Phyllis Grant: Not your average mommy food blogger

Phyllis Grant chronicles life cooking with children, pictured here 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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

Sarah Henry is the voice behind Lettuce Eat Kale. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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  • Jkagiwada

    I love Dash & Bella! Many of the recipes have made it into our household’s monthly rotation and the photos are always gorgeous!.