Roma Bakery & Deli has delighted customers with delicious, homemade Italian fare for more than 45 years. For owners, Sostine and Filomena Castriciano, their customers are the inspiration behind their cooking and baking. It is not uncommon to see Filomena, or Mena as she likes to be called, sharing recipes with a customer over coffee or telling stories about her early life back in Italy. It’s her genuine warmth and interest in every person who walks through the door that brings customers back time and again. Mena recently released her first cookbook, Cooking with Mena, featuring 186 of her favorite Italian recipes from Calabria and Sicily. The recipes in her book are like stories from family, friends and customers of Roma Bakery & Deli. “Since few recipes were ever written down, many of my family recipes were gathered through conversations I had with my mother, grandmother, aunts, cousins and friends in Italy,” said Mena. “Any recipes that were written came in the form of simple lists of ingredients on worn sheets of paper, many without instructions or quantities.” Sauces, pastas, sweets and savory dishes are Mena’s life. The cookbook was her dream, something she envisioned since the day her mother, Rita Gallo Baldino, showed her how to make her very first lasagna. Mena fondly remembers the times as a little girl when she helped her mother prepare meals for their family of seven in a small, unheated kitchen with no running water. Her family lived in a tiny two-room house in Caricchio, a village near Cosenza in the southern region of Calabria, Italy. Mena oftentimes assisted her father, Mario, in the butcher shop where he worked preparing meats. It was then that she grew to appreciate the origins of food and to understand the gifts she could bring to others through cooking. Mena was 12 when her family settled in Lansing, Michigan in 1960 to make a better life for themselves. Her love for food continued to grow, especially as she learned the new customs and foods. “For my whole life in Italy, all we knew was vegetables, fruit, fish, eggs and lots of breads and sauces,” says Mena. “Here in America, we had everything. Even desserts.” Mena found her friends and neighbors loved sampling authentic Italian cuisine, and she and her mother enjoyed cooking for them. It was just like how her family would get together and cook with neighbors in Italy. Even after her and her husband opened their business in 1969, Mena never lost sight of her first love: cooking. She cooked at work and catered. She generously gave her customers tips and guidance on preparing Italian dishes. “What is food if it’s not about family and friends?” said Mena. “This cookbook is my gift to everyone who has filled my life with love and care — which are also the two essential ingredients to Italian cooking.” Cooking with Mena is available at Roma Bakery & Deli (428 N. Cedar St., Lansing), Schuler Books and Amazon.com and would make the perfect gift for the holidays.