Friday, January 1, 2010


Green Valley Spa, St. George, Utah
Day 4, Jan. 1, 2010

I lingered after breakfast this morning. All other days I headed out for a hike right after my meal. Today something told me to just hang around. On my second cup of coffee, Frances, the chef, joined me.

Lyle noticed Frances the moment we arrived at Green Valley Spa four days ago. She was chopping fruit behind a counter in the resort's kitchen which has stovetop, grill, and prep area in full view.

You knew right away Frances was a tough broad. As she chopped, she was yelling at one of the kitchen crew – a clipped, loud directive with no extra words to soften her message in any way. Her hands and arms are scarred from the dozens of burns and cuts accumulated during years in a commercial kitchen. In other ways, too, she looked like life had been hard on her -- the weathered face, the plain excuse of a hair-do, the warm brown eyes that worked to focus in sync. She made no effort to be beautiful, and yet her beauty was evident immediately. Maybe it was her dimples and her smile. Whatever the cause, there was an overwhelming kindness about her.

During our coffee conversation, I learned that Frances started her cooking career in New Orleans. No surprise there. Over the years, she ran the kitchens of several five-star restaurants and soaked up everything she could at the sides of some of the best chefs in the country. When Frances's dad became ill here in St. George, Utah, she came West to care for him. Ultimately, she decided to stay and ended up as head chef at Green Valley.

Although she never went to culinary school, Frances knows about the chemistry of foods, balance in the diet, food presentation, and the blending of flavors. The food here is delicious – all 1200 calories a day. Frances believes in letting the food speak. She believes in all natural, organic foods. And she knows how to make food deeply satisfying.

I've seen first hand that generosity runs in Frances's blood. She shares all her recipes, she shares her vast knowledge, and she gives her all to the guests. She makes us special lunches and finds out our favorite foods. (I overheard her ask a guest, "Which vegetable would be your heart's desire for dinner tonight?") And she teaches us culinary skills from sautéing to chopping. By its nature, food nurtures, and tough as she is, Frances still manages to have us feeling, well, I guess I'd have to say, loved.

The night we arrived, we got to our suite around midnight. On the table were dinners, salads, and desserts for us, because, we were told, the chef thought we might be hungry. I was surprised. It was so welcoming. And, hey, I was hungry! Halfway through the meal, I realized how delicious the food tasted. I said to Lyle, "Oh, there's been a mistake. This isn't low calorie food. They must think we are on some other sort of plan here." But I was wrong.

After having eaten this fare for four days, I am already noticing the difference. I can see that I've lost fat around my middle even though I'm only down a couple of pounds. Lyle is visibly slimmer and has lost seven pounds already.

But in addition to that, I feel clearer. I am happier. The activity, the change of scene, and the sun are part of that feeling. But I think most of it is the food I'm eating. There is little to no fat added to anything. No sugar or salt either. Sweetness comes from fruits or agave. Spices are used freely. Everything we eat is grown on site or purchased as organic. It's naturally good food. And it's all prepared with an underlying desire to please us and make us healthier.

I learned all this while having coffee with Frances. So I'm glad I followed my intuition to skip today's hike. If I hadn't, I wouldn't have gotten to know her. And Frances is worth knowing.

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