Drink In Life Book Club-The Widows of Champagne

The Champagne Region in France is a magical place to visit, full of stunning architecture, history and of course Champagne. Before we dive into this month’s book, The Widows of Champagne: An Inspirational Novel of WW2, I invite you to read a couple of my previous blog posts to learn more about the City of Reims and Harvest in Champagne, as well as a favorite Champagne house visit to Champagne Guy Méa.

To join the Book Club Live Book Discussion of The Widows of Champagne with the author, Renee Ryan on Saturday, March 5th at 1:00 pm PST/4:00 EST make sure that you are signed up to receive email notifications from Drink In Life (Email Subscription on right hand of the page) and Comment on this story post. You will receive an email invite to join the discussion. You can also follow @drinkinlifebookclub on Instagram, comment on the November Book post and ask to join the discussion.

About the Book….

How far would you go to protect your family’s legacy?

In The Widows of Champagne: An Inspirational Novel of WW2, by Renee Ryan the LeBlanc women draw on their courage and resolve as they fight against all odds to preserve their lives, their way of life, their 200-year-old vineyard and their legacy.

Set in the Champagne region of France this moving historical novel is the story of three generations of women who each in their own way is fighting to save their family vineyards from the ravages of war during the German occupation of WWII. The three widows who have lost their beloved husbands over the years must protect their livelihood, the Chateau Fouche-LeBlanc vineyard in Reims and each other. As the story unfolds it is told from their alternating points of view, giving the reader a glimpse into their brave actions and selfless motivations.

With a resilient passion, the family matriarch Josephine, refuses to just sit back and watch as her beloved vineyard faces its most difficult harvest and her daughter-in-law and granddaughters take on the German enemies. This includes the plot in which wine merchant, Helmut Von Schmidt, now turned Nazi Captain, requisitions the LeBlanc home and steals their wine for the German troops. Although her memory is failing her more and more with each passing day, Josephine uses her early stages of dementia to appear more confused, a strategy to protect Chateau Fouche-Leblanc’s most cherished belongings and her family.

Gabrielle Leblanc Dupree is fully aware that the War will eventually spill over into France so she takes her family’s future into her own hands. Her first step is to take pre-emptive measures by building a false wall in the Champagne Cellar which hides much of her family’s best vintages before the Germans invaded. Yet, when duty calls and Gabrielle joins the resistance and she quickly learns that there are other secrets besides the hidden champagne that she must conceal. Soon she is concealing more secrets, questioning who she can trust and ultimately finds an unexpected ally in her midst.

For former Parisian socialite, Gabrielle’s mother, Hélène, who lost her husband in a previous war, there is even more at stake. Hélène stops at nothing to keep her Jewish heritage a secret from the man who has requisitioned her home, even if it could forever ruin her reputation or end her life. Working to protect her daughters, Gabrielle and Paulette, Hélène soon realizes that no one is safe in Nazi occupied France.

Each woman struggles and makes difficult choices to protect their family, legacy, and secrets that the others around them do not always understand.

Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres and this incredible heartfelt story told from three different LeBlanc women’s perspectives, really gives a glimpse of how each generation was uniquely affected by the war. Filled with unwillingness to accept defeat, unforeseen betrayal as well as heartaches, this story delves into the risks and sacrifices people will take to protect what they love. An emotional and poignant story that will stay with me for a long time.

“One bad harvest would not ruin us, this enemy might.”

The Widows of Champagne, Renee Ryan

For four long years, Champagne was occupied by the Germans, until the German army’s official surrender in Reims on 8 May 1945 which became known as Victory in Europe (VE) day. I really enjoyed this Article on Decanter’s Website, Champagne during WW2: From vines to victory by Julian Hitner and how it helped me better understand what really happened during World War II in France.

A Word with the Author….

Renee Ryan is an award-winning author who has published over 25 books since she sold her first book in 2001 by winning the inaugural Dorchester/Romantic Times New Historical Voice Contest. When Renee joins us for the virtual book club discussion on March 5th, there will be plenty of time for participants to ask her a few questions about The Widows of Champagne. First however, I wanted to ask Renee some questions about herself and what inspired her to write this historical women’s history novel.

Can you share a little bit about yourself and your career as a writer?

I came to writing a little later than most. I was a young mother working in a Florida high school, teaching AP Economics, AP American Government and Latin. Riveting subjects, I know. I quickly learned that students’ eyes glazed over when I lectured. However, they really listened when I gave the information in story form.”

