Mother Essentials: Dr. Sylvie Charles, Founder of Just Date
Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano
Dr. Sylvie Charles’ passion for food and healing was planted at a young age, when she shared nourishing Indian meals with her family, steeped in healing, Ayurvedic tradition. Now the San Francsico-based mom and former UCSF doctor is aiming to pass that love along to her own children—daughters Aya (4) and Naya (1.5). When she’s not brewing chai and flipping nutrient-dense pancakes in her family’s kitchen, Sylvie is hard at work as the founder of Just Date, which she launched in 2018, after growing concerned about the negative health impacts of refined sugar. The brand started with Organic Date Syrup and has expanded its offerings to include Date Sugar, Chocolate Date Tahini, Chai Caramel sauce, date-sweetened Pomegranate Molasses, and more! Read about some of her favorites within her cheerful Mother Essentials list below!
Walks on the California Coast. “I moved from San Francisco to a small beach town called Pacifica a few years ago. It’s a town of 30,000 right on the California coast, brimming with outdoor activities like hiking and surfing. There are endless trails here that start right in our backyard. You’re up close and personal with the weather—some days we storm watch from our windows and on other days it’s like the sun came out just for you. My girls are growing up outside, getting messy in the dirt, picking up bugs and finding coyote skulls by the creek. There’s nothing like taking my little mini me’s on a beachside hike in the sunshine (or in the wet fog). It puts a huge smile on my face every time. When I’m struggling, a walk or hike outside always does the trick.”
Chai Ritual + Chai Caramel. “My best days always start with a steaming mug of chai. It takes me back to the summers I spent with my family in India, walking over to the local Chaiwalla in my grandma’s village and asking for a piping hot stainless steel cup filled with foaming chai. Each morning as I prepare my girls’ breakfast, I place Assam Black Tea in a ceramic saucepan, and add crushed green cardamom, cinnamon quills, and black pepper from Diaspora Co., along with cloves from Burlap & Barrel, and a piece of fresh ginger. It sounds like a lot, but I have the spices ready together in a little jar, so it just takes a second to freshly peel the ginger. After that’s simmered for a bit, I add whole milk and let it rise and fall with foam. I strain it in my favorite tiny black teapot from Samovar (so functional), and finish it off with a teaspoon of Just Date’s Chai Caramel, which adds a touch of sweetness and an additional backdrop of spice. It gives me a nice steady dose of caffeine, as opposed to coffee which has always not been the right choice for me.” The Tea Lounge Tea Pot, $45, Samovar. Regeneratively Grown Organic Assam Black Loose Leaf Tea, $10.79, Thrive Market. Chai Masala Blend, $15, Diaspora Co. Pempa Cloves, $9.99, Burlap & Barrel. Chair Caramel Syrup, $18, Just Date.
Spices. “Speaking of spices, these two companies have simply changed the game with single origin, ethically sourced spices from around the globe (Burlap & Barrel) and India (Diaspora Co.). Spices have been a huge part of my life since the get go—my mom says she started feeding me chicken curry when I was 4 months old! I don’t go a day without incorporating some sort of spice into our meals. They bring vibrance and flavor to all of our meals without needing excess salt or sugar. My oldest child loves turmeric cauliflower, and my baby loves a sprinkle of sumac on her eggs. She is Indian through and through, taking down chicken curry at the tender age of one.” BurlapandBarrel.com. Diasporaco.com.
Beautiful Daily Objects + Ceramics. “On a retreat, I gathered a life lesson from the late Beth Kirby that I’ll carry with me the rest of my life. Beth was an amazing artist, and she shared her philosophy that if we make the simple objects in our life beautiful, it elevates mundane moments to something beautiful. Brooms, kitchen scrubbers, pans, mugs, plates, and any other household cleaning or daily use item. The pans I gawk over every day are my Smithey No. 12 Cast Iron, Smithey Carbon Steel Wok, and Mauviel Copper cookware. The pans are pricey but last forever, and I mean forever! I definitely didn’t acquire them all at once and saved up for each over the course of years. Smithey has a ‘seconds sale’ every year that I love to take advantage of! I’ve also been collecting vintage ceramic mugs over the years from all over the world. Each one has a story and I love that nostalgia everytime I’m having a warm drink.” Handmade Kitchen Scrub Brush & Holder Set with Natural Fiber Bristles, $48, Food52. Blueland.com. No. 12 Cast Iron Skillet, $210, Smithey. Carbon Steel Farmhouse Skillet, $295, Smithey. Mauviel 1830 M’Heritage M150B 5-Piece Cookware Set With Bronze Handles, $720, Mauviel.
