I always love a good long road trip. The expectation of being out there on roads not taken before or using the familiar ones yet again to reach a beloved destination fills me with an unexplainable joy. Some yearning I fulfill in these moments, to feel being the stranger finding new shores, or a traveller on the brink of a wonderful discovery, may it be the bend in the road with a farm stand loaded with freshly picked apples or peaches, a fabulous view or the cutest village just somewhere unexpected...I am inspired.
It's the moment of being there, the knowledge that it will pass quickly that I absorb the flavors of these places.
Yet I have found traveling long distances on American highways can be extremely disappointing when it come to the food choices. Miles and miles of stretches without even the remotest possibility of a plain bathroom break, let alone a decent place to eat, unless you count McDonald's, Subway, Starbucks or any other cheap food chain into your options.
|Rt. 222, diner near Ephrata, PA|
Of course, I understand the American culture, the ways Americans at large like to eat when out there, often, I am sure, due to the lack of options and price considerations.
But I never really liked fast foods, their smells, taste and choice of ingredients.
It has become much harder since I became a rather picky eater, avoiding dairy, wheat and meat.
When planing any trips I usually travel with my own pantry supplies, knowing that even simple soy milk for my coffee is hardly available at your typical road stop.
I'll stuff baskets with fruits, nuts, seeds, veggies, home made cookies or store bought raw bars, bring plenty of water and bottled home brewed tea. Unceremoniously I eat while driving or hand out little snacks. I perhaps stop for a cup fresh coffee.
But where to turn, once I arrive at my destination? Typical hotels have their classic breakfasts and I avoid them when I can.
So, while staying in Lancaster, PA two nights ago, to drop off my daughter at her friend's college for a visit, I was prepared. The breakfast menu at the hotel held no surprises. Nothing I would have wanted.
I had brought a small pack of plain almond milk, a tiny envelope with raw chia seeds, bananas and a few nuts. I had bought fresh Amish apples from a stand still open in town when we arrived. Before going to bed I prepared my breakfast porridge. Mixing the chia seeds with the 'milk', I knew I would have a pudding-like refreshing food for breakfast next morning. All I would have to add were a fresh cut banana and some nuts.
After looking online a day prior to my arrival to find a vegetarian or vegan restaurant I was pleasantly surprised by a few good options. Not being very familiar with the town I had prepared myself to know where I would be going.
|image via The Seed website|
I had a gluten free wrap, filled with roasted sweet potatoes, crunchy lettuce and cabbage, topped with a spicy vegan mayonnaise. A side of vegan chili completed the meal. The place is a true alternative scene destination, political fliers, books and all. I felt right at home, remembering my own college days back in Germany!
The girls cooking and serving were fun to talk to and they accommodated all my eccentric food whimsies.
My daughter, being gone the second she met her friend, was at the mercy of the campus food options, something to talk about later, to be sure....
Next day, we headed for lunch at a small place downtown Lancaster, were we feasted on a very delicious vegetarian choice lunch! 'On Orange' is a place I do recommend!
I had an omelet, filled with a mix of arugula, fresh figs and goat cheese, additional some roasted potato/ tomato mix! I was great! The Swedish pancakes with buckwheat my daughter picked were equally lovely.
As we wandered the small and charming streets in Lancaster, PA I was reminded of many small towns I have visited over the last years living in America. There is something typical of small town American architecture, the compactness and the will to preserve.
The recent recession has left a mark on many small towns, boarded up homes and closed, vacant storefronts telling the story. And yet I find always the spirit of renewal, a small cafe, a brave little shop, trying to sell anything from soaps to home made cakes, the spirit of survival and perseverance. I love this about America. I support it too whenever I can.
|image Central Market in Lancaster, PA|
I love to talk to the people, the shop girls, the farmer with his young son by his side only yesterday in Lancaster at the Central Market. These are hard working people with a humble lifestyle, at a first glance they seem to have what they need.
Later we drove out to the Amish country, visiting the small villages of Bird in Hand, Leola, Smoketown. Only a few minutes away from main stream America a world is hidden, a delightful landscape unfolds. Rolling hills, horse and buggy on the road, the landscape is dotted with single farms. There are countless neat fields stretching to the horizon, clean, white painted houses, most of them with large orchards or gardens attached, filled with rows and rows of vegetables, waiting to be harvested. Strands of freshly laundered clothes, swinging in the late summer breeze.
They have their sweets, incredible fudge and shoofly pie.....
There is surely more, but this is what I remember. We picked a few things to bring home: Sugar free plum preserve, spicy dill pickles, sauerkraut.
I wondered afterwards, how healthy the Amish diet is, but given the fact that these humble folks raise their dairy cows, tend to grow most of their foods organic, work the gardens and orchards bring in the harvests of corn, potatoes and more, I concluded they lived with a reasonable healthy diet. Their physical hard work and general restrain is something most of their American contemporaries lack.
My daughter and I talked about their lifestyle later on our drive home and we both thought it very hard to imagine to live without our daily conveniences. But there is something about the simple ways of living, the plain joys and the straight forwardness in the life the Amish lead, that intrigues me. I am again reminded of the principle values, which can hold a society peacefully together, which is growing in numbers. The Amish population has doubled over the last twenty years, to more then 280.000.
|image source see below|
There are a few things I will never fully understand about the motivations and reasons for their way of life, the lack of changing with the times and a certain assimilation I would expect from a growing society, but I respect it deeply. Perhaps there are changes, slower then I can see immediately. Given the fact that daily hundreds of people in their cars come to watch them, I admire their steadfastness.
|horses and buggies via|
I would not want to live my life this way, but I take away again the impression that we can exist so much simpler and still can be filled with wonderful enjoyments and delights. As I strive to live with less, I am reminded by my visit to the Amish how little material things we perhaps really need.
Coming back from this road trip I was grateful for the ease of transportation, our car taking us safely to and fro, having all the choices to reject some food in favor of others, seeing in one day a quite different culture and be able to share it with you all....
Images my own, unless indicated source.