Susie Bechtel and Kyle Irwin, co-owners of Field+Fort in Summerland, hosted a book signing for author Valerie Rice on Saturday. The lifestyle emporium was an ideal setting to promote her book, Lush Life: Food & Drinks from the Garden.
With spring in the air, the signing was followed by a garden cocktail hour featuring some of the recipes from Rice’s book, which is filled with gorgeous photography by Gemma and Andrew Ingalls.
Rice is a longtime Montecito resident with her wine enthusiast husband, A.J., two beautiful daughters, their beloved dogs and a coop full of chickens. She is known as an avid entertainer and master gardener.
She is also a skilled home cook, and developed a collection of recipes organized to live in tune with nature by the season, including sides, salads, soups, dessert and her famous cocktails.
More than just a collection of recipes, Lush Life includes garden planning, pantry items and wine commentary from sommelier-turned-winemaker Rajat Parr, a frequent guest at Rice’s table.
Not sure how it would feel to attend an event after so many months of avoiding them, I happily ran into old friends awkwardly trying to decide about hugs or elbow bumps, regular patrons of field+fort, weekend travelers and fans of Rice.
Dressed in an off-the-shoulder green print dress that reminded me of a garden party, Rice’s smile was hard to miss — even with her mask.
An invitation to be welcomed into her home has a relaxed and effortless feeling that is part of her charm, sense of humor and personality. Her first book perfectly captures her passion and love of ingredients and the art of time around her table.
“Living in a town with so many farmers markets and organic grocery stores makes finding ingredients readily available even if you don’t grow your own,” Rice said.
As I read her book at home, I felt hungry and inspired, and noted that the ingredient lists were short and not intimidating. For every recipe, a generous headnote offered context on ingredients or techniques or personal inspiration.
The post-signing reception included some of Rice’s favorite edibles prepared by chef Kim Schiffer: Lamb meatballs, pea soup and other passed treats and two of her favorite cocktails, Val’s Salty Dog with fresh mint and blood orange margaritas.
Rice said that just about every cocktail recipe was inspired by flavors from her travels — margaritas from Mexico, martinis in London, negronis in Florence, amaretto sours in Tokyo. She said she doesn’t like to drink them with meals, but might savor one as she cooks dinner or sip while sharing appetizers with friends.
“Despite how fancy people think Montecito is, it’s really just a small town with small town values,” Rice told me. “Sandwiched between beach and the mountains, it lends itself to a beautiful life with fantastic people, opportunities and outdoor living no matter the season.”
Lush Life, she added, is more than just a cookbook, it’s a guide to seasonal living.
“Whether you’ re a seasoned cook or a beginner, it’s got something for everyone,” she said.
— Judy Foreman is a Noozhawk columnist and longtime local writer and lifestyles observer. She can be contacted at [email protected]. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.