About naomi

writer, organizer, educator, performer, eater, dreamer. asking questions, making noise...

Food Worker Justice is Food Justice!

Knowing as we do that any true vision of food justice must include justice for food workers, we’ve got two important links for you today on The Big Ceci.

1. We want to send our congratulations to the workers at the Upper East Side Hot and Crusty, who finally won their battle with the boss after being fired and locked out of their store for organizing their own independent union, the Hot and Crusty Workers Association. We’re filled with admiration for their courage in the face of tremendous threat, and we send them love and solidarity!

2. In other food worker news: the boycott of grocery store Golden Farm in Kensington, Brooklyn is entering its fourth week. The store spent more than ten years paying employees less than minimum wage and no overtime while they worked 70+ hour weeks (they were earning under $5/hour). Today, a year and a half after filing a lawsuit demanding the back pay they are owed, workers still haven’t seen a dime. They’ve called for a community boycott of the store to put pressure on owner Sonny Kim. We want to voice our solidarity with the workers of Golden Farm, and alert you, fabulous readers, to some ways you can support them.

WHAT YOU CAN DO [modified from the boycott’s campaign page on 99 Pickets]

  • Pledge your support for the boycott.
  • Call Sonny Kim, the owner of Golden Farm, at (718) 871-1009, and tell him you support the workers and the boycott.
  • Sign the petition demanding Sonny Kim pay workers their back wages and sign a fair contract.
  • Donate to support the family of Felix Trinidad (a Golden Farm worker who worked throughout his battle with stomach cancer – afraid to lose his job if he took time off to go to the doctor – and passed away in July 2012).
  • Follow the boycott on Twitter at @BoycottGF.
  • Finally, and perhaps most urgently: visit the picket line! This is a beautiful time of year to be outside, after all, and what better way to do it than showing your support for worker justice. Spend an hour or two gathering signatures and talking to local folks about the importance of basic benefits and fair wages for all workers. A little goes a long way – sign up for a shift here.

We’ll leave you with an awesome cartoon (yay for multimedia information sharing!) by badass cartoonist Ethan Heitner, sharing the story of the Golden Farm boycott:

Presenting CULTIVATE: Connecting Communities Through Meals and Media.

Hey people – Naomi here, and I’m writing with some exciting news. It’s been a little over a year since we started The Big Ceci, hoping to create a space on the blogosphere where we could bring together our love for food and our commitment to justice. It’s been a beautiful year, and I’ve been excited and inspired by how many people have contributed to this blog – it’s truly been a community effort.

So, yes, blogging has been good to us, and we look forward to continuing in our second year and beyond. But the one thing you can’t do on a food blog is…you guessed it, folks – EAT!

That’s why this week, The Big Ceci is making moves – stepping out of the Internet and into the neighborhood – to present our first-ever event: a dinner-discussion-screening-salon-experience called CULTIVATE: connecting communities through meals and media.

Get ready, y’all…because this is gonna be a fun one.

CULTIVATE is a collaboration with the fabulous queer documentary project SIGNIFIED (please do the Internet equivalent of running-not-walking to their website if you haven’t already seen it…you need to). During this interactive evening of food and media, we’ll eat a delicious meal prepared by the talented chefs of 718 Collective, discuss food justice work in Brooklyn with Just Food and The Brooklyn Food Coalition, swap stories and recipes across the table, and get to see the premiere of the latest SIGNIFIED episode.

If you’re not catching my drift, people, let me put it to you this way: if you care in any way about alternative media, food justice, Brooklyn, hot queer chefs, or just really delicious food, you will want to find a way to get your butt to our table on Wednesday, June 20.

Space is limited, so we strongly encourage you to buy tickets in advance here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/252443

And of course, for more info, check out the Facebook event here and the Tumblr here.

We’ll see you at the table!

ROC National Diners’ Guide: The People’s Zagat’s!

