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Though Colorado is home to two of the nation’s biggest and brightest food-and-beverage events — the Aspen Food & Wine Classic in June and the Great American Beer Festival in Denver each October — I’m always on the lookout for wackier affairs. Case in point: the Stanley Film Festival to be hosted by the Stanley Hotel from May 2 to 5. While dedicated to horror cinema first and foremost, it’s promising to ply its guests with provisions worthy of the legendary Estes Park estate.
I don’t, of course, mean human flesh — though there will be a Zombie Crawl on the Sunday of the festival, organized by the founders of the one of the nation’s largest such events, which lures thousands of the would-be walking dead to Denver’s 16th Street Mall come Halloween. What I do mean, for starters, is the re-creation of another All Hallows Eve institution: the Shining Ball. The Stanley, after all, was the inspiration for “The Shining.” Stephen King wrote the novel after staying in Room 217 and purportedly receiving a visit from the specter of a child.
King’s hardly the only guest who’s encountered paranormal phenomena in the real-life version of the fictional Overlook Hotel. Says general manager Rick Benton, “Every week, I hear from one or two different people who’ve had experiences with former guests and employees long since passed away. I’m very receptive — and believe me, I wasn’t raised that way. The hotel was built on quartz and limestone — very strong, active minerals — and it’s by definition a portal for people to go from one place to another.” Though Stanley Kubrick’s screen adaptation wasn’t filmed here, the TV mini-series was, as have been episodes of the Syfy network’s “Ghost Hunters,” whose crew, Benton swears, “had such a time they picked up and left.” In any case, fans of “The Shining” will recall images of the lavish soirées thrown at the Overlook in the 1920s; on opening night, says festival director Jenny Bloom, they can attend one “decked out in costume, with the staff dressed in red jackets, just like the movie.” One can only hope to sip a bourbon or two à la Jack Torrance (as unforgettably played by Jack Nicholson), served by a look-alike of Lloyd the bartender.
But if bourbon’s not your poison, never fear. Indeed, finding your drink of choice may be the one thing you won’t fear during the festival at the Stanley, whose Whiskey Bar boasts the largest collection of bottles in Colorado, at 500-plus labels — from 40-year Highland Scotches to celebrated local products such as Stranahan’s, Leopold Bros and Dancing Pines. Upper-level pass holders will have the opportunity to dip into the stash while hobnobbing with filmmakers at an al fresco tasting on Friday.
Festival to showcase all the Stanley Hotel has to offer
And then there’s the Bloody Mary Awards Brunch, hosted by the festival’s “chief coroner,” Andrew Novick. Though not a chef, Novick is a one-of-a-kind presence on the Denver culinary scene; his résumé is impossible to account for and delicious to behold.
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For the brunch — where horror-industry multi-hyphenate Eli Roth will receive the Visionary Award — Novick will be serving “Carrie” Pancakes, topped with a prom-queen figurine and accompanied by a “pail” of strawberry syrup for dumping on top, in a nod to the climax of the namesake 1976 classic directed by Brian de Palma. “Here’s Johnny” Breakfast Burritos — the name alludes to Nicholson’s famous catchphrase in “The Shining” — which will be halved with tiny toy axes, oozing salsa. And “Buried Alive” Parfaits, made with cookie crumbs, granola, yogurt, preserves and gummy candy shaped like body parts to suggest, of course, graveyard mayhem.
Novick will be working closely with the hotel’s executive chef, Richard Beichner, who otherwise plans to showcase Colorado ingredients at the festival: lamb, striped bass, mountain trout, and beef, for instance, like the locally raised steak tartare he’ll be serving at a Stella Artois-sponsored paired beer tasting in the hospitality lounge — and says he’s ready for his brush with horror buffs. After all, “I grew up north of Pittsburgh, where they filmed ‘Night of the Living Dead,’” he laughs. “This thing has already taken off so fast — I think it’s going to be huge.”
Top photo: The Stanley Hotel. Credit: Dan Swanson
This story starts with a painful confession: I am a “vinous pedophile.”
Or so I was recently pegged by W. Blake Gray, author of acclaimed wine blog The Gray Report and a fellow guest on a media tour last fall of Champagne, France.
