Chr-Istanbul

Puzzled by the title? Me too (does it work!?) – but let me explain; it’s my hackneyed way of announcing that I went abroad to the Turkish cultural behemoth over the festive period.

I flew out with my boyfriend Lacey on my 27th birthday – which was fittingly on the 27th December. We were planning to spend New Year’s Eve with his friends, but wanted to get a few days extra out of the extended break.

We headed to ‘Euroflash’ bar 360, at the top of a random building just off a busy shopping street. Having arrived in the city slightly later than planned and finding the lift tricky to kick into gear, we bumped into a kindly stranger who asked us where we were from, was delighted when we said London and promptly led us to a restaurant on the second floor, filled with locals who were confused by our presence; this was not 360 – no matter what the gent was saying. A young waiter pointed us in the right direction and we finally made it to the rooftop bar.

The food itself was fine – but expensive by Istanbul standards at 60 Turkish Lira for my sea bass main (around £14 – by comparison I had the same cooked to a higher standard for 25 TL the following evening). But we got to take a first night photo on the roof, next to a tower made of Carlsberg glass bottles.

#Istanbul #360restaurant

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On the subject of food, pretty much everything we ate was a bargain and tasted amazing (apart from one place that advertised Greek salad with feta and served it with smoked white cheese – an unsatisfactory swap). You could easily have a main for less than £6 at a proper restaurant and even feed two for less than £10, as we did at a kebab shop (which we referred to as ‘hipster kebab’ due to its trendy branding). It’d truly be a waste not to take advantage of the fresh fish, cooked by experts for next to nothing – there’s even fishermen who set up their kit on Galata Bridge every day.

Fishermen of the #Bosphorus

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It’s really hard to write a post about Istanbul without posting gazillions of photos of the cats and dogs that call its streets and derelict buildings home. In an effort to exercise restraint, I’ll advise animal fans to check out my Instagram for more furry snaps.

Grey moggie from the block #catsofistanbul #catsofinstagram #catstantinople

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The reason there’s so many pets in the street is because the local council know their residents love animals, but don’t want them in their home. Therefore, they provide food and some shelters for the animals on the street and leave them to it – with dogs sporting plastic tags in their ears. That means the level of friendliness in the cats varies (some are incredibly friendly, others – including some adorable kittens – are more wary), but the dogs are very cheerful and not at all threatening.

Our guest house in the #snow #Istanbul

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We stayed at a little guest house, the Noble House Galata,  a couple of minutes walk from Galata Tower, which had two steps made of tile – perilous in the onslaught of very deep, powdery snow. It seems that it’s common for Turkish hotel rooms to have showers in them – ours was in a corner of the room, with a toilet in a cupboard-like construction in another.

Flashback to #Istanbul hotel room. Loo in a cupboard, shower by the bed

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The photo above is from our second room in the guest house – our first didn’t have a working light in the ‘toilet cupboard’ and the shower was almost too small. Coupled with sheets dirtied by the unswept floor, we were desperate to move – luckily we were after two nights. By the end of our stay, I was almost sad to leave. Still, if you ever want to test a young relationship, try staying in the same guest house; using the loo in such close proximity to each other will show whether you’re in it for the long haul.

Being big on value, I trotted out into the shopping street on New Year’s Eve, I managed to grab some beauty bargains from a couple of shops – spending less than £6 on the haul above (eye pencils, face masks, nail polish, body lotion and razors – I may give the snail mask a go and write a post about it at a later date). The eye pencils, at about £1 each, aren’t the smoothest on my eyes, but the colours are lovely and stayed put during the NYE murder mystery party our friend Abi wrote and organised later that night.

But eating and shopping aside – and yes we went to the amazing Grand Bazaar, but found better prices for the same products on the hill by Galata Tower – where did we go?

The Suleiman Mosque

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We visited three mosques (and do take a headscarf or buy one from 5 TL if you’re female – I lived in not-too-tight jeans for my week there), including the Blue Mosque favoured by tourists, but I preferred the Suleiman Mosque, which was built during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent and where his tomb can be seen (and even entered). Less familiar to the crowds, you gain a sense of peace and have space to take in your surroundings. It’s also conveniently close to the Bosphorus and the Grand Bazaar.

Harem lifestyle, yo #Istanbul #TopkapiPalace

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There’s a wealth of things to do in Istanbul, and we picked up a five day museum pass for 85 TL (about £20) to use for the Topkapi Palace and Harem, the Archeological Museum, the Hagia Sofia and the Galata Mawlavi House Museum. The palace Harem, which required an extra ticket for non-pass holders, had much of its area under conservation, so wasn’t as grand as you’d expect – although the palace is in a spectacular condition and hugely popular with tourists keen to see Islamic relics and calligraphy.

The archeological museum is brilliant for explaining the rich history of Istanbul – including its Byzantine and Roman periods. It’s currently undergoing a makeover, but I’d absolutely recommend visiting its three floors of history.

Inside the #hagiasofia in #Istanbul

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The Hagia Sofia, a Byzantine church that became a mosque during the Ottoman reign before becoming a museum in the 20th century, is an absolutely stunning spectacle – with its mix of Islamic calligraphy and titles, and featuring partially uncovered golden mosaics from 1,000 years ago. It’s very busy, but massive – so you can actually move around unbothered!

On our last day in Istanbul, I went to the Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı (turkish bath), in my favourite area of the city, Tophane (it’s brilliant for boutiques, food and drinks). For 150 TL, I was stripped of all but my bikini bottoms, made to lie on a hot stone for 20 minutes, before being scrubbed, having masses of soap suds doused over me and getting a hardcore, brief back massage and a rinse – all sat by a sink surrounded by other ladies in the same situation. In other words, it’s not for people who are uncomfortable being touched by strangers (or seen in a very vulnerable position by them)! I wasn’t sure if I enjoyed the experience at first, but the massage was a godsend after walking up and down the numerous snow-laden hills of Istanbul for six days straight. (My ultimate tip – take walking boots with you.)

Travel around the city is made cheap and easy by purchasing an Instanbul Card (like an Oyster) for 7 TL. Unlike Oyster cards, one can be used by more than one passenger. All journeys – on metro, tram, bus and boat, costs 2.15 TL – which means you can take a boat to Asia for 50 pence.

After a week, I’m desperate to go back to the city already. There’s still so much to explore and some amazing food waiting to be tasted. And we’ve got a bit of credit on our Istanbul Card waiting to be spent…

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My ‘everything’ tomato sauce

Before I started tinkering with tinned tomatoes and ‘finding my own way’ with recipes, I tried loads of different tomato pasta sauce recipes, but I’ve pretty much sworn by this one for a couple of years.

It’s quick, cheap and easy, goes with anything and can be adapted to your tastes. It’s also easily doubled and doesn’t require puree or vegetable stock like some recipes I’ve previously tried.

Chuck in some chopped pepper (frozen or fresh), courgettes or mushrooms after your onions are softened but before adding the chopped tomatoes and heat for a couple of minutes as an extra way of getting your five a day.

I have this with pasta (brilliant for a packed lunch) or on top of fish – particularly those frozen fillets you can get. If you’re not going with the fresh ingredients, this can be made entirely from store cupboard essentials

Frankie’s simple tomato sauce (makes two generous portions)

You will need…

  • Tin of chopped tomatoes
  • Dried basil or mixed herbs (if you’ve got fresh, go for it)
  • One small red onion (chopped finely)
  • A few fat cloves of garlic, crushed (adjust to taste – I’m a garlic fiend)
  • Chilli powder or half a chopped red chilli (it’s properly spicey if you go fresh, so I tend to use powder – so convenient!)
  • A generous handful of sliced black olives
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Red wine (optional)
  • Pinch of salt
  • Large pinch of sugar
  • A couple tablespoons olive oil

Method…

  • Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. When it’s warmed through, add the onion and the garlic. Heat until softened. Add the fresh chilli if you’re using it.
  • If you have red wine to hand, pour a generous slug of it into the pan and then heat until absorbed. Repeat with the balsamic vinegar.
  • Add chilli powder if using it and heat for a further minute.
  • Add the chopped tomatoes, olives, sugar, salt and herbs. Heat for five minutes or until excess water from the tomatoes has reduced.
  • Serve with fresh basil and feta (depending on what you’re having it with)

I’ll be releasing a Touchcast video about this soon – for more recipe ideas, check out my Touchcast channel

 

Touchcast

Those of you who follow me on Twitter (hint, hint) may have noticed that I’ve been steadily developing an addiction to video blogging with Touchcast.

Touchcast is a video-based app that you can use on iPad, Mac and PCs to create shortform videos featuring ‘web within the video’ content, such as images, webpages, ‘click-to-buy’ links, Instagram and Twitter feeds. You can record video by cueing up this content (known as Vapps) before recording, or film first and add Vapps later – in other words, you could do a pristine, polished multi camera edit, upload it into the app and add the extra layer of vapp-based content before publishing.

Currently I’m using the former method and fairly sparingly still – I think the key to a good Touchcast is to not throw everything at your viewers but to acknowledge each vapp you’ve included. Hopefully one day I’ll also have a reason to use some of the other features, such as switching between front and back cameras on my iPad during recording and using the whiteboard to draw on the screen.

My first two Touchcast efforts were food-based, the first also serving as a review of Jack Monroe’s ‘A Girl Called Jack’ book  and the second using one of my favourite online recipes; salted caramel millionaire’s shortbread. They mostly feature images so you can actually see what you should expect when actually making the recipes.

