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2.02.2005

On Spandex, a mother’s genius, and whole wheat bread

Sometime in the early 1980s, my mother discovered exercise.

First there was aerobics, with its perky wardrobe of pastel tights and leotards with matching elastic belts, legwarmers, and sweatbands. For many of my formative years, I quite nearly lived at the Workout, an aerobics studio in northwest Oklahoma City. Mom would suit up in her Spandex; pack a bag of books, markers, and Pepperidge Farm Goldfish to keep me busy; and off we’d go. For those who wonder about the origins of my uncanny ability to remember song lyrics of the period, look no further: I owe it all to the Workout and countless hours spent listening to Whitney Houston, the Pointer Sisters, and the thud of Reeboks reverberating off the studio mirrors.

As one might expect, my mother turned out to be quite a natural, and it wasn’t long before we were friendly with all the instructors—part of the gang, if you will. I developed a preschool “crush” on the prettiest, nicest one and decided that I wanted to change my name to Sherry in her honor. Luckily, however, that did not come to pass, and so the most lasting element of the aerobics years would turn out to be my mother’s fifteen minutes of fame: an appearance on the local morning television show hosted by brothers Butch and Ben McCain,* where Mom and the Workout instructors did an aerobics demonstration in their shimmery tights.

But not long after reaching such heights, Mom was converted to weight training, an endeavor that lacked music, special outfits, and therefore basic appeal, at least to my way of thinking. Mom, however, charged on, scoring impressive biceps and pects for her petite 5’¾” frame. Weight training then led her into the personal-training craze of the early 90s, and before I knew it, Mom was a certified trainer herself, driving to meet clients all over town with Dynabands and Pearl, a giant iridescent rubber ball, in her backseat. Then, several years ago, she morphed into her latest incarnation, a certified Pilates instructor with her own very chic studio, and it looks as though this is where she’ll stay.

But my mother’s two-plus decades of fitness genius have brought me more than a near name-change, mad ‘80s karaoke skills, and a pricey devotion to Pilates. They’ve also brought me Rancho La Puerta, and, even more importantly, fantastic whole wheat bread.


When I was eight or so, Mom was introduced by an old friend to “the Ranch,” a fitness spa in humble Tecate, Mexico. I went with her on her first visit, sneaking in an emergency stash of Oreos, Nestle Quik, and sugared cereal, junk food I’d never be allowed at home but that somehow seemed necessary for a pre-pre-teen at a borderline-hippie vegetarian health spa. I tried to join in on a few aerobics classes, bouncing on my gangly legs and hiding in the back row, but suffice it to say that I was unenthused. It would be nearly a decade before Mom would take me with her again, for a spring break trip during my junior year of high school.

This time, I knew a good thing when I saw it, and for the four or five years that followed, the Ranch was our annual springtime extravagance. From early-morning hikes in the meadow, watching lizards and rabbits scamper under the tall dewy grass, to breakfasts of hearty toasted Ranch bread and pear butter, afternoon Pilates classes, and naps in shaded hammocks, I soaked it up. Nearly every night we treated ourselves to pre-dinner massages that would leave us warm, greasy, and hungry, and we’d always ask for seconds of dessert—that is, when we weren’t lying about my date of birth in order to get dense and delicious Ranch-style whole wheat birthday cakes with tofu icing. Sometimes there were nighttime workshops (“Dance with Yuichi!”) or bingo (Ranch granola for winners!), but Mom and I only rallied on special occasions, such as when Beverly Whipple, fellow guest, noted sexologist, and straight-talker, gave a workshop on “Sexuality: Yours, Mine, and Ours.” Though some things are best experienced without one’s parents (or children), Mom and I put on poker faces, talked erogenous zones, and even partnered on the hand-caressing exercise ole Bev ordered up. And then, as with every other night, we walked through the quiet, cold air to our tile-floored hacienda and collapsed into our beds, spread with Mexican yellows and pinks. A genius indeed, that mother of mine.

Unfortunately, and for a host of reasons, our Ranch years seem to have gone the way of aerobics. Among today's list of necessary extravagances, a fitness spa doesn't take top billing. But that’s alright, because after all, there were those pesky wild dogs that would howl outside our little villa at night, and by the end of a few days of high-minded virtuousness, I was pretty cranky for a mouthful—or ten—of chocolate. And anyway, I can wake up in my own quiet bed, look out over the dewy trash in the street, watch cars scamper across the parking lot, and eat my toasted Ranch bread, any day, all right here in Seattle.


