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Monday, August 6, 2012

Born to Road Trip: Road Eats

Eating on the road is definitely a challenge, especially if you have  food allergies, or are just trying to eat healthfully.  On the road, I tend to stick to fruit, mixed nuts, Lara Bars, and tortilla chips, but there were a few places we stopped that offered a wonderful, and much needed, hot meal. Here are some great, quirky restaurants that we found across the U.S.

1. Lotus Cafe

One of our favorite hang-outs in Wyoming was the Lotus Cafe in Jackson. The “organic bakery, bistro, and lounge,” offered excellent local, vegan, and gluten free food. The casual dining atmosphere invited locals to come in with their laptops for an almond milk latte or fresh made organic juices. We really liked to come in on a day off for a breakfast of eggs benedict, coffee, and gluten free, vegan waffles before a long day exploring the park.

Try: Bison Burger, Fiesta Bowl, Blood Orange Old Fashioned. They also make an excellent gluten free bread that you can buy by the loaf.

Find it: 145 North Glenwood Street  Jackson, WY

2. The Chicago Diner

The road gets you craving really greasy, All-American diner food. So, in a desperate move, we Googled “gluten free vegan diner Chicago” and this was the top result. We went without any further recommendation, dragging along my friend from studying abroad, who is now a graduate student living in Chicago. The Chicago Diner turned out to be a great find, outfitted entirely in 50s kitsch, with a huge menu of vegan versions of classic favorites. We were most blown away by the milkshakes. These soy concoctions managed somehow to taste exactly like their dairy counterpart. The soy whipped cream was a masterpiece. If any of you have ever tried the stuff in the grocery store, you know what a rarity it is to find something that even slightly resembles the real thing. We left with our craving fed, and our stomachs even more so.

Try: The “Milk”shake. Seriously.

Find it: 3411 N. Halsted, Chicago IL

3.  LT Organic Farm & Restaurant

I was napping my way through Iowa, when I woke suddenly before an exit sign. Still a bit dazed from sleep, all I could make out from the “Food Next Right” sign was “Organic Restaurant.” Given it’s odd location, I knew we had to check it out. We jumped off the freeway and onto empty dirt roads leading us through farm land. Just when we thought we might be lost, we came across a big white dairy barn, marked “LT Organic Farm, Restaurant, and Preventive Health Center.”

We walked in to find two long tables filling the white washed room, with unusual medical advice painted on the walls: “Only drink water when thirsty,” “Stress is good for the immune system,” and, of course, “Let food be your medicine.”

We took a seat at one of the tables, and had two plates of their daily “special”- the only dish available that day- 100% local, organic curried free-range chicken, gluten free falafal, roasted potatoes, wilted spinach, and wild rice. This delicious, Indian-inspired meal may have been our best on the road. We left energized and charmed by this strange little off-road sanctuary.

Try: Whatever they are serving up that day. Nothing that fresh and wholesome could be anything less than delicious.

Find it: 3241 Ute Avenue, Waukee, Iowa, I-80 at the Waukee exit

4. Taste Of India (aka the Truck Stop Indian Buffet)

We took another gamble with a road sign in New Mexico, and it definitely paid off. We saw signs for an Indian Buffet attached to a truck stop for several miles before we came to the exit, in dire need of gasoline. When we got to the gas station, they were completely out of gas. Baffled by this unusual situation, we decided to go inside to investigate this unusual place.

The front end was a plain old convenience store, selling Hershey’s bars and cigarettes. In the back, though, was a delicious smelling buffet that had just been laid out for the day. The restaurant was obviously owned by an Indian family, with men working in the front, helping customers and handing out naan, and women in the back cooking. We took one look at the food in the case and knew we had to stay.

We tried absolutely everything in that buffet line, and everything was wonderful. I was obsessed with the vegetable masala, and probably ate my weight in naan dipped in chicken curry. This buffet was a wonderful surprise and certainly worth the stop.

Try: It all.

Find it: I-40 between Amarillo, TX  and Albuquerque,  NM on Exit No 356 on west bound I-40.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Born to Roadtrip: Darling, I'm Coming Home

 map of our route

I am excellent at navigating comically perplexing subway systems, making flights just in the nick of time, finding cheap hotels, and discovering great restaurants in the dusty corners of the country. But for all the gifts I have in the art of travel, I am most dramatically lacking a talent for coming home.

After a long exhale of relief – the familiar bed, the missed friends and family, the favorite hometown cafe – comes an unbearable stillness, where the air becomes so stagnant I’m unsure that I can coax it into my lungs. It’s unnerving to feel so wrong in such a familiar environment.

Reverse culture shock is a common phenomenon. I remember the way my study abroad adviser cautiously appraised me after I returned from a semester in France. “How’s the readjustment going?” he would ask each time I would pass by him on the campus walkways. “Just fine,” would be my inevitable response, even though I was often on my way to burst into tears the moment I entered my tiny loft apartment.

Returning home is always an isolating experience. No one at home can really understand what your experience was, or how it (dramatically or just slightly) changed you. And after the twelfth hour of reminiscing, no one really wants to try anymore.

I’m not sure why I am particularly prone to this shock, able to feel pangs after only a short time away. I don’t miss the endless Midwest, nor the dusty, raw Southwest. I do mourn the loss of a feeling of infinite possibility and the world we created for ourselves on the road– an imaginary land where we had taken up arms against the lung crushing force of white picket adulthood and we had won.