In honor of Black History Month, this is my own humble nod of gratitude for the history the black community built and enriched. This is my own nod of gratitude toward the immigrants, who like my grandmother's family came to America and worked harder than anyone, planting their traditions into American soils. It's a nod to those who were here long before any of us, who valued the many resources this beautiful chunk of land had to offer.
I closed Instagram. Instagram with its beauty and inspiration and mindless scrolling. Instead, I finally braced myself for the news- those stories I had been keeping safely at my periphery, understanding the gist but not digesting the magnitude. Oh the painful symbolism of oppressed natives while the rest of us feasted on plump turkeys and ate gluttonously on potatoes and cranberries and buttered rolls and enough pies to populate a corner bakery. I was complicit. I wanted to be cocooned in the warmth and comfort of my holiday, but I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling.
Then I shared a meal with one of my friends who feels closer to me than most blood relatives, a friend who has more fight in her than many brave lifetimes combined. There was a tinge of cynicism to her, the final burn at the end of a long, oiled rope. She’d been fighting and fighting against so many of the same issues facing the “water protectors” at Standing Rock, except her fight was in our backyard, and no one listened.
On the surface, this corner of the web seems like just a space for food, for recipes, for entertaining, but my interest in food has always been more than the way ingredients come together. Food is a basic right. It’s a unifier, a language, a way to commune, to learn, to share, but water, water is even more. It’s fundamental, a life source. But they are all in jeopardy, suffering attacks from every angle, usually from those who will be the last to suffer the losses.
This plate is about leftovers. I wish the narrative it inspired was cheerier, was about continuing the warm, cozy cocoon of Thanksgiving, but the thing is, the threads of that cocoon are tenuous. This story is one of picking up the pieces, of salvaging the more admirable bits and not wasting them. We, who have so much, need not waste. We need not waste our food, our riches, our power, all for the ability to oppress. We must pick up smaller pieces and build more, create sustainability.
If I were the biblical sort, I’d reread of the symbols promised to signal the end times. If I were in a poetic mood, I might turn to Victorian fears of good versus evil because these days can feel so blindingly hopeless, and yet, I have to believe in some lingering optimism, that the remnants will create something completely new and promising. When we face restraints and limits, our true creativity and possibilities must rise.
Make stuffing into latkes. Then take a stand on not just the news-glorified protests, but take a stand on those issues that creep to the edges of your backyard. Admittedly, I’m still figuring out where to direct my attentions, but in the meantime, I’ll be donating to those who are braver than me, to those who stand up for me even without knowing my name.
Here’s to remnants becoming inspiration.
Stuffing Latkes with Salmon, Crème Fraîche & Capers
About this Recipe: Perfect for serving brunch after a big holiday gathering. Mix in leftover mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes for variations on the leftovers theme, using 1 egg for every 2 cups leftovers.
Inspired by a sandwich I ate at Burgh'ers (www.burgherspgh.com), this fried chicken has a crunchy, whole grain batter and a pickle flavor in every bite! As a way to conserve more, I used leftover liquid from a jar of store-bought, organic pickles, but you can also experiment making your own brine.
They call it a “fat letter,” and I’ll never forget the day I received mine.
After a guidance counselor told me about Carnegie Mellon University, I fell hard- that weak in the knees, hearts in the eyes, wish-it-to-be-so sort of way. Being that my confidence was just as weak as my knees, I doubted the school would feel the same about me. As I gripped the overstuffed letter in my shaky hands, my first thought was “why would they make the rejection so thick?”
After fighting the nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach and finally daring to break the adhesive seal, my eyes skimmed frantically and landed on “congratulations.” So many emotions pulsed through my body, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Overcome with a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment like never before, my body rocked back and forth like a person in the midst of a psychotic episode.
A few months later, I packed my parents car to the brim and began one of the most challenging chapters of my life! All my preconceived notions were broken and rebuilt, in a way that taught me to think for myself, to trust my instincts and to learn the importance of quitting frequently and redirecting quickly (still learning this!). On campus, I finally found peers who made sense- people who were work obsessed dorks with creative sides. After all, the school’s motto is “My heart is in the work.” Though there were still students whose brainpower could crush me, acceptance to this place empowered me.
