For Arab American Heritage Month, we’re highlighting some of the people and brands you should know about all year long.
Since 2015, Summar Saad has been "cultivating coziness one idea and project at a time" on her blog, The Cozy Home Chronicles. From a post on becoming a DIY home gardener to a round-up of refreshing Ramadan drinks — one of many posts that delves into recipes and family-friendly activities during the holiday — Saad infuses her take on cozy with great care, intention, and reflection.
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Based in Dearborn, Michigan, she is currently working on her PhD in anthropology while raising three young children. Hunker chatted with Saad about her blog, current projects, and life at home.
Hunker: Why did you start The Cozy Home Chronicles?
Summar Saad: I had given birth to my first child, and I felt like I needed some kind of creative outlet. I saw blogging as a way to write and then share projects that we're doing at home.
Hunker: What made you want to be public about your life? Was it to be part of a community?
SS: It was more that I've always loved activism. Since I was in high school and undergrad, I was part of Amnesty International and the Model United Nations. I've always liked to interact with people and share ideas. I am private in some ways, but I do like having a platform to share ideas that I feel would make the world a better place.
Hunker: You have published unique guides on your blog, including The Art of Not Giving an F on Instagram and Low-Waste Eid: A Thoughtful Gift Guide from Muslim Bloggers. What inspired their creation? Was it in response to people who asked for them, or were they created because you needed them for yourself?
SS: I think a little bit of both. I felt that I especially needed the one on Instagram, as it was something that I've struggled with for a while. I had to work through these emotions of grappling with the metrics and how to define success on this platform. A lot of people would message me saying they experienced similar struggles with the culture of Instagram.
I wrote The Art of Not Giving an F on Instagram as something for myself and to benefit other people. And I love writing. I study anthropology and have always been interested in human behavior, culture, and the way people think and do things. I've taken those insights into how I approach blogging and social media. Some of these things come out of my observations as an anthropologist.
Hunker: You have three young kids at home and are working on a PhD and your blog. How do you manage time for all the things you care about?
SS: In my mind, I used to think that there was such a thing as balance. But as a parent, you start to realize that there will be some weeks or seasons where one thing gets most of your attention, and sometimes other things are going to have to fall to the wayside. My role as a mom is really important to me. So I've kind of scaled back — not that I've given up on my PhD, but I changed my writing pace to be slower, so that I don't have to be disappointed. I've had to change my expectations about what I can do because I can't put 150% into everything, or I'll burn out. So it's always about walking the line.
Hunker: What spaces do you value most in your home?
SS: I do love our kitchen, dining room, and living room. We actually knocked a wall down so that it's open space. It's nice because the kids can be doing something on the table, playing puzzles, Play-Doh, or eating, while I can be doing something in the kitchen. I love cooking and baking. A lot of our family time happens in the kitchen/living room space.
Hunker: How do you organize your kitchen to make it cozy?
SS: We have an open kitchen with white cabinetry. We wanted something open and airy, but we also wanted something rustic, because we love the outdoors. We use a lot of raw pinewood for the open shelving. A lot of cooking happens here, so we also wanted a counter that was open so the kids could join me. They'll pull up a chair and help me cook.
Hunker: What are some essential spices in your pantry?
SS: There are staple flavors that we have in our recipes that are part of Lebanese cuisine. For example, a lot of the stews have a garlic cilantro base, which is a really nice combination. We also use warm spices like cinnamon, allspice, and clove in many recipes.
Hunker: What traditional Middle Eastern dishes do you particularly love to cook?
SS: There are a lot of Middle Eastern dishes that I love to make. One of our favorites is an okra stew called bamia. There's also a vegan potato kebbeh dish that's like a raw steak tartare. I make it with potatoes and it tastes a lot like the real thing to me. I also make creamy red lentil soup, a Lebanese staple — especially during Ramadan. Last year, my youngest was diagnosed with multiple food allergies, so it's really changed the way I cook, because she can't have legumes, nuts, and things that we normally would eat often. I had gotten to a point where I started to turn a lot of these Middle Eastern dishes to be more plant-based; many of the plant-based alternatives are nuts and legumes. So we have had to start cooking meat and chicken again.
Hunker: Who taught you how to make Middle Eastern cuisine?
SS: I grew up learning to make them from my dad. He immigrated here when he was 16 from the war in Lebanon. My mom is actually not Middle Eastern, she is Polish Albanian, so I come from a mixed family. My dad loved his traditional food. My parents divorced when I was a teen, and I had to help with the cooking, so I've practiced these recipes. That carried with me as I moved into my own house and had to cook for my family. I love experimenting. As I tried to go more plant-based, I would kind of experiment with these dishes and see what I could substitute.
Hunker: You have a family of five. Did you also come from a large family?
SS: I grew up with three siblings, and we were all really close in age, so family and food — these things were a really big part of my life. Coziness is being with people that you love and eating good food. My husband and I wanted to build a space that kind of embodied that. When I did start blogging, it [was] easy to get sucked into decorating. You see all these cool designs and you feel like you want to update your space, but then you'll perpetually just change your space. I feel like that doesn't get at the heart of what cozy really is. It's about people that you love being together in a caring, conscious space — a space that's comfortable for us. But I also do want to customize our space in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way.
Hunker: What home projects are you working on now?
SS: Recently, I've been trying to think of how to make our space in tune with who I am — my identity, my cultural background. So I've invested time getting books and magazines and things about Arabic and Middle Eastern art and architecture, because I want to incorporate some of those influences as I move forward with designing our space. I'm kind of highlighting things that we already have, appreciating what it is that I like about them, and then figuring out how to make them the center of the space or accentuate them.
For example, we have a Persian rug that my father gifted us when I got married over eight years ago. It's been in our living room since and I used to be like, "It's so bright and red." I used to want a more modern-looking living room, but I started to really appreciate it, and I'm trying to find ways to make it pop.
Hunker: Are there other Arab American bloggers you admire?
SS: Too many to name, but here are some of them: Amanda of Amanda's Plate, Aisha of Honestly Aisha, Fatema Hijazi of Crème au Beurre, Hyatt of Food Allergy Mama Bear, Dr. Fatima of Dermy Doctor, and Sincerely Mama Malak.
Author and book editor Teena Apeles is a collector of vintage pieces and untold stories. She writes about art, culture, design, activism, and history, and edits books on an even wider range of subjects. She is the founder of the creative collective Narrated Objects, which released the anthology Dear Seller: Real Estate Love Letters from Los Angeles, a unique exploration of the lives and homes of Angelenos, and We Heart L.A. Parks, an artful and interactive travel guide to the city's public parks.