Friday, March 26, 2010

Portland Tribune Pie Feature, What It Feels Like To Be In The Paper

It's a funny feeling to walk by a newsstand and see a picture of your own hands prominently displayed on the front page of a newspaper. I knew Portland Tribune was coming out with a front-page article about pie, because I had been interviewed and photographed for the story, but you never know how it's going to be presented until...there it is.

It's also a funny feeling to be the one being written about instead of the one doing the writing. Because I make my living as a writer, I'm used to seeing my name in print -- as the writer's byline -- but more often now it seems to be the other way around. Instead of interviewing experts, people are quoting me as the expert.
As a result of the article I've already had emails coming in asking me for advice on pie recipes. Even just this morning when we were walking our dogs, Sylvia, my neighbor who had read the article, wanted to talk pie recipes. "My favorite is my grandmother's Georgia peach pie. It tastes like it's made with cream cheese, but it's more of a custard. I'll have to find the recipe for you. It's more than 50 years old. I have an old cookbook from the 30's, I'll have to dig that out for you too. There's a good pecan pie recipe in it." We kept walking and she kept talking...and talking. "What's the most interesting pecan pie you've made?" she asked. Then, Sylvia noticed that not only was I not responding with my usual enthusiasm, I was not really paying attention at all. (She notices every little nuance about me.) She stopped and said, "I forgot. You are a simple pie kind of person."

"I get my pecan pie recipe off the Karo syrup bottle," I replied. "I'm just not interested in recipes. It makes me wonder where I fit in this whole food scene where people are sooooo into talking about ingredients and exchanging recipes. I'm not a foodie. And I don't consider myself a food blogger. I'm not an expert. I just love pie."

"You like to mix everything together and throw it into the crust," she agreed, then changed the subject. "What did you think of the article? Were you happy with it?"

"Absolutely! I loved how it covered the whole Portland pie scene. And I loved the front page close-up picture of the lattice crust. It's the kind of picture that will make people want to make pie..."

"But?" Sylvia knows me well enough to know I had something more on my mind.

"But I was surprised by how it also made me really sad. All I wanted to do when I picked up the newspaper is show it to Marcus and share my excitement with him." It's a funny feeling to walk by a newsstand and see a picture of your own hands prominently displayed on the front page of a newspaper -- and have it remind you that your husband is dead. Now it was my turn to change the subject, to practice what I'm preaching: Pie heals. "Sylvia, I haven't made the rhubarb pie yet. But I promise, I'm going to make it today."

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Gina Hyams' Q&A with The Pie Evangelist (That's Me!)

I have a new friend in pie and her name is Gina Hyams. (That's her in the picture.) We met in January through a Yahoo! group for journalists (thank you, David Hochman), where I posted a request seeking pie ideas for the TV pilot. Gina replied, "As long as we're on the subject of pie, this seems like a good idea to announce my new book, Pie Contest in a Box." To which I replied, "That's brilliant!" And just like that our pie sisterhood was born. Now, not only do we share our new pie discoveries and contacts daily, we will be sharing the stage at the National Pie Championships April 23 to 25 in Orlando, Florida, where we will be pie judges. Gina is doing interviews leading up to the championships and started by writing about the executive director of the American Pie Council, Linda Hoskins. (Read Gina's Q&A with Linda here.) Next in her line-up was me. Me! I don't have a pie shop, a pie job, or even a pie book/TV deal (not yet anyway). The only thing that qualifies me to be interviewed -- let alone judge a national pie contest -- is that I am really, really passionate about pie. So for now I'm being billed as Pie Evangelist.

I'm reprinting the interview below -- without seeking Gina's permission first because A) it's 2AM right now on the East coast where she lives and B) I wrote the answers myself so I figure I can't be accused of plagiarism! But I encourage you to read the interview on Gina's blog as it looks so much more impressive on her site. And I don't have the vanity to include a picture that big of me on my own blog. (Thank you, Gina!) I can't wait to see who she interviews next.


Gina: Can you talk about how focusing on pie has helped you cope with the loss of your husband?

