Friday, July 30, 2021

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The WIdows of Champagne" by Renee Ryan, Served with a Recipe for Cooked Grapes with Cream

Happy Aloha Friday! I am happy to be today's TLC Book Tours stop for The Widows of Champagne, a new historical fiction novel by Renee Ryan. Accompanying my review is an excerpt from the book and a Jacques Pepin recipe for Cooked Grapes with Cream.  

Publisher's Blurb:

For readers of Lilac Girls and The Lost Girls of Paris comes a captivating novel of resilience, as three generations of women battle to save their family’s vineyard during WWII.

Champagne, 1939

Gabrielle Leblanc Dupree is taking her family’s future into her hands. While she should be preparing for a lavish party to celebrate two centuries of champagne making, she secretly hides Chateau Fouché-Leblanc’s most precious vintages behind a fake wall in the cellar in preparation for the looming war. But when she joins the resistance, the coveted champagne isn’t the most dangerous secret her cellar must conceal…

A former Parisian socialite, Gabrielle’s mother, Hélène, lost her husband to another war. Now her home has been requisitioned by the Germans, who pillage vineyards to satisfy the Third Reich’s thirst for the finest champagne. There’s even more at stake than Hélène dares admit. She has kept her heritage a secret…and no one is safe in Nazi-occupied France.

Josephine, the family matriarch, watches as her beloved vineyard faces its most difficult harvest yet. As her daughter-in-law and granddaughters contend with the enemies and unexpected allies in their midst, Josephine’s deep faith leads to her own path of resistance.

Across years and continents, the Leblanc women will draw on their courage and wits, determined against all odds to preserve their lives, their freedom and their legacy…

Publisher: Love Inspired (July 27, 2021) 
Paperback 379 pages


Excerpt #6

Her feet were cold.

Josephine looked down. She was standing in mud that wanted to claim the top of her boots. How long had she been frozen in this moment to have sunk so far into the earth? A few minutes? An hour? The sky with its deceptive cloud cover gave her few clues.

Go home.

Josephine hurried back to the house. It was a fifteen-minute walk, enough time to gather her thoughts into some semblance of order. Back in the kitchen, routine took over. She stripped off her coat, then climbed out of her muddy boots to pull on thick, dry socks. She made a pot of strong coffee, then moved to the scarred table, cupping the steaming mug between her palms.

Her thoughts grew fuzzy again. Luring her, always so en­ticing. Her mind wanted to drift back across time, back to happier days full of nothing but brightness. She would not allow such frailty of spirit. Still so much to do for the party tonight.

Tonight? Was the party tonight? She thought maybe yes.

How had she missed the passage of two whole days?

She stood on shaky legs, glancing around at her surround­ings. She’d come to the kitchen for a reason. Brushing the wet strands of hair off her face, she paced a bit until she re­membered. The list. The one she’d begun the night before. Remembering now, she snatched it out from beneath a stack of other papers on her writing desk. Placing her mug on the table, she sat and studied the empty page.

Empty page? Her list had somehow vanished in the jour­ney from desk to table.

No matter. She would start again.

Pencil poised over the paper, she forced herself to concen­trate on the party. The champagne would flow freely, that much Josephine promised herself. They would serve only the best. Definitely the 1928. She wrote it down. The ’37, possibly the ’26. She made another series of notations. Once started, the ideas poured quickly from brain to hand to list.

Preparing for the anniversary party made Josephine proud of the past and gave her hope for the future. Perhaps all was not lost. Château Fouché-LeBlanc had survived tragedy be­fore. Bad harvests had given way to better ones. Economic crises had forced them to move into international markets. Even untimely death had taught those left behind to fend for themselves.

There was much to celebrate.

A fragment of paper, torn from somewhere—she couldn’t remember where—slipped from tabletop to floor. Josephine reached for it. Words blurred as she laid the ragged page gently back on the table. She ran her fingertips over the looping text. Her handwriting. That was her handwriting.

When had she made this list? Today? Yesterday?

Unearthly silence settled over her. Darkness beckoned, se­ductive and full of false promises. Shutting her eyes, she con­fronted the familiar battle with her legendary iron will. One day, she would lose this fight, but not today.

No, she vowed. Not today.


