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A little more Pi -- or pie -- talk:

Hoosier Mama Pie Co. owner Paula Haney is celebrating National Pi Day -- which was yesterday, and which also happened to be the one-year anniversary of the shop at 1618 1/2 W. Chicago -- this weekend (her shop is closed on Sundays and she was just coming back from judging a maple syrup baking contest in Indiana).

On Friday, Haney debuts Friday Night Flights. That's right, pie flights! Choose three of a rotating selection of five pie flavors; the trio of diminutive slices costs $7 (add a dollar for coffee).

And on Saturday, the shop will host a pie-themed scavenger hunt. It begins at noon 1 p.m. and ends in a storefront adjacent to the shop. Teams will be given three hours and a list of "tasks, riddles and questions" to check off. Details are still being hammered out -- you'd be best to contact Hoosier Mama for more -- but The only thing you really need to know is that the prize is a year's worth of pie. To sign up, call (312) 243-4846.

As easy as 3.14

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There are some people who look to a certain day in mid- to late-April to celebrate and commemorate because of its numerological and countercultural significance. I'm not one to judge, but I am just not one of those people -- what I can get behind though, is the commemoration of March 14, aka 3.14, as "Pi Day."

If you've forgotten your geometry lessons, Pi is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. Pi is abbreviated to 3.14 but continues indefinitely. As the world's most famous mathematical constant, Pi is important to many formulas used in mathematics, science, engineering and statistics.

The Illinois Science Council, a nonprofit organization supporting appreciation of science, technology, engineering and math, asked Chicago-area bakeries and restaurants to offer specials on Sunday, March 14, to acknowledge the importance of pi in our lives by celebrating with pie specials. Cute, huh?

The participating establishments include:

• Sweet World Pastry, 5450 N. Milwaukee Ave.
($4.99 cherry pies and free Kolaczkis to anyone who arrives there at 3:14 p.m.)

• Cafe Selmarie, 4729 N. Lincoln Ave.
(specials on Apple, Turtle and Cherry Streusel pies)

• Bleeding Heart Bakery, 1955 W. Belmont Ave.
(specially created pie cupcakes as well as "pi" cookies)

• Molly's Cupcakes, 2536 N. Clark St.
(cupcakes decorated symbolically for Pi Day)

• John's Place, 2132 W. Roscoe
(will add a special Chicken Pot Pi to their dinner menu)

• Medici, 1327 E. 57th St.
(free a la mode on all dine-in desserts)

• Tank Sushi, 4514 N. Lincoln Ave.
(a special Asian-inspired pie on their dessert menu)

And, on a somewhat related note, Albert Einstein was born 131 years ago today in Germany.

Amateur pie bakers wanted!

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Pie people like to have each other's backs. They're just good like that.

How else to explain the recent email from Craig Siegelin, husband of pie-baking Paula Haney of Hoosier Mama Pie Company? Haney and Siegelin are on a quest to sponsor a local pie enthusiast who plans on competing in the amateur portion of the National Pie Championships in April in Celebration, Fla.

Wrote Siegelin: "We were thinking we would provide a little cash to help offset some of their traveling expenses. We might also put a donation jar in the pie shop for them since we think our customers are pretty enthusiastic about promoting pie culture. Let us know if you have heard of anyone."

I haven't heard of anyone yet; neither has the Lake Forest-based American Pie Council, which organizes the championships -- but the call is officially out.

Linda Hoskins, the pie council's executive director (honestly, who wouldn't want that title?), was pleased as punch to hear of Haney's and Siegelin's offer. The contest draws about 100 amateur bakers from across the nation, many of them repeat competitors, Hoskins says. The grand prize: $5,000 and a Sears range.

"Oh my gosh, it's like a family," Hoskins says. "It's fierce competition, but very friendly."

While we're on the topic, Saturday is National Pie Day. (For her part, Hoskins will be out and about in the Chicago area, delivering 300 pies to fire stations, police stations and elsewhere.) Go get some pie.

CHEFS CHOICE.jpg Comfort food. It's that time, right?

That overused phrase resonates when you're talking about First Slice, the nonprofit started eight years by chef Mary Ellen Diaz (right).

Diaz, in a nutshell, feeds Chicago's needy. The former North Pond Café chef has been doing this since 2001, first out of a church kitchen, then in her current space at the Lillstreet Art Center on North Ravenswood.

The core of First Slice is its subscriber food program. For $65, you get three meals a week for a family of three; that money helps pay for the same meals for 20 needy individuals. Proceeds from the café on Ravenswood, and from the First Slice foods on sale at Chicago's Downtown Farmstand, also help fund the program.

A few weeks ago, Diaz opened a second café inside the old Pumping Station at 163 E. Pearson.

