Series 03: For the Love of Food | Episode 01
The Life Behind the Party with Aarti Sequeira & A Bonus Chat with “For The Love Podcast” Logo Designer Jenny Mecher
Welcome to our all new series on (wait for it) FOOD! We kick off this series on one of our most FAVORITE topics with the amazing cookbook author and host of Food Network’s Aarti Party, Aarti Sequeira! Aarti got her start as a journalist and working CNN, dreaming of becoming the next Oprah. Always a lover of food, she began blogging about cooking and she and her husband started a YouTube cooking-variety show in their tiny L.A. home kitchen. Eventually Aarti competed on and won Season 6 of Food Network Star with her trademark food signature: American favorites with an Indian soul. She has gone on to to star in her highly successful show, along with appearances on The Talk, Dr. Oz and the Today Show (where she freaked out Al Roker by telling him she licked his plate!). By the end of this episode, you’ll want to steal Aarti’s leftovers (like Jen confesses she actually once did). BONUS INTERVIEW: Jen chats with one of our own from The Tribe, the designer of our amazing pink podcast logo; Jenny Mecher of ThreeLetterBirds.com.
Narrator: Welcome to the “For the Love Podcast” with bestselling author Jen Hatmaker. Come on in, and join us for a chat with Jen and friends about all the things we love. Now, here’s Jen.
Jen: Hey, hey, hey! Hey everybody, It’s Jen Hatmaker. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast. I’m so glad you’re here. I’m glad you’re here every week. Thank you guys just for logging in here week after week after week. It’s so fun to hear from you and to have you with me. So listen, today is like a happy, happy, happy day because we’re kicking off the next series, and if you know anything about me, then you know that I’m thrilled because our next series is “For The Love of Food.” Food’s like my favorite thing. Food is my favorite thing in the world. It’s my favorite thing to eat, to cook, to make, to share, and to talk about. So we have such a phenomenal lineup for this series. You’re going to be so tickled. You already know and love tons of these people. I’m standing on my tiptoes. Excited to bring you our conversations that were just so full of life, and laughter, and love, and joy. I really think you’re going to enjoy the series, and my first guest is so delightful, so charming, so wonderful, so dear, and I can’t wait for you to hear our conversation, which is coming up in a minute.
But first, before I introduce you to our first guest in the series, I’m thrilled to bring you a quick little conversation with somebody who has become very precious to us here at the podcast. Her name is Jenny Mecher. When we first started this thing, I sort of put out to the world, “hey, we need a logo.” What do you guys think about logos? Who’s good at this? Who thinks they can pull off a logo that’s going to fit this podcast?” Literally hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of people submitted logos, and out of all of them, Jenny’s was our very favorite–Jenny’s was your very favorite–we all voted on them. So the darling graphic that you see every time you pull this podcast up–that’s Jenny’s handiwork. She is so talented and so gifted. I wanted you to meet her because she’s special to us. So before we jump into our first guest, I want to introduce you to Jenny and we talked for a few minutes about what she does, and where she’s at, and where you can find her beautiful work. So have a quick listen to me and my chat with Jenny.
Jen: Jenny, I’m beyond delighted to have you on today. Thank you for joining me.
Jenny: Of course.
Jen: Everybody listen, here’s Jenny’s deal. Jenny lives in Chicago with her husband Kyle and her darling little girls, two of them right? What are their names?
Jenny: Charlotte and Evelyn.
Jen: How old are they?
Jenny: Seven and four.
Jen: You’re in it man. I mean you’re like, you’re in the weeds. That is the thick of it, right there. Jenny has her own hand lettering and calligraphy shop on Etsy called Three Letter Birds. She sells paper goods and home décor and other gifts, and just these gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous prints.
Here is how my world intersected with Jenny’s. When we were developing this podcast, The “For the Love” Podcast, I’m thinking about, what sort of logo do we want to have, how do we want to brand it, what kind of graphic? I have known for some time that my online tribe is crazy talented, incredibly diverse, really interesting, smart, gifted, so I thought, “I’ll just put it out. Let me just see if anybody has any ideas.” I sort of put out this; who wants to design the podcast logo? We got, I don’t even know, Jenny if you even remember how many, I mean hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of submissions on logos.
It was really, really overwhelming and my team was like, “Whoa.” We narrowed it down to the top ten. My audience, my tribe, chose their absolute favorite design and resoundingly they voted for Jenny’s logo. It’s so perfect. I’m still so in love with it. I look at it all the time. I mean you nailed it, from the feather earrings to the aviators and the messy bun. It literally looks like me. Their graphic had it all. Thank you. thank you for making such a darling, darling logo for me. I love it.
Jenny: Good. It was so fun. It was so fun.
Jen: Have you ever done anything like this before? Have you ever entered a contest with your work or anything?
Jenny: Oh my gosh, no. This was so out of character for me. You posted that and it was like a divine moment almost. The image just popped into my head and I was like, “I have a logo. I have to make this.” We were leaving for vacation to go to rural Michigan the next day.
Jen: I know.
Jenny: I was literally shaking and just doing it as fast as I could. It was crazy. I don’t do stuff like that, ever.
Jen: That is so crazy. I didn’t even know that. I didn’t know that part. I knew that you were going on vacation because we sort of selected your design that week and my assistant, Amanda, was like, “We really can’t get a hold of Jenny because she’s completely off the grid. She’s in the mountains or something.”
I didn’t know that. That is even more special to me. I mean, really I can see that when I look at it, I’m like, “You know what? She had a eye for it and she nailed it.” It’s amazing. I want everybody listening in, first of all, we’re going to have all this linked on the transcript and over on my website because you’re definitely, definitely going to want to see what she does.
You’re really, really good.
Anybody who’s a fellow Parenthood fan, as you know that I am, you have a darling print from the lyrics from the theme song, Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.” Everyone’s going to want to see that. Did you know that I have that a whole huge portion of one of the verses in the chorus lettered on my entry wall, from ceiling to floor?
Jenny: I did know that. I saw that post. I did know that.
Jen: I see your design and I’m like, “Need, want, take my money.” You also did a print a while back from something that I wrote to teachers a couple of years ago. I told teachers in a blog post, I said, “I wish I could whisk you away to France, the beach and the mountains and California and cruise ships and Spain where there are no students but lots and lots of bread products and cheese.”
Jenny: Yes, so good.
Jen: You made my words look really pretty. What made you start? Have you always just been artistic? Is this your background? Can you talk a little bit about how you got into this and then ultimately even how you built Three Letter Birds?
Jenny: Yes, I would love to. I have always been artistic and creative. I do not have an art degree. I’ve never been to art school. I took art classes in high school, but I have an education degree that I’ve never used.
Jenny: I have always been artistic and I’ve especially always loved lettering and typography, but never … I mean I used to say out loud all the time, like, “God, I wish I could find a way to get paid for this.” People don’t pay people to do that.
Jen: Right, obviously.
Jenny: I just always gave it up. I was having a particularly hard few years when my kids were super young and not in school yet, and my husband was still in seminary, and I was home with my little girls, and I just felt like I was drowning. I had some friend … Actually, part of that story was because of the Enneagram, which I heard that you just recently discovered.
Jen: No way.
Jen: How did that factor into your story?
Jenny: Yes, exactly. My husband took the Enneagram because he was in seminary and then I wanted to take it and I discovered that I was a four, which is the artist. I always felt artsy but for some reason that just sort of empowered me to embrace my creative side more. That sort of propelled me. I had some friends who had been doing calligraphy and they were posting pictures on Instagram and I just thought, “Oh my god. That’s like my dream. I want to know how to do that.”
I bought a book and just taught myself essentially from the book, and I fell in love. Whatever it was about it I just thought, “I want to find a way to do this for the rest of my life.” I don’t ever want to stop writing pretty words.
Jen: That’s making me smile from ear to ear. You found it. You found your lane.
