Tastes of Life: “Food for Thought” 44 years later…

As a 1971 alumna, I was proud and honored to give the commencement address to the Holyoke Catholic High School graduating class of 2015. A bittersweet time since this is the last graduating class because of an upcoming school merger.
Many people have asked to read a copy of my speech so here it is. Enjoy this “food for thought.”



Good evening graduates and to all who are here in support of your life. Congratulations, as one journey is ending and many more beginning!

When I was asked to speak at your graduation I wondered what I could say to add meaning to this day. As I contemplated various topics I knew what I wouldn’t be talking about. I am not going to talk about your goals, or your education, what your plans are for the next year or two or four, or the state of the world.

In preparation, as I looked through my yearbooks and reminisced about my Holyoke Catholic graduation 44 years ago, I came to an important awareness. Graduating from high school is a day unlike any other. It is an occasion filled with an incredible array of conflicting emotions. There is joy, sadness, excitement, fear, wonder, anxiety, happiness, and relief, among I’m sure other feelings you could add to this list. And, on top of all this, you are entering adulthood where a newly found sense of freedom and responsibility is added to the mix…

What a remarkable and challenging time this is for you!

Then, tomorrow arrives, and today’s swell of energy, your huge heart which might not have known how many feelings it could hold, and the safety net surrounding you, begin to adjust and transform as you feel new ground under your feet. Each one of you will step away from this part of your life carrying whatever you are meant to take with you into your next journey…

Pack mindfully!

When I graduated, I took quite a bit with me. To share this story I’m going to backtrack to my freshman year. As I approached the freshman building, right here on the corner of Elm and Hampden St, I looked out over the many heads of other freshmen waiting to be let in on our first day of school. In the crowd I noticed a tall dark haired boy. “Hmm he’s cute,” I thought. There was also an intuitive nudge, the inner voice that said, “Pay attention.” I should have known the universe had a plan. Because of alphabetical order, we ended up in the same homeroom, by Sophomore year we got to be friends, Junior year we started dating, and Senior year a picture of us as a couple was posted at the beginning of our yearbook, and Doug was named best looking. I knew I was right in how cute he was! This October we will be married for 40 years!

Back then, we had aspirations and plans, but we did not know how life was going to unfold. Who really does? I had no idea that besides being a nurse, I would become a writer. Doug had no idea he would become president of PeoplesBank. Not knowing what life has in store for us is one of the wonders and great mysteries of our existence. The unknown is where many possibilities and gifts await. I believe we grow a deeper, wiser self from exploring the unknown, from those things that surprise and challenge our minds, bodies, hearts and spirits.

Recently, I came into possession of an autograph book that belonged to my mother when she was a teenager. This book held notes and well wishes from friends; much like how we sign high school yearbooks. The difference being that at the age when teenagers begin high school, my mother and father, who were each living in Poland when WWII broke out, were taken as prisoners of war. They were shipped in train box cars to Siberia where they suffered in work camps, and where many people died. After her release, the rest of my mother’s teen years were spent in Africa. As I read through this small hand-tied book, the writings spoke to how she Maria touched and inspired others’ lives. I am sure her heart was lifted by what friends wrote. And, maybe their inscriptions even helped her remember who she was during a time when everything in her world had changed.

Knowing and understanding the intricate, multi-layered nature of who we are in this world, matters. This brings me to the message I want to share with you. It is about the most significant relationship that you can explore and nurture. That relationship is with YOU! With YOUR SELF! No matter what you do, how you do it, what you dream, where you live, who you pray to, and who you love, all of these aspects of your life will flow easier and feel more true if you open up to the inside workings of YOU.

It is in the depths of self that you will begin to discover, appreciate, accept, and love all of who you are. You may be thinking you know yourself, and I believe many of you probably do know who you are at this point in your life, but trust me, there is going to be much more to you in the future.

Imagine your “self” as a landscape. What does it look like? Are you an open field, or a dense forest, is there a stream running through, or are you seeing a desert? Or maybe you are a busy metropolis. These days, we are fortunate to have GPS technology to help us find our way. Envision the GPS map of your inner self. As you experience life, that internal map will expand, gain greater detail, and look pretty amazing as you zoom in on YOU.

Every experience you have will offer opportunity to understand more about yourself, your connections to everything around you, your relationships to others, to your inner spirit, and to the Divine. You will be challenged by the best and worst of how you are, and who you are capable of becoming. Believe in yourself. Draw on your strengths and talents – discover your voice, express yourself creatively, be kindhearted, be grateful for your successes, and be able to admit your failures, for in them there are great lessons!