He was responding, on Twitter, to an announcement that I’d just opened the bottle of 2005 Rosé des Riceys that had been given to me by grower-producer Christophe Defrance of Champagne Jacques Defrance after a visit to his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cellar on a quiet street in Les Riceys.
Located within the southern subregion of Aube, the tiny village lends its name to one of only two still wines that may legally be produced in the domain of the world’s most famous sparkling wines (the other being Coteaux Champenois). Though made from an otherwise familiar grape — 100% Pinot Noir — Rosé des Riceys is not quite like anything I’ve ever encountered before; in fact, it’s not even quite like itself. A veritable chameleon in the bottle, it is, as Defrance told us, “very different from one year to the next.”
Rosé des Riceys flavors vast and varied from year to year
A tasting of four vintages made that much abundantly clear. Produced only in those years when the weather is warm enough to ensure the grapes are ripe (and even then in limited amounts), Rosé des Riceys is “macerated as close to a red as possible while avoiding tannins,” Defrance explained.
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Indeed, it breaks every stereotype of rosé as light and simple. Although the 2006 we sampled was on the quaffable side, redolent of strawberries and balsamic vinegar, the velvety, lip-coating 1997 yielded prosciutto and dried herbs — at least for me; one of my companions likened the aroma to cannabis, while another vividly compared it to water in which dead flowers were floating. And then there was the 1982, which Defrance called one of the last century’s greatest vintages, along with 1964 and 1947. On the nose, I got honey-baked ham and wet sous bois (undergrowth); on the almost-gelid palate, candied pecans and brandied strawberry ice cream. By this point the color of amber ale, the 1975 offered the promised notes of tobacco and quince, but I kept going back to the ’82 – so strikingly odd, so wonderfully complex. It will linger in my memory for a long time to come.
It will probably have to, now that I’ve greedily polished off my gift bottle well before its time. Rosé des Riceys is rather difficult to come by stateside; according to Philippe Wibrotte, head of public relations for the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne, only about 300 of the 60,000 bottles produced by 20 or so wineries annually are imported here, and a quick Google search suggests that the likelihood of their making it past New York or California is slim to none. Should you be among the lucky recipients then, don’t make my mistake — hold on to it for dear life (or at least a decade). Recommended pairings include charcuterie and Chaource, a soft cow’s-milk cheese also from Aube that is available, albeit in pasteurized form, in the U.S.
Photo: Christophe Defrance of Champagne Jacques Defrance. Credit: Ruth Tobias
Except for unseasonably dreary weather, the Cultivate Festival — held by burrito giant Chipotle Mexican Grill to promote its much-praised, large-scale sustainability efforts — went off without a hitch Oct. 6 in Denver, the company’s home base.
However, things could have been very different. Just two days earlier, Chipotle finally agreed to work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), an advocacy group for Florida’s farmworkers — particularly immigrants enduring conditions of wage slavery — by signing the Fair Food Agreement, which commits the nation’s major tomato purchasers and growers to uphold human rights in the field. Participating supermarket chains and food-service conglomerates pay an extra penny per pound for their tomatoes, which goes to workers of member farms that are in turn required to abide by a code of conduct covering all manner of once-rampant abuses, from forced labor to sexual harassment. In coming on board, Chipotle avoided a massive protest that threatened to undermine its feel-good message at the festival.
Seeds of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers
It’s just one piece of a puzzle that has been falling into place since the CIW formed in 1993 — though the rate of completion was arguably accelerated by the 2011 publication of James Beard Award-winning journalist Barry Estabrook’s groundbreaking exposé, “Tomatoland.” In June 2011, Estabrook penned a Soapbox column for Zester Daily about the CIW’s struggle to persuade Trader Joe’s to join Whole Foods Market and fast-food companies including McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway and Taco Bell in signing the Fair Food Agreement. Last February, it finally did, much to Estabrook’s shock: “They were so adamantly opposed, and now they’re a cooperative partner. … They resist and resist, and use the same excuses over and over like a broken record, and then, through the media attention on the CIW’s petitions and demonstrations, they get a horrible backlash, the pressure builds up, and they say, ‘We’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to make this problem go away, but it’s not going to cost us anything to pay the penny per pound.’”