I’ve talked before on The Big Ceci about my obsession with restaurants. I worked in the industry for most of college, and that experience left me with a deep, unshakeable love for restaurants. I love the celebration and specialness inherent to the ritual of going out to eat. I love the anticipation of walking into a new spot and taking in the scene for the first time. And when I used to work at a restaurant, I loved that, too–the pace; the way, on a good night, you built momentum until eventually you were flying around the floor like the Energizer Bunny; the camaraderie you built with the other people in the building who were crazy enough to be doing it with you.

But the restaurant industry is also deeply complicated, and there is nothing simple about loving it. Issues run the gamut from class and accessibility to questions about what it means that people in the U.S. are eating out more than ever. And close to the top of the list of those issues is worker exploitation. “Loving restaurants” starts to get real murky when the person on the other side of the kitchen door has worked 30 hours so far and is only two days into their week–and is getting paid less than minimum wage.

Which is why I’m excited to take this opportunity to spread the word on The Big Ceci about a free new publication to keep you informed about what’s going on behind the kitchen doors at the restaurants you visit – the ROC National Diners’ Guide 2012!

In ROC‘s own words:


“Unfortunately, the workers who cook, prepare, and serve our food suffer from poverty wages, no benefits like paid sick days, and little or no chance to move up to better positions. When the people who serve us food can’t afford to pay the rent or take a day off when they’re sick, our dining experience suffers.

“The newly released ROC National Diners’ Guide 2012 provides information on the wage, benefits, and promotion practices of the 150 most popular restaurants in America. The Guide lists responsible restaurants where you can eat knowing that your server can afford to pay the rent and your cook isn’t working while sick.”

The guide is available for free download here.

Update: Take Back the Morning Glory Community Garden!

A few weeks ago, Sowj told us about the NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development’s raid on the Morning Glory Community Garden in the South Bronx. Since 2009, Morning Glory has been cultivating a space for growing food, composting, community building, and more. Just before the raid, they were working on beginning a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture), which would have allowed them to share food from the garden with folks from all over the South Bronx. Then HPD came in, tore down the garden, and put up a fence around it – supposedly in the name of affordable housing.

But people are fighting back. This Saturday, the Occupy the Bronx General Assembly will take place at the gates of Morning Glory Garden, followed by a day of festivities. Check the image below for details.

In case you can’t read the image, here’s what you need to know:
Occupy the Bronx General Assembly, followed by a day of festivities!
Saturday, December 3 at 11 am
Morning Glory Garden – 147th Street and Southern Boulevard

Magic Sorbet

Well, folks…the time has come.

The leaves are changing, people are finally making the dreaded switch from iced coffee back to the hot stuff, and style mavens everywhere are heralding the arrival of fashion’s favorite season (who doesn’t love a sweater?). Yup, fall is finally here – and with it comes flu season.

Over the course of my nine years of friendship with Ora, co-Ceci, I’ve had my share of colds, coughs, and flus. And if I ever come over to Ora’s house when I’m sick, I know she’ll make me the best concoction a sick person could ask for – Magic Drink.

Magic Drink is simple and natural: it’s hot water (though I sometimes make it with ginger tea) steeped with tons of fresh ginger, honey, lemon, and cayenne. All of the ingredients either aid the immune system, soothe the throat, or some combination: ginger, along with its many other magical properties, is an anti-microbial; honey eases a sore throat; lemon is packed with vitamin C; and cayenne is nature’s potent Kleenex. And on top of all that, it’s delicious – both warming and nasal-passage-clearing.

So – given my love for Magic Drink, you can imagine my excitement when, paging through my new copy of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home one day in September, I came across a recipe for “Influenza Rx Sorbet.” It sounded suspiciously close to Magic Drink, so I looked through the ingredients. Sure enough, this was it – Magic Drink in sorbet form!

I didn’t have to wait long for an opportunity to try it out. A couple of weeks later, just before Rosh Hashanah, Ora and her sister / my honey Shalva both came down with nasty colds. I tossed together the very easy recipe in about half an hour and froze it overnight. And as “luck” would have it, by the time I brought it over to Ora’s house the next day for Rosh Hashanah dinner, I wasn’t feeling too hot myself.

After services, we came home and flopped onto the couch: three achey, cough-y, runny-nosed people (plus one healthy friend), sorely in need of some Magic Something. When we popped open the sorbet, the verdict was unanimous – “Whoa, this is totally Magic Sorbet!”

