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My Beauty Uniform: Karen Mordechai

My Beauty Uniform: Karen Mordechai

Karen Mordechai is the founder of Sunday Suppers, the Brooklyn dinner series, shop and cookbook. Her approach to cooking is all about simplicity and warmth, and her beauty routine feels the same. Here, she shares her tips and tricks, including the joy of nighttime showers and an easy trick for glowing skin…

My Beauty Uniform: Karen Mordechai

How do you like to start your day?
I’m so not a morning person. I would sleep forever if I could, but I have to wake up early now that we have a little girl. The first thing we do is get Sophia ready for school, then once she’s off I’ll usually stretch, sit on the floor and practice deep breathing. Not for very long, to be honest. Then I’ll make myself a cappuccino and eat breakfast, usually eggs. While I eat, I’ll make my to-do lists and get organized before I head to the studio.

What kind of eggs?
I make seven-minute eggs with a little butter and sea salt, plus Wasa crackers, and I’m all set.

What do you love about your look, whether or not it’s something “classically” beautiful?
My family is from Northern Iraq and Israel; I was born in Israel but moved to New York when I was one. When I was younger, having an olive complexion and curly hair made me feel like the odd one out. Everyone around me had straight hair and pale skin and I so envied them. Plus, in the late 80s and 90s, everyone was straightening their hair. I blew dry my hair straight for years in my teens, but now I’ve learned to embrace my coloring and natural waves.

My Beauty Uniform: Karen Mordechai

How do you care for your gorgeous hair nowadays?
I wash my hair every two or three days, using Wella shampoo and conditioner. My stylist recommended Wella to me and I love it. I use the formula for coarse hair, which is super moisturizing. I also appreciate that it comes in a huge bottle and is inexpensive. At night, I’ll put some Oribe Gel Radiance Magic and Hold Serum through my hair, which makes it smooth and shiny, then let it air dry overnight. In the morning, I go through with a large curling iron to give it a beachy feel​. ​The brand T3​ ​makes​​ the best curling irons — right now I’m using a ceramic version with a 1.25″ barrel.

Do you wear makeup?
I usually wear foundation from Prescriptives. I like that it has SPF. I’ll mix it with a little bit of my moisturizer, so it goes on light and even. (I’ve always been fanatic about layering on moisture.) Then I’ll put on a little bit of Bobbi Brown cheek color and finish with a NARS lipstick. I love the NARS line of matte lipsticks, which are really pigmented. Depending on the day and outfit I’ll wear either a natural color (Madere), or a bright pop of color (Carthage).

What skincare products do you use?
I tend to mix high and low. My splurge items are always from Aesop, because their products are amazing and I’m a sucker for their packaging. Their balancing gel is a miracle product. You put it on at night and wake up glowing. I use it every other night.

From the drugstore, I recently discovered the magic of shea butter in its raw form. It’s truly amazing and does wonders for any particularly dry parts, like elbows and knees. It’s also beneficial for those suffering from eczema. I learned that most products contain shea butter in a processed form, but using it in its true, organic form leaves its properties untouched and therefore more potent.

My Beauty Uniform: Karen Mordechai

What’s your nighttime routine?
Every night we do our bedtime routine. My daughter Sophia always takes a bath, and we’ll put essential oils in the water. She likes lavender and eucalyptus. It really does mellow her out. She has very long hair, so I’ll put on leave-in conditioner and brush through it with a Mason Pearson brush. Sometimes she’ll sleep in a braid so when she wakes up her hair is kind of wavy and simple.

Then Sophia and I read books together, she has so many favorites. She’s actually really into Julia Child right now! She was sick once and I let her watch old Julia Child episodes. She can watch them for hours. Now she’s interested in cooking. We were in the grocery store recently and she saw liver pâté and was like, “That’s pâté! It’s what Julia makes!”

How do you wind down at the end of the day?
After Sophia is in bed, I love taking a warm shower and washing up in the evenings. It feels very therapeutic. Truthfully, I’m a very solo person and I like that quiet time. I need it to feel balanced.

