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A Tale of Two Cooks .........

Nov. 1, 2003
Once upon a time there were two hygienists who had the same hobby. Each decided to carry it to a higher level — Debra went this way, Judy went that way, and the results have been ... in a word ... delectable!

by Cathy Hester Seckman, RDH

Debra Cavanaugh
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Debra A. Cavanaugh of Willoughby, Ohio, and Judith E. Sulik of Bridgeport, Conn., are both cookbook authors. Cavanaugh's book, AbracaDEBRA'S Enchanted Gifts & Recipes From the Heart, is the one to pull out when you need a company dessert, a quick coverdish for a potluck supper, or something fun for the kids. Sulik's book, Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind; Eat Your Way to a Smaller, Sexier, Healthier You!, is the book to have when those company desserts start to get the best of you.

Judith Sulik
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Cavanaugh grew up in Lyndhurst, Ohio, and holds degrees in dental hygiene and commercial art from Cuyahoga Community College. She works three-and-a-half days a week as a hygienist and on her off days is likely to be in the kitchen, whipping up something good for her husband or the neighborhood kids.

She has been cooking and baking since she was five, when her grandmother let her "help" make biscotti. The cookbook, she says, was "a whim. Over and over, people would ask me for a copy of these recipes and ideas, so I thought, 'I'll just put them all together in a book. Here they are!'"

Wait. Let's back up. Cavanaugh is a hygienist, remember? She had no idea how to publish a cookbook. She started by choosing recipes and typing them into her computer. Grandma Marie's 100-year-old biscotti recipe is there, along with Cavanaugh's famous and often-requested Low-fat Lemon Cake recipe (which is cholesterol-free). Cookies, casseroles, candies, and main dishes are included, along with some interesting mixes that have become a specialty for Cavanaugh.

Her Sandart Brownies, for instance, can be assembled ingredient by ingredient in colorful layers inside a recycled jar. Gift cards (which are included in the back of the cookbook) are preprinted with the recipe and some pretty graphics. The perforated cards can be detached from the cookbook, signed, folded, and included with the jar of ingredients for an "enchanted gift from the heart."

Once Cavanaugh had chosen the recipes, she developed the gift cards by trial and error, cutting and pasting the graphics and fiddling with the designs until they were just right. Then she went looking for a printer.

"First I got quotes from print shops, then I started researching online. I discovered that I needed an ISBN number and a scannable universal bar code. I was able to purchase those online."

In the end, it cost about $1,700 for 500 spiral-bound, 40-page cookbooks. Because the book is self-published, Cavanaugh does all the marketing for it herself. She has a Web site, and she spends a lot of time talking to the media in her area. Articles about her cookbook have appeared in Northern Ohio Live magazine, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Willoughby News-Herald, and Lake County Gazette. She has been a guest on local radio talk shows and has participated in "Taste of the Town" events with other cookbook authors.

She might pop up at a local craft store, demonstrating Oatmeal Spice Cookies in a Jar or Tangy Spiced Tea Mix. She spends time at libraries, showing moms and kids a homemade version of Play-Doh®. She does children's shows at shopping malls and book signings at social clubs, bookstores, and charity events. Some of the proceeds from cookbook sales go to charities, including the local Red Cross chapter, the Make A Wish Foundation, or pet charities.

AbracaDEBRA'S Enchanted Gifts & Recipes From the Heart is available for $10.56, plus $2 shipping, from Cavanaugh Books at 676 Tioga Trail, Willoughby, OH 44094. Cavanaugh can also be contacted at (440) 975-0554 or [email protected]. The cookbook can be ordered at B. Dalton Booksellers or online from www.cavanaugh and Book orders that mention code #RDH-MAWF will generate a donation to the Make A Wish Foundation.

Judith Sulik's cookbook, which she co-authored with certified dietitian nutritionist Sharon F. Dina, is actually the fourth book she has written and published through her company, Finely Finished Press.

It's been kind of a long, strange trip. Sulik, who lives in Bridgeport, Conn., with her husband and two teenage daughters, earned her bachelor's degree in dental hygiene from the University of Bridgeport's Fones School of Dental Hygiene in 1976. She worked in clinical practice for five years, then went back to school for an MBA in marketing. While earning her master's, she worked as a self-employed temporary hygienist; she literally called all the local dentists to offer her services as a temp.

"That's when I realized that I like sales. People who are best suited to hygiene like to work with their hands. They're tactile. I discovered that's not me."

Sulik went to work for Colgate as a dental pharmaceutical rep for five years, then started a family.

