Gluten Free Lemon Blueberry Bars and how I need to let go of the pretty.

by Irvin on October 24, 2011 · 37 comments

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I’m going to talk ugly for a little bit here. And when I say ugly, I don’t mean ugly as in, “Girl, you best put down that extra piece of fried chicken, because you don’t need more thigh to go with that outfit” sort of ugly. I reserve that sort of conversation with my friends who tend to swivel their heads a lot and fingersnap frequently (full disclosure, I physically cannot fingersnap; someone take away my gay card). No, no, I mean ugly desserts and baked goods. Because, though this is a food blog, I sometimes make desserts that aren’t totally up to typical food blogging standard. My friends look at what I make and often wonder if I ever have failures, and let me tell you, I do. I do a lot. So when I made these gluten free lemon blueberry bars, I took one look at them and thought to myself “Hmmm. Those aren’t up to snuff.”


Not the prettiest Lemon Blueberry Bars, but they are darn tasty, as I would soon find out.

Now you look at them, and you don’t think they are the most hideous things in the world. They aren’t completely repulsive, they don’t look like an utter failure, but really, they aren’t show stopping either. They aren’t the glittery beauty that gets featured on the front cover of shiny glossy magazines that no longer exist (oh, how I wish the print magazine of Gourmet was still around, so I could at least have the potential to fulfill my dreams of having one of my baked good on the cover of it, no matter how improbably that reality would be). They aren’t even really blog worthy to look at. Sure, I could have put them on a pretty plate that looked like I spent way too much money on (but since I’m cheap, I actually got it at a discount store), added a few blueberries as a prop and shot it with a soft focus, slightly over-exposing it, to give it that Donna Hay beauty shot look. Or I could have photoshopped the heck out of it or given it a really short depth of field to make it arty and to make sure it would be accepted on Foodgawker/Tastespotting/whatever other visual food browsing site out there you use, thereby ensuring I get hundreds of more hits from people who don’t really stick around to read my blog but bounce to the next pretty little thing once they realize that I have a lot of words on my posts, and not enough food porn-esque shots to keep them satisfied. But I’m not going to do that. I’m keeping it real. I shot on a table, piled high with a bunch of other desserts, and I shot it fast because other people were at this party, waiting to dig into the desserts. They were just humoring me with my photography.


My niece Sydney patiently waiting to dive into the Lemon Blueberry Bars.
Also, I don’t know who’s ass that is in the background, but I kind of love the fact that it is in this shot.

Because here’s the thing: not every item I make is picture perfect. Not every dessert or baked good get photographed with a bounce sheet and a scrim against my window to give it a perfect diffused lighting (full disclosure, I live in San Francisco, where the fog tends to functions as a perfect diffuser anyway). Not every item I bake gets a hero shot, against an artfully distressed piece of plywood, rustic in it’s sandpapered down wood and whitewash paint. I just don’t have time for that (nor do I have space in my tiny one bedroom apartment to store multiple slabs of plywood). Especially when I’m preparing 20+ desserts in two days for our semi-annual dessert party. I just don’t have time.


So many desserts, so little time.

Sometimes I forget that I started this blog because I love food. More specifically I love making food. I love trying new things, developing new recipes, talking about how I created a new cookie or combined a few flavors together that I hadn’t done before. I love sharing my food with you guys. I forget that the whole purpose of this blog is to talk about what I did and why I did. I forget that the name of this blog is Eat the Love.


Desserts and more desserts. With a side of desserts.

So I come back to my ugly gluten-free lemon blueberry bars. I made these for a dessert party when I realized I didn’t have enough gluten free items for my gluten sensitive friends. They seemed like a good idea at the time. My friend Stephanie is often telling me that I swirl everything I make. And I do. I’m totally guilty of swirling, marbling and mixing to my hearts content. However, this time I thought to myself, why get all fussy with the blueberries, pureeing them, and then swirling them around the lemon? Why not just put the whole blueberries in the lemon curd? I was baking 20+ desserts, this was not the time to get fussy.


Lemon Blueberry Bars – the blue type on the sign meant they were gluten free.