There’s always a ritual after my shower, where I sit on my bed and apply my moisturizer. My family teases me about how many layers of moisture I can apply in one sitting.

Then I lie in bed and enjoy some quiet time. I’ll usually light some sage or Palo Santo. Palo Santo is one of my favorite scents; that’s what I’ll light whenever I want to make everything chill. Sometimes I read, sometimes I pin, I’ll just tone it down. Right now I’m reading Between Heaven and Earth, a guide to Chinese medicine, since I’ve been doing a lot of acupuncture lately.

Tell us more about acupuncture. What do you like about it?
It’s so relaxing. The needles don’t hurt at all! You can go for all sorts of things — allergies, digestion, sinuses, overall wellbeing… I find my body responds well to Eastern medicine. For me, acupuncture makes you feel very aware and is a deeper way to understand your body. I first got into it when I was pregnant. Sophia was breech and we wanted to flip her. We did all these crazy things: did upside-down exercises, played music to my vagina. It didn’t work, but I still got hooked on the acupuncture!

My Beauty Uniform: Karen Mordechai

Do you have any “secret weapons”?
Water. I drink an insane amount — like way more than eight glasses a day. I’d say maybe 15! I carry a S’well bottle at all times — otherwise I can easily forget to drink it. If I don’t drink enough water one day, I’ll see a difference in my face and my skin, for sure.

What a great reminder.
I’m big on sleep, too. I’m in bed by 10 p.m., if not sooner. When I go home at the end of the day, I try not to work again because otherwise my mind doesn’t shut off. I need eight hours of sleep and make sure that I get that. But I could do more!

karen

Do you have a signature scent?
Right now, I’ve been wearing this beachy, musky oil from Warm. The other scent I wear all the time is Noble from MCMC. I get tons of compliments when I wear it.

You have such lovely eyebrows. What’s your secret?
It’s under-the-radar, but Christine Chin Spa does the best eyebrows in town. They wax, trim and shape them in around thirty minutes. It’s not an impressive-looking place, but sometimes you’ll be there and a big black car will pull up with a celebrity in it.

My Beauty Uniform: Karen Mordechai

How have you been influenced by the women in your family?
When I was working on my photography masters, I did my thesis on my mom’s and grandmother’s cooking. That’s how they communicated their love — through food. I cannot tell you how much my mom cooked — growing up there was always a warm dinner, and we ate big shabbat meals every Friday night. She would cook way more food than necessary because that was her way to show people she wanted them to be there.

I’ve continued this tradition into my own home. We eat a lot of family dinners, and food is definitely a central focus. It’s different from my mother’s kitchen, where everything was more traditional and over the top, but the importance of a shared meal is definitely something I learned from her.

What do you make for dinners at home?
We make Niçoise salads with salmon once a week. Sophia is a great eater, so we roast vegetables and beets and make crostini, quinoa and grains. We love taco nights. I cook every night, so it’s easier if they are simple seasonal meals. On the weekends we explore new restaurants and have picnics in the park. In the winter, we do heartier soups and braised meats and all that jazz.

What’s your favorite date-night activity?
My favorite part of a date night is the post-dinner stroll. Holding hands and chatting and having nowhere else we need to be.

My Beauty Uniform: Karen Mordechai

Do you talk to Sophia about beauty?
Sophia is four and broached the topic way earlier than I ever expected. She sometimes looks in the mirror and says, “I don’t look beautiful” and it’s very startling. She’s obviously very beautiful to us, but my husband and I have tried carefully to emphasize the internal parts of beauty: what a good person is, what’s in her heart, all of those things. My approach is to talk about her inner beauty and strength and how that shines through. I think it’s so important for little girls to know that beauty comes from within. I will tell her this forever.

