Search This Blog

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Fat Man's Diet

Lost Masterpieces Dept.: Many years ago, I wrote a few sample chapters of a tome titled The Fat Man's Diet, which would comprise essays on the joys of being fat, a number of incredibly rich recipes, and mini-biographies of the fat and famous. I sent it to publishers and agents, most of whom ignored it, although I was told by a couple that the book was too confusing. Is it a cookbook? A humor book? What? These are the concerns of the excessively skinny, of course. When the manuscript had sat for several months at the offices of Workman Press, I took the small hope all writers clutch at at such moments. After it had been there a year, I had an anniversary cake delivered to their office (it, too, got no response). After seven years, the proposal finally was returned, rejected, by which time I'd moved on to other manuscripts. Here's the opening section.


The Fat Man eases himself into the leather mitt of a wide armchair.  It's not a recliner: it doesn't have to be.  Years of contact with the Fat Man's body have refigured the springs and struts and upholstery to conform to his favorite position. This is where he relaxes, meditates. It's also a favorite place for snacking. The crumbs that hide among the coins beneath the cushion are a testimony to years of gastronomic experimentation conducted in the extremest leisure . . .
Sydney Greenstreet in
The Maltese Falcon
It's the most comfortable chair in the house. Because the Fat Man settles for nothing less than total comfort. His nail-thin wife may perch nervously upon the Shaker torture device she laughingly calls a chair and claim to be comfortable, but the Fat Man knows better. Skinny people fear real comfort. From his sleep-inducing throne, the Fat Man pities them as his eyes droop shut for a salubrious nap.

A rhythmic hammering sounds from the sidewalk. The Fat Man cracks an eyelid to see what's happening. As he suspected: a squadron of joggers, their faces wrought with the misery of physical torture. Look at them. Eyes glazed, these are the nuts who ape those videotapes of emaciated exercise fanatics.

And then skip lunch.

Listen to them. They natter about health clubs, diets, tennis, diets, jogging and always, always diets. They break open vegetable pods and suck down the tasteless viscera, little suspecting that they themselves have become pod-like in a skinny sort of way.

Look at them. They're thin. And that's about all they have going for them because they've opted out of a life of pleasure, a life that itself is a kind of art. The Fat Man's life.

Obviously, this isn't a book for the skinny, although you of little girth may study its pages for clues to the serenity the Fat Man enjoys.

Also, I have not gone out of my way to address the Fat Woman. This is an act of respect. The portly woman wages a battle similar, but not identical, to the Fat Man's fight. Society has set a long, long precedent of divided standards for the overweight of the two sexes, and the fat woman has to struggle against the misconception that her major value is merely physical, the unfortunate result of a sexist society.

I spent a fat childhood and fat adolescence absorbing the derision of the so-called physically fit; I'm spending a fat adulthood understanding that the special joy of obesity is unique to the portly man, who must sidestep standards of dress and etiquette that the skinny, sheeplike, subscribe to.

During times of economic despair, people are told to tighten their belts. We who are whimsically termed “big and tall” have lived a life of midriff snugness. We are familiar with a process of denial, although it has a different and special meaning to us—we deny ourselves second helpings. We may even deny ourselves that chocolate eclair the skinny guy wouldn't have eaten in the first place.

We are fat men because we believe in sampling all the pleasures Life places before us. What follows is a guide to furthering that enjoyment. The “diet” of the title is not a daily regimen of caloric restriction: it is an invitation to ride the carousel of good living—as long as not too many climb on board at the same time.

You'll find delights on the pages that follow. Because we'll look at the varied way of life only a fat man enjoys. This is a guide for the gentleman, not for the slob. The latter is always there to tarnish the bright image of dignified huskiness. Let's hope that this book will set an example for them.

The Fat Man's Diet
         The Fat Man emerges from the crowded restaurant with a smile of contentment and turns to stroll toward the theater. People around him stop to regard his passage. “I'm astonished,” says one woman. “He just seems so—on top of the world!”
        He walks with the dignity and self-possession that only the portly can muster. He is seen to pat small boys on the head. When he whistles, it is a little symphony of satisfaction. The meal was a pleasure. He expected no less. He is a pleasure to cook for and to serve. In a few minutes he wil settle himself into a pair of seats on the aisle and drowse through a popular musical. After that — who knows?  Another meal, perhaps . . .