Just Date Sugar + Pancake Ritual. “Yes you are reading this right—as a doctor and low-sugar advocate, I feed my kids pancakes 4-5 times a week! I love creating healthy and nourishing pancakes for my girls, and the girls love ‘em right back. They’re an opportunity to create different blends of nutrients every day, they are full of nourishing wholesome ingredients, they don’t spike my kids’ blood sugar (yay Just Date Sugar!), and they keep them full all day long. My favorite blend for them is almond flour, date sugar, tapioca flour, eggs, milk of choice, baking powder, blueberries, and it’s the ideal place to sneak in tons of chia seeds and hemp seeds!” Organic Date Sugar, $12.99, Just Date.
Cookbooks. “Reading a great cookbook is my happy place. I love seeing others’ histories, heritage, and creativity through their recipes. I have way too many cookbooks and not enough time to cook through all of them. The three cookbooks I use most are Sababa by Adeena Sussman (fresh, flavorful, many are simple enough for a weekday), Everyone’s Table by Gregory Gourdet (I love Gregory’s style of cooking, and that such an incredible chef is such a big proponent of delicious AND healthy cuisine), and The Flavor Equation by Nik Sharma (Nik is so creative and the science nerd in me loves his dissection of the flavor of food. It’s totally groundbreaking and so unique).” Sababa: Fresh, Sunny Flavors From My Israeli Kitchen, by Adeena Sussman, $19.99, Amazon and Bookshop. Everyone’s Table: Global Recipes for Modern Health, by Gregory Gourdet, $TK, $21.99, Amazon and Bookshop. The Flavor Equation: The Science of Great Cooking Explained in More Than 100 Essential Recipes, by Nik Sharma, $19.99, Amazon and Bookshop.
Simple Mills. “As parents, we all want to give our kids the same nostalgic treats we had in our youth. The problem is that we’ve learned SO much since the ’80s and ’90s about how negatively these treats impact our kids’ short-term and long-term health. Besides Just Date products, Simple Mills is my go-to for a quick pancake or cake mix instead of reaching for Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines, crackers instead of Goldfish, and cookies instead of Oreos. These Simple Mills products actually meet the nutritional standards for our kids that we should be aiming for. Try their almond flour crackers, seed flour crackers (safe for nut-free schools!), or chocolate cake mix.” SimpleMills.com.
Haircare. “I definitely miss the hair of my ’20s, pre-kids, the hair that required barely any care! After my oldest, my hair was thick and shiny, but the complete opposite happened after my most recent child. I experienced dramatic postpartum hair loss and graying that made my jaw drop! I’ve been slowly nourishing and nurturing my hair over the six months, and the products that have made the biggest difference for me are Nutrafol supplements, Ranavat Fortifying Hair Serum (my hair stopped falling out within 10 days), and Fable & Mane shampoo and conditioner.” Hair Growth Nutraceutical, $79, Nutrafol. Ranavat Fortifying Hair Serum, $70, Goop. Shampoo & Conditioner Duo, $55, Fable & Mane.
A Good Book. “A good book before bed leads to a better and more satisfying sleep for myself, and I just love getting lost in a story. My most recent favorites are Crying in H Mart, Klara and the Sun, and Everything I Never Told You. They also happen to be all by Asian-American authors. I love that Asian-Americans like myself are making a splash in writing and other creative fields these days. My business partner and best friend Samantha is an avid reader, too, and I’m always looking to her for recommendations.” Crying in H Mart: A Memoir, by Michelle Zauner, $15.79, Amazon and Bookshop. Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro, $14.20, Amazon and Bookshop. Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng, $17.99, Amazon and Bookshop.
