Monthly Archives: April 2010

Happy Goose: Spring Edition

Goose in Great Barrington, Massachusetts

Interview with Rosanne Cash: On Writing Her Memoir, The Nature of Mature Beauty, Twitter, and Pie Songs

Singer and songwriter Rosanne Cash‘s fourteen albums have charted eleven number-one singles. The genesis of her new album, The List, dates back to a day in 1973 when her father, Johnny Cash, discovered some gaps in her knowledge of American roots music. He spent the rest of the day making a list on a legal pad, and at the top he put “100 Essential Country Songs” handed it to her and said, “This is your education.”

Three-dozen years later, Roseanne has selected twelve songs from the list presented to her by her father to record her first album of covers. She approached each composition—from Jimmie Rodgers’ “Miss the Mississippi and You” to Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country”—in search of its particular essence. She is currently on tour and I look forward to her concert at the Colonial Theater in Pittsfield, Massachusetts on June 29.

Rosanne is also the author of the short story collection, Bodies of Water, and the children’s book, Penelope Jane: A Fairy’s Tale. Her new book, Composed: A Memoir, will be published by Viking on August 10. She lives in New York City with her husband, John Leventhal, and her children.

The Cover of Rosanne's Upcoming Memoir

Gina: Why did you decide to write your memoir now? What was the process of writing it like for you?

Rosanne: I’ve been writing it for a decade, so ‘now’ is relative! Things kept happening, I was making records, raising children and a lot of Life went on. The process was …SLOW. And it was a great organizing principle for me. Many, many times I have not understood my own life until I wrote about it. I get to see the connections, past and future, the patterns, the depth of the relationships.

Gina: As the mother of a 15-year-old daughter, I’m thinking a lot these days about the notion of mothers ceding, or not, the spotlight. Do you have any thoughts on this issue having raised three daughters? How to support our girls and revel in their budding beauty and potential, while hanging on to our own sense of self as powerful, sexual beings?

Rosanne: It was jarring to me when they were teens…to see your daughter come into her own as a woman. I felt faded at first…then realized slowly that power, sexuality, and beauty are NOT age dependent! Youth and beauty are wonderful, but age plus authenticity equals another kind of beauty, and requires a life well lived.

Gina: You are a Twitter Queen. Your hashtags are always hilarious. What do you enjoy about the 140-character form?

Rosanne: It’s kind of how my mind works.  Short bursts. A little manic. It’s a perfect medium for me, sadly.

Gina: Off the top of your head, how many songs can you name about pie? And which one is your favorite?

Rosanne: Well.  There are songs that have pie IN them (“Ode to Billie Joe”) and then songs with Pie in the title (“American Pie”, “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch”) but songs SOLELY about pie? That will require some thought. And what an odd question, congratulations.

Gina: I was fishing for “Country Pie,” which I recently stumbled upon doing research for my Pie Contest in a Box. Here’s a great clip of your dad with Mama Cass.

Please Help Me Shop For Glasses

My eyesight is deteriorating yet more and my family never really warmed to my current frames, so it seems to me that new glasses are in order. Do the royal we have anything to say about these four pair (kindly borrowed from Cyril & Dayne, so that Dave and Annalena can weigh in on them at home tonight)?

Contestant Number One

Contestant Number Two

Contestant Number Three

Contestant Number Four

It's Snowing Pear Blossoms in Great Barrington

Great Barrington, Massachusetts (April 27, 2010)

Woodward’s Garden Restaurant Chef/Owner Dana Tommasino on Pie

Dana Tommasino has been the Chef/Owner of Woodward’s Garden Restaurant in San Francisco for 18 years now, which has been described by food critic Patricia Unterman as “the perfect Parisian restaurant — a small, unpretentious, neighborhood place run by a couple with instinctively good taste.”  I enjoyed a memorable birthday dinner there years ago and was delighted recently to stumble upon her always intriguing and fun voice on Twitter @figmentspot and her “foodish thoughts” blog, Figments.

Dana holds a BA in American Studies from UC Santa Cruz, a Masters degree in Literature from Mills College, and an AA degree from the California Culinary Academy. She lives in San Francisco with her sweetie, her daughter, and their mad Norwich Terrier, Chickpea.

Dana Tommasino Making Pie

Gina: Why do you love pie?

Dana: According to Janet Clarkson (Pie: A Global History), every food was once first pie, and pies can be traced back to the Neolithic Period (9500 BC!). Now that’s some history. Crust was the original Le Creuset braiser; lunch box; tupperware.  Food encased made it super transportable, cookable, and a cinch to store to boot.  And then there’s all that intense interior juice becoming le Zen “One” with crisp, chewy starch, and the ability of pies to embody both sweet perfume or earthy savory so beautifully. Pies are brilliant, functional, and delicious. No wonder they caught on.  What’s not to love?

