Authors and FAQS

Meet the authors

One of the best ways to really get to know an author is to read their FAQs section, so we have shared questions and answers that we have been asked over the years. If you have any other questions, please send them our way.

Book Questions for Catherine

What’s your next book?

Stay tuned. I promise to share any news as it unfolds.

Is it true that you self-published your first book?

Yes, it is, and doing that taught me about the publishing business from the inside out, from raw manuscript to bound book, including navigating the media. It was an education that I still use today.

Why did you self-publish your first book?

I had two fantastic literary agents try to sell A Year of Russian Feasts without success. The rejection responses from editors were positive in tone, so I knew I had something viable. If they had made negative comments, I probably would not have had the courage to proceed. One day, I woke up with a fire in the belly feeling (yes, that feeling does really exist), so I decided that I was going to see this book into print myself. I borrowed some money, got price quotes from a million sources, hired editors and designers, and did it myself. I learned how every aspect of the publishing world works. Sure, I was nervous. It was a $30,000 risk, but I convinced myself to take the plunge, and I’m glad I did. I often get asked if I recovered my investment? Yes, I sold all 5,000 copies and broke even, and won numerous awards, which was more than I hoped for.

Would you do it again?

Maybe. The publishing world is an entirely different playing field today than in 2003. E-books dominate sales, and social media is a key marketing tool for any book. I think it would be definitely cheaper to publish in e-book format, but there is something wonderful about holding a real book in your hands, especially if you spent years writing it.

What was the biggest lesson you learned from self-publishing?

Marketing, marketing, marketing! Marketing and publicity are the key to sales. Sales equal profits, and profits are what editors or investors look for when they review your next proposal. Of course, you have to have a great product to begin with, and by great I mean original, unique, personal, and something with long-term salability. The marketing landscape is constantly changing with new forms of social media popping up all the time. In many ways the social media is the cheapest form of marketing, but it’s also one of the hardest to get noticed in simply because there is so much competition out there.

You write health-focused cookbooks. Are you a health freak?

I would say, yes, sort of, but this also depends on how you define health freak. I don’t have any junk food in my house, and my family never eats fast food. We avoid all trans fats, and try to steer clear of high fructose corn syrup and any other highly processed foods. I keep an all-natural kitchen as much as possible. I try to make as many foods from scratch and I buy organic products when my pocket book allows. We follow a mostly vegetarian diet. So, yeah, health freak might apply.

Do you ever eat cupcakes, and stuff like that?

Yes, of course! I have soft spot for my homemade cupcakes (especially the chocolate ones), cookies, and ice creams. They are all crazy good. But, for me, salty foods are more addicting than sweet. Lays chips in the yellow bag are my total downfall. When the salt craving hits, I try to reach for almonds, walnuts, or peanuts. Now, special occasions are a completely different category. The other night, for my daughter’s sixteenth birthday, I made a decadent flourless chocolate cake from David Lebowitz’s book, Ready for Dessert. Served with fresh raspberries and whipped cream, it was worth every calorie (as most of his desserts are). Life is too short not to indulge from time to time. Be good most of the time, and don’t feel guilty about the occasional splurge.

Are you an exercise fanatic?

Sadly, I’m not. The gym is not one of my favorite places to hang out. I’d rather go for a brisk walk or slow jog. Over the years I’ve made peace with myself and the gym. My exercise mantras are:

  • I will do what I can, when I can, without feeling guilty.
  • I won’t compare myself to others.
  • I won’t give up.

Where did you find the nutritionists you worked with?

My answer is probably not what you expect. Rose Ann Hudson, RD, LD, my co-author for Eating for Pregnancy, was one of three names of nutritionists on a list the nurse at my OBGYNs office handed me. When I called the contacts, I got three answering machines. I liked Rose Ann’s calm and reassuring voice best, so I pursued her.

For Eating for Lower Cholesterol, I used the Yellow Pages (are they still in print?). I wanted to find a nutritionist who worked with cardiac patients, so I looked at the cardio rehabilitation centers in the Maryland area. I called around and asked whoever answered the phone about the nutritionist on staff. Elaine Trujillo, MS, RDN, was highly recommended, so I contacted her. I feel extremely lucky with both outcomes.

What inspires you to write your books?

