Eavesdropper Interview: Kate Payne.

When it comes to kindness, and more specifically random acts of, I usually perform very well.
But when it comes to domesticity, my acts in that department are not random at all.   In fact they are rare.  And very, very deliberate.
When I make dinner for Ross, it is not just a Tuesday, but a formal event. Typically prompted by a birthday or anniversary. I announce to the checker at the grocery store or farmer’s market that I am making ANNIVERSARY SPAGHETTI! and pause for someone to clap.  For some people, cooking meals, real, proper meals, is a nightly way of life, but for me it is an exotic novelty.  And the thing is, I actually do enjoy cooking.  It’s just that I never make time for it.
Ditto for other home ec pursuits, like knitting, kombucha brewing, canning, pickling, salt infusing, sewing, crafting of every manner.  I’ve dipped a toe in countless domestic waters.  So why haven’t I become a modern day Martha?  
Does the bluish tint of the computer screen coax me away from sunlight-dappled gardens? 
Would I always prefer to type, rather than can?
These questions are what drew me to Austinite, author, and hip homemaker Kate Payne.

When I first started rounding up folks for this Eavesdropper Interview series, Kate was one of the first people I thought of. Ross and I just moved you see, and our goals for this new house include: Keeping chickens (for eggs), building a music studio (for Ross’s music lessons), and — gasp — eschewing cable TV!   To free us up for activities like cooking, gardening, and doing laundry on more than a monthly basis!
But Kate, author of The Hip Girls Guide to Homemaking (Harper Design, April 2011), represents a sturdier, get-your-hands-dirty DIY spirit. Her expertise extends far beyond laundry: She cans, she preserves, she lives on the cheap.  She hosts wildly popular food swaps here in Austin, that have caught on all over the country.  We met, as the modern story goes, through Twitter, and I have followed her blog and book tour ever since.
Kate joins us today to talk about her book and her exceptionally hand-crafted life.  I hope you enjoy our talk! 

1. Can you tell us a little about yourself, Kate?

I haven’t always been a natural on the home-keeping scene. My mom probably would’ve voted me least likely to get excited about this stuff throughout my college years and immediately following. I fall somewhere between my two grandmas now, one is a real spitfire un-domestic and my other grandma irons all the time and made homemade bread for my dad and uncle weekly. My parents are from Minnesota, but we moved around quite a bit when I was younger. I went to four different high schools. If writing doesn’t work out, I’d like to be a physicist.

2. I am in awe of DIY folk. And, you are the queen! How did you get into canning, swapping, gardening, and the like?

I worked on a farm a year after I got out of college and that instigated this internal movement. I was doing really hard work every day, I was thinking more about what I put into my body and I caught the urban gardening bug after my farm job ended. Since building my first 4′ x 4′ garden bed and growing my first cabbage, I’ve progressively expanded my horizons in food preparation and preservation.

Becoming gluten-free five years ago has also impacted my kitchen capacities; with the high cost of gluten-free goods in stores (plus the often marginal quality) I reluctantly learned to bake.

 I surprised myself by really enjoying making homemade goodies; sharing them and swapping them with friends is the next logical step when you’re empowered by delicious success!

3. In the kitchen department, you and Jo Ann seem to compliment each other well: She, the thoughtful meal-planner; you, the toss a bunch of ingredients in and cross your fingers type. (PS, I’m definitely the latter). What are some of your favorite meals to eat together?

We just pulled the backyard grill out of storage (thank goodness!) and love to piece together meals from combinations of what grain staples we have on hand, seasonal veggies and choices of proteins for the week. We are still very budget-conscious so sustainably-raised meats appear on our table only a couple times per week, the rest of the time we’re enjoying fish and vegetable proteins. I’m in charge of dessert, and she is particularly fond of my plum crumble and salted caramel ice cream.

4. You are about to launch your book in just a few days! 

That’s so exciting! 

Can you tell us about the book publishing process? How you embarked on the journey, and what it was like to actually write / compile all your wisdom?

I started this project as a blog in June 2009 in order to keep myself accountable. Posting stuff on the Internet is a great way to not give up on things. I always knew I wanted to write a book so I talked with published friends and continued to work on the idea steadily by giving myself deadlines periodically.

My agent found me via the blog in the fall of 2009. She helped me craft the proposal and she even drew pictures to help prospective editors see our vision. We sold it in February 2010 and I wrote the remaining 8 chapters of the book by the end of June. We finished final edits to the manuscript by December. My agent ended up illustrating the entire book (since my editor loved her drawings in the proposal) and my good friend hand-penned the calligraphy.

I couldn’t have made this book nearly as informative nor as beautiful without the collaborative efforts of so many people, from compiling research leads to the strangers (now friends) who welcomed me into their homes.

5. You and Jo Ann recently moved into a brand new house. I’m a total sucker for home decor. What’s your home style? 

I’m a vintage decor, found-object hound. I love to hunt and scavenge through old things, sometimes making them new, sometimes dusting them off and just sticking them on the shelf.

To me, signature vintage pieces are a way to honor the past and the past lives these things have seen, an if-these-objects-could-talk kind of thing.

6. What’s the tastiest thing you’ve ever canned?

Concord grape jelly, hands down. I might need to do an East Coast trip in September to get my hands on more of those gorgeous, lip-smacking grapes.

7. What is the key to living a creative life?

Improvisation and flexibility. It’s important to take a can-do attitude into everything you do, whether it’s finishing a manuscript or installing a curtain rod. I always say to myself when I encounter a road block in any sort of plans “I’m a smart person, I can figure this out.” This may seem silly or simplistic, but it helps me remember to keep on and some sort of solution will shake itself out.

8. And finally, Miss Kate: Who is your home making icon?

My mother. She worked full-time as we were growing up, yet there was always homemade food on the table, clean laundry (even though I was forced to learn to do my own at age 12 when I repeatedly failed to put away clean laundry before dirty stuff ended up piled on top), a well-kept house and she never missed a swim-meet!

see kate at:
26 doors shopping center / 1206 w. 38th st. 
austin texas 
thursday, may 12
10am – 12pm & 1pm-3pm

Many thanks to Kate Payne, Megan Myers, and JoAnn Santangelo for photography.