 My Review:

Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres and WWII and stories from different perspectives always interests me. I liked the look at the experiences of three generations of a French family--its elderly matriarch, Josephine, her daughter-in-law, Helene, and granddaughter Gabrielle. All of these women are widows and they operate the family's successful vineyards in Champagne, each tough and resilient in her own right. They are still feeling the effects of The Great War as WWII looms on the horizon and soon they are faced with their worst fear when a Nazi officer takes requisition of their chateau, moving in and controlling their lives. It's a calculated move on his part as he was once a German wine merchant who is acquainted with the success of the 200-year-old vineyard. Gabrielle took a preemptive measure by building a false wall behind which she hid much of the family's best vintages before the Germans invaded. Josephine is determined to fight as well and uses her memory loss to make her seem harmless while she gathers information in a journal to give to Gabrielle to pass on to the resistance, helped by Marta, the family's longtime servant. Helene has spent her time on her art and shopping and socializing in Paris with her teenage daughter and Gabrielle's spoiled sister, Paulette. Each woman must make difficult choices to protect their family, legacy, and secrets that the others do not always understand. 

The story is told from their alternating points of view, which gives the reader a glimpse into their actions and motivations. For the most part it works, although it is hard to get too deep into each character with the jumps back and forth. The story is not a happy one, as most WWII stories tend not to be and although suspenseful, it's not always an easy book to read, but the story is  compelling. I also didn't realize it was  a faith-based, Christian historical novel and at times that emphasis was a bit much for me. While not a heathen savage, I am not particularly religious and the many mentions of God and The Lord became a distraction for me, which is why I tend to stay away from books with a push for religion. This could be all me--others may not be bothered by it or may not think it was excessive. And in the end, I am glad I read it and got a glimpse into the lives of these strong and brave women.  

Note: The Widows of Champagne is a Walmart Exclusive Paperback, so only available in paperback at Walmart, or it can be purchased online from your favorite audio or ebook retailer.


Author Notes: Renee Ryan grew up in a Florida beach town where she learned how to surf and skateboard very poorly. As a teenager, she gave up on both pursuits and began entertaining herself during countless hours of “laying-out” by reading all the classics.

After graduating college, with a degree in Economics and Religion, she explored various career opportunities at a Florida theme park and a modeling agency. She moved on to teach high school Economics, American Government and Latin while coaching award-winning cheerleading teams.

You can connect with Renee on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.



Food Inspiration:

Although set in the midst of war, there is food mentioned throughout the book. Mentions included a pot of strong coffee, champagne, grape juice, grapes, a rosé recipe made from "blending pinot noir with white champagne instead of the usual elderberry juice, ham goat cheese and freshly baked croissants, champagne with a hint of pears or maybe apricots, French onion soup, spinach soufflé, rich chocolate mousse, caviar, poached salmon, oysters in nests of ice, duck in orange sauce, seabass, cherries jubilee, watery soup and moldy bread. 

For my bookish dish, I thought abut a soup, the spinach soufflé's or chocolate mousse but ultimately, I wanted to make something with grapes. I looked online for French grape recipes and found one from Jacques Pepin that sounded interesting, Cooked Grapes with Cream. It also looked quick and easy, which I always like. 

Cooked Grapes with Cream
Slightly Adapted from Jacques Pepin via
(Serves 6
1 1/2 lbs seedless Red Flame grapes, stems removed (approx 4 cups)
1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
 2 tsp grated lemon rind
1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp shredded mint leaves
1 Tbsp Cognac or other brandy (optional)
1/2 cup sour cream

Place grapes, vinegar and water in a stainless-steel saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook gently for about 5 minutes. The grapes will lose their red color and begin to crack open.
Meanwhile, in a bowl combine the lemon rind, lemon juice, honey and mint leaves. When grapes are cooked, add them to lemon-honey mixture and stir well. When cool, add the Cognac. Serve in wine glasses, garnished with a spoonful of sour cream. 

Notes/Results: This is a simple little recipe that works as a dessert or refreshing little palate cleanser. The vinegar, lemon juice and cognac or brandy (Should you choose to use it) give it a bit of tangy acidity and keep the grapes and honey from being too sweet, as does the sour cream on top. You could also use yogurt I think, skip the alcohol and eat this for breakfast. I like the combination of flavors and would happily make it again. 

Linking up this Jacques Pepin recipe at I Heart Cooking Clubs for July Potluck.

I'm also sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event  being hosted by Marg at The Adventures of An Intrepid Reader. It's a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. Here's a link to last week's post

Note: A review e-book copy of The Widows of Champagne was provided to me by the author and the publisher via TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.   

You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here. 


Sunday, July 25, 2021

(Vegan) Lentil & Sausage Soup: "Hiding Soup" from Cook the Books June/July Pick: "97 Orchard"

Today's soup is not the prettiest, but it is tasty. It's my vegan adaptation of a lentil and sausage soup recipe from 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement by Jane Ziegelman. This round is hosted by Simona of briciole and you can see her announcement post here.  