Gina: What is your fondest pie memory?

Dana: Tamale Pie.  A woman cooked hot lunch for us daily at my tiny grade school.  Her weekly pie was all peppers, beef, chilies, olives, and cheese fired under a cornmeal crust. Lord it was good. Wednesdays couldn’t whip around fast enough.  And yes, the cheese was doozy-orange; the olives canned con perfect thumb holes, but it so didn’t matter.  When I dug into this obsession as a trained chef, I found that tamale pie was one of the very cool original pies.

Diana Kennedy includes a recipe for a Mayan “tamale pie” called Muk-Bil Pollo in her dazzling Cusines of Mexico.  It was placed in the earth and long-baked for Mukpipoyo, a day that Indians honor their dead. I, of course, had to make it on-the-spot.  A stew of pork, chicken, chiles, onions, tomatoes, herbs, and garlic is encased in a masa dough brought together with water, rendered lard and its cracklings, then baked for 1 -1/2 hours.

My sweetie said she adored it except for the tough “shingle” outer layer. Yet that rough chewy crust was enigmatic to me; what I most loved about it. It is indeed SO sturdy you can turn the whole pie out of its cooking vessel intact, which is how it originally traveled, tied with banana leaf as a handle (!).  Could there be anything more beautiful on earth than one of these babies approaching in a friend’s hand?

Gina: What is your favorite kind of pie?

Dana: Besides Tamale?  I’m generally far more savory than sweet-inclined.  Chicken Pot with Béchamel, Tarragon, Spring Vegetables; Steak & Kidney; Shepherd’s; any Smoked Fish extravaganza. But don’t misunderstand: neon, viscous berry bubbles busting through a top crust will undo me every time.

Dana's Peach-Cherry Crostata

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

Dana: The wacky early “animated” pies, used in court entertainments are pretty captivating.  Bottom crusts were filled with live birds then covered only to burst out and fly away when cut open in front of astonished guests: “When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing. Wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the King.”

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

Dana: No.  But I’m always free for that sort of thing.

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

Dana: Crust, crust, crust.  Filling, filling, filling.  And attacking said pie is appropriate, but probably not ever “proper.”

Dana's Kabocha-Parmesan Pie

Gina: What is the secret to a perfect crust?

Dana: Lard or butter, I’m not picky.  You can get lovely, crisp crusts from either.  The secret is quick, cool handling.  Shuna Fish Lydon (who is firmly in the butter camp) offers one of the most illuminating pie dough treatise I’ve ever encountered on her lovely blog, Eggbeater.

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?

Dana: Anything can be learned!  But baking is perhaps a more exact art than other kinds of cooking, so someone naturally exacting might have an advantage here.

Gina: Why does pie matter today?

Dana: Because it is one of our original foods and it still thrives in spades.

Dana Tommasino Cooking

Dana's Tomato Nicoise Pie Before

Dana's Tomato Nicoise Pie After

First Pedicure of Spring: Florida

Poolside at the Omni in Celebration, Florida

Kids' Pie Contest at the Green River Community Center/Boys & Girls Club in Utah

Allene Swan, 23, is an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer at the Green River Community Center/Boys & Girls Club in rural Green River, Utah. Via Twitter, I recently stumbled on photos she took of a pie contest at the center. It looked like fun and she graciously agreed to share her images and answer my questions about the event.

Allene Swan with Pie Contest Contestants


Gina: Why did you decide to host a pie contest? Is it a tradition at the Green River Community Center?

Allene: The Boys and Girls Club after school program (which runs from 3:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. during the school year) wanted to host a pie contest simply because the kids love to bake. I thought it would be a fun experience that combined learning how to bake  and positive competition. It is not a tradition with our organization but I hope it becomes one!

Gina: What were the rules of your pie contest?

Allene: The rules of our pie contest were:

  • As a child you had to work in a group (to encourage teamwork) with an adult as part of the group. Adults were either the staff, our AmeriCorps NCCC volunteers, or parents of the children.
  • Each group came up with their own pie recipe and submitted it before hand so that ingredients could be collected. A small budget was allotted for the pie contest.
  • First and second place prizes were given to two groups, and every participant got a small prize as well.

Gina: Who were the pie judges and what criteria did they use to judge the pies?

Allene: The pie judges were volunteers. The pie judges included volunteer staff, paid staff, and members of the Green River Community. The criteria for judging was simple and based on taste and appearance.

Gina: What pies won and what were the prizes?

Allene: The cherry pie won and the Rocky Road pie. They were both soooo yummy. They trumped the other pies because of excellent taste mostly. The cherry pie had cherry almond filling and a flaky top. The Rocky Road pie was a mix of chocolate, graham crackers, and other good ingredients. The little prizes were just an assortment of candy bars I bought. The big prizes were rolling pins and oven mitts.

Why do you love pie?

