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!


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.)