Hello, Jane here; I am the other half of the team on Barge Libje here in Brittany. Also other half to Ian the Capitaine.
As there are only two of us running our cruises my tasks are many and varied! Deckhand in the locks, then down to the galley to start preparing lunch. Baking a quiche between locks has become something of a fine art and works as follows. ‘Blind bake’ (the cooks among you will understand this!) for 10 minutes while we negotiate a lock and I tend ropes, then out of the oven to egg wash, and put it back in. Make coffee for guests, then fill the quiche and return to the oven to bake. Clockwork timer in pocket, I can then start to clean the cabins while the guests are enjoying the scenery on deck. It is all go, but it keeps me fit and there is never a dull moment.
The food available here in Brittany is, in my opinion, some of the best in France. The seafood and fish is ultra fresh and plentiful, and the mussels and oysters are the best I have ever tasted. In fact, over 50% of all the seafood eaten in France is sourced from Brittany. At this time of year the shiny black mussels are growing plump and well filled, and there is nothing better than sitting on a sunny restaurant terrace enjoying a big bowl of ‘moules frites’ and watching the world go by.
Fresh vegetables, soft fruits and salad greens abound at the weekly open air market, the emphasis on seasonality is refreshing. Very few ‘air miles’ here! I particularly enjoy inventing salads depending what is availble on the day. Maybe baby spinach leaves (still with morning dew clinging to them) with mild Roscoff onion, tomatoes and local soft goat cheese one day, or a simple green bean salad with fresh herb and rose garlic dressing the next. Local potatoes too have a starring roll particularly the new ones from the Ile de Noirmoutier in the Vendee region just to the south of us. Sprinkled with the traditionally harvested seasalt from Guerande situated in the south of Brittany, they are delicious.
When you visit this unique region a visit to a ‘Creperie’ is a must. Have a ‘Galette’ to start, this is the savoury pancake version made with buckwheat flour; then follow with a ‘Crepe’, the sweet pancake made with wheat flour. They are traditional here, and in times past galettes were filled with whatever was available on the home farm, eggs, cheese and ham for example. Nowadays the choice of fillings is huge; scallops and seafood, bacon and spinach, and mushrooms with cream and an egg to name but a few. Crepes too are offered with a wide variety of fillings, apple and caramel being particularly traditional here. The Capitaine is particularly fond of orange and chocolate with flamed Grand Marnier!
Ian taking guests to a creperie for lunch gives me much appreciated time to prepare dinner for that evening. To give you an example of a dinner menu on Libje read on!
To start, I have invented a salad with foie gras. Many guests find foie gras rather rich, so I have tried to lighten the flavour somewhat. On a bed of baby salad leaves I place thin slices of foie gras, scatter with hot sauteed apple slices and ‘pain epice’ (a spiced gingerbread) croutons. Drizzle with a balsamic reduction, and serve with homemade onion confit and toast. We serve this with a small glass of desert wine such as Monbazillac. It sounds odd but the flavours really work together.
For the main course, I love the large thick fillets of cod I buy from the fish stall in the local market. Pan cooked with white wine, finished with capers and Brittany butter, and served with seaweed flavoured rice and seasonal vegetables. I particularly like a trio of peas with this, fresh, pureed, and mange tout. Asparagus in season is also a delicious addition. Our favourite wine to accompany this lovely fish is a Pouilly Fume from the Loire valley.
Next, as is ‘de rigeur’ in France we have the cheese course. I serve a ‘Cheese Taster Plate’, a selection of four local cheeses individually arranged for each guest. it might be the mild creamy soft rinded cheese made by the monks at the ‘Abbeye de Timaudec’ (only a few steps from the canal), or one of the varied selection from the ‘Ferme de Lintan’ who make several delicious cheeses from the produce of their own herd. Their cows even have names! Now to dessert. A guest favourite is my ‘Breton Special’. Caramel ice cream on a ‘Nonnette au miel’ (honey sponge cake), with Lambig soaked raspberries and caramel sauce. Lambig is the Breton equivalent of the Normandy Calvados.
Coffee and chocolates to finish, and then maybe a wee walk along the towpath to digest and relax!
The food in Brittany is superb, and I very much enjoy experimenting with the produce here. It is a cooks dream! Ian was a lot slimmer when I met him, I think I have to take some responsibility for the expanding waistline! We both love living and working here, it is a beautiful, different corner of France and well worth a visit. [boilerplate IanSlade]