Wednesday 30 December 2015

Cupid's Casserole

When I have friends or family come to lunch then my favourite recipe is a casserole. You can prepare it before anyone arrives and then leave it cooking in the oven whilst you spend time with your visitors.

My favourite casserole recipe is pasted into my recipe book (inherited from my great-grandmother) - I've had it so long I can't remember where it came from - one of those leaflets you pick up in a supermarket (possibly Safeway guessing from the age of those clippings).

Cupid's Casserole 
Serves 4

450g of diced braising steak
160g to of bacon lardons
1 tsp oil
1 tbsp flour
175ml red wine
300ml beef stock
1clove of crushed garlic
1 bouquet garni
20 peeled shallot onions

Heat the oven to gas mark 3

Heat the oil in a large saucepan
Brown the beef and sprinkle in the flour

Cook gently for 1-2 minutes
Stir in the wine, stock, garlic and bouquet garni
Blend and then transfer to a casserole dish

Fry the lardons, and add the onions

Cook for five minutes
Transfer to the casserole dish, discarding any fat

Cook in the oven for two hours

Any accompaniment goes well with this, some boiled potatoes and vegetables make a great meal.

Tuesday 24 November 2015

The Lucky Cats

These little guys sit on my desk at work. They make me smile, and they annoy my boss (apparently it makes my desk messy!).

The best bit of all about these 'lucky' cats though is the Amazon review I read which persuaded me to buy them (I needed a lot of persuading as you can imagine!).

My Story - By S. Altaf on 4 Feb. 2014Verified PurchaseI originally bought these as I was looking for some minor, unobtrusive decor that I could place on my office desk; nobody would really notice it and as I was pondering problems, I would pick it up and play with them in my hands (they are tiny). That's what I told myself. The real reason was that and I could do with a bit of luck in my life. The description mentioned that it was white for health, pink for love and black for protection. Just what I needed.
Soon after buying these, I started to feel a cold coming on so I began carrying the white one in my pocket wherever I went. I put it in my shirt pocket on my morning train commutes, as London trains are places where sicknesses are exacerbated. Surely this would keep me hale and healthy! But no, it made no difference. As was typical, traveling in the tubes made my cold worse and I had to stay at home for a few days, missing important work deadlines. Even during the worst of it, I would take the little cat out and bring it near my mouth whenever I coughed or sneezed - thinking it would somehow stop - but nothing happened.
Thinking the white one defective, I put it away with the thought that I would return it later; it was time to test the pink one. There was a co-worker with whom I had become friendly recently and was hoping to ask out on a date. I began carrying the pink cat in my shirt pocket, and as we were making afternoon coffee one day I began asking the question as I reached for the spoons which were on a low shelf. I was only a few words into the sentence at this point when the pink cat fell right out onto the carpet. I stopped and we both stared at it. I in horror at any judgment that may be cast upon me for carrying it, and her in surprise. But this surprise turned into a delighted squeal as she quickly reached down and snatched it up. She was smiling from ear to ear and it seemed to have quite an effect upon her, she found it very cute and adorable. But before I could even continue asking her out, she had run off back to her desk. Over the next few days, her attitude towards me had completely changed. She had the pink cat on her desk - my pink cat - and would give me an icy stare of death whenever I walked past or simply ignore me. But I would often catch her wistfully smiling and playing with the pink cat - my pink cat - quite often throughout the day.
It was a lost cause, and at this point I didn't think I'd be able to get any kind of refund back; I let the pink cat go and moved on to the final one. The black cat, for protection. To avoid any other mishaps, I started carrying the black cat in my back pocket. There was no chance this would fall out now. A fateful day arrived - as I was walking home one night, a group of thugs surrounded me. They demanded my wallet and phone (promising to return the SIM, these were civilized thugs after all). Knowing that I had the black cat for protection, I refused. One of the thugs got angry at this and pushed me quite hard. As I stumbled back, my foot got caught on the curb and I twisted as I fell. I ended up falling hard on my stomach and face. The thugs laughed and searched my pockets, taking my wallet and phone. They found the black cat but put it back where it was. Some protection that was!
So that was it - I was very angry and had decided to complain to the sellers about the spate of bad luck that these things had brought me. I would demand a refund even if the pink cat was not part of the returned packaging! As with all major decisions, I decided to sleep on it before ranting at them in the morning.
The very next day, when I woke up, a realization hit me. You see, these cats were exactly what they said they were in the title - *they* were the lucky cats. The white cat hadn't fallen sick - it was lucky in health. The pink cat had been taken by my co-worker - it was lucky in love. The black cat was protected by my fall - it was lucky in protection. It wasn't that these things would bring me luck, they were exactly what they said they were - these were lucky cat kittens. Only a fool would think that inanimate objects can bring luck to them, the universe doesn't work that way. My mind had been opened and freed at last. The epiphany was enough for this product to earn a 5 star rating from me. I happily went back to reading my horoscopes for the day to see what else fate had in store for me.

