Writer and Editor Catherine Hong Is Obsessively Organizing Her Freezer

Q(uar) & A is a series of interviews with some of our favorite storytellers and creators about how they’re living while in lockdown.

Catherine and Pepper. Photo by Juliana Sohn.

Catherine Hong is a veteran fashion magazine editor who has worked at Vogue, Allure, Harper’s Bazaar, W, and InStyle. These days she’s a freelance writer focusing on design, food, and books. She also co-hosts K-Pod, a podcast about Korean Americans in arts and culture.

Where are you currently sheltering in place?

At my home in Hastings-on-Hudson with my family: my husband, my 15-year-old daughter, and my 13-year-old son. Also our sheepadoodle, Pepper.

What does your face mask look like?

I’m so glad you asked! I’m very lucky because one of my best friends (and my podcast co-host) is photographer Juliana Sohn, who has become a guru of hand-sewn face masks during the pandemic. Her advice and patterns are all over the internet and she made beautiful masks for my whole family. She made mine out of a Liberty fabric. I feel great wearing it because it fits like a glove, and it was made with love. She doesn’t sell masks but you can see her designs @juliana_sohn.

“My desk and Zoom outpost.”

Do you follow any kind of routine at this moment? 

To be honest, things don’t feel that dramatically different because I’ve always worked from home and my husband still goes to work every day. (He’s an infectious diseases doctor, so at first it was terrifying to see him go off to the hospital every day, but now things have calmed down and so far he’s been healthy.)  

The main difference is that my kids are home. I have to periodically check in them to make sure they’re actually doing schoolwork and not on Instagram/Tiktok/Hulu/Fortnite/Minecraft all day. Aside from my usual freelance writing, I feel like I’m cooking all day long — and when I’m not cooking, I’m obsessively organizing my freezer.

The freezer in question.

What are some pieces of entertainment that you have consumed and loved during this time? 

TV: Ozark (watching with my husband), Killing Eve season three (watching with with my daughter), Never Have I Ever (watching with with my friends and it gives me a crazy amount of delight).

Podcasts: The Dave Chang Show, Still Processing, Conan Needs a Friend, the NYT Book Review podcast. And I’m waiting for the return of Marlon & Jake Read Dead People which is a spectacularly entertaining books podcast.

Music: I am so happy that Fiona Apple is back. She is a genius. That song “Under the Table” kills me!

Books: Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong is so devastatingly good and necessary. And this is kind of random, but I also recently read and loved The Plague & I by Betty MacDonald, yes, the author of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle fame — it’s her hilarious memoir about the year she spent at a TB sanatorium in the 1950s. Also, I loved a woozy, decadent British melodrama called The Summerhouse Trilogy by Alice Thomas Ellis. I also read two Edith Whartons: The House of Mirth and The Decoration of Houses. And all of the Jenny Han To All the Boys books.

Are you working on anything during this time?

The magazine industry is totally a sinking ship but I’m stubbornly going down with it. Magazines, I just can’t quit you! I just put together a huge books story for Parents magazine where I got more than 100 of my favorite children’s book authors to tell me about their favorite books from childhood and I was seriously starstruck. I got contributions from Kate DiCamillo, Jules Feiffer, Sandra Boynton, and even the late, great Tomie dePaola who responded shortly before he passed away. I love children’s books, so working on this project made me incredibly happy. (It’s out in August.) 

Also, I’m getting ready to host an authors’ event at BookCon on May 31 where I’m leading a discussion about Korean-American YA lit with Jenny Han, Mary H.K. Choi, David Yoon, and Kat Cho. It will be on Facebook.

Have you taken up any new hobbies? 

Does regrowing scallions count? I guess not.

What’s the best meal you’ve eaten so far during quar?

I’d have to say breakfast on Mother’s Day. My daughter made me a perfect frittata with pancetta and veggies, a banana-strawberry smoothie, and a beautiful strawberry galette that looked straight out of Bon Ap. It was served to me in bed. I especially appreciated not having to cook or plan any of it!

“Mother’s Day breakfast, served on my favorite new tray.”

What’s the best quar purchase you’ve made so far? 

I bought a marbleized tray table from Beata Heumann, a Swedish interior designer based in London who I’m obsessed with (I am also currently obsessed with anything marbleized).

And to dress up my sad little office I bought myself a tiny painting by Erika Lee Sears who is an artist I had been following on Instagram (@erikaleesears). She makes these candy-colored Wayne Thiebaud-style paintings of things like cereal, fruit, detergent and bathroom sinks. I bought a sort of moody one depicting jars of pencils and erasers.

Who are the writers, storytellers, or makers who are bringing you great joy right now?

Hmm. I listen to a lot of podcasts, so maybe this is my chance to list more of my favorites in addition to the ones I mentioned above. I write a lot about interior design, so I like the AD Aesthete and the Chairish podcasts. For food, I like The Splendid Table, Milk Street, and Samin Nosrat’s Home Cooking. And I think the new Sunday Read from the NYT is genius! Those old NYT magazine stories are dazzlingly written and are totally captivating to hear read aloud. For instance: Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s story on Val Kilmer! And Sam Anderson on Weird Al.

“Someone built this awesome structure in the woods — we pass by it whenever we walk the dog.”

Any unexpectedly memorable moments of quar so far?

One part of my quar routine that I forgot to mention is that  most days around 4pm my daughter and I will take a long walk in the woods with our dog. We moved out of the city seven years ago and to be honest, I have missed city life for most of it. But having the freedom to wander the woods and trails during this crazy time has made me appreciate how lucky I am to be living here.

Find Catherine on Instagram at @catherinehong100, @mrslittlebooks, and @kpodpod.