Jenny: It was a really beautiful year in my life. My husband always says that he watched me come to life that year.
Jen: It started out just writing on computer paper. How did that develop into an entire shop?
Jenny: That’s a great question. I kind of know, and I kind of have no idea.
Jen: I get that.
Jenny: I was just doing it. I was kind of just doing it all the time because I loved it. Every time I had free time I would sit down and do calligraphy and practice and come up with designs in my head, and just after a few months, again, this is totally not in my personality to take risks like this, but something just made me feel like I should put it out there. I wanted to start a shop.
I actually had never been or shopped on Etsy before ever.
Jen: Oh my god.
Jenny: I know, and so I just, I don’t know what came over me, but I decided to just start a shop, and it was super terrifying.
Jen: Oh, right.
Jenny: The day that I launched my shop and was like, “I have an Etsy shop and I’m putting my art out there for all of you to look at and maybe say things about.” It was terrifying.
Jen: Totally. You know I understand this deeply.
Jen: I’m creative in a different way with words, but when you put your work out there it’s so deeply tied to who you are and what you care about. It’s just incredibly vulnerable to do that and risky. Your stuff really caught traction. How long did it take for this to sort of really start developing roots?
Jenny: It was really slow and steady. The first year that felt sort of frustrating. It felt like I wanted to have this moment where I posted the one beautiful thing on Instagram and all of a sudden it sold out.
Jen: Like Oprah bought it.
Jenny: That never happened, but that turned out to be fine. It was just really slow and steady, a lot of hard work, a lot of just figuring things out on my own. I feel much more proud of that now than if it had been just like a fluke-y overnight thing.
Jen: I really appreciate you saying that. Not enough people say that. I think we’re always looking for the flashy and the overnight success and the viral sensation, but that’s not really how most of our life plays out. People ask me that a lot too, and I have to remind them that I wrote, essentially, out of the 12 books I’ve written, I wrote nine that nobody ever read, I mean nobody, like not my mom. It was just a lot of hard work. It was a lot of hard work, kind of over in a corner, and none of it was a commercial success, absolutely none, but I don’t regret any of it. It was slow and I learned and I learned my craft. I hope women are encouraged by hearing you say that.
Jenny: Yes, me too.
Jen: That there’s something healthy and noble about just putting your head down, doing the hard work, if for nothing else, the love of it at first.
Jenny: Right, yes.
Jen: There’s no shame in that. I’m listening to you, so women make up the vast majority of my audience, like 95% of my audience is a writer, and I love it. I love them. I love writing for them and speaking to them. You’ve got a similar passion for encouraging and empowering other women through your work. Your designs in your shop are really sincerely beautiful.
Jenny: Thank you.
Jen: You’ve got quotes from Malala, who of course, we love, and from The Golden Girls, lyrics by Joni Mitchell. I think my favorite, and I want to read it if you don’t mind, to our listeners, has to be this benediction to women, and you have a print. This is what it says listeners, because some of you are going to want to immediately buy this and put it on your wall.
It says, “May the God of Eve teach you to dance. May the God of Hagar bring you comfort in the desert. May the God of Miriam bring companions to you when you struggle.” It’s making me want to cry. “May the God of Debra teach you courage for your battles. May the Christ who knew Mary and Martha show you the way of balance. May the Christ who healed the bent over woman heal your pain. May the Christ of Mary Magdalene send you out to proclaim your story. In the name of Christ who is the memory, hope and authority of the future.”
I could just cry my eyes out. That’s so gorgeous. Thank you for lettering it and making it something so beautiful that we can…I just think words are powerful, obviously. I think they carry great meaning and great weight. We have words all over our walls, everywhere, because I think they are a beacon that daily tell us what we care about, and how to live, and what we value, and they keep us attuned to our true north, which is why I love your work.
What in your story, what in your history, what in your heart has driven you to love and care for women like this, to be an inspiration to them and empower them?
Jenny: I think that part of my story of just feeling so lost at sea for a few years, and I think that there are a lot of, I’m sure there are a lot of women who they don’t feel lost at sea staying home with their children. I was not one of those people. That was really difficult for me. I needed more of a balance of some other purpose, plus raising my daughters. I feel particularly passionate about that, about women who just feel called to something a little more. I guess that was just really meaningful to me in that time to find something in that season because that felt so hard for me. I just kept feeling so much like what is wrong with me. I feel like I’m supposed to love this. I feel like this is, I don’t know.
Jen: Again, I wish we had more time because I wish that was something more women would talk about, for women who sort of made that choice in those years and how absolutely hard and isolating and lonely it could be.
Jen: I go so far as to say for me, it was a little bit traumatic. I’m not kidding. It was a little bit traumatic. I did it too. I stayed home with my kids. Those can be really hard years, and so I love that you used the power of words to help lift women and encourage them and draw them out.
Obviously the holidays are right around the corner.
Jenny: Yes, they are.
Jen: Tell everybody, because this is sort of probably like your Camelot. It’s gift time. It’s a time we want some beautiful themed words around us. What projects are you working on right now? Can you give us a little sneak peek or a little tease of what people might find in this season?
Jenny: I have so much going on right now. I have been working on a little holiday collection, and that is going to launch on November 1st, and then will be available through the holidays. It’s a little collection of prints and then some new greeting cards.
Jenny: I’m doing a craft show in Chicago also coming up in a few weeks.
Jen: Fun. What’s it called?
Jenny: It’s amazing show, if you’re a Chicago local. It’s called Show of Hands Chicago, and it’s in the Ravenswood neighborhood. If you Google “Show of Hands Chicago” you’ll find all the information that you need.
Jen: Perfect, we’ll link to it also. We have a ton of Chicago listeners.
Jenny: Totally, yeah. One more thing that’s coming up is I was approached to illustrate and author a gratitude journal, which is crazy.
Jen: Wow, beautiful.
Jenny: I’m not a writer and it’s crazy that I got to do that project. That is going to release in the spring. It’ll be available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and at some independent book sellers. If you’re interested in that just stay connected with me. You can follow me on Instagram @ThreeLetterBirds, or if you go to my website, which is just threeletterbirds.com and you sign up for my emails, I’m sure I’ll be talking about it all the time there.
Jen: That’s so exciting. Does it have a title?
Jenny: It’s called Count Your Rainbows.
Jenny: Thank you.
Jen: I want to just tell you as we finish here, one more time, thank you so much for your incredible talent and that you lent it to me and to this podcast and every time I see your litho, I am so happy. I’m just so happy. I love it.
Jenny: Thank you so much.
Jen: I know they’re going to love your stuff, so everybody go to the websites, follow Jenny on social and be prepared to part with some your cash. It’s just inevitable.
Anyway, thank you for being on today.
Jenny: Yes, of course. Thank you so much for having me.
Jen: Thanks Jenny.
Thank you to Jenny Mecher. Isn’t she great, you guys? So before we transition over to our guest, I want to tell you something really cool that Jenny has offered you, our For the Love Podcast listeners.
So number one; all of you listening today can get 20 percent off of anything in Jenny’s Etsy store (through October 31, 2017). So, boom, that’s awesome.
So here’s what I’m going to do–because there’s two things.
Number one; you’ve got the 20 percent off any item that you buy.
Number two; Jenny has agreed to do an AMAZING GIVEAWAY to one lucky winner out of our awesome tribe of listeners. So, over on my Facebook page, I’m going to post the link to this podcast. So in it, you’ll have all the information you need to access Jenny’s website with your code. I’ll also have this over on my website by the way, if you’re not sure where to find it or if you lose it in the Facebook scrolls. I’ll have it on JenHatmaker.com as well. But on the Facebook post, underneath this link, if you will do this one simple thing–you will be entered for the giveaway, and the giveaway is going to be so sweet. If you will go into iTunes, underneath this podcast, and give us a review! It can be honest whatever you think of it. If you’ll post a review under our podcast page, and then just take a quick screenshot of it on your computer, on your phone–wherever you want–and post that screenshot in the comments section on my Facebook page underneath the link to this podcast. Boom, you’re entered. That’s it. Simple as that. So basically a podcast review interview enters you into this amazing give away and it cannot possibly be simpler.
