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The Frantic Woman's Guide to Feeding Family and Friends
by Mary Jo Rulnick

What inspired you to write this book?

The inspiration came when I was writing the first Frantic Woman book. I was at the computer working and my son, Josh, came into my office and asked "What's for dinner?" Being under deadline and behind the computer screen for hours the last thing on my mind was dinner. Probably 30 minutes later, Josh asked, "What time is dinner?" "Soon," I rushed out and kept working. Josh appeared in the doorway one more time saying, "I'm hungry." "Okay, okay!" I answered, while I continued typing. "Just let me finished this last paragraph.” I finally finished and hurried to the kitchen. Josh looked up from spreading peanut butter on a piece of bread. "Don't worry Mom. I made dinner. Want one?" We sat down with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that night. However, that's when I knew I needed a better system for feeding my family and I was sure many other women needed one, too. After the P&J meal, I started talking to other moms about their dinner dilemma. I found a number of families hardly ever ate dinner together. The more I talked to other women the more excited I became about finding a system that would help women feed their families and reclaim the family dinner meal.

How did you decide which recipes to include in the book?

I had guidelines for the recipes and book. The ingredients for each recipe had to be available at a local supermarket. Women are busy and trying to find an obscure ingredient at a specialty store wasn't something I wanted to add to a woman's schedule. The recipes had to be family friendly. The prep and cook time had to be 30 minutes or less. (Though there are a few recipes, such as Ham and Turkey for the holidays, which take longer.) I wanted recipes that were seasonal because we usually cook lighter in the hotter months and serve comfort foods in the colder months. Additionally, we can take advantage of loss leader sales and seasonal produce so this saves money at the grocery store. And I wanted to incorporate recipes that work with a woman's lifestyle. For example, we cook differently for Easter and the following days. So I wanted to take advantage of that and have a week's worth of menus in "Ham Week." You'll cook your ham on Easter Sunday, and then you have a week's worth of recipes using the leftover ham. There's also "Turkey week." There are eight other specialty weeks, including a "PMS Week." :) The other thing I wanted to do was include menus for days when there isn’t time to cook or the kids have friends over or the boss is coming to dinner or you have to eat on the run.

Have you tried all the recipes in the book?

Between the group testing I organized and my own home kitchen testing, all the recipes have been tried. The group testing was so much fun. I arranged at a local senior community that had a kitchen in the activities room to test the recipes. Once a week, sometimes more, I would buy all the ingredients and the ladies (about six) and I would make a couple of recipes. Now, some of these ladies were children during the depression and they were no-nonsense in the kitchen, but oh the stories they had to tell. We tossed out several recipes and tweaked many more.

What are your favorite breakfast, lunch and dinner recipes?

Oh, this is a tough one as it changes often and depending upon my mood and how frantic my life is at the moment. My favorites right now are Sweet Strawberry Cakes, Waldorf Tuna Roll-ups (these are great in pita pockets, too) and Pasta and Shrimp Greek-style. (I served this last one for my husband's boss and his wife. She loved the recipe and served it to the owner of the company and his wife.)

Do you have any advice for women who have a tight budget?

  • Create a cooking system. Whether the system is mine or one of their own, this is so important to saving money. For example, you should know what you will be having for dinner and lunches (if you pack) for a week or two weeks at a time. Shop once every two weeks, if possible. You'll spend less money that way because every stop at the store increases the chances of buying items you do not need. In your system, break down the days that you have no time to cook (you'll want to have meals on the run for these days), 15 minutes to make dinner (casseroles are great for this) and 30 minutes for dinner (there's plenty of recipes available).
  • Shop first thing in the morning, if possible. Many times, the produce manager and butcher will mark down items that will expire soon. This is a great way to pick up reduced items that are still good.
  • If buying larger packages of food items from a warehouse club like Sam's is beyond your budget, ask another woman to split the costs with you. You can find the price, size and quantity of the grocery items available at a warehouse near you by going to the store's web site. And the best part, if you're limited on time, order online and an associate will shop for you and all you have to do is pick it up. (Check with your employer to see if he or she will join as business members. Business memberships come with a certain number of free memberships for employees.)
  • Buy an extra ham and turkey when it is on sale. More often than not, you will be able to have a week's worth of meals for under $20.
  • Always buy the seasonal produce for side dishes and snacks.
  • Have breakfast for dinner once a week. Not only is this an easy meal to plan, but I'm having fun, too. You can make anything from omelets (using bits and pieces of fresh veggies in your crisper) to strawberry waffles.
  • Use the slow cooker when cooking a cheaper piece of meat. The slow cooking time makes the meat tender.
  • Double up on meals by cooking a roast in the slow cooker one day and using the leftovers for sandwiches, stir fry or beef over noodles the next. A large pot of stew can be served one day and turned into pot pie, goulash, and tacos for future meals.
  • Always keep pantry meals on hand to eliminate buying fast food meals. A can of tuna, chicken or ham, noodles or rice, canned soup like cream of mushroom soup, French fried onion rings and canned veggies offer a quick casserole in just minutes. There are several recipes that you can whip up from items in the pantry. Also, keep one of two freezer meals on hand. This includes pizza shells, shredded cheese.
  • Save any leftovers to incorporate into other meals. A cup of green beans can be added to Tuna Casserole, a salad or soup. Stale bread can be buttered, sprinkled with garlic powder and heated under the broiler for garlic toast or used for French toast. If there's a small amount of a leftover and you can't add it to an upcoming meal, freeze it. Be sure to label it. Next time, you're making a casserole, omelet or stew, toss it in.
  • Grow your favorite herbs. You don't have to have a big yard or even a yard to do so. This is a great project for kids and the herbs can be planted in pots on windowsill. Two of my favorite ones are dill and chives and I do tend to add a dash of these to just about everything.

