Wow, hooray! Cassian Archer Yang was born the day after my last recipe post, 4 days before his due date, and tomorrow he’s 2 weeks old! Bringing life into the world was nerve-wracking since it’s so unpredictable (even the healthiest women have complications when delivering), painful (obviously)- but what I didn’t realize was that I’d feel the most pain through recovery as I can still barely walk for longer than 20 min. As they all say, all of the pain is worth producing life and you basically forget it all.
On 3/18 at 3:30AM I woke up from an abdominal cramp and by the third contraction, I started thinking I was having contractions and nudged my sleepy Oly who reminded me to observe and count it for an hour. After a call to our hospital + OB, we gathered our bags and Oly calmly drove me to Providence St Johns by about 6:30AM while I asked him to talk about anything to distract me from the ongoing waves of pain (Wordle, which was appropriate). We drove by my office and I decided to text Dylan my coworker since that day wasn’t the day I was going to grab banh mi with Dylan, but the day I possibly may bring life into the world.
Until my cervical exam, I was anxious that we’d be “rejected” and resent home; I’ve heard too many of these stories of pregnant women being resent home due to false or too early labor. The staff wheeled me into labor and delivery and although a nurse poked me with needles until my arm oozed out blood and misevaluated how dilated my cervix was, the sweet supervisor came in, re-evaluated my cervix, and ordered them to transfer me to the delivery room since my cervix was actually 7cm dilated.
I was relieved to see my sweet OB Mana Baskovic visit. Even though they were surprised that my pain level was 5/10 with these contractions by then and assumed I’d be fine for the actual delivery part, I still opted for the epidural because I didn’t know how much more (pain) there was to go and I was feeling slightly irritated and tired of the contraction waves getting stronger from 3:30 AM. With this being my first childbirth, I didn’t want to remember childbirth as a horrendous experience of me lashing out at Oly, staff, and loved ones.
That morning while James the badass anesthesiologist had me sit upright while he stuck that needle into my spine (a rush of cool vibes ran down and gradually I wasn’t able to feel any contraction/pain belly button down)… my nurse Valery asked me if I wanted boba after my labor. Being offered boba honestly lit me up and while I entrusted all the staff, science, Oly, and my body to handle everything fine, the offer of boba felt too great to be true. I am so thankful that I watched the Youtube videos of various childbirth/doula experiences and participated in some Lamaze and Maven classes because everything helped me understand what was going on; I didn’t have the energy to ask and my mind was such a blur.
Many times, there’s a lot of waiting. Oly tried to get the HDMI cable to connect our Switch, but since it wasn’t working, we decided to switch to B plan: watch Guardians of the Galaxy. Once we finished the movie, my OB Mana came in to break my water (yeah, it wasn’t as epic as Pam’s water breaking at the office) and by 3:00 PM they asked me to start to push.
I had so much mental pressure to get our son out, (not the physical, painful pressure one may feel when actually pushing since I had my epidural) First I prioritized putting my headphones on and began my “push it” playlist. Then, I held Oly’s hand (thankfully I literally cut my fingernails the night before) and imagined trying to push as if I were pooping. Soon my OB and nurses told me to just have the music blast off my phone. Because my face kept scrunching up, it was much harder to exert significant energy.
Yet after watching this crowd of Oly on the right of all these nurses/my OB, I was getting frustrated with all the “almost there’s” since his head just kept coming in and out (literally, famous words of Ali Wong) If there’s one thing I hate, it’s wasting everyone’s time and energy of trying to motivate me, with me losing progress over and over again. I was so sick of it by 4:00 PM, that I gave everything I had and shot out our baby like a cannon that neither Oly nor me saw him come out. Weezer’s Perfect Situation was playing, then Weezer’s Hold Me. How appropriate, right?
Warning: some of the photos down this post may be a little graphic with some blood.
The 1/4 sugar milk tea boba Valery and James got me was hands down epic and one of the best boba I’ve ever sipped (not the shitty, watered down and tough boba). Every other time I pampered myself to get boba, but this time I felt like I really deserved it and won in my life. I look like absolute shit here but it accurately displays how I felt from being in labor for 13 hours and not eating anything for 11 hours – a drained yet deliriously happy champion.
