Posted by: zhak39 | October 5, 2005


“Hmmm rhummm chrrruhmmmm.”

No, you won’t find that one in the dictionary. It’s the closest I can get to the deep throaty sigh of satisfaction my father-in-law makes when he tastes something that he really likes. I don’t know why I always pause a moment after serving a meal to my in-laws, waiting for that small seal of approval. It’s not that he’s a picky eater–like many people who went through the hard times of the 20th century, Richard eats what is given, cleans his plate, and after every meal levels his weary green eyes with mine and says “Hm. Thanks.”

Maybe it’s because the men on my husband’s side of the family tend not to be demonstrative. Perhaps it’s because they are not easy to please. Sometimes it’s not even the presentation or the taste of a dish that prevents their full enjoyment but the suspicion that I slipped something foreign or funky onto their plate like wasabi or anchovy paste. In my kitchen I have developed a ‘don’t ask don’t tell policy.’

This is far from the atmosphere where I grew up. My family is a strange cross of New England reserve and one-generation-off-the-boat southern European excess. Just think of the possibilities in such a connection. Henry James repression meets Mediterranean melodrama. Ah-yup meets Whaddaya, whaddaya? Synergism is Scary.

But in our case, it worked. Each side tickled and tempered the other. The quiet became more complementary, appreciation out of the closet. The gregarious became more spacious, less force increased its depth. Graciousness need not always be expressed with averted eyes and bowed heads, nor with falling plaster and ringing eardrums. Both styles demostrate that there is so much to be celebrated, so many gifts, so much good and it touches everyone as it bubbles naturally to the surface; sparkling overflow. In my family, fabulous flavors stagger conversation. One person or another saying ‘ooh, try this, wonderful,’ then the dialogue goes on.

It took me awhile to catch on to the nuances of appreciation in the new extension of family I gained when I married my husband. I think the ‘aha’ came one night almost three years into the marriage. The kids and I were staying with my husband’s parents while he was out of town. I had taken over the kitchen (as I kind-of-sort-of do). As it was late in the week, I had played alchemist with leftovers.

“Hmmm rhummm chrrruhmmmm.”

That wonderful sound. This time after just one bite those green eyes were leveled across the table.

“This is good,” offered Richard.

“Thank you,” I said, smiling.

“I’ve seen some of what’s in this, but I’ve never had this before. Another one of those things you dreamed up?”

“Oh, no. Whenever my mother had leftover ham she would always made a couple,” I answered.

“Hm,” he answered looking down and rounding up another forkful. “So, if you didn’t make it up, what’s it called?”

“Qui-” I start to say when my mother-in-law interrupted.

“Ham and Cheese Pie,” she announced.

Richard was already concentrating again on his plate when she leaned over and whispered in my ear–

“Real men don’t eat quiche.”

I can’t improve on the quiche Laurie featured in ….slowly she turned. I do have a recipe for pastry that I always use for quiche. It is oven hardy, specifically for dishes that will be baked for an extenced period. It stands up well to liguid fillings, such as pumpkin pie. The two keys are the mixture of butter and shortening and the resting period in the refridgerator. Butter adds flavor but it has a lower melting point. The shortening stands up to the heat longer allowing the crust to develop air spaces, those pastry-like layers. The stand in the refridgerator keeps the crust from becoming rubbery.

For one 9″ shell


1/2 c chilled butter
3 Tbls vegetable shortening (or my brother prefers lard)


2 c flour
1/2 tsp of salt

I do this really lightly with my fingers. As the butter and shortening begin to get smaller, scoop up a handful and roll between the palms of both hands. The idea is to get the butter/shortening in small pieces that are covered with the flour. When the crust is heated, the fat ‘cooks’ the flour, making it in crisp layers.

When this mixture is all crumbly, kind of like cornmeal, make a well in the center. Drip in

4 Tbls ice cold water

Use your index finger to draw the flour mixture into the water using a spiral motion. As you reach the edge of the bowl, put in

1Tbls ice cold water

This is the only ‘tricky’ part of making a pie dough. You don’t want to handle it too much, you don’t want it to dry, you don’t want it too wet. Guess what? You want it just right. How do you know when it’s just right? Practice! The dough should be soft and press into a ball, not crumbling, but also not sticking to your fingers. If necessary, add

1TBls ice cold water

Put the dough ball into the refridgerator covered with a tea towel for 2 to 36 hours. For the longer period, use a wet towel.

Roll and shape as you need.


  1. LOL! Sandy won’t eat quiche. But he’ll eat a cheese omelet in a heartbeat. Maybe I should rename it, but I’ve made so many quiches over the course of our marraige that I don’t think that I can get away with it.

  2. Well that’s OK. More for me.

  3. Dear Zha K

    Everyone in the family knows that you are a good writer, why aren’t you writing this as a guest column in your local paper or magazine?

    Keep writing we enjoy it a lot.

    Lots of Love

  4. What a wonderful idea!

    Let me officially announce to anyone who enjoys this blog and has a finger in publishing–I AM AVAILABLE.

  5. Found your site through laurie… I love it too! By the way, her quiche was very good. I got to eat some of it in class!

    I Love the way you turn cooking into even more of an art than it already is by making it poetic like this. IT’s great.

  6. George–

    I’m always happy to welcome someone in my kitchen. Thanks for coming and for your kind words. I hope you come back again soon.

    Zha K

  7. The way you write about food and cooking is so inspiring. From one of the family who didn’t get the gene, your prose makes me want to cook! Same way I get inspired looking at full-page, full color, “fine dishes” in great cookbooks. Cooking gene deprived people need incentive!
    luv ya, k

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