I love this garden thug.

I first learned of sedum sarmentosum last year. It crept into my garden from my neighbor’s yard. It didn’t seem like a weed, so I looked it up and learned it’s a perennial flowering succulent that is used as a ground cover. It reaches six inches in height and tiny yellow flowers emerge in July, changing the color to a lime hue. It’s drought tolerant, can handle full sun, and will grow just about anywhere, from a crack in the sidewalk to a a bit of sand. Because it spreads quickly, it was often used in cemeteries on the freshly overturned earth after a burial, which is why it is sometimes called graveyard moss! Other names include stringy stonecrop and gold moss stonecrop.

While some gardeners consider sedum sarmentosum a “garden thug” due to its encroaching tendency,  I love it and I’ll tell you why. If you’re on a budget, this is the perfect plant to cover large outdoor areas with poor soil quality.  It’s a wonderful alternative to grass. It looks nicer (to me) and requires less maintenance. It’s durable and can handle some foot traffic. It can also be trimmed. I used it around my garden path. It grew over the slate but I gave it a haircut with scissors. After the makeover it looked defined and sophisticated. It works well in hanging baskets too, cascading down and creating an organic feel to your arrangement.

I go out on guerrilla gardening missions from time to time and I’ve used sedum sarmentosum for brightening up unkempt tree pits or a median that’s filled with sand and broken glass as it grows anywhere.

sedum sarmentosum in the forground

Have I sold you on it yet? If not here’s the clincher. Sedum sarmentosum is edible! In China and Japan it’s used medicinally as a general gastric and renal regulator. It’s also known as an herbal estrogen supplement. In Korea, the plant is called dol namul and is used in kimchi. It is also eaten fresh, dressed with a spicy, sweet, and tangy sauce. Mix chili paste, lemon juice, sugar, minced garlic, sesame oil, and toasted sesame seeds together, for your sedum salad dressing.

foraged-sedum-sarmentosum-a-spicy-Kerean-dressing

You know what comes next… I gave it a taste.  The plant itself is mildly sweet and earthy. It’s juicy. Since its flavor is light, it would go well in any greens mix. And with a strong dressing such as the one I mentioned. I made a homemade Korean spicy sauce and tried the sedum again. The greens tasted delicious,  light and fresh! It had a great punch and zest to it. I’m going to make this throughout the summer for sure.

If your interested in using this plant in your garden or trying out its culinary appeal, email me at pdigioia[at]rockawave.com. I have so much to spare!

tagged in foraging, garden

Whata Week.

The week before last was non-stop. It started on Friday night. It was my friend Rob Bryn’s Birthday and the Surf Club opened just for his party. Headlining was the Ye Mighty Wave with special guests from Rob’s main band — Wild Yaks. Speaking of, they have a new album coming out on June 21st entitled Great Admirer! I’ve heard it and it’s amazing!

rockaway surf club

Opening the show was Tiffany Lyons. Did you catch The Wave article about her a few weeks ago?  She sang a few songs and got everyone loose. The Club was decorated with West Indian flower garlands, it was the perfect night. Everyone was out and we danced and celebrated. My initial plan though, was to “take it easy”. I was hosting Easter Sunday and had a ton of cooking that weekend. One vodka club led to four, maybe five? Little hazy on that…

rockaway surf club 1

Suffice to say that on Saturday I wasn’t at my best. But I downed some coffee and powered through cook-prep. Sunday I woke up and felt a little off. I had that weird taste you get in your mouth before you get sick. I knew something was brewing but despite feeling under the weather, Easter Sunday was a great time. My penne alla vodka came out rich and creamy and my pan-seared salmon with dill cream sauce was delicious and perfectly cooked.

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Monday I spent all day in bed with a fever and a terrible cough …  yup, bronchitis. The next day I pulled myself out of bed, to the computer. I had two freelance projects that had to get out the door because on Tuesday,  I was headed to the Great Wolf Lodge in the Poconos, a family trip planned for my mom’s 70th birthday.

Sick as a dog, Matt and I drove to Pennsylvania not knowing what to expect. The first thing we saw beside about 50 kids running wild with bubble sticks, was a gigantic plastic forest with animated animals. The focal point was a large bear with a scary smile and moving eyes. Uptown Funk was playing. Bruno Mars. “KILL ME NOW.” I said under my breath, as I smiled at Matt and said. “It will be fun, don’t worry!” He shook his head, “You owe me big.”

After checking in, receiving our plastic wristbands and settling into our “wolf cabin”, we got the lay of the land. There were plastic moving creatures everywhere. There was an ice cream shop, pizza place, a candy shop, two very overpriced stores, glow in the dark mini-golf, a fake bowling alley, and a mining for gems activity thing. The game room was lasering out lights and CHING!! CHING!! sounds echoed the windowless halls all day long. It was like Atlantic City for kids. You saw these rugrats draining their parents wallets. They threw tantrums when they were denied MORE. Tickets were flying out of machines and what did the children buy with their winnings… lots of Fun Dip.

You can buy a lot of fun dip with all these tickets

The main attraction at the Great Wolf lodge is an indoor water park with five different tub slides, a plastic jungle gym with buckets that the kids fill and dump on the adults passing by, a lazy river and a wave pool. There was so much chlorine in the air, your eyes burned after an hour. We gathered the water was over-chlorinated to kill the bacteria from all the kids peeing in the pools.

