Disclosure: My Fat Dad is generously providing one copy of the book for a giveaway. I was not compensated in any way for writing this post, and all the opinions are my own.
Author Dawn Lerman grew up with parents that were on opposite ends of the eating spectrum…among other challenges. Her father, who at one time weighed 450 pounds, was always on some kind of diet, which he expected the rest of the family to follow with him. Her mother was so busy with her own concerns that she barely ate at all. Dawn’s calm at the center of the storm was her grandmother, whom she called Beauty. My Fat Dad is Dawn’s memoir, and it’s filled with stories encompassing family times, growing up, and her evolution as a young cook. Honest, amusing, and at times painful, it will draw you in from the first page. It’s this month’s Cookbook Corner selection, and Dawn is graciously providing a copy of her story for me to share with you (read on to see how you can enter for your chance to win).
There’s no doubt that food shapes our individual worlds. Special dishes and recipes, with traditions unique to our families and loved ones, bring us together whenever we make or eat them, whether in spirit or in person. It never ceases to amaze me how just the smell of a familiar dish can transport me instantly back to my childhood or to a favorite memory, and how certain foods can be so comforting. The wonderful foods and recipes are just one aspect of this story, though.
I instantly connected with Dawn’s courageously candid narration of her life’s experiences in My Fat Dad, relating closely to her emotional journey and the incredible bond she had with her grandparents, Beauty and Papa. Although she and I grew up in different environments – my parents divorced when I was very young – I, like Dawn, had a strong desire to please my family, to take care of people, to keep the peace in our home, and to fulfill what I (rightly or not) perceived to be an expectation to be a miniature adult. As you can imagine, this was a sea that was, though often graced with smooth sailing, sometimes fraught with tidal waves, and for me there’s no doubt that in many ways my grandparents were the anchors that kept me safe on my ship.
Dawn’s best example of healthy eating and the foundation of her love of food and cooking was her grandmother, Beauty. While living in Chicago, Dawn spent most weekends with her, helping her to cook dishes that nourished not only her body but her heart. I grew up on many of the dishes Dawn shares in the book – Chicken Soup, Matzo Balls, Potato Latkes, Beef Brisket, and Rugelach (my Grandma called them Butterhorns) were staples in my grandmas’ kitchens, and in my mom’s kitchen too. As with Dawn and her grandmother, time in the kitchen cooking with my Grandma Helen and Gramma Omi was also time to talk, to hear stories about their lives, while also learning the tricks for making each dish as delicious as possible.
One of my favorite chapters tells about her family”s move from Chicago to New York. Dawn was dreading leaving her familiar surroundings, school and friends; she was especially sad about being away from her beloved grandparents and the security she felt when she was with them. She begged Beauty to let her stay and live with them in Chicago, but of course that was not to be. To offer comfort, Beauty promised that each week, she would send Dawn a recipe card and a twenty-dollar bill so she would be able to look forward to shopping and cooking. This ultimately led to Dawn exploring her new neighborhoods in search of ingredients, which led to more adventures and an ever-growing appreciation for healthy ways to cook delicious foods; see Dawn’s recipes for Pumpkin Pie, Flourless Blondies, and Banana Bread. (When my mom and I moved from Southern to Northern California, talking to my grandparents on the phone was in many ways a lifeline for me – just hearing their voices on the other end of the line brought me great comfort. And making their recipes with my mom made me feel closer to them as well.) As I read, I marveled at how independent Dawn was – had to be – both in getting herself around New York City and in the kitchen, where she became an advanced cook at a very young age.
I love the story about her mom and how, when she hosted parties – like the party they had when her dad returned home from an intense weight loss camp – she always managed to get all her guests to actually put the party together. She would tell each guest what food to bring and actually waited for them to arrive to get the house ready! “Each time the doorbell rang with a new guest, the jobs started to flow. ‘…Len, you are the tallest, you can grab the card table…and water my spider plants. Charles, please warm and arrange all the food. David, roll up the Oriental rug so no one spills wine on it.” I laughed out loud while reading this!
Today’s recipe for Sweet-and-sour Meatballs is from that chapter. You’ve probably seen and even made a recipe similar to (if not just like) it. I remember these meatballs being served at my Grandma Helen’s parties – they were always a hit with kids and adults alike, because of the delicious, sticky sauce. When I made this recipe, I made it in the slow cooker and served the meatballs over rice for dinner. I mixed the sauce first and poured it into the Crock Pot to heat (on low), then I made the meatballs.
The meatballs are really easy to put together. The recipe instructs you to roll the meat mixture into 1-inch balls, but since I was serving it as a main dish, I used a 2 tablespoon scoop to measure out equal (larger) portions for the meat. Then, I baked them for about 15 minutes before placing them into the sauce. Baking them first caramelizes the outside, and I like the additional flavor.
I poured the warm sauce into a large measuring cup and began placing the meatballs into the pot, pouring some sauce over each layer.
Then I left them to heat. About 30 minutes before dinner, I got the rice going, and voila! A delicious bowl of meatballs and rice for a comforting dinner.
I know you’ll enjoy the memories and recipes this book and I don’t doubt that you will be moved by Dawn’s heartwarming – and sometimes heart wrenching – portrayal of her family and her childhood. To enter for a chance to win our giveaway copy, comment below by February 15th at 6PM Pacific Time with a favorite food memory from your childhood years. I can’t wait to hear about your favorites!
Cooking with love provides food for the soul. Unknown
- 1 (12 oz.) bottle chili sauce
- 2 tsp. lemon juice
- 9 oz. grape jelly
- 1½ lbs. ground beef
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 large onion, diced
- ½ cup Rice Krispies cereal or breadcrumbs
- Salt and pepper. to taste
- Whisk together the chili sauce, lemon juice and grape jelly.
- Pour into a large pot and place on stove top over medium heat; keep temperature on medium heat.
- In a bowl, combine the ground beef, eggs, onion, Rice Krispies/breadcrumbs, salt and pepper.
- Mix well and form into 1-inch balls.
- Add to the sauce and simmer for 1½ hours.
- Remove from heat and allow to slightly cool.
- Serve with a toothpick inserted into each meatball as an appetizer.
- *You can heat in a slow cooker for 3-4 hours on Low.