Kate Payne

By Shannon Oelrich
Photography by Jo Ann Santangelo 

Alfie, an orange and white tomcat, saunters onto the kitchen table and inspects the offerings: orange vanilla buttermilk muffins (gluten-free) and a bounty of homemade jams, jellies and preserves. He doesn’t seem impressed, but then, he sees it all the time. Kate Payne, author of The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking, lays out a fine spread, but it took her years to be confident doing so.

“I didn’t grow up with a domestic bone in my body,” she says, “but over time, I’ve allowed myself to pick and choose what home projects are fun, which ones are essential and unavoidable and which take the back burner.”

In other words, she’s not into self-imposed domestic tyranny; she’s simply into managing the daily tyranny of being human. “If you don’t want to make jam, don’t make jam,” Payne says. “But you have to live somewhere, you have to eat, you have to wear clothes.” Her book and blog are helping people, especially beginners, learn facets of these things in easy, practical and healthy ways.

She advocates cleaning with vinegar and baking soda, for example, repairing clothes and household items rather than acquiring new ones and buying local and organic food when at all possible. These concepts aren’t new, of course—in fact, they’re quite established—but it’s Payne’s clever spin on the domestic dance that has really caught people’s attention. In places where her fans gather, be it her Facebook page or a book signing, they comment excitedly on their favorite tips like using diluted Dr. Bronner’s soap in a spray bottle to repel pests from plants, putting vanilla extract in the vacuum cleaner, making refrigerator pickles and following Payne’s illustrated instructions on how to fold fitted sheets.

This desire to instruct others in better ways to approach the mundane chores of life put her in the spotlight of a recent Washington Post article titled, “The New Domesticity.” Payne felt a little skewered by the author’s conjecturing about whether the trend of young, hip women embracing domestic arts is antifeminist. Payne is quoted in the article as saying, “This was initially about being frugal and concerned with what I put in my body. But it became about the politics.… Am I going to buy cheap crap, or am I going to do this stuff myself?” And that’s exactly where she’s coming from—she wants to make the world a better, safer, healthier place by starting with herself and her home.

Payne’s home is not a showplace for her domestic flair; rather, it’s a home first, with cozy places to sit, interesting art on the walls and decor that springs from usefulness. “Be smart and decorate with your tools,” she writes. With cooking implements scaling the wall on a pegboard above her stove, her kitchen invites you to get to work.

Indeed, you don’t have to make homemade jam—but if you want to, Payne can help. Besides publishing a book, updating her blog, writing a new column for Edible Austin (see page 58) and a little grant writing on the side, she teaches canning classes at venues like Central Market, Whole Foods Market, the Natural Epicurean and, sometimes, her house. “I like having people over,” she says. In fact, she had her book-release party at her own house—a mere 16 days after moving in. She admits it was a challenge, and a little crazy, but, she says, “the best way to test yourself is to have a party.”

Payne’s impetus for learning to manage a household came from setting one up when she moved to Brooklyn in 2008. She knew she’d need to work from home, so “a careless attempt at home just would not do,” she wrote in the introduction to her book. “Not with the chaos of big-city life lurking just on the other side of my door.” She started cataloging her efforts in a blog with the hopeful intent to make it into a book. “Everybody has to do these things [eat, clean, be clothed], but nobody was talking about the basics.” To clarify, Martha Stewart was talking about it, but to many, her version is so complex, so mountainous in its perfection, that a normal person, not to mention a flat-out beginner, is more likely to run from the idea of doing more things for oneself than to embrace it. Payne wanted beginners to know that it isn’t that hard, and that anyone can master—or at least tackle—home care.

Instead of the next Martha Stewart, Payne strives to be a realistic, helpful resource for people who simply want to find their comfortable level of a homey groove. She has more Hip Girl’s books in the works, and further down the road she sees herself and her partner owning a bed-and-breakfast with a communal feel. “We hosted people in our home for [the South By Southwest festival]…people we didn’t know who rented our rooms. It was great,” she says, and smiles contentedly at the thought while spreading more jam on her muffin.

To find out more about Kate Payne visit her blog at hipgirlshome.com. And read her new column in this issue of Edible Austin on page 58.

Orange vanilla buttermilk muffins

Makes 12 muffins

¾ c. brown rice flour
½ c. white rice flour
½ c. tapioca starch
2 T. potato starch
2 T. gluten-free oat flour (I make my own  
  by grinding oats in my food processor.)
½ t. xanthan gum
1 T. baking powder
½ t. baking soda
½ t. salt
2 eggs
1 c. buttermilk
½ c. sugar
¼ c. fresh-squeezed
  Valencia orange juice
4 T. unsalted butter
1 t. vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 400°. In a large bowl, mix the flours and starches (or use 2 cups prepared gluten-free flour) with the xanthan gum, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar and the wet ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to combine, but don’t overmix. It’ll be a little lumpy.

Dollop the batter into greased muffin tins or prepared paper muffin cups. Bake for 10 to 14 minutes, rotating the pan midway through, until a toothpick comes out clean.