PI Day, Saint Patrick’s Day worthy of celebrations with food

Two distinctively American food-related holidays are upcoming. PI Day is March 14, and Saint Patrick’s Day in March 17.

PI Day honors the first three digits of the Greek letter PI, 3.14, used to measure a circle’s circumference or area. Many mathematicians honor 3.14 with competitions, such as who can recite the most digits in PI (3.14159 etc).

PI Day is low-keyed at Miami, but a big deal at Rochester Institute of Technology School of Mathematical Science, where my nephew teaches. Math students and staff either bake fruit pies or consume them as judges.

PI Day is an American holiday, because the rest of the world writes March 14 as 14.3, rather than 3.14, so not relatable to PI. And of course other languages don’t refer to a baked pastry as a “pie.”

We associate Saint Patrick’s Day with Ireland, but until recently the holiday has been a bigger deal in the United States than in Ireland. However, the day has become more important in Ireland as a celebration of national identity.

The food that Americans most associate with Saint Patrick’s Day — corned beef and cabbage — is an American creation. A friend here who was born and raised in Ireland was unfamiliar with corned beef and cabbage before he moved to America.

In Ireland, the animal product most likely consumed on Saint Patrick’s Day is lamb, or else seafood. Irish immigrants living in New York’s Lower East Side ghetto got the idea by buying corned beef from nearby Jewish kosher butchers also in the ghetto.

I decided to jointly observe both PI Day and the Irish version of Saint Patrick’s Day by making a shepherd’s pie made with local lamb. Local lamb is relatively hard to find around here, but MOON Co-op Grocery has lamb from Oxford’s Aurora Blue Farm.

Aurora Blue Farm lamb is available either ground or in small cubes. I pulverized 1 pound of lamb cubes in the food processor along with local onion and garlic, available at the Oxford Farmers Market, even in winter.

Next step was to brown the lamb mixture in oil. I also pulverized some local chard and added that to the pan. Chard is green, so it added the suitable Saint Patrick’s color to the pie filling.

Some shepherd’s pies go heavy with tomato sauce, but tomatoes are not in season, so I just used a couple of spoonfuls of tomato paste. I also like using Guided By Mushrooms powder to thicken the sauce.

Meanwhile, mashed potatoes need to be cooked. Two potatoes produced the right match for the 1 pound of lamb.

Time to assemble the pie. The lamb mixture goes in first, and is then completely covered by the mashed potatoes.

I like to decorate the top by making ridges in the mashed potatoes with a fork, then sprinkling parsley and paprika on top. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes until bubbling but not overflowing.

MOON Co-op is Oxford’s consumer-owned full-service grocery, featuring natural, local, organic, sustainable, and Earth-friendly products. The store, located at 516 S. Locust St. in Oxford, is open to the public every day. See it online at www.mooncoop.coop.