My Fat Dad: Inspiring Read
Congrats to Dawn Lerman for her wonderful new book, My Fat Dad. Everything about My Fat Dad is delicious, poignant and irresistible: Dawn’s frank and evocative style, her inner child’s voice at every life stage of her narration, her stubborn refusal to get caught on the self-pity potty, her Thoroughly-Treif-But-Very-Jewish Recipes dotting the whole book. Dawn comes by her success quite honestly, as she writes for the New York Times’ Wellness Blog and is a certified nutritionist, so you might say her topic is close to her heart.
My Fat Dad is a testament to the cosmic role food plays in our lives.
Dawn’s grandmother, nicknamed Beauty in perpetuity by a very small and worshipful Dawn, is the old block, and Dawn is the chip off the old block. Dawn’s mother’s generation was abruptly and unceremoniously skipped. Where’s Mom? Mom is too busy absentmindedly picking at some canned tuna with a plastic fork, straight from the can, which she has the Chutzpah to call lunch, multitasking while chatting excitedly on the phone. Or waxing lyrical about Stouffers and other frozen dinners the children endured every night, those Great Pop Culture Domestic Saviors brought to us circa the Levittown 50s. Mom feels thoroughly sorry for those clueless women, including her own mother, shackled to their stoves and oblivious of the wonderful world of convenience foods. If there exist some women who can somehow juggle home cooking and anything approaching a social agenda, Mom has simply never heard of them. For her, there are only two kinds of women: the free-spirited old hippies who bristle at the mere idea of rinsing a plate, and the long suffering domestic relics of an all-but-extinct pre-TV-Dinner era, tragically left holding the bag on Emancipation day.
Another reason Mom might not be one bit interested in food and cooking is that she and her high powered husband are wined and dined practically every night, leaving their two children (Dawn and her kid sister April) to their own devices. It doesn’t help that Mom is minimally effusive if at all, inadvertently pushing Dawn steadily closer to her grandmother, where hugs, kisses, wonderful treats and heavenly smells are innumerable and indelible.
Eating together begets togetherness (duh), but that’s not all:
it begets healthy habits and a harmonious lifestyle, pleasure and nourishment from all things smelling and tasting good, and most importantly, communication and companionship. Not surprisingly, the writing is on the wall from day one: Top Casualty is none other than My Fat Dad, Al Lerman, who also happens to be a major celebrity and wizard wordsmith, a giant (no kidding!) in the world of advertising and beyond. Dad’s weight pendulum swings unrelentingly from precarious to dangerous to morbid (450 pounds). There is no diet he hasn’t tried, none of them endowed with any rhyme or reason, including some of his own quirky design. Alas, naturally, nothing works.
A top advertising agency (McAnn Erikson) uproots the family from their cozy Chicago residence to New York City for the big time (Dawn is bereft at leaving Grandma Beauty, and they correspond endlessly). Pretty soon a funny thing happens on the way to the Hamptons, where the provincial couple is invited to a July 4th weekend with the children! They come dressed as if for a Barbecue-Baked-Beans-Burgers-Buns-Beer Bronx Bash, only to find everyone including the guests’ children fastidiously attired, blazer, tie and all, with a formal and dazzling lobster menu to match the dress code. The impossibly good looking and impossibly fit employers/hosts laugh nervously at the sight of Al looking like a blob, even as they show him off to their guests as their empire’s newest prodigy. Shortly after that fiasco, Al’s boss meets him for a pep talk resulting in carting Al off to a fat farm, for six months, all expenses paid, and his regular salary left intact. The diet is miserable and excruciatingly boring (basically white rice with tiny “flavorful” tidbits at every meal). He loses a whopping 175 pounds, more than half of which he promptly puts back on.
Dawn’s unabashed readiness to describe some of her household’s funky episodes precisely where some others would have applied some “decorous” veneer for the sake of posterity made me laugh and cry. Picture this: Her little sister April, who has a real flair for theater acting (and who is assiduously coached by Big Sis) gets on the road with her mother for an entire year crammed with shows all over the country. Dad professes his pleasure to be finally bonding with Dawn, just the two of them, but almost immediately forgets all about her. Dawn consoles herself by living it up and goes out disco-hopping, dancing, drinking and smoking almost every night without Dad ever noticing her nocturnal absences. The coup de grace comes when he walks right out of the house one day while she is chatting on the phone, wheeling all his belongings in two hefty suitcases, telling Dawn, in a nutshell, don’t bother hanging up hon, I am moving out, have a good day. The reader clearly sees this fateful day coming from a painful earlier scene, one day when Dawn’s mother, on a very rare occasion when she decides to cook dinner for her family, is berated by her husband for a dozen perceived grievances (How am I supposed to eat this runny mess? … Where are the utensils?… I don’t even know why I came home…). Mother and daughters are left dejected and terrified.
Dawn’s mother’s replacement, Violetta, is an amiable and voluble American lady riddled with Italian affectations and mannerisms, and Pop is gaga over her. But it seems the real reason for his obsession is… get this: Violetta Can COOK!
Listen to the book’s happy ending:
One fine day My Fat Dad, in one fell swoop, announces that a. he has Stage Four lung cancer (now is a good time to mention he was a chain smoker, for good measure), and b. he is completely resigned to his imminent death: what’s the use in fighting it, isn’t he a mess anyway? But instead, Dawn, his good angel, during his ordeal and chemo treatment, relentlessly feeds him healing foods and restores him to good health. My Fat Dad has been cancer-free for twelve years. He is also thin, vegan, non-smoking and happily retired.
Good luck taking My Fat Dad places, dear Dawn, and spreading the good word on eating well, eating together, eating at a table, eating at home, and having a good time!
This is the soup “My Fat Dad” credits to helping heal from cancer
Healing Mushroom Miso Soup–
Yield: 8 servings
1 (2–3 inch) fresh organic ginger root, peeled and coarsely chopped
½ organic onion, chopped
1 tablespoon ghee
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup sliced mixed raw mushrooms—shiitake, portabella, maitake
Water, or you can use 64 ounces of vegetable broth
1 cup organic dried Shiitake mushrooms
½ pound tofu, diced
¼ cup organic miso paste (There are many types of miso to choose from. I like sweet white miso—this is a paste not a powder—and you can add a little more if you like a strong miso flavor.)
1 head of roasted garlic cloves, peeled and mashed
2 organic carrots, chopped
1 teaspoon of salt (preferably a truffle salt or good-quality Himalayan salt) or more to taste
In a stockpot, sauté the ginger and onion in the ghee over a medium heat until the onion just begins to sweat. Add the raw garlic and raw mushrooms and cook till browned. Then add the broth to the pot and bring to a slow boil. Add the dried mushrooms, carrots, tofu and then lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the shiitakes are fully reconstituted. While the pot of mushrooms is simmering, ladle about 6 ounces of the broth into a spate bowl and add the miso paste to it, whisking until dissolved. Next, add the mashed roasted garlic to this mixture. Once thoroughly combined, add the garlic-miso mixture back into the pot. Stir well and enjoy all the healing properties of this magic broth.
* Note: Miso is a traditional Japanese fermented soy or rice paste. Its healing power is often compared to chicken soup, especially when paired with immune boosters like garlic, ginger, onion, and shiitake mushrooms.