It’s been over a year since my best friend’s little brother had passed away suddenly. He was only 29 years old. Full of life, charismatic, always wearing a smile. He once said to me “You’re like my other older sister” which the most flattering thing he’d ever said to me. Which goes to show what a genuine person he was.
His passing was extremely shocking. Nothing could have prepared me for dissipating the inevitable milestones of what I imagined for him to achieve… marrying the love of his life and becoming a great father. Truly robbed of his experience to grow old.
My mind can’t seem to wrap around speaking about him in the past tense. His social media antics show up as memories and constantly remind me of his undying presence. A digital ghost, if you will, to remind that life without him will forever feel like a void. A forever missing puzzle piece.
I visited his grave yesterday on Memorial Day. The presence of the disturbed soil and where he laid to rest not yet been marked reminds me that his passing is still all too new. I’ve always been an overthinker thinking about possible scenarios or events that could happen and prepare of how to handle certain circumstances. But never ever would I have prepared for the loss of you.
What a much needed get away this past weekend to visit my in laws in Wisconsin. First family vacation for 2021. Last Monday, I sent a group text to my in laws that we were planning on visiting for the weekend. We haven’t seen my husband’s side of the family since last summer due to covid, with the exception of my mother and father in law, who visited us a couple of months ago. We were mainly waiting for the updates that my husband’s grandparents were fully vaccinated for us to safely visit them. It was also the ideal weekend as it was my brother in law, Brandon, and their grandfather’s birthdays.
My in laws own a condo at The Great Wolf Lodge in Wisconsin Dells so my father in law mentioned that he was going to check for any availability for that Friday night. Of course, getting back into the grove of packing and getting ready for the trip took a learning curve and we didn’t arrive to the Great Wolf until 8pm, which was the time that the waterpark was closed but that was fine, we still had the next day. Friday night was all about settling in, celebrating my Brandon’s birthday, and mainly watching my boys play with their cousins late into the night.
Saturday morning came, my husband took off with his brothers to go grab breakfast from McDonalds and coffee from Starbucks for the family. Realized the night before that we had forgotten my toddler’s (Zane) swim trunks and the waterpark didn’t open until 10am, so my mother and I went to the gift shop in the main lobby that opened at 9am in search of swim trunks, unfortunately, that gift shop didn’t have any but I was able to grab some cute souvenir clothing for my boys. By that time, my husband and his brothers were back at the hotel room and my mother and I made our way back for our coffee and quick breakfast.
Breakfast was gobbled down, had my coffee to sip away. My mother and I took off shopping at the outlet mall that was in walking distance from the Great Wolf. Most of the stores at the outlet mall didn’t open until 10am, so we walked around and waited to get into Old Navy. And if you’ve been following me, you know that my Zaney is obsessed with dinosaurs, so I was able to grab him a cute dinosaur swimming shirt with dinosaur swim trunks to go along with it. Along with Zane’s swimming outfit, I was also able to get flip flops for the four of us and a pack of masks (just in case the boys lost their masks, always gotta have a back up).
While checking out, I was chit chatting with the cash register and mentioned how cute the swimwear was, and she mentioned that I was pretty lucky because they had just had just received a shipment of the swimwear collection to the store. Which worked out for me because they were such at a great price.
Shopping was over and done with, made our walk back to the hotel room to pack and checkout by 11am and then take the boys swimming. Of course, while my teenager, Micah, was putting on his swim trunks, he noticed that they were too small for him. Wished he would’ve told me he needed new swim trunks earlier when I was at the store, but I guess that’s just how kids are. Funny thing he said to me was, “Do you expect me to know if my swim trunks fit me or not?” and I looked at him and started laughing and said “Yes, I do!” Mind you, he’s 14 years old.
Finally loaded up the car with our luggage just in time for check out. Made our way to the waterpark, my husband took Zane to go swimming first while I took Micah to go purchase a swim trunk at the gift within the waterpark. I sat at a table with our belongings and watched my husband and my boys enjoy their time at the waterpark and soaked in the moments.
After we were done with swimming, we made our way to the arcade where my boys were able to get their game fix on.
After the arcade, we went to the gas station near by to get some drinks and snacks and wanted to show Zane the huge dinosaur that was the entrance to the gas station.
At this point we were in for a major appetite for a late lunch. When at the dells, we always make sure to make a stop for my favorite Mac and cheese restaurant at Mac and Cheese Shop.
My usual is the Jalapeño Popper and this time I wanted to try the Buffalo Mac and Cheese and I gotta say it’s now my second favorite off their menu.
