A mummy’s taste of life and style

Blogger Penny Zalalas shares her culinary secrets with Neos Kosmos, giving new mummies tasty advice their kids will love

Penny Zalalas is an open person who loves sharing her experiences with others. I came across her blog a couple of months ago, and was intrigued by her physique and ability to juggle motherhood, fashion and staying up-to-date with lifestyle news, not to mention her mouth-watering recipes – which I have tried in an attempt to ‘feed’ my ‘handful’ two-year-old nephew.

“I think life is too short to learn everything yourself and believe we are also here to learn from each other,” she says, sporting a brimming-with-confidence smile. A single phrase was enough to get me hooked.

“I don’t consider myself to be an expert by any means, however, I am passionate about food, fitness, fashion, travelling and all things related to being a mum,” Penny says.

“I like sharing my journey in the hope other mums out there can gain from my tips and topics featured on Mummy’s Life & Style.”

Penny Zalalas comes from a journalism background and has worked as a writer for close to 20 years. Last August, after her daughter Nikoleta turned two, she felt it was time to start part-time work again and took on some freelance writing projects. Motherhood seems to have inspired her even more.

“Every day my little girl inspires me, just looking at her smiling and seeing the world through her innocent eyes – there is nothing more special than that,” she says.

“Quite a few of my friends also became first-time mums and were asking lots of questions about mummyhood – my labour, breastfeeding, recipes, tips on exercising after baby … and I thought ‘why not start my own blog?’.”

And so she did. Basically now she writes about anything that tickles her fancy.

“I love interviewing and hearing other women’s stories too, which is why I have my Mummy Q&A section – here I get to ask other mums questions and gain from their experiences,” she tells Neos Kosmos.

“My love of travelling gave me the idea to start a global mums feature too- so I regularly chat to mothers throughout Australia and all over the world, as they reveal their tips and ideas on places to go and things to do in their city.”

Penny Zalalas doesn’t feel that food necessarily connects with fashion and celebrity news, although she does believe it all falls under the ‘lifestyle’ category. In saying that, food seems to be a huge obsession at the moment.

“You only need to look at the number of TV food shows that are a huge hit worldwide,” she muses.

“I think food is now as popular as fashion and celebrity news, it’s being featured across all media avenues. It seems there are more people interested in cooking too and are non-stop posting food images on Instagram and Facebook.”

She absolutely takes her hat off to any woman out there who is a single mum or doesn’t have help, as it’s extremely difficult trying to concentrate and meet deadlines while your little toddler is wanting to play.

“My parents are a huge hand, they are now retired, so I am able to leave Nikoleta with my mum and dad while I work.”

“My husband is a hands-on dad and that is the best help I could ask for. I couldn’t have pulled it off any other way,” she says.

The first two years were tiring, since Penny breastfed Nikoleta, therefore she had to time everything around her feeds. After she turned two and became more independent, things got much easier and Penny began feeling 100 per cent herself again.

“For me it’s true what they say, as soon as your baby is born ‘motherly guilt’ kicks in, so being a first-time mum I was constantly worried about making sure all of Nikoleta’s needs were met first,” she tells.

“However, as time passes and you see your baby thriving and growing, you become more confident and I’m sure the second time round, God willing, it will be easier.”

Penny insists that multi-tasking is also a matter of prioritising.

“Being a mum will always come first but it’s also important to take care of myself and continue doing what I love,” she stresses.

“I want to be a great role model for my little girl and lead by example. So there is a point where you just have to learn to let go and if the house isn’t 100 per cent tidy, it’s OK, you don’t need to be a superwoman – no one is!”

Penny has always enjoyed exercising and keeping fit. Her advice, especially coming from a personal angle, helps other new mums.

“I did become slack for a while after giving birth but luckily Nikoleta still has a daytime nap, so now I put her in her pram and walk for at least 30 minutes a day as she falls asleep,” she says.

“I also try doing yoga at home and this year’s resolution is to attend yoga classes – as the benefits you gain with a teacher are different.”

She is also a healthy eater and follows a good Greek diet, which she believes is the best in the world.

“I don’t deprive myself of anything I love, however I have everything in moderation and avoid eating take-out.”

Penny believes that the most important thing is to introduce as many foods to your child as early as possible, that way they become familiar with the taste.

“As soon as Nikoleta turned six months I added olive oil to her diet and by eight months I included garlic, onion, oregano and parsley to her soups,” she explains.

