Gina Hyams Author

Monthly Archives: December 2010

Interview: Joel (“Make Me Some Pie” Blog) Weiler on the Intrinsic Humor of Pie, Late-Night Diner Pie with the One You Love, and the Portland Pie Scene

Joel Weiler is the founder of the blog, Make Me Some Pie, and the Facebook page, 365 Things to Do While Eating Pie. He also “tweats” here.

Gina: What’s your background? Where are you from? How old are you? What do you do when you’re not chasing down pie?

Joel: I’m 26 and I hale from the burbs of Portland, Oregon, born and raised. I went down to Eugene for college and I’m very proud to say “Call me a Duck“… it’s been a good year. By day I’m a marketing and PR professional for a non-profit, which is actually one of the primary reasons I started the blog–it’s good to know some of the ins and outs of blogging for my line of work.

Gina: Why do you love pie?

Joel: My mom has always been an excellent pie-maker, so I was hooked early. She won the “best crust” long ago at a church pie contest. You just have to love how much pie brings people together and how passionate people get about pie. I remember growing up (and even to this day) if my mom doesn’t make lemon meringue or apple pie for a family function, there’s going to be some people who are disappointed. I’ve also always found pie humorous. There’s just something intrinsically funny about pie for some reason, and that’s why it is such a common vehicle for in comedy and pop-culture. I find that aspect interesting and I’m enjoying pointing out some of those things on my website.

Gina: What inspired you to start the blog? You began in January with 365 day framework. Are you planning to continue it next year?

Joel: Like I said, I’m in marketing and PR for a living and I wanted to explore the world of blogging more in depth. I couldn’t decide what to blog about, though, because some of the other things I’m “passionate” about are already covered extensively in the blog world (beer, coffee, other foods). Then I started noticing all of these pie shops popping up in Portland, and the idea to write about pie came to me and I thought it was relatively unique, so I went with pie! I have found, since then, that there are a lot of awesome bloggers out there who are talking pie, though (like Gina Hyams!!).

Gina: You’re too kind.

Joel: But I focus on the Portland pie-scene, too, so that remains somewhat unique. I started “365 Things to Do While Eating Pie” on Facebook as a way of promoting the blog. I used to work in real estate and thought that the “365 Things to Do in (insert city)” craze was kind of getting out of hand, so I was kind of taking a jab at that as well (seriously, go do a search for “365 Things to Do in…” on Facebook, you’ll get thousands of results, it’s crazy!) Anyways, “pie 365” really has nothing to do with pie, but it’s fun for me because it helps me keep up on the latest “viral” videos. I also think the idea of eating pie while doing funny things like action sports is hilarious. I find myself pretty humorous… I’m not sure anyone else does, but I’m enjoying it.

Gina: You’ve got a disclaimer on your site about not being a trained foodie, but when you review pie, what qualities do you personally look for? What makes the difference between a good pie and a great one?

Joel: Yeah, I really don’t know much about pie. I’m learning, and I like to think that I have good taste, but I don’t want anyone to put too much stock in my opinion. I am just one man. One man’s awful pie is another man’s treasure, right? I look at a lot of factors. I think the absolute best pies are going to taste and feel homemade. Obviously, the flavor and the texture are important. But I also look at presentation, creativity and how well a pie holds up as leftovers (pie should be made to last… that’s how pie started, after all).

Gina: What’s your fondest pie memory?

Joel: I don’t know that I have a specific one, but I remember my wife and I used to occasionally go share a slice late at night at a local diner when we were still dating. We still do sometimes. Quiet conversations over pie are the best, especially with someone you love.

Gina: What’s your favorite kind of pie?

Joel: I’m pretty vanilla when it comes to pie (and by that I mean, pies that go well with vanilla ice cream). My go-to pie is just your standard apple pie (especially my mom’s) and I also really enjoy berry pies, especially marionberry, which is a local favorite in Oregon (since the Marion variety of blackberries started in Oregon).

Gina: Why do you think Portland, Oregon, is such a hotbed of pie enthusiasm and creativity?

