Stay Calm and Bake Pie — Episode 7: A Celebration of YOUR Pies

Episode 7 of “Stay Calm and Bake Pie” is here. It may be my favorite one, because it’s a celebration of all the pies you’ve been making this month.

After watching it, my friend Kee Kee (who you read more about below) texted me this:

“When this pandemic started you told me you wanted to make a difference, and maybe go stock grocery shelves (I told you that was insane!), but what you are doing with your YouTube series is inspiring people to make memories with their families, and giving them the courage to bake pies themselves (and I’m sure that courage carries over to having more confidence in the kitchen making other yummy food for their families). Such a special special episode!!!!! Bravo!!!!!”

So I guess that answers that question I still keep asking myself: HOW CAN I BE OF SERVICE TO OTHERS?

A few other people sent me messages saying that while watching this episode they couldn’t stop smiling. “So feel good!!!!! My face is sore from smiling the whole way through.” One woman, who watched it first thing this morning, even said, “I couldn’t stop smiling. And I don’t usually smile until I’ve been awake awhile.”

Even if you haven’t followed one of my pie lesson videos or made a pie, I can say with confidence that watching this video is totally worth 12-1/2 minutes of your time.

Again, thank you to everyone who has been participating in making and sharing pies. And because there were a few pictures that I either forgot or didn’t make the cutoff time, I’m posting them here.

Let’s keep baking, everyone. Let’s keep doing whatever we can to make the world a better place.

Love, Beth

EPISODE 7: Celebrating Your Pies
  

My friend Kee Kee’s pie…

I woke up this morning mad at myself, because… HOW COULD I HAVE FORGOTTEN to include these other pies? Especially when this one in particular is by my friend Kee Kee (see quote above). She made her husband Eric a cherry pie for his birthday a few weeks ago. Eric is Eric Troyer, the supremely talented musician who so generously wrote the “Ms. American Pie” theme song for my pie videos!  (Eric is a former member of ELO, now in the band called The Orchestra.)

Yoda, by the way, is Kee Kee’s late dog. She made a “Yoda Pie” as a thank you gift to her vet after his passing and since then every pie she makes has Yoda’s name on it.

Eric not only contributed a song to my pie video series, he wrote a them song for the pandemic called “I Can’t Stop Touching My Face.” Kee Kee, a talented filmmaker, initiated the music video they made for the song, appropriately in their pajamas and bathrobes. Take another 3 minutes out of your day to watch this.  Then your face is really going to hurt from smiling. And I promise you will have this song stuck in your head for days. But it’s a good song to have stuck. And it will make you more mindful about touching your face….as in don’t!

Meanwhile in Seattle…..

My friend Dixie Wilson in Seattle has three very creative kids who, while cooped up at home, have proven just how industrious they can be. They set up a domino line that stretched the full length of the house. They wrote their own sermons for their stay-at-home Sunday church services. And they made pie!  Here is her 11-year-old daughter Madison making a banana cream pie. The pics came in just minutes after I posted the video and I was so sorry not to include them. But I realized my blog was a way to showcase them, and here they are….

And in Los Angeles….
My friend Winky’s daughter, Kay Kay, is a young musician who has been creating YouTube videos for her preschool-aged music students. She has taken her creativity a step farther by doing a pie-making video, demonstrating my key lime pie recipe. And she’s taken this effort up a hundred more notches by conducting her demo in Portuguese! She is just learning her husband’s mother tongue and, wow, am I impressed! For all the hours and hours I’ve spent studying German, Spanish, and French, there is no way I could teach a pie class in another language. Even if you don’t understand Portuguese, this is fun to watch because Kay Kay is just so dang adorable.

Kay Kay digs in to a slice!

Previous episodes:  Here’s the playlist on YouTube

Please follow me on my social media pages:

And subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Lastly, continue sending me pictures of your finished pies!!! I will post them in my “victory shot” album on Facebook. Or who knows? Maybe I’ll have to do a second episode of your pies.

Stay Calm and Bake Pie — Episode 5: Chicken Pot Pie

In episode 5 of “Stay Calm and Bake Pie,” Doug is back by popular demand, demonstrating his culinary skills. Not sure if it’s him or my improving editing skills, but damn if he doesn’t look like a professional chef in this episode.

Also, there’s some great music in this one.  The Mike and Amy Finders Band gave us permission to use their song, “Man in the Kitchen.” It’s a PERFECT fit for Doug’s segment!  And legendary musician, Eric Troyer, of The Orchestra featuring ELO former members, wrote a pie song JUST FOR ME! There’s a short version of it playing in the intro, and the full version for the ending.

This pie lesson project has turned into a joyful labor of love. I am enjoying the learning curve of the editing process (I’m shooting with an iPad, and only using iMovie to edit. I haven’t yet advanced to Premiere or Final Cut.) It keeps my creative juices overflowing, almost as much as my chicken pot pie filling.

I especially love all the positive feedback. I am hearing over and over again, “Thank you for these videos.” You. Are. So. Welcome. Thank you for watching them!

I continue to receive photos of your finished pies — “victory shots,” I call them. Sorry I have gotten behind on posting them all to the Facebook Victory Shot album, but I’m so focused on getting the next videos made I haven’t had the time to go back and collect all the pie photos. There are so many! But I do see all of your pics and every single one of them, along with the accompanying stories, makes me swell with happiness and pride.

As for this particular pie, I confess, I had not made a chicken pot pie in years, so my skills were rusty on this one. And because I was nervous, and thus rushing, I spilled milk all over my stove. But guess what? That pie turned out great. It was so effing delicious it went from being comfort food to un-comfortable food because we ate WAY TOO MUCH! I hesitate to mention that because I am sensitive to the fact that there are people going hungry out there due to job loss, homelessness, illness….I am aware of how privileged we are to have this abundance of food to eat. I am also aware that for all that I preach about how pie is meant to be shared I’m not giving away many pies these days. It’s not easy to get out of the house, and we live 25 minutes from town. Still….I want to be doing more to help others. I just hope that by sharing these lessons I am doing something to give back to the world.

So without further ado, here is the chicken pot pie lesson…

Next episode: GLUTEN FREE PIE!!!!

Previous episodes:  Here’s the playlist on YouTube

Please follow me on my social media pages:

And subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Stay Calm and Bake Pie — Episode 3: Banana Cream Pie

My “Stay Calm and Bake Pie” series continues with episode 3, and my dad’s favorite pie: banana cream.

A friend pointed out, “This is the first time I’ve heard your story where you didn’t talk about how your parents met.”

That’s true. In fact, it’s a story that has become THE story of my pie journey.

“I was born because of banana cream pie,” I tell people in my talks. “My mom and dad had been dating 6 months when she invited my dad over for a homemade supper of tuna casserole, Jell-O salad, and banana cream pie for dessert. She knew banana cream was his favorite. He hadn’t even finished his first slice when he proposed to her. So if not for banana cream pie, I would not be here!”

My brother Mike with his first pie!

This video is far shorter than the first two, but it took twice as long to edit. The reason, I’m sure, is that I wanted to make it special — for my dad. It’s a kind of tribute to him. You’ll see what I mean during “The Stirring Scene.” The music that accompanies that part is DeBussy’s Clair de Lune, a song my dad used to play on the piano. You wouldn’t know the significance of that unless a) you were a family member or b) I told you. So I am telling you.

One thing that happened since this video went live (and I admit, I am several days delayed in posting it here), is that my younger brother Mike watched it and, as a result, made his first pie. I sent the video to him merely to watch it — to see how I honored our dad. But he surprised me by replying with a text and pictures of him with the pie he made.

After getting the news from one of my large sponsors pulling back their funding promise… I took to pie making… and felt better,” he wrote.

I choked up with a confusing, bittersweet kind of joy, at once being proud of his accomplishment, moved to tears by the giant smile on his face, and hit with a pang of grief knowing how much our dad would have loved it.

I miss my dad so much. But his memory lives on in this pie.

I hope my pie lesson is helpful to you. Send me pictures of your results. I’ll post them in my “Victory Shot” photo album on Facebook.

Meanwhile…  Stay home. Stay Calm. Keep baking. And share your pie with others who need it.