Nobody really knows exactly what to expect after giving birth, but what typically happens is the placenta coming out with the baby and the umbilical cord, possibly the partner (in my case, Oly) cutting the really thick cord, and a lot of crying and hormones just being dispersed all other the damn place. I looked like shit, and before when I was so nervous about breastfeeding it felt natural to weep with my baby brought to me, weeping on my chest and quickly breastfeeding him to calm us all down. Once Oly lowered down and hugged us, tenderly kissing my head, I cried more as it was a very sweet moment for our very own family. I continued to keep Cassian on my chest for the recommended hour for that precious skin-to-skin mother and baby bonding time, and they proceeded to check his weight, height, and vitals.
Although I knew I was going to be a mess, nobody told me that I’d get second-degree vaginal tearing, wouldn’t be able to pee for 2+ days, and would have some of the worst vaginal/abdominal pain for ~2 weeks. Getting a catheter inserted into me multiple times was extremely painful since I was so swollen; my favorite nurse on my second day even called it a “train wreck” and struggled to insert the catheter in me with other nurses because it was so swollen. When the most intimate and sacred body parts throb in pain and the most basic human releases of peeing/ pooping are stripped away, it’s extremely humiliating but humbling. I honestly didn’t know it’s so recommended to breastfeed my newborn every 2 hours.
I said it then and I’ll say it again:
I thought that after the epidural wore off, I was fine to move to the postpartum recovery area with our next nurse. When I got up with another nurse to try to use the restroom (who told me to not look down), I fell into the temptation of staring down at my vagina, which literally looked like two hanging dicks, side by side (think Ali Wong again) Amused, I called for Oly to come over, but by the time I stood up and looked at myself in the mirror, all colors and shapes started to fade away and all I saw were a bunch of dots. I was dizzy as hell and started to feel I was going to vomit. I hate vomiting and started to fall into a chair but was brought to a gernie with several nurses quickly giving me an IV and cranberry juice. Because of that, I wasn’t transferred to my postpartum room until around 930PM that night where Oly and I finally also enjoyed my first meal that day: Cassia.
While I originally was hoping we could leave the hospital ASAP (the second night was horrendous with Cassian cluster feeding) I am so thankful we stayed for another night. Many thanks to the nurses and hospital staff who cared for us, equipped us with recovery gear and resources to help me figure out how to breastfeed, encourage me and laugh with / hug me when my body was able to pee. Science is amazing, the human body (especially a womans’) is so badass, and Ali Wong’s jokes were never so raw and real to me. They were always right.
Celebrating Baby Yang’s baby shower was much more blissful than I expected; I first thought of hosting a baby shower but was concerned with 1) how friends and family would respond to me having an in-person baby shower during this pandemic 2) the cost 3) the effort having to host one 4) my guy friends being too awkward about joining in something traditionally “for women only”
As I was closing in on my last month “the final stretch” I decided to invite and host family and friends over to our home for an in-person baby shower because 1) I’ve been really, really missing hosting gatherings 2) I’ve been missing my family and friends throughout the pandemic (I am still disgusted that it’s been 2 years and there’s a lot to go) and 3) I was and still am bummed that I just had 1 family member, 5 friends join our own wedding after all of that anticipation growing up and planning for the big day. My coach also reminded me that this day of memories could “replace” those memories – and fast forward, it has fulfilled all of those holes.
It was a total relief that the weather was sweet and dreamy, not too cold nor too hot for friends and family to easily hang out in our patio and/or freely into our home (while also seeing and sharing advice on our baby room set up). I wanted to make sure everyone felt safe and welcomed, so I had a mix of activities, food, and refreshments outside and inside our home from 9AM-5PM. I get that wedding food and baby shower food don’t need to be spectacular, but it was important for me to support some local businesses without having to make anything myself that could be appropriate for brunch/snacks/sweet tooths depending whenever our guests dropped by.
