If you’ve ever wandered the cookware aisle of Target, wondering how to stock your new apartment with cutlery and dishware without breaking the bank, or resented being ripped from the comfort of your college dining hall and thrust into a new stage of life that comes with a tight budget, a low-paying job, and a disappointingly small apartment—you’re not alone.
Cara Eisenpress and Phoebe Lapine were there too. But they took life’s lemons and made lemonade (actually, vodka lemonade laced with basil and mint) and created Big Girls, Small Kitchen, a website dedicated to the trials and triumphs of quarter-life cooks. Not surprisingly, their blog quickly became a go-to guide for 20-somethings short on time and money but big on appetite. And now, the duo have turned 100 of their favorite recipes into a cookbook, In the Small Kitchen.
When I received the brightly colored, satisfyingly heavy cookbook, I thought I’d skim it quickly, then refer back to chapters such as “Cooking for One,” “Potlucking,” and “Leftovers” as I needed them. But I soon realized that this is not just a cookbook. Cara and Phoebe alternate anecdotes and recipes, sharing the experiences and stories that prompted each dish’s creation, and crafting a smooth narrative that reads like fiction. But their quarter-life memoir comes with so many added bonuses: Pretty pictures, cooking tips specifically applicable to young professionals, and tasty, manageable recipes. What’s not to love?
In carefully interwoven chapters that pinpoint every 20-something’s cooking concerns—how to cook for one when every recipe seems to feed 4-6, what to cook for a date, how to host a cocktail party and still enjoy it—they offer well-penned nuggets of opinion and humor. Some lingering lines include Phoebe’s description of her first apartment (“a happy medium between my parents’ place uptown and an African hut”), Cara’s rationale for the success of their “magazine club” (it “would remove all the pressure of reading and thinking that makes book clubs boring”), and Phoebe’s poignant reflection upon the first time she cooked dinner for her boyfriend (“The evening was some sort of perfect. But then, as I’ve come to realize, cooking for men is not about perfection”).
Sometimes their stories overlap—they have a long-standing cookie-baking rivalry and a horror story about co-frying batches upon batches of “transcendent” Manchurian Cauliflower—and that just adds to the flavor. The book reads like long emails or journal entries of a friend whose life, in some ways, mirrors your own. And certain special dishes—whether pancakes or chili or crostini—become characters in their own right, as important as Cara and Phoebe’s best friend Jordana, their boyfriends Alex and Will, or the fantastically-epitheted Date Night Dave.
So, if you’re newly inhabiting that strange space between adolescence and adulthood, make sure In the Small Kitchen has a place on your shelf. The stories will make you smile, and the recipes—from Workweek Tomato Soup to Adam’s Big Kid Hot Chocolate to Peanut Butter and Raspberry Cupcakes—will keep you and your friends well-fed in even the smallest of kitchens. And best of all, the book will ease that transition into being a big girl, whatever that means to you.