“Bonus, they also retained important facts better that way. That’s when I realized I was a storyteller. I had to learn how to write. And that’s what I did. I took classes, attended conferences, read craft books, studied the greats and not-so-greats. Even now, thirty published novels later, I still consider myself more student than master.”

“I’m always honing my craft. I’ve written in several sub-genres, but with The Widows of Champagne, I feel as though I’ve found my niche. Historical Women’s Fiction is home.”

Photo Courtesy of Renee Ryan’s Website

Inspiration for a story can come from many different places, can you share what inspired you to write this novel?

I was deep in the research process for another WWII book when I discovered how the Nazis had a penchant for stealing art and other treasures from the countries they conquered. Although that book was set in Germany, I had to dig a little into the French Resistance to complete a plot thread. I started wondering what was France’s greatest treasure. Wine, of course. My mother’s family is from France and they love their champagne. So, I kept digging. The more I learned about Champagne and the French Resistance, the more I knew I had to write a story set in France and centered around champagne.”

I’m sure that this book included some extensive research, can you share some of the ways that you sought out information about vineyards, winemaking and the history of this time period.

I wrote most of WIDOWS during quarantine, so a trip to France was out of the question. I spent a lot of time on the Internet. I traveled (a lot) via Google Earth. I read books on champagne and champagne making. I contacted experts on the process. I delved deep into Nazi occupation of France. The French Resistance. The Gestapo. The…you get the idea. I also went to wine stores and picked the brains of the experts. Oh, and of course, I sampled some of the best champagne ever made. Tough job, but someone had to do it.”

What was your favorite or most unexpected discovery during this research process?

I loved learning about the Champagne region of France and the arduous process it takes to make world class champagne, starting with the growing of the grapes all the way through the two fermentations. Yes, two. I hadn’t realized so much love and hard work is put into each bottle. There’s also been a historical misrepresentation of what the French went through during World War II, especially the people living in the occupied zone. The truth was messier than a simple right and wrong; good or bad. I relished telling a multi-layered story that highlighted what the French (especially French women) suffered during Nazi occupation.”

Prior to writing The Widows of Champagne were you interested in wine and winemaking? How did your research for this book broaden and/or change your perspective of the world of wine and the winemaking process?

I was already a big fan of wine prior to writing WIDOWS. I mostly drank dry reds, sticking to cabernets, zinfandels, malbecs, the occasional shiraz. Sometimes, I would drink a chardonnay or a crisp pinot grigio. I didn’t know much about champagne, nor did I drink it often. Too expensive, or so I thought at the time. I knew champagne only came from France and that it was considered vastly superior to other sparkling wines, but I didn’t know why. My understanding of the process and, okay, the many taste tests I conducted, has changed my thinking. Champagne really is the best of the sparkling wines.”

Which of the Leblanc women was the easiest to write about or did each of them come to you in the same way?

That’s such a hard question to answer. Each character was both hard and easy to write, depending on what day or scene or part of the story I was in at the time. My biggest challenge was giving the characters each a distinct voice. They all carry a piece of me, and yet they don’t. Gabrielle was the most like me and usually the easiest to write, though not always. She could be stubborn.”

“Hélène was the most distant, and also had the most to lose. I came to understand her through the process of writing her. And then there was Josephine who was suffering early dementia, which really broke my heart. Every time I switched point-of-views between these vastly different women, I had to rediscover the character all over again and set the others aside. That was mentally draining. I ended most writing days exhausted.

Do you plan to write a sequel to The Widows of Champagne that continues the story of Gabriel and Richard?

Oh, I would love that! They have a whole life to live together and champagne to make, children to raise. I also want to tell Paulette’s story. Not only during the war, but in the years following. Did she find peace, happiness? Did she ever marry, have children? Did she ultimately forgive Gabrielle? Were they close at the end of their lives?”

Photo Courtesy of Renee Ryan

Since I’ll be incorporating Champagne and Sparkling Wines in recipes this month in honor of your book, could you share one of your favorite wines from the Champagne region and what your favorite food pairing is with champagne?

“I’m a huge fan of Veuve Clicquot. Such a wonderful champagne, always consistent. I also have a sweet tooth and love eating pink champagne cake with Italian buttercream frosting. It’s a great complement to champagne. YUM! If I was going for a meal, I would pair a salmon cooked in red wine sauce and drink a blanc de blanc champagne.

Photo Courtesy of Renee Ryan

I want to thank Renee for taking the time to share her answers to these questions. Renee’s next novel, The Secret Society of Salzburg, comes out later this year and is focused on the world of opera during WWII and the refugee problem during the interwar years.

