Mihaela Lica Butler is the author of “Garden Super Hero Tales,” a fun children’s cookbook about his son’s journey to discover the world of vegetables.
Her son, Paul-Jules meets 10 new friends, Miss Aubergine (eggplant), Lady Courgette (zucchini), King Potato, Sweet Maiden Seakale (Swiss chard), Fräulein Spargel (asparagus), the Leader of the Carrot Army, Young Red Cabbage, Mr. Batata (sweet potato), the Wild Rice, and the Turnip. Each of these friends tell him a story, relating where they come from, and including between the lines, in a fun, playful manner, their nutrients, vitamins and health benefits. Each story is followed by easy, healthy recipes: some vegan, others vegetarian. Little children, who cannot yet read, can have fun with the book too: there are 20 coloring pages, 2 for each story in the book.
Tell us something about yourself.
I have had a full life, a professional career that enriched my understanding of the world, and shaped the way I am today. I started over 20 years ago as a host for a radio show called “Buna Dimineata, Copii!” (Good Morning, Children!), which used to be broadcast on the Romanian National Radio station. This was my first love, one of the most fulfilling times of my life. I moved on to a military radio show, “Vesti de Acasa” (News from Home), produced for the Romanian soldiers deployed in Afghanistan. From there, I was hired as a civilian military journalist by the public relations directorate of the Romanian Ministry of Defense, where I spent the last years of my career in Romania, before moving to Germany in 2002. Here, after working as a public relations officer for several German businesses, I started my own company, in 2005. Now, I feel the need to go back to the part of my career that I enjoyed the most: inspiring young children, sharing beautiful stories with them, and seeing that they make educated choices, especially when it comes to food and their health.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Coming up with unique, and easy recipes for each veggie. I wanted this book to be a good fit for busy moms too, so most of the recipes can be cooked in 30 minutes or less.
What was your inspiration to write the book?
My son, Paul-Jules. He likes to imagine the veggies talking, he likes to give them names, and he includes them in his stories. He imagined the Leader of the Carrot Army, after he picked the largest carrot in a bunch, and called him Herr General. Seeing how my boy makes vegetables fun, inspired me to share this knowledge, in the hope that my own experience will help other mothers, especially those whose children refuse to eat their greens. Vegetables are tasty if they are fun.
What was your son, Paul-Jules’ reaction to being the main hero of the stories in the book?
When we received the first copies of the book, he was more than excited. He took the book to the kindergarten with him, to show it off. He doesn’t speak German very well yet, but he was able to make it very clear that the boy in the illustrations in the book was “Paul-Jules, without glasses.”
Do you think even adults without children can appreciate your book? Why?
There are only 27 recipes in the book, but all are very easy, suitable for beginners, and for people who want to integrate more vegetables into their diets. Yes, I would think adults without children could appreciate this part of the book. I also believe that we are never too old for fairy tales. The stories are fun as well.
What is a recipe in the book that you think even adults will come to enjoy? Why?
All the recipes are designed to be enjoyed by the entire family, but one of the ones truly appreciated by adult guests in my house is the Spicy Sweet Potato Stack, with Garlicky Spinach, the dish featured on the cover of the book. It is a great starter: healthy, adventurous and colorful; an explosion of taste and flavors.
Do you have any advice for new children’s book authors?
It is important to have someone believe in your work, and to encourage you to go on. I had my husband, Phil Butler, to support me every step of the way. To overcome writer’s block, just spend a couple of hours observing the children at the playground. There’s nothing like seeing them “in action.”
Why do you think it’s important for children to have a well-balanced meal with veggies, herbs, and fruits?
My husband had a heart attack four years ago, it almost killed him. Part of the cause was his diet, very rich in animal fats, and poor in fresh fruit and vegetables. Things changed since: we only eat meat once a week, we eat more fish and seafood than ever before, and, of course, we have adopted a vegetarian diet. I strongly believe a healthy diet is the foundation of a healthy, happier life. Paul-Jules rarely gets a cold, or the flu, even when other kids around him are sick.
What is your personal favorite recipe in the book? Tell us why.
“Fried Aubergines with Tomato Sauce” is a recipe I learned from my mother, and my grandmother, when I was Paul’s age. It is a favorite in our home. It can be served as a starter, as a side dish, or as a main. It can also make a beautiful centerpiece for a dinner party.
The “Garden Super Hero Tales” is the first volume in a series of 10. Can you give us an idea of what you’re planning to do with the next books?
More adventures, new veggies, but also herbs and fruit, each sharing their unique stories. In the next volume, I will integrate more Romanian cooking traditions, and many recipes I learned from my grandmother.