In honor of International Women's Day, we celebrate the countless accomplishments and achievements of women around the globe, and today we are pleased to feature a woman with an entrepreneurial spirit and love for baking.
We are thrilled to introduce Madison, Wisconsin's own Diana Matthews, of To Di For Baking. "Di" has a degree in biology and what we like to call a 'PhD in creating sinfully sweet culinary art'.
We hope you enjoy getting to know more about Diana and her inspiring journey.
EC: Hi Diana, and thank you for letting our readers get to know you. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
DM: Hi there!I’m Diana Matthews, a 25-year old from Atlanta, Georgia. How did I end up in Wisconsin, you might ask? It’s my husband's fault. My (now) husband and I met the first day of college. We had a lot in common as we were both student athletes and biology majors at a small liberal arts school. I have a very distinct memory of orientation professor saying “you never know, your future spouse might be sitting in this room.” Lo and behold, he was right. A couple years later, Aaron, who was in fact in that room, and I said “i do.” We relocated to Madison about 3 years ago for his work and have loved it, despite the climate adjustment. In fact, we’ve moved 4 times and over 900 miles from home in our 3.5 years of marriage. I am a Patient Care Technician in the Operating Room by day, and an aspiring baker on the side, for now. Aaron works in cardiac medical device sales. We are puppy parents to an adorable 110 pound Yellow Lab, “Remington.” We both love traveling (and eating) and are excitedly anticipating a 2-week trip to Thailand this summer! Other fun facts about me... I'm one of 11 children, I played college volleyball, and I worked as a lifeguard for 5 years.
EC: What sparked your passion for baking?
DM: I’ve always loved cooking and baking. Some of my fondest childhood memories include sitting on the counter and helping mix, whisk, and (of course) lick the bowl. Even as a child, I had entrepreneurial tendencies. I peddled baked goods to neighbors, and worked as an independent consultant for a kitchenware company. Although I was too young to “officially” be a rep, I (under my mother’s name) got seller of the month multiple times! I experienced some digestional issues as a child that inspired curiosity and fascination with food. On a whim, I spent a year working at a cupcake bakery in South Carolina which taught me many skills and cemented my passion for baking.
EC: We hear you were in the medical field. From medicine to baking? What made you take the leap of faith to start To Di For Baking?
DM: I can say with confidence that I would’ve never voluntarily leapt from medicine to culinary arts. My life circumstances gave me a not so gentle shove. I’m learning to be grateful for that nudge that pushed me off my comfortable ledge.You see, I had my heart set on becoming a Physician's Assistant. If you know me at all, you know that I am a determined (some might say stubborn) person. Once I make up my mind about something, I commit 100%. In pursuit of my dream to become a PA, I earned a Bachelor's degree in Biology and spent years taking post-graduate classes, researching, shadowing in clinical settings, and working in various patient care roles. I did all the right things and assumed my experiences and reputable references would land me a spot in a Graduate program. Lesson learned. Never assume. One by one the rejection letters appeared in my inbox. Just when I was “getting over” one rejection, another would pop up. It's a very odd experience to go all out for something, and have it not work out. On my darkest days my mind convinces me that I wasted years of my life, that I’ll never amount to anything, and that my best is not good enough. But it's out of this dark season that the bakery was born. Aaron encouraged me to respond to numerous friends requests for me to sell my baked goods. So we decided to give it a shot. As soon as we began to entertain the idea, things started clicking into place.
I still work full time in healthcare (for now) so there's no pressure to perform at a certain level. I feel like the bakery is where I am supposed to be focusing my time and energy. To Di For may turn into a full time gig someday: we dream about owning a coffee shop or cafe. Or this endeavor could just be something I'm supposed to do for a season of life. I'm trying not to get ahead of myself, but to enjoy this venture one day at a time.
EC: What are some of the things that you encountered in starting up your new business venture?
DM: The Wisconsin Food laws are some of the most stringent in the country. At first, the prospect of navigating this maze was overwhelming, but we've been amazed by how easily things have fallen into place and how many people have come alongside to help! The commercial kitchen we use is less than a mile from where we live. We've met several entrepreneurs in Madison who are willing to share their business experiences, the good and the bad, to help us start out strong. Small business owners in Madison exude the community over competition attitude. It's been so fun to start this business as a couple. Working towards goals together has strengthened our marriage and given us something to rally around.
EC: How often do you experiment and try out recipes?
