8 Slices in 1 Pie.

Have you ever considered all of the numbers that navigate our lives? We have phone numbers, social security numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, addresses, pin numbers, ages, heights, weights, calories, Scrabble scores, miles, zip codes, GPAs, test scores, membership numbers, latitudes, longitudes, bar codes, SKU numbers, lottery numbers, lucky numbers, numbers of friends or followers on Facebook and Twitter, income, tax brackets, TV and radio stations, hours, minutes, seconds, prices, sex partners, the list goes on and on.  There are also countless numbers involved in cooking, like tablespoons, ounces, cups, temperatures, cooking times, portions and the like. Thinking about this compelled me to try to put all of my numbers together and see what they look like. It's a pretty amazing thing to see in front of you. It also really takes you through some interesting channels of your past. I was brought back to old addresses and phone numbers I hadn't thought about in a long time. Hell, I was shocked that I could even recall them in the first place.

Last Sunday, Mom, Maggie and I attended the A Slice of Pie event at LACMA. As you may recall, I was not able to be a part of the competition because I missed the submission deadline by 36 hours. So I figured I’d go to support Maggie’s apron business and rock my own apron for the walk-off. It was fun. It was really hot. It was also really crowded. I heard over 400 folks were in attendance. Maggie’s aprons were a huge hit. My ever-spirited mom went ahead and brought the buttermilk pie we had intended to submit to the contest (by the way, I looked through the hundreds of pies submitted, and not one buttermilk pie). I’ll be damned if Mom didn’t actually have her own Salon de Refusés after all! She stood in the shade and handed out small slices to the hungry folks standing in line to try the submitted pies. The very last slice, however, she gave to Evan Kleiman, host of KCRW's (89.9 FM)  Good Food and the grand dame of the event.  Plus, I heard Evan loves buttermilk pie. Thanks Mom!

After the event I went home to my kitchen and thought about all of those hundreds of people and all of those hundreds of pies. I decided to bake one more pie.

I was recently invited to attend a chocolate tasting in Beverly Hills for Green and Black’s products. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth but their peanut and sea salt bar really won me over. They sent me home with a sweet gift bag and all the chocolate I could wrap my chocolate-y hands around. 

I knew what to do. 

My Green & Black's gift bag.

It was just me, one person, making just one pie. And while I baked, I noted all of the numbers involved in the process, from preheating the oven to measuring out the ingredients in cups, ounces, teaspoons, the cooking time, and even getting the 9" pie crust measured out correctly.

One person. One slice of pie. So many numbers. 

Chocolate Sea-Salt Pie

Serves 8 


Pastry for 9" single pie crust (recipe below)
1/2 cup butter
3.5 ounces Green & Black's milk chocolate with peanuts and sea salt
3 ounces Green & Black's 70% dark chocolate
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 eggs beaten well
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line pie pan with crust.

Melt the butter over medium-high heat.  Remove from heat and add chocolate.  Stir quickly to melt chocolate in warm butter and to combine well.

In a medium bowl, combine flour and sugars; stir with a fork or whisk to mix well.  Add eggs, vanilla and chocolate mixture.  Stir to mix everything together evenly and then pour filling into pie crust.

Place pie on the bottom oven rack and bake 30 to 40 minutes.

Let cool to room temperature.

My mom's awesome pie crust
Makes 2 pie crusts
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) sweet butter, chilled
6 tablespoons lard, chilled
5-6 tablespoons ice water, as needed
Sift flour, sugar and salt into a mixing bowl. Add chilled butter and lard. Working quickly and using your fingertips, rub or cut fat into dry ingredients until the mixture resembles course meal.
Sprinkle on ice water, 2-3 tablespoons at a time, and toss with a fork. Turn dough out onto your work surface and, using the heel of your hand, smear dough away from you, about 1/4 cup at a time. Scrape it up into a ball and wrap in wax paper. Chill in refrigerator for 2 hours.
Roll dough out to 1/4-inch thickness on a floured work surface. Line a 9-inch pie plate with half of the dough. Crimp edges for a single-crust pie.


As You Wish.

Last week I sent a Tweet into the Twittersphere asking folks to send me their favorite southern dishes. Shockingly, no one mentioned Tomato Aspic. Perhaps everyone already had their go to recipe for that one. I heard fried chicken and gravy, grits, Brunswick stew (recipe coming soon), biscuits and meatloaf, to name a few. But Maggie rmentioned green bean casserole. This instantly aroused my interest.

