I feel like I should have done a grandiose “2021 Year in Review!” blog post weeks ago, full of accomplishments and lessons learned in the realm of food blogging.

I was too focused on too many other things to make conscious food blogging decisions throughout 2021. Let’s be honest. Ha!

I shared a few recipes, managed to increase my website traffic by some miracle with minimal effort, made a solid four figures in supplemental income from just three collaborations (two of them were even with brands I liked… 😆), and kept my head on while starting a few position at my hospital remotely while doing my previous infection control data role and current project lead role concurrently for roughly six months. 

I’ve got no gems or true wisdom to share, I’m just glad I’m still here, sane enough to whip up this post. 😂

This labradoodle coat From Lucky Brand was my favorite Pandemic Purchase, with this iced chai coming in at a close second. 💁🏻‍♀️

However, “spark” is my word for 2022, and I think I’ll have my spark again in the coming months. I’ll soon have a space to cook, photograph, and create unencumbered, and I think having my autonomy back is going to make a huge difference. I’m not looking to move mountains and hustle with dozens of campaigns, but I am happy I have a space larger than 3′ x 3′ to work in soon with ample natural light so I can show off avocado toasts once agin. (Remind me, is this 2022 or 2017? Haaa…)

Here are a few highlights from 2021, where I was actually able to grab an outdoor drink with friends every now and then and still managed to avoid COVID despite being directly exposed to Omicron a few times in December. (Gotta love the “new normal”, awful phrase be damned!)

Ramen By Rā – An At-Home Ramen Experience

Necessity is the mother of invention: In a world where dining out was put on pause for many due to the pandemic, many of us yearned for what restaurants brought, whether it was comfort, innovation, or an entirely new experience.

Ramen By Rā brings all of these together.

I first heard of Ramen By Rā via Ada Supper Club, a curated food delivery service focusing on Black and female culinary creators. Rāsheeda Purdie worked in collaboration with ASC to create multiple thoughtfully-put together ramen experiences, drawing from various inspirations. Though I didn’t get a chance to try any of them, the envy was real when I saw the menus and photos she put together, a full-meal experience with an appetizer, ramen, dessert, and drink. As I continued to eye when her next drop would be – working weekends in healthcare analytics during the height of the pandemic made it hard to even order in sometimes, let alone EAT at all! – you better believed that I pounced on the opportunity to try her Ramen Bodega menu when I knew I was available to.

The Ramen Bodega menu was an exploration and celebration of some of New York’s best offerings from around the corner, showcasing a unique spin on a beloved New York City creation, the Chopped Cheese. (Don’t say it’s like a Philly Cheesesteak! NOPE.)

To order, keep an eye on the Ramen By Rā Instagram to know when the next drop will happen; when it goes up, go to her website and hop on that RSVP page quickly, because this particular experience was sold out within a few days. Once I ordered, paid, and received my confirmation, I waited the few days until its delivery, getting occasional updates throughout the week.

On the day of delivery, I knew my order would be delivered anytime between 2 – 7 p.m.; I was pleased to get a text around 3:30 that afternoon to not only inform me of my delivery, but I was given a live map to follow my driver’s progress as my food made its way towards my apartment; I’m both voyeuristic and incredibly anxious, so being able to know exactly when to go outside to grab my food was incredibly satisfying. 😂

Let me just say: The curation of this entire experience was so incredibly laid out. Every detail was thought of in terms of transporting and packaging the food in the most efficient way as well as tying in the bodega inspiration. Black clamshell boxes came full of our food items, that quintessential black and white checkered paper covering their bottoms. Each element of each course was meticulously wrapped and sealed with easy – to – follow instructions to prepare; there is a DIY element to the experience, yes, but do not let that hold you back if you are not a wiz in the kitchen. The directions were made for the layman!

The appetizer was Chip, Pick, & Dip, a delightful combination of tempura-battered nori, spicy pickles, and spicy mayo. This hit the spot flavor and texture-wise, the fried dimpled batter holding the addictive mayo nicely. The pickles had a bite, but were ultimately juicy and refreshing.

Coming in strong was the Chop Cheese Ramen, served with Lawry’s chop beef, spicy cheese crunch, roasted tomato, steam iceberg lettuce, red chili, bean sprouts, and scallions with a shoyu beef broth. The depth of flavor in this dish was amazing; the broth was incredibly robust, and the chop beef combined with the spicy cheese crunch adding a type of savoriness that I had never experienced in a ramen dish prior. Closing my eyes, I could absolutely taste the Chopped Cheese, minus the bread. The accompanying vegetables added additional layers, from the subtle sweetness of the roasted tomatoes to the palate-cleansing power of the bean sprouts. I am not using hyperbole when I say this is the most unique bowls of ramen I’ve ever had, and one of the best overall! I’m usually more of a fan of creamy tonkotsu broth, but this shoyu beef broth definitely won me over in the end.