Always a good question to ask any writer. The events of my life inspire my books is the simple answer. Here are some back stories for my books:

A Year of Russian Feasts was inspired by my trip to Moscow to visit my mother, who is of Russian descent. She was living there in the late 1980s with her husband, Robert Abernethy, the former NBC News correspondent. I fell in love with the culture, people, food and decided to share it.

Eating for Pregnancy: The Essential Nutrition Guide and Cookbook for Today’s Mothers-to-Be was a product of my two very difficult pregnancies. My first pregnancy was particularly treacherous. I developed pre-eclampsia, my daughter was born six weeks prematurely. I had complications with my second pregnancy as well, but managed to give birth to a healthy boy. Seeing how mothers, especially high-risk moms, might need help with their nutrition, I paired up with a perinatal nutritionist and together we wrote Eating for Pregnancy.

Eating for Lower Cholesterol was inspired by my mother’s heart attack. I realized from this scare that I needed to learn more about cholesterol, heart disease, and high blood pressure. I’ve made it my mission to keep my family’s diet as heart healthy as possible.

How many times do you test your recipes, and who tests them?

I test each of my recipes at least three times, and usually a lot more because they are all part of my everyday cooking. I have a list of recipe testers, usually family, friends, and friends of friends, who offer to test. I give my testers a detailed form to fill out, and I use their feedback to tweak my recipes. I can’t thank them enough.

What software do you use for your nutritional breakdowns?

I use Nutritionist Pro software. They are pricey, but their software is perfect for evaluating recipes, and lots more.

How to you get ideas for your recipes?

From everywhere and everything. Like most food obsessed people, I’m always on the look out for new foods and ways to combine things. I love exploring markets, eating out, and taking cooking classes whenever I travel. I’ve picked up some fabulous recipes from Thailand, where I took a cooking course in Changmai. In Malaysia, I took two years of Indian cooking lessons with an incredibly talented teacher, Manju Saigal. And, I was exceptionally blessed to have an excellent Chinese cook, Luan Wong, at the Ambassador’s Residence in Kuala Lumpur. Her Peking duck with pancakes made me teary the first time she served it. Her cashew chicken is amazing (better than any restaurant), and her chocolate soufflés are to die for.

Do you have any advice for wanna-be cookbook authors?

Follow your passion, and try to find something new, or at least a new take on what is already out there. The shelves are saturated with all kinds of cookbooks, from single-subject to restaurant/café-based and blog-inspired cookbooks. If you have something totally new and different, or if you have a built-in platform, such as a blog with a zillion followers, I guarantee agents and editors will be interested in your work. Don’t try to follow trends. Stay true to who you are, and what you eat and cook. Research the market, and define your audience. My biggest piece of advice is test your recipes, whether they are for a proposal or the finished manuscript. And, when you think you’re done testing, retest them. And finally, if you really want to know if they work, give them to somebody else to test. It’s admittedly expensive and time consuming, but worth it in the end.

What is the hardest part about writing a cookbook?

For me, marketing and publicizing the finished published book is one of the hardest things about the publishing process. More than ever, authors have to promote their own work, be it through their websites, Facebook, Twitter, other Internet venues, book signings, TV and radio interviews, cooking demos, giveaways, whatever works. It’s a huge investment of time and energy (and money, often your own), but with any luck it pays off. Writing is really the fun and creative part. Finding your voice may take some time, but once you have it, the words and ideas will flow. I also thoroughly enjoy researching, creating, and testing recipes. I consider perfecting every recipe a challenge: some I master on the first try, others can take twenty plus attempts to get right.

Personal Questions for Catherine

Why do you travel and live overseas so much?

I’ve been on diplomatic circuit since birth, literally. My father, a Foreign Service Officer and retired U.S. ambassador, sometimes calls me a “Delhi Walla” because I was born in New Delhi, India. From there, my family was transferred to West Berlin, where we lived from 1965 to 1969, and then to East Berlin in 1974 for two years. While I can’t say I remember much of my early childhood, I do recall that grey, slow, communist East Berlin was a vastly different landscape than the bright lights of West Berlin. I crossed the Berlin Wall at Checkpoint Charlie twice a day to go to school. I still have my laminated ID badge tucked away in my box of life’s special treasures.

