by C. Jeanette Tyson
title of the book is Dirty Sugar Cookies. I love that title, if for
no other reason than youíre not quite sure which section of which
bookstore to look in, and whether it would be wise to do so with your
kids in tow.
Alas, Ayun Halliday has written a
memoir any mother could keep openly
on her bedside table. Or, as I suspect was intended, in her kitchen.
Well, there is that chapter about postcoital breakfasts.
It was a Thursday night at Bookwoman and an enthusiastic crowd of
loyalists had come to hear Ayun read. Dirty Sugar Cookies, she said,
striding to her stool in a spirit more Austin cowgirl than New York
subway jumperócowgirl is a state of mind, right?-- is the true tale of
how she went from a picky eater in Indiana to the ďnightmare you see
before you today.Ē If itís true that her agent didnít think she
funny, maybe he should go to more of her readings. Or read her blog.
Ayun starts with the question many foodies today ask themselves: how
did the girl who didnít like anything, from a town that didnít have
anything, grow up to love everything?
Or, as I like to ponder while out wandering underneath my lucky stars,
what miracle of curiosity and job-hopping catapulted me beyond jello
molds and CoíCola cake?
And yetÖis exotic nectar really required to burn in the memories? In a
chapter called Gnaw Bone, Ayun salutes the days of culinary freedom and
sugar bread at summer camp.
her theatrical training to good use, Ayun read like the
excitable and overly dramatic eight-year-old she was remembering (Iím
thinking bedtime storytelling at her house is pretty awesome).
If youíve ever spent half a day bobbing around in nasty swamp water,
been mauled by mosquitoes, slept on a lumpy bed, eaten mounds of
tasteless crap and left only reluctantly and inordinately happy about
it all, this chapter offers you a return ticket. I suddenly craved
burnt marshmallows; I could swear someone was humming Kum Bah Ya.
While Ayun waxed poetic over her plain olí table sugar, I just didnít
have the heart to introduce her to the deeper rhapsody of white bread,
sugar, Miracle Whip and raisins. Apparently I couldnít leave my auntís
house and walk back across the field to my own without this
Other chapters explore exactly why Ayunís father took her Betty Crocker
Boys and Girls Cookbook, the politics of the lunchroom lunch and the
role of dishware in coming of age.
Ayun grows up, gets her own kitchen, experiments with carob and
lentils, comes back from India with a bug up her fridge for the exotic,
has sex and then breakfast, has babies and then dinner, fakes her way,
barely and painfully, through a school project.
Meal by shimmering meal, we string our lives together. And sometimes we
eat the oyster and donít ever get to the pearl.
Each chapter ends with a recipe, which made me want to hang out and
drink beer while watching Ayun cook in her kitchen, but otherwise
seemed a little beside the point. Although with my schedule lately, I
could be put off by a package of instant oatmeal.
The exception was the last recipe in the book. Ayunís Granís Rice
Pudding. It wasnít so much the rice pudding, it was the way I looked at
the newly-printed page and saw instead a yellowed index card falling
out from the leaves of a decrepit Joy of Cooking with my own
grandmotherís handwriting on it.
Discovering it in Granís recipe box filled me with a sense of
well-being, like the first few seconds of consciousness after a dream so
real, you wake convinced that a long-gone loved one has been sitting on
the edge of your bed.
C. Jeanette Tyson (freelance writer and mom to Jackson and Maddy)
doesnít have any sugar in the house at all but will admit to craving,
every once in a while, Miracle Whip. Her award-winning advertising and
branding work can be seen at thethinkkitchen.com.
Dirty Sugar Cookies
is Ayun Hallidayís fourth book.