I pulled these suckers out of the oven. Took a look at them. Then thought to myself, I can’t serve these. They’re ugly. But instead of just composting them, I stuck them in the back of the fridge and forgot about them. A few days later, when I pulling everything out for the party, I found them buried in the back of the fridge, and though to myself “oh what the heck, I’ll put them out there. I need more gluten free desserts anyway.”


Lots of desserts, a few gluten free!

And a funny thing happened. Out of the 20+ desserts I made, they were one of the first ones to go. Sure they may not have been as sexy as the caramel bars. Or as luscious as the pineapple upside down cake. Or as beautiful as the blackberry lemon curd layer cake (I really need to blog about the trials and tribulations of that cake sometime). But they were tasty good. No one (other than the one or two gluten sensitive friends I told) knew they were gluten free. They were a hit, and despite my reservations of them not looking nearly as pretty as I wanted them to be, they were pretty enough for people to pick them up and try; they were pretty enough for people to finish them and tell me they loved them. That’s all I can ask for right?


Those not so pretty lemon blueberry bars.

These gluten free blueberry lemon bars aren’t going to win me the cover of a magazine but clearly the magazine I want to be on doesn’t exist any more. Instead, I have to remember that I bake for the purpose of making people happy, not because my baked goods make pretty pictures. If they do make pretty pictures, that’s a happy bonus. But this blog is called Eat the Love. Not Look at the Love. Something I need to keep in mind when I head back into the kitchen.

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{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Erica October 24, 2011 at 5:57 am

Very well said! It’s really hard not to get wrapped up in the overly styled glossiness of pretty food pictures. This is a good reminder of remembering your true intentions. (The lemon bars look awesome.)


Irvin October 26, 2011 at 12:30 am

Thanks Erica! It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the food, sometimes I forget the final product is really all that matters.


Gail October 24, 2011 at 6:07 am

In the heart of every ugly dessert lies a beautiful soul.
And, I LOVE the tushy in the picture!!!!
And, thank you for adding the ‘also known as’ to some of the flours…I think a lot of people are daunted by gf ingredients.


Irvin October 26, 2011 at 12:20 am

Thanks Gail!

Gluten free can be daunting, but once you start baking with different flours, you’ll find a whole new world open up in the kitchen. Always glad to offer a hand in helping out anyone who asks me.


meg- grow and resist October 24, 2011 at 9:49 am

Love it and the commentary on food styling! =) And the bars look pretty darn tasty to me. I wouldn’t pass them up (or any of the other treasures we got a peek of!)


Irvin October 26, 2011 at 12:34 am

LOL! Thanks Meg. I think baking and blogging constantly gives me a skewed sense of what looks good and what doesn’t in my eyes. This post was really reminder that I should take a step back from it all now and then.


Elaina October 24, 2011 at 10:24 am

Excellent post!! I love it! There are always failures (so to speak) in the kitchen and I think those sometimes make for the more interesting quotes. I put too many habaneros in a salsa I made but still blogged about it and turned the “salsa” into a spicy hot sauce ingredient! Loved your story today, and love the lemon bars. Thanks for sharing!


Irvin October 26, 2011 at 12:36 am

I love the idea of how you turned a potential kitchen “failure” into a kitchen “win” with the habanero hot sauce! Most of the time I can rescue a failure, but every now and then I’m at a loss. Luckily I took another look at these bars and put them out!


merri October 24, 2011 at 10:38 am

i dont think these are ugly at all!! but, i am no stranger to ugly desserts… i tend to often make ugly desserts and even my mother does, and she’s a great cook. all these desserts taste great super yummy so that’s what counts. however, i do not remember these bars at your party… you said they got eaten quickly, so maybe they were gone before i got there..


Irvin October 26, 2011 at 12:38 am

Thanks Merri! They were sort in a corner, and it’s possible they were all gone by the time you got there. But then, you didn’t eat that much here I don’t think, as you’re not a big dessert person anyway.


merri October 26, 2011 at 11:18 am

ACTUALLY i did eat almost everything. I skipped the peanut butter pie because im allergic, the pineapple upside down cake cuz i like my own recipe too much, & i think i may have skipped a cookie or something? but i had a little of every other thing i saw! just a bite or two cuz i wanted to sample as much as possible! i think that was all 3 of ours’s strategy.


