Real Souvenirs of Travel, and Returning to Basics By Maria Hodkins

When I posted “Bringing Home Wellness: Souvenirs of Awareness” ( it drew a fabulous comment from my good friend, Maria Hodkins, who is an itinerant chef and cooking instructor, . Rather than have those words languish in the backwaters of commentary on a single post, I felt they needed the spotlight of a featured guest blogger piece. Enjoy!

Olive groves flank a Tuscan hill town.

“Wellness travel” in my mind includes the elements of keen observation, contemplation, and personal transformation. So often, travel vacations are experienced only as pure entertainment or a quest to find relief from stress and fatigue. There is nothing like stepping outside oneself into a different world to raise personal awareness of cultural or personal habits that keep us imprisoned in unhealthy lifestyles. The act of opening oneself to foreign (not necessarily out-of-country) influences can be a very creative act, drawing us out of ourselves and our highly-regimented routines and thinking patterns. As a friend once told me, “There are a thousand ways to wash dishes.” (What?….but my mother taught me that THIS was the best way!) When I travel, I am constantly jotting down notes in my travel journal, even drawing diagrams of projects or structures that inspire me with possibilities. These observations of how people live creatively and well are my true souvenirs of the journeys. When I was living for a summer in Spain doing an intensive language study in Spanish, I leased a room with an elderly couple in their third-floor apartment. All cooking was done on a double-hotplate in the kitchen, and the meals were unbelievably delicious; showers were only allowed twice a week, to conserve water in a drought-parched city. After returning to the U.S., I was horrified to watch my neighbors watering their lawns, realizing the absurdity of our “green lawn” values in this country, and the incredible waste of precious water. I have only been able to justify watering a food-producing garden since then, and give thanks daily for the water that flows so freely from our taps.

Freshly harvested porcini mushrooms destined for the table in Tuscany.

The return to “old ways”of eating–homesteading arts, growing, cooking, and eating local, organic foods has new name: the Slow Food movement. It did start originally in Italy, and is “a non-profit member-supported association. Slow Food was founded in 1989 to counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.” ( This awareness of how food affects our health and wellness is a burgeoning movement in this country, with renewed home food gardening, cooking classes, CSA’s, farmers’ markets, and, thankfully, is even creeping into the hot lunch programs of our schools. This is an encouraging leaning toward wellness lifestyles in our culture. We can learn so much from other countries, as well, who have not embraced all of the industrial food practices that we have blindly accepted here.

As an itinerant chef and cooking instructor on the Colorado Western Slope, I observe how people respond to learning about the ecology of food and how it empowers them to change their lifestyle and consequently their diet into more vibrant, nutrient-based foods. And much can be said about the intangible satisfactions of cultivating, cooking, eating, and sharing those foods–a deeper “satiety” ensues, alleviating that unspeakable hunger for meaning and inner peace that we seem to be constantly seeking. Nothing restores me when I am out of balance more than turning a quart of milk into my own creamy yogurt, teeming with probiotics, or pulling a loaf of golden-crusted bread from the oven that I have shaped with my own hands. It is truly travel into the Mysteries of life, available on a daily basis, right in your own home.

Please add your comments and keep the dialogue going!

Maria Hodkins loves to cook, and is a passionate cooking instructor. She has taught cooking at CSA farms, international and gourmet food markets, culinary stores, and in schools.   She has been an itinerant chef, personal chef, cooked for many commercial food enterprises during her lifetime, and operated her own private catering service.  Cooking and culture is a lifelong study of Maria’s.  She teaches not only the love of food and cooking, but also its fascinating roots and development by exploring the historical-cultural evolution of foods. 

Maria is a professional journalist, food writer, artist, illustrator, and visual journaling instructor, and she also incorporates art and writing into some of her cooking workshops. She has taught Eco-cooking classes, where participants create Food Portraits illustrating the origins, culinary uses, and health benefits of fresh farm market produce. She is currently is one of the main instructors at an innovative Farm School at Fresh & Wyld Farmhouse Inn in Paonia, CO (

Check out more about Maria and her writing workshops at She can be reached at

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