Gina Hyams Author

Category Archives: blogging

Introducing My New Pie Website: pietakesthecake.com

I’m delighted to announce my new all-pie-all-the-time website: pietakesthecake.com designed with grace and flair by Deelux. In addition, I’ve launched pie outposts on Facebook and Twitter. I’m getting my ducks in a row for the June 28 launch of Pie Contest in a Box. I’ll still blog here as the spirit moves me on non-pie related topics.

Interview with Amy “Poor Girl Gourmet” McCoy

Cookbook Author Amy McCoy

As a successful freelance producer for network and cable television, Amy McCoy once enjoyed gourmet food with little concern for price. Then the recession hit and the freelance work all but disappeared. But in the economic downturn, she found her mission: to eat the best food she could while spending as little as possible. To that end, she created her blog, which led to her book, Poor Girl Gourmet. Amy and her husband live on a gentleman’s farm in southeastern Massachusetts.

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Gina: Do you have any formal culinary training in your background? How did you develop your recipes?

Amy: I’m a home cook, so all of my training comes from family, reading about food, and from a desire to learn more and improve my technique as I grew older.

When I was a child, my mother’s mother owned an Italian restaurant in Rhode Island, which she and her husband later relocated to my hometown in Massachusetts. My Nana’s recipes were the recipes on the menu, and that was an accomplishment that I really admired as a child. My mother raised four children as a single mother, so eating well on a budget was always a focus in our home, and, because my mother was influenced by her mother, she was also a fabulous cook and baker. The torch – or gas burner flame – was passed on to me, and I started cooking and creating recipes during high school, the first recipe being a recreation of my Nana’s red sauce. I still remember how proud I was when I tasted it and realized that it tasted just like hers.

Throughout college and into adult life, I continued creating recipes. They started out simply–oftentimes more an assemblage of items than a proper recipe, like a favorite dish from my early 20s, tortellini with pesto, broccoli, and shrimp, which used frozen tortellini and jarred pesto–and as my technique improved, so did my recipes.

Some recipes, such as that first recreation of my Nana’s red sauce, are inspired by dishes my family makes, while others are inspired by meals that I’ve eaten at restaurants, or are centered around a particular flavor that I’m craving, or a vegetable in my garden, or the season.

So I may start thinking, ‘you know, that butternut squash that’s in the cold cellar would be good with Italian sausage. Oh, and I still have sage from the garden, too.’ Which leads me to Rigatoni with Roasted Butternut Squash with Italian Sausage and Fried Sage.

Or I crave my mother’s meatballs, and update them with my own touches for Mom’s Meatballs and Not My Nana’s Red Sauce. Or after eating pea puree as a side dish in a restaurant, it inspires me to think of other uses for pea puree–and that leads to Pea Puree Lasagnette. I think inspiration can come from anywhere, really, and that’s one of the most exciting things about developing recipes–it’s a creative process, so it satisfies that desire to create (which I always seem to be carrying around with me), and then you get to share it with your friends and family for them to enjoy, too. What could be better?

Gina: What surprised you about the process of adapting your blog posts to book form?

Amy: Because I knew that I wasn’t writing a memoir with recipes from the outset, there wasn’t a lot of surprise in writing the book. On the blog, I tend to write long, storytelling posts that are followed by a recipe. For the book, I knew that an involved introduction to a recipe wasn’t what the reader would expect, so the headnotes were greatly whittled down–rather than reading two pages of story, there are maybe two paragraphs–and because the majority of the recipes were developed for the book, they hadn’t appeared on the blog, so it was easy to adjust my writing style to be more along the lines of the expected cookbook format–a brief (or as brief as I can muster!) introduction, followed by the recipe.

One really wonderful aspect of writing the book was that my editor at Andrews McMeel, Lane Butler, gave me the freedom to keep the conversational style I use in the recipe methods on the blog for the recipe methods in the book. This also allowed me to keep my personality in the writing without having those long, storytelling introductions. And ending up with a 500 page, 82-recipe cookbook.

Gina: It’s challenging to eat well on a budget during winter in New England. What sorts of dishes do you focus on when the farmers’ markets aren’t in season?

Amy: We are really, really, really fortunate to have a fabulous wintertime farmers’ market nearby in Rhode Island, so we are able to get excellent quality, locally-grown, inexpensive produce throughout the winter. The Providence Wintertime Farmers Market is held in an old factory building in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, which is just 15 minutes from our house, and every type of root vegetable is available, along with other good winter keepers, so I’m able to get not-so-perfect apples from the local orchard for $1.00 per pound, or a head of cabbage for a dollar, and winter greens for $2.50 to $3.00 per bunch. My husband and I also grow a lot of food in our garden, so we have enough potatoes to get through the winter, along with winter squashes, though if we were to buy those items at the wintertime farmers market, they’re still inexpensive.

I know that there are skeptics who feel that shopping at the farmers’ market is more expensive than the grocery store, but even in the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City, I found the prices to be reasonable: apples for $1.00 to $1.49 per pound, bunches of fresh herbs for a dollar, and winter greens for $2.49 a bunch.

