We’re wrapping up our “For the Love of Food” series with stories from you–Jen’s Tribe–of how you’re gathering with food in the best possible ways! Tanorria Askew quit her corporate job and followed her cooking dreams—she made it to the final 4 of Master Chef (with big kudos from Gordon Ramsay, no less) and now has established Tanorria’s Table, a personal chef company with a heart for community and a soul for diversity. Elyse, Suzanna and Lauren are friends who have found the secret of life around food prep for their families with “group cooking” allowing them quality friend time and freezer meals for the entire week. [Bonus: we learn about Jen’s secret “beer & deer” freezer as well.] Jen’s friend Melissa Navarro rounds things out by sharing how she’s basically adopted a college by preparing a weekly meal/get together in her home for student athletes who are far from their own homes. You guys always bring the best stories!
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, it’s Jen, welcome to the show. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast. We’re in a really cool series that I am loving so much, where we are wrapping up “For The Love of Food” and it’s been so great. It’s not just about food preparation. So if you’ve been listening along, you don’t even have to love cooking to have loved this series. It’s just about so many other things; about gathering, and about hospitality, and about our history with food, and about health, and it’s just been great.
So one of my favorite things that we do on this podcast for every series, is we crowd source an episode. We basically say, “OK, so we’ve lined up these guests for you, but who do you know who we should know that should be on this series?” So this is our crowd sourced episode, and you guys, I have no chill about it, because every time we’ve done this thus far, when we crowd source these episodes, we’re supposed to pick one right? That was the initial plan–let’s pick one guest out of all the submissions. Every single time, I’ve picked at least two. if not more, because there’s too many awesome people. We have too many amazing people in our tribe. I just can’t–I can’t choose. So on this, on this exact episode on this crowd source episode, we actually have three guests that you crowd sourced. It’s technically four, but two of them are together. And so sorry, I’m not sorry. I don’t care. These are just some top notch people and you’re going to love to meet them. They’re sort of all over the map on why you chose them, and all their stories are super super interesting.
I’m excited to introduce you to our very first guest out of the three in this episode. You’re about to meet Tanorria Askew. She is so delightful, that I am positive you’re about to become a fan. So Tanorria lives in in Carmel, Indiana and she’s the owner of Tanorria’s Table. This is sort of an in-home, personal chef service. She’s so fun, and so vibrant; she’s everything you would want in a personal chef in your home. She does meal planning, and take home freezer meals. She hosts private cooking parties for girls-nights-out. I mean, are you getting the picture here? She would absolutely be our friend.
Her work is really, really deep and meaningful, which we’re going to talk about. Tannoria made it actually, to the final four on Season 7 of Master Chef. So we’re going to talk about that a little bit; about Chef Gordon Ramsay and what he is really like; and that one time that he said her shrimp and grits were the best he ever had. So we’re going to talk about Gordon. What I really love about Tanorria, in addition to all this, is that she’s got a real vested interest in diversity and inclusion issues. We’re going to talk about something she has called “Unity Tables” that you’re going to love, and we’re going to have all that information up for you. So anyway, I’m excited for you to hear our conversation. So, without any further ado I want to welcome to Tanorria to the show.
Jen: Good morning to you. I’m so glad you’re here.
?Tanorria: Thank you. I’m so excited.
Jen: Me too. This is great. You and I have met before; a couple of times at this point. We met at Women of Faith in Fort Wayne, like two years ago, right?
Tanorria: Yes. I made you give me three hugs at Women of Faith.
Jen: I like knowing that you’re just going to go ahead and be extra. If one is good, two is better, and three is the right number. Then we just saw each other a couple of days ago on the Moxie Matters Tourin Indianapolis. I mean, I was so glad to see you again.
Tanorria: Thank you.
?Jen: So listen, we’re doing the series on food, which I love. You and I have this in common; we’re kindred souls on this. We kind of want to talk about all sorts of things, not just the preparing of food, which is really just one part of it, but hospitality in the gatherings, and health, and just so much stuff. We were sort of all over that place on food, and so you know, every series we put this out to my whole, huge, like online tribe and say “Okay, we’ve slotted all these spots. Now we want to know, who do you know that we should know? Like who do you know in your life that we should definitely have on this series and girl, your name—it came up, and it came up, and it came up–everybody just loves you and loves what you do. Once I peeked into it, I’m like, “oh she’s amazing. She’s absolutely amazing.” I absolutely love your life. Also thanks to Erin Moffit for nominating you–just a shout out to the friend.
We’re excited to talk about what you have going on with Tanorria’s Table. But let’s talk a little bit about what got you to where you are today. Can you give us kind of a high level view of who you are, and where you’ve been, and what you’ve done?
?Tanorria: I’ve been cooking since I was 8 years old. It was summers at grandma’s house, or holidays with my parents in the kitchen. Everyone in my family, except my brother, can cook. So that’s just what I know–watching my family have community over food.
We were always the house that people came to for holidays, and so on, and so forth. So I just always had this inkling to cook. Finally, when I moved out on my own, I started having friends over–it was my excuse to get people to come hang out with me, was cooking.
Tanorria: My friends started saying, “hey girl, this is good. You need to do this again, or you need to jar this, or bottle this,” or something like that was always happening. I have a passion for cooking, but I thought I was supposed to do my nine to five career. You know that’s what you’re supposed…
Jen: Right, that’s the script.
Tanorria: And you know, I loved the credit union I worked for. I loved my job. At one point, about 10 years into my job, I decided that I didn’t want to die doing it.
Jen: I get that.
Tanorria: I knew that it wasn’t something I wanted to be remembered for. So it was hard. I’m not a crier. I’m not a super emotional person, but I would cry on Sundays, because I didn’t want to go to work on Monday.
Jen: Man, oh my gosh, so many people can relate to what you’re saying right now.
Tanorria: It was hard.
Jen: It was like that deep seated like dissatisfaction with where you’re at. Just knowing there’s something more, something different, something better for sure.
Tanorria: At that point I didn’t know that, that was God saying “Girl, I got something for you.” I didn’t know that. Because I didn’t know that, because I didn’t think it was like “OK,” God saying, “you need to go do this,” I had a hard time even imagining leaving my corporate life and going and doing this wild and crazy dream. So about two years before I quit my job, my dad’s like “here’s some money go start your business.”
Jen: Did he really? Wow.
?Tanorria: I’m telling you, crazy amazing parents. So I did it super part time. It was like my side hustle and I had fun doing it. Finally, one of my friends one night posted on Facebook, “I’m watching Master Chef, Tanorria, you should totally audition for Master Chef.” They’re making meat loaf, and another one of my friends said that my meatloaf is so good, he wants to rub it on his face.
Jen: That’s amazing,
Tanorria: Isn’t that an amazing compliment?
Jen: That is high praise right there. So she called you and said “I think you should do this.”
Tanorria: Yeah. I was like “I can’t do that for…” First of all I was like, “Gordon Ramsay terrifies me, and secondly I’m like, “I’m not good.”
?Tanorria: You know what was in my head. So I waited a season, and I watched Master Chef and I researched it, and I tried to understand what was really going on. I saw that auditions were coming up a year later, and I posted on Facebook and said, “heyMaster Chef auditions are coming up. I wonder if I should do it.” And one of my closest friends knows my motto is “If it goes on my calendar it gets done.”
