The trends for festooning every surface of your home with cacti, transforming your home into a veritable jungle with plants not seen since the 70’s and growing your own food are showing no signs of abating. When living conditions are small and life is increasingly stressful, you’ll want to escape outside. That scrappy little postage stamp outside your kitchen window could you give you all the benefits of living with green. But how do you transform your outdoor space if green fingers are eluding you? When no self-respecting home is without a succulent, you need to know how not to kill these things. So it is with a grateful [desperate?!] welcome that we introduce Hollie Newton and her new book, How To Grow: A guide for gardeners who can’t garden yet.
Hollie’s love affair with gardening was cultivated from her small urban garden whilst working an 80 hour week (so that’s all your “my garden’s too small” and “I don’t have the time” excuses torn apart then). The therapeutic benefits were immediate, even if her initial forays into gardening weren’t so successful. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with completely fudging it up”, she writes. “The time I accidently used neat tomato feed and fried my baby tomatoes. The time I got drunk, fell over, and broke to beetroot. The time that the horseradish overpowered me and tried to take control of everything I hold dear.” Hollie celebrated her triumphs and, with them, came huge rewards, “We transformed [our garden] all by ourselves, from post-apocalyptic wasteland, to a joyful, colourful, plant-filled sanctuary all our own.”
Now, in her first book, she’s stripping gardening back to basics. This is the gardening book reimagined for a new generation. A book for people who want to learn how to grow things, but haven’t got a clue where to start. With sections entitled ‘How to Paint a Bitchin’ Birdhouse’, the fact that she’s furnished her own garden with a ‘pub shed’ (and suggests you do the same) and top tips on what you actually need to get started (to avoid impending bankruptcy as you amble, heavily burdened, towards the cash till on your maiden voyage to the local garden centre), Hollie not only tells it like it is, but she does it in a way that makes you actually believe you can become the next Alan Titchmarsh.
If that wasn’t enough, once you have produced the, literal, fruits from your labour, Hollie shows you how to take your harvest from the garden to the table with delicious recipes so you can enjoy nature’s bounty. And we have two of those recipes to share with you. So go on, it’s nearly spring, there’s no better time to pop your gardening cherry and get out there.
NEW YORK POTATO LATKES (as shown in the feature image)
If you’re making potato latkes for breakfast, you’re going to have a bloody brilliant day. There is no bigger breakfast treat. This is also the messiest recipe I’ve ever had the pleasure to get all over myself and the kitchen of a morning. It relies on activating your potatoes’ starch, and good lord do they get sticky. Brace yourselves. I first discovered the joy of potato latkes sitting at a counter in a proper New York deli. They made them right there in front of me, on the hot plate. It was love. Or ‘lwuv’ if you want to pronounce it in true New York accent.
Here’s what you’ll need:
1kg potatoes, peeled
1 big onion
25g fine matzoh meal or plain flour
1 large free-range egg, beaten
A big sprinkle of sea salt
A few big cracks of black pepper
Olive or vegetable oil, for frying
To serve (optional):
Good-quality smoked salmon
Homemade horseradish sauce
First of all, it’s grating time. Find yourself a large mixing bowl, a sturdy grater and an almost inhuman reserve of energy. Grate all the potatoes and onion on the largest grater setting and mix together in the bowl (I use my hands).
Turn out the grated potato and onion onto a large clean tea towel. Roll it up and squeeze with all your strength to remove as much moisture as you can. The drier the mixture, the better the latkes will turn out.
Drop everything back into the bowl and add the matzoh meal, egg, salt and pepper. Mix well with your hands. If it’s getting stuck all over you, it’s going well.
In a deep frying pan, heat the oil until moderately hot. Place heaped tablespoons of the mixture into the pan a little distance apart, pushing down on each one with the back of a wooden spoon to flatten them out. Turn down the heat to medium and cook for about 5 minutes on each side, flipping when the edges turn from golden to dark brown. If they brown too quickly, knock the heat back or take the pan off the heat for a minute.
Remove the latkes from the pan and set on kitchen paper to drain. Continue cooking until you’ve used up all the mixture, then serve while they’re still piping hot.
Serve with a dollop each of soured cream and apple sauce, or – my personal favourite – a helping of really good-quality smoked salmon, homemade horseradish sauce and a sprinkle of fresh chives.
FRESH STRAWBERRY DAIQUIRIS
Careful. In my worryingly vast experience, one of these leads to another. And another. And another. Followed by bad behaviour, misjudged actions and strawberry remorse. This recipe uses strawberry liqueur to really boost the strawberryness. If you can’t find any, the recipe works fine without. This is the stuff British summer time is built on.
Here’s what you’ll need:
16 fresh strawberries, plus 2 cut in half to garnish
8 tsp white sugar
140ml white rum
2 tbsp strawberry liqueur
100ml fresh lime juice (about 4 limes’ worth)
A couple of handfuls of crushed ice
This couldn’t be easier. In a large cold cocktail shaker (I often store one in the freezer in the hours leading up to a party) slice in your strawberries, mush them up with a fork/teaspoon, add all the other ingredients, mush it all up some more, add the crushed ice, then pop the lid on.
Shake it like a Polaroid picture.
Strain into two trendy Martini glasses, jam jars, tumblers – shoes, for all I care – and serve with an insouciant smile and strawberry halves perched on the rim.
All images: How To Grow: A guide for gardeners who can’t garden yet by Hollie Newton is published by Orion Spring in hardback, http://bit.ly/zHTGbook