“Her conviction had been as pure as the taste of a perfectly blended champagne.”

The Widows of Champagne, Renee Ryan

Recipes ideas for The Widows of Champagne….

One thing that I think everyone can agree on is, if there is really good food to bonded over a book club discussion is always more enjoyable. Afterall, food is one of the great joys of life that helps bring us together and create memorable experiences. Plus, a meal or even a snack can only help drive the tempo of a book club get together with an expansion of food discussed in the story.

Although I do like to keep it simple and uncomplicated, certain books call for something that feels a little more indulgent and luxurious than usual. This month I start with a round up some of my favorite French classics that are just as good as ever and will impress your family, friends or book club members when you combine them to make the perfect dish.

Pan Seared Duck Breast with Potatoes Au Gratin(Dauphinoise) and Sparkling Wine Mushroom Sauce

Pan Seared Duck Breast

Cooking duck can be intimidating if you have never worked with it before but I encourage you to give it a try. For directions on cooking the Perfect Pan-Seared Duck Breasts you can watch one of many videos on YouTube or you can visit a cooking blog, like Alexandra’s Kitchen.

I would like to thank Maple Leaf Farms for sending me samples of their duck breasts to use for this, The Widows of Champagne, recipe. You can learn more about how to order a selection of Maple Leaf Farms duck products on their website.

You can read more about the popularity of duck in France in this informative article by Living the Life in Saint-Aignan.

Potatoes Au Gratin(Dauphinoise)

When traveling in France a dish that I always look for on the menu is Potatoes Au Gratin or Dauphinoise. For me it is the ultimate comfort food and I love how the dish can change slightly depending on the restaurant yet always stay true to a classic Dauphinoise.

One of my memorable meals was at a small restaurant in Lyon at the famous Les Halles de Lyon – Paul Bocuse. It included a scrumptious dish of Dauphinoise, roasted chicken and a mushroom sauce. It was Simply Delicious.

Staying true to a classic Potatoes au Gratin (Dauphinoise), I found this recipe from food blogger Nagi on her Recipe Tin Eats blog and knew it would be a perfect one to share. Adapted from a Julia Child’s recipe, Nagi has slightly evolved the recipe over the years and come up with a more streamlined assembly process. I upped her addition of garlic to 3 cloves and the thyme to 3 tsp, I also used Gruyere cheese for this recipe. I have never cooked such perfect homemade Potatoes Au Gratin, thanks to this recipe.

Sparkling Wine Mushroom Sauce

This Sparkling Wine Mushroom Sauce is thick and creamy, incredibly flavorful, and absolutely divine. It really brings the whole dish of Seared Duck and Potatoes Au Gratin together.

Sparkling Wine Mushroom Sauce

Recipe adapted from Hank Shaw’s Champagne Mushroom Sauce recipe on Simply Recipes Website
This decadent sauce is a spin off of a classic French Champagne sauce. Flavored with dried porcini mushrooms and shallot that compliment the flavors of the Sparkling Wine. Making the sauce is not difficult but it does take 3 separate pans to make it correctly.
It is a wonderful companion to the Pan Seared Duck.

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
  • ½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms (if dried porcini are not available other dried mushrooms will work)
  • 2 cups Sparkling Wine
  • cup shallots, minced
  • ¼ cup butter to add to the sparkling wine
  • 3 tbsp butter for the roux
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • Salt to taste

Instructions
 

  • To rehydrate the dried mushrooms: To a medium sized pot add the stock and dried mushrooms. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to its lowest setting.
    In another medium sized pot, pour the sparkling wine over the shallots and bring to a rolling boil. Continue to boil until the wine is reduced to 3/4 of a cup.
    Remove from the heat and wait until the wine stops simmering, then whisk in 1/4 cup of butter, a little at a time.
    Make roux with butter and flour:
    Heat 3 Tbsp butter in a separate saucepan over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted, add the flour and stir well to combine. Stirring constantly, cook this roux for 3-4 minutes.
    Add the hot stock (along with the mushrooms) to the roux slowly. Be careful as it will spit at first, keep pouring in the stock and stirring until it turns into a silky sauce.
    Turn the heat off and whisk in the sparkling wine and shallot mixture into the sauce until well combined.
    Place a fine mesh sieve over a bowl and pour the sauce into the sieve, using a spatula to stir and separate the mushrooms and shallots from the sauce.
    Salt to taste and keep warm until you need it. Be careful not to boil the sauce or it may separate.

