Tag Archives: vacation

Fitness Vacation a Deliciously Healthy Retreat

 

IMG_2500Summer vacations often mean a time to let loose and have fun with no particular goals except to drink cold beers at the beach or pool and read the latest popular page-turner.

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But I chose an escape from the ordinary that required hiking shoes, work out clothes, and swim suits actually designed for swimming.

The Activity Pool: did you know exercise in water takes 25% more effort?
The Activity Pool: did you know exercise in water takes 25% more effort?
Craig Stuart of HYDRO-FIT led the water classes.
Craig Stuart of HYDRO-FIT led the water classes.

IMG_2629As a gift to myself in advance of a really big number arriving on my birthday in July, I spent a week at Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico.

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The menu is vegetarian, except for seafood choices at dinner, and there’s no alcohol served with meals. But this was not about deprivation.

Actually, wines from Baja region are available at the Ranch's new Sol Bazar. The rose is pretty good.
Actually, wines from Baja region are available at the Ranch’s new Sol Bazar. The rose is pretty good.

Dinner is a perfectly portioned four-course affair with soup, salad, entrée and dessert.

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One night the menu included spinach soup with toasted almonds and balsamic reduction, a roasted vegetable salad with walnuts, goat cheese and tomato oregano vinaigrette, Florentine lasagna with black lentil and yellow pepper sauce and lemon tiramisu with macerated berries.

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“Great flavors allow us to enjoy food more while actually eating less, “ says Executive Chef Denise Roa, who oversees the Dining Hall and La Cocina Que Canta cooking school. All of the meals feature a bounty of fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs fresh picked from the property’s organic farm. “I believe that many people have forgotten or never experienced what food can taste like in-season and at its peak of freshness,” says Roa.

Chef Virginia Willis and the happy cooking school class at Rancho La Puerta
Chef Virginia Willis and the happy cooking school class at Rancho La Puerta

The guest chef at the cooking school during my week’s stay was Atlanta based Virginia Willis, author of the Lighten Up Y’all! Cookbook.

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She led a group of eager guests through the garden to pluck cucumbers and edible flowers and then assigned us to re-create her recipes in the Mexican tiled kitchen.

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I was on the Makeover Broccoli Mac n Cheese team. The recipe called for a calorie cutting one-to-one ratio of broccoli florets to whole-wheat pasta. Willis’ lump crab and celery remoulade recipe lightens up the dressing. “It’s OK to keep some of the ingredients you crave. I like to substitute half of the mayonnaise with low fat Greek yogurt and add some mustard and horseradish so there’s plenty of flavor,” advised Willis.

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Dessert shines! Spa-ah Peach Cobbler
Dessert shines! Spa-ah Peach Cobbler

My fitness focused week at ‘the ranch’ is what I call a ‘slim-cation’ of satisfying, nutritious meals and busy days that began with an early morning mountain hike and included an entertaining mix of activities from Pilates and weight training to water aerobics and tennis lessons.

Ground hog day! Two mile minimum hikes each morning at 6:30. Already getting hot!
Ground hog day! Two mile minimum hikes each morning at 6:30. Already getting hot!
Work it!
Work it!
Tennis anyone?
Tennis anyone?

It helps to have a buddy at the Ranch. My good friend and registered dietitian colleague Janet Helm who blogs at Nutrition Unplugged was with me every step of the way as we hiked and tried new fitness finds including barre classes and pumped iron. Oh there was spa time too of course!

Fitness days and farm to table nights.
Fitness days and farm to table nights.

“Health is within everybody’s reach,” says petite and peppy 93-year-old Deborah Szekley, founder of Rancho La Puerta. “You just have to reach out.” During an inspiring evening lecture on aging, Szekley advised making a weekly schedule to plan and time for fitness and shopping for healthy foods. “I have maybe ten years left in my life and I’m excited about it. You have to value your time.”

