Dawn Lerman writes about growing up with a fat dad.
My grandmother Beauty always told me that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach, and by the look of pure delight on my dad’s face when he ate a piece of warm, homemade chocolate cake, or bit into a just-baked crispy cookie, I grew to believe this was true. I had no doubt that when the time came, and I liked a boy, that a batch of my gooey, rich, chocolatey brownies would cast him under a magic spell, and we would live happily ever.
But when Hank Thomas walked into Miss Seawall’s ninth grade algebra class on a rainy, September day and smiled at me with his amazing grin, long brown hair, big green eyes and Jimi Hendrix T-shirt, I was completely unprepared for the avalanche of emotions that invaded every fiber of my being. Shivers, a pounding heart, and heat overcame me when he asked if I knew the value of 1,000 to the 25th power. The only answer I could think of, as I fumbled over my words, was “love me, love me,” but I managed to blurt out “1E+75.” I wanted to come across as smart and aloof, but every time he looked at me, I started stuttering and sweating as my face turned bright red. No one had ever looked at me like that: as if he knew me, as if he knew how lost I was and how badly I needed to be loved.
Hank, who was a year older than me, was very popular and accomplished. Unlike other boys who were popular for their looks or athletic skills, Hank was smart and talented. He played piano and guitar, and composed the most beautiful classical and rock concertos that left both teachers and students in awe.
Unlike Hank, I had not quite come into my own yet. I was shy, had raggedy messy hair that I tied back into braids, and my clothes were far from stylish. My mother and sister had been on the road touring for the past year with the Broadway show “Annie.” My sister had been cast as a principal orphan, and I stayed home with my dad to attend high school. My dad was always busy with work and martini dinners that lasted late into the night. I spent most of my evenings at home alone baking and making care packages for my sister instead of coercing my parents to buy me the latest selection of Gloria Vanderbilt jeans — the rich colored bluejeans with the swan stitched on the back pocket that you had to lie on your bed to zip up. It was the icon of cool for the popular and pretty girls. I was neither, but Hank picked me to be his math partner anyway.
With every equation we solved, my love for Hank became more desperate. After several months of exchanging smiles, I decided to make Hank a batch of my chocolate brownies for Valentine’s Day — the brownies that my dad said were like his own personal nirvana. My dad named them “closet” brownies, because when I was a little girl and used to make them for the family, he said that as soon as he smelled them coming out of the oven, he could imagine dashing away with them into the closet and devouring the whole batch.
After debating for hours if I should make the brownies with walnuts or chips, or fill the centers with peanut butter or caramel, I got to work. I had made brownies hundreds of times before, but this time felt different. With each ingredient I carefully stirred into the bowl, my heart began beating harder. I felt like I was going to burst from excitement. Surely, after Hank tasted these, he would love me as much as I loved him. I was not just making him brownies. I was showing him who I was, and what mattered to me. After the brownies cooled, I sprinkled them with a touch of powdered sugar and wrapped them with foil and red tissue paper. The next day I placed them in Hank’s locker, with a note saying, “Call me.”
After seven excruciating days with no call, some smiles and the usual small talk in math class, I conjured up the nerve to ask Hank if he liked my brownies.
“The brownies were from you?” he asked. “They were delicious.”
Then Hank invited me to a party at his house the following weekend. Without hesitation, I responded that I would love to come. I pleaded with my friend Sarah to accompany me.
As the day grew closer, I made my grandmother Beauty’s homemade fudge — the chocolate fudge she made for Papa the night before he proposed to her. Stirring the milk, butter and sugar together eased my nerves. I had never been to a high school party before, and I didn’t know what to expect. Sarah advised me to ditch the braids as she styled my hair, used a violet eyeliner and lent me her favorite V-neck sweater and a pair of her best Gloria Vanderbilt jeans.
When we walked in the door, fudge in hand, Hank was nowhere to be found. Thinking I had made a mistake for coming and getting ready to leave, I felt a hand on my back. It was Hank’s. He hugged me and told me he was glad I finally arrived. When Hank put his arm around me, nothing else existed. With a little help from Cupid or the magic of Beauty’s recipes, I found love.
Fat Dad’s ‘Closet’ Brownies
These brownies are more like fudge than cake and contain a fraction of the flour found in traditional brownie recipes. My father called them “closet” brownies, because when he smelled them coming out of the oven he could imagine hiding in the closet to eat the whole batch. I baked them in the ninth grade for a boy that I had a crush on, and they were more effective than Cupid’s arrow at winning his heart.
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the pan 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped, or semisweet chocolate chips 3/4 cup brown sugar 2 eggs at room temperature, beaten 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/4 cup flour 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional) Fresh berries or powdered sugar for garnish (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Grease an 8-inch square baking dish.
3. In a double boiler, melt chocolate. Then add butter, melt and stir to blend. Remove from heat and pour into a mixing bowl. Stir in sugar, eggs and vanilla and mix well.
4. Add flour. Mix well until very smooth. Add chopped walnuts if desired. Pour batter into greased baking pan.
5. Bake for 35 minutes, or until set and barely firm in the middle. Allow to cool on a rack before removing from pan. Optional: garnish with powdered sugar, or berries, or both.