Friday, April 4, 2014

Life on the Farm: Hunting Highlights

The hunting season ended recently. I went out three times this year, which is once more than I did last year. The truth is that I am just barely good enough to keep up with the field. Having only regularly ridden horses as an adult, I really don't have the confidence to gallop full speed across 6 fields in one go, jump massive hedges and gates, and navigate my horse amongst the dozens of others surrounding me. Plus, I like to stay close to Christopher and Coco, but I also don't like to feel that I'm holding them back, as they prefer to jump everything and keep a faster pace. Despite the excitement I feel at the meet, two hours in I inevitably ask myself, "What the hell am I doing here?" If I am not worn out physically by then, I am usually exhausted mentally and emotionally. I often ask myself how the 70-year-olds easily carry on for hours after I have made the turn back for my horse box, and I think it comes down to adrenaline. Two hours of vein-pumping adrenaline is exhausting. I think the oldies have the experience to just let their horses take them along, not fighting to slow down or avoid jumps that look too big. Maybe when I reach that age, I will finally be able to just enjoy the ride.

But for now I just love going to the hunting meets on foot. People may have complicated feelings about the hunt and the people that enjoy it, but to me it represents a community-wide ritual with a history and authenticity that I have rarely seen in my life. I love the eccentric characters, the adorable and enthusiastic hounds, the beautifully groomed horses, the impeccable manners with which you are greeted, and of course, the clothes. The clothes are beyond chic. You rarely see anyone wearing anything new. Most of the boots, breeches, jackets, stock pins, and hunting caps are old and worn, likely passed down through generations, but still entirely elegant. The riders themselves also have stunning posture when sitting on a horse, looking far more glamourous than they do standing on the ground. Although it is my ambition to hunt more with each season, for now I am equally happy to be an observer capturing this incredible scene with my camera.

The huntsman greeting the field at the meet.
Sometimes a young hound gets distracted and subsequently separated from the pack. 

An early morning start during the cubbing season.
My favourite moment of the season. The beautiful girl in her bowler hat riding side saddle is too good to be true. (Photo by Christopher)

A fieldmaster coming through our farm late one day. When I am in my office writing I can often hear the hounds yelping in the distance. I first shut Ginger inside, even though it kills her to be excluded. She starts howling like a coyote at the sound of the pack approaching. Then I walk down to the fields, opening the gates to make it easier for field to pass through. Watching them all ride through our "backyard" is breathtaking.
Setting off from the meet.

Navigating the farm land.
These men have obviously spend some time on the ground on this particularly muddy day. (Photo by Christopher)
Christopher riding to a cubbing meet.
Me on Polo at my third and final meet of the season.

The morning light and the slower pace makes cubbing way more my speed.

You can always tell Matt by his top hat. He gets my vote for best dressed every time.

Taking a breather in the sun.

Christopher on his new horse Sylvie. Isn't she pretty?

Matt again. I love how his waistcoat peaks out from under his jacket. And he wears these fleece-y wool jersey breeches that are very chic. 

The hounds having a well-deserved rest at the end of the day.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

My favourite dinner party recipe, with a side of Bardot

When I was living in New York I didn't have the time or patience to collect and pour over cookbooks like I do now. In fact the closest I got to anything resembling a cookbook was a manilla office file filled with appealing recipes I had torn out of magazines while reading in bed on the weekends. On the rare occasion that I'd host a dinner party at home, I would consult my recipe file and chose what seemed like the easiest thing to cook. "Easy to cook" in my mind means few ingredients, nothing that requires shopping at a specialty store, minimal active prep time, and delicious results. Once I discovered the above article from the New York Times magazine and the accompanying recipe for Poule Au Pot below, courtesy of Brigitte Bardot's former prep cook, this really become the only recipe I ever made for guests. Of course this limited the number of times I had someone over to once, but it meant minimal stress in the kitchen and the resulting reviews were always raves. 

