Thank you for sticking with me on this journey — have a cookie as a treat! Check out the December edition reflecting on the past year.
Well, folks, we did it!!! This labor of love has been going for a year now and I could not be happier that I stuck with it. There have been loads of bumps along the way as my job got busier and my free time shrunk, but the connections I have made in the D.C. food community are extremely worth it. As a special one year anniversary edition, I revisited with some of my past newsletter subjects to get y’all an update on their lives, and then look to 2021 to see what people’s goals are and what they expect or need to change. I was blessed that these connections gave me more of their time, and it allowed me to be reflect on the past year for myself, while inspiring goals for the next year. And that also sparked the idea for me to share my own recipes that I made for the holidays and have for the past few years. So this means you’ll be seeing a very different format below, but I hope you like it and it sparks a conversation. Let’s dive in then!
This month: It’s been a bit of a chaotic month, but I made the best of the most wonderful time of the year. I started a new fitness challenge that also focuses on self-love and mental health, so the daily reflections I’ve been doing have inspired me to be more proactive and ambitious. With that said, I wanted to create an anniversary edition while still connecting with a local foodie. Anela Malik helped connect me with Yasmin Elgibali, a home baker based in Burke, VA, so scroll down to read more tips from her as well. And I would still love to hear from every one of you on what you expect to see in the new year.
Some background: In a monthly newsletter, I combine a DC local’s story behind their favorite recipe(s), or ones that whip up some nostalgia, with photos and prose of my attempt at replication. These recipes vary in difficulty, but they are always ones close to the heart. This newsletter is sent on the third Sunday of each month as the name suggests.
A fun note: Make sure to mark this email as NOT spam, move it to your inbox or add my sending address to your address book to avoid the newsletter regularly ending up in the abyss. Sometimes Mailchimp email campaigns go straight to spam.
First thing’s first: Meet Yasmin.
Yasmin grew up enjoying baking as a hobby and it was always in the back of her mind. She went into marketing as a career at first after graduating college and lived in New York City, but soon baking came back to the forefront so she started taking pastry classes. She actually was inspired to take those classes because she had won a photoshoot contest with Cosmo about people’s dream jobs. She had said her dream job was a cooking show host, but when they asked about steps she was taking towards that dream, she realized she needed to be more serious about classes. So she took culinary classes, worked full-time in advertising, and on the weekend, she learned all things vegan baking by working at the famous Peacefood Cafe.
Baking was a great creative outlet for her but she was nervous to start her own business. especially in NYC. So, after moving back to her hometown of Burke, VA, and sitting on the thought during the beginning of the pandemic, she realized it was now or never. Yasmin has enough marketing experience and business savvy to make it work after she jumped right in. She kicked off her logo creative process and brainstormed recipes while on a roadtrip to a wedding.
A few weeks later, she got the business up and running after a friends and family taste test, creating a website, figuring out the best place to get her ingredients and lots of other homework to make sure she was successful. She fully formed her LLC in August and has had her business running for several months now! She wears all the hats and works operations, baking production and marketing every day.
Yasmin decided to offer gluten-free and vegan treats, something she’s passionate about, so that she could fill a gap in the market in NoVa and so that everyone can enjoy her baked goods. She frequently sells her goodies at farmer’s and holiday markets, in addition to taking orders via social media and ecommerce on her website. She says many of her customers hear about her bakeshop through social media because they are often looking to support local and small businesses who offer delicious scratch-made treats that remind them of home. Her most popular treat? Pumpkin spice cinnamon rolls. Her signature holiday cookie tins are taking off as well, though, which include her favorite thing to bake: peppermint sugar cookies.
Looking to recreate Yasmin’s success? Check out her top tips below for starting a home-based bakery and how to keep things running.
Top tips on: starting a home-based bakery
Time to catch up
I asked my former interviewees for an update on them or their business, and what they’re looking for in the new year, including any personal goals, and top food tips for essential workers looking for a quick meal or at-home workers looking to spice things up in the kitchen. Read all the knowledge they have to offer below!