Thank you so much again Capri and Hangry Bakery for the delectable treats (and Tammy for doing my hair and makeup!) Instax worked really well because as much of a sucker I am for memory keepsakes, I didn’t want to be walking around snapping photos with everyone and worry about getting perfect shots but legitimately catch up with friends and family I haven’t seen in years.
As I’ve been reading more about labor and epidurals and Oly and I’ve been also watching more parenting educational videos, my belly has also protruded more to a point that it’s been much more difficult to move (yes, I feel more like a penguin than a pregnant woman sometimes and waddling is real) As I’ve been struggling to fit into my own clothes, I decided to rent a few RTR outfits including this Rachel Pally dress to save some closet space and not have to commit to buying maternity clothes.
My mother in law being a yacht enthusiast really worked out for party supplies; she has a gorgeous tiny boat model, a classy life ring, and various other nautical props. Facebook marketplace also proved to be wonderful in snagging hand-me-down server trays and being 1/4 mi away from Trader Joes proved to be wonderful for bundling a few of my favorite plants (Eucalyptus and pampa grass) and finding a new favorite like these Eryngium blue flowers.
Since my dad left for a more senior-appropriate home, we’ve turned his bedroom into our baby room – which has been an enjoyable work in progress that we like to work on a little every day. Although I was super enthusiastic about creating this Eames inspired mobile, Oly came to my rescue in finishing it up for me (I guess pregnancy hormones colliding with the anxiety of getting closer to my 3.22 (or the physical labor of delivery) colliding with more physical discomfort is catching up more and more)
By the end of the day (Thank you Weiyi/Vivien for coming at 5:30PM and asking about where everyone was), Oly and I were particularly relieved and exhausted. Opening up our home to our coworkers, family, and friends to celebrate baby Yang (a 2 in 1 housewarming and baby shower) was so pleasantly perfect that I think it made me happier to celebrate this milestone with Oly than our own wedding celebration. It also helps that Oly and I are such morning people and would much rather have friends and family trickle in than a dense crowd of friends and family at night. Was it worth it? Hell yeah.
Growing up, I thought birthdays were the best day of the year until you were 18, then 21, then 30… and that anything after that was just an awful sad reminder that you’re old. I also thought that birthdays were the day of when you have a justifiable reason to be selfish, the day of when you could really do whatever the hell you wanted, the day you hopefully get the presents you wanted but didn’t get for Christmas…(and the day you could tell that those who didn’t say happy birthday weren’t your friends)
But I now believe that a birthday is ultimately a date to celebrate another year of survival and hopefully accomplishment preferably with loved ones; we all go through incredible experiences earlier or later, and grow older faster or slower – mentally and physically in years.
When I was a kid with my very active parents and “asian genes”, I believed that my parents could live forever.
I truthfully have done a terrible job in keeping track of my parents’ age (partially in denial that they are aging) and honestly forgot their birthdays a handful of years. It wasn’t until a few months ago that my older brother reminded me that our dad’s 80th birthday was approaching…and that we should probably buy tickets to LA and celebrate with him altogether.
Because of COVID, we cancelled our flight from NYC to LA. But O and I drove over cross country and were just 50 miles away; I certainly couldn’t let COVID deter my dad’s birthday into anything less than awesome.
So like any other overenthusiastic woman planning for her nonexistent child’s birthday…I coordinated as best as I could the best birthday possible.
Stumbling into his old closet in Orange County, I found photo albums stashed away, neglected and gathered them.
In 8 damn decades: photographs changed from classy black and whites to ..sepias resembling an Instagram filter… to vibrant colors and smiles of my childhood with my dad.
Without many dates nor recollection of who is who / where is where, I placed the images from top to bottom, left to right based off of the photo quality and how my dad had matured (just hoping that the baby photo I found was of him – and to my amazement- was)
What I love about my dad is that while he’s been extremely wise, he has always been particularly young at heart – encouraging me to make friends with whoever, hang out with whoever until whenever, play video games like Star War’s Episode 1: Podracer , watch MTV’s Daria, welcome any of my friends over for a slumber party, go out for McDonald’s fries – Full Moon Sushi – and then probably Wendy’s for frosty shakes on our way back home.
