From a Tiny Terrace, a Book of Very Big Ideas

When people call Gotham an urban jungle, they seldom mean anything about flora or fauna. But if you don’t think of this city as a living ecosystem, Marie Viljoen will change your perspective forever.

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A South African–born garden designer whose foraging stories have appeared in our pages, her new book, 66 Square Feet: A Delicious Life (Abrams, $29.95), is an ode to living close to the Earth, mere steps from Atlantic Avenue.

Named for the dimensions of Viljoen’s terrace, the book is also a collection of recipes, but it feels wrong to call it a cookbook. This is creative nonfiction, cut from the same cloth as great nature writing, simply set not in some distant canyon but rather in what we often forget is our habitat.

Viljoen is here to remind us. She hunts enoki in Prospect Park and forages spiceberries in the Bronx while her nature-photographer husband, a Frenchman via Vancouver, turns over rocks in search of salamanders. She picks wild sumac to infuse vodka and hears the skree of a kestrel hunting pigeons. Simmering quince in her kitchen, she notes the cry of migrating geese and observes the movement of the moon. In search of bayberry and autumn olive, she rides the A to Jamaica Bay, watches an egret fish among the lily pads under the thunder of JFK jets, then heads home to grill lamb and sip riesling while watching the sun set over New Jersey, just a little further south than it did the night before.

And she will make you vow to do all these things, too.

Want a taste of Viljoen’s foraged goods? Check out her recipe for Sumac in Vodka

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Gabrielle Langholtz is the former editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan.