Adopting a cat

IMG_1086I recently adopted two cats. Before taking the plunge, there were so many things to consider. These ranged from the very basic to, such as: ‘do we have enough space?’, to the more complex: ‘what about when we go on holiday? do we want a kitten? how much do cats cost on a day-to-day basis?’. Here is what I learnt…

Ask yourself: do I really want a kitten? So, so many people assumed I was going to adopt a kitten. However, given that I work full time, this didn’t strike me as practical. Kittens need so much attention that I think it cruel to adopt a kitten and then leave it to grow up on its own while you are at work. At an absolute maximum, adopting two is recommended (and mandatory for most shelters I looked at), but really think about why you want a kitten. There are so many adult cats out there that need a home.

Do not assume that an adult cat will not be fun. I personally have ended up with cats that canter around the flat, faceplant the fridge when chasing toys, and wrestle so much they tumble off the sofa. Their antics make me cry with laughter (and occasionally cry for the state of my houseplants) and they have really strong personalities. My cats are 1.5 and 3 years old.

Make contact with refuges in your area. To most this is a no-brainer, but check out a cat adoption centre. Most are overrun with cats needing homes, and they are almost always neutered, vaccinated and microchipped already. Buying a cat from a breeder not only encourages more cats to be bred unnecessarily, but also potentially creates animals with serious genetic defects (one google of pedigree animals is enough to put you off for life).

Scaredy-cats can be incredibly rewarding. In the refuge, our cats lived in a pair. One was very forward and affectionate, whereas the other sat trembling in the corner. He looked so tiny, and it was heartbreaking to see the fear in his eyes. In fact, we closed the cage and backed away because we were so worried about scaring him so much. When we got home, I expected him to be super timid, and require a lot of TLC. Fast-forward just over a week, and he is king of the house. The change in him is remarkable, scarcely believable. It is so rewarding to build trust with rescue animals, and see them grow in confidence. That said, this also means that I rarely get to sit on my own sofa anymore (see photo!). The floor is fine :p

My top tip would be to assign one room to your new cat when you take them home for the first time. I live in a tiny flat, so our only spare, quiet room was the bathroom. This worked fine. The idea is to put everything the cat needs into one room, open the door of its carrier, and leave. This gives the cat some time to adjust to the move in a safe, enclosed space, and I have found that the cats still retreat to the bathroom if they are scared. For the first day I shut them in the bathroom together, and visited maybe once an hour or so. The second day, I left the door open a touch and they came out to explore at their leisure. By the third day, the cats were all over the flat, but still able to go into the bathroom when they were worried. Now, they just go in to hide when I turn the hoover on, but I am really happy they have a safe space to themselves. I plan to repeat this whenever I have to move in the future.

Finally, ignore people who don’t love your new addition as much as you do. The first comment I had from a family member was “oh god, bet they’re expensive”. Yes, adding two extra things to feed and look after has raised my living costs. Funny enough, I did check that before burdening myself for the next fifteen years or so… Do not let others spoil your happy time. You will probably spend much more time with your cats than with the haters, so pick your loyalties wisely…



Confessions of an Assistant Editor

When I began working, I wasn’t quite sure what my job would entail. Of course, I had seen, and signed, a job description. I had taken on an interesting job in a highly-ambitious project, supported by the European Union. But I was suspicious that there would be more to it than applying spellcheck to poorly-written reports. To make it worse, when I arrived, my colleague of one day announced she was leaving. Was I right to wonder? In short, yes…

If you are doing anything with the European Commission, expect it to take quite a few goes. This came as news to me, as I imagined that anything to do with the EC would be well-managed, focused, precise. However, I have found this to be unrealistic given the huge size and scope of the organisation. Just as in the rest of life, I suppose, there are great people everywhere, balanced out with a selection of idiots. In terms of producing documents for the EC, understand that your researcher colleagues are interested in actually doing science, and writing about it for journals. This is what will further their career, and promote their groundbreaking new work. They are not interested in reproducing the most banal parts of their research in an awkward EC-approved Word template. I would recommend respecting this: science editors are, in my view, designed to support scientists, not denounce them if they corrupt the template. Be patient, and perhaps learn some LaTeX.

I have found the EC to be fairly frustrating to work with at times: as so much is at stake for our Commission colleagues, they are reluctant to tell us how to do anything, in case their perspective is not quite right. This results in vague, half-arsed instructions, which give rise to documents that don’t fit the format they were expecting. Getting concrete input is difficult, and ultimately leads to documents being redrafted far more times than is necessary or efficient. So far, I have not found a way to overcome this, so I would recommend getting a stress ball or similar.

Old ideas are tough to get rid of. If your colleagues do not understand how to use computers properly, your team will be hideously inefficient. As a freelancer, I was used to working at my own pace, which was always full-speed ahead (mainly so I had time to go to the bakery in the afternoon). This is obviously something that is less achievable in an office, where you are relying on the input of other people. However, getting everyone on the same page in terms of how to use technology to make work more efficient, instead of it just being the medium used to edit documents, is worthwhile.

Consistency is King. A style guide is a must if there is more than one editor. And, I would argue that people with no specific writing/editing experience need not apply—there is a particular pedantic streak required to edit thousands of words written by other people in a consistent manner. Editing does not particularly hinge on whether you are intelligent or not; it is more to do with being able to do the same thing every single time.

Oat and sultana cookies


These are incredibly quick to rustle up on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Makes 12 cookies

  • 100g caster sugar
  • 75ml vegetable oil
  • 75g plain flour
  • 1/4tsp baking powder
  • 60g sultanas
  • 1/2 egg
  • 150g oats
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/8tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 180˚. Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper. Soak the sultanas in 50ml hot water for 10 mins. Then mix the sugar, beaten egg, vanilla extract, cinnamon, water from soaking the sultanas, and the vegetable oil in a large bowl. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt, and mix well. Finally, add the oats and raisins. The dough will be somewhere between a cookie and a flapjack, and is a little crumbly at this stage. Scoop around a tablespoon and a half of mixture from the bowl, and roll between your hands to make a ball. Press this down onto the baking sheet to fashion a cookie shape. Once complete, bake for around 12 mins, until slightly golden around the edges. These do not spread while baking, but I did still cook them in two batches. When they come out of the oven they will still be a little soft, but harden as they cool.

Pork and cabbage gyoza


Gyoza are one of my absolute favourite things to eat. My obsession began many years ago at Wagamama, and I have been on the lookout for my next serving ever since. They can seem daunting to make, but as I found out, they are actually pretty easy.

Makes 28 gyoza

  • 350g pork mince (high fat content if possible)
  • 350g Chinese cabbage
  • 1–2tsp salt
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2.5cm piece fresh ginger
  • 3 spring onions
  • 28 gyoza wrappers
  • 1tbsp vegetable oil

Finely shred the cabbage, and place it in a bowl with 1tsp salt. Mix and leave for 15 mins. In the meantime, finely chop the garlic, ginger and spring onions. Once the 15 mins is up, transfer the cabbage to a clean tea towel or muslin and squeeze hard to wring out the excess liquid. There will be more than you imagine, so keep squeezing until no more liquid is released. Then place the pork mince, cabbage, garlic, ginger and spring onions into a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Once the mixture becomes slightly sticky, it is ready.

Set out the gyoza wrappers, filling, and a small bowl filled with water. To make the gyoza, hold a wrapper in the palm of your hand, and fill with 1–2tsp of the pork mixture. Then dip your finger in the water and use it to lightly dampen the rim of the wrapper. Then pleat your dumpling: I made three folds per side, as shown in the batch on the right-hand side of the picture, but more complex folds are common, and dare I say slightly more authentic.

Heat a glug of vegetable oil in a frying pan, and fry the gyoza until the bottom is crisp and golden. Then, add 50ml or so of water to the pan, and cover for 4–5 mins. This steams the gyoza, and should cook the filling. Once cooked, uncover the pan and continue to fry the gyoza until the bottom crisps back up. Then enjoy! I ate mine with a simple soy and vinegar dipping sauce and some Japanese seven spice.

Almond, chocolate, and orange biscotti


Having recently moved to a flat that has a fully-functioning oven, I thought now was just the right time to get baking. I did some research into biscotti recipes, and found that there were loads of different ways to go about making them. So, after a little trial and error, here’s mine.

  • 110g caster sugar
  • 110g plain flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 60g skin-on almonds
  • 50g chopped dark chocolate
  • 1 beaten egg
  • Zest of one orange

Preheat the oven to 200˚c. Line a large baking sheet with greaseproof paper. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, and bring the dough together with well-floured hands. Attempt to create a vague cylinder that is about 5cm wide, and place on the baking sheet. Bake for 15 mins, until the dough becomes golden on top. Remove from the oven and allow to cool, before slicing into strips. These can be as thin or as thick as you wish — I chose to cut mine about 1.5cm thick. Reduce oven temperature to 150˚c. Place the strips back on the baking sheet, and cook for a further 5–10 minutes on each side, depending on how crunchy you want the final biscuits to be. Cooking for the full time will result in very crunchy biscuits that are great dunked in espresso or wine: a little less will yield biscuits that don’t cause your dentist sleepless nights.