Every year on Thanksgiving Day, we invite our guests to arrive an hour before the first Cosmo is shaken, with old sneakers in hand, and we all set off on a mile-plus walk on the beach. The sunset is usually fabulous this time of year; it’s a great chance to schmooze; our black lab Geena is in heaven; and we all work off a few of the calories to come.
This year my husband and I went one better. We spent the week before Thanksgiving at Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico. The first spa in North America (founded in 1940), it’s a vast, unspoiled property, offering delicious vegetarian fare and a staggering array of exercise, fitness and wellness classes.
I was a visiting speaker for the week, giving a presentation called “Feats & Eats: How a Food Writer Ate Her Way Around the World for 30 Years Without Gaining Pounds or Inches.” (The talk touches on great food at great restaurants over the globe and appealing, accessible exercise options in the vicinity of each.)
At the Ranch, every day is one big, movin’-and-groovin’ adventure. The morning starts at 6:15 am with a rigorous 3.5- or 5.5-mile hike up Mt. Kuchumaa which frames the resorts 3,000 acres. A typical day’s “class schedule” includes Mountain Hike, Stretch and Relax, Pilates Matwork, Cardio Hip-Hop, Tennis Clinic, Sand Volleyball, Cardio Kickboxing, Latin Dance, and Trekking: Treadmill Workout.
And, the food is fabulous. Unlike the bland, uninspired fare at many spas, Ranch food is creative, delicious, beautifully presented, and satisfying. The menu is mostly vegetable based (though there is a seafood option a couple times a week), with all herbs and many fruits and veggies coming from the Ranch’s own extensive gardens. Grilled Polenta with Sautéed Spinach, Lentil Medley, Roasted Carrots & Red Bell Pepper Sauce was one of the entrees that struck my fancy last week.
But, to me, the most impressive part of every meal is the salad, and the salad dressing in particular. I’ve been a guest for at least 20 days over several years, and I don’t remember ever seeing the same salad twice. Every one has been a beautiful still-life, and every dressing has offered unique flavors and supremely satisfying mouthfeel, with minimal fat and calories.(In the photo: Roasted Pear & Arugula Salad with Pomegranate-Chipotle Vinaigrette.)
Last week I discovered my all-time favorite: Mint Salad Dressing, made with one of the many types of mint grown on the property. It was so good, I went back to the buffet for extra steamed and raw vegetables, just so I’d have something to dip in the luscious nectar.
We left Rancho La Puerta feeling fit, healthy, and well-rested, ready for the Thanksgiving week onslaught of food and drink, family, friends and fun.
I also left with the recipe for the mint dressing.
Makes 2 cups
3 large shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 cup fresh mint leaves or combination of mint and basil
1 jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed, roughly chopped
1 cup water
½ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup agave syrup or honey
1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
In a blender, combine all the ingredients, pulsing until smooth.