On a recent trip home to New York, I found my recipe file in storage and tucked these two pages into a book for the journey home to England. Last weekend, I had 6 people over for dinner and decided to revisit my favourite party meal. Everyone of course loved it and begged for a copy of the recipe. So I thought I'd share it with you too. And now that I have a bit more patience and kitchen know-how I've also figured out that with the leftover rice, chicken, vegetables and peas (served as a side dish), and the addition of some scrambled egg, you can make a fantastic asian stir fry for lunch the next day!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Farm Fashion (not mine!)

There is nothing Christopher loves to do more than an outdoor chore. Whether it's spraying stinging nettles, strimming the edge of the garden, planting trees, removing a hedge, mowing the grass, tending to the compost heap, moving a large animal or even just weeding, he's in total heaven. He equally loves having the right gear for the chore. He spends hours in the farm supply shop and in the hardware store staring in awe and desire just like I do when I'm in Isabel Marant. Sometimes I walk outside, or round the corner towards home on my walk, and when I catch sight of him, I just can't help but burst out in laughter. His look often reminds me of a HAZ MAT inspector or Mr. Green Jeans from Captain Kangaroo or even, sometimes, when he gets overheated and unzips his white jumpsuit, of Elvis. Despite the hilarity, I thoroughly enjoy witnessing the pleasure Christopher takes in wearing and doing what he loves. 

Christopher in his beloved green onesie. But it's really more about the gear, isn't it?
More gear, and a white plastic onesie, the height of farming chic. 
He put on a special onesie that I'd never seen before to guide our giant pig into a trailer. I especially love the door-as-animal-handling-accessory. 

Elvis in the garden.

Using man toys to compliment his look.

Christopher's Breaking Bad moment.

Celebrating the arrival of the baby pigs in a Carhartt onesie. It's the winter version of his green one and is lined in flannel. 

Loving the red gloves.

ACE, the Chanel logo of hardware store fashion. 

Rainy day garden get up.

The gloves add just the right pop of colour. 
Always armed with the right hat for the right moment.

Friday, March 14, 2014

I ♥ Your Country Style: Amanda Harlech

We've all seen and admired Amanda Harlech in her Chanel. As Karl Lagerfeld's muse, we see her at every Chanel event wearing the most enviable dress with her hair just messy enough to be cool but still look chic. For the most part, this is her Paris life where she spends her professional time. But what really intrigues me is her England life, her private world that she has graciously shared with us through Vogue, Vogue Living, etc over the years. Further research offered up a more candid side of Amanda's highly personal life and style. It's obvious that at her core, she is truly very English - loving horses and whippets and AGAs and blankets draped over a sofa. Her look is traditional with a slash of the bold and extreme. If only we all looked so good in plaid!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Snapshot: Jane Birkin and Chipping Norton

For Christmas my friend Laura gave me the new book "Jane and Serge, A Family Album." It was the perfect present for me - I love books, I love old photographs, and above all, I LOVE Jane Birkin. I know you probably do too. Like Kate Moss is today, Jane has become everybody's favourite style icon from the past. Her beauty, her seemingly effortless style, her dual roles of being a musician's wife and a mom of three girls all have left a huge impact on future generations. I have spent big chunks of time digging up great pictures of Jane over the years, and I was so excited to see the ones I hadn't ever uncovered in this new book. My expectations were met and satisfied, but I would never have anticipated the thrill of finding the above image. Serge and Jane were on a road trip around Oxfordshire and stopped to take this snap in what must have been Woodstock, given the road signs. But I froze in my tracks when I saw the shout-out to Chipping Norton, my local town. "Chippy," as we call it, is just your average market town - it's where you go to the bank, the dry cleaner, and the hardware store. But the surrounding countryside is exceptionally beautiful and within commuter distance of London, and therefore the area has become, especially in the last 10 years, a very popular place to live. Despite the trendy pubs and glamorous residents, Chippy remains the "so uncool it's cool" town it's always been, but now that I have this picture of Jane Birkin and Chipping Norton in the same frame it might just be cool in it's own right.