“The opposite of a ‘nice girl’, I learned is a ‘good woman.’ Being a good woman means trading the safe, passive, people-pleasing behavior of niceness for the dynamic power of true goodness. It means moving from the weakness and immaturity of girlhood toward the strength and maturity of womanhood…A good woman knows she cannot be all things to all people, and she may, in fact, displease those who think she should just be nice. She is not strident or petty or demanding, but she does live according to conviction.”

“I was thirty-nine years old when I walked into my counselor’s office and said, ‘I’ve been working so hard to keep everybody else happy, but I’m so miserable I want to die.’ I spent the decade of my forties digging out of that hole. Now, nearly midway through my fifties, I’ve discovered that growing up is an ongoing process – I have not yet arrived. Still, I have learned some things on the journey to becoming a good woman.” – from ‘nice girls don’t change the world’ by Lynne Hybels

Sunny morning brunch - and the first day of the rest of Grace and Jim's life together...congrats!

I was in Atlanta, Georgia this weekend for a very good friend’s wedding and had the opportunity to spend some quality time with college girlfriends whom I never quite realize how much I miss until I see them again. From them I get the comfort of family, but also the encouragement and wisdom of a sisterhood that I easily forget I need as I go about the busy-ness of my daily life. Similar to the Spice-sisterhood, but of an older vintage, which also means I’ve drifted from them a bit further in time and distance. But not in spirit and love. It was such a lovely time. And an amazing wedding. I cherish weddings in general, but most especially those of people I have seen grow through the awkwardness of all the relationships that came before “the one”.

I stayed an extra day for time to myself and this morning, I wandered into the bookstore of one of those mega-churches – I was a few minutes too late to attend service, but looked around at the books and tapes to see if anything caught my eye. I’ve lately been thinking a bit about what I’d like to do about the spiritual and religious aspect of my life, so it was rather timely and appropriate. I ended up picking up a book by Tim Keller, whose sermons I remember fondly from when I attended his Manhattan church in the mid-90s. I was surprised to read the bio on the backflap to find that he had started Redeemer in 1989, just a few years before I attended my first service there in 1994. And now, they have thousands of congregants, five services weekly, and several spin-off churches! I look forward to reading his thoughts as I always enjoyed his direct, logical, and meaningful messages.

The other book I picked up was from the “women’s section”. A short and sweet book by Lynne Hybels, the wife of another mega-church pastor. I read it all within 20 minutes during my flight back to Chicago. The first quote above sums up the basic idea. About growing from people-pleasing to being true to yourself. In Lynne’s case, being true to herself is all about following God’s will. Maybe it is for me, too, in a way – or maybe it’s something slightly different. Either way, it’s a hard thing to remember and understand for many women – that being good doesn’t always mean being nice. From that I extrapolate a little and would also say, sometimes being a good woman might make you a bit of a b*tch in some people’s eyes. So, if I’m committed to being good and true to myself, I can’t keep stressing about being that other thing that offends some in society.

The second paragraph I included, too, because it reminds me that as much as I sometimes regret the youthful years that are so far behind me, there still really is so much ahead. And Lynne’s journey that came at a stage in her life further along than I have even yet reached, reminds me that – the best is yet to come. We learn more, grow wiser, and our lives become better, richer and more rewarding. I will try to remember to look forward to that! Even as I know I’ll still occasionally look back to the lighter years of youth. I realize now that the reason I can now look back and value the simplicity with which my younger self viewed life and, yes, regress a little and try to recapture it’s essence through pop music and young adult blogs, is that I am looking at that era through my older eyes. Older eyes that only now recognize how truly lovely girlhood and it’s promise of the unknown future really is. But it doesn’t mean I want to go back, if going back means losing all that I have experienced and learned since.

Bento Lunch

This week, I made a vow to cook more and bring lunch. My groceries for the week included a roast chicken, salmon fillets, and some sardines. Yes, sardines. Have you ever had broiled or grilled sardines? Delicious! Well, that was from my trip to Whole Foods last Saturday. It is now Friday evening, and I still have a whole container of shredded chicken, and four lonely sardines in the fridge. I always overshoot in my goals.

But. I did end up cooking! Tuesday AND Wednesday. Imagine that. And, even brought lunch for two days. Monday night, I looked up some salmon recipes and found a salmon/veg/rice bake out of one of my America’s Test Kitchen cookbooks and a salmon teriyaki recipe in my Bento cookbook. This inspired me to bring my lunch in my Bento! So, I did all this prep on Monday night, did the final cooking and packing of my Bento on Tuesday morning…and here is the story of my Tuesday Bento….

The Bento Carrier.

Oh those adorable Japanese and their unique use of the English language. Ok, the Chinese do it, too. Isn't it cute?

