Travelling in France is one of my wonderful joys in life. I love the beautiful countryside, the delightful and interesting people, the history of the places we visit, plus of course French food and wine.
On each visit I look forward to a few special dinners or lunches at some wonderful restaurants and brasseries, both in the countryside as well as Paris. We are constantly delighted with the delicious offerings available, whether they are the ‘menu du jour’, the ‘degustation menu’ or an ‘à la carte’ menu, or a simple ‘plat du jour’ in a tiny café in a remote village. This visit we have dined extremely well at many different places mainly in Germany, both French food and German, as it is in Germany that we have spent seven days whilst the Betty B barge has been in dry dock. You may like to read the previous story of how the Betty B was taken into dry dock!
As well as all these delicious, interesting and varied German dining experiences, we always dine exceptionally well on the Betty B. For the last few years, I have had my good friend, barge partner and right hand in the kitchen, Margaret, helping me cook our dinners each night. Margaret is a very knowledgeable foodie and great cook, who enjoys and understands good food as much I do, so we are a good combination in the barge galley.
Before our departure from Toul, we enjoy shopping together for all the provisions needed for the menus we have planned whilst barging. This requires some forethought as the fridge space is limited and we do not use the freezer on board – so our food is all fresh and seasonal on our barge! To help us out this year, I bought a cryo-vac machine to helps us keep everything fresher for longer and this has worked very well for us. We even cryo-vac the cheeses!
The price of fresh food is France is very reasonable and so when we cook on board it costs us less than eating at home. On board, we do dine well and of course our dinners are always accompanied by a variety of superb wines. We are fortunate that both my Michael and John, Margaret’s husband, are very knowledgeable about French wines, and are both excellent wine and cellar masters. They spend their first day or so, whilst Margaret and I attend to the food, shopping for wine and attending to the cellar on board. It is possible to cellar wine here, as the barge has spacious under floor storage, perfect for the wine to keep at a constant temperature.
Dinners on board the Betty B always include some braises as they are good prepare in advance whilst we are barging along. The French eat a lot of pork, so we do too. We have a few rabbit dishes, coq au vin, crispy-skinned pork belly, various roast pork, stuffed with prunes or apricots, accompanied by a variety sauces with either red wine or port, prunes, figs or berries and crème fraîche; some magret de canard, my favourite; lamb roast or braised lamb shoulder, and of course a good steak barbeque or two. A favourite treat is always potato dauphinoise made with the wonderful, flavoursome, superb, thick, creamy and unpasteurised, French crème fraîche, and a good French cheese, usually Comté, from the Franche-Comté region. It is one of our favourites and one of the best French cheeses, with its pale yellow colour, silky texture, and nutty, brown-butter flavour and roasted-nut aromas, all contributing to a sweet delicious finish, and so adds a depth of flavour and richness to the dauphinois.
Our favourite vegetable is the slim, green, sweet, flavoursome, crisp French bean, along with sugar snap peas, leeks, garlic, zucchinis, aubergines, carrots, eschallots, mushrooms, tomatoes, witlof and all varieties of lettuce.
Lunch on board is casual as we are often on the move. They do tend to follow the usual pattern of baguettes, a variety of cheeses, cold meats, terrines and pâtés, with salad of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions and avocadoes. To give us some variety we will have the occasional quiche Lorraine or frittata with those especially flavoursome ‘lardons’ which are so inexpensive and fabulous.
Breakfasts centre around a platter of fresh fruits, exquisitely prepared and presented by Margaret. My favourite fruit here is the Charentais melon, and I love the Agen plums, nectarines, grapes, dried Agen prunes and natural yoghurts. There are fresh croissants and baguettes, when there is a boulangerie nearby, with butter from Normandy and Bon Maman murtille (blueberry) jam.
We do dine well.
Our superb wines will be next…..