Pi(e) Day in Carrboro

No time to calculate or bake? Go to Johnny’s in Carrboro, N.C. this evening and you won’t have to. Pi(e) Day will offer a fragrant plethora of pies from sweet to savory (I’ve heard lavender-chocolate and avocado-coconut are in the works), live music and a Pi(e) Walk, mathematically proper, of course. The suggested donation is $5 and proceeds will benefit the Center for Environmental Farming Systems‘s Youth Food Council. Johnny’s is at 901 W. Main St., Carrboro.

3.14 Day

Now that the Heels have pulled it out for the day, I can turn my attention to an important event not related to basketball. Yes, there actually are a few such things. One is Pie Day, which will be Monday. Look at the date, people.

It’s a bad pun, but who cares when it’s an excuse for pie. Some pears are awaiting on my counter, a possible combination with cognac and a spice like cardamom in the future. But for pie today, I turned to “Southern Pies” by Nancie McDermott of Chapel Hill, N.C. because the stress of pulling for the team during ACC Tournament weekend requires chocolate. Nancie’s recipe for Betty Thomason’s Chocolate Chess Pie is simple and smells rich as it bakes. I’m trying to keep my fingers from it until The Hub gets home, but that admirable goal is becoming more and more difficult to achieve.

Betty Thomason’s Chocolate Chess Pie from “Southern Pies” by Nancie McDermott

Pastry for a 9-inch single-crust pie

1/2 cup butter (I used nondairy margarine, for The Hub)

1 ounce unsweetened chocolate

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, beaten well

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a 9-inch pie pan with crust and crimp the edges. Combine the butter and chocolate in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until the chocolate and butter melt and you can stir them together into a smooth sauce, 5 to 7 minutes Remove from heat, add sugar and stir well. Add the eggs, vanilla and salt, and stir to combine everything evenly and well. Pour the filling into the piecrust and place the pie on the bottom shelf of the oven. Bake until the pie is puffed up, fairly firm and handsomely browned, 35 to 45 minutes. place the pie on a cooling rack and let cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Getting flaky

Chapel Hill, N.C. author Nancie McDermott was winning over the room at Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books on Saturday as she talked about her new cookbook, “Southern Pies: A Gracious Plenty of Pie Recipes, from Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan” (Chronicle, $22.95). The table full of pies from the book, that she’d baked for sampling later, was attracting gazes. Then McDermott said something that drew gasps: Crust doesn’t matter.

The biggest gasp came from my friend and neighbor, whom I call the Queen of Pie. She has been making pie crust from scratch since she was 10 years old and could do it in the dark.

Isn’t pie all about the crust?

McDermott explained that she meant that people should make and enjoy pie without stressing over creating The Perfect Pie Crust. The pressure of the crust often scares off cooks. Without that pressure, making pie is – well – easy as pie, especially when you compare it to the efforts frequently required to make even a simple cake. Cake is an opera; pie, a folk song.

Pie is a good filling, using things an even moderately well-stocked kitchen would have (sugar, lemon juice, buttermilk, canned pumpkin, peanut butter) inside a simple crust. It’s the weeknight dessert, not the towering special-occasion effort of a coconut or devil’s food cake.

There’s no fuss and bother about pie, just enjoyment. And McDermott encourages cooks to approach it that way. Her cookbook includes crust instructions, if you want to make your own. I do make pie crust…most of the time. I have to say, the refrigerated crusts are not bad at all. Don’t let a mere crust stand between you and pie.

The cookbook leans toward classic pies, with a whole section on variations of chess pie. There are a goodly number of chocolate pies and classic apple. But there are also some intriguing left-field pies, like Sweet Tea Pie and Summer Squash Custard Pie (another way to use up excessive summer squash without leaving it on neighbors’ doorsteps in the middle of the night).

When I left the signing, the Queen was having a word with the author over her crust statement – she had just won the QRB-sponsored pie contest and was flush with confidence. Emails were exchanged, but only sweet words.