When I say attending Carnegie Mellon was the hardest challenge I’ve faced, it’s no understatement. Days and nights bled together in periods of sleepless, intense work leading to that moment when I had to stand in front of accomplished critics and defend my thought process. The well traveled route from home to studio was often a blur of stressful to-do lists running through my head, but every now and then, something would jar me from my crazed mental state. One of those distractions was Pi Day!
Pi = 3.141592… March 14 = 3-14, therefore, Pi Day = March 14
Welcome to the nerd holiday known as Pi Day! On this day, math enthusiasts (is this the originator?!?) would chalk the never-ending number all over campus. The combination of the nerd enthusiasm and the element of tradition made this day comforting to me, a day on which I could rely despite all the uncontrollable, non-constants in my life. It was a celebration of CMU in all its quirkiness, and I looked forward to it every year!
After graduating, I still looked forward to the holiday, and in the meantime, I found myself drawn to baking. Pi Day became Pi(e) Day, which eventually became a new obsession in its own way.
In 2010, my friend Erin Pischke (also a CMU grad!) and I created The QT Pi(e) Project. On “Pi(e) Day,” March 14, 2010 (3/14/10), The QT Pi(e) Project used bicycles to deliver 31 pies (314 would have killed us), made from all local ingredients, to Pittsburgh homes with 314 addresses. Each pie arrived in a custom-made recipe box, with recipe cards explaining the project and the benefits to buying and eating local foods.
The QT Pi(e) Project was a grant funded endeavor, which gave me a confidence boost to put more of my ideas into motion and into the world, and the foundation of that idea was Pi Day at Carnegie Mellon. Life had come full circle! (see what I did there?)
When the good folks behind Carnegie Mellon’s website contacted me this year and asked if I’d like to share a recipe on the school’s website for Pi(e) Day, I was OVER THE MOON! In dorky pun terms, this recognition felt like being nominated for an Academy Award! Be the face of Pi(e) for 2016? OF COURSE OF COURSE OF COURSE I wanted to make that pie!
This Scottish Inspired Savory Meat Pie with Black Lava Salty Scotty Dogs is the edible ode to my alma mater, the place that made me appreciate Pi and in more ways than not, shaped me into who I am today. I still can’t fathom how the world expects 18-year-olds to make informed decisions about the rest of their lives, but at least I chose a rewarding place to figure out how little I knew about myself and the world.
Happy Pi(e) Day ya nerds!
p.s: If you’re wondering why Scottish, you’re clearly not a Tartan. If you take a stroll on campus in the spring, you’re likely to encounter a Scotty dog or two, a bagpipe band in kilts and a fair bit of Tartan plaid. The Scottish roots run deep via Andrew Carnegie.
A Scottish Inspired Savory Pie for Pi(e) Day 2016
About This Recipe: This pie is a labor of love, which is why it is fitting for Pi(e) Day celebrations! It consists of a savory, whole grain pie crust, filled with a slow-cooked Scottish stew and a variation on traditional Scottish mushy peas. Make the Scottish Beef Stew first, and while the stew is slow cooking, prepare the crust, then Mushy Peas & Potatoes while the crusts chill. The stew and mushy peas recipes yield more than necessary for one pie, but I like to make the larger quantities and freeze the excess to make future weeknight meals a lot easier. Alternately, you could halve the stew recipe, or better yet, double the crust recipe and make two savory pies!
Soon, (all too soon!), the ball will be dropping, champagne will be popping, and couples will be smooching. It’s almost time to usher in 2016! How will you celebrate? With pork?
In some countries, including Cuba, Spain, Portugal, Hungary and Austria, pigs symbolize progress. One explanation is these animals never move backward. Another explanation stems from pigs’ feeding habits (they push their snouts forward along the ground when rooting for food). Either way, it’s good luck to start the year with pork. (Apologies to my vegetarian and vegan readers- noodles are also good luck!)
