A Healthy Trip

Children’s author Karina Moussa mixes love of travel with good nutrition

Inspiration flows from many places for Karina Moussa. She was born in Bulgaria to Syrian parents. She has traveled extensively. She has spent time in her parents’ restaurants, first a Mexican place in Oakland and now a Mediterranean place in downtown Pittsburgh. She learned a lot about healthfulness at a former job. And she loves to read.

 Last June, with spare time because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2011 Mt. Lebanon High School graduate channeled all that inspiration and began writing the first of a planned series of children’s books that feature a fictional boy and promote healthy living with a fun international twist. Wellness Wally’s Delicious Journey was published in November.

Moussa found an illustrator, Lekshmi Bose of India, and an American freelance editor online and went to work.

 “I used to work in health education,” said Moussa. “It was a lot of drug and alcohol prevention. I learned a lot about overall wellness and well-being. There was a concept called the eight dimensions of wellness, such as physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, etc. I just kind of fell in love with the concept because it taught our audience that we were going out and educating about how all these dimensions are intertwined. If you’re suffering in one dimension, that’s going to affect the other seven dimensions.”

 Those dimensions are themes for the books in the series, aimed at ages 5-9. The Delicious Journey book focuses on nutrition, which falls under physical wellness.

In the book, Wally is a stubborn, close-minded boy who loves to eat junk food. He begins to travel and tries foods from seven different countries—Syria, Mexico, Japan, India, Nigeria, Bulgaria and Greece—and begins making healthier choices.  

 “I mixed it in with my love for travel,” said Moussa. “I love traveling. We can learn a lot from different cultures. When you travel, you learn so much. Not just about food, but everything.”

She also published an accompanying book, Wellness Wally’s Delicious Cookbook, with recipes for the international dishes described in the book that families can prepare together.

In addition, she has accompanying, downloadable kids’ activities such as word searches, coloring pages and mazes under “Freebies” on her website.

In Moussa’s second book, due out sometime this spring, Wally will travel to seven different countries and learn about various international sports.

“I tried to highlight countries that aren’t necessarily super popular, but also countries that sometimes get some negative (attention), or people don’t know much about,” she said.

Moussa lives in Scott, but her parents still live on Maplewood Drive, where Karina grew up. She has two older sisters.

She didn’t tell her family about the books beforehand.

“It was a surprise for us. It was a very, very good surprise,” said her father, Mario, who runs Madonna’s Mediterranean Cuisine on Smithfield Street. “We always knew that someday she would do something. I don’t know where she got the idea yet, but it’s awesome.”

Actually, Mario helped with the inspiration. He moved from Syria to Bulgaria for college and graduate school, and that’s where the girls were born. When Karina was 6, the family visited relatives in Pittsburgh and decided to relocate to the area.

Mario supported Karina’s international wanderlust. “After we got our green cards, we traveled all over. It was, I think, a good experience for her,” he said.

One that helped lead to a theme in her foray into children’s books.

Moussa’s books can be ordered through her website, www.karinamoussa.com, and on Amazon.

This recipe is excerpted from Wellness Wally’s Delicious Cookbook, and correlates to the chapter on India in Wellness Wally’s Delicious Journey.

Tandoori chicken

 Serves six

4 whole chicken legs (drumsticks & thighs), skinless, bone-in

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup plain yogurt

3 tbsp. vegetable oil

2 tbsp. lemon juice

2 tbsp. fresh ginger

1 tbsp. garam masala

1 tbsp. sweet paprika

1 tsp. ground coriander

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. ground turmeric

1 tsp. ground cayenne

1 tsp. onion powder

1 tsp. salt

Heat the vegetable oil in a small pan over medium heat. Add in the coriander, cumin, turmeric
cayenne, garam masala, onion powder, and sweep paprika. Stir the mixture often for 3
minutes. Let the mixture cool completely.

Place the yogurt in a medium bowl and add the cool spice mixture. Whisk the ingredients together. Mix in the lemon juice, minced garlic, fresh ginger and salt

Cut four deep slashes in each of the chicken legs. Coat the chicken well with the
yogurt and spice marinade. Cover the chicken and place in the refrigerator. Chill the chicken for at least one hour. It is recommended you chill it for 6 hours, but not more than 8 hours.

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and remove from the marinade. Ensure you remove most of the marinade from the chicken.

Grill cooking instructions. Heat an oiled grill to medium-high heat and cook the chicken until cooked well, about 12 minutes.

Oven cooking instructions. Preheat the oven to 400 F degrees and place the chicken on an oiled sheet pan. Place the pan in the oven and cook for 30 minutes.

Enjoy chicken by itself or with a side of rice and plain yogurt.