In our culture there are pressures to perform, to achieve, to “be” according to others’ criteria. These expectations can detour you off your path. Learn to trust your inner compass. Pay attention to your feelings and your intuition which can surface in a variety of ways – an instinctive knowing, a gut feeling, an inside voice, or like for me “noticing a boy in a crowd.” If you listen to your intuition, and learn its quirks and how to work with it, it will be one of your great guides in life.
Our hearts and souls are precious parts of who we are. It is vital to our soulfulness and to our humanness to share in relationships. Though technology and social media have their place, they do not replace a tender touch or hug, the sound of one’s voice, looking deeply into another’s eyes, enjoying the tastes of a shared meal, or together breathing in the scent of a new day.

The beauty in this ongoing “getting to know yourself” way of being is that the more you know and understand your “self,” the more you will understand others and attract caring, meaningful, supportive connections and friendships into your life.
Change is ahead of you. Change is inevitable. Sometimes we look toward change with joyful anticipation, other times, when the path ahead lacks clarity there is apprehension. How change affects you, and you affect change can be more empowering and hope-filled when you are mindfully engaged, and move forward with positive intentions.

We all have our reasons for what we reach for. Whatever your reasons for the path you have chosen to pursue, or in some cases maybe the path has chosen you, embrace your whole self – mind, body, heart and spirit- as you step into your tomorrows. Don’t underestimate the power of your presence in this world. Even the simplest act can have a profound effect on the lives of others.

As your story unfolds may it be above and beyond all your expectations!

Thank you and again congratulations!


Tastes of Life: Reminiscing …

before dinner

Some of you may relate to those truly special journeys that seem like a gift from the universe because they end up being so much more than one can hope for. This Two Bordelais food and wine trip was one of those journeys, We all have certain expectations when we travel, but when unexpected, inspiring connections occur during a trip – moments that make us see a wider landscape of life, make us feel more alive, and make us sense the divine aspects of our existence – these journeys stay with us through our lifetime. This trip was filled with many wonders including intuitive and spiritual synchronicities which always make my heart feel full and lift my spirit. In this journey I felt in the flow of my life. There was a greater awareness of myself, an embrace of my surroundings, and a clearer sense of who I was, how I was, and how I was held and nurtured by the people, the land, the cooking, and by the delicious food and wine we tasted there.

When we arrived at the Moulle’s home, we stepped through the door into the kitchen.

Moulle's country homeIn the rustic country kitchen, where we prepped and cooked with Jean Pierre, we felt welcome, at home, and like chefs (especially when wearing our aprons).

france kitchen 1

Moulle's Kitchen 2

france kitchen 3

Besides the food adventures, there were also the wine trips one of which included a cave tour…

wine cave                                             wine cave 2… and going to a Cooperage (barrel making plant). There we saw the barrel making process from start to finish including barrels being toasted. We were surprised when looking at the finished barrels to see one labeled “Caymus”

cooperage 1

cooperage 2cooperage 3

It’s always nice to be reminded about something familiar when away from home. Seeing Caymus, one of the wines we tasted and loved on our first trip to Napa California, at a cooperage in France, was sweet!


Tastes of Life: To the Market We Go…

In my last blog I hinted about more stories from the trip to Bordeaux. I have been trying to remember the names of the several towns where we went to the markets in the mornings to select the meat, fish, and incredibly fresh produce that we would be working with and cooking that day. Having never experienced a European market place, I had no expectations and so everything was a surprise as every one of my senses was stimulated, especially visually.

Indoor market

Indoor market

This new world I was exploring felt endless in the streams of people and array of foods that surrounded me. Thank goodness that Jean Pierre Moullé knew just where to lead us, though at times I was tempted to follow where my eyes were drawing me. I was mesmerized, curious, and wanted to see and touch everything; yes, I am one of those individuals who cannot resist touching things.

Jean Pierre, Deb, my husband Doug, and Charlie

Jean Pierre, Deb, my husband Doug, and Charlie

As I write this I cannot for the life of me recall the names of where we went to the markets. I would like to blame the span of ten years on my poor recall of the locations, but sadly I have never been good in geography, and also not very good in remembering names. The ongoing joke as we age is that two heads, or three or four are better than one. So, I have reached out to our friends who we traveled with in hopes of getting at least a couple of location names. I had also emailed my husband at work though I imagine he rolled his eyes, because he had already written a couple of the towns down for me, but, as my writer’s clutter would have it, I have not been able to find that one small piece of paper.

