Thursday, April 26, 2012

Experiments in Gluten-Free Baking 101: Vegan Snack Cakes 3 Ways

Ready for class? Today we're going to learn how to take a recipe for Irish Coffee Brownies, and turn it into snack cakes, which can easily be converted into a coffee cake for guests. In full disclosure, I was not planning on making snack cakes. I was attempting to make a blondie, but found that with all the changes, I ended up with a flavor and texture closer to carrot cake. And that, my dear students, is exactly why I love making substitutions in baking. I learn more from making ONE recipe over and over with various substitutions than I do from making TEN recipes each once. Remember my waffle and pancake guide? I made over 24 batches following the same recipe with small changes, and my notes from that testing are still what I refer to any time I want to make substitutions in recipes. But I know that not all of you enjoy the tedious testing period as much as I do, which is why I've been sharing my results here with you.

Okay, let's get started. If you've attended any of our previous classes, you might remember me mentioning that cocoa powder and starch (tapioca, potato, arrowroot) can often be exchanged with similar results in texture. So that's where I opened with this recipe. Beginning with my Irish Coffee Brownies, I made the following substitutions to the ingredient list:

1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup whiskey non-dairy milk
1/4 cup warm or hot coffee non-dairy milk
1/4 cup grapeseed oil canola oil
1 tablespoon whole psyllium husks (not powder)
1 cup coconut palm sugar 1/2 cup organic cane sugar
1 cup brown rice flour (130 grams)
1/3 cup cocoa powder (26 grams) tapioca starch (40 grams)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

That's it. Five simple changes. I only had canola oil, but it works the same as grapeseed oil. I replaced the whiskey and coffee with milk (any kind works) and replaced the cocoa powder with tapioca starch (by cups, not grams). Why tapioca starch and not one of the others? I never work with cornstarch personally, so I can't vouch for that. Arrowroot is expensive, and readers have told me they end up with gummy results. And why not potato starch? Eh...I just felt like tapioca that day. It was as simple as that. There is a difference between tapioca and potato but it's very slight. I reduced the sugar from 1 cup to 1/2 cup because I wanted to make something healthier, and I was very glad I did that. With 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of raisins, the results were still very sweet, perhaps too sweet even for me.

With these five changes, I found that the cake needed to bake for 25 minutes, rather than the 35 the brownies needed. Their texture was also more like cake, less like brownies. While I'm sure the whiskey, cocoa powder and sugar had a part in this, I credit this mostly to the lack of coffee. I've noticed coffee has a tendency to make baked goods chewier. Not having tested this theory only taking out the coffee, however, it's just a guess!

So here we have Vegan Snack Cake #1. I'll include the recipe here, and then continue on below that to show you how I adapted this recipe to make it starch free.

Carrotless Carrot Snack Cake Print-Friendly Option

1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup non-dairy milk
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon whole psyllium husks (not powder)
1/2 cup organic cane sugar
1 cup brown rice flour (130 grams)
1/3 cup tapioca starch (40 grams)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil an 8 x 8 inch baking dish. 
  2. Add the raisins, milk, oil, and psyllium husks to a food processor. Process until the raisins are pureed. 
  3. Add the remaining ingredients, processing completely to ensure the ingredients are all mixed together well. 
  4. Spoon the thick batter into the baking dish and spread evenly. 
  5. Bake for 25 minutes. 
  6. Let cool completely before slicing. 
Makes 16 snack cakes. 

Now back to the lesson...

Okay,  we've got raisins, sugar, and starch in this recipe. Delicious, but not as low-glycemic as I would like it to be. I thought about taking out the raisins and simply replacing those with carrots (I still want to try that, but haven't had a chance yet), and I thought about reducing the sugar, but in the end I decided to try something I haven't done before. I wanted to make the recipe starch free. If I wanted the texture to be similar, I would have used another flour closer to brown rice flour. I could have exchanged the tapioca starch with white rice flour or maybe millet flour, and I'm guessing the texture would have been closer to the original. But I wanted to know what would happen if I used coconut flour. Coconut flour works extremely differently from tapioca starch. Starch makes recipes light and fluffy. Coconut flour makes recipes dense and heavy. So what happens if you replace 1/3 cup of tapioca starch with 1/3 cup of coconut flour? Magic!