Beth: A mentor of mine always preaches, ‘If you’re feeling blue do something nice for others. I interpret ‘nice’ to mean ‘bake pies and give them away.’ Since my husband died unexpectedly seven months ago, I have been feeling verrrrrrrry blue and as a result I have been baking a lot of pie lately and giving it all away. In fact, on National Pie Day (January 23, 2010), I baked 50 pies and handed free slices out to strangers on the streets of LA. That’s 400 slices of pie. That made me feel a little better. At least for that day. If only every day could be National Pie Day! But also, Marcus loved my pie and he was very supportive of me writing my pie memoir. He was reading my manuscript up until the day he died. Knowing that he wanted to see me get this book published keeps me going.

Gina: Why do you love pie?

Beth: Why pie? I am still asking myself this. I love many baked goods – brownies, chocolate chip cookies, carrot cake – but there is something truly special about pie. I think it has something to do with a nostalgia that goes way beyond our parents and grandparents. Maybe because pie’s origins go way back to the Egyptians and Romans it’s baked deep in our DNA.

Gina: What is your fondest pie memory?

Beth: Age 8, Banana Cream Pie, The Canteen Lunch in the Alley, Ottumwa, Iowa. I was with my dad and four siblings. My dad was in charge because my mom was in the hospital. We all sat around a horseshoe shaped counter on bar stools. We each got our own whole heaping-high piece of pie. And that was after eating Maid-Rite hamburgers. Banana Cream is my dad’s favorite pie by far. My mom got my dad to marry her because she made him of this pie. So I wouldn’t have been born if not for banana cream pie. Thus, all my memories of banana cream are fond ones. But The Canteen Lunch in the Alley was where my pie initiation began. And, by the way, the place is still there – check it out!

Gina: What is your favorite kind of pie?

Beth: My favorite pie is apple crumble. And blueberry. And blackberry. And peach. And…you get the idea.

Gina: What is the oddest pie you’ve made, seen, or heard about?

Beth: Stargazy pie from England, where whole fish are laid under the top crust with their heads poking out, eyes looking up toward the stars. Truly disturbing. There’s a pic in my blog post from when I heard about it, though never actually saw or ate one.

Gina: Have you ever participated in or judged a pie contest? Please tell me about your experiences. Do you have any competition tips?

Beth: No, I’ve never judged a contest of any kind, which makes me especially nervous to go straight to the National Pie Championships as a novice judge! I feel sorry for the contestants who get me for a judge because not only do I have a hard time making decisions (I’m a Gemini), I am not terribly discriminating when it comes to pie because, basically, I like almost any pie I eat!

Gina: What criteria should pie judges consider? Is there a proper technique to tasting pie?

Beth: Pie should look (and taste) like it’s made with love. You can always tell. Pie should reflect life; it should be slightly imperfect – it should look homemade. It shouldn’t be too fancy, no manicured or coiffed crusts, it’s not a French pastry going to a ball; it’s hardy American fare so the crust should look a little, shall we say, rough around the edges. Proper tasting technique is this: always, always, always chew with your mouth closed. And use a napkin to wipe your mouth. Please.

Gina: What is the secret to a perfect crust?

Beth: Butter. End of discussion. Okay, that and do not, I repeat, DO NOT overwork the dough!

Gina: Do you think great bakers are born rather than made? Can anybody learn to make pie? What personality traits make for the best pie bakers?

Beth: Anyone can learn to make pie. However, in my teaching experience, I’ve learned that pie making is well suited to people who are not perfectionists, not overachievers, not Type-A. (These types almost always overwork their dough.) Pie making is good for free spirited, creative types who are not afraid to ignore recipes, break rules, improvise, and who are open to experimentation. Overall, I see pie making as an equal-opportunity, all-access, all-age activity.

Gina: Why does pie matter today?