After lunch, we made our drive to a relative’s house to celebrate my husband’s grandfather’s 90th birthday with the rest of his family and got to see how much the kids have grown.
Spent the night at my in laws house and had my leftover Buffalo Mac and Cheese for breakfast with a glass of homemade coffee while my boys ate scrambled eggs and Malt O-Meal that my mother in law made for them. Made our way to go visit my husband’s grandparents at their apartment and spend some more time with them before we made our way back home.
Food for Thought
I’m beyond grateful to witness life’s blessings in watching our loved ones grow old and the memories that we make. This weekend, I constantly reminded myself to take everything in and to savor these moments. Intently watch my kids play at the waterpark and just thinking about other moments that led up to this moment: their numerous swimming lessons, love of games and dinosaurs, and watching them learn about the world. I’m beyond awed at celebrating grandpa’s 90th birthday and reminiscing about how we just celebrated his 80th birthday. What a difference 10 years make not only to our elderly loved ones but also our kids growth.
Time is moving too fast and if I can just hug them a little longer, plan more trips and vacations, then maybe time can move a little slower. It’s important to be present is what I’ve learned. In the meantime, I’m capturing these moments in hopes that I can refer back to them when I’m hopefully 90 one day.
It’s been a while since I’ve last posted a blog post, I’ve been clearing my mind and making space to make room for his new chapter in my life. I’ve been blessed for experiencing milestones and continue to strive for continuous growth and happiness. The year 2020 had brought a lot of things into perspective, for me to reflect my priorities in life, and what my next step in life would be. I call it The Brook Project.
On March 1st, my husband and I finally closed on a 23 acre land in Brook Park, MN. We’ve always discussed about owning land but never did I think that we’d actually do it as we’re both such daydreamers, but I guess dreaming is where it all starts. There were several reasons as we made this move and the following is a series of reasons that made sense to make this dream a reality.
I grew up as a city girl on the weekdays and a farm girl on the weekends in my early childhood. My dad would bring me and my siblings to various farms where he raised chickens. My dad and I have many conversations about owning land ever since I was a teenager, mainly because I wanted him to have something to call his own instead of using other people’s farmland. The conversations went from me wanting to get land for him some day, to me still working towards it, to him recently saying that he’s giving up on the idea of it… which really made my heart sink and I felt that. I guess for him it was easier to give up on the idea of it than to hope of something that may not happen, fortunately, that’s not the case. This was a major flex of me reciprocating the love that he has provided to me as the greatest father I could ever ask for. When I updated my dad each process of checking out the land, putting an offer, the seller accepting, and finally to closing… I was hoping for a jumping joy reaction, but he had such a mellow reaction! Like c’mon dad, this is something we’ve always talked about! But my mother tells me that he’s low key excited, he’ll probably be more excited when there’s a house on the land.
“Like Mother, Like Daughter”
My mom on the other hand was way more excited than my dad when I told her about it. She was the one who called to follow up when we were going to close on the land. Now, it’s me and my mom talking about ideas, such as farming, having a greenhouse, to her even mentioning about possibly retiring on the land – which just validates were on the same wavelength. Subjects that I would imagine having these discussions with my dad. It’s funny how things turn out in ways that you don’t expect it. “Like Mother, Like Daughter” is what my dad would always say, but usually only when my mom and I quarrel. But now, we’re good. My mother and I have a better mother-daughter relationship now than we ever before. I guess we needed time, space, and me being a mother for our mother-daughter relationship to come into full circle. I can now see where I get my crazy ideas from, so course “like mother, like daughter.”
The Heart that I Spill on the Pages
Motherhood makes you think of moments that you can create more of for your children. Moments like having a huge family reunion in Washington state and watching my stepson, Micah, spend most of his time outside in the forest just playing with nature and exhausting his restlessness. As a child with special needs I noticed that this environment brought him peace and I wanted more of that for him.
My toddler, Zane, is happy with pure nature of sticks, stones, dirt, and running. In my womb, he was very active – always kicking. Zane started walking at 10 months and I’ve been chasing him ever since. I want more space for him to roam and explore his curiosity to his heart’s content.
In retrospect, memories that I don’t want are those without my fur baby, Bruno. We had a scare about 6 months ago when we thought our 9 year old Pitbull was gone forever when he went loose in our backyard and went missing for 3 of the longest weeks of our life. Weeks of crying, worrying, and afraid of not having more memories of him running on open land and growing old with us. Thank goodness that wasn’t the case as we were able to have Bruno back to our family safe and sound.
