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!
Scottish Beef Stew
Recipe adapted from Food & Wine
2 Tablespoons organic avocado oil
All-purpose flour, for dredging
2 1/2 pounds well-marbled boneless beef chuck, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tablespoons unsalted, Irish butter
4 red potatoes, cut into ½-inch chunks
2 medium onions, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 celery ribs, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 strips of organic bacon, chopped in 1-inch pieces
2 Tablespoons red currant jelly
4 cups organic beef stock
2-3 thyme sprigs
1 garlic clove, smashed
1 bay leaf
For the Stew
In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat 1 tablespoon of the avocado oil until shimmering.
Spread the flour in a shallow bowl. Season the beef with salt and pepper and dredge in the flour; shake off any excess flour. Add half of the meat to the casserole and cook over moderately high heat until browned on the bottom, about 3 minutes.
Reduce the heat to moderate and cook until browned on the other side, about 2 minutes longer. With a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a bowl. Repeat with the remaining 1 Tablespoon of oil and floured meat, browning the meat over moderate heat.
Melt the butter in the casserole. Add the onions, carrots, celery, parsnip and bacon pieces. Cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 7 minutes.
Add the jelly and the beef stock, and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the casserole.
Add the browned meat and any accumulated juices along with the thyme, garlic and bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer over low heat until the meat is tender, about 1 1/2 hours.
With a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a bowl. Boil the sauce over high heat until reduced to 2 cups, about 10 minutes. Return the meat to the casserole and season with salt and pepper. Discard the thyme sprig and bay leaf.
Savory Whole Grain Pie Crust
Note: This whole grain pie crust uses vodka in the dough. Check out this article for more info on why it makes a difference. If you’re an underage baker, stick to ice water.
4 cups white whole wheat flour (such as King Arthur flour)
2 teaspoons herbs de provence
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 cup plus 1 Tablespoon organic, unsalted butter
50 mL vodka (or more ice water)
4 Tablespoons water & 4 Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar, combined & chilled
1 egg (organic/cage-free)
Black lava sea salt
For the Crust
Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
Use your fingers to rub the butter and flour mixture together until the texture resembles coarse meal.
Gently stir in the vodka. Then add the ice water & vinegar mixture, a tablespoon at a time, stirring gently to incorporate.
After 4-5 tablespoons, squeeze the mixture in your hand. If it generally sticks together when you let go, it is fine. If it completely crumbles apart, it needs a bit more liquid.
Once the dough comes together, separate it into two equal discs.
On a well floured surface, roll each disc into a circular shape, about 1 cm thick. Carefully transfer the dough to a lightly greased and floured pie dish. Mold the dough into the sides of the pan, letting the extra crust hang off the edge. Trim excess crust. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill.
Roll out the remaining crust. Transfer to a parchment lined plate or tray, cover with plastic wrap and chill. Use any leftover dough to create your pie garnish such as a Scotty dog.
Chill the pie crusts for at least 30 minutes.
In the meantime, prepare the Mushy Peas & Potatoes.
Mushy Peas & Potatoes
6 medium red potatoes
2 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
10 oz frozen organic sweet peas, thawed
2 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
2 Tablespoons Irish butter
1/2 teaspoon smoked sea salt
1/2-1 teaspoons crushed black pepper, to taste
Put the potatoes into a large pot, add the bay leaf, thyme, and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the crushed garlic, and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.
Drain them well and remove the bay leaf.
Return to heat, add the butter and peas, stirring to incorporate.
Use an immersion blender (or transfer to a food processor or blender) to puree the mixture, leaving some chunks. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Allow to cool before assembling the pie.
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Whisk the egg and water in a small bowl until combined.
Remove the pie shell and the rolled-out pie top from the refrigerator.
Create a base layer of Mushy Peas & Potato Filling in the pie shell, and then top with stew, cutting any larger chunks of meat into more manageable bites. Top with the remaining dough, and use your thumbs to press the edges of the crust together. Cut off any excess crust. Brush the top of the pie with the egg mixture and sprinkle with black lava sea salt. Set the egg mixture aside.
Place the pie on the second-lowest rack of the oven, and bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown. Lightly brush the surface with more egg at the 20 minute mark. If you notice the edges of the crust browning too quickly, cover them with tin foil.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before serving.