UNC graduate Elizabeth Van Lierde has become the Martha Stewart of the millennial set.

by Larry Borowsky | photos by Elizabeth Van Lierde

Only a handful of Elizabeth Van Lierde’s classmates at the University of Northern Colorado were aware that she had a blog.

“I think maybe they thought it was a little weird,” laughs Van Lierde, who graduated from UNC in 2016. “They were like, ‘She’s the girl with that blog. She’s The Blog Girl.’”

Perceptions changed one day during her senior year, when she shared her Instagram handle – @College_Housewife – during a presentation in a hospitality management class. Somebody called up her feed on his smartphone and discovered that Van Lierde had more than 100,000 online followers.

“People were like ‘Whoa!’” says Van Lierde, now 25. “I don’t think they had any idea.”

Her online audience has kept on growing in the three years since then, making College Housewife into a hugely influential digital brand. Describing herself (with a big dose of irony) as a “millennial Martha Stewart,” Van Lierde posts a daily stream of recipes, photos, tips and vignettes about cooking, food, home design and entertaining. Her blog and Instagram feed draw millions of page views and thousands of likes. Saveur magazine’s readership voted College Housewife the Most Entertaining Blog of 2018, and Real Simple has mined it for ideas about kitchen storage and backyard party planning.

Elizabeth Van Lierde, with her signature drink, a margarita. | Photo by Abagail Halstead

Van Lierde also generates custom content for food-industry clients such as Boulder’s Purely Elizabeth, and her online store features wares from major retailers such as Anthropologie, Nordstrom, KitchenAid and Sur la Table. But the main draws at College Housewife are Van Lierde’s curiosity, irreverence, visual style and passion for cooking. One reader’s comment to a recent College Housewife post sums up the effect Van Lierde has on her audience: “I wish you could come to my kitchen and teach me how to make beautiful food like this.”

“She’s someone you’d want to go to lunch with,” says Sherilyn Marrow, a UNC communications professor who had Van Lierde in one of her classes. “She’s very real. She’s got a contemporary sense of style, and she obviously knows how to deliver that to a young demographic. She’s confident in what she shows others, and that’s cool.”

Whether consciously or not, Van Lierde’s material mirrors the values and tropes of Northern Colorado’s burgeoning food culture. A California native who transferred to UNC in 2014, she arrived in Greeley at about the time the city launched its Greeley Unexpected campaign. Co-sponsored by UNC, the public relations drive sought to draw attention to the city’s cultural and business amenities, including its burgeoning food culture.

“I definitely was inspired by the area,” Van Lierde says. “There were certain flavors that stood out. I like simple flavors, and a lot of those microbreweries had staple dishes like chicken pot pie or enchiladas that were changed up with, like, three to five new ingredients. Dishes like that seem to be staples in Northern Colorado, and I think I really resonated with food like that.”

It all started in her Greeley apartment five years ago. A communications major with a minor in hospitality management, Van Lierde hoped to launch a career as an event planner after graduation. “I really love entertaining and having people over,” she says, “and I just thought that it’d be a way to do it smart and make a living.”

She launched College Housewife purely for fun, with no intention of drawing a big audience or generating an income. Her main goal was to fill her spare time, which she unexpectedly had in abundance. Van Lierde didn’t know many people in Greeley when she first arrived, and she was a full-time student for the first time in her life – in California she’d always worked part-time while taking college courses. With no job to report to after her UNC classes, Van Lierde had hours to burn. She spent them online.

“I had been following a few food people on Instagram,” she says. “This one girl showed a tutorial about how she’d taken food photos in a simple window of natural light, and it looked so beautiful and I thought, ‘I can do that.’ I took this picture of this iced coffee drink in my college apartment, and I remember that was the first thing that I styled and put out for the world.”

“Connecting with people is what I really enjoyed about it at first, and that’s still the attraction.”

She chose the name “College Housewife” as a joke, aiming for something easy to remember and not terribly serious. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision – “I’m so not a housewife,” Van Lierde says – but the audience grew and the content resonated, so she stayed with it. She posted new content casually but regularly throughout her two years at UNC, while her follower count ticked up steadily. Van Lierde also got her first gig producing content for a corporate client, Chobani, getting a first glimpse of the income potential her hobby might hold.

