Phyllis Grant: Not Your Typical Mommy Food Blogger

by Sarah Henry on January 31, 2012 · 27 comments

in berkeley bites,kids & food

Phyllis Grant chronicles cooking with children, pictured with son Dash. Photo: Matt Ross

So-called mommy bloggers, who pontificate on all manner of parenting matters, have proliferated like randy rabbits on the internet. Ditto food bloggers who fetishize everything edible. And mommy food bloggers: they permeate the worldwide web by the thousands.

So to stand out from the pack, a food blog with a parenting focus has to look gorgeous, offer recipes that seduce a home cook, and showcase a unique voice.

Dash and Bella fits that brief. And Berkeley’s Phyllis Grant, a former New York City pastry chef “who tired quickly of sugar and burning her forearms and never sleeping,” is behind the blog, recently named one of the top 100 food mom blogs by Babble.

Grant slow cooks with her kids and blog namesakes Dash, 4, and Bella, 9, and isn’t afraid to throw in an f-bomb or two in posts on everything from whole beast cooking to making popcorn ice cream. Her witty and insightful musings about cooking while mothering — no chicken nuggets or plain pasta in sight  — have caught the attention of The New York Times, food52, and Real Simple.

Grant, 41, lives in the Elmwood with her husband, filmmaker Matt Ross. Just back from the Sundance Film Festival where Ross’s “Twenty-Eight Hotel Rooms” was screened, she answered questions between tending to a sick daughter, a teary son, and a senile dog.

What prompted you to start your food blog?

Two and a half years ago, I was hanging full time with my kids, taking a lot of photographs, and cooking like crazy. I was also writing a lot about parenting (just to friends). It was the summer the “Julie & Julia” movie came out, and my mother forwarded me an email about a “Be like Julie/Cook like Julia” blogging contest. I spent a crazy day cooking with my kids out of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (leg of lamb and crème caramel) and then I wrote about it. I won the contest (and every Julia Child cookbook and an enormous Le Creuset Dutch oven). I also “won” an instant readership. So I kept posting.

What’s your philosophy on feeding children?

I’m brave and relaxed when it comes to kids and food. I really despise food deemed kid-friendly. I think the dumbing down of anything for kids is a mistake. I’m very passionate about cooking, but I’m also very practical and I never stress about what my kids are eating (or not eating). I cook almost every day with my kids. I’m a big fan of putting food in front of my kids, even if they hated it the week before, even if it brings on tears.

My son eats everything. I’ll give him unusual foods just to see if he’ll eat them (snail, sardines, anchovies, and frogs, to name a few). Lately, my daughter is subsisting on pizza, pasta, and bagels.

I gleefully put a chef’s knife in my four-year old’s hand, I let my nine-year old daughter use the oven when I’m out of the house (don’t tell my husband). I’ve gotten a lot of grateful emails from (mostly) women saying that, thanks to my blog, they now believe they can cook with their kids, whereas before it just felt impossible. That’s so gratifying.

Kids in the kitchen: Dash and Bella, accomplished home cooks and recipe testers. Photos: Phyllis Grant

What do you think you bring to blogging that is different?

Many food blogs have a similar structure post after post, and sometimes I really crave that consistency. But the truth is, I never know what kind of story I’m going to tell until I sit down and sift through my photos and notes. I like the element of surprise. With the cow butchery post, for example, I assumed I would just talk about the class, introduce the other students, and teach my readers a thing or two. Instead it became an emotional post about a dream, the death of the cow, and the beautiful balance of strength and subtlety required in butchery.

Savory galette featured on Dash and Bella. Photo: Phyllis Grant

How does being a former pastry chef impact how you cook with your kids?

I know how to be meticulous. But usually I’m not: my daughter cleans up after me. I’m very confident with the techniques of baking; my kids now know how to fold egg whites into a chocolate batter, make caramel, and measure like scientists.

How does Berkeley inform your cooking?

The way my parents raised me impacts my cooking choices more than Berkeley does, though I grew up here. We sat down to dinner together every night. My parents made some kick-ass beautiful food. They just kept the food coming. And that’s what I’m doing with my kids. Over and over again. Consistency seems like the best parenting tool in the world. It really works.

