Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Crazy like foxes: Canadian sisters beat long odds by marrying food and fun in goofy cookbooks

Now they're back with a nutritionally updated 'greatest hits' edition

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The average Canadian kitchen has a stove, refrigerator, cupboards and a few cookbooks. It wouldn't surprise me if Janet and Greta Podleski penned at least one of the latter. They've sold an incredible two million copies of their healthy-eating-themed tomes.

This amazing success story started in the 1990s when the sisters created a book packed with easy-to-prepare recipes deemed "food so good, you'd swear it was bad for you!" The book also had an innovative layout, wacky food-related cartoons and quirky recipe names, such as Jurassic Pork and Yabba Dabba Stew, all designed to lighten the mood and put some joy into preparing food.

"We knew we wanted the word 'looney' or 'zany' or 'wacky' in the title to reflect the unusual design and humour in the book," Greta Podleski said.

The title Looneyspoons popped into their heads, stuck, and the Podleski sisters believed their book was a winner. There was problem, though -- stodgy publishers thought they, not the book, were loony.

"The publishers who rejected us said food and humour didn't go together, that no one would take the book seriously and that we shouldn't quit our day jobs," Greta said. "But it was too late; we already quit and we were working night and day on Looneyspoons with zero income and bills mounting."

After shedding tears of despair, they wiped them away and got a break they described as being delivered by angels. That angel was David Chilton, author of The Wealthy Barber, who took them under his wing, lent them some money and opened some important doors to media and booksellers. In 1996 they formed a publishing company and published Looneyspoons themselves, which proved to be a very wise decision.

"Somehow we managed to sell 325,000 copies in the first 12 months, which shocked everyone, including us. Looneyspoons went on to sell about 850,000 copies," Greta said. "Interestingly, we never believed what (publishers) were saying and we thought they were nuts. We truly believed that Looneyspoons would be a No. 1 national bestseller and that's exactly what happened. But not without blood, sweat and tears."

In the introduction to their latest book, The Looneyspoons Collection ($34.95), they reflect on the amazing things that have happened to them since the first book was released, such as hosting their own television show and being featured in People magazine. They also talk about making a very difficult decision.

"Despite the overwhelming positive response to Looneyspoons and, later in 1999, Crazy Plates, our second book, we made the tough decision a few years ago to take both cookbooks out of print," Janet and Greta write.

They say bookstores were not happy, wondering why the heck they would stop printing two bestsellers. But they note the decision had nothing to do with sales and money; it had to do with some of the nutrition information being outdated.

"Back in the '90s, all of the experts were saying that low-fat eating was the way to go. But that meant people feared eating salmon, nuts, avocados and olive oil because of their high fat content," Greta said. "Now we focus on good fats versus bad fats (such as trans fats) and good carbs versus bad carbs, while encouraging people to never obsess about eating, which is just as unhealthy as living on a fast-food diet."

With regard to that obsessing, the sisters have made this observation.

"Have you ever noticed that the people who are most fanatical about healthy eating and who obsess over every little morsel of food that goes into their mouths often look unhealthy, tired, weak and pale?" Greta said. "That's because stress is unhealthy, and that includes stressing over food. (Janet and I) eat healthy, natural foods 90 per cent of the time because we love the taste and the way they make us feel. However, we'll also go through the drive-thru to get the occasional burger and fries (wearing a ball hat and sunglasses, of course!)."

That relaxed -- don't sweat it -- healthy approach to eating is what The Looneyspoons Collection is all about. The book is described as being jam-packed with Greta's amazing recipes, and tons of cutting-edge nutrition and lifestyle tips from Janet, the nutritionist of the duo.

The photo-rich, 390-page book includes revised -- to reflect current nutrition trends and ingredients -- reader-favourite recipes from Looneyspoons, Crazy Plates and another book, Eat, Shrink and Be Merry. You'll also find recipes they developed for magazines, their TV show and many new ones, all of which have nutritional values.

The book also has entertaining cartoons and the recipes' names are as zany -- some would say cheesy -- as ever. Evidence of the latter can be found in the two recipes published today, a salad called Red, White and Yahoo!, and an entree called Salmon Cowell.

"Hey, we know they're corny. And no, we don't speak in puns. The humour helps distinguish our cookbooks from the thousands of others on the market and, hopefully, will produce a chuckle or two while readers are in the kitchen whipping up dinner," Greta said. "Food and fun do go together!" -- something I'm sure the publishers that rejected Janet and Greta's first book have come to realize.

For more information about The Looneyspoons Collection, go to janetandgreta.com

 

Red, White and Yahoo!

Grape tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and chickpeas tossed with fresh basil and balsamic vinegar
Makes: 5 servings
1 can (19 oz/540 ml) no-salt-added chickpeas, drained and rinsed
500 ml (2 cups) halved grape tomatoes
113 g / 4 oz mini fresh mozzarella balls, halved see tip)
80 ml (1/3 cup) minced red onions
80 ml (1/3 cup) chopped fresh basil leaves
15 ml (1 tbsp) olive oil
15 ml (1 tbsp) balsamic vinegar
15 ml (1 tbsp) freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt
1 ml (1/4 tsp) freshly ground black pepper

Place ingredients in a large bowl in the order listed and mix well. May be served immediately, or salad can stand at room temperature for up to 1 hour before serving. Since tomatoes tend to lose their flavour when refrigerated, we recommend you add them at the last minute if you're preparing this salad in advance.

Recipe tip: Look for fresh mini mozzarella balls, called "mini bocconcini," in small, cottage-cheese-like containers where you buy specialty cheeses at your grocery store, or ask for them at the deli-cheese counter. Fresh mozzarella is completely different than regular mozzarella. It's very soft, white and mild.

Per serving: 202 calories, 9 g total fat (3.5 g saturated fat), 10 g protein, 21 g carbohydrate, 4 g fibre, 16 mg cholesterol, 270 mg sodium

 

Salmon Cowell

Grilled salmon in an orange-ginger marinade
Makes: 4 servings

Marinade
60 ml (1/4 cup) frozen orange juice concentrate
60 ml (1/4 cup) hoisin sauce
15 ml (1 tbsp) reduced-sodium soy sauce
15 ml (1 tbsp) grated ginger root
5 ml (1 tsp) grated orange zest
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

 

Fish
4 boneless skinless salmon fillets (about 5 oz/142 g each)

Whisk together all marinade ingredients in a small bowl. Place salmon in a large, heavy-duty, resealable plastic bag. Add marinade and seal bag. Turn bag several times to coat salmon with marinade. Marinate in refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat grill to medium setting. Remove salmon from marinade (reserve marinade) and place on a grill rack that has been lightly brushed with oil. Grill for 3 to 4 minutes per side, until done (salmon should be slightly pink in the centre). Do not overcook salmon or it will be dry. Baste salmon with reserved marinade during last minute of cooking time, if desired.

Recipe tip: If you can't grill the salmon, broil it. Place fish on a baking sheet that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Broil 4 inches from heat source for about 8 minutes, turning salmon once, halfway through cooking time. Salmon should flake easily when tested with a fork.

Per serving: 253 calories, 9.4 g total fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 29 g protein, 11 g carbohydrate, 0.5 g fibre, 78 mg cholesterol, 358 mg sodium

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 17, 2012 D1

History

Updated on Wednesday, October 17, 2012 at 11:44 AM CDT: Formats, fixed cutlines.

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