Saturday, January 30, 2010

Day 11: TV Pilot -- LA's Legendary Apple Pan

Several weeks ago, when we first started on this Great Pie Adventure and I began to schedule pie interviews, The Apple Pan was the first place I called. I had eaten there 20 years ago and as soon as I hung up from the call I rushed over there to satisfy my awakened craving for a Hickory Cheeseburger and a slice of banana cream pie. So since the shoot in a way began with this place it seems fitting that Apple Pan was our last stop -- and last pie -- of the TV pilot. We were allowed in at 9AM, two hours before the official opening time. We hadn't yet made it all the way back from San Francisco the night before and had slept at a truck stop along I-5 in the RV. I got behind the wheel at 4:30AM , driving in my pajamas, to make it to West LA in time. We walked in the door at 9:15. Whew! (We would have been on time if I hadn't had to change out of my pajamas.)

We were just in time to see the pie bakers in action. Jose prepped more dough while Rodrigo attended to the pies already in the oven. We learned that Rodrigo has been baking pies at The Apple Pan for 10 years and Jose has been there 12 years. But these guys are newcomers compared to the other staff members. One guy who works behind the counter has been here 30 years. And another employee retired after working here 53 years.The owners of The Apple Pan take pride in the fact that NOTHING has changed since the diner opened in 1943 -- and they mean nothing. Not the menu, the recipes, the red vinyl stools, not the wood paneled walls, and not even the employees. In a world of hyperfast change, this is a place where people seek -- and find -- comfort.

We know this because when the doors finally opened to customers at 11AM -- they were lining up outside and we witnessed every bar stool occupied by 11:02!! -- we interviewed the diners on why they like to eat here. "Because it's the best burger and pie in town. You can always count on it being great." But they don't keep coming back just for the food. They return -- again and again, generation after generation -- because of nostalgia. "I used to come here with my dad," one man tells us, "and my grandparents used to bring him here before that."
At last it was time for Janice and I to get down to business and try the pie. Sunny, the owner and granddaughter of the founders, brought us a piece of Boysenberry and a piece of Banana Cream.While we LOVED LOVED LOVED the pie (just look at the huge portion of bananas in that slice!) we equally enjoyed our time with Sunny (pictured above) and her mother Martha (with bedhead me below). They are so positive and cheerful who needs to come for the food? Their warm smiles were nourishment enough. That said, we wouldn't have wanted to miss the pie. (Pictured is Janice, below, looking very happy, because berry pie is her favorite.)

To every ending there is a new beginning. No sooner did we polish off the cream pies Jose and Rodrigo showed up with two plates of their apple pie, piping hot from the oven. They stood there, waiting in anticipation for our assessment, until we dug into it. How could we refuse?
Crispy, flaky crust. Soft, warm filling. Cold, creamy ice cream. Hot, strong coffee. Oh. My. God. What a perfect balance of textures and flavors. No wonder The Apple Pan continues to do booming business after 63 years. While it's rare to find a business that isn't either wanting to expand in size or trying something new to keep up with the competition, we agree, we wouldn't want them to change a thing!

NEXT: Wrapping up the shoot, doing voice overs and intros, revising the treatment, and getting Janice to the airport. The interviews -- and pie tastings -- may be done for now, but the real work is just beginning. So stay tuned to the blog. We'll be giving you more updates as we progress, as well as a final tally of pies eaten, supplies used, and more.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Mission Pie, PART II -- Five Easy Pieces

And now for the best part of every pie interview...THE PIE! It's the reward for taking our time to learn about every aspect of a pie baker's business. But a business is often only as successful as the products it sells. So here we go, doing "Quality Control" at Mission Pie.Five easy pieces....starring, from left to right, Banana Cream, Walnut, Sweet Potato, Pear Ginger, and Shaker Lemon. The walnuts are organic and locally grown on a farm outside of San Francisco. The lemons in the Shaker pie are even more local -- they're from a neighborhood customer's backyard tree.
Ready, set, go! We skipped breakfast so we're hungry.
Janice is all smiles after the first bite...of each. Er, that's five bites.
Progress report: So far so good! They're all equally good.
Can you see my belly growing? We may be getting full but we haven't lost our determination to clean our plates. Besides, in this socially-conscious cafe, we dare not let anything go to waste.
What has gotten into me? Five pieces of pie and all table manners have been forgotten. Or one could say that licking one's plate is the ultimate compliment. Obviously, that was some very good baking. I may be feeling a bit giddy after 11 non-stop days of our TV shoot, but I am not sick of eating pie!

