Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, by Shauna James Ahern and Daniel Ahern


I have a confession to make. I enjoy an adult book now and then. By that, I mean the intended audience, not the content. Even the most stalwart children’s librarian needs one once in a while. And lately, I’ve been gravitating toward biographical cookbooks. I don’t know if this is the official name of this genre, but it’s how I know them. A compelling life story and amazing recipes. I may or may not be inspired to actually try them–I’m the type of person who eats ramen while reading a cookbook–but at least I’m in the presence of greatness.

The gluten-free girl blog came into my life when I began to seek out information and recipes about gluten-free cooking for Lupe. When I learned that Seattle-area food blogger Shauna James Ahern had written a book, Gluten-Free Girl: How I Found the Food that Loves Me Back…And How You Can Too, followed up by Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, a collaboration with her chef-husband, James Ahern, I put them on hold at the library. I had to wait awhile for the follow-up book. Apparently one or two other people have heard of them.  Like The New York Times.

I can be a bit of a tortoise about these things.

After being diagnosed with celiac disease, Shauna James Ahern focused on her wellness, which included reconnecting with cooking. Healthy, gluten-free cooking transformed her. But something was missing. Nearly forty years old, she wondered if she would ever meet The One.

Then, she met The Chef. Daniel Ahern.

They had it for each other. Bad.

Their commitment to each other and to good food is evident in their stories and recipes. This book is a warm, funny, touching collaboration. Shauna provides the narrative of the progression of their relationship, which is peppered with mouth-watering recipes and luscious full-color photographs. Daniel shares sensible cooking tips that cover topics such as how to get the best value in cooking oil,  using mise en place to streamline the cooking process, and the proper way to boil and mash potatoes.

I opted to make the first meal Daniel made for Shauna: cannellini beans braised in olive oil. It looked so simple and satisfying. And the smell. Oh, the house filled with the aroma of olive oil and rosemary. I forgot all about the dreary weather that prevented us from playing outside. I wanted to be indoors, drawing deep breaths.

And the potato puree? A vision in white.

I’ve looked at a lot of gluten-free cookbooks and their evolution is hard to miss. Where once they appeared to have been run on the same printing press as a telephone book, it’s now common, even expected, that gluten-free cookbooks will contain high quality, full-color photos. The same goes for the recipes. The Aherns bring home the point that gluten-free cooking doesn’t just have to be about substituting flours to try to create an edible cookie or loaf of bread, although the couple have certainly worked on that as well. Gluten-free food isn’t about things lost, but things gained. It’s sumptuous, filling, and a multi-sensory experience.

Gluten-free? Yes. Digestible by anyone? Yes.

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