My Past, Present, and Future
The first people I texted after officially closing on the land was a group text to my brothers. They were just as excited as I was. Because what I have is for them to enjoy too. Already buzzing about plans for the summer for camping, my brother asking to shoot his guns, and the amount of fun that our kids are going to have.
The Pencil to My Paper
Last and not least the pencil to my paper of writing my ultimate love story. Our 10 years of being together and married for 5 years, raising two healthy boys, a loving dog, and this land for us to create even more abundant memories. Can’t wait to write the next chapter of our love story.
If you’re like me, making your picky toddler actually eat is a challenging task in itself. Some days you just want to create a quick side meal for your toddler or if your toddler is being picky from the main meal that you’ve already cooked, luckily this basic dish will be easy and fast to put together with zero prep.
Cook Time: 20-25 minutes | Serving Size: 4-5 people
Purchase and download digital PDF recipe, click here.
Living in St. Paul, MN my whole life I know a thing or two about sledding… for free. Although, growing up I had the privilege of having a perfectly steep hill in my backyard at my parent’s place. But since my parent’s have built a deck in their backyard, sledding on their hill would probably send us slamming to the house.
The search for safe outdoor winter activities for my restless and active boys during this time has become something to look forward to in the midst of circumstances. Luckily, we were able to take a break from our cabin fever and enjoy the outdoors for the sake of our sanity.
According to the City of St Paul, the following are the top 4 steep hills to go sledding for free are:
Most recently we visited Battle Creek Recreation Center, totally would recommend it. The hill is steep, there’s lighting at the top of the hill for safety, and there’s not a ton of people. I would suggest going sledding when the snow is ample and fresh for a better experience.
Finally, an online store that provides stylish and practical solutions for organizing your home and life! I am thrilled to share this announcement with you.
Thrilled To Finally Be Able To Launch My Online Store
I have been working hard for the past few months just getting things ready for the new year and preparing the launch my online store. Like many of you, I have been caged in my house and having an itch to organize everything from kitchen cabinets to kid’s toys and shop for home décor or functional furniture online. To no avail, I found it challenging to shop for products that were appeasing to my taste. So I thought, why not create my own online store with products that appease to my taste and style.
The Store Selection Is Constantly Growing
If you don’t see what you’re looking for now, check back in a few days! They’ll be new products that will be added to the site on a regular basis. Also, follow my blog for posts of new products added to the online store.
I’m so excited to start this new journey and hopeful for the new year.
I had recently called my paternal grandmother on her birthday and ended up taking for almost two hours. She lives in Seattle, Washington and I’m in St Paul, Minnesota so we don’t get to spend much time with each other. She recently turned 71 years old and I was just asking things about her and her life. My paternal grandmother has been a farmer all of her life. She was a farmer where she was born and raised in Laos and when she came to the U.S., she continued to be a farmer and that was her way of living, raising her children, and support several children off to college.
My maternal grandmother also had a green thumb and did some farming here and there but for the most part she was a gardener. I was much closer to my maternal grandmother as she lived closer to me and I practically spent my childhood at her house. She would tend to her garden everyday, regardless if she had to babysit a grandchild, she would hoist that grandchild onto her back with a traditional Hmong baby carrier.
As I’ve gotten older I’m continuing to have the need to have a green thumb as well. Finding myself going to the asian grocery stores just to purchase herbs and running into issues of my herbs dying faster than me eating them. So I’ve been dabbling on growing my own herbs wishing I would’ve shown interest earlier when my maternal grandmother was still alive. So the subject of growing herbs was on my mind when I was talking to my paternal grandmother on her birthday.
It’s amazing the wealth of information that she has about farming. She has grown everything from a variety of herbs, fruits, and flowers and these are the only things that I’m aware of as I have memories of her bringing luggages full of fruits and vegetables for whenever she came to visit us in Minnesota. Not to mention she used to grow and sell flowers at Pike’s Place Market in Seattle, Washington.
So we were on the subject of growing herbs such as cilantro, green onion, mint, Thai basil, and lemon grass as they are essential in Southeast Asian cuisine. I could tell the difference of our perspectives in growing herbs, hers is the ideal way of growing them in outdoors in the garden, whereas, my perspective is growing indoors in a planter or in a mason jar. I might just have to turn my front lawn into a mini garden because I’m having little success growing them indoors.
Herbs are almost always served fresh in all of Southeast Asian cuisine.
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Cilantros are tasty, aromatic, and are used as more than just garnishment to many Southeast Asian dishes. Cilantros are a staple in Southeast Asian cuisine as it provides a powerful fresh taste to any meal. I have cilantros all the time in my fridge or often find myself purchasing cilantros from the local asian grocery stores or if you don’t have any near you Amazon always seems to have everything.
