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Friday, January 03, 2020

The Fat Man’s Diet (Chapter Four)

Lost Masterpieces Dept.: I wrote a few chapters of a book to be titled The Fat Man’s Diet many years ago and could persuade no publisher of its timeliness and charm. Now that the World Obesity Movement has gained so much more momentum, I might try again. Meanwhile, here’s the fourth chapter. You’ll find chapter one here and chapter two here. I have yet to write chapter three.


George Friderick Handel
Portrait by Thomas Hudson
The Fat Man is settled in front of the TV set, cool brown bottle of beer in one hand and an hors d’oeuvre of pepperoni-and-cheese-on-a-cracker in the other.
And it happens again: another ad for a diet cola. Lissome bodies of dewey nubility writhing to a snappy beat, pretty striplings laughing and splashing on a butter-cream beach. Lose that weight, pal, drink the product and these babes are yours!
A minor tremor shakes the living room floor as the Fat Man laughs softly to himself, vast belly acknowledging his merriment with a quiver. Because he has no desire for these silly unfortunates, these hipless, breastless clones. So much running around, especially on a beach, he knows, is bad for the heart. And besides: he has yet to meet a skinny woman who can cook half as well as he can . . .
Romance and the Fat Man

Think of it this way. Dreaming TV commercial dreams is a sure way to make yourself miserable, no matter your size and weight. Because you’ll never measure up.

Romance is a compelling desire: we long to adore attractive others, and the TV ads cash in on that longing. But even though the Fat Man sometimes wishes he could cavort with a roomful of diet soda-drinking lovelies, he’s too shrewd to fall for such a nonsensical notion.

There are no tried and true rules to Romance. We have only the precedent of others to go by, and that varies from couple to couple. Fate is cruel to thin and fat alike, but why be an unhappy skinny guy when you can be an unhappy Fat Man with a consoling pizza?

The Fat Man has something to offer in a courtship no skinny guy can would dare come up with – good food. Pay no attention to the TV and magazine propaganda. Women like to eat. Maybe even more so than men, being by nature more in touch with their bodies. And once your beloved understands you’re not hung up on this let’s-get-thin stuff she’ll be right beside you tucking into that bowl of Beef Stroganoff ladled over well-buttered noodles.

Fat Men are therefore much more fun to be with because we of the shorter-lived sex have chosen to have our cake and eat several slices of it, too.

Unlike the process of seduction with its very singular goal (see the chapter Sex and the Fat Man), romance is made up of several enjoyable stages. The first is usually some manner of discovery, in which the Fat Man discovers that a particular woman – and only one – is a goddess he no longer can live without. She may have sat beside him day after day in a drab workplace, but after the discovery the workplace is transformed and the woman transfigured. Her very presence is good news; she has become beautiful upon the mountains.

How to convey to her news of this discovery? The Fat Man must be discreet. He is, after all, an awesome figure others are trained to regard as, at best, a jolly friend. Small kindnesses are the order of the day: an offhand compliment, perhaps. “That dress is a nice color on you,” spoken somewhat solemnly. “It really brings out the color of your eyes.”

The secret is in being completely artless. You’re not fishing for thanks – what you’ve just said is a matter of undeniable fact that others are clearly too self-absorbed to comment upon.

Pity the skinny, so helpless where dating rituals are concerned. They offer the movie, the concert, the quickie meal in a trendy wine bar. To the Fat Man, however, the restaurant is a workshop, the table a desk. He is at home here and comfortable. When the Fat Man asks a date to dine, its an invitation for her to share what pleases him most.


Salmon Stuffed with Seafood SouffleServes four

This is as much a showpiece as it is a tasty course, because the soufflés emerge from the oven golden, quivering, aromatic, with small wisps of steam escaping. As labor-intensive as this dish is, it’s worth every bit of the trouble for the spectacular effect it presents. And a generous ladle of fresh Hollandaise sauce completes the taste sensation.

Salmon and souffle:

2 lb. fresh salmon steak
1/4 lb. shrimp
1/4 lb. scallops
4 eggs
2 oz. butter
2 oz. flour
1 cup milk
2 oz. shrimp water
cream of tartar

Hollandaise sauce:

1 lb. butter
3 egg yolks
1 large lemon
Worcestershire sauce
Tabasco sauce

Clarify all of the butter (let’s say a pound plus a stick) by placing it atop a double boiler. Skim and discard the collagen that collects on top. You’ll be using this butter throughout. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Your standard-issue soufflé (not one of mine)
Begin preparing the salmon by removing its spine with a sharp knife, taking care to also remove the small connecting bones. The meat is horseshoe shaped; starting at the inside bottom of the “shoe,” use the bones as a carving guide. Brush a layer of butter throughout the inside and season with herbs and pepper. Cut the meat into four thick steaks and set them on the bottom of four dishes about 4 inches in diameter and 3 to 4 inches high. Coat the exposed insides of the dishes with butter and a sprinkling of flour.

