Q&A With Hayanna Kim a.k.a. @herpickings on Instagram

@herpickings is beloved page for book lovers on Instagram. I came across the account in the early days of “bookstagram” (a hashtag that now has over 19 million posts) and have been a fan for around three years. I was happy to meet the person behind it, Hayanna Kim, in Manhattan Beach this spring to talk books and what it means “to live deliberately.” 

Hayanna started working young. Through high school and college at Syracuse she worked with a mentor on start ups in event planning, tech, and food. Then after college, she was planning on going to law school. She was studying for the L-SATs and interning at a firm in downtown Los Angeles. However, life intervened. She got into a fatal car accident. Its trauma and repercussions revealed that she had Lupus, an autoimmune disease. After having to take a break for a couple of years, she is now looking for her next step and working on her own writing. 

 

How did @herpickings begin? What made you want to share the books you were reading and write about what you’ve read?

I’d just been running since I very young, trying to figure out what I want to do. I was working and then studying and had no time to rest.

I got really sick. I had to quit everything. My symptoms got aggravated after my car accident. My body just crashed. Even though I wanted to work, I couldn’t. If I started something, I would be sick right away. It would be unfair to the employer and to me. I’d have to quit in the middle of it. So I took two years off, maybe even three. I did side stuff, but not a full time job. I took a break. Pretty much didn’t have a choice because I really couldn’t get out of bed for a while. Just being so tired and fatigued and my body was too weak. That’s when I had a lot of time to read.

I was home by myself when I was sick. Then you feel lonely. I couldn’t go out with my friends. Because I got sick in my early 20s, everyone was doing their own thing. I felt isolated. I needed community. I was just looking and found the first book people on Instagram. I was like, ‘that’s fun,’ and we were reading the same books. People ask me, ‘how did you grow it?’ My intention was never to grow the account. It was more for me.

At first, reading would be escapism. And then after a while, reading would be a daily routine. I would have anxiety and panic attacks, and if I didn’t read even a couple of pages a day, I would feel like I couldn’t calm myself down. It was kind of a coping mechanism for me for a couple of years.

It was one thing that kept me going. Waking up every morning early, at the same time. It’s something that helped me heal. Go to a coffee shop, just sit there, read. And do what I love. And it became a routine for me. Which helped me get out of my depression. Because when you’re sick you’re always home, and you get depressed.

That’s why when I did posts, it kind of helped me work through certain things in my life– being able to share and having other people relate to it as well.

A lot of the books I read helped me face my reality.

I’m working on a book of essays now, and that’s one of the reasons I especially like your posts, because they seem to be about books of essays. Did you start reading essays when you got sick?

No I always did read essays, but think I read more. It was easier to read. If I didn’t want to or couldn’t read a whole book, I would dive in, and then I’d dive in and out.

Also, I like essay writing. It’s interesting how it can change over the years, and how personal it can be too. It was the form of writing that I did most. But also sometimes, I want to read books depending on what I’m going through at the time. People ask, how do you pick  the books you want to read? I just pick whatever I feel at that time. It’s more emotional.

What does it mean to you to live deliberately?  Can you share what you’ve found through your readings and from the perspective of your illness? 

Reading helped me heal every day. Whenever I read, there are bits and parts that speak to me. Whether it’s a sentence or a passage. It triggers something in me, and me trying to unlearn what society has taught me.

Unlearn at first and then re-learn that I don’t have to follow what society tells me. Because growing up I thought I have to go to college, get a job right away. I always thought you have to follow A-B-C, but because I got sick on the way, I had to take a break, take a step away, to see what can I do in my life. First of all, how can I stay happy, but also make a living without getting myself to this very sickest point again. Finding balance. Finding what’s my normal, not other people’s normal. Because I have to back off certain things in my live in order to do one thing just because of my energy levels, because I can’t go out every weekend like my friends would, or else I couldn’t work all week because I’d be too tired. There are things I have to sacrifice, like throughout my day, I need to pick and choose what’s important to me to go through the day, get through the day, and then wake up the next day and do that again.

 

So, I had to figure out, what is my goal? Do I want a lot of money? Is that really worth it for me. Because making money means working like a dog again. For me, it just wasn’t worth it. So I had to let go of my ideal of what I had in the past. I had to rethink everything of what I thought I knew.

So you start with your health and body, and then go from there?

Yes. Becacuse without my health, I can’t do anything else or help anyone else to begin with. Also just job wise, I don’t want to do something just for the money, like of course you need a living, but I want to do something more meaningful in the end. If I think 10 years from now, would I have helped inspire at least one person, instead of just living day-by-day. I want to do something a little more, and I think that changed from before when I was sick.

Even though I got better, there are still things I can’t do. And I’ve accepted that. I have physical limitations. There are people who stay at work until 10pm, and then do their own stuff afterwards. And I know physically I cant do that, or I’ll go back into the cycle of being sick.

Do you look at people and say, if only you know that you need to just work two hours less and take care of yourself?

Yes. And my friends, when they see me, they realize that. And right now there are so many autoimmune diseases, there are so many people I know personally that have it. It’s really interesting to see. I know older people that have been working their whole lives, and they get really sick and they don’t know why. They quit their jobs and stress less, and they’re better.

Can you recommend two books you think people should read to live deliberate lives?

I like reading journal, diary entries, like Sylvia Plath, Susan Sontag, Franz Kafka, Albert Camus.

 

Those journals I always go back to because, it’s about their struggles with writing, and they write about their struggles getting through their days. For me, I like reading journal entries that aren’t too edited. And it shows that you’re not alone. When I don’t feel like reading anything else, I go back to journal entries.

