Year In Review 2013: Best Cookbooks, Kids Edition

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The Gluten-Free Girl is Shauna James Ahern, a blogger, cookbook author and spokeswoman for the new gluten-free generation. On her popular blog, Ahern shares the journey that changed her from a typical Gen-X processed-food junkie to a fun-loving foodie who enjoys cooking and living gluten-free-naturally. She and her husband Danny have themselves published three cookbooks, which is why we consider her an authority in the business of rating cookbooks. With that, here are some of her favorite cookbooks she shared with her five-year-old daughter Lucy over the course of the year.

Nearly every surface of our home and kitchen studio is covered in cookbooks right now. We're crazy about cookbooks in our home. It's not just because we write cookbooks that we love cookbooks. We write cookbooks because we love them. Danny and I both pore over every new cookbook that arrives in our home with great delight. (We're lucky that publishers send us cookbooks to preview, including quite a few of the ones you see in that photo above.) A few bore us right away. Those are generally the ones with television stars on the front. (Some of those are great, however.) Or strange single-title books. (There are great ones in that category, however.) Mostly, it's the cookbooks written with great passion, with humor and drive, with a collective sigh of wisdom from standing in front of the stove for years that call us in, over and over.

As you can imagine, both Danny and I have stacks of cookbooks on the tables next to our side of the bed. So does Lucy now.

I happen to love my Kindle for traveling, on the plane or the ferry. I have found a way to curl up with it and make it feel like reading. But there are a few kinds of books I'll never read on an electronic device. My battered and deeply loved Penguin paperback copy of Jane Eyre. Mary Oliver poems. Buddhist books. And cookbooks. I will always want to hold a cookbook in my hands.

We fell into so many cookbooks this year, entering worlds created by people we'd like to know in person (and in many cases, worlds created by friends we trust), that we want to share them with you. Over the next week, we will be doing a series of posts about this family's favorite cookbooks of 2013.

Today, we start with Lucy's choices.

Lu is only 5, so you might not think she knows a good cookbook yet. But remember, she has been around the making of a cookbook since the day she was born. Right now, I think she believes that every family cooks 5 to 6 dishes a day, then sits down at the table together to discuss them. More lemon juice? How about fish sauce? Is it flaky enough? If anything, we've had to train ourselves to stop talking about dishes at the dinner table and simply enjoy our food with her instead. Still, her favorite game at the moment is to gather a pile of post-it notes from the desk at our kitchen studio, come up to us to take our order, then retreat to her kitchen corner and make us a meal. What she imagines is often fantastic.

I'm pretty sure she's going to be better than both of us combined someday.

So, when Lucy approves of a book, it's because that book appeals to her visually, because the food looks immediately interesting, and because that cookbook keeps drawing her in.

Here are Lucy's favorite cookbooks of 2013.

If Lucy has a top choice for cookbooks, it's Catherine's wonderful book, Weelicious Lunches: Think Outside the Lunch Box with More Than 160 Happier Meals. Just look at the number of post-it notes stuck in that book! Lucy and I went through the book together. Every time she saw a recipe she loved, we marked it. Slowly, we are making our way through the book.

(Lu's reaction to a cookbook is sadly the reason that cookbooks with full-color photographs sell more copies than those without photos. If we landed on a page, and I read the recipe to her, she was never interested.)

We've made crispy chicken, cucumber salad with rice wine vinegar, Mexican muffins, cheesy pasta salad, apple-cinnamon charoset, and the chocolate pb&j cups. Lu has been in the kitchen with me, making each of the recipes. The next day, that lunchbox comes back empty.

Earlier this year, Lu went through a real rut in her lunches. She wanted a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a piece of cheese, and an apple every day. (Sheesh! It was like she was a 5-year-old or something!) After we started looking at Catherine's books, she decided to branch out again. We can put pretty much anything in her lunches again, but particularly if she cooked it out of Catherine's book.

I have to admit my bias on Alice Eats: A Wonderland Cookbook. First of all, one of its creators was our friend Julie, with whom we spent a wonderful few days in Tofino this summer. (Doesn't August feel like such a long time ago? Sigh.) Also, who doesn't love Alice in Wonderland?

Did you know that the text of Alice in Wonderland is in public domain now? Julie's publisher pulled together the text, Julie created recipes to accompany that wonderful surreal story, and Pierre Lamielle provided whimsical drawings to accompany it all. This is a marvelous way to introduce Lewis Carroll's world to a kid who loves food and words both.

Lu and I have been reading chapters, then stopping to make carrot scones, salted caramel teardrops, and double-stuffed mushroom cups. She's very eager to create the treats inspired by the story.

This one will be in our home forever.

If you ask Lu what she wants to be when she grows up, she always answers the same thing: "I'm going to be a baker!" She has been watching and then helping me bake for years now. She loves the smell of vanilla and cinnamon, she knows when to stop creaming the butter and sugar together, and she is very proud of the fact she can crack eggs without letting any part of the shell land in the bowl. She already is a baker.

As much as she likes helping me bake, Lucy loves a baker named Kyra.

Kyra Bussanich runs Kyras' Bakeshop in Portland, one of the happiest little bakeries we have ever visited. She has won the Food Network's Cupcake Wars three times. And she makes everything gluten-free. Kyra is also one of the most positive, optimistic, and good-hearted people we've ever had the pleasure of knowing. Lucy adores whenever Kyra comes to visit or we share food with her in Portland.

This year, Kyra's first book, Sweet Cravings: 50 Seductive Desserts for a Gluten-Free Lifestyle, was finally published. And what a book it is! If you feel confident with gluten-free baking, try Kyra's recipes. The recipes range from yam biscuits to cornbread with spiced honey butter to Boston cream pie cupcakes to vanilla chiffon cake with blackberry coulis. These are wonderful treats.

In fact,  Lu and I might be making chewy and wonderfully spiced Kyra's ginger-molasses cookies tonight.

Though not technically a cookbook, Once Upon a Memory is a beautiful tale about growing older.

Okay, so technically this isn't a cookbook, but our friend Nina Laden published her newest children's book this year. Nina has written more than a dozen books your kids probably already love, including Once Upon a Memory. This book is a beautiful paean to the power of memory and how we forget parts of ourselves as grow older. The last few pages make me tear up a bit, every time I read it to Lu.

I know this seems a little too self-promotional, but it's true. Our cookbook is Lucy's favorite cookbook of the year.

One of my most treasured memories of this year was when we were signing cookbooks at Powell's in Portland. Lu insisted on joining in and signing her name with a big sharpie. Many times, she looked up and said, "This is my favorite cookbook."

So Lu would like to tell you to buy Gluten-Free Girl Every Day for someone this holidays. Maybe for yourself.

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