For centuries, the jaded and the weary have flocked to health resorts with the desire for instant rejuvenation. Early written records describe the Greeks using freshwater springs to treat all manner of ailments.
In Roman times, the Emperor Agrippa -- hopefully for the good health of his subjects -- built the first public bathhouse. In the 13th century, grandiose public baths were built in Southern Europe due to the Moorish influence.
Fast-forward (much forward) to the 20th century. In 1910, Elizabeth Arden opened the first known day spa, the Red Door Salon in New York. Similar establishments quickly followed suit.
These days, you can't throw a stone without hitting a spa -- day, overnight or otherwise. One of top destinations of contemporary health spas is Canyon Ranch, which first opened as a health and fitness resort in 1979 in Tucson, Ariz. The brainchild of Enid and Mel Zuckerman, it was born out of a determination to help people get into shape.
Back in 1978, Mel Zuckerman was a 50-year-old real estate developer who was 40 pounds overweight. After a month's stay at a California "fat farm," he lost weight, and was apparently energized as never before.
Returning to his home in Tucson, he gathered enough money to buy and renovate an old ranch at the base of the Santa Catalina mountains. Nine months later, Canyon Ranch, Tucson, was ready to open -- 66 rooms, state-of-the-art amenities and an 800-calorie-a-day menu, all for $85 a night, which was pricey for 1979.
Truth be told, it wasn't an overnight success. But in the 1980s, things started to change, with the onset of a new awareness on nutritionism and healthy lifestyles. Canyon Ranch became a destination, evolving from a "fat farm" to a luxury vacation spot.
Low-calorie menus moved to light and fresh gourmet dishes. Doctors and health professionals came on staff to diagnose, advise and treat guests.
In 1989, an old mansion house in Lenox, Mass., was converted into the second Canyon Ranch Spa -- every bit as luxurious and health-oriented as its sister spa.
The Lenox establishment is an easy drive from almost anywhere on the East Coast. After five hours winding through forest and farms, we were warmly greeted at what would be a 5-star-plus destination.
There's something for everyone here -- energetic or relaxed. Be pampered with massages, pedicures, facials -- the works. Or relax for an hour soaking in the natural beauty of the gardens and wildlife.
Walter, my energetic husband, was up for a 2-mile walk before breakfast, then his day was spent hiking and canoeing before returning to shower and enjoy a gourmet meal.
In the evenings, experts like Dr. Richard Carmona, who was the 17th surgeon General of the United States, and Dr. Teresa Hubkova, a Canyon Ranch physician, discussed how to optimize health, energy levels and mental functioning.
Must low-calorie food be dull, tasteless and sparse? Not so at Canyon Ranch.
Dinners consist of haute cuisine served in a majestic dining room overlooking a lush landscape.
And the chefs pass on their know-how.
At a lunch-and-learn session, hands-on cooking demonstrations, chefs Katie Hickey and Billy Boudreau demonstrate easy healthy cuisine using local, seasonal ingredients from farmers in the surrounding area.
Guests are taught how to retain natural flavors and maximum nutrition in cooking without relying on heavy sauces and overwhelming spices. Each menu item includes a complete nutritional analysis.
The mantra is obvious: "It's about portion control and moderation." Rich chocolate-chip cookies are served, but each is about 2 inches in diameter. Seconds? No problem, but check the calorie count first and you may think again. The late Julia Child, when well into her 80s, insisted, "I can always learn something new," and watching these chefs, I did.
Cooking Tips From the Pros
· To test heat on a grilling pan -- sprinkle water into the pan. It's hot enough when the water immediately spits hard.
· To prevent olive oil from burning, heat no higher than over medium heat.
· Use canola oil for cooking at higher heat.
· A 4-oz. chicken breast is one serving. Use a mallet to flatten.
· Do not cut chicken to test for doneness. Use a meat thermometer. Salmonella is killed at 165°.
· To clean leeks, chop first, then run cold water through. Do not use ice water.
· Plating salads or rice? Use thin rubber gloves -- fast and safe. Discard after use. (Large boxes of rubber gloves are available in drugstores.)
· Use orange juice in place of water when cooking couscous.
· Measure dry ingredients first, then the wet ones. This eliminates the need to wash utensils between measuring.
· Marinades and dressings may be kept in the refrigerator up to a week.
· Bottled lime juice may be frozen or refrigerated for up to 1 month.
The following recipes comes courtesy of Canyon Ranch Resorts.
Spring Pea Soup
Dice the onions and leeks in a food processor, then pulse the scallions to chop.
3/4 cup diced onions
3/4 cup diced leeks
1/2 cup chopped scallions
2 Tbsps. olive oil
1 tsp. minced garlic
21/2 cups fresh peas or frozen peas, thawed
5 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
1/2 cup chopped chives
1 tsp. chopped mint
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
In a large saucepan, sauté the onions, leeks and scallions in olive oil until onions are translucent. Add the garlic and peas, and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
Add the chives and mint, and cook for 5 minutes.
Remove from heat and transfer to a blender container. Purée until smooth. Season with salt and pepper
Makes 8 (3/4 cup) servings.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 80; protein, 4 g; carbohydrates, 13 g; fat, 2 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 161 mg.
4 skinless chicken breasts, boned and defatted
2 Tbsps. olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1/2 cup white wine
2 Tbsps. cocoa powder (unsweetened)
1 Tbsp. tomato purée
1 Tbsp. cumin
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/3 cup toasted almonds
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 tsp. salt
With a meat mallet, lightly pound the chicken breasts.
In large sauté pan, cook the chicken in 1 tablespoon olive oil until golden-brown, 3 to 5 minutes on each side.
Remove chicken from pan, and add the remaining oil, onion and garlic. Sauté until the onions are translucent
Add the white wine and simmer until almost evaporated. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for 10 minutes over low heat.
Cool the sauce, then transfer to the blender container. Purée until smooth.
Pour the sauce back into pan, add chicken and simmer for 10 minutes longer.
Serve each breast with 2 to 3 tablespoons of sauce poured over.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 310; protein, 30 g; carbohydrates, 11 g; fat, 15 g; cholesterol, 66 mg; sodium, 678 mg.
2/3 cup egg whites
1/4 cup sugar or to taste
1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
21/2 cups diced fresh or frozen peaches
1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
3/4 cup raspberry purée (recipe below)
3/4 cup peach purée (recipe below)
Preheat oven to 375°.
Lightly coat the cups of a 12-cup muffin pan with canola-oil spray.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, starting at medium speed and gradually increasing to high, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar and vanilla, and continue beating on high until stiff peaks form. Divide evenly into sprayed muffin cups.
Bake for 4 to 6 minutes, or until the islands are just beginning to brown. Do not overcook or islands will deflate.
In a large bowl, toss the peaches and raspberries with the raspberry purée.
Place 1/4 cup of the peach and raspberry mixture on the bottom of each plate. Float the island on top. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of peach purée around the plate and serve.
Makes 12 servings.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 65; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 14 g; fat, 0 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 23 mg.
· To make raspberry purée, place 11/2 cups raspberries and 1 teaspoon of sugar in blender. Purée until smooth.
· To make peach purée, place 1/2 pound (about 2 medium) sliced fresh or frozen peaches in blender. Purée until smooth.
Ethel G. Hofman is a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. E-mail her at: firstname.lastname@example.org .