There must be some as yet unidentified bad gene that makes certain people periodically unable to think of a single thing to make for dinner, for guests, for appetizers, for lunch -- even for breakfast.
I get stricken with this condition once in a while, and my husband is even worse. Sometimes, I'll call him from the market pleading for suggestions for what to buy, but unless he's very hungry at the time, he can't come up with anything, either.
"Salad," he'll say.
Which is where people like Terri Martini come in.
Martini, who owns Scituate's Front Street Gourmet, has food ideas at her fingertips. Like a stylist who knows how to mix and match pants or skirts, tops, sweaters, scarves, shoes, and jewelry to create the perfect outfit, Martini has a mental inventory of recipes and food items and ways to pair them.
Front Street Gourmet (pictured above) sells specialty foods, deli meats and sandwiches, cheeses, soups, its own baked goods, and homemade daily dishes -- as well as wine, beer, and alcohol. From this arsenal of items, Martini can whip up platters of finger foods, sandwiches, vats of soups, sweet trays, and gift baskets.
"If you can't boil water, I'll make you look like Martha Stewart," she said.
Calling on her stock of specialty spreads, Martini last week sent off a happy customer with a tray of baguette slices topped with four different colored dips: buffalo chicken, spinach artichoke, tapenade with feta cheese, and gorgonzola with red raspberry sauce -- orange, green, black, and red.
"I love the wow factor when people see the food," said Martini, who bought the shop in July after managing it for eight months. Since that time, the business has taken off.
"Customer service in huge with me and includes giving your customer the highest quality for the lowest price."
One way Martini keeps costs down is by finding and knowing the foods she purchases -- and sells. She buys many of her private label specialty items from the same manufacturers that make the same items for well-known brands, such as Harry & David. Because she doesn't have the overhead of the big names, she's able to sell her products for considerably less.
She also gives 25 percent off cases of wine. And, because Martini knows her wines, she can sometimes suggest a $12 bottle that's as good as one that sells for $40.
Martini uses the same concept -- pairing items that go together well -- to create gift baskets and even hostess gifts. Her baskets run from $10 to $300: tell her what you want to spend, a bit about the person the basket is for, and whether you want to include alcohol. And she'll come up with a basket.
"An 85-year-old liked jams and jellies," she said, "so I made him a basket full of jams and jellies with pancake mix and syrup."
Asked what she'd suggest for a simple hostess gift, Martini grabs a red ceramic oven-safe bowl, shaped like a Christmas tree, and sticks some brie inside.
"You get a food item and a gift for under $20," she said. Martini might also use the same two items when entertaining and fancy them up by heating the brie in the oven and covering it with some red pepper jelly and almonds.
Among Martini's good ideas for appetizers are skewers of fresh mozzarella balls, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and artichoke hearts. She also often uses party cups (little pastry cups, 20 to the box, made by Sable & Rosenfeld) hot or cold, with sweet (lemon curd) or savory filling (gorgonzola with lemon honey); spring rolls, and chocolate goat cheese with raspberry sauce.
And if that's not enough, you can visit her website for more ideas, or drop by for a sip and a bite during her wine, champagne, or cocktail tastings every Friday and Saturday.
"We always have something to eat,'' she says. "You have to pair the drinks with the food."
Front Street Gourmet is located at 121 Front St., Scituate Harbor, 781 545-4050. Tastings are held Fridays from 5 to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 3 to 8 p.m.