Good eats in Chicago

 It’s no secret we like food, and good food at that. So, when we took two days in Chicago, food was definitely on the agenda. My husband planned it all, so I didn’t have much clue about where we would be eating.

Tuesday, for lunch, I had the directions to navigate us to our restaurant location, but I didn’t know where we were going until Portillo’s came into view. I had mentioned something about wanting a Chicago dog recently. But I ended up with the garbage salad.

Phil enjoyed a dog and an Italian beef and we shared cheese fries. It was a good start.

Next up for dinner that night was Italian Village. I don’t have any pictures of this because we were later than we wanted to be for dinner and almost missed the ballet. We ate in the Village section, the top floor of three in this unique restaurant. We had a 40 minute wait, then waited another 40 minutes or more for our food to arrive. We filled up on bread, soup (for me) and salad (for Phil) while we waited. The time ticked away and we soon realized we’d either be inhaling our food or leaving it. When it came to our table, we had about 3 minutes to eat it and pay before we needed to head out the door. Even at that pace, the food was delicious. I wish we could have enjoyed it more. I ate cannelloni with a cream sauce. Phil had mostaccioli with arrabiata sauce and meatballs. This was one instance where knowing how to eat fast because you have children who require it comes in handy. We did make it to the ballet. You can read more about that here.

Wednesday morning we took our breakfast at Fox & Obel in the cafe inside the grocery store.

I had biscuits smothered in chicken gravy topped with sunny-side-up eggs. The biscuits were sweet and reminded me of my grandma’s sugar cookies. A hint of almond flavor, I think. Phil ate a croque madame, which was a fancy egg sandwich — scrambled eggs, country shaved ham, Gruyere cheese, baby greens and a bechamel sauce between two slices of toasted bread. His came with home fries and fresh fruit cup. Wonderfully delicious, all of it.

We browsed the market that day after our breakfast. By lunchtime, I wasn’t too hungry, but my husband assured me lunch could be as light or as heavy as I wanted. We went to Christkindlemarket to take in some German fare. We ate bratwurst in the Nuremberger style, which Phil had when he was in Nuremberg for Army training.

We also had Austrian strudel: half a box of cherry and half a box of cheese. Warm and gooey, so tasty. We made a mess, but it was worth it.

That night, we didn’t want to make the same mistake we made the night before, so we headed to dinner early. Our short walk down Michigan Avenue found us at The Purple Pig.

Earlier in the day, Phil told me that he wasn’t sure how dinner “worked” exactly so he’d have to ask some questions. This sort of scared me because I thought dinner was a self-explanatory sort of thing. But after we got there, I understood why he said that. The Purple Pig serves its food on small plates, family-style, so you’re encouraged to order several items and share. You’re also seated at a table with other people not of your party, which is kind of fun if you don’t mind an invasion of privacy. The motto, or subtitle, of The Purple Pig is “cheese, swine and wine.” Let me tell ya, they use every part of the pig in ways you can hardly imagine.

Here’s what we ordered:

Shaved Brussel Sprouts, Pecorino Noce & Parmigiano-Reggiano — it was a bold and refreshing way to start. Brussel sprouts like I’ve never tasted them.

Pig’s Ear with Crispy Kale, Pickled Cherry Peppers & Fried Egg — this was on my husband’s list of things to eat here before we walked in the door. I was skeptical about eating pig’s ear. It wasn’t my favorite, but if I didn’t know it was pig’s ear, I wouldn’t have guessed that’s what I was eating. It was served in a little pig shaped bowl, which was a nice touch.

Chastelfranco, arugula with Sunchokes, Hazelnuts & Apple Cider Vinaigrette — a palate-cleansing salad with a fantastic blend of flavors.

Roasted Bone Marrow with Herbs — another dish my husband had pre-selected because it was one of the top 50 must-try foods in Chicago. Served in the bone, the marrow is cooked until spreadable. Smear it on a piece of toasted bread, top with a caper-onion-parsley-cilantro salad and sea salt and eat. It was good. Better than I expected. We made the mistake of using too little marrow to start and had to heap it on at the end to use it up with the remaining bread.