I guarantee this will make you smile, even if you don't end up buying three small lucky cats!

Tuesday 27 October 2015

Shaken Not Stirred?

In advance of the latest James Bond movie the debate re-ignites on the perfect Martini. Gin Mare got in touch with me to share some interesting information on the perfect recipe for Bond's iconic cocktail.

Mixologist Stuart Bale from Strangehill shared his findings to make the perfect martini.

The perfect martini should actually be stirred (not shaken), made with gin (not vodka) and ideally (probably depending on the gin used) garnished with a strawberry (not an olive).

Olives were used in drinks to help release flavours but using a small amount of salt works better, a garnish of fruit helps release the botanicals in the gin.

Below is the recipe shared by Gin Mare:-


50ml Gin Mare

25ml Lillet Blanc

0.5ml salt solution*

1 small whole strawberry 


Add all ingredients to a metal mixing tin filled with ice. Stir for between 20-30 seconds, until the drink is chilled and diluted appropriately. Taste using a straw, until ready and strain into a chilled, stemmed or coupe cocktail glass.


Half a strawberry on cocktail stick

*Salt solution

20g Sea salt, dissolved in 100ml water

Sunday 20 September 2015

My other animals... part 3

A few weeks ago I was writing about one of my favourite books "My Family and Other Animlas" - so here is the second of a series of posts about my "other animals".

Pigeons are a huge part of our garden community. Half a dozen years ago we had a couple of feral pigeons (nicknamed by MiL as Anthony and Cleopatra) they were easy to spot with very distinctive plumage. Over time we have now collected a huge community.

We have a couple (they are a couple as well) of coloured doves. We also have a few extremely large wood pigeons (they are really rather large birds) and an absolute gang of pigeons. Some of these are kept by a neighbour at the bottom of our garden, some of these are feral, some of these are rock pigeons and some even now are the brown feral pigeons often seen over in the City of London.

Birdwatch 15

This is part of the pigeon tribe (mostly the rock pigeons) waiting for feeding time sitting on top our bedroom roof; you can hear them inside doing war dances (!)

This is one of the over-large wood pigeons. The are the absolute epitome of bird-brains! I have watched on walk up to the peanut feeder, wander around, work out that to reach he needs to climb on the brick, get a peanut, go back to the ground to eat the peanut... and then start the whole process of how to reach the peanut over again!


The collared doves are always hanging out as a couple, they look our for each other and raise their families together


My mother has a delightful family of collared doves, they bought up their brood in a rather precarious nest behind the satellite dish on the house next door, and used to leave the babies on the patio table whilst they were off hunting.


Babies resting in the sun and parent keeping an eye on the rest of the world.

Monday 14 September 2015

#ChallengeMS - 2nd Monday

#ChallengeMS - 2nd Monday! One of my colleagues returned from his holidays and noticed the orange hair!

I took a stroll along Piccadilly at lunch to visit the RAF Bomber Command memorial. I've driven past it quite a lot but this was my first visit. My grandfather flew bombers for the RAF so it is a lovely spot to sit down and remember him.

On the way to work

Taking calls
At Bomber Command

We will remember them

Through adversity to the stars

Sunshine in Green Park (just before it rained again!)

If you can please make a donation to the MS Society to help fund their continuing research.
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Sunday 13 September 2015

#ChallegeMS - how MS feels

First off, MS is a very individual experience. Everyone's symptoms are different, and, even when they are similar they effect everyone very differently.

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Should you wish, here are some suggestions that you could try (a la "ice bucket challenge") to experience some common symptoms

1. Optic Neuritis
The visual disturbances that come with optic neuritis can range from mild and slightly irritating to sever and difficult to deal with. For me they are characterised by general desaturation (just play with the filters on your favourite photo editing programme) and a specific loss of the colour red (very noticeable in London with all the red buses!). There is also quite often a general visual disturbance which makes it hard to see detail - choose a fairly grey day and walk around with your sunglasses on.