In the acknowledgments, you think your "faithful kitchen testers". How did your testers influence the recipes and your writing?

Two of the testers were not only full-time working women, but also hockey moms. I was writing the book during hockey season, which is very time consuming because of practices, games and tournaments. The hockey moms followed several of the plans during one of their busiest times of the year. And that was so important. If they could whip up these recipes, then it would work for other busy women. Some of the women mentioned are my ladies from the senior community and they told me flat out if something didn't taste good or added their opinion about ingredients. With these ladies, it was like having six grandmas or great-grandmas giving me advice. And my family tasted some of the menus time and time again. I deleted some recipes if I received negative feedback on it from several of the testers. What really helped with the testers, many times I took for granted some of the steps in the recipe. When my daughter (then a teenager) said, "How do you brown meat?" I knew I needed a glossary in the book. One of my senior ladies offered some tips on removing stains and that section was added. I really listened to the feedback and little things people mentioned became new sections that offered much-needed tips.

Do you have a book tour? Is there a schedule available so people can meet you in person?

Yes, I have a book tour, though it is a little unusual. I have had the typical book store signings, but I have had some other fun signings, too. I've given cooking demonstrations at food expos, women's shows, local supermarkets, and apartment complexes. I've offered food tastings at children's bookstores. And this summer, I'll be part of children's summer craft time at bookstores where I'll be helping children make their own personalized placemats. My blog, Maryjorulnick/, offers upcoming events where I will be appearing.

How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

I've written four books and two Amazon Shorts. My first two books, Easy Writing, Easy Money and The Self-Published Workbook, were self-published. I learned a lot about marketing, how to promote yourself and targeting an audience with these books. I made a number of mistakes; too, such as always get a written estimate when you're ordering something. I had a verbal price from a printer and when I picked up my book order, he charged me an additional $200. I didn't have a written price so I had to pay it. Also, I didn't know how to market the book so I followed the advice of another person and spent $310 (that I really didn't have) on an ad in a writer's magazine only to sell one book.

In 2004, my first trade paperback book (a coauthored project) with Warner Books was released. The Frantic Woman's Guide to Life is a month-by-month guide to help women stay on track and offers tips for everything. And there are lists for everything from packing to go on vacation to stocking your medicine cabinet to what a college student needs for school. This was so exciting because it was with a real publisher.

My current book is The Frantic Woman's Guide to Feeding Family and Friends that was released in the fall—another Warner Books title. This book is jam-packed with 349 recipes, 249 side dishes and desserts, 249 time and money-saving tips, 33 practical ways to have fun with the family, a rundown on herbs and so much more. I'm trying so many different ways to promote this book and I'm having a blast.

Though there's something favorite about each book, my absolute favorite is The Frantic Woman's Guide to Feeding Family and Friends. I have many reasons for this. This book not only has a family connection, but it is a community effort, too. I thoroughly enjoyed discussing family meals with so many other women and I had such great feedback from my editor as I developed the concept. I've met so many wonderful people and learned so much about family traditions, too. The other reason I think this is my favorite because the marketing endeavors, which I love, have been so much fun. . And you know what; I discovered I can whip up three no-cook meals in just four minutes. My TV segment was cut from eight minutes down to four. Feeling a little frantic? You bet.

What are your current projects?

I'm a regular contributor to two parenting publications, Pittsburgh Parent and Family Digest. I'm compiling tips for three possible book projects: celebrations, money savers and eldercare. Plus, I have a women's fiction novel (a coauthor project) that needs to be tweaked. And I’m working on another Amazon Short.

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