Monday, November 8, 2010

Rainy Day Lemon Curd

It was the first rain of the season, and we were not yet in all-weather mode.

Our Homesteading Circle was meeting for foraging, but we were more in a sleepy, warm, let's-stay-inside mode. It was a perfect day for making lemon curd. Luckily, we had already foraged Meyer Lemons, when it was still sunny and warm. 

A few weeks before, Wendy and I had been in pursuit of avocados, checking on several trees on the foraging map.  The avocados weren't ripe, but as we drove back, we passed a tall apple tree with bright red apples hanging over the fence.  We both saw it at the same time, looked at each other, and she put on the brakes. The apples looked like they were at the perfect stage of ripeness, and from the amount already on the ground, it didn't appear that the homeowner wanted them. 

Wendy knocked on the front door, with her baby on her back - the presence of the baby always seems to inspire goodwill. They were more than happy for us to harvest the apples for them, and invited us into the backyard with our fruit picker.  They mentioned, offhand, that there was a lemon tree back there as well, and we could help ourselves to it. 

When we saw the lemon tree, I felt like we hit the jackpot – they were Meyers!  They were in a range of sizes, from the size of a fist to the size of melons.  We picked a full bag of the Meyer lemons, and several bags of lovely red apples.

Lemon Curd

This recipe is especially fragrant if you use Meyer Lemons, but will work with any lemons.  It takes an indecent amount of butter and eggs (yolks only), and requires a double boiler, but don't be deterred. It's amazing - so worth it. The result is bright yellow, a decadent ray of sunlight on a rainy day.  It will make 2 pints.

10 egg yolks
2 cups sugar
8 lemons, zested
2/3 c. lemon juice
2 sticks butter, cut into pats and placed in freezer until ready.

Add about 1 inch of water to a medium saucepan, and bring to a simmer. Whisk egg yolks and sugar until smooth (about 1 minute) in a medium size metal bowl that will fit over the saucepan.  Add juice and the zest to egg mixture and whisk smooth. Once water reaches a simmer, reduce heat to low and place bowl on top of saucepan. (Bowl should be large enough to fit on top of pan without touching the water.) Whisk until thickened, approximately 8 minutes, or until mixture is light yellow and coats the back of a spoon. Remove promptly from heat and stir in butter a piece at a time, allowing each addition to melt before adding the next (we cheated a bit on this instruction, and it turned out just fine). Remove to a clean container and cover by laying a layer of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

Recipe adapted from Alton Brown

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Pine Nut Insanity

Joanna foraging for pine nuts.
“Now I understand why they're so expensive!” said Joanna, after painstakingly cracking the outer shell of a roasted pine nut, only to find it yet again empty.

We had peeled approximately 50 pine nuts, and how many did we have to show for it? Seven. I yelped in shock when I found my first nut, sweet creamy white after piles of empty or rotten ones.  How did we get to this stage?  Rewind 5 days. 

The Harvest

According to herbalist and ethnobotanist Tellur Fennur of Blue Wind Botanical Medicine Clinic, who I consulted on pine nut collection and processing, the three pines most commonly harvested for pine nuts in our area are the Gray or Ghost Pine (Pinus sabiniana), the Coulter Pine (Pinus coulteri) and the Sugar pine (Pinus lambertiana). They are not common in urban areas, however, and are mostly found towards the east, especially near Mount Diablo.  The most common pine in our area is the Monterey Pine, (P. radiata).  We noticed that it was producing pine nuts, so even though it's not noted as a species commonly harvested for its nuts, we decided to try it.  That was probably our first mistake.

 Joanna, Rebecca and I headed off with a borrowed fruit picker and directions to a parking lot edged with Monterey pines.  We were told to look for pine cones that had just started to open; if they were too open, the squirrels and insects would be there ahead of us and the nuts would be gone.  Another common way to harvest them is when they're fully developed but still green and unopened, so we picked a few cones at that stage, too.

That was easier said than done. From the ground, it was hard to tell the exact stage of the pine cone nestled among all those needles.  The fruit picker was not exactly made for these cones either.  In the end, we figured out that the other end of the fruit picker – the blunt bamboo pole – was more suited for pine nut collection. The cones just needed to be knocked out of the branches, not grabbed.