* For a real treat, click on the “Music” link and scroll down to the heartwarming photo of Butch and Ben with Buck and Roy of HeeHaw. Now, that’s fame.


Rancho La Puerta Whole Wheat Bread
Adapted from The Rancho La Puerta Cookbook: 175 Bold Vegetarian Recipes from America’s Premier Fitness Spa, with thanks to jolly Bill Wavrin

At the Ranch, this simple, dense bread is served toasted at breakfast and, still warm from the oven, in baskets on each table at dinner. You’ll note that the original recipe calls for no salt(!), a purposeful omission that makes for a wonderfully clean, healthy-tasting bread. I’ve grown to like it that way, but you can easily make a more fully-flavored, "normal" version by adding up to 2 teaspoons of fine sea salt when you mix in the flour.

¼ cup honey
2 Tbs (2 packages) active dry yeast
2 Tbs canola oil
6 ½ cups whole wheat flour, plus more as needed
2 tsp salt

In a mixing bowl, combine 3 ½ cups tepid water, the honey, yeast, and oil. Stir and set aside for 5 or 6 minutes, until mixture bubbles and foams. In the meantime, spray two 8- by 5-inch loaf pans with cooking spray.

Add the flour, a cup or so at a time, and the optional salt, mixing with your hands or a wooden spoon until the dough comes together and forms a manageable ball. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 to 10 minutes, until your hands come clean when lifted from the dough and the dough is smooth and elastic. [To test if the dough is well kneaded, insert a clean thumb into the dough, and count to 5. If your thumb comes out clean, the dough is kneaded properly, and you don’t need to add any more flour.]

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Divide the dough into two equal-sized pieces, and shape into loaves. Place loaves in pans. Cover with dish towels, and set aside in a warm, draft-free place for 40 minutes to 1 hour, until doubled in bulk.

Bake bread on the center rack of the oven for about 40 minutes, until the crusts are golden brown and the loaves sound hollow when thumped on the bottom. Cool completely on wire racks before slicing.

Yield: 2 loaves

34 Comments:

Blogger Manda said...

mmmmmm... bread.

11:52 PM, February 02, 2005  
Blogger TanTian said...

I want to go to The Ranch! Actually, I need to go to the The Ranch. I looked at their webiste and I loved it. But did you really have to get up at 6 for the hikes? That doesn't quite gel with my idea of relaxation.

5:21 AM, February 03, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

My sentiments exactly, Manda.

And TanTian, yes, EVERYONE needs to go to the Ranch! If only it weren't so breathtakingly expensive! As for the morning hikes (mountain or meadow), yes, the organized ones head out at 6 or so, but Mom and I almost always went on our own. It was quieter that way.

8:05 AM, February 03, 2005  
Blogger Miss Tenacity said...

So, have you tried mixed whole-grain flours for this bread? I'd be tempted right off the bat to mix the whole wheat with some oat flour, rye flour, etc.... :-)

8:27 AM, February 03, 2005  
Blogger amylou said...

Dear Molly's Mom,

If you ever need a change of scenery, please consider a move to Sweden. I am in desperate need of a pilates instructor. I took a beginners class two years ago, just before moving from New York and I really miss it. I couldn't find a class here last spring so I was forced to do yoga, which turned out not to be my thing (headstands scared me). Now I'm relegated to a bad mat and a depressing DVD. Help!

If you do come, please bring Molly. (Maybe she can make some of that bread for after the exercise!)

Sincerely,

Rolling-like-a-ball in Malmö

10:55 AM, February 03, 2005  
Blogger Pusekatt said...

Dear Molly,
When you decide to come to Australia, please understand that you have a bed at my place. All I want for payment is the delicious food you cook...and some renditions of Whitney songs as well as a pilates class with your mum (what a woman!). The bread sounds and looks divine!
BTW, this blog entry was one of your best.
Cheers from OZ

10:14 PM, February 03, 2005  
Blogger megwoo said...

TAG! You're it.
http://www.iheartbacon.com/index.php?id=109

(Don't kill me...)

5:08 PM, February 04, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Miss Tenacity, I haven't tried mixing flours, but I don't know why it wouldn't work. It would probably add a nice complexity to the flavor, too. Let me know if you give it a try!

Amy, my mom was tickled (I CAN'T BELIEVE I just used that term! I'm becoming my grandmother!) by your comment. Unfortunately, I think she'll be in Oklahoma for at least a few more years, but then we'll see...