Hank Shaw’s Champagne Mushroom Sauce recipe can be found on the Simply Recipes Website.

The Widows of Champagne and its references to classic French Cuisine allows you to draw inspiration from the book to expand your experience and discussion of the story with a memorable meal.

If duck is not available near you, substituting a slow roasted whole chicken or chicken breast would be just as enjoyable with the Potatoes Au Gratin and Sparkling Wine Mushroom Sauce.

Shrimp and Mushroom Vol-au-vents

Vol-au-vents originated in France around the start of the 19th century as a larger pie-like meal, the bite-size cocktail party version, more properly known as a bouchée became increasingly popular in the 1980’s. Vol-au-vents is typically a small pastry case that is loaded with a variety of savory fillings with shrimp, ham, chicken and mushroom in a sauce being the most common. This Shrimp and Mushroom Vol-au-vents is sure to WOW your book club friends at your next gathering.

Shrimp and Mushroom Vol-au-vents

Recipe by Elaine Luxton – Inspired by the Novel, The Widows of Champagne
Succulent Shrimp and Earthy Mushrooms in an herby and decadent cream sauce paired with crispy light puff pastry… a taste sensation.
This recipe can easily be turned into an exceptional meatless Mushroom Vol-au-Vents main course or superb appetizers by simply omitting the shrimp.
Servings 6

Ingredients
  

  • 1 box 2 sheets thawed puff pastry or box of puff pastry shells
  • flour for dusting
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ¾ cup Sparkling Wine or Champagne (for this recipe I used Underwood canned Sparkling Wine from Oregon)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • ¾ cup Bella sliced mushrooms
  • ¾ pound uncooked shrimp
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Small Pinch of Nutmeg
  • tbsp fresh chives, minced
  • tbsp fresh dill, minced
  • 1 Lemon, Optional for adding fresh squeezed lemon juice before serving.

Instructions
 

FOR PUFF PASTRY-If making your own shells

  • Roll puff pastry sheets one at a time out on a lightly floured worksurface until about approx. 16 x 16 inches. Using a round or square 3.5-inch cutter, cut out 12 circles/squares from the pastry. Place 6 onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet, then use a 2.5-inch cutter cut out the center of the remaining 6 shapes and make the outer rings or squares. (See picture below)
    Brush the 6 circles/squares on the parchment paper with beaten egg, then neatly lay over the outer rings/squares onto each. Prick the middles with a fork. Brush everything with more beaten egg. Chill for 20 minutes.
    Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Give all the pastry another good brush with egg, then put into the oven for 15-20 minutes until risen and golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

TO MAKE THE CREAMY SHRIMP AND MUSHROOM SAUCE

  • Pour the Sparkling wine (or champagne) into a small pan and reduce by 1/2. Take care not to let it boil.
    Add olive oil to frying pan and over medium heat, add shallot and mushrooms, stir for 2-3 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side (when the flesh of the shrimp at the base of that crevice turns from translucent to opaque, the shrimp is done). The Shrimp will cook a little longer in the sauce so better to undercook than to overcook. Also make sure that the liquid has evaporated from the mushrooms and they are golden brown.
    Lower temperature to medium-low. Add the reduced Sparkling Wine and stir for 1 minute.
    Add in the cream, season lightly with salt and lots of black pepper, and reduce until a thick coating consistency. Stir in the nutmeg, dill and chives.
    Spoon the mixture into the center of pushed down vol-au-vents, traditionally you remove the center and use it as a top but I like the crispy center underneath the sauce.
    Optional-Squeeze some fresh lemon juice over the sauce and serve.
    Garnish with fresh Dill.

“A recipe has no soul. You, as the cook, must bring soul to the recipe.”

– Thomas Keller

Having some puff pastry sheets in the freezer I made my own Vol-au-vents but you can also look in the freezer section of your grocery store for premade ready to bake Puff Pastry Shells.

Vol-au-vents may be made in a variety of shapes and sizes. If you don’t have the circle cutters, try making squares as I did, just make sure to leave about 1/2-inch for the top section. For the Vol-au-vents I wanted to play around with two sizes, a larger 3.5 inch case (2.5 inch top) for being the star of any book club food table and a smaller 2.5 inch case (1.5 inch top) for canapés that would pair perfectly alongside the Pan Seared Duck Breast with Potatoes Au Gratin and Sparkling Wine Mushroom Sauce dish.

