Rose Berry Salad

Philadelphia has great food carts, especially in University City. One of my personal favorites is Chez Yasmine on 37th and Walnut Streets. It offers an assortment of restaurant quality healthy meals with complex flavors with French Tunisian influences. The tofu banh mi clinched it as a weekly lunch spot, but in the warmer months, I can't leave without a side of Swedish berry salad. At first glance, it looks like any other fruit salad, but with one bite, it becomes clear it's in a league of its own. A savory, herbal dressing balances the sweetness of the berries for a heightened flavor experience. I immediately wanted to recreate it at home, but with so many taste buds activated, it was tough to narrow down the dressing ingredients. Rosemary? Lavender? Honey? As it turns out, it was none of the above. I was surprised to learn the only addition to the fruit was rose water. Rose water is refreshing, slight savory and slightly sweet. As the name suggests, rose water is made with roses and has the distinctive floral smell. Most grocery stores stock it in either the international foods section or the baking aisle. Start by adding the smallest quantity of rose water below and increase based on your flavor preferences. If you try it, let me know what you think!

Rose Berry Salad
Serves 1 to 2

1 cup Assorted berries
1-3 tsp Rose water

Toss the berries with rose water just before serving.

DIY Veggie Sushi

Sushi is one of those foods that seems simple enough to make, but also might have hidden complexity. If a food has chefs dedicated to its craft, it's probably a challenge to make, right? Yes and no. I'm only going to touch on vegetable sushi today, which is significantly easier than traditional fish sushi. Fish sushi requires a thorough knowledge of fish anatomy, both to pick out prime pieces of meat and to know where thin bones are hidden. The delicate business of extracting fish bones is an art onto itself. Vegetable sushi on the other hand can be made by just about anyone with the right tools and a bit of patience.

Deconstructed Mediterranean Potato Salad

Remember those kids growing up who hated their food touching? That was me. I still prefer to have my food separated, but I'm a little more carefree about it now. That's why I love this deconstructed potato salad. The components are all there, the potatoes, the veggies, the creamy flavorful dressing, but I have the option to mix, or not mix, with each bite. I opted for a Mediterranean flavor this time, but this layout could work with just about any salad with a thick dressing. Measurements are omitted to encourage full creativity based on flavor preferences. 

Dark Chocolate Banana Bites

Bananas and dark chocolate are a match made in creamy, smoky heaven. The combination is great for dessert, an afternoon snack, or a pre-workout out energizer. Trader Joe's has ready made bags of chocolate covered banana slices in the freezer section, but at $3 to $4 a bag, the product is a bit overpriced. It's easy and inexpensive to make at home AND the flavor can be customized. Depending on my mood, I like to eat the frozen banana slices with protein rich crunchy almond butter, blood sugar stabilizing cinnamon, or spicy cayenne pepper. Using one banana, half a bar of dark chocolate, and spices, I made a weeks worth of tasty treats.

New Orleans Coffee

When I was in San Francisco last summer, I fell in love with Blue Bottle's New Orleans Coffee. Up until then, I had never heard of New Orleans style coffee or chicory root, but the spicy, sweet, and bold flavor had me hooked from one sip. You can buy the kits directly from Blue Bottle to make it at home (available here), but honestly it wasn't in my budget and I wanted to make a hot version. I became obsessed with the idea of creating my own New Orleans coffee (me, obsessive? of course not ;) and have spent the past six months trying to hunt down chicory root in every health food store I come across. Thanks to an Amazon reviewer on so-so chicory root, I discovered Chicory USA. It is a farm in Nebraska that grows and roasts chicory root. Their no-frills website and ordering process was a little disconcerting at first, but the product is incredible.

Semi-Homemade Cheddar Biscuits

For me, weekends are all about decadent breakfasts. During the work week, I typically make something quick and healthy like a smoothie, oatmeal, or chia seed pudding, but on the weekend, I like to take my time cooking and eating. Banana buckwheat pancakes and scones are regular favorites, because #carbs. Occasionally we have morning events scheduled (which I try to avoid) and I'm not able to spend a long time cooking. Merle and I still want a rich breakfast though, so I opt for semi-homemade baked goods. The pre made buttermilk biscuits in the pop open tube in the refrigerated section of the grocery store bake quickly, making them a great fit for expedited weekend mornings. To make them worthy of a Saturday or Sunday breakfast, I drown them in cheddar cheese and herbs. I didn't say this would be a healthy recipe ;) The added layer of flavor takes the biscuits from bland to brunch worthy in minutes. Pillsbury makes the most widely available refrigerated biscuits, but I prefer the Trader Joe's version with fewer artificial ingredients. Either way, it will be hard to eat just one of these tasty biscuits. 


I fell in love with tabbouleh (also spelled tabouli) at Manakeesh, a Lebanese bakery near our apartment. Parsley and mint are the dominant flavors of the dish heightened by lemon juice. I love it because it is full of flavor and with the addition of a grain such as bulghur, couscous, or quinoa, it fills me up more than a traditional salad. To increase the intensity of the flavor, I like to let the salad sit in the fridge for an hour or so before eating. It has become a picnic favorite for us. Serve it with marinated tofu or lamb kebabs to make a complete meal.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Summer is here and it's impromptu party season. I love having a few simple recipes on hand that are inexpensive to make with relatively few ingredients to minimize pre-party stress. Dips are a party favorite, especially with the vegetarian crowd. It can be hard to find protein at BBQs when you don't eat meat, but bean based dips pack both protein and fiber. Hummus is a great option, but for people with an allergy to chickpeas (me), it can be hard to find a version without it. Instead I make my own using canned cannellini beans, which according to taste testers is even better than the chickpea variety #winning. The dip is so easy to make, it can barely be considered a recipe.   

5 Favorite Natural Beauty Buys

My favorite five natural beauty buys of the moment are...

DIY Copper Bud Vase

One of my favorite sources for DIY inspiration is the hardware store. I love wandering up and down the aisles and finding interesting looking materials. For my birthday last month, my mom watched Merle so I could have alone time, which included a trip to Home Depot. I spent an embarrassing amount of time there, but I came out with a haul of new supplies.

The first of the resulting projects involves copper plumbing pipes. Copper plumbing is surprisingly inexpensive and comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. I wanted to grab one of everything but settled on a female adapter and a stub. The stub is a close ended pipe and the female adapter has a wider bottom with a threaded top. Together they make a beautiful bud vase. For transportability, I chose not to secure the two pieces together. As a bud vase, I'm not concerned with it tipping over or coming apart. If a permanent attachment is desired, the pieces could be welded or glued together. 

The finished project looks a lot more expensive than the $5 I spent on supplies. I started out with a single vase, but I could see several lined up on a table for a dinner party or wedding reception. The stubs come in different heights, which would add visual interest to a grouping, as well as using a combination of flowers, greenery, and branches. Narrow taper candles would also work (although I suggest securing the stub and joint for those ones). I filled mine with pretty weeds from the yard :)

Do you have any unconventional sources of inspiration? Are you also a hardware store fan?