Next: The long drive back to Los Angeles, and one more interview to go at The Apple Pan in West LA, a pie diner that opened in 1943 and is still going strong.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Day 10: TV Pilot -- Pie with a Mission, PART I

We arrived at Mission Pie at 8:00AM on Thursday. The early start time didn't bother us as we arrived to a warm and cozy atmosphere, nice people, and good, strong coffee. Oh, and a lot of pie.
There goes the a good way. The location of this pie shop is intentional and a way to affect positive change. Though the local majority Latino population isn't the most obvious pie-eating clientele, the owners of Mission Pie, Krystin Rubin and Karen Heisler, make it their mission to serve affordable high-quality food, drink, and pie to everyone regardless of nationality or race. Besides, Mission Pie is a destination. People come from miles around just to buy their pie. One look at their robust pie display and you can see why word about their pie -- both sweet and savory -- is spreading beyond the Mission District.
We watched a steady stream of customers come and go -- and buy pie -- all morning. This 3-year-old venture is a for-profit business and we want to see them stay in business for a long time to come. Looks like they are well on their way. They already doubled their space after a year and a half.
It's the little touches like this pitcher of "locally grown" water that demonstrate Mission Pie's environmental awareness -- and remind the rest of us to follow their example. You won't find plastic water bottles in this establishment.
You also won't find pecan pie here. Instead you'll find walnut pie. Why? Because pecans are not locally grown, walnuts are. As for the carbon footprint from the bananas in their banana cream? You'll find more custard than bananas in this one, but it doesn't make the pie any less popular. When Janice told the nurse in the ER we were coming to Mission Pie the next day, the nurse said, "You have to try their banana cream." Even when you're trying to do the right thing, it can be hard -- especially when people love your pie.

My favorite part of the day was hanging out in the kitchen with co-owner Krystin Rubin and her production manager, Danielle Benson. (See pics of them below, kneading and rolling dough.) Janice teased me later that it seemed like I was trying to get a job here. Why wouldn't I want to work in a place that is so intent on helping others and making the world a better place through made with all-natural ingredients pie?
One of Krystin and Karen's long list of tenets is to hire challenged youth from nearby Mission High School and from social organizations, teach these "interns" not only how to bake and to interact with customers, but show them how work can be a positive experience, an experience that will shape their futures. Many of these interns become full-time employees at Mission Pie or go to have professional baking jobs.

This is not your average corner bakery! This is a whole community-building Pie Movement. And if Janice and I don't sell this TV pie-lot as a series, I just may apply for a Mission Pie job.
NEXT: Sampling the pie at Mission Pie. We ate so much it required a second blog entry. Read "Five Easy Pieces" to vicariously enjoy what pie we got to try.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Day 9: TV Pilot -- Pie Delivered by Bicycle