2. Numb legs and feet
I don't have much feeling in my legs below the knee, certainly pretty much none in my feet - I have to look to check if I have socks and shoes on or not, and to make sure where they are in relation to the rest of my body - they have their own pathway in time and space (!).  What does it feel like? Put on a couple of pairs of really thick socks.

3. Numb hands
My fingers are all pretty numb too. It makes touch typing quite amusing if I happen to miss placing my fingers on the home keys! It makes it difficult to put in earrings, do up necklaces and buttons and generally anything that requires mine motor skills. How does it feel? Trying putting on a couple of pairs of snug-fitting rubber gloves.

4. Balance problems
I can walk a few steps without losing my balance; it is safest to use walking aids (or make sure that there is some furniture to grab on to). To replicate this you could either try spinning around really fast until you get dizzy (you know how much fun that was when you were a kid!). To make you more conscious of your balance and walking get a nice heavy book, balance it on your head, and go about your day.

5. Fatigue
Fatigue is one of the difficult symptoms people deal with. It is invisible and misunderstood. It goes deeper than just being tired and needing a nap (although that should never be turned down). Fatigue is crushing. It comes on suddenly. I'll be walking, or standing, or just going about my day when I hit the wall. Then I have to stop. Immediately. I have to sit down. Immediately. Fatigue can be managed, you can plan your activities to make sure you don't run out of spoons. At the end of the day though, when fatigue hits that is it. Difficult to replicate this one, but a little way towards it would be getting some of those strap on weights and attaching them around your ankles and wrists and strenuously going about your day.

There are many more symptoms than the handful above; the best way to understand them, really, is to talk to people who have MS and find out what their personal experiences are.

#ChallengeMS 2015

Why #ChallengeMS - My Story

If you go to their website the MS Society summarise quite neatly why #ChallengeMS is so important.

For me, it's personal; so I thought I'd share a bit of my story and experiences.

There is no cure for MS, there are disease modifying therapies available, but there is no cure. Let's face it, science isn't even sure what causes it. Is it genetic? Is it triggered by an innocuous disease? Is it lack of Vitamin D? Could it be a combination of some and/or all of these things?

I was diagnosed with MS back around 2001/2002. I'd had several bouts of Optic Neuritis (I still suffer this and have just finished a combative course of steroids). Optic Neuritis is an inflammation of the optic nerve. It sometimes causes pain behind the affected eye, but more obviously causes visual disturbances. 

The next problems were pins and needles in my hands and legs; always exacerbated by activity and not enough rest. The pins and needles were joined by general muscle weakness which made gripping things, picking things up and writing harder.

The sensory disturbances developed into balance difficulties. Sometimes I had vertigo, most often I just wobbled. My legs didn't have as much strength. I worked through using a walking stick to crutches and now my wheelie-walker.

All of this happened quite gradually over the last dozen years, which means if nothing else I can adapt to the way my body does (or doesn't) work.

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Wet weather

#ChallengeMS 2014 

My other animals... part 2

A few weeks ago I was writing about one of my favourite books "My Family and Other Animlas" - so here is the second of a series of posts about my "other animals".

Recently voted as Britain's National Bird in an RSPB poll, we have a delightful family of robins living in our garden. From slim birds to little round birds their cheery red breasts are a common sight in the garden. They are quite happy to share the garden with all comers - especially the human gardeners!

Robin (4)

As Husband or MiL (or even sometimes me) make our way around the garden trimming and weeding and even moving the lawn the little robins will follow on behind to see what is turned up from our activities hoping for scuttling buts, or maybe a worm, or just some handy nesting bits. They often sit on the edge of the compost bin to make sure "waste not, want not" nothing good gets by them!

Robin's mate

This is one of the little round red-breasted tennis balls on wings! Making to most of the seed dropped by the pigeons (who are very messy eaters!),

Friday 11 September 2015

911 Remembered

For one generation it was the assassination of JFK...

For another generation it was man landing on the moon...

There is a moment in the global consciousness that people of a certain age can recall with total clarity years, now decades after the event.

For people of my age it was 9th September 2001.

It was early on a Tuesday morning in the United States, it was lunch time in London.

It is hard to recollect the Information Age that was around has at the beginning of the 21st Century. The Internet was not as prevalent, not the instant resource for news, and certainly not as fast and all-seeing and all-knowing as it is now.

