Cathy Merenda
Cathy Merenda
Cathy Merenda
Cathy Merenda
Cathy Merenda


KCRW Pie Contest

I love pie.  Especially the filling.  I do love crust but only when it’s really good.  Making pie crust on the other hand is a whole other story.   It’s the Holy Grail for me.

I took the Professional Baking course at the New School of Cooking in Culver City just for the pie crust part.  Of course I learned a lot more than that and tackled everything from croissants to cake but the pie crust week was what I was looking forward to.  I actually made a great crust during school and by myself afterwards.   Goal accomplished!

So there’s the 6th Annual Good Food Pie Contest sponsored by KCRW and hosted by Good Food host Evan Kleinman.   Another challenge!  So I entered.  Two pies.  Fruit and vegan.

I make a decent sour cherry slab pie.  I made it for Paula’s birthday a few years ago and I really loved it.  It’s like a giant pop tart.  With that pie I actually had picked the cherries myself.   There’s a farm out in Leona Valley that grows sours and they have u-pick.  The picking season for sours is very short.  Sometimes just a day.   Leona Valley has many sweet cherry farms with u-pick but the one farm with sours is where I go first.   Alas, it is no longer in business….  Anyhow, so no more u-pick sours – what to do?  I scoured the interweb and found Northwest Wild Foods in Washington and ordered up some sours.   They came very quickly and were fantastic!  Big and beautiful sour cherries.

So for the vegan pie that was another question.  What do to?   I am a vegetarian but not a vegan and have never made a vegan pie.  For some reason I had African Peanut Soup in my head.  I wanted to try to make a sweet pie with that concept but not just a peanut butter pie.  I added sweet potatoes and cayenne and had my pie.

Day of contest was hot.  Not just warm but HOT.  It’s been hot in So Cal for a couple of years so I was not surprised.  So I got up at the crack of dawn and started on the pies.   I had to bake 2 each before 10:30am so I could bring my pies over by 11:30am.  Eep!

The African Sweet Potato Peanut Pie was easy – mix it all in the Cuisinart and bake.   The Sour Cherry Slab pie was another thing.  Only because of the heat.   I had a cut out/applique idea to say “Can She Bake A Cherry Pie”.  So on my first try to put the top crust on I miscalculated how warm the dough was and the whole thing fell apart in my hands…..   Blah.   Thankfully I had made 4 batches of dough and I still had dough in the fridge.   Next try was ok and it would just have to do.

The contest was at UCLA.  Parking was easy but finding the drop off was a little confusing.  Bad signage.  That said I we dropped off the judges pie and when scouting for a good spot in the booths set up for the public to come try our pies.   Like I said, it was hot and most of the shaded spots were taken but I did manage to snag a shady spot!

There were hundreds of people lined up (in the hot sun no less) waiting to taste the pies.  Hundreds!  Once they were let in it got a little crazy.  People first started “shopping” for the pies they wanted to taste.   They were only alloted 2 tastes (which I think was bad – they should bet a lot more than that).   My cherry pie was gone first and I got great feedback from people.  A few people actually came back to me and told me how much they loved it.   The vegan pie was slower to go but it was also well received.  Thankfully!

So the finale and results were announced.   There were 370++ pies entered!  Wow.   At the end of it all I did not win in any category but I felt proud to have entered and the great feedback from the public was my payback.

2015 here we come??



400 g. cold unsalted butter (Strauss European Style or Plugra)
665 g. all purpose flour (King Arthur)
5 g. fine sea salt
5 oz. cold water
100 g. granulated sugar
1/2 oz white vinegar

  • First make sure everything is cold. Mix the water, vinegar and sugar into a syrup and chill.
  • Then, pulse the flour, salt and butter in a food processor until it is the size of medium peas. Dump this fatty flour out on a work surface, and gather it into a pile.
  • Pour in half of the sugar syrup, and start mixing it all together gently; this is messy work. Squeeze the dough together and lightly rub the butter peas into the flour. Use the palm of your hand and press against the table gently and smear/rub the dough together.
  • Sprinkle on more of the syrup, keep squeezing and rubbing. Try to work quickly so that the butter does not melt. This is the key to flakiness.
  • When the dough comes together in a shaggy ball, I wrap the whole thing in plastic and let it chill in the fridge for an hour. This relaxes the gluten and brings the dough together.
  • After that hour, portion the dough into 14 oz. balls and roll them out, usually very thick, depending on the pie, roughly 1/4 of an inch.
  • Lay the dough into your desired pie plate and chill it for half an hour while you mix your filling.
  • Bake in a convection oven, starting at 375 for the first 15 minutes and then lowering the temp to 325 to finish.

