After a long day of work, I want to make a quick, easy meal that tastes great. And one that’s light and healthy.
That’s a tall order, isn’t it? Those of us who have written and tested recipes know.
Just three cookbooks I’ve used in the last decade fit the bill. Until recently, I took these books for granted. I didn’t think about the author as a professional in our field. I was too busy cooking, grateful to be a home cook using good recipes that worked.
Earlier this year I went to Canada for a food blogging conference. I decided to find this cookbook author whose no-fail recipes I used for years. Her name is no secret to Canadians: Anne Lindsay. The weathered and stained cookbooks on my kitchen bookshelf — gifts from my sister in Vancouver — are
- Lighthearted Everyday Cooking (1991)
- Anne Lindsay’s Light Kitchen (1994)
- The Lighthearted Cookbook: Recipes for Healthy Heart Cooking (1998)
She wrote these cookbooks with health organization partners: The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, The United Way of Canada, and the Canadian Heart Foundation. (You’ll learn in a minute why this was a brilliant idea.) And even though they’re older cookbooks, the recipes are still relevant and fresh.
Lindsay has a long and distinguished career as a food writer. Now 70 and retired, she was the nutrition editor for the national Canadian Living magazine for 10 years, a freelancer for Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe & Mail, and a food columnist for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
She’s has probably written enough recipes to paper every wall of her home. I bet every food writer in Canada has been influenced by her style. Few of her recipes are online, but I did find these:
- Moroccan Chicken Stew (and 3 more)
- Old-Fashioned Quebec Pea Soup
- Two Potato Scallop
- A booklet of egg recipes
Note their practicality and brevity. And if you cook any of them, I’m confident you’ll be happy with the results.
During our interview, the super-successful author was modest and approachable. I love her tips about cookbook promotion, and recipe development, and writing from the heart:
Q. How many cookbooks have you have sold in Canada?
A. A few million.
Q. What about other countries?
A. At least three of my books were published in the US, four were published in the UK, Italy, and Spain. I was known in Canada, though, so most sales were from there.
Q. Why were your books so successful?
A. Partly it was having (medical) societies selling it, but also because I love to cook. I had three kids at the time, I knew what I could do and what they liked, and healthy eating has to be everyday stuff.
I like to get most of the ingredients at the grocery store, so I tried to be as helpful as possible to home cooks — as easy as possible and short. I had cooked my way through Julia Child, and subscribed to Gourmet, but I kept trying to simplify.
I also had a new audience, because when someone in their family had a heart attack, they had to change the way they cooked. Mine wasn’t that low fat, but it was lower than most cookbooks, and they might not have bought cookbooks before.
Q. How did these medical associations help you sell books?
A. I had a whole salesforce across the country, because the associations were making money by selling the book. Also some of the royalties went to the Cancer Society and the Heart and Stroke Society.
Q. And you did lots of promotion as well?
I did promotional trips across the country. I knew most of the newspaper food writers, so they gave me the front page of the food section on Wednesdays.
And then when I went to do radio or TV, I got the best spots because someone had someone in their family who had died of cancer or a heart problem, so they wanted to interview me.
When I was at the Toronto Star in the late 1970s, I heard about a cookbook, The Best of Bridge. Eight women played bridge and wrote a cookbook. I interviewed them, and they said they didn’t say no to anyone who asked them to speak, because there were eight of them. They’ve gone on to publish at least 10 cookbooks. I remembered that.
Q. What is the secret to good recipe development?
A. Accurate measurement. It’s a real bind … to write it down, but it is essential. After I’ve developed and tested my recipes, I then have someone test them as well. A lot of the cookbook recipes were published in newspapers and magazines beforehand, and they would go through their test kitchens as well.
Also, taking home ec (economics), you learned how to write recipes. And writing for magazines helped develop my recipe writing. You have to give enough information, but not too much – find the happy medium of what people need to know.
Q. What was your biggest challenge?
A. Reducing the fat. There were certain things I didn’t attempt, like Yorkshire Pudding and Butter Tarts. I used yogurt often and for desserts sometimes mixed it with lemon zest and a little sugar. As I progressed I sometimes aded a little whipped cream. But people don’t want to go out and buy a container to use a little bit. I actually spoke to the buttermilk people and asked them if they could sell it in a smaller container. It’s so good in mashed potatoes and salad dressings.
Q. What was new about your recipes?
A. Some of my recipes were quite different in the 1980s. People hadn’t used fresh garlic, fresh herbs, and fresh ginger in cooking. Lemongrass was difficult to find so I used lemon zest.
Q. What advice do you have for people who write recipes?
A. Trust your own judgment in what you like. Sometimes it seems like food writers try to impress people. You have to make sure it’s something you would like to serve to your family and make a number of times.
The other thing I think is hugely helpful is trying many other country’s cuisines.
I kind of struggled a bit as a writer, but my very best writing was when I wrote from the heart and didn’t try to sound fancy. I tried to be as natural as possible.
* * *
And fellow Canadians, I’m delighted to announce that I’ll be in Toronto November 23, 2013, teaching a one-day class on food writing at the offices of Harper Collins Canada. I hope you’ll join me.
(Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link.)