Thursday, January 21, 2021

Walk into the weather

Ahead of the inauguration of a person who appears to be sane, we went for a walk. It was a cold day but we needed a horizon. In New York, there's usually something between you and the horizon. Not at Breezy Point. 

The tide was out.

Flocks of sanderling were very busy, probing the wet sand with their clever beaks.

We used our much-less clever beaks to eat smoked salmon sandwiches (in the car!). I had committed the bread baker's cardinal sin of slicing into my sourdough while it was still warm from the oven. (Don't tell.) But life is short. So I sliced.

The sandwiches were seasoned with fresh field garlic, finger lime (from our little windowsill tree), and spread with cream cheese.

And now we can breathe, again. 


Forage, Harvest, Feast


Tuesday, January 12, 2021

January Tramp

January Tramp
Prospect Park
17 January 2021
12pm - 2pm

It may be January but the weather has been relatively mild and there is lots to see in the winter woods, wastelands, and fields. And Prospect Park checks each of those environmental boxes. 

After 10 months of pandemic this popular park is more worn around the edges than it has been before, but it offers what is always has: a chance to see, recognize, and learn about the many edible plants and mushrooms that surround us in the Northeast, from indigenous shrubs to invasive weeds to ornamental trees planted for beauty - but that also hold edible secrets in their branches, leaves and buds. And there may be winter mushrooms. We will talk about where to look and what they like, and why.

Our January tramp will take a us over lawns, under evergreens, past dead logs, and over leaf-littered floors where optimistic snowdrops grow. Come prepared for a proper walk. The faster we move the warmer we'll be. We will stop when our masks begin to suck to our faces. 

At the end the reward is a steaming hot toddy, perfumed with fir, juniper, and spicebush. And there will be a light snack. 

If you have credit from a canceled walk in early pandemic days, please email me at myviljoen (at) gmail (dot) com to reserve your spot. Otherwise please visit the PayPal button to pay and book.

Booking Has Closed

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Hot Pot - For What Ails Ye

The kitchen, the night of the day that this country's band-aid was ripped off to expose what wasn't really a mosquito bite, after all. Cue flesh-eating bacteria.

Not a good description of dinner, is it? 

But dinner was actually good. And the process of making it, necessary.  Even though it could have fed an imaginary army.  (Is that what I was doing?)

I revisited the burdock chapter or Forage, Harvest, Feast and reproduced the slow-cooked Burdock Root and Beef Short Rib Hot Pot on page 67. Didn't matter that I didn't have mugwort. In fact, if you don't have the burdock, use parsnips! Or even potatoes. It's delicious. 

And it heats up beautifully, the next day.

My burdock came from Chinatown, and in years past I have seen it at Whole Foods, too. But autumn winter and early spring are good times to dig that tenacious taproot.

What were you doing while Rome burned?


Forage, Harvest, Feast - A Wild-Inspired Cuisine

Sunday, January 3, 2021

The winter wilds

Inbetween rainy days the Frenchman and I made our first 2021 visit to Mt Loretto Unique Area, the state park on Staten Island that is a regular escape for us within the city. It's about a forty minute drive from home and almost always offers us something interesting. Then again, we may be easily pleased: Even rabbits and groundhogs amuse us. But not in January. We could almost hear the groundhogs snoring. 

The spirit of my friend David Burg walked with us - he knew and talked a lot about this place, which he helped conserve. He died suddenly last summer. One of the many shades of 2020.

We walked to the beach, a rocky and eroded shoreline, equal parts crumbling infrastructure, New York Harbor detritus, pebbles and seaweed. 

We settled on some low tide rocks to picnic, and just as I had poured our steaming soup (borscht) from a Thermos and opened the container of flaky pastry oyster mushroom rolls, the Frenchman, always scanning the water, spotted splashes, and quivered. Soon, we could see a seal.

Then more seals, who found rocks exposed by the low water, and basked. We watched for a happy hour.

Near our feet a gull spent at least half an hour trying to dive for something, very unsuccessfully, too buoyant, it seemed to get deep enough. But then triumph. A nice, fat clam, which was soon dropped from a height to shatter, before being picked clean. (The gull asked us if we had any hot sauce but we couldn't help.)

We walked back to the car through the wet fields, and drove home to Brooklyn, counting deer along the way before crossing the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and ending our Saturday holiday. 

Now, on a rainy Sunday, we are working, and sorting photos, and tidying away the old year, so that nothing clutters the new. Who knows what it will bring?


NYBG Class, 21 January 2021

Thursday, December 31, 2020

The terrace year, in brief

January 2020. Still blissfully ignorant of what was coming.

And in February? Nothing, because for the whole month I was visiting my mom in Cape Town. And thank goodness, because lockdown was imminent. 