DM: I try several new recipes every week. Some people search the internet for “15-minute meals” or “one pot dinners.” Not this girl. The more tools and gadgets, pots and pans I use, the better. Sometimes this means dinner isn’t ready until 9PM. Thankfully my husband has a seemingly endless appetite for chips and salsa, which tie him over until dinner. For better or worse, I’m completely unafraid of trying new recipes, even when hosting company.
EC: Where do you get your inspiration for your recipes?
DM: My mind is always concocting new flavors. I keep a running note on my cell phone of flavors I'm thinking of, mulling over, tweaking. I find inspiration from cocktails, icecream flavors, candy bars, seasonal farmers markets, and gourmet desserts. Currently in the works is a peanut butter and jelly cupcake inspired by nostalgic childhood lunches.
EC: What are some duds that just didn’t quite make the cut while experimenting?
DM: The main things that flop are when I try to convert recipes to be gluten free and dairy free, with too many substitutions at once. I recently tried to make paleo pumpkin waffles. They weren't the proper consistency and stuck to the waffle iron. I tried to use the same batter for pancakes, and they still weren't holding together correctly. In a last ditch effort I scooped them into muffins. Alas, they still ended up in the garbage. Lesson: when baking change only one or two ingredients at a time. Baking is more precise than cooking. In fact, baking is quite a science….chemistry really. So hey, maybe thats where my Biology degree and chemistry classes come into play. Can you tell, I’m still trying to figure out how the puzzle pieces of my life fit together.
EC: What are some of your favorite baked goods to make and eat?
DM: Most people think I love cupcakes. The truth is, they aren't my personal favorite! I'm more of an ice cream girl. Crème Brûlée is my absolute favorite dessert to order. As for baked goods, I can be tempted by just about anything. I quite enjoy a good scone, sweet or savory.… and I LOVE me some good crusty French bread. Galletes are most enjoyable to make as they are virtually foolproof and you can incorporate any seasonal fruit, plus they look deceivingly fancy. A few weeks ago we got a batch of apples that weren't great as hand fruit. I sliced them, soaked them in bourbon, tossed with Door County Cherries and made a boozy spiced apple cherry galette marked with coconut cream.
EC: What is the strangest combination of ingredients that you’ve put together that worked out?
DM: I’d say the strangest combinations are my morning smoothies. I’m known for throwing anything and everything in those drinks. Most of the time it works out but sometimes it's pretty terrible. I always include a green like kale or spinach. But i’ve been known to throw in any combination of the following carrots, cucumbers, celery, spirulina powder, chia seeds, berries, fruits, nuts, coconut, pumpkin, ginger, spices, flaxseed. Perhaps I should start the day with a cup of coffee before throwing half the refrigerator in my blender!
EC: What would be your dream cooking or baking collaboration?
DM: It would be incredible to be featured in a publication like Eating Well or Bon Appétit. Master Chef and Master Chef Junior are my favorite cooking shows. It would be so fun to get to watch that live and meet Gordon Ramsey!
EC: What do you like to do for fun when you’re not baking?
DM: Eat?? But really…. Aaron and I love traveling and exploring, even if it's just a weekend in Chicago or Door County. Aaron is really good about researching the best restaurants and bars and making us (often multiple) reservations each night.
EC: Do you have a website for our readers to learn more about you?
EC: What advice would you give anyone that is looking to start a food business?
DM: Just go for it! Don't be overwhelmed by the food processing laws, labeling, guidelines, all the reasons you couldn't, shouldn't, or cant. You don't have to have everything figured out right this second. Address one item per day. Ask lots of questions.
EC: Can you share one of your recipes with our readers?
DM: One of my staple dishes to bring to a gathering, party or potluck is homemade hummus. People act so impressed when I bring homemade hummus, but its so simple (shhhh don't give away my secret!). Its also a nice recipe because you can dress it up in lots of different ways. Feel free to toss in roasted red peppers and cayenne, basil pesto or garlic scapes.
• 2 cans garbanzo beans (drain but reserve the liquid)
• 3 cloves of garlic
• ¼ C Olive Oil
• 3Tbsp Lemon Juice
• 3Tbsp Tahini
• Kosher Salt to taste
• Additional mix-ins: herbs, roasted peppers, pesto, etc (optional)
Blend Garbanzo beans and half the reserved liquid until smooth. Add garlic, olive oil, tahini, lemon juice, tahini, salt and paprika. Blend. Add more liquid as needed to reach desired consistency. Blend or top with additional mix-ins if desired. When serving, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with herbs. Serve with fresh vegetables and/or pita bread. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week.