Alison Carroll is the definition of California cool. She lives a breathtakingly simple life in the high desert of Joshua Tree, owns a hotel in Santa Fe and designs clothing, all while helming an extraordinary olive oil and skincare brand, Wonder Valley. We chatted with her about all things cooking, self-care and the ingredients for a simpler life.
Why did you start Wonder Valley?
Prior to starting Wonder Valley in 2014, I was the marketing director for the California Olive Oil Council, where I fell in love with olive oil. My main role was to oversee the only professional olive oil taste panel in North America, which certifies all 400+ California oils as extra virgin grade annually. I wanted to bring olive oil to a new audience, which led us to start Wonder Valley, working with friends and mentors I have in the industry.
What do food and cooking mean to you?
Food is love. Love I can share and give myself through nourishment every day. Lately, I’ve found it as a form of meditation — to move really slowly, to be completely present with the task at hand and to give great care in every step. It’s such a great pleasure to cook like this.
Do you have a favorite olive oil–inspired dish to make at home?
Everything uses olive oil at home! I fry, sauté, bake, roast, braise, and make sauces and dressings with it. It breathes life into every dish and is so versatile. I make a lot of salsa verde with olive oil, herbs, garlic, chili and capers, and spoon that over grains, beans and roasted vegetables.
What are some of your refrigerator and pantry staples?
Eggs, lemons, greens for salad, shallots, garlic, Parmesan or some aged cheese are always in the fridge. Good salt (kosher to cook, Maldon to finish), bay leaves, red wine vinegar and a full pepper mill are my pantry staples.
How do you think self-care, wellness and food all relate to one another?
It’s all part of the same dance and a holistic approach to wellness. For me, self-care is a broad way to say, I’m doing what feels best to support my body today. Sometimes that looks like a hike or exercise or Qi Gong. Sometimes it’s being still with a book or loud with a friend. Food can be a form of medicine — or not. It’s sometimes challenging to cook for wellness and eat for pleasure.
What is your daily routine like these days?
It’s different in a way, and it’s not. I live with a lot of space and quiet in the high desert of Joshua Tree. I work for myself and from our home studio — so that part isn’t disrupted. Our shop in Joshua Tree is currently closed, and we can’t meet in person with our team, so that’s a bit different. I’m enjoying throwing routine out the window right now. I start the day sometimes tending to my budding desert garden or doing a bit of movement or meditation. In the morning, we get work done for Wonder Valley: all the day-to-day operations of running a business, working on new products, trying to connect with our customers daily through Instagram or emails now more than ever. Sometimes I feel productive and creative, sometimes not.
What I’m trying to do is just not swim upstream — to not have unrealistic expectations or try to apply yesterday’s task list to this unscripted present we’re all in. My husband and I spend time together unwinding at the end of the day. We bought a small yakitori grill and have been cooking outside frequently. He got me a dirt bike for my birthday this month, so that’s been making all the neighborhood trails feel new again. I’ve been calling my friends and family more and letting them know I love them. I’m also always using Wonder Valley skincare and enjoying a daily outdoor tub or shower moment.
Where do you find inspiration? How do you stay creative?
Traveling is always the biggest source of inspiration. The last big adventure I took was to Japan for an onsen-hopping trip. That was incredible, and I’m still thinking about ideas from that experience. Road trips are a big part of our family life. We drive often to Santa Fe, where we have a hotel called El Rey Court, and I feel like that combination of open desert roads with forward momentum makes a lot of lightning bolts strike for ideas.
Most of our friends are creative in some capacity: artists, makers, cooks. So my inspiration is cultivated from all angles.
What’s your best advice for simplified living?
A big part is making your mind up about what’s working for you and thinning out what’s not serving you. It’s pretty freeing to strip away the excess because you’re left with a concentration of things that make you happy. I’ve found a lot of freedom and creativity in limitations; moving to a rural place was a big catalyst for that.