I am only about 2/3 through the book due to a crazy work and life month so I will come back and update my review later this week, but I wanted to do my post and make this soup today for Souper Sundays. So far I am enjoying this glimpse into the culinary lives of the different families in the book and learning about the New York City food scene on the Lower East Side from the mid-nineteenth century into the twentieth century. I love food history and knowing where the different dishes I grew up with in America had their origins. Ziegelman does a good balance of storytelling and details that makes the book entertaining.  
***Update*** I finished the book over the weekend and really enjoyed the mix of the stories and the historical facts and details. I do wish there was a bit more emphasis on the family's daily lives but overall, it kept my interest and taught me much about immigrant life and food culture. I am mostly of Scandinavian origin with my father's parents immigrating through Ellis Island from Sweden and Denmark, but I do have some German and Polish-Jewish blood in me from my mom's side, and it was nice to learn a bit more about the food and culture as her and my family's experience was a bit watered down by the time it got to us. 

From the Publisher:

"Ziegelman puts a historical spin to the notion that you are what you eat by looking at five immigrant families from what she calls the "elemental perspective of the foods they ate." They are German, Italian, Irish, and Jewish (both Orthodox and Reform) from Russia and Germany—they are new Americans, and each family, sometime between 1863 and 1935, lived on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Each represents the predicaments faced in adapting the food traditions it knew to the country it adopted. From census data, newspaper accounts, sociological studies, and cookbooks of the time, Ziegelman vividly renders a proud, diverse community learning to be American. She describes the funk of fermenting sauerkraut, the bounty of a pushcart market, the culinary versatility of a potato, as well as such treats as hamburger, spaghetti, and lager beer. Beyond the foodstuffs and recipes of the time, however, are the mores, histories, and identities that food evokes. Through food, the author records the immigrants’ struggle to reinterpret themselves in an American context and their reciprocal impact on American culture at large."

There were several dishes and recipes I thought would be fun to make for the book but I ended up with the Lentil Soup recipe from Chapter 3 from the German-Jewish perspective since I am such a big lentil soup fan. Since the recipe uses sausage--a ringwurst which is like a kielbasa or knackwurst, and I wanted to make it vegan so I used some Beyond Meat Sweet Italian Sausages to replace it.

97 Orchard says: In accordance with family tradition, lentil soup was known as "hiding soup in the Nussbaum' kitchen, a reference to the way the sausage tended to "hide" among the lentils." 

(Vegan) Lentil & Sausage Soup: "Hiding Soup"
Adapted from Kela Nussbaum from 97 Orchard
(Makes 6 Large Servings)

1-lb bag brown lentils
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 stalks celery, finely sliced
(I added 1 small carrot, chopped)
2 cloves garlic, minced
(I added 4 cups non-chicken stock + 3 cups water to make 7 cups liquid in recipe)
1 ringwurst (aprox. 1 lb) (I used Beyond Meat Sweet Italian Sausage, browned)
2 Tbsp flour
salt and pepper

Soak lentil in abundant cold water until they expand, about 2 hours. (I skipped this step.) Drain and set aside. 

In a large soup pot, sauté the onion and celery until soft and onion turns pale gold. Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Add ringwurst, whole drained lentils, and 7 cups of water. Bring to a gentle boil. Turn down the heat and simmer until lentils are barely tender. 

In a cup, mix flour with a few tablespoons of cooking broth to form a roux. When free of lumps, return to the soup pot. 

Stir and continue cooking until lentils are fully tender but still hold their shape. Remove ringwurst, slice into discs, and return to the pot. Season with salt and pepper.

Notes/Results: I wasn't sure how well this soup was going to turn out, but it is actually really good--thick and satisfying and good sausage flavor. I think browning the vegan sausage helped, as did working in some broth with the water in the soup. I also added a touch of lemon juice for brightness as I like a pop of acidity in my lentil soup. Also fun was the topping of Crispy Dillies (pickle-flavored cucumbers) I added--not in the traditional recipe but really good on top of this soup.

The deadline for this round is Saturday, July 31, and Simona will be rounding up the entries for Cook the Books on the website in a day or two. If you missed this round and you like books and food and foodie books, join us for our August/September pick Midnight At the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber and hosted by yours truly. 

Let's see who is in the Souper Sundays kitchen this week. 