And Pusekatt, we'll see if we can swing a trip to Australia too! Maybe a world tour is in order?

And Megan, don't worry--there will be no bloodshed! I relish any chance to talk music, actually! I'll get to work on it ASAP...

5:52 PM, February 04, 2005  
Blogger Leah said...

Molly, I have a question for you. I'm going to make this for myself with the recipe as is (and I can't wait - some time this week!), but I'm hoping to make it as well for a friend's vegan girlfriend. I'm shipping a few types of bread up to the two of them in Portland as a thank you for a lovely package full of Stumptown coffee. Now, obviously I'm not yet familiar with the taste of the bread, nor am I a vegan baker. I don't know how much you know about baking with these sweeteners, but if you had to guess, what kind of sweetener do you think would be the best replacement for the honey - maple syrup, molasses, or brown rice syrup? Thank you so much, not only for any help you can provide, but for your wonderful blog. I love it to pieces.

2:09 PM, March 21, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Hmmm, good question, Leah - and a tough one! This is a pretty clean, healthy-tasting bread, and the honey is an important flavor component. For your vegan version, my first thought would be to go with molasses, since it is a common ingredient in many other whole wheat breads. I worry, though, that it might be too strong here, flavor-wise. And as for maple syrup, I'd steer clear, since I've heard rumors that some brands, strangely enough, aren't vegan-friendly. Brown rice syrup would probably be just fine, although it lacks the lovely fragrance of both honey and molasses. So all told, I think I'd try using a combination of molasses and brown rice syrup. That way, you get some of the flavor of molasses, but you also get the mild, toasty sweetness of brown rice syrup. I hope that helps...

Happy baking!

11:11 PM, March 21, 2006  
Blogger Leah said...

You know what? Forget the vegan. I made it as is (with the salt) and oh Miss Molly, it is wonderful! Thank you for such a lovely recipe. Mmm, I have happy whole wheat goodness now.

2:32 PM, April 15, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Leah, I'm so glad to hear it! Happy whole wheat goodness to you.

1:12 PM, April 19, 2006  
Blogger alexandria said...

huh. i just foound this entry-- on a layover in minnesota, making my way back to boston from the ranch, looking for ranch recipes online. imagine my surprise at realizing a blog i read all the time had covered it before me... i suppose i had to stumble across the ranch on my own. i loved every second of it, by the way. anyone who is thinking of going-- go.

4:06 PM, January 13, 2007  
Anonymous purplebirds said...

Can you tell me how to substitute fresh yeast for dry yeast?

1:21 PM, October 26, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

Purplebirds, to tell you the truth, I've never used fresh yeast! I'm afraid I won't be of much help here. So sorry.

5:10 PM, October 26, 2007  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I just returned from the Ranch and was searching for the bread recipe! This was my 5th trip and this time I took my 25 year old skateboarding son from Boston. I loved reading your beautiful descriptions of your experience! Hopefully my son will have fond memories of our week together and if he SHOULD actually graduate from college we will celebrate with another trip to The Ranch!

5:30 PM, February 23, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just made this bread and substituted in agave syrup for the honey. It is very good! I think I will add just a tad more salt next time, but I will certainly make this recipe a regular!

3:10 PM, April 26, 2008  
Blogger Lael said...

molly, I have really appreciated this simple bread recipe. I've made it as is, and today (the weather was grey and drizzly-a perfect bread day) I made it with ingredients taking up space in my cupboard: molasses, raisins, a hint of cinnamon, and poppyseeds. thank you for the recipe. I would love to make it to the ranch some day!

9:51 PM, April 27, 2008  
Blogger Lael said...

I truly have better things to do than post repetitive comments on people's blogs, but I wanted to let you know I wrote an entry about this bread and linked back to you. twice.

thanks for your inspiration :)

1:55 PM, April 30, 2008  
Blogger katie hargrave said...

I just baked this bread, my first loaf ever. So easy and absolutely delish! I'm so excited to be joining the bread-making ranks!

11:17 AM, October 11, 2008  
Blogger Jessica said...

Molly,
I have never made bread before. I had one sad attempt, and I ruined the yeast and ended up with disgusting dough-blobs that simply would not rise. They turned hard in the oven - I left them there for punishment for a few days. And I threw away the pans with them.
I've healed from that experience and am ready to begin with a clean slate. This looks like just the recipe. I hope it turns out as beautifully as yours!

