A 2020 Reflection – The Critical Realization

Day 291 of isolation.

2020. The year that everyone thought would provide “perfect vision”, did so in a way that we could have never imagined. 2020. The unforgettable year that we really won’t want to remember.

For me, the first two months started off blissfully ignorant. All I knew was that a virus had originated in China and was apparently unlike any our current generations had ever experienced. For the first two months of 2020, I observed, but went about my business – sharing food at restaurants, large gatherings, shopping, riding the Metro, etc.

But as cases started popping up all over the world, including outbreaks on the west coast of our country, and the first case in our state, not far from me, I started paying better attention. I continued about my business, but I was becoming increasingly cautious.

On Saturday, March 7th, a friend and I had lunch in Manassas at Public House Kitchen & Brewery, then got coffee from Jirani Coffee House. That day, I would have never imagined would be my last friend date for an indefinite time. On my way home I went grocery shopping, to Michaels and Dollar tree – mainly to prepare for our upcoming Spring Fling/St. Patty’s office party.

That Monday night after work, I hopped on the Metro to meet fellow bloggers in Arlington for dinner. We visited TNR Cafe, to show our support for Chinese restaurants, which were among the businesses that initially took the biggest hit, due to fear and racism. We enjoyed amazing dishes and drinks, and had a great time promoting this awesome restaurant. But on my ride home, I sat on the edge of the seat with my handbag square in my lap the entire time. I didn’t want to touch a thing, and I was hoping no one sat nearby. I remember thinking “I probably won’t have many more outings like this for a little while.”

The week felt mostly normal. Northern Virginia counties started seeing an influx of cases: there were now 30. I convinced myself that “30 isn’t a lot considering there’s over a million people in my county alone.” Little did I know, those 30 cases were in the process of rapidly spreading, uncontrollably, throughout the region.

Cases continued to grow, and so did concern, but it was mostly business as usual. I did more grocery shopping, got my daily Starbucks, and bought lunch from vendors at work. Friday the 13th was our office party. That’s when things started to grow increasingly aberrant. Many coworkers were out that day. K-12 schools already started to close, leaving parents to scramble with work/life balance. Crazy to think that our Spring Fling/St. Patty’s party actually ended up being a Goodbye party 😦 Looking back, as St. Patty’s decorations and March calendars still adorned the deserted office 10 months later, kind of feels like it was the apocalypse.

That weekend I tried to focus on normalcy. Sunday, March 15th, I went to dance, but upon entering, I had to remove my shoes, take a towel, wash and dry my hands with my towel, take another towel, and clean my area with alcohol before beginning. I went to lunch after dance, my last dine in lunch. I grabbed a quick gyro from Opa Mezze Grill. I sat in the window so that people could see diners still in restaurants. Only two other tables were seated, as most people transitioned to take-out. A woman’s elderly mother was coughing, and she turned around and said “Please don’t be concerned! She coughs as a nervous tick!” I laughed and said, “That’s fine. I wasn’t concerned.” But was I?

March 15th. That was the day. Overnight things turned a complete 180. The world we lived in the day before, no longer existed. Virginia reported its first coronavirus death. The state reached 45 cases, mostly in my area. We were heading full-throttle into completely uncharted territory. Most of us with absolutely no idea what was about to come.

Monday, March 16th, I woke up and went hesitantly to work. My dinner plans for that night with a group of fellow bloggers were cancelled. My dinner plans for St. Patrick’s Day Wednesday were cancelled. Half of my office had already started working remotely, as the other half contemplated what we would end up doing. By Thursday afternoon, we had no choice. The decision was made for us. We were instructed to pack up our office and work remotely until June 10th, the earliest, no exceptions. I packed up that Friday afternoon, and left crying. Since I was supposed to start working remotely in 2021 anyway (pre-pandemic and unrelated), my gut told me I may never work in that office again. My heart was heavy.