I made the following substitutions to my Carrotless Carrot Snack Cake ingredient list:

1/2 cup raisins
1/2 3/4 cup non-dairy milk
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon whole psyllium husks (not powder)
1/2 cup organic cane sugar
1 cup brown rice flour (130 grams)
1/3 cup tapioca starch (40 grams) coconut flour (40 grams)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Here we have three changes. Coconut flour absorbs liquid like crazy! I knew that if I replaced the starch with coconut flour, I would need to add more milk. I also decided to take out the psyllium husks, and see if the coconut flour version would hold together without a binder. If I had left the psyllium husks in, I would have needed to add more milk, probably another 3 tablespoons.  The batter for this cake was significantly thicker than the first recipe I made. In order to spread it evenly, I needed to wet my fingers with water and smooth the batter down.

The results? I loved the flavor, but felt it was a little more dense than I wanted. I decided to lighten it up a bit by using fresh apples instead of raisins. This also had the added benefit of lowering the amount of sugar, since apples contain less sugar than raisins.

For this third batch, I replaced the 1/2 cup of raisins with 1 cup of diced apples (I left the peels on for the fiber). I also increased the baking time to 30 minutes. That's all. Everything else remained the same. This is what I got.

Deliciously sweet snack cakes that reminded me of Little Debbie's Coffee Cakes that I ate as a child. All I had to do after that was add a streusel topping, increase the baking time to 35 minutes, and just to be sure, I tested the recipe out one more time with coconut oil in place of the canola oil. Worked perfectly! From Irish Coffee Brownies to Apple Streusel Coffee Cake Heaven with a stop at Carrotless Carrot Snack Cake Town on the way. You can find the recipe for the Apple Streusel Coffee Cake here.

Want more substitution ideas? Here you go! These suggestions should work for the Carrotless Carrot Cake here or the Apple Streusel Coffee Cake here. And as always, don't kill me if you try something and it doesn't work! These are my ideas based on what has worked for me in the past, but I have not personally tried every one of these substitutions. If you make a variation that you like, it's always helpful for me and others readers if you leave your adapted recipe below. Likewise, if you try something that doesn't work, that's helpful for readers too! We can all learn from each other!

Possible Substitutions:
Raisins or apples: Try 1/2 cup of any dried fruit, such as apricots, dates, or prunes. Or try 1 cup fresh diced fruit, like I did with the apples. Pears would be delicious! I might also try 1 cup grated carrots in the future.
Milk: Any type of milk is fine here. Coconut, almond, soy, rice, etc. If you decide to try using carrots, you could also sub in orange or apple juice here and see how that works.
Canola Oil: Try grapeseed oil, extra light olive oil, or coconut oil. Melted butter or Earth Balance will also work fine.
Psyllium Husks: Try 1 tablespoon of ground chia seeds. Flaxseed meal should also work, although you might want to reduce the milk by 1-2 tablespoons.
Organic Cane Sugar: You can use any granulated sugar here, including coconut palm sugar. The flavor will vary depending on the type you use.
Brown Rice Flour: Try white rice, teff, sorghum, millet, quinoa or garbanzo bean flour, or a combination of any of these. (Note: I sub by volume, not weight). I used brown rice flour here because it has the most neutral flavor and texture. Teff or white rice would be my best suggestions for using only one flour. I recommend if you want to use sorghum, millet, quinoa, or garbanzo bean flour, you do a mix because they all have strong flavors and textures that will work better in combination than on their own.
Coconut flour or tapioca starch: Read the above post :)

Phew! I don't know about you, but that seemed like a long lesson to me! I need a study break... If you're not tired out, head over to Wellness Weekends at Diet, Dessert and Dogs for more vegan goodness!