For those of you who’ve already posted a review– Number one–thank you. Number two; just go on and screenshot the review you’ve already posted. That counts too. That enters you as well, so hundreds of you have already reviewed, and that means you’re entered, all you need to do is screenshot it and post it up over there on my Facebook page. So, thank you so much to Jenny for your generosity, yet again, to this podcast. She is like a friend for life.
Jen: OK, you guys, I am so ready to introduce you to the first guest in the For The Love of Food series. This girl, I just love her. If you don’t already know her, you are about to love her. So I’m thrilled to have on today Aarti Sequeira. You guys. Aarti. She’s probably best known as the winner of the sixth season of the Food Network show Next Food Network Star. So the winner, the tip-top winner. That sort of began her journey sharing her very signature “America’s Favorites with Indian Soul” brand of cooking. I mean this girl, her stuff is so amazing. She’s been a foodie most of her life, but she was a journalist by education and trade, and we’re going to talk about that a little bit in our interview. So her show, called Aarti Party–Hello, Aarti Party–best title of a food show ever– premiered on the Food Network in 2010. I loved it. I’m sure you watch it. So on her series she constantly shares her point of view, her culinary expertise, and just her charm. Now she has another cooking show called “Taste in Translation” and she’s looking for the most popular dishes from all around the world. So, interesting background, interesting childhood, gorgeous family. She’s just a delight all the way around. Not only is her food amazing, but she is. So I was thrilled to have her, thrilled that she said yes to this podcast, and I cannot wait for you to meet her, So please enjoy my conversation with my friend Aarti.
Jen: Okay, so without further adieu, welcome to my friend Aarti. Hey, I’m so happy you’re on today.
Aarti: Yay! Me too!
Jen: Listen everybody listening, I want you to know that … How and when I met Aarti. We met, let’s see, was this two years ago, Aarti?
Aarti: Yeah, probably. Because I was pregnant with Mosie.
Jen: We met on the Today Show.
Yeah, we were both on the Today Show on the same day, and our segments were a few minutes apart and I had already been like a monstrous fan of you. And so-
Aarti: Which is so crazy, so crazy.
Jen: It’s not crazy. Who isn’t? Every … We’re all just in line.
Aarti: So crazy.
Jen: And so you come into hair and makeup and you’re already done.
Jen: So you’re looking beautiful for your segment. I have zero makeup on. I don’t … I hadn’t … Nobody’d helped me yet. I was still a before picture. I think I accosted you and I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were gonna be there, it was so exciting for me.
Aarti: No, because I think that I was following you on Twitter the day before. And I was like “Oh, my goodness, Jen Hatmaker’s at Anthropologie right now. I can see Anthropologie from my window.”
Jen: That’s right.
Aarti: “I should go over there.” And then I was like “That’s creepy.” That’s too creepy
Jen: That’s right. That’s so funny.
Aarti: I don’t know if you know this, but that was the very first time that I had done the Today Show.
Jen: Was it?
Aarti: Yes. And I was so nervous about it, because you know this … For people who don’t know, this whole cooking thing, this Food Network hosting thing is a second career for me. It’s something that came completely out of left field. So I don’t have a lot of really strong like plans for it, but one thing that I knew would mean I’d made it, is if I did the Today Show, for some reason.
Jen: Of course.
Aarti: So, I remember that I’d actually pitched myself to them twice and they had said “No.” Then out of the blue they called me and I was like, “Oh, of course this is how it happens.” I was so nervous about it and then I found out that Matt Lauer was going to do my segment and I was like, “Are you freaking kidding me?”
Jen: Right. Just kill me.
Aarti: Then, I saw you, and that like just set the tone for the whole thing because I was like, “my sister’s here.”
Aarti: You know.
Jen: It did feel like that.
Aarti: It just made me feel like okay I can do this. And then I killed that segment and I made Matt Lauer laugh. And I made Al Roker re-think taking another bit of my food, because I told him I had licked his plate.
Jen: That’s outstanding.
Aarti: I know, it was wonderful.
Jen: That is amazing.
Jen: Like getting Matt to laugh, what. That’s gold right there.
Aarti: It was gold, I know. He’s very serious.
Aarti: He’s a very serious guy.
Jen: Did you … Do you remember what you cooked? What’d you cook?
Aarti: I don’t remember the first thing, but the second thing was … It’s actually a great recipe for this time of year, as we move out of summer. It’s a tomato salad that’s really simple. You just … The thing is that you have to use excellent tomatoes.
Jen: Oh, yes.
Aarti: So super ripe tomatoes, nice creamy feta, big like hand fulls of mint that you smack before you throw into the bowl because that’s how you release their oils, and then just olive oil, and lemon juice, and salt and pepper, and that is it. And it is so good.
The combination of the lemon, the mint, and the feta is so good that there’s always like the juice at the bottom of the bowl from the tomatoes at the end and I will stand there and I will drink it. And that’s what I said on the show, and Al Roker was like, “You drank it? Like at the table?” And I was like, “Yeah, and then I licked your plate too.” And that was the big joke.
Jen: So Let me tell you why I absolutely know this and I remember this because as you were speaking I am just now recalling the creepiest thing that I did that day. And it was after our segments were both done and we’re finished, so you and I are both about to just kind of head out on the plaza and go back to life.
Jen: And you had your leftovers from your segment in your hand and I took them.
Aarti: That’s right.
Jen: I took your food.
Aarti: That’s right. I remember.
Jen: What kind of weirdo does that? I mean it’s like, “is that the food that you made?” And you said, “yes.” I mean what were you supposed to do? You offered it to me because I was just staring at it like a little hungry beggar and you gave it to me.
Aarti: Are you kidding?
Jen: And I ate it in my hotel room that night – and it was indeed delicious.
Aarti: Oh good, I’m so glad that it was good. Well I am just so flattered when … Because people are … Like people can be a little bit weird about taking food and I think it’s because it’s a very … It is. Like sharing food with someone is a very intimate thing to do. It’s so funny. It’s like short of actually kissing someone on the lips, I think breaking bread with someone is as intimate as it gets.
Aarti: In a certain way. Or maybe hugging.
Jen: Yes. I love that.
Aarti: Yeah, but You know, that’s why like … Because my husband’s a hugger, like he will meet a stranger and hug them. And it feels very weird, but I’m like, “Oh, you know maybe if you shared some food with them.” Like give them a stick of gum first and then hug them. Maybe it won’t feel so weird to people. So when you said that you would take the food, I was like “oh my gosh, I just offered you my heart,” and you said, “Okay, yes, I will take that.”
Jen: Okay, that was precious.
Aarti: Yes. And that was so … So I’m so glad that you said because if you had said no, I think part of me would have been like, “Oh, I guess we’re not friends.”
Aarti: I’m glad that you took it.
Jen: If me eating your food means that we can become better and better friends, I’m … Sign me up. Like just sign me up-
Aarti: Yes, girl.
Jen: Where are you going next? I will come and I will find you. So listen, just for people who are new to you who are listening, can you just kind of 35,000 foot view for the listeners, just tell them a bit about you and your life and your kind of the arc of your life, and where you’re at now and all that. Then we’ll get back and dive into sort of your random, surprising world in food.
Aarti: Okay. So people always want to know where I’m from because of my accent. So I’ll just start there. I was born on the 19th of August in India.