If anything I would recommend Rebecca Solnit’s, The Field Guide to Getting Lost. That’s something I feel that, everyone, no matter what they’re going through, can pick up that book when they’re feeling lost and know that being lost is OK. Because no one really knows. I talk to people older, younger, way older, and no one really figures it out. We’re just living trying to figure it out who we are. It’s really interesting to know that you don’t have to know everything now. And you might not find everything ever, either. It’s the search.

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Q&A With Lebanese Chef Lara Ariss

lara-ariss-beirut-lebanese-food-recipes

While I was in Lebanon (where I grew up) for the holidays, I met with an old family friend Lara Ariss. She just released a new cookbook, Levantine Harvest, and I wanted to get her perspective on work-life balance in Beirut, where she lives.

Make sure to scroll down for one of her delicious recipes, following the Q&A.

  • How did you decide what you wanted to do? What made you want to become a chef?

I always used to go into my mom’s kitchen and play and try recipes, and she used to let me. It was always something that I enjoyed doing. Especially when we moved to Lebanon, there was no place to play outdoors. We lived in an apartment in Beirut. There was nothing to do as a child. [Lara’s family moved to Lebanon soon after the long nearly 30-year Civil War ended. The country was devastated in all aspects]. The summer we moved to Lebanon, my mom enrolled me in a baking class for kids. I was 9 or 10. That was my first experience in the kitchen.

Later, I found Le Cordon Bleu online, and my heart was set on going there. I wanted to finish high school and go. My dad said, get your Bachelor’s degree, you never know what happens. When I finished college, he said, work a bit first. I worked in advertising— Then I couldn’t do it anymore. So I dropped everything and went to London, the summer I was 26 years old.

It was a 9-month program. While I was studying, I was also working in a kitchen in London… There was a lot of me being confused. When I moved back to Lebanon, I wanted to open something, but at the time the situation was much worse than it is now in the country. I also couldn’t get a job in a kitchen. When people saw I had a college degree, they said I was overqualified to work in a kitchen. So I went back to advertising for one year, to keep myself busy, and I had my food blog as well, Keys to My Kitchen.

After a year, I was like, “No, what am I doing here?” So I went to New York and took writing courses, and by then my blog was getting recognition. So I returned to Beirut and decided to to do this cookbook, with recipes simplified for the new generation.  I pitched it to publishers in Cyrus, Dubai and Beirut, chose one, and that’s when I started with this book.

levantine-harvest-lebanese-cookbook-lara-ariss

  • What does work-life balance mean to you?

I’m kind of struggling with it, and I have been struggling with it. Sometimes it feels like people don’t realize how much time it takes to test my recipes, to research my recipes. I was testing my cheesecake for 2 years. Sometimes people don’t realize being in the kitchen is tiring. (You know, in the past, women weren’t chefs because it’s considered labor work, like a plumber or carpenter). So sometimes, when I’ve been in the kitchen 10-12 hours, and I’m tired, people don’t get it, so it’s a bit frustrating.

Do you think work-life balance is possible?

It is possible when you are very organized, and that’s what I’m trying to do. With my cookbook, that’s what I tried to do, but sometimes it’s out of your control. During the editing phase, I shut myself off from everyone, 10 hours a day.

I do think it’s possible, but I’m still single. Honestly, some people are moms. They’re married and have kids. I don’t know how they do it.

  • What’s your biggest challenge to having a balanced life?

The strong support system that I have is living abroad. That’s the hardest part.

  • What’s one thing you wish you did differently in how you manage your time?

I cycle a lot, mostly on the weekends, and I wish I could ride my bike in the city. I wish we had bike lanes, because I think I could get from place to place much more quickly. I tried biking in Beirut twice, and I don’t know how I’m still alive. Because it’s the errands that I have to do that really slow me down, so I end up spending less time in the place I want to be, which is the kitchen.

lebanese-food-chef-lara-ariss

  • What’s your advice for someone starting a new endeavor?

It’s a bit cheesy, but you know that quote… “Get up. Dress up. Show up.” It’s really that.

Just don’t give up. You’re going to be scared, which is normal, but just do it. You end up learning and evolving so much on a personal level that it’s satisfying. Especially when you have a passion, you want to do something with it. The fear is there, but don’t give up, no matter how long it takes.

  • What are some of your favorite recipes from your book?

Do I have to pick one? [Laughs] I like my cheesecake recipe because I’m just so proud of it. I like the Rose Loukoum ice cream recipe. The cheese rolls are really good. The rocket and date salad as well. Cauliflower and chickpea soup. Kafta with tahini. Lamb shanks with bulghur and chickpeas. Kafta crumble. Pumpkin kebbeh. Falafel. Makloubeh….

recipe-wild-mushrooms-on-toast

When I was flipping through Lara’s cookbook for the first time, so many recipes stood out to me. One of them I knew I had to try as soon as I returned to Los Angeles was the Seasoned Wild Mushrooms on Toast. She gave me permission to share it on this blog:

Seasoned Wild Mushrooms on Toast, from Levantine Harvest

The combination of rosemary, cinnamon and sumac gives a wonderful sweet and tangy kick to the dense flavors of wild mushrooms. You can make the mushrooms ahead of time and reheat them just before serving.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Serves: 4 to 6 levantine-harvest-lara-ariss

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 300g mixed wild mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 sprigs rosemary, stems removed, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1⁄2 tsp sumac
  • Olive oil, to taste
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

To serve

  • Butter, to taste
  • Sliced brown bread

Heat the vegetable oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and sauté until translucent.

Add the mushrooms and toss. When the mushrooms have softened slightly, add the rosemary, cinnamon and sumac. Toss for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Butter one side of each slice of the bread. Place buttered side up on a baking tray and toast for 5 to 6 minutes, or until lightly toasted.

Divide the mushroom medley over the bread slices. Serve immediately.

 


Photographs by Natalie Naccache