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They say it takes at least one week to establish new habits. I made an effort to drink more water, which wasn’t difficult in the desert heat; especially since there were water sources everywhere on the property and stations with iced herbal teas.IMG_2483

Each afternoon there was a tasting of fresh fruit smoothies at the new juice bar by the activity pool.

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Did I lose weight? Maybe a little.  But I gained a renewed spirit to prioritize my health for many more birthdays ahead.

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Get IN the Kitchen on Vacation



Executive Chef Elijah Bowe’s Cooking Class at Graycliff Hotel in Nassau



Most folks go on vacation to get out of the kitchen and let someone else do the cooking.

But, when Atlantan Lydia Connerty began planning a bicycle tour of Vietnam with several other girl friends she chose a group cooking experience as one of their activities, “The first thing I did was sign us up to take a hands-on class in Vietnamese cuisine. What a fun way to get introduced to the country and its culture. And then we’d know more about what to order from menus on our trip.”

From cruise ships to resort hotels, cooking classes are joining spa treatments and zip line adventures as popular vacation activities. Joe Carlin, Associate Editor of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, has sought out cooking classes on his world travels with wife Julie for years, “We I took a class in Bangkok on green and red curries back in 2008 and found it a very positive experience. The class served as a nice introduction to the foods of the country. The class was a success because the instructor was knowledgeable, knew her audience and did not try to overwhelm us with too many dishes.”

Chefs at hotels and restaurants also find that inviting guests into their kitchens to cook is a great way to promote their properties and build customer loyalty. Executive chef Elijah Bowe, of the historic Graycliff Hotel in Nassau, Bahamas welcomes his class with a flute of Champagne and then hands out the aprons and knives. After a review of culinary vocabulary associated with the evening’s recipes from “al dente” to “roux” he leads the group through a step-by-step lesson in how to clean a whole fish.

Then the group of six separates into duos to get dinner ready including blackened grouper with tomato compote. While his students slice and dice Bowe, a native of the Bahamas, shares stories of growing up in the islands and his enthusiasm for teaching, “Some people are very skilled and others are kitchen novices. It’s fun to see the teamwork develop. Eventually we do get dinner on the table!” Then the aprons come off and kitchen duties are left behind as guests take their places in the elegant colonial dining room and enjoy the courses they created with sommelier selected wine pairings.
The wine cellar deep beneath the floors of Graycliff Hotel with thousands of bottles of buried treasure! 

If you’re still craving time to cook on a trip to Nassau, the One and Only Ocean Club on Paradise Island has added cooking classes and mixology lessons to their menu of things to do at the beach.

Pretty Dune Restaurant at One and Only on Paradise Island, Bahamas

The evening I visited, executive chef Emmanuel Gibson of Dune restaurant showed us how to make plantain crusted grouper and led us through a tasting of spices used in Bahamian cooking before sending us off to the ocean front dining room where the classroom experience really added to appreciation of the Caribbean spiced fresh seafood dishes. 

Fresh caught seafood of course! Chef Emmanuel Gibson of Dune speaks fluent fish.

Kitchen Clean Lessons


One of the things that impressed me is the attention to sanitation before, during and after these amateur hours in professional kitchens. Everyone is firmly instructed to properly wash their hands, avoid cross contamination between raw meats and fresh vegetables and to wash their hands again before entering the dining room. During the Chefs Plate Gourmet cooking class at the Royal Playa del Carmen resort in Mexico, the lesson in proper hand washing technique included nail brushing and scrubbing up to the elbows. Good moves considering you don’t really know the other guests in your group or whether they’ve just come off the golf course or shopping in town before helping to cook your lunch. It was apparent the food and beverage staff of the hotel, part of the Real Resorts of Mexico, were trying really hard to dispell any fears of Montezuma’s Revenge. In fact, the kitchens were gleaming clean.  
So, whether you’re traveling to India or China or taking a cooking class at a restaurant in Atlanta, keep an eye on kitchen cleanliness as well as the cuisine to get the most out of the experience. The only souveniers you want are a few new recipes and new found appreciation for world cuisines.

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