We were eager to hit the road. I had no idea what to expect when we headed west for a 3-day college tour. Our little group consisted of my son who ate anything but healthy food, my recent college grad who is allergic to dairy and me. Friends know that food is something I love but unfortunately does not always love me back. After years of battling upset stomaches, hives and much worse, I have settled upon a gluten and dairy free diet which seems to suit me well. Needless to say, I never expected to encounter delicious, safe food in the land of the Bisons, Hawks and Royals.
We arrived in rain soaked Bethlehem, Pennsylvania late on Monday night feeling weary and hungry. The drive had been long due to the bad weather and my attentive driver, Emma Rose, was keen for a satisfying dinner. (I was eager to rest my aching back and eat something tasty so take-out seemed like our best option.) Emma’s good friend, a recent Lehigh graduate, recommended a local restaurant which we decided to try. (Always seek restaurant recommendations from folks who have lived in the area which you are traveling to – it makes all the difference!) We placed our order at Urbano – an eclectic little Mexican place on a side street in downtown Bethlehem. Emma and I decided on Brown Rice Bowls with roasted chicken, fresh veg, plump tomatoes, crisp lettuce and homemade guacamole – incredibly delicious. Emma added grilled onions and peppers to her dish for a little added flavor. Andrew was excited that he could order Mexican Voodoo Jambalaya at the same place as our “boring” rice bowls. This dish did not disappoint in both taste and spice – he loved every bite and cleaned his plate. What a great local find and perfect for our first meal on the road.
After a rainy yet fruitful tour of Lehigh University, we were itching for a good cup of coffee. (The bland hotel coffee never satisfies…) Our oatmeal breakfast bowls, which we brought from home and filled with hot water at the hotel, were not sustaining us after a two hour walk thus we were also on the hunt for something appetizing to eat. We headed toward our next destination – Lafayette University, where Emma found an amazing local coffee shop in Easton. We had some time to waste before the next tour so we settled into a corner table with our MacBooks and flavored iced coffees recommended by the personable barista. The place had something for everyone -gourmet egg and cheese sandwiches, vegan dishes and even super smoothies. The menu was written in festive colors on the wall behind the counter with specials circled in bright white chalk.
While Andrew took a nap in the car, we ordered him a Breakfast Burrito with sausage. Emma and I enjoyed our coffee while deciding what to eat for lunch. She ended up with a Greenulina Smoothie which was evidently one of the best she’s ever had. I was hesitant to order anything different as we still had another tour and I didn’t want to feel sick. I settled on a Vegan Vegetable wrap and was overjoyed at the result. The gal didn’t have any typical gluten free wraps so she used a warmed corn arepa as the base and piled creamy hummus, bright avocado, ripe tomatoes and crisp peppers on top! It was a beautiful presentation of colors and flavors made with kindness. I plan to remake the recipe at home using the arepa because it was just SO tasty. Finding local eateries is a great way to meet people in an unfamiliar town. You can really get a flavor of a place by the way the locals treat their visitors.
Our goal on this trip was to avoid all chain restaurants but on Tuesday night we were desperate. By the time we arrived in Lewisburg, our little group was exhausted. We hit the hotel about 6 pm and asked for local food recommendations. They didn’t have much so we settled on a Panera, which was just okay. Salads for Emma and me, Mac and Cheese for Andrew. It was the best we could do given the situation. Sometimes you have to break your own rules.
After a wonderful tour of Bucknell on Wednesday morning, Emma found yet another fabulous coffee spot & cafe which served delicious food! Andrew took a nap again in the car while Emma and I enjoyed the atmosphere of the local place sitting outside in the sun among the regulars which included university professors and students. In typical small town fashion, the shop owners were incredibly accommodating and took pains to adjust my order to fit a gluten dairy free diet. The result was outstanding – a delicious dish of fluffy scrambled eggs atop toasted gluten free bread with ripe avocado on the side. This was a breakfast treat that I truly enjoyed. Emma delighted in her breakfast wrap which included farm fresh eggs, crispy home fries, fresh avocado and spicy chipotle mayo.
After two full days of touring, we were getting restless. As the car sped east along Route 80 we belted out songs like You’re the One that I Love, Country Roads and Hey Jude – this gave us the energy needed for one last stop. The scenery in this part of PA was simply beautiful – soaring valleys, expansive green fields and picturesque farms and pastures. Emma kept a steady speed of 75 mph passing all the big trucks and we arrived an hour early for our appointment. We thankfully received a private tour of University of Scranton from a terrific young man and when it ended, we were ready for a refreshment. Before jumping onto the highway, we stopped at another local spot for iced coffees and snacks. The gals at the counter were so accommodating and happy to open a new carton of Oat Milk for my coffee. I found homemade cookies for Andrew and a dairy free bar for Emma. It was such a cute place.
Looking back, I learned quite a bit on this this little road trip – and not just from the informative college tours. At each local spot we visited, I met friendly, thoughtful people. I may never see these folks again but each one brought a little bit of love into my life. As someone who battles food allergies and chronic back pain – I found joy from eating delicious food made by caring people who demonstrated something quite important in this world – kindness and love for a stranger. These folks gave their best to an unknown who in turn tried to pass on their good will to those in her midst. I think this is the best education we can get anywhere!