The Martian Pi

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Although I joke about it often, the truth is I didn’t pursue literature because I was a bad math and science student. In fact given the time and support to parse a concept I was damn good. I loved science in particular because it encourages my favorite question: WHY?! I was the bane of every impatient teacher’s existence; “but why do I factor here? Why do I apply this particular formula?” and the answers “because you need it to do xyz” or (even worse) “because I said so” never sufficed. I hated learning for the test, I wanted to know how and why these concepts worked in the real world. (Never taking things at face value makes me a good student of life, but a very poor student of the American school system.) So while I don’t understand all and the math and science of Andy Weir’s The Martian, I find its use provides me with those scintillating, practical answers I badgered countless teachers for.

 

Spoiler-Free Summary:

Mark Watney is a botanist and mechanical engineer who has been stranded and presumed dead on Mars by his NASA teammates after a weather accident. Using the limited resources at his disposal in the makeshift Mars base camp, Mark surmounts basic challenges of survival; he grows potatoes, he creates water, he finds a way to communicate with NASA back on Earth.

 

Notes from the Piebrary:

I will admit, a fair amount of the math and science in this book is way over my head, but Weir does an excellent job of tempering his highly technical explanations with Mark’s humor. Simultaneously dry and cheesy, you manage to forget that Mark could die at any moment because of the witty and optimistic tone he takes in almost every entry in his mission log. That said, there are still moments when Mark miscalculates – occasionally with explosive results  – that come to us in terrifying retrospect. Mark will say, “here we go,” and sign off an entry, only to return to the narrative, metaphorically (or actually) coughing out the carnage of some experiment gone wrong in the next entry. So, even when the science isn’t accessible, it’s still interesting. And I assume the same is true for those readers who wouldn’t necessarily call themselves readers. Just as I am a literary snob but no particular science genius, I imagine those physicists and mathematicians either too busy or too bored (no shade, I’d get bored memorizing plant specimens, tbh) to read for pleasure may find this a particularly engaging read. It takes a particular talent to straddle the line between scientific authority and literary commerciality, and Weir manages it beautifully.

 

Parsing This Pie:

While Mark grows regular potatoes in red Martian soil, I thought a sweet potato pie would give a nice little nod to both. Similarly, I thought I’d offset the traditional spices of sweet potato pie with a little bit of sweet paprika (my favorite red dust). I also happen to love marshmallows (or martianmallows, if you prefer), I’m sure there’s some argument to be made that they have the same michelin man look as most space suits, but mostly I just love sugar in its varying forms. And finally, I feel like Mark Watney would approve of the controlled and necessary application of fire for optimal texture and taste. Nothing says “barren alien wastes” like root vegetables and scorched sugar.

 

Recipe:

Crust
-1 cup of flour
-⅓ cup butter
-3 tbs water

Filling
-2 sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed
-1 cup sugar
-¼ cup brown sugar
-2 eggs
-1 stick butter
-½ tsp allspice
-1 tsp cinnamon
-½ tsp nutmeg
-¼ tsp ginger
-¼ tsp paprika
-1 tsp vanilla
-½ tsp caramel extract

Topping
-Approximately 2 cups marshmallows

Preheat oven at 375 degrees Fahrenheit

Combine the flour, butter, and water for the crust until it comes together into a firm dough. Roll out on a well-floured surface and line your pie tin, crimping the edges. Refrigerate until needed.

Steam the sweet potatoes until they can be easily pierced with a fork, about an hour. The skin should rub or peel away easily with just your fingers or some paper towels; careful, they will be hot!

Use a stand mixer with paddle attachment (although a hand mixer will do in a pinch) to mash the potatoes, allowing the stringy bits to collect on the paddle. Clean the paddle of all the strings before continuing. Add the sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and butter methodically one at a time as the paddle continues to mix. Add the spices and mix until combined.

Pour into the waiting pie crust and bake for 45 minutes, until the center has set when jiggled.

Once cooled, halve the marshmallows and layer along the top. Use a kitchen torch to lightly (or aggressively, depending on your preference) brown the tops of the marshmallows.

Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Pie

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When I started my current job reading young adult literature, I knew that there were certain books I needed to read. Top of the list was Ransom Riggs’ modern classic, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Combining old photographs featuring optical illusions or odd distortions with a masterful imagination, Riggs weaves a strange world into the fabric and under the surface of our own. Continue reading

Pretty Purple Poptarts

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IMG_1575I went through a long and aggressive awkward phase starting when I was about thirteen. In those early years I had a fantasy that there was a scientific machine or a magic spell that would make my stomach flat and limbs lithe, tame my mane, and lift those (already) too big boobs I was so self conscious of into something even remotely desirable. I am, apparently, not the only person to wonder what this would be like. In her new novel The Regulars, Georgia Clark uses this premise to keenly examine beauty standards while leading readers through a taut, dynamic, and entertaining parade of bittersweet plot points.

Spoiler-Free Summary:

Best friends Evie, Krista, and Willow are all regular young women living in New York, and all of them feel they’ve hit a wall in their lives. As a journalist and feminist, Evie can’t seem to get her “Glamazon” boss to support her more hard-hitting article ideas. Law school drop out and aspiring actress Krista just can’t catch her big break, mostly because she’s physically incapable of resisting bad choices and financial irresponsibility. Mousy-but-ethereal Willow is struggling to make a name for herself as a photographer in her famous father’s shadow and to overcome the deep-seated body insecurities that prevent her from opening up to her would-be boyfriend Mark. Then the three ladies are gifted a magic potion by a benevolent stranger. It’s called The Pretty. And after several minutes of violent vomiting and shitting their brains out, the girls emerge not just as hotter versions of themselves, but as totally unrecognizable supermodels. Long legs, doll eyes set in porcelain skin, luscious locks, and a number of personalized little touches: white teeth for Evie, lighter skin for Krista, and a pair of perfect tits for Willow. A single drop of The Pretty lasts a week, and what follows is in equal measures hilarious, sexy, heartbreaking, and hopeful as we watch the girls break through the obstacles in their lives and into a whole heap of body-swapping trouble.

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Notes From the Piebrary:

When I first read the flap copy for this book I was instantaneously reminded thirteen year old Hanna’s fantasy. I also felt the full weight of the intervening thirteen years (half my life!) it’s taken me to shake those insecurities into a halfway normal sense of self-worth and confidence. But I have the benefit of knowing the editor, Meg Reid, and I trusted that the book would be as whip-smart, thoughtful, and feminist as she is. I was not disappointed.

 While the girls navigate their strange and fast-paced new lives (and bodies), they continually grapple with the moral fallout of their decision to use The Pretty. Clark often doggedly pursues a line of questioning or train of thought, requiring her characters to not only question the knee jerk reaction to certain beauty stereotypes, but also the society that has ingrained that impulse in them. It’s not simply about the insecurities of being an average girl in a world that demands glossy, Photoshop perfection, it also takes into consideration the kinds of assumptions we make and stigmas we have towards typically “pretty” people (that they’re dumb or are given more professional opportunities based on their looks). One of my favorite moments occurs just as Evie is succumbing to the heady effects of the Pretty: she’s getting ready for her date with famous author Velma Wolff (another amazingly complex character!), when her mother calls. This interruption reminds the reader that the bodies we so often hate on share and owe so much to those of our mothers, grandmothers, and sisters. It made me realize, when I  rip into my own weight or features, I disparage them as well.

This is the kind of book about both the struggle and the magic of New York City that drew me here in the first place. I don’t think thirteen year old Hanna could have handled some of the body-image realness, but the equally grungy and glittering semi-fictional city I fell in love with is present in each girl’s story. Each narrative has a different tone and flavor, weaving together to make the book dynamic and colorful as a whole, just like the city. Krista is a frenetic roller coaster crazy enough to give you whiplash, with a Hollywood carnival feel to boot. Evie’s is a steady drum beat marching through the glossy-paged, Devil Wears Prada-esque world of fashion magazine publishing, with a side of Brooklyn literati glitz. And Willow’s story inhabits the sad, muted palette of lonely nights in Village dive bars and the quiet tragedy of peeking into someone else’s bedroom in a city where personal space is so precious. In many ways it’s easy to feel superior to these girls; they sure do know how to complicate things for themselves. But we’ve all been lonely, heartbroken, dramatic, and at some point we’ve all made a huge hot mess of our beds and had to lie in it. Even though the plot has magical elements, that pace and larger sense of intent is the stuff New York addicts crave.

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Parsing This Pie:

Obviously, being a twenty-something woman in New York I project a lot of myself onto these girls and there is only one form this pie could take. For the young, ambitious girl on the go, I give you: poptarts!

