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

131 thoughts on “My Birthday Surprise

  1. Happy Birthday to my favourite blogger whom I have never met and yet you feel like an old friend who emails me her news. Xoxo

  2. Susan, Happy Birthday!! What lovely day to be brought along on–thank you!! Your five are all treasures! Very heartwarming to see the care that went into their plans for your happiness.
    Thank, too, for sharing the cucumber gazpacho recipe. I will try it very soon.
    We had a fabulous bike trip in France and Spain but sad not to have time to visit the Charente Maritime. Next time! xo

    1. Thanks so much Anne. Do try the gazpacho, it is so simple and I am a fan of anything that can be made in advance. It is delicious and perfect on these hot summer days. Next time, hope so much to welcome you to the Charente Maritime and glad you had such a wonderful holiday xx

  3. It sounds like a wonderful day, Susan! I’ve taken very careful phone photos while on the back of a horse, too, and no doubt will be taking careful shots in Wyoming in August. My mornings have been consumed with watching the daily stages of the Tour de France, so what will I do after Sunday? 🙂 Happy belated birthday wishes from Naperville, Illinois!


    1. Thanks so much Janet, when I used to ride a lot, every day of my life, I never had a mobile phone so it is something of a new experience for me to take photos as I go along, but so much fun! I am already looking forward to seeing your shots from Wyoming, in August I will have a bit more time!!! xx

    1. It was the most perfect surprise, and amazingly I was the only one without any sore bits and not at all stiff the next day, everyone else had a few sore parts here and there! They are meant to be holidays, but they are the children’s holidays and they have lots and lots and lots going on. Good job I like driving, today alone I just did five hours driving just for tennis tournaments! xx

  4. Feliz cumpleaños from Spain. Here gazpacho contains garlic which I cannot abide so I never have it. Gambas for birthday lunch? – I have mine next Monday and they are my special treat, each year (they are supposed to be bad for cholesterol!)

    1. Thanks so much, so it is your birthday next Monday? with the Gambas, if it is a very happy birthday to you and if not, then just enjoy them anyway, they certainly are a delicious treat! xx

  5. Dear Susanne,
    the best you have already got….the surprise from your kids …a morning horse ride for you ….and I could hear your heart beat in that moment. Also I send you birthday greetings from Spain……for the next year my warmest wishes for
    health and happiness. It’s the little thing that counts and remembered me, when my son gave me the best birthday gift
    ever at his age of 10 (decades ago). After watching me descreetly and seeing me labour whenever I have to open a
    jar…. he gave me an ingenious jar opener. Every time I (still) use it I think of this special birthday.
    b.t.w. in Sept. we will taste the gambas and oysters in a beach hut on Cap Ferret.

    1. I totally agree with you in every way, it is the tiny most heartfelt gifts that mean so much, those that have had lots of thought, money and cost is of no importance at all. A beach hut on Cap Ferret in September sounds like heaven xx

  6. Happy Birthday to you Susan, what a perfect day for you all, & what thoughtful children you have! Hope your year ahead is wonderful (I always feel a birthday is a new year’s day too). I look forwards to hearing all of your adventures. xxx

  7. Did I know YOU were a JULY GAL?MUST HAVE cause we have been following each other for sometime NOW!
    HAPPY HAPPY BIRTHDAY!I have TWO MORE DAYS to arrange and prepare………………….XX

    1. I think we have mentioned this to each other before, we are both cancerians are we not? And in case I miss yours, because life is somewhat chaotic here right now and I am NEVER at home it seems, a VERY HAPPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU TOO XXX

  8. As I followed along with your words and pictures I felt like the children had invited me to this party also. What wonderful memories of your special day. Happy birthday.

  9. Happy Birthday Day that’s not like every day is supposed to be celebrated happily, happy, happy Birthday! It sounds like the perfect day! TOL (*L*) se

  10. A July Birthday…just the best…growing up, I thought everyone had a July birthday…everyone in my family did. 🙂 Your birthday lunch is perfect…Happy Birthday!

  11. How fantastic, What a lovely birthday celebration, the family arranged for you. How could you not enjoy that, even if you may have had a sore derrière after so long not sitting on a horse. Belated birthday wishes to you.

    1. Thanks so much Barbara, the strange thing was I was the only one not at all sore or stiff the next day, the others did have the odd moan!!! Hope you are loving your new house and summer xxx

  12. Happy belated birthday, Susan!! What a lovely day the children planned. Smart kids! yoir pictures, as always, are a delight. I have told you this before, but I am SO glad you share your life and adventures in your blog with us. I almost feel like I am there with you and hence I don’t miss you all quite so much! Many birthday kisses, Nancy

    1. Thanks so much Nancy, it was the best surprise, perfectly arranged. So sorry you couldn’t be here, we have shared so many celebrations together, hopefully we will do so again. xxx

  13. I made the gazpacho! I have yet to eat it, it is for dinner tonight but we too have plenty of cucumbers! I did taste it and wow it was delicious, I always love your recipes.

  14. Happy Birthday to you! And what a lovely day you enjoyed. The gazpacho looks divine. . .can’t wait to try the recipe (thank you for sharing it).

  15. Happy Birthday. So glad you had such a fabulous day. Your children are so fabulous what a lovely surprise.

  16. Happy Birthday Susan, looks like you had a perfect day!
    We also have two friends who share your birthday today.
    We also called at that place too when we were on holiday there but didn’t buy any as we thought they were selling fresh cooked prawns! We will have to give it a go cooking our own in September!
    Yvonne & Neil

  17. It sounds like you’ve just enjoyed what I think of the best of birthdays-that spent with your family and horses. Thank you for the little bright spot in my day. Will try your recipe, even though we don’t have cukes yet (late spring here in pacific northwest). Are you blogging often? I hardly ever get your posts-maybe once every month or two?

