Food for Thought with Krista Simmons

This week we sat down with talented travel writer and video producer Krista Simmons to talk about three of our favorite things: food, travel and the pursuit of creativity. She travels the world creating content for publications including Travel + Leisure, Departures, New York Magazine and the LA Times and just started a new venture as her own boss at Fork in the Road Media. Read on for an inside look at how video content and social media impact food and travel writing and the dream meals of an international foodie.

Krista Simmons

  1. How has traveling the world changed you the most?

    I’ve always said that traveling is the one thing that you can spend money on that actually makes you richer. It’s changed my life in so many ways, but what I’m most grateful for is that it’s given me a deeper sense of empathy. Experiencing other cultures has given me a sense of compassion towards how others grow up and the issues they face (especially as women). It’s taught me a deeper appreciation for the privilege I was born into. Simply having a US Passport is a real blessing in this day and age, and I always try to remember that in the way I view the world both at home and on the road.

  1. How have you seen food and travel writing evolve in recent years?

    I loved watching the evolution of 360 degree storytelling. Food and travel are such visual subjects, and it’s really inspiring to see how stories can be told in a way that gets viewers excited to hit the road and try new things. A few years back, it was a total uphill battle to convince editors that video and social were important. Fast forward and now it’s the most lucrative part of my business, so much so that I’ve started my own media company called Fork in the Road to tell these digital stories in a meaningful way.

  1. What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a travel writer or content creator?

    I always say the only way to do something is to do it. It’s so important to carve out time to nurture your creative side. It’s not an easy road, but it’s absolutely one worth taking.

  1. What’s the most underrated place you’ve ever traveled to?

    I honestly am all about traveling to the under-the-radar spots with bubbling culinary scenes that no one knows about. I’d so much rather be sitting on a little plastic stool slurping up curry in Yangon, Myanmar than a patisserie with a line out the door in Paris. I am always after what’s new and next. It’s exciting to know that you can help bring light to those places and stories, and hopefully bring business to deserving people who haven’t yet been discovered by my audience.

  1. What would be your ideal food day if distance was no limit (breakfast, lunch and dinner)?

    If I had one of those fancy PJ’s, I’d zip around the world for a three part tour. Breakfast I’d be back in Shanghai for soup dumplings with my younger brother Danny. We had such a blast shooting there together. For lunch, I’d be somewhere in the Sri Lankan tea fields stuffing my face with string hoppers and coconut-laden sambol alongside the locals. For dinner, I’d end up at Etxebarri in Basque Country with my girlfriends, looking out at the bucolic landscape while enjoying one of their perfectly prepared wood-fired steaks and a great glass of rioja.

The Importance of Taking Time Off

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Recently, we’ve read a few interesting pieces about “vacation shaming” in the workplace. As publicists, we understand the hesitation to travel when you have a demanding job. It’s hard to take a break from work that you’re passionate about and many people worry that they don’t have enough vacation time or that their company will not approve time off. At the same time, getting outside of your comfort zone is necessary to stay inspired which in turn makes you better at your job. Our advice? TRAVEL. NOW. DO IT! Here are 4 reasons why.

1. Good for your health: Studies show that vacations are just as important as exercise. They help cure burnout and chronic stress that’s epidemic in today’s 24-7 culture. The catch, it takes two weeks to take full advantage of these recuperative benefits. If two weeks away sounds like crazy talk, consider traveling during slow periods. Our boss lady Dyan likes to travel during Thanksgiving when things tend to slow down in the media world. It’s also the perfect time to travel to Paris and Italy if you like to avoid crowds and travel on a budget like we do.

2. Refuels your work: For us, this is reason enough to travel. Our jobs depend on us staying fresh and creative. Visiting cities like Paris, Florence, or Rome and truly immersing ourselves in the culture of these cities – touring the Louvre, seeing the David and St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time, spending the day learning more about The Roman Forum and Colosseum, eating gelato, pasta and drinking wine daily – inspires us and provides a jolt of creative thinking.

