A Clean Bake

Featured Blogger: Nora of A Clean Bake

Every week we bring you a featured blogger who inspires us. This week we’re so excited to share with you Nora of A Clean Bake! Nora is a lifelong baker and food lover who, after a prolonged illness, was forced to re-examine her diet and eliminate gluten, dairy, and refined carbohydrates. Formerly staple ingredients, the absence of these items left a gaping hole in her diet that inspired her to learn to cook and bake differently, and better, and to share her recipes with others whose diet made them feel deprived and left out.  Read more about Nora here


Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
Most people who know me know that I absolutely love food, and I have all my life. I’ve had a huge sweet tooth for as long as I remember, so I learned to bake when I was very young in order to keep up with my cookie cravings! Since I’ve always loved to bake, and been an avid photographer since I was a teenager, I’ve had a baking blog in various iterations for years. So when I started dealing with some serious digestive health problems in 2014, starting a blog to keep myself on track seemed like a natural thing to do.

I live in Chicago, where I work as an analyst in a consulting firm. In free time (well the time that I am not spending working on A Clean Bake!), I like to bike or run on the lakefront, work on my never-ending fixer-upper of a house, and travel the world.

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What 3 words would you use to describe yourself?
Driven, multitasker, goofy

What Profession other than yours would you love to attempt?
Other than both of my professions? Ha! I would love to be a professional photographer.

What is your favorite quote?
“People who love food are always the best people” – paraphrased from Julia Child (she actually said “people who love to eat are always the best people”)

What inspired your blog?
As I mentioned above, I was dealing with some serious health issues a couple of years ago that I initially attributed to stress, because I was working full time while getting my master’s degree in the evenings. But when school was over and my stress level supposedly declined, I didn’t get better. In fact, I kept getting worse. Finally, I was able to find the right doctors to help me and I’ve been making a lot of progress and healing my digestion and my body (the digestive system influences so many other processes in your body!) ever since. Food and diet have been a big part of that.

When I first started treatment, I had to make drastic changes to my diet that involved completely eliminating foods that had been the core of my meals for my whole life. I had always been a huge pasta, bread, and baked goods lover, and suddenly I couldn’t eat any gluten, dairy or refined sugar. I eventually had to cut out all carbs for close to a year. It was difficult and scary and the only way I knew I would keep myself on track is if I kept eating a variety of interesting food so that I wouldn’t reach for something that would aggravate my body.

It was a big shift away from my old lifestyle (and the conventional baking blog that I was running at the time). That’s where I got the name A Clean Bake – it’s a play on “a clean break”, which is what I was doing, from my old diet and blog, in order to heal my digestion and recover. Since I wasn’t about to give up sweets altogether, that’s really where ACB it started – I was developing recipes that were safe for me to eat, but also satisfied my sweet tooth – but I’ve since branched out into a lot of lower carb dinners, snacks, and basics. The blog has really been a way to make lemons into lemonade and, as a bonus, help others do the same.

I think pretty much every blogger who gives an interview says this but nonetheless, I never thought ACB would grow to where it is now. The original intent was to have a place for me to store the recipes I made up for myself so that I could remake them and stick to my diet, rather than being tempted to eat something I wasn’t supposed to. I also thought I’d just put my recipes out there in case someone else was in the same boat as me and needed some recipe inspiration. It’s grown exponentially in the past almost-two years, and I couldn’t be happier because I absolutely love cooking for people in person or virtually!

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What is your favorite social media platform and why?
Instagram. I really believe the old (admittedly tired) adage that a picture is worth a thousand words, so a platform that allows you to tell stories through imagery is right up my alley.

Where do you find inspiration for blog posts?
Most of the time my ideas come from odds and ends in my fridge and pantry that need to be used up, or from a craving for a dish or ingredient. Sometimes, it’s as simple as waking up on a Saturday morning thinking “I want to make {insert dish here} today”. In short: everywhere!

What do you think it is about your blog that keeps people coming back for more?
I’d love to say it’s my sparkling personality but, like college students and any meeting that offers free pizza, I’m pretty sure they come for the food.

People tend to be easily intimidated by cooking, and especially by “specialty diet recipes”, like those that are allergen free. But the recipes on my site are accessible and they don’t ask any extra effort of the cook just because they’re allergy-friendly. You don’t need to be a professional chef or know advanced kitchen techniques to make my food. They’re normal recipes with a few tweaks here and there to make them compliant with special diets, that’s all. Nothing weird!

Almost every recipe can be made in a bowl or two with a spoon and most of my recipes call only for ingredients that you can get at your local supermarket. I rarely use any kind of fancy equipment – unless you count a slow cooker, which I can’t live without. Some of my recipes take a little more time that others, but none of them are out of reach, even for beginning chefs. I don’t believe food has to be fussy and time consuming to be great. Quite the opposite, in fact!

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How does a brand get your attention for a feature?
I get a decent amount of emails from brands pitching some kind of collaboration to me, but I don’t end up working with most of them. The brands that I have the best relationship with started out by focusing on the relationship between me and them, not the benefits from a sales, publicity or traffic standpoint. They reached out to me and started with a message about how much they enjoyed my work, rather than trying to pitch me right out of the gate. They also made it clear that they were actually familiar with my work (you’d be really surprised how many pitch letters try to fake this, and it’s so obvious!) and were reaching out because our two brands are a natural fit. One of my brand partners is one whose products I used (unsolicited) in a post and they caught it, liked what I did, and followed up.

I like brands that pay attention, make me feel like they see me as an asset, and want to establish an ongoing partnership, rather than just get some publicity for their products out of me and move on. I put a lot of thought, planning and effort into any brand relationship I have, so I look for the same in my partners. I want to make sure any brand relationships I enter into are mutually beneficial, so I choose my partners carefully, and hope that brands are doing the same!

What do you love most about blogging?
The intimacy of it, first of all. I get to interact directly with the people who use my recipes, and get nearly real time feedback. Plus, I get to make a difference in someone’s life, even if only for the hour it takes to eat a meal. Some people never get to eat the same meal that the rest of their family is having, so being able to share a meal that is safe and enjoyable for the entire family to eat is a huge deal.

Second, the creative freedom it offers, and the flip side of that, the learning opportunities. Whether I liked it or not, food blogging is a crash course in HTML, SEO, accounting, marketing, writing, photography, recipe development (obviously), and so much more.

Most of all, I love the potential of blogging. Blogging and the internet in general has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. When I first starting posting recipes online, I never really imagined that I would have the dynamic, endlessly-growing online cookbook that I run today.

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Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I have no idea, and I like it that way! 10 years ago I was in such a different place, and I would never have predicted that I would have found success with food blogging. I hope to write a cookbook at some point, and I have some other goals, but I also think it is important to be open to opportunities that present themselves, even if they aren’t in the plan. Wherever I am, I hope I’m happy, healthy, and cooking and sharing great recipes!

In your opinion, what separates a great blog from an unsuccessful blog?
Passion and personality. No one starts blogging for the money (or if they do, they’re barking up the wrong tree!), and my favorite blogs are the ones where the authors are excited, lively, and let their unique voice and perspective shine through. It shows in the recipes, the writing and the photos. (Oh, and while I’m thinking about it, great blogs, to me, are synonymous with great photography!) By comparison, there are blogs where the author has clearly fallen out of touch with their passion for the work, and that’s when the posts become flat and uninspired.

Great blogs offer a window into a different world – or, in the case of food blogs, a different kitchen – than your own, and make you feel like you have a new friend in the blogger. I don’t know about you, but that’s what always keeps me coming back!

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