I love pie because there are so many different ways to make it. I would rather have pie over cake because of its extra tastiness–my favorite pie is key lime pie. The kids love pie because it is easy to make, and you can be creative with it. They love to put their hands in the dough and work in the kitchen.

Goose and the Wild Ramps

Good band name, eh? It’s a spring tradition in the Berkshires to harvest wild ramps. Here we are in West Stockbridge foraging near the Green River. I’m going to make quiche with the bounty.

Goose and the Wild Ramps

Required Footwear

Green River

Happy Goose

Goose Inspects the Harvest

Cleaned Up Ramps in the Kitchen Sink

First BBQ of the Year

Our stone grill.

Glorious summer-without-the bugs weather today in the Berkshires called for our first BBQ of the year. We don’t know who built our stone grill or when. My fantasy is that in the 50s, the dad of the house built it by hand. If these stones could talk…

Interview with First Prize Pies Founder Allison Kave

Pie Contest Winner Allison Kave

Allison Kave was inspired to start First Prize Pies after winning the Best Overall Pie award at the 1st Annual Brooklyn Pie Bake-Off in 2009.  Her recipes are inventive riffs on classics (bourbon ginger pecan, apple cheddar, shoo-fly) and original creations based on her own favorite flavors (chocolate peanut butter pretzel, root beer cream). For details about her prize-winning bourbon ginger pecan pie, including the recipe, click here.

First Prize Pies are available to order online, by the slice every Saturday in New York City at Roni-Sue’s Chocolates in the Essex Street Market, on the dessert menu at Brooklyn’s Fatty ‘Cue, and starting in late April, every weekend at the Hester Street Fair on the Lower East Side.

First Prize Pies Logo


Gina: Why do you love pie?

Allison: Above all, I love the process of making pie. There is something so meditative about working with dough—you can’t rush it, you have to have the right ingredients and temperatures, and the physicality of it is very soothing and satisfying.  I also appreciate the sense of community that seems to happen around pie—it’s almost magical!

Gina: How many pie contests have you entered? Please tell me about your recent life-changing pie contest experience.

Allison: Just the one!  Last year, my boyfriend Jay heard about the 1st Brooklyn Pie Bake-Off, which was a fundraiser for Bags for the People, and sent me an email that simply said ‘you should enter this—you will win.’  I certainly didn’t have such lofty expectations, but I thought it would be fun.  In the end, I submitted one standby (bourbon ginger pecan) and one wild card (s’mores pie —which I had never made before).  My standby won Best Overall Pie, and that really was the catalyst for my decision to go pro.  Jay also decided to participate with his apple cider cream, and he won Best Sweet Pie!  It was an amazing day.

Allison's 1st Prize-Winning Bourbon Ginger Pecan Pie

Gina: Do you have any tips for aspiring pie contest contestants?

Allison: Don’t get caught up in the competition aspect—just have fun with it!  It’s really an excuse for a community to get together, eat yummy treats, and get to know each other.  In terms of your entry, make something you love, or something you’ve always wanted to try.

Allison's "Wild Card" S'mores Pie

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

Allison: Pie is such a composite dessert—it’s all about the right balance of flavors and textures.  How is the crust? It should be flaky and flavorful, and able to hold up to the filling, which should be juicy, gooey, and delicious, not soggy or runny.  In terms of appearance, I tend to love really homey, rustic-looking pies.  I don’t think a pie should look perfect.

Gina: What is your fondest pie memory?

Allison: It has to be the pie contest—it was just so much fun! My mom, brother, and so many friends came out to support, and it was an incredibly convivial experience.

Gina: What is your favorite kind of pie?

Allison: Right now, probably shoo-fly. I have an uncontrollable weakness for molasses.

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

Allison: I tend to really like “odd” pies—I’ve been reading a lot about vinegar pie lately and I plan to try my hand at a variation on that.

Gina: What is the secret to a perfect crust?

Allison: Quality ingredients, kept cold, with a minimal amount of human intervention.

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?

Allison: I think anybody can learn to make pie—it’s about having the right attitude.  Many people seem to be terrified of crust, but it’s not so scary! Just try your hand at it and approach it as a fun, relaxing experience as opposed to something you have to ‘get right.’  The irony here is that I am a total perfectionist, but I have taken a page from the great Julia Child and try not to throw kitchen tantrums anymore.  It’s just dough! I think this post by Choire Sicha about making pie crust is hilarious and reassuring at the same time.

Gina: Why does pie matter today?

Allison: Pie matters today for the same reason it’s always mattered.  It’s a beautiful way to capture seasonal flavors, it’s a dessert that requires its maker to be patient and aware, and it’s a way to bring people together to enjoy each others company over a plate of something sweet.  These are all important qualities, and it makes me so happy to see that more and more people are embracing pie —whether as makers or eaters!

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Copyright © Gina Hyams