Thursday, January 15, 2009

Meanwhile Back at the Ranch

Breakfast of oatmeal, prunes, freshly squeezed orange juice, fresh fruit, one egg poached over spinach and whole grain bread is heart and healthy fare served at Rancho La Puerta after an early morning hike in the mountains.
Although my first choice for a week away from home would not include all the flax seed you can eat and dinner without a wine list, I’m writing to you from a spa in Mexico that was founded as a fitness resort in 1940. Rancho la Puerta, located just south of the border below San Diego in the tiny town of Tecate, attracts visitors interested in improving their health and well being through sunrise hikes on mountain trails, days filled with yoga teachings, fitness classes and foods prepared with produce plucked daily from the Ranch’s gorgeous organic veg etable garden. It’s a principally vegetarian menu here with a few meals featuring fresh fish from the nearby coast in Ensenada. There’s no sugar in sight. Instead beverages and desserts are sweetened with agave nectar from the agave plant perhaps more famous for its role in making tequila. But, there’s no tequila here.
Deborah Szekely, now 86, founded Rancho la Puerta with her late husband Edmond as with the motto “always better and always changing”. While the basic food and fitness philosophies may not have changed much from the days when guests chopped and carried firewood and lunch consisted of cheese from goats tended here then, a homegrown tomato and sprouts from the sprouting room; the Ranch has kept pace with contemporary culinary trends and state of the art fitness training. Lunch today could include a lentil soup with open faced sandwich on whole grain bread with cheese, avocado, and tomato. Dinner is a four course affair with soup, salad, entrée and dessert. Last night we had a freshly made tomato and basil soup, a salad with blue cheese dressing, fettuccini prepared with fresh kale from the garden and lemon tiramisu made with agave nectar. There’s actually a lot to eat! Instead of doing ranch chores as guests did in the forties you get to pick your own physical activities. From strength training with a weighted bar in “Body Bar” classes set to the energizing sounds of The Killers and Kanye West to lessons in guided meditation with bird chirping new age music soundtracks there are exercise classes for every part of you. Lectures challenge the mind as well with experts on politics, finance, literature, art and history. It’s a week away from the real world and a really good time to check in with yourself to see what changes can and should be made to improve body, mind and spirit.
Lessons Learned at the Ranch to Take Back Home
Try the Plate Flip- fruits, vegetables, beans, cereals, seeds and nuts are the stars of the meal here with small but satisfying servings of fish or shrimp. The typical American plate is dominated by large servings of meat with veggies as supporting players. Flip that notion and enjoy four to six ounce servings of meat, chicken, pork or fish with larger servings of veggies and whole grains. .
Try New Foods- it’s the best way to add a variety of new tastes and nutrients to your diet. This week I’ve tried flax seeds sprinkled on cereal (good source of healthy Omega 3 fats) and I liked the nutty crunch and knowledge it may help make my hair shinier!
Try Less Sugar (and alcohol )- a vacation away from favorite indulgences is a living/learning adventure too. I drank water instead of wine this week- think of the calorie savings! And agave nectar is a nice sweetener because it’s so intense you don’t have to use much to sweeten coffee or tea ( so you save calories) and since it ranks lower on the glycemic index it’s absorbed more slowly into the blood stream.
Try Self Monitoring – we wear pedometers while at the Ranch so we can measure how many steps we take each day. You’re supposed to get 10,000 steps a day as a fitness goal. I’m continuing that at home and I’m sure will be horrified to see how few I get the days I sit and write this column!


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