3. Personal Growth: There is a saying that you can be comfortable or you can grow but you cannot do both at once. Travel forces you to get out of your comfort zone and appreciate the world through other people’s eyes. When you experience other cultures, you learn new ways of doing things and deepen your empathy for the individuals you meet. Expanding your worldview through firsthand experience strengthens decision making and interpersonal skills which are an asset in any industry, as well as your personal life.

4. You’re not alone: Don’t be a “work martyr.” It can be unnerving to let coworkers and clients know you’ll be away. You may experience (or imagine) some surprise or even resentment. But setting boundaries for your time off and trusting your team members to help you while you’re gone gets easier with time. At SPPR, it helps to build vacations into our plans at least three months in advance to be extra prepared. In the end, your teams and clients will benefit from your renewed energy and perspective post-break.

Safe travels,

Team SPPR

SPPR Retreat: Celebrating 5 Years!

Every summer, the Soda Pop PR team heads out of the office for a little bit of relaxation and inspiration at our company retreat. These days are filled with good food and fun activities as we revisit the year’s highlights and our goals for the future. This year, the SPPR team was excited to celebrate five years with a Malibu getaway.

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The Malibu Beach Inn spoiled us with endless ocean views and proved the perfect escape from the hustle of Hollywood. Equipped with swag bags and custom Milk Jar Cookies we settled in to talk leadership, strengths and company growth.

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Retreat activities included a wild time at Malibu Wine Safari, complete with flower crowns and the famous celebrity giraffe Stanley as well as a photoshoot on the pier with photographer Courtney Paige.

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It’s not an SPPR trip without some amazing food! With locally sourced food and Pacific Ocean views, Malibu Farm became a mainstay for the team while in the ‘bu. We’re still talking about their quinoa oatmeal and many laughs were had over their yummy cocktails at our team dinner.

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Five years is a milestone for a small business and we are proud to be doing thoughtful, inspired work for a roster of incredible clients. We’d like to take a moment to thank everyone who has supported us along the way, and continues to support us as we grow. Looking forward to another five years of fun, creative work and all of the exciting milestones yet to come. We’ve only just begun!

Cheers to the next 5!

Team Soda Pop PR

Six Ways To Travel The World This Summer Without Spending A Dime

Our resident wordsmith Colleen Dunn uses her powers for more than just pitching prowess, she’s also a freelance writer for Uproxx. This week she rounded up six ways to travel the world without spending a dime. With the Memorial Day holiday officially kicking off summer, we know your wanderlust struggle is real this week. Read on for travel inspiration.

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People offer a lot of reasons for not traveling more often, with lack of funds usually topping every list. At Uproxx, our basic argument is that traveling is more worthwhile than most of the other crap we spend our money on. Still, even though we firmly believe that travel is cheaper than most people realize, we have to admit it isn’t free. Usually.

This summer there are some sneaky ways to snag yourself a one of a kind travel experience without having to tag along on your parents’ annual cruise. Whether you’re the outdoorsy type, an eco-warrior, or a potential au pair, here are six ways to choose your own FREE (!) travel adventure this summer.

Be a Wildsam Fellow

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Hip guidebook company Wildsam is looking for travelers to take a 10-day research trip this summer as “Travel Fellows.” The goal of the program is “1) to discover and document the broad and diverse narrative of the US; and 2) to inspire a deep sense of curiosity in our Travel Fellows.” The WildSam fellowship was inspired by The Federal Writers’ Project, commissioned by the U.S. government during the Great Depression to send writers, artists, photographers, and journalists out to share the American story.

Last year’s Wildsam Travel Fellows documented the cultural heritage of New England and the Desert Southwest with interviews from locals, explorations of tiny back roads, and hundreds of photographs. Each of the two travelers selected for the program receives a stipend to fully cover travel expenses.

Apply for the program here before May 25.

Find Your Park

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In celebration of their 100th anniversary, The National Park Service is offering free admission on 16 days in 2016. Which means you can hike through caves made of lava tubes, experience the hottest area in North America and go sound bathing at no cost this summer. And that’s just in California.

Check out one of the 127 national parks that normally charge an entrance fee for free on August 25-28, September 24 or November 11. We’re betting you can track down a friend with a tent for the more camping friendly park options like Joshua Tree and Yosemite but if not, there’s alwaysCouchSurfing.com.