Exploitation, discrimination of farmworkers
I spoke to Estabrook on Oct. 3, the day before Chipotle’s announcement and the day after he joined CIW spokesman Gerardo Reyes-Chavez and a longtime acquaintance of mine, Chef Jose Duarte of Boston restaurant Taranta, on a panel at StarChefs’ seventh annual International Chefs Congress titled “The Human Cost of Food: Chefs Supporting Farmworkers’ Rights.” As a Denverite myself, I’d been watching the news about the Cultivate Festival and the controversy surrounding it ever since Duarte alerted me to the cause after his trip to Florida, where he learned of “people who were locked into their trucks at night, up to 10 people in one trailer. People working with crops while they’re being fumigated. Discrimination by gender and age.”
Deciding that chefs need to demand fairly traded products, Duarte organized the panel — and sure enough, said Estabrook, “At the end of it, a chef at a restaurant in Tampa came up to me and said, ‘We had no idea that this was going on in our backyard; we are now aboard.’ That alone is why I went: Because chefs are extremely influential. … If one chef says, ‘I’d rather not buy tomatoes grown by a slave,’ nothing might happen, but if two or three do, a trend has begun.”
Of course, independent restaurateurs don’t have an ounce of the buying power of chains. It’s the latter whose cooperation has ensured the Fair Food Program is working, says Estabrook. Once cut off from any channel of negotiation, many Florida tomato workers now “get told about their rights, about how to file grievances. Human resource managers are passing out cards with a 24-hour hotline number. Crew bosses were once the workers’ entire world; now it extends all the way up to the chairman of McDonald’s.”
Making change before the Cultivate Festival
So when I told Estabrook that the Denver Post, reporting Sept. 27 on the upcoming Cultivate Festival, quoted Chipotle communications director Chris Arnold as saying, “For the last three years, all of the Florida tomatoes we have used have come from growers who have signed the Fair Food Agreement, which creates the same result as if we had signed ourselves,” Estabrook begged to differ.
“What Chipotle is doing is essentially freeloading on the backs of the people who are involved in the agreement,” he said. “First of all, it’s the end buyer, not the grower, who pays the extra penny per pound.” Estabrook calculated that to the difference between making $50 and $80 per day. Then he added: “But it’s about more than the money. Take one of the sexual harassment cases I heard about. This particular labor contractor was very good at his job, besides his inability to keep his paws off women, so the company that employed him was reluctant to take action against him. It finally took the big buyer to step up and say, ‘Zero tolerance is zero tolerance.’ Chipotle’s trying to get the PR advantage of saying, ‘We’re aboard,’ when they’re not. My ultimate answer to them is ‘Guys, if Taco Bell, which makes no pretense of being a conscientious steward of anything, can sign, so can you.’ ”
Clearly, the groundswell of protest — not only on the ground but also in the form of a petition signed by such heavyweights as “Fast Food Nation” author Eric Schlosser, “Stuffed and Starved” scholar Raj Patel, and Estabrook — persuaded Chipotle CEO Steve Ells to rethink his position in the nick of time. As Reyes-Chavez put it, “This is a really important moment for food-service corporations. The landscape is changing. We have the most powerful representatives of the fast-food industry on board already, and we only need a few more from the supermarket segment to arrive at the day when business as usual is not a race to the bottom. The 21st-century supermarket no longer has the luxury of distancing itself from labor conditions. If you want to succeed, you’ve got to do the right thing and treat workers right. If you don’t, then the market consequences will apply. It’s just a matter of time.” Look out, Kroger’s.
Top photo: Jose Duarte (from left), Gerardo Reyes-Chavez and Barry Estabrook at the panel discussion on “The Human Cost of Food” at the International Chefs Congress.
As a former vice president of strategic research at Thomson Reuters, Kara Newman knows a thing or two about the business sector. As spirits editor for Wine Enthusiast and the author of “Cocktails for a Crowd” and “Spice & Ice,“ she also knows her way around a bottle. (Full disclosure: I have come to know her as a contributor to Sommelier Journal, where I am assistant editor.) And in the upcoming “The Secret Financial Life of Food: From Commodities Markets to Supermarkets” (Columbia University Press), she uses her expertise in both areas to explore “where, how, and why our food is traded — a critical but nearly invisible connection between the farm and plate.”
