Tag: Advice

10 Things I Learned In Culinary School (That I Still Use Today)

It’s been three years since I attended culinary school in Moorhead, Minnesota. We were offered the opportunity to move to Iowa for my husband’s job right after I completed my first full-time year. While I have decided not to jump back into school again, I learned a lot that year that I continue to practice every day in my happiest place, my home kitchen. Here are some of my favorite tidbits of knowledge our culinary instructors taught us:

The first rule of culinary school: A falling knife has no handle. Seriously, friends. If you drop a knife, just step back and let it fall.

Be patient and let bread rise twice, once for flavor, twice for structure. Don’t rush the process unless you want messed-up bread. If you’re going for flatbread, that could be a different story.

Purchase “dry” or “dry-packed scallops.” Dry scallops are scallops, plain and simple. Wet scallops are soaked in sodium triphosphate solution that adds water weight and affects the flavor. Because wet-packed scallops absorb the solution, they are waterlogged when thawed and difficult to sear. Don’t hesitate to ask your fish monger or seafood department manager if they are selling wet or dry scallops. If he or she doesn’t know, buy them from someone who does (or a clearly marked package).

How to prepare dough by feel. Preparing pasta, bread, and pie dough became less intimidating when I could feel when the dough was ready. Our culinary instructors walked us through the processes, but the rest of the learning came from practice. Eventually, you will just be able to handle a dough and tell if it’s too wet, too dry, or just right.

Pie crusts aren’t scary! I didn’t attempt making pie crust before culinary school because I was afraid I’d ruin it. One morning in baking lab, I made pie after pie alongside my culinary instructor. It was one of my favorite learning experiences. I loved how she didn’t handle pie and scone dough too delicately. Her approach was not to stress too much. “Many people get themselves into trouble because they don’t add enough water,” she shared. Instead of sticking to recipe’s strict number of tablespoons of ice water, I add it until the dough holds together.

Make the leftover pie crust dough into something special. The excess pie crust you trim will become too tough if you try to roll it out again into another pie. Simply, do as our instructors taught us: Roll the dough into a flat sheet and sprinkle it with cinnamon and sugar. Bake and enjoy!

I can make roux in my sleep. At the time, I wasn’t enthusiastic about my soup and sauce class. Twice a week, we raced to the back room to drag out the portable gas burners and made roux-based sauce after roux-based sauce. It was the last class of the day, and so we always tried to pair-up with a competent partner and make that day’s assignment as quickly as possible. In hindsight, I have no idea why we were in such a hurry. The best part of this class is that I can make a creamy, roux-based sauce in my sleep. Biscuits and homemade gravy? No problem! A complex, savory veloute made from the drippings on the bottom of my crock pot? Easy enough. Mac & cheese sauce? Got it.

Cool down big pots of soup, safely, in an ice bath. Food safety class was a trip. Our ServSafe Food Handler book literally instructed us not to vomit into food. While this advice was really obvious, other details weren’t, such as the correct holding temperatures of food served inside vs. outdoors, the time frames of how long food can be held at the correct hot and cold temps, and the order food should be arranged in the fridge. Sometimes I wonder if I now too much about food safety for my own good. For example, I take special care to cool down pots of soup as quickly as possible before storing them in the fridge. There is actually a two-stage cooling process to minimize harmful bacteria in which food must be cooled from 141-70°F within two hours and from 70-41°F within four.

Parchment paper is your best friend. Taking the time to trace and cut out parchment paper to line your baking pans ensures easy removal and no damage. I roast my veggies on parchment paper, too. Potatoes have a tendency to stick to my pans. Flipping my baked fries is a breeze when I line my sheet pans with parchment paper.

Many foods can be fixed. There were so many times we ran to our instructors fearing we ruined a dish. They were almost always able to fix things. A few baking disasters were lost causes, but most of the foods were salvageable after playing with the seasonings and textures. Don’t give up. At least, not right away.

What’s your favorite piece of kitchen wisdom? Has a family member, friend, or employer ever given you a piece of cooking advice that you find yourself returning to frequently? 

10 Cool Things I Learned At Bloggy Conference

This past weekend I attended Bloggy Conference and participated in a panel at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. Yes, it’s a blogging conference located at a huge amusement park on Lake Erie and it’s awesome.

When we weren’t riding rides or wandering through the haunted corn maze, we attended conference sessions covering different aspects of blogging from affiliate marketing to creating instructional videos to the North Iowa Bloggers panel about creating local connections in one’s community.


Here are 10 of my favorite take-home points that I learned at Bloggy Conference: 

From Rachel Martin & Dan Morris’ (Blogging Concentrated) presentation “111 Things You Never Knew About Social Media, Tech & Blogging.”