    1. Hi Kate, it was the most perfect birthday and such a wonderful surprise. Do try the gazpacho, it has become my summer favourite. I do blog every week, every single Thursday without fail and about three Sundays each month as well. Maybe re-subscribe to be sure, in case something went amiss! xx

  18. I deliberately waited to read this post until I could do so at leisure to enjoy it. I won’t say I enjoyed it as much as you but what a lovely, descriptive and happy story. As usual I felt like I was there. Happy Belated Birthday 💐

  19. Happy,happy birthday,Susan!
    Sounds like a joyful day of bliss,best of all(!) filled with your loving family!
    Sending all wishes filled with blessings always!

  20. That idea is born of real, true and unswerving love for you mummy! What a delightful day and what a treat to be allowed to share it with you. I am certainly going to try your recipe for Cuc Gazpacho – it looks fabulous and is surely just the thing for hot sticky days! Happy Birthday a little belatedly and may the year to come be full of the best days yet to come for you xx

    1. Thanks so so much, it was the best day ever for me, just everything I love, riding, friends, family, and simple delicious food. What more could a girl ask for? Thanks so much for your email, I will reply, I will I will, just give me a couple of days!!! Hope you are having the best time with your Mother xxx

  21. Susan! What a treat for us to share YOUR treat!! Thank you for a glimpse into summer living on your coastline. I’ll send you some photos via e-mail of what summer is looking like here on the shingle. I fear we may have a little more litter than than you do there, though. Mrs C is rapidly approaching grockle saturation point, which is not a good thing.

    You need to ask Roddy for a horse for Christmas. It sounds like a logical return to what you love…. perhaps it could live with the chickens…..just joking…

    1. Now that would be my absolute dream come true! Alas, I don’t think there is quite enough room with the chickens, sadly!!! Lots and lots of tourists here but we are just a tiny bit removed from them and somehow the coast still keeps moving rather well even with so many people. xx

  22. What a marvelous celebration of your birthday. A baguette, some fresh prawns, glass of wine 🍷 and a perfect day with your family. 🦋

  23. Oh my gosh, a happy birthday indeed! How sweet of your girls to plan that outing and how fortuitous that you came across the lovely little cabane filled with delectable treasures. I LOVE your cucumber gazpacho idea, I imagine it’s a little like drinking the greek taziki sauce, but cut with more cocombres. Happy Birthday, I hope it’s a wonderful year for you!

    1. Thanks so much, it was such a lovely surprise and such a wonderful day. Do try the gazpacho, it is truly delicious and fabulous on hot summer days. Full of flavour and very refreshing. xx

  24. Sorry this is a tad belated but we send you our very special wishes and are really glad you had such a lovely day. x

  25. Best wishes belatedly! I think you just had the perfect Birthday. The best memories are always the simple pleasures in life…….family, horse rides, & delicious food. Blessings!!
    Thank you for sharing with us, your devoted readers and distant friends. Now, watch the Tour de France ride into Paris tomorrow and cheer on your fellow Brit, Chris Froome. Ok, he is from South Africa, but SKY is a British team.

  26. Very happy birthday wishes! But then I well know that your children have a knack for making birthdays especially memorable.

  27. Maybe a bit late, Ms. Susan. But just the same, here’s wishing you more birthdays to come. You’re one lucky lady. Thanks for sharing your birthday surprise with us. A wonderful day, indeed. Greetings from the Far East.

    1. Thanks so much, it really was the most wonderful day, not like riding one’s own horse, but fabulous none the same and so so brilliantly organised and such a great secret, Loved every second of it! Xx

  28. Susan,
    So, where do I begin? Happy Belated Birthday, first. It sounds like you had a wonderful birthday. I am so HAPPY for you…But, I would expect nothing else from your lovely family. So, I hope you will accept my apologies and continue to celebrate this year with “love and peace” in your heart.
    It has been an interesting few months if I have been MIA. Nothing bad…just interesting.
    I kept up to date on Instagram and I am sitting down the next day or so to get caught up on ALL of your weekly blog entries. I believe I may have even seen a short story I missed.
    Your Instagram pictures are as wonderful as Always. There is something about the serenity of France and its architecture that I seem to long for. I had to have been French in another life! 🙂
    Your blog continues to be a basic reminder how truly wonderful life is amidst the backdrop of “bad things” going on in our world today. What would we do without The Susan Hay’s in this world reminding us of the “good” in life? You definitely help us, your readers, to see the world in a better way. A way of acknowledging All of life with gratitude and thankfulness.
    For this I am so ever grateful and send my gratitude to you across the miles. I have missed you, Susan! Have a wonderful week :)🌸💕🍡💕🌸🍡

    1. Thanks so so much Stephanie, I knew you would be back when you had a moment, but I am just glad to hear that everything is ok. Summer is always so busy for everyone, I think it is in our nature to enjoy every second of the warm weather and longer days whilst we can! Of course, life has it’s boring parts here too, the ups and downs and the not so good things, but I try to focus solely on all the good things, because as you say, there is so much evil and so many bad things in the world today, and we are so lucky compared to what so many people are going through and it is for that reason that I try to only share all that is good. If it brings a smile to a few people then I am very very happy and can ask for no more. Crazily busy here, but wouldn’t have it any other way! Hope you have had a wonderful weekend xx

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.