Published Podcast Ep. 19 | Interview with Jill Grunewald and Lisa Markley, Authors of The Essential Thyroid Cookbook

Today's episode features Jill Grunewald and Lisa Markley, authors of The Essential Thyroid Cookbook! Jill and Lisa share their process for writing the book, how collaboration in design positively affected the final product, and their advice for aspiring cookbook authors.

Q: Welcome Jill and Lisa! Obviously, writing a book is a challenge in itself, but you took it step further and decided to do a cookbook, which is a bit more complicated for various reasons. Can you tell us why you decided to write a book and what your specific goals were in doing so?

A (Lisa): At the time I had been teaching cooking and nutrition classes for close to a decade, and I pretty much lived in the kitchen. I have Hashimoto’s and was struggling with some severe symptoms at the time. Jill’s was a longtime friend and had had a lot of success coaching her clients with Hashimoto’s back to health. When I took a class with her, I realized she was providing really great nutritional information. I always think, “How I can transfer this information to the plate to make it tangible and practical in my kitchen and for my students?” I told her we should take her information and develop it into a cookbook, because there was a void in our area. There weren’t a lot of resources Jill could share with her clients to help them get back in their kitchens and learn how to cook and eat more whole foods that nourish immune health.

Q: So it was very much out of a sense of servitude, or maybe paying it forward, to others who might be dealing with the same issues.

A (L): It was a resource we felt we needed and that could help people we interacted with on a daily basis. We did it to help change lives as well as challenge ourselves. It was a very creative process and we wanted to have fun with it, so it unfolded as kind of a passion project. 

Q: Let’s talk more about the process, because it might be daunting to some who are thinking of doing a cookbook. Can you tell us about your process, and anything you might do differently if you had to do it again?

A (Jill): I wrote the educational component of the book, and it’s essentially a book within a cookbook. We’ve gotten feedback from our readers that they love that aspect, that there’s a lot of education. For me, it was an intense process of writing. I was talking with one of my author friends at the beginning of my journey and I asked him where to start. He laughed and said, “Just the same way you eat an elephant. One bite at a time.” If I were to do it differently, I’d schedule my time better. There were times where Lisa and I had to step away from the project for various reasons, and initially I was doing it in fits and starts. There came a point where I had to leave home and basically go on a writing hermitage. I don’t want to say that if I had to do it differently I wouldn’t overthink it, because I think overthinking it contributed to the success of the book. But there was a level of obsession, singular focus, and intensity. Next time I’d probably be a little easier on myself.

Q: When you talk about scheduling your time, are you saying perhaps be more disciplined to carve out that time in your schedule?

A (J): I think discipline is the right word, and I have a lot generally, but I also have another business and we both have small kids. It was more a matter of juggling, and it was a challenge. That’s part of the reason I had to leave home. My husband took care of our baby girl while I was away, and it was really hard to be away from her, but the book wasn’t going to get done if I didn’t leave.

A (L): As far as the writing of the recipes and the photography, like Jill said, it’s a book within a cookbook. We put our brains together and ended up with quite a bit of content. When I was deciding how to approach the recipes, I tried to land on a number. We worked towards 100 recipes, and there are about 109 recipes in the whole book. To whittle it down from there, we decided on chapter headings and set a goal of 10 recipes per heading. (10 breakfasts, 10 appetizers, 10 soups.) We ended up having more in each category because we were looking at the project as a whole, trying to provide a variety of seasonal foods, cooking techniques, and levels of ability. Most of our recipes are for the novice cook and are pretty straightforward. They can be made in 30 minutes or less. We always think about it from a beginner’s mind, both in recipes and education. How can we make this as simple and straightforward for the audience as possible?

Q: That’s a drum we’re always beating here in terms of making sure you know who your reader is. Sometimes it’s difficult, when you’re so close to your own expertise, to take that step back and address it for the layman.

A (L): I think that’s one of the reasons it was good to work together. When Jill read through my recipes she’d ask me questions I hadn’t thought about.  She’d ask, “Can we do this or tweak that to adapt it to somebody who can’t have this kind of food?” Based on her coaching practice and things she’s heard from her clients, we were able to fine-tune and address certain situations that might come up.

Q: When you were finished with that process and ready to find a publisher, what were you looking for?

A (J): We actually didn’t seek a publisher initially. We were several years down the path to self-publishing and were sought out by one of the top publishers in the world, which was very flattering and surprising. We had just announced our publication date and, coincidentally, were approached 48 hours later. We thoroughly explored that possibility, and investigated whether or not it would be the right thing for us to do. Ultimately we decided it wasn’t, and then we turned our attention to Greenleaf. We had known about you for awhile because of our friend Melissa Joulwan. We picked up the phone, and the rest is history. We’re so happy with that choice and your high level of customer service. Lisa and I are extremely picky, and you guys are extremely picky, so we actually appreciated that we had to go through an application process. We march to the beat of our own drum, and so does Greenleaf. We felt like it was a great fit and have been super happy with every step of the process. 