With more link-heavy Touchcasts, it’s advisable to let your viewers know that they should save exploring the extra content until after they’ve watched the video once through (or they can put it on pause).

I’m hoping that in future I’ll be able to produce interview-based features. At the moment, Touchcast lets you record to up to five minutes at a time, but you can merge projects together to create a longer edit, so it might mean recording outside of the app, which I’ve not done yet.

Naturally Touchcast is great for shameless self-promotion, so I’ve recently uploaded a video about the interactive Writing for BBC Radio Comedy iBook I produced. If you haven’t already downloaded it for free from the iTunes Store, you can get it here or find an online version over at the BBC Academy of Production website.

Visit my Touchcast channel here and let me know if you give it a go!

The New Year list

I’m deliberately not calling this post ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ because I don’t think I need to change who I am – and nor should you – but because I’m a fan of a to-do list and this is a good excuse to create an ‘action plan’ for 2014…

2013 has been, for the most part, fine. It’s gone ridiculously fast too. There were big changes at the start and end of the year (I got dumped by email in January – ouch) and changed jobs (moving to EastEnders in late December), but for the most part I feel like I’ve coasted along.

However, everyone should take a moment to think about the good bits as well as the disappointing receiving of electronic communications and so here are a few of the highlights…

#Team NCA

The BBC Radio New Comedy Award returned in 2013 (we got a BBC Production Award nomination for the 2012 multiplatform element that I produced which was pretty cool) and I found myself without a budget so recruited a big batch of amazing volunteers to help film and edited each film myself. The core group of Producer Tilusha, Production Co-Ordinator Tam and Production Management Assistant Isma were bloomin’ hilarious and wonderful. And of course the most fabulous Executive Producer Alison Vernon-Smith and the stylish (and talented) Production Manager Hayley Nathan. My favourite production of the 18 months I spent at BBC Radio Comedy.

Grainne & J-Bugg shake up the Beeb

I found two excellent, talented friends in the new Radio Comedy bursary writers…

A Summer of gigs!

Thanks to Elena Dana, I finally started gigging in London, even making my jazz debut. And I got a new telecaster… now to get an amp (see 2014 to-do list…) I also wrote at least three songs I can count among my favourites.

Making my own damn icing, thank you very much

When I baked in the Get Flat in 2012, someone else was around to do the icing while I made the batter. My early solo icing efforts were watery and rubbish. Then one day, thanks to a Primrose Hill Bakery coffee buttercream recipe, I cracked it. (Although I did have a massive icing fuck-up the other day and had to buy the pre-mixed stuff for a Xmas party at Grainne’s but never mind…)

Comedy! Comedy! Comedy!

I saw some amazing shows and met some hilarious, lovely people this year. People who made me laugh included: Bridget Christie, Phil Wang, Steve Bugeja, Rob Carter, Katherine Bennett, Kate Lucas, Adam Hess, Tom Craine, Joe Lycett, Dean Sekhon, Peter Brush, Grainne Maguire, Mae Martin, Nick Helm Sarah Campbell, Nish Kumar, James Bran, Joe Davies, Ivo Graham James Acaster, Dane Baptiste, Jonny Pelham (and many, many more – go and check them out…)

Producing a book… sort of

In the New Year the BBC will be releasing an iBook about writing for Radio Comedy that I produced… I’ll post more about this in 2014!

Anyway, 2013 review aside, there’s loads for me to be getting on with next year, so here’s some stuff I’d like to do in 2014…

  • Buy amp to go with new telecaster (rather than playing through mixing desk connected to computer speakers)
  • Finish painting bedroom – there’s no longer a reasonable excuse for the large unpainted patch behind the wardrobe!
  • Cook a wider variety of foods (other than jacket potato, pasta and homemade sauce and stir fry)
  • Invite friends over more regularly to share wider variety of foods
  • Apologise less for the way I look
  • Be less passive when someone judges the way I look unnecessarily
  • Buy more cushions for my large sofa
  • Keep up the exercise and resist chocolate/ice cream temptations!
  • Practice guitar more
  • Find rhythm section to play with me and Reece (who I’m working on songs with)
  • Get keyboard out again
  • Record more music – and record it better
  • Read more on my Kindle
  • Find permanent contract
  • Renew ISA
  • Fill up ISA
  • Invest in more loose leaf teas
  • Save up for Canon 5D
  • Be better at getting people together – but not feel so guilty if I don’t
  • Enjoy self as much as possible
  • Blog more!

There’s definitely more – most of that reads like a shopping list! I must have January sales on the brain….

BIC Soleil

BIC Soleil have launched a new campaign called 'Just Live', surrounding four new razors with Shaver grip technology all aimed at different styles of shaving.