Johnna October 24, 2011 at 11:29 am

Thank you for the lovely reminder that it’s really about the food and about sharing food with those who matter to us. I love a good food photo, but also love honesty in blogging. Thank you for that!


Irvin October 26, 2011 at 12:27 am

You are most welcome. As much as I love to show the “Hero shot” of the beautiful end product, it’s nice to show that not everything ends up there.


Deb October 24, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Thanks for the reality check! Food blogging is a balance of the trilogy: food, photos and writing. I agree that food can just be a platform for photos or writing. But whatever the focus there is more than enough of a challenge for everyone. By the way, the recipe is enticing; I adore lemon bars and my husband’s favorite is blueberries!


Irvin October 26, 2011 at 12:41 am

Lemon and blueberry are a great match together! If you do make these, let me know what you (and your husband) think.


Jazmin October 24, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Oh goodness, I hope you don’t compost desserts too often! It makes me sad to think that those ugly duckling desserts end up in the garbage when they could have ended up in my stomach…and quite happily so!


Irvin October 26, 2011 at 12:29 am

Really, I don’t compost much of my desserts. Usually just the truly inedible stuff. I think the last thing I had to compost was a scary attempt at strawberry lemonade pudding that looked like zombie goo. Apparently arrowroot powder should never be used to make pudding. Now I know.


Rosie @ Sweetapolita October 24, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Great post, Irvin! I don’t think these are ugly at all, but I know what you mean about getting caught up in everything looking pretty. I totally get where you’re coming from! These bars look completely scrumptious to me, and those are 2 of my favourite flavours (did you like that back-to-back Canadian spelling?), and I’d eat those up in a heartbeat.


Irvin October 26, 2011 at 12:46 am

Thanks Rosie! You’re the sweetest. And I mentally read your post with a Canadian accent as well – complete with a few “ehs” thrown in there. 😉


Jerry (CbsoP) October 24, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Amen Irvin. You’re preaching to the choir. I have to tell myself the same thing sometimes. I think that all of us as food bloggers need to remember that sometimes you just aren’t going to get pretty, perfect results, and that pretty perfect results shouldn’t be our first goal. It’s about the food!

In your case it’s eat the love. In ours it’s “Food is Love. Share and Enjoy!” And the love is in the sharing… Even if it isn’t Shirley Temple cute.


Irvin October 26, 2011 at 12:55 am

Completely agreed Jerry! I think the idea of “Food is Love. Share and Enjoy!” Is awesome. Love is definitely sharing.


Pat October 24, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Love your comment about magazines, and I so agree with you. Those magazines do not exist anymore. Someone should do something about that. Meanwhile, the bars have their own beauty; thanks for sharing the recipe.


Irvin October 26, 2011 at 12:56 am

Someone SHOULD do something about that. I was just talking to my friend Damon about how nobody has really stepped in to fill the shoes of the old print Gourmet magazine. Perhaps it can never be replaced. But we all should try…


Steph October 24, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Well, *I* think they’re pretty! The blueberries are like little gems in that lemon curd! 🙂 So glad you didn’t swirl them… not that I have anything against swirled desserts. (also, I am *so* not gaycist.)


Irvin October 26, 2011 at 12:57 am

Thanks Steph! And yeah not all of us gays swirl constantly, despite what you think.


laura October 24, 2011 at 6:57 pm

I love the ugly 🙂 99% of goodies are ugly and I don’t really care. I was excited to get ONE of the caramel apple cookies picked up–BTW no photoshopping involved just good light and luck we need to let our ugly shine just like the pretty


Irvin October 26, 2011 at 12:58 am

I’ll totally admit that on occasion, I will open up photoshop to get rid of that one stray crumb. But mostly I’m too lazy to do it. Take a picture and go with it. Who has time to fuss that much over photos?


