I’ve been working on a series of orphan care-related articles lately for WORLD California.
If you know me, you know that I…don’t really like kids. Yes, I’m one of those people who don’t have a speck of maternal instincts. I’m also one of those people who stiffen instead of going “awww” when I see a wide-eyed baby staring at me. I don’t like puppies either, so I’m guessing your image of me is swiftly deteriorating.
But. My heart strings are being tugged these days as I interview foster parents, adoptive parents, mentors, child welfare workers and the president of Christian Alliance for Orphans. In May, I even attended the annual summit on orphan care held at Saddleback Church and listened to numerous workshops and speeches.
I may not like babies, but my heart isn’t that Grinchy. It’s melting from utmost respect and admiration for these individuals who are truly living out the sacrificial love that Christ first demonstrated to us.
One of the common thread I’ve discovered from my interviews, however, is that all of these individuals are ordinary human beings. But they gain strength and encouragement from the love and support of their local community, in their case the church. I don’t think any of them would be able to endure fostering four kids or adopting five children without some kind of local community help.
I was walking home from downtown Los Angeles today, and as always, I walked past several homeless people. There was a man in clothes that at one point had color but is now so dusty that he’s just a shade of gray. He was sitting on a crate scratching his left foot, which drew my attention to his scruffy, worn-out shoes.
I also walked past another homeless woman with dark eyeliner just giggling maniacally to herself in the corner. There were several large plastic bags in front of her, probably her only belongings.
These homeless people are homeless for myriads of reasons, but the key reason, I think, is social isolation.
If I ran into psychological and financial trouble, I know I’ll always have a team of family and friends who’ll rush to my aid. When someone broke into my car window and stole my GPS, a friend immediately offered me her old GPS. But the homeless people I see on the streets don’t have any person to turn to for help. For whatever reasons, they lack connection to people and eventually they’ve become so socially ostracized that they’re just stuck in that homeless state.
This is why I love journalism. Because of these orphan care articles, I’ve been thinking a lot about social isolation and the importance of community lately. It’s giving me some perspective that I shouldn’t take things in my life for granted. Having that sense of security that no matter what happens to you, there’s someone who can help…well, that’s just…incredibly powerful.
When I moved out to Koreatown and out of my previous church group, finding a good church was my first priority. But I had avoided hanging out with my new church community for reasons such as my shyness and some stupid prejudices.
I have to thank Joanna for bridging a relationship between my church and me. Because she visited me every weekend during the months she lived in San Diego, she kind of forced me to interact with the church community more. And eh, shortly put, the moment I opened my heart to my church, I fell in love with them.
On Joanna’s last night in Los Angeles, we all decided to go out for dinner together. We decided to visit Silver Lake’s Local restaurant.
Another community based dinner, because the new head chef of Local happens to be a congregant in our church! His name is Kevin Lee and he’s this super cool guy with a slight Konglish accent and a trademark baseball cap.
I happened to know about this place because my English Ministry pastor Isaac told me Kevin was mentioned in the Los Angeles Times food blog for his special dinner menu for Local, named Project Ivanhoe. Instantly I knew I wanted to interview him too.
I visited Kevin one afternoon to interview him. I think he’s naturally a shy guy, but he graciously allowed me and my camera gal Jordan to film him.
Local is this quintessentially Silver Lake eatery with its organic and locally-sourced ingredients and quirky decors.
It’s better-known for brunch and lunch items, but Kevin has just signed on board to catapult it into a prime dinner location as well. I think it’s only a matter of time before his name is uttered alongside that of chefs like Josef Centeno and Ludo Lefebvre.
After the interview, Kevin cooked me and my camera gal some beef tongue.
I thought I don’t like tongue…if you can recall. I just can’t stand the goose-bumpy texture of tongue. But Kevin completely changed my gastronomical perception towards tongue with his dish.
The tongue was in cubes, braised first and then griddled for a while. They were served on top of crispy potato cakes, with guacamole, tomatillo salsa and creme fraiche on top. The tongue was like…a mix of foie gras and steak. Insanely texture yet with that distinct beefy savor.