So she put it on my calendar. So I kind of had no choice at that point. Two of my girlfriends came to Chicago with me. I auditioned, and my life has not been the same ever since that audition. Ever since.
?Jen: I can’t even. That was a big deal for you just to pull the trigger.
Tanorria: That’s one of those things that I think; it’s this big size sort of dream and risk that a lot of people have in them. But very few of them will go, “I’m going to go for it. I’m going for it.” The truth is, what’s the worst thing that could happen? You don’t make it. You’re not gonna die, right?
Jen: You took that risk and look at your life. That’s amazing. Can you talk to us a little bit about about your time on the show? I mean this is quite a formidable judging panel, I mean Gordon Ramsay, I don’t even know girl. I don’t even know what to say. Is he terrifying?
?Tanorria: Honestly, when he’s yelling at you, what he’s telling you is genius. One time, when he said something to me, and at first I wanted to like crawl into a shell like, “oh my gosh, he’s kind of yelling at me.” But then I really listen to what he was saying and I’m like, “oh my gosh, why didn’t I think of that?” It was good.
You can get past the crazy, opinionated, kind of crass attitude. He is a genius. When it comes to food, don’t mess up. But he wants you to keep growing. He wants to see you succeed. He wants to see you do well. If you’re not growing if you’re not learning that’s when he is kind of done with you.
Tanorria: I was done after that. I mean, I was totally done.
Jen: I mean, girl, hang it up. That’s all you needed.
Tanorria: My very first time cooking in front of him, and I got that feedback and I was like, “wait a minute, is he telling the truth, or is this just for TV?” I’m like, “oh no honey, he’s telling the truth.” I was done. I don’t need to go through the rest of the competition. Life is great. Let’s just go home now. Because I was absolutely beside myself.
Jen: So amazing. You went all the way to the final four. I mean, you went really far. That’s so awesome. Master Chef was sort of a tipping point for you. What did that “tip forward” look like; what does that look like?
Tanorria: I had pretty much decided that when I was going out to do this television show, I was all or nothing. I told God what was going to happen. Of course that works great…
?Jen: Sure, I’ve done that.
Tanorria: I’m like an all or nothing. I’m going out there, I’m going to win, my life is going to change.
?God kind of chuckled at me, as He always does. I think He just sits there and laughs at me. But I came back to Indiana, and I worked my 9 to 5 corporate job for two months, and decided I was done. I couldn’t go through the experience that I went through with Master Chef and go back to this 9 to 5 knowing that it was not what I was meant to be doing. So I quit my job and Tanorria’s Table had a three to five year plan. It turned into about a year and a half plan. I started doing it.
I became full time doing that; I love it because it is a platform to help people.
Jen: It sure is.
Tanorria: It’s a platform to say things that a lot of people are thinking, or hoping, and no one else is saying. So far, no one’s gotten mad at me for it.
?Jen: Girl, can you talk a little bit about Tanorria’s Table? Just tell everybody what that looks like and how you sort of fleshed it out, how it developed.
Tanorria: I love what I do because I always say that I’m creating delicious memories. I get to go into people’s homes. I watch them interact with their friends and family, and celebrate something, and have a good time together, and I’m feeding them, and it is really, really rewarding. ?
Jen: I love it. So essentially like the nuts and bolts of it is that you come into any sort of private setting; parties, celebrations, gatherings, and you do all the cooking onsite. Is that what that looks like?
Tanorria: Yeah, I do it on site. Basically, if you imagine throwing a dinner party, if you and your day going, “I didn’t hardly eat anything, I hardly got to see the people that were in my home.”
?Tanorria: I take all that stress off of you. I’ve had so many people walk up to me and say “I got to have a glass of wine with my friends and family tonight.”?
?Jen: Yeah. It’s so true. I’ve been a part of a supper club for five or six years at this point. One of the couples in our supper club, who’s actually going to be in this series as well, at one point she brought in like an amazing chef, and it was such a great night because all of us were just present and around the table. Of course the food was like top notch.
What a wonderful way to use your gifts, and to be a part of people’s lives, and their stories, and their table. Speaking of tables, you do something really wonderful that I love. So this piqued all my interest; I dialed so tight in when I was reading this. I guess every few months, or so, you meet at different people’s homes, and you either host or facilitate an event called “Unity Tables,” right? Can you talk about that a little bit, because I love this with my whole heart.
Tanorria: It is my favorite day whenever I do it. That’s my favorite day, because I bring a group of women together–they’re all different shapes, sizes, colors, experiences–around a table of food, and we talk about what it looks like to love each other the way God loves us.?
Jen: That’s good.
Tanorria: It’s such raw, uncomfortable, ugly conversation, but there’s so much grace. Out of it comes laughter, and friendship, and these eye-opening moments among women. So I cook just whatever’s on my heart to cook, and it’s usually at someone else’s home, or someone else is opening up their doors and hosting. It’s an opportunity for them to invite in people that don’t always look like them. I am a firm believer that food is community and that food helps break the discomfort. If you think about, it a lot of times when you’re having any conversation, whether it’s a difficult conversation among family members, or whether it’s an easy celebratory conversation, it’s usually around the dinner table or in the kitchen. ?
?Jen: Great point.
Tanorria: I put food in front of people so that they can get rid of the fidgets and the uncomfortables and the awkwards. I kind of facilitate the conversation, and there are times where I have to say “wait a minute, that’s kind of why we’re here, and we’re going down the wrong direction.” But I also get to say, “oh my gosh, I had no idea”. It’s so good. It is so so good.
Jen: It is so good. I’m just convinced this is our way forward. I appreciate you saying the truth; that when we’re going to have this initial point of contact around a table with a lot of diverse people around different colors, races, ethnicities, beliefs, politics, all of it–it’s very likely going to have some weird moments. It might be a little bit hard. It might be a little bit weird. Thank you for saying that, because I think women in general are kind of averse to tension. But, these are the moments that we sort of we say “we’re going to power through and get to the other side, and there’s so much good ground to be gained there.” What have you seen around your Unity Tables? What are you seeing come out of those?
Tanorria: There’s a lot of empowerment that comes out of them. Lots of women are challenged and charged to do more, and to ask more questions. I just told one of my friends recently, I said “I am your person of peace.” I would say 90 percent of my friends are not black–not African-American. So I want my friends to be comfortable asking me the really rude questions.
?Jen: That’s good.
Tanorra: I have more people calling me, and asking me questions when there’s something going on in the media. They’re texting me or calling me saying “I need help processing this.” They come to me to process, and there’s times that I need to process too, because I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. So we become each other’s connection points, we become each other’s comfort zone to ask those uncomfortable things.
?Jen: So good. So if somebody was listening and thought “I want this, I want I want this in my life, I want to develop this in my community.” What would she do. How would you advise them? First of all, we’re going to have all of your information on my web site. so we’re going to have links to all your spaces and everything that you do. People will be able to find out more about you–but just from a high level–what would you do? What are some top ways that someone could replicate what you’re doing in their own home?
First thing is, you don’t have to cook. You can get some wine and cheese, you can get pizza and beer–it doesn’t matter. I just strongly encourage you to use food. Diversify your table. The whole purpose is to invite people into your home or into your space that doesn’t look like you. But keep it small, keep it intimate so that everyone feels like they have a voice at the table.
Jen: How many do you like at your table? What do you think a good number?