Have a recipe you'd like me to adapt for your dietary needs for a future Experiments in Gluten-Free Baking 101 post? Drop me an e-mail at with your recipe and dietary restrictions, and I'll see what I can come up with!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Little Debbie Apple Streusel Coffee Cake (The Gluten-Free, Vegan Version)

These little babies went through a number of tests before they made it onto the blog. They started out looking like this:

The original recipe had the texture of a carrot cake and was amazing! But it contained tapioca starch, and I wanted to see if I could make them starch-free.

The next batch looked like this:

Tapioca starch out. Coconut flour in! Tapioca and coconut work completely differently, but I've made a recent discovery that the two can be exchanged in small amounts in some recipes, albeit with completely unique, yet equally delicious results. I'll go into further details on this in my next post!

I loved the flavor of this second batch, but at that point I started to think I could cut down on the sugar even more. You see, I don't bake with sugar very often, but I've been allowing myself to have a little fun with it lately. But since batch one and two both contained raisins in addition to the sugar, the cake was a bit sweet for me. So I decided to try apples instead. That's when I became addicted to these snack cakes. I kept taking another bite, and another, and another... They reminded me of something from my childhood, and I finally realized they tasted like the Little Debbie Coffee Cakes my mom put in my school lunch. Now, these cakes here may have sugar in them, but I googled the Little Debbie Apple Streusel Coffee Cake ingredients, and...oh my! After looking at that list of food combined with chemicals, this recipe looked downright healthy to me!

Which of course gave me all the encouragement I needed to add a teensy bit more sugar in the form of a streusel topping. And believe me, it was worth it.

Apple Streusel Coffee Cake (Gluten-Free, Vegan) (Print-Friendly Option)

1/4 cup organic light brown sugar
3 tablespoons coconut oil
3 tablespoons brown rice flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Coffee Cake:
1 cup diced apples (no need to peel; I liked it best with a Fuji)
1/4 cup canola oil or coconut oil
3/4 cup non-dairy milk

1/2 cup organic cane sugar
1 cup brown rice flour (130 grams)
1/3 cup coconut flour (40 grams)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8 x 8 inch glass pan. 
  2. In a small bowl, stir together the streusel ingredients until well mixed (brown sugar, coconut oil, brown rice flour, and cinnamon). Set aside. 
  3. In a food processor, quickly mix the apples, oil, and milk (about 5 seconds). 
  4. Mix the sugar, rice flour, coconut flour, baking soda, and sea salt in a medium sized bowl, then pour into the food processor and process until evenly mixed. 
  5. Scoop batter (it will be thick) into the pan and press evenly. Sprinkle the streusel on top and bake for 35 minutes. Allow to cool completely before slicing. 
Makes 16 individual coffee cake bars 

Notes: Feel free to exchange both sugars in the recipe for coconut palm sugar. The flavor and texture will be slightly different, but it will still be delicious! If you prefer to limit the sugar, just keep the streusel topping off and it becomes a snack "bar" instead of coffee cake.

Wondering what other substitutions you can make? On Thursday, I'll be posting the evolution of this recipe as part of my Experiments in Gluten-Free Baking 101 Series. I'll explain the many substitution options you have, as well as posting the recipe for the original carrot cake-like version, which by the way, did not have carrots in it! I'm hoping to find time between now and Thursday to make the original recipe again with carrots so I can tell you exactly how to turn it into a carrot cake.


p.s. In case you haven't seen it, my fellow Jumbo (Tufts alumni), Isabel Foxen Duke, just put out an incredible free video training series for any of you who may be struggling with "feeling crazy around food." You know, like thinking about food and dieting all day long, only to end up with your fingers in a jar of peanut butter later that evening. She's onto something, and one of the few health professionals out there who are really making the connection between poor body image and emotional eating. I am a proud affiliate and big supporter of her work. You can check out her free video training series here.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Guest Post at Celiacs in the House, and Upcoming Events!