My grandmother and I were on the subject of growing cilantros for a while as I was asking her simple questions like the following:
Q: How do I harvest them? Do I cut them all at the base and then they’ll grow right back?
A: No. Don’t cut them at the base, most definitely won’t grow back. With cilantros, you have to cut the stem that’s attached to the leaf and by doing this way the cilantro will grow back bushier as well
When I first started growing cilantros on the side of my driveway many years ago, to my surprise, I didn’t know that when cilantros hit its maturity that it starts to bloom with little white flowers at the top of the stem. I later learned that within the little white flowers are seeds to grow cilantro again. So I asked my grandmother the following question:
Q: When can I harvest the seeds? So I harvest them when the little white flowers start to bloom?
A: No, you pick the seeds of the stem when it has died and dried off.
My grandmother continued to tell me to grow Hmong cilantros, usually these cilantros will still have roots attached to it, which I can regrow and collect the seeds when it matures. Apparently, according to my grandmother, Hmong cilantros are a lot more flavorful, aromatic, and bushier. Turns out, these Hmong cilantros are from the seeds that Hmong people brought with them from Laos. Going to ask my grandmother before spring to see if she can send me some of her seeds for me to plant in my yard. Plus, it has a nice ring to it “my grandmother’s cilantros.”
I also asked her if she would freeze the cilantros after harvesting them, and of course, she does.
Some call it scallions, but I call it green onions. Green onions are also an essential herb when it comes to Southeast Asian cuisine. Used more than just a garnishment and more for its slight onion fresh taste to any dish. I, too, find myself purchasing this herb along with cilantros when running to local asian grocery stores.
I’ve dabbled over the years of growing green onions and always found them to grow best in summer outdoors. Once grew green onions on the side of my driveway, hardly tended to it, and they grew so fast and tall. At that time I was just experimenting and didn’t realize that green onions also bloom at this maturity. Grew so many green onions in abundance that my husband and I gave bunches away to our neighbor.
What I also learned about green onions was that I could regrow, or up-cycle, my green onions purchased from the store. I just have leave about 2-3 inches from the ends, submerge the roots vertically in water and before you know it, the green onions will start to grow. Eventually my green onions grew so tall that I had transplanted to a mason jar as a planter.
Cilantros and Green Onions go hand in hand. The following are recipes that include cilantro and green onion as an ingredient:
Mint is has a strong smell and taste to any Southeast Asian dish. It’s most often used in as a garnishment in dishes like Pho, Kao Poon, and Laab. It goes hand in hand and complements with cilantro and green onion.
Mint is another herb that I plan on growing as local asian grocery stores usually sell them in large bunches. It usually goes bad before I get the chance to use them all, so planting them is in the hemisphere.
My husband and I love eating Thai basil. Thai basils are not like other typical basils that are used in basil pesto or on Margherita pizzas. Thai basils are different in its own right, asian grocery stores usually sell them with stems attached, whereas, other basils are sold with only its leaves and no stem in clear plastic containers. Another difference is that Thai basils have stems that are purple in color and has a very distinct and strong basil aroma.
Thai basils are great with stir fries. Most definitely when eating at a Thai restaurant, the menu will always have some sort of a basil stir fry dish. My husband always orders a basil stir fry dish when he has the chance and always asks for extra Thai basil to be cooked in it.
Most importantly, when it comes to noodle soups like Pho, Kao Poon, Kao Piak – Thai basil is a must need ingredient.
There you have it, the four main herb ingredients to any Southeast Asian dish. Be sure to like and follow this blog along with following my social media for more updates.
I have a taste for plain white rice, whether it’d be short-grain white rice (sushi grade) or Jasmine rice (long-grained). Short-grained white rice is the type of rice that many Hmong people, as well as Southeast Asians, eat. For a healthier option, Hmong people have transitioned to eating more Jasmine rice.
Hmong people have a history of farming and harvesting white rice in Laos before arriving to the U.S. as refugees. My great grandparents, grandparents, and parents, now myself and my children love and eat white rice. It’s such a crucial staple in every Hmong kitchen as it’s eaten with all meals of the day. Our preference of rice is so ingrained in us that my dad would always reference meals at restaurants would taste better if it had rice to go along with it.
White rice is eaten plain as a side dish to many Asian meals. Sometimes even as a main dish when cooked as fried rice. Short-grained white rice was cooked the traditional way with the use of a steamer pot and bamboo basket, either to steam regular rice or make sticky rice.
