Everyone has a story that shaped his or her relationship with food. Many chefs my age, including me, were influenced by the meals that were prevalent in the 1970’s: simple meals of meatballs and spaghetti, breaded cutlets, canned vegetables and egg salad. The range of spices were limited, as was overall variety, but after reading Dawn Lerman’s My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food. Love and Family, I realized how blessed I was to have a mother cook a tasty home-made meal for all of us to eat together every single night.
My Fat Dad is a coming of age memoir and the recipes tell the story of Dawn’s upbringing and culinary adventures both in Chicago with her grandmother and in New York City.
Dawn’s father was an ad man in Chicago and New York known for the iconic slogans he developed for well-known food products such as “Coke Is It,” “This Bud’s for You,” and “Leggo My Eggo.” Her dad’s commitment to these products included ingesting large quantities of them and as a result he was obese as she was growing up —450 pounds at his heaviest, 175 pounds after his time on a fat farm in North Carolina. While suffering the ups and downs of her father’s weights and resulting moods, her mother simply ate a can of tuna every day as her sole meal.
Dawn and her sister April never enjoyed family meals growing up so Dawn started cooking at a very young age. Dawn found solace in not one but two Jewish grandmothers who reveled in feeding her, the kind of bubbie I plan on being one day. With her grandmother Beauty, Dawn was showered with much-needed nurturing that she did not get at home from her busy parents. The book includes lovely life lessons from her grandmother who Dawn says saved “my life, spoonful by spoonful.”
When Dawn moved to New York, the world of food opened up to her and “each dish had a story.” She sampled ethnic foods, found the best natural food markets in the city, and started her journey to creating a joyful food life for herself.
The recipes in the book range from healthful to downright decadent, a variety I deeply respect. Several recipes reminded me of my childhood such as the chocolate egg cream, kugel with raisins, borscht, and matzoh ball soup. Dawn also captured the food trends of the 1970’s with recipes for banana pudding with Nilla wafers and French onion soup. Dawn’s food journey takes her to explore healthier food and ultimately becoming a nutritionist herself, and she has recipes for macrobiotic apple pie, healing mushroom miso soup and beet chips. Really, there is a recipe for everyone.
Personally, I enjoyed reading about the fab diets that every adult was on during those years, including my mother, at times. Dawn’s description of making strudel from scratch with her aunt Jeannie reminded me that strudel dough still sits patiently on my pastry chef bucket list.
Dawn also reminded me that parents in the 1970’s and early 1980’s were often busy working and felt entitled to do their own thing or simply rest when they weren’t at the office, a far cry from today’s helicopter parents who micromanage every aspect of their children’s lives. As a result, Dawn became an independent, driven and strong woman. One of my favorite stories is Dawn’s tenacious drive to get her sister a role in a Broadway show, but you have to buy the book to read about that.
Here is Dawn’s recipe for the Best Flourless Blondie that she baked for her sister when Dawn herself was only 12 years old. Dawn sent her sister batches of these for two years when April was on a national Broadway tour. After tasting these, my son Joey said that he loved how there were so many flavors in his mouth at one time. I think they actually taste like childhood itself.
Yield: 12 squares
Butter or oil for greasing the pan
Preheat oven to 325°F. In a bowl, mix the peanut butter, maple syrup, milk, and mushed banana. Mush it all up and combine well. Then mix in the beaten eggs, vanilla, salt, and baking soda. Mix together until well blended and smooth. Stir in half the chocolate chips. Pour the batter into a wellgreased 8inchsquare Pyrex dish. Scatter the remaining chips on top.
Bake for 55 minutes, checking after 15 minutes to make sure the edges do not get too brown. If the top looks very brown, cover with foil and bake for the remaining 40 minutes. Cool and serve.
Reprinted from MY FAT DAD: A Memoir of Food, Love, Family, and Recipes By Dawn Lerman Berkley Books/2015
To order the book click here.
To find Dawn:
Dawn Lerman, MA, C.H.H.C, LCAT, AADP
Nutrition Consultant, Speaker & Writer