We were collecting while standing on the sidewalk next to the lot, since all fruit or nuts overhanging sidewalks and public thoroughfares is legal to collect in Berkeley and Oakland. People passed us in business clothing, just finishing their evening commute. Most looked at us like we were insane, although some were curious and encouraging.  We collected about two five-gallon buckets worth of pine cones, and headed back to the house.

Rebecca, Wendy and Joanna concentrating on cracking the cones open.
Seated around a sunlit kitchen table, we donned garden gloves and started prying apart the cones.  It was no joke.  These were big suckers, with sharp, pointy edges.  The pine nuts are wedged between the hard brown talons of the pine cones.  We'd made a tidy pile by the time we called it a day. 

Five days later

We now had a small bowl full of pine nuts encased in a hard outer casing.  Wendy tried to use her metal nut cracker on them and broke it. We decided to try roasting them.

If you try this, use medium-low heat and watch it carefully (although I'm not recommending trying any of this because it was utterly ridiculous).  I mention the heat because Wendy had previously tried roasting a pan full, then gotten distracted until she started hearing explosions and being pelted by tiny pieces of pine nut shrapnel.  This time, we carefully shook the cast iron pan, roasting them evenly until cracks formed in the shells.

After removing the nuts from the heat, we went at them, forcing small paring knives into the cracks to pry the nut apart.  It worked well, and a mountain of empty shells started to form.  The problem was that very few of them contained actual nuts.

I'm still not sure if we were too early, too late, or if it was just an off year for the trees. Probably most of the cones we picked were past their peak, and although the outer shell looked sealed, insects had already gotten to them. Or, since it was planted as an ornamental, some of the trees could have been sterile.

Betsy, surprised, as one goes flying.
 We ended up collecting seven, as I mentioned. Yes, seven.  But we weren't dejected or upset, surprisingly. On the contrary.  The entire process was so satisfying, the company so fulfilling, that the pine nuts themselves were secondary. Those seven sat on the butcher block, no one seemingly tempted to touch them – they were sacrosanct.  As we were about to leave, we gathered around the table, grasped one pine nut each, toasted each other and downed them.  It was quite seriously the best pine nut I've ever eaten.

Worth it?  You be the judge.
P.S. We tried roasting the green cones, but no luck yet.  We are hanging them in a burlap bag in the sun for a while to see if they open that way. I'll post an update when we find out!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rose Hips and Feijoa, or ornamentals with a surprise

I'm on a quest. 

I want to forage and eat at least one thing every week for a year.  I live in the flatlands – so yes, there's a lot of concrete here.  But there's also an amazing amount of fruit, wild greens, artichokes, nuts, and cacti. It's just a perspective change to have it pop out at you. 

I hear people talk about how disconnected from nature they feel living in the city, but foraging is a great way to connect with the seasons right here.  At the same time, you're eating locally, and saving money.

The Bay Area growing season is amazing – crops ripen throughout the year, so there's always something to pick.  You don't need an off-the-hook garden; the key is to shift your vision so that you see it all around you.

I've been amused recently to realize that some of the ornamental plants people use in their yards actually produce edible parts, most of which go to waste.

I can eat my rose?

Roses are a great example.  This is the time of year when the withered blooms give way to a bright red seed pod – a rose hip.  Roses are in the same family as the apple, and they look a little like tiny apples. Be sure that the roses haven't been treated with any nasty fungicides or pesticides, and they are otherwise edible. They're high in Vitamin C. 

I had big plans to make rose hip jelly, and I still will someday, but for these rose hips I decided to simply dehydrate them and use them in teas. For fresh rose hip tea, steep 4-8 hips in a cup of boiling water for about 10 - 15 minutes.   With dehydrated rose hips, you need 2-4 hips.  It makes a tangy, tart tea with a pink tinge.