The only logical conclusion for surviving the madhouse was to find the bar. So, while ill with bronchitis, I proceeded to drink for three days straight. I actually ended up having a lot of fun and it was great to spend time with my nieces and nephews but I really ran myself into the ground.

I took the following weekend to rehydrate my body and recover from the bronchitis. I can’t tell you how nice it was to be home after the week long escapade. I’m learning as I get older,  I need to take better care of myself. With Rockaway summer around the corner, can someone remind me to take it easy?

tagged in family, vacation

Bananas

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Recently, I’ve learned a few interesting facts about bananas. As I was enjoying a banana at my desk a few weeks ago, my co-worker Mark Hogan mentioned that apes and monkeys peel bananas the opposite way we do, from the bottom not the top. They pinch the softer bottom and it splits clean. The top stem then becomes a sturdy handle. These mammals are intelligent beings. Maybe humans have been doing it wrong all along? Give it a try next time and see what you think.

In my quest to learn about how monkeys eat bananas, I came across a Business Insider article that said in the wild monkeys don’t eat bananas?? The primates don’t live in areas where bananas naturally grow. Monkeys eat leaves, other fruits, nuts, flowers and insects in the wild. It is suspected that the book Curious George by H. A. Rey and Margret Rey published in 1941 created the “monkeys eat bananas” myth.  So, while our primate cousins haven’t been peeling bananas since the dawn of time, I still bet there way is more efficient. Monkeys will do what exerts the least amount of energy and effort, so it makes sense that their way of peeling a banana is easier than ours.

The second banana revelation comes from my mother-in-law Maureen Walsh. She posted on facebook, “If you separate each individual banana from the bushel, it slows the ripening process.” Like many fruits, bananas emit ethylene gas and this gas naturally is produced by the stem. Breaking the cluster slows the gas production which is the cause of ripening. So cool, right!

banana bread

Don’t’ worry though, if your too lazy or forget to break apart your bushel of bananas and they all turn brown, make banana bread. Bananas can never be too ripe for bread.

Mauren swears by this recipe and her trick for a moist bread is wrapping it in plastic wrap for three days before serving.

Banana Bread
Makes one, 9 inch bread

Ingredients:
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup mashed banana (2-3 very ripe large banana)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
2 ½ cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup yogurt
1 cup chopped walnuts

Directions: Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a medium sized bowl, beat together the eggs, sugar, and oil. Blend in the mashed bananas and vanilla. Then whisk the ingredients together and sift. It’s important that the mixture is thoroughly combined. Add the baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and flour to the banana batter. Lastly, stir in the yogurt until all is combined.

Pour the batter into a greased and floured 9×5 inch loaf pan. Bake the bread for about one hour, until a knife in the center comes out clean. If the bread begins to brown too quickly, tent it with aluminum foil after 30- 40 minutes in the oven.

Let it cool and store for three days covered tightly in plastic wrap for a very moist bread.

Recipe adapted from King Arthur’s Cookbook.

tagged in recipe

Worms and Berries!

I was out in the garden again this week. I saw so many worms! A sure sign of healthy soil. Worms help aerate the ground, relieves soil compaction and their movements create water channels. Earthworms ingest and breakdown organic matter like fallen leaves. Their castings (worm poop) are valuable fertilizer. Red Wiggler Worms are the best

for composting organics and I have many of them. I took a video of one. It looked like the worm was 9 inches long, I’m not kidding! Check it out.

I wonder though – how did the earthworms get there? When I built out the front garden three years ago, there were no wrigglers in sight. I was talking to my husband about it and said, “Maybe birds dropped them in the garden!” He thought that was ridiculous but it’s plausible, right? I tried to find the answer online but didn’t read anything clear-cut. On one blog, someone mentioned that compost often has worm eggs within. I do compost every year so perhaps that’s how they arrived. Generally what was said in the garden-verse is, if you create the right conditions for worms they will naturally appear.To make the perfect worm home add compost to your soil, keep leaf debris on the ground and make sure the soil is moist. Keep tilling to a minimum.  A PH of 7 is perfect for worms. Since I have so many, I’m thinking about bringing them over to the Beach 91st Street Community Garden where I grow my vegetables in the summer.

serviceberry-tree

In other garden news, both of my Serviceberry trees are starting to bud. Have I told you about this wonderful shrub before? It blooms showy white flowers in the spring, followed by bright red edible berries. They are similar to blueberries but a bit more tart. They are delicious raw! The fruit can be used in cakes, jams or they can be dried. The tree is native to North America and was used by the Native Americans not only for its fruit but the leaves were used for teas. Speaking of the foliage, in the fall, the tree turns bright orange and gold. All season long the Serviceberry delivers beauty. It’s low maintenance, growing well in low-nutrient soil like our sandy mix here in Rockaway. Part-sun or full sun works, but the best tasting fruits will come from trees with full exposure. Also known as a Juneberry, the tree will attract many birds, but don’t worry, at maturity you’ll have enough fruit for you and the songbirds.Last year my nieces were entertained for the afternoon harvesting all the berries from our trees. Once they finished clearing the berries in my front garden, they moved to the backyard. The Serviceberry can grow up to 10ft tall. Matt had to get on a ladder to gather the berries from the high branches, the kids insisted!  Harvesting the fruits kept the children occupied for hours and saved us a lot of harvest time.I want to grow more edibles in the garden, imagine not having to by produce all summer – garden goals!

tagged in garden, gardening