Thoughts for food

I love a good book and a nibble of something good. The only thing better is both of those things put together. Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, N.C. will host a number of cookbook and food writers this month, to whet our appetites for the holiday feeding frenzy.

This Saturday, Nov. 6, bring your best pies and enter a contest in connection with Chapel Hill, N.C. author Nancie McDermott’s new book, “Southern Pies: A Gracious Plenty of Pie Recipes from Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan.” Bring pies and recipes at 2:15 p.m. and judging will begin at 2:30 p.m. Nancie will talk about her book at 3 p.m. Prizes will include gift certificates and signed copies of the book.

I never would have connected poets and food, but “The Sound of Poets Cooking,” edited by Richard Kraweic, offers poems and recipes. Local poets will read from the book on Sunday, Nov. 7 at 3 p.m. And there will be poetical snacks.

More seriously, America throws away nearly half of its food, according to Jonathan Bloom, author of “American Wasteland.” He’ll discuss what to do about it on Wednesday, Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m. The talk will benefit the InterFaith Food Shuttle, a local organization that retrieves food that would be discarded for use at soup kitchens and shelters.

Jean Anderson of Chapel Hill is a fount of food knowledge, going back to her years as an Iredell County home economist. Her new book, “Falling Off the Bone,” shows how to use economical cuts of meat and still eat like kings. She’ll talk on Dec. 5 at 2:30 p.m.

For more information on all the events, call Quail Ridge Books at 919-828-1588.

What are you cooking, Dave?

It was the best apple pie I’d ever baked. I actually had enough crust to completely cover the top, instead of having to cheap out with latticework. And I’d even managed to roll the bottom crust gracefully into the pan without shredding it. Just the right amount of cinnamon and rum in the filling; flaky softness in the crust.

And it may be the last for a while.  When I removed the pie and pushed the “stop” button on my range’s electronic controls, there was a startling pop. The pop was accompanied by an arcing flash beneath the smooth glass top, at the edge of a saucepan sitting on a burner. When I got a whiff of burned wires, I ran to the garage and hit the breaker.

That was it for the stove, at a mere five years old, whose baffling problems had gone on all summer. It started with a pie – specifically, when I noticed that one didn’t get as evenly brown as usual. The rest of the stove still worked. Diagnosis: Broken convection relay. Relay replaced, problem remained. New diagnosis: Bad part. Then another new relay, same old problem. Third diagnosis: Bad electronic control panel. Panel replaced but…can you stand the suspense?…the problem remained. Third diagnosis: Guess what? Bad part.

A second panel still didn’t fix the convection problem, and it started beaming out cryptic error code messages and beeping at random. I felt like a demonically possessed R2D2 was living in my kitchen The hub’s opinion: “The stove is jinxed.”

The stove has had all the chances it’s getting from us. So, it’s the grill, slow-cooker and microwave for about 10 days until the new one arrives. The old one sits shut down and dark, a little menacing, like a disconnected Hal. At least it didn’t get my pie.

The nightmare is over

Take the cans out from under your beds and sleep easy tonight: The Great Pumpkin Shortage is over. After reading this article, I have to say – gee, people, I like pumpkin bread OK, but I’m not obsessed with it. And here’s another heretical idea. I don’t serve pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. It’s apple at my table. Don’t even bring that pumpkin-flavored beer into my house, either. Would the Pilgrims have put pumpkin in their beer, if they’d had either pumpkin or beer? I think not.

Food news roundup

On Wednesdays, North Carolina legislators’ thoughts turn not to pork-barrel spending, but to fried squash in the legislature’s cafeteria. Read about the weekly phenomenon in The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), here.

I’ve said it before: Pie is the new cake. And the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer recognizes that fact today with all about pie (although I disagree about salt flavor in the crust – not my thing). The article is here (and in The News & Observer). For those of you who are in terror of making your own crusts, really, it just takes practice. And I find many people willing to eat my pie exercises.

