Dawn Lerman on Food, Love, and Family

“Nothing says love like a little something from Bubbe’s oven.” —Beauty in Fat Dad: a Memoir of Food, Love, and Family

6-Beauty & Dawn 2yrs

 I loved reading about Dawn Lerman’s colorful Jewish family and food-centric upbringing in her new memoir Fat Dad: a Memoir of Food, Love, and Family.

 Dawn spent her early childhood in Chicago constantly hungry as her father—a brilliant copywriter from the Mad Men era of advertising—pursued endless fad diets. (At his heaviest, he weighed 450 pounds.) Meanwhile, Dawn’s mother never cooked and didn’t eat much either. Dawn felt undernourished both physically and emotionally except for one saving grace—the loving attention she received from her grandmother Beauty.

It’s Beauty who provides Dawn with the stability she craves and instills in her a passion for cooking. In Beauty’s home, food was not the enemy but something to be enjoyed with lots of love. Dawn connects with her Jewish heritage as she learns many family recipes from Beauty such as matzoh ball soup, sweet potato latkes, brisket and more.

When Dawn is nine, her family moves to New York, but Beauty stays behind in Chicago. Beauty stays connected to Dawn by sending her a recipe card every week along with a twenty-dollar bill. One particular week, Dawn receives the recipes for beef and bean cholent along with this advice:

“You can’t fix your parents, but you can always make a hearty pot of love for you and April. Once in a while a dish might break, but do not let anyone or anything break your spirit.”

Ultimately, Fat Dad is about feeding the ones you love and our connections through food to family, identity, and history.


Beef and Bean Cholent —   Recipe from My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Family with Recipes by Dawn Lerman

Beef and Bean Cholent 

Yield: 4 -6 servings

¾ cup dry white beans

¾ cup dry kidney beans

2 pounds boneless beef chunks cut into cubes

4 medium-sized potatoes, peeled

1 medium-sized onion, peeled and cubed

Salt and pepper to taste

1½ teaspoons paprika

1½ cups water (plus additional, as needed, for thinning)

2 cups chicken broth

Soak the white beans and kidney beans in water, covered, for 8 hours. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drain and rinse the beans. Combine the beans, meat, potatoes, onions, salt, pepper, and paprika in a Dutch Oven. Add the water and broth. Cover the pot tightly. Put the pot in the oven for thirty minutes. Reduce heat to 200 degrees and bake overnight, for at least 10 hours. The longer you cook it, the thicker it will be. Do not stir. The next day if it is too thick, you can add a little water and stir.

Banana Bread — Recipe from by Dawn Lerman*

Yield: 1 loaf

¾ of date sugar, coconut sugar, or sugar of choice of sugar

¼ cup unsalted butter, softened or coconut oil

2 eggs, beaten

3 ripe bananas, mushed

½ cup plain yogurt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1½ cups of oat flour or flour of choice

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon of flax seeds, ( optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9- by 5- by 3-inch loaf pan. In a large bowl, beat together the sugar and butter. Add the eggs, mashed bananas, yogurt, and vanilla; blend well. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt into the wet ingredients. Mix well. Pour into the greased loaf pan. Bake at for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 20 minutes and remove from the pan.

*Note from Dawn: “This recipe was given to my grandmother Beauty by my paternal grandmother Bubbe Mary. Bubbe used twice the sugar and sour cream instead of yogurt. I have changed it even further using oat flour I also use either coconut sugar or date nut sugar instead of white flour. (To make it gluten free, pulse gluten free oats in the blender until it turns into a flour consistency. Do not over blend)”

Dawn Lerman is a board-certified nutrition expert and a contributor to The New York Times “Well” column. Her company, Magnificent Mommies, provides nutrition education to students, teachers, and corporations.

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1 Comment on Dawn Lerman on Food, Love, and Family

  1. Tammy
    October 18, 2015 at 9:24 pm (7 years ago)

    Brings back wonderful memories of my grandmother. Only difference is she was a terrible cook! My grandfather, a butcher, did all the cooking.


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