I think when people — friends, family members, strangers — tell kids they’re beautiful, they don’t mean any harm in it. They just want to be complimentary. But kids are still hearing about beauty and being taught to focus on the physical. I remember reading this Cup of Jo post a while back and being inspired by that. I’ll try to ask a little girl what book she’s reading instead of complimenting her skirt.

Thank you so much, Karen!

P.S. More women share their beauty uniforms and a genius hair trick.

(Photos courtesy of Karen Mordechai. Interview by Caroline Donofrio.)

  1. Wonderful series. I really liked Karen’s approach to keeping things as simple as possible.

  2. Rochelle says...

    I’m glad to know that Karen is down to earth and has a firm grasp on reality.
    I know I spend most of my time planning my elaborate Sunday suppers, spend 5 hours a day thinking about my hair and skin, and am independently wealthy enough to not have to worry about the mundane and trivial matters of the world. Oh, and after an eloborate breakfast of eggs, I like to stretch and relax.

  3. Ali says...

    I have been following Sunday Suppers and Karen for a while now, and was so thrilled to hear her share her beauty uniform and routine. I am also one who can sleep forever, and my kids won’t let me do that! :) Coffee and eggs is also my go-to breakfast. I’ll have to try that 7 minute egg!

    I loved the reminder to slow down and just stroll after dinner/date night. Not having anywhere to be is refreshing, and I find that I have to plan in my down time so I don’t get overwhelmed.

    Thanks Karen and Joanna for yet another lovely and unique beauty uniform post!

  4. Kailey says...

    Hi! Also LOVE this series. It’s my favorite and I can’t wait for new ones!

    I was just wondering if maybe you can ask Karen for her Nicoise Salad recipe!

    Thank you!
    xo,
    Kailey

  5. chelsey says...

    I think this is one of my favorite beauty uniforms so far! She seems like just a beautiful person inside and out!

  6. Ava Werstlein says...

    Just an FYI, Wella is owned by a company (Sebastian/Procter & Gamble) that does animal testing STILL on their products! You have to check both the label and the “parentage” of these smaller companies to ensure you are not supporting this terrible practice. Love your blog and you seem like a person that would care about this. Please encourage people that share their stories on your blog to review the animal testing status on the products they recommend and re-think if the company is still animal testing. With so many great alternatives there is no reason to continue to buy these products. Thanks Jo!

  7. I love her!! Karen is SO beautiful, and I love how simple and breezy her style is. I could sleep forever, too! Good to hear from someone who seems a bit more real ;)

  8. Alice says...

    Karen is my favourite so far. She has such an earthy vibe! As a previous poster mentioned, I would LOVE to see some older women here too. Routines that stand the test of time, and truths about attitudes to beauty and self nurturing that have been learnt over decades. What about your mother, Jo? She seems inspirational! Anyway, I adore this series! I love the grounded, genuine, and honest women you interview, and the way you question them has them sharing so much personality/philosophy as well as products/routines. Keep it up!

  9. MrsD says...

    I just wanted to say that I am loving the new website. It is very user-friendly! I’ve been longing for reply buttons on here for so long and I am delighted to see them now!! My favorite blog by far! I feel like we are all a bunch of old friends now:)

  10. Michelle says...

    I really enjoyed this post. Your blog is one of my all time favorites! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas with us!
    Would you be able to ask Karen where where purchased her white top with eyelet sleeves?

  11. Michelle says...

    Love this one!

  12. Rachael says...

    Yes to not just complimenting little girls on how pretty they are!

    Also I love how she is not a morning person so showers at night, i do this to. Sometimes i even pick out my clothes the night before to try to streamline the morning for me (the less decisions before 10am the better).

  13. I think Israeli women are some of the most beautiful on the planet. There’s just something natural and glowy about them.

    • Agreed!!!

  14. Erica H. says...

    Love this series! But, holy moly, I’d be peeing ALL THE TIME if I drank that much water!

  15. I am so in love with this series! What a wonderful way to honor women of all kinds. I have so much respect for these women, they do their best to take care of themselves, love the bodies they have, and are always modeling to others (usually their children!) how to love and appreciate themselves. I hope to see more and more of these beauty uniforms in the future!

