Gardening, foraging and cooking up a delicious life
By Kay Ledger 66 Square Feet: A Delicious Life is the intriguing debut of Marie Viljoen, a garden designer who teaches the art of food foraging and dreams up innovative cocktails in New York City. Viljoen contributes to Edible San Diego’s sister publications Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan.
knowing look from a pair of wild parrots. October offers a glimpse of rose hips, frozen on a boardwalk. Most striking is a January photograph of Jamaica Bay: sere gold grasses, deep blue water, ice white sand under snow, the heart of winter. Viljoen is also an accomplished and imaginative cook. She presents a supper menu for each month, accompanied by cocktails. Most interesting are her Forager’s Special dishes: a soup prepared with Japanese knotweed, a Boeuf Bourguignon made with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms. Sumac gathered out-of-doors stars in a vodka concoction; her Comptonia Cocktail is made with sweet fern-infused bourbon. She grills peaches, roasts lamb and chills a white gazpacho soup. Her recipes are savory, uncomplicated and often employ a grill.
Equal parts garden journal, supper cookbook and wanderer’s notebook, this collection tells the story, month by month, of a year living in the city as Viljoen gardens intensely on a tiny Brooklyn terrace and farms on the roof. She cooks in a tiny kitchen, forages in parks and chronicles her explorations in and around the city. Viljoen describes surprising pockets of urban wilderness and delights in the discovery of living, growing things: a mass of red roses climbing a shop front, a spray of blossoms pink against orange brick, brash kale flowers defying the cold on her rooftop.
Marie Viljoen’s 66 Square Feet: A Delicious Life ventures off the beaten track to the messy borders where city, nature and waterways meet. Her prose is thoughtful, her gardening pragmatic and her rambles enticing—inspiring readers to seek them out. This is an engaging, grounded and gorgeous book.
What the jaded Southern Californian ho-humming about our region’s unexciting climate may find most enjoyable about Viljoen’s book are the excellent photographs of the seasonal transitions of a northern cityscape and nearby rambles. It is refreshing to open her book and sink into its clear-eyed portraits of New York City’s large and pronounced seasonal shifts.
Kay Ledger is a Southern California–based food writer with a background in television news. Ledger studied writing at UCSD, and recently graduated from culinary school, where she interned in a jam kitchen. Her work has appeared in Kiwi Magazine, Asia: The Journal of Culture and Commerce and
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Edible San Diego. Marie Viljoen
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