“Tuna fish… brownies.”
“You’re making tuna fish brownies?”
I heard my sister palm slap her forehead over the phone. “Tuna fish casserole. Brownies are for dessert.”
“That’s too bad. I was thinking you could serve up mayo shooters with them… with triple sec.”
“You actually thought that up just now?”
“You’ve been hanging around Vito too long.”
“Actually, he hangs around me.”
“Enough. Bye. Love ya.”
And he has. Vito Spaghetti’s been a figment of my imagination, and Mina’s neighbor, for a few years now – and many years to come. I have a fond place in my heart for Vito. Okay, so maybe it’s a fond place for his Swiffer addiction. But I get a moment to giggle every time Vito helps me – and Mina – “improve” a recipe.
Here’s how he, and his main squeeze, Miriam, contribute cuisine conundrums in “Christmas Bizarre” –
"Okay. So what are you doing for dinner tonight?”
“An extra shift at Squirrel Run Acres. Hilda called this morning.”
“Hey, I was wondering who was intruding on you this early in the morning.” Vito helped himself to the creamer in my fridge, and poured himself some more coffee.
“So you won't be home for dinner?”
“I'll probably be home late-ish. Depending.”
Vito shook his head. “That's a shame. Miriam and me are gonna test out a new recipe. Straight from Julia Child!”
I shuddered inwardly and grimaced at the vision of my icon spinning in her grave. “Yeah, that is too bad. What are you making?” I had to ask, yes? I mean, someone has to tell the paramedics, right?
I knew I was going to regret asking. But I had to verify Vito’s translation. “Come again?”
Vito held up a hand. “I know, it sounds pretty hoity-toity. But Miriam says it's a classic!”
“What is it?”
“A supped-up pork and sauerkraut dinner! With sausages and everything!”
“Gee, I'm sorry I'll be working and have to miss it.” Thank-you-baby-Jesus.
“No problemo, Toots. I'll leave a plate for you on the counter. That way, you can look forward to a home-cooked meal when you get home.”
I could also look forward to a large bottle of Tums and some solitude – neither of which I had.
Then of course, there’s the cooking contest…
Vito gaped a toothy smile brilliantly at me. At least, most of a toothy smile. “We’re practicing for the Manischewitz Cook-Off Contest! We’re entered!”
“Oh. Wow.” Frostbite was sounding better and better.
“Yeah! We got just three weeks to practice! See?” Miriam waved the contest literature in front of me.
“So, it’s a kosher contest?”
“Do you have an entry dish?” I know, I know. But someone has to ask, right?
“Several. We’re still making up our minds. So we’re starting with the first one tonight. You can help taste it!”
“What are you making?” Look, you want me to ask. Besides, you don’t risk digestive surprises where Vito and Miriam are concerned.
Miriam pumped a wooden spoon in the air. “Concord glazed bacon wraps with shrimp!”
I considered a hasty Plan B involving a bald faced lie about visiting the preggo sister in Northern VA. Or having shingles. Something.
I looked again at the contest information, noticing the word kosher used about every other sentence, highlighted and in italics. Even though I’m goy, I get it about bacon not being kosher. But somewhere in the back of my head thumped the memory that shellfish wouldn’t be a welcome ingredient, either. “That’s pretty fancy.”
“Maybe you might try for something a little more…rustic?”
“You mean not washed?”
“No, Miriam. She means like big chunks. Don’tcha Toots?”
I swallowed hard. “It’s very in now,” I fibbed.
“You see, Vito? That’s why we need Mina’s help! I knew it!”
I made a point of looking at a watch I wasn’t wearing. “Sure. Hey, I got to get going if I’m going to make the bank.”
“We’ll take good care of Marie!”
But I really like the idea of tuna fish brownies with mayo shooters. Well, okay, maybe Vito likes them a tad, too. I have a feeling you all will be reading about them – or something very similar – in the next novel, "Confection Connection" or the 4th, “Perfectly Pickled.” Of course Mina will offer up something edible… maybe a nice variation on Shepard’s Pie, like the one I made for Chef Hubby (see below).
Until then, please help yourself to a full serving of “Christmas Bizarre” – you’ll be more than glad you did.