Tanorria: I would say whatever can fit around your dining room table and that’s usually 10 to 12 maximum. We’ve had some larger ones where we set up two tables and those were the times where maybe someone didn’t get to say something.
Appoint a facilitator. Have someone that’s going to be able to bring things back in. That needs to be that person who is not afraid of the uncomfortable.
Start out the table by explaining that if you have your own agenda, this isn’t the place for you. If you don’t have the space to offer grace upon grace upon grace, this isn’t the table for you.
People know what they’re walking into. They know that this is going to be a potentially deep, raw conversation. There’s going to be opportunity for laughter and fun, but the objective is awareness.
Jen: By and large, we’re craving meaningful conversation around just sort of racial inequality and ultimately reconciliation, and we just need some safe spaces to do it. This is exactly what you’re providing. I just couldn’t be more pleased to talk about this with you, and to make this sort of format available to everybody who’s listening. Good work, sister. good work. thank goodness you stepped away from that corporate job. Look atcha.
Tanorria: I know right?
Jen: Look atcha go. You’re doing it! So listen, whenever you are in Austin, or the next time I am near you, let’s just have a dinner date. Let’s just put it on the calendar. You know I know this now about you; if it’s on your calendar, you’re going to do.
Tanorria: I absolutely will. I will clear my entire calendar for you.
?Jen: So this is going to be fun. Normally we ask a couple of wrap up questions but since you have been on Master Chef and you are such a competitor, we thought we would give you a “mystery box” challenge. So if anybody doesn’t know what that challenge is, the chef gets like four or five or six ingredients to work with on the show. Some of them do not go together–you actually won one of the mystery box challenges on Master Chef, right? Do you remember what was in it?
Tanorria: It was a Latin box. It was Latin inspired ingredients like jumbo prawns, and cactus, and corn, and jalapenos and chorizo.
Tanorria: I was blown away that I consider myself an American comfort food kind of southern cook and I won a Latin challenge.
Jen: That’s amazing. OK. Here’s your virtual mystery box. These are your ingredients. And on the fly, you just tell us, “All right, this is what I would throw together with these. So let’s say that you had rice, and you had butternut squash, flank steak, goat cheese, and let’s say black beans and romaine lettuce.
Oh my, is that too much? You can take one off—you can eliminate an ingredient for sure, that’s your special card.
Tanorria: I would only eliminate Romaine because I don’t love romaine lettuce.
Jen: So, let’s get rid of it—no romaine. Rice, butternut squash, flank steak, goat cheese and black bean.
Tanorria: So do I have like other ingredients to play with?
Jen: Oh yeah. You add whatever you want to it.
Tanorria: I would totally do a chili spice rubbed flank steak, and I would do that over a smoky butternut squash puree. Alongside that would be a black bean and rice—it’d be like super fancy on the plate. I’m imagining what it would look like on the plate. Then I would make a cilantro lime chimichurri to go on top on top of the steak.
Jen: I’m dead. I just died. I’m perished. I need some fake resuscitation. That’s why you do this. OMG.
Tanorria: It is. I mean I wake up and go to sleep thinking about food.
Jen: Hey, thanks for being on today.
Tanorria: Thank you so much. I can’t tell you how much how amazing this is. Thank you, thank you thank you.
Jen: My pleasure.
?So I’m positive that you loved Tanorria as much as I did. Just a joy and a delight. I know you’re going to want to follow her and check out her website, and her work, and everything about her –she is really, really fun. You’re also going to love our next guest. So obviously, like I mentioned, I have no chill about crowdsourcing, because you’re my people and I’m so interested in who you really are.
Tanorria’s Tips for Starting Your Own Unity Table
Consciously diversify your table. Invite people who don’t look and think like you to the dinner to have an open dialogue. This is the most important thing.
Keep the dinners intimate. “I invite as many people as will fit at the host’s table—that’s usually between 8 and 15. If the dinner is larger, you’ll need to split into smaller groups and have more facilitators.”
Appoint a facilitator. Tanorria suggests asking someone to lead who has experience with diversity and inclusion issues. If that’s not possible, she suggests that at least one person check out the Latasha Morrison’s videos and guides at Be The Bridge, which first inspired her Unity Tables. “Her work is faith-based, but your conversation does not have to focus on any particular religion,” she says.
When Tanorria facilitates, she always starts by asking people what their ethnicity is, which often brings up complex answers. At the end, she always ends the conversation with the question, “Now what are we going to do?”
Declare the table a safe space. “Make sure people know, what happens at the table stays at the table,” she says.
Prepare people in advance. “It’s important people not come to the table with an agenda and the hopes of changing minds. The dinners should not be political or a place for people to vent their anger. The goal is for people to share experiences and to listen to them.”
Jen: I actually saw our next guest’s submission undermy Facebook postswhen I asked for nominations. So today, we have on Suzanna Styles, who actually nominated her crew for what they’re doing around the table. Her crew includes herself Suzanna, and her friends, Elyse Bonner who’s going to be on the call with us, then also Elyse’s sister, Lauren, who wasn’t able to make the call today. The three of them have this really great connection and community, and a lot of their friendship is centered around food in a different way; in a different way than anything else that we’ve heard ,
They’re all really, really, really close. Elyse is a photographer and Suzanna had her take photos of her second child’s birth. So like close, right? Like “in the delivery room close,” and then obviously Elyse and Lauren are sisters, and they’re actually from a small town–San Saba–but they live in Austin now, all of them. I love what they do. You’ll see, I think, why I asked them to come on the podcast.
In fact, I think I mention this to them in that interview. But several of you said “can we hear from somebody who doesn’t necessarily love food and cooking as much as you, but still has to feed all these people?” I think that’s what you’re going to find here in this crew and how they’ve figured out a way to share the load, to share the burden, and really multiply their efforts to get their families fed. I’m going to let them explain all of this to you, but they’re just fun, and they’re funny and they’re creative. I’m telling you right now, there’s going to be a bunch of you that are going to hear what they do and you’re going to say, “That’s it. I’m doing that. I’m going to call two or three of my friends, and we’re absolutely going to set this up.” Because it’s that smart, it’s that efficient, and honestly it’s that much fun. So without any further ado, I’m excited to introduce you to Suzanna and Elyse.
?Jen: Good morning girls. Welcome Suzanna and Elyse to the show. I’m so glad you’re here.
Elyse: Good morning, thank you. We’re so happy to be here.
Jen: Just a little podcast between me and you and some of our friends. No big deal. There it is. Suzanna & Elyse. Let’s give a shout out to Lauren, who is Elyse’s sister. The third part of your trio. She could not be on our call today, so tears, it’s our loss.
Suzanna: Hey Lauren!
Jen: Lauren you’re with us in spirit. You’ve chopped the onions with these girls, so you count too. In fact, Lauren was just telling my assistant at the end of the day, she was confident that the two of you could quite easily speak for her today– that you had plenty of words and voices in her absence. Is she the quiet one? What are your personalities?
Elyse: Oh she is definitely the quiet sister for sure. She’s our planner, our organizer. Suzanna is our idea maker, gatherer. I think I’m more of the “ride or die–when are we doing this?”
Jen: OK. That’s like the perfect personality matches. I mean, like the three of you combined make one whole person; you know what I mean? You just described the perfect person.
Suzanna: Yeah. I’ve been digging them to do—cause I know your recent Enneagramobsession.
