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Cookbook Review: 'The Starving Artist Cookbook' By Sara Zin

When Sara Zin was learning to cook, she was so overwhelmed by the limitless cookbooks available, she decided to paint one.

That's no typo. Zin is the illustrator and author behind the blog—and now cookbook—The Starving Artist. The "illustrated cookblog" has been around since 2014, pairing Zin's delicate watercolor paintings of food with her recipes for straightforward and tasty dishes. Her book, which Zin describes as a "beginner's manual with a kick," contains nearly 150 original recipes and paintings—most of which haven't appeared on the blog.

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Inspiration for The Starving Artist stemmed from Zin's desire for an approachable guide to cooking the basics, one that the reader could still have fun with. Armed with motivation to make "meals that I craved, using simple ingredients that I could make from scratch without knowing any techniques or having previous experience," the book invites readers along on Zin's personal journey in the kitchen.

I rounded up some friends to test a tricky-sounding recipe: popovers with strawberry butter. Popovers? So ambitious, they chirped. But lo and behold, the instructions were easy to follow and I already had all the ingredients in my pantry. After giving melted butter, eggs, milk, flour, vanilla and salt a quick whir in the blender, I baked the batter in a plain ol' muffin tin—not a $30 one-use popover pan. The strawberry butter looked wildly elegant, but wouldn't you know, the recipe was simply squishing the fruit into softened butter.

As I tore into the delicious, steaming popovers, I forgot about the fact that it was 90 degrees outside. Who cares if I'm sweating? This is probably what Kate Middleton has for afternoon tea, and feeling fancy is all I ever want. I'd like to say we refrained from double (and triple) dipping into the butter as the rest of the rolls were devoured, but I cannot tell a lie.

The Starving Artist Cookbook gives permission to be mystified by those who make soup from scratch, and that making dinner is mostly about managing expectations of different personal tastes. As I read her odes to types of porridge and eggs in the "Morning Thoughts" section, I could practically see Zin's thought process as she taught herself to cook. Later, while making Zin's garlic kale and eggs quinoa, I wondered if she'd overheard me recently admitting how much I still love the grain, though many foodies seem to be over it by now. Although this particular recipe lives in the book's breakfast section, it made a mighty fine dinner.

Zin's voice is honest and relatable; she speaks about art, cooking and her personal relationships as though she and her readers are old friends. It's rare that I'm compelled to reread a cookbook introduction, but this was one of those times. Despite being on different coasts, it felt like we were two friends chatting by way of her book. "I soon became known as 'the cookie lady,'" Zin writes. Been there, girl. "I chose cooking as a way to find balance in my life." Been there too.