Friday, December 13, 2013

Recipes for a Delicious Life

 The English food writer Elizabeth David wrote about giving herself a day off during the hectic holiday season:

"On at least one day...I stay in bed, making myself lunch on a tray: smoked salmon, home-made bread, butter, lovely cold white Alsace wine. A glorious way to celebrate Christmas."

I would add one more element to this delightful scene: a good book. And I have found it, a book that has swept me away from the holiday madness. Roaming through my neighborhood bookstore the other day looking for holiday gifts, I stumbled upon Marie Viljoen's new book 66 Square Feet, A Delicious Life. One Woman, One Terrace, 92 Recipes. I was thrilled to discover that the writer of the blog 66 Square Feet has now written a book. It is about one woman's formula for the good life. By meeting the challenge of making a lot out of a little, she discovered the secret for living a delightful life. As she writes, she discovered "how to live large, with little."

She tells the story of growing up in South Africa with a mother who taught her how to garden and cook. From early on, these were her two passions and sometimes solutions for the tough times. She moved to New York, with dreams of being an opera singer which she pursued for a while. But eventually she became a rooftop garden designer in New York City and amidst all the concrete and skyscrapers was able to live a garden-focused life. This turned out to be a very good thing, since gardens feed her soul.

She moved into a tiny Brooklyn apartment with a terrace measuring 66 square feet. And it was there that she discovered true happiness. It became her refuge from the noisy, busy world of the city as well as a source of inspiration for her daily life. She gardened, growing vegetables and fruit on her tiny terrace; she cooked in her small apartment for her husband and friends. Always a challenge in such a small space, she rose to the occasion and thrived. Her lucky family and friends were the recipients of her largesse. And she decided to blog about it. As it turned out, this was another very good decision. Connecting to a larger world and sharing her photos (which are beautiful!) and thoughts about her life brought her great contentment. After starting her blog, she realized she hadn't been this happy in years. As Anais Nin wrote  "we write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospect." Viljoen shares this philosophy.

Her book (and blog) is about life in that small New York apartment and its 66 square foot terrace. Her formula for contentment boils down to two things: "A garden and a kitchen -- regardless of scale -- are my necessities." A woman with a lifelong passion for plants, she takes us through a year of living in New York and shows us this great city's botanical side. She writes about the treasures she finds in public parks and in her own garden. She brings them into her kitchen and whips up some marvelous dishes. Her recipes are seasonal and her simple and happy approach to cooking and living is inspirational.

The book is organized by the calendar -- one year of cooking and gardening -- which makes it is easy to open and dip into whatever season we are in. The other day I turned to December and came across a lovely passage about winter in New York as well as a menu for a mid-winter supper that sounded perfect for this time of year:  Creamy Garlic Soup, Sunchoke Salad, Mushroom Pizza, and Pears Roasted in Red Wine with Bay Leaves. Mmmm...her cozy vibe is contagious. I could picture myself making some of those dishes on a cold winter day.

If you don't own this book, my advice is to go out right now and get yourself a copy. The simplicity and beauty of Marie Viljoen's approach to life will inspire you during the hectic holiday season. You will slow down and recalibrate. Reading it will make you want to pause and savor life. My recipe for a delicious day? Make yourself lunch or dinner on a tray in the style of Elizabeth David (yes, pour that glass of cold, white Alsace wine), put your feet up, and get into bed or on the couch with a copy of 66 Square Feet. This is guaranteed to calm you down, put everything in perspective, and revive your spirits for the rest of the holiday season.

P.S. This book would make a great gift for anyone who loves to cook and garden! 


  1. Sunday, you were the one who first pointed me in the direction of Marie Viljoen's lovely blog and I have been enjoying thoroughly. The book is on my Christmas list and since my son and I are heading to our favorite bookstore this afternoon, perhaps it will show up under our tree.

  2. I have visited Marie's blog and find her inspirational. I am going to go in search of her book. I may be gifting myself this holiday. Have a wonderful weekend. Hugs, Bonnie

  3. This sounds like a book made for me, Sunday. You've enticed me to look for it and place it on my wish list.

  4. Sounds wonderful…….love the Opera singer connection and the garden…………..will look for it!

  5. Love that Elizabeth David quote. Not sure I could stay in bed all day but the food sounds delicious and like you I'd have a book, too.

  6. I took today off from the bustle and would have loved to have 66 Square Feet to curl up with. One of my goals for the new year is to eat more healthily and seasonally, but I didn't think I could grow my own food as my yard is tiny. However, it sounds like it is possible! I will have to ask Santa for this book for Christmas to inspire me for the coming year.

  7. Thank you--this is going on my wish list right away!

  8. Thank you so very much for your kind post about my book, Sunday! x

  9. Marie, you are so welcome! Congratulations on a beautiful and inspiring book. Happy Holidays!