Day Nine's shoot started early in San Francisco -- in a torrential downpour. Not good for filming pies being delivered by bicycle! We waited out the rain in a coffee house and I used the time to update my blog. (Has anyone noticed I am 2 days behind?!)
The rain let up and we found ourselves trailing the adorable Natalie Galatzer of Bike Basket Pies as she delivered her "cupcake size" pies to offices in San Francisco's financial district.
At the end of her route she even delivered a baby pie to us in the RV! Her little Orange Shaker pie was so buttery and melt-in-your-mouth delicious I ate it so fast I not only couldn't even get a picture of it, I couldn't save more that one tiny taste for Janice. (If you look close enough you'll see my thighs have gotten progressively bigger each day of the shoot. But remember: Don't blame pie!)
Natalie bids us farewell so she can get back to her kitchen and bake pies for the next day's deliveries, while we head to Crissy Field -- to the beach -- to walk the dogs, eat a picnic lunch, and get some footage of San Francisco's famous views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge.
No, these are not my dogs! I only have two little ones, and that's already double trouble.
Did I mention that Janice slipped on a metal grate during the morning rain? She was walking to meet Natalie, carrying her heavy camera bag, and her feet slid right out from under her. The bruise on her hand was so black and the pain so persistant a trip to the ER was called for. A broken wrist perhaps? And all because of pie!
The xrays showed no sign of a fracture -- whew! The day ended on a happy note with a hearty meal of my favorite San Francisco food: pasta and a glass of red wine. And lots of Advil for Janice.

Next: Tomorrow is the day I've been looking forward to since this Big Pie Adventure began. We will go to Mission Pie, meet the owners, and hear about how -- and why -- they started a pie shop that would teach at-risk youth not only how to bake but how learn to love their work.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Day 8: TV Pilot -- Driving from LA to San Francisco

Monday was a dismal day for a drive from LA to San Francisco, but we had interviews lined up for Tuesday and Wednesday and thus were committed to going. We chugged along, sometimes going as slow as 45MPH, over the snowy Tejon Pass.At least I had good company for driving with Janice and Jack as my copilots. Jack refused to get off Janice's lap. She fought him for the first hour -- "You're not riding all the way to SF on my lap, little man" -- but he won in the end.We carry Marcus' picture on the dashboard (looking very serious in a photo taken for his Mexican Visa) for good luck. We like to think he is doing advance security for us so that we have both safe passage and good parking for our big rig. That said, I've parked under a few too many low-hanging trees these past few weeks and have some good size dings on the roof now, as well as a bent ladder and a scraped awning.

After making it over the mountain pass we spotted signs for a fruit stand advertising "Feel Good Food." But realized too late that we could have stopped for pie!
But road trips aren't all about pie... In-N-Out Burger is a favorite -- we love the fries! -- so instead of yet another piece of pie we pigged out on double cheeseburgers. Yum!

Next: Meeting Natalie Galatzer of Bike Basket Pies to follow her on her delivery route through downtown San Francisco.

Day 7: TV Pilot -- Hello Hollywood

Today was a day of meeting old friends and making new ones. We started off in Malibu at the beach house of Kathy Eldon. Kathy and I met in Nairobi, Kenya 23 years ago where we discovered in the first five minutes of talking that we were both from Iowa. Our friendship has spanned the years and the globe and one of the things that has always brought us together is....PIE!
PICTURE: Beth delivers an apple pie to Kathy Eldon.

Kathy, whose grandmother wrote a cookbook (and lived to 106) was my first pie mentor -- the one who always shouted, "Don't manhandle the dough!" -- so it was fitting she be part of our pie documentary. Sadly, the other thing that unites us now is our grief. Her son Dan Eldon was a photojournalist killed in Somalia and she swears I helped her deal with her loss -- and likewise, she has been there for me as I've navigated my new world without Marcus.
Kathy sets an example of how to turn tragedy into activism. Her foundation, Creative Visions, inspires (and funds) others to help change the world through media and other creative projects. Maybe Creative Visions can sponsor "Pie it Forward" next year?! Do take a look at her website. Also keep your eye out for the major motion picture being made about Dan Eldon's life, with Julia Roberts playing Kathy!
Next, we drove the RV across the city to the San Fernando Valley and visited the home of Grammy-award winners Allee Willis and Prudence Fenton, the creative duo who brings us Pigmy Will. I had no idea five months ago when I posted a Pigmy Will video on my pie blog that life would go in this direction -- that Marcus would be dead just 11 days later, that I would be driving the RV all over the West (I think I've put 2,500 miles on it so far!), and that I would be doing a TV shoot about pie -- ahem, about HOW PIE CAN CHANGE THE WORLD -- and that one Sunday afternoon in January I would be sitting around the kitchen table with Allee and Prudence talking about an animated character who loves pie. Maybe someday this will all make sense. Though I can't help but think that Marcus is "up there" making all of this happen.I get the easy job. I get to sit around and eat pie while Janice watches through the lens of her camera. On the other hand, I like to think I make up for it as the designated driver for the RV.
Allee and Prudence's home was built as a party house for MGM studios. It's like a museum to Old Hollywood. We only found out after we left that the pictures hanging around the kitchen table came from The Brown Derby and made famous by appearing in episodes of "I Love Lucy."
It was another incredible day in the Life of Pie.