As her book shows, futures trading impacts the very contents of your pantry — not to mention the prices you pay at grocery stores and restaurants — in myriad cyclical ways. It’s an eye-opening read even for finance-challenged foodies like me, with far-reaching implications for those who aim to put their money where their mouths are. I asked Newman to elaborate on a few especially timely points.
The complexities of the economics of food
By Kara Newman
Columbia University Press, 2012, 208 pages
Although futures-market prices don’t affect grocery prices on a second-by-second or day-by-day basis, their impact does show up over the long term. It would be tremendously annoying if prices rode the roller coaster that futures prices do! But over months and years, we do see prices rise or fall, following the prices set for underlying agricultural commodities.
What’s important about shopping at farmers markets is that, to a degree, it allows people to “opt out” of the pricing set by commodities markets. Buying directly from a farmer, butcher or other primary producer means there’s a significantly shorter path from producer to end buyer. The transaction is based on immediate supply and demand, and it cuts out the middleman. It’s the processors, importers and so on who are taking on risk when they bring vast quantities of foodstuffs to the market — and they’re often the ones attempting to hedge that long-term risk though futures trades.
Given the recent scare over a bacon shortage, I found the chapter on pork bellies quite enlightening. Can you elaborate on why pork bellies are no longer traded, and what it means for the average consumer and the ethically conscious consumer?
Pork bellies stopped trading in July 2011, just as the contract had reached a 50-year milestone on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. It’s amusing how far we’ve come from the days when no one even knew what a pork belly was. Originally they wanted to call the contract “uncured bacon!”
Pork bellies started trading because they store well when frozen. To traders, this was valued because the hog business used to be seasonal; the potential for scarcity, therefore, meant higher prices for those bellies in storage. At the most basic level, traders buy and sell based on scarcity and anticipated demand. When that scarcity diminished thanks to better technologies in agriculture and refrigeration, as well as improved bacon-making techniques, trading eventually stopped. It’s now a more stable market. That’s great news for people who like to eat bacon year round, but it doesn’t make for profitable trading. Traders and speculators thrive on buying and selling as prices in a volatile market pingpong.
I’ve asked economists: What does it mean for consumers that we don’t have pork-belly futures to kick around anymore? And the answer across the board is: “Not much.” Pork-belly contracts were a vehicle that outlived their usefulness, like egg futures and onion futures and many other contracts before them. Without the pricing mechanism that the futures market provides, prices might edge slightly higher at supermarkets — and for a little while, that might make pork from smaller producers a bit more attractive. But the average bacon lover probably hasn’t noticed even a blip at the checkout counter.
Since I know you best as a wine-and-spirits writer, your sidebars on wine and whiskey futures also caught my attention. How is soaring Asian, specifically Chinese, interest in high-end French wines affecting futures and the industry there?
Although coffee beans have a long history of formal trade in the U.S., potables such as wine and whiskey are still in their trading infancy. Bordeaux futures are nothing new, but wine funds certainly are, and we’re starting to hear rumblings about the nascent “whiskey-investment” industry, although it doesn’t seem to have developed much traction yet.
Growing interest in both products from newly affluent drinkers in China and elsewhere surely have created a market that’s ripe for trading. Particularly where wine is concerned, it has all the elements of uncertain supply and fluctuating demand. That includes the investment manager’s observation that many Chinese drinkers are purchasing wine to consume now, rather than to age — a trend that has the potential to impact supply down the road for older vintages, which could lead to higher prices — if what’s in the bottle is good, of course! Regardless of what’s being traded or how, though, it still comes down to basic supply and demand.
In the introduction, you credit as inspiration for this book an article in which a trader advised clients to “Buy breakfast.” Assuming those who advocate the locavore lifestyle might wish to invest in a socially responsible manner, do you have any concrete advice for them? For instance, per your appendix, non-GMO soybeans are traded on the Tokyo Grain Exchange. Is this a rising trend?