Katie (Gluten Free Blondie) October 24, 2011 at 7:54 pm

See the very first words up there in the title? Gluten free? They alone make these lemon bars look damn sexy. Bookmarked!


Irvin October 26, 2011 at 1:00 am

Thanks Katie. I used to bake more gluten free stuff, but I have’t recently. I blame it on my current obsession with Kamut flour. But I’ll get back to the gluten free baking soon! I’ll probably get obsessed with another flour (say millet or amaranth) and switch allegiance to it. I’m fickle that way. 🙂


:D October 25, 2011 at 12:07 am

OH MY GOSH I FREAKING LOVE YOUR BLOG!!!!! Really I’ve only read like 3 posts so far but I just LOVE IT for me it’s really mindblowing how awesome this is ” girl you don’t need more Thigh to go with that outfit” I literaly rotflmao-ed that sounds just like something I would say with my gayfriends and I CAN NOT SNAP EITHER! As much as I try I just dont understand how to do it. You Really are the most amazing person ever!! and that last post was just adorable I mean just look at those things I JUST WANNA EAT THEM i wish regular grocery stores would sell awesome stuff like onyx cocoa ‘cuz I don’t live anywhere Near a speciality food store and I aslo read your post about the blueberry pie (unfortumeatly, i really wished i heeded your warning but seeing as im a tard with no self control, I read it anyway) And the fact that your a graphic desinger is SO COOL and that purple and orange pie is AMAZING I have really never seen anything slighty like it that was beyond even my wildest imagination for what was possible in making a pie! and that picture on the beach was so Cute! I really wish i could be just like you when i get old.(er) your like my biggest role model i dont know what i would be doing now if i hadn’t ever found out about your blog… i sure hope your don’t consier this post like totally creeper or anything cuz i honestly meant everyword of it.


Irvin October 26, 2011 at 1:03 am

LOL! I feel like I should tell you to take a deep breath! Thank you and I’m totally flattered. Though DID you made me feel old by telling me that you wanted to be like me when you get old. Ha! 😉

As for the onyx black cocoa, you can totally just use regular cocoa. It just won’t be jet black like my cones.

Thanks for stopping by and loving my blog!


Mags October 25, 2011 at 8:25 am

It’s often the plight of the food blogger to worry about whether a delicious something is pretty or not, once the internet gets a scratch and sniff function I imagine this will become a non-issue but for now it sure is annoying isn’t it?

I totally agree with you here though, it’s about the food tasting good, not what it looks like.


Irvin October 26, 2011 at 1:04 am

I can’t wait for the internet to get smell-o-vision. It would be such a boon for us food bloggers! I’m putting my order in for caramel & bacon scents immediately.


Annie October 25, 2011 at 10:53 am

Gourmet went out of business? OMG, that sucks so much. I loved that mag. It’s all my fault for letting my subscription lapse. 🙁

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think those bars look scrumptious. I might have to make some myself, without the gluten free nonsense. Not all desserts have to look prim and proper. It’s like that old poem: “give me a look…that makes simplicity a grace…such sweet neglect more taketh me than all the adulteries of art. They strike mine eyes, but not my heart.”


Irvin October 26, 2011 at 1:09 am

Yep. RIP Gourmet. I miss is so.

BTW, the crust is way easy to make without all the gluten free flours. Just leave out the flax meal and the flours/starches and use 210 g (1 1/2 cups) of all purpose flour in their place. With the lemon filling, you can also substitute in 75 g (1/2 cup) of all purpose for the arrowroot if you want, though the bars will look a little more cloudy because of the flour.


Jonathan October 26, 2011 at 9:05 am

I can definitely relate to the quandary of “to share” or “not to share,” especially given the visual nature of blogging. While I love beautiful food and I love taking pictures of it, food that tastes beautiful will always trump food that’s aesthetically pleasing but with no payoff. And as you confirmed, prettiest isn’t always picked first (no matter what happened in high school gym class).

Thank you for this candid post and thank you for continuing to share gluten-free recipes.


Kelly Senyei October 26, 2011 at 11:30 am

This post cracked me up 🙂 Thanks for the mid-day chuckle … and drool-worthy dessert!


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