As I’ve mentioned previously, much to my chagrin, I didn’t really get to eat that kind of food growing up. I actually don’t recall a single casserole going on at the home base(s). Aunt Babe did a green bean dish at Christmas Eve dinner, but it was more like Shelly beans, bacon fat and pinto beans all cooked down in a broth. And very good as far as I remember. I’ll get that recipe from her when I go home next month.

But you see, casseroles were just the kind of thing I wanted to have for dinner. I was totally the wowzers-I-get-to-have-Stove-Top-Stuffing-twice-in-one-night kind-of-kid. But we never had Stove Top Stuffing. I’m not even sure I’ve had green bean casserole before. I know Brandon brought it to Thanksgiving last year, but I’m not certain I tried it. There was so, so, so much food that day, and I was in the kitchen so, so, so much that day.

So I did a little research:

Green bean casserole was first created in 1955 by the Campbell Soup Company. Dorcas Reilly (I'm a little freaked out about a woman (or man) named Dorcas)) led the team that created the recipe while working as a staff member in the home economics department at Campbell. The inspiration for the dish was "to create a quick and easy recipe around two things most Americans always had on hand in the 1950s: green beans and Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup."

Fun fact: In 2002, Reilly presented the original recipe card to the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio.

Dorcas, serving up her Hall of Famed Casserole to some lucky tyke.

Okay. So I began to pour through my cookbook collection. I have quite a few cookbooks (almost one hundred!), and quite a few vintage-y, weird-y ones with recipes that would make the hair on the back of your neck stand up - involving bologna, maraschino cherries and cheese balls (together), but not a lot of green bean casserole. And so I figured I best go to the source: Campbell’s website. 

The recipe looked a little scary. But I decided to keep it classic with a scant few of my own tweaks, here and there. 

This, I realized, meant I had to go to a grocery store. Like, a real one. The kind that sells Campbell’s soups and those crispety-crunchety fried onion things. It had been awhile since I had been anywhere but farmers’ markets, Trader Joe’s, or small boutique stores. It was so fun!

So, there was no way I was going to use anything but fresh beans. Period. Though I thought it would be super cool to make my own creamy mushroom soup, I figured, if Campbell came up with the damned recipe, I better go ahead and use their product. I did, however, add some tarragon, a splash of sherry, and some sautéed red onion to the mix. I can’t help it.

Since I don’t really have a springboard on which to, um, spring, I have no clue if my green bean casserole is up to snuff, as it were. I like it, I do. It’s funny, though – it’s exactly what I wished was part of dinner at my house in 1987, but I realized – not necessarily what I want as part of dinner in my house in 2011. I’m guessing this is because I have no attachment, no visceral memory of it prior. Cube steak falls into this category as well.

Maggie should be home soon to indulge in her casserole, of which she has a very strong visceral memory. I hope it takes her back to her youth, her family and her kitchen table in Virginia.

I’ll keep you posted…

Green Bean Casserole

Serves 6

2 cups fresh, trimmed green beans
1 smallish red onion, coarsely chopped
1 can (10 3/4 ounces) Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon chopped tarragon
A splash of sherry.
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/3 cups French fried onions

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350°F. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons salt and beans. Cook beans until bright green and crisp-tender, about 6 minutes. Drain beans in colander and plunge immediately into ice water to stop cooking. Spread beans on paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain.

Sauté red onion in butter until tender, about 10 minutes.

Stir the soup, milk, soy sauce, tarragon, salt, black pepper, sherry, red onion, green beans and 2/3 cup French fried onions in a 1 1/2-quart casserole.

Bake at 350°F. for 25 minutes or until the bean mixture is hot and bubbling.  Stir the bean mixture.  Sprinkle with the remaining onions.

Bake for 5 minutes or until the onions are golden brown.



It’s no secret I’ve been on a Southern kick of late. Well, I guess, why would it be a secret? I don’t know, something has happened to me recently. I even got myself a subscription to Southern Living. It’s all I can think about, all I want to write about and absolutely all I want to cook right now: Food of the South.