Next episodes:

  •  Key Lime Pie 
  •  Gluten-free pie 
  •  Pie-in-a-Jar and other various shapes and forms 
  • Please follow me on my social media pages:

    And subscribe to my YouTube channel.

    Love, Beth

    Bread Making Class: When the Teacher Becomes the Student

    The Pie Lady goes to bread school.

    On Saturday I took an artisanal bread making class. I have been teaching baking classes for the past 11 years, not the student of them. But I believe in continuing education, in stretching, growing and expanding. I hunger for new information, crave new ideas and skills, and I’m always up for a new challenge.

    Bread is that new challenge.

    I’ve made bread before, but I could never get it to rise and, after it baked, it bore a texture and weight—and taste—closer to that of a cinder block than a loaf of edible leavened ground wheat. I may not live in the culinary capital of the world—Southeast Iowa fare (like pork tenderloin sandwiches the size of a dinner plate, Jell-o salad topped with mini marshmallows, and white dinner rolls slathered in margarine) is not exactly refined and sophisticated cuisine—but what SE Iowa does have is The Villages Folk School.

    The Magic Chef oven, built in 1935, really is magic.

    Villages Folk School, according to its website, specializes in providing learning experiences in traditional arts and skills, while drawing upon the uniqueness of each of the 11 historic Villages of Van Buren County Iowa. Classes are held in peaceful rural settings so students can return to a simpler time and witness the importance of the artisan in village life.

    Try finding that in New York or L.A.! Sign me up!

    The bread class was held in the village of Bentonsport, the definition of a peaceful and rural setting. In fact, to wind down the road into this sleepy hollow nestled on the banks of the Des Moines River is an exercise in time travel—back to the “simpler time” of the 1800s. The well-preserved village (with a population of 40) consists of the haunted Mason House Inn, a blacksmith and pottery shop called Iron and Lace, a Native American artifact museum (with an impressive arrowhead collection collected and curated by an eccentric resident who travels by bike), a fudge shop, a kayak rental concession, and a campground. Of note is its bridge that spans the river—built in 1883 for wagons to cross (that’s before the invention of cars!) It’s now a footbridge. The nearest stoplight might be at least 30 miles away.

    This is what peaceful and rural looks like.

    Bentonsport resident Betty Printy—also a potter, weaver, and gardener—was our bread instructor who hosted the class in her home, an historic two-story brick and beam house built in 1869. Stepping through her doorway was to enter another world, indeed a simpler one—and safer one. Surrounded by Betty’s antiques—from her 1935 Magic Chef white enamel gas range to her ceramic butter churns and rooster figures to her cuckoo clock—and enveloped in the sweet fumes of her scented candles, I wanted to spend more time here than the four hours allotted for the class. I wanted to move in! Except that I knew from having met Betty before that she had bull snakes living in her basement, in her laundry room, just like I did when I lived in the American Gothic House. Uh, no thanks. Been there, done that.

    Betty’s house.

    I didn’t bring up the subject of snakes during class. But we did discuss her numerous aquariums that lined her living room walls. The tanks were packed with fish, inhabitants that far outnumbered the people in Bentonsport. The aquariums, she told us, were the winter home to the convict fish, black sharks, eels, and goldfish that spent the rest of the year living in the ponds situated in the village rose garden. She was caretaker to all. She tried to pawn off some of the guppies on us—they were reproducing by the hundreds—but got no takers.

    Mixing ingredients in a variety of vessels.

    Betty is tall and slender with strong cheekbones and waist-length hair twisted up into a knot at the nape of her neck. Dressed in a baggy white blouse and even baggier khakis, her demeanor was as easy and relaxed as her clothes. She greeted us with her warmth and her smile. “Us” was five participants, all women, all eager to learn this new (ancient) skill.

    I always talk about how pie originated in Roman times, how the crust was used to preserve and transport meat. But bread has been around even longer than pie—a lot longer, like even before the invention of language or electricity, before civilization. Prehistoric mankind started eating bread 30,000 years ago! (You think it’s hard imagining a 135-year-old iron bridge made for covered wagon river crossings, try wrapping your head around that number!) And now, here we were, in the Dark Year of 2018, the era of divisive politics, tribalism and social media trolls, questionable news sources and reality TV and talk of building 20 billion dollar border walls: five women (of indeterminate and undisclosed political leanings) gathered together to make— and—break bread.

    Like I said, I am used to teaching baking classes. But I was a good little student, a well-behaved participant, inquisitive without being too disruptive, curious and interested. I was there to learn.

    This razorblade is a lame,
    to score the top of the bread.

    And I had a lot to learn.

    – About the basic ingredients. (flour, water, sourdough starter, salt, yeast, molasses, olive oil, egg, wheat berries)

    – About parchment paper and bread whisks and lames and other necessary tools.

    – About sourdough starters — and the care and feeding of them. (Still confounding to me!)

    – About the various ways and vessels to use for mixing dough. (Kitchen Aid mixers, bread machines, pots, bowls, stirring by hand.)

    – About the numerous steps of preparation. (Let’s just say bread seems more complex and temperamental than pie.)

    My friend Lisa adds
    jalapeños & cheese to hers.

    – About the patience required in waiting for the dough to rise—several times. (Patience is not my strong suit.)

    – About extra ingredients added to create varieties of breads. (This is where it gets fun—olives, raisins, cinnamon, sundried tomatoes, cheese, garlic, rosemary, the possibilities are endless. Kind of like how you can put “just about anything” in a pie crust, so it goes with bread, though I have yet to test the limitations of this.)

    – About scoring the top of the loaf before baking. (Like vent holes in a pie, the gashes relieve the pressure from steam building up as it bakes.)

    Shaping the loaf.

    – About Dutch ovens and clay cloches and baking stones and how they create the steam necessary to get a crusty outer edge. (You can drop some big cash on this stuff, or you can just remember that the pioneers—hell, the cavemen—made bread without any accoutrements. Even today, the Tuareg nomads in the Sahara Desert still bake their bread right in the sand.)

    – About baking times and using thermometers to test oven temps and doneness. (As I always tell my pie students, “Never trust your oven. You have to stay vigilant during baking process.” Betty told us the same thing.)

    Homework. Get cozy on the couch and curl up with a good book.

    Like I do for my pie classes, Betty had a long table set up for us to use as a workspace. She had all her equipment and baking tools at the ready. And she walked us through the process, step by step, each of us making our own dough, forming our own loaves, creating our own personal signatures through the addition of extra ingredients and the scoring patterns on top. She had loaves of fresh baked bread for us to sample as we waited for the dough to rise the first time. She had a library of bread cookbooks to look through as we waited for the dough to rise the second time. She served glasses of super-antioxidant berry juice (homemade from her backyard blackberry, raspberry, aronia berry patches) as we waited for the bread to bake.

    Snack time!

    Her hospitality made the class so comfortable, but it was her baking methods that especially put me at ease as they echoed my own philosophy. Namely, she didn’t measure precisely.

    “Go by feel,” she said as she dug her measuring cup into the flour jar and didn’t level it off or poured molasses out of the bottle letting it flow over the edges of the spoon, or showed us how to feed our sourdough starter adding “some” water as an approximation.

    “Your ingredients will vary,” she said, “and sometimes you will need more flour, sometimes less. You have to touch the dough and feel it. If it’s sticky, add more flour.”

    Yes! That is how I roll. Maybe I would be able to finally make an edible batard or baguette, ciabatta or pizza crust.

    The Victory Shot.

    The four-hour class ended with a victory shot. Instead of taking pictures of my pie students, capturing their beaming smiles of pride as they stood behind their freshly baked beauties, it was me in the shot this time standing behind my spectacular (if I may say so myself) golden brown boule of wheatberry sourdough, smiling with pride. I was even saying the very thing I loved hearing my own students say, the thing that makes the teaching so fulfilling, the thing that must have made Betty feel good about her efforts. I said—we all said, “I can’t believe I made this!”

    Steaming and fragrant, the yeasty scent wafted up in my nostrils. I was tormented with desire, desperate to rip off a hunk and shove it right into my salivating mouth. I managed to maintain my manners and waited until I got home to indulge. (Anyway, I had eaten several slices of Betty’s bread during the class so I wasn’t exactly starving.)

