Meet Mina Kitchen, a forty-something single who likes to cook – and cook and cook. In fact, her zest for whipping up trays of canapés is dwarfed only by her weird luck and mountain-lion size tabby cat, Vinnie. That, and her godmom’s tendency for blackmailing new members into joining St. Bart’s. Okay, maybe Mina’s Swiffer-addicted neighbor, Vito, is a bit weird, too. As if all that wasn’t enough, Mina’s a Jersey girl transplanted in the midst of the Amish-flavored countryside of Lancaster, PA.
Things get really complicated when she learns that her neighbor Vito is in a witness protection program, and her dry cleaner deals in prescription samples. Throw in a few mysterious flaming feces flingers and a fuse box labeled in Arabic, and you have a recipe for catering disorders.
Kitchen Addiction! will keep you smiling when you’re not LOL-ing.
Set in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, you’ll find a surprising cast of characters, humorous plot twists, red herrings and actual recipes. Well, some of the recipes are real. The others you might to take with a pinch of salt, and some Tums.
Targeted Age Group:: 30+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
It started with the true life mystery surrounding my real Great Grandma, Mina Kitchen… and ended up with my marrying my knight in shining Armetale, Chef Andrew Mark.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I combine various aspects of friends, family and strangers… and name my characters after family – sometimes pets.
I leaned my face against the screen door until my forehead waffled. I smelled onions, peppers and kielbasa cooking in my kitchen. Again.
I come home for lunch every day to feed my cat and my cockatiel and sometimes myself. With the exception of my pets, I live alone. And with the other exception of my neighbor Vito, who’s usually here. Like now. Vito’s retired, a good guy, and considers himself a bit too much like family. Which means he’s in my kitchen more than I am.
I bought the townhouse from Vito over a year ago and still can’t summon up the chutzpah to make him relinquish his spare key. Or to change the locks, in case of hurt feelings. But that’s mostly for sentimental reasons. Or as Ma puts it, seventy mental reasons.
My half of our adjoined homes belonged to Vito’s late wife Marie, who went on her final shopping trip to the HomeWares in the sky long before she could feather the ‘Her’ part of the ‘His and Her’ nests they’d bought as retirement presents for each other.
But that’s me. Sentiment matters and anything resembling a hard cold fact hangs out in the lunch meat drawer until the fuzzy stuff complains. This outlook sometimes frustrates my executive-style Ma, who’s from the no-nonsense style Bronx. Ma scraped her way up, with and without Dad, to pearl-earringed Ridgewood, New Jersey. She lost her Bronx accent long ago and hates it when environmental factors sometimes kick my ‘Joisey’ into gear. When my sister and I were kids, the only thing that gave Ma away were the occasional screams accompanying a wooden spoon upside our heads. Other than that, she seems perfectly L. L. Bean.
I’m Mina Kitchen – Mina being short for Wilhelmina. I’m named after a great-grandmother I never met and plan to thank in the hereafter by prodding a heavenly fork in her virtual side. Not because of inheriting her weird name, or even weirder nickname. It’s mostly for inheriting her oddball catering disorder.
Family legend still regales Fat Friday of ’55. Great-Grandma Mina – Dad’s grandma – invited neighbors for a dinner that included a 25-pound turkey with all the trimmings. Which would have been fine, except the turkey dinner was prefaced by a ham, hot dogs, lasagna, meat loaf, barbeque ribs, roast beef and Yorkshire puddings, stuffed cabbage, stuffed shells, stuffed grape leaves, moussaka, and a pork and sauerkraut casserole. And three different kinds of bread. And rolls. And salads. And don’t forget the carrot Jell-O mold. And never mind the appetizers served with the cocktails and hand-made bar trimmings before that. But I wax foodie; I love this story. It always ends happily ever after with, “And no one was able to roll away from the table until eleven o’clock that night.” Although that might have been because Grandma Mina served one pie per guest, just to balance out the trays of blintzes and ice cream and all.
For the record, the legendary guests to Fat Friday included: Mr. and Mrs. DeMicco; Yorgios and Hale Papadopoulos, with their toddler and Gramma Papadopoulos; Bob Dietrich and his secretary Cheryl; and Sid and Sally Klingenbaum with their newly barmitzvahed triplets. Whether Great-Grandma cooked all that food to impress, or because she was diversity sensitive, we’ll never know. All we know is that this was the first and last time Bumpa – my great-grandpa – let her cook for large and/or diverse crowds. They still had some humdinger dinner parties post-Fat Friday, Ma says. But Bumpa put the spatula down about Mina’s cooking for more than four guests. From then on, only bonafide caterers covered neighborhood parties. Bumpa’s heartburn couldn’t handle the menus, plural.
