Alina Topala, creator of the Green Mama blog, inspires us to be more intentional with our time, the food we source, eat and prepare, and with each sip of coffee we enjoy and share. Alina created her blog to document her own health journey, and to share recipes she creates to nourish her family. What has grown from it is perspective, reflection on where she has come from and wants to go, two forthcoming books, and a community she has helped to nourish and feel nourished by during this time of social distancing.
What are some of your favorite recipes to make for yourself and your family on a regular basis?
We call my youngest, ´avocado monster´, because he loves avocados, and every morning he wants to have avocado on toast. To variate, I use different toppings: scrambled or soft-boiled eggs, various sprouts, herbs, seeds, fresh pollen, etc. We also love having smoothies for breakfast. For my base recipe, I use a full cup or more of leafy greens, a bit of fresh ginger root, seasonal fresh fruit, and then switch it up with various add-ins depending on the season. I do not add any sweeteners, just the natural sugars from the fresh fruit, as I try to reduce the sugar intake of the family.
For healthy and yummy lunches and dinners, I really enjoy creating salads and incorporating as many veggies as possible into my family's diet. We eat lots of salads, either as a main dish, or as a side next to roasted or oven baked veggies.
On the weekends, we indulge and have fun cooking and creating recipes with the kids. We make home-made pancakes, waffles, cakes or pasta from scratch, and lots of fun memories.
What are some of the top priorities you look for in the brands you collaborate with?
I mostly get asked to collaborate with food-related brands, and I always try to carefully choose which collaborations I accept. What most matters to me is to know that the brands that I collaborate with have similar values as I do, i.e. they prioritize using high-quality ingredients, bio, organic, local or fair trade, with a strong focus on sustainability and health. I am very attentive to conscious packaging and innovative ways to reduce single-use plastics.
What advice would you give to someone interested in embarking on their own health journey?
There are many tips that I would like to share around this, and many mistakes that I have made on my health journey and learned from, so I suppose that is also why I started the Green Mama Project to begin with. For me, I would say the biggest learnings came from starting to get informed by accredited health professionals, introducing healthy habits gradually and at my own pace, and listening to my body. Do not force yourself to follow very restrictive, fad or crash diets. Change should be gradual and following what works for you and your lifestyle is key.
What are a few things you like to try and do every day to take care of yourself?
Self-care is very important, especially when caring for others, so I try to infuse little self-care habits in everything I do.
I pay special attention to how I nourish my body through healthy food, and I love my specialty coffee brewed with Ratio Six, my matcha latte, golden milk, and the infusions I make every day. I also make sure I drink enough water.
To improve my immune system and as an energy booster, I use adaptogens; and for my skin and hair, I’ve recently started to use natural oils.
Although I was never the sporty type, having a form of physical exercise in my daily routine, not only helps keep me fit and healthy, but also helps release endorphins and reduce stress and anxiety. During the week, I usually go to the gym after I drop off the kids at school and before I start my workday, and during the weekends, we go walking, running or bicycling with the whole family in the National Park we are lucky to have close-by to home.
Can you tell us more about your childhood food memories, and how they play into the foods you purchase and prepare in your life now?
Some of my fondest and most vivid childhood memories have to do with food; learning how to cook from my mother, doing homework at the kitchen table while she prepared us some treats, sharing how our days went around the dinner table, and the many botched baking experiments with my younger sister trying to make surprise Mother’s Day desserts. For me, food is ultimately about family, and I try to create similar memories with my children. My parents both grew up on farms, so every summer when we would visit our grandparents. We would experience fresh seasonal produce straight from the garden, and authentic farm-to-table. We also learned how to grow vegetables, where our food comes from, and how perfectly imperfect it looks. We saw firsthand what it meant to be a farmer and how much hard work and passion goes into the foods we eat. This is something that has shaped much of who I am today, as a person and as a mother, and has given me a special appreciation of the foods I purchase and prepare for my family as of the people behind each ingredient and their families. I hope I am able to give my children the same experiences and relationship with food as we had the privilege to have.
We’re so curious about your forthcoming book Food for the Soul! When did you start writing it, and what will it be like?