1. Don’t be stagnant with how you post on social media; keep testing things. If your Facebook views are down, ask yourself how you are continually changing your posts. One reason Instagram has remained successful is because it keeps introducing new features. Rachel & Dan encouraged us to ask ourselves how fast we’re able to alter what we’re doing.

2. There is actualy an app called Ignorenomore that parents can install on their child’s phone. If you think your child is ignoring you calls, you can activate this app which will shut down your child’s phone so that he or she can only call the number(s) you’ve selected, like yours or 911. Supposedly, it’s nearly impossible to uninstall from the child’s end.

From Rachel Martin’s presentation about Facebook pages:

3. When you write your Facebook updates, approach them with the intention of making them so powerful that people will pause at your status when they scroll through their feed. Will your readers connect with your posts enough to want to share them with their friends?

4. The Facebook algorithm awards engagement. Building huge followings of people who only liked your page to enter a giveaway doesn’t necessarily build communities of people that engage with your posts and genuinely want to see what you create next.

5. Share things that you know your community will love. Martin recommends that if you read something and say, “I wish I would have written that,” it’s something worthy of sharing. If you join Facebook/Twitter sharing groups, you may feel obligated to share content that simply isn’t a good fit for your community.

6. Make status updates that are long enough to offer the option where you have to click to “read more.”

From Donna Hup’s presentation on Twitter:

7. Twitter analytics exist! Access your 28-day summary here.

8. Tweeting more than twice an hour results in a drop of your click-through rate per tweet.

From Sara Mock’s presentation “Instructional Videos – Connecting With Your Audience In A New Way”:

9. You can subscribe to Final Cut Pro for $10 a month!

10. Instead of winging a video, try mapping it out ahead of time with a story board. Include a call to action at the end encouraging people to leave a comment (only if you’ll answer them) or find you on other social media platforms.


From left to right: Me, Sara, Donna & Beth.

Thanks again to Sara Broers for inviting me to speak on the Panel “Local Connections Matter.” 

Pack A Roll Of Toilet Paper: 10 Pieces Of My Best Moving Advice

We’ve moved with Jake’s company to Fargo, North Dakota, Mason City, Iowa and St. Louis, Missouri all within our 20’s, however we’ve got nothing on Beth. Last year, Beth’s husband received a new job opportunity and her house sold about the same time we learned about our move, and so we’ve been saying goodbye to North Iowa together. She’s been like my corporate move mentor since she understands what it’s like to move for her husband’s job and start over again in new communities. While I may be more stressed about this move since we have a dog, she’s moved with pets and kids, often living apart from her husband for long lengths of time. Her number one suggestion for moving is not to stress. I’m still working on this.

Our movers have come and gone and the relocation company postponed our move-in date by a couple of days. Now that all of our belongings are on their way to St. Louis, Trayse and I are enjoying our last weekend in North Iowa and taking this moment to reflect on the past two years. Here’s my best advice for your next move.

1. Eat as many local specialties as possible.

food tradition Collage

Each community has unique food traditions. Find one, try as many versions as possible, and learn how to make it at home. I’ve only lived in Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa, but am intrigued by the different food traditions I learned about in each state (or even parts of each state_. In Minnesota, we grew up on wild rice and chicken soup while my North Dakotan friends crave knoephla. Ranch dressing runs rampant in North Iowa, as do Greek-style steaks and cheese balls. We’re excited to learn about St. Louis food traditions.

2. Don’t save experiences for later. Once, when I lived in North Dakota, I did something really stupid. I saved a road trip or later, convincing myself that I’d be back. I had read Del’s Journey‘s intriguing blog post describing why he considers Fort Sisseton State Park in South Dakota one of his top ten favorite state parks in the nation. The post inspired me to drive solo to Sica Hollow State Park (which is known for being beautifully spooky) and Fort Sisseton.

I experienced a mishap along the way when I locked myself out of my car ordering a cheeseburger from a drive-in. After the AAA guy unlocked my car, hours had passed and I lost my nerve. I drove straight to Sisseton, instead of stopping in Sica Hollow. When I arrived in Sisseton and noticed the state park was another 30 miles away, I decided to turn around and go home, telling myself that it was no big deal since I’d be back. Two weeks later, we found out we were getting transferred to Iowa and “later” has become much later.  If there’s a place you want to visit, just go visit it, even if it’s in your own backyard. If you move often for work, there might not be a later or next time.

3. Ask for referrals for the important things. Growing up in the Twin Cities, I was all set up with my car mechanic, medical professionals, insurance agent, etc. If something happened and we didn’t know where to turn, we simply asked mom and dad. Now, we don’t have that luxury. The most efficient and reliable way to find new health care professionals and services is to ask a local. People love to share their favorite things and asking for referrals from people who are simply fellow consumers with no vested interest in that company has rarely led me astray.