Suzanna: And I am a seven. I think Elyse might be our three, and then Lauren, I’m guessing might be our nine; like the peacemaker, she like executes everything behind the scenes. So it is definitely the perfect combination, I think.
Jen: Oh my gosh I love that so much. I wanted to be, when I took the Enneagram, I wanted to be a seven,it’s such a fun number. Then I just show up hardcore three. I’m just like there’s no way that I’m not a three. I’m such an achiever. It’s so awful. But we get stuff done, it’s not all terrible.
OK. So Suzanna, you were the one who sort of nominated yourselves, for lack of a better word, when we crowdsourced this episode. We said “all right, everybody, tell us who’s doing something like amazing with food.” So first of all you didn’t ask your friends. Right? This is a surprise. We’re going to be up on a podcast.
?Suzanna: You had such a beautiful list of comments. People were doing so many amazing things and I was sitting here thinking, man, we have spent more time avoiding cooking and we’ve actually had a great time doing it. But for the rest of us out there who are not like moving mountains in the cooking world, you could do this simple thing; get together with friends, drink wine, keep your kids occupied because they’re playing together, and not have to cook every day. It was kind of like a funny–I mean I’m definitely thrilled that we did it and it means so much to me—but it was not a genuine submission.
Jen: I love that you did. In fact, I had a lot of readers and listeners say, “can you have just one episode where somebody talks about cooking because they don’t want to do it? They’re trying to find a way to make it easier or faster?” I just feel like you hit that niche perfectly. In fact, this is what you wrote when I said “give me your people. Who do we need to know? Who should be on the podcast?” This is what you wrote Suzanna:
“My friends and I have found a way to cook together while we drink wine and our kids play so they don’t bother us.”
[Amen and Amen.]
“We save money, we’re able to feed our families home-cooked meals without actually having to cook every night. Sometimes it gets deep, and other times we know we’re out in an hour and a half–high five and take off. We’ve made Jen’s recipes and Shauna Neiquist’s recipes, and Whole30 recipes, and we’ve basically found the secret to life. No big deal.”
?I mean really, really, really–it’s so great. Of course, our tribe fell in love with that. My team fell in love with that. Who doesn’t want to know the secret to life? So I would like to hear you talk about this a little bit, like how did this start? How did this begin? Whose idea was this? How did this how did this sort of emerge out of your friend tribe?
Elyse: We were all in dance class together. We were sitting there sharing recipes, and Lauren has a nutrition background. She’s done this before. She loves it. Suzanna cooks a lot. I am just kind of in it for the ride because I really don’t like to cook.
Lauren and Suzanna are getting recipes and Lauren’s sharing them with her and Suzanna says, “you know sometimes, I just double my recipes and throw them in the freezer.” Suzanna says, Hey, why don’t we all get together. We’ll bring two or three recipes each, we’ll triple them, and we’ll all go home with six to nine freezer meals.
?Jen: Like I wish you were my neighbors. I’d be coming over with like my aluminum disposable pans and be like “what’s for dinner this week.” It’s amazing. Do you always go to the same house to do this?
Elyse: Well yes. Suzanna has recently remodeled her kitchen and it’s amazing and has a giant island that fits all three. So logistics wise, her kitchen always been best. She’s also our gatherer, so her kitchen’s best.
Jen: How many kids you guys have collectively that are just running around like totally unsupervised during this time?
Elyse: I will say most days we just have the toddlers with us and that’s four toddlers.
Jen: No wonder you need this. You don’t have time to be in the kitchen.
Suzanna: And you know as soon as you get in the kitchen is when they need your attention.
Jen: Of course.
Suzanna: That’s when you’ve got hot pans, and you’re trying to cook, and sharp knives.That’s exactly what they want to get ready underfoot. So throw them outside with their friends and let them go for it.
Jen: Totally. In my last book, Of Mess & Moxie, I did this whole section called “How To” and they’re just silly, they’re absurd. Like how to do all kinds of things. One of them is like, “how to find your missing toddler.” And I had a couple of ideas. Number one; go to the bathroom, look down, he should be right there. If that doesn’t work, number two: start a really important phone call. Look down. There he is. It’s like they have this radar, to know, like this is the moment I need to be held.
So how long have you been doing this?
Suzanna: A year?
Elyse: Yeah, a little over a year.
?Jen: And do you have like a set time? This is our day. This is the day we do it. I want know the mechanics of this. Who comes up with the recipes? Who comes up with a shopping list? How do you divvy this out?
Suzanna: OK so the mechanics would be; we used to have a set day, or we would plan out maybe two to three months in advance, like we’re going to meet.
Elyse: We do it every other week.
Suzanna: We do it every other week and it just kind of depends on everyone’s schedules.
So we’ll put it down on the calendar for two to three months running, and then about a week before cooking day one of us, usually me, will reach out to Elyse and Lauren and ask them for the recipes. Each one of them will find two recipes and triple the ingredients, because there’s three of us. They e-mail those to me, and I have a grocery list to go from, and depending on our budget and our time limits that week, I mean the easiest weeks we’ve done it. I just pop that list into Shipt and make sure that they’re walking in the door as we’re pouring our mimosas and we’re good to go.
Other weeks, when I’m feeling ambitious, I might hit up Costco and do all that, just depending or needs.
?What we end up doing is, it takes about an hour and a half to three hours, depending on if we’ve bitten off more than we can chew I guess totally get this.
Jen: Totally, I get this. Listen I’m the queen bee of tackling ambitious recipes that take me 17 times longer than it tells me it’s going to.
Suzanna: 150 breakfast tacos I don’t know how we thought we were going to do that.
Jen: That’s amazing.
Elyse: I literally spent two hours flipping tortillas.
Suzanna: So that happens, we get together, we do the meal prep, and then everybody leaves. I’ll usually buy a lot a gallon size zip lock, the foil things so that nobody is having to bring over all of their dishes with them.
?Jen: So some of your stuff is dinner, some of it’s breakfast. You just make a lot of food that’s going to feed your families for a couple of weeks.
Elyse: You know, anything that can freeze.
Jen: Oh yeah. Oh yeah, that’s key, right? It is all going to end up going in your freezer. Did you have to get extra freezers for this?
Both: We all do.
Elyse: There’s a freezer in the garage.
Jen: We do too. We call it the “beer and deer” fridge—like, that’s where those things go. I mean, obviously after a year of this and doing this essentially every other week, you’ve made a ton of stuff. So what are like your favorite bulk recipes? The ones that everybody loves the most, that work every time, all three families are happy, you’re not sad to make them again–like what are your winners?
Suzanna: I mean my favorite, favorite of all of our recipes, and I’m not just saying that because I’m talking to you, but it’s that–you’ve changed the name of it– when I first started cooking it, it was called, I think like… red curry chicken, from Of Mess & Moxie.
Suzanna: Yeah. That is my personal favorite. Like I crave that! I serve it with mangoes on the side. I serve it with salad on the side. It’s so good, it freezes well. That’s a favorite.
Elyse: The best part about that is the difference in meals. That’s something I would have never cooked. Suzanna made it, I came home, made it for my husband is like, “whoah what is this?”
Jen: Oh Good point because you’re all bringing your own ideas to the table.
Elyse: I’ve never made any kind of curry anything. So it was an awesome variation of what we cook every single week, to mix it up a little bit.