My father’s next overseas assignment was Jerusalem, where he served as Consul General from 1980 to 1983. In 1984, my father became the U.S. Ambassador to Zaire, now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I was in college at the time, but thoroughly enjoyed my summers and holidays in the heart of Africa. Seeing the silver back gorillas in Bukavu remains of the great thrills of my life.

I met my husband, Paul Jones, a Foreign Service Officer, in Moscow in 1992, just as communism was crumbling. I was in Moscow writing my first book, and he was working as the U.S. Embassy. We were married in 1995, and soon after he took a one-year job in Bosnia just as the war was ending. In 1996, we moved Macedonia for three years. Other countries we’ve lived in include Austria, the Philippines, and Malaysia, where Paul was appointed the U.S. Ambassador in 2010. So, if you’re counting, add in my junior year abroad in England and cooking school in France, and that makes twelve countries. The journey continues.

Do you like to travel?

I love it, despite all of the headaches and heartaches of uprooting my family. After all the logistical hassles and emotional good-byes, the worst part for me is the plane ride. Yup, I’m terrified to fly, which is terribly ironic given my lifestyle. This fear surfaced in my mid-forties. I used to be able to quell my nerves with the help of Johnnie Walker, but recently I’ve moved to Xanax and deep breathing. It gets me from point A to point B, which is the only thing that matters. Someday, I’m hoping my fear will disappear, just as quietly as it came. But getting back to the question, exploring new cultures and learning about a country’s history, culture, people, and cuisine is incredibly exciting and inspiring for me.

What’s it like being an American ambassador’s wife?

I love this question because there are so many misconceptions about the role of an ambassador’s spouse. The short answer is, it’s fantastic. I’m honored and proud to represent my country alongside my husband. The longer answer involves some explaining.

The biggest misconception is probably the party scene. People often ask me, “Don’t you give parties all the time, and get dressed up and go out?” Not exactly. We do entertain a lot, usually two to three functions at the Ambassador’s Residence per week, and we do attend many diplomatic, cultural, and social events on a regular basis. But, one must keep in mind that the purpose of these events is not unbridled enjoyment. It is to promote American interests overseas, and to build relationships with our host country. So, this is work, not just sipping wine and making small talk.

I’m happy to report that in recent years some of the archaic rules pertaining to the role of spouses in the Foreign Service have changed. An ambassador’s spouses is no longer obliged to undertake any responsibilities related to their partner’s career. They do not even have to be at post. This change is a huge departure from the days when my mother was a spouse. Even before my father become an ambassador (they were divorced by then), her performance as a hostess was rated on my father’s evaluations.

Today, my husband has his schedule and I have mine. I can choose the events I want to attend and host. I define my commitments to charity work, and I focus my attention on topics that are related to my primary interests: food, health promoting women’s health in particular, and education. I’ve also learned to carve out my personal space. I have become very protective of my time and energy, and I’ve finally learned how to say no politely and gracefully. As a mother, I need to be home for my kids. As a writer, I need a lot of quiet time. And, as a human being, I need to pursue the things in life that give me positive energy and make me happy.

How do your kids adjust to a life of constant moves?

They are troopers, so far (fingers crossed!). My husband and I try our best to keep things extremely positive when we move, even if we are stressed out and having a hard time ourselves. We try to make every new assignment feel like an adventure, which it is. One of my favorite quotes about traveling comes from Travels with Charley, by John Steinbeck. “We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; the trip takes us.”

Before we head out to any new country, we troll the Internet to plan future trips in the region, fun places to sightsee, and good places to eat and shop. Paul and I are very careful to respect our children’s desires, no matter how insignificant they may seem. If Allie wants her bedroom done a certain way, we will redo it to her specifications. If Hale says he needs to BMX on the weekends, we will find a skate park and go there, even it’s an hour away. We try to make our kids feel as if they have control over some aspects of the move and their new lives. And, I can’t forget the dog, Pucci, my third child. Our crazy blonde and bubbly labradoodle can always be counted on to add humor and chaos to any move.

What is your favorite country that you’ve lived in?