I gritted my teeth, accepted my household and entered. The smoke alarm went off, the cockatiel shrieked and Vito jumped up and down at the smoke detector with a potholder in one hand and a giant Modess pad in the other. I walked to the back of the kitchen and opened the screen door, and turned on the exhaust fan. The air was confettied with cockatiel fluff. I was also pretty sure it was sizzling in the pan alongside the kielbasa. Just another normal lunch in my abnormal household.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry, Toots,” Vito apologized in his usual triplicate. “I just gotta ask you to do this favor for me, so I thought I’d pay up front and make yous a nice, hot lunch.”
Of course that was precisely what I wanted, it being August and feeling like 1,000 degrees. Vito’s heart was in the right place. But I sometimes wondered what occupied the space his brains were supposed to rent.
“Anyways, I got an extra load of dry cleaning I was hoping you’d take over for me,” Vito explained, waving the giant Modess pad at the smoke detector. I looked closer. It was a Swiffer pad. “I was gonna do a quick Swiffer after lunch.” He blushed. I’d finally broken down and bought a Swiffer Wet Jet last April and it was still Vito’s favorite toy. My rugs and furniture might be full of bird fluff and kitty fur but you can eat off my kitchen floor most any day, thanks to Vito.
Sadly, Vito is also a dry cleaning junkie. I don’t know why he owns this many dry clean only clothes. But unquestioning schnook that I am, I make a few runs a week to the dry cleaner for him. I drive past it on the way to work anyway, so it’s no biggie. And what the heck, it accrues bonus Swiffer points for me, too.
“Sure,” I said. “I’ll pick up Monday’s drop-off, too.”
“Well sure, you wouldn’t want to pick something up without dropping something off. It confuses people.”
“Right…” I said and grabbed a bunch of carrots out of the fridge, then went to the sink to wash and slice them. I had to. It was the only available produce.
Vito shook his head. “Tough week?” he asked. I sighed and nodded.
I’m the office manager for Executive Enterprises for Job Intuitive Technologies, otherwise known as EEJIT. This morning was the usual – I’d spent the better part of it listening to a litany of complaints from my boss Howard, in counterpoint to Roger Stumpf’s emailed inventory of grievances. Roger is EEJIT’s area rep for our largest client, Buy-A-Lots. Roger spends most of his time in Buy-A-Lots’ regional office, which is located near some farmlands outside of York, toward Baltimore. Consequently, Roger emails a lot of requests, and complaints. Roger helps Buy-A-Lots exec folk use EEJIT’s sales and marketing software, Predict-O, which is supposed to make lots of little Buy-A-Lots pop up all across the country. Sometimes they even wind up across the street from each other, like a nice tight knit Old World family.
So, at the end of most weeks, I mostly want to forget about my boss and his star employee and sauté something. It’s making me become an increasingly reluctant office manager, which could be a problem. The pay is okay; my boss is not. This set up also fuels the maternal fires back in Jersey. Ma just can’t understand why I work where I’m “so obviously unappreciated.” I keep reminding her there’s this little thing called a mortgage, complicated by monthly supplies of Cockatiel Clusters and Kitty Cookies, not to mention the occasional happy hour. And there’s also my own inertia.
What this all boils down to is when all is well at EEJIT, I’m invisible and I like it that way. But when anything goes wrong, I’m the goat. As a result, my catering disorder usually peaks by Fridays. Luckily, on some weekends, my friends ask me to cater their parties. So far, it’s gone like clockwork. Mostly.
While Great-Grandma Mina’s catering crazies tried to please a broad spectrum of people, mine are about soothing a broad spectrum of stress. The more stressed I get, the louder I up the food volume. My familial claim to catering disorders was when my college roommate asked me to give a dinner party for her and her fiancé to celebrate their engagement and new digs. Her mother, father, sister and aunt arrived. His father and mother arrived. I served up 8 trays of canapés, 9 different cheeses, 4 vegetable crudités trays and 3 sushi platters followed by a buffet of beef stroganoff, chicken curry, vegetable risotto, Caesar salad and a jar of homemade pickled beets per person. To this day, I have not lived it down. Especially the pickled beets.
The basement door banged loudly. I glanced across. Two large, furry white paws held the bottom of the door and shook it for all it was worth. “I think Vinnie’s hungry,” Vito said, stepping back, armed with his spatula and his trusty Swiffer pad.
Last summer my best friend, Trixie, deposited Vinnie at my front doorstep. Trixie’s an ER nurse who works the graveyard shift and every other shift in-between. Vinnie is a cat who used to belong to the old lady who lived in the apartment upstairs from Trixie. Her neighbor moved onward and upward to what we hoped was a heavenly condo in the sky. Her last wish, which she told Trixie during her final trip to the ER, was for Trixie to find a home for her Vincent if she left the planet before he did.
