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). 


Friday, December 11, 2020

Fefe's Fund

This is the Eastern Cape, in South Africa. I took this picture when the Frenchman and I drove through that beautiful region years ago. 

If you follow me on Instagram you may know this, already, but the brief explanation is for anyone who does not. Last week Fefe passed away suddenly after what seemed like a brief illness. The details are still unclear. 

Fefe was Nolufefe (which means Grace in isiXhosa) Tatoba, and she worked with Tipsi, my mom's housekeeper and companion, in my mother's Cape Town home. She was a kind woman, and pretty, and young. Her death is a shock. Then last weekend Tipsi fell very ill, and tested positive for COVID. She is in bed, not out of the woods, but receiving care and stable. My mom has tested negative. 

I am raising funds to help towards funeral costs for Fefe's laying-to-rest near her mother's ancestral home in the Eastern Cape. Her mom, Lillian Tatoba, looks after Fefe's three children. 

Once donations have been received I will send them via Xoom, a PayPal subsidiary, directly into Ms. Tatoba's bank account, to disperse as she sees fit. (When you access the Donate button below you will see Wild Edibles - that's me.)

Thank you so much to those of you who have already expressed an interest in donating. You are making a difference.

Update: Donations are Closed - Thank you for your Generosity!