The Feijoa, my new favorite fruit

Just down the block from my house, a friend clued me in to a whole hedge made of Feijoa or Pineapple Guava (Acca sellowiana), which is native to South America (Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay).  People describe the taste as a cross between a pineapple, strawberry and guava, but I think it tastes like an all- natural version of sour gummy worms!  I know that sounds disgusting, but trust me, it's amazing.  It's this complex flavor with intense sweetness and sourness mixed together, coming at you in layers.  If you can get your hands on these, do it. 

The owner planted them for their beautiful flowers and grey green leaves, and probably the fact that they grow well with almost no care here.  He doesn't want the fruit, so they're all up for grabs. 

Feijoas ripen slowly over time, so you can't just harvest the whole bush at once.  You also have to wait for them to fall off – if you pick them from the bush before they are ripe, they won't achieve the same flavor.  I have seen references to peeling feijoas, but that seems wholly unnecessary to me. The peel is thin and inoffensive, and I've been happily eating them whole.

I rode my bike past the bush this morning, and realized that I hadn't harvested it in a while. There were a bunch on the ground, but I was stopped by my lack of a collecting bag.  However, I did have an extra pair of pants with me, so I just tied a knot at the end of one leg and went to town.  Purdue's horticultural department reports that they are high in pectin, so I plan to make jelly with them eventually.  However, I'm almost certain that this round of feijoas will disappear before I have that chance.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Wild Artichokes - Weed to Dinner Table

I love foraging invasive species.

Non-native plants come with much less pressure to figure out whether you're sustainably harvesting the plants and maintaining a viable population.  For the invasives, you actively don't want to maintain a viable population. You can go bananas.

A great example of a tasty invasive species is the thistle or cardoon, Cynara cardunculus,  a wild relative of the artichoke.  This is a gorgeous, architectural plant that looks as if it's arrayed for battle in some futuristic universe – it's covered with grey-green spikes, and topped with a showy electric blue flower.

Almost every part of this plant is edible, so it needs the protection its spikes provide. I am told that the inner stems are like tender stalks of celery, but I was more focused on the unopened flower buds – which are very similar to artichokes with the addition of mean-looking thorns on the tip of each leaf.

You have to catch these early, before they've started to turn into flowers.  Cut them off at the base of the bud.  You may want to wear gloves, but honestly the thorns are easy to avoid if you just grip the stem.

You can steam them just like artichokes.  They're smaller than commercial artichokes, but there are so many of these around in marginal spaces – open fields, by the sides of roads, in empty lots – that it's easy to gather enough for a nice appetizer.  I would not recommend harvesting these artichokes from post-industrial lots or spaces which might have contaminated soil, because heavy metals can be taken up into the leaves of plants. 

My wild artichokes were harvested from an open field outside of the city, so I wasn't worried. We served them with a melted butter & garlic dipping sauce, and I was impressed. They were actually sweeter than the commercial artichokes I've had recently, and although much smaller, I was surprised by the amount of edible tender meat. 

Many thanks to Feral Kevin for teaching me about these delicious plants!  If you want to learn more about foraging, I recommend his foraging walks, which happen almost every weekend.  Here's a video he made about collecting and cooking wild artichokes.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Jam for the Arts! Canning Workshop October 20th

I'm really excited to announce a fundraiser I'll be holding soon - Jam for the Arts!  I'll be teaching a canning workshop, and all proceeds will go to support music education in Oakland Public Schools.
Canning Workshop - Jam for the Arts!
Wednesday, October 20th 7-10pm
Sliding scale $35-70, plus $10 supply fee
Location: N. Oakland, address supplied upon registration
Fundraiser - all proceeds benefit Oakland Youth Chorus

People can for environmental reasons, to eat locally, reconnect with family recipes, preserve their garden's abundance, be self-sufficient, save money, or just because it tastes better!  If you are motivated to can but aren't sure where to start, this is the class for you.

What's the difference between preserves, compotes, fruit butters, jams & jellies? Should you use a water bath or pressure canner?  How do you can safely? This hands-on workshop will answer these questions and more. You will leave with several jars of homemade preserves (apples and quince are the planned ingredients, subject to availability), a sheaf of recipes, and the skills and confidence to do it yourself next time.
Contact for more information.  As of this posting, only 5 spots were left. All proceeds benefit OYC.