At the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal, it’s pie time, too, with recipes from winners of an apple pie contest at Historic Bethabara Park, site of the Moravian settlement that predated Old Salem. I notice that none of the three recipes contain my secret ingredient for apple pie filling: A couple of heaping tablespoons of spiced dark rum. Good for the cook, too. The article is here.

What parents should feed young athletes is the subject at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune today. Among other things, not sodas and energy drinks – good, old water is great, the experts say. Read more here.

The whole “Twilight” thing has now officially gone too far: There is a “Twilight” cookbook. I learned about this from the Salt Lake City Tribune today. The author of “Love at First Bite: The Unofficial ‘Twilight’ Cookbook,” Gina Meyers, posits that the series of books is “brimming with juicy forbidden recipes” and contends Edward is a vegetarian vampire. What, he only bites blood oranges? Read for yourself here.

Big week for sweets

Can you smell the delight of lovers of baked sweets? First, the Krispy-Kreme on Person Street in Raleigh, N.C. reopened June 1, after month-long renovations left seekers of “Hot Doughnuts Now” with the cold comfort of packaged goods.

And today, the doors opened at Scratch Baking in Durham, N.C. The long-desired permanent store at 111 Orange Street gives fans of baker Phoebe Lawless a place to get pies and doughnut muffins between her weekends at area farmers markets. The hours are Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Lawless’ pies aren’t your grandma’s pies. The pan-less pies have rustic crusts folded up around exotic fillings, which peek through the center like an open purse tempting a pickpocket. A dark chocolate-sea salt pie I got for a picnic last summer still sticks in the memory.

Food news roundup

I learned today that Turkish cooks make baklava in a rolled-up form. However you slice – or curl or mold –  it, it’s still honey-drenched goodness. That and more is in an occasional series on ethnic cooks in the Triangle in The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) food section. The story and recipe are here.

Memphis In May is the Daytona 500 of barbecue contests. If you win there, you are king of ‘cue. A Charlotte man was part of a team that won first place for chicken – and it was the first time he’d entered any cooking contest. Read about him in the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer here.

There are jelly-filled doughnuts, then there are the pillow-like Berliners that Durham, N.C. bakery Guglhupf produces. The Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.) actually has the bakery’s recipe here.

“Can she bake a cherry pie, Billy boy, Billy boy?” Well, Emily Spaugh of Winston-Salem, N.C. can, and won a national prize for it. She’s just 18, and carrying on a family tradition. Read more in the Winston-Salem Journal, here.

And I thought we loved pig in North Carolina: A fight broke out at a pig cook-off in Portland, Ore. Police were called. It was all over the birthplace of the winning porker. Read about the squealing brawl in The Oregonian, here.

Utah isn’t a hotbed of craft beers, but a new brewery is opening in Salt Lake City that will focus on “high gravity” beers – that’s beers with a lot of alcohol. Find out how that happened in the Salt Lake Tribune, here.

Food news roundup

The food section for the News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) highlights the culinary job training program operated by the InterFaith Food Shuttle. The organization, which picks up donated food and provides it to shelters and soup kitchens, started the training to help unemployed folks, who may have few skills, get the training they need to work in food service. The article reports that the program has a 70 percent employment rate for trainees. Read it here.

Concord, N.C.’s Avett Brothers are the hottest thing in songwriter-rockers, and the band’s cellist (yes, a cellist in a rock band) is hot in the kitchen, too. The Charlotte Observer features Joe Kwon, who talks about how food and music intersect (the article is in the N&O, too). Read about him and his recipes here.

Ever heard of Albanian food? Neither had I, until I read the article in the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal about a Southern Pines company that is finding success with it. Read more here.

There’s always a different perspective on food in the San Francisco Chronicle. This week, it’s debunking stereotypes about Indian food. Read more here.

I told y’all pies were the new thing. A total of 250 recipes were entered in the Memphis Commercial Appeal’s pie contest. The winner was a chocolate-macaroon pie with mascarpone topping. Find the recipe here.