Laura of Booze Free in DC
2020 accomplishments: I got laid off this year. That was definitely a hard time for me — the uncertainty of how I was going to support myself. I’m so grateful for the pandemic unemployment assistance package but it was (and is) still a time of the unknown. But I’m beyond proud of my accomplishments because I took the crazy amount of lemons from 2020 and made some sweet, sweet lemonade. I started a web design agency for therapists and other helping professionals. I really built Booze Free in DC (check out my most recent Holiday Gift Guide!) and worked on Zero Proof Nation with my co-founder Chris Marshall. I got my first byline in District Fray Magazine and I have some exciting things coming up for Dry January too!
2021 improvements: Obviously I want as many small restaurants and bars and bakeries to succeed and get through what is probably the most challenging time for the hospitality industry we’ve seen in decades. Once we get to a semblance of new “normalcy” in 2021, I would love for the industry in general to reflect the boom in non alcoholic beverages — that includes expanded zero proof menus (maybe a “no ABV” label on menus…) I want to work with DMV businesses to consult on zero proof menu/beverage creation. I want to create my booze-free travel guide/magazine for DC as a blueprint for other global cities.
Food tips: For the essential workers out there, I love you! Thank you for your service. I think what’s most important right now is to remember that we don’t have to numb out with booze. Our mental health is sacred so let’s take care of it with some fantastic booze-free beverages, whether it’s a fun new seltzer or a complex zero proof cocktail. Our bodies and souls will be happier and healthier. Let’s start 2021 out right!
Jaimie of Red Bandana Bakery
2020 accomplishments: Our biggest accomplishment of the year was our online cake decorating class. We baked small cakes and provided the frosting, fondant and sprinkles for curbside pickup, then broadcast a Facebook live event where we demo’d the process live while taking questions as participants decorated along at home. We advertised on groups like Support Moco Restaurants and had a HUGE turnout–one weekend there were over 100 participants, and baking 100 cakes for one weekend was definitely a new record for this bakery!
2021 improvements:A personal goal for me in 2021 is going to be striking a better work/life balance. For the sake of social distancing we have severely cut down on staffing at the bakery and I have had trouble turning down any orders that come in as we try to survive business-wise, which has led to a lot of late nights and 90-hour weeks for me and my few helpers here. I can’t wait to get to a place where it’s safe to bring in some more staff, and meanwhile we need to work on setting boundaries with our order-taking.
Food tips: As we’ve been trying to minimize trips to the grocery store and buy things that keep well I’ve been cooking a lot more with beans, and I would really recommend chickpeas specifically! They are cheap, highly nutritious and so versatile–we use them in countless items at the bakery for every meal of the day–a vegan chickpea scramble on breakfast sandwiches, hummus with challah chips for snacks, a hearty chickpea curry stew for lunch or dinner, or even pureed with cooked apple and cinnamon and oats for our sweet chickpea blondie desserts! We have baking kits available for those, too.
2020 accomplishments: “I am very fortunate to have help economically during these times so it hasn’t been that stressful for me. The only inconvenience is not feeling comfortable visiting any of my family or friends. As of now I don’t feel too stressed about the news because we kind see a light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccine being already distributed.”
2021 improvements: “In the year 2021, I would for this horrendous epidemic to be over!!!! Please!! Please!! And definitely my one of my goals is to hug and visit my family and friends more often. So many things we take for granted.”
Food tips: “Foods that I have been enjoying and that are super easy to make are beef soup and a lot of chicken and beef stew. Some nights when I feel very tired I would just order pizza too. Instant noodle soups can save the day too.”
Anela Malik of FeedtheMalik
2020 accomplishments: “I am so proud to have worked with and gotten to know so many amazing, hard-working, and empathetic food folks this year. Those relationships have meant the most to me in a year that has felt so disjointed and disconnected.”