I have always wanted to write my own recipe book; I love getting inspired and adding new cooking books to my collection, so having my name on one of them is the ultimate dream come true for me.
During confinement, I was feeling the need (maybe more than ever) to care for my family and myself with hearty comfort food that would not compromise on quality and health. Since I could not go to the market, I had a local farmer’s association that would deliver to our doorstep a seasonal crate of fresh produce. I tried to make the most of each single ingredient in the weekly harvest, creating more and more recipes that would not only be filling and delicious, but also healthy and sustainable. I shared some of my recipes and experiences on my social media channels, searched for inspiration from other wonderful people sharing their best tips, and have received amazing feedback and support from the community. Soon enough, I had a whole extensive collection of recipes that I had experimented with, or loose ideas of what I wanted to try my hand at next. So, at the persistent prompting from a close friend, I decided to self-publish, as my own way to give a big heartfelt THANKS to all of those who have supported me during these challenging times in ways they might not even be aware of, and those who despite keeping social distancing, have stayed connected to their communities to share and give back as much as possible. I feel proud of the result and look forward to the English version release of ‘Food for the Soul’.
In the meantime, I have also been working on a book with a local editorial for some time now, and am very excitedly (and impatiently!) waiting for it to get published. The title is still TBD, but I would be more than happy to share the news with you as soon as I get confirmation.
What are your favorite ways to engage and connect with your community about food and health during this time of social distancing?
I could not be more grateful to the community for helping me feel connected, for being a continuous source of inspiration and motivation and for their ongoing support.
To ‘ward-off’ the anxiety, uncertainty and negativity that ubiquitously spread around us all in a 24/7 news cycle, I made a conscious decision to focus on the positive, on opportunities rather than challenges, to reinforce healthy habits, and to stay connected (although apart) with those around me.
During these challenging times, I have found it personally helpful to engage more with those around me, to be more mindful of the quality-time I spend with my family and friends, and to keep busy in creative, constructive and healthy ways.
This pushed me out of my comfort zone and gave me the opportunity to try new approaches. I experimented more with different recipes, tried new ingredients, and tried to take full advantage of the ingredients I had; I shared with the online community my wins and failures, my best tips and my challenges and received in return their engagement, creativity, inspiration and advice; I also connected and co-hosted several IG-lives with different professionals in their respective fields and learned a lot.
Feeling part of a community has helped me keep sane and from feeling isolated, continue with healthy habits and gain perspective.
Do you have any rituals and memories related to the preparation and consumption of coffee?
I am part of a coffee-centric culture, so coffee could not be more ingrained in every moment of our lives; our days start and end with a cup of coffee, and each cup is different and defines a moment, event or person to enjoy it with.
My morning ritual starts with me starting to make the coffee as soon as I get out of the shower; I plan my day while the kids are having breakfast, and as I enjoy my first big cup of coffee, without which I would not even be able to get out of the house. As my day and week progresses, I’ll get a quick energy boost at the gym, I’ll catch up with a friend over a cup of coffee, I’ll have a foamy indulgent cup with my lunch, take a short coffee break with the coworkers, have a digestive decaf after a big dinner, or sip out of a big milky mug over a long brunch. The way we drink coffee differs, not only by the moment in which we enjoy it, but also from person to person; each of us has a personal, almost intimate way of having their coffee that varies from type and origin of beans, type of roast, the preparation style, ratios and types of milk, creamers, sweeteners, flavors…you name it. Everyone has their unique preferred way of enjoying this magical brew. I have however always offered my guests my favorite locally roasted specialty coffee prepared with the Ratio Six, and am yet to find someone who has not loved it.
Another one of my coffee ‘rituals’ has to do with culture and language. Whenever I travel, I need to ‘translate’ my favorite coffee style to the culture I am visiting. It takes a lot of experimentation, trial and error until I zoom in on the way to order my cup. Even in Europe, a ‘café con leche’ in Spain, is not the same as a ‘café-au-lait’ in France, a ‘café-latte’ in Italy or a ‘coffee with milk’ in the UK, and that is without all the other ‘artifices’ that make up my favorite cup. But I enjoy learning and experimenting the different coffee traditions in each culture I visit.