Beth: Pie makes people happy, happy people want to do nice things for others, when everyone is doing nice things for each other all the time there can be no war, and therefore pie can save the world.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Rhubarb and Rosemary

I took a late afternoon walk with my dogs today, unsure of which direction we would go, and after some persistent tugging by Jack on his leash, ended up at the house of my neighbor Sylvia. She welcomed us into her huge garden and we sat in the sun while Team Terrier dug up her newly planted flowers. (She swears she didn't mind.) I have learned to trust these aimless afternoon wanderings as they often lead to unexpected surprises. Good ones. When I was about to leave, Sylvia jumped up and said, "Take some rhubarb with you." She walked over to a raised bed overgrown with leaves bigger than pie plates. I thought I was looking at squash until she pulled the curtain of leaves aside to reveal the red stalks below. Simultaneously twisting and pulling the roots, she yanked out a handful of stalks. We hadn't made it to the gate before passing a rosemary bush on Pacific Northwest steroids. Sylvia plucked a branch of that too. "I know what I'm doing tonight," I told her. Naturally, making a rhubarb pie. Sylvia is one of my "Bad Borrowers" but since I forgot to ask her for my Limoges plate while I was there, and she sent me home with a bounty of produce, I'm giving her temporary reprieve from the list. I already know where tomorrow's afternoon dog walk will take me. Back to Sylvia's to deliver a piece of the rhubarb pie. On a paper plate.

What Kind of Pie Are You?

If Gandhi were alive, or if he had been born in America, or if he had been truly enlightened in the ways of how to achieve world peace, he might have focused more on pie and less on change. I mean, what is change other than a handful of copper coins. This is what he might have said instead:

Be the pie you wish to see in the world.
This is my dog Daisy. She is a Coconut Cream Pie. She looks a little messy, slighty ragged even, like shredded, toasted coconut, which fits as she is actually from Mexico, a country where coconuts grow. She lived on the streets of Saltillo for god knows how long and thus her outer shell is as tough as a coconut's, but inside she is as soft, delicious, and gentle as vanilla pudding. In spite of her coarse appearance she is all peace and love. Just like pie. Just like Gandhi. In her sleep you can hear her chanting, "Ommmmm."

What kind of pie are you?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Good Borrowers, Bad Borrowers

I have a list taped to my refrigerator to keep track of all my dishes out on loan, all of them were used to deliver pie to neighbors -- either a slice, a mini size, or a whole pie. The list includes:

Syliva: Limoges dessert plate
Stacy: Pyrex pie dish
Sharon: Bennington Pottery pie dish
Elizabeth: handmade ceramic bowl

Weeks have gone by and even after I've mentioned my desire to have my prized dishes back (the Limoges belonged to my grandmother, the handmade bowl from Germany was a gift from Marcus, the Bennington Pottery was a gift from Nan), even left friendly reminder notes, I have not gotten my dishes back. I am now placing these friends on my other list: "Bad Borrowers," those who do not return things promptly. Shame on you! I am running out of serving dishes to bake pies for others in need.

But there is one friend who not only goes on the "Good Borrowers" list, she moves straight to the top! She is Heather, my new neighbor, who stopped by to say hi on Saturday. I was outside vacuuming the RV and MINI -- getting ready for another road trip?! -- and she sat down on the steps, in the sun, chatting with me while I worked. Eventually it occurred to me to just stop what I was doing, to be neighborly. To pause. To breathe. "Can I make you a latte?" I offered as we continued to chat on the sidewalk. "Come on upstairs."

Heather was only half way through her coffee when her boyfriend came by and she had to go. Knowing I had given her my highly cherished mug, the one with the picture of the motorscooter that reads "My journey begins today" -- another irreplaceable gift from Marcus -- I bravely said, "Go ahead. Take it with you." But if anything happens to that mug...

Less than one hour later, the coffee mug was sitting on my staircase filled with the most vibrant (one could even say flourescent) daisies. My eyes grew wide with surprise and my mouth broke into an even wider smile.

There is an old etiquette rule about never returning a dish empty. I'm impressed that Heather has either read Emily Post's book on good manners or she is simply by nature a very thoughtful, conscientious person. And while I feel it is sufficient to return a dish clean with a simple thank-you note, I would settle for unclean and no note just to get my things back in a timely manner. So look out, those of you on the "bad" list. You've been publicly outed!