Jam for the Arts is co-sponsored by Oakland Local.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Elderberries and the Ethics of Foraging

Elderberries (Sambucus nigra) were new to me.  I'd made the acquaintance of elderflowers in the form of some divine mixed drinks, but I had no idea what to expect of the berry.  It turns out they're like mini blueberries, with potent medicinal uses and off-the-charts antioxidants.  A delicious superfood that grows locally?  When I got a tip that the last elderberries of the season could be found in a foraging-friendly spot, I rounded up my posse.

My source seemed reliable, but still I was worried.  What if we'd driven all that way to find shriveled up berries, or bushes stripped clean?  I didn't want to disappoint my Homesteading Circle.

In search of Blue Elderberries (Sambucus nigra ssp cerulea) we followed a creekside trail, coming across cones full of pine nuts and bright red rose hips (expect future postings on these gems).  We only found a few elderberry bushes long past their prime.  I was starting to feel a little sad, in spite of the sunny day and the bag full of other gleanings.

Suddenly, we hit the motherlode.  We came across a huge bush, twice my height, heavy with plump ripe berries.  There were so many that we filled four bags full and still left plenty for the birds. 

The Ethics of Foraging, or How Not to be a Jerk

Before I go any farther, I want to mention a few points –  basic courtesies really – to help ensure that you're not harming plants, local ecosystems, or yourself.

  • Know where to go. Foraging is illegal in most protected natural areas, and harvesting elderberries in East Bay Regional Parks will get you a $500 ticket.  Don't do it.
  • Respect endangered plants. Many popular medicinals have fragile populations that need conservation, not harvesting.
  • Harvest lightly. Know how to gather from a plant in a way that doesn't damage its ability to reproduce for the next year.  An example would be leaving the base of certain mushrooms in the soil to regenerate for next year.
  • Be mindful of the surroundings.  Instead of trampling surrounding plants or creating erosion in a mad rush to collect, leave the ecosystem intact.
  • Save some for others.  It's bad form to strip an area clean.  Other animals and humans may rely on this plant as well.  Good foraging stewards leave some bounty behind.
  • Don't poison yourself! Never harvest a plant unless you are 100% sure of its identification, proper processing and uses.  Berries especially can be tricky.

For instance, the leaves, stems and unripe berries of the elderberry plant are poisonous - all except the ripe berries and flowers. It sounds dire, I know, but it just means you need to be meticulous in removing all those little stems before you get to the good part. The processing did take forever, even with advice I'd been given to freeze the elderberries which supposedly makes it easier for them to be separated from their stem.  I don't think I froze them long enough, and hours later I was still picking off tiny bits of leaf and stem.

Syrup, liqueur, jelly

 I had such an amazing quantity of these beautiful berries that I was able to make three different recipes with them: a honeyed syrup, a vodka-lemon peel liqueur, and 3 small jars of jelly.  The “syrup,” made with honey from our bees, was incredibly delicious and more like a soda. Due to the elderberry's medically proven anti-viral properties, I had planned to save the syrup for flu season, but we finished it within a few days. It was irresistible.  I'm hoping the liqueur will turn out as well.

Simple Elderberry Liqueur
1 pint fresh elderberries
1 quart vodka
Several curlicues of lemon rind
1/3 c. sugar

Place the elderberries into a quart jar, add lemon rind and sugar, and fill to the top with vodka.  The berries don't need to be crushed.  Shake the jar to distribute the sugar, then leave it in a darkened space for at least a month.  The longer you leave it, the darker it gets.  Shake it whenever you think about it; once a week is great.  The result is perfect for both winter flu season and cocktail parties – how often can you say that?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Apple Butter & the Economics of Canning

Friends are pressing apples for cider this weekend, and I was served a slice of birthday apple pie last night, so apples must be in season. No one in my Homesteading Circle has an apple tree, but several of us have very particular taste memories of apple butter, and we wanted to try making some.  We decided to turn to the Bay Area Homestead Hookup to help us make it happen.

Are you part of the Bay Area Homestead Hookup* yet?  It's a listserv put together to link people who share interests in homesteading locally. A friend put out a request on the email list for extra fruit, and got back an offer of ripe apples on a tree in South Berkeley. 