Dessert rounded off this 3-course delight nicely with Hot Buns: Honey buns served with hot honey, ginger buttercream, and black sesame seeds. Those that know me know that I can get a little overheated with just fresh cracked black pepper – yes, I go mild on just about everything! – but I’ve long been a fan of hot honey, and when you combine it with the ginger buttercream, they balance each other well enough to give you enough of a bite without knocking you on your ass.

Topped of with an Arizona Ginseng Green Iced Tea – a corner store staple and a favorite for many of us 80s Babies & 90s Kids – this experience couldn’t have gotten much better! (Well…perhaps three or four Hot Buns would have made it even better!)

On her Instagram, Rāsheeda notes that her ramen experiences are a culinary journey of cultural admiration & appreciation, and I couldn’t agree more. This particular experience truly paid homage to appreciating what ramen is, what ramen can be, and showcasing those corner store favorites in a new light; honestly, a plain ol’ Little Debbie Honey Bun just won’t hit the same after having Rāsheeda’s re-imagination of them! This experience hit the spot, and I cannot wait to see what she comes out with next!

Sparkling Apple Ginger Mocktail

(Originally posted on Seek Satiation on November 7th, 2017)

Well, lookie here, I’m bringing an old recipe back from the achieves! (And, of course, the photos are from 2017, too. Ha! Time for a reshoot? Those cinnamon sugar rims could use a clean-up… )

The mocktail seems to be coming to the forefront of people’s minds as of late. While I believe their popularity has been on the rise, I’ve seen a plethora of articles about mocktails as of late, whether its a newly-developed mocktail recipe or people debating the merits of being sober and sober-curious. And, of course, no one ever has to explain why they choose not to drink alcohol. All reasons are valid!

As for me, I’ve never been a big drinker, and when I do drink alcohol, it’s never to get drunk. (Ugh, not my end game!) Rather, I love the science behind the creation of a good cocktail or a unique hard cider. I love to see how creative folks get with mixing liquors, liqueurs, flavors, and additional elements. The great thing? These basic elements can be applied to mocktails as well! Where alcohol is removed from the equation, other elements can be added in to make a charming mocktail, such as effervescent liquids, flavorful juices, bitters, smoke, spices, you name it!

Many moons ago, I created this recipe for a disposable recyclable drinkware company – please note my article about getting fair monetary compensation for content creation, since exposure doesn’t pay the rent! – but even though 2021 Allison would have asked for a nice chunk of money for this when 2017 Allison was happy with receiving 24 plastic drink vessels because “FREE PRODUCT AND EXPOSURE, YAY!”, this recipe turned out beautifully, and I still make it during the holidays!

I will always go for apple cider. Once September comes around, I’m drinking it well into January or February; it’s the perfect cold weather beverage, especially when heated up and mixed with some warming spices. For those times when I’m feeling a bit more festive, I turn it into this Sparking Apple Ginger Mocktail, made with Q Ginger Ale, which is my mocktail ginger ale of choice.

Enjoy this Sparking Apple Ginger Mocktail this holiday season! Hopefully your cinnamon-sugar rims turn out cleaner than the ones in these old photos. 😉

Sparkling Apple Ginger Mocktail
(Serves 4)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 1 liter ginger ale (I used Q Ginger Ale)
  • Whole fresh cranberries, rinsed (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (optional)

Before We Get Started…

  • The addition of cinnamon-sugar to the rims is optional, but it’s oh-so pretty!

Directions:

1.) If decorating rims: In a small shallow bowl or on a small plate, combine sugar and cinnamon until well-mixed. Wet the rims of the champagne flutes, then dip in cinnamon-sugar mixture.

2.) Fill each champagne flute with 1/4 cup apple cider, then top off with ginger ale.

3.) Float fresh cranberries on top of mocktails, if desired. Serve immediately!

Unregular Pizza – Bartering for One of NYC’s Best Pizzas

There are various ways to pay for goods in New York City nowadays. Cash, credit, debit, Bitcoin, Venmo, Google Pay, Apple Pay, and I could keep going on. But, did you know that there is a pizza place where you can pay for your pizza with an exchange of goods, talents, or services?

Allow me to explain…

Unregular Pizza has its cozy and colorful brick & mortar location just south of Union Square, at 135 4th Avenue. (Yes, non-NYCers, and even some NYCers, there is a 4th Avenue in Manhattan!, albeit a small stretch of road.) Founded by Gabriele Lamonaca, his story fits in with so many COVID-era stories: As described on his website, his plans to bring forth his pizza to the masses were halted by the pandemic, and he soon used his downtown to experiment and perfect his craft. He started posting his creations to his Unregular Pizza Instagram account, including his sought-after Burrapizza: A slice of Roman-style pizza topped by a single ball of burrata. People following his account became hungry for it, both figuratively and literally. He soon started a barter system: he’d share pizza with a barterer in exchange for some of their delicious culinary creations. This became increasingly popular, and in 2021, Unregular Pizza formally opened its doors, allowing everyone in on his unique creations. Even with business swinging, barters are still happening!