    Ta da! Mine is the one bottom right.
    Betty checks with her thermometer
     to see if the bread is done (at 208 degrees.)

    My bread….Oh. My. God. My bread was so fucking excellent, so moist and tender and chewy and perfect I decided to make more the next morning. Betty had given us each our own jar of sourdough starter to take home and I wanted to practice while the steps were still fresh in my head. I wanted the process to take hold, to imprint in my brain and live in my muscle memory the way pie has, to the point where if I lost my vision and my hearing I would still be able to make a damn fine pie. I was determined to achieve the same comfort/skill level with this newfound passion for bread.

    I was not so lucky at home, unsupervised without Betty’s gentle guidance and instant answers to my questions, like, “Is it okay to use a packet of yeast that’s six months past its expiration date?” I stepped through each stage—setting and resetting the timer on my iPhone, running downstairs every 30 minutes to “stretch and fold” the dough, transfer the dough to another bowl to rise some more, preheat the oven to 430 degrees, and finally tuck my baby into a cast iron Dutch oven for baking. My dough did not double in size. Was the room too cold? Was it because of the expired yeast? I did not have parchment paper so I used the “other” method of lining my Dutch oven with cornmeal. The oven smoked so much while the bread baked that the smoke alarm went off and sent the dogs into a panic. I had to open the doors to air out the house, and because it was a 25-degree winter day, the smoke was replaced with a stinging icy breeze.

    My first solo-run bread, while half the size of the loaf I produced in class, wasn’t a total disaster. It was edible and, given I had stuffed it with cinnamon, raisins and brown sugar, it was still pretty delicious.

    I always preach to my pie students, “Pie is not about perfection! It should look homemade!” As I scrutinized my loaf, I had to preach to myself that bread is not about perfection either. This misshapen lump, a little too dark on top, the scoring lines ripped apart like broken skin, was definitely not perfect. But it qualified as looking homemade and I’d take homemade any day.

    I am not deterred. I will keep practicing. I will keep experimenting with ingredients, techniques and tools. I will buy some fresh yeast. And I will remember that if the cavemen could make bread, so can I. And who knows, maybe someday I will get good enough at this I will be able to teach bread making. Regardless, I never want to stop learning, stretching and growing, and am already wondering what other classes I can take. Luckily the Villages Folk School has a long list to choose from.

    Taos: Making Friends with the Locals

    During my recent weeklong Taos Writers Retreat I skipped the scheduled morning dance sessions. Free-form dancing in a group is waaaay too far out of my comfort zone, even though Jen insisted everyone keeps their eyes closed so no one is watching you. Instead, I walked a few blocks from the Mabel Dodge Luhan House to a local coffee house.

    Possessing an instinctive homing device for caffeine, I found my way there by taking a trail that led off the property, slipped through an opening in the bushes that led to Kit Carson Park, and cut a diagonal line across the park toward the center of town. I passed the Taos Little League field, the graveyard where Mabel Dodge and Kit Carson rest in peace, and popped out the other side onto Paseo Del Pueblo Norte. I hung a left on the main drag, passed a restaurant and a few art galleries before finding my destination recommended by one of the staff at the inn: World Cup.

    World Cup is a tiny espresso bar, one of the smallest spaces in which I’ve ever had a latte. About the size of a bedroom, it feels as cozy as one too. There’s a cash register, an industrial size espresso machine, and along two walls runs a counter with metal bar stools underneath. The place is so small, so intimate you automatically become part of any conversation.

    Every day I saw the same people, the “regulars,” people who lived in Taos.

    There was Jack, the barista. Reserved and intelligent looking, his clean cut-ness offset by his hint of a beard, he always dressed neatly in a collared shirt, vest, and bandana tied around his neck. I wondered if he was a folk musician by night.

    There was Simon, the English mystery novelist who looked more like a rancher. He was tall with blazing blue eyes, and his booming voice with the British accent dominated the coffee house whenever he spoke.

    There was Pat, the ex-hippie from Haight-Ashbury, a short, kind-eyed man who wore Hawaiian shirts and a baseball cap that hid his grey hair. When he smiled it showed the hint of gold rimming his teeth.

    There was Marianna, another barista, with dark hair and bangs and an ever-present warm smile made brighter by her signature swath of power-red lipstick.

    There was Lloyd, slightly soft and rumpled, always sitting at the bar, always ready to join in the conversation. He was a dead ringer for Norm from “Cheers.”

    There was the man (whose name I never learned) who looked like an aging rock star turned mountain man, his hair long and shaggy, his jeans faded, his boots worn, his icy blue eyes weary.

    And every single morning there was Joseph and Augustine, two men from the Red Willow tribe. Weathered and bronzed, with high cheek bones and black hair in long braids tied back into ponytails, they walked the three miles daily from the Taos Pueblo, where their tribe has dwelled for over 1000 years, to get coffee and wait for their ride from Joseph’s brother, Blue, to whatever work site they were headed to that day.

    Joseph (left) and Augustine (right) making a point not to smile for the camera

    It wasn’t just people who were regulars, but also their dogs. Pat with his ultra-shy black lab-mix puppy named Digger, whom he was attempting to socialize. Steve with a different dog each day (he had five), including a red chow, a black chow, and a brindled Mastiff-mix. A lab here, a scruffy white terrier there, a cattle dog, a Golden retriever, the dogs nearly outnumbered the customers. Because World Cup was so small, the combination of dogs and coffee patrons made for the Taos equivalent of an L.A. traffic jam. Without the road rage.

    Often the conversations revolved around the dogs. Many of the dogs’ owners had made it their mission to rescue animals abandoned at the animal shelter, or capture feral dogs found on construction sites, and rehabilitate them until they could be adopted.

    This was a reminder: There is still goodness in this world.

    I heard one woman say she was on her way to a daylong chainsaw carving class. I heard a man say he was applying for a visa to move to Australia. I heard someone say he just signed a lease for the art gallery he had been working so hard to open. I heard another one say his New York agent had just given him feedback on his screenplay. I heard a four-year-old girl insist to her mother that she wanted the chocolate croissant not the plain one she was already eating.

    This was a reminder too: There is still so much to strive for, so many dreams to pursue. (And a reminder that when in doubt, always go for the chocolate one.)

    Given my affinity for café culture (especially the dog-friendly kind), my curiosity about people, and my chatty personality, I was more than happy to insert myself in these conversations. (And pet every dog that came through the door.) I was eager to be part of the group, not only because of my outgoing nature, but because I live a little too isolated for my disposition on a farm, 25 miles from the nearest espresso bar. I was starving for conversation, for community. Forget free-form dance; this was a week I could take advantage of being a 10-minute walk from the crossroads of an eclectic bunch of townspeople. And drink really good coffee.

    On my second morning at World Cup, I was pulled into a dialog with Augustine and Joseph, the two Native Americans. Augustine asked me where I was from.

    “Iowa,” I told him.

    In reply he asked me, “Do you know Jim Leahy?”

    Outwardly my face showed that I was trying to determine if, in fact, I did know a Jim Leahy. Inside, though, I was laughing at the notion that out of an entire state, nearly 500 miles wide, I would know this one person.

    But then Augustine added, “He founded Overland Sheepskin Company.” He spoke so shyly, so quietly, I had to lean in to hear him. The background noise of the bean grinder and milk steamer and other customers ordering coffee made it even harder to hear. I got so close I could smell the cigarette smoke on his clothes. “I worked for him for 13 years,” he continued.

    My eyes shot open at the recognition. “Oh my god, yes. I mean, I know his wife, Jennifer. She runs Blue Fish Clothing. They live in Fairfield. I spend a lot of time there.”

    This is why I love life. These seemingly random connections are what I live for. Stumbling upon common links always tells me I am exactly where I need to be at exactly that moment. The world is a lot smaller and a lot more connected that we realize. With this realization comes a feeling of wellbeing. We are not as lost or as disconnected as we think.