Aarti: So, that’s where I grew up. I grew up in the Middle East until I was like 18 and my dad, God bless him, had always said “you know, when it’s time for you to go to University you are going, and you are going to go to America, because that is the place where they will welcome you, and you can make something of yourself.” Which is weird, because I came up to through the British system, which is why I have this accent. The school that I went to was all British and stuff. So I came to America in 1996, and all I wanted to do was be a journalist.
Aarti: Be Christian Amanpour and then somehow I was going to transition that into being Oprah.
Jen: Nice segue.
Jen: You’ll sort out the details later. Just put it on paper. We’ll figure it out.
Aarti: Yeah, just set up the goal posts.
Aarti: I’d get my way over there.
Jen: I like it.
Aarti: Yeah. So then I went to Northwestern and I did my journalism degree. And then I got a job straight out of school working at CNN, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m halfway there!”
Aarti: Yeah, bonkers.
Aarti: Literally bonkers. I didn’t have to try at all. I loved it, and it was great. That was in Chicago and I moved to New York. This whole time, on the second day of new student week, I met this man, this boy, boy-man named Brendon, who lived in the same dorm as me and we … that was it. We were smitten with each other.
Jen: That’s it.
Aarti: So we’ve been together, he’s now my husband and the father of my children. And so we’ve been together, for what, 21 years.
Aarti: And he is an actor, so when he graduated he came to LA. And when I graduated I stayed in Chicago then moved to New York. So we were doing this long distance thing.
Which is great and horrible, right? So then when we finally got married, I moved to LA, and that’s when everything started unraveling. So it was very funny, because I thought getting married was going … was the sort of, you know, one of the pinnacles of life. And I wanted to be married to Brendon so badly and I also really wanted desperately to be in the same city as him.
Jen: Yeah, it’s not too much to ask.
Aarti: Is it crazy? So I finally get those things and that’s when my career just completely unraveled. And I couldn’t find work.
Jen: How so?
Aarti: Well I just thought that, okay, well I’m going to move to LA, I work really hard, I was doing pretty well at CNN, and I thought I’ll just keep working for CNN, but right around that time was when the entire news business was shrinking because there was just so much competition for the eyeballs, you know. FOX had come around, and then MSNBC had come around, and all this stuff.
So I couldn’t work at CNN, and I was trying to get other news jobs, and nothing was happening. Also, truth be told, my own hustle was kind of withering too. I didn’t feel like I really wanted to try that hard for it. That made me feel really crappy, because I thought my parents have spent all this money on my University. In the Indian community, you know, we are a community of overachievers. As it was I had already chosen a line of work that was out of the ordinary. I wasn’t a doctor, or an accountant, or a lawyer or an engineer, you know? So I really felt a lot of pressure, because I was like, “I’m failing, failing, failing”.
Jen: How were your parents during that time? Were they nervously hovering around? Were they supportive?
Aarti: They were nervous, but they were trying not to put any pressure on me. Then simultaneously, there was a lot of financial pressure coming down on my dad. So they were kind of so busy taking care of their end of things that I didn’t feel that much, but I felt this internal pressure.
Jen: Of course.
Aarti: The other reason is that I was like ostensibly, I could work in news anywhere, and so that’s why I had moved to LA. So that Brendon could quit his boring production job and he could really pursue his acting dreams. I desperately wanted to be that for him, you know.
Jen: Yes and he looks like this like adorable, scrappy, scruffy, surfer. He’s made for the screen-
Aarti: He is made for the screen.
Jen: Like he’s made for it.
Aarti: Well, and it’s very funny because you know the other night I was looking through one of these picture books with Moses, my two-year old girl, and there’s a little drawing of Jesus and I said, “Who’s that?” And she said, “Dada.”
Jen: Hilarious. That’s so excellent. He does kind of look like a cool, California Jesus.
Aarti: He does.
Aarti: And then actually one of my friends one time, you know, he was like … She was getting irritated at him and he was looking at her with like love in his face and she was like, “Don’t Jesus me right now.”
Jen: That is so great.
Aarti: He was like- I will do it whenever I like, thank you.
Jen: Seriously, like you’re not my boss kid.
Aarti: Yeah, anyway sorry back to the story.
Jen: This is so interesting. So you’re … So at the same time that your career in journalism is struggling and you’re even struggling internally with it, there’s something in you that’s drawn towards food. So can you like do the parallel path there? Just tell us about, just essentially the role of food in your life. Why that was even any pavement that you could lay?
Aarti: Well that’s a really good question. So I have always been chubby. I was ten pounds when I was born. And the reason I bring it up is because food has always been my best friend. And I went through a long period of not having any friends. Like I was definitely like social outcast for a long time. And so I would eat, you know, I would eat. I would bake because my mum wouldn’t keep any cookies or anything like that in the house, so I was like, “dang it, I will make them.”
Jen: I’ll make them. Yep.
Aarti: So I baked a lot. So food was always there and my family’s food obsessed. You know what I mean? They plan every meal and everything.
Aarti: So it was always in the background but I never cooked because I was so focused on school and getting a job and the whole thing. So when that all evaporated. I just turned back to my best friend. And I went into the kitchen. And my friend had given me, for a wedding present, The Joy of Sex and The Joy of Cooking
Aarti: ….which I think is a brilliant present.
Jen: My mom had all of those. I read them like in my bedroom at night. Yes.
Aarti: So I started flipping through The Joy of Cooking and … Because of course I knew everything that there was in The Joy of Sex.
Aarti: Of course.
Aarti: And I just started making stuff. And I didn’t know how to drive and I would walk to the store, which in LA is crazy. It’s like a twenty-minute walk, go get everything and then walk back. By the time my husband came home from work then there would be a meal on the table. And really it was him. He realized how much joy I was getting out of it. And I was watching a lot of Food Network too. And he got me a gift certificate to a cooking school in the neighborhood that I could walk to, and that kind of set it all going.
Aarti: Because I was getting so into that, and then interning at a restaurant, that, at a certain point, I had these dueling interests. I would freelance at CNN. They would call me every now and then. And then, you know, on the weekends I would go and intern at the restaurant and make tomato salads until the sun came up. So it was hard, I was trying to really figure out. Well, I felt these tugs in two different directions.
And then someone said to me, one of my friends said, my friend Taleka said, “You know, you should just shoot a cooking show. You should shoot a cooking show.” Because she would come over, and you know we would cook, and drink wine and stuff. She’s like, “This is awesome.” That’s what started the whole thing. I made a YouTube cooking show and I sort of felt like I could meld my sort of news reporter background, with this cooking background. We would do it on the weekends. And I taught myself how to edit through it. So I always say to people” do your nine to five during the week, but then work on your passion on the weekends.”
Jen: That’s good.
Aarti: Until the weekend is not enough time to work on your passion, then it’s time to switch.
Jen: That’s great advice. So you probably … I mean at that point, it had to be at least a medium ratchet operation. I mean you’re just in your kitchen with the camera-
Aarti: So ratchet.
Jen: We’re not talking about … You know when people–So many people want … They have these little cravings inside of them like you’re describing so beautifully but just think you know if I can’t start at the top–if I can’t start–if my beginning doesn’t look like somebody else’s middle or end.
Jen: Then why bother? But that’s just not true for any of us right?
Aarti: For any of us.
Jen: I mean you probably just put something on a tripod.
Aarti: I know. And You know it’s so funny because what had happened first is that I started blogging. And it’s funny because I was listening to your interview with Luvvie and I completely heard her and related to her when it was like in the beginning it was about writing—and for me, because I was so lost in that period, it helped me see the things that were important to me. Food was this huge part of what I was doing, and so that’s kind of what gave birth to doing this. You know, we tried shooting a pilot, because my husband grew up in production and stuff, so he was like “let’s shoot a pilot,” and I was like “okay.” We had two cameras, we had 10 people sitting outside waiting for the roast chicken on a 100 degree day. Great choice. And you know one of the camera guys, I only found out later, I made a butterflied roast chicken, he’s vegetarian-
Jen: Of course he was.