2021 improvements: “I hope as businesses look to rebuild after the end of the pandemic that they also look to ensuring that their workplaces are truly safe, that they offer opportunities to a diverse array of workers, and that they operate with an eye towards sustainability and equity as well as profit.”
Food tips: One of my top food tips for anyone is that beans are truly underrated. They’re cheap, easy to reheat, one pot can last for days, and can be made so delicious and phenomenal with just the addition of a few other elements. Don’t sleep on beans folks!
Michael and Jerusalem of Roaming Rooster
2020 accomplishments: We have a lot going on right now. We opened our U Street location since we last spoke and in January we’re going to open a location in Tenleytown. We’re also opening a location in Western Market and a Skyland location in a few months. It’s been a shitty year for the service industry so we almost feel guilty but we’ve been one of the lucky ones. We also won a $25,000 grant through the Discover Pay It Forward program that people nominated us for. We have half of it to five non profits in the DMV, so that was a big deal for us. We had close to 4,000 nominations from community members so we had some meetings to pick the charities we donated to. Otherwise, we continue to serve only pick-up and delivery through our restaurants. The community is so supportive and it’s a humbling thing. We’re beyond grateful especially during this difficult time for families and businesses.
2021 improvements: Our plan is to expand menu. We have milkshakes coming soon, and we’re currently ironing out those details, and we’re looking to add a breakfast menu with biscuits. We’re in the process of rebranding with a new company logo and new packaging, so we’ve been very busy with that lately. We want to keep progressing but stay focused and maintain our quality. After we donated some of our grant, we were inspired to set up some sort of non profit to help the community regularly. That difference we can make is high up on our agenda. We do still hope the government provides relief because a lot of people and businesses are struggling. The way things are going right now, too many people are suffering, so we hope to see some sort of stimulus or help.
Food tips: You can pick up our fried chicken and make a simple pasta at home, and even add some sauce to make a parmesan chicken. When it comes to cooking, make sure not to cut corners and get the best ingredients you can. And you can never go wrong with spices.
Eric Wang of Thamee
2020 accomplishments: “We’re still here! It’s not my intention to be glib nor facetious with this response but to be honest. Unfortunately, with the restaurant industry besieged in this war of attrition, the fact that Thamee has managed to survive this far is an accomplishment on its own. Even though, I sometimes don’t feel like it’s much of an accomplishment. When the pandemic hit, our restaurant was less than 10 months old, which means in two more months, we will have been in this pandemic longer than we had normal restaurant service. Since then, we’ve seen numerous restaurants announce their permanent closures, and more announced every day. Most of them have had more years of operation, and many of them were owned and operated by celebrity chefs and experienced restaurateurs. Our survival thus far has been due to a combination of customer support, the hard work of our staff, generosity of our landlord, and grants we’ve received from both government and non-profit organizations. Still, those things, however generous and assiduous, haven’t been enough. Our current weekly sales are under 20% of where they were in February 2020, which means every day we’re accruing debt and cutting costs where we normally wouldn’t so that we can survive longer. However, with the advent of the vaccines, there is a theoretical timeframe we can expect dining to return to normalcy. And that has given me a renewed sense of purpose to survive through this pandemic. The first night that we can seat customers at our bar and shake hands and hug and share a drink, then I’ll know if survival truly feels like an accomplishment.
