March 14, 2015 at 9:26:53 a.m – That’s the time to start celebrating.
Back in 1988, I doubt that physicist Larry Shaw of the Exploratorium in San Francisco had any idea what a phenomenon Pi Day would become when he decided to start celebrating March 14 as the day to recognize the importance of the mathematical and physical constant. For a food blogger with a scientist father, the idea of a math-themed holiday with a food tie-in is a dream come true. For the past several years I’ve had the intention of doing a Pi Day post, but this year it was a must. Why? Because this is Super Pi Day – or Pi Day of the Century as Penzey’s has dubbed it.
[cryout-pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”33%”]The first ten digits of π are 3.141592653[/cryout-pullquote]
Pi Day is always celebrated on 3/14 because those are the first three digits of π. This year we can go several digits further on 3/14/15. If you really want to geek it out, you can snap a picture of yourself at 9:26:53 AM to add another five digits. Until recently it was a geeky holiday that was more of an amusement than something that mattered to most of us. Lately science, math and reason have come under attack from those would like to prevent the rest of us from accepting hard truths like Global Warming.
So, why is this all important to you? To answer that I turned to my physicist father. He wrote an answer that I wanted to share with you.
You probably first heard of the number named by the Greek letter, pi, in about seventh grade. Using the Greek alphabet, it is π. Unless you went on into geometry and science you may never have encountered it again, but π is not just a mathematical curiosity—it is a number that expresses a fundamental property of the real world we live in.
A circle is made up of a line that curves to remain the same distance from a point—the center of the circle. The distance around this curved line (the circumference) is π times the diameter (a line from one place on the circumference through the center to the opposite side).
If you are making a wheel, you need π to tell you how long to cut the rim in comparison to the spokes. If you are decorating a circular wedding-reception table and want to know how much fabric is required to make a skirt for it, just measure the diameter and multiply by π. If you are calculating the radius of the electron orbit in a hydrogen atom, you need π.
My point is that π is a fact of science, a fact about the real world we live in, a fact that so far as I know is never disputed. In fact, its value is known to an accuracy of ten trillion digits (really, no exaggeration), and people who have nothing better to do and have big computers keep calculating it to ever greater accuracy. Here I will not write out all the digits, and since π is just a little bigger than 3.14, I’ll write it as 3.14+.
On the other hand, many similarly important facts, facts critical to the quality of our lives are not similarly accepted and used for the betterment of humanity. Global warming and the associated climate change cannot be expressed as a single number like π, but its reality and the dire effects it is having on our planet are clear and well proven. It’s a fact as surely as π = 3.14+. Just like π, it’s exact extent is not known, but it is known well enough to know its consequences.
What if every time you switched on your TV you heard commercials paid for by a company that would profit if π were 3.0 instead of 3.14+ They tell you that π is not what the expert mathematicians have found, but is in fact 3.0. They tell you and your fellow citizens many times a day that π equals 3.0. They tell you that the people who say it’s 3.14+ are criminals, and they file lawsuits to harass the experts just to enhance their own profits. What if they argued with the school textbook authors and threatened to sue them unless they wrote “ π = 3.0.”
Some people would believe them. Wheels would have gaps in their rims. The skirts for wedding reception tables would not fit anymore.
What actually happens every day concerning global warming is that oil, coal and other companies that profit from polluting our atmosphere with tons of carbon dioxide and other materials that cause global warming tell us on TV and in other media that there’s no problem; the earth isn’t warming; the scientists are crazy. And then because lots of people believe them, they allow their elected representatives to do whatever the oil and coal companies want. They are just puzzled when the ocean rises and floods New York City (hurricane Sandy), when the Arctic ice nearly disappears (every summer now), when glaciers nearly or completely disappear (happening right this minute), when the seas turn acidic and coral reefs die (yep, happening right now), when the western half of your county experiences record droughts and the price of our food rises (really bad for several years now), and when diseases that used to be confined to the tropics have invaded our formerly temperate country (cysticercosis, echinococcus, toxocariasis, dengue, West Nile virus, Chagas and more) .