I loved Malaysia. The food scene was incredible, a melting pot of Indian, Chinese, and Malay cuisines. Anywhere you go you can usually find something good to eat. The banana leaf Indian joints, where you eat with your hands using a banana leaf as your plate, were some of the best and cheapest joints in town. I has a weakness for traditional Chinese noodle houses, too.

I also loved our four years in the Philippines. I immersed myself in the culture, traveling up and down the archipelago to participate in festivals, meet people, and sample all kinds of food, from fresh durian and rice cakes to adobo and sinigang. Filipinos are as kind as kind can be, and their shared history with America, as our only colony for fifty years, is endlessly fascinating.

How do you spend your free time?

I love to take yoga and meditation classes. I’ve had some excellent yoga teachers in Southeast Asia. I also love to travel, try new foods, play around in the kitchen, and read. Apart from cookbooks, my other passion is writing for children. I am continuously inspired by all sorts of things: my niece’s drawing of cupcake dresses, the true story of an injured sea turtle laying her eggs on a beach, and what life would be like on Mars for a young boy. With any luck, one of my stories will end up in print someday. I guess writing for children is my way of escaping into another world.

Are you a vegetarian?

I can’t technically call myself a vegetarian, though 85 percent of the time I eat vegetarian. My daughter is a pescetarian, which means that she will eat seafood. I love seafood too, so we eat it at least three times a week.

What’s you favorite food?

Wow, where to begin? I love so many foods it’s too hard to choose. I don’t think I can honestly answer this question.

Personal Questions for Elaine

Why did you go into the area of nutritional science?

The interest was always there. Funny thing is that when I entered college, I was planning on going into computer science, which is crazy because I am not a techy. My father was strong on education, and practical with his career advice, so he instructed all of his five kids to study something that would result in a good-paying job. When I dropped the computer class and told him that I wanted to study nutrition, he was reluctant. In the end, he fully supported me and agrees that I made the right decision.

Do you have the perfect diet?

I get this question a lot. I’m not always perfect in my choices, but my diet is healthy. I love veggies; could literally eat them breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I do eat meat, although my preference is for fish and seafood. I buy all of my meats from local farmers. Also, most of the time, I stick to whole grains. I do have a sweet tooth, which I try to satiate with a small piece of Godiva dark chocolate. Although I enjoy a cocktail or glass of wine with dinner, I take note of the calories, and adjust accordingly.

Do your have to watch your weight?

I have one of those sluggish metabolisms that cause me to gain weight just by looking at a piece of cake. Literally, I have struggled with maintaining my ideal weight all of my life. While I used to think it was a curse, I have come to realize that it is probably a godsend. Since a young age, I have had to be active, so I exercise diligently and always watch what I eat. I started eating healthy many years earlier than I otherwise would have.

How has your family been affected by having a mom/wife as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)?

When my kids were in elementary school, they would come home from school and complain that their friends got Doritos for a snack and they got healthy trail mix. We never had “good” snacks at home according to them. Although I did not ban “junk” food, I did not keep it in the house. My thinking was to have a casual attitude towards unhealthy foods. I felt that if I made too big a deal about those foods, they would want them even more, and the same goes for fast food. So, if we were out and they wanted something on the junky side, I would allow it. They would come to understand that those foods were occasional foods and not the staple foods that we ate at home. One day, when my son was a bit older he said something out of the blue, “Mom, you remember when you said that one day I would thank you for eating healthy?” I gestured that I remembered. He said, “Well, thank you.” That was a proud moment for me.

What is your biggest food vice?

My biggest food vice is the potato chip. In my defense, I think it is genetic. My mother cannot eat just one, and I have seen her confiscate an entire bag for dinner, not sharing with anyone. Although I do share, I cannot pass by a chip. The way I deal with it is that I don’t buy them. BUT if chips are offered to me, I allow myself the indulgence. My husband doesn’t understand it and he is often frustrated when after buying a bag to go with his sandwich, they disappear. Likewise, I have a hard time understanding how he can eat a handful and put the bag away. He has learned to buy my least favorite kind, salt and vinegar chips, that way he can enjoy them on more than one occasion.

What is the one food you cannot live without and why?

