Dawn Lerman writes about growing up with a fat dad.
My dad was never a morning person. No matter how many alarm clocks he would set, nothing could ever wake him. My mom often had to squirt him with cold water and I would have to tickle him under the chin so he could get to work on time. When he was little his mother, my Bubbe Mary, used to leave for work early. One morning while my dad was sleeping, there was a grease fire in a neighbor’s apartment, and my father slept through the sirens, the screaming and the firefighters breaking down the front door of his building.
My dad said that when he slept, his best ideas came to him — including some of the award-winning slogans for the campaigns he created. But as much as he enjoyed sleeping, he loved eating and being pampered. Every Father’s Day my sister and I would make decorative cards, clean the house, make him a scrumptious breakfast in bed, and straighten his wall of shirts that were stacked in every corner of our brownstone — representing each new weight.
Figuring out what to prepare depended on the diet du jour and the number on the big chalkboard above the scale in our bathroom that showed his current weight. My dad weighed himself every morning, every night and after each meal, carefully displaying every victory and every setback in white chalk. He usually weighed around 350 pounds but would often fluctuate a hundred pounds on either end. We usually knew how our day would be if the numbers were going up or down. If the numbers were going down, it might be a cheat day, in which case a sweet treat was in order. If the numbers were going up, it was time for a different diet, so a day of reprieve to eat whatever he craved was mandatory to reboot his metabolism.
Since Father’s Day is always on a Sunday, there was a lot more freedom in my menu selection. I always enjoyed making something new. I had made sweet cheese blintzes, a Jewish crepe, from scratch several times with my maternal grandmother, Beauty, when we lived in Chicago, but never by myself. When I called Beauty for guidance, she said that since I was almost 10, which was her age when she started making the blintzes for her family and the boarders who lived in her home, she knew I could do it. But my grandmother always thought I could do everything perfectly, which was not always the case — especially when it came to singing and dancing, which were my sister’s fortes.
The trick to not being overwhelmed was to make the blintzes in two parts. In the evening, I could make the crepes for the shell and fill them so they would have time to set overnight and be ready for frying in the morning. Beauty said the smell of the blintzes frying in butter could arouse even the deepest of sleepers. With my grandmother’s encouragement, I began gathering the cheese for the filling, and the sour cream, powdered sugar and strawberries for the topping.
According to Beauty, the secret to making the perfect blintzes was to get the crepe paper-thin. “It is all in all the wrist,” she would say. I remember, when I was little, watching her effortlessly tilt the hot pan as she poured in the batter of flour, egg and milk. She would carefully swirl the batter to coat the bottom of the cast-iron skillet evenly. After about 30 seconds, she would run a knife around the edge of the crepe to prevent it from sticking. I had seen my grandmother prepare the blintzes so many times that I was confident that I could replicate them. Ever since I was big enough to reach the counter with a step stool, I had helped mix, fill and roll.
I decided to wait till my parents went out to begin the process, for a couple of reasons. One, my mother was usually annoyed when I took on elaborate cooking projects; the kitchen was too small, she said, and her papers, spread over the counters, would get ruined. Usually, her only clue that I had used the kitchen was that her papers were put back much more neatly than before she left. And two, I wanted my dad to be totally surprised. Blintzes were one of his favorite dishes from his childhood — something saved for very special occasions.
With my mother out of the house, I carefully made the crepes just as my grandmother had showed me, filling them with sweetened cheese and a touch of lemon. When I began frying them the next morning, the buttery aroma that filled the air did not wake my dad, but my mother and sister flew into the kitchen. Even my mother, who was not usually excited about food, begged for a bite.
My mother and sister helped me arrange the wooden tray to take to my dad in bed. It took only moments for him to arise as we presented him with the tray of blintzes and a cup of Taster’s Choice instant coffee — his favorite coffee since he created the advertising campaign that introduced the brand in the United States and made it the No. 1 coffee.
As we all nibbled on the blintzes, I realized Father’s Day was not only about spoiling my dad but also about coming together as a family — using the recipes that had conjured fond memories from my parents’ past and creating new ones together.
Beauty’s Cheese Blintzes
My grandmother used to call these little packages of love. Thin dough around sweetened cheese, topped with fresh fruit. Perfect for brunch or anytime you want to make loved ones feel special.
For the crepe batter: 2 eggs 1 cup milk 1 cup sifted flour 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract Pinch of salt 1 tablespoon melted butter Butter for frying
For the cheese filling: 12 ounces farmer’s cheese 4 ounces cream cheese, softened 1/3 cup sugar 1 teaspoon lemon juice 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 egg yolk Pinch of salt
Toppings: Powdered sugar Strawberries, sliced thin Dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt
Prepare batter. In a large bowl combine eggs, milk, salt and vanilla and blend well. Gradually add flour. Beat well until there are no lumps in the batter.
Note: The blintzes have a better texture if the batter rests for half an hour at room temperature. You can also let the filling chill for half an hour in the refrigerator. If the batter gets too thick while it is sitting, you can thin it with a little bit of cold water.
Make the filling. Combine all of the filling ingredients in a bowl and mix together until smooth.
To make the crepes:
1. Grease a 6- or 7-inch skillet until it is hot but not smoking.
2. Put a ladleful of batter into the skillet. Tilt pan to swirl the batter so it covers the bottom of the skillet.
3. Fry on one side until bubbles form and the top is set. The bottom should be golden brown. Carefully loosen edges of the crepe and slip it out of the skillet onto a plate.
4. Repeat the above procedure until all the batter is used. Grease skillet each time before pouring batter.
5. After all the crepes are made, begin filling them. The brown side should be facing up. Place 3 tablespoons of filling on one edge.
6. Roll once to cover filling. Fold the sides into the center and continue rolling until completely closed.
7. After all the blintzes are assembled, heat 2 tablespoons of butter in the skillet and place each crepe, seam side down, in the skillet and fry 2 minutes on each side, turning once.
8. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt, and garnish with fresh strawberries and a touch of powdered sugar.