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Mind, Body, Spirit at Rancho La Puerta


Hurrah for the new cooking school...

In January 2006, Rancho La Puerta's founder Debra Szekely and her daughter Sarah Livia Brightwood, the school's landscape and building designer dug a ceremonial shovel into the soil to mark the beginning of construction of a 4,500 square foot cooking school. When Claire and I were guests the building was moving forward on schedule and everybody was extremely excited about plans for its unique curriculum. In July 2007, we were pleased to learn that La Cocina Que Canta (The Kitchen That Sings) built in the heart of the organic garden is now up and running. Schedules for visiting chefs will be posted at Rancho La Puerta's website. Imagine the potential -- all of that wonderful organic produce coupled with hands-on cooking classes by world class instructors. It's definitely a winning formula!


Food, glorious food...

Rancho La Puerta describes their cuisine as an 'all-natural diet that is low in fat, sodium, and refined flour and sugar while high in energy, fiber, and complex carbohydrates'. Claire and I describe it as 'beautifully prepared, wonderfully tasty, always filling, and presented in a most sophisticated way.' If you can't live without red meat, pork or poultry, Rancho La Puerta is not for you. If you love seafood, grains, fruit, and the freshest vegetables, get ready for a dining extravaganza. One of Claire's favorite dishes that week was the Spinach and Mushroom Enchilada, I preferred the Fresh Halibut Tecate Style, and we both agreed that the Asian Stir Fry with Shrimp was a dish we'd each like to try cooking at home.

All meals at the Ranch are served in a two-level Spanish Colonial dining hall with a spiral staircase joining the floors. Colorful Mexican yarn paintings adorn every bit of available wall space. Breakfast and lunch are offered buffet style and can be eaten outdoors if you wish. Dinners are country formal, three course affairs served by a wait staff ready to listen to any of your food concerns and (in our case) frequent requests for seconds.

We found that meal times were perfect times to socialize with the other guests, to chat about the activities you tried and to learn about the ones you hadn't. We met so many delightful, unassuming folks all with interesting stories to tell, all with one goal in common -- staying as 'mind, body, spirit' healthy as possible. One day I sat beside a doctor from Toronto, the next day an entertainer from New York. We chatted with a fundraiser from Seattle and a fine art dealer from Chicago. Most guests come back year after year for their Rancho La Puerta fix. The week that we were there we were introduced to a woman who had been there over twenty times. This spa definitely has a magic that draws you back for more, and more and more.

P.S. It should be noted that the dress code at the Ranch is strictly casual. Even in the evenings guests tend to wear their most comfortable exercise clothing or leisure wear. Management requests that you leave your jewelry at home and just about everybody complies.


Pampering is good for mind, body and spirit...

Think of any mainstream personal treatment you've ever enjoyed and chances are Rancho La Puerta offers it as well. Their spa facilities and health centers are all immaculately clean and beautifully designed. Waiting areas are furnished with comfy sofas; the latest magazines and newspapers are readily available and the soothing scent of fresh flowers is everywhere. Step into any of these lovely Mexican-inspired buildings and you could be in the most upscale Fifth Avenue spa except, at Rancho La Puerta, all pretension is checked at the main gate.

Whether you're popping in for a whirlpool bath, manicure or hot stone treatment you'll leave feeling refreshed and relaxed. With all the extra walking we did, Claire and I opted for healing massages designed to soothe tired muscles. However, special mention must be given to the spa's Le Grande Classique, a deep pore-cleaning and restoring facial. I saved that treatment for last and the next morning my skin looked and felt great as I reluctantly dressed in street clothes ready for my upcoming, afternoon flight home.

P.S. As we boarded the bus bound for the airport, Claire handed me a tiny box. Inside I found the silver earrings from El Mercado that I had fallen in love with -- a thoughtful gift from my favorite roommate to celebrate our reunion and a wonderful rejuvenating week at Rancho La Puerta.


Tres Estrellas Choco-Carrot Bread

This recipe makes two regular or six mini loaves. Use as many organic ingredients as you can find.

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. non-aluminum baking powder

1 tsp. ground ginger

1 tbsp. ground cinnamon

4 cups organic whole-wheat pastry flour or unbleached flour.

2 cups grated organic carrots (5-6 medium carrots)

1/2 cup low fat yogurt

2 large eggs

1/4 cup cold pressed oil

1 tbsp. vanilla

½ cup mild honey

2 cups unfiltered apple juice

1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Oil loaf pans.

Place the dry ingredients in a bowl, and mix well.

Make a well in the center of the dry mix; stir in the wet ingredients, combining until all dry ingredients are moistened.

Fold in the chocolate chips.

Place the batter in the oiled loaf pans. Place pans in preheated oven. Bake loaves 50-60 minutes, or until tops are nicely browned and a skewer comes out clean. Remove from pans and let the loaves cool for 10 minutes before slicing.

This bread freezes nicely and makes a thoughtful and delicious gift.

Recipes created by Rancho La Puerta

Rancho La Puerta’s Aztec Guacamole

10-ounces of broccoli flowers

1 medium avocado, pit removed, scooped out and chopped

1 lime, juiced

1/8 teaspoon salt

½ cup cilantro, chopped

½ ripe tomato, seeded and diced

½ small yellow onion, finely diced

½ small jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely diced

Parboil the broccoli flowers for 7 minutes and then drain under running cold water. In a food processor bowl fitted with a sharp blade, combine the broccoli flowers and avocado. Pulse very briefly. Add the lime juice and salt and pulse again to blend, keeping as chunky as desired (authenticity requires some chunkiness!).

Add the cilantro, tomato, onion and jalapeño and pulse about 3 times. Again, do not over-process the guacamole.

Variations: Instead of broccoli flowers, you may use 10 ounces of edamame "beans" or asparagus spears (parboiled 3-5 minutes and then drained under running cold water).

Makes 2 cups of low-fat, creamy guacamole.

Recipes created by Rancho La Puerta

Women's words on cooking...

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into
with abandon or not at all.
Harriet Von Horne in Vogue (1956)

If you're interested in cooking, you're also just
naturally interested in art, in love and in culture.
Madame Jehane Benoit, in The Canadian (1974)

Cooking should never be frantic or angry
because the most important ingredient is the spirit.
Alice May Brock, Alice's Restaurant Cookbook (1969)


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Rancho La Puerta Photo Album 1/2

Check our listing of more women-centered healthy holidays




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