Allison and Jay Carroll split their time between the Joshua Tree desert and a small island in Maine. Although a contradictory study, the sites fit them perfectly, fostering a deep connection to nature that allows them to cook with Seasons galoreIn addition to providing endless inspiration for their famous olive oil and skincare brand, Wonder Valley. It’s clear that the couple has built a beautiful life on their own terms – one that enables them to live by their values and freely follow their curiosity wherever it leads.
When we showed up at Carroll’s Joshua Tree house midweek dinner partyAlison was in the midst of butterflies, a chicken flying. Although her taste said “laid-back host,” the menu itself revealed a deep culinary knowledge – she moved around the kitchen with an intuitive style that only happens when she knows what she’s doing. (Picasso’s phrase, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist” came to mind.) Ryan and Callie Bailey, Carroll’s close friends, had driven from Los Angeles for a visit, and we were spending a quiet afternoon. Around the kitchen island, they play with 6-month-old Bo, and finally, they gather around the table just as the desert sun sets over the mountains.
We all left feeling nourished, body and soul, inspired by Alison’s thoughtful approach to hosting and gathering. Read on for our interview and of course all the recipes for my delicious feast.
At home at Joshua Tree
A typical day in the life…
What explains your approach to food?
A small stack of cookbooks. Weekly trips to the local farmers market. So much intuition and suspense! Cooking is one of the few areas that I don’t think much about. I start getting things out of the fridge without much of a game plan, and the meals just kind of come together. Sometimes I dive into learning a new technology like Gluten free breador cooking over a fire or using a Japanese donabe.
When I think of our culinary lives at Joshua Tree, it involves an abundance of stunning Persian citrus, dates, pomegranates, and cucumbers—all from the local farmers’ market during the California winter months. During our summers in Maine, we live on a working waterfront, so there are plenty of lobsters and fresh catches from our fisher neighbors, oysters from the good friends they harvest, and cranberries and tomatoes in high season. We just built a new wood burning oven in our backyard so next summer will be the season for wood oven trials.
We are fans of Wonder Valley. How did you become a brand?
Jay and I started Wonder Valley in 2014 with a spare bedroom. I had previously served as Director of Marketing for the California Olive Oil Council, an incredible role that included overseeing a professional olive oil tasting panel for the annual certification of all of California’s more than 400 virgin olive oils. The role exposed me to the absolute best authorities and resources on local olive oil, and we’ve been working with guides ever since.
We saw an opportunity to bring in olive oil Meet a new audience and start a conversation about “Extra Virgin” celebrating the quality of the oil we produce right here in California. We launched the brand and sold out our first crop within a month. We have a really unique method for our olive oil in that we pick our fairly green fruit which gives us this truly wonderful, powerful oil full of antioxidants and omega rich fatty acids. A few years after launching our brand, we started using our own olive oil Homemade face oils. It was completely transformative for the quality, radiance, and health of our skin, especially living in this high, dry desert. It illuminated our growing line of skincare, all of which are formulated with olive oil as a key ingredient. We feel fortunate to be in this unique position to talk about the importance of inner health to outer beauty, and to offer products that support even more A holistic approach to wellness.
Tell us about your home at Joshua Tree. How did you find it and what is your favorite part of the space?
Jay and I purchased this home in 2015 after about a year of searching. This neighborhood is where we wanted to land due to its proximity to the national park and 360 degree views of the rocks and mountains. While driving we noticed this little house with shabby pink stucco and some boarded up windows. We heard it hadn’t been occupied for some time, so we tracked down the owner’s address and wrote a letter asking if they were interested in selling, knowing it would likely be a long way off. A few months later we closed the house!
At the time, we were living in Los Angeles and thought this would be our weekend home, but quickly became intrigued by the expansive views of our new home and its makeover. With an upbeat DIY demeanor that eclipsed our steep learning curve, we renovated it over the next couple of years while living on site in our 1950s blue Vagabond trailer.
My favorite part of the house is the dining room, which was formerly boarded and divided into two small carpeted bedrooms. It feels like you are embracing mountains on all sides with a small slice of snow-capped Mount San Gorgonio in the distance.
We launched Wonder Valley just a few months before we moved here. This home has given us the space – physically, mentally and financially – to grow a business with great care and without compromise.
He took us through a normal day at home.
The day usually involves some calls and work with our team, which is located between Los Angeles and Joshua Tree. We will sometimes work together in person from our VW HQ studio here on the property. It always involves spending time outside – ideally a walk with our dog, Lefty, in the trails behind our house.
This time of year, I usually end my day with an outdoor shower when the stars start to come out. It’s so lovely to watch the stars from a hot bath in the open desert, I’ll bring one of ours candles to illuminate it.