And it was exactly what we’d hoped for – the sweet cold felt good on our throats, the citrus was refreshing, and the cayenne definitely cleared our passages, to say the least. As it turns out, Magic Sorbet is a rare treat – a dessert that not only tastes good when you’re sick, but feels good, too.

P.S. Apparently sick bloggers are not good at remembering to take photos, so this post is sadly photo-free. But – if you make this recipe, send us a picture! We’ll post it on The Big Ceci and fawn over your loveliness.


Magic Sorbet (adapted from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home)

A note on cayenne – I stupidly assumed that, given the wide audience Jeni was writing this recipe for, she probably hadn’t included enough cayenne to satisfy my heat-loving palate. So I upped the cayenne, from a level 1/8 teaspoon to a heaping 1/8 teaspoon. And though the sorbet was delicious, I think Ora’s declaration of “Mmm…my lips are kind of burning” is probably an indication that Jeni’s original 1/8 teaspoon probably would have been just right.


2 cups fresh orange juice (from 5 to 6 oranges – make sure they’re not over-ripe, unless you like your sorbet very sweet)
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger (I might try to replace this with fresh ginger next time)
One 3-ounce packet liquid fruit pectin (use the natural stuff – or make your own!)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
2 to 4 tablespoons bourbon (optional – I left it out this time, but I will definitely be trying it in the future!)


1. Combine orange and lemon juices, sugar, honey, and ginger in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat.

2. Add the pectin, cayenne, and bourbon, if using. Pour into a bowl, let cool, and then cover and refrigerate until cold.

3. Freeze in an ice cream machine until it is the consistency of very softly whipped cream. Then pack into a storage container, press a sheet of parchment paper directly against the surface (this is Jeni’s very good suggestion to keep your sorbet from forming ice crystals!), and seal with an airtight lid. Freeze until firm, at least 4 hours.

Pop Ed Ice Cream: Part 2

A SPECIAL NOTE FROM THE BIG CECI: There is a person without whom The Big Ceci would not exist…and that person is Ryvka. Ryvka’s vision has been guiding The Big Ceci since day one. She helped come up with the idea for the blog in the first place, and since then, she has been a constant presence behind the scenes, offering inspiration, feedback, support, and guidance. She has encouraged, nurtured, motivated, and even nudged when necessary. And we’re hoping that her next contribution will be a post!

In the meantime, though, this week is a very special one on The Big Ceci, because it is the week of Ryvka’s birthday. In order to celebrate the Big Daddy of The Big Ceci, we are offering up a week of posts dedicated to her and her love of food!

So, because we love Ryvka, and because Ryvka and I are kindred spirits in our love for sweet things, we bring you…

POP ED ICE CREAM: PART 2 (the tutorial!)

In my last Pop Ed Ice Cream post, I told you why I love making ice cream. In this post, I want to tell you how to do it. But rather than just give a specific recipe, I want to offer some tools for ice cream making. I’m going to share what I’ve learned about proportions, ingredients, and basic methods…so that hopefully you can feel empowered to go off and experiment with your own flavors, liberated from recipes that limit you to the flavor they specify!

So, without further ado…


All ice cream relies on a pretty basic ratio (or set of proportions) of ingredients that you can tweak based on what you’re doing. Here it is (this will make 1 quart of ice cream):

3 cups milk, cream, or non-dairy equivalent
3-8 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
flavoring of your choice (vanilla extract, chocolate chips, peanut butter, liquor, goat cheese, etc…the possibilities are literally endless)

Now you’ve got the ratio. All that’s missing for you to grab the reins of your own ice cream destiny is some knowledge of what each ingredient does – so that you can tweak it to your heart’s content. So let’s talk specifics.