Q: Thank you for that feedback! We’re super happy to have you, obviously. Let’s talk about four-color books for a moment. For those who aren’t familiar with that term, it’s basically an illustrated or full-color book. They can be challenging on the design side, and often authors who are working on four-color books have a very clear vision for how the book will look when it’s done. Because we have such a collaborative process, our model is often a good fit for those authors. How important was the control of the design for you?

A (L): Having the ability to collaborate and have our voices heard was very important to us. Jill and I are both very creative and visual in how we express ourselves to our clients. People really connect with what they see, and people eat with their eyes first. Who’s going to pick up a book that doesn’t look beautiful? When we started working with your lead designer, Neil, we felt like he was listening to all of our needs and requests. Not just telling us what we wanted to hear, but giving us feedback on what would work best. It was more of a conversation, and we got to work collaboratively. Some of that took a little more time, because there is a lot of back and forth when you’re creating something, but we had the advantage of putting our best minds together to create this beautiful product. 

A (J): When we started working with Greenleaf we were well down the path of design. We had a cover and a basic layout. Neil was able to take that baton, with no ego, and make the design even better. The people we had worked with prior to Greenleaf were wonderful and talented. When we began working with Neil, he made a couple of minor tweaks to the cover that took it to the next level. He collaborated with us and gave us flexibility to take his advice or make our own decisions. It was such an enjoyable process.

Q: Fun question: what’s your favorite recipe from the book?

A (L): I really love the maple miso tahini sauce. There’s a whole chapter on condiments, sauces, and seasonings. I always feel like if you have a jar of something like fresh salad dressing or something you can sprinkle on your food, it can take something bland and boring like a chicken breast and really elevate it.

A (J): I’m laughing, because early on Lisa had said one of her favorite chapters was the condiments, sauces, and seasonings. I thought that was interesting because there are so many great plant-based sides and main dishes, but it turns out that my favorite recipe is a condiment as well. It’s the Brazil nut parmesan. I use it on so many different dishes, even spaghetti. It tastes like cheese and is made with Brazil nuts, nutritional yeast, salt, and garlic powder. We’ve gotten a lot of feedback that people are just loving it.

Q: Any other advice for people who might be considering doing a cookbook?

A (L): Keep a notebook in the kitchen. When I first set out, I had spent so much time in the kitchen that I wasn’t really sure how to approach the recipe testing and creation process. Ideas come naturally to me, but I wasn’t very good about writing things down and accounting for them. I had to start a process for keeping track of my thoughts. I’d get these ideas based on seasons or what I saw at the farmer’s market, and when you spend time in your right brain creating, it’s very different than spending time in your left brain keeping track and measuring. The end goal is that if you’re going to share with audience, you have to be able to balance both sides of your brain. Keeping a notebook is almost like keeping a journal, since you can go back and use recipes you’ve written to make something new.

A (J): If you would have told me a few years ago that I’d be writing a cookbook, I would have laughed. Writing and developing recipes is not my strong suit, but it’s Lisa’s, so we’ve been perfect partners in this. One of the first things I said to her when we started was, “I don’t want anyone to look at this and say, ‘This is just another cookbook. How do I know that these recipes are thyroid supportive?’” Hence, we created the education component in the book. We spent many, many weeks prior to writing the book creating our nutritional springboard, which was all the nerdy research that we did around thyroid and immune supportive nutrition. I had a friend reach out and say, “I want to do what you guys did and create a hybrid book.” We had never thought of the book as a hybrid before, but you could take the educational piece alone and make it into a book. I’m not saying that everyone who writes a cookbook needs to write that substantive educational component, but our audience appreciates the recipes more because they know the research that goes into the ingredients. It was really important to us and it’s been one of the reasons the book has been successful. We did some myth-busting as well, which felt really good.

About Lisa

Lisa Markley, MS, RDN is a dietitian and culinary nutrition expert who works passionately toward improving the health of others. She has diverse experience in integrative nutrition, clinical counseling, clinical research, and community wellness. 

As a seasoned culinary educator and recipe developer, she helps others translate seemingly complex nutrition recommendations into simple steps using health-supportive ingredients prepared deliciously. 

Lisa knows first-hand the struggles of Hashimoto’s and has successfully utilized therapeutic nutrition and Functional Medicine to heal. It’s her desire to empower you to become an advocate for your health and learn how to harness the healing power of whole foods.

About Jill

Jill Grunewald, HNC, Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach, is a thyroid health and Hashimoto’s specialist and wrote the educational component of The Essential Thyroid Cookbook. For nearly a decade, she has successfully guided her clients and students with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s to health and vitality. Jill’s Hashimoto's has been successfully managed since late 2008 without the use of thyroid drugs. In her coaching practice, Healthful Elements, Jill not only specializes in hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s, but also other autoimmune conditions (especially alopecia and Graves’), adrenal dysfunction/HPA axis dysfunction, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), perimenopause/menopause, and pre-diabetes/diabetes.