Rocking House Recipes : : a new cover for an old book

 Rocking House Recipes

This handbound book is only 15 years old, though it’s had a lot of use and so it looks older.

I made it when Kris and I moved into a ramshackle fisherman’s house on the beach in El Nido, Palawan. The elevated plywood and bamboo house was so flimsy that it shuddered every time one of the cats jumped from table to floor, it swayed giddily on its hardwood posts during storms, and, once, an entire wall facing the beach popped out while Kris and I were having a romp in bed (turning our bedroom into something like those glass-fronted rooms, open to the street, in Amsterdam’s red light areas…good thing no one was walking down the beach when it happened!)

After this episode we jokingly nicknamed the construction “Rocking House,” after Stevie Ray Vaughn’s song The House is Rockin’…When the house is a’rockin’ don’t bother knockin’

The nickname stuck, because we’ve mostly lived in boats on the water since we left El Nido (and a houseboat doesn’t just rock, it rocks and rolls…and pitches) and it’s come to be the name of our household, more than any individual house we occupy. So when I wanted a title for my household cookbook, Rocking House Recipes was the obvious choice. I made a large book (A4) of 600 pages, using a beautiful white watermarked 25% cotton paper from India, rounded spine and half-leather kidskin binding. I used primed artist’s canvas for the cover panels.

Then I drew in the lines for a busy, messy allover pattern of stylized flowers and fruit, but never got around to painting it. The book gets used almost daily, but the covers have remained in this incredibly ugly state all this time. Annoying. Clearly, I hated the design I’d drawn—which is why I never finished it—but was dragging my feet about sanding it off, re-priming the surface, and starting over.

unfinished cookbook cover (old)

I finally decided it was time to give the book covers a make-over this weekend. I wanted the book’s title to be on the cover, and for the design to be relevant to the book’s purpose and content. What is the point of a cookbook you painstakingly bind by hand, if you are going to put nothing but a meaningless pattern of floral barf on it?

I tried to stick to a very restricted palette of yellow ochre, prussian blue, opaque white for mixing tints, and black for the letters. I couldn’t resist, at the very end, adding tiny cross-hatches of red ochre (on the ham, the tomato, the chilli, the wine bottle) to pull in the reddish brown of the leather binding. I worked with a triple 0 sable pinstripe brush, thinning my paints with a low-viscosity liquefying medium, and made tiny cross-hatch marks to form the shapes…also, I really enjoyed building up the plaid tablecloth pattern this way!

Rocking House Recipes

Rocking House Recipes is more than just my cookbook…it’s my diary, too, of cooking experiments as well as anecdotes from memorable meals in cherished company. I made it to gather all my beloved recipes together in one place. It’s still mostly empty because I don’t use it for new, untried recipes (no matter how nice they sound) copied out of other books and magazines, in the hopes that I will be able to use them someday (I’m very wary of degenerating into an armchair chef, she of the fabulous kitchen and huge collection of gorgeous ‘for-display-purposes-only’ cookbooks…but who serves soggy stir-fries, shriveled hard pork chops or microwave dinners to her family on ‘ordinary’ nights)

In this book are the recipes that I have learned and embraced as my own…the ones that I am confident about, that I feel I have mastered enough to play with, to change and shape as the need arises…also, these are the dishes that we have enjoyed, by ourselves or with friends and family, many, many times over…not just the recipes that I reserve for guests or special occasions, but the ones I make almost daily because the food is so simple and beautiful, and the slow act of preparing it is grounding, and makes my soul sing.

The Basic Principles of Bread
Coq au Vin


18 thoughts on “Rocking House Recipes : : a new cover for an old book

  1. My current hobby is to type on my browser bar to infinity!!

    Today this post is my favorite. This reminds me of when Shakespeare would have the whole play re-written by a dude with a good penmanship (they do most everything by hand back then, I think) after he completes one, turning over all his messy notes with doodles and scratched-off passages.

    I’m actually considering hiring a calligraphy artist to handcraft the titles of my poems in my next book. It just feels closer to the heart that way!


  2. Beautiful! I love the new cover!! But I also loved the old one; you’re obviously very talented. That’s such a great idea – to put all your favorite recipes together in one book. I want to do it now!


    1. Thanks! Glad you liked (both) covers. Not so much talented, as observant…when I see designs I like, I try to learn from them, and then emulate them in my own work. It’s always a challenge, as these things don’t come to me naturally. If you make your own, I’d love to see it!


  3. This is just gorgeous, Nat, absolutely gorgeous — inside and out. The handwritten recipes are the icing on the cake, IMO.


  4. I listen to you throughout the week, reply images in my mind, see what you have offered us from your creative mind. I am so inspired, deeply affected. Thank you.


    1. It is deeply rewarding to know that some of my posts have touched readers—who are also mostly strangers—this way. I am the person I am because others wrote, or created, and touched me, too. I am just paying my share back to the circle of inspiration. Thank you for your comment.


    1. LOL hopefully I still have some years of cooking ahead of me, and nothing stays new for long in my use, as I am not someone who cares about scratching and battering her things (you should see my camera, held together with rubber bands…or my Macbook, with its cracked glass display from when I stepped on it, because it was lying on the floor under dirty laundry!) Character doesn’t need cultivation or preservation, it will come on its own… 😉


  5. Everything you do is so beautiful, I hold my breath when you post hoping that it will contain photos of something you’ve made. Your attention to detail and beauty in daily, useful objects reminds me of a visit I made to the art museum in Brookings, South Dakota, USA. The museum has several collections, but the first time I visited they were displaying household items from pioneering homesteads and household items from Native American (primarily Lakota) tribes. All of the items had been handcrafted. I was struck by the differences, primarily because the pioneer items were clearly made to be functional, and were very primitive in form. The Lakota items were also functional, but had additionally been crafted to include elements of beauty. The differences in world views and role of aesthetics between the two cultures was quite clear to see in these homely items. (Interestingly, the museum also has an extensive collection of Portuguese embroidery – which I thought quite boring, though after following your blog I might have more appreciation for it now!). Anyway, I can’t remember how I found you, but I’m really happy I did.


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