How would you define a friend?
Here’s what the dictionary says:
- A person whom one knows, likes, and trusts.
- A person whom one knows; an acquaintance.
- A person with whom one is allied in a struggle or cause; a comrade.
For most of human civilisation on this planet, such friends were (with rare exceptions) people that you lived near or had other opportunity to meet in person; usually somebody that you saw regularly. But these days it is quite possible for a friend to correspond to each of the definitions above and yet be somebody that you have never met in person.
Sure, when I was at school, we had pen pals, but this was often a teenage phase and few of these friendships survived into adulthood. But today with blogs and social media, people are getting and keeping in touch with like minded souls around the world without having to leave the comfort of their computer desk. Sitting in London, I can name the children and pets of people living on other continents; I can track their travels and chart their personal highs and lows on social media. I feel as close to these people as anybody I have met in the flesh.
One such person is the lovely Marie Viljoen who I “met” online years ago via her inspiring blog 66 Square Feet. I immediately clicked with Marie – firstly because she is South African like me; secondly because she is an expat like me; and thirdly because she is a lover of food and plants. When I was a little girl, my favourite party trick was to walk around the garden reciting all the names of the plants that my mom had taught me (to this day I swear I am the only one in my peer group who can correctly identify and name a Tetrapanax Papyrifer!) – so when I saw Marie’s posts full of gorgeous photos of indigenous fynbos flowers in and around Cape Town all labelled with their correct names, I was smitten!
Marie describes herself as having been born in Bloemfontein, come of age in Cape Town, and grown up in New York. She and her French husband and their Dominican cat Estorbo live, cook, photograph, picnic, garden and forage in New York City and her blog name 66 Square Feet comes from the footprint of their tiny apartment terrace in Brooklyn. Over the years I have followed Marie’s and her husband Vincent‘s New York adventures in photography, dealing with immigration officials, black cat ownership, New York City terrace gardening, and of course, food. I shared her celebrations and mourned her failures and losses. We have read each other’s blogs, talked over e-mail and I sometimes struggle to remember whether I have met her or not – it feels as if surely I must have!
When I discovered earlier this year that Marie was bringing out a book I knew that it would be good – with her great eye for images, her beautiful writing style and sharp wit it could never fail. But even these high expectations did not prepare me for the book that arrived in my postbox a few weeks ago. 66 Square Feet – A Delicious Life would, I suppose, be classified as a recipe book but it is so much more. It is also visually gorgeous and a 12-month lovesong to living in New York City.
The book is divided into 12 chapters (one for each month) and charts a year of eating, drinking and living in New York City. Each chapter opens with a glorious double page photo of New York City and an evocative piece on what it is like to live in the city in that particular month; followed by a description of what the terrace is like at that time together with a couple of recipes inspired by the markets or the terrace. Following that, each month’s chapter contains five seasonal recipes that you can cook separately or put together as a relaxed dinner party menu. The photos (by Marie and Vincent) are stunning, and recipes achievable and satisfying – no foams, spherification or fancy plating here! Terrace-sourced recipes like squash and Bibb lettuce salad; or gazpacho soup rub shoulders with classics Terence Hill’s beans, baby back ribs, and Concord grape granita. I found myself reading the book chapter by chapter, rationing myself to one a day to stretch the pleasure out. It’s that kind of book. Even for those with only a passing interest in cooking, it provides a wonderfully intimate peek into life in one of the world’s most iconic cities and is a beautiful book to treasure.
66 Square Feet is now available from bookstores in the US, the UK (Waterstones and Foyles both stock it) and South Africa (The Book Lounge and Exclusive Books) or online from Amazon, The Book Depository (who offer free worldwide delivery) or Kalahari. If you have a foodie in your life, I can’t think of a better Christmas present. Marie kindly agreed that I could reproduce a recipe from the book here and I chose to keep it seasonal and make a recipe from her December chapter (the only change I made was to add some cloves). It’s simple and satisfying – my mom made a similar recipe for years and I loved its Christmassy flavours It’s easy to make in advance and then re-heat, and if you have gluten-free guests, it makes the perfect dessert.
DISCLOSURE: I received a free copy of this book for review purposes. I received no remuneration to write this post and all opinions are my own.
Other fabulous pear recipes from bloggers include:
- Sylvie’s vanilla roasted pears with bourbon cream & glazed pecans
- Michelle’s pear pizza with Stilton & walnuts
- Barbara’s upside down pear crunch coffee cake
- 12 small pears peeled
- 2 cups red wine
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 10 black peppercorns
- 6 bay leaves
- 6 whole cloves
- Preheat the oven to 180C (350F).
- Halve and core the pears (I used a melon baller to core them, which makes pretty, round hollows) and arrange in a heavy pan or roasting dish, cut side up.
- Mix the wine, sugar and spices so that the sugar melts a little and pour over the pears.
- Place in the oven uncovered for two hours, spooning the wine over the pears about every 30 minutes.
- Serve hot, or cool, with cardamom-infused whipped cream.
- Can be made in advance and kept in the fridge in a sealed container for up to two days.