Let Them Eat Cake

 |  October 28, 2012

I’ve never been to Pai. A shame really because I’ve always fancied myself with a ponytail.

The reputed hippy centre of northern Thailand sounds like the perfect place to sport strands of long, grey, hair down my back. As opposed to those appearing to grow out of my back. And front. Until a few years ago, my torso was smooth and bald. Now, to keep my ears and nose company, my body appears to have started sprouting everywhere. Not in clumps, which would be useful and manly, but wiry, widely spaced singletons that glint in the sun. No good to man nor beast… but I digress.

We have no excuse for not making the arduous trek…ok, few hours’ drive to make a visit. I guess it’s like many things close by, you keep meaning to but never get round to going. So, in honour of the town of this month’s theme, I decided I’d do something new. Ignoring Mrs. D’s suggestions of being kind and considerate, I announced to a wave of indifference I would bake a pie for Pai. The laughter was unnecessary when I suggested printing the recipe for our dear readers and hysterical when I shared the fantasy of appearing on MasterChef. She also pointed out the flaw in the plan in that I don’t like pastry and she still chuckled as she drove away to work. Undeterred and left to my own devices, I wondered how hard it could be? Flour, water and fat, right?

Evidence of pies goes back 11,000 years with mud, not pastry, used for the coating to keep meat moist during cooking. The original mud-pie perhaps? As grains became a more common agricultural product, a paste made from flour and water replaced the mud. The ancient Greeks added fat to make pastry and the Romans added more adventurous fillings. A pie provided an excellent way of cooking, preserving and transporting food although the pastry was rarely eaten. It wasn’t until the 16th century when recipes started to appear for a more delicate, edible mixture that replaced the ubiquitous ‘concrete crust’.

Pies had also become more localised as time progressed and with renewed enthusiasm, I marinated stewing steak, finely chopped vegetables and created a gravy-like sauce. I had thrown out the rolling-pin many months ago, deciding my head was much safer without it in those delicate moments when I’d, yet again, said the wrong thing. Improvising with a cylindrical glass, I rolled out my pastry and covered the inside of a china dish. I added the meat, veg, sauce, more herbs, spices and the topping and stood back to admire my handy-work.

Our kitchen is too small for an oven and the last of the rainy season prevented using the barbecue. Nevertheless, I felt proud, watching my Pai Pie rotate in the microwave, located at eye level on a shelf. I wondered if I could calculate the surface area using that other Pai and Pie homonym, Pi. The ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes amongst others knew of this special number but not until the early 18th century was the Greek letter Pi (    ) used to represent 3.1415926…in equations. It’s been terrifying legions of school children ever since.

The numbers after the decimal point never end. It’s also impossible to truly represent the number as a fraction. So   is known as an irrational number therefore must be female. I wondered about the possibility of replacing it with the term, ‘Mrs. D’.

When the timer pinged, I reached up, removed the dish and held the pie aloft to check for imperfections. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have used tea towels instead of oven gloves. As my fingers started to burn, my hands let go automatically and I watched in both slow motion and horror as the dish descended at a rapid rate of knots.

It hit the edge of the counter, smashing into shards of china. Unencumbered pie contents, now stew, splashed out before what was left of the dish and innards bounced and headed to the floor. I tried breaking its fall with my foot which achieved nothing other than making me lose my balance and slipping on the first of the gravy to reach the tiles.

As I lay prone on my back, I heard her call my name. No point moving, I couldn’t clear anything up in time to hide the disaster. I waved from the floor as my beloved appeared at the kitchen door. There was a moment’s silence before she burst out laughing.

“I’ve got something for you,” she said in between guffaws. “I know you like it. You’ve eaten many times before.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Humble pie,” she replied and disappeared, tears rolling down her cheeks.

I wonder if Pai would like a cake instead?