"When my second daughter was a year old, I came up with an idea. I wanted to use my education, further my ambitions, and simultaneously be a mother. Desktop publishing was just starting to emerge, and I saw a niche in my hometown. I decided to write An Adventure for Your Palate, An International Cookbook and Restaurant Guide to Bridgeport. I operated from that idea, thinking, 'It makes perfect sense, and no one's done it.'"

She identified 34 ethnic restaurants (from Brazilian to Irish) and interviewed the owners. "I asked them, 'How is your restaurant unique? What are your goals?' Then I asked for three recipes. For each restaurant, I included a map, written directions, and a guide to special services like patio dining. I also added a list of attractions in the city."

Realizing that the greatest profits were in publishing, Sulik decided to go that route rather than seeking a large publisher who would be unlikely to support such a niche book.

"It was a learning experience. I wrote the book, laid it out, and found a local printer. I did a thousand books, and they all sold at full price. This isn't a hobby; I expect a return on my time and money."

Not long after that experience, the Suliks decided they needed a new kitchen. "We were just planning to put in a floor at first, then it was the counters, then the whole rest of the kitchen. I was trying to cook with no sink and no counters, and to say it was challenging is an understatement."

Through the experience, Sulik came up with the idea for her second book, No Sink? No Counters? No Problem! 50 One-Pot Meals To Get You Through Kitchen Remodeling.

Sounds like a great idea, doesn't it? But where would she find buyers for a book like that? It wasn't much of a problem for a woman with an MBA — she solved it very neatly.

"Degrees give you confidence," she says in an offhand manner. "You don't learn the specifics, but you learn to think through a problem and adapt for it. I'd discovered book printers by then, and I ordered 3,000 copies, saddle-stitched and laminated. It made for a more professional product. I had the books shrink-wrapped in six-packs. Then I started cold-calling remodeling contractors. I'd stop in at their offices and look at their trade magazines. I sent out press releases and did interviews. I sold all 3,000 books nationwide, and the contractors gave them to their customers as a goodwill gift."

Her next foray into publishing was An Adventure for Your Palate II, Coastal Connecticut Waterfront Dining With Chefs' Recipes.

"This one has a watercolor painting for the cover, it's laminated, and has lay-flat perfect binding. I basically took the same ideas, but I reached out along the coast. I started each town's section with the town's official state history (information I obtained from the state historical commission), and I 'peppered' the book with historical tidbits. This gives readers some food to chew on and some history to ponder. I sold 2,000 copies of that one through various avenues including Barnes & Noble, Borders, independent bookstores, mail order, and to realtors to give to customers as a welcome gift."

Now Sulik had a new problem. "As I fattened my profits from the books, I also fattened my waist and hips. Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind is a whole new concept — it's a collaboration with a friend who's a nutritionist."

Sharon Dina says the idea grew out of comments her clients would make: "I wish I could take you home with me," and "If only I had you around to tell me what to do." Dina and Sulik knew each other through the local school district, so they got together and decided to write a book.

Dina has a bachelor's degree in biology from Fairfield University in Connecticut and a master's degree in nutrition from the University of Bridgeport, which she says takes a holistic approach to nutrition. She has also studied at the Designs for Health Institute.

Sulik describes the book: "We did 5,000 copies of a 4- by 6-inch, perfect-bound pocket-sized book. The first section outlines the eating plan. It's an anti-starch, anti-processed food, pro-protein concept. Americans are getting bigger, everyone's busy, so it's easy to find excuses. We're bombarded by food. Sharon and I wanted an easy-to-follow concept that can be incorporated into different situations. There's a section for grocery shopping, then breakfast on the go, brown-bag lunches, buffets, car food, after-school snacks, and vacations."

The nice thing about food, Sulik believes, is that you don't have to stay with the limited foods your mother raised you to eat.

"Ethnicity is easy to hide behind — rice for Asians, potatoes for the Irish, pasta for Italians. People needed those things years ago when they did hard, physical work — but why do we still eat like peasants? How do we know we won't like something new? We didn't know we liked doughnuts until we tried them. I operate from the position of 'give everything a try.' I'm still having a culinary adventure, just with different foods."

Both women believe in controlling and limiting carbohydrates. "I've never seen it not work for weight loss," says Dina, "but I have seen people who are unable to make the changes in their diet. When that happens, there's usually something else going on — nutritional imbalances or deficiencies, or psychosocial problems."

Teens, for instance, might have trouble with social pressures. Sulik's daughters have embraced the plan with no trouble, though. Her 15-year-old is down three sizes, and Sulik herself is down two sizes and still shrinking.