And finally…Dessert

For most of us, a little something sweet is always welcome, and I hope to satisfy that sweet tooth craving with a delectable cheesecake with a heart shaped nod to Valentine’s Day this month. However, before I get to that recipe and just in case you are not familiar with them, I’d like to introduce you to Le Biscuit Rose De Reims (pink cookies from Reims) that I will be using in the cheesecake recipe. These Biscuit Rose are distinguished by their medium pink color and are made only in Reims. These biscuits are similar to a ladyfinger, but are drier and harder.

My first introduction to Le Biscuit Rose De Reims was in a decadent dessert in a small tucked away restaurant on our first night in Reims. I quickly became smitten with these ‘biscuits’ and was thrilled to find them on the breakfast buffet table of our hotel.

Wanting to recreate these rose-colored biscuits to use in my cheesecake recipe, I found a recipe for Biscuit Rose de Reims, on the website The Nibble. Although my biscuits didn’t get the raise that I was hoping for, they were a perfect cookie crumb base for my Strawberry Sparkling Wine Cheesecake.

The Nibble website also has some great information below the recipe on the history of this dunking Champagne Cookie.

The biscuits had a crisp exterior that retained their shape when dipped in the local Champagne (or coffee or other hot beverage). They then melted in your mouth: a gustatory delight.” -The Nibble Website.

Although you can recreate this twice baked cookie, I also found Fossier Maison Du Biscuit Rose available on Amazon.

Strawberry Sparkling Wine Cheesecake

Do you love bubbly and sweet treats? Wine is a flavorful addition to any recipe, both on the table and in the dish and there is really something special about Sparkling Wine or Champagne infused baked goods.

Strawberry Sparkling Wine Cheesecake

Recipe by Elaine Luxton – Inspired by the Novel, The Widows of Champagne
With it's beautiful pink and white color and the strawberry bubbly flavors that go so well together, this decadent dessert is the perfect way to bring the taste of the Champagne region to your book club or even your Valentine's Day celebration meal. The addition of Biscuit rose de Reims pink biscuits as the crumb base of the cheesecake and broken chunks on top for decoration compliment the creamy effervescent flavors in found in the sparkling wine.

Ingredients
  

FOR THE CRUST

  • cup Biscuit rose de Reims crumbs
  • 6 tbsp melted butter
  • 1 tbsp Optional-Dehydrated Strawberry powder

FOR THE CHEESECAKE FILLING

  • 1 cup Sparkling Wine ((any sparkling wine will work, I used canned Underwood Sparkling Wine from Oregon).
  • 24 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract (clear if you have it)
  • ½ tsp Optional Sparkling Wine Extract
  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  • ½ cup Crème fraîche
  • 2 tbsp dehydrated strawberry powder – See notes

Instructions
 

  • Pre-heat oven to 350°F and lightly spray a 9-inch springform pan or 5 individual mini springform pans with cooking spray.
    In a medium bowl, add the melted butter to the Biscuit rose de Reims crumbs and stir until the mixture resembles wet sand, at this point you can combine the optional 1 tbsp of dehydrated strawberry powder.
    Pour the mixture into the 9-inch springform pan or 5 individual mini springform pans and press using your fingers or a flat bottomed cup into the bottom and halfway up the sides of the pan.
    Bake in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes for 9-inch springform/ 8-10 minutes for individual springform pans or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside.
    TO MAKE THE CHEESECAKE
    Reduce oven temperature to 325°F
    Over medium heat, heat the sparkling wine in a saucepan until it is reduced to 1/3 cup. Don't let it boil. Remove from the heat and allow it to cool to room temperature.
    In a large mixing bowl, using an electric hand mixer, beat the cream cheese and sugar together until light and fluffy, approx. 3 minutes. Add in the flour and salt until well combined and fluffy.
    Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix until just combined. Take care not to over mix at this point.
    With a spatula, mix in the vanilla extract, optional Sparkling Wine extract, Crème fraîche and reduced sparkling wine.
    Remove 1 cup of batter and place in a separate bowl. Add 2 tbsp dehydrated strawberry powder to the bowl with 1 cup of batter. Stir and fold in the powder gently until well combined.
    Pour the white cheesecake batter first into the pre-baked crust/crusts. Then gently spoon the dehydrated strawberry batter into the middle of the pan or divide among the individual pans, gently spread with a cake spatula and give a swirl to blend the two batters together, taking care not to hit the bottom or the crust.
    Tap the pan gently on the kitchen counter a couple of times to get rid of any air bubbles.
    Wrap the cheesecake pan with double foil and place the pan in a large baking pan and add boiling water to the baking pan, about halfway up the sides of the springform pan. (Be careful not to add hot water the cheesecake)
    Bake in the preheated oven for about 1 hour for 9-inch springform pan or 25-30 minutes for individual springform pans, until the edge of the cheesecake is set with only the center slightly wobbly.
    Turn off the oven and let cheesecake remain in the oven for another 45 minutes for 9-inch springform pan and 30 minutes for individual springform pans.
    Remove from the oven and cool the cheesecake to room temperature on a wire rack. Then remove the cheesecake from the roasting pan and foil wrap.
    Cover the cheesecake and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, overnight is preferable.
    Serve as is or decorate with whipped cream infused with Sparkling Wine extract, Biscuit rose de Reims and strawberries.