Milk/cream/liquid: Traditional ice cream uses cream here – either 2 cups of heavy cream and 1 cup of milk, or even, for rich stuff like you get at that shonde Coldstone Creamery, 3 cups of heavy cream. It’s a simple equation – fat doesn’t freeze, so the higher the fat content of your liquid, the richer, creamier, and smoother your ice cream will be. Beyond that, though, it’s up to you. Experiment with what you like. You can use heavy cream, half and half, milk, or any combination. For non-dairy ice cream, I highly recommend coconut milk for the incredibly rich texture it provides – but you can play with other non-dairy milks too. Just remember the golden rule of making ice cream – the less fat, the less creamy.

By the way – people often wonder about the difference between gelato and ice cream. What defines gelato is that it has a lower butterfat percentage than regular ice cream. So gelato is traditionally made with fewer egg yolks and more milk than cream – if there’s any cream involved at all. Interestingly, the lower fat content allows the actual flavor of the ice cream to come through more strongly, which is why people often think of gelato as richer and more decadent.

Egg yolks: The fat in the egg yolks functions similarly to the fat in the milk/cream – it makes your ice cream richer, creamier, and smoother. Gelato tends to have fewer egg yolks (or even, in Sicilian gelato, cornstarch instead of egg yolks). If you make your ice cream with no egg yolks, then you’re making Philadelphia-style ice cream, which is all the rage these days for its simplicity and relative lightness.

Sugar: You can reduce this a LITTLE if your flavoring is super sweet, but be careful – sugar also doesn’t freeze! It is one of the ingredients, along with fat, that contributes to the softness of the ice cream. So if you reduce the sugar drastically, you may find that you end up with hard, icy, unappetizing ice cream.

Salt: Makes almost everything better. Don’t worry, you won’t be able to taste it.

Alcohol: Alcohol can add a lovely depth to your ice cream, and it has the added bonus of making it softer/creamier (because alcohol doesn’t freeze, as anyone who went to a Big Ten school knows). You can reliably add about 3 tablespoons of liquor to a quart of ice cream (which is what this tutorial makes)…any more, and you risk the ice cream failing to freeze.


At this point I’m going to lay out the basic steps to making any type of ice cream. Obviously these steps will vary a little bit depending on what you’re adding in, but the important thing to remember is that the methodology of making and chilling the custard is pretty much always the same.

To help you experiment, I’ve tried to indicate where/how you would modify these steps when adding flavors/ingredients. And as an example, I’ve added notes and photos from the ice cream I made last weekend – a honey vanilla goat milk ice cream* for a friend who’s not eating cow’s milk or refined sugar right now.

1. Stir together your milk/dairy-like liquid, sugar/sweetener, and salt, and warm them in a saucepan over a low flame. If you are using spices, vanilla beans, herbs, or anything else that can dissolve/infuse into liquid, add those now too (but not alcohol – we’ll talk about that later).

Honey vanilla goat milk ice cream notes: I used 1 vanilla bean, sliced open and with the seeds scraped out (those are the specks in the above photo), and about 2/3 cup of honey, because honey tends to be a bit more intense than regular sugar.

2. While your milk is warming: in a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.

Honey vanilla goat milk ice cream notes: I used 4 egg yolks for this ice cream. I think it was the perfect amount of richness – creamy but not heavy.

3. Once the milk mixture is warm, pour about half of it slowly into the egg yolks, stirring the yolks constantly as you pour. The idea is to warm the egg yolks gently so that you don’t get scrambled eggs when you heat them up in the next step.

4. Pour the egg yolks + milk mixture back into the saucepan. Now you have the beginnings of a custard – the foundation of your ice cream. You’re going to want to cook this custard gently, over a low flame, stirring and scraping the bottom constantly with a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon. By cooking the custard, you are doing two things: a) killing any harmful bacteria in the eggs, and b) bringing out their thickening potential. If you heat the custard too aggressively, the eggs will solidify and you will have, as I mentioned, scrambled eggs. Not good (unless you are making scrambled egg ice cream, I guess?), so be vigilant with your stirring (don’t forget to scrape the bottom), and fight the urge to turn the heat up too high – it’s easy to get impatient in this step, but try to give the eggs time to do their thing.

5. When the custard is thick enough that it coats the back of your spoon/spatula, remove it from the heat. This can be a tough thing to judge, so a little advice: dip your spoon/spatula in the custard and run your (clean!) finger down the back of the spoon/spatula. If your finger leaves a clear and distinct trail behind, it’s thick enough.

