5 Year Anniversary

Wow! Five years, who would have thought I’d have this site up for so long? I for sure didn’t. I started blogging as a way to share pictures and updates on my life with my cousin in Paris. That blog was under another name and from another time. Then after my mother passed away, it completely changed me, and my life. I started this new-ish blog to document my new outlook on life and published it two days before I signed the paperwork for my first home. Another big life change.

In the five years that miemonster.net/.com existed a LOT has happened. This blog was my journal to my cousin, my travel diaries, my cooking notes and my creative outlet. Somehow other people started reading it, and I have made blog friends who have become IRL friends. I’ve grown my relationship, my family, my career. And even though I haven’t been as active this year, ya know being a mom and starting a new job, I am so thankful for the handful of you who still stick with me and read along when I do post!

This blog has given me opportunities to explore my passion for food, life, and traveling. There’s still a lot of growing to be done, slowly but surely, and I truly thank you, dear readers, for your kind words, support and letting me know when you find my writing relatable or helpful! Because even though I’ll happily write for one reader (my cousin) it’s definitely more motivating to have more!

I will be sipping, and clinking glasses with a friend tonight to celebrate a wonderful milestone! Cheers to five and many more!


Hot Pot at Home

It’s finally cooled down this year! And to start off soup-a-palooza, we are making hot pot at home! We recently spent a day off at a local shabu shabu joint. For those of you that have no idea what hot pot is, it’s basically a big pot of broth that everyone dips meat and veggies in. My husband LOVES it when the weather is cool, and I wanted to give it a try at home.

Because you make it to your own taste, there really isn’t any specific recipe that I used. I made myself two stocks as a base. A shrimp stock from the shells of shrimp that I was using for the meal, and a beef stock. We like the spicy broth, so to save myself some time, I just bought a jar of Tom Yum paste. To compliment that flavor, I made my soup stock with lemongrass, galangal, onion, kefir lime leaf and garlic.


After simmering the stock for quite a few hours (shrimp stock takes waaay less time) I strained it and set it aside. Now it’s time to set up the hot pot!

I washed and cut napa cabbage, watercress, a variety of mushrooms, and some sliced celery. You can use whatever vegetables you like. For meats, I had thinly sliced chicken breast, rib eye steak, shrimp, squid, fish balls, pho style meatballs, and puffed (fried) tofu. We also used clear bean thread noodles.

With the portable cooktop, I set up the broth pot. I poured in some clear strained stock, then stirred in Tom Yum Paste to taste. I also added fresh galangal, lemongrass, and garlic. But be careful. Garlic pods in the hodge podge of items in the soup can look a lot like a little piece of squid…when you are expecting to bite into squid but get garlic its an unpleasant surprise!

Overall it was so yummy, and comforting to do on a cold day. I would do it again and again! My husband loved it. He even makes his own sauce to dip. I personally just eat it like a noodle soup plain.


Bring on the cool weather. Note that I said cool, not cold. I’m not on team snow.

Soup-a-Palooza Kick Off!

Those of you that have been reading this blog for awhile know that around this time of year I go crazy for soups. Let’s be honest. I go crazy for soups all year round. But at least now, other people will join me in eating comforting soups and stews.

I used to organize my blog posts with Soup-a-Palooza headings, but since then have cleaned up and categorized differently. It’s still all the same, though. Yummy, warm goodness for your belly. Let’s kick off soup season with a few of my favorite soup posts!

Chicken and Rice Soup


Butternut Squash Soup


Crab Bisque

What are some of your favorite fall/winter recipes?

Small Business Saturday

Have you made your list? Checked it twice? Or are you super proactive and already completed your holiday shopping? (Who are you, you magical wizard?).

As much as I love this time of year, family, holiday parties, food, decoration…I also REALLY dislike the period between after Thanksgiving and Christmas. This is when every store, grocery, wholesale, department…TARGET is super packed and everyone is going ape shit over shopping for presents. It’s super stressful for me since I don’t like crowds of people.

But we’re not here to talk about my anxieties. Hah. While everyone gets hyped over black Friday deals and Cyber Mondays, I just wanted to remind you of SMALL BUSINESS SATURDAY! I love to support small businesses and appreciate the time and love put into them. You can always find unique non-mass produced things, which are perfect for the gift giving season. I love etsy for that reason. But if you are lucky enough to live in an area where there are local small shops, don’t forget to check them out! This year, Small Business Saturday is November 26. Read about why it is important for the U.S. Economy.  The added perk is they are less likely to have crazy crowds of people pushing and breathing on you.

Do you have a small business? Leave your site in the comments and I’d love to check it out. I love having a small business side hustle, whether it be slinging my macarons + other baked goods, hand lettering/modern calligraphy services, or graphic design, I always feel appreciated by the people who support me by purchasing my goods.

Looking to start your own small business? Fundera offer small business loans to help business owners fund seasonal workers and increased inventory during the holidays. I haven’t used them personally, but the site is full of resources.


Disclaimer: I was contacted by Fundera to help with their promotion. I have not personally used their services, but do read their blog!