While my dad’s memory has been declining, there’s something incredible about the power of photographs and how they trigger memories. While my dad has been living with strangers, I assembled these photographs to remind him how incredible of a life he’s been leading and that his family and friends were always with him in some form – and to my relief, he soaked it all in and explained to me who they were in smiles.
While my dad’s an absolute genius, he’s never instilled the “helicopter parent” or “crazy tiger parent” demands to be #1 at math, science, tennis, or piano at all throughout my childhood. While I was particularly a rebellious prick watching some MTV crap, he was totally faithful in me, patiently helping me with homework everyday. While waiting in lines or in elevators, he’d almost always compliment someone or strike up a happy convo, constantly reminding me to smile and be happy and love others. I was embarrassed, but I get it now. I get why his #1 values were to be happy and always love.
As for celebrating, I thought that it was silly to shower people with gifts and plan accordingly to a theme… but I finally also understand why women, particularly moms go “all out” for their child’s birthday – especially his/her first birthday. This was the closest for me to experience preparing for a nonexistent child’s birthday – one meal and/or present wasn’t enough. Aside from the shadowbox of photos and a Japanese dinner, I prepared a watercolor painting of our dog, big/little dipper card in watercolor, ice wine from Niagara Falls, a telescope since my dad’s been heavily studying Einstein’s theory of relativity, and the celestial cake.
I get why photographers want to capture every single moment of intimacy and laughter (and why you designate a photographer while you host/spend time with family/try to Facetime other family/get music) My parents threw me lovely birthdays where I was “the princess”, and on the flip side- this was my opportunity to be treat him like a king.
Days later and coincidentally Star Wars Day…May the fourth be with you and still – Happy birthday dad. I love you to the moon and back x 17.
Thank you so much to all the support and vendors during this time:
Japanese dinner – Sushi Koshu
Cake – Pufffect Bakery Cafe
Crafts – Michaels
Groceries – Gelson’s
With NYC’s incessant spread of COVID-19 cases, O and I decided to temporarily move to LA until restaurants open/I have to go back to the office (the cue that it’s “safe” to roam + work outside) I deeply love NYC; I wanted to stay, push through to save cost and soak in the Big Apple. But after about a week of talking it through, I’ve realized that we should just drive across America (Read the end if you’re that interested) Even with remarkably cheap plane tickets at less than $50, it wasn’t worth risking our health and possibly infect others. Also, a cross country road trip was on my bucket list and something I wanted to check off. What better time is there than when there’s practically no traffic?
[Baby, I got a plan; run away fast as you can…]
Leaving our home happened so quickly; I packed about a month’s worth of clothes, toiletries, as much food and homemade meals, work supplies, entertainment, and my air plants. With 3 packed luggages and bags of various food for the road (1.5 lbs of mozzarella balls, 10 spicy salmon/smoked salmon onigiri, 2 avocados, 2 clif bars, a box of apples, and more) …we left.
With swarms trying to leave NYC as if it was the apocalypse, we took the last car available at La Guardia’s National- a Jeep. I can’t express how hilariously painful it was to ride in it, nor imagine what it would’ve been like driving our 2871+ miles across the country, but fortunately, we exchanged it for a free upgrade later that night to a Mercedes GLA250. Since Trump had just considered closing New York’s borders earlier that day, we quickly packed at least 15 days of quarantine-2 months worth of prized belongings and left New York State by midnight. I don’t know about you, but I deeply didn’t and don’t want to be stuck at a random state during a nationwide season of chaos.
While it would normally make sense to plan an itinerary for a multi-day trip, we had to improvise much more than we’d normally do. Neither O nor I planned any pit stops, nor knew where we’d stay each night because we wanted to leave as soon as possible that weekend to avoid a NY parking ticket and arrive O’s LA home as quickly as possible so that I could rest before working by Wednesday 6AM. While switching off drivers throughout the night might make sense to get to our destination ASAP, I didn’t want to pull an allnighter because that could potentially put us into danger, accidents, and/or more costs. Thus, we began our journey across the United States AKA the 21st century version of Oregon Trail.