4. Don’t save your paper shredding for later. Most especially, if you own a small shredder like us. I had saved a year’s worth of documents to be shredded. Two grocery bags of paper took three days and three full garbage bags. Sure, credit card offers and all that life insurance crap your insurance agent sends is obnoxious, but it’s far less obnoxious than amassing a year’s worth that you realize to destroy three days before the movers arrive. A little shredding each day saves you a lot of shredding at crunch time.

5. Clean out your damn condiments! Isn’t it unreal how many condiments one can stockpile in their fridge? Condiments are unlike any other type of food and seem to multiply like gremlins. Similar to that paper that needs to be shredded, go through your fridge once in a while and clean out your old condiments.

6. If you are thinking of purchasing a home that needs updates, gather quotes and then double them. We learned a lot of life lessons all at once when we purchased our first home in Mason City. Always be prepared to spend more money on house updates and repairs than you predict.

7. Acquire a dependable air mattress.

Trayse air bed

When you move with a company, you never know when your belongings are going to arrive at your new home. If your belongings fill less than an entire truck, you may have to wait for the truck to make another stop. An air mattress allows you to sleep in your empty old house or your empty new house without a problem. My friend Beth generously gave me hers and we’ve used it countless times.

8. Set aside items you’ll want to access easily and pack them in your vehicle. After two moves not doing this, I totally made an effort to do this before the movers arrived. I packed a suitcase full of clothing to last one week, a backpack of toiletries including two rolls of toilet paper, and set aside my files of important documents, remote controls, dog stuff, and bedding. If there’s perishable food you want to pack, bring a cooler and keep at least a plate, spoon, fork, and cup handy for meals. Moving companies usually won’t pack cleaning supplies, anyway. I’d also recommend you pack your car with basic cleaning supplies, a small vacuum, and broom so you can touch up your old house and clean your new home enough to feel comfortable until the movers arrive.

9. Ask for help and perform cost/benefit analysis.
When things feel overwhelming, ask for help. This move felt especially stressful because we didn’t have any time to prepare for it! Jake was out-of-town a lot and I was in the midst of the summer auction college session. There were some tasks that I powered through, such as shredding bags of documents, but decided to budget for assistance touching up the house before our realtor officially listed it online. I asked Beth for help when my car was in the shop and our realtor helped me fill out the complicated relocation paperwork.

10. “Find the weird people who do strange things.”
My good friend Chelsea gave me this advice when I was a new Mason City resident lamenting about how I hadn’t clicked with many friends yet.

mug cat

Totally not weird.

Obviously I don’t mean that my North Iowan blogger friends as “weird,” and even if I did, I mean it in the best possible way;)

Don’t give up finding those friends with whom you can be imperfectly yourself. They’re out there. I promise! As my first local blogger friend Sara always recommends, consider taking online relationships offline. I’ve met many good friends of all ages on Facebook, Twitter and even Instagram through our common interests of exploring the local dining scene, traveling, blogging, and writing. In my experience, online friendships always translate into real life friendships. Reach out to others with common interests and connect with local online communities. They often coordinate get togethers.

Whether you live in a small town or large metropolitan area, much of life is what you make of it. There are always kind people in this world and new experiences to pursue. Life will always throw variables at us that we can’t control, but I proceed with the belief that I continue to write new chapters of my story with each choice and day that passes. I’m grateful for everyone who helped me find magic in North Iowa. 


A Surprise Birthday Party & Third-Life Lessons

This year I was honest about my age. Mostly honest.

I did try to blow out the candles on Gabe’s cake that said 25, but other than that.

My in-laws planned a surprise party for my brother-in-law and I at their house in East St. Paul. If there’s anything you should know about my mother-in-law, it’s that she has a long, sordid history with popping surprise parties on people. She absolutely loves throwing surprise parties. The boys literally grew up with a childhood full of surprise parties for themselves and everyone else, so it’s their norm. Gary Chapman might as well add throwing surprise parties to his five love languages.

Anyway, they really did plan one heck of a party and we were honored to see so many of our family and friends.

Happy Birthday

There were margaritas and a feast of tacos and enchiladas from Acapulco. And cheese sauce. Lots and lots of cheese sauce. I knew we had an epic weekend when I had trouble finding clothes for the ride back home not splattered with queso.

I was especially taken with the “Jennifer book” my folks made for my birthday. It was both touching and hilarious.

Birthday Book Collage

So much tie dye and even a Blossom hat. I never did inherit my mom’s love of gardening, but I have fond memories of helping her tend the church’s, which was sadly paved into a parking lot.