I don’t give investment advice, but socially minded investors can always buy stock in companies that share their personal philosophy. Another option is to donate to or get involved with organizations such as Slow Money, a national nonprofit that works for investment in sustainable foods and farms.
Top photo composite:
Author Kara Newman. Credit: Daryl-Ann Saunders
Book cover of “The Secret Financial Life of Food.” Credit: Courtesy of Columbia University Press
Whoever you thought you saw on Bravo’s “Around the World in 80 Plates” is not the high-spirited, sweet-as-pie Jenna Johansen we Coloradans have known and loved for years, from her previous work at Dish in the mountain town of Edwards to her current blog, The Last Thing We Ate, co-authored with husband Mark DeNittis, a master salumi purveyor and owner of Il Mondo Vecchio in Denver. Here is her own, free-wheeling recollection of how she developed her passion for cooking.
The Meals That Made Them
An occasional series by Ruth Tobias and Louisa Kasdon about American chefs and the meals that changed their lives.
“When I was growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money; my parents worked really hard and made a lot of dinners in the Crock-Pot. So as a latchkey junior high kid, I started to do more cooking. That was something I could do to help, one of the nice contributions I could make to my family; some of the first great memories I have are when we’d all sit down to a dinner I cooked and they would tell me how wonderful it was.
Jenna’s ‘sexy yet so approachable’ culinary inspiration
“I was a child of the ’70s, so this was before the Internet; you couldn’t go online and Google recipes. I’d watch Julia Child and Jacques Pepin and take notes on how to make enchiladas suizas, tacos — I wanted exposure to new things. One of the first dishes I ever made that really helped me understand the science of meat cookery was osso bucco. I had never made my own stock; I didn’t know what a mirepoix was: ‘OK, so if I add a little tomato, that actually makes it rich and glossy!’ Rather than throwing the ingredients in the Crock-Pot, I could see the way things actually worked, and I suddenly realized, ‘Wow, I’m actually good at this!’ And osso bucco was especially nice because it didn’t require an expensive cut I’d have to ask my parents to buy. That dish is one of the nearest and dearest to my heart: It’s so sexy yet so approachable, and hearkens to the day when people used the whole animal.
“Another great dish for me is pasta carbonara; we cooked it a lot in the restaurant that I worked at in Tuscany. The real thing is very different from what you’d get at Maggiano’s — I learned how to make it correctly, with pancetta from pigs we got across the street, which we cured ourselves out in a little shed, and without cream. It was a culinary ‘Aha!’ for me, since I’d only known the Americanized version that was basically like an Alfredo — not the creamy, sexy, glossy pasta it is.
“Mark knew that it was a dish that was close to my heart and he made it for me on our first date, with guanciale he’d cured himself at Mondo Vecchio. He was strutting his feathers, showing me all his wares [laughs]. It was the first time I’d had his salumi other than at a food show, which was where we met. Now we have carbonara about once a month and it’s like our first date all over again.”
4 pork shanks
Kosher salt and black pepper
Flour as needed for dusting
½ cup canola oil
1 yellow onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, peeled and minced
1 rib celery and minced
1½ cups red wine
1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
1 teaspoon chili flakes, divided
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes with juice
3 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon Italian parsley, chopped
Zest from 1 lemon, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Heat canola oil in braising pan. Season shanks with salt and pepper, then dust them with flour, knocking off the excess, and sear them in the hot pan until brown on all sides. Remove from pan and set aside.
3. Add onion and garlic to pan and sauté until translucent. Add carrots and celery; sauté 3 minutes. Add wine and reduce by half. Add dried herbs, ½ teaspoon chili flakes and tomatoes and heat through.
4. Return meat to pan and cover with stock; then cover the pan and place in oven for 2 to 3 hours, or until meat is so tender it pulls easily from the bone — and you can’t possibly wait one more minute to eat it. While it’s cooking, mix the parsley, remaining chili flakes and lemon zest to make gremolata.
5. Remove the meat from the pan, return to medium-low heat and reduce the sauce to desired thickness. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then gently stir in the butter. Place shanks on a serving platter; spoon sauce and sprinkle gremolata on top.