Unregular Pizza – How to Barter

I was one of thousands that drooled over this Unregular Pizza Instagram account, hoping that I one day would be picked to barter. Luck fell upon me, and I was lucky enough to share a special family recipe with the U.P. team on September 27th, 2021. This is a process, but if you are interested in sharing someone special with that team for a few of their amazing slices, this is how you currently do it:

When you visit their website, there is an option to barter –> I’ll make it easy and link to it here. Simply, fill in a form that states what you plan to barter, plus your email, phone number, and (if applicable) your Instagram handle. Hit “Send”. Cross your fingers! My timeline was as follows: I signed up at the end of May, got an invite to barter from the team on June 24th, and when I was presented with a calendar to pick from, the earliest available date I could do it was September 27th, so I took it. Like I said…POPULAR! Be patient, it is worth it.

Unregular Pizza – What to Barter

In the beginning, I saw many interesting barters on the Unregular Pizza Instagram, from full meals to desserts to bottles of homemade brews and wines. I said to myself, “If I am ever selected to barter, I’ll do my grandma’s schaum tortes!” My usual followers have seen me post about them – the recipe is right here on my blog! – and once I got that email to barter, there was no question: it was going to barter with schaum tortes!

As I continue to follow the Unregular Pizza Instagram, I’ve seen edible barters as well as performances and other tangible goods used for barter; you never know what may inspire you, so be creative!

The Schaum Torte, in all of its glory.

Unregular Pizza – Time to Barter!

When I chose my date to barter, I was given very reasonable instructions: Be there on time at the date & time given. Easy peasy! Be cognizant of their time, because the barter takes places during regular business hours and there may be customers present. I was told 4 p.m., and I was there a few minutes beforehand, ready to enter the door at 4.

The night before, I had all of my schaum tortes and diced strawberries set, a recipe printout to share, and a thank you note written – it’s still common courtesy to write a thank you note, in my opinion! – and on my way through, I picked up a can of good whipped cream; if I didn’t have a dentist’s appointment just prior to my barter, I would have whipped up some homemade whipped cream, but! Another time!

I also brought a handwritten thank you card…people still show courtesy nowadays, yes? 😅

Upon my arrival, I announced to the staff that I was there for the barter. Gabriele was incredibly welcoming, and Paola – U.P.’s marketing and PR team member – got the entire thing filmed and photographed.

For those that do not know, schaum torte is similar to pavlova, but it has German roots and is known by Wisconsinites of German descent, according to Edible Milwaukee. Guess what? My grandma, Allie – always known to me as Mamie – was a Wisconsinite of German descent! Ta da! She made these every Christmas of my youth, even well into my 20s until she passed away in 2008, and this is one of my most treasured recipes. Sharing it on my blog was important to me, but sharing it for my barter was extra special to me. I was so happy to say that they loved it; one of their team members commented that it was similar to Italian-style meringue! Honestly, the recipe I have is simply my grandmothers and I’m not sure I could tell Italian Meringue from Swiss Meringue from any other kind of meringue, but I loved to hear that distinction, especially because I have so many descendants from northern Italy!

The barter was incredibly generous; I was sent home with four slices of pie and I let Gabriele choose which ones. Two were topped with burrata, and two came sans burrata, but all four were absolutely incredible. I received a slice of Prochute, a slice of Cafonata Burrapizza, a slice of Amatriciana Burrapizza, and a slice of Delicatissma with its gorgeous red wine reduction sauce. Of note: I had purchased slices from Unregular Pizza prior to my barter, so I had a good feel on what my options would be, but I am glad Gabriele happened to chose four slices I had never tried before. (Note: Go for the Pugliese Burrapizza, it’s my favorite!)

Unregular Pizza – After the Barter

I went to Washington Square Park for a photo shoot with the good natural light, luckily a very warm and lovely late September day.

I got home…and I ATE MY PIZZA. What else would you do after such a barter? Pizza is made to be eaten!


Gabriele, Paola, and the entire Unregular Pizza team showed me kindness, a good time, and gave me a good reminder of how much good food there is in NYC, as well as how many ways pizza can be created and improved upon. It also reminded me of how important it is to keep traditional recipes alive, whether it’s schaum tortes or traditional Roman-style pizzas. What Unregular Pizza has to offer is truly special, and whether you get a barter or not, you must patronize this establishment!

Thank you to Gabriele and the entire Unregular Pizza team for a truly wonderful experiences that could literally only happen in NYC!

My barter at Unregular Pizza, complete! Thanks, Gabriele & the U.P. Team!