How Travel Inspired This Former Actress To Make A Major Career Change

How Travel Inspired This Former Actress To Make A Major Career Change

 

While you may have traveled to the same destination as your friends, family or social circle, it is our individual experiences that shape us, inspire us and leave an impression that cannot be replicated through someone else’s eyes. It’s an impact that lasts longer than any photograph or social media post every could.

For former actress Vikki Krinsky, who starred in shows such as Wild Card and Edgemont, travel meant change. Distraught with the pressures of staying thin in Hollywood, Krinksy booked a one-way ticket to Europe, where she ultimately shaped her newfound career as a successful private chef in Los Angeles for several well-known actors and Hollywood personalities. When you hear how she got her start (hint: a fated meeting on a train to Paris), you’re going to want to book your next vacation, stat.

Ahead, Krinsky shares her her career journey, go-to travel spots, and a recipe makeover (she’s a host on Recipe Rehab) for one of her favorite ethnic dishes from a previous vacation. How will your next trip inspire you?

Tell us a little bit about your time as an actress. How did the pressures to stay thin inspire you to make a career change?
“The truth is, I loved acting. I loved being a part of an ensemble and developing a character that wasn’t me. I loved expressing myself and creating something for girls around the world to relate to. The fan mail was like nothing I had ever experienced before. At a very young age I learned how people connect to actors, so I was grateful to have been given that powerful platform.”

“However, with my success came pressure. The pressure to look a certain way and maintain a certain weight started to affect the way I felt daily. It made me irritable and lowered my self-confidence. As a natural leader, I felt as though I was losing my footing and what mattered most.”

When did you decide to quit and make the decision to book a one-way ticket to Europe?
“I moved to Los Angeles when I was 19 while on hiatus from the second season of the Lifetime show Zoe Busiek’s Wild Card. I flew down to audition for a Disney gymnastics movie called Stick It. I tested for a couple of shows and didn’t land any roles. Basically, I was told to ‘lose five pounds and look into vaneers’ by several ‘important’ people such as agents, managers and producers. After hitting an all-time-low, I decided to take a break from acting. I was completely discouraged by my negative body image and the pressure to be thin. I thought it was a good time to explore, live the life of a backpacker and take off to Europe!”

“Alongside sweat pants and T-shirts, I brought my nutritional books, and off I went. Paris was first on my list. There I was on the train, second day in, coincidentally sitting next to a chef from a very upscale hotel restaurant. He noticed my book, and we started chatting. Next thing I know, I was in his kitchen learning how to make the famous Tarte Tatin.  I loved every minute of that experience. He was kind enough to connect me to chefs all over Europe—Amsterdam, Milan, Switzerland and London. After a little over five months of backpacking and lightly ‘staging’ in a few kitchens, I came back to Los Angeles with a new zest for food, health and cooking!”

So, you never formally went to culinary school?
“I didn’t! Happily self-taught.”

What were some of the most valuable techniques/lessons you learned during this period in your life?
“Outside of basic knife skills and chopping techniques, I learned it was extremely important to maintain a clean and tidy work area. This has been a huge lesson as a private chef. Working in celebrity homes, it’s crucial to clean as I go. Keeping everything neat and organized has helped secure my place as a reputable private chef. I also learned that ‘scraps’ should be saved for stock, sauces and dressings. Nothing goes to waste.”

When did the health-kick passion come into the mix?
“Playing competitive sports my whole life has driven me to be as fit and healthy as possible. However, it became a slight obsession after being told, several times, to lose weight. I didn’t like how I started to view food. It was unhealthy and made me unhappy. I knew at a young age I needed to turn this mentality around, and that’s when I started studying and researching nutrition and sports medicine. I recognized people wanted delicious fine-dining meals, and my passion became creating those with a nutritional twist.”

vikki

What are a couple of your most memorable dining experiences?
Blue Hill in Tarrytown, New York: “From the moment you enter the farm to the moment you leave you feel as though you’ve entered a magical dream! All of your senses are stimulated, and the primary focus on ‘farm-to-table’ is expressed throughout the entire experience.”