Seven Sundays Farmers Market Almond Date Muesli. “I’m always on the hunt for easy breakfast solutions with no added sugar. My girls love this muesli, and I love that it packs them full of nutrition for their day! Bonus points for supporting the wonderful husband-wife duo behind this fabulous brand.” Organic Farmers Market Almond Date Muesli, $24 (for case of 4), Seven Sundays.
Sweet Nothings. “I’m also always on the lookout for dessert solutions with no added sugar that share the same nostalgia of our youth—like the processed ice cream cups I used to thrive on as a 5-year-old. Enter Sweet Nothings, spoonable smoothies that give all those ice cream feels. My daughters do not know the difference, especially with their chocolate and peanut butter flavors and ‘real’ ice cream. These are sweetened with just dates (hooray!), and have no added sugar. They also sneak in high nutrient density through flax seeds and chia seeds. I am a BIG fan of their nutrition.” SweetNothings.com.
Extra Virgin Coconut Oil + Baby Body Ritual. “Coconut oil is a huge part of ancient Indian self-care methods, and my mom has been rubbing coconut oil into my face and hair since I was born. I have used this coconut oil for my babies’ bodies and faces since they were just out of the womb. I’ve found that this coconut oil works for everything from preventing diaper rashes to healing their face after an extra-mucous bad cold in the winter. I also love the ritual of massaging it into my baby’s body after a warm bath—there is nothing sweeter than watching my girls enjoy that relaxing feeling we all love!” Coco & Co. Virgin Coconut Oil, $17.16, Amazon.
Sleeping Well With The Best Sleeping Tools. “I won’t travel anywhere without my Coop Home Goods pillow. It’s adjustable and if I had to call an object the love of my life, this would be it. Once you adjust to the right level of shredded foam for your unique needs, you won’t be able to use another pillow! My other favorite item for winter is the Sunday Citizen Quartz Crystal Weighted Blanket. Since having babies, I have become a really light sleeper. There was no more sleeping through my husband’s snoring or my baby’s tiny movements and grunts on the monitor. I bought myself this blanket for Christmas and it was a total game-changer. Sleep became attainable again!” The Original Pillow, $72, Coop. Snug Crystal Weighted Blanket, $269, Sunday Citizen.
Lovevery. “My background in medicine is child development and psychiatry, and the neuroscience of early childhood has always been fascinating to me. So when I was having my first child and Lovevery was just emerging, I totally geeked out over it. I am simply floored by what this brand has done for children’s toys. I subscribed immediately to their Play Kits, and am probably down to purchase whatever they offer up next.” The Play Kit, $80 to $120, Lovevery.
Dancing With My Girls. “Our nightly dance party is my favorite way to shed those afternoon scaries that can sometimes come along. My girls get ‘hangry’ while waiting for dinner, so this is the perfect thing to distract them while we’re waiting for the food to finish up on the stove or in the oven. The girls are currently jamming to Barry Manilow’s Copacabana (hilarious), and House of Pain’s Jump Around (also funny). And Frozen songs, obviously.”
Farmers Markets. “This is the most fabulous way to pass time with my girls. I love seeing their faces light up as they choose the freshest berries and peaches, especially in the summer season. They’re fascinated by everything they see. We’re so lucky in California to have an abundance of markets to choose from, and we’re looking forward to summer to appreciate California’s fruit bounty!”
For more MOTHER ESSENTIALS, peep our recent features on food icon Amanda Hesser, Prickly Pear founder MONA BAHRAINI, Solace Summer founder MEGAN BRE CAMP, Wonder Valley co-founder ALISON CARROLL, OZMA designer HEIDI BAKER, author TIFFANY ROSE SMITH, PR pro TEMI ADAMOLEKUN, HEIDI BAKER of OZMA, PHOEBE SUNG of Cold Picnic, Sach Paneer founder JASLEEN KAUR, Essential Labor author ANGELA GARBES, The Mamas author HELENA ANDREWS-DYER, Olivia J founder SHAE JONES, author BRYNNE BARNES, TISHA THOMPSON of LYS Beauty, Blueland’s SARAH PAIJI YOO, Heirloom’s SRI BODANAPU, Lady Falcon Coffee Club founder BUFFY MAGUIRE, the mama-duo behind SPRING & MULBERRY chocolate, and Dear Bella Creamery co-founder ALICE CHERNG.
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