What’s good (and bad) about the Berkeley food scene?

You can’t get a good bagel here and that frustrates me daily. But you really can get everything else.

You’re a “mommy” blogger who swears like a trooper. Discuss.

I do anguish about the f-bombs on my blog. But for anyone who knows me (or is friends with me on Facebook), it’s how I talk, it’s how I write, and I think part of my blog’s appeal is the fact that my writing is very conversational. And parenting is so bleeping hard. I have a lot to swear about.

Is your blog a hobby, a passion, a way to make money, a chance to create community, a place to document life, all of the above or something else entirely?

All of the above. And it helps me stay sane. Writing about parenting gives me some perspective. There’s drama, stress, anxiety, and intensity. Writing about it brings about some much needed lightness — and a sense of purpose.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I don’t even know what I’m doing next week. Hopefully washing my hair and shaving my legs (those tasks never make it to the top of my list). In five years, I hope I’m still cooking, photographing, and writing every single day.

The cooking, like the prose, is sometimes spicy, sometimes sweet. Photo: Phyllis Grant

Do you have a couple of favorite blog posts that you care to share?

I usually write about something that has just happened in my kitchen, but in September I wrote a post about concord grapes, living in New York City on 9/11, watching the World Trade Centers fall, and working with pastry chef Heather Ho, who was killed in the attack. I have never written a blog post so quickly. I was so grateful to have a built-in audience for that.

And just a few weeks ago, I posted about parenting in a new way. I needed a break so badly; I was completely overwhelmed by my children and my life. It was scary to post it. I didn’t want to come off as too crazy and hormonal and impatient (all of which I can be). But it really resonated with so many people, many of them men.

Are you part of a food blogging community?

I’m not. I guess I feel more and more like a parenting blogger. And maybe someday someone will say: “Phyllis Grant is a writer. She tells stories about cooking, kids, and parenting.” I like the sound of that.

This post originally appeared on Berkeleyside. You might also like:

So You Want to be a Successful Food Blogger? Here’s How.
Photographer Sara Remington on Shooting Food
Gabrielle Hamilton: Blood, Bones & Bombshells

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Winnie January 31, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Great interview. Absolutely love Dash and Bella -the blog: not the kids, though they are damn cute.
Winnie´s last [type] ..One Simple Change: Healthy Fats and Oils Part 2

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Sarah Henry February 12, 2012 at 7:12 am

Thanks, Winnie. I’m looking forward to meeting the kids for a follow-up interview (with their mom) and hope I get to see them working their way around the kitchen.

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Nicole January 31, 2012 at 10:50 pm

Wow, I really find this post informative.

Regarding the tendency of Dash to eat everything, I guess that’s how boys are. It seems they can eat nails if you sautee them in butter.
Nicole´s last [type] ..learn guitar dvd

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Sarah Henry February 12, 2012 at 7:13 am

Interesting observation, Nicole, though I think many parents of boys who are, um, particular about what they eat, would disagree.

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Casey@Good. Food. Stories. February 1, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Thank god not every mommy blog/food blog is precious and oversensitive! I’m glad Phyllis lets her kids be so inquisitive and active in the kitchen. It’s refreshing.
Casey@Good. Food. Stories.´s last [type] ..Sports Illustrated’s Best Kept Secret: Hot Corn Dip

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Sarah Henry February 12, 2012 at 7:14 am

Curiosity in the kitchen, after all, is what leads to a great meal, don’t you think?

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Melanie Haiken February 2, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Love the phrase randy rabbits! And so true. Nice to hear about one who rises above the general level of self-indulgence and who has something to say about important issues!

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Sarah Henry February 12, 2012 at 7:17 am

Thanks, M. I do think that an original voice — both of which are on display in Dash and Bella — can rise to the top of a very crowded genre in cyberspace. That Phyllis Grant made it there pretty quickly is a testament to her talent.

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NoPotCooking February 4, 2012 at 6:23 am

Thanks for sharing – I am subscribing to her blog and love her writing.

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Sarah Henry February 12, 2012 at 7:17 am

She’ll be pleased to know she has another fan, NPC.

