Good morning! Today's the day for Dirty Sugar Cookies author Ayun Halliday to visit the Pie Queen, wearing a leopard-print bra and proffering really delicious Spanish fig jam from the just-opened Fairway in Red Hook. A pie-baking session had been planned, but when the day came we were both way too wiped out and overscheduled to do anything but drink cappuccino and talk, talk, talk. We're Brooklyn neighbors, as it turns out, a fact I didn't know til I read the recent Vows "State of the Union" column about Ayun and her Tony-winning playwright hubby, 11+ years after their initial hitch in a Soho loft. Reading about their bohemian Brooklyn home and slapped-together (and very productive) artists' world was a welcome change from plowing through the vapid life histories of the inane 26-year-old lawyers and hedge-funders that typically populate the wedding section. (Are K. and I going to submit an announcement to the Times next year? Oh, you bet. I haven't been reading everyone else's writeups all these years for nothing. After all, she'll be fresh from combat and I wrote a wedding guide. That trumps the typical schoolteacher-investment banker combo, surely.)
Although we live just a few blocks apart, I haven't yet seen the lemonade stand* Ayun and her kids India and Milo have been running out on the stoop, just a few doors down from the jillion-dollar renov supposed occupied by hotshots Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams (no one sees them around much, although my pal Jane swears Mr. Wish I Could Quit Yoo walked right behind me on his way out of Frankie's last Sunday. I was too preoccupied with stealing yet another forkful of Jane's French toast to notice any foxy cowboys in my near vicinity. A girl has her priorities). But if you pick up the latest copy of her excellent, hand-drawn little 'zine, the East Village Inky, you can read all about the history of Heath and Michelle's house, which involves an old Cuban lady, red-bobbed former nightlife queen Nell Campbell, and about 10 dumpsters of junk.
But back to Ayun. I first met Ayun when she came up to the Manic D Press booth at last year's Book Expo America. BEA was great for actually meeting writers in person. I already knew Ayun's extremely funny work, including No Touch Monkey and Job Hopper, and now here she was, with great springy curly hair, nice and chatty and proffering copies of the Inky. There was a long, hysterically illustrated piece in that month's issue, all about the hell of teaching kiddie art classes. I was hooked.
Now she's back with Dirty Sugar Cookies, a sassy memoir tracing her evolution from fearfully picky eater to world traveller and adventurous cook. The title sounds, well, dirty--one could be forgiven for thinking that this was going to be one of those food-and-sex things, like this chef-and-Elvis shagfest, or a guide to making, I don't know, cookies in the shape of naughty things. Thankfully, though, there are no Saveur-style (or Gael Greene-ish) rhapsodies here. After all, Hoosiers have no indigenous cuisine, no wood-grilled sardines or wood-fired loaves. Instead, there are paens to the best morning-after diners in Chicago (oh, Melrose Diner, where every plate came with a banana on the side, and its nearby cousin, the Belmont Diner), and hysterically accurate evocations of early-80s culture (Tickle deodorant! Love's Baby Soft! The Silver Palate Cookbook! Grapes in the chicken salad!) followed by forays into earth-mother, hippie-skirt cooking, Asian backpacker escapades, and now payback: her trials in raising a daughter who is at least as picky an eater as she herself was.
(And, although she's too cool to mention this in the book, I did get the dish that "Mr.Swain"--one of the many Chicago-theater-scene boyfriends who show up for a meal or two--is now a famous TV personality. Not Jon Stewart, let's just leave it at that.)
I look at Ayun's blog Dirty Sugar Cookies all the time, and I always wish I was eating dinner over at her house, because she's always making some swell-sounding Asian thing with lime juice and Thai fish sauce and a lot of cilantro. And avocado! You have to love a cook who notes that if you can roll a doob, you can roll maki. And whose husband isn't afraid to wrap a t-shirt around his head and morph into White Guy Sushi Master. She also takes pictures of her kitchen, which looks like an actual New York City kitchen crowded with honeydew melons and many, many repurposed glass jars doubling as canisters full of stuff, and nothing like the irritatingly professional food-porn that all those other food bloggers claim to be whipping up after work.
Really, her book's a scream, and you should hustle right on down to Book Court today and buy it. And if you're walking around Boerum Hill and see a woman and a couple of kids selling lemonade, get in line behind Heath and Michelle and get it autographed.
*And speaking of lemonade, I never got around to asking Ayun if they're selling real lemonade, the kind made with actual lemons and sugar and water, or whether they're just mixing up some Crystal Light and upping their profit margins. I have yet to hit a kiddie lemonade stand that has come within squeezing distance of an actual lemon, despite that New Yorker cartoon of the kid with the sign "Artisanal Lemonade, $5".