This might be my favorite page.

Does anyone else remember attending a birthday party or school field trip at the Diamond T Ranch in Apple Valley, MN? 

Watermark fun page

So I’m 30. Probably not an age traditionally associated with sharing words of wisdom, but I’ve made enough mistakes to dispense a few pearls. We’ll see what I come up with in the next 30 years, but, for now, I’ll continue to work on these:

Learn How To Say No: I lived for 24 years unaware of my choices and that I could say no. I’ll never forget when someone I looked up to asked me why I considered everyone else’s feelings more important than my own and that changed my life. With practice, I now feel freer to say no and it’s very liberating.

Of course, I don’t want to say no all of the time; sometimes we do need make sacrifices to help others and attend certain events, but we should be aware of why we’re saying yes or no. Also, saying yes doesn’t equate writing someone a blank check. We can still say yes with boundaries and we don’t necessarily owe others explanations for our choices.

Don’t Burn Bridges. Not with people, not with companies. With few exceptions, how can we be 100% sure that we won’t ever need to cross them again?

Overestimate & Over-Insure: If you plan to purchase a fixer-upper house, gather estimates on the work that needs to be done and double them.

Forgive Yourself. Why do we find it easier to forgive other people than ourselves? Apologize to those you’ve hurt and give yourself a break.

Say Yes To Wanderlust. If you are like me and feel that restless urge to explore new places and veer from the beaten path, give in. Wanderlust has taken me on some of my greatest adventures.

Step Outside Of Your Comfort Zone: I’m an introvert who prefers one-to-one interactions, but I’ve learned that good things can happen when I step outside of my comfort zone. Sometimes it’s necessary to be the one that puts the effort into driving to a new place or attending an event of which you don’t know the other attendees. My friend Sara speaks from experience in her blog post Stepping Outside of Your Comfort Zone when she writes, “It’s up to you to make things happen in your life, nobody else can do it for you.”  She’s absolutely right.

Meet people online: I am a child of the 90’s when we first started chatting with people online and meeting them was initially considered dangerous. The first time I met people online was in 2008 at Qoraxlow, a Somali restaurant, where I attended a Chowhound meetup. This experience was exciting and slightly scary, but I had a blast trying new foods with new people.

Social media interactions have connected me with real life opportunities to meet people I wouldn’t have met in my day-to-day interactions and helped me become more outgoing and confident. I even met my husband online. [Of course, it goes without saying that one should always exercise common sense].

From my experience, social media friendships have always translated to real life friendships. I’ve had the time of my life exploring Iowa with a new group of friends that I met online.

Accept Food Hospitality: I’ve always looked up to Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern. If you watch their television shows you’ll notice how they always accept the food hospitality from others, unless it poses a serious health risk. People put their hearts and souls into their cooking. That brownie or casserole isn’t just a snack, it’s someone’s pride and joy. Or possibly an attempt to welcome or nurture. Food has the amazing ability to bring people together and build bridges. When someone offers you a gesture of food hospitality, consider accepting it, or at least take a small bite.

Be Wary Of Extremes And Work With Those Who Demonstrate Kindness: During college, I got caught up in choosing sides and surrounding myself primarily with those who held the same religious and political beliefs. It’s not that I don’t hold values anymore, but feel that my life is richer now that I’ve broadened my interactions to people of differing viewpoints. Those who cling to extremes often set themselves up for failure, as extremes leave little room for hypocrisy.

Anthony Bourdain said, “I don’t have to agree with you to like or respect you” and I’ve adopted it as one of my mantras.

I love seeing people find their passions and 100% support the act of advocating for what we believe is good and just. I just don’t believe any cause gives someone permission to be mean. After watching people on every side of every food issue throw stones at each other, I made my rule short and sweet: I’m open to collaborating with people who treat others with respect.

Ask For Help & Don’t Be Upset With Others For Not Having The Ability To Read your Mind: Take the time to figure out what you need and what you want. And remember there isn’t anyone in the whole world who doesn’t need support to get through difficult times. I struggle with asking for help, so I try to remind myself that if the tables were turned and a friend asked me for help, I would want to be there in a heartbeat. I would never look down on a friend for asking for or consider them weak, so why would I expect a friend to respond to me any differently?

Do What Makes You Feel Alive: Because life’s too short. When I tune in to activities and people who make me feel alive, I have an easier time making decisions and find myself saying “I don’t know” less often. I feel most alive when I seek new experiences and travel to new places (even if they aren’t very far away), walk my dog, and spend time with people who make me feel comfortable being myself.

What lessons have taken you your whole life to learn? What experiences or people you feel truly alive?

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