Wendy of Celiacs in the House has been hosting a fun series titled, In My Gluten-Free Kitchen. Today, I'm sharing my kitchen and how I handled writing a cookbook without driving my four other housemates crazy. 

Check out my post at Celiacs in the House.

In other news, for readers in the Seattle area, I have two things to share with you:

1. I'll now be teaching private therapeutic cooking classes at Greenlake Nutrition on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. You can learn more about nutrition counseling, workshops, and cooking classes at their website here. For some people, health insurance can be used in these classes!

2. The Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) is hosting their annual Health and Wellness Experience on Saturday, June 16th. Brittany Angell and I will be teaching a gluten-free baking class (and passing out samples from our baking guides).  As a kick-off to the Health and Wellness Experience on June 16th, GIG is partnering with the Seattle Mariners on Friday night June 15th to host Gluten-Free Awareness Night. Before the game, they're having a gluten-free tailgate party at the ballpark which will be attended by GIG leaders from around the country. I'll be there with Brittany and Amie Valpone (of The Healthy Apple). Come network with fellow food bloggers and gluten-free group leaders, enjoy a gluten-free tailgate party and watch the players warm up in the adjacent bull pen. Then enjoy the game in GIG group seating. The tailgate party is from 5 – 7p.m. Game time is 7:10pm. Cost to attend both the party and the game is $65.  Call the GIG office at (253) 833-6655 to make your reservation. Space is limited! Hope to see you there!

If you missed my interview with actress, Jennifer Esposito, check out yesterday's post to hear what she's doing to spread awareness of and correct information on the gluten-free diet!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

An Interview with Jennifer Esposito, My Kitchen, and the Wide OpenSky

What do these three have in common? On the surface, very little. But when you dig a little deeper, so very much!

My kitchen is where I do my gluten-free baking, creating recipes to share with you all in my cookbooks with Brittany, and here on the blog. On Friday, I'll be sharing a behind-the-scenes look at my kitchen at Celiacs in the House. But today, I have something else to share with you. The kitchen is also where Jennifer Esposito does her gluten-free baking. You didn't know she was gluten-free, did you? I've always known her as that sexy actress with the great hair on Spin City. I had no idea she had Celiac Disease. But Jennifer was diagnosed in 2009, the same year I went gluten-free. After years of struggling, feeling ill, being told by doctors it was all in her head (sounds familiar, right?), she finally got a correct diagnosis of Celiac Disease. That day marked the beginning of a new life for Jennifer, but one that didn't come easily. Sent out the door with little information or support, she did what we've all had to do. She scoured the internet, went on forums to chat with other sufferers, and in the end, had to learn a lot on her own. 

Today, Jennifer is in a different place. She's become healthier and become an advocate for others in the same situation. Not wanting anyone to feel alone the way she did, she has started Jennifer's Way, a blog devoted to sharing her honest story, delicious recipes, and great gluten-free finds. She also has a cookbook in the works (I can't wait to get it!), a gluten-free all-purpose mix and pancake mix coming out, and plans to open a gluten-free bakery in New York City. Plus, she's going to have her own store on OpenSky. According to OpenSky, it's "a social network for shopping that empowers users to connect with the best people in food, style, health and design for exclusive information, advice and insider product recommendations. It’s boutique-like shopping in a Facebook-like environment.  The site’s 100+ experts include: Martha Stewart, Bobby Flay, Cynthia Rowley, Liz Lange, Tom Colicchio, Molly Sims, Kelly Rutherford, Mariel Hemingway, Tony Horton, Padma Lakshmi, Michael Ruhlman and Holly Robinson Peete." I had heard of OpenSky through other bloggers, but this was the first time I really checked it out. It was so much fun, I already opened an account! Jennifer's store will be dedicated to the gluten-free lifestyle, with new items appearing every week or two to keep the selection fresh. She'll be sharing photos, videos, and recipes to give us an inside view into why each item is her favorite and how she uses it. I've already connected with Jennifer's store on OpenSky. Have you?

