The hostess brings in steaming cups of hot, herbal tea. With a cinnamon stick swirling around in it and a delicate little lemon slice on top.
There will be food later on, at the introductory happy hour, she is told. Cocktails of sparkling water spritzers, served with a platter of raw vegetables and a ricotta/cottage cheese dip.
This is the Heartland, a health and fitness spa in Gilman, Ill., near Kankakee, about 80 miles from Chicago.
And this is the beginning of a weekend of spa food.
But although hot herbal teas and water -- sparkling or plain -- long have been drinks of choice at spas, spa food and the philosophy behind its preparation has changed drastically in the last decade.
The days of considering a stay at a spa as a trip to the "fat farm" are gone. Instead of focusing on what the body is doing without -- as in calories -- spas now focus on what the body needs for healthful eating.
The message is similar, whether it's the Heartland or the new Fontana Spa at the Abbey in Lake Geneva, Wis., or at one of the old, well-known spas such as Canyon Ranch in Tucson, Ariz.
Forget the scale, guests are told at Canyon Ranch. The vital statistic is how much of your body composition is fat and how much is lean, as determined either by calipers that measure the fat or by hydrostatic (underwater) testing. The ideal fat percentage for women is between 18 and 26, and for men, between 12 and 18 percent.
And the way to reach that composition is to combine an exercise regimen with a healthy eating program. That means getting about 60 percent of your calories from complex carbohydrates, 20 percent from fat and 20 percent from protein.
Those percentages are basically the same at both the Heartland and Fontana. "We do the fitness assessment, get the body composition (with calipers) and give our guests a nutrition and exercise program, both for while they're here and when they go home," says Jeffrey Bliss, director of the Fontana spa. "While they're here, they're getting low-fat, low-cholesterol foods, calorie control and portion control."
A weekend or a week with spa food isn't going to create an instant sleeker, healthier body for anyone. What it can do, however, is jump-start the body and mind down the path of healthier living. Learning to eat smaller portions, acclimating the body (and mind) to cut back on fat and salt, starting an exercise program -- this all can be a major change for many, and major changes take time.
"We only have you for a little while," Witz tells her guests. "But we can give you the tools to use for the rest of your life."
This pancake recipe comes from the Heartland Spa in Gilman, Ill., where it gets the morning off to a healthy start. Their suggested serving size of one pancake can easily be doubled and still tally in low in both fat and calories.
APreparation time for this pancake with fruit compote breakfast is about 25 minutes. Cooking time is three to four minutes per batch.
Whole Wheat Pancakes
1 each: mango, kiwi, banana, peeled and diced
1/2 each: papaya, apple, pear, peeled and diced
1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon dealcoholized rum or 1/4 teaspoon rum extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup raspberries
2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup each: buttermilk, unsweetened applesauce
1 egg white
1 teaspoon each: canola oil, vanilla
For the compote, stir together all ingredients except raspberries and coconut in a large skillet. Cook over medium heat just until warmed through. Scatter berries over the top, cover pan and remove from heat. Let stand while making the pancakes.
For the pancakes, combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Whisk together the remaining ingredients and mix into dry ingredients. Let stand five minutes.
Spray a nonstick griddle with vegetable oil spray and heat over medium heat. Form pancakes, using two tablespoons batter for each one. Cook, turning once, until golden on both sides.
F: Sprinkle coconut over compote and serve with pancakes.
Makes eight servings of one pancake each. Each pancake has 100 calories, 21 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fat and 46.6 milligrams sodium.