?Jen: I mean if you’re making curry, your kids must be a little bit of adventurous eaters–you’re putting quite a few flavors in front of them are they. Are they down for this?
Suzanna: Depends on the kid. Are yours?
Elyse: No, not really. But I’m a big believer, if I put it on their plate, they try everything. If they eat it, they eat it, if they don’t, they don’t.
Suzanna: The upside to it, too, is that we’re not slaving over a hot stove only to have our kids reject what we put on their plate. Like OK, if they didn’t eat this, it’s a freezer or meal that we made and I’ll eat the rest of it.
Elyse: Exactly. Yeah, lunches for the rest of the week if they didn’t love it, and if they loved it, then it’s gone that night.
Jen: Great point. You guys have mentioned that this just not only just this sort of cooking consortium, but this friendship has been a just a refuge and encouragement. You’ve told us a little bit as we were getting to know you beforehand, that basically every one of you has had a degree of stress in your life right now. I know that you said that Lauren is married to a pretty busy musician who travels a lot on the road. Then Elyse, you’re an amazing photographer and your business is growing and changing, and you’re doing some really different things in that arena which is exciting, but also time consuming.
Then Suzanna, you’ve recently taken in a foster daughter. So. can you talk to us a little bit about, first of all: all of the things going on in your lives, what your lives look like, and what this friendship, this togetherness, and this cooperation has meant to helping you stay the course.
?Elyse: You know as we get busy but it’s hard to find time for friends and you’re busy with family, you’re busy with business, so just getting together as friends is huge. It’s important for me because when I do sessions, I’m out the door right at dinner time leaving my husband with dinner. My destination wedding [business]has been growing and I’m gone for like four days at a time. Let’s be real mom guilt is like, for real.
To leave my husband with these meals and a way to get through it is great. I feel good about leaving he’s got food for the girls. My sister, a lot of times she’s a second shooter for me at these weddings the destination weddings and Lauren’s husband is a very successful musician. He has a very new up and coming band as well. He’s on tour for weeks at a time. If he goes to a wedding with me, there have been times where my husband is left with five girls to feed.
It’s just makes life a little bit easier. Instead of busting out some chicken nuggets or frozen pizza, we’ve got some good home cooked meals, and life is simple. In the meantime we got to get together, a little bit of wine, and we got to visit. It’s a win-win.
?Jen: It really is. I mean, even if you never chopped a single onion or made a single packet of food, just the time that you’ve carved out for each other is a pretty big deal. What would you say Suzanna?
Suzanna: Yeah, you know I would just second everything Elyse said. Last year — our foster daughter doesn’t live at our house anymore, she did, but she’s 18 now. I can say that having a totally different age group, I’ve got a four-year-old and a 2-year old, and then we kind of had a teenager out of nowhere. That changes school drop off, school pick up–the entire schedule changes. The stress level in our house ramped up 10 notches, and I didn’t really have a lot of time for myself. I definitely couldn’t leave the house very much, because you were in that transition and really needing to hunker down.
So having them come over and bring the party to me, I can’t even tell you, it was those days that just saved me. I mean having them come over, and us cook together, and not have to worry about another mouth to feed or how I’m going to get around that schedule, was really helpful.
?Jen: I love that so much. You’re hitting on everything that I love. I essentially feel like what you’re doing right now is you’re dovetailing my last two series which were: For the Love of Girlfriends and now For the Love of Food, because those go together so beautifully, and in so many ways, it’s worth it.
Like I just know that some people are probably listening thinking “I don’t have time for that.” But the truth is, we can make time for what we care about. We really can. It’s probably not perfectly ideal that when you do this, you have four toddlers hanging on to your knees. It’s not easy, right? How would you encourage the women listening, thinking, “that would be such a service and a joy to my life, but I don’t know if I can pull it off?”
Elyse: I think you just you show up and you make time for it because it’s worth it. We’re going to find time here in there to gather with our friends. We’re going to find time here and there for a play date, and we’re going to find time to cook dinner. Why not combine all three of those? It might not be the ideal time, but our kids get a play date, we get a grown up date and we have food for weeks. We only do it every other week and usually those six recipes last for a couple of weeks.
Elyse: I don’t really know the key to finding time other than, you know…
Jen: Then make it.
Elyse: If it’s worth it, you find the time for it.
Suzanna: I’ve had several friends, and I’ve done the cooking days with other people. We talked about this where if, Elyse is traveling a lot and can’t come to cooking day, I still want to do one, I’ll call in a friend who has expressed interest in doing it before.
I’ve got another friend who is a therapist who’s done it with me a few times and she’s like “this could be a form of therapy to be in the kitchen with your friend, and a little bit sanctifying in some ways.” One thing I’ve noticed is that people are always out to cook with us. “I want to cook with you guys. I want to cook with you guys. When are you cooking? When can I come?” We can’t cook with 20 people here.
I think what they’re longing for is, what they’re saying is, “I want that community, I want that belonging, that friendship.” It really does just require finding those people in your neighborhood, in your community, or church or whatever and doing it, like you said, Elyse, just showing up and doing it.
Jen: That’s it. I want somebody to hear that today, be like listening and thinking, “that’s special. That would be great, that would be not only be fun, but be functional. The thing is all these great things, you just pull the trigger. Like just start it. Don’t wait for this to fall into your lap.
Don’t wait for somebody else to have this great idea and invite you in. This is as simple as picking up the phone and going “hey do you guys want to try this and see how it goes? Let’s just try it for a month and see if we like it see if it’s working, and just absolutely just pull it off.”
Alright, I’m going to wrap this up by asking you a question that I ask all my guests, and it was put to the rest of us by Barbara Brown Taylorwho is an author that I really really love and respect. So this is her question, and you can answer any way you want. It can be serious, it could be funny, it could be big, it could be small. What is saving your life right now?
Suzanna: So we’ve talked a lot about wine and friendship and fun, and that definitely kind of keeps me from getting too serious about life. But probably the thing that saving my life, if I’m being honest, would be one; Bible study which is such a cheesy answer, but it’s never been like a regular part of my routine until recently, and I’ve noticed that it keeps me grounded and it keeps me—I’m just reacting less and it’s keeping me full of less stress and I’m feeling more centered. Maybe how someone might feel after doing yoga or meditation, but I’m just not that athletic. So I’m really enjoying that and it’s saving my life.
The other thing would be therapy and that’s something when you’re doing hard things and therapy just really helps a lot to get through it and to be operating at 100 percent and to thriving.
Jen: 1000 percent. What are you setting for your Bible study right now.
Suzanna: I’m studying. I attend BSFand we’re studying Romans.
Jen: Just a light little book called Romans. It’s so hardcore, Paul is so hardcore in Romans. I love both of those things. I’m a huge fan of both and would love to see women talk more about the amazing benefits of therapy when we just need some emotional support. I love that. That’s fabulous. OK. And how about you Elyse?
Elyse: You know my saving grace is pretty simple. It’s the friends and family. It’s at the end of the day, or whenever we can find time to come together; to laugh, to enjoy each other and forget about how difficult life can really be, and just enjoy that moment. Then the next day always seems to be simple, and just to come together. I am really big on community. We didn’t mention this earlier but we come from a very, very small town. To be in the big city of Austin is so overwhelming, so to keep it simple, and keep my community close, and my friends close–it makes life easy, and saves mine.