Next: We drive to San Francisco where we have more exciting interviews set up with more fascinating people who love/make/eat pie.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Day 6: TV Pilot -- FREE PIE FOR LA!

What a day. This may have been one of the best, most memorable days of my entire life. I believe it's a day many people whose lives we touched on Saturday will also remember for a long time to come. Why? Because of PIE! Free pie! How often do you walk down a city sidewalk and encounter an enthusiastic group of clean-cut people offering you a slice of homemade apple pie? We started off the day at the historic Firestation Number 39 in Van Nuys, Calif., where a group of about 14 hungry firefighters greeted us with great enthusiasm. As we sliced up a few pies one of the fireman pulled out a 5-gallon tub of ice cream. "We have a tradition around here," he explained. "Any time a rookie has a first -- a first car fire, a first cat rescued out of a tree, a first house fire -- the rookie has to buy ice cream." As he shoveled bites of apple pie into his mouth he offered, "But we'll have change that tradition now. The rookie will have to bring pie."
After the pie we got to sit on the firetruck and watch the guys slide down the firepole -- and try to show off climbing back up! We also listened to some serious stories about men they had lost, and about 911 calls they answered, about how people open their doors to these brave men who are rush to the scene to help. I got choked up at this point and told the captain, "911 was called when my husband died. I know they did everything they could to save him. So please know I, for one, appreciate what you do."
From there we moved on to Sherman Oaks, parking the pie-loaded RV at a random parking space on Ventura Boulevard, from where we set up a table for our Great Pie Giveaway.
Foot traffic was light so Nan and I (two Iowa girls) used the down time to sample the goods. Very tasty!
We're this city of 10 million where are all the pie-loving people? (Pictured above: my friend Melissa and her boyfriend Jeff)
Finally we moved the RV down to Venice Beach and parked on the trendy Abbot Kinney Boulevard.
"Why are you doing this?" was the most commonly asked question.
The answer: "Because it's National Pie Day."
This was often followed by another question: "Is there really a National Pie Day?"
To which we replied, "Yes. It's today."
Then, still incredulous as to why anyone would be handing out free pie, the next question was always, "Who's sponsoring you?"
And to that we watched the stunned faces as we said, "No one. We are doing this because we want to give back something the world. We want to make people happy."
As we watched the forks go in and out of these strangers' mouths, we also observed the hurried looks softening on their faces. "Mmmmm, this is really good," we heard. And, "This tastes as good as my grandmother's pie." But our favorite comments were ones like: "This makes me want to do something nice for someone else." One woman said she was going to go home and do the dishes for her roommate. Another guy said he felt so good about the pie he was going to pick up his dog's poop that day. At that, Janice panned her camera down to a very stocky bulldog. Yikes! We should be giving this guy pie everyday.
This PAY IT FORWARD idea was an added bonus. We just wanted to make people feel good. But to hear they in turn wanted to make others feel good?
This, my friends, is the power of pie!
This is how pie can change the world!
Word traveled down the block as others saw smiling faces carrying plates of pie. If you bake it, they will come.
Team Pie -- Janice, Melissa, Nan, Jeff, me, as well as Jane, Carlene, Thelma who baked, and Marcus who is with us in spirit -- made a lot of people happy that day. And hopefully we have left the world a better place because of it. We're already excited about National Pie Day next year.