Notes

For the dehydrated strawberry powder, I used Trader Joe’s brand and blended about 1/2 cup in my food processor to get the powder form needed for this recipe. 

You can find a 2 Pack of the Heart 4-inch Springform Pans from EALEK on Amazon here.

I hope that you make this beautiful and decadent Biscuits Roses de Reims Strawberry Sparkling Wine Cheesecake inspired by The Widows of Champagne book and my time in Reims.

In researching how the war and occupation affected the citizens of France I came across this well written article, “How the Wars changed French Cuisine” written by Isabel on the Discover Walks Blog. It is well worth reading.

Remember, a book club meeting is more than just about the books you read and the conversations you have. It is about connecting with your fellow members and food just happens to be a wonderful way to bring everyone together.

“Eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably.” C.S. LEWIS

If you are searching for a cookbook that breaks down some of the Northern Regions of France, take a look at the Family and Traditions at the French Table, Book One (Champagne, Alsace, Lorraine, and Paris regions) by Carole Bumpus.

This month I hope that you pop open a bottle of your favorite Champagne or Sparkling Wine while reading The Widows of Champagne. Writing this blog post in January of 2022, I know that finding and opening a bottle of your favorite bottle of bubbly can be harder to do than in the past, due to the ongoing pandemic, shipping shortages and inflation.

My suggestion is to search around locally first for wineries near you that are producing Sparkling Wine if Champagne is harder to come by, as well as search online for some deals that may be still available. No matter what you open, Champagne, Sparkling Wine or still wine make sure you pour yourself a glass of something delicious to enjoy while you reading this book.

Additional Reading

In France, the WWII German occupation is often referred to as the “dark years”, and there is an impressive number of novels set in occupied France during the war that are engaging and informative reads. For reference, I wanted to highlight some wine related, non-fiction titles that will help in learning more about the stories of the French Resistance, and the brave citizens that came together to help save their own.

Champagne: How the World’s Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times by Don Kladstrup and Petie Kladstrup

Wine & War : The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure by Donald Kladstrup and Petie Kladstrup.

These books read separately supply an enormous amount of knowledge about the Champagne regions occupation. Together they are an absolutely indispensable collection of facts that share the remarkable story of France’s valiant acts and how the proficient vintners protected and rescued their country’s most valuable commodity from the German’s plunder.

Champagne [Boxed Book & Map Set]: The Essential Guide to the Wines, Producers, and Terroirs of the Iconic Region by Peter Liem.

This box set includes a pullout tray that includes a complete set of seven vintage vineyard maps by Louis Larmat, a valuable resource that documents the region’s terroirs. Within this beautiful book you get an extensive look at growers as well as vintner profiles. The book is a well written and fascinating look at Champagne’s history and lore, that explores Champagne’s legendary wine in a new and exciting way.

If you are looking for more information about this time in France’s history, I recommend you read How France’s champagne makers fooled Nazis and helped turn the tide of WWII article in the New York Post.

I hope that I have inspired you to make some of these recipes to enjoy while you read The Widows of Champagne by Renee Ryan or to perhaps recreate them when hosting a book club of your own.

In addition, you can read the very first Drink In Life Book Club title from June of 2021, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (blog post found here) which focuses on the struggles of Guernsey Island off the coast of England and how the German Occupation affected that part of the world.

I would love to hear your thoughts on these recipes and the book. Cheers everyone and I hope to see you soon at the next virtual Drink In Life Book Club discussion.

Previous Drink In Life Book Club titles and recipes can be found here.

