Bookmark These Garden-to-Table Recipes for All Your Summer Gatherings

From Valerie Rice’s new cookbook, Lush Life

By Camille Styles
Spring produce spread The Lush Life

In my fantasy, it’s a midsummer evening, 70 degrees in southern California. I head out to the garden to pluck some heirloom tomatoes for that night’s rigatoni, copious basil leaves for sprinkling on top, and while I’m at it, an armful of dahlias to go in the handmade vase that sits in the center of the table out on the lawn.

No doubt part of my daydream lies in the sheer joy of gathering friends together, after a year without that simple pleasure. But it’s also rooted in the idea of doing it all effortlessly, finding joy in the creative process, and letting go of any ideas about “impressing my guests.”

This sense of ease and joy is what I always hope to feel when I gather people together at home—though sometimes I’m more successful than others. And it’s why I was immediately drawn to Valerie Rice’s new cookbook, Lush Life: Food & Drinks From the Garden, out next week. Rice lives in Santa Barbara, and her sprawling gardens, chicken coop, and stunning Mediterranean-style home are not only straight out of a Nancy Meyers film—they’re the setting for the menus she brings to life throughout her book. Each recipe feels celebratory but is simple enough to make any day of the week, proving that a beautiful summer night is cause enough for celebration on its own. I got an advance copy of the book, and Rice was kind enough to share two of my favorite recipes for summer entertaining with us ahead of its release!

Scroll on to make her recipes for Blood Orange Margaritas and Avocado Slaw, and peep a few scenes from her book below. You can pre-order it right here!

Valerie holding basket The Lush Life

“Eat and drink what’s in season and you’ll never grow bored, your menus will be less complicated, and everything will taste better.”

It’s Valerie Rice’s motto, and though the seasonal recipes throughout her book are perfect for family meals all year long, I’m especially drawn to her summer recipes for entertaining, paired with cocktail recipes and wine advice.

Lush Life image of potted plants

Her book also re-ignited my desire to plant an edible garden at home—an idea that you guys might remember was in process last year—but got put on hold when we found and purchased a beach house last summer and all our creative efforts were diverted there. However, Valerie’s gardening tips have challenged me to at least get started — maybe I won’t get around to my full vision of raised beds this year, but I can at least plant some big pots of herbs to add seasonality and freshness to our meals all summer.

Campari Tangerine The Lush Life

On her inspiration for these her signature blood orange margaritas, Rice says, “Tart, delicious, and so beautiful, blood orange season is something to celebrate… if you live in a warm climate as we have in Santa Barbara (where the days are warm and the nights are cool), buy a tree and plant it in your yard. If you’re tight on space, grow a dwarfed variety in a large pot. You’ll know the citrus is ready to be picked when the peel looks slightly red like it was dusted in rust.”

Blood Orange Margaritas The Lush Life Recipe

These Blood Orange Margaritas are the perfect way to celebrate summer (whether or not you have a citrus grove at home.) I’ll be mixing them up next week for Cinco de Mayo, along with these other summer recipes for entertaining.  Click here for the full recipe from Lush Life: Food & Drinks from the Garden.

Avocado Slaw The Lush Life Recipe

From Rice: “This slaw has been a consistent hit at my house for years, whether it’s for a party for fifty or a regular at-home Taco Tuesday night. You can use whatever fresh radishes and cabbage you have on hand. I use a handheld mandoline to slice the carrots and radishes thinly. You can make it a few hours in advance—I even love it the next day.” Click here to get the recipe for this Avocado Slaw from Lush Life: Food & Drinks from the Garden.

Lush Life Cookbook Cover Image

Images and recipes from Lush Life: Food & Drinks from the Garden by Valerie Rice, Prospect Park Books 2021. Photo credit: Gemma and Andrew Ingalls.