“We conferred about how it might morph into something more,” Marrow says. “We talked about products, sponsors, advertisements. She had good photography skills, and that’s one of the keys to her success. She’s photogenic, and the food is very photogenic. The thing that really stood out, though, was she had a lot of sass and a lot of confidence. She was very passionate about it, and she was convinced that it could work.”

Even though College Housewife’s audience topped six figures by the time she graduated, Van Lierde didn’t have the luxury of turning it into a full-time career right away. Her boyfriend was still a student (in engineering), and she felt obligated to make a dependable income. So when an event-planning firm in Los Angeles offered her a job, she grabbed it.

“My dad couldn’t have been happier,” she laughs, “and I was crying on my grandmother’s porch. It was a great job – good money, full benefits, 401k – but I was just like, ‘I’m never going to get to do what I really want in life.’ I pretty much went into that job with the goal of quitting.”

She took the leap about a year later and has never looked back. She now maintains a busy slate of clients in publishing, retail and the restaurant industry, creating sponsored posts and other content that appears at College Housewife and elsewhere. Van Lierde employs a full-time production assistant to help her with photo shoots, and she recently signed with an agency to help her manage sponsorships and attract new clients. Her income from College Housewife is multiples of the salary she’d earned in her event-planning job.

Her future plans include a series of cookbooks and, perhaps, a few Air BnB venues where she can stage custom events for brides, corporate brands and other clients. She’s also inching toward selling ads on College Housewife, although she’s wary that commercialization will dilute the personal relationship she has with her readers. 

“Connecting with people is what I really enjoyed about it at first, and that’s still the attraction,” she says. “In retrospect, I’m happy I started doing it as a passion project.” And although she says her future is in California, she’ll always have a special connection to Greeley. “I started it there,” she says. “It’s the College Housewife, and that’s where I went to college. The two years I spent there were at the forefront of all this. That was the foundation.” 

Did you make this recipe? Tag @nocostylemagazine and @college_housewife on Instagram. Find it online: https://thecollegehousewife.com/no-bake-smores-bars

No-Bake S’mores Bars

These s’mores bars are a simple, five-ingredient recipe that you will be making all summer long. With three, easy, no-bake layers made with graham cracker crumbs, a creamy chocolate filling and toasted marshmallows, they are a must for your next party.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Makes 9-12 servings.

Ingredients:
For graham cracker layer:
3 cups graham cracker crumbs
(8-10 whole crackers)
1½ cups butter, melted
1/3 cup brown sugar

For chocolate layer:
1 12-oz. bag chocolate chips
(I used dark chocolate.)
½ cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

For marshmallow layer:
1 16-oz. bag mini marshmallows

Ingredients: Blend whole graham crackers in a food processor until fine and sandy.

Add crumbs to large bowl, then add melted butter and brown sugar until well blended into a coarse, sandy texture. Line a 9×13 pan with parchment paper. Press graham cracker mixture firmly and evenly into pan.

In a separate large glass bowl, combine chocolate chips and butter. Melt in microwave in 30 second increments, stirring in between, until smooth and creamy. Stir in vanilla extract. Pour chocolate mixture over compressed graham cracker layer. Sprinkle with a generous layer of marshmallows.

Refrigerate for 1 hour until firm. Remove from refrigerator and broil briefly (1-2 minutes) or use a kitchen torch to brown marshmallows. Cut and serve.

Rosè Sangria with Peaches and Raspberries

This rosè-based sangria with peaches and raspberries is a refreshing, batched summer cocktail that is perfect for sipping solo poolside or whipping up in a larger batch for a summer party. Fresh peaches, raspberries, lemon slices, lemonade and Chambord (raspberry liqueur) add extra fruity flavor.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients:
1 750-ml. bottle of your
fav rosè wine
1 cup lemonade
1 cup vodka or other clear spirit
½ cup raspberry or orange liqueur (I used Chambord.)
½ lemon, thinly sliced
1 cup raspberries
2-3 peaches, sliced

Ingredients: In a large pitcher, combine all ingredients. Cover and let chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour or overnight, to allow flavors to come together. Scoop a few pieces of fruit into chilled glasses and serve (over ice, if desired).