Lapérouse in Paris, France: “Incredibly elegant and romantic. This was the first restaurant I witnessed a decadent soufflé finished off with a pour of hot chocolate ganache — by an ever-so-handsome and professional waiter. I recognized here that service was just as important as the meal itself.”

If someone wanted to go on an epicurean/foodie vacation of their dreams, what places would you steer them to and why?
“Aside from the obvious — Italy, France and Spain — my top three places to travel solely for their food would be:

Chicago: “The Windy City has an amazing array of terrific street food and fine dining, providing a great balance.”
New York: “I eat everything while I’m there! From street pupusas to dirty-water-dogs (hot dogs) on the bustling corners of Manhattan. I leave my evenings free for anything from Barbuto or ABC Kitchen to fine dining restaurants like Le Bernardin or Eleven Madison Park.”
Israel: “Spectacular ingredients and extremely talented chefs. Israeli cuisine continues to adapt elements of various styles of cuisine. Mediterranean ingredients, as well as Sephardic and Ashkenazi styles of Jewish cooking, influence it, so it’s very flavorful and healthy.”

What tips can you offer for staying in shape while traveling, without having to give up experiencing all the amazing local cuisine?
“Keeping hydrated is incredibly important while traveling. Time change and imbalanced blood sugar levels can make you feel hungry when you’re actually dehydrated. It’s important to be sure to nibble on small amounts of high-protein, low-sugar snacks, like unsalted nuts or 85% or higher dark chocolate, every two to three hours. Also, taking advantage of active means of transportation—like riding a bicycle or walking as much as possible—is a great way to explore while burning a few extra calories.”

Recipe makeover challenge: One of the best ethnic dishes that you had on your travels.
“I had an incredible traditional tamale while in Mexico, so I decided to create a healthy ‘Krinskified’ version! Remember, portion control is your friend.”

MUFFIN TIN TAMALES
“There’s nothing like the flavors of a traditional, warm gooey, tamale, made with fresh ingredients, bursting with flavor, and all-ready to eat in a healthy portion-size cup!

vikki recipe

Serves: 4
Cook time: 40-minutes
Prep time: 15-minutes

CRUST:
4 teaspoons coconut oil
1 1/2 cups masa (Note: Masa or masa harina (or corn flour) is a very finely ground cornmeal.)
2 cups low-sodium, fat-free chicken stock
½ teaspoon baking powder (aluminum free)
pinch of salt and pepper

FILLING:
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 pound extra lean ground turkey
1 medium yellow onion, small dice (about 1 cup)
3 medium garlic cloves, fine chop
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon cumin
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 15 oz. can diced fire roasted tomatoes
½ cup low-sodium fat free chicken broth
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper

TOPPING:
1/3 cup low fat mozzarella cheese
½ cup plain fat free Greek yogurt
¼ cup chopped cilantro

STEPS:

  • Heat the oven to 375 degrees with a rack in the middle.
  • Place coconut oil, masa, chicken stock, baking powder, salt and pepper in a medium bowl and mix well with a spatula until combined and soft. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside.
  • Heat the coconut oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the turkey, salt and pepper, and break the meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon. Stir occasionally until browned and cooked through, about four minutes. Remove the turkey with a slotted spoon to a medium bowl and set aside.
  • Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens, about four-minutes.
    Add the vinegar and stir to combine, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle in the paprika, oregano, cumin, and cayenne, and stir until incorporated. Cook for about two-minutes.
  • Add the turkey, tomatoes, chicken broth, salt, and pepper to the pan—stir to combine. Cook for another three-minutes.
  • Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens slightly, about five-to-seven-minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat. Taste, and add a touch more salt, pepper, and cayenne if you see fit!
  • Using the muffin tin base, spray four-inch foil cups really well with olive oil spray. Take about a teaspoon of masa and spread a thin layer evenly in the cups and up the sides, being careful it’s not too thick. Add two teaspoons of the turkey mixture to the middle of the muffin tin cup. Cover the entire pan with tinfoil and bake for 20-minutes.
  • Carefully remove the tamales from the oven and sprinkle with cheese. Place back in the oven uncovered for 10-minutes. Gently run a knife around the edges and carefully flip tin cups upside down. Top with a dollop of fat-free Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of fresh cilantro!