 

Work Work Work Work Work

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Work for trade opportunities abound for the traveler who isn’t afraid to use a little elbow grease. WWOOF offers young vagabonds the chance to work on organic farms around the world in exchange for free housing and food, making you a friend to the environment as well as a savvy penny saver. Opportunities usually require around four to six hours of work per day, at least two days a week. So it’s not insane.

If farm life isn’t for you, there are plenty of other volunteer and cultural exchange opportunities on Workaway or HelpX. Experiences vary from working at a hostel and teaching yoga, to helping build a house, splitting coconuts, and walking dogs at a South American animal sanctuary.

Be A Summer Au Pair

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Put those neighborhood babysitting skills to good use as an international au pair. Websites like Au Pair World connect you with families looking for live-in childcare that will give you the opportunity to improve your language skills and get to know a new culture while living with a host family. Not only will your room and board be covered, you actually get paid for this one. You’ll have more luck looking for a family in the Northern Hemisphere right now — in the Southern Hemisphere summer is not until January and they’ll be more likely to want a long-term au pair placement right now rather than a few months of relief from their out of school and under-foot children.

 

Home Exchange

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If you’re a pet lover, TrustedHouseSitters.com is about to rock your world. The website will connect you with a place to stay for free in return for caring for someone’s pets while they’re out of town. It’s basically Airbnb but you have to walk the dog in the morning. If you own your own place, trading homes with someone is another way to score yourself a free place to stay while traveling. Yes, like Kate Winslet in The Holiday and yes, you’ll totally fall in love with the person you house trade with. Use HomeExhange.com to browse options in 150 countries.

Get In Touch With Your Roots

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You’ve probably heard about Birthright Israel trips. What you may not have heard of is Birthright Armenia, a volunteer internship program which reimburses travel expenses to people of Armenian descent who commit to two months interning or volunteering at approved organizations including hospitals, news agencies, government offices, and environmental NGOs. Meaning this travel opportunity is also a cultural goldmine, not bad on your resume, and will probably make your grandparents really, really proud. Win-win-win.

Similar programs include Heritage Greece, ReConnect Hungary, or the Love Boat Study Program for youth of Chinese or Taiwanese descent.

 

Article originally appeared on Uproxx.

SPPR Travels: Truffle Hunting in Provence

While Paris is well known for its gastronomic institutions, Provence is just as important to France’s culinary history. The climate is ideal for producing not only truffles but many fruits, vegetables and herbs which contribute to the region’s signature dishes. If you’ve ever cooked with Herbes de Provence then you’re familiar with the flavor. Our own Becky de Haro ventured South on her holiday vacation in France to spend time truffle hunting on an organic Provencal farm. Read on to dive into her adventure and new found appreciation for truffles.

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Why Are Truffles So Expensive?

So many factors must align in order to produce a truffle that I now see why they’ve earned the nickname ‘black gold’ and why Johann of Les Pastras, the family farm we visited, must remain so secretive. In a nutshell, truffles grow from spores that live underground near the roots of certain tree species like oak and hazelnut. A very specific landscape, climate and rainfall are required and even if you can create these elements, it would take several years before you would know if your cultivation was a success.

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How to Hunt for Truffles

Even when truffles are successfully grown, finding them is a whole new challenge. The most common technique today is to train a dog as a puppy to detect the smell. During our hunt, the Les Pastras dogs quickly sniffed out a truffle within a minute of being released. They would paw at a spot in the dirt and then our other guide, John Michael, would show us where to gently pry the truffle out with a screwdriver, giving the dogs a treat each time. The treat that day was cubes of cheese, which would motivate me as well. Eventually the dogs get distracted and want to play. That’s when you know the truffle hunt is over for the day.

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Beware of Truffle Thieves

Because truffles are so coveted and hard to cultivate, the industry is highly competitive and at times, brutal. Johann recounted many stories of truffle thieves, sneaking onto private property when the owner is away to snatch what they can or even truffle hunters sabotaging each other to drive up the price of their own truffles, doing everything from setting fire to trees on the property to dropping poisoned meatballs to kill truffle dogs. It’s like an HBO drama!