Joel: When you think about it, Portland was made for pie. Portland has an amazing food scene and “eating local” around here is easy because we have an abundance of farm fresh food. Pie is best with fresh ingredients and you can make a pie in Portland with 100% fresh ingredients (and many pie purveyors do). In 1902, the NY Times wrote “Pie is the American synonym of prosperity, and its varying contents the calendar of the changing seasons.” That hasn’t changed in Portland. Portland is also a hotbed for culinary training (try to ride the MAX train without seeing a guy wearing goofy chef pants and carrying a knife bag). There are a lot of people here who are going to push the envelope with food, and pie allows you to be creative as you want–so pie fits in well with our food culture. And, although Portland has a very active citizenry (see our bikers), we also eat for entertainment around here, so we’re not really afraid of the calories associated with pie. Oh, and did I mention that Portland has some of the best water in the world? That’s why we have the best beer, and you need good water to make good pie crust, too. And finally, pie can be a little weird, and Portland is a little weird (see the new Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein show Portlandia for details), so they’re perfect for each other.

Gina: As you know, pie has gained traction in recent months as the new “it” dessert. What do you think is sparking this trend? Why does pie matter today?

Joel: I’m actually not that excited about it. Pie was doing well as the underdog to other “trendy” desserts like cupcakes. I’m not worried about it, though, because pie has been around longer than any other pastry, so it’s always going to be around, whether people think it’s cool or not. I think the real spark for this trend lies in what I was talking about with Portland– eating local. Portland may be one of the leaders in “eating local,” but it’s a national trend and pie is a food that you can make with whatever is fresh, so eating local + pie are a natural fit.

Goose at Stockbridge Bowl

Christmas Eve Eve Day, 2010

Gina To Teach Blogging Workshop at San Miguel Writers Conference February 2011

I’m teaching a workshop called “Introduction to Blogging: Finding You Blogging Voice” as part of the San Miguel Writers Conference on February 21 and 22, 2011. Click here for details and here to register (scroll down to green button). Below is the general press release about the conference.

The fountain at Cafe de la Parroquia is one of my favorites in San Miguel. It's always decorated with flowers.

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Sandra Cisneros to Headline 6th Annual San Miguel Writers Conference

Conference is fully bilingual and geared to writers and readers

San Miguel de Allende Mexico. Sandra Cisneros, author of the million-copy best seller, The House on Mango Street, and a widely acclaimed authority on Chicano/a and bicultural issues will keynote the Sixth Annual San Miguel International Bilingual Writers’ Conference, to be held February 18 to 20, 2011 in historic San Miguel de Allende,  MX. Her keynote is entitled, ” Living in los Tiempos de Sustos.” Cisneros heads up a faculty of forty-two distinguished writers that includes Elinor Lipman, author of nine much-beloved novels, and Mexican author Mónica Lavín, who recently received the prestigious, $500,000 peso Elena Poniatowska Prize – awarded by the Mexico City government – for her novel, Yo la peor (I, the Worst) about Sor Juana de la Cruz.

“San Miguel has long served as a writer’s muse and thus is the perfect setting for a writers’ conference,” noted Susan Page the bestselling author of If I’m so Wonderful, Why am I Still Single? and the founder of the conference.  “Writers have long been drawn to the magic here and San Miguel has seduced everyone from Tom Robbins to the Dalai Lama.”  “After last year’s conference,” Page continued, “featured speaker and author of The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver said, ‘San Miguel is full of unexpected riches, different from any other place in Mexico, and the conversations inspired by this conference were exceptional.’”

For Writers

Topics geared to writers at this year’s conference will include among the 36 sessions  discussions on travel writing, crime fiction, feature articles, personal essays, screen writing, and poetry.  Writers may also enter the manuscript contest. The winning ten writers receive a free individual consultation with top literary agent, Kristin Nelson.

For Readers

Readers also will find much to savor with sessions on everything from Francine Prose’s book, Reading Like a Writer, to an Introduction to Chicano literature, to appreciating modern poetry, to a whole workshop on the important African American book, Their Eyes Were Watching God. ” For the annual San Miguel Big Read, during December and January, everyone in San Miguel will be encouraged to read the featured novel for the conference, Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros, and to join one of many book discussion groups around town.

Conference is Bilingual

The need for literary events in Spanish was dramatically presented in a 2005 UNESCO report outlining the low numbers of readers in Mexico. According to the report, Mexicans read on average just over two books per year, while Swedes, for example, finish that many every month.