Simply defined, a diet comprises “the usual or regular foods a person eats most frequently.” Nothing about high-fiber this, low-carbohydrate that. So if your regular fare includes a canoli or two of an afternoon—fine! Eat 'em with pride while skinny onlookers suffer. Your diet just happens to be more fun than most because you deny yourself nothing except that which doesn't taste very good.

And what does taste good tastes especially great because there's no silly guilt involved. It's important that this diet be pursued without fear of recrimination. There are those who will point and snicker, but they do so out of envy. They're the ones refusing dessert.

What are you worried about? “Don't eat that—you're going to get fat!” in a stentorian Mom voice? You are fat: Relax. Enjoy it.

Make yours an orderly diet. Don't grab greedily at each entree that sails on by: plan your meals, chart your binges. And pace yourself. You're more impressive that way. You're the guy who goes through course after course long after the skinny have wadded their napkins. And you'll make them feel all the more repusively skinny when you deliver that classic Fat Man query: “Are you going to finish that potato?”

Planning Your Menu

We can be fairly certain that it was a Fat Man who invented the classic multi-course meal. Uphold that tradition with a carte du jour which begins with a piquant palate teaser, perhaps a creamy soup or a plate of several tender escargot finished in a garlicky green butter bath. Or both.

And that's just to prepare you for the fish. Ah: fish. As if God one day said, “Let there be something moist and tasty that cries out for a drizzle of butter!” and lo! salmon was created. And it was good. Served hot with a fresh Hollandaise sauce (see recipe) or chilled with a tangy dilled mayo.

A small dish of lip-puckering sherbet and then the meat arrives. Perhaps a stuffed saddle of veal with a raisin and cream sauce (see recipe), fat, handsome slices fanned on the platter decorated with florets of buttered broccoli and a carrot julienne.

And potatoes. Baked in butter, mashed in cream: you name it. Potatoes, the first item the skinny push from their plates, ignorant of the healing properties that inform the noble tuber.

The plates are cleared away, the coffee is poured (cream, please) and you begin the trek through cheeses and desserts, a journey that can take you far into the night.

Followed by a post-prandial shot of Fernet to calm any troubled intestinal waters. Then it's off to bed with dreams of croissants and sausages dancing in your head.

Remember: on the Fat Man's Diet there's no such thing as being overweight—only underfed.

A Note on the Recipes

They were kitchen-tested for richness. Each should bring a contented groan to the lips of the eater.

Butter and cream are tremendously important for foods of compelling lushness. Be sure to buy only top-quality, unsalted butter; if you can buy whole cream in bulk from your dairy, experiment with churning your own.

Most of the procedures described here require from-scratch preparation, which is an essence of good cooking. You'll find more detail than you may be used to seeing in the recipes, but none is overly difficult. They work equally well in professional and amateur kitchen, although it is assumed that you have good, sharp knives, at least four burners and an oven, a food processor and lots of patience.

Try to work with the freshest ingredients you can find. When seasonings are suggested, treat the listing as only that: a suggestion. Feel free to experiment with your own favorite herbs and spices.

None of the recipes calls for salt. If you notice the difference, add salt according to your taste.

Chicken Liver Pâté
Serves eight

An enchanting start to a sturdy meal. The buttery consistency both satisfies the palate and starves it for more. There is a richness to this dish that may set you craving much more of it: you could, in fact, make a meal out of this pate alone. Don't. A good hors d'oeuvres, like a sexy kiss, is a promise of things to come.
1 lb. chicken livers
1 lb. sweet butter
4 oz. clarified butter
1 qt. milk
1 medium onion
1 clove garlic
1 oz. Pernod
black pepper
white pepper
Slice the onion and garlic into fine pieces. Heat half of the clarified butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot, then add the onion and garlic pieces. When those are translucent, add the chicken livers. Sautee until the livers are stiff and getting very dark on the outside. Add the milk and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook one hour, then let stand overnight.

