Friday, June 30, 2006

Bookshelf: Dirty Sugar Cookies

I’ve been reading a lot of candy books lately, so it was nice to be approached to read something a little different: a virtual book tour.

imageThe book is Dirty Sugar Cookies by Ayun Halliday. Think of it as Erma Bombeck meets David Sedaris.

Much of the book speaks to me for the sole reason that Ayun is a scant two years older than I am, so we have many of the same perspectives on pop culture and experiences with food (and candy). It traces her life from picky eater with a gourmet cook mother to ‘food adventurer’ to mother who has a picky eating daughter of her own.

(Though I was also a picky eater as a child, I chalk that up to bad, recurring throat infections that sapped the fun out of eating. But the book did capture the parental battles about eating very well, no matter the reason for why we wouldn’t even put the stuff in our mouth.)

Ayun has far more fun with her pickiness and, of course, uses those incidents to full effect in her book.

Here’s a bit of our discussion on the book and perspectives:

Candy Blog: Do you think that you were picky when it came to candy or just when it came to meals?

Ayun: candy? no. the only thing i didn’t like was black licorice and conversation hearts. they both made me feel like I was going to throw up in the car. I got over the conversation heart thing when we used them as props in a short NeoFuturist play called “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre”. I would eat so many of them backstage that we’d wind up with a shortage - they were to be smashed with a hammer at certain strategic points in the song, “My Funny Valentine” but somehow we always kept coming up short, the hearts giving out long before the final line.

Candy Blog: What are your daughter’s favorite candies now? Does she share some or your loves/hates?

Ayun: Watermelon gum balls from the laundromat, lollipops that the guy at the liquor store gives her, and m&ms. Anything she can get her hands on, basically. She loves it when there’s a pinata at a birthday party. She stashes her portion on this little shelf at the head of her top bunk, where I can’t effectively monitor it. On those rare occasions that I change the sheet, I find a goodie bag full of empty wrappers.

Here’s an excerpt from the book:

God, I loved camp.

Feasting on sugar was hardly limited to mealtime. Twice a day, a bell summoned us to a wonderful thing called ?commissary?. At the start of the session, parents had the option of depositing funds in a commissary account that would entitle their camper to ?purchase? candy after swim and before campfire. Perhaps because I had no siblings, I always felt hesitant to ask my parents for gum, quarters for the pinball machine and all the minor expenses my friends treated as their due. I could never have brought myself to lobby for something so extraordinary as the candy of my choice, dispensed twice daily for fourteen days, but fortunately, my father saw all the other fathers coughing up an extra ten bucks for their children?s commissaries and did likewise without comment. I was in!

I spent a good portion of every swim session drifting around the lake on an army surplus inner tube, deliberating on what to choose from the bulk candy cartons the commissary counselors would set out upon our return. Fads sprang up around the preferences of popular campers, but for the most part, I preferred to explore the unwholesome fringes. As much as I loved chocolate, I couldn?t help gravitating toward whatever would last the longest. My miserly side was attracted to things that came in multiple units: Spree, Sweet Tarts, Hot Tamales and Bottle Caps, which looked like their namesake and tasted nothing like the root beer, orange soda and cola they were supposed to, though they did seem vaguely carbonated, provided one ate enough of them. My temperament steered me toward the Stix family which came in many flavors, Green Apple and Fire being my favorites. Stix were basically just Jolly Ranchers elongated into six-inch lengths. They shattered easily, were difficult to separate from their cellophane wrappers and gave a satisfyingly loud report when bitten, though clearly, they’d been designed for sucking. In other words, they were perfect. Long after my bunkmates had wolfed down their frozen Snickers, my stick prevailed, honed to lethal pointiness. When the bell rang for dinner, I’d refold the torn cellophane over the inch or so remaining and tuck it away under the eaves, between my flashlight and the bottle of Apricot-scented Earthborn for which I had snubbed Prell, our de facto family shampoo. While I was out, my candy stash would invariably attract swarms of tiny brown ants, whom I?d later discover partying like Bacchants beneath the untidy wrapper.

Nature?s invasion would have amounted to tragedy had it happened at home where there was no commissary, but here, I could head for the trash pail with an unemotional if revolted shrug. At camp, there was always more where that came from, for me as well as the ants.

Candy Blog: I’ve often regarded candy for children as one of the first ways that we express our independence from our parents. We’re given allowance or sometimes free run in a store to pick out one thing ... you remarked in the section on camp that you didn’t really have that luxury before. Did you notice this among your peers, that they had more discretionary cash or greater abilities to procure the snackstuffs that they loved?

Ayun: Yes. I was a very late bloomer with regard to bicycles. I had this little green Schwinn from which I refused to let the training wheels be removed. One weekend, we went to visit my father’s longtime friends, the Ackermans in Columbus Ohio, whose youngest child Sally, was a year my junior. Mrs Ackerman gave each of the kids, including me, a dollar - a princely amount - so that we could ride bikes to the drugstore for candy. Well, I was sort of stricken, because none of their bikes had training wheels, but they did have this old red bike named Rosie, who had no rubber left on her wheels, just the metal rims. These were wide enough, and unyielding enough, to give me the confidence it required to ride to the store with the rest of the herd, where following Sally’s example, I bought my first Marathon Bar. And when we got back to Indianapolis, I had my father remove the training wheels from my green bike and immediately pedaled away.

