Just the thought of maintaining a do-it-yourself-centric household makes some people sweat. Then, like Kate Payne, there are those who seem to have mastered the art of pickling everything from cucumbers to old shoes, making kitchen experiments graceful, and last-minute side dishes delicious. From her roots in poetry, she has blossomed into a guru eager to teach the rest of us pro-tips on everything from green cleaners to party snacks.
We caught up with the Austin-based, self-taught DIY advocate via email in advance of the late May release of her sophomore book, The Hip Girl's Guide to the Kitchen. Payne's popular first book, 2011's The Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking, was born out of her own internal struggle, and desire to "shed a new light on DIY and eco-oriented homemaking."
"I was questioning myself and debating internally if it was okay for me, a modern, empowered woman, to actually enjoy making bread, the gateway into my relationship with both the kitchen and domesticity," Payne said. "The stigma and history surrounding women and domesticity fueled my intrigue in exploring my own relationship with the kitchen and household chores."
But even Kate Payne had to start somewhere. Of her humble – and relatively recent – beginnings, she told us, "I started canning the fall and winter of 2009. The first couple projects included peach jam, which I was sure was full of botulism – I was terrified to eat them – and a triple citrus marmalade, from Eugenia Bone's book Well-Preserved. As I endeavored to learn more about canning, I soon discovered that all the hype surrounding your imminent death by canning was not really likely if you followed USDA-approved canning methods and practices."
From DIY deodorant (no, really, it's awesome) to simple syrup to elaborate – but somehow entirely practical – desserts and more, Payne embodies the ideal that consumers can take charge of their consumerism by simply putting to memory a few tricks and methods. She said, "I think of DIY as an empowerment track where you try new things as a means of discovering if the DIY version is worth it based on your time and energy investment and, most importantly, your enjoyment level. Yes, I totally agree that buying some stuff is just silly once you discover how simple it is to make for yourself, and often with better-quality ingredients. On the other hand, I advocate in the book for folks to be choosy about what they take on because a week can quickly be overrun by so much DIY that it doesn't become fun or feel empowering any longer."
When Kate and her now-wife, documentary photographer Jo Ann Santangelo, were busy living in Brooklyn, they survived on a very small budget, one not conducive to cooking regularly and efficiently, or with enjoyment: "I was constantly overbuying groceries and ones that didn't particularly connect to each other ... and then wasting food as a result. When my poor kitchen practices hit their inevitable down-swing each month, I just ate out." It was Santangelo that introduced Payne to cooking regularly and building a "solid rhythm" for kitchen tasks based on resources available, launching her newfound curiosity – and a new career. This, she calls her kitchen confidence, and her desire to help others find their own kitchen confidence spawned her second book.
"Kitchen confidence is the ability to approach simple ingredients and recipes – both new and variations on things you've already done – and feel like you can make this dish or meal come to life," she said. "It is walking into the kitchen and feeling empowered."
Look for our review of The Hip Girl's Guide to the Kitchen in our May 23 cookbook roundup. Kate Payne will speak and sign books at BookPeople on May 27.
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