The key to shopping at the farmers’ market on a budget is to know that you won’t be buying specialty items, like morels, or ramps, or asparagus. Instead, stay focused on the basics, like onions, apples, cabbage, winter squash, and kale during the winter, and summer squash, zucchini, corn, and tomatoes (just be sure to select a variety that works for your budget) during the summer. And definitely try to grow something on your own, even just one potted herb. This winter, our rosemary plant is working wonders for us by adding flavor to roasts and soups, and because we paid less than $3.00 for the baby plant last spring, we’ve more than made our money back. Treated properly, this rosemary plant will keep on giving for years to come.

Gina: What are your favorite cookbooks?

Amy: I love Donna Hay’s cookbooks and magazine. Her approach to cooking is simple, with clean flavors, and I love that she comes up with work-arounds for dishes that are considered time-consuming or difficult, such as oven-baked risotto and blender Bearnaise sauce. Her food styling is also stunning, and makes for a great, end of a long day, soothing and inspiring glance.

Sicilian cooking fascinates me, and I really enjoy British food writer Clarissa Hyman’s Cucina Siciliana. Her recipes are easy to follow and the photography is lush. The whole book makes me want to spend many, many months in Sicily, cooking and taking photographs.

Gina: What are you working on now?

Amy: It’s been a whirlwind since Poor Girl Gourmet came out last summer, and I’m still doing events in support of the book, which I love. It’s so much fun to get out into different places and chat about food with other people who love good food. I do hope to follow up with another cookbook soon, and am currently exploring freelance writing and recipe development work, all while working on the blog, and eating well, of course!

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.

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.

Interview with Pie Evangelist Beth Howard

Beth Howard: Pie Baker, Writer, TV Producer, Host

Before becoming known as a pie evangelist, Beth Howard had a long career as a journalist (Shape, Elle, etc.), PR executive (from Hyatt Hotels to “Beverly Hills, 90210”), and web producer (2002 Olympics, MSN.com, Quokka Sports). Needing a break from the long hours behind her computer, Beth quit a six-figure job to spend a year on a pie-baking sabbatical in Malibu, California, where she baked pies for the stars. Today, she blends her pie passion with her media background, blogging about the pie life, writing a pie memoir, teaching pie skills through her pie party business, and developing a pie TV series, all under the name The World Needs More Pie.

TV Series Synopsis

Pie is comfort. Pie builds community. Pie heals. Pie can change the world. That is what Beth Howard, journalist, blogger, and former pie baker to the stars in Malibu, always believed. But when her 43-year-old husband dies suddenly and unexpectedly, she must put her theory to a personal test. As part of her grieving process she packs up the RV her husband left behind and hits the American highways and byways in search of the real healing powers of pie. During Beth’s journey, documented in the forthcoming TV series “The World Needs More Pie,” she interviews an eclectic array of people – pie bakers, shop owners, apple growers, social activists, philanthropists, cartoonists, song writers, 92-year-old grandmothers, and even a pie-delivering bike messenger – people who make the world a happier place, and who help Beth ease her grief, all because of an iconic American dessert.  “The World Needs More Pie” is a docu-reality series of one-hour episodes co-produced by Emmy Award-winning producer/cameraperson Janice Molinari and co-produced and hosted by Beth Howard.

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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.

Details on My April 5 Berkshire Intro to Blogging, Twitter, and Facebook Workshop


“Blogging is…to writing what extreme sports are to athletics: more free-form, more accident-prone, less formal, more alive. It is, in many ways, writing out loud.” –Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic

Author and editor Gina Hyams (www.ginahyams.com) will teach a one-day Intro to Blogging, Twitter, and Facebook Workshop in Housatonic on Sunday, April 5, from 1pm to 4pm.

Topics: Nuts and bolts how-to with helpful hand-outs galore, savvy marketing/community-building tips, and oodles of creative inspiration to keep you fired up and cranking out compelling blog posts, tweets, and/or status updates. US$50. To sign up, send a note to ginahyams@gmail.com.

About Gina:

Gina Hyams is a writer and editor who specializes in travel, parenting, and the arts. Her books include the bestselling travel-design titles, In a Mexican Garden: Courtyards, Pools, and Open-Air Living Rooms and Mexicasa: The Enchanting Inns and Haciendas of Mexico, as well as Pacific Spas: Luxury Getaways on the West Coast, Day of the Dead Box, The Campfire Collection: Thrilling, Chilling Tales of Alien Encounters, and Incense: Rituals, Mystery, Lore – all published by Chronicle Books. She is also co-editor of the anthology, Searching for Mary Poppins: Women Write About the Relationship Between Mothers and Nannies (Hudson Street Press and Plume, divisions of Penguin U.S.A.).

Gina is a contributing editor to Berkshire Living. Her essays and articles have also appeared in Newsweek, San Francisco, Organic Style, Ideal Destinations, Healing Lifestyles & Spas, and Salon.com. She has contributed to Fodor’s Travel Publications, National Public Radio, and numerous anthologies.

Her background also includes extensive experience in marketing and public relations on behalf of Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, Berkshire Theatre Festival, The Mount, Mother Jones magazine, HarperCollins Publishers, Victoria Kirby Public Relations, and San Francisco State University Poetry Center. She is co-founder and editorial director of the newly-launched marketing and publishing firm, Blue Wing Creative.

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