Images, content and recipes © of Drink In Nature Photography/Drink In Life Blog

At This Moment….A Year of New Goals

At This Moment….is my Drink in Life blog series in which I share newly discovered things, projects I am working on and upcoming stories and blog posts. It has been a while since my last “At this Moment” post, and it’s time to get back to expanding on things I see, do, read, or taste, and share them so perhaps you may discover something new or inspiring. In turn, I hope that you will share with me what is grabbing your attention…at this moment.

With 2022 well underway I’m working on keeping some positive vibes and enthusiastic possibilities when it comes to the New Year. This includes wishes & dreams, goals & plans and Yes, some actual solid Intentions (not New Year’s Resolutions) floating around as well. A new year is inspirational. … so, where to focus this year?

From my blog content you have probably figured out that wine and wine related topics play a major role in my life and this includes wine education and that will continue. However, this year I am also going to be more focused on different ways to expand my horizons when it comes to spirits and cocktails, cooking and baking, gardening, reading, and travel, along with getting back to an overall enjoyment of wine.

Wine Education….At this Moment…

After 2 plus years of wine education I have decided this year to put any formal study on the back shelf and turn my attention to certain aspects of wine that I want to learn more about and new things that capture my attention. This includes reading some of the wine related books that I have amassed over the last couple of years that seem to forever sit in the “I will read that someday” pile.

Instead of throwing a wide net over a large array of wine topics and regions, this year I am slowing down and really diving deep into specific regions. I’ll focus on regions within a particular country and through tasting and self-study immerse myself in the grape varietals that are grown there.

In an upcoming post I will also be sharing the ways that I have found that might help you expand your wine knowledge and enable you to continue growing your wine enthusiasm outside the classroom.

“Decide whether or not the goal is worth the risks involved. If it is, stop worrying.”

Amelia Earhart

Washington and Pacific Northwest AVAs….At this Moment

Images of the Lake Chelan AVA in Washington State.

Last year I began a new series on the Washington State American Viticultural Areas, but as often happens other writing topics came up and this project got put on the back burner. This year I hope to continue with this educational series that highlights some of the states now 19 AVAs and share information about other Pacific Northwest AVAs in both Idaho and Oregon.

Stay tuned for an article on the Idaho Wineries in the joint Idaho and Washington AVA of the Lewis and Clark Valley as well as Washington’s Ancient Lakes AVA, Naches Heights AVA, Snipes Mountain AVA and more.

Cooking At Home….At this Moment

There is a lot to be said about home-cooked food, it is healthier, can help you save money, and it allows you to become a better cook.

I cook for my family regularly, actually between 5-7 days a week, we also dine out or order in sometimes, but no more than once or twice a week.

Though I’m not a professionally trained chef, I do have over 20 years of home cooking under my belt to include small meals for three and large meals for 30+ people. So this year I am challenging myself to not only continue making home-cooked meals, but to venture out and try recipes that I have always wanted to attempt at home. This includes more dishes from around the world and a year dedicated to mastering the art of pastry and baking.

Pastries and baking have not always been my strong suit but I am not afraid of failure and learning from my mistakes. My baking and cooking skills will keep growing as I try new recipes.

Recently I have been working on my home made pie crust, with each attempt it is slowly getting better and better.

So the challenge is on! Cook with confidence and Enjoy more home cooked food.

“You can conquer almost any fear if you will make up your mind to do so. For remember, fear doesn’t exist anywhere except in the mind.”

Dale Carnegie

These home cooking goals mean that I will be sharing more recipes on the blog to include cooking with a selection of delicious wines and spirits.

There will also be more food and wine pairings along with food and cocktail pairings both in the Drink In Life Book Club posts and on their own.

Another series making a reappearance will be my Wine Tour at Home posts (like this one about Armenia and this one about Alsace) which also include recipes that are paired with regional wines from around the world. I have some exciting ideas for this year that involve highlighting regions and wines from Italy, France and California with a few regional food recipes.

Reading….At this Moment

My reading list has grown exponentially this year with more non-fiction books about wine and cocktails, travel adventures and a new ever growing stack of cookbooks. The fiction novels that I hope to finish by the end of the year include some exclusively for The Drink In Life Book Club, and some that have been in my “Need to Read” book pile for far too long. In all, I hope to read over 60 books in 2022, and maybe even more if time allows.

I recently finished The Widows of Champagne by Renee Ryan which is the February Drink In Life Book Club title (Post coming next week) and now it is time to explore more about France during WWII and the Champagne Region in general. I have a number of books related to all things Champagne and Sparkling wine just waiting to be opened the next time I pop a bottle of bubbly.

