The Good, The Bad, and The Bubbly

During the last week of April I joyfully drove to Jersey to pick up Ryvka from the airport. She was returning from a 6 month stay in Bethlehem where she was doing research on the tourism industry (stay tuned for more on the political, economic, discursive, and environmental battles Israel wages on Palestinians under the guise of eco-tourism).  I wanted Ryvka to feel good coming back to the holy land of Brooklyn and I knew that a big part of that was going to be assuring her that good, fresh dairy exists here (even if not as prevalent or accessible as in the Middle East).  Luckily, there happened to be that very evening an Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn event entitled “Good Dairy.” After letting her nap for a bit, I escorted her directly to the most appropriate homecoming ever.

Stocking up on some delicious dairy goodies at Edible’s Good Dairy event.

Now one might assume that this is a post about dairy. That would be a fair assumption. However, this is actually about seltzer- a beverage that I’m not very passionate about but is very dear to the hearts of many of my loved ones. How are we making this transition? Well…upon arrival at the Good Dairy event, the first vendors we encountered were the charming gentlemen behind Brooklyn Gin. They were enthusiastic about their small batch locally distilled spirit and so were we. We thoroughly enjoyed the on-the-spot carbonated cocktail they were serving featuring their citrusy liquor. However, Ryvka pointed out to all of us that the origin of the seltzer maker they were using sadly was not such a pure or locally-based process. SodaStream, an Israeli company producing a do-it-yourself, countertop seltzer and soda maker, has been marketing its wares as a “green alternative” to soda cans and bottles. But SodaStream’s main production site is in Mishor Edomim, a settlement and industrial zone in the occupied West Bank, on confiscated Palestinian land. The company is participating in the theft of Palestinian land and exploits Palestinian labor while selling its product with a “Made in Israel” label.

Our new Brooklyn Gin friends were shocked to hear about the oppressive system of production behind their seltzer maker and were really receptive to Ryvka’s suggestion that they find another way to make their cocktails that aligns more with their vision for quality on all levels (taste and process).

Ryvka, being the thorough lady that she is, followed up with an email just the other day. She was excited to discover that there is an alternative to SodaStream that matches the local pride of Brooklyn Gin- Gomberg Seltzer Works in Canarsie, Brooklyn! Gomberg Seltzer Works is the last remaining seltzer factory in NYC and Ronny Beberman is the Brooklyn Seltzer Man. He’s 63 years old and still drives a wooden slatted truck full of vintage glass bottles. You can watch “Seltzer Works,” a documentary film about Gomberg Seltzer, at Rooftop Films on July 17th, and you can read a brief and entertaining write-up of this old school seltzer making and delivering operation here: http://reclaimedhome.com/2010/07/01/brooklyn-seltzer-delivery-how-old-school-is-that/

So…getting into Gomberg Seltzer Works is a way to divest from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and invest in the traditional liquid culture of Brooklyn.

Speaking of tradition, liquid culture, and seltzer…while I was home in Cincinnati celebrating the 20th anniversary of my father being the rabbi of his synagogue, I made up a little summer spritzer cocktail to loosen us up before diving into the 600 person dinner (at which the CEO of SodaStream was a surprise performer, being a dear friend of my family’s and the high holiday cantor of our shul. Oh the complexity of the universe). I don’t remember exact measurements but here’s the gist of it:

The Roaring Twentieth

1 oz Cointreau

1 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice

1 generous bar spoon of mixed berry preserves

2-3 oz Sauvignon Blanc (or any available dry-ish white wine)

top off with seltzer

Shake all of the ingredients (except for the seltzer) with ice in a cocktail shaker. Then strain into a chilled wine or champagne glass and top with seltzer. Garnish with a lemon or lime twist. Then clink glasses and toast all to the people fighting the good fight to make food and drink not just delicious but ethical! L’chaim!

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Cool as a cucumber

As you know, this week we are celebrating the birth of Ryvka, who in turn helped birth The Big Ceci.  (Yes – if you are paying attention you will be wondering exactly how long a week is with these people. The answer is: as long as it needs to be. Time is flexible and expansive around here.)

So today, I am toasting Ryvka with my recipe for a refreshing summer pitcher cocktail: The Cucumber Cooler.


Why this beverage? Because…

* Ryvka loves cucumbers – they are cool and refreshing like her.

*Ryvka loves people – this is a pitcher cocktail that serves many at a time (unlike many classic cocktail recipes that you have to make one by one, consuming the host’s attention for most of the evening).