We have an outdoor bathtub too, and I brought Bo to take a bath in the afternoons. We cook most of our meals at home. Simple and healthy mealsWell, quickly, it’s mostly produce from the farmer’s market. Sometimes at night we show a movie, sometimes we have friends over, and we stay in our old trailer which is now used as a guest house. I always read in bed until I fall asleep.
Now, we have a 6-month-old baby girl named Bo, so our days are a bit unpredictable. The morning usually starts with a cat olive oil And a pot of tea and a big breakfast for me. Sleeping next to a new baby. I often need a little extra time in the morning to get into the day.
Bo seems to really enjoy watching me do my morning routine, which is a delightful pace. This routine begins with Oil cleansingmaybe a face mask or some Gentle exfoliation, always gua sha. Finish off the routine with our dropper Wonder serum Which instantly makes me feel refreshed – my skin is plump, hydrated, and glowing. I turn from My robe They usually wear a jumpsuit (from my alsbigdeal.com line), which is slip-on, comfortable to wear while working from home, and easy to breastfeed in.
About hosting and gathering
How Alison and Jay Bring People Together…
What does a great gathering look like to you?
we love to host. I think that was something we had in common when we met. I love trips to the market, coming up with menus and spending a long day cooking. Jay makes our home gorgeous with floral arrangements, a great playlist he made, and a beautiful table with burning incense and candles. We both love to grill, sometimes on the small yakitori grill or sometimes on the large outdoor wood grill. There are great trails outside our house, so we usually take a walk before our meal with a cocktail in hand.
What are some of your favorite products for the table?
our New wipes Made in collaboration with our friends at Madre Linen. Sourced for the most beautiful linen fabrics with the perfect color palette, they look like an instant heirloom.
Kevin Willis for Votive Communities. Our friend and desert neighbor Kevin Willis makes these wonderful perforated ceramic lanterns and lanterns for candles.
La soufflé glassware. Any glassware by La Soufflerie. Everything is beautiful. We have a pair of Verre Tete head-shaped glasses
What is your must-have cooking tool?
Sharp knife. It’s the most used and essential item, and it should be sharp and feel good in your hand. Personally, I use a 9-inch Japanese chef’s knife. When the knife is sharp, I feel like I can do anything in the kitchen. Working with a blunt knife is like dancing with the left foot.
What are your favorite cookbooks?
Canal House Books. They have a few books and they were one of the first cookbooks I bought for myself when I was 20. It was written by two women who own a restaurant and studio near where I grew up in New Jersey. I find their food exciting, timeless, honest and delicious.
the Cannelle et vanilla Cookbooks. Aran has given me the ability to bake gluten free. It’s totally fun to whip up beautiful sourdough loaves, perfect pancakes, homemade bread, and baguettes, all gluten-free.
Books by Nancy Singleton Hachiso For Japanese cooking, in particular Japan by Phaidon.
Tell us a few things that we will always find in your fridge?
Miso, preserved lemon, capers, spicy mustard, yuzu kosho, kraut or kimchi.
What scares you about entertainment and why?
Your signature dishes for gatherings?
Grilled avocado with yuzu kocho to start, and vanilla ice cream with Wonder Valley olive oil and sea salt to finish. Both are very simple and incredibly crowd pleasers.
Do you want to go to your night meal to eat at home?
Grilled chicken is a staple here – it’s the gift that keeps on giving. This usually starts with a whole chicken roasted with some herbs, lemon and garlic. I’m going to make a skillet sauce with it on top of the vegetables and rice. Then we top it off with some leftover salads, sandwiches, and bone broth.
What is your advice for someone who wants to host a meeting on a budget?
Taco night is so great on a budget, no one is ever mad. It’s easy to savor braised meat and increase your intake of beans and vegetables. Everyone has to make their own dish, which is helpful if they have diet issues. It’s also a spice game. Make chili oil, salsa, guacamole, and salsa verde. We buy a big bag of Maseca cornmeal (available at most food stores) and hand make tortillas with a small press. It really elevates taco night and gets all of your guests involved in rolling, pressing, and frying the tortilla.
The perfect dinner party playlist includes:
Good music! Our musical tastes span many styles, genres, and eras. Here is a favourite We use a lot. Made for our bar opening La ReinaSanta Fe, a few years ago.
Go to hub:
Wonder Valley olive oil bottle. An empty bottle makes a beautiful candlestick or flower vase.
What is the no stress party rule to live by?
Don’t swim upstream. If something isn’t working (someone bails at the last minute, a burnt dish, everything takes an hour longer), just roll it up. No one will remember or notice it anyway, but everyone will feel the tension spilling out from their host if you let it.
Dream dinner guests?
John Waters, Ramadan El Tohamy, Helen Nearing, John Prine, Dolly Parton, and Sade.
fill the gaps:
The perfect meal should…
Leave room for spontaneity and improvisation. And unique seasoning!
It’s not a dinner party without…
Every cook should know how…
Create a balanced vinaigrette for the perfect, simple salad.