I first met Rens Kroes in New York City a few years ago. I had known of her for a while, but had never met her in person. She is one of those people who seem almost inapproachable via the social media lens, simply because of how successful and well-known she is. When I finally met her, however, the first thing that struck me was how down to earth and truly relatable she is. Rens is a bestselling author, blogger and recipe developer from the Netherlands who just published her fourth book in under three years. While she now runs her own online business and frequently appears on TV and magazine covers, this is not quite the life she had imagined for herself. During her most recent visit to New York, Rens and I spent some time in the kitchen to bake, talk and reflect on her journey thus far. Read on to find out how the once small town girl from Friesland became one of the most well-known Dutch health bloggers and cookbook authors as we discuss blogging, creating your own business, veganism, healthy living, personal struggles and spirituality. Lastly, don’t forget to check out Rens’ delicious vegan brownie recipe that she shares with us at the end of the interview and let us know if you decide to try it!
Blogging and Business
Driven by a deep desire to help others, Rens majored in social work in college and spent part of her studies in New York City, where she was influenced by the emerging health food movement. Upon returning to the Netherlands, she started working at an obesity clinic as a social worker and learned about the psychological aspects of eating. Her work and her personal relationship with food inspired her to start her own food coaching practice in Amsterdam, where she worked closely with clients one on one for two and a half years. During that time, she also briefly ran her own Kombucha business as a way to make healthy products more accessible. Then, five years ago, she wanted to create a platform to reach more people and share her recipes and with that, her blog was born. Things progressed quickly from then on. She became a columnist for Glamour Magazine and was approached by a publisher who wanted to help her publish her own cookbook. “I thought it was funny because I’d never thought of writing a book,“ she says now, “but I already had a bunch of recipes, so I thought I could create a book while continuing to develop more and more of them. Everything went very naturally, I didn’t force anything.” Today, she still runs her incredibly successful website renskroes.com and just published her fourth cookbook.
Veganism and Healthy Living
While Rens loves vegan dishes and many of her recipes are plant-based, she is not entirely vegan yet. “I love eating vegan,” she says, “I love vegan documentaries and think that someday I’ll become vegan myself, but I’m just not sure I’m ready yet. It’s a process, but I think it’s amazing what you do, creating awareness toward so many things like the environment and animals, and one day I want to be like that. (…) I’m now mostly vegetarian and I don’t consume cow’s milk” she adds. She started cutting out meat and cow’s milk years ago, when she noticed that they didn’t make her feel good. “My body didn’t like it, so I just decided not to eat it. I also cut out refined sugar and started limiting my gluten intake.”
As someone who found it very easy to transition to veganism quickly, I think it is important to realize that it’s a path that may not be as quick for others and to foster dialogue and encourage every step, so that people see how easy veganism can be and don’t feel intimidated by it. Acknowledging that process instead of dismissing it is a big part of that and it’s one of the many reasons why I am so interested in talking to people like Rens who are still on that path.
[Rens making vegan brownies in SoHo | © Kim-Julie Hansen]
More than just food
As for her approach, Rens says that she “never put[s] any pressure on people”. Instead, she focuses on telling them what comes from her heart. “When I started doing social work, I never thought of having a big business or anything like that.” The success she now has is a by-product of her passion and has never been her main motivation. To this day, that remains helping others. She says that working closely with people in her practice made her realize that what they lacked most was structure, a kind of framework. “I gave them that framework. The focus was food, but I also focused on relaxation and exercise, which I thought was very important. I always say that it’s a “holy triangle”. The three points are Exercise, Relaxation, and Food. My focus was mostly on food, but if you’re in the middle of that triangle, you’ll be in balance and you’ll feel good. You need all three to really be happy. That’s my philosophy.”
What does she do to keep herself in balance? “To me, it’s just a lot of sleep. I need sleep because I work hard and I think a lot. Especially during these last three or four years, everything has gone so fast in my career, in a different direction than I thought. In a good way, but I felt a lot of pressure and a lot of opportunities arose suddenly, so at some point I started to get really tired. I needed to take it slow and sleep more just to get everything back in balance. I exercised less, so instead of exercising three times a week, I reduced it to twice a week and started sleeping more, which truly helped me. Right now, I feel like I’m so much more balanced, but I still need to work more on sleep at times and focus on saying no.”
[Rens Kroes, NYC. © Kim-Julie Hansen]
Living in the moment
While she is definitely a foodie at heart, spirituality plays an equally important role in Rens’ life. “I grew up with books like The New Earth and The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, so it became more than a philosophy to me. I started living that way and it helped me to truly live in the present. To me, focusing on the moment means not thinking too much about what’s going to happen in the future. Don’t think about the past. Just stay and live in the moment. If you have goals, obviously you need to think about the future, but you also need to learn to live right now. Say your goal is to lose weight, sure you want to know how many kilos or pounds you’d like to lose, but you want to think about what you can do to lose the weight in the moment. I try not to think about the future, about how I want to be, but more about how to live now to achieve it.
