The Austin Chronicle

Food, Foodies, Foodways

Cookbooks and cultural conversation starters top our summer reading list

Reviewed by Jessi Cape, May 23, 2014, Food

The Hip Girl's Guide to the Kitchen: A Hit-the-Ground-Running Approach to Stocking Up and Cooking Delicious, Nutritious, and Affordable Meals

by Kate Payne
Harper Design, 352 pp., $19.99

Anyone interested in both food and literature has our attention, so naturally, we're a fan of Kate Payne: writer first, DIY maven next. In an interview from April, she told us that she is a poet, specifically, whose work has been featured on Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion and even found some footing in NaNoWriMo. Payne knows her way around the kitchen, too, and her sophomore book, The Hip Girl's Guide to the Kitchen, was released this month to well-deserved buzz.

The book's fundamental purpose is to teach a range of skills from basic pantry stocking to new "Hip Tricks" that simplify the art of making delicious, healthy food in an efficient and affordable manner. Payne said she is "constantly inspired by storytelling and the power of words to connect – and reconnect – our lives amidst a sea of work, responsibility, and often omitted self-reflection," so it's no wonder that her guide to finding and building what she calls "kitchen confidence" feels like a supportive friend's pep talk before a first date or huge exam.

Whether boiling eggs gives you a panic attack or you're a seasoned veteran of the cooking corps, there is something for you in The Hip Girl's Guide. The book is broken into three sections: Stocking up: Setting the Stage for Success; Feeding Yourself: Life's Pesky Eating Requirements; and Feeding Others: Entertaining and Sharing Food With Friends. The book is loaded with recipes inspired by the likes of Joy of Cooking, mentors Linda Ziedrich and Eugenia Bone, and "fermentation fetishist" Sandor Katz. (Book nerd bonus: Payne cites e.e. cummings, Lorine Niedecker, Rilke, and Elizabeth Bishop as her favorite poets, and a recent "fiction frenzy" included Wallace Stegner, Larry McMurtry, Jeanette Winterson, and "always" Jane Austen.)

Her suggestions for replacing store-bought items with homemade ones can't be beat. There is homemade rootbeer, easy green cleaning products, pickles galore, and a variety of ways to use up and store the produce she's taught you how to grow in your micro apartment. There are no pictures of the dishes, but there is no lack; it's the basic methods that are key here, accompanied by Payne's simple, usually funny, tour guide explanations of the kitchen. From why choosing organic matters to reassuring sections such as "Phase 1: Boiling Stuff, aka Remembering You Already Know How to Cook," Payne's personality shines through and makes even the drudgery seem reasonable. The "Using Stuff Up!" section is a personal favorite, as it aids the reader in discovering the beauty and ease of transforming scraps into fermented dishes. Her mastery is enviable, but she'll teach you how to get there, too.

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