    As if reading my thoughts, Joseph chimed in. “Small world,” he said, flashing a grin at me, unselfconscious that his two front teeth were missing. Teeth or not, he was handsome, with his chiseled features, crisply dressed in his jeans and cowboy boots, and athletically fit. “We live up at the Pueblo. Have you been there?”

    “No,” I said. “I just got here. I’m in Taos for a week, for a writers retreat. It’s a group of 23 women trying to get past their writers block. Coming here for coffee is my secret little morning ritual.”

    “Come to the Pueblo. I’ll be your tour guide, “Joseph said. “There’s an adobe structure that’s an original five-story building. We grew up there.”

    I looked into his eyes, brown and slightly slanted. What I saw in his eyes was a deep, bubbling hot spring of American history so dark and tragic I felt like I was going to drown. My heart splintered a little more at that moment, the broken pieces shattering into even smaller pieces—as if after all my recent grief I could afford any more cardiac damage. Talking with these Native American men stirred up something far down and unknowable inside me. I don’t believe in past lives, and I absolutely cannot comprehend the quantum physics of gravity, space and time, where life might exist simultaneously in different dimensions, but damn if I didn’t feel like there was something more going on between the three of us. Was this force of energy and this intensity of eye contact—also with Augustine, his brown irises surrounded by more red than white—because we were connected on a different plane? Or was it my nostalgia for simpler, more environmentally sensitive times? Times before smart phones and paved roads. Before combustion engines and Dakota Access Pipelines. Before the White Man obliterated the peoples who lived in harmony with nature, those who understood and respected the balance of ecology.

    Who knew that a 7:30AM stop at the local coffee house would evoke such profound thoughts?

    I had to remind myself to breathe. After a pause to shake off the mind-bending sensation, I answered him. “I would love a tour. How about Saturday afternoon, right after my workshop ends?”

    For the rest of the week I continued my daily jaunts to the coffee house. One morning I met a woman while cutting across the park. She was older, with hair dyed scarlet red, taking her morning power walk. I walked next to her, asking her for directions which led to asking her about her life. In clipped British English she said she spends half the year in Taos and the other half—the winter—in San Miguel de Allende. Like Augustine asking me if I knew his friend in Iowa, I asked her if she knew my friend Angela in Mexico. “She’s a writer,” I said. “She’s also British.”

    And then, in the way I answered Augustine, this woman stopped walking and turned to look at me. “Yes. I think I do know her. I’m sure I’ve heard her name. Yes, I’m certain I’ve met her.”

    Once again, right place, right time. The world is so bloody small, people are so connected to each other—connected to me—it feels like I do belong in it after all.

    On the last night of the writers’ workshop, our group of 23 formed a circle. Each woman took a turn professing what she got out of the week. In my allotted one minute, I said, “I got exactly what I needed: a sense of community, a sense of belonging. But not just from all of you.” Then I revealed where I had been disappearing to each morning. “I got a bonus community by going to the espresso bar, where I made friends with the locals.” The entire circle nodded in approval, and with, I dare say, a hint of admiration.

    At the designated time on Saturday, I met Joseph at the Pueblo. As promised, he gave me a tour of his primary community. (World Cup, like it did for me, clearly served as his “bonus community.”) He explained how these earthy red adobe buildings have been continuously inhabited for over 1000 years, making this place the longest continually inhabited community in the U.S. These mud and straw structures, still standing so solidly, were built between the years 1000 and 1050 AD. Its buildings are so impressive in how they’ve withstood the test of time (and weather and myriad attacks) that the Pueblo is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, ranking right up there with the Pyramids and Taj Mahal. “It’s not a reservation,” he said, “because we have never left. Reservations are places tribes were moved to.”

    I nodded, acknowledging this important distinction.

    He pointed out the kivas, underground caves marked by a bundle of tall poles protruding above, where the men (no women allowed!) partake in rituals, initiations, and learn the unwritten wisdom and teachings of the tribe shared orally. “I’ve spent 40 days and 40 nights inside the kiva,” he said. Joseph is 55 and is an elder serving on the Tribal Council. “I’m young for an elder. They are normally in their 80s. But as they die off I continue to move up, taking their place.”

    His revelation that he was an elder didn’t surprise me, given how articulate and knowledgeable he was. Maybe there was something about his elder wisdom that had moved me so much the day I met him. Maybe he was channeling the Great Spirit.

    We walked along the front side of the largest structure, passing vendors selling carvings, beads, drums and art, and I spotted—what the…?!—a pie shop. “We have to go in,” I insisted. “I have to try the pie.”

    Joseph knew the baker, the grandson of Crucita, the woman who opened the bakery almost 100 years ago. The two immediately started chatting in their native Tiwa language.

    The Pueblo is off the grid—there are no power lines, no running water. They collect their water by dipping buckets into the river that runs through the middle of the village. The lights are run by propane, and the ovens—adobe beehive-shaped things called “hornos”— are fueled by wood fire.

    Try running a pie stand baking in this

    For a moment I imagined what it would have been like to run the Pitchfork Pie Stand using only an horno. I bristled at the thought.

    I bought a slice of blueberry pie, a flat triangle that resembled a quesadilla, and shared it with Joseph. It was too sweet, and the filling was probably canned, but who cares? I was eating pie at the Pueblo. Pie made in the oldest inhabited structure in the land. Pie made by a Red Willow man.

    Pie notwithstanding, after such a long and sad period, life was looking up.

    I stayed in Taos a few extra days, renting a ridiculously cute one-room log cabin I found on Airbnb. It was too far to walk to World Cup, but that didn’t stop me from driving the five miles there to get my latte. But two days in a row I arrived too late to see my regular crowd. Determined to see my “friends” one last time, I gave Augustine a call in advance (Joseph doesn’t have a phone) to make sure the guys would be there on my final morning. I set my alarm for 6:30AM to be there by 7.

    When I arrived at World Cup, they were there, along with a few other regulars who trickled in and out. I said hi to my Red Willow friends but told them I wanted to get my coffee before chatting. I went up to the counter and the barista, Marianna, said, “Large latte, three shots?” I nodded and smiled. You know you’ve become a local when they know your drink order. I reached for my wallet and she added, “The guys already paid for it. It’s on them.”

    My hands reached for my heart to keep it from bursting out of my chest. I couldn’t stop the tears welling up in my eyes. “I wasn’t expecting that,” I said to Marianna, still holding my chest. I didn’t need to say anything as my reaction already told her. “It’s my last day here,” I said, wiping my wet cheeks. “I don’t want to leave.”

    “Taos is a great place to live,” Marianna said. “There’s community here.”

    Community. Yes. That is exactly what I kept experiencing during the 10 days I had been in town. I wanted more of this—needed more. I longed to stay. I had even looked on Craigslist for short-term sublets. But as the owner of my rented cabin said when I asked if I could book it for an entire month, maybe two, “You have people who love you waiting for you back home.” He couldn’t have known this, yet he was right. It wasn’t just people waiting (Doug) but dogs and cats and goats too.

    I finally composed myself enough to return to Augustine and Joseph, and Blue. “Oh, you guys, thank you so much. I am so touched. But I’m the one who should be treating you to coffee.” They shrugged off my thanks, as if they were embarrassed by my gushing gratitude.

    They couldn’t possibly have known—and I wasn’t about to tell them—just how down I had been before I came to Taos, how much I was grieving not just my dad and my goat, but the whole state of the world. Likewise, they couldn’t possibly know just how much their kindness had restored my faith in humanity. (Though I must add, taking a 10-day break from the news and social media also helped.)

    Overcome by shyness all around, we sat on barstools, not really sure what to talk about, not sure how to say goodbye. Other regulars showed up, filling up the space between our awkward small talk. Pat with his dog Digger. Steve with yet another dog. And the guy opening the art gallery with his cattle dog. I bent down to pet each of the animals.

    “We have to go to work,” Augustine finally said. “I have something for you.” He handed me a small bundle, a zip-lock bag wrapped in paper towel. “Don’t open it until you get home,” he said.

    “You mean when I get back to Iowa, or do you just mean don’t open it until later?”

    “You can open it after I leave,” he said.