I cannot live without eggs. From a nutritional standpoint, eggs are an excellent source of protein, plus they are a powerhouse of nutrients, including carotenoids, choline, and vitamins A, E, and D. One egg for breakfast is my staple. I have done that for years, and when I don’t have an egg in the morning, I feel hungry all morning. I have an egg, over easy with a slice of whole grain bread and a cup of coffee. It never gets old for me. Occasionally I will change up and have an omelet, preferably a veggie and cheese omelet. And, when I am in Mexico, my favorite breakfast is huevos rancheros, a must for all egg lovers. The eggs are cooked over a lightly fried tortilla and then drizzled with a tomato sauce and served with a side of beans. Delicioso!

What foods do you eat the most of and why?

I mostly eat plant foods, especially vegetables. In my opinion, you get the biggest bang for your nutritional buck with plant foods. They are packed with nutrients and are often lower in calories than other foods groups. Certain foods, like nuts, are the exception, as they are high in calories and fat (good fat!), but they are also very nutritious, and a handful of nuts can go a long way in satisfying a hunger pang.

I can do without meat, easily, and usually skip the bread; but I could eat veggies all day long. When my husband is traveling, which is often, that is exactly what I do. He is a meat eater, and does not feel satisfied unless dinner includes some form of meat. Luckily, he likes fish too, so I cook it quite often. I keep tons of vegetables in my fridge. I find that most can be quickly sautéed and seasoned in twenty minutes. Plus, I always have an assortment of veggies in my freezer. Edamame come in snack-size bags to pop in the microwave oven for a healthy and hearty snack at any time.

What kind of exercise do you like to do?

For many years, I was an exerciseholic. I would work out for hours a day, the more the better. I did this mostly for weight control, and I loved the exercise high and feeling in shape. But with time, the high-impact workouts caused more pain than good, especially lower back pain. For quite a while, I plowed through the pain. Then I wizened up and changed my workouts. It was definitely an emotional as well as physical transition. I felt that I would no longer be fit, and I was afraid I would gain weight. But neither happened! With the lower intensity sessions, I was not as ravenous, so I started eating less. And my increased yoga workouts have kept my muscles toned. In addition to yoga, I love tai chi and qi gong, and I walk every day with my black lab. For the intensity, I spin a few times a week. I do admit, I miss those kickboxing and zumba classes, but I have learned to do them “old lady” style, also known as low-impact.

What do you like to do on your free time?

Most days don’t leave me with much free time. But when I have it, I catch up on the Netflix shows that my kids recommend, plus my favorite, Sherlock Holmes. I love to read, mostly historical fiction and an occasional biography; just finished Steve Jobs. When I have down-time, I cook. Weekends are my favorite time to cook. The pace is more relaxed and I can cook for fun and pleasure rather than the daily “getting dinner on the table” grind.

What advice do you have for parents feeding young teens?

The young teen years were the most challenging for me as a mother and nutritionist. I lost control of much of what my two kids ate. They were out a lot and eating with friends. I handled the loss of control by keeping up the food communication. I would find out what they ate when they were out and would then make suggestions for what they should eat at home to balance things off. Mostly, I needed to keep a lot of fruit around, strategically placed on the table so they would reach for it, instead of going into the pantry for cookies. Since they were on the go a lot, I also kept healthy bars and small bags of nuts and trail mixes around for their back packs. Now they are both in college, and when they come home, they load up on these snacks.

Nutrition Questions for Elaine

How do you think nutrition will evolve in the future?

Nutritional science is a fascinating field. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to work in the area that I love. The science changes from day to day, and as a nutritionist, I have to keep up with the latest findings. I also have to weed through the various scientific publications and make recommendations based on good solid evidence. It is my job to give you the most up-to-date, evidence-based advice in a way that you can understand it and apply it. For instance, just because a study showed that resveratrol from red wine made mice run through a maze faster does not mean that humans should go suck down gallons of red wine a day to improve brain function. That sounds like an exaggeration, but in reality, the doses used in many of the animal studies are well beyond what a normal daily serving would equate to.

I am reassured to report that nutritional scientists are beginning to study diet in the context of lifestyle and look at how the whole diet impacts health, not just an individual food. And what looks seriously promising for the future is nutritional genomics, the study of how genes and nutrients interact to affect our health. Future studies will tell us how diet and foods affect our genes, and may help us modify a person’s diet based on his/her genotype. This research is evolving in very exciting ways. I’ll keep you posted.