Women Who Inspire Interview Series: Paola of Cravings In Amsterdam

It's the last Friday in February, yet it feels like Spring outside-- it's going to get up to 66ºF today here in NYC! Happy Friday, indeed!

Last week, I kicked off my Women Who Inspire Interview Series with Sara of Shiso Delicious, and I could not be happier with the amazing reaction we received from it. This was exactly what I was hoping for: a more in-depth discussion about the realities that happen offscreen, with women who are innovators and creators. We tend to forget that these people who command large followings on social media and/or are public personalities are just as human too. A human with their own struggles, insecurities, half the hustle you don't see, triumphs, and more. You guys know I'm all about embracing your NOW, rather than the living for the "after" pictures. I wanted to look beyond the pretty feeds and filters into reality.

I was originally intending on doing this series as a bi-weekly feature, but because of the incredible response from Sara's interview, I wanted to keep the momentum of inspiration going; so, we are pausing with the Favorite Friday Finds for a bit, and going to jump right into the next interview with someone I am SO excited to feature on here.

If you haven't seen her mouth-watering creations and wanderlust-inspiring captures of Amsterdam on Instagram yet, I want to introduce you to the beautiful Paola Holthausen of @CravingsinAmsterdam!

Paola and I became friends through Instagram nearly three years ago. Born in Peru but now living in Amsterdam with her husband, Paola began blogging to share her cravings. Her vibrant and creative dishes immediately caught my eye, and soon I was looking forward to waking up every morning to basically drool over her gorgeous creations. Sometimes following her would NOT help me control my own cravings 😂 but her talents for fusing together unusual combinations would always inspire my own cooking. Look at those poké tacos for instance-- it is obvious why Food & Wine is always posting her innovative creations!

Her talents for her work aside, I have known Paola to be so sweet and thoughtful. She is always so positive and level-headed, which is why I was so excited to peek more inside her brain and heart through this interview. She surely did not disappoint, as I felt like I got to know a dear friend better through these questions, as well as some sage life advice from a wise young woman. 

You'll find some of the same questions asked to Sara but also quite a few different ones too- without further ado, here we go!

Quickfire Questions:

Hats you wear:
I’m a wife, recipe developer, blogger, freelance food photographer and food stylist.
First thing you do when you open your eyes in the morning:
Check my phone.
Last nice thing you did for yourself:
Got a massage.
3 words to describe your strengths you’re most proud of:
Resilient, responsible and empathetic.
3 characteristics other people use to describe you:
Kind, creative, shy.
Current book you’re reading:
None at the moment.
Current favorite physical activity:
I love biking through the city. 
Current color crush:
Pale pink.
Current song on repeat:
Shape of You by Ed Sheeran
Current thing that never fails to make you smile:
My cats (Cat lady alert).
Next purchase or experience on the bucket list:
Travel more. I want to see flower fields in the South of France and I’m in need of some vitamin Sea.
Thing you’re most looking forward to right now?
My apartment being completely finished.
5 words to describe what love means to you:
Happiness, marriage, fidelity, kindness and appreciation.
Morning bird or night owl?
Morning owl. 
Coffee or Matcha?
Coffee to drink and matcha to eat.
Sweet or savory?
Both.
Favorite lazy girl weekday meal:
Avocado toast or oatmeal with yogurt.
5 items always in your purse/bag:
Lip balm, phone, wallet, portable charger and keys

"Get Shit Done"

Life doesn’t always go according to plan, so we choose our battles. What are your daily non-negotiables?
At night I like to watch at least one TV show. It helps me switch off from work before going to bed. I like funny and light shows like Bob’s Burgers or The Big Bang Theory. It’s my time to just sit on the couch and relax. Both my husband and I can’t function well without proper sleep so during weekdays we try to turn off the TV at around 10pm. Might be a bit boring but by that time we are already so tired that, we are ready to go to bed anyways. I get very cranky if I’m hungry so I can’t leave the house without having breakfast. I’d rather wake up earlier and have a quiet breakfast than sleep more and then be rushed. So I always have coffee and some oatmeal with yogurt before starting my day or any kind of cooking.