"Since we started on the book, my whole family has really changed the way we eat. My 12-year-old just asked me not to forget the smoked Gouda for her snack. Sure, Gouda is more expensive than potato chips, but she only eats a slice of cheese instead of a whole bag of chips.

"My older daughter got tired of all the high-starch lunches at school, so she called the nutrition director and asked for more salads. It worked. She started her own little movement. The girls made nine cakes for school projects last year, but did they eat any of them? No, they've learned they can make their cake and not eat it too."

Cookbook writing has become Sulik's vehicle for making money at home. "For my purposes, it's gone exactly as I intended. I have the freedom to try my ideas. And while I assume the risk alone, I also don't have to persuade an employer that my way makes sense. I realize I think a bit off-center, but that's my strength because I see opportunities and needs that aren't being met. So far, I'm four for four. The pressure for me is the time to the break-even point, which we achieved with Lose Weight two months after publication."

Cookbooks aren't Sulik's only vehicle. She does freelance writing for newspapers and magazines (including RDH), as well as public speaking.

"I'm trying to identify a way to promote two workshops that I've been presenting through the Bridgeport school system: '(Un)common Sense: Turning Pennies Into Dollars During a Bad Economy' and 'Negotiating From No to Yes — Get What You Want.' I also teach public speaking through the adult education department."

For any hygienist who wants to branch out, Sulik has some advice. "If you have an idea, give it a shot. Don't worry about whether you're professional enough, or whether you're legitimate. A lot of people have good ideas, but they don't implement them because they think of reasons they may be rejected. Research your idea, work the numbers, and if you think the idea makes sense, try it. Ten years ago I couldn't have imagined that I would have sold 6,000 books from my house, been interviewed by radio and television hosts, and spoken to a myriad of professional groups. I credit overcoming my fear of public speaking and my experience as a dental hygienist with giving me the confidence to take risks.

"Hygienists have immediate, intimate contact with strangers. Just apply that to the rest of your life. Years ago it would have intimidated me to talk to a CEO about something. Now I just think, 'People are all the same. Everybody gets plaque. Why should they intimidate me?'"

Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind is available from Sulik for $5 plus $1 shipping at Finely Finished Press, 60 Acton Road, Bridgeport, CT 06606. Hygienists who buy multiple copies for patients will receive a recommendation pad — similar to the kind Sulik distributed as a Colgate rep — that can be placed in offices. Each sheet in the pad is headed, "This office recommends ...," and it includes an order form and contact information.

Sulik can be reached at (203) 371-5099 or [email protected]. A new site — www.loseweightwithout — should be up and running soon.

Cathy Hester Seckman, RDH, is a frequent contributor who is based in Calcutta, Ohio.

Debra's Recipes

Debra's Decadent Muffins

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4 cups flour
2 Tbsp. baking powder
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 sticks melted butter
1 1/2 cups milk

Combine flour, baking powder, and sugar. Beat eggs and milk; add dry ingredients. Stir gently. Make a well in the bowl and stir in melted butter. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Makes 18 muffins.

Chicken Dip

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. mayonnaise
3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
2 drops Tabasco sauce
2 Tbsp. almond slices

Boil chicken until cooked. Cut chicken into small pieces. Mix all other ingredients, then add chicken. Put in a baking dish, spread almonds on top, and bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Serve warm with cubes of bread or crackers.

Reprinted with permission from Cavanaugh Books

Judy's Recipes

Apple-Walnut Salad

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1 apple, cored and sliced
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1/2 cup Gorgonzola cheese
1 package of mixed greens, washed
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

To toast walnuts: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Dribble some olive oil on a cookie sheet; add walnuts and cover them with the oil. Put cookie sheet in the oven and bake walnuts for about five minutes; check frequently so they don't burn.

Empty greens into a large bowl and add apple slices, walnuts, and cheese. In a separate cup, mix the vinegar and oil to make the dressing. Toss the salad with the dressing and serve. Serves one to four, depending on the appetite of the diners.

Chicken Marsala

1 lb. chicken breasts
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 garlic clove, minced
3 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. dried parsley
1 cup Marsala wine

Butterfly the chicken breasts by slicing them in half lengthwise, then flatten them with a mallet or rolling pin. Place the butter and garlic in a skillet and heat until the butter is melted. Add the chicken breasts and sauté them, turning over frequently and being careful they don't stick. Add mushrooms, parsley, and wine. Continue to cook on medium heat until the chicken is thoroughly done.

Reprinted with permission from Finely Finished Press

Cathy Hester Seckman, RDH, is a frequent contributor who is based in Calcutta, Ohio.