6. Pour the custard through a sieve/strainer (in order to catch any hardened bits of egg) into a bowl, and set the bowl over an ice bath (the easiest way is just to set it on top of a slightly larger bowl filled with ice). The idea is to cool down the custard as quickly as possible, so you may want to give it a few stirs to get some extra air in there.

This is also the moment when you should stir in any alcohol or other ingredients with which you want to flavor the ice cream (think bourbon, melted chocolate, etc). But…be advised that anything you add at this stage will be completely and homogeneously incorporated. Don’t add anything yet that you would like to “swirl” / “chunk” / remain distinct within the ice cream – we’ll get to those later.

7. When the custard has cooled, stick the bowl in the fridge for a few hours, or preferably, overnight. We do this because when it has time to chill, the fats emulsify and your ice cream gets creamier, smoother, and more delicious. So, overnight chilling is best, but at the very least, go for a few hours.

8. When the custard has chilled, churn it in your ice cream maker according to instructions, freeze it for 3-4 hours, or overnight…and eat it as quickly as possible! Fresh ice cream is the best.

Honey vanilla goat milk ice cream notes: When I took the ice cream out of the ice cream maker and transferred it into a container to freeze it, I drizzled in additional spoonfuls of honey. I did this after I churned it because of this: pretty much anything you pour in during the churning process will become 100% incorporated/dissolved into the ice cream. So if you’re adding an ingredient for variation in flavor/texture (peanut butter swirl, for example), you’ll want to add that ingredient after you churn but before you freeze, when the ice cream is still pretty soft.

With regards to churning time: the more you churn it, the more air that you’ll whip into it – but also, the icier it will get! For a lighter, airier, more icy ice cream, err on the side of longer churning. For a denser, creamier, more gelato-esque ice cream, err on the side of minimal churning. (By the way, true gelato is churned with a special machine that incorporates very little air into the ice cream, again leaving us with the dense richness that many of us associate with gelato.)


And that concludes the Pop Ed Ice Cream Tutorial! So now I turn the floor over to you…do you make ice cream? What are your favorite techniques and flavors? Got a tip or some pictures to share? Or, if you’ve never made ice cream – what’s a flavor you’d love to try? What’s the best ice cream you’ve ever had?

*Technically, since my goat milk was cultured, I made frozen yogurt – but for the purposes of this post, we’re going with “ice cream”!

Pop Ed Ice Cream: Part 1

I never used to think I could make ice cream. It seemed complicated and, honestly, uninteresting.

But then, during the summer of 2010, 3 things happened:

1. I got David Lebovitz‘s book Ready for Dessert for my birthday.
2. My friend Ethan Frisch started a really cool business called Guerrilla Ice Cream, where he made and sold ridiculously delicious (and interesting!) ice cream and donated 100% of the profits to important organizations like the Street Vendors Project.
3. My neighbors moved to Portland and I inherited their ice cream maker (so yes, this ice cream maker is very local!).

So, armed with my hand-me-down ice cream maker and the good advice of Ethan Frisch and David Lebovitz, in the summer of 2010, I started making ice cream. And what I discovered is that making ice cream is awesome.

Ingredients for bourbon chocolate gelato

See, here’s the thing: I’ve always had a sweet tooth, so baking has been a natural path for me. But as anyone who bakes will tell you, the difference between a hard, dry cake and a moist, fluffy one is precision and chemistry…so, if you don’t know a lot of baking science, it can be tough to improvise and add your own spin. On the other hand, I love cooking for the experimentation and freedom it offers – but it’s never satisfied my obsession with dessert.

Which is why, when I discovered ice cream making, I fell in love. Here’s the thing: there are some basic ratios and structures you need to follow when you make ice cream, but if you get them down, you can experiment to your heart’s content! Ice cream making: it’s a sugar fiend’s playground.