Driving from LGA through SoHo and out was surreal and weirdly reminiscent of Star Tours. After we passed the state line, I felt a rush of adrenaline that helped us navigate to a hotel in Pennsylvania by 2AM.
Start Time: 11:58 PM
Time: 2 hrs
Distance: 950 mi
After inhaling some homemade milk tea with mozzarella balls, we breezed through several northeastern states. We passed through West Virginia so quickly that I forgot to even play <em>Driving Home, Country Roads</em>. Because we wanted to check out the Mississippi river and we’d finished about 12 hours of driving, we decided to check into a hotel in St. Louis.
Start Time: 9:48 AM
Distance: 1050 mi
Thanks to Dosh, we were able to stay at the gorgeous Drury Plaza Hotel St. Louis at the Arch for just a small handful of dollars than the cigarette infused motel down the street. While the crime and homicide rate in St. Louis was a little unsettling, I felt really relaxed and relieved in the hotel and woke up to one of the most gorgeous sunrises.
While we did hope to snag some BBQ through Amarillo, Texas, 2 out of the 3 were closed/sold out of food. So, we settled to drive through Crazy Larry’s BBQ. Did it fulfill my cravings for southern food? ..Sadly, it didn’t (I wonder if it’s because I didn’t have baby back ribs) But hey, who knew New Mexico sunsets were also stunning?
Start Time: 9:10 AM
Distance: 1050 mi
Out of all gorgeous views of the sky and everything that we drove by, the ancient petroglyphs at the petroglyph national monument in Albaquerque were the highlight of the trip. I didn’t know what to expect in New Mexico, but stepping out from our car a bit to do a peaceful hike by ourselves while seeing various art engravings on glyphs was so personal and mesmerizing. What were these artists thinking and what was their motivation? What were they inspired by? How did they survive 300+ years? Who knows…
..and along Arizona’s Route 66, we grabbed some of the most delicious tacos + churro (thank you Tacos Los Altos!) and headed for our last stretch to California with some of the most stunning sunsets along Led Zeppelin’s Going to California and 2Pac ‘s California Love.
Start Time: 11:24 AM
Distance: 812 mi
I couldn’t help but think damn, this is why people love California. It never felt so good to be back in masks and to quarantine. With the 4 day car rental of our sweet GLA, GLA’s mileage of ~27 mpg, 9 gas station stops, 4.5 tolls, occasional food/drinks, everything cost about $900. I’m sure if you strategize and plan your itinerary, you could make it across much cheaper.
But would I recommend a cross country road trip? Absolutely-if you have at least 1 fun partner, good podcasts like Conan Needs a Friend, Office Ladies, a singalong playlist that includes Weezer’s Blue Album, Radiohead’s The Bends, and the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack – oh and of course, hopefully a comfortable car like our GLA. Of course, nothing screams Welcome to California more than IN N OUT.
Fast forward to a week after arriving LA-With the whole stay v. leave NYC, controversy, I do understand the sensitivity and extent of “stay home saves lives.” There is so much talk about why leaving NY is selfish, but do I regret coming? No.
I deeply love NYC and left a part of my heart there. I wanted to endure everything and happily cook and paint in my tiny little apartment. At least a handful of us couldn’t even step outside nor order food without wondering if a door knob was infected or a delivery person/groceries/package might be COVID19 infected – which could ultimately lead to paranoia, angst within my building or apartment itself. It’s almost appalling that some residents believe that the truly devoted and selfless New Yorkers are those who stick in tiny NY homes through the hell.
With the ongoing xenophobic “Chinese virus” talk and various assaults happening throughout the country, I also believe that we have to look out for ourselves and our loved ones, which hopefully includes our community. If we have to step out for a few days in a car to be in a larger, brighter home …and that lifestyle that could strengthen my relationships + build new ones, then yes x1000.