Pie is earnest and genuine. Like the three heroines of the book, pie has good intentions. These pastries are unadorned flaky goodness wrapped around a naturally sweet core. I did consider grape jelly, but that just felt a little too on the nose, a little too aggressively Pretty, and I wanted it to be a bit more subdued. So I went mixed berry: mixed berry for mixed feelings about my body. The Pretty is a vibrant purple color, which stands out even in a book filled with delicious dresses and other lusciously sexy details, so I knew the icing for these poptarts had to be the same eye-catching color. It came out fairly unnatural looking, but I also added sprinkles and Fruity Pebbles as a garnish to heighten the sugary, processed, artificial feeling of these hand pies even further, transforming them into the “Pretty” version of themselves. These Pretty poptarts are attractive, aggressive, and syrupy-sweet to the point of making your teeth squeak.

Recipe:

Makes approximately a dozen 2 inch square poptarts.

Crust:
-2 cups flour
-2/3 cups butter
-4-6 tbs water

Filling:
-Jar of mixed berry jam

Icing:
-1 cup powdered sugar
-2 tbs milk
-1 tsp vanilla extract
-Red and blue food coloring as desired

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cut the crust ingredients together with a pair of knives, pastry knife, or clean fingers and work it until it is cohesive, but not tough. Roll the dough out and use a cookie cutter (or knife) to cut 2 inch by 2 inch squares of pastry. (I placed them stacked in the refrigerator while waiting to use.) On the bottom square, place about a tablespoon’s worth of jam, spreading with the back of the spoon and leaving about 1/4 inch around the edge. Prick the top square with a fork for ventilation (this is easier to do before layering) and lay it on top of the jam square. Using the tines of your fork, crimp the edges of the poptart. There shouldn’t be so much jam that it squeezes out the sides, but if it does just wipe the edges! Repeat until all the dough has been used. Beat an egg, brush the surface of each poptart with an egg wash, and sprinkle with a bit of granulated sugar.

Bake on the parchment-lined sheet for roughly 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown. They may leak a little, but the parchment paper will keep the bottoms from caramelizing and will make clean up stress free for you and the roomies.

In the meantime, combine all the ingredients for the icing, adding drops of both red and blue food coloring until the icing is your desired hue of purple. Once the poptarts have cooled, smear with frosting and go wild with the toppings!

These poptarts are for eating in a rush, something shocking and sugary to wake you up and wash down your coffee on your crazed morning commute. How is the M train so god damn unreliable?!

Harbinger Ambrosia Pie

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A spice chess pie with a chocolate cookie crust inspired by Petty Magic, by Camille DeAngelis.

Do you ever look back on the first time you met someone important to you and sort of smile knowingly at your past self? It’s so adorably sweet that memory-me has no idea how her life is about to change now that this person has arrived. She’s usually too busy checkin’ out their butt. Similarly, I look back at the Hanna who almost didn’t buy Petty Magic (because she wasn’t sure if she could justify another book purchase) and chucklescoff. In a few short weeks she will devour this book in one sitting, on an airplane, pausing in the darkened cabin somewhere over the Atlantic while everyone else is sleeping to clutch this book to her chest and thank the universe for sending it to her. Continue reading

(He Was To Remember) Iced Banana Pie

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A banana meringue inspired by One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez. 

Usually when a book is good we say “you can’t put it down.” This is reserved for books that you miss your subway stop for, that you stay up all night reading, and that you inhale in twenty-four hours and tell all your friends to read. But on very rare occasions I have read a book so good I had to put it down; had to read it slowly, savor it, come up for air. Of those books, One Hundred Years of Solitude was the most difficult, it took me two false starts and almost a year of off-and-on reading to finally get through it. But there is a truth and vitality to it that reaches into the small, scared, vulnerable, utterly human part of you, grips you buy the soul, and drags into the vibrant depths of its emotion. Continue reading

Stay Gold, Pie

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A salty caramel pie inspired by Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay”

Happy Pi day! I think I get wished a happy pie day more than I get wishes a happy valentines day or a happy halloween; occupational hazard. Today’s pie is a sure-to-please salty caramel pie with lots of golden, buttery goodness throughout. It was inspired by Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” and thanks to the students of Fieldston Middle School it definitely didn’t stick around. Continue reading

Howler Pie

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A buttermilk bourbon pie with almonds inspired by Pierce Brown’s Morning Star.

