MinnPost asks: Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl
Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl has written about the Twin Cities food scene since 1997. Since her first column appeared in City Pages, she’s helped us answer that dinner-hour conundrum: Where should we go to eat tonight? She’s also elevated the art of food writing, picking up numerous awards along the way. Today, she writes about food for Minnesota Monthly and Real Food. In her first book, “Drink This: Wine Made Simple,” she explains everything that matters about drinking wine, from why a nice wine glass matters to why the price tag really doesn’t.
MinnPost: Your first book came out a few weeks ago, and since then you’ve been doing a series of “readings” that look suspiciously like parties.
Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl: What’s wrong with a bunch of parties? My goal in writing “Drink This” was to make wine easy and accessible for everyone, so that people could have fun parties and birthdays and Valentine’s Days forevermore. Never underestimate the importance of parties; without them life is nothing but a slog. That said, these parties have been really touching, meeting all the people who’ve read my column over the years. It’s a very intimate experience, reading, writing, and meeting has never been a part of it. At risk of being cheesy, meeting has been nicer than I ever could have dreamed.
MP: Rumors, for years, had it that you were working on a young-adult novel. Then we get this great wine guide instead. Where’s the angsty thing?
DMG: It was a novel about teenage girls in New York. However, the material more or less got completely co-opted and destroyed by the Gossip Girls et al., so I’m not sure “the angsty thing” will ever see the light of day.
MP: And now you not only have a job [senior editor at Minnesota Monthly and editor of Real Food, a magazine that’s available at Lund’s and Byerly’s stores], you have small children, which makes it all more difficult. Everyone else in this situation seems to stop eating out. Are yours spectacularly well-behaved public diners?
DMG: They mostly stay at home. We have a regular sitter, a wonderful grandma, and my husband is a very involved dad who manages bedtime beautifully on his own. I get out a lot, they don’t.
MP: What do they eat at home?
DMG: The little one is mad about strawberries, the big one drinks about a quart of Cedar Summit milk every day, and they’re both big on Cheerios and Eichten’s string cheese. I got a job offer out of town a few years ago and the thought of living away from Cedar Summit milk and Hope butter was too much to bear.
MP: You dine in disguise. Tell me about one time when the staff recognized you when you were dining out.
DMG: I was at Zaroff’s Deli in Minnetonka with a relative of my ex-boyfriend who, as the server approached behind him, cluelessly trumpeted something along the lines of “So the newspaper pays for everything because it’s a review meal?” The staff got so rattled that they posted a busboy at the end of the table — it was a long booth in a mostly empty restaurant — to refill everyone’s water glasses each and every time someone took a sip. It was like being in a very long, uncomfortable episode of “Fawlty Towers.”
MP: What about a time when you were recognized by a reader?
DMG: The only time this has ever happened thus far was when a drag queen recognized me at the State Fair — he knew me from TV! But drag queens are very skilled in making the mental translation from disguise.
MP: What do you predict will be the next food fad?
DMG: I think some chef in town will open a storefront for local, farm-driven, chef-made food served entirely in frozen bags and blocks. There will be a freezer case with bags of heirloom tomato white bean soup, spinach lentil soup, white turkey chili, wild rice pilaf, and so on. People will fill up their freezers with real, healthy real food that fulfills their nutritional, ethical and emotional goals in terms of serving real, nurturing food. They’ll come home after a long day, defrost some soup, serve it with toast and — voila! Healthy local food in a jiff. And no one will feel bad about it.
MP: People like Mark Bittman are saying that soon Americans will be eating less (less food, less meat, less seafood) due to population and resource issues. What’s your take?
DMG: Love Mark Bittman, but I doubt it. I think we’ll be eating less of some seafood, like bluefin tuna, because they’ll be extinct, but I’d wager it’s human nature to eat food and plenty of it. I guess I think there’s a chance we’d eat less food if we start eating healthier food. One of my pet theories is that the reason there’s so much obesity is because people are absolutely malnourished from their nutrient-light but calorie-dense diet and are therefore constantly trying to eat more in order to get those missing nutrients. I’m encouraged by the retreat from corn syrup, in any event.
MP: If this comes to pass, what will you be sad to give up? What will you be relieved to see go away?
DMG: I’ll mourn every sea creature that goes extinct — one of the great puzzles of the last few years of my food-writing has been that I can’t seem to focus anyone’s attention on the topic. I think it might be because the issues are so complex and the words involved are so repetitive. However, I’d be delighted to say goodbye to battery chickens, growth-hormone-injected cows, and pigs that live over manure sluices. I don’t think paying the real cost of food will destroy the world.
MP: Your favorite junk-food, guilty-pleasure, embarrassed-to-admit it indulgence?
DMG: Most of my favorite junk foods I don’t feel bad about at all — chili-cheese fries are a glorious thing! Doughnuts for all! But maybe Cheerios? Sometimes when the chips are down and I’m battered from a week of eating a crazy buffet of Korean, Lebanese, Sichuan, Soul Food, Italian, burger-joint, diner, etc., I really like to retreat to a simple after-kid-bedtime dinner of Cheerios and whole milk. Yum.
Amy Goetzman writes about books, libraries and the Twin Cities literary scene. This interview has been condensed.