So now Vincent is my very large orange tabby. To put him in perspective, he looks like a small mountain lion. To keep his ego in perspective, I call him Vinnie. He has white tuxedo markings, white mittens and socks and impossibly large blue eyes. Unfortunately his right eye is slightly crossed, which we figure is the reason for some depth perception issues. Like when he leaps from table to floor and a lamp or toaster gets in the way.
I grabbed some Smackerel Mackerels – Vinnie’s favorite treat – and slid my leg across the door to keep him in the basement for the moment. “Here,” I said, putting some of the treats on the top step in front of a pair of large, glowing eyes.
“Fhwankyoo,” he said, and began crunching.
I closed the door to the basement and poured myself some ginger ale. I figured that would wash down the bird fluffed kielbasa and eggs pretty good. And besides, it was the only cold beverage I had in the fridge except for a few stray beers and a swig of cranberry juice.
The phone rang. Marie screamed, held onto her perch and flapped her wings in a demented attempt to lift off, cage and all. Vito looked frantically for a pan cover, and waved the Swiffer pad at Marie and the cloud of nuclear fluff hovering over the stove.
I coughed and answered the phone.
“Oh, I got you at home!” It was Ma. I’d been coming home for lunch everyday since I bought the place last year and she still acted surprised when I answered the phone. “I just wanted you to know I’m sending some swatches in the mail,” she began.
I gazed at my Technicolor walls reprovingly. Traitors. Ma’s visit last Easter left her horrified when she realized my walls matched my psychedelic Easter eggs. Ever since then, the walls have been on Ma’s side and continue to fink me out.
My walls are lacquered in various nail polish colors – tangerine, lilac, electric blue and some kind of silverish geometric wallpaper – by various flavors of tenants; Vietnamese, Lithuanian, and apparently some kind of Middle Eastern judging by the Arabic lettering on the fuse box in the garage. I also have multiple cable hook-ups in each and every room – including the bathroom and downstairs powder room. Why the powder room is anyone’s guess: who watches TV in the potty?
I also wonder if my house might be under some kind of Homeland Security surveillance, because sometimes I hear clicking sounds when I’m on a long distance phone call.
Anyway, from what Vito’s told me, it wasn’t his sainted Marie’s fault that she didn’t get around to redecorating after they bought both houses. According to Vito, her last stroll in my backyard ended with a fatal stroke before she could switch her swatch. So I was pretty sure she was forwarding heavenly paint ideas at Ma. You know what they say: those we lose are always with us. I just didn’t think they were supposed to be only a paint swatch away.
Ma’s been mailing me paint swatches since I’ve moved in. No notes, no messages. Just swatches. I finally stopped opening them and stashed the envelopes in the bread drawer.
“Thanks, I’ll look out for them,” I lied. “I gotta go, though, I’ll be late back from lunch. Bye.” I rang off.
“I can get the clean stuff from you before the Brethren Breakfast tomorrow,” Vito continued, setting a dinner plate full of the fluffed egg mess in front of me.
I looked at him blankly.
“You forgot, didn’t you?” Vito asked.
He was right. I’d completely forgotten about the Brethren Breakfast. Tomorrow was the third Saturday of the month, which meant it was St. Bart’s turn.
St. Bart’s Episcopal Church is my godmother’s church. Aunt Muriel is a card-carrying Episcopalian. (Really – they honest-to-God give you a card. I guess it’s in case you’re proofed.)
Aunt Muriel was and is Ma’s best friend since they both crawled out of the swamp somewhere around the dawn of time. They’d even evolved from the Bronx together soon after high school graduation. Long before I was born, Muriel and Louise slipped into power suits and accent-free white collar voices like second skins. A couple of divorces and a few broken glass ceilings later, they are success stories. Ma belies her years and generation as a freakishly astute techno nerd. There isn’t a piece of digital wizardry she hasn’t test driven or owned. This explains her fast-tracked VP position at SUZ, a top tier IT company. It also explains her sometimes being slightly embarrassed about me. I’m not quite a Luddite; I just refuse to own a cell phone and still play vinyl.
Aunt Muriel, on the other hand, invested in diamonds: specifically engagement rings. Aunt Muriel married well and divorced better, more than once. This last time she has remained single, much to Uncle Max’s chagrin, considering their prenuptial agreement.
What this all means is that I’m the guarded offspring while Ma lives in Jersey and Aunt Muriel paves my way in the land of the Amish, where she moved with poor old Uncle Max. Here’s to lucky seven.
Lizz Lund loves Lancaster. Since 1999, she’s been having a terrific time here and thinks everyone else should, too. She is a newlywed and head-over-heels about her chef husband; she made him move from New Jersey, too. Kitchen Addiction! is her first novel of the Mina Kitchen series. Lizz grew up in Glen Rock, New Jersey and still hasn’t recovered. She holds a BA in Musical Theatre from Syracuse University, but has never learned to waitress – although she knows it’s an art.
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