If you’re going to start a brand new year with pork, it’s a good excuse to try something fancy, and this is where I defer to the expertise of a butcher (this is also how I still maintain all ten fingers). Fortunately for me, this steel town has seen a resurgence of butchers, including the Butcher on Butler. After making my request, I watched in awe as he finessed this roast with an assortment of intimidating knives, all while telling me the story of how he came to be the butcher on Butler Street.
The butcher shop had been a butcher shop as long for as he could remember. The previous owner had faithfully served his neighborhood into his old age. After he passed away, his widow didn’t know what to do with the shop. A neighboring bank had offered to buy the building to turn it into a parking lot. Gone would be the antique cooler with its hefty hardware. Gone would be this little plot of history. Gone would be the counter where neighbor after neighbor ordered the roasts and cuts for special occasions. This is when the current butcher, then a chef, had the idea to buy it and continue the legacy. The widow was overjoyed!
The building wanted to be a butcher shop. It was a community staple, and her husband’s life’s work would continue to blossom instead of being buried under layers of concrete. These stories of tradition and legacy melt my heart.
The modern butcher faces a slew of new obstacles- GMOs, confinement pens, hormones, cheap diets, inhumane practices, etc. What’s especially inspiring about this story is how the new butcher carried on the community traditions of a small, local shop, with the new set of quality standards- locally raised animals, trusted sources and quality products. Like the progressive, forward moving pig, the local butcher shop moved into the modern era!
So here’s to traditions and amendments, progress and fresh starts! Here’s to the coming New Year and fancy feasts!
Herb Crusted French Style Pork Roast
Adapted from Food & Wine
About This Recipe: Have your butcher “french” (remove the meat from) the rib bones for you. The uncooked herb-rubbed pork roast can be covered and refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature before roasting. Food & Wine suggests pairing this succulent loin roast with a full-bodied red with enough flavor to stand up to its crisp, spicy crust, such as an Australian Grenache.
“Hi, I’d like to place an order for pick up, please.”
“Ok, what would you like?”
“Greens and Beans, please.”
Laughter and confusion ensued, as if I had just ordered a dirty joke with all the delivery prowess of Amy Schumer.
“Ohhhhh, you mean ‘Beans & Greens.'”
Isn’t that what I said?
I failed to see the hilarity in my word order reversal, but then again, I’m an outsider, a foreigner, a newbie when it comes to BEANS & Greens. This dish was not a tradition in my family. It was not a weekly staple. We didn’t debate which grandmother’s secret recipe was better, or whether an aunt used enough garlic. No, this is a staple I am adopting from my current city, from Pittsburgh.
This rusty, steel town probably adopted this staple from its Italian immigrants, but I can’t say for certain. The only research I have conducted is the occasional sampling at the small Italian bakery/cafe. It’s the one next to the espresso bar, where the old Italian men while away the day with caffeinated banter in broken English and broken Italian, depending on their generation. Like their changing language, recipes arrive on new shores and change, or in my case, they arrive in my kitchen, and I stubbornly cling to my word order- Greens and Beans!
As the Urban Farmer began preparing the farm for fall and frost, it was time to admit defeat on certain groundhog-nibbled vegetables and dig up their rows. The cauliflower and broccoli failed to grow beyond small, geometric clusters, but the plants’ leaves were dark, green, broad and impressive. As I uprooted the plants, the frugal, midwesterner in me brainstormed how to salvage the greens. So it was, dear Pittsburghers and Italians, I came to make Farm Greens & Beans, and we ate bacony, garlicky, parmesan accented greens for a week like happy peasants!
Here’s to hearty greens!
Farm Greens & Beans
About This Recipe: If you want a more precise Greens & Beans recipe, try this. My version is loose and easily adaptable. The main intention of this recipe is to take advantage of farm greens such as cauliflower leaves. If you’re not a farmer or gardener, you can still adapt this recipe and use the beet greens or turnip greens available in grocery stores with a combination of kale or collards. Either way, it’s a method to use the whole vegetable and not just a root. The quantity of greens is imprecise but easy to navigate. I wanted to make a large pot, so we used 3-4 hearty bunches, and filled a dutch oven with greens.