1 pound dried angel-hair pasta
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ pound guanciale or pancetta
2 shallots, minced
6 garlic cloves, minced
Splash white wine
½ teaspoon chili flakes
3 farm-fresh egg yolks
Fresh black pepper and kosher salt
½ cup Parmesan or pecorino romano cheese
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1. In a pot, boil water as salty as the sea to cook the pasta while preparing the sauce; you want them both to be ready at the same time because the pasta must be added to the sauce while it is hot to “cook” the egg. Cook the pasta to al dente and reserve ½ cup of the water.
2. Heat olive oil in a pan. Dice the guanciale finely, and sauté in the hot pan for 2 minutes, until it starts to crisp and release some fat. Add shallots and garlic; sauté until translucent. Add the wine to deglaze, then the chili flakes.
3. Whisk egg yolks in a separate bowl; add hot pasta water and continue to whisk quickly so they heat, but don’t scramble. Add cheese and whisk again.
4. Add hot pasta to pan. Working quickly, stir to combine until heated through; pull pan from heat and continue to stir until sauce thickens. Season liberally with fresh black pepper and salt to taste. Garnish with parsley and more cheese, if desired.
Photo: Jenna Johansen. Credit: Troy Cone
Whether Michael Krondl’s latest — “Sweet Invention: A History of Dessert” — is a must-read depends not on the size of your sweet tooth but on the extent to which you’re a history buff. The latter may well devour his painstakingly researched exploration of the evolution of dessert in a few key places around the world, places chosen “because I think they have wielded the greatest influence on other societies’ sweet-eating customs.” But given the extraordinary attention to detail he pays to the content and context of, say, baklava, biscotti and Sachertorte — from the economics of ingredient production to nomenclature and etymology — less avid historians may find it hard to see the forest for the trees (or the pastry through all its layers, as the case may be).
This is, in short, a serious read. Though the prose is lively enough, it isn’t sugarcoated by the accompaniment of sumptuous photographs (or illustrations of any kind), and recipes are few and far between. Fair or not, I found myself growing impatient at several junctures with Krondl’s decision to privilege historical depth over geographical breadth: after a bewildering catalog of India’s milk-based sweets or a lengthy tangent about syrup in the age of “A Thousand and One Nights,” for instance, I craved a bite of mochi; a word on the Mexican wedding cookie and its counterpart, the Russian tea cake; or a spoonful of Polish fruit soup.
Which isn’t to say the book isn’t chock full of passages that reflect in fascinating ways on the nature of culinary creativity then and now. Did you know that an early version of baklava was made with lentils? That medieval Italian banquets might start with eels in marzipan and culminate in the presentation of a pie filled not with fruit or custard but precious jewelry? That the trend in contemporary American restaurants toward spiking desserts with savory ingredients was well known to 18th-century European craftsmen, who offered the likes of artichoke ice cream and parsley or celery-flavored crèmes? That the wine cocktails of today were also a thing of the past? Me neither; Krondl does a fine job of exposing the myth that is linear progress. (Speaking of myths, let it be known that Marie Antoinette never said “Let them eat cake.”)
A certain amount of coherence derives from the final chapter, as Krondl lays the differences between the culture of sweets in America and that of much of the rest of the world at the feet of professional artisans and trade guilds; lacking those, he points out, “in the United States, the story of dessert is very much about mothers and factories.” Here we can discern well the distinction between a macaron and an Oreo, say, or tiramisù and s’mores. Ultimately, though, an overarching narrative about the global development of dessert per se doesn’t clearly emerge. Under those circumstances, I’d just as soon be treated to an array of delectable tidbits from the world round as grow satiated on a handful. Still, Krondl’s complete mastery of the material at hand is undeniable; those with a greater taste for the discrete yet thorough than I apparently possess should by all means indulge.
Zester Daily contributor Ruth Tobias is assistant editor at Sommelier Journal as well as a seasoned food-and-beverage writer for numerous city and national publications; she is also the author of the upcoming “Food Lover’s Guide to Denver & Boulder” from Globe Pequot. Her website is www.ruthtobias.com or follow her @Denveater.
Top photo composite:
Michael Krondl. Credit: Joanne Dugan
“Sweet Invention: A History of Dessert” book jacket courtesy of Chicago Review Press