Summary of our cross country ride:
Total Distance: 2812 mi
Time: 68 hours
First engagement photoshoot! My senpai (mentor) from Tokyo/Itoya, flew over and visited us in LA to celebrate his engagement. Matt was one of the best senpais I’ve ever had who helped me become who I’ve become, and I’m indebted to him for helping me start Tokyo off strong and well.
He asked me to photograph his younger brother at the infamous Griffith observatory during sunset. I was happy to do so, because I missed outdoor photo-venturing with Matt in Tokyo and assumed it was just going to be a simple fun portrait photoshoot. I had NO idea that I had to rush over, fight through traffic, and struggle on site, and that it was an engagement photoshoot. Claudia and I’ve been coming here at around 5:30 A.M. once every week to hike, but it’s practically empty except for us and a few older hikers. This time, I had to parallel park at a designated spot, pay at a machine by the hour, wiggle my way through a sea of visitors and tourists, and jog up to catch Matt’s family. Fortunately, I made it just in time.
But wow, when you see the individuals nicely dressed, holding hands, and that the woman has a ring and are giggling, you know it’s an engagement photoshoot.
Nevertheless, I was excited. I attempted the creeper/stalker/intruder role in the beginning when the sunlight toned down a bit, and am quite happy with the results of how the James Dean statue frames the left side.
It’s quite sweet to me to learn that Andrew and Lauren met at Las Vegas. Andrew literally met her from an elevator in Las Vegas a little over 2 years ago. Lauren comes from Oklahoma, and they’d fly over to see each other and managed to maintain their strong, sweet relationship. I love hearing couples maintain their strong love for each other despite distance.
I had so much fun asking them to touch each other in awkward places like the man boob to get them to naturally laugh. I’m also glad that they did it because it loosened all of us up. My first photoshoot of Eli in Tokyo began unnatural. Yet I’ve learned that you can get some genuine powerful shots by asking them how they met, how they fell in love, and a few of their favorite memories together.
A few other fun ones. I struggled to get my camera to focus on the ring while other strangers kept trying to photograph them and distract us. I feel like I could photo-edit their photos all night. Yet it was a damn fun experience and I hope to do some more photoshoots (when I can squeeze in more time). If any of you have advice for photo-editing, please hit me up an email! firstname.lastname@example.org.
This insane stretch of packed deadlines and celebrations right between my flight from Tokyo and soon, to Boston and New York City makes me wonder how I’m alive. Wednesday was our Arquitectonica holiday party at the Perch in downtown LA, and Thursday was our Popcultivate dinner: “A splash of Christmas,” that featured Foodnetwork chef: Cheftofer… After 6 hours of baking matcha whoopie pies with another architect: Gabby Gertel, I’m working on publishing the recipe, while I’m shipping out some of these Christmas goods to SF and Tokyo and prepping for my team’s presentation on window wall sections. But heck, I’m hustlin’ through this holiday season because I know I can peacefully rest during my flight to Boston and train ride to New York City.
For the Splash of Christmas dinner, I tested my mini photo set up (a 16″x16″x16″ lightbox) for the first time! Hell, food photography and the entertainment industry is a deceivingly, dirty, chaotic job with tons of feisty tasks and people to work with. Firstly, I had to lay on the floor to take these shots next to the kitchen because of the outlets and dinner setup. Secondly, once filmographers and guests saw my setup and photos, a few followed me in to try to steal my angles and setups. (please everyone, get your own setup rather than steal art/work from others!) Lastly, more oil stains and wrinkles started to appear on my white backdrop, but I think the photos still turned out pretty legit! That’s straight up product / food photography in downtown LA for you ladies and fellas. Other than all these various struggles I’m getting used to, I’m really loving food photography, especially with all the perks of receiving the prettiest samples, props, ingredients, and meals. Who doesn’t love receiving seconds, thirds, from servers and Foodnetwork chefs?
