Linda Ly (aka Garden Betty) Talks Food, the Great Outdoors + Traveling With a Toddler

This urban homesteader and road-trip aficionado shares some of her inspirations and favorite byways.

Linda Ly, or the Garden Betty, is a gardening guru, urban homesteader and outdoor lover. When she's not in her garden or whipping up tasty recipes in her kitchen, Linda is out camping, checking out the roads less traveled or hiking off the beaten path. We sat down with Linda to talk about the inspiration for her recipes, her favorite road trips and what it's like traveling with a toddler.

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Creative Genius Linda Ly

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Photo by: Linda Ly

Linda Ly

How did you first get into writing cookbooks and gardening?

The gardening came first. It happened when I moved into my home in 2010. I found a little, cute, 1920s bungalow — very small, but there was a lot of space — like a big, big garden. I got very involved in the garden and started my blog which became a personal diary of what I was growing, what I was harvesting — just little tidbits of the things that were growing outside. The blog grew into this resource for other gardeners who like to grow vegetables, herbs, fruits and edible flowers. A few years later I received a message from an editor at Quarto Publishing, and he said that he had been following my blog for a few years and wanted to know if I'd be interested in writing a cookbook. The CSA Cookbook was based on things I wrote about on the blog — what you can cook up from your garden or a farmer's market.

Where do you get your inspiration for your recipes?

Most of my inspiration comes from my garden because we mostly cook at home. I’m always looking to use the fruits and vegetables I have in my garden in creative and inventive ways. There’s so much you can do when you're exploring new ways to cook it. I find a lot of my inspiration from places that we’ve traveled as well — cultures that I’ve visited and how they cook. With The CSA Cookbook, I learned what different parts were edible on a plant by seeing how other cultures use their vegetables. I look to other cultures for new ways to use and like parts of vegetables and I translate that into what I like and how I like to cook.

A small portion of my inspiration comes from the few times that I do go out to eat. I like to order dishes that I don’t make at home. As I’m eating, I always try to pick apart flavors in my mouth. Then, I go home and try to recreate what I had at the restaurant. I get a lot of chances to experiment with flavors and play around with ingredients because we have so much of it in the garden.

What about traveling do you love the most?

I am very much inspired by unfamiliar things. I like to be out of my comfort zone a little bit. Traveling takes me there, as far as seeing new places, meeting new people, doing something different. All of that just gives me so much energy. You’re either a vacationer or a traveler — I’m rarely a vacationer, where I just go and lay by the pool all day. I’m more of a traveler because I love to just get outside and discover.

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Photo by: Linda Ly

Linda Ly

What is it about being outside that gets you the most excited?

I love the freedom of it — how it’s so unstructured. I love outdoor recreation: hiking, climbing, backpacking, fishing, skiing and kayaking. The outdoors is such a great, giant playground for me because it’s endless…endless opportunity to recreate and to spend quality time with your family, friends and learn about a given place where you are. When I’m traveling through a new state or a new town, people generally gravitate towards the cities or the centers where all the monuments and the landmarks are, and I like that, too. But I also like to get outside a little bit and find out what’s around. I’m always blown away that in a lot of places like you can have these beautiful, green, lush forests or these stunning, high deserts not too far from bustling buildings and traffic.

Photo by: Linda Ly

Linda Ly

Who takes care of your chickens/animals and garden while you're out on an adventure? Does it make you anxious to leave your homestead behind?

I have friends who housesit and help take care of the garden when I'm away. It used to make me feel anxious, especially if I was out of town for more than a week, but since I travel so much throughout the year, I've learned to trust my friends and neighbors. The only thing that makes me anxious these days is making sure they're still available if I end up coming home a couple days later than planned!

How has traveling changed since the birth of your daughter?

Traveling has become slower yet faster at the same time. You have more gear, and my husband and I had to get a rooftop box to store all our things because we don’t travel lightly, especially when we’re camping. We don’t have quite as much freedom of doing things spontaneously, but at the same time, we’ve become more patient and more fluid with having a baby around. In a way, it’s almost made traveling easier just because we’re like, "We’ve already built an extra day or two into our plans because of her, so we can take our time visiting a place or spending an extra night somewhere if we want to." She’s made us more appreciative of any downtime that we have.

Photo by: Linda Ly

Linda Ly

Has your love for the outdoors changed any since having your daughter with you?

I love the outdoors more because now I’m looking at it through her eyes. Places we have gone to repeatedly have changed a bit since we end up going somewhere different for safety reasons because we can’t drag her to the top of a peak that we use to just clamber up so quickly. Now, we settle for something a little bit lower, easier or safer.

Looking at things through her eyes gives me a fresh viewpoint on all these older places we’ve been to. She’s just at the stage where she recently learned to walk so everything is a whole new world to her, and she’s looking at things from a foot higher off the ground. When you go to her eye level, you see so much more. She finds new, little trails and features — things we’ve never paid attention to before. So much brings her joy that it's so simple. Before, we would walk by a little pond that we think is adorable, but she will jump right into it, and it’s made us really love exploring 10 times more.

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Creative Genius Linda Ly

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Photo by: Linda Ly

Linda Ly

Do you like taking road trips?

Yes, I love them. When I did my book tour for The CSA Cookbook, I drove. I had six or seven weeks to do it. There were destinations, of course, where I did all my signings and events, but everything in between was never a straight line. I tried to stay off the highways and interstates as much as I could and take smaller roads to get someplace. It opened a whole new view of all these different states that I had preconceptions of. I always pictured Texas as flat, brown and boring because I had always driven on the interstates around Houston and Dallas before and those are not fun at all.

What are your top three favorite road trips?

In California, it would be what I call the "Dream Drive," which is a big loop that takes you from SoCal to NorCal and back. I like to go North on Highway 395. You go along the Eastern Sierra and see these gorgeous grand vistas of these huge peaks. The spring and winter are my favorites because they’re filled with snow. Cross over right around Tahoe to the Bay Area, then go south down Highway 1 which then takes you all the way down the coast. It takes you past some of my favorite areas: San Francisco, Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz, Monterey/Carmel, Big Sur, Morro Bay, Santa Barbara and then back down to L.A. 

My other two would have to be the Natchez Trace Parkway and the Blue Ridge Parkway. I love the Blue Ridge Parkway because of all the expansive green. And the Natchez Trace because of all the historical sites along the way.

Good food in the great outdoors.

Good food in the great outdoors.

Photo by: Will Taylor

Will Taylor

Are there any other suggestions you'd like to offer to someone looking for a great road trip?

I would say first start within just a couple of hours of where you live. Put your finger on a map and go. Have some rough ideas of where you want to end up, but let all other plans just fly out the window. Just take it as it goes, because some of the best moments that I’ve had on my road trips are places that I’ve never had known were there. It's these little discoveries — the pleasant surprises along the way — that really make the road trip for me. Keep your plans very loose and flexible and just go with the flow. If I’m looking at a map and I see a highway, but then I see this little squiggly line next to it, I’m always about the squiggly line.

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