Unless your child has any kind of medical condition or allergies, it’s good to let them try all vegetables and herbs that you would use in your own cooking.
“We are so lucky to have Greek cuisine at our fingertips and I use this to my advantage – from the age of one,” Penny adds.

“I don’t think you necessarily need to cook separately for your child either.”

Green string beans in a salsa, broccoli drizzled with olive oil and lemon, spanakopita, pastitsio and fish soup are healthy and tasty meals for both kids and adults. Nikoleta was eating feta, kefalogaviera and olives from about 10 months on and these are part of her treats, while taramosalata’s pink shade amuses her on bread.

“There is always the trick of grating carrots, zucchini, eggplant and other veggies in a bolognese sauce, or if your toddler doesn’t like boiled egg, try it scrambled or make an omelette,” Penny advises.

“I don’t think you should focus on forcing them to eat one particular food if they don’t like it – as long as they have a balanced diet and eat from all food groups, which includes a good amount of protein, dairy, legumes, vegetables and fruit, and most importantly they are getting the right amount of nutrients and vitamins – I wouldn’t worry about anything else.”

Penny urges parents to make eating time fun for their kids, especially if they are fussy eaters.

“I know it’s hard, but try not to force feed – I find it makes it worse. There are days where they eat like horses and others where their appetite is minimal, this is all normal and could be related to teething and growth spurts.

“In any case, try not to force-feed them. It only makes things worse,” she highlights.

“A lot of people have this perception that baby and kids’ food should be bland but I believe the more flavoursome you make it, the higher the chance your child will eat it.”

She suggests parents buy kids colourful plates and cutlery with their favourite cartoon characters and join them at the table when they are eating. Have family conversations over dinner, so they have a good feeling when it comes to eating.

Penny feels very strongly about her Greek heritage. She always features predominantly Greek-inspired recipes that go a long way back, infused with modern western cuisine flavours.

“I am a very proud Greek Australian who feels blessed to have Greek parents,” she says.

“I can’t even begin to describe in words the connection I feel as soon as I hit Venizelos airport – my heart, soul and appetite just opens up!”

She grew up with her mum’s parents who couldn’t speak English and her parents also spoke Greek at home.

“I’m quite traditional. My husband and I share the same love for Greek music, dancing, needless to say food, Greek Orthodox religion and the tight Greek family unit, which we value more than anything,” she goes on to say.

“I am passionate about Greek culture, philosophy and its beautiful history, which I’m hoping our children will also be proud of.”

Frequent visits to Greece every other year strengthen the family’s Greek identity. Having a baby didn’t stop them. Taking Nikoleta to Greece has proved to be a surprisingly baby and kid-friendly experience.

“We actually baptised Nikoleta at Panagia Tsambika in Rhodes in 2013, which was a magical experience.”

“I must say Greeks are spectacular with little ones. We had hotel owners and chefs in tavernas making Nikoleta fresh pureed food, we had waitresses entertaining her so Steve and I could enjoy our meal, people stopped us everywhere we went to chat to Nikoleta and we were placed first in line so we didn’t need to wait.”

Greek generations that know exactly what life is about – family, love, food, creating good memories and enjoying the simple things in life – have been inspiring Penny all along.

“I’m inspired by my mum, grandmothers, aunties and real life, down-to-earth people who I’ve come across that blow me away with their strength and passion for their family and friends.”

“My yiayia used to say to me ‘let’s make a pita together today, l’ll teach you to roll out the filo’, but as all teenagers at the time, my mind was on socialising and I never got around to it,” she admits.

“By the time I was old enough to realise how special that moment would be, she had passed away. That is a huge regret of mine and one of the main reasons I decided to feature our family recipes.”

Penny loves nothing more than cooking for her family and friends now. She has learnt a lot from her mum and aunties who, according to her, really are amazing in the kitchen.

“All the sisters began cooking at the tender age of seven and I’m hoping their beautiful recipes will be passed on for generations to come,” she tells.
“In our family, food is not just about eating, it’s about bringing the whole family together and spending quality time – we find any excuse to gather around a table with all the aunties, uncles and cousins – enjoying home-cooked feasts, while laughing and catching up.”

Speaking of quality, here are some AAA Greek recipes that will certainly awaken your children’s and guests’ taste buds, as featured on Penny’s blog, mummyslifeandstyle.com