Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Ayun Halliday: Dirty Sugar Cookies: Culinary Observations, Questionable Taste

Ayun Halliday has spent three books (and the many issues of her long-running 'zine, The East Village Inky) establishing and reinforcing her style: witty, self-effacing essays with a likeable breeziness. Like David Sedaris, she draws much of her inspiration from her family, which is doubly true for Dirty Sugar Cookies, as they heavily influence Halliday's shifting culinary tastes: As a kid, Halliday escapes her mother's strict junk-food embargo by going to camp, where she happily eats Pop-Tarts by the handful and has Wonder Bread-and-sugar sandwiches for dinner. As an adult, she's cursed with a picky-eater daughter.

Halliday tweaks her style slightly for Dirty Sugar Cookies by ending its chapters with recipes relevant to the preceding stories. "Just A Sliver" documents her slow, ambivalent descent into vegetarianism (along with occasional relapses into meat-eating) and ends with a recipe for chipotle chili, which can be made for herbivores or omnivores. "Run, Run, Run, As Fast As You Can" describes the burden Halliday feels when she has to make sugar cookies for her daughter's kindergarten class. Ready-to-bake Pillsbury dough won't suffice, so she uses her grandmother's labor-intensive, from-scratch recipe, which she includes at the end of the chapter. Dirty Sugar Cookies clearly elucidates Halliday's love of food, though her duties as a mother of two and writer preclude hardcore food-snobbery—there just isn't enough time. So the book serves as a memoir of a sort of half-assed epicure, a person who has expansive tastes, but has to make do with the time she has—just like 99 percent of the population.

Halliday is growing more confident as a writer, but her enthusiasm occasionally gets a little too precious. It's as if she knows something is quirky/funny, but feels obliged to overemphasize it. She'd also benefit from a little darkness, as Sedaris has. In Naked, he made a chapter about his mom dying from cancer both poignant and funny; Halliday has taken tentative steps in that direction here and elsewhere, but she should go further, even if a food memoir isn't exactly the place for that.


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