I've often had people stare aghast at my hands when I grip pens (apparently 'normal people' use their index fingers whereas I use my trusty 'claw' grip), so happily BIC have created a range to suit more 'unique cases' like me as well as the more eloquent of shavers. I'm quite pleased to hear that the emphasis is on grip too, being that I was forever put off more flimsy disposables after slicing into the top of my thumbs during a routine leg shave one morning. Needless to say, it hurt.

Bella razor

BIC have teamed up with body language expert Dr Jane McCartney to tell you how the way you shave reflects your personality. Apparently my long-studied techique of resting the handle in the palm of my hand 'allows me to shave quickly and efficiently and reflects my direct, driven and pragmatic approach', with the razor most suiting me being the generously sized Bella (see above). To find out more about each product, including which shaver could suit you and the way you defuzz, head to the Just Live Facebook Page.

Of course, a promotion wouldn't be a promotion these days without the giveaways, and BIC are getting chatty with their customers over on their Twitter and Facebook accounts, giving away goodies for ten weeks (including Benefit vouchers) and a cash prize to top off their season of giveaways.  The Competition can be entered here using the simple entry form.

To enforce the idea that BIC Soleil can help you to 'just live' by getting you feeling glam in a few strokes of a razor (my Saturday morning routine is pretty much centred around my shower), BIC has recruited bloggers such as Lauren Loves and Blah Blah Becky to dispense their tips for getting ready for a stress-free Christmas. They've also teamed up with Dorothy Perkins, fashion stylist Hannah Hughes, hairdresser Andrew Barton and make up artist Alana Phillips to give you top style and beauty tips to accompany your silky holiday pins.

Oh yes, and before I forget, they've also asked me too! So keep your eyes peeled to the Facebook page where my tips on feeling confident in the kitchen on Christmas Day – and the traditions and recipes I employ to keep myself feeling festive.

This is a sponsored post, but don't worry – if I don't like it, I won't write about it.

Viral video by ebuzzing

Frankie’s fish pie

I was recently sent this fish pie recipe by one of the listeners of my Amazing Radio show.

I decided to have a go at the recipe, (which was rather adventurous for my usually fish-adverse culinary habits), but gave it a bit of a twist by exchanging and/or omitting a few of the ingredients.

Here’s what you’ll need:

500g white fish (I used pollock), 2 hardboiled eggs, couple handfuls of frozen peas (defrosted), sachet of cheese sauce (powder mix), couple cloves of garlic, couple of bay leaves, 300g milk (plus a dash more for mashing), 800g sweet potatoes, salt and pepper for seasoning.

Gently simmer chopped garlic, bay leaves, 300ml milk and the fish in a large pan for 15mins. Add a knob of butter if desired

Strain out the milk mixture and keep handy. Break fish into small pieces once cool enough to handle. Remove the bay leaves.

Mix the cheese sauce sachet with the milk mixture before adding in the fish, peas and chopped hardboiled eggs and pouring into a dish for baking. Season with salt and pepper

Peel, chop and boil sweet potatoes for 15 minutes before mashing with a dash of milk

Top the baking dish and mix with the sweet potato mash. Sprinkle on a little cheese if desired and season with salt and pepper

Bake in a preheated oven for 180 degrees for 40 minutes or until suitably golden

..And then Serve! (I’m rubbish at final serving pictures). I’d recommend serving with a side of steamed broccoli and spinach.

Thanks to Ade for the original recipe!


Step-by-step: Frankie’s chocolate raisin cheesecake

I’m obsessed with chocolate raisins…

I had intended on making a reliably delicious double chocolate cheesecake for Sunday dinner  but disaster struck when the dark chocolate burned in the microwave… I decided to ‘change things up’ a bit by adding a couple of handfuls of raisins and giving the cake an extra chocolate kick with a layer of cocoa dusting.

So here’s some easy step-by-step instructions incase you fancy treating yourself sometime soon! You will need a packet of digestive biscuits, 300g chocolate, cocoa powder (for dusting), a couple of handfuls of raisins, 200g mascapone cheese, 300g cream cheese and butter.

Take one happy assistant and ask him to crush 175g of digestive biccies

Melt 50g of butter and mix with the finely crushed biscuit crumbs

Push the biscuit and butter mix into a loose-bottomed cake tin

Mix 300g cream cheese with 200g mascapone cheese

Gently melt 300g milk chocolate over a pan of simmering water

Mix the melted chocolate with the creamy cheese mixture

Add a couple of handfulls of raisins

Top the biscuit base with the chocolate mixture

Lightly dust the cheesecake with cocoa powder and pop the cheesecake in the fridge for at least 2-3 hours to set, or chill overnight

Enjoy your chocolate raisin cheesecake!

I think I might be making this again, don’t you?