It was August of 2007, and I had barely survived a summer of hard work selling cowboy hats at beer festivals in Boulder, Colorado. Because I had devoted most of July to conducting a personal taste test of the burrito joints in Boulder and drinking my weight in hobo sangria, I wasn’t exactly in fighting shape. Therefore, when my bff Fifi asked if I would like to accompany her and her mother to Canyon Ranch for a week, I enthusiastically accepted. My 19-year-old ass was large and tired, and the thought of some R&R and detoxification in the Berkshires sounded like a dream come true.
For those of you who have never heard of Canyon Ranch, it is a lovely chain of “destination health resorts,” offering everything from nutrition coaching and creative exercise classes to meditation and exotic spa treatments. Naturally, I was thrilled at the prospect of mud wraps and spa cuisine interspersed with naps by the pool and maybe some casual aerobics classes. I packed a bag of bikinis and yoga pants and set off for five days of what was sure to be pure bliss.
Upon arrival, Fifi and I settled into our cozy room and then headed straight to dinner with Ginny (Fifi’s mother) for our first “spa dining experience.” The menu was a scary, yet interesting beast. Nutrition facts were listed in bold next to each food item, and there was a suggested calorie limit for each meal. I actually appreciated this guidance, but the options were disappointing at best. However, the bland menu didn’t concern me on that first night, since I wasn’t particularly hungry, and I happily ate my “steamed vegetable basket” without complaint. I felt healthier already!
After dinner, Fifi and I returned to our room, excited to watch a movie and get a good night’s sleep. We quickly realized that there were no televisions at Canyon Ranch, ostensibly to promote “pure relaxation.” Blergh. Ginny told us to stop complaining and go to bed because we had to get up at the crack of dawn to start exercising. I was confused. When I asked her what she meant by “crack of dawn” and “exercising,” she said, “I’ll wake you up at 7am. If we’re going to be here, we are going to take full advantage of it. We need to be in our first class at 8. Lunch is at noon, and classes start again at 1.” I was more confused. What time was my massage? How would I get the perfect tan if I was inside working out all day? I didn’t feel comfortable arguing with Ginny, but I was seriously disturbed by the words coming out of her mouth. I went to bed telling myself that she was making a not-so-funny joke, and praying that walking to the spa counted as exercise.
True to her word, Ginny woke us at 7, dragged us to the dining room, where we ate no more than the allotted 250 calories for breakfast, and then pushed us in the direction of our first class. Mercifully, I was allowed to pick my own class schedule, so I went to yoga, despite Ginny’s protestations that it was not “cardio.” Yoga is cardio, and it was surprisingly hard and very sweaty. Although, I wanted to practice Shavasana for the rest of the day, I was forced right into some sort of abs class with Fifi until lunch. There were a lot of props and exercise balls involved, and the instructor repeatedly threatened to kick us out if we didn’t start taking it more seriously. Lunch was 400 calories of blandness, and the afternoon was packed with spinning, some sort of “Buns of Steel” ridiculousness, and weight training. I practically passed out with my face in my plain grilled chicken breast at dinner, and Fifi and I were crying ourselves to sleep by 8pm.
Day 2 was similar to Day 1, except that Fifi and I discovered water aerobics. We arrived at the indoor pool to find a young instructor in a Speedo and 20 men and women over the age of 70. Jackpot. It couldn’t be that hard if the geriatric set could do it, right? Right. Except Speedo man caught onto our scam and made us work ten times as hard as our classmates. “YOU, IN THE BIKINIS!!! TEN MORE LAPS!” I still hear his whistle blowing in my nightmares. We did not return to water aerobics. I felt like a camper in Heavyweights.
By Day 3, I had to start lowering myself onto chairs and toilets because every single muscle in my body was screaming in protest. I remember learning a routine from Chicago (complete with hats and canes) in Jazzercise that day, after being forced to leave step aerobics because I almost threw up on the instructor. I also sustained a pretty serious burn during a poorly executed seaweed wrap that I managed to sneak in during my lunch hour. I vaguely recall our group trying to order two meals at dinner that night, but the waiter informed us that doing so was “frowned upon.” I’ve never been one for violence, but I wanted to hurt him.
Days 4-7 are mostly a blur, probably due to malnutrition. I did manage to find a Facebook message that I sent to a friend on Day 5, though:
I am at the Canyon Ranch with my high school roommate. It is basically fat camp. They don’t feed you and you exercise all day. I would give you a call, but there’s no cell service here (part of the Nazi regime, I believe). If you want to email me, there’s a fancy computer lab I visit most evenings when I am physically able to walk that far. God help me.
I left the Canyon Ranch sore and hungry, but noticeably thinner. Despite the misery that I felt during 90% of my stay, every time Fifi and I have packed on a few extra pounds over the years, we’ve joked about returning to Canyon Ranch to be tortured for a few days. However, now that I have all these fancy domestic skills, we don’t need to go all the way to Lenox, Massachusetts. Instead of working out from 9-5 and eating a steamed vegetable basket, I can now make us delicious and nutritious meals that will keep us in check without all that sweating.