What is the most important lesson you’ve taken away from a particularly big achievement or success?
I do believe that if you want something, you have to work for it. And that hard work pays off. It took me a while to start monetizing my business. I was still learning how the whole blogger thing worked but I also didn’t want to compromise to earn cash. I only work with brands I truly like and that fit me. And my Instagram account has brought me great working opportunities beyond the blogger world.

What’s a habit you’ve adopted in the past year that has had a significant positive change on your daily routine?
I’ve learned to listen to my body. I find that it is very easy to over-work myself. Since being a freelancer means that my income varies from month to month, if a good project comes along of course I want to jump at the opportunity and take it. But I am also very sensitive to stress. It manifests in headaches and migraines. I have friends who have gone through burn-outs and that is something that I definitely don’t want to go through. So if things get too hectic, I need to remember to also chill in between to give my body/mind some rest. It also helps that if I forget, my husband very kindly reminds me. 

Mountains to Climb

Your work is a lot closer to home than most. While most everyone brings home work these days, thanks to emails on phones, blogging actually entails documenting and sharing your everyday. How has that affected your relationships with friends and family?
Since I work from home most of the time, I find it a bit hard to separate work from leisure time. It’s so easy to keep on working since it is the same environment. I am very lucky to have a very supportive husband. He understands that I need to create content, he is sometimes my hand model and my photographer. But he can also tell me when I’m on my phone too much, which is good. I think we are very good at balancing each other. My non-blogger friends know that the camera eats first and with my blogger friends, they are on the same boat. 

How do you stay present and unplug when you need to?
I try to tackle one thing at a time. Every morning I make a to-do list and I write the tasks in the order that they need to get done. I find that really helps me keep focused. Sometimes is hard to switch off. My thoughts keep running in the background with all the things I want/need to do. I do find that biking, even though it is my vehicle for doing errands, helps a bit. When I take public transport, I am always on my phone. If I bike, I often go through the park or nice areas and I am enjoying the view. 
When I can, I go get a massage. I discovered a place in my neighborhood. It is nothing fancy like a spa, just a clean little place where you can get a massage for a decent price, they make the oils themselves and they also serve you some tea afterwards. For that hour I am in complete heaven. 

Have you found that technology- especially with the real-time trend that social media is adopting (Snapchat, IG stories) that it takes away from the experience? 
Yes, but I think it depends on how you manage it. You can get carried away with trying to capture every moment or you can find a balance that works for you, and know that is it also ok to not have to share everything. 

From time to time, we all get caught up lusting after others lives— whether it be their travel photos on Instagram, their beautiful home, their adorable husband + babies, their burgeoning career, etc. What do you do when you fall down the rabbit hole of comparison to others in your field?
Instead of comparing too much, I like to set goals. I love to travel and want to have a beautiful home. So for example, I will take some Instagram accounts that I like as suggestions for either a trip or decorations ideas. Before we lived in a rental apartment, so we couldn’t really do much to it. But last year we bought our own place. All of our energy and money went into buying, building and renovating our apartment. So we decided to not take a vacation last year and just work on our home. It is still a work in progress but it is coming along nicely. But this year, I do want to take holidays and also create some travel content. I have a few travel blogger friends and I love the places where they go. But I also know there is a lot of work behind all those perfect travel photos.  

What’s a personal weakness you’ve overcome (or progressed on) that you’re most proud of? How did you do it?
I am very shy, not as much as I was growing up, but I still don’t feel comfortable at all while public speaking. But last year I gave a food styling workshop. A company approached me. It was a good brand and the pay was good, so I decided to take it. It went well and I’m happy I did it, but it’s not something I will be doing on a regular basis. 

I certainly suffer from wanting to be everything to everyone all the time, but it’s just impossible to do it 100% of the time; I know a lot of women feel similarly- How do you go about managing that pressure?
I try to prioritize. Our bodies/minds can only handle so much. And sometimes if you try to do too much, it just won’t come out as well as you wanted.  

