Love Shout-Out #5: Sweet Freedom

It may only be 12 simple letters but trust me these two words used in conjunction could not mean more to me. Sweet Freedom is a place (though actually now it's 3 different locations) but it's so much more than that; it's an experience, it's an escape, and it's giving Hershey, PA quite a run for its money in my "Happiest Place in Pennsylvania" category. Sweet Freedom is a bakery that I stumbled upon completely by lucky accident and my life has never been the same. It's the kind of place that I hope to one day open...but for now the presence of such a place in my world is more than enough to put a smile on this face.

It was June 2011. I had just finished the longest spring semester of my life as my health was most accurately described as "in shambles". I had been encouraged to try eliminating gluten (only to be forced to eat it again a few weeks later in preparation for my endoscopy...the irony of this crazy condition) and I was feeling well enough to travel to Philadelphia to attend the ISTE (International Society of Technology in Education) conference. My school offered me the opportunity to attend and since it was conveniently located within walking distance from my college roommates' apartment, I readily accepted for a weeklong excuse to hang out with my best friends...and learn about implementing technology in the classroom of course. (Side note: I did actually learn A LOT. Teacher friends, it's a great conference if you can go! AND it's back in Philly next summer!) One afternoon when I finished with my sessions, I googled "gluten free near Pennsylvania Convention Center" (note: this was in my pre-smartphone/pre-FindMeGlutenFree app days) and found a website for this place called Sweet Freedom. It was located on South Street, about 2 miles from the apartment where I was staying so I set out in the sweltering heat in pursuit of what I hoped would be a delicious gluten-free treat. If only I knew what was in store, the sweaty walk would not have seemed nearly as grueling.

I walked into the store and was met with this sign. 

Yes, everything :-)
Granted at the time, none of that meant much to me aside from the gluten part. I ordered some cookies and cupcakes and headed for "home" with my treats. Now one mistake I made on this initial venture was that I didn't consider the fact that even the most delicious baked goods are no match for the sweltering heat of Philadelphia streets so my treats were in quite a different state by time I settled in to try them at my friends' apartment that night. Regardless, I could tell I had found something special. 

A few short weeks later, I was in back in Philadelphia to stand beside another college friend as she married the love of her life in the Villanova church and I stopped at Sweet Freedom on my way so I could pick up a gluten-free cupcake to enjoy in lieu of cake at the reception (I had been officially diagnosed at this point). I was legendary. Oh, and of course I was so excited that I talked the owner's ear off and somewhere in there we decided she was going to make my future wedding cake. Nearly a year later, I returned to Philly to surprise one of my old roommates on her Match Day at medical school. Her mom knew about my plan and being the overwhelmingly generous person that she is, she ordered cupcakes from Sweet Freedom just so I would be able to participate in the festivities. Now keep in mind up to this point, gluten was still my only nemesis.

Cupcake/Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich Sampler...they taste as delicious as they look :-)

Fast forward to last spring (2013). I had recently learned that casein (AKA dairy) was also an enemy and I was finally feeling well enough to venture outside of the Baltimore county limits...which I hadn't done since my unsuccessful attempt at Easter in the Poconos. I traveled to Philly one warm Saturday morning in May  to cheer on several of my college friends who were participating in the Broad Street Run. Now Sweet Freedom is conveniently located just off Broad Street so I stopped there first for a morning treat...and that's when my world was irrevocably changed. Suddenly the glaring casein-free sign in the store window filled my heart with gladness in a way I never dreamed simple words could. After clarifying that in fact EVERY item met this qualification, I started ordering. Then came the biggest moment of all: THE COFFEE MENU. Now you know I love coffee...but what you probably don't know if you weren't acquainted with me before 2011 is that I LOVE coffee drinks even more. Lattes and mochas still populate my dreams on a semi-regular basis. However my new dairy restriction, coupled with the even more recent soy exclusion, had rendered those drinks non-existent in my life. However, here on the sign I saw all of these listed. When I questioned these offerings, I was thrilled to learn that Sweet Freedom did something I had yet to find elsewhere: they make all their mixed coffee drinks with coconut-milk-based creamer. What's even better? They've never used anything but that so there is 0% chance of cross contamination in the steamer, steamer cup, etc. You bet your bottom dollar I ordered a mocha...and it quickly became the best day I'd had in months. Maybe even longer :-) And yes, I did tear myself away in enough time to catch a glimpse of the runners I came to cheer for and even met them at the finish line for smiles, hugs, and a few photos. Then I even had time to squeeze in the tail end of another friend's Ultimate Frisbee game nearby too. All in all, it was an incredible day.

Yes, I even made a personalized "Defeat Broad Street" shirt for the occasion!

In the time since, Sweet Freedom has come to mean so much to this poor, immune-confused girl. It is one of the few places where I feel completely safe and completely happy. Of course I don't get up to Philly often enough for my liking but every time I do, the joy is enough to sustain me until I get to return again. Granted, I should also clarify that these visits always entail some much-needed face time with dear friends who still live I guess my opinion is more than a little biased. However, I will admit I've pondered driving up just for the treats when my friends aren't even there...though I can't say I've actually done it. I mean, Sweet Freedom delivers to Baltimore...need I say more??

That's right...they deliver. And special order.
 (hint, hint if you have allergy-ridden friends!!)

Just this past Friday I was lucky enough to return to this little corner of South Street. It was a perfect summer morning AND I got to spend several hours sitting outside the bakery with not 1, but BOTH of those college roommates I was visiting back in 2011 when I first stumbled upon this little gem. We'll call them the Saint with a Stethoscope (she's a doctor) and the Saint with the Passport (she's almost never in the country). The three of us hadn't been together in one place in a year and let me tell you there's nothing better than spending a warm summer morning catching up on life and laughter with 2 of your best friends. EXCEPT DOING THAT WHILE EATING A DONUT!!! That's right...I can eat donuts there. I still haven't quite wrapped my mind around it yet either. We sipped coffee, enjoyed delicious Katie-safe treats, made a new canine friend (well 2/3 of us did), discussed fellowships, a year in Rwanda , a new job in a castle, and a variety of other life events which are quickly becoming all too real ...just a typical Philly Friday with friends, right?? :-)

Best. Breakfast. Ever.
In conclusion, whether you have food allergies or not, add Sweet Freedom to your list of places to visit. (I don't really believe in the idea of a bucket list because I think it suggests that you have this endless expanse of time in which to accomplish a given number of things; instead I think it's better to have a running list of all the things you've already accomplished and then focus all your energy and passion on just 1 or 2 new goals you can add to the list in the short-term. For me, that's a lot better than having a long list of plans and assuming you'll have all the time in the world to get to them "someday". Someday isn't promised to anyone...only today). That being said, if you're anywhere near I-95, start driving and don't stop until you get to Sweet Freedom. Though I should clarify: don't do that until tomorrow...they're closed on Mondays. AND there are now 3 locations! The original store on South Street is the only one I've visited but they also have locations in nearby Collingswood, NJ and most recently, on Lancaster Ave. just a few short blocks from one of my other Top-5-Pennsylvania locations: Villanova University. As if I needed more reasons to get excited for trips back to campus.

Now get moving. And if you'll pass Baltimore on your way there, please let me know. I promise I'm a great road trip companion :-)

This could not be more true :-)