When it comes to Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy (which he just announced he’ll be extending!) I’m apt to drop literally everything else I’m reading in favor of his cinematic space battles. But, at the same time, I want to savor every bloodydamn second of this book. You may remember my last Red Rising pie (with its bright colors and weird combination of icebox and blowtorch) was a pretty general, color-coded ode to the overall premise of the series. When I got my hands on a copy of the new Morning Star (which debuted at #1 on the NYT bestseller list last week!) I wondered what the inspiration was going to be this time around. I didn’t have to wait long: sack up, y’all, and get ready for a Howler pie. Continue reading

Universe Hearts Tart

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A dark chocolate ganache with pomegranate syrup and pomegranate seed garnish, inspired by “On Foot I Wandered Through the Solar Systems” by Edith Södergran.

I recently gave a talk at Fieldston Middle School in the Bronx about books, pie, my day job in publishing, and how rewarding it can be to pursue what you love. To be sure that everyone was on the same page and knew the texts we’d be sampling in pie form, I selected a couple of poems that we could read together. In an effort to diversify and branch out from the typical canon (i.e., read someone other than an old, white, American/British dude), I drew on Haley’s knowledge of obscure international poetry. The poem that she recommended, “On Foot I Wandered Through the Solar Systems,” immediately became one of my favorites for its bold feminine courage and empathy. Continue reading

Dave’s Dark Nights Playlist – Jan ’16

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This month’s playlist comes courtesy of my friend and music guru Dave, just in time for Jonas to take a swing at NYC. When he’s not making stellar snow day playlists Dave can be found creating extremely lifelike taxidermy scenes (my favorite is the one of the shrews in the tiny grocery store). He also enjoys mountain climbing, extreme ironing, and base jumping, in that order, all while wearing a tuxedo. Dave eats only brussels sprouts and swedish fish and collects rubber band balls. Dave said I could make up whatever I wanted for his bio.

Here’s what Dave has to say for himself:

Being among the lucky ones who celebrate their birthday in January, the beginning of the year in the dead of winter, three things usually stand out in my mind.

First: Boy, it gets dark out early, and it feels later than it really is. So, tonally, I wanted songs ideal for nighttime listen, whether it’s just after the 5pm sunset, or midnight, or 3:30am.
Second: Gee, I have a whole year ahead of me, and I can do everything I didn’t do last year, because it’s all in front of me, and the world is at my fingertips. So, thematically, I wanted songs reflecting the uncertainty of setting goals, accepting changes, and challenging yourself to actually get the things you didn’t last year.
Third: Golly, it’s too cold, and everybody wants to stay inside, and I am lonely. So, contextually, I wanted to pick songs that are lonely.
With that in mind, the RjD2 remix of “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” is an odd choice to kick this one off, because it’s very much a party song, for party atmospheres, for party people. It’s more about the title and the sentiment of how crazy love makes us tolerate all the things above. It’s a sentiment that I think carries through most of these songs.
Oh, and “Green Onions” is on here because it’s badass.
Thanks, Hanna!

Snow – December Playlist 2015

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Hannah (with an h at the end) has been my best friend and neighbor for about 15 years now! She’s an amazing jazz vocalist and as such I thought she might be able to provide an alternate view of of this time of year when the same songs play over and over and over again. Now that it’s after christmas, even though there’s no snow, the real winter begins.

From Hannah:

This is a strange playlist, for a strange time of year. With its short days, grey skies, and dreadfully cold toilet seats, winter is harsh and unforgiving. It also, however, brings a quiet calm, stunningly beautiful snow-scapes, and plentiful opportunity to celebrate and be physically close with friends and family. Even if the weather does get us down, as the months drag on and our vitamin D levels sink to dangerous lows, winter gives comfort to our sadness, the snow like a warm blanket you can curl up in and just. be. sad. It feels OK to be sad in the winter, feels poignant and appropriate.

I picked songs that bring falling snow to life, songs for curling up in front of fires, and songs that, hopefully, fortify your spirits as you’re waiting for your damn car to warm up in the morning. Winter is a time between death and rebirth, when we draw ourselves inwards and hunker down to wait for spring. In the meantime, if we’re lucky, there are loved ones to cuddle with, good books to read, and lots of pie to eat.