Aarti: He was doing the tight shots of me cutting through the backbone, which is of course perfect. But we gave it to our friend to edit and it just sat there.
Aarti: It was so much footage, it sat there for so long that I just got so frustrated one day and I said, “I’m making baba ganoush.”
Aarti: “I’m putting some eyeliner on and I’m going to pick up this camera and I’m going to aim it at myself.”
Aarti: “And I’m just going to shoot it.”
Jen: Just that simple. Yes.
Aarti: Just that simple. And I got to a point where I needed both hands, I hadn’t thought this through, people.
Aarti: Again, you don’t need to plan it.
Aarti: I needed both hands.
Jen: I love that.
Aarti: And my friend Karen happened to walk in the door just at that moment and I was like, “Karen can you hold the camera while I skin this eggplant.” And you can see it, it’s the very first episode of Aarti Party on YouTube. And you can see it, all of a sudden someone else is holding the camera and I’m like, “Hey Karen.” And that’s how it started. You know it’s so funny because I’m a definitely a prerequisiter, you know even in like daily life. Like I can’t get started until I make a cup of tea, and I can’t make a cup of tea until the sink is completely clean. But you know I just feel like God keeps trying to show me, “You don’t need to get it perfect, hun, you just need to step forward.”
Aarti: “And I will come and I have your back.”
Jen: I love that. I heard a really great teacher one time talking about two different opportunities to have sort of a clear path in front of you. Like, and he was using a biblical example saying, sometimes you know it’s like when Moses spread his arms and the sea just parted in front of him. He didn’t have to do anything. But sometimes like over in the Jordan he had to get in, he had to step in first. He didn’t get the luxury of just standing on the shore and saying let’s hope this parts. He had to be up to his waist in it, before a path emerged and I think that’s just the case for, I’m going to say most of us, as we move into dreams and new ideas and new venture. And you just hand the phone to Karen and you’re like “just video me-“
Aarti: Just video me.
Jen: Try to be still.
Aarti: I know.
Jen: I think it works though-
Aarti: Yeah. I know. And it’s so funny because after that my husband was like, “Why did you not ask me to do it?” And I thought, I said, “Well I just thought you were busy.” And he goes, “No, it really hurt my feelings actually that you didn’t ask me.”
Aarti: And so then we started doing it together and it sort of … Then it transformed-
Aarti: Into a cooking variety show. And so, you know it’s … I completely agree, like sometimes like I say to my kids sometimes, I’m just like, “Just pick one. Just pick one. It doesn’t matter. Just pick one.”
Aarti: And then we can make something out of that. But I think sometimes we can … It’s that paralysis by analysis kind of thing and you listen to so many podcasts about how to brand yourself, and how to do this, and how to do that. It’s just like, just do it. Just start doing it and you will learn along the way. And you know, and making mistakes along the way is the only way you actually, truly will learn how to do this thing.
Jen: It’s so true. And you just might as well go ahead and make your peace that the very beginning is probably going to be garbage.
Jen: You’re going to look back on it and go holy mother. I put that on the internet. But what else are we supposed to do? You have to start somewhere.
Jen: So of course you’re calling this Aarti Partybecause of course you are. There is never not going to be a way you can not call this Aarti Party. There was no second place for this name.
Aarti: It’s, I don’t think … Because I grew up being called Aarti farty and you know–things like that. One day, again this is how foods figures in my life, of course I end up marrying a man who is just as obsessed as I am. So for Valentine’s Day we treated ourselves to a pint of Ben and Jerry’s each. And we’re sitting there at the lake front eating ice cream on a wicked cold day and he’s saying you know, “If you could have your own ice cream flavor, what would be in it?” And I was talking about it. And then he says, “What would you call it?” And I’m like I don’t know. He goes, “You would call it Aarti Party, duh.” And I was like that is the cheesiest, dumbest name I’ve ever heard. I thought it was so dumb. And then when we started this cooking show that’s what just stuck you know. And it’s so funny because people are like, “Oh do you like … Are you a party person?” And I love people and I love socializing. I love having people over at my house. But it’s not in the way that people think of.
Aarti: Like, I will have people over to my and I’ll be like, “The glasses are in that cabinet over there, help yourself.”
Jen: Totally. Me too.
Aarti: You know what I mean? Like that’s what I like is when I go to someone’s house and they’re like, “Just make yourself at home.”
Jen: Me too.
Aarti: You know what I mean?
Jen: That’s my brand of hospitality.
Aarti: Put your feet on the couch. Yeah I just want to feel like I can just really be myself. And so, yeah, I mean, I also really like just being at home.
Jen: Me too.
Aarti: But yeah and then someone else asked me if “party” was my actual last name.
Jen: Come on people. Dig deeper, like dig deeper. You’ve got to do better.
Jen: So talk to us about the line between sort of the online series that you are developing on your own and then your audition of Next Food Network Star, because that’s a pretty big jump.
Aarti: A couple of friends from way different parts of my life said to me, “You know what? There’s a show called Next Food Network Star and you should try out for it.” I watched about 10 minutes of that show and I turned it off because it gave me such heart palpitations. I just was like throwing up in my heart.
Jen: Just a nightmare. It feels like a legit nightmare.
Aarti: It’s horrible. Horrible. You know and I just thought why would I do that when I already feel like a such a failure? Why would I then go on this national media and then say, “Hey, look at me fail even more.” You know? I just did not feel like I could say no. I had this feeling like felt God saying, not saying, but just this push.
Jen: Yes, it was an invitation.
Aarti: Half on my back, push. You know? Like you’ve got to do this. You got to do it. There is something so good for you on the other side of this, you’ve got to do it.
Jen: I know that feeling.
Aarti: You know I think that sometimes that we sort of give ourselves such a hard time for not doing the hard things. I think there is something to pushing yourself, absolutely. But there are definitely moments in my life where I have felt like I just could not say no. I couldn’t say no. Like God was pushing so hard that I was like if I say no to you I just don’t know what’s on the other side of that no. So I’m not even going to try it. I’m just going to say yes, because I just don’t…
Jen: It’s so clear.
Aarti: It’s so clear. It’s so clear. And so this was one of those. And I remember that when the car service was … They do like in-person auditions, and then they do taped ones, and Brendon was like “you’re too good for the in-person.
Jen: Oh my gosh.
Aarti: Let’s just make this video and send it in.” So we made the video. And I made strawberry basil lassi, I think, and just talked out my butt for three minutes. I didn’t even know what I was saying and I sent it. And then I still remember like a few weeks later I was sitting and I was reading the Outlander books and the phone rang and it was a 917 number, a New York number, and I was like, “I’m not going to pick that up. It’s not”.
Aarti: I know what that is and I’m not picking that up. And not because I thought they’d say no. Somewhere in my heart I was like, “They’ve said yes….” And I can’t deal. I can’t deal with it.
Jen: It’s too much.
Aarti: Yeah. It’s too much. So then I listened to the voicemail and I was like, “oh my god,” and I started crying.
Jen: And what did they say at that point, we want to see more?
Jen: Or you’ve made it?
Aarti: Yeah, we really like you and we’d like you to come out to New York for the next round.
Jen: Yeah. Oh my goodness.
Aarti: So then I went to the next round.
Jen: That’s legit.
Aarti: I was so nervous. Like I just had nervous poops and the whole thing.
Jen: I can imagine.
Aarti: I went into Chelsea Market and did the thing and it was … I wore the biggest, most obnoxious flower in my hair and I was like, “Okay, did it.” And then they called again, I guess, after that and said, “okay we’d love to have you on.” And I was like, “okay.”
Jen: And so at that point, I mean that’s just … Stuff just got real.
Jen: So you’re over in California, you have to commit how much time to the show?
Aarti: They said six weeks.