Milk Braised Pork Shoulder with Mashed Potatoes — by far, my favorite dish. So tender and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The recipe was posted on the Web site recently, but I’ll be surprised if we can duplicate this to exactness.

We also ordered dessert: Sicilian Iris which is a ricotta and chocolate chip-filled fried brioche and toasted cinnamon soft serve ice cream.

This place is a foodie’s dream, really, but save up if you plan on going. It’s not cheap, but it’s a unique dining experience. Even if you’re a picky eater and parts of the pig I’ve mentioned don’t appeal to you, you won’t go hungry.

Eating at The Purple Pig, for me, was just another reminder of why my husband is the perfect match for me. I would never have chosen to eat there on my own, and I certainly wouldn’t have tried new foods, especially parts of the pig I didn’t think were edible, without him. He stretches me in good ways.

For breakfast the next morning, we went back to Fox & Obel for pastries. Their bakery is one of the top 10 bakeries in the country. We ordered a cinnamon swirl, a creme orange danish and a brioche tart. After shopping a bit in the grocery, we also bought egg nog lattes and took our breakfast back to the lobby of our hotel. It was the perfect way to end our trip. We sat, ate and talked without interruption. Of all the things we did, it’s hard to choose a favorite, but this was the moment I felt most connected to my husband.

Some people eat to live. At times, we live to eat. This was one of those times.


A hidden Chicago gem

One of our first stops on our Chicago getaway (click here for the overview blog of our recent trip) was the Garfield Park Conservatory. It’s not far off the interstate, and I’m sure I’ve seen the sign for it dozens of times, but I never gave it much thought. My husband chose it as a place to kill time before checking into the hotel and as an addendum, of sorts, to our Longwood Gardens  visit in Pennsylvania in late summer. We took the kids there, which isn’t always conducive to a leisurely walk through the gardens.

Here, though, on our own, we could stop and read the plant markers, savoring the sights and smells of green.

When I look at these pictures, I can’t even believe I was in Chicago when I took them. The city never ceases to surprise me in some way.

The conservatory has palms, ferns, poinsettias (in season, which they happened to be), fruits and desert plants.

Here’s a cactus skeleton, 100 years old:

And beautiful art mixed with the beauty of nature. These are glass sculptures the conservatory purchased after housing an exhibit of this artist’s creations.

I’ve not been much of a plant person in my life, but it’s growing on me, pun not necessarily intended. I have an aloe plant in my kitchen that sparks something in me when I see it. A sign of life. I’ve never been very good about taking care of plants, but I suddenly want to add them to the decor in our house. There’s a sense of peace that comes from greenery.

So, we left the conservatory with a souvenir. A tradescantia zebrina plant, also known as an inch plant or a wandering Jew. (Seriously, who comes up with this stuff?) We’re tending it carefully until we can get it back to Pennsylvania to repot it and take better care of it.

A cool souvenir. The start of more to come, I hope. I can feel my thumb changing from black to shades of green.

All because of a couple of hours spent in a conservatory in a somewhat rough part of Chicago.

Did I mention the conservatory is free with free parking? If that’s not reason enough to check it out, then nothing else I can say or show will convince you.

Chicago for two

One thing we’ve lacked since having kids is pictures of just the two of us. Our trip to Chicago helped fix that.

Here’s a few from the Garfield Park Conservatory.

OK, so that middle one is just me, but my husband likes it. It’s probably been since our honeymoon that he’s had a picture of just me.

This one is from the show room, full of poinsettias. The staff person who took this was so proud of herself for the framing of the photo. She eagerly offered to take our picture. We thank  you, whoever you are!

This next one is my favorite, I think.

We took the following picture at the Christkindlmarket because we’d seen The Nutcracker ballet the night before. We didn’t have a chance to take any good pictures when we saw the ballet because we almost missed it. Our dinner at Italian Village ran late, so we had to run (me in heels!) to the ballet. We made it as the usher was making the final seating call. We dropped into our seats almost as the lights were dimming. So glad we made it on time, even if I had trouble walking for the next couple of days. I’m glad we had the chance to get a picture with The Nutcracker, too.