Candy Blog: You write in several instances about your consumption of raw materials when in search of a sugar fix. I, too, discovered Jello-O powder (pineapple was my favorite) at an early age, and my frugality meant that I could find them on sale at 10 for a dollar and stock up on quite a bit of it with my paper route money. What sorts of pantry items would you eat dry?

Ayun: Tang. My grandmother always took a jar of it with us when we drove to Florida. I had to be extra sly when mainlining that stuff, what with my mother and both grandparents on the other side of the vinyl accordion curtain separating the vanity outside the bathroom from the rest of the motel room. The thing about dry Tang is it was so light, it looked like it was steaming. There was always a cloud of these micro-fine crystals hovering above the spoon.

When that sour Super Lemon candy started appearing in all the Asia markets, I thought, “Oh, no problem. I can handle that molehill.” I’d spent years training with Tang.

I also liked eating Nestles Quik straight from the can.

About a month ago, after reading the excerpt above I agreed to do this little featurette, so I send Ayun a little box of candies. It had some SweeTarts, Laffy Taffy, Chewy SweeTarts, Pixy Stix and other pure sugar concoctions.

Candy Blog: So, what did you eat from the package I sent? What did your daughter consume and what do you see in her tastes as with yours?

Ayun: I don’t think the kids got a single piece of it. It has been a pinata-heavy month. As for myself, I started out with the gummy insects, a Sweet Tart product apparently, and I felt guilty for gnashing them up so mindlessly, while watching Deadwood. I cleansed my palate with some Laffy Taffys (I slowed down long enough to see that there’s a joke printed on each wrapper. I’d always assumed that Laffy was the only thing marketing could come up with to rhyme with Taffy.) Then I started on the Chewy Sweet Tarts. We had the big ones at Gnawbone, but they were never Chewy. Chewy is new(y). Then I got kind of disgusted with myself and worried that my spleen would give out from all that sugar, so I boxed it back up and then we took it to Coney Island with us for the kids to throw at the crowd when we marched in the Mermaid Parade. Now THAT was a good use of cheap, artificially flavored candy.

Candy Blog: What do you think about candy today? There are certainly more “wholesome” candies available now that actually taste good, in addition to some really disgusting indulgences of course. Are there things you wish you could have had when you were a kid? Are there things you wish they still made or that you miss being able to have?

Ayun: Those little Gummi candys that resemble miniature versions of non-candy type foods are pretty cunning, the sushi and pizzas and such. Milo received a gummi Crabby Patty, and it was quite the hit until he tasted it.

You know what I miss? Zots. Their packaging was so imperfect, but it was so worth it when you sucked a hole through the hard candy and that citric acid stuff inside started to effervesce. A few years ago, I got it into my head to make homemade bath bombs and I went to every restaurant supply on the Bowery looking for citric acid to no avail. Found it at an herb store in the Village that leans rather heavily on whimsical ceramic teapots and fairy-related merchandise. When did citric acid go so out of style?

I’m really into the Aji Ichiban stores in Chinatown. though the dried, salted plums took some getting used to, even for someone like me, who is constitutionally bound to order things like salted plum soda in Vietnamese restaurant, because it’s a more vibrant part of the experience than say, Diet Coke. Every year, they have these compelling little capsules that you can fill with hard candy. One year it was pigs. This year it seems to be metallic pineapples…

Read some more excerpts here and then if you like what you see, buy Dirty Sugar Cookies at Powell’s.

Title: Dirty Sugar Cookies
  • 10 SUPERB
  • 9 YUMMY
  • 8 TASTY
  • 7 WORTH IT
  • 4 BENIGN
Author: Ayun Halliday
Place Purchased: sample
Price: $14.95
Size: 256 pages
Calories per ounce: none (but high in fiber!)
Categories: United States

POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:51 am Tracker Pixel for Entry    

  1. This is a random comment that does not actually relate to this article!  I read in your FAQ section that you prefer to find and buy your own candy which I totally understand.  I am however in Korea visiting a cousin until Friday, July 7.  I have enjoyed your blog since this January as a result have also been much more intrigued by finding and trying candies I’ve never had.  Finding fun candies is a definite mission while I am here, and I also wondered if you would be interested in my buying and sending you any Korean candies.  I had some fruit pastilles when I first arrived on Thursday that I particularly wondered about sending you.  There are also other candies and cookies.  I would be glad to send you some fun things, but I totally understand if you would rather I not.  I’ll definitely be enjoying some things!

    Comment by Kimberly on 6/30/06 at 3:45 pm #
  2. I’ll definitely be looking for this book in the library. Thanks for posting the interview!

    Comment by Nicole on 6/30/06 at 6:44 pm #
  3. those excerpts are gold! im definitely going to buy it to read the rest!

    Comment by chocolatesuze on 7/01/06 at 8:57 pm #
  4. Great post. Keep it up. [promotional link removed by admin]

    Comment by Autonews on 7/02/06 at 6:44 am #
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