By Jan Mercker

100 days since everything changed 100 days of loss, challenges and silver linings. For one Ashburn mom, an act of family preservation has turned into an unexpected—and unexpectedly successful—creative outlet. 

When Virginia’s COVID-19 stay-at-home orders kicked in in mid-March, Yolanda Latimer knew she had to put her family into lockdown mode to protect her immunocompromised preschooler. What she didn’t know was that it would inspire a culinary awakening. Last week, Latimer marked 100 days with no food prepared outside her home, launched a new food blog and celebrated a rapidly growing social media following. 

Latimer is a corporate recruiter and single mom of three. Her daughter Savannah, 3, was born at just 23 weeks, weighed just over one pound at birth and spent the first four months of her life at Inova Children’s Hospital in Fairfax. Savannah is now a thriving preschooler but she has Chronic Lung Disease and a compromised immune system. To protect Savannah’s health, Latimer made the decision to move her family to only home-cooked meals once stay-at-home orders were announced. And what started as a necessity has turned into a passion.

“It has been absolutely my silver lining,” Latimer said. “My daughter’s journey, and my journey, was a testament of its own. Having it manifest into this, where it’s taking me personally to a different level that I never would have done otherwise.”

Latimer’s older son Isaiah, 18, is a student at the University of Kentucky. Like so many Loudoun college students, Isaiah came home for spring break in March and didn’t go back to college in person. 8-year-old son Azariah is a rising third grader.

“I let my kids know we weren’t going to be eating any outside food. No takeout, no pizza, no hamburgers,” Latimer said.

That meant it was time for Latimer to start getting creative in the kitchen, finding easy but tasty meals for her family—and she realized she loved it. Latimer started picture journaling and sharing photos on social media April 1. It was initially a way to simply document the experience. But Facebook friends were so impressed, they urged her to start a blog.

With limited grocery runs as part of her family’s health protocol, a big part of quarantine cooking is using what’s on hand and adapting, Latimer said. This means finding great recipes on Pinterest and getting creative with her own.

“That’s where so many of my creations come from—taking whatever I have in my pantry and my freezer,” Latimer said.

The result has been dozens of impressive recipes from shrimp and Old Bay lemon grits to zucchini souffle and a stuffed chicken worthy of a lifestyle magazine. Latimer also has a knack for fun beverages—from coffee to cocktails. Her Bleu Honeydew Margarita, made with fresh honeydew melon, is a refreshing summer favorite.

Latimer started out posting on social media for fun but quickly racked up followers: she now has nearly 500 on Instagram and more than 800 on Facebook. Last week, Latimer took things to the next level, launching an LLC and starting a blog.

Moving from pretty pictures on Instagram to becoming a full-on food blogger was inspired by Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” documentary, Latimer said.

“Right after I watched it, I went online and I made my logo, and that’s when I started my blog. I was like, I’ve got to do it and I’ve got to do it now or I’ll never do it,” Latimer said. “[Obama] worked her way to where she is and it’s such an inspiring story. I know there are people watching me and my story. If I can inspire someone else, I want to pass it on.”

Latimer launched her blog June 24—her 100th day of cooking at home. Older son Isaiah helped her come up with the name Londa’s Laboratory.

“One day he came up and I was blending and it was kind of like coming into a construction site. He was like, ‘Mom every time I come up here, you’re creating something—it’s like your lab or something.’”

Latimer wanted to build a creative but user-friendly blog with healthy, tasty, not too complicated recipes for busy parents like herself. One priority was ditching the seemingly unending narrative that many food bloggers indulge in before getting to a recipe.

“The one thing I decided to take away from my blog is the five, six, seven, eight paragraphs before you actually get to the recipe,” Latimer said.

Latimer’s focus is on great recipes and gorgeous photos, all her own work. She’s adding Zoom demos and tutorials to the site.

For the Latimers, like so many families, self-isolation has presented challenges. Savannah’s immune system has improved as she’s gotten older, and she was able to start preschool this year. And Latimer was just starting to let down her guard before COVID hit.

“I had just begun to take an exhale,” Latimer said. “I didn’t have to be such a mother hen.”

The onset of COVID has meant a return to the kind of vigilance the family had gotten used to when Savannah got home from the hospital as an infant. Latimer is working hard to make meals at home fun for her kids—preparing “restaurant-ish” meals so they don’t miss old favorites. She’s recreating fast food chicken sandwiches and fancy coffee drinks from scratch and is on a quest to create the perfect breakfast smoothie.

For Latimer, her time in the kitchen, and the creative outlet the blog and social media pages offer, is an important source of stress relief.

“Anyone who knows me knows that when I’m upset, I clean. When I’m happy I cook,” she said. “I’m already a homebody by default, but my kitchen is like my sanctuary. I tell Alexa to put on music, and I’m in my zone.”

To check out the Londa’s Laboratory blog, go to londaslaboratory.com.

Fans can also follow Latimer on Facebook facebook.com/londaslaboratory and on Instagram @londaslaboratory.