“You need to be happy in the moment and make that goal a part of how you live now.”
People always think that when they reach that point, they’re going to be happy. It’s where they want to be and where they think they’ll find happiness, but that’s not it. You need to be happy in the moment and make that goal a part of how you live now. I believe that you have struggles in life, and every struggle is something you have to go through. It’s a challenge and challenges can be fun if you see them as something positive. Once you get through that, you get to the next level or the next step in your life.”
[Rens’s book recommendations for anyone interested in finding out more about living in the moment: The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and The Universe Has Your Back by Gabrielle Bernstein.]
Insecurities and how to overcome them
Looking at Rens on magazine covers and in her social media posts, “insecure” is probably not the first word that comes to mind, she seems overall happy and confident. Yet years ago, it’s something she struggled with and fought hard to overcome. “I didn’t feel right,” she says, “it had to do with a lot of things. I ate healthy but I ate a lot and while I wasn’t necessarily overweight, I didn’t feel good in my skin. A lot of it was linked to being too attached to my family. I didn’t feel independent, not that you have to be totally independent, but I felt so strongly attached to my family that I didn’t feel strong enough to rely on myself. Some of it had to do with feeling heavy. Feeling that way, I didn’t really have a chance to figure out what my life’s purpose was. I still don’t know entirely, I’m still just doing my thing and I love what I do, but at that point I was really struggling with it. I was reading a lot, and I started working out and eating less. Before, I used to eat big portions because I was very emotional.
“I could feel the difference between the people that gave me energy and the people that drained me.”
I had all these negative emotions and felt that, in a way, I needed to eat them because I didn’t want to feel them. So when I stopped doing that, it was like a breakthrough. Little by little, I felt lighter and started opening up to other people, good people. I could feel the difference between the people that gave me energy and the people that drained me. It took me about five or six years, it was a long process and I’m still not where I want to be. I’m still in that process, but I feel that I’m the happiest person I’ve ever been. I feel so good, but I also feel the personal development that’s still at work. I feel like everyone has goals in life and we just have to go through certain things in certain stages. You may know what these things are, but you have to listen to them. You have to feel it. You have to do something about it. If not, you’re going to have to face the same problems that you’ve always faced. I believe that life sends you a lot of signs. Sometimes you have to face it and deal with it and if you really look deep in your heart, you know what it is. I feel lighter and better than I ever have today, but I still have things that I need to go for. There are still a lot of struggles ahead, but I see them as something that I want to face and that will help me become richer, not money-wise, but experience-wise.”
[Rens Kroes, NYC. © Kim-Julie Hansen]
One piece of advice you would give your 20-year old self?
“Don’t take in too many emotions and be responsible for your own life. I think that’s the key, being responsible for your own life. I think that if I had told myself that back then, I’d be a little bit further than I am right now, but I don’t have any regrets.”
[image: © Cameron studio, Lieke Heijn & Pim Janswaard]
VEGAN SWEET POTATO BROWNIES
[originally posted on www.renskroes.com]
- food processor
- large mixing bowl
- parchment paper
- small ovenproof dish (20 x 15 cm)
- 2 sweet potatoes (yams) (approx. 400 grams)
- coconut oil, for greasing the pan
- 60 grams raw hazelnuts
- 40 grams buckwheat flour or spelt flour
- 6 tbsp raw cacao powder
- ½ tsp powdered ginger
- 1 tsp vanilla (unsweetened)
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- a pinch of sea salt
- 160 grams dates, pitted
- 2 small handfuls of raw walnuts
- 3 tbsp maple syrup
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/350F. Peel the sweet potatoes and slice them in half, lengthwise. Coat them in a teaspoon of coconut oil and place them in the oven for about 20 minutes until they are cooked and soft. Keep the oven at 180°C/350F. Allow the sweet potatoes to cool. Meanwhile, finely grind the hazelnuts in the food processor. Transfer the hazelnut meal to a bowl; add the buckwheat flour (or spelt flour), five tablespoons cacao powder, ginger, vanilla, cinnamon and a pinch of sea salt and stir to combine.
- Chop the dates into small pieces. Put the cooled sweet potato in the food processer and process well. Add the dates and process again until thoroughly combined. Spoon the mixture into the bowl with the flour and spices and combine well until a soft batter is formed. Coarsely chop the walnuts, add half of them to the batter and stir well.
- Line the ovenproof dish with parchment paper, spoon the batter into the dish and smooth out the surface using a spatula. Place the brownies in the oven for 30 minutes. Use a toothpick to prick the brownies to check for doneness. If the batter no longer sticks to the toothpick, remove the brownies from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
- While the brownies are in the oven, make the topping by mixing a tablespoon of cacao, a pinch of sea salt and the maple syrup in a bowl. Spread the glaze over top of the cooled brownies and sprinkle the rest of the walnuts over top. Remove the brownies from the dish by using the parchment paper and cut into small pieces. Enjoy!