Perspectives:

Do you believe that you have to “have it all” to be happy?
No. Of course we all lust over a bigger home, more income, etc. But I think if you really stop and think of the things you are grateful for, you’d be surprised of how happy you are. I am grateful every day to be in a loving & supportive relationship. My husband is my best friend. I can talk to him about everything. I am happy to have two cats. I’m not the kind of person that can be without animals and working from home means that I get my cat fix (get to pet them) when I want. The first thing we did when we rented our first apartment in Amsterdam was go to the local shelter and adopt Mandu, our first cat together. Both our cats make our place more homey. The apartment we bought is in the same neighborhood that we’ve been living in for the past 7 years. It’s actually across the street of our last rental. It’s not huge but it’s ours. We love this area of Amsterdam and we are very happy we didn’t have to move far. It is like a little village where we know everyone. In a nutshell, it is the simple things in daily life that make me happy.

One of my best friends and I will frequently talk about this— the saying that “do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life” and how it sets unrealistic expectations for those venturing out to make their passions their careers. Olympic athletes love what they do, but they sure as hell aren’t showing up to every single day of training thrilled over the moon to be there. I know I love my job, but it’s actual work that I dedicate a lot of energy and sometimes not so fun work to. What do you think about this trend and if you’ve made the transition, what are some of the realizations you’ve had from it?
It’s funny that you used that quote. I was talking about it with two friends a few weeks ago and I don’t believe that it is true either. I was a late bloomer and only found out what I love to do for a living when I turned 30. I am very grateful to finally have a job which I love and that I am proud of. But that doesn’t mean it is not work. I often work 7 days a week and at times it is exhausting both mentally and physically. I’ll be biking all over town getting ingredients and props for recipes or for projects, I often have to stop at home to drop some stuff off because my backpack and basket are full, and I can’t physically carry the stuff that I still need to go get. And then I go out again. Recipes don’t always work out. There are days in which no recipe works at all. All that effort and time of getting the ingredients and cooking is gone. Plus they are our dinner, so if something turns out inedible which sometimes happens, I need to figure out what else to make for dinner.
I only shoot with natural light so I always feel rushed to cook everything before it gets dark, especially during winter when the hours of daylight are quite short. Shooting days where I do food styling at a studio are often 11 hour days in which I only get to sit down to have lunch for 15 minutes. I still love it and I am happy to do it, but it is work.

What is an important thing in life that you feel like the world is lacking lately and could use more of?
Being more kind to one another. With our lives being more public with social media (blogger or not), it’s easier to be bullied. I think being mean doesn’t lead to anything good, so why do it?

What is currently frustrating you the most about your industry?
That some companies don’t value the work that we do. If they contact you wanting you to promote a product, it is because you have something to offer, otherwise they wouldn’t be writing you in the first place. Some companies write me saying that they love my work and want me to create recipes using their products without offering anything in return. Creating recipes, styling them and photographing them is work and takes time. I think the assumption that the product is enough compensation for your work is ridiculous. If the people in the marketing department contacting bloggers would only get products at the end of the month instead of a salary, they wouldn’t be working for that company. So why should we expect anything differently? Work is work.

Our Bodies

Define “being healthy” in your perspective.
For me being healthy is to exercise regularly and eat what I like in moderation. I love eating fruit and vegetables, but I also love fries and chocolate cake. When I make sweets at home for the blog, I always make a small batch. I’ll taste some of it and I’ll giveaway the rest to my neighbors, or call some friends. Living in Amsterdam, I bike and walk a lot. So when I don’t have time to work out, at least I am moving.     

Whether it be focusing on nourishing foods, working out, or general self-care, why is it important to you to take care of your body?
Because it is the only one I have so I want to keep it healthy. Plus I want to grow old with my husband. I don’t smoke. I am a light drinker so I will have a drink or two, but I’m not the kind to get wasted. It is just not worth the hangover for me. I feel better if I eat nutritious food. I’m taking care of my skin (also a bit of a late bloomer in the skincare department). I’m not against plastic surgery but it is not something that I want to do. I want to age gracefully and prolong the signs of aging as much as possible. 

What is the one thing you’re most thankful for about your body?
That it is strong and healthy. Even though when I get migraines I think that it is weak, but I know it is something that will pass.