As the new reality slowly seeped in (there was denial - "it's like flu, everyone underestimates flu!"), the March pots began to wake up and offered the plant therapy that never fails. Shoots began to shoot. Pansies were planted.

In April we rattled and beat our pots and bowls for essential workers every evening with the rest of the neighborhood. And then sat out at the stone table, well wrapped, for a drink. Pansies and South African nemesias bloomed in the window boxes, beside new-sown arugula. I learned that Sq. Irrel is deterred by chicken wire, so I covered the terra cotta pots where I had planted lily bulbs. I bought a new black raspberry from the Gowanus Nursery (bottom right).

May saw the citrus and the bay tree back on the terrace, after their long winter indoors. Pots were shuffled around. Braais were lit and I cooked over coals while it was light. (The green pillows are by Skinny LaMinx - they ship Stateside from Cape Town for a flat fee of $15). 

By June the terrace had fluffed out. Petunias and portulaca replaced cool-weather pansies. Echinacea opened. Basil began to basil. Lilies formed buds. Days were long and we dined outdoors every bright evening. 

In July it was jungle-lush and our living space shrank as plants broadened and greened. Agastache began to flower at last, inviting bees, and lavender was squeezed into the windowboxes for the nostalgic Frenchman. (These cushion covers are also South African, by A Love Supreme. Yes, we did a lot of online shopping...)

The windowboxes of August spilled onto the terrace with fragrant petunias. The neighborhood's trees were plush, and sometimes filled with green monk parrots, visiting from Green-Wood Cemetery, where they nest.

By September new moonflowers were opening every evening. The balloon plant (Gomphocarpus physocarpus) made balloons.

                                  In October the fingerlimes began to ripen. 

In November the leaves of the black raspberry turned yellow. The myoga ginger stayed green until the middle of the month, then died back for its winter rest.

And December gave us an early gift of snow.

May your 2021 be happier than the year behind. Plants help. 



In closing

From the winter terrace, where the daily parade of small things is our entertainment.

Some of us have had a better year than others. Many have been stretched thin, or crushed by events and personal loss. If I remember one positive quality from 2020 it will be the generosity of others - kind words, cards, messages and money: Through donations here we have been able to help two families far away, suffering from the effects of COVID - loss of work, and the loss of a mother - without the means to tide them over in hard times. 

Thank you.

Wishing for you that 2021's peanut-filled pine cones are within reach. Even if you are not quite sure how to get back to where you began. 


Find me daily on Instagram @66squarefeet

Sunday, December 20, 2020


South African rusks are in my blood. In the houses of my childhood and teenagehood rusks lived in big metal cake tins that gradually collected dry layers of loose crumbs. Rusks were served in little baskets when tea was made. 11am and 4pm. And you dunked. If you went on a long road trip and stopped beside the road for a break, you had rusks and instant coffee. 

When the Frenchman and I have gone camping rusks were breakfast, easily packed into the breakfast box with the Bialetti, the ground coffee, the sugar jar, and the enamel cups. My Canadian-born, French-blooded husband took to rusks the way he took to South African boerewors. He fell in love, hard. 

They are hard, yet brittle, dry through and through. They travel well. They are sweet. They suck up hot liquid and turn just soft enough to bite. If you dip too long they calve into the cup like a global warming glacier and send a tsunami of brown liquid across your pajamas (you can study rusk splatter the way experts study blood spatter to piece together prior events). 

There are many styles of rusk, from delicate mosbolletjie flavored with caraway, to knobbly bran-and-raisin, to the classic buttermilk, cut into neat rectangles. The ones I grew up with had loads of butter and warm milk, and cream of tartar. 

In Brooklyn, that warm, sweet smell of drying rusks, baked for the first time late in this year of pandemic, whooshes me back to my mother's Bloemfontein and Cape Town kitchens, where she mixed enormous batches in a huge cast iron Dutch oven covered in chipped, pale yellow enamel. On Sundays it held a roast leg of lamb. I would beg for a still-soft rusk hot from the oven, split it, and cover it in butter and Marmite. Then, they are like American biscuits (or English scones). After, they are split and dried slowly. If kept dry, they last approximately forever.

I made rusks recently for the Frenchman, to whom rusks mean an unspooling road to the horizon, a car's nose pointed towards adventure, and freedom from desks and meetings and deadlines and targets. Because he has found that a low-carb diet works for him, I also worked out the carb count for each half-rusk. Because you eat rusks in halves. Now, if he wakes and worries in the night, he says he thinks of his morning cup of coffee, and the first dunk. It is his Om.

I based the rusks on my mom's recipe, and added yellow sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis) whose honey-like, fresh-mown hay scent is wonderful in baking. Collect its flowers in summer and dry them for use through the year. But the rusks are authentic without it. Go next door for the rusk recipe, residing at 66 Square Feet (the Food).