I had the pleasure of speaking with Jennifer yesterday about her experiences being gluten-free and all the exciting projects ahead of her this year. Here's what she had to say: 

What type of products will we be seeing in your OpenSky store? 
There will be an array of different things, but everything will be geared toward the gluten-free lifestyle. I want to share proper information about what it means to be healthy. There will be recipes and baking products, including my own mixes that I'm developing, and those will be ready soon. 

What makes your mixes stand out from other products on the market now? 
My all-purpose baking mix can be exchanged cup for cup with wheat flour, and I'm also going to have a pancake mix. There are so many products out there that are not really healthy; All gluten-free products are not created equal. I wanted mine to be different. They're loaded with protein and fiber, and are much more nutritious than what I was able to find when I first had to go gluten-free.

Gluten-free is definitely a buzz word these days, and many big companies are jumping on the bandwagon. How do you feel about the gluten-free diet becoming so popular? 
It's upsetting because people are starting to look at this as a trend, which it most definitely is not. It's necessary for people like me who have Celiac Disease, or people with autoimmune disorders or autism. On my blog, I have a "2 week gluten-free challenge" and so many people have contacted me to let me know how much better they felt being gluten-free. I believe everyone can benefit from being gluten-free, but I think it should be taken seriously and not seen as a fad.

You were diagnosed with Celiac Disease in 2009 after years of being sick with no answer. What's the most important lesson you've learned from that experience? 
Listen to your gut. There were so many times that I knew something was wrong, even since I was a child. I absolutely knew, and I went from doctor to doctor, and I can say this. If you're doctor isn't willing to test you, or even if you get a negative test and still feel something's wrong, go to another doctor. Find a doctor who will listen to you. 

Do you avoid any foods other than gluten? 
Yes. I still felt horrible for about a year after giving up gluten. First, I went through a painful detox period, but I also didn't know that other foods could be a problem. I had such horrible joint pain from eating dairy that it was hard to sleep at night. Now, I also avoid dairy, soy, corn, and processed sugars. 

What types of recipes will we see in your upcoming cookbook? 
A little of everything. I wanted to share recipes for the things I really missed, like bread and cookies. But I also include meals that I eat every day that are naturally gluten-free. I want people to realize that they if they eat unprocessed foods, like fruits and vegetables from the garden, it will be much easier to eat gluten-free.

Were you interested in cooking and baking before becoming gluten-free? 
Yes, I used to crawl up on the cabinets and bake pancakes when I was six. It was devastating when I got the diagnosis of Celiac Disease because holidays were such a big deal in my family. Learning to navigate holiday meals and social events was very paralyzing at first. 

How long did it take for you to embrace the gluten-free lifestyle? 
Honestly, there are days I still don't embrace it. It stinks sometimes. I was watching a friend eat an apple turnover this morning and wanted to grab it out of his hands! But that's why I do what I do, because I refuse to feel deprived. Baking makes me feel like I have control over this disease. 

How has your life changed since becoming gluten-free? 
It changed a lot of my life and relationships. I really do feel like a different person. I feel much more grounded, more in control of my life. I really feel for people who are walking around feeling sick, not knowing it's because of the food they're eating. 
Check out Jennifer's gluten-free shop on OpenSky, and her blog to read more about her story and find some amazing recipes! And thank you to Jennifer for sharing her story in the way that best helps all of us...openly and honestly, admitting that even she has hard days where watching other people eat drives her crazy! I know we've all been there, and it's refreshing to hear her say it!

Monday, April 9, 2012

If you could eat anything in the world right now, what would it be?