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How to Buy Truffles

Especially in light of recent food fraud cases making national news, like the mafia corrupting the Italian Olive Oil industry, it was eye-opening and educational to hear from Johann how truffle fraud can and does occur. When purchasing truffle products, pay close attention to the ingredients list. Authentic truffle products will list the specific type of truffle, not truffle flavor, as an ingredient. For example – Sea Salt + Black Summer Truffle + Truffle Aroma. Most truffle olive oils are made with ‘truffle flavor,’ which means you’re paying top dollar for a taste created in a laboratory.

Should you ever find yourself in Provence, I highly recommend you pay Les Pastras a visit and say hello to Johann for me. But if a visit to France isn’t in the cards, my top takeaway learnings are:

  • It’s all about the aroma, baby. The best indicator of a good truffle is its aroma. The more aroma, the more flavor.
  • To maintain the best aroma and flavor, don’t cook truffles. Add them at the end to finish a dish.
  • The optimum equation for truffle food pairing is truffle + fat + salt = heaven. We enjoyed truffles on bread with butter and salt, on wedges of cheese and even in ice cream.

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Thank you for a memorable experience, Les Pastras!

-Becky

SPPR Travels: Denver

There’s nothing an avid traveler loves like a long weekend so it’s no surprise that our own Colleen Dunn took advantage of the Labor Day holiday with a quick trip to Denver, Colorado. Colleen breaks down highlights from her first time in the mile-high city below.

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Do: Colorado’s smog-free mountain air and Instagram-worthy views are enough to get even the least outdoorsy girl to tie on her sneakers and hit the trails. We made the 30 minute drive to Chautauqua Park in Boulder for an easy and dog-friendly day-hike.

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(Photo Credit @omfbrewing)

Sip: At SPPR we never miss an opportunity to go #pinkiedown so with the Union Wine Co. tasting truck rolling through Denver, meeting up at the Topo flagship store was a high priority.

Other sips with friends took place at Our Mutual Friend brewing company, a favorite haunt for the weekend. With locally sourced ingredients (including 100% Colorado grown grain) OMF is a great example of getting to know a city through its beer. Their India Pale Ale gives a nod to Colorado’s pine trees and can hold its own with Southern California IPA devotees. Cold brew fans will love OMF’s Novo Coffee Stout on Nitro and The Proletariat Session Ale offers a straightforward pour unlikely to offend an uncertain palate.

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Eat: Foodie paradise The Source offers everything from fresh local produce and killer Crooked Stave sour beers to Comida‘s drool-worthy bacon and jalapeno tacos. It’s an exposed-brick industrial-design dream come true.

Follow along with Colleen’s next Colorado trip and other adventures on Instagram @colleenadunn

SPPR Retreat: Celebrating 4 Years

Between new team members and new clients, it’s been an exciting year at Soda Pop PR! To celebrate our 4th anniversary, we headed down the coast for a team retreat in beautiful Laguna Beach.

With friendly staff and adorable beach-chic decor, The Laguna Beach House proved a perfect location for our weekend away (and a tough place to leave)!

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It’s not a SPPR retreat without an awesome swag bag! Everyone loved arriving to find goody-filled beach totes from Wylie West Creative in their rooms.

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After check-in, husband & wife photography team Joe + Kathrina were on hand to kick things off with a laughter-filled photo shoot followed by enchiladas and margaritas at Tortilla Republic.

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Inspiration and relaxation were on the agenda Friday as Beth Penn from Bneato Bar helped us declutter our work lives and K. Mala Studio led the team through a creative watercolor workshop. Of course there were plenty of beach breaks and sunny poolside chats.

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There’s no better way to end a wonderful weekend than with friends, family and a glass of champagne. The SPPR team and guests gathered in a beachfront bungalow at Pacific Edge Hotel for a sunset feast overlooking the ocean.

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As we reflect back on 4 years, we’d like to take a moment to thank our clients, friends and families for all their support. We wouldn’t be where we are without you!

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Cheers to 4 fantastic years and many more!

Team Soda Pop PR