Nutritional information (per serving):
Calories: 390
Fat calories: 100
Total fat grams: 11
Sat fat grams: 7
Cholesterol mg: 65
Sodium mg: 970
Total carbohydrates g: 39
Fiber g: 4
Sugars g: 4
Protein g: 35

The Pros And Cons Of Renting A Vacation Home

The Pros And Cons Of Renting A Vacation Home

 

I rented my first vacation apartment eight years before Airbnb even existed, let alone became popular. It was in Paris and, even adjusted for inflation, it was a steal at just $109 a night. Between the ample size (larger than my first abode in Chicago); killer location (a stone’s throw away from Place des Vosges); and luxurious chateaux-like décor; I felt as though I had won the vacation home lottery.

My obsession continued through many of my future voyages, including several more trips to Paris exploring pads in different arrondissements; a seaside respite in Cinque Terre, Italy; a villa in the Amalfi Coast; and more. Don’t get me wrong. I love a palatial hotel just as much as the next person, right down to the serene spa; fancy bar; and breakfast in bed. But I also love to travel—a lot—so my love affair with this alternative boarding arrangement works for my bank account, while still catering to my love of interesting places.

So, because I often get asked questions about renting, I put together a list of pros, cons, and things to look out for. And remember, while my experience has been international, don’t rule out a rental for your next domestic voyage, too. After all, just think about the extra spending money you’ll have if you do.

paris apt

PROS
More bang for your buck: As mentioned, I’ve stayed in fancy apartments; an entire floor of a villa; and a seaside retreat, all for under $150 a night. Aside from the luxury of having a heck of a lot more space than a cramped hotel room at the same price, there’s also the option to save some cash by cooking a few meals on-site. Traveling with kids? Renting is a dream come true!

  • You can budget your trip: While Airbnb requires full payment upfront, many rental agencies only require a down payment at the time of booking, so it makes it easier to budget for an entire trip—especially after shucking out bucks for airfare.
  • Not cookie-cutter: An average hotel room couldn’t compare to some of the unique places that can be found via rental-by-owner. The one-of-a-kind nature of a rental property really makes the trip feel special.
  • Feel like a local: While this might be more of a pro for international travels, it is by far one of my most favorite points. Without all the noise of a hotel; a set of keys in your hand; and a refrigerator filled with goodies from the open-air market down the street; you can (temporarily) live out that fantasy of living in Paris, Rome, or wherever your wanderlust takes you. It also gives you a greater appreciation for the culture and surroundings as you’re more connected to it.

swiss

CONS

  • Check-in: There’s always a little anxiety between the time your plane lands and when you actually get to the apartment. For starters, most owners/managers want you to call to let them know you’re on the way. This can sometimes lead to a language barrier/confusion on the phone depending on your destination. Next, these places aren’t exactly lit-up with a neon sign. They can sometimes be difficult to find—even for a shuttle/cab driver. I try to combat this by looking at a Google map of the destination beforehand. This way, I’m familiar with any possible landmarks that I can use to navigate.
  • You’re on your own: Seven flights of stairs in a 17th century apartment building with no elevator? You’re on your own when it comes to schlepping your suitcases—no bellman here. I look at it as a way to burn off some extra vacation calories.
  • Security deposit: Most owners/agencies require a refundable cash security deposit, which can generally range from $50-$500. I’ve been able to negotiate leaving a signed check so that I don’t have to tie up my cash. It’s worth an ask.
  • Plan ahead for food: If you’re staying in a more remote destination, it’s best to hit the local grocery store or market the first day you arrive. Without the convenience of room service or an on-site restaurant, you’ll want to make sure you always have fresh water and some snacks on-hand. A tired, hungry traveler is not a happy one.
  • Not all handicapped accessible: Luckily, most rental websites clearly state whether or not a property is handicapped accessible. To save time on your search process, look for the filter so you can narrow down your options. Also factor in things like how easy it is to get to the property from the airport, etc. If it’s going to take a bus and two trains, it’s obviously not the best option—even if it does have an elevator.
  • Service fee: I’ve never paid a service fee, but there are some agencies that require one. Read the fine print before you even begin searching on your site if that extra cost is an issue.

THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR

  • Secure payment options: Anything that sounds shady probably is. Only book using secure online payment options like PayPal. Keep in mind that some of these renters want you to pay the remaining amount, after the initial deposit, in cash. If this is an issue, ask about charging the amount to a credit card instead. There might be a small fee, but it’s worth it for peace of mind.
  • Poor email correspondence: Sorry, but if someone isn’t writing me back or answering my questions, I don’t even want to think of what’s going to happen when my plane lands and I need to pick up keys. It’s the job of the owner or agency to respond to you in a prompt and clear manner, so don’t be afraid to ask questions about transportation or amenities, or for additional images if you’re having a problem making a final decision.
  • Reviews: Dig deep into those reviews. Read every single one and look for consistencies in pros and cons. Remember, though, reviews are subjective, so if someone was complaining that the television was too small and you have no plans to watch Law & Order reruns on your vacation, take the comment with a grain of salt.
  • Do your research: Most importantly, don’t drop a deposit on the first place that tickles your fancy. There are a lot of options out there, so do your homework. It takes time, but personally, I’ve always found it enjoyable. Make a Google document and start a running list of places you find, complete with a link to the property and all applicable costs. If you’re not sure where to start, choose a few neighborhoods or areas you’d like to stay in and go from there. And don’t be afraid to start a conversation with the owners. The answers to your questions will ultimately help you decide upon the vacation home of your dreams.

Have a question about renting that I didn’t cover here? Email me at Rebecca@welltraveledbeauty.com. Stay tuned for a post on some of my top rental agencies and websites.

Curious About Cuba? Here’s A Great Way To Experience It

Curious About Cuba? Here’s A Great Way To Experience It

 

Every since President Obama announced late last year that travel restrictions to Cuba were going to be lifted, adventure-seekers have been clamoring to visit this vibrant, tropical country so that they can add another pushpin to their map of travel conquests. However, almost one year later, it’s still not possible to travel to Cuba simply as an eager tourist ready to sip mojitos on the beach.

To visit this lost land, travelers have to prove they’re visiting Cuba for educational reasons or to help the Cuban people. That’s where tour companies like Group IST (International Specialty Travel) come in. The 34-year old travel provider specializes in content-rich, original, thematic, educational and interactive travel programs, so an excursion to Cuba fits like skirt steak in ropa vieja.

Group IST has been licensed to take Americans to Cuba since 2014 and is one of the few travel providers offering Americans small ship cruises today. It’s no surprise that GIST is adding more sailing dates to their People-to-People cruise of Cuba, totaling 19 cruises in the 2015-2016 season.

Havana View

The “Havana to Cienfuegos” cruise gives Americans a chance to have an enriching cultural experience while enjoying all the creature comforts—fine food, good accommodations, excellent personal service—of traveling by small ship. On shore, you’ll take part in activities ranging from people-to-people exchanges with local artisans, musicians, and conservationists; authentic lunches at area restaurants; and visits to a variety of landmarks, including the archaeological sites at Guanahacabibes National Park, the Spanish colonial city of Trinidad, and old Havana.

Panorama in Cuba

The cost of a cruise ranges from $4,899 to $5,999. This price includes mandatory Cuban medical insurance as well as all the necessary paperwork. Charter airfare is not included —so if you’re trolling the Internet for rates, CheapAir offers nonstop flights from Miami, Tampa, and New York. And as of this past July, JetBlue also offers nonstop service from JFK. For more information, visit the Group IST website.