Luke's Diner Pop Up

I am a Gilmore Girls fan. So excited about the revival this Thanksgiving. When I heard (Thanks Vitya!) that my local coffee shop was going to host a Luke’s Pop up (sponsored by Netflix) I had to be there. It was meant to be. Because really, there were no other Northern Virginia locations (plenty in DC!) and it just happened to be on my way to work. YAS.


The breakdown. To be honest it wasn’t much. They had a Luke’s diner sign out. They had his famous “No Cell Phone” sign around the shop. And other signs with a Luke-esque feel to them. The baristas were wearing flannel and blue backwards caps, along with aprons with Lukes on it. I think being surrounded by other Gilmore Girls fans was part of the fun. And of course Grounded Coffee has awesome coffee and delicious food, so that was a plus. If you’re just a “meh” fan of the show, it might have been a waste of time. And there were plenty of people who dropped out of line (CLEARLY NOT HARDCORE ENOUGH). Which only made the line go faster for me!


It brought a little ray of sunshine on my rough couple of weeks. Thank you to my husband who despite not watching the show, his disdain for the theme song, being cold and hungry was a great sport in wanting to share this moment with me. Can you believe this show started 16 years ago (the age Lorelei had Rory!). I’m excited to see all the characters grown up (hello, Lane had kids!) and where they ended up in life.


I remember watching the series on my maternity leave, and hoping my daughter and I would be that close, despite our age difference. Thanks Netflix for bringing back all the feels.


Copperwood Tavern

I have no shame in saying that I love brunch. Any excuse to eat decadent things in the morning works for me. I’m not much of a cereal or bagel eater. I honestly could eat (and have eaten!) spaghetti or steak for breakfast. So brunch is my jam.


After what should have been a fun morning at the dog park (pitbull owners, you feel me) we left hungry and a little cranky. Luckily brunch on the patio in Shirlington at Copperwood Tavern cheered us right up! They allowed dogs at the outdoor seating and it was a nice morning. Instead of leaving bread on the table, they left yummy seasoned popcorn. I love freshly popped corn!

Everything on the menu sounded so good we couldn’t make a decision. Everyone wanted everything so we went ahead and shared all of it. My choice? Fried chicken, sausage gravy, and biscuits (*cue eyes rolling to the back of my head*)

Everything we had was perfect and I definitely want to go back to try everything else we missed…and maybe more of that sausage gravy!


Copperwood Tavern
The Village at Shirlington
4021 Campbell Ave
Arlington, VA 22206


Pittsburgh Rick's

I like grilled cheese sandwiches. I think anyone who is American likes grilled cheese sandwiches. As a kid I would just make it with white bread, butter and slices of Kraft American in a skillet. I’ve since matured my palate and upgraded my kitchen tools, panini pressed sandwich anyone? So when my friend told me about a place near her, that Yelp says has THE BEST GRILLED CHEESE, I was intrigued.

On one my visits, we stopped in Old Town Leesburg and grabbed a bite (to go!) from Pittsburgh Rick’s. He allegedly has the best grilled cheese.

When you walk in, you walk straight into the counter, and who was there to take our order? None other than RICK himself. Pretty cool. He’s owned a few restaurants, and it was nice to see that he was there taking orders and talking to guests. He actually recognized that we were new there (how long as this place been open?) and made us feel welcomed.

Rick invited us to check out upstairs while we waited. There is a bar, and a tiny balcony overlooking the street below. Looks like it’d be a happening place in the summer. We definitely want to check it out when it gets warmer…wonder what the parking situation would be like then though.

We took the order home, because babies, so keep that in mind when I talk about the food. There were other type of sandwiches on the menu, but we were there with a purpose. I ordered the Loaded Grilled Cheese, which comes with bacon and 3 types of cheeses. All the sandwiches are topped with french fries, apple cider slaw and tomatoes. You also get this orange sauce on the side. Spicy, tangy and a favorite for my husband. I also got wings, because I LOVE WINGS.

When we got to her place the sandwiches were a little bit soggy. Maybe because of the ride home in styrofoam, or maybe because it was loaded with butter. It literally dripped when I picked it up. That could be a good thing or a bad thing, I personally didn’t think it was a bad thing, but then again I love butter, and I clearly don’t care about my weight or health. I started off with the wings, which were good, but they were wings, nothing special to write about. I forgot to ask for ranch, and I believe it comes with bleu cheese. Womp.

OH YEAH he ALSO FORGOT MY SIDE OF FRIES that I paid extra for. BOO.

The main event. Since I ate my wings, I could only down half of my sandwich. It wasn’t what I expected. Maybe because I don’t know what Pittsburgh style grilled cheese sandwiches are. The bread was only lightly charred with grill marks and the sandwich was barely toasted (again, maybe because it took a ride home with us). It was a BIG sandwich. Surprisingly though, I liked it. That’s saying a lot since, 1, I don’t like coleslaw, 2, I don’t like tomatoes in my hot sandwiches and 3 I like my bread super toasted. The flavors were definitely all there, and the crunch and tang of the coleslaw added another element to balance out the sogginess that it turned in to be (the fries were mushy too). It all tied together well with the sauce. You have to eat it with the sauce.