Stop for a moment, and close your eyes. Imagine you can eat anything you want right now. A magic delivery boy will show up at your door and drop it off the second you decide what you want. No cost, just a thank you and send him on his way. The only catch? You have to pick something that will leave you feeling completely satisfied after one serving.

Did you just change your mind about what you wanted?

Lately I've been playing this little game when I find myself having a generic craving. You know the kind...when you want something, but you're not sure what. And you just keep grazing, hoping that urge will eventually be satisfied. So I close my eyes, and imagine various foods, mentally throwing each one out until I find what I'm looking for.

Often, I assume that what I want is carbs. It used to be when I got into this kind of itchy mood, I would automatically want to reach for my comfort foods: mac & cheese, pizza, cinnamon rolls, cookies. Carbs, fat, and sugar all put together into one giant food coma. But I never really felt satisfied. I would eat more and more, waiting for that off button to ding, but it never did. Or at least not until I was uncomfortably full.

It never occurred to me that I would have been perfectly satisfied with something else.

Sometimes when I play this game, I realize what I really want is chicken. Sometimes, I realize it's pancakes. And sometimes it really is a cookie, and that's okay too. I'm happy to give my body what it wants, as long as that's really all it's asking for.

And sometimes, I go through a list of foods, only to realize nothing will satisfy me. I can't think of a single food that I'll be able to eat without overindulging. Occasionally, I'll admit, I just go with that and make a conscious decision to overindulge. Not binge. But just eat more than I need to. It happens and it's not the end of the world. Other times, I leave the kitchen and go find what it is I really want. That's when I play the game again, replacing the word "eat" with "do."

So go ahead. Close your eyes and ask yourself, if you could do anything in the world right now, what would you do?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Gluten-Free Buckwheat Scallion Pancakes

When I was writing The Essential Gluten-Free Baking Guides with Brittany Angell, my own health unfortunately fell by the wayside. I was often so exhausted after ten hours days of baking that I had no energy to cook for myself. This made for a lot of nights of eating canned split pea soup and Applegate Farms hot dogs. I really wished I could hire a personal chef!

Now that my life has settled down a bit, I'm focusing on healthy cooking again. I've still been baking because I enjoy writing my "Experiments in Gluten-Free Baking 101" series so much. But more often, I'm making simple meals. Chicken with vegetables. Rice and beans. Salads. This is what I've been craving.

And Buckwheat Scallion Pancakes. I used to love scallion pancakes, but even as a kid, I remember them making me feel a bit sick after. Not that that ever stopped me from eating them. Today, I'm getting much better at listening to what my body really wants. Sometimes I still eat food that doesn't make me feel so great, but more often I find I want to eat the food that nourishes me. So I decided to make a healthy version of scallion pancakes that I could make fast and easy. Raw buckwheat groats (which you can usually find in the bulk bins at health food stores) need to be soaked overnight, but once you're ready to make these babies, it takes about 10 minutes from start to finish. It's really that simple.

Buckwheat Scallion Pancakes (Print-Friendly Option)

1 cup raw buckwheat groats, soaked in water overnight
1/2 cup water
Pinch sea salt (optional) 
2 scallions, sliced thin
2 tablespoons olive oil, coconut oil, or ghee

  1. Rinse and drain your buckwheat groats, then blend in a food processor until a paste forms. 
  2. Add water, and salt if using, and blend until it's the consistency of thick pancake batter. Stir in scallions. I don't use salt in my pancakes because I like to serve them with a salty dipping sauce. But if you're not serving them with anything else, go ahead and add a dash of salt. 
  3. Heat a skillet over medium-low, making sure the skillet is nice and hot before adding your oil. Allow the oil to heat up (this assures your pancakes won't stick), then add a large scoop of batter, spreading it with the back of a spoon until it's about 4-5 inches in diameter. Your pancakes will be about 1/2 - 1 inch thick. Allow to cook for about 4 minutes on the first side, then flip and cook another 3 minutes on the second side. 
  4. Serve immediately. 
Makes approximately 4 5-inch pancakes.