Set the butter out to soften. Drain the liquid from the liver and transfer the remainder to a food processor. Grind into small fragments, adding dashes of the above-listed seasonings. Add the butter a few ounces at a time. The result will be very soft, almost liquid. Taste the seasonings and adjust where necessary; add the Pernod. The result should be a smooth flavor that rolls the length of the tongue.

Transfer the pate into individual ramekins and chill until stiff. Finish for presentation by inverting each ramekin over a small dish of clarified butter, sealing the top with a light layer. Chill until the butter has set; serve with toast points and a garnish of parsley.


 Stories of the Fat & Famous:
Sydney Greenstreet

“Come in sir, hm hm hm, sit down, sit down. Hm hm.”  Ever notice how John Huston photographed him in The Maltese Falcon?  That massive Greenstreet girth was captured from the lowest possible angle so that half the screen was a black-vested belly.

Sydney Hughes Greenstreet was born in England in 1879. His first career was an unlikely one for the son of a leather tanner: he went into the tea business, spending his early adult years in Ceylon.

Always stage struck, he amassed a considerable knowledge of Shakespeare and worked his way into the British theater as a Bard specialist, picking up a reputation for light comedy along the way. But that unique was with villainy was there from the start, and a 1902 appearance as a murderer in Sherlock Holmes won him early acclaim.

He came to the U.S. in 1904 with Ben Greet's Shakespearean Repertory Company, making his New York debut the following year in Everyman. Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree termed him, at that time, “the greatest unstarred star on the English stage.”

Because of his usual place hidden anonymously among the supporting cast, it's not generally recognized that Greenstreet was an active participant of the Theatre Guild, appearing in The Good Earth, The Taming of the Shrew, Idiot's Delight, Jerome Kern's Roberta and, his final stage appearance in 1940, There Shall Be No Night.

Had it not taken Hollywood over 30 years to discover him, he might have come to the screen in the same guise: butler, pompous mayor, buffoon. But his unforgettable film debut, at the age of 61, weighing 280lbs., was as sly, smooth-talking rogue Kaspar Gutman in The Maltese Falcon. Greenstreet won an Academy Award nomination for the role.

Unlike Edward Arnold, a fat man who terrorized the likes of Jimmy Stewart and Joel McCrea throughout the 1930s and '40s, Greenstreet brought a touch of the sinister to his parts. You had a sense that Arnold could be reformed; Greenstreet was villainous through and through.

Watch him in The Mask of Dimitrios as he snorts and chuckles his way through a made-to-order role as criminal empire mastermind, or as the vicious police chief in Flamingo Road.

Paired with Peter Lorre, as was often the case, they became a nightmare version of Laurel and Hardy, with big, bluff Greenstreet playing counterpoint to sniveling Lorre. You see them together in the Falcon, and who can forget the be-fezzed Greenstreet swatting flies in Casablanca? Look for them also in Background to Danger, A Passage to Marseilles, The Conspirators, and The Verdict; best of all may be one of the earliest entries in the film noir genre, Three Strangers (1946), which gives Greenstreet the role of a lifetime as a greedy attorney intent on sharing his lottery winnings with nobody.

His film career lasted less than a decade, but he took the cliche notion of Fat Man as villain and refined it into an archetype that still persists in television and movies today.


Harry Minot said...

This provides further confirmation of your brilliance and your magnificence, Byron. So idiotic that it wasn't snapped at for publication. And NOW is the time that its message is needed, more than ever. You're the Embonpoint Emperor!

B. A. Nilsson said...

Thanks to the comments-moderation feature, you're spared the crap that comes leaching in. But I'm not. My Fat Man's Diet chapter just prompted a enthusiastic piece of spam lauding the essay for its valuable information, then slipping in a link to a weight-loss site. The word "diet" is powerful little critter.

Arysia Assante said...

This is an absolute gem! Masterfully written, with nuances of humor, indulgence, and even nobility in the "Fat Man". Have you ever considered self-publishing the book in it's entirety, through a website like lulu (dot)com?

Reading this reminded me of my all-time favorite quote "My Doctor told me to stop having intimate dinner parties for four...unless three other people were joining me" ~Mr. Orson Welles