And we finished the meal off with this gorgeous apple rose pastry with eggnog and raspberry syrup. I’m still dreaming of another bite of this. Thank you especially, server Nicole and co-host Patrick for being so prompt, attentive, and helpful to me with all the ingredients and meals.
Back to back was Arquitectonica’s holiday party at the Perch. A stunning private happy hour from 3-5 with my kickass architect partner, and a few favorite women: Christine, my college roommate, and Megan, my favorite personal on-site stylist/makeup artist. From 5-7 was our private dinner, and until midnight we mingled back on the rooftop. How does time fly this fast?
Aside from the plethora of craft coffee shop options, Maru Coffee sits quietly along Hillhurst Ave, as this dreamy quintessential, design-build coffee shop. But it’s more than just the up and coming LA hot-spot that brews craft coffee in a minimalist space. The delicate, serene experience begins as soon as you walk in. You’ll notice the carefully crafted maple stools, a long family-style sycamore table hand-welded by the owners themselves, and cute pockets of plants and zines of poetry that peek out on a door. To your right – a serene display of soft and smooth ivory ceramics by Notary Ceramics that you look almost too sacred to touch. And after you re-gain your consciousness and that you’re supposed to order something to sip in front of you, you’ll notice the medley of sweet pastries in a glass display box, and an attractive barista team with Jacob Park rhythmically pouring water and ground coffee from Stereoscope Coffee beans. Maru Coffee brings the LA community an artistic display of both hospitality and decorum, while bringing close attention to the practice of hospitality and community.
My relationship with Maru Coffee first began when co-owner Joonmo Kim came to pick up his book bag next to me and found me flipping through my Kinfolk issue on Japan. He curiously peered over me and asked me more about what I’ve been reading. My initial visit here that was meant to be my Japanese interior design study session, developed into an extensive dialogue with Joonmo about design, culture, and ways that western and eastern cultures, traditional and modern design can integrate.
Every time I meet Joonmo here, we sit on his incredibly comfortable, soft and smooth stools and bench with our warm cups of coffee and we continue exchanging our dialogue about our experiences in Japan, Korea, America – how sharing design and cultures can contribute stronger ideas, unite individuals, and serve the community. Maru Coffee is a strong testimony to our values: it has a distinctive humble approach that resonates with quality art and service for the people.
I eagerly came for my second visit to learn more about the story of Joonmo, Jacob, and this cafe. From my childhood joy of hand-making sweets, handing them to neighbors, and studying architecture in college, my primary lifelong dream has been designing my own cafe and serving my pastries to customers. I firmly believe that good design and hospitality can brighten communities. As I approached the front door on Saturday morning, Jacob gently smiled and quietly welcomed me into the cafe before it opened. While I was gazing at their display of soft ceramics again, Jonmo playfully came in and poked me from behind, offered me help and a sip of his coffee. As I busily crouched and tip-toed to shoot photos at various angles, Joonmo politely bowed and welcomed a cute group of elderly Korean customers, while his partner, Jacob prepared a variety of coffees, my favorite almond latte, and an almond croissant powdered with fine sugar for me. We sat down and continued our conversation specifically on how Maru Coffee’s idea became a reality and future possibilities of how it can develop.
Please tell me more about your backgrounds in the coffee industry. How did you two meet and decide to collaborate and open this cafe?
JP: I’ve been working in the coffee industry for the past 12 years as a barista and a roaster. I’m also a certified Q grader. Simply put, I just want to brew good coffee. Almost half of my life, my work has involved coffee…. it’s been a long time, haha.
Jacob and I met while working at the same coffee shop. While working there, he re-taught me everything about coffee. He was so knowledgeable I knew with our different strengths and qualities, we thought we would do a good job. So we went for it.
How do you, Joonmo and Jacob, collaborate together? How are your personalities portrayed through the work you do in this cafe?
JP: I’d say I’m fairly calm and am more of a deep thinker. And I like to approach my craft and coffee the same way. I don’t think there should be any fluff in quality. I’m always testing various beans and trying to brew better, even after 12 years.