    Kate
    myteacherstyle.blogspot.com

  16. amanda june says...

    loved this one! great to get a breakfast idea out of it too, i’ve been stuck lately ;) i do agree that it would be fun to see a few non-moms added in the beauty uniform mix :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, we have a few in the pipeline! excited to share, stay tuned… xoxo

  17. I love this post. I have so many links. I also follow on pintrest! Beauty is something I learned gradually but more of smarts and things inside that make u lovely and society has a way of tarnishing that.

  18. Karen is such a lovely woman, and I LOVE her work. Joanna, if you ever attend a Sunday Supper, you will have to share your experience with us!!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      alex and i actually went to one right before toby was born! here are a few photos, i’m enormously pregnant:
      http://cupofjo.com/2010/05/sunday-suppers/

      they are such beautiful classes with great people, delicious food, lovely favors… i’d definitely recommend them!

  19. What an gorgeous girl. Her routine’s so simple and she’s just stunning xx

  20. Anitra Sweet says...

    This one is one of my favorites! Can’t put my finger on why but it is! Thank you for these. I love getting glimpses into other women’s lives. It helps on lonely days because sometimes Motherhood is lonely, and this helps. :)

  21. Samantha says...

    I remember that Cup of Jo post about trying not to physically compliment little kids, and I try to avoid it too! People don’t mean any harm but they don’t know how much they’re influencing a little person into put more focus than necessary on their appearance. I could totally relate to the Shabbat dinners, but in my family, my dad was the one making the dinner since there was a long period during which he was his own boss pretty much, so he could take half a day off every Friday just to cook dinner. He made insane amounts of food, and we would reheat that until Mondays sometimes. I love using food as a way of expressing how much you care about someone and making them feel welcome. I cook for my boyfriend about twice a week and I really enjoy it, honestly. I used to bake for my family and friends all the time, I love sharing what I made. I can’t wait to have my own place and just cook, cook, cook.

  22. I really enjoy reading the Beauty Uniform series. It always makes me think of what mine would be. Karen is great, and I related to her very much! The skin and hair thing was definitely me in the 90’s (I would let my girlfriend literally iron my hair with an iron! I would lay my long wavy Latina hair on the ironing board…it was insane!). I’m so glad that my beauty uniform has matured & I am much more comfortable in my own skin!

  23. Laura C says...

    I always use essential oils for my showers and my girls baths. I use lavender and eucalyptus too! Plus, some mornings I use orange. It is like a spa at home!
    Karen is really beautiful. Her hair is gorgeous!
    xxx

  24. Thank you for these Beauty Uniform articles! It’s like going on a treasure hunt for new products when you see how each woman glows! Jo, I was wondering if you would ever consider a sort of “index” of all the beauty products mentioned (maybe by type ~ for instance, all the skin moisturizers, all the foundations, all the eyebrow makeup… etc.)? In a world jam packed with so many choices for beauty products, it would be wonderful to have a quick reference from this collective. Also, I think it would be very cool to interview older ladies as well. Women in their 50s, 60s & 70s & what their beauty uniform is, including your gorgeous Mom!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s such a great idea! we’ll try to figure out how to do that best. also, i’d LOVE to do my mom, great idea!!!!!

  25. She seems like a truly kind and beautiful mother and woman. Inspiring.

  26. Alison says...

    Love that black (I’m assuming due to b/w photo?) dress with the pockets. I would wear that as my uniform every day! Do you know where it’s from?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i’ll ask, stay tuned… :)

    • Caroline Donofrio says...

      Hi Alison! Karen says her black dress is from Madewell.

    • MrsD says...