    Once I was in the car, I unwrapped his gift. I assumed it was one of his rock carvings he had shown me photos of—bears on all fours. “I like doing the detail,” he said as I studied his pictures, faded and dog-eared. But it was not a stone carving. It was a necklace made of chunky turquoise beads. I immediately fastened it around my neck and held the beads in my fist as I drove down highway 68.

    As much as it made my heart ache to leave Taos, I reminded myself that life is about moving forward. Unless you know how to move in a space-time continuum, forward is the only direction we can go.

    Eventually I pointed my car East, toward my life back in Iowa, toward my goal of finishing my next book, toward my pathetic little $39 Mr. Coffee Espresso Maker and my community of farm animals.

    Back in Iowa, this is what community looks like.

    I had a long talk with Doug on Saturday, while we were out canoeing on Big Cedar Creek. Immersed in nature is an ideal setting to discuss important issues. I told him about my desire to remain in Taos, to rent a place there, about my morning coffee house routine, and how I felt like I really belonged there.

    “I need to live in a place that smells of sagebrush,” I said.

    He understood. “You can go back, Bea. If that’s what it takes for you to write, you should go.”

    His support came from a place of such unconditional love I realized the Taos cabin owner was right. This is home. The people here do love me—Doug loves me. And I can—and I will—readjust to a place that smells of fresh-cut hay instead of sage.

    Instead of returning to Taos, I rearranged one of the rooms in our farmhouse and turned it into my own office. No more desk in the bedroom.

    The first thing I did after setting up my desk was to create a shrine to my time in Taos—my journal filled with inspiration and motivation from the workshop, the “Write True” charm from Jen reminding me to write my heart out honestly, the postcard of Georgia O’Keeffe on the back of a motorcycle (she too was smitten with Taos, so much so she left NYC and moved there permanently), a sprig of New Mexico sage, and last but not least Augustine’s turquoise beads.

    I have claimed a room of my own where I will write— with courage and confidence—my next book, my blog posts, magazine articles, and thank you letters to certain Red Willow Indians.

    Thank god I skipped those dance sessions.

    Seven Years

    “Seven Years in Tibet,” “The Seven Year Itch,” seven chakras, the seven-year Shemitah cycle, there is a lot tied to this particular number of years.  Today marks the seventh anniversary of Marcus’s death. That day. That phone call. That searing pain of a broken heart so shattered I wanted to crawl out of my skin. Or just die.  But I didn’t die. I am still here.

    A lot has happened in the past seven years. I have had to rebuild my life. And then rebuild it again. In the process I have made a lot of pies, made a lot of friends, traveled to a lot of countries, adopted four goats, and finally found new love with a man named Doug. I have suffered more loss—the tragic death of my beloved terrier-mix Daisy, who Marcus and I rescued off the streets of Mexico, loss of a place I had called home for four years, loss of several close friendships that shifted, disconnecting to the point of no return.

    And so here I am.  Seven years after that day the medical examiner delivered the news—“Your husband is deceased.”

    The memory lives in my cells. I am not always conscious of it, of where that unsettled feeling in my heart is coming from, as the August date approaches. And then I realize, oh, yes, I remember. I know why I’m out of balance, melancholy, confused. It’s that anniversary. The day my husband’s life ended and my “new normal” began.

    Two nights ago, Doug and I were out kayaking during the full moon and as we paddled through the dark water, drifting with the current under the night sky, I casually mentioned to him, “You know that Friday is the seventh anniversary of Marcus’ passing.” I was hesitant to bring it up. I didn’t want him to think that my heart was still so broken from Marcus that there wasn’t room to fully love him. But given that I am always stressing the importance of communication in our relationship, I thought it was right to say something, so that if he felt I was being quiet or distant he would know why.

    His answer only made me love him more. Doug is a farmer. He is hard working, rugged, and possesses the brute strength of a bull. He is also gentle and kind and has a knack for saying exactly the right thing to put me at ease. His response was simply: “You’ve had a lot of experiences in seven years.”

    I nodded, brushing a lone tear off my cheek, glad it was too dark for him to see me. And then, as I continued my rhythm, dipping each blade of my paddle in the river, left side, then right side, propelling myself forward with each stroke, I mused over what—and where—exactly I had been in these past seven years.

    YEAR ONE  2009 – 2010
    I left my little miner’s cabin in Terlingua, Texas and moved back to Portland, Oregon, living in the guest house next to the house where Marcus and I had previously lived. I went to grief counseling twice a week. I learned to drive the RV and took it down to California, where I went on a two-week pie-making film shoot with my friend Janice. A highlight of that trip was making 50 pies and handing them out by the slice in L.A. It was then when I really understood the magic of healing: If you want to feel better, do something nice for someone else. I created my website, The World Needs More Pie. I blogged a lot—about my grief and how I was coping with it.  I traveled to Iowa to be a pie judge at the Iowa State Fair, and in a surprising twist I discovered the American Gothic House was for rent (for $250 a month!).

    YEAR TWO 2010- 2011
    Instead of going back to the West Coast, I stayed in rural Iowa, making the American Gothic House my home. I opened the Pitchfork Pie Stand. Making pie felt good. It connected me to the community and brought new friends into my life. I stayed for the winter, writing my memoir “Making Piece” at my kitchen table, wearing Marcus’ fleece to stay warm. In spring, I discovered a 6-foot-snake in my bathroom. And in summer I signed up for Match.com. I spent the second anniversary of Marcus’ passing on a dinner date with a suitor who didn’t talk the entire meal.

    YEAR THREE  2011- 2012
    I fired up The Beast (the 24-foot C-class RV Marcus had bought, that I never wanted and vowed never to drive) and went on a six-week book tour for “Making Piece” across the country, including Seattle and Portland, places loaded with memories of my late husband. I ran the pie stand again that summer. In December, I drove the RV to Flanders, New Jersey, pulling together volunteers and ingredients to make pies to comfort the people in Newtown, Connecticut after the Sandy Hook shooting. We delivered 250 pies to Newtown, serving them by the slice to help the community heal.

    YEAR FOUR 2012 – 2013
    I suffered through a frigid Iowa winter until I couldn’t stand it any longer and by spring coughed up the cash to rent a place in Key West, Florida for a month — but not before discovering another six-foot-long snake in my house! Worse, we never caught it. I celebrated my 50th birthday alone (intentionally) by driving the RV to a campground. Away from my computer and with no cell phone reception, I hiked and swam with my two terriers, wrote in my journal, drank a glass (or two) of wine, and savored my solitude.  When I returned, some friends came over with a chocolate cake and an offer to help me with my pie stand, which had started growing to a point it was getting harder to manage. I had a short-but-fun relationship with a guy who liked biking, and had a house in Colorado ski town. He was a CEO who could still do handstands on his skateboard. He loaned me his snake-catching stick, which I had to put to use several times in my basement. Alas, that relationship didn’t work out, so I returned the snake stick and went to LA for the winter. In LA, I met an artist from Iowa and gave love yet another try.

    YEAR FIVE 2013-2014
    I gave a TEDx talk about how pie can change the world—and how it helped heal my grief. My “Ms. American Pie” cookbook was published. I did another cross-country book tour, using the trip to get the RV from Los Angeles back to Iowa. I left the artist behind. I spent the fifth anniversary of Marcus’ death having dinner on Doug’s farm. My friend Nancy from Texas came along. Doug and I weren’t officially dating, but we had been spending time together. He had taken me kayaking a few times, and picked me up for dinner on his BMW motorcycle. I hadn’t been on the back of motorcycle since Marcus’ (also a BMW). During that first ride with Doug, I scooted back on the seat so our bodies wouldn’t touch. I wouldn’t even hold onto his belt loops. The pie stand kept growing, along with my stress.