JK: Haha yeah, I give Jacob a lot of respect because I see how dedicated he is to his craft. His personality is perfect for quality. For me, I am a believer of community. I think good things happen when people get together. I am inspired by connections with people and ideas. So my mind is always on people.
Is there a meaning to the name, Maru Coffee? Why did you choose this name for your coffee shop?
JK: Maru is derived from an old Korean word, “San Ma Ru,” which means mountain top. It is our representation of high quality as good coffee beans come from high elevation.
I really admire your minimalist interior design. Who designed the interior, furniture, and how did you come up with the design approach?
JK: We both don’t have any design backgrounds, but we were both pretty particular about what we like and didn’t like. We’re both Korean, so naturally we were drawn to Korean aesthetics and design. We wanted to create a space that is simple, minimal, with warm vibes.
JP: Since I also grew up in a Korean temple as a child, we also drew some influence from my childhood. As for the furniture, we decided to design and make everything ourselves based on furniture we were inspired by. We had put together the wood pieces we had custom cut and sanded all our furniture altogether inside our shop before it opened! Youtube is a great resource, because it taught us how to do it ourselves. We mainly used light maple and sycamore. This process gave us an appreciation for real wood and its textures.
The ceramics you also have are also beautiful. Did you design these as well? If not, who and how did you find them?
JP: We had them custom made by Notary Ceramics from Portland, Oregon. Sarah, who is the ceramist, makes amazing pieces. The cups have a good weight, earthy texture, and it feels good to hold it. We are looking forward to collaborate again with Notary Ceramics.
What is your overarching philosophy when it comes to what constitutes a good coffee shop?
JP: For us, it’s simple. Good coffee and good people makes a good coffee shop.
Is there a purpose for your cafe? Do you envision your cafe to do something specific for the LA community? Would you like it to expand?
JK: To be honest, we haven’t thought about our specific purpose yet. Our main goal was to bring good coffee and we just got started… literally opened a month ago. so we’ve been focusing on that right now. It would be nice to expand but we’re taking it one day at a time.
1936 Hillhurst Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027
M-F 7:00-19:00, S-S 8:00-20:00
As mentioned before, I started getting involved in LittlemeatsLA. This time, I was called in last Friday to help host a 9-course umamikase (non-Japanese omakase) dinner for 11 guests with Colin Gardner, a renowned New York CIA alum chef /model who specializes in French and Italian gourmet cuisine and worked in Michelin restaurant: Melisse.
Aside from Colin spending days in advance preparing ingredients and sauces, the team (Colin, Billy, Michael, Nate, and I) hustled through 3 kitchens: 2 stoves, 2 portable burners, a grill, sous vide, blender, electric mixer, dozens of pots, pans, trays, cups, jars, bottles of wine and vodka, while also entertaining our 11 guests. Please forgive me for my lack of photos and understand that I had every limb occupied (shoulders with dslr/hand holding two Iphones to photograph and Snapchat, other hand busily chopping/saute-ing/garnishing, legs hustling to accommodate chefs and guest calls – and of course my mouth was either filled with samples of cocktails/condensed watermelons/tuna tartare/double creams/sorbets/poached peaches or busy talking and laughing with guests) Here’s some of the highlights of the night:
Condensed watermelon blocks with soy sauce, ginger, sesame seeds, a nectarine slice and sprig of shiso leaf.
Soft boiled egg on top of a nest of fried potatoes on top of chopped bell peppers, cauliflower puree that are all sprinkled with leek ash.
Salmon with heirloom tomatoes, lemon, olive oil, tobiko, beurre blanc.
Oysters with a smoked sriracha, topped with caviar.
Duck with butternut squash, charred cabbage puree, and sous vide poached peaches.
Hell yes, we killed that night. It was such a pleasure to work alongside Colin with such a great crew, while sharing our culinary/travel adventures over the table to our guests. Thanks Greg for helping with some photos and Robin for opening, welcoming, and also entertaining all of our guests while we were busy! And thank you guests for joining in with our fun filled adventures and conversations!
I highly suggest you to check the calendar and snag your own umamkase dinner tickets here!