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MyKidsEatSquid February 4, 2012 at 8:25 pm

Her pictures alone just draw me in. I’m sure her writing will too. Thanks for posting this.

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Sarah Henry February 12, 2012 at 7:18 am

Definitely one for you to watch (and read), MKES.

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Alexandra February 5, 2012 at 11:57 am

Had never heard of this blog before. Thanks for the introduction. (I envy the fact that her daughter cleans up the kitchen!!)
Alexandra´s last [type] ..Update on Wellfleet News

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Sarah Henry February 12, 2012 at 7:19 am

Ha! That is an admirable quality in another person’s offspring.

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The Writer's [Inner] Journey February 6, 2012 at 7:36 am

I learned so much about Phyllis’s creative process here, and love that. This is one of my fave interviews of yours, Sarah (and they are all wonderful!).
The Writer’s [Inner] Journey´s last [type] ..The 5-Question [Author] Interview: Judith Handelsman Smith

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Sarah Henry February 12, 2012 at 7:21 am

Oh, Meredith, you’re too kind. But I can see why you particularly like this post, since your own site delves into the writing process in intriguing detail.

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Alisa Bowman February 6, 2012 at 8:02 am

I found this really interesting and inspiring. I’m just starting to have my kid help me in the kitchen. I find it a little stressful because I don’t know how to teach her how to do the dangerous stuff–like cutting things — mostly because I’m self taught and probably not doing it right myself. I always cut myself when I cook and hate to have her cut herself too.
Alisa Bowman´s last [type] ..How to Feed Your Marriage

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Sarah Henry February 12, 2012 at 7:23 am

May I suggest that you take a knives skills class, Alisa? You’ll gain so much confidence around a cutting board and can pass on safe and efficient practices to your daughter.

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Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi February 6, 2012 at 9:10 am

Sounds like a “mommy blogger” worth reading.
Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi´s last [type] ..Heart-shaped Sunflower and Pragmatic Valentine

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Sarah Henry February 12, 2012 at 7:25 am

Have never been a fan of that term — it sounds like such a put down or dismissive or something. It’s refreshing to see a writer both embrace and break out of the genre.

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Jane Boursaw February 7, 2012 at 8:23 am

Thanks for introducing me to Phyllis’ wonderful blog. I love discovering new sites with authentic ideas and writing we can all relate to.
Jane Boursaw´s last [type] ..Kristen Bell Gets Emotional Over Sloths

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Sarah Henry February 12, 2012 at 7:27 am

I think many people — regardless of whether or not they have kids — can relate to the universal themes that emerge in Phyllis’ posts.

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Paolla February 29, 2012 at 9:53 am

I hear you on this! We eat a lot of ethnic and spicy (spicy-flavorful and spicy-hot) food at our house, so we tend to make a mild version for our daughter. But unless something is very hot-spicy, by now (she is 6) she has to taste it. We have the “one bite” rule too. She doesn’t have to like it or eat more. She kind of prides herself on her “weird” tastes for a kid. She won’t eat peanut butter or macaroni and cheese or raisins. She likes dosa (South Indian flatbread), goat cheese, tofu, any type of seafood and many vegetables, especially with some ranch dressing. She’ll eat any fruit (oh, except raisins!). And we are largely vegetarian — so she thinks it is fantabulous when we go to grandma’s house and she gets plain “American” food like ham, mashed potatoes with gravy and regular fruit salad. Sometimes we think she is “picky,” but then again she eats more variety than many kids. When she puts her foot down, it does seem to be about control more than palate.

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Sarah Henry February 29, 2012 at 10:21 am

Good to see you here, Paolla, and thanks for adding your perspective.

Sounds like your daughter has strong opinions about food, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. My son is also a discerning diner who shuns hot dogs, mac&cheese, chicken nuggets and other so-called American kid-friendly fare in favor of strong flavors like goat cheese and pesto, or a rice bowl with wakame, pickled ginger, wasabi, marinated tofu and such.

Given what you wrote, you may find this story I penned recently of interest:
http://www.greatschools.org/parenting/health-nutrition/6048-picky-eaters.gs

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