The next ones are our shots in the “Bean.” It took us several tries to get these.

Great memories!

Chicago in winter

For a month or so, my husband has been planning a secret two-night getaway for just us while we’re home for the holidays. Only a week ago did he let slip (because of tiredness) our destination city — Chicago. He planned our entertainment, our lodging, our eating without any input from me. That was difficult at first, but the string of surprises was fun as we walked through the city. This post will be the first of four about our trip, including pictures and commentary about food, a photo page of us in Chicago, and my impressions of the Garfield Park Conservatory. Not since our honeymoon 3 1/2 years ago have we taken an overnight trip without children. Long overdue. Much needed.

We stayed at the Hyatt Regency because my husband found us a couldn’t-pass-it-up deal on Hotwire. My first overwhelming moment of the trip. We’re not exactly Hyatt material, in my mind, so I immediately felt out of place. I got over it and enjoyed the downtown views, the river traffic, the amenities. It was the perfect location for walking everywhere we needed to go.

Night and day views from our hotel room window:

Here’s some of what we saw on our three-day trip to Chicago:

The Christkindlmarket, a German Christmas celebration in Daley Plaza (above). It was this busy. And the nearby Chicago Christmas tree. We saw it at  night our first night in the city but didn’t have time to stop and take a picture.

Speaking of trees, check out this 10,000-light beauty at Macy’s.

We also strolled the street to read the “Yes, Virginia” window stories. I’d never done this before and was amazed that the construction was all made from paper and takes 35 weeks to complete!

Next stop after Macy’s was the Bean.

Our second evening, we saw “A Christmas Carol” at The Goodman Theatre.

My husband bought us box seat tickets, which was another surprise. Even though our view of some of the stage was obstructed, we felt super important sitting all by ourselves. We had an up-close view of most of the production, which was moving and captivating.

Hold on to your hats, ladies, when I tell you this next part: We spent two evenings in Chicago and the Bulls and the Blackhawks were playing each of those nights. Yet  my husband chose to take me to The Joffrey Ballet’s The Nutcracker one night and to “A Christmas Carol” on stage the next night. Some of his decision involved money and seating, but let me tell you, I felt loved and blessed. The ballet was breathtaking and stunning, something I’m not sure I would have chosen and expected to enjoy, but I loved it. And it’s been years since I’ve seen a professional stage production.

My husband knows me well, and he did a fantastic job planning our getaway.

If I wasn’t already, now I’m totally in the Christmas spirit. At every stop, since I didn’t know where we were going, my husband would stop and say, “Merry Christmas.” It’s definitely a Christmas to remember.

Why I won’t be offended if you don’t invite us to your house

There’s this theory among single people and couples without children that when a couple becomes parents, they suddenly start hanging out with only other parents. My husband and I have a wide variety of friends in different stages of life, so I was sure this wouldn’t happen to us. Not by our choice, anyway. We aren’t the kind of people to dump friends or hole up in our house because we have kids.

Or so I thought.

Lately, I’ve become much more comfortable with the idea of NEVER leaving the house again. With two active kids (an almost 3-year-old and a just-turned-1-year-old), even going some place relatively safe, like the grocery store, where I can contain at least one, if not both of them, in a cart, has become a bit stressful. Especially with it being cold and wintry now. Coats, hats, mittens on, out of the house, into the car, strapped into seats, out of the car, into the cart, into the store, at least hats and mittens off, shop, hats and mittens back on, coats zipped up, in the car, out of car, back home, outerwear strewn across the floor.

Is it worth it? I sometimes ask myself. Maybe we should just become hermits and emerge when the children are, say, teenagers. Of course, by then, they probably won’t want to leave the house anyway.

But back to the friend issue. It’s not that I don’t want to hang out with singles or couples without kids or whose kids have grown and gone; it’s that sometimes, doing so stresses me out, especially if I don’t know the layout of the house. At one recent get-together, I spent most of the evening worried that the 1-year-old was going to take a fall down an open set of stairs. And I didn’t know where I could change a diaper. And the 2-year-old rearranged most of the decorations in the house.