We were sitting at out desks, eating lunch and catching up with the morning. I worked in a Regency style building in Central London at the time, lots of small interconnecting rooms over three or four floors of office. I remember one of my colleagues coming back from the shops and saying that they'd heard some people in the street saying that a plane had hit a building in New York. The instant verification from websites and Twitter wasn't the next call then. A few more colleagues came back from the shops, with bits of further reports - the World Trade Centre, a 747 plane... 

Surely 747 couldn't be right? That would be a jumbo-jet, surely they meant a light aircraft?

News was slow to emerge. Websites crashed under traffic requests. We all got back to work, but the afternoon was constantly interrupted with updates and further new snippets. 

My brother worked over in Canary Wharf and the buildings there were evacuated; several high profile London buildings were.

The evening papers were almost impossible to get hold of that night, everyone needed to know what had happened; although it wasn't until the following day that the full horror became apparent.

#ChallengeMS - Bonus Wig Out (Friday)

I took a trip over to Rotherhithe this morning. The original plan was to seek Tsar Peter the Great in Deptford, by I didn't quite make it back there today.

Waiting for a bus
I took the tube from North Greenwich to Canada Water where I took my first trip on the London Overground to Rotherhithe. 

Rotherhithe is famous for the tunnel, constructed between 1904 and 1908 using tunnelling shield and cut-and-cover.


Passing on the way to the river I saw St Mary's Rotherhithe, and took a look inside (memories of visiting the churches last September!).


Christopher Jones, Captain of the Mayflower is buried (unknown location) in the Churchyard of St Mary's. Also buried in the churchyard is Prince Lee Boo, born on a Pacific Island.

St Mary's Rotherhithe
Down by the river is the delightful looking Mayflower pub; a trip to the Brunel Museum and lunch at the Mayflower are definitely planned in the future.


This pub was built in the 16th Century and originally called the Spread Eagle. Rumour has it (couldn't be verified as the pub was closed when I was there) that you can by US postage stamps inside!

Down by the Thames
Outside The Mayflower
Feeling the heat!
The tide was out down by the Thames. Delightful river-scapes. Stay tuned for more adventures with me in the wig!


Monday 7 September 2015

#ChallengeMS - Wig Out (later that day!)

    Lunchtime outside the Royal Academy

    A Monday post-box 

    Phone box opposite the Ritz

    Taking the wig off!

    Ready for next week!

#ChallengeMS 2015 - Wig Out!

Every Monday throughout September I'll be wearing my fabulous orange wig to support the MS Society and the #ChallengeMS campaign. It is all about raising awareness about MS, and more importantly raising money for MS research (there is a link to my JustGiving page at the end of this post).

This is Monday morning; the commute to work, answering the phone, compiling submissions

In the car on the way to work
Answering the phone at work
Taking a breath of air
Going up!

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Sunday 6 September 2015

My other animals... part 1

A few weeks ago I was writing about one of my favourite books "My Family and Other Animlas" - so here is the first of a series of posts about my "other animals".

First up the Parakeets. Until I lived in the London suburbs I'd always assumed that the parakeets were an urban legend, or at least strongly exaggerated. Turns out not to be the case. There are anywhere between three and seven of them knocking around in our corner of South East London. They are social, noisy, argumentative and (quite honestly) usually referred to me as the Green Feather Hooligans.

2015-02-08 12.24.42

They do behave delightfully like the parrots and tropical birds you see in aviaries. Shown here with one hanging upside down to attack the coconut fat ball and the other waiting his turn patiently (ish).

2014-01-11 09.02.08

You can see three of them here sitting in a tree in our garden. Three seems to be about the most that will share a tree at once. The preferred roosting patterns involve sitting in trees that are several gardens removed, two or three in a tree, and squawking loudly and enthusiastically. Then all the squawking fails they take to the wing and chase each other around the trees. So sort of game of tag on the wing (!)

Friday 7 August 2015

My Family and Other Animals

When I was around ten years old I got to the age where I would go and stay the night at friends' houses. This was when I discovered that I didn't like being away from home overnight. I didn't really overcome this fear until I went on the an exchange programme when I was fifteen (and even then I took one of my mum's cardigans to wear at bedtime!).

My constant companion, whenever I went away overnight, was Gerald Durrell's "My Family and Other Animals". The copy below isn't that copy, that was a Penguin orange and cream version, I think it is still at my Mum's house being held together by cellotape.

