rice and chicken prepared in their traditional nipa hut. We also were served a bottle of native rice wine and were caringly given a bottle of the juice to take back with us. The kids were adorned with prince and princess regalia to cap off a memorable visit. On the way back up to the main road, we witnessed the celebratory, if noisy, slaughter of a large pig for a one-week-old baby girl. The entire village was on hand to observe and feast — an event that lasted the better part of the day.
After a return drive through the same winding pass, we also hit the famed Viewpoint (SPOT 6 on the map above, 4000ft ASL), obscured in part by an afternoon fog. Our evening activity was dinner at Las Vegas (+63 (0)918-4409932), with a gracious and energetic host, Leopoldo Bustamante, better than average food and a miked stage for musically inclined guests. Unabashed, the Dials took to the spotlight like dogs to the doghouse. Oscar played his repertoire of tunes on the guitar and Alexandra accompanied me on a robust version of “Champs Elysées.”
We returned to the Banaue Hotel to find it swarming with police and military personnel. The hubbub was to prepare the surprise visit the following day of President Macapagal-Arroyo. The last time a President had come to Banaue was 2005. For her arrival, we benefitted from a tight security and tidied lobby. Since we were busy for our lunch, we declined the invitation and headed off to our next destination: Bolinao off Lingayen Bay. As it turned out, meanwhile, the President cancelled her trip — perhaps offended by our early departure.