Stepping back in time with a trip to Spitalfields

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When you head away from the hustle and bustle of Liverpool Street station, in the direction of London’s famous Spitalfields market, it’s hard to imagine you’re about to step a century or two back in time but that’s exactly what lies behind the heavy black door of number 18 Folgate Street.

18 Folgate Street was the home of American artist and anglophile Dennis Severs who dedicated two decades of his life to marrying his passions for history and mischief by restoring the house to it’s 18th and 19th Century glory days.  Settling in London in the late 1960s Severs spent a number of years running carriage tours before purchasing the Georgian property and making it his life’s work until his death at the young age of 51 in 1999.

Before he passed away the artist sold the property to the Spitalfields Trust who have lovingly upheld Severs’ creation in a manner the artist would no doubt have loved.

We arrived at the house shortly before our allotted time and knocked on the door.  Seconds later we were greeted by one of our hosts who kept us in the cold a little longer while he explained the evening’s proceedings.  As the artist intended, tours are self-led and conducted in silence.  Photography is not allowed so the above picture is all I was able to capture on the evening I’m afraid!  I have to confess I loved this because you could totally switch off and concentrate on your surroundings and I really did feel transported to another time and place.

Once inside we began our tour in the basement.  As we opted for a Christmas candlelight tour we got just that.  There is no electricity in the house, (at least there was none that candlelight guests were privy to although I’m told Mr Severs did have two electric lightbulbs installed when he moved in), so the flicker of the various flames dotted around the house made the tour quite atmospheric.

Each floor in the house pays homage to a fictitious family of Huguenot silk weavers – the Jervis family – who lived in the house from as early as 1724 right up to the beginning of the 20th century.  The idea is that as you arrive you enter the house as an unexpected guest forcing its inhabitants to vacate while you are there.  As their time in the house has been interrupted nothing is tidied away.  The food and wine you see are real, as are the fires and, although I didn’t notice it during our tour, I’m told that the chamber pots in the bedrooms are filled with urine as well for authenticity’s sake.  If anything Mr Severs appeared to be a stickler for detail!

As we made our way through the property we could hear noises alluding to the inhabitants who had hastily exited as we arrived.  Horse hooves clip-clopping on the cobblestones outside; grandfather clocks chiming; the remnants of a party and the tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge relayed in the attic.  The house is crammed full of things – even more so at this time of year with the Christmas installation in place.  Nonetheless, Severs’ hope was that visitors would look beyond each individual item and absorb the sights, smells and sounds of each room to get an overall picture of the scene that took place before they arrived.

I thoroughly enjoyed walking round the house and would recommend this tour to anyone with an active imagination who fancies catching a glimpse of what life in Spitalfields may have been like in times past.  The candlelight tours are currently sold out but it is possible to visit on Sunday between 12pm and 4pm and Monday lunchtimes between 12pm and 2pm  – (the price is also reduced during this time, coming in at around at under £10 per person.)

For more information on Dennis Severs’ house along with booking availability click here.  Keep an eye out for a couple of pictures of the artist himself dotted around the place and enjoy your visit!xx

A film about Christmas

Afternoon folks! I’ve been a bit quiet this past wee while but been very busy nonetheless. I am really excited to share my first ‘proper’ attempt at making a short film with you and not before time!

Belfast was in the news rather a lot over the Christmas period and sadly not always for the right reasons. I wanted to make a film that explored the importance of Christmas to the individuals featured beyond what’s going to be under the tree on Christmas Day. Don’t get me wrong, Christmas presents and parties are brilliant and something to look forward to but there’s more to the season than just that. For me, and the people I interviewed, it’s a time for family – whether that’s the family you’re born with or the one you pick up along the way – and generally looking out for one another. I hope that comes across when you are watching.

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It’s nearly time for Santa!

Just fifteen more minutes until Christmas Day – hurrah! All those months, weeks and days of rushing about, gift buying – or making – food prepping and parties have all been leading up to this!

I wish you all a wonderful day and hope you get to spend it with loved ones, whether that’s the family you were born with or the family you’ve picked up along the way. I’m working on a wee festive film project but it won’t be ready for a few days yet. Think of it as a belated Christmas gift. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with an artist I’ve shared here a few times and her cover of a Christmas classic.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your day, wherever you are in the world!
xx

Festive baking with a savoury twist

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All this running around ahead of Christmas works up quite an appetite. Pair that will the natural gluttony of the season and it can be handy to just reach for something sweet to give me a quick boost. I never thought I’d say this but I think I may have peaked too soon on the chocolate front and am starting to flag! I came across a recipe for cheddar and cranberry cupcakes I thought I’d give it a go. I’m glad I did!

Cranberries are everywhere at the moment and if you are a regular baker you’ll probably have the rest of the ingredients already in your larder or fridge. My first attempt came out pretty well so I’m hoping they’ll taste even better the more I make them. If you can’t find fresh cranberries you can use frozen ones – no need to thaw them first – although you’ll probably come across these easier once the season ends. The festive jewels add a tartness to this normally sweet treat and the cheese comes through more and more with each bite. Really tasty for a weekend breakfast or when you’re just craving something savoury.

Here’s how to make them. You’ll need:

2 cups / 300g plain flour
2/3 cup / 155g firmly packed soft brown sugar – I used light brown
1/2 cup / 60g finally grated cheddar (Tip: Make sure your cheese is really cold. This will make it easier to grate. If you’ve got room, stick it in the freezer for about 15-20 mins before you want to use it. I didn’t do this and it was a real pain in the bum!)
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp all spice
pinch of ground cayenne pepper – I totally forgot this and it still tasted lovely so if you’re not a spice fan just leave this out
1 1/4 cup / 310ml buttermilk or natural yogurt
1/4 cup / 60g butter, melted
1 egg, separated
1 cup / 155g washed fresh or unthawed frozen cranberries

How to:

* Preheat your oven to 200°C / Gas Mark 6 / 400°F. Lightly grease a standard 12-hole bun tin or line with paper cases. ( NB: I found the mixture actually stretched to make 22 buns)

* In a large bowl combine your dry ingredients – flour, sugar, cheese, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt and spices. Stir until well blended and make a well in the middle.

* In a small bowl whisk together the buttermilk, yogurt and egg yolk. In another small bowl beat the egg white until soft peaks form.

* Pour the buttermilk mixture into the well and, using a fork, stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Don’t overmix it – you ought to have a lumpy mixture. Then fold in the egg white and cranberries. You are best using a spoon or plastic spatula for this rather than the fork.

* Spoon the batter into the holes or paper cases until each one is about 2/3 full, allowing the buns space to rise. Bake for around 20mins or until a skewer comes out clean. Another way to test if they are ready is by gently pressing your finger in on the middle of the bun. Your bun should bounce back. If it sinks they need to go back in the oven.

* Transfer your buns to a wire rack and allow them to cool. Enjoy warm or cold.

If you’ve cranberries left over why not make yourself a festive liqueur? Admittedly you can’t drink it straight away but if you’re planning to give up alcohol for January you can look forward to this tipple in February. All you need is 500g cranberries, 1 bottle of vodka, 2 cinnamon sticks, 500g sugar and this recipe.

Cheers!xx

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