Anatomy of a Cookbook Cover

A few months ago, this was our dilemma: when one of the main points of our book is that it’s impossible to singularly define Canadian food culture, how do we attempt to visually define that same culture within an 11x8 inch space? 

In other words, when Random House asked us our thoughts on a cover design, we were stumped. We did know this: we didn’t want it to be a photo of food, firstly because we were aiming for something a little different, and secondly because, if we’re honest, we never would have been able to settle on just one image. Since we typically refuse to answer the question, “What is THE quintessential Canadian dish?” it would have felt hypocritical to pick one out for the cover. So if food was out, then what? 


Canada’s diverse and impressive terrain is one of its most recognizable features, however this led us down the same confusing path. With everything from the Arctic Ocean and fields of wheat to mountain ranges spread across this ridiculously large country, how could we pick just one terrain-heavy photo from the thousands and call it “Canada”? We could not.  

So here's what we did: we started making very basic lists of what we think of when we think of Canada, as well as the kinds of aesthetic we like to look at. We ended up sending a mashup of ideas to our book designer CS Richardson, slightly concerned we sounded like people doing a poor job of trying to describe their weird dreams. Ultimately, these were our two main inspirations:

1) The Group of Seven

They always come to mind when we think of classic Canadiana, and paintings like these by Lawren Harris—abstract representations of Canadian mountains—seemed like a good place to start.

2) Vintage Travel Posters

We were already big fans of the designs that came out of the 1920's and 30's, but recently became particularly obsessed with those that advertised Canadian travel. They're bright, dynamic, and classy (except for the ones that poorly represent First Nations people--those ones are not classy) and were an aesthetic we kept coming back to, particularly for their use of colour.  

As it turns out, our designer is apparently quite capable of dipping into people’s dream worlds, and handily came up with this:

It's ‘diverse graphic landscape meets vintage travel poster,’ and WE LOVE IT.

In his design, Richardson layered mountains with three other prominent features of the land: forests, prairies, and water. It has the abstract nature of Harris' mountains, the beautiful, almost-textured tones of those vintage travel posters, and so much more. 

To tie in our logo, Richardson added a spoon running vertically through the title. Whether this was intentional or not, to us the top looks like a moon rising through the mountains, and at its bottom like a canoe paddle dipping into the water.  

We were in two different cities when this cover design was sent to us, but got on the phone as soon as we could. We then proceeded to scream at each other (out of joy) for quite a long time. It felt amazing to have another person’s design match the difficult-to-articulate thoughts that have been floating around in our heads, and to know that every time we look at this cover, we will only grow to love it even more. Thank you for that, dear Mr. Richardson. 


ps - looks who else loves Lawren Harris......

pps - the book comes out March 7th/2017, but we'll be releasing pre-order details ASAP! 


How to write a Cookbook, in 12 Easy Steps

1) When you get your book deal in March, cry a little. Maybe a lot. Celebrate with wine and the friends who cheered you on as you wrote your proposal. Really enjoy these moments with them, because you're not going to see them for a long time; it's just going to be you, your writing partner, and that guy with the glasses who always gets the good corner seat at the coffee shop. 

2) Forget that you have a blog/neglect it terribly. For example, don’t update it for months at a time despite the fact you call yourselves “bloggers.” This is necessary, since you will barely have time to sleep between your jobs and working on the book, but still, it will make you feel bad. Recruit your landlord's cat for comfort. 

3) Send approximately 197, 638 emails to potential contributors in order to secure/organize their recipes for the book. Joke that you are not writing a book, you are writing emails (Step 3.5: feel very pleased with yourself for making this dad joke). Enjoy the excuse to get back in touch with so many cool people across the country.    

4) Once those cool people’s recipes start pouring in, say goodbye to your inbox for awhile and begin working on the actual book. When you are not making grocery lists, recipe test. When you are not recipe testing, photograph. When you are not photographing, write. When you are not writing, edit. When you are not editing, make grocery lists. And on it goes. Create massive, shared multi-tabbed Google spreadsheets to organize yourselves. Fill many notebooks with lists. Know that if for some reason the Internet swallowed these spreadsheets/someone lit your notebooks on fire, you would cry inconsolably for a week. 

5) Recipe test, recipe test, recipe test. Sometimes this will involve very large messes. Drink wine while you clean them up.

6) Spend an inordinate amount of time wandering down neighbourhood alleys in search of wood to use in food photos, aiming for them to say to the camera, “farmhouse chic!” rather than “I am alley garbage.” Use hammers to pry rusty nails of them, wondering aloud about when you had your last tetanus shot. 

7) Every Sunday for the entire summer/fall, haul all the ingredients for 5 to 7 recipes + photography equipment over to your friend Jillian’s house, where you’re shooting the book. Be sure to bring at least 2 bags of potato chips, as well as all the necessary ingredients for cocktails. Wait until it is noon, then mix up cocktails for everyone. Actually, if it is not yet noon, mix them up anyways; you’ll need these to get through the day. Spend many hours cooking, food styling, photographing, eating potato chips, and drinking cocktails.

Clean up, then leave exhausted and happy. 

8) Edit your photos. Sit in awe at how beautifully some of them turned out, and laugh/cry in horror at the ones that didn’t. Re-shoot those. Edit again. Write the headnotes and stories for your book. Refine them over weeks and months. Edit until you no longer recognize the English language and start saying things like, “Is there is an M in salt? Silly me, it's an X." Take a little breather, then edit some more. 

9) Take one weekend off and let two pals whisk you to Tofino, where you camp, surf, have picnics on the beach, visit a brewery, and don’t look at your computers. Appreciate this little break (and the friends who gave it to you), then return to Vancouver refreshed. 

10) LEARN. This process offers you an endless education in all things book-related. And life-related, for that matter. Marvel at the power a deadline has to motivate.

11) Repeat, repeat, repeat until you’re on the homestretch in November, and spend three solid days holed up in one of your houses, piecing together the hundreds of documents you’ve compiled. Spend hours agonizing over how best to assemble them in a way that manages to tell your story. Occasionally, lie down on the floor and shout, “This is HARD!” to no one in particular. Thank your kind friends who drop off really, really amazingly good Indian food for you to eat. 

12) Once you're done, write down a guess for how many total words you think the manuscript is. Get your writing partner to do the same. Reveal them to each other....

...and stare, jaws agape, at the fact your guesses differed by exactly 4000 words. Acknowledge that yes, you have been spending too much time together. Also, neither of you are right. Each of you overshot by a few thousand words, indicating that you both think you've worked harder than you actually have. At midnight, SEND YOUR MANUSCRIPT TO YOUR EDITOR BECAUSE YOU ARE DONE. Then, saber a bottle of sparkling wine with a kitchen knife--because in this family, we saber--and revel in the joy of having 'finished' your book (for now, anyways. You don’t know it yet, but there are still at least 6 rounds of intensive editing to go). Try to muster some excitement that night, but out of sheer exhaustion instead earn the nickname “dead eyes.” Drink your sparkling wine, have a good sleep, then return to Tofino. 

Simple, right?! 

(More book-related musings on their way -- so glad to be back on the blog!)