My Birthday Surprise

IMG_5148It’s been one of those weeks, when you leave the house at 7.00am and don’t return until 8.00pm, day after day. Sporting events with the children have taken me up and down the autoroute three times in as many days, and I’ve had plenty of more local goings-on to contend with as well.  I’m not quite sure I remember the last time I did something in the garden, let alone the house! But, when the children sprung the most incredible birthday surprise on me I know all the travel and long hours are terribly worthwhile.


Up until the evening before, I assumed that nothing had been scheduled, and thought that perhaps a lie-in was on the cards, with breakfast in bed, and then maybe lunch in a restaurant later, my first day at home in a week. But at supper I was informed that I had to be ready to leave the house at 8.00am for a special treat that was the brainchild of Millie. I had to be dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, and there was little need for make-up!  My mind wandered wildly from a tree-top zip-line adventure to a sky jump, from a hot air balloon experience to a high-speed jetski run along the coast – what on earth had they arranged? I admit I was buzzing with excitement, like one of the children myself.


This past week has been hot and sticky with temperatures peaking at 39C, so it was with some relief that as my birthday dawned it felt a great deal cooler, with very welcome heavy broody overcast skies. Jeans felt just fine on legs unaccustomed to being covered, and I was ready on the dot as asked. We ate a somewhat rushed breakfast and quite surprisingly we actually left the house on time, a birthday miracle! I still had no idea where we were going, but as we left our village I realised that we were heading for the coast, a strange destination for my jeans, I thought, as most things to do with boats require shorts at this time of year, surely? But I was wrong, we weren’t doing anything maritime related at all. Instead Millie and the children had arranged something special and close to my heart –  we were going riding.


A couple of hours later, I was very very happily back in the saddle, the first time in five years and oh it felt fantastic, I was instantly at home as if I had been riding every day of the year, at one with a horse I had only met a few minutes before. Content to talk to her as she flicked her ears back and forth listening to me. We wound our way through the woods, across the sand dunes and out onto the beach, with some serious equine haunches underneath unaccustomed human derrières. Unfortunately, photos are seriously limited as there is only so much one can do with reins in one hand and a phone in the other, but by choosing my moments carefully when we were at a sedate walk,  I managed to minimise the risk of dropping my phone!



On the way home in the car at midday, we were crossing the bridge leading to the Atlantic Islands, and as we descended into Marennes, I saw a sign off to the right advertising live prawns – so on the spur of the moment we stopped for fresh gambas; I thought they’d be a fun treat for a birthday lunch.


Outside what was little more than a hut, we pulled to a stop and went inside into the gloom, not knowing what to expect.


And then we discovered that there were indeed prawns for sale – thousands of luscious, fresh, leg-snapping prawns that are raised in converted oyster lagoons.



I also discovered that the ‘hut’ happened to sell local organic wine! The sign AB stands for Agriculture Biologique, or Bio for short, which means organic.


There then followed, as one does, a quick dégustation (tasting) of Pineau des Charentes, a local fortified wine, for a very dear friend who has been staying with us this past week, and this naturally went hand in hand with a sampling of local oysters. What I thought might have been a somewhat dubious interlude on the trip home was turning out to be a culinary adventure!



IMG_9377Finally there was a quick stop at a boulangerie for a couple of baguettes, and then it was home for our feast. We had built up quite an appetite!



At home we added to the menu some salad, some gently sautéed courgettes and aubergines and a quick cucumber gazpacho, all freshly picked from our vegetable garden and voila – we had a most simple and perfect summer lunch.





We started with the gazpacho. We have served this to a couple of friends recently who have declared it is the best they have ever tasted, and as we have a glut of cucumbers it’s a great way to use them and to enjoy their flavour in a slightly unusual way.

Cucumber Gazpacho (serves 2 – 4 depending on serving size)

1 peeled and diced cucumber, minus seeds
1 peeled clove garlic
a handful of mint leaves
150ml of natural yoghurt (either cow’s or sheep’s milk)
2 tablespoons white wine or cider vinegar
a finely diced spring onion
salt and pepper taste
a handful of chopped chives as a decorative topping
(a little milk to water down, or more yoghurt to thicken – as necessary)

Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend finely. Pour into your chosen serving dish or glass and chill for two hours. Add a cube of ice when serving if warranted. This will keep very happily in the fridge for 24 hours, so can easily be made a day in advance.


We finished everything off with a little cheese. Oh my goodness  – I was in heaven; what a fabulous lunch, as fresh as fresh can be, simplicity at it’s best, delicious and wholesome. And this after a wonderful morning riding on the beach and through the woods with my family. How lucky can a girl be, I felt utterly spoilt; this beat any lie-in or restaurant, and I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect day. It was a wonderful birthday surprise and even though I may not even have the time to think straight at the moment, crawling into bed exhausted in the early hours of the morning, it doesn’t matter, for I realised how incredibly lucky I am.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to my fabulous tribe of five. xxx

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