Judy of Gluten Free A - Z Blog shares a Vegan Salad Nicoise and says, "Originating in Nice, France, the popular Salad Nicoise has become well known in the United States as well. The hearty salad typically includes potatoes, French green beans, wedged tomatoes, anchovies and or tuna fish, olives, sliced red onions, etc. Everything works for a vegan except the fish. Perfect for a hot summer day!"

Debra of Eliot's Eats made this Basque-Style New Orleans Hybrid Muffaletta Sandwich, based on a recent book review saying, "And, since a large part of the plot takes place in New Orleans during Katrina, I decided to use this bread to make a Turkey Muffaletta sandwich. I halved the above loaf and used half of the ingredients below but the dressing is good enough you will want to make a full batch and pour it on everything."

Shaheen of Allotment2Kitchen is back and she brought Salsa Verde Courgette Pasta Salad and said, "...we also had home-made Salsa Verde Pasta with homegrown courgettes.  It was not overly exciting, but it's made hit the spot when your hungry and wish you had packed more to eat for a long journey, knowing that you won't have energy to cook when you got back home."

Thanks to Judee, Debra, and Shaheen for joining me this week! 

(If you aren't familiar with Souper Sundays, you can read about of the origins of it here.
If you would like to join in Souper (Soup, Salad, and Sammie) Sundays, I would love to have you! Here's how...

To join in this week's Souper Sunday's linkup with your soup, salad or sandwich:
  • Link up your soup (stew, chili, soupy curries, etc. are fine), salad, or sandwich dish, (preferably one from the current week or month--but we'll take older posts too) on the picture link below and leave a comment on this post so I am sure not to miss you. Also please see below for what to do on your blog post that you link up to Souper Sundays in order to be included in the weekly round-up.
  • Although we are pretty wide on what defines a soup, sandwich or salad, entries that are clearly not in the same family (ie: desserts, meats, random main or side dishes that aren't salads, etc.) are meant for another round up and will be deleted. 

On your entry post (on your blog):
  • Mention Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays at Kahakai Kitchen and add a link back to this post. (Not to be a pain but it's polite and only fair to link back to events you link up at--so if you link a post up here without linking back to this post or my blog on your post, it will be removed.)
  • You are welcome to add the Souper Sundays logo to your post and/or blog (completely optional).

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter
Have a happy, healthy week!


Friday, July 23, 2021

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Ocean in Winter" by Elizabeth de Veer, Served with Two Favorite Dal Recipes

Happy Aloha Friday. Today, I am happy to be today's stop on the TLC Book Tour for The Ocean in Winter by Elizabeth de Veer. Accompanying my review are two recipes for Indian dals, inspired by my reading. 

Publisher's Blurb:

The lives of the three Emery sisters were changed forever when Alex, eleven at the time, found their mother drowned in the bathtub of their home. After their mother’s suicide, the girls’ father shut down emotionally, leaving Alex responsible for caring for Colleen, then eight, and little Riley, just four. Now the girls are grown and navigating different directions. Alex, a nurse, has been traveling in India and grieving her struggle to have a child; Colleen is the devoted mother of preteens in denial that her marriage is ending; and Riley has been leading what her sisters imagine to be the dream life of a successful model in New York City. Decades may have passed, but the unresolved trauma of their mother’s death still looms over them creating distance between the sisters.

Then on a March night, a storm rages near the coast of northeastern Massachusetts. Alex sits alone in an old farmhouse she inherited from a stranger. The lights are out because of the storm; then, an unexpected knock at the door. When Alex opens it, her beautiful younger sister stands before her. Riley has long been estranged from their family, prompting Colleen to hire the private investigator from whom they’d been awaiting news. Comforted by her unexpected presence, Alex holds back her nagging questions: How had Riley found her? Wouldn’t the dirt roads have been impassable in the storm? Why did Riley insist on disappearing back into the night?

After her mysterious visitation, Alex and Colleen are determined to reconcile with Riley and to face their painful past, but the closer they come to finding their missing sister, the more they fear they’ll only be left with Riley’s secrets. An unforgettable story about grief, love, and what it means to be haunted, The Ocean in Winter marks the debut of a remarkable new voice in fiction.