Saturday I spent the day running errands to prepare for my two week isolation so that I could then relocate to my parents’ for the Spring. Hand sanitizer was sold out everywhere. I got the very last Clorox wipes from Target (a 3-pack that I had to crawl into the back of a bottom shelf to retrieve.) On my way home, I picked up dinner from Sisters Thai Cafe. When I returned to my apartment, I began my 14 day isolation/WFH – leaving my apartment only once during those two weeks, to give my car a drive, and walk around campus on a beautiful spring day.

One morning as my radio alarm went off, I laid in bed a few minutes listening to a news talk show. There was a man expressing his grave concern as a 71-year-old bus driver in Detroit. He feared for his health and his safety as the pandemic started to spiral out of control. I was saddened. Tears welled up in my eyes as I thought of his situation, and for really the first time, just how many other people would be so negatively affected by this.

Ten months later, and he still randomly pops up in my thoughts – the first incidence that I really grasped the gravity of what was about to develop. Is he ok? Did he, as an elderly front-line worker, catch the virus, and if he did, did he survive? Or was that radio phone call one of his last moments on this earth? Like the 341,000+ lives and counting that have left us. (Four Five that I knew personally.) *Edit: When I wrote this blog on Dec. 30th, I had known four people personally who passed away from the coronavirus. As of 4pm, Dec. 31st, New Year’s Eve, I learned that the girlfriend of my dad’s co-worker passed away that morning.

But for the part we should all care about: it didn’t have to happen like this. So many lives and livelihoods could have been saved if we had a competent government. I had a blast for two months this year: parties, dining out, shopping, friends, dance, valentine’s day, one of the few people who had a pre-pandemic birthday. Had we been properly informed, I would have happily given that all up in order to save lives and livelihoods, and not have to spend the next ten months still isolating, our country stuck in a cycle of shutting down.

donald trump will rightfully go down in history as the worst president this country has ever had to endure. The lying and mishandling of the pandemic is only one tiny drop in the bucket, but it’s reason enough on its own. Historians will accurately record these times – this year, 2020, and the pandemic. trump is not just a “narcissist” as is popularly spouted. He’s a criminal. He’s a vile, pathologically lying, multi-bankrupt, racist, misogynistic, criminal, and by far, the most inept, sorry excuse for a president we ever had the misfortune of having. Twenty-one more days until he gets the boot! I truly believe that eventually all intelligent and decent people will ultimately come to realize what a disgrace he has been.

In the meantime, LOVE ONE ANOTHER. Mask up. Wash your hands. Socially distance. Get the vaccine when it’s your turn. Take care of yourself, and take care of each other.

Supporting Local from Home

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. To be honest, I’ve had plenty of inspiration but not enough motivation. I’m trying my best not to feel defeated and deflated by 2020, but it hasn’t been easy.

My blog and my Instagram started out as a way to support small businesses – local restaurants, particularly, and connect fellow food-lovers worldwide. But the incredibly, poorly-handled pandemic has forced me (and many others) into a very long, on-going isolation. My Instagram has transformed into a stay-at-home, cooking account. And let me tell you, cooking is NOT my forte. It does not come naturally. But I’m trying my best, and since I relocated to my parents’ during this time, I’m learning a lot of tips and pointers from my mother.

In effort to still shop small, I’ve been trying to buy local produce and products, and shop on sites like Etsy. My personal favorite has been all the new local wines and beers I’ve discovered. I can find them in grocery stores here and enjoy them at home.

Aside from supporting the community where I have temporarily relocated the “Foodfixxe Isolation Station” to (Lynchburg, VA), I also want to continue supporting the community that helped me kick off Foodfixxe (the Washington, DC metro.)

I left a lot of loose ends when I moved, but thanks to the internet and our amazingly wonderful essential workers who deliver mail and packages, I have been able to get some DC-area products four hours away. Mambo Sauce was always at the top of my list of “DC things to try” but somehow I never got around to it. I did, however, finally get around to ordering some online from Capital City Mambo Sauce.

