Behind Closed Doors: Alison Carroll

Alison Carroll lives a life of wonder in the High Desert of Joshua Tree. Her elevated olive oil and skincare line, Wonder Valley, is a lovesong to the transformational and healing powers of the olive and is a true testament to her and her husband, Jay’s, mantra, “grandeur in simplified living”. Today we take a peek into her kitchen to see what she’s keeping close during this time of quarantine, recipes included. Expect tips on what she’s eating, what she’s making and her philosophy and thoughts on how to keep well. High desert living at its best.

What is your food philosophy?

Food as Love.

To share it with others.

To take care of myself. 


Have you always been interested in food? Where does this interest stem from?

Yes! My Dad, for sure. He always tuned into cooking shows and we’d watch Julia Child’s program together and experiment with simple little recipes and stretching our left overs. He made cooking something joyful. His mother, my Grandma, was a legendary baker in their Italian neighborhood in Philly and would make everyone’s wedding and communion and graduation cakes. Big elaborate productions. So it’s always been there, but it wasn’t until I was out of the house, living on my own in my early 20’s that it became something more. And it continues to evolve, especially living in a remote place like Joshua Tree. 


Why did you start Wonder Valley?

I had just left a role as the marketing director for the California Olive Oil Council, where I worked with the absolute best, most talented folks in this industry from professional olive oil tasters, to millers, to farmers. it was immersive and totally hooked me. I wanted to take all of the knowledge and love I have for California olive oil, and make it my own; to bring it to a new audience, to carve out shelf space where olive oil wasn’t before, to get people educated and excited about olive oil! 


We have read that your mantra is, "Grandeur in Simplified Living." What does this mean to you?

Jay and I came up with that phrase after moving to the desert and starting Wonder Valley five years ago. During that time, we thinned out most of our possessions, were building our house by hand and creating this far-out olive oil oasis and Grandeur in Simplified Living became the mantra of all of that. Stripping away the excess, but focusing on quality objects that make everyday tasks extraordinary. 


What do you eat that makes you feel your best? 

Broth always makes me feel great. Something simple, warm, salty, a little fat. That always makes me feel good. 


What do you always keep in your fridge? 

Homemade kraut, miso, lemons (preserved & fresh).


What do you always keep in your pantry?

WV EVOO, salts (diamond kosher for the workhorse, Maldon and March SF’s for fancy ones), Camino’s red wine vinegar, and lots of teas. I run on tea.


 What are your thoughts on how food relates to beauty?

Our body sends us messages through our appearance; imbalances, dry skin, blemishes, bloating, brittle nails, dark circles… the list goes on. It could be that our diet needs to be adjusted to better suit our unique constitution or perhaps we have a sensitivity to the environment or have too much stress, there’s so many factors. But to simply address the symptom without the cause feels like painting a dying plant's leaves green without looking at what’s going on in the soil. I think food is one of the most crucial factors to having a holistic approach to beauty. If you’re eating foods that trigger inflammation in your body, that will inevitably show up in your skin and even the most potent products won’t be able to have lasting effects.

I spent most of my teen’s and early 20’s with endless acne and scars and breakouts. I had chemical peels, took birth control and tried every miracle cream and product the 90’s had to offer while putting on more makeup. It wasn’t until I saw a holistic doctor who addressed thyroid issues and had me remove gluten and dairy from my diet that my skin radically started to change. It was pretty empowering that I could heal myself, and make myself also look more beautiful in the process. And when I indulge and eat a bowl of ramen or something, I see it in my skin.

About five years ago when we started the brand, I really became obsessed with the old-world wisdom and endless uses and benefits of extra virgin olive oil. We really have a unique angle with our olive oil production in that we pick our fruit really underripe (atypical in the industry) which yields a bright, peppery, green oil that is so full of life and packed with polyphenols (antioxidants). It really makes this a superfood and not just a condiment. I started to make a face oil using our EVOO in the formula for Jay and myself and was blown away by how transformational it was for the quality of the skin; softer, more even tone, less breakouts, less clogged pores and more hydrated skin (a feat in this desert climate). That original formula has been fine tuned as we have it in our unisex natural skincare collection along with a beautiful Hinoki body oil and an incredible oil cleanser.  Olive oil delivers the same potent antioxidants and nutrients topically. It’s the oldest beauty ingredient, one of the first anti-aging products. We believe it to truly be a Fountain of Youth. 


What do you do, outside of cooking, that informs your health?

I have a wonderful acupuncturist I see every other week for tune-ups and custom TCM herbs, I have a holistic doctor for big picture health issues and supplemental plans, but really I think my health is best informed from my intuition. The better I am to my body, the louder that voice speaks that guides which foods feel good or to avoid, or what kind of exercise I need, or what deficiencies or food allergies I might be having … and usually the bloodwork and professional consults support these feelings. 


What is the first meal you remember?

My grandpa’s tomato salads are the first memory I have around food. Tomatoes from the little plot of garden behind his row home in Philly. Vinegar, oil, pepper and lots of oregano, and day-old bread in there. 


Last best meal you had out? 

I love going to Speranza in Silverlake when I’m in LA.  It's a go-to spot we go to with a group of friends who are also small business owners (Canyon Coffee, Agnes Baddoo, Le Feu de L’eau, and Beatrice Valenzuela) since we can pack a big group in their outdoor tables and eat huge bowls of homemade pasta, drink inexpensive chilled red wine and be as loud as we want. The east coast Italian in me loves it. They have this one salad I love that’s shaved fennel and arugula with lots of horseradish and olive oil. 


Last best meal you had in? 

I've been cooking up a storm right now during this time of self-quarantine. I made a really great loaf of GF sourdough from Cannelle et Vanille’s cookbook (Thanks KP for turning me onto this!), a big brothy batch of black eyed peas (dried beans cooked with EVOO, dried chile, bay leaves, rosemary, cloves of garlic in with the water) cooked with some garlicky greens, chile oil, fresh herbs from the garden and homemade kraut. 


Please share a favorite recipe.

Here is a recipe I developed for Bon Appetit for a nutrient-dense soup of mushrooms, seaweed, rice noodles, turmeric, ginger and chiles. 


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