Increasingly, home cooks are forgoing expensive cookbooks in favor of finding recipes online or downloading interactive lessons to their e-readers. Why pay for milk, they reason, when they have free access to a highly productive cow?
Amid such frugal thinking, it may seem surprising that Short Stack—a collection of single-topic mini-cookbooks, handmade and stitched with peppermint-striped baker's string—would achieve success in the overstuffed culinary marketplace. These decidedly retro productions have charmed critics and attracted the participation of top cookbook writers and recipe developers.
Reviews have celebrated the creativity of New York City-based publisher Nick Fauchald, a former editor of Food & Wine, and the more than $92,000 the project quickly raised via Kickstarter. Interestingly, however, none of the ample praise has mentioned that Short Stack has roots in Raleigh.
Fauchald's co-founder and editor is Kaitlyn Goalen, who divides her time between Raleigh and Brooklyn. A former writer for Food & Wine and website Tasting Table, Goalen is the founder of Wild Yonder, a Raleigh-based foodcentric outdoor camp experience for adults. The 26-year-old has an even better reason for hanging around the capital city, however. She dates chef and restaurateur Ashley Christensen.
Goalen says she and Fauchald share a passion for vintage cookbooks, especially the giveaways that used to come with a bag of flour or the purchase of a new appliance in the 1940s and '50s. "Producing these small, beautiful, handmade books goes against everything in the industry," Goalen says. "But I think that's exactly why they click with people. You can look through one of these in 10 minutes and know what you want to make."
So far, Short Stack has published 10 titles, the most recent of which is Plums by Martha Holmberg. Previous topics include corn, honey, broccoli, sweet potatoes, grits, buttermilk, strawberries, tomatoes and eggs. Upcoming issues focus on apples and brown sugar.
While several volumes cover the same turf as the Savor the South series of single-topic cookbooks published by UNC Press, Short Stack is not Southern focused. And the slim collections include just 20 recipes each. "They are more like an author's love letter to a particular ingredient than a comprehensive cookbook," Goalen says.
Editions are sold online by subscription and for $14 each at select shops around the globe. Locally, they are sold at Parker and Otis in Durham.
Short Stack already has a full roster of books scheduled for 2015 and is considering titles for 2016.
"We're trying to work on how to grow and keep the integrity of the project intact," Goalen says. "There have been times where we could have gone cheaper, or done things a little differently, but our success is validating."
With such a hectic work life, Goalen says she's glad to escape the city and enjoy a more relaxed pace in Raleigh.
"As someone who has only lived in giant cities before, I love it here," says the Los Angeles native. "People in New York seem burnt out, running on adrenaline and ambition. People I meet here are all incredibly engaged in something. They value the integrity of what they're doing and are passionate about collaborating.
"For me, having two communities feels really refreshing," she adds. "Some of our friends see us as having an essence of cool here in Raleigh. You know, cool people doing cool things at half the rent."
The mix of culturally savvy consumers and the natural beauty of North Carolina inspired Goalen to create Wild Yonder with friends Meredith Pittman and Heather Cook. The idea bubbled up while they were enjoying a few beers at the Wooden Nickel in Hillsborough.
"We thought about how great it would be to have a camp for grownups—with bourbon," she recalls with a laugh. "The next day we still were talking about it and decided to give it a shot."
Camps this season have featured games like Capture the Flask and a lesson in How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse. "Instead of nasty camp food", we had an amazing meal prepared in advance by Cheetie Kumar of Garland, Goalen says. Live music was provided by Phil Cook of Megafaun and upscale s'mores were made with handcrafted Videri chocolate. A planned sleepover experience last weekend was canceled because of low ticket sales (tickets were $200 and up), but Goalen is optimistic about scheduling several next year. "The ultimate goal is to set up a hotel that will be a full-time project," she says. A location has not been selected but likely will be in or near the Triangle. "It would be a place where we could have programs, but also be a beautiful retreat."
SWEET POTATO–COCONUT MILK SOUP
This bold soup is so simple to make, it's nearly absurd. The recipe is inspired by what we in the United States know at many Thai restaurants as tom kha. As David Thompson notes in his superb cookbook Thai Food, this soup is more like a distant member of the tom gati school, a collection of soups that feature boiled coconut cream. It's fiery, sweet, sour and rich, from both the coconut and the sweet potatoes. I purée the soup for a silkier texture, even though doing so is inauthentic. But then so is using sweet potatoes.
2 small Thai or other hot chiles, stemmed
1 large shallot (about 4 oz.), peeled and thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, peeled
3 cilantro roots, scraped with the edge of a knife to remove dirt (cilantro roots are available at some farmers markets and Asian markets; if you can't find any, substitute 1/3 cup coarsely chopped thick cilantro stems)
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
One 14-oz. can unsweetened coconut milk
1 medium sweet potato (about 10 oz.), peeled and cut into 1/2- to 1-inch pieces
1 tsp. tightly packed light brown sugar
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp. fish sauce
3 to 4 Tbsp. fresh lime juice (from about 2 limes)
¼ cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves
In a mortar, pound the Thai chiles, shallot, garlic and cilantro roots or stems together with a pestle until bruised (alternatively, pulse 3 to 4 times in a food processor).
In a large saucepan, bring the stock and coconut milk to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add the chile-garlic mixture, sweet potatoes and 3/4 tsp. of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sweet potatoes are extremely soft, about 15 minutes.
Using a handheld immersion blender (or regular blender), purée the soup until it's smooth. Strain the soup through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing on the solids. Discard the solids and return the liquid to the saucepan. Bring to a simmer and add the brown sugar, fish sauce and lime juice. Adjust the seasonings, if needed; the flavor should be boldly sweet, salty and sour. Divide the soup among 4 bowls and garnish with cilantro leaves. Serve immediately.
Excerpted from Sweet Potatoes by Scott Hocker. Reprinted with permission of Short Stack.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Little cookbooks, big results."