Altogether I’d like to give this place another shot, eat there, enjoy the view and have it come out at the right temperature and texture…as well as have my side of fries that I ordered and never got.

Bullet Journaling

Remember how I was obsessed with planners? Well I have a new planning obsession, and its definitely going to stick. You know why? Because it’s one notebook, undated, that has everything in it. It’s apparently a big thing, and it’s definitely not new. Actually some of my engineering friends have done it for years, on their own before it became a “thing”.

I decided to wait until I finished my first notebook before I wrote about it. Because knowing me, I’d get bored and try to buy another planner or something (which I’m known to do, don’t judge, I like pretty notebooks and paper). But nope, I stuck to it and am pretty reliant on it. It comes in very handy, since I can’t use my personal phone at my new job. So no more digital notes, or calendars at my fingertips.

Basically its a journal that you can just dump your brain into, and organize it the way you want to. And since its a blank notebook, you can also get creative with it, with all the space you allow yourself. Currently, mine is mostly black ink, because I’m on the move so much I don’t have time to doodle or color code. But seriously, its no pressure! I love it.

For the official site and structured information on how to do it, visit BulletJournal.com. Then after you understand how it works conceptually, check out pinterest for more inspirations and collections you can use with it. The possibilities are endless. I write everything in my bullet journal…quotes I come across, meal plan, things to do, blog topics, random notes and numbers, keep track of bills, questions for the pediatrician… EVERYTHING. I also have a separate one that I use for work that keeps track of projects, and meetings and notes.

The best part is that you can use whatever notebook you want. So now I can go through and use up all the pretty journals I’ve been hoarding. Plus if you keep them, you can always look back and memories and notes for those days! I love paper and pens and this method is perfect. It can be anything you want it to be. There’s really no wrong way to do it. I even tape business cards or other pieces of paper related to that day in there to keep track of it.

Some of my “collections” aka brain dumps are things like.. books to read, movies to watch, brainstorms, event plans, home renovations, expense tracking etc. The index is helpful because now you know exactly where you dumped all your thoughts on a certain subject.

How about you? Have you tried it? Are you using it? What are some other planning methods you are doing to keep track of LIFE?


Leftover Crab Bisque

I’ve made this before with lump crab that costs like a million dollars at the grocery store. After eating as many crabs as I could stuff myself, I decided to not let it go to waste, and used my crab picking skills to pull out my own lump crab meat and made a yummy bisque. There aren’t any measurements because I make this to taste!

1 can (10.5oz) of Condensed tomato soup
1 can (10.5oz) of Cream of mushroom
Lump cooked crabmeat
Whole milk
Curry Powder

In a pot whisk together the tomato soup and cream of mushroom. Add one can of milk to start. Whisk until well mixed. Add crabmeat, make sure not to add too much. You want it to be a good amount of crab per bite, not too much, not too little. Stir till well mixed, turn on the heat to medium. Bring it to steaming, NEVER LET IT BOIL. Stir frequently so it doesn’t burn on the bottom. Once hot, taste it. And add black pepper, salt, and curry to taste. If it’s still too salty, add milk to make it creamy.

Untitled Book Project

Some of you have been pushing me to write a cookbook. Some of you have been asking me when said cookbook will be done. Some of you have asked me straight up, can I send you some recipes.

Some of you have no idea what I am talking about.

When my mom was sick, and it was clear she wasn’t going to have much longer to live, a few things came to my mind. If I have children, they would never know their strong, beautiful grandmother, who was the best cook. Yeah, I was definitely one of those kids that thought my mom made every thing better. Even her jar spaghetti. How will my kid know the tastes of Laos? How will they know the labor and love that is traditional Lao food? That’s when I realized I needed to get all my favorite recipes from my mom before she passed. Sound selfish right? But not really.

Growing up I was always in the kitchen with her. I’d be holding the bowl while she was kneading the dough for thick rice noodles. Or tasting the papaya salad when she needed someone else to taste it after pounding it in the mortar pestle. I was the one pouring the sauces into the eggroll mixture because her hands were all meaty and gross from mixing it. I was her little sous chef as soon as she trusted me to use the knife. I prepared and cooked the sticky rice. I loved being with her in the kitchen. And I hope that my future kid will feel the same way.

In her last months, we spent our time together in the kitchen. Me, writing down and making all my favorite dishes with her in the kitchen. Her, telling me exactly how to do it. Savoring all the flavors together one last time.

Fast forward a few years. I helped a local chef with her two restaurants, submerging myself in both front of house and back of house activities and promoting the flavors of Laos. Then I had a baby. And started another blog. Then I got lazy because now there are two Lao restaurants around to fulfill my cravings, instead of putting in the effort myself. I stopped working on my mother’s recipes.

Now I am back, and ready to start writing, testing, retesting, cooking, tasting and shooting these recipes. Time to collect it all together with the found memories and make a book. Because now I have a daughter, and I’d want her to learn about her grandmother through the food. Technically it would be categorized as a cookbook, but really it’d be a journal of memories and recipes.

Wish me luck.