The soufflés will be cooked right on top of the meat, and will itself have a stuffing of shrimp and scallops. Cook the shrimp in two cups of boiling water until they are firm: this only takes a few minutes. Strain, reserving two ounces of the water. When the shrimp is cooled, peel and de-vein. Slice the shrimp and scallops into small pieces.

Make a soufflé batter by separating the four eggs, reserving the whites in a mixing bowl. Beat the yolks in a small dish and set aside. Prepare a roux with 2 oz. of butter and 2 oz. of flour. This is done in a skillet over high heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until the mixture starts to brown (a couple of minutes). Lower the heat and add the cup of milk (now you’re making a Béchamel sauce). Stir constantly, working the mixture into a runny paste. Add a sprinkling of nutmeg. Add the egg yolks, stirring all the while. Cook until all ingredients have thoroughly combined into a uniform color. Add the shrimp and scallops. Remove from heat and set aside.

Add a pinch of cream of tartar to the egg whites and whip at high speed until the mixture has the consistency of shaving cream. Then fold in the egg yolk-seafood mixture, whipping gently but not too thoroughly. The individual colors should be very distinct. Working quickly, spoon the batter into the salmon dishes, filling each about three-quarters full. Bake for about 25 minutes, resisting the urge to peek too often.

While the soufflés cook, prepare the Hollandaise sauce by combining three egg yolks, two oz. shrimp water, the juice of a lemon, a dash each of Worcestershire Sauce and Tabasco and a sprinkling of pepper in a saucepan. Whisk over medium-high heat very quickly and thoroughly: avoid making scrambled eggs. Try to achieve a figure-eight motion with the whisk. I find the base is done in about the time it takes to sing one brisk chorus of “That Old Black Magic.” Remove from heat, whisking all the while (you may slow your motion gradually). Adroitly add the cup of clarified butter in a slow drizzle while continuing to whisk the mixture slowly, making sure the frothy yolks catch and hold the butter in a smooth suspension. (Should the mixture break suddenly, you may be able to restore it by adding a tablespoon of hot water in one corner and whisking it carefully back together.)

Remove the by-now puffy souffles and get them to the table immediately. Ladle an ounce of Hollandaise sauce over each, but keep the sauce nearby: you’ll want to refesh it again and again.


Stories of the Fat and Famous:
George Friderick Handel and Domenico Scarlatti

Were it not for Handel’s expansive wardrobe, we might not enjoy his legacy of the Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks, to name only two significant contributions. George Friderick Handel and his roommate, Johann Mattheson, had one of those Baroque-era duels (it was over Cleopatra – in this case, an opera) that faced the two off at sword’s point. Mattheson lunged but broke his sword on one of Handel’s big buttons.

Domenico Scarlatti
Portrait by Domingo Antonio Velasco
The German-born Handel adopted England as his home, leaving Hanover and his patron, Elector Georg Ludwig, without proper notice: what seemed to have started as a vacation turned into a lifelong stay. But Georg Ludwig soon became nutty King George I of England, none too pleased to find his former subject in favor. It’s said that George attended performances of Handel’s music disguised by a false beard; it’s also said that Handel wrote the Water Music to assuage the temper of his former boss.

In any event, Handel had a great reputation as a gourmand, devouring massive meals each sitting. This reputation hadn’t spread to at least one London waiter, however, who dutifully took down an order for a meal that would feed five others.

The impatient composer waited and waited, finally summoning the server in anger to ask after his dinner.

“I was just waiting for the company to arrive,” the errant man explained.

“De gompany?” Handel allegedly shouted. “I am de gompany!”

Was fatness required of Baroque composers? Or simply of composers born in 1685, as were Handel, Scarlatti and J.S. Bach? Bach was certainly not skinny, if the many drawings and paintings are accurate, but we have even better proof of the portliness of Domenico Scarlatti. If he developed his figure to simply compete against Handel’s rotundity, it would only support what legend insists was a life-long rivalry between the two.

Scarlatti was born in Naples but found his success in the courts of Spain, where his prowess as keyboard virtuoso won him many admirers. He is best known for the many hundreds of little sonatas he wrote for harpsichord, works that still figure as important exercises for the keyboard artist.

But an interesting transformation can be seen in following the progression of the sonatas chronologically. The earlier ones are filled with devilishly difficult runs requiring the player to cross hands frequently to follow the lines. Later, however, each hand keeps more and more to its own place on the keyboard. Quite simply, it was Scarlatti’s belly that caused the problem. It pushed him farther and farther from the keyboard, so that he had no choice but to keep his elbows at his massive sides.

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