    YEAR SIX 2014 – 2015
    Year Six was a year of more devastating loss. First, I moved out of the American Gothic House. I had loved that house so much. But too many things were adding up (mean neighbors getting even meaner, a murder at the bait shop, people wanting more and more pie, and other growing pressures) and my gut feeling was telling me—screaming at me—it was time to go. (Ask anyone who helped with my pie stand and they will verify I had turned into tempestuous b*tch.) I put all my belongings in storage and stayed on Doug’s farm for a much-needed rest. I will never forget the (unfortunately fleeting) moment of Nirvana I felt one morning while sipping my coffee on his porch. My face pointed toward the sky, the velvet breeze off the fields acting like a salve on my bare skin, the puffy clouds sailing past the sun, the only sound being the rustling of corn leaves…After four years I could exhale and let my guard down. It was the discovery of something I didn’t realize I was so desperately in need of after living in a tourist attraction: privacy! My dogs loved “Camp Doug,” running free in the pasture and on the gravel roads with no neighbors calling the sheriff about them being at large. But winter was coming and I couldn’t take another bone-chilling season. So I left and headed south—straight into tragedy. I was staying at a friend’s house and let the dogs out the back door for their morning business. Jack came back ten minutes later, bleeding from the neck. Daisy never came back at all. That morning, I rushed Jack to the vet, where he spent several days on an IV. That afternoon, we found Daisy—what was left of my sweet curly-girly’s little body—and buried her in the forest. Doug—oh that sweet Doug— flew down to Texas and drove me and Jack in the RV to LA, where I spent the next six months living six miles from my parents. Unhappy to be back in a big, expensive, congested city—spoiled by the simplicity and ease of a pastoral life in Iowa—I made plans to leave. I mustered up the energy and courage to fly around the world. Using Marcus’ frequent flyer miles which were about to expire, I set off on my “World Piece” journey, making pie in nine countries. But only after driving to Iowa to drop off Jack at Doug’s farm where my terrier would spend the summer. After traveling to New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, India, Lebanon, Greece, Switzerland and Hungary, I spent the sixth anniversary of Marcus’ passing in the country where Marcus hailed from: Germany. Marcus’ cousin Claudia and her family graciously invited me to stay with them in their home in Aachen, Germany. Borrowing Claudia’s bike, I spent August 19 riding a bike trail that crisscrosses the Belgian-German border, stopping for an Italian lunch. Marcus would have loved that. That evening I walked over to the local spa and soaked in the outdoor hot spring pool, and sweated in the variety of aroma-therapy-scented saunas. Marcus would have loved that too. That anniversary ended with a bottle of champagne, where Marcus’s cousins Claudia and Martina, and Claudia’s husband Edgar all toasted to the life of the man we all miss.

    YEAR SEVEN 2015- 2016
    I returned from my round-the-world trip and went straight back to Iowa, to Doug’s farm, to pick up my dog. A year later, I am still here. I started my day—today, August 19—staring at the digital clock while still under the covers of the bed I share with Doug. Doug had left at 5AM, as he does every morning, to do his farm chores. I pulled Jack close to me, stroking his ears and his belly. Marcus and I got Jack as a puppy in Germany. He was the child we never had. Jack is 12 now, happy, healthy as hell, and blissing out on life on Doug’s farm (he especially loves our walks to the pond where he swims and fetches the stick.) This morning I watched the clock as the numbers ticked toward 8:36. Yes, I still remember the time stamped on Marcus’ death certificate. I will never forget the time because this same time, seven years ago, I had felt my heart struggle to beat. I was out walking my dogs and, feeling uncharacteristically weak, I had looked at my watch and saw that it read 8:36. Today, Jack jumped off the bed so I stopped my clock-watching and got up too. I stood in front of the window that looks east, out past the picnic table on the lawn and over the goat barn. The sun had risen just above the trees. I held my face toward it, closing my eyes and feeling its heat penetrate my heart, my bones, warming every bit of my connective tissue.
    “Hi Marcus,” I whispered. “I’m thinking of you.”
    In that spiritual, nature-connected, sunbeam-driven moment, he answered me back. “Hi, my love. Don’t worry about me. I’m fine. I’m happy you are in such a good and beautiful place and doing so well.” Then he added, “Doug is a better partner for you than I ever could have been.”
    I took a deep breath, wiped a single tear from each cheek, and bowed my head in a little namaste prayer before heading downstairs for coffee.

    Even if it wasn’t Marcus speaking to me, it’s true. Doug is a good partner for me. Iowa is a good place for me. And farm life is a surprisingly good fit for me.

    I am still making pie, and still being reminded of the lesson I learned after Marcus’ death: If you want to feel better, do something nice for someone else. I was in a particularly foul mood last night partly due to the memory of Marcus’ passing, but mostly because our Windstream internet, which is already painfully slow, stopped working altogether. When I called the company they said they couldn’t fix it for at least five days. Five days?! Given I couldn’t get any more work done, I went into the kitchen to make pie from the fresh peaches my neighbor Cheryl had picked from her tree. I made a double crust peach pie for my 92-year-old friend who is in the hospital recovering from surgery. I used the leftover dough and peaches to make two mini pies, one for a man who was traveling cross-country and one for Doug. Instead of crying my eyes out today, I delivered the pies. And I felt good. Happy. Strong. Healed.

    Seven years ago I wanted to die along with Marcus. But life goes on. Our spirit, along with our cells, goes through a renewal every seven years. It’s been a hell of a cycle, but I can look back now and say I’m grateful. Not grateful that Marcus died, but grateful for the lessons, the growth, the opportunity to keep living and, even more important, to keep giving. And now, as of today, another seven-year cycle begins. I can’t imagine what challenges and thrills are to come. But it’s sure to be, as Doug says, full of experiences. Check back in 2023 for an update.

    Mad Apples at The Yummy Fruit Company

    Here’s a lesson in trust. For most of my stops on the World Piece tour I have quite a few things planned, scheduled and confirmed on the calendar. For New Zealand, however, my first stop of my three-month journey, I left things a bit, shall we say, loose. I knew I wanted to teach a pie class. And because it’s New Zealand, home to the Granny Smith apple — the apple of choice I use for my pies — I knew I wanted to visit an orchard where these beauties are grown.

    I love seeing how things come together.

    My NZ contact, Grace, has a daughter, Louise, who lives in the Hawke’s Bay region, the largest apple growing region in the country. (The area is also famous for my other favorite horticultural product: wine.) Grace told Louise the “American pie lady” was coming to visit and asked if she could organize a tour of an orchard. Louise happened to be grocery shopping one afternoon a few days before my arrival and saw a truck parked outside. It had a company name painted on the door: Johnny Appleseed. It was a local apple grower.

    Louise approached the man getting into his truck and told him about me and my request. (Go, Louise!) His name was Terrence, lo and behold he was the operations manager of the orchard (life is magical that way), he gave her his card, and after Louise passed his info on to me I emailed him.

    After an initial exchange I then received an email from the company CEO, Paul Paynter, who offered to conduct a tour himself. He wrote, “We are completely snowed right now, so I don’t have a lot of time, but you are mad enough that I want to meet you.” (Mad as in crazy.) “The world needs more mad people.”

    And that’s how I came to get a tour of The Yummy Fruit Company orchards.

    Ushered into the boardroom, I was greeted by a tableful of apples — and a man wielding a knife.

    The man with the knife turned out to be company chief, Paul Paynter himself. He introduced us to some of his favorite apple varieties with cute names like Ballaret, Lemonade, Ambrosia, Braeburn, Pacific Queen, Sweet Tango, Smitten — and of course the one with which I am intimately familiar after making thousands of pies with them: Granny Smith.

    Paul gave us a tour of his orchards (they have 1700 acres), apologizing for the fact there wasn’t much to see given it is currently winter in the southern hemisphere. The Yummy Fruit Company is a family owned business and Paul is its third generation to run it.

    We drove past the Granny Smith section and I asked him if he planted those New Zealand sheep there just for me, as a prop to make the place look more, well, more New Zealandish. No, he said, they serve a purpose. They eat some of the leftover apples off the ground and their feet (hooves) stomp the leaves turning it to mulch.

    Paul’s grandfather changed the company name from Paynter to Johnny Appleseed to convey a more all-encompassing side of their product.

    Harvest was several months ago, but there were still apples on some of the trees.

    Do you see the pink spot on the trunk of the tree above?  It is marked to be cut down. Paul has a test plot where he is experimenting, trying to create and grow new varieties. He walks through and takes bites out of them and spits them out, like wine tasters do. The trees with apples that don’t measure up to his taste get the axe to make room for new and different trees until he comes up with a new variety –and taste — that he likes and thinks he can market.

