Cookbook features food and drinks from Montecito resident’s garden
Years of planning to write a cookbook have finally come to fruition for Valerie Rice with the publication of “Lush Life: Food and Drinks from the Garden” (Prospect Park Books, $35).
“It was a labor of love. There were many fits and starts. Then, the pandemic happened, and I decided to dig in and finish it,” said Mrs. Rice from her home in Montecito.
What she calls “a love letter to Santa Barbara,” the 296-page mini-coffee table book, which will be released May 4, is a collection of recipes of stunning main dishes, sides, salads, soups and desserts.
It also includes cocktails, garden planning and tips, and wine commentary from award-winning Rajat Parr, a frequent guest at her table.
The gorgeous color photographs were taken at her home by Gemma and Andrew Ingalls.
Her book is divided into the four seasons, beginning with spring, because “when you cook food in season it’s super fresh and tastes better. You won’t suffer from palate fatigue. It’s a nice way to rotate what’s on your plate. You don’t have to do a lot to make the food look beautiful,” said Mrs. Rice.
Among the recipes are Golden Negroni with Bourbon, Kumquat and Thyme; Spring Crudites with Whipped Feta-Piquillo Dip and Mini Pitas; Oven-Baked Ribs with Nasturtium Gremolata; and Red Rhubarb Amaretto Torte.
An avid gardener, Mrs. Rice is committed to a schedule of at least two hours on Tuesdays and Fridays tending to the vegetables, fruits and flowers at the home she shares with her husband, two teen-age daughters, a couple of Labradoodles and a coop full of chickens.
“Every place I can, I grow something. We are so lucky to live in Santa Barbara where we can grow produce year round,“ said Mrs. Rice, whose Belgian grandmother inspired her love of gardening.
“She had an amazing vegetable garden. I wanted to grow vegetables just like her.”
While growing up in Newport Beach, she and her family frequently visited there during the summer.
“My mom was from Belgium, and my dad was Italian. I’ve always been passionate about cooking. Food was part of my everyday life. I made the salad dressing for dinner and set the table. I watched Jacques Pepin and Julia Child on television,” said Mrs. Rice, who earned her bachelor’s degree in film studies at UCSB.
She shares her passion for food and lifestyle on eatdrinkgarden.com as well as her Eat DrinkGarden Instagram account. Mrs. Rice has been featured in Sunset, House Beautiful, Santa Barbara Magazine and Flutter and has appeared on “Access Hollywood Live” and Hallmark’s “Home & Family.”
Her response was swift when asked which of the four seasons is her favorite.
“Spring because after the lull of winter, everyday there is something new blooming,” she said.
Her enthusiasm comes through in the introduction to the first section titled “Spring: The Double-Joy Season.”
“Spring brings double joy to my garden: first, harvesting the new bounty of spring treasures, and second, digging in the dirt to start planting for the flavors of summer … Everything, and I mean everything, is blossoming — from the roses first off the hook bloom to the pineapple guava trees — the thought of which makes me sneeze and smile at the same time … The recipes in this section include many of my absolute favorites. From garden to kitchen and back outside again, where a fresh, simple dinner surrounded by the scent of fresh soil mingles with the sweetness of those first roses, spring seduces again and again.”