2021 improvements: “We need a bailout package, direct cash relief injected into individual small businesses so that the owners and operators can do what we need to do to keep our restaurants open and to set us up for success when the restrictions are lifted. To be clear, I am not against any of the restrictions on dining. It’s imperative that we continue to stay vigilant and follow these restrictions for our public health and safety. But to ask the hospitality industry to continue to suffer without giving us the financial means to survive would inevitably continue the cascading effects of closures and unemployment, and so on. I would also like to see the industry normalize livable wages, health insurance and paid time off as part of a standard benefits package. The one thing that the pandemic has really brought to light is the condition in which hospitality workers often lack access to these things, and therefore, many people don’t go to the doctor’s when they’re sick and they continue to work while they’re sick. And if they’re sick with something contagious, we all get sick. And as consumers, if this is something we agree on, then we need to get used to paying slightly higher prices when dining out. We need to realize when we pay for a steak, it’s not just a twelve-ounce piece of beef we’re paying for. We’re also paying for the time, the grueling labor and artistry of numerous real human beings and their livelihoods. Therefore, my goal for 2021 for Thamee is to survive through this so that we can continue to be an example of how a small independent restaurant can pay a livable wage and offer health insurance and paid time off to our full-time employees.”
Food tips: “For essential workers: Soups, stews and curries! They are a delicious way to deliver a lot of flavor and nutrients with a relatively short cooking time. Most soups/stews/curries take less than two hours to make from start to finish, and a lot of that time is passive cooking time, which means you can do whatever you like while your pot bubbles and simmers. You can make a lot of it, so you actually get more meals out of your cooking time than you would cooking individual meals every day. You can also freeze them in individual microwave safe containers without losing tastes or nutrition value. Stick it in the microwave and they are ready to be enjoyed. For your carbs, go for rice (which keeps well in the fridge, and can also be turned into fried rice), pick up a loaf of bread from your favorite bakery, or egg noodles which cook the fastest and have similar nutritional content as other pastas.
For those looking to experiment: If you can afford it, host a Zoom cooking class with a chef from your favorite restaurant. Email chefs and ask them if they would do a cooking class for you and your friends for a fee. Most chefs I know are generous people who can’t wait to share their expertise. It’s a great way to learn and to spend some time with your friends.”
Danny Llledo of Xiquet and Slate
2020 accomplishments: I’m so proud of the team that we’ve built at Xiquet. We opened in March, two weeks before the whole world went crazy, and we had to completely figure out how to shepherd a brand-new business through a pandemic. We got innovative — beyond just pivoting to takeout meals, we’ve launched online paella classes and wine tastings that have been a huge success and have helped us stay in business. Book a private Zoom event for the holidays or another special occasion and email email@example.com!”
2021 improvements: “I’m so looking forward to the end of the pandemic so we can really show all of D.C. 100% of what our new restaurant has to offer.”
Food tips: “Olive oil + garlic + vegetable of choice is always a great quick option. Last night I sautéed some spinach and kale I had in the fridge already, topped it with a little bit of parmesan, and made a great quick meal when I got home late from the kitchen.”
What are my goals?
2020 was a rough year. But I did have some highs in addition to the lows. I grew my subscriber count to 89 people and managed to churn out 11 newsletters, making a new connection for each one. I tried new recipes almost every day and experimented frequently in the kitchen, including finally learning how to bake with sourdough. I started a new job at POLITICO doing what I had long dreamed of doing: copy editing. I continued to build meaningful relationships with family, friends and my boyfriend. I rediscovered my love of reading. I started working out regularly again and lost weight. But enough about that. I need to set goals for 2021, and I want to share them with you for accountability.
- Grow my subscribers to 120 by the end of the year (ambitious, I know).
- Post more frequently and create more engaging content on my Instagram account. Increase that follower count as well.
- Experiment with new formats and designs for the newsletter, like I am this month. Keep content mostly local while still trying new ideas, such as one a close friend gave me that may involve the Great British Bake Off.
- Expand more on themes for each month, like the pie edition for November.
- Dedicate more time each month to reach these goals and grow my newsletter. Become more engaged in the D.C. foodie community by building on current connections and meeting at least 10 new people.
- Continue to try new, healthier recipes every day and cook most meals on weekdays.
- On that note, try every restaurant on my growing list of must-trys. Eat at or from a new place once a week if possible!
- Try new cuisines as well. Georgian is next!
- Feature more minority-owned businesses and home-based bakers and cooks.
- Have fun!