Typically I don’t have much of a sweet tooth – never really have. But I have been hearing so much about A Slice of Pie on KCRW lately that my wheels started spinning. The event sounds so fun: it’s at LACMA this Sunday, September 18 - it’s free and if you wear an apron you get free general admission to the museum, there will be mountains of pies to taste and an apron fashion show. The pies are submitted by both home cooks and professional chefs. The judges are a cross section of chefs and food writers. What’s not to like?

So I called my mom, the baker in the family. I don’t know why but I knew I wanted to make a buttermilk pie. Now I actually do not have a childhood memory of buttermilk pie. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I had ever even had it before until this past year. Baby Blues BBQ has it on their menu and one day Maggie insisted I try it. I fell in love.

I did a little research and discovered buttermilk pie is indeed a traditional Southern delicacy. It’s basically a chess pie.

Buttermilk is thick, slightly paler than eggnog, and yes, it's tart. There is no butter in buttermilk: It's actually low-fat or non-fat milk that has been fermented by various bacteria, in a process similar to the way yogurt is made.

But it's good for so many things. It makes a gorgeous  batter for frying chicken, makes homemade biscuits, rolls and cornbread tender, mashed potatoes just faintly tangy, and of course, pancakes light and fluffy.

On my first try I did surprisingly all right. I drove to Mom’s to pick up the dough for the crust she made for me (with lard!) and put it in the fridge for two hours while I got to work. But when I say work, I mean no work. This is seriously the easiest thing to make ever. I wanted it to be on the less-sweet side so I added an egg and a little extra buttermilk. The flavor was very nice except I found it to be way too eggy. Doug agreed but Mom thought it was really good.

This past Sunday, on the second go ‘round, Mom came over to dive into it herself. She made her perfect crust and got to it. We decided to use one less egg, less sugar and about the same amount of buttermilk I had used previously.

I thought it was perfect. Frighteningly so. This non-sweet-toother could have eaten that pie like a bag of salty-crunchies. Everyone I shared it with, which was about six people, absolutely loved it. Whitney, a native of Kentucky and a big buttermilk pie fan, did say she would have liked the top to be a bit bruléed. Fair enough.

Sadly, Mom and I misunderstood the information I was sent about the event and, as a result, missed the entry deadline by a mere thirty-six hours. So our, what I’m sure would have been, award-winning pie will not be in the pie-stravaganza this Sunday. Mom, so confident, even suggested we have our own Salon des Refusés. We, of course, won’t actually do that. We’ll find the platform for our pie. Hell, there’s whisperings of an all Southern-themed Dinner at Eight coming up in October. Perhaps we’ve found our dessert. 

I hope to see y’all this Sunday!


 Buttermilk Pie

The pie should be firm with a top boldly golden, the crust a little brown. If the pie is removed from the oven prematurely, the dessert looks like pudding spilling from a crust.


3 eggs
1 cup sugar (or a hair less)
2 tablespoons flour, plus a little for dusting
1/2 cup melted butter
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell (see below)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Beat eggs slightly and add sugar and flour. Then add melted butter and mix well. Add buttermilk and vanilla and mix.

Dust the unbaked pie shell with a little bit of flour. Pour batter into shell, and then sprinkle a little more flour on top.

Bake at 325 degrees until the custard is set, approximately 1 hour.

My mom's awesome pie crust

Makes 2 pie crusts

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) sweet butter, chilled
6 tablespoons lard, chilled
5-6 tablespoons ice water, as needed

Sift flour, sugar and salt into a mixing bowl. Add chilled butter and lard. Working quickly and using your fingertips, rub or cut fat into dry ingredients until the mixture resembles course meal.

Sprinkle on ice water, 2-3 tablespoons at a time, and toss with a fork. Turn dough out onto your work surface and, using the heel of your hand, smear dough away from you, about 1/4 cup at a time. Scrape it up into a ball and wrap in wax paper. Chill in refrigerator for 2 hours.

Roll dough out to 1/4-inch thickness on a floured work surface. Line a 9-inch pie plate with half of the dough. Crimp edges for a single-crust pie.


Back to the Basics. Holding on. Letting go.

Over a girls' night out with Maggie last week I lamented the recent loss of a t-shirt that had significant sentimental value to me (and was super cool). A boy I once cared for deeply had sort of permanently loaned it to me and I, of course, kept it forever, until I just lost it a short time ago. I suppose it is one of the only things I had left of him, besides my memories. That whole thing was years ago, now.