Jen: Yeah I couldn’t agree more. That’s my best and my favorite tool. My friends and my family and often and close. It really does solve the sense of feeling lonely, or overwhelmed, or whatever the thing is–I find that that is almost always a quick and immediate fix.
Hey girls, thank you for everything today. Thanks for hopping on. This is not what you expected to do with your time, with your day. Love your story. I think a lot of women are going to be interested in what you do. So if you can dig it out–listeners we will post up some recipes, so if you just need some place to start with two or three of your friends, we’ll have some ideas for you. In the meantime, great to meet you both. This was such a fun conversation.
Suzanna: It was great to meet you. Thanks so much for taking the time, and I hope everybody out there will take the time to spend some time with girlfriends today.
Jen: Love it. Have a great day you guys.
Suzanna and Elyse: Thanks. Bye!
Jen: I am positive that Suzanna’s and Elyse’s story was super inspiring in terms of, what a great way to enjoy each other’s company, to have your friends, and to feed your families, right? Fabulous.
Jen: My next guest is my like one of my closest friends. I mention, when we start talking, like full disclosure, I crowd sourced my own friend, because I want you to know what she does with food. So if we just talked about a really creative way to feed your families, this is a really phenomenal way to feed other people. Also, in line with kind of the theme we’re parlaying out here, my friend Melissa Navarro, who’s about to to be up, isn’t a big foodie. It’s not that she loves cooking, it’s not that she’s always scouring recipes–it’s not that at all. It’s just that she is another person who is using food in a really powerful, and really profound way.
So Melissa and I’ve been friends for, I think about six years, and she’s in my supper club. You guys have heard me talk about my supper club. We’ve been meeting for that long. I met Melissa for the first time at our first supper club, which was six years ago, and her and her husband Nate. She was pregnant with her fourth daughter. Four girls, and I mean it’s ride or die now. So we’re now been together all this time, cooking for each other, being in each other’s homes, we vacation together. We take girls trips together, like this is an all the way friend I just knew that I wanted you to hear about what she does with food in her home because it’s so special. I mean, it is really, really so, so, so special and so unique.
Nate and Melissa and their girls; they lived in Austin for years, and now they live in Belton, where they moved in 2012. I’m just going to leave it there, because I’m going to let her tell you what it is they do, and you are going to love it. This is my dear, dear friend Melissa Navarro.
?Jen: Good morning friend.
Melissa: Good morning.
Jen: I’m so tickled. Thank you for coming on the podcast.
Melissa: You’re welcome.
Jen: So I mentioned it already, but full disclosure, Melissa’s one of my closest friends. This is the crowd source episode for the food series and I crowd sourced my own friend.
?Melissa: You did.
Jen: I know, and I mean she won’t tell you this, but Melissa hates this kind of stuff. And we’ve asked before, “couldn’t you be on videos with us or can you do some stage thing with us?” It’s like categorically “no,” right?
Melissa: Yes. Like this is a miracle.
?Jen: I know it. It is a miracle and you know how much I love you. I’m so glad you’re on because when we were thinking through this food series, it’s not just for cooks, ’cause frankly, you don’t love to cook, right?
Melissa: No, I don’t. I’m just not great at it.
Jen: Right, this isn’t like only for people who are major foodies and take cooking classes and all that. We were thinking about food culture in general and how we can use food to gather and serve, and the hospitality aspect of it, the community aspect of it. Nobody is better at this than you. First of all, we already have a food connection because of supper club.
?Melissa: Yes, we do.
Jen: Have long have we been meeting?
Melissa: Well, I was pregnant with Mary Jones and she just turned six, so a little over six years.
Jen: Oh that’s right. Holy mother.
Melissa: I was largely pregnant.
Jen: You were. I remember. That was our very first supper club at the Ott’s.
Jen: So six years. Six years we’ve been meeting—six years plus–and y’all have heard me talk about supper club before, but we get together theoretically once a month, except when our lives are insane, and we cook for each other. It’s four couples and it’s just been one of the great joys of my life. We travel together, vacation together, so it’s one of our best things, right?
Melissa: Yes, it definitely is, yes.?
Jen: So food is already a thing that we have between us, but I’m excited to just talk about how you use food in a really, really, really, really special way. So let’s go back to when you were in Austin. Melissa lives in Temple now which is just a little bit north of us, but when you lived in Austin, can you tell everybody sort of about your Wednesday night tradition? What you had when you were here?
?Melissa: Yeah, I mean basically what we did is we had four kids, Mary Jones was a new baby. We both were working full-time jobs, and just so busy, and felt like there wasn’t just one night that our family was connecting that was consistent. So we just decided to carve out Wednesday nights. We went to the same restaurant, every single Wednesday night. It was called Enchiladas Y Mas.
Jen: It was amazing.
Melissa: We got to be friends with the cook, John. He went to some UT footballgames with us. This was like; our faces were seen at Enchiladas Y Mas every Wednesday night for four years.
Jen: That’s so awesome.
Melissa: So we didn’t veer. That was just what we did on Wednesday night. None of us made any other plans, and if anybody wanted to hang out with us on Wednesday night, they had to meet us at Enchiladas Y Mas.
Jen: They did, right? People would join you.
Melissa: Oh, neighbors, friends, people in our city group. Oh yeah, sometimes we’d have a table of 20, and then sometimes it would just be the six of us.
Jen: So obviously you know I love that, and feel really strong about connecting around the table. So when did you move to Belton?
Melissa: So we moved to Belton in 2012.
Jen: Golly, has it been that long?
Melissa: It has almost been five years, yep.
?Jen: Oh my gosh, that’s a long time. That’s longer than I thought. That’s longer than my memory’s telling me. So you moved to Belton and you thought, okay, we’ll probably replicate Wednesday night dinner and it just wasn’t catching or connecting. It wasn’t coming together maybe as easily as it did in Austin.
Jen: So you started thinking, maybe I want to tweak the system here. Talk us through sort of that process for you.
?Melissa: So basically we were remodeling this house that we’re in currently, and I remember walking in there and just thinking, “What a great space for …” it’s just big and open to just host and provide a meal.
Melissa: What would that look like if different people in the community were invited to gather and have dinner together and get to know each other better? So we had tried restaurants, and we had tried a couple of different restaurants multiple times, and it just wasn’t clicking. So I just decided I wanted it to be in our home.
Jen: So then what? How did we get from that moment to what you do now, which we’re about to unpack for everybody, and they’re gonna go crazy for it?
Melissa: It’s interesting because it’s not at all what I had envisioned or what I had planned. So my initial, my very first text was on a Monday, and I sent it out to–I don’t know–maybe 10 to 15 of my friends and I said, “Hey you guys, we’re gonna open up our home every Wednesday night. We’re gonna provide a meal. This is for anyone in the community that wants to come, so grab your neighbor, grab the homeless man that you see on a regular basis in your neighborhood. Whoever. Just anyone is welcome and then shoot me a text back, let me know how many are coming and we’re gonna provide the meal.”
Melissa: So that first time was kind of a hodgepodge. It was just some random people who showed up and it was fun, but I think it was the second week, I told my mom, who is the athletic secretary at Temple College, I said, “Mom why don’t you invite these kids who don’t have a cafeteria, they never get a home cooked meal, why don’t you invite the basketball team? Invite those basketball guys over.”
So that was their first week at our house. We just had this guys’ basketball team from Temple College and I just thought they’d come one time; and be like “who are these middle aged people that want to have a bunch of basketball players that will never come back?”
