As much as this whole grain peach pie was a gift for Annie, it was also a gift for me. It felt so good to be able to bake for someone else again, to share, even if sharing looks differently these days. It felt reviving to truly play with food again, not for work, not for money but for the delight of someone else.
Pi Day is celebrated on March 14th (3/14) around the world. Pi (Greek letter “π”) is the symbol used in mathematics to represent a constant — the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter — which is approximately 3.14159. But around here, we celebrate with butter and flour!
"I knew you must be special," she said, "because he told me he had a new 'lady-friend.'" I beamed back at her, like an idiot, imagining the Urban Farmer telling…
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!
Every other Saturday, the Urban Farmer bursts through the kitchen door in his decades-old Woolrich coat and snowy boots, and he raises a green bag into the air triumphantly. This prized green bag contains his CSA allotment (Community Supported Agriculture), and aside from supporting our region’s farmers, these bags of veggies have pushed us to cook more and to cook more creatively.
Each CSA share is like a cooking show challenge. Beets, turnips, celeriac…go! For this specific green bag, the Urban Farmer really had pie on his mind. As I began to muse, he interjected my visions of beet slice rosettes atop sweetly spiced squash, “No, I want to make a savory pie.” Before he had finished verbalizing his pie goals, he had already begun peeling and chopping, so we dove into his savory plan in that fluid style of cooking- a sprinkle of this, a dash of that, a slice, a chop and a vague recipe underpinning.
Recipe Notes: This recipe is very loose, and you can adapt it based on your winter vegetable bounty and personal preferences. We began with a large baking stone’s worth of roasted vegetables and had more than we needed for the pie, but that excess makes for easy, healthy dinners later in the week. I’ve been reading about sneaking vodka into pie crusts as way to combat the gluten formation that risks a tough crust. Rather than Vodka, I used a few Tablespoons of Art in the Age’s Sage liquor, hoping to avoid gluten and reap the benefits of the herb flavors. You can also experiment with the cheese, herbs and proteins. This would be delicious with salty shavings of pecorino, and next time, we’ll probably add a spicy sausage to the filling. Be inspired, get creative and go crazy!
p.s: We’re looking forward to this time next year when we’ll be making rustic root veggie pies from the fruits of the Urban Farmer’s labor. He’ll be farming his own land this spring!