Liren is a mother of two and has lived in major food cities including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and now, in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her blog, Kitchen Confidante, gives her the opportunity to express her creativity through photography, and of course, her recipes and the stories behind them.
I am so happy to have Liren Baker of Kitchen Confidante here on the show today.
(*All images below are Liren’s.)
On Her Blog:
I think that leading up to 2010, there were so many cooking experiences, from that first scrambled egg that you make when you’re like six or seven, leading up to it, and you just learn so much along the way, and there’s so many experiences that shape you as a person and as a cook. I was just constantly collecting and archiving recipes. I have this big binder of stuff. And I just felt like, you know what, when I started the blog, I was revisiting some of those, and also just taking all the life lessons that I had learned along the way, and started implementing it more into my cooking.
From concept through fruition, it could be anything. Sometimes, the inspiration comes from my family, and they say, “Hey, I’m really craving this thing that I tried.” Like for example, there was a salad my husband tried when he was traveling, and he was like “It was so good. Do you think you can make that?” And so I’ll think about it and that would start the ball rolling. You know, you start shopping for ingredients, see if it’s in season, if it will work with the time of year. And, like many bloggers, you just start testing the recipes and that can take a while. Then you photograph them, writing the content, and then, finally posting it on the blog. It doesn’t just stop there because you push it out there and share it with everybody, and hopefully, share it again later, maybe a year or two down the line.
On What’s Most Natural and Most Challenging about Blogging:
The most challenging thing about blogging, honestly, is not stopping. I think it’s hard. When you’re so passionate about something, you just really nerd out and that’s all you do. And then as it evolves and if it becomes, you know, a business, you don’t really take a break. And I think so for me, the challenge has always been, “Okay, I need to take a break.” Like I’m going to cook for the sake of cooking, and not necessarily feel like I have to photograph this, and spend the weekend enjoying my time with my family and enjoying the food, instead of worrying, “Oh my gosh, did I get the shot? Oh I need to set it up, nobody touch the food.” For me, that’s the biggest challenge.
The part that comes most naturally, I think it has to be the writing. I just write from the heart. I don’t necessarily stress over what I’m going to say. If it’s not flowing, I don’t stress about it. I table it. And I try not to put any pressure on myself there. But for me, I feel like that’s the smoothest part.
On Posts that Don’t Get As Much Love as Expected:
I think you can never predict what is going to be interesting or some people would call it viral. There are some dishes that I’ll put out there that I’m like “Okay, no one’s gonna care at all. Even if I like it, no one’s really going to care about it. I’m going to put it up there anyway,” and it just goes nuts. And that always surprises me. There are some things like there are certain cakes, for example, that I grew up eating, and I might expect that it’s going to do okay, and it just kinda flops.
I think that happens a lot in the beginning. You put all these amazing recipes out there that you’ve been dying to share and you don’t necessarily have the readership yet. So, I think lately, I’ve been kinda revisiting those old ones and putting them out again, redoing them and resharing them, and I’ve been surprised by a few of those too. So you just never know.
On Learning How to Cook:
I should start by saying my mom was not a good cook. She hated cooking. Baking was her thing, and she loved to bake. Every Saturday, we would bake together, or I would think I was baking with her, but she would bake and I would watch. And cooking, she hated. So, I really actually didn’t learn how to cook until later on. I was around 18 when she died. She had cancer, and so it was really just you learn out of necessity. I have a younger brother and sister and they’re eight and nine years apart. I’m older. And so, I felt this responsibility for my family to feed them, and as well as my dad. He wasn’t really that much of a cook either.
I spent that summer that she passed away trailing my aunts, because she spent that summer with us. And she would just cook for us because she knew that she needed to nourish us. So I just would pepper her with questions, and I knew I needed to write this down. So, it was my aunt who taught me how to cook. And a lot of the recipes that are of Filipino roots come from her. Because in my mind, she was the best cook on my mom’s side.
I was able to relive a lot of those family recipes slowly but surely. And so it was partially because I needed to feed my family, and also, because I wanted to finally learn. I think I realized around that time that, “Wow, you know what? I love this. Cooking is not so bad. Mom, what are you talking about?” And I was actually pretty good at it. So, that’s kind of how it all started for me.