I actually started with my Bento-meal at breakfast time. I hate eating breakfast at home. It feels too early. But for some reason, the 15 or 20 minutes later, after I get into my office, feels like a fine time to eat breakfast. I think the other thing is that actually taking time to eat breakfast in my kitchen at home makes me nervous. Like I’m falling behind on the start of my day and I really need to get to the office as soon as possible. Why do I have such anxiety when I am away from my desk? It must be some kind of illness.

Here is the bento in all its glory - vacuum sealed to keep food hot or cold for hours! And the reusable bamboo utensils from Whole Foods. I'm a sucker for knick knacks at WF. Another illness of mine.

And the bento unpacked. Note the three convenient containers for different foodstuffs.

So, for breakfast – kefir with honey, cinnamon, and toasted flaxseed. How did I come up with this scrumptious-sounding concoction you ask? Why, from my recent stay at the Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico! This lovely healthy living spa got me addicted to this dairy product they served every day that they called “acidophilus milk.” What is that? Just plain lowfat milk that has acidophilus living and multiplying it. The closest thing I know of is Kefir, which the bottle describes as a “cousin of yogurt” and the “champagne of dairy.” Kefir has other yogurty bacteria in it, besides just acidophilus, so maybe it’s not exactly the same as what I got at the spa. But, chock full of even more probiotics and healthy bacteria! Does that not sound appetizing? Well, if you’re still not convinced about how delicious it is, just take a look:

Bento meal part 1: Breakfast Kefir Blend

What more proof do you need of the deliciousness of this meal?

So the thing about packing the yogurty-stuff, though is: this stuff was packed cold. The rest of my meal was packed hot. I also unpacked everything at breakfast, and then repacked everything, to save the other containers of food for lunchtime. I am clearly not well-versed in the way of the Japanese Bento. Lunch turned out lukewarm. Would it have stayed hot if I’d just left the whole thing sealed until lunchtime and not mixed in cold foods? I have faith that it would have. Until completely proven wrong, I will maintain my faith in the Japanese Bento. But, even lukewarm, it was tasty, seasoned with the extra sense of satisfaction that I’d cooked something healthy for myself. So, lunch:

Yum! This is better, right? On the left, lightly sauteed kale and collards over brown rice. To the right, teriyaki salmon.

I made the second salmon fillet for Tuesday dinner using the America’s Test Kitchen recipe. I ate the entire fillet, but there was leftover veggies and rice that I brought for lunch the next day. Not in the bento, because, of course, I hadn’t had a chance to wash it yet. I can either cook, or do dishes. Not both. That gives me one solid reason for why I need a partner in life. Or at least in my home.

Of the rest of my last Saturday’s grocery shopping, I have put a dent in the roast chicken. I made a few chicken quesadillas on Sunday. The rest of it has been mixed in with Marley’s dog food at night. Did I tell you how he will not eat his dry food unless I mix something yummy into it? He’s so spoiled. Usually, I just put some canned dog food and mix it together. But this week, I kind of knew I wasn’t going to be able to eat a whole roast chicken on my own, so I thought I’d give him a special treat. Anyway – time to broil some sardines for dinner tonight. I hope they are still good. I do have to clean them myself because the WF fishmonger told me that if he cleaned them for me, they would not stay fresh for more  than a day or two. I don’t know if he realized I thought he was promising me that, if I didn’t have him clean them, they would fresh for six days.

Frontera Grill at ORD

Next time you are flying through O’Hare, I recommend picking up an airport meal between gates B10 and B11. Rick Bayless has opened an airport version of his popular Chicago restaurant Fontera Grill, called Frontera Tortas. The tortas (Mexican grilled sandwiches) take about 10 minutes to prepare, so plan ahead accordingly. Last time I came, I had the chicken tortilla soup and then ordered a Cubano Torta to save for dinner. The chicken tortilla soup is my absolute favorite at Frontera Grill and I would say the airport version is 40% the quality of the in-restaurant version. Part of it is presentation – the restaurant version comes with condiments on the side, including a dried ancho chili you crumble into the soup. All this to say, even at 40%, the ORD version is still a delicious, satisfying soup. Particularly when slightly hungover, which I was.

Today, I got here in time for the breakfast Tortas (served until 10am) and I got the egg and chorizo, of course. Also yum! I am going to try to upload a photo. They also have this yogurt on the menu that looked delicious, but as this was my first opportunity to try a breakfast torta, I didn’t want to waste my time ordering something healthy. Also on the menu, a variety of fresh juices, guacamole and chips, and a couple of margaritas. The Tortas are a bit messy and maybe not something you’d want to attempt to eat actually on the flight. But there is seating at the restaurant, or you could enjoy at the gate.

I am going to eat the rest of my breakfast torta now!