Meats and fish at the markets were plentiful in various form.



Lots of fish

Lots of fish



Geese a waiting

But the live fowl looked like they knew what was to come and were trying to find a way out. I was relieved that we did not carry anything that moved back to the country home kitchen where we would soon be preparing a variety of recipes.

Vegetables, as if posing in groups and calling out, “Take my picture,” summoned my attention. Every place I turned there was another food photo opportunity.

Cabbage   Radishes and more

So much of everything was too beautiful to resist; I wanted to taste every color. It was hard to know what to buy to make dessert so we splurged and picked various fruits knowing that they would all be a part of something delectable. France 293    France 296 What an adventure in cooking we were going to have! Though I am not skilled in geography, and sometimes when coming out a door I will turn to walk in the direction opposite of the way I am supposed to go, I am confident as I travel the map of a kitchen. I love to eat and I love to cook, and was enthusiastic to try new recipes such as preparing and cooking mussels. But that is another blog. So for now, I leave you with a burst of sunflowers from a French market place to brighten your day. By the way, I am happy to say I now have the names of the towns where we went to the markets – Branne, Libourne, Creon, and Castillon. France 305

Tastes of Life: Cooking in Bordeaux

Lunch in Bordeaux – photo by A. Bowen

Ten years ago, the landscape of my culinary world expanded with an intimate cooking and wine experience in Bordeaux with Jean Pierre and Denise Moullé http://www.twobordelais.com/. I have to be honest and say that I was completely ignorant of what lay ahead in this cooking experience. Friends had interested us in this trip and I was just happy to be taking it. Cooking in France sounded intriguing though not intimidating because I was used to certain elements and styles of European cooking; both my parents were immigrants from Poland. That said, I had little knowledge of all that was ahead of me, especially the chef we were going to be cooking with and learning from. Jean Pierre was well known because, up until his recent retirement, he was for decades the chef at Alice Water’s restaurant Chez Panisse http://www.chezpanisse.com. And his wife Denise’s family – the Lurton’s – are highly respected in the wine industry globally. From the moment we arrived at the La Forge B&B I was charmed by the setting and fell in love with the colors of Bordeaux. I can’t tell you what got more use during this trip – my camera or my taste buds. Both matured in ways I never expected. One thing that trips like this don’t advertise is the amount of wisdom that may be gained from the connections and relationships experienced with people, with nature, with food, with places, and with self.


Artichoke – photo by A. Bowen

I had never seen artichokes in bloom. I had never eaten a baguette for breakfast, or gone to a different outdoor market every day just to select food to be prepared for that day. I could barely hold in my excitement and enthusiasm when we met Jean Pierre at the first outdoor market, shopped and then were taken to his and Denise’s country home to cook in their country kitchen.

Jean Pierre

Jean Pierre, me, and friend – photo by D. Bowen

Copper pots, an open brick oven, kitchen tools and knives, bowls, shelves with spices and unknown ingredients, and baskets of the produce we had selected at the market surrounded us, and the red and white checked plastic tablecloth over the prep area was just perfect in this setting. I felt very much welcome and at home cooking with this chef.

Baskets of produce

Baskets of produce – photo by A. Bowen

There are many more stories to tell about this trip, but today I am reflecting on the synchronicity that reconnected me to that Bordeaux trip; nudged me to go back through all the pictures I took, and to pull out the folder of recipes that we learned to cook there. In doing that I was reminded me of how alive I felt, how curious, how happy, and how blessed and grateful to have such an amazing food and travel experience. What brought me to this moment was that I discovered that Jean Pierre and Denise Moullé had recently published their cookbook “French Roots: Two Cooks, Two Countries, and the Beautiful Food Along the Way.” http://www.amazon.com/French-Roots-Cooks-Countries-Beautiful/dp/160774547X I immediately ordered it. When it arrived I paged through it and felt its beauty. Oh the fond memories it stirred! It felt so true to me, that I ordered two more copies to share with friends. This is more than a cookbook. It is a love story about the places, the food and the relationships this couple have lived. This book validates why our trip was such a lovely and meaningful experience for me; why it stays with me deep in my soul. So much of all that Jean Pierre and Denise engage in is with the deeply felt intention of enjoying life and all it holds together. french roots