On How Being a Parent Affects How She Cooks:
I will admit that I probably ate more junk food before I had kids. And when I say junk food, I mean like I would indulge in fast food once in a while, and now I really feel like I haven’t been to… Well, okay, Shake Shack doesn’t count or In-N-Out. But you know, I can’t tell you the last time I had fast food. So that also reflects in how I cook and I try to make it more wholesome. That said, what I feel is most important to them is to just pass along a lot of the foods that I grew up eating, so that hasn’t changed. I just think that maybe my approach to it has changed. Like maybe I’ll remove the skin off the chicken. I try to make it more healthy.
Growing up, my aunts were great cooks, and my cousins, all were pretty handy in the kitchen, and I didn’t feel like I was. But I will say that my kids like to experiment. So my son, we made pasta the other day, and he was just… I think it was more of the machine. He wanted to pass it through the roller. And so, once in awhile they do, but I’m kind of hoping that they’ll cook a little more with me.
On How Busy Parents Can Make Cooking Fun Again:
I think to make it fun, you actually have to plan. That sounds terrible, because I think spontaneity is more fun. But when you have your day-to-day and you know that you have a limited amount of time to cook and get everybody fed and everybody’s getting hungry, you really do have to plan.
I know it’s very easy to fall into a rut. I fall into ruts all the time going food shopping. So when that happens, I tell my husband “Can you please go food shopping?” Because he will go and buy all the interesting things, and it’s almost like having a Chopped basket. So, something like that, just as simple as like, “Okay, pick a different protein that you normally wouldn’t try.” And then make it simple by doing easy marinades and doing a lot of the prep work in advance if you can. Don’t overwhelm yourself making long drawn-out recipes. Keep it simple.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
What are some food blogs or food websites we have to know about?
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook that make you happy?
On YouTube, I used to follow HappySlip. Have you ever heard of her? She’s a Filipino American comedienne. She used to do little skits. She’s kind of tapered off because she started a family. But once in a while she’ll still post things on there. I think she’s hilarious because she captures all of those stereotypes so well.
On Instagram, I follow way too many people. My feed is just crazy and a lot of food bloggers. But I think the ones that surprised me the most are people who are really into food don’t necessarily have food blogs that I know of, because it’s not on their profiles, but beurrenoisette is one of them. There’s abisfarmhousekitchen. She’s up in Sonoma. She’s got a winery with her husband and I love seeing what she’s doing in the kitchen. She’s very adventurous. It’s exciting to see what other people are cooking who don’t necessarily have blogs. I find the engagement on Instagram is really fascinating there.
What is the most unusual or treasured item in your kitchen?
Other than that ratty old binder with my mom’s handwriting, I went through a phase where I was collecting vintage cake stands, like vintage pressed glass from the 1800s. So, I have a few of those, and it’s really weird. I just find them super precious and we’ve moved many times and I still can’t get rid of them. I don’t use them all the time except for special occasions like Thanksgiving. But yeah, it would be my binder and then those cake stands.
Name one ingredient you used to dislike but now you love.
Oh, that’s easy. Cilantro. Growing up, I was like, “This is gross.” I would pick them out of the noodles and throw them away. Now, I’m just like eating it raw. I have to have cilantro in the house all the time, and I put it on almost too many things actually.
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
There are some cookbooks that are surprises to me. I reviewed a cookbook last year called The Greenmarket Cookbook. That was a really nice surprise. There were so many stories behind all the farmers who sell their goods at Greenmarket. I loved reading the recipes that all the chefs back east would do with the food that they got at Greenmarket, that was a nice surprise.
I like cookbooks that surprise me. The other one was The Union Square Cafe Cookbook. My daughter bought it. She was doing a camp one summer and she went into the library. They were selling old books, and she’s like, “Oh mommy, I got you a present.” And I’m like “Oh, thanks!” It turned out to be an amazing cookbook. So, those things make me happy, when it’s a book that I just did not expect to wow me.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
Jack Johnson, Making banana pancakes. When that’s on, it’s instant happy and I want to make pancakes. It’s great on a Saturday morning.
On Keeping Posted with Liren:
Well obviously, there’s my blog, kitchenconfidante.com. Instagram is probably one of the easiest, but pretty much on any social media, I’m kitchconfidante. I have to shorten it, there’s not enough characters. But Instagram’s probably the best way to find me.