Author, blogger, and kinda-crunchy mama Mary Helen Leonard is a do-it-yourself expert at Mary Makes Good, a creative living blog featuring whole food recipes, natural skin care tutorials, and simple craft projects. We recently spoke with Mary Helen about motherhood, natural living, and whole food cooking.
It’s readily apparent that you’re committed to a natural lifestyle. Why did you choose to start a blog about it?
I grew up living in a family that embraced things like cooking, sewing, and herbal remedies. To me, these skills have always been an everyday part of my life, but I know that this isn’t the case for many others. I started writing about natural and handmade living because I wanted to share with others my love for a slower, healthier lifestyle. It can be surprisingly easy to make small but meaningful changes in your daily life, and I am happy to help encourage others to take those steps.
The subtitle of your blog is “Confessions of a Manic Maker.” What do you mean by that?
I’m the kind of person who gets more satisfaction from cooking a really great meal than eating one. I can lose myself in an art project, finding solace and contentment in every stitch of a quilt or swipe of a paintbrush. I am happiest when I am creating something new, whether it is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a batch of cold process soap. I’m constantly making things – art, food, words, music. It’s just who I am!
Finish this sentence: “The most surprising thing about motherhood that I’ve learned is … “
The thing that really took me by surprise was how happy having a child would make me. These might be the hardest years of my life, but they are by far the best.
My experience as a working mother has been extremely challenging, but I kind of saw that coming. No one said it would be easy, right?
More and more Americans are turning to natural foods and skin care products. What are some aspects of “natural living” than many people don’t think about?
One of the biggest blind spots for a lot of people is personal care. While there are plenty of big-box brands out there promising a more natural approach to skin care and hair care, shopping for products that are safe, affordable, and effective can be really challenging. Even people who have embraced cooking at home sometimes feel daunted by the prospect of making their own face wash or shampoo.
I wrote my first book, The Natural Beauty Solution, to give folks a simple way out of that puzzle. Making your own hair wash takes about two minutes and can cost next to nothing. It’s easier than you might think to ditch commercial beauty all together and go your own way.
Talk about some of the benefits of adopting a natural diet and beauty regimen. What changes will people notice after embracing this lifestyle?
Everyone is different, so it’s hard to make promises or set expectations for how making changes to your lifestyle will affect your overall well-being. That being said, I think that a lot of people find letting go of things like processed food and commercial beauty products to be a huge relief. It’s kind of miserable to spend your energy worrying about what is in your food or your shampoo every day. That can make embracing natural and DIY alternatives a really liberating experience.
Could you elaborate a bit on what the phrase “whole food cooking” means?
While I do occasionally take shortcuts, I prefer to cook my food from scratch. That doesn’t necessarily mean spending hours in the kitchen. It just means that most of my recipes start off with whole ingredients like vegetables, meats, and grains. It’s all about simplicity. Cooking with raw ingredients makes it easy for me to know what’s in my food, gives me more control over how the meal will taste, and is almost always a thriftier alternative to cooking with processed and packaged ingredients.
Do you have a favorite recipe of a dish, snack, or dessert that kids will love (and, of course, is good for them too)?
My own child is an incredibly “selective” eater. Right now, he lives almost exclusively off of homemade mac and cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and Cheerios. That definitely undermines my reputation as a food writer, but I am still holding out hope that the little guy will eventually discover his inner foodie.
When that day comes I am making him a huge batch of Yaki Onigiri. These sweet little rice balls can be made with whole grain rice and stuffed with healthy goodies like avocado or sweet potato. Kids love dipping them in sauces or topping them with condiments. They are even lunchbox-friendly!
Do you think someone can live and eat naturally and still be a foodie?
Absolutely! Trying to live a more natural lifestyle is actually a really fun challenge for people who enjoy cooking. Some of my best recipes were invented to satisfy my own cravings for junk food or take-out.
The other thing to keep in mind is that moderation goes both ways. Making healthy changes to your life is a wonderful thing to do, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t live a little. Cheat once in a while. Take shortcuts when you need to. Make the changes that work for you and leave the rest. After all, the whole point of making healthy changes is to make your life better.
Being happy and true to yourself isn’t really optional when it comes to living a full life. Life is short. Eat the chocolate.