Over the last two weeks I also read The Girls in the Stilt House by Kelly Mustian, Midnight at the Blackbird Café by Heather Webber and because I wanted to finally read the book before watching the limited TV series, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Both The Girls in the Stilt House and Midnight at the Blackbird Café are upcoming Drink In Life Book Club titles so I will be sharing more about them soon.

Station Eleven for me was a fantastic book although one that maybe a little difficult for some readers to read due to the current pandemic, but I am glad that I took the time to read this haunting and beautifully written story. The book in my opinion is far better than the TV series but I did enjoy certain aspects of that as well.

I am currently listening to or reading three books at this moment. I am almost finished listening to The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates on Audible and I love that I chose this audio version since the narration by Joe Morton is exceptional and his voice carries the full emotion of this story that is so disturbing, intense and moving. The Water Dancer and the other title I am currently reading, The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman are both upcoming Drink In Life Book Club selections. Stay tuned for more about these titles in upcoming blog posts.

Finally, I am slowly reading, The Baking Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. This baking reading assignment will soon include making something from this hefty 1063 page cookbook weekly, as I work my way through it’s impressive collection of recipes.

Drink In Life Book Club….At this Moment

Last year kicked off the Drink In Life Book Club and related blog posts. Those posts initially included recipes provided through a collaboration with a Chef. As the collaboration ended it was requested those previously published recipes be removed from my blog. I’ve been amazed at the opportunity this has provided to challenge myself to create and find new recipes to fill in the old posts and bring exciting and delectable dishes to these pages. I hope that you will check back periodically to see what fun and delicious recipes have been added to the past book club posts.

The next Drink In Life Book Club post for February’s book, The Widows of Champagne has a decadent assortment of recipes that pair well with Champagne and Sparkling Wines.

“Let’s be reasonable and add an eighth day to the week that is devoted exclusively to reading.”

Lena Dunham

Travel….At this Moment

Aside from a trip late last summer to the Umpqua Valley in Oregon and a fall vacation to Arizona and the Grand Canyon I like many others have not been traveling much. I do still have some past trips to recount including my final installment of our June Boise, Idaho getaway with a day trips to McCall and Payette Lake and a series of posts about travel destinations in Southern Oregon and the Umpqua Valley AVA. So, look for those stories in the coming months.

Also, Fingers Crossed we are scheduled to travel to Italy in the Spring to explore Milan, Bologna, Florence and the Tuscany country side. So, there will hopefully be many things to highlight and share from that trip.

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”

Anthony Bourdain

Around the House….At this Moment

Spring is just around the corner and I’m definitely hoping for an Early Spring this year. While I wait for Spring, seeds are being planted indoors to give the vegetable and herb gardens a head start when warmer weather arrives.

Each year I have different goals for our backyard garden and this year the emphasis is on growing as much fresh fruits and vegetables as we can to eat and to put up for next winter to fight the high inflation that is happening right now in the grocery stores.

This year I would also like to share more about edible gardening and growing herbs here on Drink In Life Blog as well as feature some of my favorite recipes from our yearly garden bounty.

In addition home Remodeling is also on the schedule for this year, to include a covered outdoor kitchen area and a complete master bathroom remodel. The additional patio has been poured for the extended cooking area, now we are just waiting for drier weather to get started on the next step. That is if we can get the supplies and fixtures needed for these projects due to supply shortages and delivery delays. Fingers Crossed!

“There comes a time in every woman’s life when the only thing that helps is a glass of champagne.”

Bette Davis

I typically have a list of wines and spirits that I am enjoying at this moment but most of those have been set aside for future stories and blog posts. I will confess that last summer when I first heard of a possible Champagne shortage I set out to build up our Champagne and Sparkling Wine collection. So, needless to say there will be plenty of bubbly posts joining the still wines, dessert wines and cocktail posts here and on my Drink In Nature Instagram and Facebook pages.

At this Moment….Striving for Positive Vibes

There are times when we all need a little push, a jolt or wake up call to ensure we don’t let life pass us by. Something to make us take those once in a lifetime opportunities when they are presented to us and to not forget to acknowledge our daily blessings .

After all, it’s up to each one of us to make our lives count, and to make the most of them as much as possible. No one else is going to do that for us.

I hope that you are faring well as we continue to navigate our way through these difficult times, and I would love to hear what you are doing to keep busy. Leave me a comment and tell me how you are doing. Cheers Everyone!

“Whether it’s the best of times or the worst of times, it’s the only time we’ve got.”

Art Buchwald

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