More Gluten-Free Scallion Pancake Recipes:
Chinese Scallion Pancakes at Diet, Dessert, and Dogs
Low-Amine Scallion Pancakes with Dipping Sauce at Low-Amine Recipes
Scallion Pancakes at Renegade Kitchen

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Mirror, Mirror off the Wall

You know those drinking games where you take a shot every time someone says a particular word or phrase? What would happen if you played that game with yourself, and took a shot every time you looked in the mirror? Every time you determined your self-worth by what you saw in that oh-so-important looking glass? How drunk would you be by the end of the day?

I don't ask to judge, but rather to point out that flaw in myself. Like a bathroom scale, the mirror can hold the power to make or break your day, to make you feel like a star or wonder what is wrong with you. No matter how I feel when I wake up in the morning, that cunning mirror has the ability to tell me I am wrong. Oh, you thought you were having a good day, it mocks? Oh no no, I am the one who decides that. Step right up and allow me to judge your worth. And dutifully, I bare all and turn from side to side, asking for a price tag to be stamped upon my body. When this is over, I step into the shower, at times energized and proud, at other times demoralized and ashamed. It is silly, really, this power I have given to a piece of glass.

When I read about a woman who had decided to go without mirrors for a year, I was intrigued and thought it was a wonderful idea. This was a few months ago, and as I recall, I looked at her blog, decided to put a towel over my mirror, and promptly took it down within a day. It was never my intention to go as far as she did, but I thought it would be nice to be mirrorless for a little while. My resolve lasted about as long as it took me to take a shower and need the mirror to see how my curly hair looked when it dried. Needless to say, I forgot about the mirror challenge and went about my life.

Two weeks ago, I went to Santa Barbara for the week to camp with my family before my sister's wedding. I spent a week basking in the sunlight (hello, vitamin D!), jogging by the ocean, and just relaxing. It was glorious. And something interesting started to happen. Something, dare I say it, transformative?

There were mirrors in a few of the bathrooms, and I found myself initially using those stalls. After all, I wanted to see how I looked and make sure I was presentable. But after a few days, I started to noticed something. I went for a jog every morning with my sister, and when I came back, I would feel refreshed and strong. Knowing that I could run four miles had me feeling pretty damn sexy. And then I went in the bathroom and looked in the mirror. Hmm. Sometimes the mirror confirmed my feelings and sometimes it told me I didn't look as good as I thought. But I quickly began to realize it didn't matter.

After a couple of days, I began to choose the bathrooms without a mirror. It came in a moment of clarity, as the most obvious of realizations often do. I looked the same to the outside world no matter what I saw in the mirror. They simply saw me, and most likely with much less judgment than I gave to myself. So the only reason to look in the mirror was to give power to something outside of myself. I realized I had a choice. I could base my beliefs about my appearance on what I happened to see at any given moment in a piece of glass. Or I could just ask myself how I felt. And I realized that my feelings of beauty, or lack thereof, had more to do with my actions during the day. Had I worked out? Had I eaten food that made me feel good? Had I smiled and been happy with my friends and family? Luckily for me, I was on vacation, and so the answer every day was, yes. Of course, being back in Seattle now, there are days that I sit in front of a computer for hours, or days when I am grumpy and snap at my housemates. Those are the days I don't feel so beautiful. But on those days, I do something different now. Instead of looking in the mirror and critiquing every flaw, I do something that makes me feel beautiful. I get outside and go for a run (on those rare days when it's not raining), I go to the gym, or call an old friend and chat. I meditate or bake, knowing that I will not feel the need to subject myself to the mirror's fickle rating scale if I dare to eat a cookie. I find ways to be beautiful, rather than lamenting my lack of porcelain air-brushed perfection.

And I'll tell you what the first thing I did when I arrived home was: I took down my mirror. And I haven't missed it one bit.


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