Since its inception, the San Miguel Literary Sala, which produces the Conference, has been committed to including Mexicans in its literary offerings, and encouraging them to discover the pleasures of reading.  All conference general sessions are simultaneously translated with earphones, and many of the workshops are offered in Spanish.

Additionally,  the conference will include an intensive workshop in creative writing for thirty San Miguel high school students, who can also participate in the entire Conference for free.

Registration

The cost of the entire three-day Conference is only $325 USD until January 20, when the price goes up to $375. This includes seven meals, a carnitas fest in the country, and the spectacular Mexican Fiesta. Last year’s keynote speaker, Barbara Kingsolver, was so enchanted by the Fiesta that she wrote about it in an essay in the paperback edition of her novel, The Lacuna, and called it ” . . . one of the ten best parties I have attended in my life, and I’m sure I can’t remember the other nine.”

More information on the conference can be found at www.sanmiguelwritersconference.org.

Christmas Piñatas of San Miguel de Allende

I’ve spent this week in San Miguel visiting my mom and brother. I love the Navidad decorations.


Interview: Pie Champ Adam Janowski on Literary Baking Adventures, the Wonder of Polish Wedding Pie, and Tips for Pie Contest Contestants

Adam Janowski’s Black Bottom Peanut Butter Mousse Pie won Grand Prize at the 2010 Zonta Club Best Blue Ribbon Pie Contest of Bonita Springs, Florida. His prize-winning pie recipe is featured in Pie Contest in a Box. He is a school library media specialist who learned to cook from his Polish American family in Detroit, Michigan.

Adam Janowski

Gina: I understand that you enjoy recreating dishes that you discover in books. What are some of your recent literary baking adventures?

Adam: My last creation was a “Waves of the Danube” cake which was mentioned in People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. It was absolutely decadent and delicious, but very time consuming. The cake consists of yellow and chocolate layers of cake dotted with tart cherries. As the cake bakes the cherries sink down creating the effect of waves within the cake. The cake is then topped with a rich custard and a chocolate glaze!

A recipe I’ve been wanting to try is Esther`s Orange Marmalade Layer Cake from The Mitford Series by Jan Karon. I think the tartness of the marmalade will go well with the richness of the whipping cream frosting. I am currently reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Early on there is mention of a Caramel Cake and I’ve been exploring recipes for the cake on the Internet.

Maybe I am in my “Southern” phase because I recently made a Texas Sheet Cake (chocolate and pecans), a Hummingbird Cake (bananas, pineapple and more pecans) and a Double Lemon Chess Pie (lemon, buttermilk and cornmeal).

My brother told me about a Torta della Nonna (Grandmother’s Cake) that he recently ate at an Italian restaurant. It has a rich, buttery pastry filled with a lemon pastry cream, topped with pine nuts and a dusting of confectioner’s sugar. That one sounds like a winner!

Gina: Is there a Polish pie tradition? Who taught you to bake?

Adam: My grandmothers and many of my aunts were really great cooks. I grew up in the Detroit area in the 1950s and 60s and our extended families were very close. We often visited relatives especially during holidays and for celebrations. Each household seemed to be known for a different specialty—Aunt Kay made the best sugar cookies at Christmas, Aunt Hattie made Angel’s Wings (Chrusciki in Polish), that were feathery pieces of fried dough dusted with confectioner’s sugar, and Aunt Sophie made the best jelly-filled doughnuts (Paczki in Polish) that are nothing like the ones you buy today. Paczki were stick-to-your-ribs doughnuts.

I can’t say that there was a real “pie” tradition in our family. My mom made a good apple pie from the neighbor’s apple trees, and my Aunt Kay made the best blackberry tarts. The wild blackberries were picked in a local woods in the morning and turned into tarts by the afternoon. I can’t recreate the fabulous taste that I remember using store-bought blackberries.

There was always fresh fruit available—rhubarb and strawberries in the spring, peaches and pears in late summer, and apples in autumn—so fruit pies were common. There would be an occasional banana cream, chocolate or lemon meringue, but no one made a fuss over them. I guess we just took pie for granted!

Gina: What’s your fondest pie memory?