Aarti: And at that point it was six weeks where you live in a house all together, and there’s not communication with the outside world. There’s no newspaper, there’s no internet, there’s no TV.
Aarti: There’s no … They took our phones away.
Aarti: Because they just wanted to keep you in this like…
Aarti: Yeah, like a a bubble.
Aarti: We just want you to be all about the show, because then you’re much more malleable at that point.
Jen: Well that’s true.
Aarti: I will say, that at a certain point, I remember that a couple of contestants were irritated because I had my Bible and you weren’t allowed to bring books. You could not bring any books.
Jen: Oh, no way.
Aarti: But I brought my Bible and I was like “take it from me. Just go ahead and be the person who has to take it from my hands, and then we’ll deal with it. You know?
Jen: Do you like want to be that guy? Who like takes someone’s Bible?
Aarti: Yeah, who’s going to be that guy? Exactly. So no one took it from me and I would read it constantly looking for any word from God to help me with the next challenge. Which there was none, BT-Dubs and you know and … But my friends were so jealous of me having something to read.
Jen: Oh, wow.
Aarti: Yeah, it was really-
Jen: That’s so crazy
Aarti: It was really crazy. And I remember at a certain point towards the end of the competition, I mean you don’t even know what time you’re waking up. You get told or you get woken up and then you get 45 minutes to have some breakfast, get yourself together and go. You don’t even know what you’re doing for the rest of the day. Then at the end of it all, and you know like your heart is in your mouth the whole time you’re so nervous you’re not eating. I lost like 30 pounds on that show.
Jen: Are you being serious?
Aarti: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
Jen: Oh my gosh.
Aarti: I looked amazing.
Then, you know, then you go into judging. And you have these judges who are literally sitting there on a dais, looking down at you from across this long room and telling you whether you’re worthy or not, you know. Honestly, if I had not had my Bible, whatever the Bible, dude … If I had not had the Lord Jesus in my heart, I would have gone crazy.
Jen: Just to keep you medium calm.
Aarti: Yes. And just to know what’s … Just a perspective check.
Jen: Yeah, that’s good.
Aarti: You know what I mean?
Jen: What was the hardest part of that show? What was the … Like what was your low moment on that show?
Aarti: I think my lowest moment was when … So the … Brendon had told me this even before I went on it. He was like, “Your story arc is going to be the little girl with no confidence,” because I had none. With no confidence, who’s going to find it by the end of the show, that’s the story they’re going to write for you.
Aarti: And I was like yeah probably you know. And to this day people say, I watched that show and you were the clear front runner. And I said well I wish you’d been in my ear, because the entire time I thought that I sucked.
Jen: Really? You really did.
Aarti: Yeah. Every time, every time I thought, “I’m going to lose, I’m going to lose, I’m going to lose.” And somehow I would manage to pull it out. And then it got to one of the last challenges before we took a break for two weeks, and then had to go to New York to finish it up.
It was the last challenge, and I still remember, it was at Eva Longoria’s restaurant and it was so fancy. We had to make a dish that was based on an emotion. These guys just knew how to get to me and play with my mind, they gave me fear.
Jen: Of course.
Aarti: It just did a number on me and I cooked from a place a fear. I tried to like stick a Bible verse in there to try to make it work, but it didn’t work. I just was like yeah I’m scared and I’m done and I’m burned out and I just want to go home. That was probably was my lowest point because I was just like that wasn’t even … Like if I’m going to go out then let me go out on like an authentic thing, not this crappy idea that I have, you know.
Aarti: And so that was probably the lowest point. And I think I even, you know, I made an appointment with my pastor and went to go see him when I came home. And he said, heed the thing you have … He goes, “Here’s what I’ll just tell you about me, I love what I do but I am not so attached to this that I couldn’t walk away at any point.”
Jen: Just hold it loosely.
Aarti: Hold … Don’t grip it so tightly. And I think at the end there, I was just gripping it so tightly, that it was getting in the way of any creativity and any enjoyment, and any joy. And so that’s what really helped me when I went back to New York, is just sort of like this is all great and it matters but it also does not matter.
Jen: Okay, yeah, I really love that. And I’ve worked in those conditions too. Not the same scenario, but where I’m just … I’m squeezing my little thing to death.
Jen: And it’s lost all joy. It’s lost all creativity, it’s lost all life. And I’m too unhealthily attached to what it’s going to produce. What are people going to say about it? I’m too attached to an outcome that I cannot control.
Aarti: I know, I know.
Jen: I hate those seasons. And I … They’re visceral. Even as you’re talking I remember feeling like that in certain seasons of work, where I just really had to lay it down for a while and come back to it when I could do it with a clean heart. And like clean hands and hold it like wide open. I’ll do my best here, until it’s not here anymore and then onward.
So you won the show. So spoiler alert, you won it.
Aarti: That’s what happens when you let go people. Let it go and God will help give you victory.
Jen: Were you just … Did you know? Like did you know or were you shocked? Did you feel it at that point?
Aarti: I wasn’t sure honestly. On that last day they, you know, they showed the, they showed … We had to make these mini pilots and they played them for the judges. And then the judges were deliberating for such a long time. And my two you know co-competitors, my friends Herb and Tom, their pilots were so good. They really did a great job that I thought, “oh my gosh, I could actually lose this right now.”
But I thought, you know, I felt there was this thing inside me that said, “you know what, if I don’t win this I think I’m going to be okay. I think I’m going to be able to still do this in someway. Even if I just keep doing it on YouTube, it doesn’t matter. But it would really be like a life changer for these guys, if they won.” And so part of me was sort of like, “you know what, Lord give it to them, it’s okay.” You know what I mean? And then, so then when I did win, I was shocked and I felt guilty.
Jen: Did you?
Aarti: Yeah, I really did. I just.
Jen: It was just too generous. Too amazing.
Aarti: Yeah. It was my victory at the cost of their loss and that just was too much for me. You know, it was just a little hard to bear.
Jen: Of course, they were so gracious.
Aarti: They were lovely and so kind and they said, “You deserve it.” And it’s great. And we all went out to dinner afterwards. And they were so lovely and it felt very sort of sibling lovey, dovey. It was really lovely and I’m still in touch with them.
Jen: Are you?
Aarti: Yeah, still in touch with them.
Jen: Oh that’s great.
Aarti: Texting and that kind of stuff so. And you know the one thing is that like it feels like the answer to your prayers, but it isn’t because there’s always like how you think it’s going to go and then how it actually does go.
Jen: Yeah that’s 100% true. Right when you think this is going to change everything, it changes some things.
Jen: But it doesn’t change everything. However, in the wake of your sort of victory on that show, you got your own show on the Food Network. That’s a pretty big deal.
Aarti: I did.
Jen: And that’s a pretty big deal.
Aarti: It was huge.
Jen: Talk about that experience a little bit.
Aarti: I mean I went from, you know, only a couple people knowing my name, right, on YouTube, to being this household name. People were writing about me. There were ups and downs to that obviously. There’s always going to be people that want to criticize, and that’s just the nature of this world. But I would take that very hard, I would read every single negative comment.
Jen: Oh, no.
Aarti: And no matter how many positive comments there were, the negative ones would get me down real bad. But I think that’s also because I’ve … And it’s something that now, what, 10 years later, nearly 10 years later I’m starting to realize that like I really have a hard time assessing my worth and where I am without comparing myself to other people. And that has dogged me my whole life and I just am now sort of feeling like I’m getting to a point of freedom there. Because it’s really hard. My husband will be like, “You cannot compare because then you’re going to covet and then coveting is a sin and it pulls you down”, like the thing about sins, I’m starting to realize is, it’s not just like you’re doing a bad thing, it’s like they’re repercussions of choosing that way of acting, that pull you down into the muck and mire and then it’s very hard to get out of it.
