01/02/2014 10:17 am ET Updated Mar 04, 2014

Ain't Nothin' But a Chow Hound

The following is excerpted from Liz's book "Dishing."

Seven percent of Americans believe Elvis is alive. His estate still earns $35 million a year. Everyone has read how overweight we are. Diet-guilty, we watch, with tongues hanging out, as the current crop of celebrity anorexics slip into the Emmys and Oscars in dresses that barely cover their vitals. These lovelies obviously have never been hit with the scent of boiling lard; the fragrance of ripe banana mashed with peanut butter and marshmallow; snap green beans and little new potatoes bubbling in water flavored with bacon grease or hog jowl; the flowery heat of beaten buttermilk biscuits smothered under cream gravy paste; the crispy curl of chicken or chicken-fried steak; the nutty smell of overladen coconut cakes; the overwhelming cloud from homemade buttered popcorn.

Elvis still counts as the king of rock 'n' roll but also the master of every fattening thing he desired. Elvis snacked without guilt. Although he never heard of it, he lived to the max the Greek philosophy eudaemonia, meaning ''human flourishing.'' He inspired several cookbooks -- ''Are You Hungry Tonight,'' ''Fit for a King: The Elvis Presley Cookbook,'' ''The Presley Family Cookbook'' (not to be confused with ''The Presley Family and Friends Cookbook: A Cookbook and Memory Book From Those Who Knew Elvis Best''), ''The I Love Elvis Cookbook,'' ''Elvis in Hollywood'' and (the one I love best and keep in my library) ''The Life and Cuisine of Elvis Presley.''
I don't really mind that Elvis has left the building. (He and Marilyn Monroe would have made simply horrifying old people. It's better for them -- and for us -- that they are gone.) But when I think of Elvis living, and roaming Graceland, I find myself transported like Marcel Proust in ''Remembrance of Things Past.'' Elvis himself is my madeleine, that tea-soaked bit of cake that took the author back to his Aunt Léonie and childhood at Combray. The mere mention of Elvis is enough to set off a mnemonic combination that takes me straight to the food of my childhood. In ''Books of the Century,'' writer Rose Lee assays that this shift to another scene at an instant's notice ''justifies M. Proust in dilating upon the most minute occurrences, so long as he maintains the air of spontaneous recollection.''

''It injects dignity into otherwise trivial perceptions,'' she continues. ''It is a constant means of affirming Proust's belief in the essentially subjective nature of human experience.''
I don't expect I can inject dignity into the Elvis diet, but I don't see any difference between Proust's madeleine, allegedly named for Madeleine Paulmier, a 19th-century pastry cook, and my Elvis-of-the-demanding-short-orders-to-his-cook Pauline Nicholson.

I remember going to the local Dairy Queen in Gonzales, Tex., and asking for a Frito pie. The boy in the paper hat would seize a bag of Frito-Lay's best, slash the side open, pour hot Texas chili over the insides, hand me a plastic spoon and ask for 50 cents. Quick, cheap, crunchy, hot with fire and pepper and totally satisfying.

I am often taken by the words "home made fruit pies!" When eaten, they'd seem bland and nothing ''like Mother used to make.'' Actually, Mother didn't much like to cook and bought her pies from a neighbor, Mrs. Norris. I recall going home to Texas and asking my brother James, ''Does Mrs. Norris still bake her excellent pies?'' He looked sad and said that this local paragon of pastry had died. Then he gave me chapter and verse: ''The real reason you liked her pies? She used a lot of sugar with her fruit. Nowadays, people make pies and stupidly skimp on the sugar, and that's why they're no good.''

Like Elvis, I want to call down to Pauline and order the way he did. (He had cooks on duty at Graceland 24 hours a day.) How about a fried-potato sandwich (Elvis could eat five at a sitting: a half pound of bacon, two sliced fried potatoes, onions, white bread and mustard)? Elvis used a towel for a napkin but was fastidious in other ways. He used a knife and fork to eat his peanut butter and banana sandwich. No New Year passed in which Elvis didn't eat black-eyed peas and ham for good luck. (I try to follow the King's example; I'm superstitious.)

Elvis also became famous too soon, was exploited by Colonel Parker and never got over losing his dear mother. Food for Elvis represented safety; he often compared his black cook, Pauline, to his mother, saying they looked alike and how much he wanted to be cooked for and mothered.
So, Elvis might have lived longer if he'd only eaten fish, tofu and vegetables. But do you call that living? Linus had his blanket, Proust his madeleine, Elvis his Pauline on duty and I -- I have the Elvis recipes. Sometimes I go to bed hungry and read this book.

Time magazine once wrote that Elvis moved ''as if he'd swallowed a jackhammer.'' Maybe he tried that, too.