Due Diligence

For author and nutritionist Dawn Lerman, food and real estate collide

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It's Father's Day on Sunday, and in honor of the Hallmark holiday, we caught up with Dawn Lerman, author of "My Fat Dad," a coming of age memoir and recipe collection that tells of Lerman's upbringing (and culinary adventures) in New York City.

The book also features traditional Jewish recipes beloved by Lerman's dad, a successful ad man responsible for slogans like "Fly the Friendly Skies" and "Leggo My Eggo," along with a healthier take on them. In the book she explores her dad's relationship with food, who was always fad dieting, and weighed in at 450 pounds at his heaviest.

Lerman, who is now a nutritionist and a New York Times wellness blogger, told us about her uptown neighborhood, and why downtown Manhattan will always have her heart (and her stomach).

1. What neighborhood do you live in? 

I live in Morningside Heights.

2. Is this your dream neighborhood or is there someplace else in NYC you’d prefer to settle in?

If I could live anywhere, I think I would choose either the East or West Village or the Lower East Side. I am a foodie, and these neighborhoods are rich with flavor and nostalgia.

The first day I moved from Chicago to New York with my parents, these were the neighborhoods we explored. I was nine. I remember every taste, every smell. My 450-pound ad man dad—responsible for iconic slogans such as “Coke is it” and “Leggo my Eggo” — was always on one diet or another; but this day, the diet was eat as much as you can. We ate pierogies in Little Odessa, curry on East Sixth Street, falafels on MacDougal Street; and on Bleecker Street, near my new school the Little Red School House we discovered the most amazing Italian sandwich shop called Faicco’s Pork. The store was filled with a dizzying range of imported Italian meats that hung in the windows; they even made their own homemade mozzarella. I had only tasted Kraft Velveeta cheese before, but this cheese was so smooth and flavorful. The old man behind the counter said food was la gioia di vivere—“the joy of life”—insisting that I try their house specialty, Arancini Di Riso, crispy fried balls of risotto, crunchy on the outside and divinely soft and cheesy on the inside.

I was exhilarated in this new town and felt alive in a way that I had not known was possible. More than adapting to my new surroundings, I was falling madly in love with my new city; and since that day, downtown Manhattan has forever had my heart.

3.Do you own or rent?


3.How'd you find it? 

My current apartment I found through a mom in the playground. She lived in the building and knew of an apartment for sale. As a mom, I have found some of my best resources while sitting in the sandbox with my kids.

4. What’s the one thing you love the most about it?

I love that there are lots of kids and dogs and it is surrounded by parks. On any given day I can hop over to Central Park, Riverside, Park, Morningside Park, or read on the campus at Columbia University. I grew up in an old brownstone in Midtown with no neighbors that I knew, since it was more of a business area than a residential one.

I love going down to the lobby or the laundry room, where there is always a buzzing of local news and friendly conversation. There is always someone with an honest opinion to taste one of my new creations, whether it be a chia seed pudding or an old-fashioned apple pie using coconut oil instead of butter in one of my grandmother Beauty’s traditional recipes. My grandmother sent me a $20 bill with a recipe every week since moving to NYC fourth grade—finding the ingredients introduced me to different ethnicities and neighborhoods.

6. If there were one thing you could change about your apartment, what would it be? 

Like most New Yorkers, I wish I had a little more space. As a recipe developer and cookbook author, I dream of having a wooden kitchen island with a big area to chop and spread out all my ingredients.

7. In three words, describe the first apartment you've ever lived in. 

High ceilings, tree-lined street, big stoop.

8. Do you dream of old New York or prefer the current version?

I loved the New York of the '70s. My friends' parents were poets, painters actors and teachers, and were able afford to live in decent-sized apartments. I also miss all independent stores and small restaurants where the people who worked there, owned the businesses, and were really vested in the quality of what they sold. I am not a fan of Duane Reade and big banks on every block.

9. Tell us about the favorite apartment you’ve ever had.

My stepfather is an actor, and in my late 20s he was able to get me on his lease in Manhattan Plaza, the actors’ building on 43rd Street. There were terrific amenities, such as a swimming pool, gym, and vitamin shop. The real Kramer lived there, Alicia Keys, as well as a colorful array of performers and musicians. At any time of day or night, you could hear beautiful opera or piano playing while walking the halls. Or while throwing out your garbage, you might be invited to an outrageous party. There was also a café under the building where you would often see Alec Baldwin and tons of Broadway actors hanging and reading scripts before a show.

10. And the worst? 

Bad is relative. While I lived in a small walk-up brownstone during grad school that was infested with mice, I was on one of the most beautiful blocks and was able to walk to Zabar’s and H&H bagels in the morning. I grew up on the East Side; my best friend Marley grew up on the West Side, and it was the smells from her kitchen that drew me to 80th and Broadway. I knew when I grew up I wanted to live near the smells of Zabar’s coffee and Williams Chicken.

11. Name one NYC service you couldn’t live without.

Taxis and late night delis are my splurge. In the winter you can get anywhere relatively quickly even if you are wearing big heels. And when you are too tired to go out, pretty much any exotic spices or vegetables can be delivered 24 hours a day. As a kid I was amazed at the assortment of exotic items at the corner bodega.

12. What's your favorite spot in the city?

Central Park. I love running along the paths, rowing by the boathouse, and picnicking while listening to the Philharmonic. These are the things I enjoyed as a kid and love as a mom. They are free and bring New Yorkers from all neighborhoods together.

13. Which would you rather: Brooklyn brownstone or a penthouse in a shiny, new condo?

I think I would prefer a Brooklyn brownstone to a shiny new townhouse. I love the NYC from my childhood and the movies where people sit on the stoop cooling off during the summer months with ice cream cones and drenched hair from running through the spraying hydrants.

14. Any advice for a recent New York transplant?

Walk, explore neighborhoods, use public transportation, support local businesses, and smile at people. Most New Yorkers are actually very friendly.


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