      Glad you asked! I was wondering too:)

  27. I just love this series! Even though I am always inspired by these posts, I end up never using any of the genius tips I read because I have my own uniform. I just love hearing stories about other people. Thanks so much for sharing this series!
    – Charlie, http://www.lemonbutterlove.com/

  28. I ALSO think about that post every time I encounter a new little person! Sometimes they just don’t want to talk, which is ok, but I feel a bit better about the interaction if I just show them I’m interested in their mind.
    Interestingly enough, I started asking adult women the same thing–what’s the last great book you read? I usually bring it up at brunches and birthdays, when I don’t know a lot of my friends’ co-workers. It works like a charm!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s so lovely!

  29. I ❤️❤️❤️ Beauty uniform posts.

  30. jeannie says...

    What an interesting and thoughtful person Karen seems! This was a great beautfy uniform . I love her tips – including the 7 minute egg!

  31. Karen is such a beauty! xx

  32. Emmanuella says...

    I love these portraits that you do! It’s so nice reading about real people and getting intimate glimpses into such wonderful women’s lives. These beauty uniforms almost read like haikus (minus the structure of course, haha).

  33. “That’s pâté! It’s what Julia makes!” is the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard. I love this kid!

  34. jill c. says...

    I met karen once briefly at an event that she had with Of a Kind a small while back…she had such a lovely energy about her which made her all the more beautiful. thanks for featuring her on your Beauty Uniform – this one was one of my favorites!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i agree! she’s so lovely and peaceful somehow!

  35. Katie says...

    I love that she references that other Cup of Jo post! I remember it well and it has totally changed the way I talk to children, and especially little girls.

    • Aya says...

      Me too! I think about this whenever I interact with little girls. I’m so glad I read that post because I’d never thought about that before!

  36. Addy says...

    Lovely woman. Her focus on inner strength for her daughter is such a great reminder of what we should do with all of our kids. My son is super small, so I try not to emphasize things that are about him being a “big boy” but things that are inside.

  37. Amazing how the post she refers to in the end is the same one that has stuck with me over the years! It was the most enlightening post ever, while it was about something so simple!

  38. One of my favourite series, particularly since so many of the featured women focus on beauty as it relates to psychological and spiritual wellness. Her daughter is so lucky to have such a wonderful beauty role model!

  39. heather says...

    Love this series. Still, it seems to me that almost all of the women included are mothers…? Is there a reason for this bias?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      at this stage in my life, most of my friends also have kids, but we will definitely try to feature more non-moms coming up! thanks so much for your note. xo

    • heather says...

      Thanks!!

    • These posts are lovely even if I am not a mom. There is still that real woman confessions that I enjoy.

    • Coralie says...

      I was wondering the same thing! I’m not a mom either, and it would be interesting to read about morning and bedtime routines without a kid involved in it. That being said I still enjoy a lot the beauty uniforms series. :)

  40. In the picture where Karen is seated on the bench with her daughter, any idea where her nude sandals are from?? They’re exactly what I’ve been looking for!! Thanks in advance!!

  41. There’s so much of what she talks about that I love — especially that her beauty routine is so centered on health and well-being.

    Thank you for this series! It’s one of my very favorite reads.

    Always, Anita

  42. Sarah says...

    I want to know where she shops- I love Karen’s style!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thanks, sarah! she says her favorite shops right now include madewell, steven alan and joinery.

  43. Sarah says...

    LOVE!

  44. So beautiful, inside and out! Her book is one of my favorites…even on the days when I don’t feel like cooking, it’s just lovely to leaf through. And thanks for the tip on the Wella! ;)

  45. Lael says...

    I loved reading this. I am also an Iraqi-Jew and my family is from Iraq and now Israel. So nice to hear that–I never do! Lovely advice and outlook.

  46. Lexie says...

    I love this beauty uniform! I feel like it’s much more philosophical and personal than just pushing a routine or product line!

  47. Selina says...

    I come from exactly the same background, Iraqi, Israeli and Jewish. I never see that representation anywhere on the internet so it’s great to see someone I can identify with if only on that level. The lipstick choices are great too

    • Lael says...

      Yes! I like how the internet is bring us all together right now.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, love this!