My neighbor has a laugh to behold. It booms out of her open window, a barking sound of joy with an exclamation point after each syllable. HA! HA! HA! HA! It is a laugh that is produced with the full body, not one born in the back of the throat or even the deep belly, but one that requires help from the toes, the wrists, the shoulders, the thighs to be produced. As I sit outside in the cool shade of my yard, I like to imagine all of that happiness and hilarity and surprise zipping through my neighbor’s veins, coursing up and down her limbs, through her core, before finally being sent out into the air in a thunderclap of expression.
Now I don’t actually know this neighbor. My early impressions of her, garnered from her impeccable garden, sleek car, and beautifully maintained house, were of stiffness and disapproval. I pictured her tall and lean, with sharp collarbones and short gray hair. The laugh, when I first heard it, seemed so incongruous with my assumptions that I decided it couldn’t possibly belong to her. No, I decided, it must belong to a boisterous friend of hers who comes to visit often. But as the weather warmed and I started to spend more and more of my evenings outside beneath her open windows, I was forced to conclude that the loose, generous laugh did indeed belong to the lady I had deemed so uptight and formal.
After living in my apartment for nearly 9 months, I finally came face to face with my laughing neighbor as I carried my recycling into the backyard. She was neither stern nor severe, but in fact looked like her laugh, full and strong and deep but somehow still light and free. We exchanged a brief greeting and as she smiled slyly at me I wondered if there’s a story that she tells herself about me, built on little details gathered from the strange parts of my life that she sees and hears from her second story home. I wondered what my laugh sounds like to her and if it matches my physical self as well as hers does.
These days when I hear my neighbor laugh, I have to laugh too. I laugh at my harsh judgements and the false surety I have in the stories I use to explain myself and others. I laugh because I still don’t know anything about this neighbor, only this one sound she makes when she’s happy. Mostly though, I laugh in appreciation of the goodness that flows out of her window, over the shrubby fence, and into my heart where I hold it for a second before releasing it back into the world from my own lips. HA! HA! HA! HA!
For the crust:
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. sugar
½ cup cold butter, cut into ½” cubes
5 to 8 tablespoons ice water
For the filling:
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
1 heaping cup baby bella mushrooms, roughly chopped
½ bunch asparagus, trimmed and roughly chopped
1 ½ tsp. salt (or to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. dried thyme (or 1 Tbls. fresh)
Hot pepper flakes, to taste (optional, but encouraged)
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
3/4 cup whole milk
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, and sugar. Using your fingers or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Add the water a few tablespoons at a time, mixing gently as you go, and stopping when the dough holds together. Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic, and place in the fridge to chill for at least 15 minutes, or up to one week.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook for another five minutes or so; then stir in the asparagus, 1 tsp. salt, and the rest of the seasonings. Sauté the veggies for a few minutes longer, until the asparagus is bright green and just slightly soft (think al dente – you don’t want it mushy or raw). Remove from heat, adjust seasonings, and let cool completely.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Take the pie crust from the fridge and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll the crust out to a 12" circle and carefully move into your pie dish. Gently fit the crust into the dish, folding the extra edges under and crimping as you like. Return the crust to the fridge for another 5 to 10 minutes.
Prick the bottom of the chilled pie crust all over with a fork. Lay a sheet of parchment paper over the crust and fill with pie weights or dried rice/beans. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove the weights and bake for another 7 to 10 minutes uncovered, until the bottom looks dry and the crust a light golden brown.
Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, beat together the eggs and the milk. Sprinkle in the rest of the salt and a few pinches of pepper. Transfer the veggies into the crust. Sprinkle on 2/3 of the cheese and then pour over the filling. Top with the rest of the cheese. Carefully move the quiche to the oven and bake for 45 minutes, until the crust is a deep brown and the filling is firm.