I read this book so many times that Gerry, Larry, Leslie, Margo, Mother, Spiro and the animals and birds were an extended family to me that I could fall asleep accompanied by in strange beds.

A family friend who spent a lot of time in Jersey used to give my brother and I membership to the children's club attached to Gerald Durrell's zoo on the island. Occasional magazines which had a pen-friend page gave me an early taste of making friends in other countries; I had pen-friends in France, Spain and Turkey. When I was about 16 we visited Jersey and went to the zoo, to see our adopted Canada Goose (amongst other birds and animals).

Reading this book so many times helped to develop my love of animals, both my pets and the wildlife in our garden and visiting wildlife reserves, zoos and more.

My Family and Other Animals 

There will be a series of posts on the theme of "...other animals" introducing the animals and wildlife in my life.

Sunday 26 July 2015

My week on Instagram

First week back at work after my summer holidays - we are now into full on office move panic mode (!)

A photo posted by Nat (@themrsnatg) on
A photo posted by Nat (@themrsnatg) on

A photo posted by Nat (@themrsnatg) on

A photo posted by Nat (@themrsnatg) on
A photo posted by Nat (@themrsnatg) on
A photo posted by Nat (@themrsnatg) on
A photo posted by Nat (@themrsnatg) on
Do come and follow me on Instagram or come back for next week's highlights.


The weather has been all over the place this week. There have been sunny blue skies to dismal overcast grey skies to persistent and even torrential rain.

On Friday I had to go to surgical appliances to get my shoe orthotics looked at. The problem, it turned out, was that I had the on not only upside down but also back to front. Getting this sorted out was such a relief, not least because of the walking that Friday seemed to accrue. The bus stop down the road was shut (a sink hole apparently) and there was no replacement so I had to shuffle all the way to the next stop (down and back up the hill).  

After the hospital I stopped at the Co-Op in the Village, didn't find what I was looking for so walked off to the bus stop to go down to the Riverside Sainsbury's. Warren Walk (like a lot of the bus stops you hear announced as you go by) seems an odd name, When you walk to it you discover that like many it is named after an actual street (or in this case a passageway). Warren Walk disappears of down a hill and endless steps between walls and fences and under trees. Quite charming in its own urban way.


Tuesday 7 July 2015

7/7 - Remembered

The morning of July 7th 2005 for Londoners is a seminal moment for those living and working in London. Like the moon landings or the assassination of JFK everyone remembers where they were, whether out in London or hearing the news at home or at work.

It was around nine o'clock on a Thursday morning. I was out of the office over in the Brick Lane area for a breakfast meeting, accompanying my boss. The meeting had started about 8am and we were heading back to our office just before 9am. As we left the offices we were visiting the receptionist wished us luck with our journey, she'd heard that there was a power outage or similar affecting the tube service.

You have to remember for a moment what the world was like back a decade ago. We didn't have smart phones, barely used the internet on cell phones. Mobile communications were very much about calls and text messages. 

We left the offices and started walking back to Aldgate station, where we'd arrived an hour earlier, to take the Circle line back to Westminster. It became apparent almost immediately that what had happened was more than a power outage, it was abnormally quiet out on the streets. I think we must have managed to get through on the phone to our office to find out what had happened that morning. 

My most overriding memory of the morning is that I was terrified. Terrorist events had always been in the background of my consciousness, my Mum worked in the City and there was an awareness of disruption through my childhood of IRA bombs and security alerts. I had never been so directly affected before. I remember standing on the street trying to get through on cell phones to let family know we were OK, and my legs were shaking. We gave up our travel efforts and went for a cup of coffee.

In the end our plan of action was to walk back to my boss's flat in Docklands from where he could give me a lift by car back to South East London. I measured the route later, it was a four mile walk (I was a lot more mobile a decade ago).

It was a surreal experience, walking through the streets (with occasional rain showers). It was quiet apart from other people similarly undertaking treks back homewards. Stoicism was the overriding mood that prevailed - a huge juxtaposition to the celebration of the previous day and the announcement of London being awarded the 2012 Olympics.

Sitting back at my boss's flat we were finally able to find out what had taken place that morning, with news cycles constantly evolving as more information came to light. It was, in the end, a short hop through the Tunnel home. We didn't open the office again until the following week, although it was over a year until I ventured back on the Tube.

7/7 Memorial in Hyde Park