Jen: Hanging out with a bunch of moms.
Melissa: Four years later, and all it is is Temple College athletes, and there’s about 50 to 60 of them on a weekly basis.
Jen: Every single–you do it on Tuesdays, right?
Jen: It’s too much. We’re gonna put up on my website some pictures–you’ve got so many.
Melissa: Yeah, I do.
Jen: Tuesday nights with the kids, but I mean you guys are over the top. I hope you heard what she said, 50 to 60 college athletes every single Tuesday at her house. Like every sport, right? They’re kids from across the board.
Melissa: Yes, it is men’s basketball, women’s basketball, volleyball, softball and baseball.
Jen: That is crazy. It’s so crazy. So could you tell everybody a little, it’s my favorite thing you do. I know it’s your favorite thing that you do.
Melissa: Yeah, it really is.
?Jen: It’s amazing. How do you logistically pull this off because this is no joke? I mean, not only is this 50 to 60 people, they’re hungry teenagers. I mean this is a lot of food.
Melissa: Yes it is. They’re not just hungry teenagers, they are hungry–many of them—seven-foot tall teenagers.
Melissa: They are walking into my house from practice.
Jen: Like sweaty and gross.
Melissa: Sweaty, hungry, just–they can eat. So my mom and I cook the main meal and when I say meal, I mean these are casseroles.
Jen: Okay, listen.
Melissa: I’m all about the casserole for these kids.
Melissa: So I will Google “casserole that feeds 100.” And then we double that.
Jen: Do you?
Melissa: Oh, we have to. I mean one kid will eat like eight Sloppy Joe’s.
Jen: I don’t know why it’s so funny to me, maybe ’cause you just have all girls too.
Melissa: I know, I know.
Jen: Melissa and Nate, they have four daughters. So just that you’re feeding these giant seven foot, starving athletic boys, it’s the best thing.
Melissa: It really is so fun. So my mom and I cook. What I had to do is invest in, you know those big electric ovens? You plug them in and they … you don’t know what this is, do you?
Jen: Okay, yeah, yeah. I got it. I’m following now.
Melissa: You do not have one of these?
Jen: No, is this important?
Melissa: So important, yes. Okay so I plug these in all down my kitchen counter and I make everything in those three electric ovens, and then I have two ovens in my kitchen. And so I cook for 100, and my mom cooks for 100. ?
Jen: Got it.
Melissa: What I do is I’ve made it really easy for my friends to help. I just shoot out a text, “This is what my mom and I are making this week. If y’all could just grab packaged salads, a ton of like the little brownie bites, or they love the soft sugar cookies with the icing, grab a ton of those.” I have one girlfriend who just swings through Bush’s Chicken and picks up like 20 gallons of sweet tea. And there we go.
Jen: Yeah. So your friends; do they come and stay or do they just drive by and drop off?
Melissa: No, I have the same few that stay every single week. I mean they’re there till the bitter end.
Jen: Yeah. So the kids come over at what time? What time do they leave?
Melissa: Okay, they start kind of trickling in as they get out of practice. So any where from 5:30 to 6:00 is when they get there, and depending on if there’s a big sporting event on TV, some of them will stay until … you know the other night, it was opening night for NBA.
Jen: Oh yeah.
Melissa: It’s like 9:30 at night and I’m ready to put my pajamas on and get in bed, and my kids are already asleep and I have six basketball kids still in there watching TV. So I said, “Hey I’m gonna show y’all how to set the alarm when you leave. We’re going to bed.” I know.
?Jen: And you did.
Melissa: I showed them how to set the alarm and when I woke up the next morning they had like picked up my kitchen, they had turned all the lights off. They had set the alarm and left. I have no idea what time.?
Jen: That’s so awesome. I love too, how the students are with your girls, and with your kids ’cause now at this point, this is just what your girls know.
Melissa: It’s all they know.
Jen: This is just what you do. This is how you’re gonna run your house. It’s so fun to see them in your pictures all the time.
Melissa: I know. Yeah.
?Jen: Just hanging out with a bunch of college students all the time. Tell everybody kind of how you do birthdays too.
Melissa: Okay, so I have a whole list of the athletes’ birthdays. So every week, I look at whose birthdays are that week and I send out a text, “What is your favorite cake?” And I just do what I can to make it happen. I mean these kids are away from home. It’s their birthday. I want to give them their favorite cake and have everyone sing happy birthday to them, and so we sit around my dining room table. I make everyone come in and we all sing happy birthday to everyone.
Jen: It’s so great. You know, obviously so Jess, Melissa’s oldest daughter Jessica is a freshman in college right now. Y’all know that my oldest son Gavin’s a sophomore, and so now that I have a kid who is seven hours away from me, in a city where he doesn’t have any family, the thought of another adult loving my kid week in and week out like this, like celebrating birthdays and accomplishments and just saying, “Come over and I’m gonna feed you and you’re welcome in my home,” like, I could sob. Do you feel like now, having a college student, has this even sort of intensified for you the gift that you are, to not just these kids, but their families back home?
Melissa: You know, I think I actually kind of caught onto that before Jessica even went off to Baylor. What started happening is–so we go to these sporting events. We go to as many baseball games as we can and as many softball games, and basketball games, and volleyball games, so that these kids see the faces of our family in the crowd cheering them on. What started to happen is parents were seeking me out at the games, coming up to me and saying, “You have no idea what this means to me, to her dad.” I started thinking, “Wow, I’ve never really thought before about how much this means to the parents that their kids have some where to go.”
Jen: Totally. It’s so precious. It’s so powerful. I mean and these kids too, I mean they work so hard. They’re constantly in games and practices and there’s a lot of pressure on them. It’s so special. You know it’s funny because a lot of my listeners are just a hair behind you and I in the stage of life. So they’re kind of looking ahead to teenagers, even upper teenagers, early 20’s college kids.
Jen: Those kids–they get such a bad rap.
Melissa: They do.
Jen: I think they’re talked about poorly, and sort of minimized, and even mocked a lot in the way people talk about them publicly. But you and I are exactly the same in this because we love this age group, and we think they’re interesting, and they’re smart, and they’re good. Like they’re good. I think that’s what I want people to know is that there’s so much goodness in teenagers and college students. What are you loving about these kids, about who they are, about how they are? What their generation is like, what it’s like having them in your home? What’s your favorite thing about them?
Melissa: You know, I’ve told Nate this before. I think that college kids are so overlooked.
Melissa: It’s like we release them out into the world and they’re new little baby adults and they’re fumbling around and they’re trying to find themselves and figure out what they want to do. We kind of make fun of them. We joke about how irresponsible they are, and how their frontal lobe isn’t fully developed yet, and they make poor decisions. I find, when I really take the time and sit down with these kids and get to personally know them and talk to them, they are so smart and creative and kind. They have so much to offer. I cannot tell you how much better my family and my kids are for having these kids in their lives. They’re not stupid.
Melissa: They’re not irresponsible.
Jen: That’s right.
Melissa: I just love this age so much.
