In 'My Fat Dad': Memories of Food, Family, & Fad Diets | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

In 'My Fat Dad': Memories of Food, Family, & Fad Diets


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In 'My Fat Dad': Memories of Food, Family, & Fad Diets

Dawn Lerman, author, "My Fat Dad." Courtesy of Dawn Lerman

Q & A with author, Dawn Lerman, and her favorite Passover recipe for Matzah kugel with apple.

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In "My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Family, with Recipes," New York Times Well blog contributor and founder of nutritional consulting company Magnificent Mommies, Dawn Lerman, reflects on a childhood divided between crash dieting with her 450-pound father and cooking hearty, delicious food with her grandmother, Beauty. Not only can readers follow Lerman's journey to healthy eating, but they can follow the recipes themselves, bringing a bit of Beauty's cooking into their own kitchens. JW Food and Wine spoke with the author about her new book, and got an exclusive preview of one of her family recipes to share with our readers.

Your book is unique because it's part cookbook and part memoir. How did you decide to format it that way?

It actually started out a couple years ago as a snack book for kids. I was teaching in my daughter's nursery and school and she had never eaten junk food or anything with artificial food dye and she was always really well behaved.  She came home the first day of school and she was jumping off the walls and crying and screaming and I was like "What's going on? What did you do today?" and she's like "I had chocolate milk and Goldfish and ice cream!" So I went in to the teacher and I said, "You know what, I can cook some things with them that they'll love but that won't be toxic for their bodies and actually help them learn and concentrate." So I came in and started making kale chips and all kinds of soups and homemade ice creams and cookies with the kids, and I started telling the stories of growing up, this is what I did with my grandmother, and these are the things that nourished me. Then I started writing down the recipes and giving it out to the kids to take home with the nutritional advice, but as I started writing down the recipes, I realized that every recipe had a story, and the stories were just as important as the ingredients.

What has the response been like from readers so far?

Everybody has a story. Everyone has a parent who was a great cook or a bad cook or a father or a mother who was overweight. Everyone responded to the dieting part. Everyone had a parent who at one point was on all these different diets, or was on a diet themselves. It ran the gamut from all different cultures, how food connected them to their ancestry and their religion and their traditions and how powerful that connection of food was.

As you said, food is a way to connect to those traditions. Tell me about the role that Judaism plays in your book and in your cooking, and in your life.

My grandmother used to say that for her, God was in her kitchen, not in temple. She'd say, when she'd make chicken soup or kugel it connected her to her family - to her father, to her mother, and she had 8 brothers and sisters. That's where she found her spirituality, was through these recipes. She said when she cooked, she heard God talking to her. For me, my grandmother is no longer with me so it definitely reminds me of being with her. I'm a traditional Jew, but the recipes keep me connected to my spirituality.

Do you have a favorite recipe from the book?

My favorite recipe, which I make once a week to this day, is my grandmother's chicken soup. I make it when I'm happy, when I'm sad, when it's hot, when it's cold. My other favorite recipe that I make all the time, which is in my book, is banana oatmeal cookies. They're the easiest thing in the world to make - you just mash bananas and put in oats and add whatever you want. It's a take off one of my grandmother's recipes. For Passover, I do a matzah kugel with apple. 

Beauty’s Matzo Kugel with Golden Raisins and Apples

Yield: 6–8 servings

Growing up we never had real food in our house. My 450-pound ad man father only consumed diet products with a marketing promise attached. My mom, a liberated women of the 60's and a wanna-be actress had no interest in cooking or domestic chores. I was always hungry both physically and emotionally except for the weekends I spent with my grandmother Beauty. Arriving at her home, I was transformed by the warmth of the air, and the aroma of her soups and sweet kugels. It was in her kitchen, cooking beside her, that I felt what true love and nourishment was.

Every year on Passover she made this sweet kugel with Manischewitz Passover Egg Matzo. Now every year I make this with my kids. Keeping the tradition and Beauty’s memories alive.


  • 4 egg matzo’s, broken apart soaked in warm water till soft but not mushy
  • ¼ stick of melted butter (plus a little more for greasing the pan)
  • ¼ cup of applesauce
  • 8 ounces cottage cheese
  • 3 ounces cream cheese
  • 3 eggs, beaten broken apart soaked in warm water till soft but not mushy
  • 4 ounces sour cream or yogurt
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ cup sugar 
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup of peeled and diced apples of choice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • Optional toppings: A little extra cinnamon and sugar to sprinkle on top of the raw kugel


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter, applesauce, cottage cheese, cream cheese, beaten eggs, sour cream or yogurt, milk, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon. Beat with an electric mixer till well combined.  Squeeze the liquid from the softened matzo into the egg mixture and add raisins, lemon juice and apples. Pour into a greased, approximately 9- by 13-inch baking dish. You can sprinkle the optional toppings on top (if desired). Bake until the custard is set and the top is golden brown, about 60 minutes.  check after 30 minutes and if it becomes too brown cover with foil. Cool and slice.

*Note: Kugel always tastes better the next day, either warmed or eaten at room temperature. But since the smell is so overwhelmingly delicious and it is impossible to wait till the next day, my grandmother always made an extra kugel, which she called the noshing kugel. We would eat it straight out of the pan. Because we did not give it time to cool and set, it was always a little crumbly. The noshing kugel was always reserved just for my sister and me.

About: MY FAT DAD is as much a coming of age memoir as it is a recipe collection from Dawn’s upbringing and culinary adventures in Manhattan. Published by Berkley Books, you can purchase it on, Barnes & Noble and Indie Bound. To learn more about Dawn visit:

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