9 cups frozen tart sour cherries (3 lbs)
1 1/4 cup white sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
Juice of a lemon
Pinch or two of salt


Peanut Graham Cracker Crust – per 9” pie

1 cup + 2 Tbs unsalted roasted peanuts
3 3/4 Tbs brown sugar
3 Tbs flour
1 3/4 cup ground graham cracker crumbs
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
3 Tbs margarine

  1. Butter pie pan
  2. grind graham cracker crumbs
  3. chop peanuts, sugar & flour in food processor
  4. Mix graham cracker crumbs, cinnamon, salt, cayenne and nut mixture in a large bowl
  5. Mix in melted margarine.
  6. Press into pan evenly. Refrigerate for 10 minutes while oven is preheating to 325.
  7. Bake 10 minutes then cool.

African Sweet Potato Peanut Pie Filing

2 cups sweet potato puree
3/4 cup brown sugar
4 oz dairy free cream cheese
1/2 cup soft tofu
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup soymilk powder
3/4 cup peanut butter
2 Tbs peanut butter powder
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp bourbon
1 Tbsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp cayenne

Mix all in food processor.   Pour into pie crust and bake 45-50 minutes @375F   Cool. Chill.

 Maple Pecan Topping
1 cup peanuts
¼ cup brown sugar
2 Tbs maple syrup
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
¼ cup butter

Mix together and add to top of pie in the last 10 minutes.

Oh Baby Baby

Has there been an explosion of babies on the earth?  Or at least in Southern California?   I dunno but seems like everywhere I go, everywhere I look or every person I talk to either has a baby, or is going to have a baby or is thinking of having a baby.   Eep.

Anyhow, I guess I’ve been taking a few baby photos lately.  There will be more but here’s a few from the newly born Taja and Skyler.   Both of their Mom’s are awesome (Dad’s too) and seem to let me do what I want with their kids.

Taja came first.   I did a photoshoot at 10 or so days.   She wasn’t really having it and her older sister Elle really didn’t want me there taking photos of this new person.   I went back a few weeks later to see if I could get some better shots.   I had a new prop, the big fluffy white blanket, which was very cool but did tend to get in the way a bit.   I do like a white background though.    Finally, I wanted to do something else.  For me.  I had an idea to put little Taja “in” an ad for a TV show.   So I had 3 shows to try.

1) HBO’s Girls  where we used stuffed animals to represent 3 of the 4 characters.   Of course Taja was Hanna (Lena Dunham) but Elaine swears that Marnie (Allison Williams) looks like a horse so naturally she’s the horse.   Zosia Mamet plays Shoshanna is represented by the ET doll and of course the character Jessa (Jamima Kirke) is the Cabbage Patch doll.  Elaine’s brother, a trained architect, drew the 3D park bench for me.

2) Orange is the New Black from Netflix. Where Taja plays the main character Piper (Taylor Schilling).

3) Finally, Sex and the City where naturally Taja is Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) surrounded by her favorite things.

Next up was Debra who let me photograph her the day before she gave birth to her daughter Skyler.  I came back a week later to meet Skyler and got a few good shots.

Girls Taja

Girls Taja

Orange is the New Black Taja

Sex and the City Taja






Apple Thing & National Medjool Date Day

Who knew?  Of course the King of Fruit should have it’s own day.  Feb 4th.  Get ready!  It’s going to be HUGE!

I love love medjool dates.  There’s nothing like a big fat fresh one!   Luckily, I live close to the Date Capital of the World in Coachella Valley.   There a many date farms out there and the freshest dates are at hand.

I like to eat them raw.   I discovered a variation of this recipe in a raw lifestyle pamplet in the early 90’s.    Once I tried it I became obsessed and literally ate it every morning for about 10 years.   TEN years.   Literally.   Somehow I got sidetracked with granloa and stopped having it every morning but I still love it.

It’s called Apple Thing for no apparent reason.   It could be called Raw Apple Pie, Apple Hash or something like that but Apple Thing suits and it stuck.    Oh and it’s in my book Sweet Things.  Yeah!


For one serving

1 apple (a sweet variety like Fuji, Braeburn, Gala)
1/4 cup raw whole almonds
1/4 lemon
3-4 medjool dates, pitted
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Slice apple in half, then core. Leave skin on.

Put almonds in a Cuisinart food processor with the blade attachment and pulse about 10 times until almonds have a rough chop.

Add pitted dates and pulse until mixture is crumbly and dates are chopped and incorporated.

Leave date mixture in bottom of Cuisinart but take out blade and insert either grating or french fry attachment.

Put top back on Cuisinart, insert apple into tube and shred. Remove top and blade attachment in Cuisinart. Dump apple mixture into wide bowl. Squeeze lemon juice on top then sprinkle with cinnamon.

Serve immediately.

Apple 005


Apple 013


Apple 018


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