Happy Owl is Extra Happy Today!

Today marks the official debut of Happy Owl’s Sweet Bean Pie, and it went swimmingly! Hosted by Victoria’s Fancy Foods in Severna Park, Happy Owl set up a sampling table amongst the salsas and rubs. Like at the Faux Trade Show, customer response was overwhelmingly positive. I do believe I made a few converts today. We had mini pies (pie-ettes? pie-inis?) for sale to stick our toes in the water, but 9″ pies are already on the books.

Here they are going into the convection oven. Aren’t they cute?

Sweet Bean Mini PiesAnd here is our sampling space; bean pies hobnobbing with spices and jams:

Serendipitously, I received a mystery package in the mail today. Waiting for me when I got home was something fabulous: this handmade home-crafted Happy Owl homage wall-hanging, courtesy of a friend and fan. Perfect timing!

Victoria’s will have a limited supply of bean pies on hand. Or, they may be special-ordered through Victoria’s Fancy Foods, or by contacting me directly here at Bean Pie and Baking.

Happy Owl Baking’s Sweet Bean Pie makes its official debut!

I am happy to announce that Happy Owl Baking will make its official debut on Saturday, May 12, 2012 as part of Victoria’s Fancy Foods Saturday Tastings Series.

Victoria’s Fancy Foods is a cool little shop that sells meats, cheeses, and lots of gourmet products that you’ve probably been wondering where on earth you could find without driving to…well, honestly, who knows where else you could find this kind of stuff around here. We’re in the ‘burbs, baby, so it’s a good thing Victoria’s has done all the legwork for you. She, Victoria herself, has also hand-picked a very accessible selection of domestic and international wines.  She’s a Certified Wine Specialist, so trust her. And if you’re a suspicious son of a gun and don’t want to trust her, then come to the free wine tastings. She has them, and a whole bunch of other stuff, on her calendar —  including my bean pie on Saturday, May 12, so check out her website for more info. www.victoriasfancyfoods.com.

What I dig about this shop is her emphasis on  “clean food” — food that has been “produced, grown or raised completely naturally.” Click here to see her discussion of clean food on her blog www.localcleanfood.com.  She does a lot of local sourcing and she also happens to be the pick-up point for several CSA’s — makes it all super easy.

So come out and say hi on Saturday, May 12 from 1:00-4:00. Victoria’s is tucked into a shopping center on Ritchie Highway in Severna Park, MD, so if you haven’t been there before, keep your eyes peeled! It’s in the same shopping strip that has Poor Boy’s Steakhouse.

The deets: Victoria’s Fancy Foods, 350 Ritchie Highway, Severna Park, MD (410) 384-9463

Why bean pie?

Your Black Muslim Bakery Photo, Oakland, CA

Whenever I try to explain the kind of baking I want to do, it always comes back to bean pie. So, bean pie is where I will start.

Bean pie seems to have Southern roots, but I know of  it because I grew up not too far from a Your Black Muslim Bakery. I lived in Emeryville, California and at that time Emeryville was the raggedy jumble where the edges of Berkeley petered out but Oakland hadn’t quite picked up yet. We were the fringe, a slim section of San Pablo Ave. that was ratty but not necessarily dangerous.  All the cars were junky and the houses had panache, which is what houses have when nothing matches and half your stuff comes from thrifting.  Some of us were white, some Mexican, some black, but all of us were pretty broke and we all ambled along together, everyone pretty much minding their own business. That’s how it works on the fringe.

The Black Muslim Bakery was not much further down San Pablo Avenue from where I lived on 64th Street and it was a funky, run-down, exotic place to a kid fresh from the humid, lightning-bug summers of Bucks County, Pennsylvania. It wasn’t much but a tiny storefront with a counter where you ordered. They only had about 10 different things, and none of them made much sense: prune cake, honey carrot muffins, tofu burgers, fish sandwiches. And bean pie. All of the baked goods were cool, but it was the bean pie which fascinated me.  My mom would bring back a bag of stuff from their “day-old” section and there they would be, in clear plastic bags with twisty ties and ordinary white mailing labels where the branding should be.  It looked like the kind of stuff you would buy at a bake sale if the bake sale were run by plain-looking, somber women dressed in  faded single-color caftans and elaborately twisted cotton turbans to hide their hair. Later they jazzed up their packaging a bit (see photo below), but I remember them from back in the day.

Your Black Muslim Bakery products

"Your Black Muslim Bakery" baked goods in later years.

Those baked goods were the good stuff to me. I loved their strange, stark packaging, and the way the whole ingredient list could fit in the space where someone’s address should go: “flour, oil, eggs, honey, baking soda, cinnamon.” That’s all it took. That’s all they needed to make it work. So simple, so elemental, and so good. The simplicity in the design became the footprint of baking for me.

Even from the day-old section we didn’t see those goodies too often and things got pretty crazy at that house in Emeryville sooner rather than later. It wasn’t too long before I was spending most of my time over in Albany, a 30 minute bus ride down San Pablo Avenue in the opposite direction.  Albany — pretty, tidy, happy little Albany with the good schools and the nice librarians —  was my ticket out of Emeryville, away from Oakland and Black Muslim bakeries, and bean pie.

As I grew older I would make my way over to the Black Muslim Bakery every now and again, but it was always a strange sort of experience. It wasn’t my neighborhood anymore, and it wasn’t my mom bringing the stuff home in a paper bag.  Even so, bean pie was always in the back of my mind. I always thought that they were the coolest kind of baked goods even though they were more of a memory than anything else. The Black Muslim Bakeries had some bad years, then some very bad years, and then in 2008 they went under completely and were under investigation for corruption, torture, assault, murder, and more. Part of this long, sad, scandalous, tangled web was in the papers within the last year, but that’s a story for another day.