3:05 PM, November 09, 2008  
Blogger Lilly said...

Hi Molly,

It's a new discovery about myself that I love reading about food, and since I stumbled upon this blog a couple of weeks ago, I've been hooked! I'm actually still a bit surprised that I now find myself writing in...but I couldn't keep quiet anymore. I'm 21, and have recently entered "the bread baking frenzy." I cant tell you how many interactions with older women I've had like you describe! And even more relevant, is that I made this delicious whole wheat bread today...while I was procrastinating writing my ANTHROPOLOGY thesis...which is due in 2 days! At least I feel a little legitimized in my procrastination since there is some antho influence here. I love it. Thanks!

8:04 PM, April 12, 2009  
Anonymous Henry said...

This looks like a wonderful recipe! We've recently purchased a wheat grinder and I found your website while looking for recipes. You have a lot of helpful, healthy recipes here. Great job!!

2:48 PM, August 29, 2009  
Anonymous kristi @ sproutsinthekitchen said...

oh, thank you very much, Molly. Now I can't guiltlessly go to the store and buy and bag of squishy $4 whole wheat bread again. Just came out of the oven and my 10-month old and I have already scarfed down three pieces. I substituted sugar (1/3 cup) for the honey, since babies under 1 year can't have honey. Otherwise, followed the recipe exactly. Yum.

2:15 PM, September 09, 2009  
Blogger Irina said...

Molly, I made this bread today and it is so good! I really enjoyed the kneading part, too, despite the messiness. This was my first time making bread that required kneading, and somehow it makes the whole experience more real, sort of the way bread-making is supposed to be. Anyway, just wanted to say that I love the taste of this bread and will be sure to make it with my mom when I go visit her in California in a couple of weeks.

I was also wondering if it's OK to store the dough in the fridge for a day or two. I suspected that two loaves of bread would be too much for my husband and me, but for some reason decided not to cut the recipe in half and ended up freezing one loaf after it had cooled because I didn't want it to go stale. I thought about refrigerating half of the dough but wasn't sure if that was OK. I've done it with other types of bread dough before (where the recipes specifically mentioned that the dough either can be kept in the fridge or actually should be refrigerated before baking), and it worked, but I didn't want to take a chance this time.

11:24 PM, December 05, 2009  
Blogger Molly said...

So glad you liked the bread, Irina! As for your question about holding the dough in the fridge, well, I'm not totally sure what to tell you. I'm not terribly experienced in the world of bread doughs, and I haven't tried anything with this particular one beyond what's written in the recipe. That said, though, I do think that if you put the dough into the fridge immediately after kneading it - before the yeast activates - that it should work. Give it a go!

4:46 PM, December 06, 2009  
Anonymous Christine said...

I just made this bread yesterday. I was very pleased with the results. Thanks so much for the recipe.

10:10 AM, January 09, 2010  
Blogger Julie said...

Hi Molly- Any chance this bread can be made in a bread machine? (Sorry to all you purists out there). I'm a mom with little ones so the easier the better for me- thanks!

9:22 PM, August 22, 2010  
Blogger Molly said...

Julie, I would think this could be made in a bread machine, though I haven't tried it. Wish I could be more helpful!

5:05 PM, August 25, 2010  
Anonymous Mandira Kalra Kalaan said...

Hey Molly,

I was planning on making this tomorrow....but was just wondering whether the recipe could be halved easily?

9:43 AM, September 19, 2010  
Blogger Molly said...

Mandira, I apologize for not replying sooner! I've been out of town and am still catching up. But to answer your question, yes, this recipe should halve just fine.

9:35 PM, September 22, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

can you mix it in mixer or must you do it by hand? do you add more flour thanwhat recipe asks for? i ended up with a very sticky dough.

congrats on a great selection of wonderful recipes and on an amazing book i could not stop reading!

5:10 AM, March 27, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please dont forget to answer me! I am waiting in agony! I am the last conment at rancho la puerta bread post. Thx

4:56 PM, April 05, 2012  
Blogger Molly said...

Anonymous, I wish I could better help you! But the truth is, it's been a while since I've made this bread. (I've been making this one instead.) That said, I don't see any reason why you couldn't use a stand mixer for this recipe, and when in doubt, yes, by all means, add more flour. I would go bit by bit, though - maybe just a tablespoon at a time? Every brand of flour is a little different, so it makes sense that you'd need to use more (or less, I suppose) in some cases...

5:03 PM, April 05, 2012  

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