If you read this blog regularly, you know I’ve got all kinds of healthy recipes in my repertoire, especially on the Dude Diet side of things, but I have a very special one for you today. I proudly present one of my finest health-conscious creations to date: Cauliflower “Fried Rice”:
Cauliflower “rice” is so hot right now. In reality, I think it’s been hot for a while, but whatever. I’m fashionably late to most parties. In case you aren’t familiar, cauliflower rice refers to cauliflower that has been processed or grated until it looks just like traditional rice. It can be served raw or cooked, but unless you’re a fan of raw cauliflower’s earthy taste, I recommend sticking with the latter.
Honestly, I was a little hesitant to experiment with cauliflower rice. I figured it would probably just taste like mushy cauliflower and unnecessarily stink up my new apartment. (Cauliflower and broccoli are not the most delicious smelling vegetables.) However, I am very pleased to report that I was wrong. Cauliflower rice is a total game changer. The texture reminds me more of quinoa than rice, which I actually prefer, and it’s surprisingly hearty for a vegetable.
Plain cauliflower rice is good, but cauliflower “fried rice” is a revelation. Packed with diced vegetables and eggs, this “rice” is a smorgasbord of textures and flavors. It’s light, but still satisfying, with a serious ginger-Sriracha kick and a hint of sweetness from fresh basil. This amazing cauliflower fried rice tastes like something I would only indulge in on No-Calorie Sunday, yet it can be guiltlessy crushed every single day of the week. It’s recipes like this that make me feel like a very classy magician.
For the record, the health benefits of cauliflower fried rice are insane. First of all, cauliflower is a member of the cruciferous family, which means that it’s detoxifying, high in fiber, and packed with vitamins and disease-fighting phytochemicals. On top that, you’ve got the added nutritional value of bell peppers, mushrooms, sugar snap peas, zucchini and carrots. I’m talking vitamin-C, beta-carotene, and anti-oxidants galore. Eggs add some protein to this vegetable-packed meal, and coconut oil boosts immunity and has been shown to help balance cholesterol levels. (Don’t worry, it doesn’t actually taste like coconut.)
Best of all, cauliflower fried rice can be enjoyed by pretty much anyone, regardless of whatever fancy diet they happen to be following. Dude Dieters, this one is 100% up your alley. Ditto for the rapidly increasing hoards of gluten-free peeps. Paleo folks, leave out the snap peas and you’re good to go. Ditch the eggs and this recipe becomes vegetarian and vegan-friendly. (I’m guessing vegan readers of this blog are few and far between, but I like to cover all my bases!) It’s feel good food for the masses.
Some of you may be looking at this cauliflower fried rice and thinking, “Wow, Serena, that looks dank, but it’s too much work for me.” Stop it. It is ridiculously easy to make. I broke my food processor last spring (#whitegirlproblems), and I was able to make perfect cauliflower rice by using the chop setting on my blender. You could also use a plain old box grater, people, or even a knife if you happen to be particularly dexterous. Yes, there is a fair bit of chopping involved in this recipe, but with the appropriate soundtrack and a cocktail, the process practically flies by, and there’s less than 15 minutes of actual cook time. Plus, the entire masterpiece only requires one pan, so you will literally have 2.5 minutes of clean-up.
I actually saw Ginny at a wedding two weeks ago, and she said, “Let’s go back to Canyon Ranch!!!” I told her that I would go back, but only if I could attend fewer than four exercise classes and bring my own food. At the very least, I’d need to slip the kitchen this cauliflower fried rice recipe along with a couple bottles of wine for survival purposes. I have needs.
Cauliflower “Fried Rice”: (Serves 4)
½ Spanish onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
¾ cup thinly sliced cremini mushrooms (about 5 whole mushrooms)
1 small red bell pepper, diced
1 small zucchini diced
½ cup grated carrot
½ cup sugar snap peas, chopped
½ head cauliflower, florets removed
5 tablespoons soy sauce
1½ teaspoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced
½-1½ tablespoons Sriracha (It totally depends on how much heat you can handle.)
2 teaspoons coconut oil (in solid form)
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
For garnish: (optional)
Scallions, thinly sliced
Fresh basil, chopped
Preparing your Cauliflower “Fried Rice”:
-Start by prepping all of the vegetables, keeping the diced onions and minced garlic separate from the rest of your veggies. Briefly set them aside while you “rice” your cauliflower.
-Place cauliflower florets in a food processor and pulse gently until the cauliflower is the size and texture of rice. If you don’t have a food processor (you are not alone), don’t panic! Just throw the florets in a blender and pulse on the chop setting OR use a box grater. Be careful not to over-process or grate your cauliflower too finely, or it will get release too much water and get mushy when cooking! Set aside your “rice” until ready to use.
-Heat two teaspoons of coconut oil in a wok or large pan until melted. Add the onions and garlic and sauté for 2-3 minutes until the onions soften and the garlic becomes fragrant.
-Push the rice and vegetables to one side of the pan and crack two eggs in the empty space. Scramble them using a spatula until they are no longer runny, and then mix the eggs into your fried rice. Add the soy sauce mixture and chopped basil and cook for 1 more minute.