Publisher : Blackstone Publishing; Unabridged Edition (July 6, 2021) 
Hardcover : 336 pages

My Review:

The Ocean in Winter is a beautiful book, both sad and beautiful. It's a story of three sisters whose lives have never been the same since their mother committed suicide when they were young. So there are definitely some triggers here; suicide, death, grief, abuse, addiction and drug use and it's not at all a light read. But, if you can brave through the difficult parts, there is a story about sisters, family, love and connection. I found myself caught up in the sisters; caretaker Alex, a nurse who wants to have a life of her own and journey to India, Colleen, a mother and perfectionist, whose marriage is crumbling despite her attempts to put it back together, and Riley, the youngest, a well-known model whose childhood trauma combined with a life of excess have her struggling with a drug addiction she can't break away from, and hiding herself and her secrets from her sisters. Although in my own sister line-up, I am the youngest and I did not suffer the trauma they did, I found I could identify with things about each character and was hopeful for them all finding some peace and happiness. 

There are some mystical and supernatural elements and for the most part they work and are not overdone, but add to the story. de Veer's poetic words brought the landscape of Massachusetts  to life from the storm raging to the ocean waves to the creaking noises of an old house. I marked down several quotes that spoke to me, like this one:

"Maybe all that has been happening in this house hasn't been from squirrels or bad wiring, nor spirits of former residents. Maybe these are my memories, hung around me like laundry on a clothesline. Do memories choose us or do we choose our memories? I don't know, but maybe a memory can put itself before you and insist that you reckon with it."

Overall, I found The Ocean in Winter to be a book that drew me in and kept me reading, and caring about the characters. Mixed in with the sadness, there is hope and moments of joy. It's the author's first book, and I look forward to seeing what she writes next. 


Author Notes: Elizabeth de Veer has a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and has been admitted to writing residencies at the Jentel Artist Residency, the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She is a member of several writing groups, including Grub Street Writers’ Collective of Boston, the Newburyport Writers’ Group, Sisters in Crime New England, and the New Hampshire Writers’ Project. She lives in a small town in Northeast Massachusetts with her husband, daughter, and labradoodle.

Connect with Elizabeth via her website, Facebook or Instagram.


There was a good amount of food in The Ocean in Winter, mentions included mustard, wine, crackers, coffee, pizza, chicken, salad, fresh vegetables and hummus, granola bars, apples, yogurt, rice and curry, cake, idli (soft, warm rice cakes) and a spiced lentil soup to dip them in., bacon and eggs, raw almonds and green juice, milk, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on fluffy white bread, chocolate milk, bagels, a hamburger with fries on the side, a small Milky Way candy bar, Goldfish crackers, pot roast, falafel, cereal, blueberries, mashed potatoes and stuffing, ginger-cinnamon martinis, cheese, crackers and nuts, a box of expensive chocolate, beef Stroganoff, hot caramel macchiato, hot chocolate, doughnuts, a Panera breakfast sandwich, pancakes, Cheetos, Coca-Coal, frozen chocolate cake, tater tots, taquitos, pizza rolls, Pop-Tarts, frozen burritos, pre-sweetened oatmeal in packets and presugared yogurt in cups, lobster rolls, French fries, and chowder, Indian takeout of steaming curries, rice, naan, samosas, dosas, and "an extra greasy order of pakoras", oysters, chicken Caesar salad, a kale and faro salad, ice cream, blueberry jam, griddle cakes, bacon and hash browns, slices of pie--berry and apple, birthday cake, tangerines, saltines paired with crunchy peanut butter and the occasional garnish of M&M's and saltines with spray cheese, Pringles and onion dip, chocolate chip Cookes, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and fancy lemonade in a pretty bottle, a Starbucks muffin, and mac and cheese--homemade baked with a crunchy topping and packaged Kraft.  

With all of that food, it should have been easy to come up with a dish inspired b y my reading and I was prepared to make a curry and rice or maybe a dal but the week totally got away from me and I found myself too exhausted to even go into the kitchen. So, I am taking the lazy way out--a reoccurring theme lately, and sharing a couple of my favorite dal recipes. Alex wants to return to India, the trip she was pulled away from, and she and Colleen get Indian take-out one night--something I should have considered doing. ;-)

I have a lot of Indian recipes on the blog, loving the flavors and especially the comfort of dal--those soupy lentils and pulses, but here are two dals that I might pair with this book as the sisters are all in need of warming, comfort foods.

Masoor Dal (Split Red Lentils) from 100 Weeknight Curries by Madhur Jaffrey, simple nourishing and delicious. 

A very simple Mung Bean Dal slightly adapted from Surya Spa via Goop 

Both of these are easy to make, easy to adapt to your tastes and delicious. 

I'm sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event  being hosted by Marg at The Adventures of An Intrepid Reader. It's a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. Here's a link to this week's post

Note: A review copy of The Ocean in Winter was provided to me by the author and the publisher via TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.   

You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.