Jen: Back to your point earlier, you know when you just said, thank goodness that I had Jesus in the midst of that competition, because it was such an anchor. I think that’s one of those things where our faith is invaluable to re-train our minds to think differently, to understand our worth differently and our identity differently. That you know not looking sideways for that value.
Aarti: Yes. But looking upwards.
Jen: But it’s work. I mean, to me, I think that’s the work of our lifetime, honestly.
Aarti: Yes, I mean ,I think that’s why it’s in … I mean when you think about someone like Paul, who, the Apostle Paul yes. And you think about him and you think about … I always, when I read his writing, first of all I want to slap him and then hug him. You know what I mean? I was like, “Could you not just say that a little nicer.” You know? But my husband loves him because he’s like pugnacious.
Jen: He’s intense.
Aarti: He’s pugnacious and intense.
Jen: He is.
Aarti: And he just sort of was like … But he was someone that said you know we have to not care about the opinion of man, of mankind. I was like, if Paul has to say that, this man who ostensibly cares nothing about what people think about him, he’ll go to jail over what he believes, you know? Then of course it’s going to be something hard for me, and I’m an intrinsic people pleaser. You know? So, that has been like the work of my life. I’m sorry, this a very long answer to your question.
Jen: To me it’s worth the fight there. It’s worth the fight to hang onto that and dig deep and confront it. You know, I was just talking to Brene’ Brown on this podcast a couple weeks ago.
Aarti: Who I love.
Jen: Isn’t she something?
Aarti: Oh my god.
Jen: You know, she said … Well she said 100 noteworthy things, but one thing she’s talked about, she talked about a struggle. And it could be like this one internal, you know where we sort of battle our own demons. It could be in a relationship. It could be circumstantial, but whatever it is she just said, everything’s a season. It will have an end if you’re willing to face it. And she said the only why through it is through it. And I just thought, I spend a great deal of energy skirting my struggles.
Do you know what I mean? Like propping them up or polishing them a little bit, so they don’t look so gross. Or pretending that they’re not happening. But I think that idea of just heading straight in–straight at it directly. Feeling it, owning it, offering it all up to God to change and transform us, that’s it. That’s the only why through it. That’s it.
Aarti: He always knows the remedy. You know what I mean? And it’s funny but there have been a couple … This year has been a big year of letting go of some things that I never thought I would be able to let go of. And I really, I was like, I couldn’t even put a word on the feeling in my heart. It was this lead weight that I was like I know it’s weighing me down, but letting go of it feels really scary and really wrong and I don’t want to do it. And it was like my three year old come out, you know. I stomped my foot on the ground and I said you know I’m not doing it. I’m not.
And it’s so funny because I feel like he … I had post partum depression after my first daughter. And then when I had my second one I was like, “I’m great! Nothing’s wrong,” and then cut to a few months later, I’m like “I don’t know if this is post partum depression, but this is depression.” So, you know, I’m back on my medication and I went through this program at the church that I attend, that was … It is the sweetest, kindest, most loving thing. It’s four people who pray with you and for you for like six weeks.
Aarti: You go in once a week and you sit down and you talk about how you’re doing and they pray with you for an hour and a half. And the healing, all the healing that I’ve had, came through that program. And it is so huge. Like I’m not ready to get off my medication, but I feel like, because for me depression is a chemical imbalance that preys on real wounds in your heart, and so until you kind of address those wounds, then the depression is just going to keep feeding on it.
Aarti: It’s like, it’s like, you know it’s like candida. It’s like yeast, it’s feeding. So now that I feel like I’m getting rid of those things I’m like, I’m, you know, I don’t know. My dad has depression too, so I know that it’s a genetic thing. But I feel like I’ve given that depression one less thing to feed on and that’s huge.
Jen: I just love that Aarti. Thank you for sharing that. It’s helpful right now that I think the conversation around depression, or any sort of mental struggle, and medication, and intervention is … It’s on the uptick. You know for awhile, it was just scary to talk about out loud, and people attached things to it that were not fair. That you’re not trying hard enough, or you know you’re not praying hard enough. So I just I really appreciate when healthy people enter that conversation and talk really transparently about what it looks like to battle depression.
Aarti: Depression is a big thing for me. Both post partum and sort of clinical regular depression because I, for a long time, forgive me Lord, was just so opinionated about it. One of my dear friends, who suffers, you know, struggles, with depression was taking medication. I just thought you know I … maybe I just need to pray harder for you, you know. I don’t think you need to be on it. I remember then one day just listening to the radio, I was listening to Christian radio, and I was listening to Sheila Walsh talk about her own struggles and how she thanked God for the little pill that she took every day. Because, you know, she was like, “You wouldn’t tell a diabetic not to take insulin.”
Jen: That’s right.
Aarti: My father’s diabetic too. So it just really–and that was years and years and years before any of this came up, but I think about that interview all the time because I think that is a moment when God was like, “let’s just open this up a little bit here because I think that you might be a little closed off and I’m going to teach you something”. Then I sort of am so transformed by it that I want to help other women be free from this stigma of depression. Because the thing about depression is that it causes you to isolate and it causes you to feel ashamed of yourself. The the very things that will help you get out of it, is to be talking to people about it.
Jen: Yes. The very thing you don’t want to do.
Aarti: That’s what pulls you out of the pit. Exactly, yeah.
Jen: You know that God is going to use that to set a lot of people free, and so that’s just exciting, that’s good work.
Jen: That’s something really, really good to put your hand to. So let me ask you this, just switching gears real quick, as we kind of head on into the end of this.
Aarti: I don’t want it to end.
Jen: Not for 100 years. Let’s go back to food for just a second. So I just, I love the food you make. I love the way that you make it and I love the way that you talk about it. I am just very much drawn to every … All your food sensibilities. Both your palate, and your experiences, and your stories, the traditions you create around it. I just-I think my question is something like, can you talk just for a minute about what all this means to you? Like as people are now watching you, and listening to you, and making your food, and learning from you and getting a sense of what cooking and hospitality even looks like. What are you hoping that they’ll take away? What’s sort of your … Like what’s your offering here around all this wonderful work that you do in food?
Aarti: Oh gosh. Well it kind of goes back to the thing I was saying about how food feels like a very intimate thing to me. I mean, I have not found a more poetic way of putting this, but I think there’s something about taking something that exists on the outside of our bodies, right? Splitting it in two, sharing it with someone and then it goes inside our bodies.
Aarti: And it touches part of our bodies that we don’t know what it looks like, you know what I mean? This … I don’t know what it is but it is something very, very intimate to me about that. And I think in this day and age where I feel like, I was listening to a story about how because we spend so much more time interacting with our “friends” through screens, we actually have less and less friends in real life. And I definitely feel like that for multiple reasons. I also have children, so I feel like our world has gotten a bit smaller. I think that breaking bread with people is a way of breaking walls with people.
Aarti: So that’s why I think that cooking and cooking for people or even cooking for yourself is a very sacred thing. That whole idea of transforming like a sort of rough-hewn ingredient into something beautiful and something beautiful for you. These are all the things that are running through my brain when I think about cooking. You know. So I love that and I love the idea of it connecting generations and connecting across, you know, thousands of miles. In my cookbook I wrote about how when I make lentils and rice, which is a very humble meal, I know that somewhere around the world one of my relatives has had lentils and rice that day.
Aarti: You know and it’s the exact same recipe and so that is this connection that is huge for me, you know. So it’s really a privilege and an honor to be that person, that can share that history and then just that sort of appreciation of cooking with, you know, the people that follow me. I hate saying that. But … Because I think that we’ve lost track of that. I think cooking feels like a chore. And I get it. If you know we … I feel like … It feels like our burdens are bigger and bigger and bigger, like there’s just so much more to do every day.
