Linda Jean’s cookbook benefits Island Food Pantry

Linda Jean’s wait staff on Saturday (left to right): Jackie Smith, Amy Love-Heflin, Tania Tucker, Nancy Fuss, Tara Edge Schoenfeld, Robin Ayers, and Samantha Bach. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

“Favorite Recipes: From the Waitstaff and Patrons of Linda Jean’s Restaurant,” compiled by Robin Ayers, published by Morris Press Cookbooks, Kearney, Neb. 80 pp., $12. Available at Linda Jean’s, Oak Bluffs. Proceeds benefit the Island Food Pantry and the Animal Shelter of Martha’s Vineyard.

Linda Jean’s specializes in tasty food and quick service at reasonable prices. Now, the Circuit Avenue eatery’s wait staff and customers, shepherded by veteran staffer Robin Ayers, has whipped up a mélange of delectable down home recipes, delivered only seven months after the idea began to simmer.

As Ms. Ayers explained in an interview last week, a customer suggested the cookbook idea last winter while savoring an Ultimate Grilled Cheese sandwich at the restaurant.

“Holly Nadler, an Island writer, gave us the idea in January, just before we closed for vacation. I thought about it the whole time we were away, and when we reopened in March, I asked [owner] Marc Hanover if he liked the idea,” Ms. Ayers said.

“He was really supportive so we got a bunch of recipe forms made up and began handing them out to staff and customers. It really became a team thing for us. I’d come to work and find recipes tacked up on our bulletin board. We had fun with it,” she said.

Last week, the first copy rolled off the press and onto the front counter, where staff and patrons got a taste of their names and favorite dishes in print.

Team spirit was certainly high last Saturday when staffers streamed in on their day off to participate in a group photo. “Heather O’Donnell even tried to work it into her schedule today,” laughed Ms. Ayers. Turns out, Ms. O’Donnell was busy getting married, becoming Ms. Joseph McCarthy at the time of the photo session. “She really tried to find a way to get here,” Ms. Ayers said.

The cookbook has 145 recipes in the first 66 pages, combined with 14 pages of tips, advice, terms, and measurements. For example, a page titled “Quick Fixes” offers 18 commonsense ways to remedy common culinary gaffes on the run.

“Favorite Recipes” reads as much like an Island love story as a cookbook. There’s a sense of community as a not-so-secret ingredient in it.

In addition to a healthy leavening of recipes from dozens of old-time Island names like Maciel, Hall, Morgan, DeBettencourt, Noyes, Crossland, Mayhew, and Jenkinson, several contributors dedicated recipes to the memory of family members. Some recipes read like family heirlooms, redolent with the aftertaste of oft-told family stories. Recipes arrived from as far away as Illinois, and the compilation includes potluck favorites from several Island churches.

Proceeds from cookbook sales will be donated to the Island Food Pantry and to the Animal Shelter of Martha’s Vineyard.

Wait staff recipe contributors include: Ms. Ayers, Jackie Smith, Nancy Fuss, Charlotte Coveney, Samantha Bach, Tara Edge Schoenfeld, Desislava Petrova, chef Joe Parrilla, Jenell Vasiliadis, Heather O’Donnell McCarthy, Tania Tucker, and Amy Love-Heflin.

“Favorite Recipes” is not a rerun of the restaurant menu but the best food ideas of dozens of Islanders, residents, and visitors. Recipes are divided in seven categories: appetizers and beverages, soups and salads, vegetables and side dishes, main dishes, breads and rolls, desserts, and cookies and candy.

There are vegetarian recipes, some exotic-sounding recipes like quinoa avocado verrines, basics such as bean salads, and comfort foods like Sloppy Joe’s.

It’s a great learning experience for those of us who believe a recipe is “microwave on high for two and one-half minutes.” I learned, for example, that Joan Jenkinson’s Spaghetti with Two Tomatoes doesn’t mean there are only two tomatoes in it. It means there are two different kinds of tomatoes in it.

Ms. Ayers said she’s felt a heightened sense of community and Linda Jean’s place in it since the project began. “There are lots of stories here. Heather and Joe, who are getting married today, for example. Their romance began right over there, at table 17,” she said, gesturing across the 100-seat restaurant.

“Joe was having lunch with a friend and Heather was in training and she helped wait on them,” Ms. Ayers said.

As a neophyte in publishing, Ms. Ayers held the cookbook on Saturday afternoon, seemingly in awe of the process by which an idea is transformed into physical reality. “I had no idea what I was doing. Thank God for Mike [her husband]. He understands the technical aspects of printing, including the appropriate type fonts,” she said.

Ms. Ayers was pragmatic in her choice of a publisher. “I have a favorite cookbook and I looked in the front to see who published it. It was by Morris Press. I called them and a real person answered the phone. They were very patient, no question was too dumb. They even contributed the eight pages of tips and information in the back,” she said.

Ms. Ayers is now working on marketing, the next phase of book publishing. “We’re looking at some craft fairs during the holiday season,” she said.

“Favorite Recipes” will likely be a success here but Ms. Ayers isn’t quitting her day job. “Would I do this again? Well, maybe. See me in about 10 years.”