At another dinner, the 2-year-old continued her streak of breaking something when we visit. This time, it was a Christmas decoration. Glass. She shattered it. The last time, it was a bunny figurine. Our hosts assured us it was fine, but even without the carnage, I was stressed by having to bring toys and a high chair for a chance at fellowship.

When we first moved here, and had only one child, we didn’t receive a lot of dinner invites from our church family, something I guess we sort of expected because that’s how we tend to get to know people better. As time went on, I figured it was because we had a baby. As time goes further on, I rarely expect to be invited anywhere because of the wee ones, and when we do get invited, and my husband says “yes” without asking me, I stress out about all the extra preparation involved, unless it’s to one of the “safe” homes on my list. (To make the safe list, you probably have kids around my kids’ ages or have grandkids that age, are relatives, or don’t keep a lot of nice things in your home, or you are so persistent that we can’t say “no”.)

I’m not an outwardly social person most of the time, so I don’t know why it bothers me that having kids limits my social circle a bit, except that I’m also insecure so I don’t like to be left out of things. I struggle with this even at church. Our church is smallish and has trouble staffing the nursery from week to week (with people other than a willing few who step in often to fill a gap). Since more Sundays than not my kids are the only ones in the nursery, this sometimes makes me feel like we’re a burden on the church and shouldn’t be there. (Not true, I know, but it’s the thought process I go through.)

Jesus said we’re to welcome little children in his name, so I keep that firmly in my mind when the children are crying, shouting or screaming during a serious or silent moment. Jesus wants them here, I tell myself.

I can’t always use the same argument for being at people’s houses, though. Even if Jesus wanted my children there, that doesn’t mean the homeowner has to agree.

I’d love to hear some other thoughts on this topic. Does anyone else struggle with this? I don’t want to use my kids as an excuse to not go places, but I also don’t want them to break something valuable, stain the carpet or swallow something inedible. Nor do I want to be hovering so much that I don’t enjoy myself or make the person hosting feel like less of a person because they didn’t babyproof their house for me.

Let’s hear it, moms. Tell me I’m not crazy.

A tale of two funerals

The world lost two great men this week. One was a household name, especially to baseball fans. The other, known mostly locally to his family, his community, his church. Both were laid to rest at 10 o’clock today in Illinois.

Both battled illnesses that eventually won the fight for their bodies. Both lived long lives.

One was a hero to his sport, a man who never complained about the illnesses or diseases that wracked his body, even when they made playing the sport difficult. And to the children who benefited from his commitment to raising money for juvenile diabetes.

The other was a hero to his family, a pillar of faith, a joy, a strength, a compassionate, humble servant.

One made a name for himself in the world, whether he wanted it that way or not. The other made a name for himself in heaven.

I am unqualified to speak much about either man, having never met the first in person and not being family or close friend to the other. Perhaps others more qualified can add their memories to this post.

What I do know is that both deaths leave a big hole in their circles of influence. Listening to Cubs’ broadcasts won’t be the same. Baseball won’t be the same. The Cubs won’t be the same. That’s a hole I don’t know how will be filled.

For the second man, his family won’t be the same, his church, his community, either, but that hole I know will be filled by their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This man left a legacy of faith to his children, his grandchildren, to others who had the privilege to know him.

Two grieving families, two worlds, two funerals at the same time on the same day. One honored, celebrated and remembered on national TV; one honored and celebrated locally. Both men may have fussed over the fuss of their respective remembrances. Jesus, and the hope of salvation, was preached through both of their lives.

May that legacy continue beyond their lives, beyond the celebration of today.

I couldn’t ignore the timing of these two funerals, being reminded that the celebration, remembrance and honor we receive on this earth is not the important thing. It’s the being with Jesus in heaven part that counts. It’s what we store up for the eternal world. Most of us won’t have a nationally televised funeral or the kind of influence that comes with fame and notoriety. But we all have a chance to affect eternity, starting with ourselves.

Death always reminds me of that — to take account of how I’m living my life, where my treasure is, what I’m living for, working for, valuing. What’s really important.

