I originally started this review over a year and a half ago. I found myself not able to complete it and therefore coming back to it time and again until I was happy with what I wrote.
Shakespeare wrote “If music be the food of love.” Yet for many people food is the food of love. We express our love for friends and family by eating together, and either cooking with or for each other. Dawn Lerman’s My Fat Dad: A memoir of Food, Love, and Family, with Recipes, takes us on a journey with the author
At the heart of My Fat Dad are two relationships. The first is between Lerman and her dad Al, an exceptionally gifted ad man (insert appropriate Mad Men reference here). The second is between Lerman and her grandmother Beauty.
Al Lerman was one of those larger than life people that your read about from time to time. This largeness was most evident in the way he ate. As brilliant an adman as he was, Lerman’s dad fought a constant battle with his weight. In part this was caused by his desire to try all the items he was creating ads for. This was a solitary activity that his daughter was left out of.
On the other hand, his weight was a constant issue that needed to be dealt with as he climbed the corporate ladder in the advertising. As a result, he was constantly dieting, an activity which his daughter was forced to participate in.
These diets do provide a measure of the humour to the story. If there is a diet that developed int he United States over the last 50 years or so, chances are Al Lerman has tried it. My favourite being the Duke University Rice Diet, featured in chapter 8. Perhaps that’s how Coack K keeps so skinny after all these years.
One result of this was for food to create a certain distance between father and daughter. Lerman’s mom was no help in this area as her mother was about as disinterested in food as a person could be. In later years, here mother would also be heavily involved in promoting the acting career of Ms. Lerman’s younger sister.
While food created a wedge between father and daughter, it deepened the bond between grandmother and granddaughter, and it was in her grandmother’s kitchen where Lerman learned her greatest lessons about food, cooking and more importantly, love.
Lerman’s story with her father is bittersweet. He and her mother divorce and that removes her somewhat from the sphere of her father’s life. She does eventually get the opportunity to share her love of food, with her dad. Sadly, this sharing comes about only after here dad is diagnosed with the cancer. However the diagnosis means that they now have common ground in the world of food. This gives them good ground to rebuild and strengthen their relationship moving forward.
Each of the chapters has several recipes attached to it. So, if you like a book that is both memoir and cookbook in one, you will really appreciate My Fat Dad One added feature of the book is that Lerman presents the recipes as she learned them. Despite being a nutritionist she doesn’t present her eating history as different from what it actually was. However, she does allow her nutritionist a voice by providing at the back of the book a swap chart that allows readers to attempt healthier versions of the recipes is they so desire.
Baking with Lerman
When I get a book that includes recipes with it’s stories, I like to try at least one of the recipes as I write the review. This week getting ready for the production of Vicar of Dibley that I’m appearing in, I decided to go with the simplest recipe in the book. This is a three ingredient Peanut Butter Cookie:
Easy Peanut Butter Cookies
1 cup brown sugar or sugar of choice
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 egg, beaten
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a Baking sheet with parchment paper. Stir all the ingredients together until smooth. Roll into 1-inch balls with your hands. Press down with the back of a fork and then press again from the opposite direction, to form the criss-cross pattern on top. Bake for 12 minutes. Remove cookies from the oven and let cool before removing to a wire rack to finish cooling. (page 234)
I made a triple recipe. That means that there was enough for rehearsal, and there were also a couple of dozen or so leftover, which I have frozen. They will be served at the St. Philip’s Sunday coffee time this week.
My Fat Dad, is the kind of book that will have you reflecting on your own family relationships. This may not be the easiest thing to do, but it will allow the reader to reflect on things and hopefully, give the opportunity to work to rebuild relationships. In those cases where the person we wish to rebuild the relationships with is no longer there, it may help us to resolve to put more time and energy into the relationships we do have, particularly when it come to finding time to share food together.