Sister act

What do you do for an encore when your first crack at publishing demolishes Canadian book selling records? “After writing Looneyspoons: Low-fat food made fun! Janet and I said we’re never doing another one,” acknowledges Greta Podleski, “but we changed our minds when we got so many letters from people asking for a second book.”

Looneyspoons, a combination of flavourful, easy-to-make recipes, backed by lots of solid information on nutrition and fitness, sold at least 550,000 copies in Canada and 150,000 in the U.S. Filled with Ted Martin’s cartoons and lots of Janet Podleski’s corny humour, the book was a big hit, even among people who wouldn’t ordinarily think of cooking anything more adventurous than macaroni and cheese. They loved whipping up recipes with crazy names like “Jurassic Pork Roast” or “Pasta Point of No Return.” Others concerned with cutting down on fat consumption liked the idea that low-fat food could taste so sinfully good.

Crazy Plates is an even better book than the first. Higher quality paper enhances colour on the familiar-looking page layouts, and, although the book’s chockablock with information, the design appears less cluttered.ecipes are easily found in the comprehensive index (for example, “Love Me Tenderloin” is listed under “Pork” as well as its Podleski-pun title).

Besides receiving a lot of suggestions from Looneyspoons fans, Greta also quizzed people as to their favourite foods. “I want to make sure the recipes we include in our cookbooks are recipes people actually want to make and eat, not what I think they want to eat,” she says. “We try to keep to the comfort foods, with accessible ingredients, and not a long preparation time.”

But the number one requirement, she insists, is still great taste.

For eight months, Greta’s kitchen looked like it was part of a big science project. She’d work out a recipe on paper first, then buy the ingredients and start to experiment. After some feedback from some lucky taste-testers (primarily business partner David Chilton, Janet and their families), she’d make some more adjustments. “I’d do each recipe a minimum of three times to get it perfect.”

Greta spent a whole week working on carrot cake, the recipe most requested when readers asked for a sequel to Looneyspoons. It wasn’t easy, she admits. “Carrot cake traditionally has tons of oil in it. I didn’t want to just take out the fat and have a carrot cake that would bounce off the wall.”

She didn’t tell friends at a dinner party the dessert she’d brought was part of a cookbook experiment. But when they started calling it the best carrot cake they’d ever eaten, she confessed – and they didn’t believe her.

Mentor and business partner David Chilton, complains the low-fat carrot cake is actually high fat — because you eat the whole pan. “That’s the trouble with those low-fat desserts,” he grins. But as delicious as the recipes are, they’re only part of a well-thought-out mix. Janet’s interest in nutrition and fitness had developed with her earlier interest in sports. She and Greta felt it important to offer the most up-to-date information available from doctors and dietitians — but they wanted their readers to be entertained and intrigued by it as well. Hence The EX Files, Cooking 101, Who’da thunk? and Say It Ain’t So! sections present some of the most thought-provoking and useful food- or fitness-related information to be found anywhere.

And Crazy Plates is probably the first cookbook with a 12-step program to a healthier lifestyle. “These days everybody wants a quick fix — some pill they can swallow to make them thin,” says Greta. “There’s just no such thing. We thought if people would just adopt one new healthy habit into their life every month, in a year it would make such a difference.”

Gradual, easy-to-implement lifestyle changes pay off in the long haul, the sisters point out. Five weeks after its release this summer, Crazy Plates: Low-fat food so good, you’ll swear it’s bad for you! topped best-seller charts across the country. (Its initial press run of 250,000 is probably the largest for any book in Canada, believes Chilton, himself a publishing legend following the success of The Wealthy Barber.) In Chapters stores coast to coast, Crazy Plates was the top-selling cookbook, with Looneyspoons in second spot.

In February, Crazy Plates will be released in the U.S., where it’s expected to do well in that competitive marketplace. (Last October, after a total of 18 minutes on the American shopping channel, they sold 16,000 books.)

Is there another book in the works? “I can’t imagine writing a third book,” laughs Greta. With Crazy Plates, she says, “We drained our brains.”