?Jen: I do too. I love hearing you talk about them. That’s my experience as well and having other trusted adults besides your parents believe in you at this age, and invest in you, and listen to you, I cannot overstate what a big deal it is. This is the season in life where I feel like the village comes into play hardcore. When they’re young adults, when everything’s in front them, all the decisions feel kind of big, it’s too precious. It’s too good. So I’m thinking about the people listening to you tell your story Melissa, because it’s so fabulous to hear. What would you tell people who, their interest is piqued, they’re like, “Golly, there’s a college in my town.” Or there’s a whatever. “I’m right here by this group of young adults or by this group of students. But this idea of having something on a weekly basis to this degree or even half to this degree to be honest feels overwhelming.”
Jen: How would you encourage them, because listen, these kids aren’t looking to be impressed, right? That’s not part of the deal.
Melissa: Oh no, no. You know, it doesn’t take much for these kids honestly. I have a sign in my kitchen, “If you feed them, they will come.”
Jen: That’s true.
Melissa: It rings so true, because I can be having a tight week and literally throw in a chili dog casserole, which is just a bun and cheese and the hot dog, and they are so happy. I would just encourage people to even start out with two.
Melissa: If you can just even get in with two and invite two over, it’ll just kind of grow from there organically. It really does not have to be hard. They’re very easily pleased.
Jen: That’s the truth. I mean they’re just like Brandon Hatmaker, when you put out those soft cookies with the icing, he could eat like 17 dozen.
Melissa: Oh yeah, yeah.
Jen: So that’s all. That’s all he would need. The students are the same way, and then also you activated your people. I mean obviously you and your mom were total co-partners here. But your friends too, so I think this is an inspiring idea that a lot of people will be like, “I’ll bring the sweet tea. I’ll bring the mac and cheese,” or whatever.
Melissa: Yes, yes.
Jen: Do you have any moments that you love, like a favorite moment, a favorite conversation? A kid that was really special? Some story?
?Melissa: Oh, I mean there’s so many. You know outside of the Tuesday night, and I mean this is kind of a whole separate thing, but what I have done is I put a freezer in our game room and I have it just packed full of frozen foods. So Pizza Rolls, Hot Pockets, Taquitos. What I’ve told the kids is, this is your food. ?So I feed you on Tuesday nights but if you ever want to come over here any other night of the week, this is your food. You turn my oven on. You pop it in the oven. That creates a space for smaller groups to come over, or individuals to come over, and those are the sweet spots for me because those are the nights that I really get to sit down and talk to kids one on one, help them with their homework, or help them with decision making. They’re helping my kids with their homework. So those are the sweetest moments for me.
?Jen: And they come, right? They do it.
Melissa: They come.
Jen: I love what you’re doing.
? Melissa: Thank you.
?Jen: I think it’s one of the most special things. Brandon and I were just talking about it this morning in the kitchen and I was telling him that you and I are about to hop on the phone. He was like, “I’m so jealous.”
You know, you’ve just carved out such a meaningful space with such a specific group of kids and I like that because I think sometimes especially right now, the world feels so disconnected. It feels so angry. Everybody’s screaming. Everybody’s separated. It’s hard to know what to do. How do we help the world heal right now? It’s overwhelming and I think about your example, Melissa, because you picked one small group. You know, you’re not trying to do it all. You can’t open your home to everybody in your whole town.
You said, “Okay, I’m gonna work with college athletes.” And I mean really and truly, you’ve created something sacred. It’s so holy, and good, and healing, and healthy and it’s just a good example to me that we don’t have to do it all and we can’t do it all. We can pick one thing and do it with all our heart…
Jen: … and with all our might and those are the people that we love. It’s so fun for me to think about these kids telling stories of this, like 10, 15, 20 years from now.
Melissa: Right, right. You know, one of the coaches at the end of last year, he said he went around and asked all of his basketball kids, “What are you gonna miss the most about Temple College?” And almost all of their answers were, “the Navarros.”
Jen: Oh. Tears.
Melissa: Yeah, it’s something they look forward to every week and something that they all had in common. A bunch of kids that don’t have a lot in common, love to come over and eat food.
Jen: Yep, that’s right. Exactly. It’s gonna work 100% of the time.
Melissa: Yes. Yep.
Jen: You feed them and they will come no matter if it’s just King Ranch casserole or hot dogs, it doesn’t matter.
Melissa: It does not matter.
Jen: They’re gonna come and they’re gonna love it.
Okay, one last question that we just kind of ask everybody on the way out the door. It can be whatever you want it to be. It can be serious. It can be funny. It can be important. It can be small. So what is saving your life right now?
?Melissa: What is saving my life? Oh, I mean honestly, I’m really not just saying this, I think Tuesday nights. It’s not just my life, I mean my kids get out of the car every single day, “Is it Temple College night?” I mean this is the night that our family is home together and we are busy. We have something almost every single night of the week and this is a very sacred night for me where I feel safe and loved and it just gives me so much joy.
Jen: No doubt.
Melissa: So Tuesday night.?
Jen: No doubt. I can’t wait for people to see some of your pictures that we post so they get the full picture that it is literally a teenager in every corner of your house and home.
? Melissa: Oh, for sure.
Jen: I mean it is the most fun, the most wonderful thing. I’m so proud of you. Every time I think about you doing this, my heart just swells. It’s so amazing. Hey, thanks for being on a podcast.
Melissa: Oh first one. It wasn’t that bad.
Jen: You did amazing. Okay, so you know I love you so much.
Melissa: Thank you.
Jen: Okay, thanks for being on. All right bye.
OK well, I mean, you can obviously see why I wanted you to meet Melissa and hear what she does, because this is one of the most phenomenal human beings I know. She is a good friend to me in this, to this exact degree. Just a forever friend, just like this–she loves so big.
I’m going to have a bunch of pictures over on my web site about Melissa’s gathering it’s s going to be on JenHatmaker.com underneath the podcast. But also, just so you know, if you want to follow what she does on Instagram, she hashtags all her pictures #TempleCollegeAthletes. So if you just search that on Instagram, it’s four years of pictures and you’ll really get the scope of how many kids fill her house and yard. I mean it’s so fun to look at. They just make me so happy and bring me so much joy. So you can follow her over there as well.
So you guys, thank you for sticking with me through the longest crowdsourced episode ever. I think I could fill this entire podcast with just your stories, because they’re all so good and these are just bringing me so much life– in a time when the world feels so dark right now and everything just feels scary and disconnected, you keep reminding me all the time, there’s so much good going on. People are still amazing and they’re loving one another well, and they’re gathering around tables with people that are different from them. Food is still this great connector across age groups, and ethnicities, and races, and class barriers and across the aisle, and across the road, and across town. Food is still good news because it brings us together. Thank you for being with me during this whole series. I hope that you loved it.
There’s so much good stuff in here, I can hardly think through it all to take it all away. Amazing people doing amazing things and just a reminder why I love this conversation so much, why I love this space so much. I just find it so healing, and positive, and wonderful So thanks for listening, you guys. We are so grateful for you. This wraps up our series on food which was fantastic.
So listen. Our next series, you’re going to be really excited about. We’re doing For the Love of Fall and Holidays. And our guest lineup, it’s insane. It’s actually insane and we’re we’re all over the place. We’re talking about traditions. We’re talking about gift guides. We’re talking about boundaries and relationships as we press into all this family time for the next season we have so much good content to share with you and you are going to enjoy my first guest too. I’m just going to leave that dangling because it’s somebody that you love. Love, love, love love, love. So join me next week as we kick off For the Love of Fall and Holidays. You’re not going to want to miss a single episode. Thanks for tuning in every week you guys. See you next week.
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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