Our new editor-at-large Jenna Bush Hager will be contributing to the magazine and here on the Daily South. She sat down to chat with us about how she keeps true to her Southern roots, her influences, and her favorite place to get tacos when she’s back in the Lone Star State.
Describe a typical week in your life.
I’m on the road two to three days out of the week, either on Today Show shoots or speaking. I’m pitching stories, writing scripts, and editing pieces at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. I go to Soul Cycle (a stationary bike class) and try to get home and have dinner with my husband. We live in a neighborhood with great restaurants, but I cook as often as possible. I make Mexican food – last night I made turkey tacos.
What’s your favorite Southern food?
I love macaroni and cheese and okra. Growing up in Texas, I found food a huge part of the culture. One of my first meals was beans and rice at a Mexican restaurant. When I’m back in Texas I have to get my fix.
If you could put together a perfect day in the South, what would it include?
It would probably be in Austin, because that’s my home and my favorite place in the South. I would start out with a run on Town Lake right in the middle of the city. Then I would go to Jo’s on South Congress for coffee, and meet friends to go shopping in that neighborhood — there are some great boot stores there. I would go to lunch at Guero’s Taco Bar and spend the afternoon on Lake Austin, near my high school. Then I’d go for a barbecue dinner at Lambert’s. Chef Larry McGuire and I went to high school together and remain good friends. And since Austin is known for its music, I would finish the night listening to a performer at Lambert’s upstairs bar or at the Continental Club.
What has been your most memorable interview?
I interviewed Dolly Parton when I first started working for The Today Show and I was so excited because I love her so much. I love her candid approach to life and her humor. She’s always making jokes at her own expense. I interviewed her at Dollywood, which is quite a place. We got to go look at her clothes and see the amazing dresses she wore. She was as lovely and kind and humorous as I expected her to be.
Loretta Lynn was another great one. I grew up listening to her music, and respect that she sings so candidly about issues that affect women. I interviewed her at her ranch and as I was leaving she said, “I made you chicken and dumplings.” I was late for my flight but I didn’t care because I wanted to eat Loretta’s chicken and dumplings in her kitchen!
Then there are the interviews with my grandparents. Those are really special to me.
With holiday festivities in full swing, what makes a great hostess? What Southern traditions do you incorporate at Christmas?
A great hostess is someone who cares about how her guests are feeling. It’s all about making people feel comfortable so they can be their true selves. We always turn away from the traditional holiday feast, and dine on tamales, enchiladas, and guacamole.
Who are your favorite living Southerners?
Designer Lela Rose, Condoleezza Rice, Tom Wolfe, and Barbara Kingsolver. And I know that everyone says this, but my mom and grandmother were instant role models from the day we were born.
Tell us about your website, The NOVO Project.
The Novo Project is a website I started with my best friend Mia Baxter, who is from San Antonio. We met when we were 16, and we both went to the University of Texas. The site spotlights people who are changing our culture, including musicians, artists, and chefs. They are people who are making a difference.
On the tastemaker note, what’s on your iPod?
I love all old country, like Willie Nelson and George Jones – that’s the music my parents listened to growing up. I also listen to Mumford and Sons, The Nationals, and Arcade Fire, to name a few.
What are you reading?
I read a lot – about a book a week. My mom’s a librarian, so I got that from her. I’m currently reading “The Round House,” by Louise Erdrich. It’s a book about a boy living on a Native American reservation who has witnessed a crime and is trying to figure it out. It reminds me a lot of To Kill A Mockingbird.
**Jenna says she loves this collage from The Novo Project, which reflects more of her interests. Stay tuned for content from The Novo Project, and more from Jenna, in the coming weeks.