I copied a recipe on their website and made Mambo chili cheese fries. We devoured it! I forgot to by ground beef (woops), and since we don’t go out for single items, I substituted it with dark red kidney beans. Still amazing! I absolutely cannot wait to make this again! If you want to try it out yourself, you can find Mambo Sauce online. I’d recommend trying both types – as the hot has a nice little kick, but still not too spicy. I’m putting them on everything now.

Support Local Chinese

As we are all aware, coronavirus has landed in the U.S. Those of us in large metropolitan areas like the DMV (Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia) are prepared to see a higher number of cases. My city reported one of the first cases in our large state, followed by another case in the county, then 3 more cases in neighboring counties. The chaos and supply outages around here started well before that.

Am I worried? Yes, of course. I’m most worried about my elderly family members and those with health conditions. I’m worried about my sister who’s an ER nurse. I’m worried about vulnerable populations in all parts of the country and world. I almost cried last week when my radio alarm went off to the sounds of CSPAN – with a 71 year old caller from Detroit on the line, expressing his concerns about being a bus driver with chronic illness. Those are the people I’m most worried about.

Still, we can’t hide from it. It’s here and it’s going to be more prevalent. We must all be cautious and vigilant but not so fearful that everything else comes to a halt.

But not only are people wiping out the hand sanitizer and water (and toilet paper???) aisles in stores, other ugly things are surfacing.

As you may imagine, one of my primary news sources is Eater. They recently wrote an article about the vulnerable workers in the restaurant industry that don’t get sick leave. When people don’t have sick leave, they don’t get paid if they can’t work. If they can’t work, they can’t pay their bills. This is simply not an option for some people. People are going to get sick, think it’s not serious, tough it out because they need to get paid, and put their communities at risk, through no fault of their own. Don’t @ me, @ your Congressman.

But as Eater and other medias have also reported, people are still eating out… just not at Chinese restaurants. The upsurge in racism towards Asians, in particular Chinese, have caused a decline in local Chinese restaurant businesses. Fear in times of crisis causes hatred, prejudice and ignorance to soar.

Chinese food doesn’t spread coronavirus. Not washing your hands spreads coronavirus. WASH YOUR DAMN HANDS! Follow the CDC guidelines to limit the spreading of any germs (which as you will notice, does not include “avoid Chinese food.”)

And whether you’re a part of the foodie community or not, I propose an initiative to support those small businesses that are unjustly suffering right now. Go visit your favorite local Chinese restaurant this week. Then ask a friend which is their favorite, then go visit that one.

Stay safe, stay well, and stay woke. And wash your damn hands.

New Years Goal Progress

Happy Belated New Year!

Can you believe it? The first month of 2020 has nearly come to an end! We just celebrated Chinese New Year, and we’re coming up on the wintriest part of the season.

How are your New Year’s resolutions going? I don’t make resolutions; they’re more like goals. This year, I set a goal, as a self-declared DMV blogger, to visit the M and D at least once a month. I stay and work in Virginia, but getting to DC and Maryland takes a little more effort.

However, as plans don’t always pan out, sometimes adjustments are necessary. I don’t look at it as failure, just modified goals.

I spent the first week of the month with my family, 4 hours away from the DMV. When I returned home and went back to work, I almost immediately caught a nasty winter bug, which had me down and out for nearly a week. At the end of that week, we had some snow and ice come through. I missed out on a couple of events in DC. By that time, more than half of the month had gone by.

Eventually, I was able to take a roadtrip to Maryland with some fellow food blogging friends. We had lunch at Oppas of The Block in Rockville, MD. Then we had dessert nearby at Kyoto Matcha. Trying to make the most of our day trip, we hopped into The Spot food hall, then took a quick peek into Pike’s Kitchen food hall before heading back to Virginia.