    Paul says the world needs more “mad” people like me. I think the world needs more “mad” people like him. So we were in agreement on that. He is passionate about his work, he loves his apples and cares for them like their his family — and really, they are his family since his grandfather started the business and the company is run out of his grandparents old house. (The boardroom pictures is the old dining room.) Meeting Paul and spending an afternoon tasting apples was a highlight of my stay in New Zealand.

    In the true spirit of pie — and by that I mean generosity — Paul gave us three cases of apples to use for my first pie class on the World Piece tour, which I was teaching the next day. We ended up using all of them and they were, just like the box says, absolutely yummy.

    RETURN TO THE WORLD NEEDS MORE PIE WEBSITE

    WORLD PIECE: Announcing my global pie-making mission!

    The Concept

    On June 2nd, I will be embarking on a round-the-world journey I’m calling “World Piece.” I came up with this idea after writing my memoir, “Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Pie,” as a way to extend the theme of making and sharing pie with others to make the world a better, happier place. But now, instead of driving around the USA in my RV, I will fly around the world and to teach pie making and to learn about other cultures’ types of pies. I will be an ambassador to promote what is good about America (I guess my publisher had a reason to title my cookbook “Ms. American Pie“), listen to what others have to say about their countries (and about us), and in this exchange of ideas and stories and recipes, we will build community, forge new friendships, promote cultural tolerance, eat some delicious food, and end up with…yes, world peace. What can I say? Even after all the hard knocks of life, divisive politics, unresolved geopolitical conflicts, terrorist attacks, and more, I’m still optimistic. I believe there is still goodness in the world. As humans, regardless of race, customs, or beliefs, we are all in this together. We can all get along. And I am going to roll up my sleeves and make pie dough in at least 10 different countries with people of at least 10 different nationalities to prove it. (For more on my philosophy, watch my TEDx talk about how pie can change the world.)

    Like Life, Frequent Flyer Miles Have an Expiration Date. 

    This idea for this trip also came about because I inherited 400,000 frequent flyer miles when my husband, Marcus Iken, passed away in 2009. I had been saving those miles for this big undertaking — and god knows, I’ve been talking about it for years now — but the thought of how much energy (and money) it would take made just want to stay in bed! There were questions and fears keeping me awake at night: where would I go, how would I navigate new cities, would I be lonely, would I be able to sustain the pace of intercontinental travel? Plus, I hated the idea of leaving my dog, Jack, for three months — I can barely be apart from him for three hours — especially after losing my other dog, Daisy, so tragically in November. But those miles I’ve been saving for the past five years were about to expire and the airlines, like life, offer no grace period or extension. I’ve been spending the past few months resting up (as it turns out). And Jack has an ideal place to stay — he is going to “summer camp” on a friend’s farm in Iowa. Life is short. I am facing my fears. It’s time to head out into the big, beautiful, crazy, chaotic world and get busy. I’m setting forth in June. And I will be sharing the journey with you as I go.

    Go West, Young Man. And then keep going. 

    USA June 2
    My route starts from Los Angeles, surely with a tearful goodbye to my parents. (I will have already bawled my eyes out saying goodbye to Jack.) I head west, and will keep going until I come full circle. I don’t have every minute planned out, but here are some of my goals with lots of leeway for the inevitable developments along the way. Please feel free to contribute suggestions and contacts! 

    NEW ZEALAND June 4 to June 14
    For my first leg, I fly to Auckland, New Zealand, to meet my Facebook friend, Grace Bower, in person. A knitter of prayer shawls and supporter of authors, her generosity embodies the spirit of pie. Grace symbolizes how this trip is more about connecting with people than collecting trophy destinations or checking places off a bucket list. We are going to make pies and bring them to the library for a gathering of locals. And I know Grace is already busy organizing (or organising, as they say in NZ) more activities. Even if I never went anywhere besides NZ, this stop alone would make the mission complete. But….it’s a big world out there. So I will keep going.

    AUSTRALIA June 14 to July 24
    In Sydney, Australia, I will reconnect with my Aussie friend, investment banker and athlete, Kate, and another friend, Foong, who I know from living in Germany back in 2003 (we met in Intermediate German class.) Foong, who is Malaysian, married to a German, and living in Australia, is a true Global Citizen. Instead of making pie, I could just write a biography about her and call it “World Piece.” We’ll make apple pie and I’ll learn about meat pies, and surely much, much more. 

    THAILAND June 24 to July 4
    From Australia I go to Bangkok, Thailand. I spent three months traveling around Thailand when I was 22. This time I’m not going as a backpacker; I’m going as….as an adult. What happened? How did 30 years go by so fast? I don’t have much in place here yet, but I have a dear friend there who is a rock star hotel marketing exec and I have a feeling she’ll get me oriented. I am hoping to teach a pie class to a community of underprivileged youth, provided we can find oven space. I was just reminded that there is no baking in Thai cuisine — i.e.: no ovens. But that’s exactly the thing that will make this such an adventure!

    INDIA July 4 to July 14
    I’ve always wanted to go to India but didn’t think I could handle the…shall we say, overstimulation. I definitely didn’t want to go alone. But pie has a way of making me do things I wouldn’t normally do. Pie makes a good traveling companion and instills a kind of courage that comforts and assures me that everything will be okay. So I’m landing in Mumbai (at night) and…well, I have no idea of my agenda yet but I know I want to learn how to make samosas — and teach the beautiful people there, rich and poor alike, how to make apple pie.

    LEBANON July 14 to July 24
    From India, I fly to Beirut, Lebanon, with a five-hour stopover in Cairo. Because the round-the-world ticket only allows so many stopovers I won’t get to explore Egypt, the birthplace of pie, or see the pyramids (unless they are visible from the plane), but at least my feet will get to touch that red, electrified, ancient African soil — the cradle of mankind where all this madness started. In Beirut, I will spend 10 days with cookbook author, photographer, and social activist, Barbara Massaad. She was one of the original anchors to this trip and while it is tricky to get to Lebanon — and the US suggests avoiding it — this stop underscores everything about my mission as it’s all about using pie to spread goodwill and promote peace.

    GREECE July 24 to July 29
    Then it’s on to Athens, Greece, where I will track down the first-ever recorded pie recipe, which was written on a stone table. Even if it is only a myth, it will be fun searching for it — and eating spinach and goat cheese pie along the way.

    GERMANY (AND OTHER EUROPEAN COUNTRIES) July 29 to August 27
    From Greece, I will go to Germany, using it as a base so I can travel around “The Continent” during the month of August, taste-testing as many pie-like pastries as possible. I hope to teach a pie class in the German Black Forest village where Marcus and I got married. I’m pretty sure the priest and his family are still there at that 1,000 year-old cathedral. And I’m sure they would love some American apple pie. Saving the hardest thing for last, I will culminate my journey with a visit to Marcus’s grave outside of Stuttgart, as a way to say thank you for making this experience possible. Yeah, that’s definitely going to be hard.

    USA August 27
    And finally, at the end of August, I will fly back to the USA. My hope is to return invigorated and not depleted, to have gained new friends but not too much weight, and to turn all this into a book that will inspire others to embrace their neighbors and make the world — starting with their own little corner of the planet — a better place.

    AND BEYOND…
    There are so many more places I would like to go, but I hope this will be a good representation. I have already taught pie making to many walks of life in many parts of the world: to a group of businesspeople in Tokyo, Japan; to a TV producer and her young son in London, England; to my Mexican neighbors in Saltillo, Mexico; to school kids in a South African township; and, of course, all over the USA. I figure this itinerary (which is now unchangeable except for the dates) is a good start. And maybe after the three-month trip is over, I will keep going. South America, West Africa, China, Russia, Mongolia, Philippines, the list is long!

    The effectiveness of “World Piece” has already been proven. 

    Read my blog post about the class I taught to kids in a South African township. Imagine how many more stories like this are out there waiting to be told. I can already see the smiles and hear the laughter. Pie knows no language barriers. But “World Piece” isn’t just about teaching; it’s about learning. Here’s an example of the cultural exchange I had in Mexico, learning how to make tortillas — and eat hot sauce without damaging my mouth.

    You can be part of the journey too. 