Aarti: And cooking is … It’s a time to sort of slow down. And in Indian medicine, the chopping of ingredients is part of the medicine. It’s not just what you’re eating, it’s the chopping of it is meditative and it’s quiet, and it’s contemplative and it’s part of … It heals you. And so I really … That’s one thing that I’m trying to get to myself. And then when I get there I think I could maybe help other people, is seeing cooking as a gift. As a gift to you, as a gift to your family, as a gift to your neighbors. That is kind of … That’s my thing at the moment.
Jen: You do that. You really do. That comes across in everything, in your writing, and in your shows, and just in who you are. I could not possibly agree more. I find cooking, and food, and gathering, one of the most nourishing things in my life. And that’s not an exaggeration. I can chart times in my life where I’m low, and I’m in a funk and I am off the rails. When I can get one minute of clear thought and take a good look at my life and try to sort out what’s going wrong here, almost inevitably it’s a matrix of factors, but one of them, I’m out of the kitchen. And we’re just piece-mealing it together. I’m just throwing scraps on plates and putting it in front of people and just trying to get us fed enough so that we don’t die.
Jen: I realize that that nourishing part of cooking and providing, and nurturing is missing. It really is healing. Not just for me as a cook, but for everyone that I’m feeding. I love, I love your food sensibilities. I love your point of view.
Aarti: Thanks. Thank you.
Jen: And I just love you. I think you’re phenomenal. So listen, here I’m going to do one last question just like down and dirty. So you just have to kind of like think on your feet and try to figure out … It will probably come right to you. So let’s just say this, you’ve got an hour to get ready, six friends have just called and said we’re going to be at your house in one hour.
Jen: So what’s in your pantry, in your fridge, your kitchen, whatever, right now, this minute, that you would like, “okay, this is what I can do. This is what I’m going to make. I’ve got an hour to get it on the table.” What’s your go to thing?
Aarti: Okay, it’s one of two things. So either I would make … If it was like morning brunchy, lunchy time, I would make shakshouka, which is a Middle Eastern breakfast dish, which is sort of this tomato gravy that you cook eggs in. You just sort of let them just gently bubble away in there. It’s really … It’s beautiful and it’s a meal that you kind of have to take a hunk of bread and kind of dip into the center dish in order to really enjoy it to its maximum.
Jen: It’s so good.
Aarti: It’s so good.
Jen: It’s not hard.
Aarti: It’s so easy.
Jen: You could put that together in 15 minutes.
Aarti: Yeah, pretty much. Yeah it’s pretty easy and it’s always kind of a show stopper and I love it. And then the other thing, if we were doing dinner, I always have ground beef in my freezer. Always, always and so there’s a dish called kheema. You can find it on the Food Network website. That is just … It’s ground beef cooked with a few spices and onions and garlic and a little bit of vinegar. And it is this … Whenever my mum would make it when I was little I was like, “It’s kheema night!” I don’t know why. I mean the thing that you where talking about, like how we don’t … Like I think that any meal can be, what you were talking about, this ideal of nourishing and loving and everything. Even if you’re just making a bowl of granola for your family.
Jen: Yeah, that’s right.
Aarti: Because it’s the attitude with which you pull it together. Like and that’s the thing I’m starting to realize, is that perfectionism can sneak in when we try to do this thing of like, I’m really going to put a look of effort into nourishing my family. It does not have to be perfect. It could be PB&Js.
Jen: That’s right.
Aarti: But if you are making it, and you’re like turning the TV off and you’re saying, “You guys we’re going to make PB&Js for dinner. Come in here and, you know, help me slather the peanut butter on and stuff.” That’s what it’s about, you know what I mean.
Jen: It is. It is.
Aarti: It doesn’t have to be a perfect meal.
Jen: No, and everybody around the table at the same time. And, you know what, if you want to make your PB&J fancy. You know what we would do down here in the south? Is we would butter the bread and grill it like a grilled cheese.
Aarti: Ooh, girl.
Jen: We don’t even play. We don’t even play.
Aarti: I love it.
Jen: We will grill a PB&J in butter like it’s a pancake.
Aarti: That’s totally on the Whole 30.
Jen: I can’t. Not today. Not today.
So tell everybody real quick, as we wrap it up here; what are you working on right now? And what’s on your plate? What’s next for you? Where can everybody find you?
Aarti: Right now, let’s see, as I mentioned I’ve got a three year old, and a one year old. So I’m kind of…
Jen: They’re so dreamy.
Aarti: Thank you.
Jen: Oh, your girls are so dreamy, I can’t.
Aarti: Thanks. They are…
Jen: With the brown eyes-
Aarti: I know.
Jen: And the hair, it’s too much.
Aarti: And they’re awesome and awesome. But they’re … You know it’s all hands on deck. My husband’s an actor.
Aarti: So we’re all at home, all the time. So I’m doing that, that’s my big project. And then I’m a judge on Guy’s Grocery Games and then I’m a judge on Cooks versus Cons. So I guess I’m super judgmental for a living at the moment and super good at it.
Jen: Fun to be on that side of the table, right?
Aarti: Yeah. Oh so much better, so much better. And now I’m trying just trying to figure out what’s next.
Jen: I like it.
Aarti: We’re getting to that point where the girls will probably be in school more and so there’s a big chunk of time that we can reclaim. And so I’m thinking about another cookbook. I’ve tried doing some Facebook Lives. So we’re just trying to figure that all, but I’m also trying to have a little bit of grace.
Jen: Well, amen to that.
Aarti: I mean maybe this season is about just doing what you can.
Jen: Well let’s just be honest. You’re on two shows. And you’re raising two preschoolers. So I’m going to say that feels like enough for right now. I’m going to give you a pass on adding anything else to that mountain. So that’s amazing. Hey thanks for being on today.
Aarti: Honestly Jen I’m so honored to be asked to be on here, especially because you’re focusing on women with moxie and that’s really … All I want in life is for when I go, for God to say, “Well done good and faithful servant.” And also for him to say, “You tried so hard. and I was just jumping up and down for you the whole time.” Like I get teary for thinking about. I just want Him to say, “I know you that tried really hard, and I love you for it.” That’s it.
Jen: Oh, isn’t that precious?
Aarti: I want it.
Jen: That is a … That’s goals right there.
Aarti: That’s what I want. That’s goals.
Aarti: Totally. Squad goals.
Jen: Me too.
Aarti: And you are my squad goals. Thank you for letting me be on your show.
Jen: Let’s do it again.
Aarti: Yeah, anytime.
Jen: Okay, sister. Thanks again for being on.
Aarti: Love ya.
Jen: Love you.
Jen: Isn’t she just delightful just delightful. I wish she was my neighbor. Thank you, Aarti Sequeira, for being on the podcast today. You are a treasure. Everything that we talked about, all of Aarti’s amazing work and her links and her socials—I’ll have all those posted over on my website underneath the podcast tab. You can find her, and follow her, and you’re going to want to, because she’s got her babies alone, are worth the follow, just to look at those little faces. So she is wonderful.
Also just a reminder, over on my Facebook page, under the link to this podcast, is where you’ll find all the cool stuff about the give away with Jenny Mecher as well as the discount code to her Etsy store, which was so incredibly generous. I’ll also have that link as well over on the transcript on my web site.
So thanks for joining in, you guys. Guest after guest in this series are just just this fun, just this interesting. Everybody brings a really different point of view. It’s not the same interview times five or six. It’s really interesting, and really interesting people and they all bring a little bit of something different to the concept of food and hospitality, and a shared table. You’re not going to want to miss it. Thank you, yet again for joining us. Thank you for your reviews. By the way, don’t forget that a review posted over on iTunes enters you to win the giveaway from Jenny. So just a little incentive there, and we’re always paying attention to those–always listening to what you love and what you’re looking for. So you guys, have an awesome week. I can’t wait to join you next week. Thanks guys.
Narrator: Thanks for joining us today on the For the Love Podcast. Tune in next week, when we sit down again with Jen and friends to chat about all the things we love.
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