* Ryvka loves me – she is my partner in life since the age of 11 and whenever I make something up like this she tastes things so deliberately and gushes with appreciation and pride in a way that makes me feel like a superstar.

Cucumber Cooler – a pitcher cocktail for the summertime

(Thanks to my co-pilot Naomi for lending her tendencies towards precision to the process of nailing this down. I think this is pretty close to what we decided…?)

In a cocktail shaker add:

  • 2 parts vodka
  • 1.5 parts apple juice (I used Fuji Apple Juice made by Red Jacket Orchards)
  • 1 part fresh lemon sour*
  • 2 parts cucumber puree
  • a dash of simple syrup*
  • ice

Shake vigorously then pour into a pitcher. Do this until the pitcher is full.  Stir it up and taste it. Mess around with the proportions if it isn’t sweet enough, strong enough, or cucumbery enough for your liking. Then place large ice cubes in the pitcher and a long bar spoon for stirring when people need refills. Note: larger ice cubes have less surface area so they melt slower, thus keeping the drink cool without diluting it as fast.

Place two regular ice cubes in each person’s glass and garnish with mint after the drink is poured in (mine is chocolate mint from my garden!).

* Simple syrup is aptly named. Just take 1 cup raw sugar and 1 cup water and in a medium saucepan combine sugar and water. Bring to a boil, stirring, until sugar has dissolved. Allow to cool.

* Lemon sour is also very simple: Combine 1 cup fresh lemon juice and 1 cup simple syrup in a large jar with a lid. Cover and keep refrigerated.

So Ryvka! Here’s to you! May the deep love, radical visions, and creative comraderie you offer the rest of us be returned to you a thousand-fold. I raise my glass (or whole pitcher) to you – thank you for finding ways to enjoy this broken beautiful world completely while not being content with the way things are.

Meet Una – member of The Big Ceci family & a big fan of Ryvka.

Sweet Cherry Pie

Pie eaters, when you wake up grouchy and feel like listening to Cat Steven’s “Oh Very Young,” making a sweet cherry pie can feel like an impossible task. However, because I’m working on a deadline (and the thought of eating cold buttery crust dough made me feel like getting out of bed) I forged through. The hand pitting of the cherries felt meditative but the grouchies followed me into the process of rolling out the dough, and when it ripped halfway through I almost cried. It wasn’t until I pulled the finished pie out of the oven to cool that I remembered that pie making is a creative process, not an exercise in perfection. The pie was delicious, beautiful and a joy to share with everyone at the party I took it to.

With this pie, I made the dough the day before so it could sit in the fridge over night. I’m still having a confusing time trying to figure out how long to let the dough warm up after it’s chilled before rolling it. Anyone out there in Pieland have any suggestions? When I watch videos of Martha rolling out dough I mostly feel like punching her and then I have a hard time focusing on what she is doing (OK, I don’t really want to punch her but I would like to be the one to reveal to the world that she is actually a robot). I’m wondering if anyone out there would like to barter a crust making tutorial in exchange for some nursey skill I could offer, like assessing the functioning of your cranial nerves (actually don’t watch the link, it’s really boring).

Moving on, for this post folks, instead of discussing the hard science of botany, I would like to turn your attention to the flimsy science of the US Farm Bill. I wanted to include this because we talk a lot about food here at Pie Time, but I think it’s also really important that we talk about farmers and farmland, as without them, there would be no pie. I’m not gonna lie people, the government-agricultural complex is super complicated. As an example from my personal life, my family’s farm in Ohio is subsidized by the government through the Farm Bill. A few years ago, my younger brother and I were talking about starting a vegetable garden on a part of the farm that had not been in cultivation for 40 years. My father told us if we planted crops for human consumption on that land, we would lose our farm subsidy. The crops that grow on our 100 acres currently (corn and soybean) are for cow feed only. If we started growing food that we could eat, the government would no longer subsidize us. Am I the only one that thinks this is WAY sketchy? I found this really helpful article about the subsidy conundrum, if my story has created an itch that you would like to scratch. The article had some really good suggestions about changing farm subsidies that made me rub my hands together really fast! (Something I do when I get excited.) So, if you want a similar feeling you know where to go.

p.s. Dear Reader, this week’s Pie Time post is in honor of my good friend Ryvka. I heard through the pie-loving community that she might enjoy a cherry pie on her birthday and, though I could not share a piece with her as she is currently north of the border, this pie was made with lots of love for you, Ryvka.

p.p.s. Mondays are official Pie Time Post Days so watch out!!!!

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…

THE BASIC RATIO

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.

THE “SCOOP” ON INGREDIENTS

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.

INSTRUCTIONS

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”!