Later that week, I visited Local again with the whole church gang, this time to try a wider range of dishes.
It wasn’t easy deciding which dishes to sample. Just take a look at the Project Ivanhoe menu. Everything sounds amazing!
We started out with some vino blanco and beer, which wasn’t that tough a decision…
And then we ordered the crispy pork belly skewers, which I already had in my mind to order.
These were crisp, luxurious pork belly served on a stick, with smoked gochujang aioli sauce. Cue in the “Hallelujah” chorus—it was heavenly. Just the right amount of char and fattiness.
If you ever visit, this is a MUST order, unless you find happiness irritating.
Joanna, who grew up chewing on pigs ears, insisted we order the pig ears dish as well.
It turned out to be fried to a crisp, sort of like plantain chips but with the slightest bite of tendons.
This came with pickled habanero cauliflowers and smoked caper aioli. The sides were amazing. I loved the tart, crunchy cauliflowers; it was such a refreshing complement to the fried pig ears.
Next up, cauliflower couscous.
Vegans and low-carbers will lap this up. It’s cauliflower grated so finely that it resembles the texture and feel of couscous. It was also loaded with crushed hazelnuts, peanuts, currants, pickled onions and chervil for some nutty crunch, sweetness and piquancy.
This dish is right out of the farmers market:
Roasted beet salad: Duo of slow roasted beets, dressed in an aged balsamic dressing, tossed with some baby arugula and croutons and ladled with herbed goat cheese.
One of the group favorite. Not everybody likes beets (I don’t), but the way Kevin dressed this up, it’s like the fairy godchef meets beets.
Yet another group favorite was the slow-roasted pork shoulder.
Pork shoulder slowly melting into mashed potato, converging with pan gravy and runny egg yolk. It comes flanked with roasted Brussels sprouts and some kind of sautéed dark greens, too.
Just. look. at. that. yolk. Gorgeous.
For more munchies, we ordered the fries as well.
We got it peppered with some kind of spicy seasoning. Cayenne, maybe? These fries would go so well with a nice, cool avocado shake. Or maybe Mexican cucumber juice.
We still weren’t done. We also ordered the pork rillettes:
Smoked pork rillettes, cracked mustard and buttered toast points. Rillettes is some kind of meat pate, in which the pork is salted and simmered in fat until it is easy to creamify.
This was actually the only dish that didn’t enamor me. It was too close to chicken liver for me. But the rest of the gang loved it.
More food!! This time, lamb.
This is seared lamb belly with warm lentil salad, radicchio and rosemary jus.
It tastes just as intense as it looks. Inky, sensuous, with a nice sting from that rosemary. The lamb belly just melts in your tongue. Every bite is pungent with flavor.
Final savory dish was the crunchy seaweed noodles:
Another love dish for the vegans and low-carbers. It’s seaweed that’s shaped like noodles. Not at all like a real pasta dish, of course, but more like a curious salad. The feel was light and sprightly in your mouth. I loved the creamy yuzu dressing, the fresh herbs and the liberal sprinkles of toasted almond slivers in there.
At the end of the meal, Kevin personally came out to serve us our dessert.
You know what this is?!! Peanut butter and banana butterscotch pudding with warm caramel, pomegranate seeds and vanilla whipped cream!!!
Everyone was pretty stuffed by this point (we shared all that food among five people), but we licked this dessert up to the last scrape. You just can’t waste a drop of such a gorgeous, sexy thing.
I love the name of Local. It holds so many meanings to it, from locally sourced ingredients, to a neighborhood hangout, to a sense of close-knit community.
I’m so glad I found my own local church community. Sunday means so much more than just sitting in church for a couple hours. I spend the whole morning and afternoon in church now, and even during my final exams, I just don’t feel like I’m wasting time at all.
Thanks, guys. For being part of my local community.
Hm, I wish I can just photoshop that restroom sign at the back…Could have been a better picture.