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Rice used to be steamed in a steamer pot and bamboo basket for steaming rice or making sticky rice (only with short-grained white rice). I have never made rice the traditional way but often would call and ask my mom how she made it. It’s still on my to do list to learn the traditional way of making rice.
When I was younger, I would remember my grandma storing sticky rice in these small bamboo baskets. I found myself recently at a local asian grocery store looking for these bamboo baskets for nostalgia but I just couldn’t find one that was made with quality and that resembled the one my late grandmother had. The closest one I was able to find on Amazon is the following.
Little by little, the traditional way of making rice came to an abrupt end as electronic rice cookers came on the rise. The only time I ever saw rice made the traditional way now is either at Hmong catering services or restaurants when making large batches that just can’t compete with the small home electronic rice cookers.
I’ve had my fair share of using a variety of rice cookers and they have come a long way. Growing up, my family, as well as other Hmong families, used something similar to a Tiger JNP-1000-FL 5.5-Cup.
Although I don’t eat as much rice as I used to anymore, I would crave for a nostalgic meal every now and with a side of plain white rice. The following are several recipes that includes the ingredient of white rice or meals that would go great with a side of white rice.
Spices in the Southeast Asian cuisine are used as condiments to add a touch of spice to a dish or cooked in high heat alongside to ingredients. Spices are ultimately used in every Southeast Asian dish imaginable. It’s safe to say that if it’s not spicy, it’s not an authentic Southeast Asian dish. The word “spice” is such a broad category for this subject so I’m going to break it down to its rightful subcategories of 1) fresh spices, 2) dry spices, and 3) wet spices.
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So what makes a Southeast Asian dish so deliciously spicy that it hurts so good? Thai chili peppers. There you have it. Now you’re probably used to seeing cooking videos deseed peppers but not in Southeast Asian cuisine. I could never understand as to why one would deseed a pepper because of the preference of not wanting it to be too spicy? Then don’t use the pepper… period.
According to the internet, Thai chili peppers have Scoville level from 50,000 to upwards of 100,000, which is about 15 times spicier than an average Jalapeño pepper. Some come in the color green and some in red. The red Thai chili peppers are preferred for its high level of spiciness but not all red Thai chili peppers are created equal. Unfortunately, it’s a hit or miss with the spiciness, but you’ll just have to make due with what you have.
Thai chili peppers are usually sold in your local Asian grocery store or in local farmer’s market. Luckily for me, as I live in the heart of the Hmong community in St. Paul, MN – there’s tons of both. But if you live in the outskirts, I’m sure you can make work with ordering some Thai chili peppers from Amazon.
Now that’s out of the way, you can use Thai chili peppers in any stir fry dish by cutting off the stem and then cutting it in half the long way. The reason for cutting it in half the long way rather than throwing a whole pepper in for cooking is to expose the seeds of the pepper to the dish for that next level spice. Southeast Asian cooking has a style of layering ingredient flavors to a dish. Typically, it’s oil and the holy trinity of ginger, garlic, onions – then, fresh Thai peppers… and whatever ingredients that come next.
I used to have an abundance of Thai chili peppers all year round when my maternal grandmother was alive. She would grow Thai chili peppers in her little backyard garden. My mother has her own garden, now that all of us kids have grown up, and a good reason for her to start since we won’t be trampling in her yard. She, too, would harvest Thai chili peppers and distribute it me and my brothers but she didn’t nearly grow as much as my grandmother did. So I would find myself purchasing Thai chili peppers at local grocery stores and Hmong farmer’s market.
Growing up, I would remember my grandmother using a woven bamboo basket to lay the Thai chili peppers that she harvested from her garden for full sun exposure. She would always tell us kids to watch out and avoid her basket full of peppers as we would run by it.
The Thai chili powders were probably crushed by using a traditional Thai Clay Mortar and Wooden Pestle, which is a staple tool in Southeast Asian cuisine. I, myself, own one as well, which I purchased from a local Asian grocery store but you can also purchase it from Amazon.
Wet spices are often used as condiments to add additional spice to a dish. Sometimes more than one wet spice will be added so don’t be too surprised. Each wet spice has its unique texture or flavor whether it’s an oily flavor or garlic flavor and the texture of the peppers, it’s all preference.
I used to cook stir fries using fresh Thai chili peppers but as I have kids who can’t quite tolerate the spice levels yet, I’ve refrained from cooking with fresh peppers. Although I do miss it a lot, I’ve been using more of the dry and wet spices as an alternative for that spice fix.