TL;DR

January has run out of days. Today is my “rest day,” and I didn’t feel like venturing out to DC. My New Year’s goal, as a DMV food blogger, was initially to visit Maryland and DC at least once a month. Having already dealt with challenges (travel, illness, and weather), I’ve had to adjust my goal to visiting Maryland OR DC at least once a month. If you haven’t kept up with your resolution, don’t fret. You can still pick up where you left off! If it wasn’t working out very well, determine how to adjust it, and start fresh.

Here are some of the delicious shots from my January Maryland visit:

Giving Tuesday is Near

“When you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence.” – unknown

Happy Thanksgiving fam!

I hope you have a wonderful day and an amazing feast! I would like to encourage everyone to take this day as an opportunity, especially as you may gather with family and friends, to remind you that Giving Tuesday is next week.

As a foodie, I’m naturally drawn to hunger and food insecurity causes. The USDA estimates that 14 million US households are food insecure. Higher rates exist among men and women living alone, those with children, black and Hispanic households, and least surprisingly, low income households. That to me is completely unacceptable in a country that has more than enough food to feed everyone. Greed and waste are at the root of hunger and food insecurity, not lack of food. Sometimes it’s up to us as individuals and groups to ensure that our neighbors are taken care of when needed.

This year I’ve chosen to give to Patriot Pantry, a food bank for students of the university I work at, who are homeless and/or food insecure. This cause is very dear to me as a college administrator, and a former student myself, because students deserve to succeed, and hunger should never be a factor interfering with that. George Mason University is situated within one of the richest areas in the country – the Washington, DC Metropolitan area (DMV). Again, there is no excuse for these students to go without a basic necessity like food, where households a mile down the road may bring in million dollar incomes.

Other examples of local organizations in the DMV that fight hunger and food insecurity:
Maryland Food Bank
Arlington Food Assistance Center
Food for Others in Fairfax, VA
DC Central Kitchen

But I digress, your favorite cause doesn’t need to be food-related at all, it just needs to be important to you.

Have you decided yet which organization you will be giving to on Tuesday?

A Different Perspective

It’s no surprise that most of my content revolves around food, but did you know there’s something else my life revolves around? Chronic illness. Yep, I’m a chronic illness warrior. People don’t typically know this unless I tell them, because I “don’t look sick.”

Without going into too much detail here, on a regular basis I battle multiple chronic illnesses. They started when I was 13 and experienced my first migraine attack. I like to mention it once in a while so that 1) I don’t feel invisible, and 2) others know they aren’t alone, and hopefully I can provide some sort of empathy and encouragement for them.

To lessen the effects of these conditions, there are certain things I try to incorporate into my routine. I do yoga every night, and I know it’s not a cure-all, but it definitely helps. I drink a lot of water and tea, use natural CBD salves, and say “no” when I’m not feeling well. Another important thing I do is constantly research nutrition and implement dietary changes. This is the most challenging thing for a foodie, because granted, I fall off the wagon A LOT!

So knowing firsthand the negative effects that gluten and soy have had on my body, I was so excited to be able to witness and participate in the VIP preview ceremony for a certified gluten-free bakery in northern Virginia – The Difference Baker. This is not only an important step for people with gluten intolerance and sensitives, but for the community in general, as it provides healthy and delicious food alternatives. This facility is also completely soy and peanut-free, and offers dairy-free, nut-free, and vegan options.

TL;DR

As guests of The Difference Baker, we sampled a number of delicious items like cookies, scones, cinnamon buns, and cupcakes. My absolute favorite was the “Everything but the Bagel” macaron – a unique sweet and savory cookie. We also enjoyed cheese and chicken quesadillas. I intended to eat only one slice, but I simply couldn’t resist helping myself to more.

Everything was so delicious! If you didn’t already know it was gluten-free, you probably wouldn’t figure it out without being told! How lucky to have a gluten-free bakery open up right in the area. I’m really excited for this family-owned and operated business to take off, especially as it opened 1 week from Small Business Saturday.

During my first visit there, I was able to chat briefly with the owners. Such an incredible family – they are really going to make this place shine! Check them out now, and stay tuned for what’s to come.