 

 

 

 

The Witches Of Positano

The Witches Of Positano

I have been a professional writer my entire adult life. I am not, I don’t think, given to hyperbole. Much of my career has been devoted to observing, attempting to separate the essential from the non-essential, and presenting it, succinctly and rationally, for readers.

The incident in question aside, I cannot remember the last time I ran into something, within reason, that I couldn’t explain. Maybe when I was with my Grandma and we walked into a Detroit bar she hadn’t been in for about 30 years and, one by one, about half of the people sitting on stools turned around and casually waved to her and called to her by name—a la The Shining.

However, what occurred to my wife and me on the second night of our honeymoon in the Amalfi Coast potentially eclipses even that oddity.

My wife had booked us a wonderful villa in the cliffs, about a mile east of Positano, between Positano and Praiano. We loved it. High in the hills, it had a private deck looking out at the sea and included a lap cat, Ricky—scarred, as the owner would later tell us, “over a fight with a woo-man”—who would visit as we sipped wine on the porch.

On our first night, we slept like babes, with the open windows ushering in the beautiful, ancient sea air. I can’t remember exactly what we did on our second day in Amalfi, but no doubt it involved a fair amount of hiking, dining, and wine. We came back to the villa that night and hit the air-dried sheets for another long, restful night.

And then, as we dozed off, it happened: some sort of deep, guttural, woman’s voice drifting through the open kitchen window across the villa.

As one might reasonably conclude, this in and itself did not cause me excessive cause for concern. While our apartment was somewhat isolated, on a private path, the owner did live above us, and there were other apartments not too far away, scattered throughout the cliffs in their own private enclaves, on all sides.

Still, there was something about the tone—incantational is the only way I can describe it—that was odd enough for me to get out of bed and walk to the kitchen.

It’s true that the wind was blowing hard off the sea. It is also true that, besides Ricky, there are untold numbers of outdoor cats in the area, and, of course, they tend to howl and fight. However, neither of these—unless I am completely, abhorrently, crazily mistaken—is what I heard.

Standing by the window, however, that is exactly what I expected to experience—an “ah-sigh” moment. The point in the story where one realizes that the noise is just a drunk tourist stumbling up the stairs, laugh, and go back to sleep.

That is not what happened.

I heard the voice again, but louder and more aggressive this time, and—this is very important, and I swear—swirling up, with the wind, in some sort of swelling, nefariously lyrical chant.

Have you ever seen a Dario Argento movie? One about witches, like Suspiria or Mother of Tears, which culminate in a coven of witches ripping a young girl into ribbons?

This sounded like a scene from one of those movies. It was a long, drawn-out, deliberate chant—and from the sound of it, right off of our porch.

It was at this point I went into what I guess might be described as Stage Two of the Stages of Realized Horror Film Panic—waiting for it to go away.

Something very bad has happened. You’ve acknowledged this. You can’t deny it. Now you just want it to go away.

Except it didn’t.

It happened again—louder, nastier, more theatrical, the chant whipping with the wind through the cliffs. I don’t know if the language was Italian or some sort of long-dead strain of Aramaic found only in three cursed books scattered at secret locales across the world.

What I was fairly certain of—am fairly certain of—is that, at approximately one in the morning, outside our apartment in the cliffs between Positano and Priano, a woman was standing outside our porch chanting what sounded like some sort of mendacious appeal to the spirit world.

After the prolonged third bout, it finally stopped. My wife had come out to the kitchen to hear the tail end of it.

Panic ensued. We locked the windows. Double-locked the door. Talked about switching locations. We finally resolved to consider moving if it happened again the next night, and went to sleep.

The next night I ended up sleeping with a large stick under the bed. But it never happened again. We couldn’t ask the owner about it because she couldn’t speak English very well. Exhaustive Google searches of witches in the area or some kind of ancient late-night religious ceremonies proved fruitless.

I have no idea what I heard that night in Amalfi, one of my favorite places in the world. But if I were to ever encounter a book, travel guide or local winkingly making light about ancient legends of witchcraft in the area, I do believe I could contribute unique insight on the subject.