How has your perspective on your body changed since 5 or 10 years ago?
I’m in my thirties now and I am more confident and comfortable in my own skin than when I was younger. I don’t have the need to compare myself to other women. I don’t have a model’s body and that’s ok. It’s not in my genes and trying to achieve something like that would be very unhealthy for me. I know which kinds of clothes flatter my body type the best and I know what I like. I don’t need to follow trends because they are hip. I’m not the thinnest I’ve ever been but this is me and I am happy.

It’s funny because the aesthetic trends today seem to go in polar extremes— either Kardashian-like makeup with the full-on contouring and hour long makeup tutorials or the fresh-faced au natural trend a la Glossier and Aerie’s REAL campaign. How do you feel this affects young women’s standards of beauty and pressures today?
I think there is a lot of pressure to look perfect especially since the images we see in advertisements don’t reflect reality. I get that you want to cover up a pimple but a lot of the Photoshop on ads go way beyond natural. And they should not be misleading. If you want to sell mascara for example, then don’t place fake eyelashes on the model/actress, just use the product that you are selling. 
That being said, I do think that make up is fun and a form of expression. So if you are happy going Kardashian style or more natural, just go for it. It’s your body, not anyone else’s. 

The Hustle

What do you think is unique that you offer to your audience that is lacking out there?
I try to create recipes which are simple but that have flavor combinations that are unique. I like to give new twists to classics and hopefully show that simple home cooked food can not only be delicious but beautiful too.

What is the most rewarding part of what you do?
When people around the world make my recipes and they tag me on their picture. It’s like a little piece of me is in their kitchen. 10 years ago, I would have never thought that would be possible. Plus the Instagram community is so supportive. 

Have you had a specific moment of feeling like “I’ve made it” or do you imagine there being a particular achievement that once accomplished, you know you’ve made it?
No, I‘m still learning as I go. This blogger world started as a hobby and has brought me so many opportunities. I’m just happy to be doing what I love and to be able to get good projects. I would have never started freelancing as a food stylist or food photographer if it wasn’t for my Instagram account. That’s how a lot of companies find me. 

What are 1-3 key things to maintaining your personal aesthetic + brand integrity while working with other brands?
I like having creative freedom in the content that I create. When it comes to working with brands, I choose to work with brands which offer products that I truly like, that I would buy myself and that fit my audience. If a brand I don’t know contacts me, the first thing I do is look at their website and social media. See what kind of posts they make and see how their audience reacts. For example, I got an email from a brand wanting to do a collaboration a few weeks ago and looking through their Facebook page, I saw a lot of negative comments from their customers saying that what they purchased never arrived or it took months. I don’t want to be associated with brands which don’t have a good reputation. I want my readers to have a good experience with the products I recommend. 

What advice would you give to someone looking to build a career like yours?
To work hard and to really put an effort into it. With so many blogs popping up every day, it makes it hard to stand out. There are so many talented people creating high quality content that if you really want to make a living out of it, you really have to give it 110%.

How do you strike the balance of authentically creating content versus curating just what you think your audience wants to see?
Everything I post, I eat myself. And if it is not food, it is something that I genuinely like. I think if it’s your account you should be able to post what you enjoy, otherwise it stops being fun. Of course it is good to keep up to trends like trying new things with avocado or sushi, but it should still be enjoyable for you. The food I make and eat is what I crave, hence the name Cravings in Amsterdam.  

How do you see the blogger/influencer space evolving as social media continues to rapidly develop and change?
I think bloggers will adapt to the changes. Like any other job, if you don’t adapt you risk becoming obsolete. Video is constantly getting more popular and I see a lot of bloggers making that transition. I also think companies will invest more in influencer marketing. In the Netherlands is still a bit behind compared to the States but it is coming. Social media is such a powerful tool. People look for inspiration on social media, me included. I’ve discovered many brands which I like through other bloggers that I follow. I hardly ever buy magazines since everything is online. If I want to buy a new beauty product for example, I’ll watch YouTube videos with reviews about it before going to the store or ordering it online.

A HUGE thanks to Paola for her genuine + thoughtful responses!

All of the beautiful photography in the body of this post is by Paola Holthausen. 
Make sure to check out her beautiful Instagram and her blog!