Let this π day remind us all that we live in a world where the laws of nature are clear and constant. If we understand and use them wisely, we can have round wheels for our chariots and lovely skirted wedding reception tables. We can have a world that slowly stops its excess warming. If we allow greedy, unscrupulous people to obscure the laws of nature and make up fictional laws to benefit only themselves, then we will have a world that grows less habitable as each day passes until our children have only us to blame.
Let’s defend the real value of π and say, “It’s 3.0 over my cold dead body,” and let’s defend the science of global warming and at the ballot box tell the politicians who run our country and the world to do what they need to do to stop and remedy it. Do it now.
So, to celebrate Pi day on this most important of all Pi Days, I give you the Coconut-Lime Icebox Pie. I’ve been working on this recipe for a few months. One of my all-time favorite pies is the Key Lime pie. Like it’s cousin the lemon icebox pie, these pies are usually made by combining sweetened condensed milk with citrus juice and raw egg yolks. The citrus reacts with the egg yolk, thickening the mixture up to a rich custard. It’s wonderful, magical and utterly delicious.
However, large numbers of people do not want to (or can’t) eat raw eggs. I wanted a similar recipe that could be made safe to eat. First I played around with cooked custards. They worked, but were tricky and prone to end up as scrambled eggs. If I eliminated the eggs altogether I could lighten up the pie and make it safer. My pie epiphany came to me while sipping on a rum drink last summer. I could replace the sweetened condensed milk with a homemade coconut creme and then use gelatin to thicken the whole mixture. Then not only would I get the tang of lime juice, but I would also get the sweet creaminess of coconut.
After a whole lot of testing (and a bit of an education in gelatin), I came up with this recipe. In addition to the tang of lime, Greek yogurt is also used. It not only adds a little tang, but brings a lot of creaminess with it. I love the flavor of chocolate graham crackers here, but you could certainly use traditional graham crackers too. I think this pie is perfect just as it is, but you can certainly pile a mountain of fresh whipped cream on top of it you want. Either way, I think you will agree it is the perfect way to celebrate Pi day or any day. Enjoy!
Lime not your thing? Try one of these other pie recipe to help you celebrate Pi day in style:
- Peanut Butter Meringue Pie
- River Bottom Pecan Pie
- Chili Tamale Pie
- Spring Strawberry Pie from Cooking Light
- Mississippi Mud Pie from Cooking Light
- Chicken and Root Vegetable Pot Pie from Cooking Light
- English Cottage Pie from Cooking Light
- 1 cup low-fat greek yogurt
- 1/4 cup lime juice (from 1-2 limes)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons lime zest (from about 1 lime)
- 1 teaspoon natural coconut flavoring or vanilla
- 1 tablespoon or 1 package gelatin
- 1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup light coconut milk
- 9 chocolate graham cracker sheets, 1 package
- 4 tablespoons melted butter
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine sugar and chocolate graham cracker sheets in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until evenly ground. Pour melted butter over the top and pulse several times until the butter is evenly combined and the mixture resembles wet sand. Transfer the crumbs to a pie plate and press down into the plate until the crust is even across the bottom and sides. You can use the back of a flat bottomed measuring cup to help press the crumbs firmly into place. Bake for 12-14 minutes until the crust is fragrant. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
- While the crust is baking, combine lime juice, lime zest vanilla or coconut flavoring and yogurt in a mixing bowl. Sprinkle one packet of gelatin evenly over the top of the yogurt and allow it to sit for five minutes. Stir the gelatin into the yogurt mixture and set aside.
- Combine the coconut milk and sugar in a small saucepan and set over medium heat. Bring to a simmer stirring frequently. Carefully pour the coconut milk into the yogurt mixture and stir for several minutes until completely mixed together and the gelatin has dissolved. Pour the mixture into the prepared pie shell and allow to cool slightly. Move to a refrigerator for at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours. Serve with fresh whipped cream if desired.