    When you give of yourself to make others happy, it in turn makes you happy. Pie is an ideal vehicle for spreading that happiness. If you’d like to contribute to the project, there are some easy ways you can help — and any little bit of support (moral or otherwise) would be greatly appreciated. Here are some things that I will need:

    Contacts in my destinations — If you know of a group I can teach, a type of pie I should try, a couch I can sleep on, or a must-see place along my route, please email me directly at beth (at) theworldneedsmorepie (dot) com

    T-shirt, Apron and Gift Sponsor — I’d like to bring gifts to leave behind, like “World Piece” T-shirts or aprons or…I’m open to ideas

    HD Video Camera — to document the trip — and a lesson in how to use it. Better yet, someone to come along with me to do the filming.

    Donations for Ingredients (flour, butter, apples, sugar, cinnamon) — I will be buying them locally in each place. Your support will make it possible for more people to participate.

    Donations for Pie Supplies — I won’t be able to haul a bunch of rolling pins and bowls around the world, so I plan to collect the necessary supplies at each destination and then leave them behind so the community can keep using them. If you are in one of my destinations, I could use your help physically getting these. If you want to contribute funds to help buy supplies, that would be good too. –Pie tins
    –Pie boxes
    –Rolling pins
    –Pastry scrapers
    –Paring knives
    –Scissors
    –Large mixing bowls
    –Pastry brushes
    –Aprons

    Sponsor a Pie for $5 — Whether you pitch in for one pie or 20 pies, any funds will go toward pie ingredients for pies we give away. And if you know me, then you know how much I like to give pie away. Pie is meant to be shared! Free slices for all!

    Sponsor a Pie Student for $5 — My goal is to bring pie-making to people who may not have the means to buy the ingredients, young and old alike. I’m currently looking for food sponsors, like local grocery store chains in each destination, but your support will help too. To make it easier to contribute, here’s a little button to donate through PayPal.

    Here’s where to find me on social media. Come along for the ride! 

    Like my Facebook page, The World Needs More Pie, to follow the journey

    Follow me on Twitter — @worldneedspie — Hashtag #WorldPiece

    Look for stories here on my blog — The World Needs More Pie

    Instagram — TheWorldNeedsMorePie

    YouTube — TheWorldNeedsMorePie channel

    Pinterest — worldneedspie

    Pie Facts 

    Pie was created long before America was discovered. Its origins date back to Egypt during Roman times when crust was used to preserve and transport meat.

    The first known recorded pie recipe was in Greece, a cheese and honey pie.

    Pie is defined as anything held in a crust. Some kind of pie can be found in virtually every country, many are savory and small like meat pies in Australia, pasties in England, calzone in Italy, empanadas in Mexico, samosas in India.

    In Bulgaria, there is a patron saint of pie. His name was Saint Ivan of Rila who gave pies to the poor. Every August and October at the Rila Monastery there is a festival to commemorate his good deeds.

    MY FIRST BOOK PUBLISHING DEAL!

    I have been writing all my life and while my byline has frequently appeared in some of the country’s top magazines, I always dreamed of writing a book, of being a published author. On Friday, February 18, 2011, four days ago–sixteen months before I turn 50, and eighteen months after my husband Marcus died–the Elusive Book Deal finally arrived.

    This will be the official announcement in tomorrow’s Publishers Marketplace:

    Making Piece: A Memoir about Love, Loss and Pie by Beth M. Howard, the author’s story of how pie helped her heal after losing her 43-year-old husband by traveling in an RV in search of pie stories, and ultimately arriving at the American Gothic House where she now lives and bakes pie, in a pre-empt to Ann Leslie Tuttle of Harlequin Nonfiction by Deidre Knight of The Knight Agency (World English) in a very nice deal.

    I should be ecstatic, I know. And a huge part of me is. But it is not lost on me that a) it took Marcus’ death for me to have a story compelling enough to interest a publisher (or a subject bone-crushingly tragic enough to force my writing to go deeper), and b) I still have to finish writing the manuscript. (So far I’m one-third of the way done.)

    Oh, I WILL celebrate. Trust me on that. But I’m superstitious and prudent enough to delay the celebration and champagne until I have the entire book written. Which, hopefully, will be no more than two months from now. Provided I keep my (growing) butt in the chair.

    

    Cover art for my book?
    The title of Molly Moser’s painting, “Make Piece,”
    inspired the name of my memoir

    But let me just say this: Book deal or not, I love writing. I love the process of writing, of turning the noise inside my head into prose on the page, words that may be of guidance, or at least entertainment, to others.

    Writing this particular book is no exception. Okay, maybe I’m not loving writing the parts about Marcus dying.

    But even with this difficult subject matter, I find myself transported when I get immersed in a long writing session. (Funny, making pie has the same effect on me.) In fact, today I was in the middle of writing about driving the RV to LA (December 2009) when my phone rang. I had a two o’clock conference call with my agent (the phenomenal Deidre Knight) and my new editor (the gracious and enthusiastic Ann Leslie Tuttle at Harlequin Non-Fiction). Normally, I would have been watching the clock in anticipation of the call, but I was so absorbed in my writing, the phone startled me when it rang. Not only had I lost track of the time, I didn’t even realize I was in Iowa. As far as I knew, I had just arrived in Santa Monica and was about to park the RV. I was admiring the blue California sky, the magenta-colored bougainvillea, and inhaling the sagebrush-scented air. It took me a few minutes to remember that I was not actually in Los Angeles, and instead was sitting in the American Gothic House kitchen. I love it when that happens.

    I am so grateful that writing is my profession, that I can afford to call myself a full-time writer (and part-time pie baker), that I live in a place so peaceful and grounding that my thoughts crystallize and pour out onto the page. I am grateful that I have a team of people in the book publishing world who think I have something meaningful enough to say that they’re investing their time, money, paper and ink in me.

    I wrote the first page of “Making Piece: A Memoir about Love, Loss and Pie” last June and posted it on my blog. Here it is if you missed it. I didn’t write another word until January 2 (ya gotta love it when those New Year’s Resolutions pay off). But now, the words are coming faster, more urgently. I take it as a sign of progress, of healing, of my increasing ability — as the title suggests — of making peace with losing Marcus.

    I hope you’ll buy a copy — or two. But you’ll have to wait until June of 2012, which, coincidentally, is the same month I turn 50. Seeing my first book in print will be the ultimate birthday to myself. Now that will be something to celebrate.

    My NPR Debut: In Case You Missed It

    Every morning I start my day by snuggling with Team Terrier in my bed directly behind the famous window of the American Gothic House, after which I go downstairs to make a cafe latte, hitting the “on” button of the radio on my desk as I pass by. The first voices I hear each day (and sometimes the ONLY voices I hear all day) are those of the NPR hosts, either on Morning Edition, or on weekends, Weekend Edition. I’m often making pies in the American Gothic House on Sunday mornings while listening to the confident yet comforting voice of Liane Hansen. Because NPR is such a big part of my life (and has been for many years, long before moving back to Iowa), the opportunity to be on Liane’s show carried more significance than any other interview I’ve done. I always remember how my friend Lisa Tabb’s dad told her, “You’ll know you’ve really made it when you’re on ‘Fresh Air with Terry Gross.'” I didn’t care which show I was on — it was still NPR and I felt extremely privileged.


    The problem with caring so much about an interview like this was that I was more nervous than I’ve ever been when talking about pie. “It’s just pie!” I kept reminding myself. Pie is supposed to be a calming and comforting thing for me. And yet I had insomnia for two nights over doing this little segment — the night before because of stage-fright and the night after because I thought I botched the interview.

    You can listen to the 3-minute segment (link above) and decide for yourself whether or not I botched it. But it must not have been too bad because I’ve received a lot of emails from people sharing their pie stories and telling me they were inspired to go make pie. If I accomplished that, then yes, I guess it went well.

    The best part of the interview, however, was after we stopped recording I was able to tell Liane how I listen to her show inside the American Gothic House, while I’m making pies. I think she liked hearing that. I’ll think she’ll like it even better when she receives the apple pie I’m going to send her.

    And now we return to our regularly scheduled NPR listening. Phew.