What I Learned from Food Network

Every Sunday, my family gathers in front of the TV to watch The Next Food Network Star. It combines two of our favorite things: community television-watching and food. But there are actually some really solid life lessons to pull from the show:

1. Be yourself. Contestants tend to either get really nervous and freeze up or go overboard to appear funny and likeable. Just relax! There are a lot of different personalities on Food Network and they all offer something pleasing to viewers! Don’t try to be someone you’re not, because that will mess you up more than anything else. But also…
2. Be kind. The Villian may provide some entertainment, but he/she never wins the game.
3. Follow your passion. This kind of goes back to “be yourself.” Everyone has a story that forms their interests and tastes. When people follow that, they do best and give viewers what they really want: a relatable or fascinating story, not just an insipid list of instructions.
4. Listen to the people who have been around for a while. They usually know what they’re talking about. And even though they may seem sadistic harsh at times, they really just want to help you improve.
5. Learn to improvise. You don’t always get the ideal situation. Learn to roll with it.
6. Smile through challenges. No idea what you’re doing? Think that you just served the most awful thing to come out of a kitchen? Don’t let the haters judges know until they taste it. It might be better than you think!
7. Take risks. Best case scenario, you succeed and blow the judges away. Worst case, you fail, but they have to respect your creativity and guts. Just don’t be stupid with your risks.
8. Cook good food. This isn’t a metaphor. I just think that everyone should know how to cook.

My College Addiction

2014-10-20 10.32.39You know how when you spend a lot of time with someone, their habits start to rub off on you? And when you live with them, becoming them, even in every terrible way that you swore not to, is inevitable? (Since going to college, I’ve discovered that I am/will be exactly like my mom. Completely unrelated to the previous comment.)

I think that is one of the most potentially dangerous things about college. It is nearly impossible not to be influenced by the people you live with, and in college, at least your first year, you are likely living with someone you have never met before in your life. Who knows what habits they have that don’t show up on the room request form? I won’t even dive into all of the horrifying possibilities. And, despite the well-intentioned, valiant effort that your parents made to raise you right, sometimes you cave.

But I have decided to get myself back on the straight and narrow. I am staging a self-intervention. I am completely cutting myself off. No gradual decline, I am just ripping the bandage off and exposing a dark, ugly wound for the world to see.

My name is Ali Renckens and I am a popcorn addict.

I blame it entirely on my roommate. She has a love for microwave popcorn, so our dorm room always smells like a movie theatre. When the smell of butter and salt greets me before I even put the key in the lock, I know Hannah is home.

Naturally, with Orville Redenbacher as a third roommate, I started buying popcorn. And consuming several bags a week. Kroger was my enabler, being open 24/7 and selling Skinny Pop for $1 a bag. (As a college kid, I have a new appreciation for sales.)

If I get the freshman fifteen, it will be entirely due to popcorn.

The situation came to a crisis one day when I strolled into Kroger, basket over my arm to fill with bags of air popped goodness. Turning into the aisle, I stopped. There it was, or rather it wasn’t: the red sale sign.

I’m a broke college kid! I can’t afford full price at the dollar store!

Foam pushed out of the corners of my mouth. My eyes rolled back for a view of my convulsive brain. I realized then and there that I had to quit before it destroyed me.

Then I saw it: 479 degree popcorn on sale.

That’s right; I’m typing this in between handfuls of artisan popcorn.

I suppose it could be worse. I could be addicted to marijuana. Or One Direction.

10 Things to do When You’re Too Busy to do Anything


StressI haven’t posted anything for a solid two weeks. Classes, newspaper staff, National Broadcasting Society, sorority life…things pile up. As a self-certified expert, I can say that being too busy leads to stress. And if there’s one thing worse than being overworked, it’s stressing about being overworked.

I am the queen of stressing, overcommitting, and shouldering a heavy workload. So I consider myself the perfect person to give some advice on de-stressing. (At least without the “de-.”) Here are ten activities that will give you a little break from whatever’s getting you down:

1. Bake something sweet and share it with friends. Use those Pinterest recipes you’ve been saving up! Also, especially when everyone else is stressed, you become the nicest, most talented person in the world. (Some fun suggestions: praline brownies, pecan pie bars, salted caramel butter bars, and peanut butter cookie dough brownies. Links to recipes below.)

2. Take pictures. Explore. Try to find a new perspective on ordinary objects. You don’t even need a camera! Remind your Instagram friends that beauty, wonder, and hope still exist!

3. Pet furry animals. If you don’t own one, visit a friend or pet store. We aren’t allowed to even have fish in our dorms, but two pet stores are close to campus. (Personally, cats are my favorite.)

4. Go for a run, bike ride, or short workout. “Running gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t kill their husbands. They just don’t.” If you’ve never felt so stressed that you would kill a husband (or wife), you’ve never been to college. Get rid of that aggression in a positive way.

5. Blow bubbles. Make them as big as you can. Catch them with your wand. Or kick it up a notch up by making your own bubbles and adding glow-in-the-dark or fluorescent paint.

6. Watch funny YouTube clips. Unfortunately, I don’t have any suggestions, but I’m sure your Facebook friends do!

7. Fly a kite. “With tuppence for paper and strings/You can have your own set of wings/With your feet on the ground/You’re a bird in a flight/With your fist holding tight/To the string of your kite/Oh, oh, oh!/Let’s go fly a kite!”

8. Regress. Find something you loved when you were younger. Play an old video game. “Build” a pre-built teddy bear. Finger paint. Draw on the walls. Whatever your thing is.

9. Visit a nursery. The kind that grows plants, not kids. I actually enjoy walking through nurseries more than gardens. Gardens are so clean and put-together, but nurseries invite you to smell the flowers, herbs, and dirt. There is a lot more to see when things are not show-ready.

10. Blog. Yeah. I don’t always take my own advice.

Thanks to Call Me PMC, Just a Taste, Inspired Dreamer, and Kitchen Meets Girl for scoring me friendship points! Want more? Enter your e-mail in the box on the top right or, if you have a WordPress account, press the “Follow” button on the top of the screen!

Praline Brownies: http://www.callmepmc.com/2014/05/praline-brownies/

Pecan Pie Bars: http://www.justataste.com/2011/11/pecan-pie-bars/

Salted Caramel Butter Bars: http://inspiredreamer.com/salted-caramel-butter-bars/

Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Brownies: http://kitchenmeetsgirl.com/peanut-butter-cookie-dough-brownies/