In Conversation Books

‘I am really good at fixing a messed-up cake’: Phyllis Grant

Served raw: ‘In our house, we were always talking about the next meal’.

Served raw: ‘In our house, we were always talking about the next meal’.   | Photo Credit: Matt Ross

Growing up in Berkeley, California, Phyllis Grant always found inspiration in food, be it fries, mashed potatoes or the crêpes that she ate with her mum’s apricot jam. “In our house, we were always talking about the next meal. Making, eating, and talking about food has always brought me comfort,” she says. Her recently-released first book, Everything is Under Control, is described as a “memoir with recipes”. Telling stories of love, loss and consolation from food, it’s just the kind of book you would like to read during a pandemic. The 50-year-old author from Berkeley is a dancer, cook, wife, mother, blogger, all rolled into one. She speaks about her book in this email interview:

What can the reader expect from the book?

It’s spare. Lots of white space. Room to breathe and take it in. It’s my life through the lens of appetite, creative drive, and food. Stories of dance, NYC, love, marriage, sex, abortion, death — all pared down to their essence. Some sections are only a few sentences. And 17 recipes.

What kind of a cook are you?

Strong, obsessed, all over the place, constantly changing gears. I am really good at fixing a messed-up cake! I get so much joy out of seeing what’s in the fridge and just making it work. I love the challenge.

Do you think people are likely to enjoy your book now more than ever before?

People are having a lot of trouble concentrating, myself included. I have been hearing from many readers that due to the spareness of my book, they are reading it in one sitting. My goal was to have the stories filtered through the lens of appetite and desire while paring it all down enough to find the universal essence in each section, whether it’s marriage, love, childbirth, abortion.

Your writing is raw and real. Was it a relief to put these stories out there?

It was such a relief to write down these stories. Especially the hard ones. It has been a form of therapy to rewrite them for years. To choose the important details. To shape things. I had time to do only a little bit every day. So the writing process became a bit of an escape, a meditation. It never felt like work. And my hope was to get these stories out to help other women, those dealing with sexual harassment, post-partum depression, and just the general hardship of raising young children. Rawness and honesty come pretty naturally to me as a partner, friend, and mother. And I don’t think I know how to write any other way.

You entered a competition (and won it too) that kickstarted your blog. How did blogging change your life?

I had a public place to tell my stories. I didn’t realise how much I wanted this! It was so helpful to know that others out there were struggling in same ways. I was cooking for my family already, but the blog community gave me a constant, wonderful external push to keep developing recipes and telling my stories. I am a very private person but a blog is a great way to get yourself out there in a big way while simultaneously being very careful. It’s being public and private at the same time.

How does a blogger find his or her own voice?

Don’t get too comfortable. Take risks. Don’t try to emulate other bloggers and their platforms. Be raw. Find out what you do differently.

Do you have any tips for mothers who might be going through an identity crisis?

Try to find creativity in one of those things that you already have to do for your kids. For me it was cooking and listening to my kids talking about everything (the good, the bad, the horrible). I used to write down the hilarious things they said and incorporate the quotes in my stories. I have other friends who sew a lot. Others who take photos or started support groups. See if there is something you do every day that can get a bit bigger, expand beyond your house into your neighbourhood or community. And because everything is online, your reach can be so much bigger (and quicker) now than in the past.

The interviewer is a freelance journalist and food blogger.

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Printable version | Aug 9, 2020 10:08:01 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/i-am-really-good-at-fixing-a-messed-up-cake-phyllis-grant/article32180501.ece

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