Maggie just blinked at me and flatly told me to forget about it. She said I keep too much stuff. I don’t need all of the stuff. It doesn’t necessarily need to have the gravity I have assigned to it. 

It’s a shirt.

Admittedly, that smarted a bit. But she’s right. As tidy as I am and as often as I clean out my closet of clothes, shoes and accessories that I don’t want, or no longer fit, I have a ton of stuff. In addition to that signature t-shirt left behind from most of the boys that have meant something to me. I have a Steeler’s glass that was Sam’s. I’ve carried it with me for a decade. When it was broken last year so was I. I have cards Paz made for me from twenty years ago, a matchbook with a joke written in it from Michael Fancini from fifteen years ago, I have kept every journal I’ve ever written, have busted up furniture from my grandparents, and even have a hat pin, all bent and rusty, that was found in a jewelry box my dad gave to my mom long before I was born. Let’s not even mention the decrepit strainer, shaped like a triangle, with rust, from my dad’s house from way before my time, that sits on a chest in my dining room, never used, yet has no real, actual, sentimental value to me that I’m aware of. But I love it.

What you own eventually owns you, right?

I’ve never actually shed all of my stuff before. And as a result, perhaps I find myself trapped in the past a bit. “I used to do this with that person”, “I used to do that this way and this that way back in the day.” You know?

We can’t completely shed everything really. Actually, even if we get rid of it, we still have all of our stuff anyway, tangible or not. Everything is part of the mosaic that makes all of us who we were, are and will be.

These thoughts coupled with this time of year have harkened me back to thoughts of my family, my roots, my parents, the James River, youth, spirit, innocence, thunderstorms, cicadas, Yo! MTV Raps, Ca-Ca the Clown, The Magic Pumpkin, lighting bugs at dusk, Dinosaur Jr., my back deck; Richmond and Grove Ave. Where I became me.

Those of you that read me on the regular probably know all of this about me already. This is what I do periodically (maybe this is my new stuff).

But man alive, I also miss that food.

Where is it here, dear City of Angels? Where can I find brilliant (and unabashedly Crisco’ed) fried chicken, meatloaf, roast beef, fried catfish, chicken pot pie, chicken livers, collard greens, green beans, fried green tomatoes, pimiento cheese, deviled eggs, mashed potatoes (with mountains upon mountains of butter), corn on the cob, parker house rolls, tomato aspic, corn bread and sweet tea under the same roof? With a twist. In the right place. And wine, too, please. WHERE?

Because I want it. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. Sometimes tried and true, and sometimes with a twist. In the right place.
I’ve mentioned this previously - but I’m redundant and you all know it – the South actually created the only cuisine that is indigenous to this country. Yes, it’s true. Look it up.

So last week Doug, Maggie and I had a Southern feast: fried chicken (cooked with Crisco AND butter, mind you), buttermilk biscuits, slow cooked collards, and sliced heirloom tomatoes with a dollop of Duke’s Mayonnaise, sun tea and, of course, wine. For dessert we had buttermilk pie (recipe coming soon).

I want more. I’m going home in October. I want my emotional Snuggie. I want to talk to Aunt Babe. I’m going to ask her everything about everything. And I’m going to talk about her food. And I’m going to hug her.

And then I’m coming back here to you, my City of Angels. And I’m going to make you some food.

Shirt? What shirt? I’ve got cooking to do.

Classic Southern Fried Chicken

Serves 6 


2 small chickens, broken down
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups all-purpose flour  
2 tablespoons seasoned salt, such as Lawry's
1 tablespoon fresh cracked black pepper
24 ounces Crisco 
1 stick of unsalted butter

Pat the chicken pieces dry and line a baking sheet with wax paper. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the milk. Add the chicken. In another bowl, whisk the flour with the seasoned salt and seasoned pepper. Dredge the chicken in the seasoned flour.

Dunk chicken back in buttermilk mixture and back into flour mixture.
Transfer to the baking sheet.

In a 12-inch, cast-iron skillet, heat the Crisco and butter to 365°. Add all of the chicken and fry over moderate heat, turning occasionally, until deeply golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted nearest the bone registers 170°, 20 to 24 minutes. Drain the chicken on paper towels and serve right away.

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