When Ora and I started The Big Ceci, I knew right away that I wanted to write an ice cream tutorial, and here’s why: anyone can make ice cream from a recipe. But if you understand how each ingredient functions in the ice cream, and how to manipulate those ingredients – how to make ice cream sweeter or less sweet, more dense or more airy, more rich or more light – then you don’t need a recipe. You can invent your own flavors, play with your own combinations, and improvise. In short, once you understand the basics, you can make (and make damn well) any ice cream you can dream up – not just any ice cream you can find a recipe for on the internet. And I think that’s pretty cool.

So now you have the backstory. Come back for Part 2 next week, where I’ll talk about the fundamental ice cream recipe and how to make it your own. And in the meantime, start brainstorming for the crazy fantasy flavor you’re gonna be making! I’m thinking about balsamic black pepper* myself…

* Damn. Just googled it and found out that someone already did that. Guess I’ll be doing some brainstorming, too!

Sam Sifton and the “Post-Natal Unicorn.”

Okay…it’s confession time over here on The Big Ceci. I’ve held this in for far too long, and I need to get it out – and what better venue than a new blog about radical food?

Here’s the truth: I love the NY Times Dining section. And in particular, I love Sam Sifton.*

I’ve always enjoyed the particular brand of writing that is characteristic of restaurant reviews: biting wit mixed with attention to detail, all under the umbrella of obsession with food. And as a former server, bartender and host, I especially love reading restaurant reviews because they pay attention to the tiny details of service and hospitality that I used to take so much pride in when I worked in restaurants.

At the same time, I struggle with my love of restaurant reviews and the critics who write them. Elite restaurant reviews seem to represent everything that I am critical of when it comes to foodie culture – an entire industry built around fawning over, in great detail, expensive meals that are inaccessible to the vast (and I mean vast in the vastest sense of the word) majority of New York City. What could be more snobby and less politically palatable than a review of a meal that costs $295?

This is why I was thrilled when I came across a hilarious “review” by Sam Sifton of the famous avant-garde Spanish restaurant, El Bulli. The review, entitled “El Bulli is the Greatest Restaurant in the World,” is actually a parody of the worst offenders in the snooty food writing world (in particular, he is targeting NY Magazine food critic Adam Platt‘s article about his visit to El Bulli, entitled – seriously – “Last Supper of the Food Hacks”). Sifton’s satirical piece pokes fun at the absurdly pretentious tone that defines so much food writing, and includes such gems as, “We drank the fermented milk of a post-natal unicorn and ate monkey brain with shirred Dodo egg, spring dolphin mousse, mercury-braised carrots and an entire fistful of saffron.”

I loved Sifton’s article because it represented something I’d never seen before: a restaurant critic commenting (through satire) on the potentially problematic nature of his work.

None of this is to say that Sam Sifton is a revolutionary. But…at the end of the day, in a sea of $295 dinners and pork belly paragraphs, “El Bulli is the Greatest Restaurant in the World” is pretty damn refreshing.

*In writing this article, I learned that good old Sam used to be a NYC public school teacher – of social studies, no less! (Blog readers who I do not know: I am a social studies teacher in NYC.)

It’s on the bag.

Our friend Ryvka (the proud papa of this blog) recently returned from Canada with this bag from the dairy her cousin works at. I love it for three reasons:

1) I love goat cheese.
2) I love funny/cheesy (ha!) slogans.
3) Do you see how many funny slogans about goat cheese are on this bag? The best part is it seems like they couldn’t pick just one – so they kept em all!

Do you have a funny food picture? Send it in! Funny food pictures are just too good to keep to yourself at a communal table.

And with regards to goat cheese: growing up, I never ate goat cheese. My parents weren’t big fans of the ol’ chevre and didn’t keep it around the house, so I always just assumed I wouldn’t like it either. It was pretty shocking to taste goat cheese for the first time as an adult and realize that I LOVED it. Lately I’ve been using it in a lot of pasta dishes. It manages to add both richness and brightness at the same time…amazing! (In related news, I once had a delicious goat cheese and amarena cherry ice cream…shout out to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in Ohio!)

What’s your goat cheese story? Do you like it? Hate it? Have you experienced a transformation? How do you like to eat it and cook with it?