It's Tourist Central, this new spot. Customers don't know that Diaz once headed the kitchen at North Pond, or that she left a pretty sweet gig at Lettuce Entertain You, or that her nonprofit has recently partnered with the Night Ministry to feed homeless kids on Wednesdays and Fridays (she's hoping to get some kids into her kitchen to learn the ropes). Customers don't know that the end goal of all of this expansion is to start a job-training program.

Customers come in looking for brochures, and pizza. Diaz doesn't mind. "They're more hungry," she says. "It's fine."

Most of Diaz's staff from North Pond have followed her. "That's a cool litle part of this program, too," she says. "And that's why our cooking is really good."

You'll find salads made with local greens and Michigan cherry pie year-round at First Slice Pie Café. Diaz puts up a lot of summer produce, just as she did in her white-tablecloth restaurant days. There's also quiche and cookies. And pizza. You know - comfort food.

Congratulations to Graham Elliot Bowles. He got married on Sunday, and as announced on his Twitter feed, marked the happy occasion with pie from Paula Haney's Hoosier Mama Pie Co. 4-21-09 Hein pies 2.jpg

Good man! We were all over the idea of wedding pie a few months ago. It makes so much sense. Pie is safe, pie comforts and yet, there is so much possibility in pie -- kind of how you want to start off your marriage, isn't it? And really, when's the last time you had to have seconds of a wedding cake because it was just that delicious?

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The pie-off is ON.

Hugh Amano, the unemployed but not un-busy chef/blogger and master of $18 (and less) dinners, will play host at a lakefront gathering of pie-bakers and eaters at 5 p.m. Sunday.

This is the second such gathering of perfect strangers organized by Amano. He hosted a potluck in April at his Edgewater apartment. Why? No offense to underground dinners (like the one we, uh, just mentioned in the previous post), but as Amano gently argued on his blog, "to some degree it's become another badge of hipster or foodie cred, with the real message potentially getting lost."

Amano is planning on bringing a "sausage ... and pepper and polenta and tomato and cheese-type of thing." He expects anywhere from 12 to 20 people -- and possibly more -- to show up, bearing an array of sweet and savory pies.

And, Amano says, if you are pieless but find yourself on the lakefront near Argyle Street on Sunday, join him.

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We hereby declare this the summer of pie.

Hugh Amano, he of the unemployed chef/blogger beat, is organizing a pie-off, fresh on the heels of his first successful potluck with strangers. Exact date and location TBA, but Amano is aiming for a late June lakefront shindig.

In September, we can look forward to the now famous, fifth annual Bucktown Apple Pie Contest, which draws hundreds of spectators.

But perhaps the most visible champion of pies is Hoosier Mama Pie maven Paula Haney. Foodies citywide rejoiced when she finally opened her stand-alone shop at 1618 1/2 W. Chicago in March.

Churning out sweet and savory pies is apparently only part of what Haney does. She gamely participated in our story on having pie for your wedding. And she's going to be a judge at a June 6 pie contest, part of a fundraiser for Blue Sky Inn, a job training program for homeless youths.

We first wrote about Blue Sky Inn's Lisa Thompson in 2007. Back then, she and a few youths worked out of a rented kitchen. They sold their baked goods at a few farmers markets. Some kids worked hard. Some stopped showing up.

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The program has since grown -- not by leaps and bounds, mind you, but in the nonprofit world, a little is a lot. A year ago, Thompson opened the Blue Sky Bakery & Café at 4749 N. Albany. She still only works with two to three youths at a time. The disappointments outnumber the success stories. Both of the youths interviewed in our story are still living in shelters; one of them was shot in the leg while leaving a GED class.

Thompson met Haney when both were working out of the rented kitchen. Haney had the overnight shift; Thompson and her crew would come in after her, around 6 a.m.

The two stayed in touch, and now Haney will help out at this fundraiser at Lush, 1257 S. Halsted. In addition to the pie contest, there will be picnic lunches up for auction, made by Charlie Trotter, Rick Bayless, Ina Pinkney and Randy Zweiban; and lots of wine. Admission is $12 the day of -- so even if you've never heard of Blue Sky Inn, well, it's only 12 bucks. And again, we're talking pie.

The backstory is pretty sweet, though, wouldn't you say?

Pie aromatherapy

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I once interviewed the supervisor of a lamb slaughterhouse. Asked the guy if, at the end of most days, he just hankered for a salad. (Not really, he said. "What did I eat when I got home yesterday? I ate sausage," he said.)

But say you worked at a pie shop. Would you tire of pie? Would you just want to go home and gnaw on a T-bone?

I ask because I'm back from a visit to Paula Haney's Hoosier Mama Pie Company, a slice (pardon the pun) of a storefront on Chicago Avenue in West Town. (Haney is helping us out on a story; look for it next week).

I ask because the aroma inside the shop intoxicates - that magical marriage of butter, sugar and flour, with hints of cinnamon, cloves, sweet cream, apples and general pastry goodness. You want to bathe in it. You want to bottle it up.

I ask, but you already know my answer, don't you?

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About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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