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” — 2 Corinthians 4:18

A funny thing happened on the way to Bible study

Fact: Our church’s women’s Bible study meets on Tuesday nights.

Fact: I usually attend these meetings.

Fact: It is finals week for my seminarian husband.

Fact: I am currently reading a book called “Forgotten God” by Francis Chan.

Fact: I am utterly clueless when it comes to understanding the Holy Spirit’s leading.

Scenario: It is Tuesday, a cold, bitter, sunless pre-winter day. I am typically exhausted from chasing kids all morning and overwhelmed by the condition of my house. I also miss spending time with my husband. We call these days the zombie days. He is here, present in the house, but not exactly “with us” if you know what I mean. He is reading about theological things I can’t spell or pronounce, formulating 10-page papers in his head. I am tempted to skip Bible study this night to have more time with him when he gets home from work. Before he leaves for work, he agrees and doesn’t try to talk me out of skipping. My mind is nearly made up to stay home.

The kids and I start playing. Isabelle’s current favorite game is “parade” where she pretends she’s in one and throws “candy” to Corban and me, sitting on a blanket on the other side of the room. The “candy” is often stuffed animals  or bouncy balls. The rule is: only throw soft things. For good reason. So, we’re playing, and I’m thinking about what to have for dinner when this feeling comes over me. Have you ever had one of those? It sort of wells up from somewhere inside me and nags at  my heart. I don’t panic, exactly, but it’s a feeling I can’t ignore. And all of a sudden, I feel like I MUST go to Bible study tonight. My first question is: why? And then my mind starts to wander down dark paths. Am I supposed to go because something is supposed to happen to me tonight? Am I going to be in a car wreck? Or maybe I’m supposed to leave the house because something’s going to happen here? And I freak out about the house possibly burning down in my absence. Or maybe I just need to help someone. Or, or, or …

I can’t shut it off, and I can’t ignore the pressing feeling that I need to go to Bible study. I can’t call my husband and tell him that plans have changed, so I just prepare for plans to change. We eat supper. The kids get their jammies on. They are, as usual, as ready for bed as I can get them before I leave the house. Now, I wait on my husband to get home from work. He walks in the door. I tell him how I feel. He immediately tells me that he didn’t eat at work. We talk a little more and he lets me make the decision, telling me he can handle himself and the kids while I’m gone.

I’m somewhat scared. But I can’t ignore the tug. I’m going. Shoes, coat, purse, book, kisses and hugs, and I’m off. Slightly excited. Somewhat anticipatory. My eyes scan the road and sidewalk, looking for a sign from God of why I felt compelled to leave the house when earlier I was set on staying home. I drive, and my heart catches in my throat with every car that passes. I’m driving, I’m looking, I’m seeing nothing out of the ordinary.

I arrive safely at Bible study. We have a good discussion. I can’t stop eating the Cheez-Its sitting in front of me. I drive home, still with alert eyes to what God might have had in mind for the evening. At home, everything is as it should be. The kids are safely and soundly in bed. My husband is finally eating his supper. “Biggest Loser” is about to come on.

“I have no idea why I needed to leave the house,” I tell my husband.

Then I think about it, and I wonder. This book I’m reading, “Forgotten God,” is all about being more aware of and obedient to the Holy Spirit, the so-called “forgotten” person of the Trinity. I’m about halfway through the book, and I’ve been challenged throughout. Was this another challenge? A test of obedience, of sorts? Would I obey the Spirit’s leading, even if I didn’t understand why, if I had no inkling of the reason, if it didn’t make sense? This is often how the Spirit works, and it’s been a long time since I’ve felt this kind of leading and tug. At least a long time since I’ve felt it and acted on it.

Maybe that was the whole purpose. Maybe it’s something I don’t know about. I’m tempted to say it was nothing, just my imagination. Maybe you’re tempted to say that, too. But I’m convinced that it wasn’t.

I am too easily led by my own whims, desires and wants, so I welcome the Spirit’s resurgence in my life to lead me in ways I couldn’t imagine. I looked at the world around me in a new way that night, eager and expectant for God to show me where He was working and how I could be a part of it.

May it be so every day of my life.