Adam: Polish Wedding Pie—a plain pastry shell, plain custard, topped with a layer of strawberry pie filling and smothered in whipped cream. It wasn’t Polish but it seemed to be served at many of the weddings I attended in the late 1950s and 60s.  To me it was ambrosia—food of the gods! Polish weddings were such joyous times. One of my fondest memories was watching my father and mother dance together. They were such beautiful dancers that people would stop dancing and watch them glide across the floor.

About 10 years ago I started putting a book together that combined my memories and the recipes from my childhood—especially the Polish dishes. It took a couple of years, but I finally put it together and titled it Christmas on Florida Street: Recipes and Stories. My aunt, uncle and grandmother lived on Florida Street in Detroit and it was the scene of so many holiday feasts. Even a casual visit always included a bountiful and delicious dinner. Although I made copies for family and friends I never did publish the book. Lately I have started posting some of the stories and recipes on a blog, From My Family’s Polish Kitchen that I created.

Gina: Can you describe what it is about the process of baking that you find relaxing?

Adam: Someone suggested that I consider baking for money, but I just don’t think that I would enjoy it. I often make a complex pie that takes a long time to complete. If I had to take shortcuts to make the pie financially feasible to sell it just would not be the same. It sort of reminds me of some of the chain restaurants that feature “homemade” pie. Although the pies look good, they don’t taste “homemade” to me.

I don’t know if it is so much relaxation as satisfaction. I get such a good feeling watching a pie come together. The compliments that come my way when people ooh and ah as they sample my pies make me feel great. I rarely get to have a piece of my pie—usually I just lick off the knife! I can’t remember when I last had a disaster, maybe a pie that didn’t set as well as it should, or a bottom crust that wasn’t cooked to my standard—I hate a soggy crust, but nothing major.

This Thanksgiving I made three pies. Two were for a lady who was the winning bidder on a pie baked to order by me at a church charity auction. I was a little bit anxious as the pie price went a bit high—I don’t know how you gold-plate a pie! I ended up making a Pumpkin Chiffon Pie with a layer of caramel ganache in a gingersnap pecan crust. The pie was topped with whipped cream, caramel sauce and maple-glazed pecans.

Adam's Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

I also made an Apple Crumb Pie just because she might have had guests who wanted something plainer.

Adam's Apple Crumb Pie

For my own Thanksgiving Dinner I made a Pecan Pumpkin Pie.

Adam's Pecan Pumpkin Pie

I didn’t like the recipes for a Pecan Pumpkin Pie that I found on the Internet because most didn’t have much of a pumpkin custard on the bottom. I finally made do by adapting a recipe and adding a half cup of whipping cream to the pumpkin base and carefully spooning the pecan filling on top. It was absolutely fabulous and I will make it my Thanksgiving standard!

Gina: What is your favorite kind of pie?

Adam: That is impossible to answer. I really like banana cream pie, but when I can find fresh rhubarb in the spring I like a Rhubarb Cream Pie. An Apple Pie with a crumb crust and a dollop of good vanilla ice cream is a must in autumn, and that Pecan Pumpkin pie was mighty tasty at Thanksgiving. I had never tasted a Lemon Chess Pie until I made it for the Pie Baking Contest this summer and now I can’t wait until I make it again! I do have say that my Black Bottom Peanut Butter Mousse Pie is also mighty tempting!

Gina: How many pie baking contests have you entered and how many ribbons have you won?

Adam: I have only been entering pie baking contests the last three years.  My hometown of Bonita Springs, Florida puts on a family-style 4th of July celebration and the local Zonta Club sponsors the Pie Baking Contest as a fundraiser for their charities. The pies are judged and then sold either whole or by the slice. The first year I won a couple of ribbons, but the last two years I have won the grand prize. I think I know what the judges like—chocolate!

Gina: What’s your advice to pie contest contestants?

Adam: Find some critical judges that will sample your pie prior entering it in a competition. Ask for their suggestions. Sometimes I just observe and watch how people eat pie. Licking the plate is a good sign!

I also focus on the initial beauty of the pie. Judges are going to be rushed and will make a snap judgment in that initial moment that they see the pie for the first time. If the pie doesn’t make them go “wow” it doesn’t matter how good it tastes.

I Am Not a Deer

"Shotgun Deer Season" is underway, which will be followed by "Primitive Arms Deer Season" through Dec. 31 in the Berkshires.

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