The band’s touring through Boston this week, so I’ve been staying at my parents’ house for a couple of days. On our first few tours, we all stayed here. We’d park the van in the driveway, and the concerned neighbors would call my parents to make sure we weren’t some gang of stylish banditos looking for suburban silver. Then as soon as we could tumble out of the van, we’d go straight to the fridge for some home cooking.
This week, I am the lone guest. (The band is at a hotel downtown, recovering from last night’s after-party.) And when I walked into the house yesterday afternoon, starving after a hard yoga class, I found a tableau typical of my mom’s kitchen: a crust-less quiche lay cooling next to chicken baked with apricots; a rectangular plate perfectly framed steamed asparagus; a split turkey breast reveled in a bath of olive oil and herbs.
It’s no wonder I love to cook and to eat. For as long as I can remember, my whole family sat down to a home-cooked dinner together almost every night until my brother went to college.
Except when I was in middle school. My sixth grade year, my mom had cancer, and it spotlighted how important food was in our lives. She began researching alternative approaches to nutrition, and took charge of feeding us organic, whole foods. While other kids toted Fruit Roll-Ups and PB&J to school for lunch, I had sliced sulfite-free turkey breast on rice cakes with a hard-boiled egg and celery.
So while we as a family experimented with excluding dairy, or soy, or wheat, or tomatoes from our diets, kind friends and neighbors would drop meals off for us a few days a week until my mom recovered. It was like the dietary version of peeping in people’s windows. And I’ll tell you: my mom was onto something, because we ate better than almost everybody. Once you develop a taste for quality, fresh ingredients and real food, you never lose it.
The other thing that happened during my mom’s illness was that I started cooking. It began with the stir-fries we would buy from Whole Foods and pull out of the freezer. (And I confess that I’m still sick of stir-fry, a decade and a half later.) And when my mom healed, food bonded us together. For us, cooking remains a source of health and nourishment and a creative outlet. We happily sit at the kitchen table and swap recipes to this day, or email each other good finds from across the country.
Never one to follow a recipe exactly (a trait I have very much inherited), my mom has an impressive stable of tasty, simple meals that she makes with quality organic ingredients. Here’s one she adapted from a Lillian Chow recipe from Gourmet.
Take a bite!
Crust-less Quiche with Asparagus, Ham, and Onions
- 1 ½ tbsp. dry plain bread crumbs (easily replaced with gluten-free bread crumbs or a sprinkling of gluten-free flour)
- 2/3 cup chopped onions
- 2/3 cup chopped ham
- 2/3 cup steamed asparagus, cut into ½-inch pieces, using tips for garnish
- 2 cups shredded Emmantaler cheese (or Gruyere)
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup whole milk
- ½ tsp pepper
Pre-heat oven to 400F with rack in the middle. Butter a 10-inch quiche or pie dish and dust with breadcrumbs. Sautee ham and onions in butter in a heavy-skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until onions are pale golden, about 5 minutes. Steam asparagus until bright green. Then remove from steamer and shock in cold water. Chop into 1/2 –inch pieces, reserving a few asparagus tips for garnish. Spread onion mixture and asparagus in dish, and evenly sprinkle shredded cheese on top. Whisk together eggs, cream, milk, and pepper and pour over cheese. Place a few asparagus tips on top for garnish. Bake until top is golden and custard is set in center, 20-25 minutes. Cool before cutting into wedges.