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Pulling it All Together – Apron Strings: Recipes from a Family Kitchen

Nessa Robins © 4 July 2013.
Posted in the Magazine ( · Food Writing · Interviews ).

I had been anxiously waiting for some time to sign a contract which would secure my book deal with a publisher. But after the initial excitement of signing my first contract, I was surprised by the emotions that followed – I was very confident about my proposed book and signed my contract, agreeing with the terms and deadlines, without a blink of an eye. Yet, once home and faced with a blank computer screen, panic ensued!

I had only four months remaining before I would hand over my manuscript of 50,000 words, yet the days were passing and I found it an increasingly arduous task to get properly stuck in. I was finding it difficult to write even a paragraph. I expect some might say it was a case of ‘writers block’, yet the proposed book was close to my heart and wasn’t unfamiliar to the writing I was already working on through my blog and columns.

I had sent a rather detailed book proposal into the publisher, which broke down chapter by chapter what the book would cover. I took my time devising this and made sure that I included everything that I thought should belong in my family cookbook.

nessa robbins apron stringsIt wasn’t terribly difficult to choose which recipes I wanted to include, as many were ones that I regularly cooked and baked in my own family kitchen. I was very clear from the onset that I wanted this book to reflect me as a person and my daily family life. In my state of doubt and inability to commence any proper book writing, early one morning I printed out this proposal and began to read through it carefully. As I studied it I thought to myself how this sounded like a smashing book, I’d certainly buy it, but I really wasn’t sure if I could transform this ambitious proposal into an actual manuscript ready to hand back to my publisher…

On re-reads of the proposal I began adding notes and soon I began to expand on my notes and actually started to put together some proper content for the book. I transported myself back to my school and college days and utilised this proposal like it was my study plan, with daily and weekly writing targets. I have four children, and since much of my writing occurred during the summer months I had to ensure that during each week I had at least two distraction-free days. This meant that my husband’s days off were busy ones. On other days I would set my alarm clock early and write while the rest of the house would sleep.

Additional to the writing and recipe testing was the photography side of the book. This is one aspect of food writing and blogging which generally fits in more effortlessly with family life. In hindsight it may have been easier to dedicate a fortnight to the photography, however at the time I quite enjoyed the occasional break from writing, while still being able to work on the book. I also liked cooking and photographing the recipes which I had just recently written about. I savour setting a scene in my photographs, so perhaps I might introduce the recipe as a childhood party favourite: I would reflect this with some bunting or other in the background. I had many photographs to shoot as I wanted to photograph every recipe, with an additional fifty lifestyle shots! As with my printed book proposal, I carried a jotter and I added ideas for props, angles and locations for the different range of photos. Within a few weeks I began to gain momentum with the photography and more importantly with the writing. I’m a true list-lover and the ticking off of the day’s recipes or photos was met with wonderful satisfaction each evening.

As this was my first book, I found the entire process a great learning experience. Naturally there would be some aspects of my day’s work that I would change, however early on in the book writing process, I realised how important my book proposal would be to the overall project. I was glad that when time wasn’t pressured I had given considerable thought into what sort of a book I really wanted to write. This proposal not only kick-started my book writing journey but also sustained it throughout the entire book writing process.

Nutritious Noodle Soup Serves 6

When I wasn’t testing my book recipes, and especially when I was spending hours on end typing, I liked to cook something quick yet filling and most importantly nutritious. This noodle soup, even though it is placed within the pregnancy chapter of my book, is one that I relied upon on many a busy day.


1 tablespoons olive oil

1 small red chilli, finely chopped

1 onion, diced

½ tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp ground cumin

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Freshly ground black pepper

2 litres vegetable/chicken stock

1 tin/350g mixed beans, drained & rinsed

1 tin/400g cooked chickpeas, drained & rinsed

200g medium egg noodles

125g spinach leaves, finely shredded

2 tbsp flat parsley leaves, roughly chopped

To Serve

100 ml crème fraiche

Handful of chopped cashews

1 lime


1.  Heat the oil in a large saucepan pot over a medium heat. Add the chilli and onion. Cook for a few minutes, until they soften. Add the turmeric, cumin, smoked paprika and a few grinds of black pepper. Stir through for about a minute.

  1. Pour in the hot stock. Bring to a boil and add the mixed beans and chickpeas to the pot. Simmer for about 15 minutes.
  2. Cook the noodles according to the packs instructions.
  3. Just before you’re ready to eat, add the cooked noodles to the simmering soup. Stir in the spinach and parsley. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
  4. Serve straight away, each bowl topped with a spoonful of crème fraiche, a sprinkling of cashew nuts and a wedge of lime on the side, for squeezing over.

I hope this recipe will sustain you through your own writing!

Apron Strings (New Island) is in all good bookshops now and available online here.

(c) Nessa Robins

Nessa is a 35 year old mother of four: Jack 11, Tiarnán 7, Fionn 5 and Millie 3. Her father  passed away on the 9th December 2012, at the age of 81, but he had lived next door to Nessa’s family and every day had dinner with them. During the holidays they have a very special man, called Nicholas, who comes to stay. Nick has Cerebral Palsy and he lives in the Camphill Community, Kilkenny, but stays with Nessa’s sister & Nessa’s family during his holidays. Nessa runs a busy household! With many different nutritional needs, likes and dislikes she loves to share her tried and tested family recipes through her blog.

Follow Nessa on Twitter @Nessa_Robins and check out her fabulous website Nessa’s Family Kitchen

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