I have been trying hard to forage my fruit – from trees in the yards of neighbors or trees planted in medians and abandoned lots.  Why?  Partially because it kills me to see good fruit go to waste.  But I also forage because of the economics of homesteading.

The Break-Down

Canning is hot these days, right?  Putting up preserves is as popular as it's been since the Great Depression.  Although the trend is undoubtedly inspired in part by our current recession, it's not necessarily a good way to save money – unless you're smart about it.  Tally it up: If you buy six 8-oz canning jars (about $1/jar) and eight lbs organic fruit to fill them at the Berkeley Farmer's Market  ($3/lb), that's $30 total so far, not counting pectin, sugar or spices, and of course not counting your labor.  So it's at least $5/jar.  That's a steal if you compare it to artisanal jams like Blue Chair at $12 for a 6 oz jar, but at the supermarket you can get pretty good jam for $3.50. 

I don't think canning, or homesteading in general, has to be merely the domain of hipsters with a bad case of rural nostalgia. I think having the skills to preserve your harvest is an important part of food security, and can actually save you money, if you do it right. I don't want canning to be just a cute, expensive hobby. 

So I started to forage.  Farmers will sometimes give you crazy deals at the end of Farmer's Markets, or you can also go to Pick-Your-Own farms. But foraging is clearly best.  Plus the thrill of adventure you get on a good foraging run is priceless – and by that I mean meeting your neighbors, using wasted resources, and being in marginal spaces. No need to break the law for this, folks. 

Back to the Apple Butter, please

Of course, there are lots of other reasons to can.  I take pleasure in knowing the particular tree which made the apples that cooked down into that delicious applesauce I'm eating tonight.  I love the whole house suddenly smelling like fall as the cinnamon & fresh nutmeg cook down with the apples into thick, spreadable fruit butter. I love the social relationships that deepen as the bowls of skins and cores rise higher, little by little. I appreciate being able to give that moment of the season, preserved in glass, as gifts to people I love. 

Here's the recipe.  A warning: apple butter cooks for an incredibly long time – like five hours, no way to get around it.  So start early if you don't want to be up all night (or just go to bed and finish it in the morning, which is what I did).

Traditional Apple Butter
adapted from Ball's Complete Book of Home Preserving
6 lbs apples
3 c. water
3 c sugar
2+ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground nutmeg

Quarter the apples (no need to peel or core if you have a food mill because you'll essentially strain them out later.  If no food mill in sight, commit to the peeling & coring). Place the apples and water into a stainless steel saucepan, and bring to a boil.  It's important that the pan has a thick bottom because you don't want the fruit to burn on the bottom during it's long simmer time. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring occasionally, until apples are soft, about 30 minutes. 

Transfer to the food mill in batches, moving the hand crank around and around until you've sifted out all the peels and seeds (I love food mills.  So pleasingly low-tech). Or if you've cored and peeled the apples and are using a food processor, puree lightly just until a uniform texture is achieved (don't blast it out of existence). Wash the original saucepan before adding the resulting puree, or just use a new one (remember, sticking can be a problem, so you want a clean pot).  Stir in sugar and spices. 

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens and “holds its shape on a spoon.”  Which basically means, it doesn't slide right off, and it looks and tastes like apple butter.  Like I said, this can take forever. 

Then, the canning!  If you're new at this, it's good to watch a video online or take a class (they have relatively inexpensive ones at the Institute of Urban Homesteading).  I won't give all the exciting details here, but it's basically to boil the jars and lids, ladle the apple butter in, seal them, then boil the filled jars for another 10 minutes.  Not at all hard once you've gotten the hang of it.

*To subscribe to the Bay Area Homestead Hookup, send an email to

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

My Goat Milking Technique is Unstoppable

Good news - the expanded version of my article on Bay Area goat owners, originally published here at Oakland Local, will be in the upcoming issue of Edible East Bay!  Look out for it in November.  I loved writing this article because quirky urbanites and goats seem to go together..

Here's a preview of the recipe I include in the article:

Molly's Chevre
5 quarts goat milk
1/4 c. fresh cultured buttermilk
1/3 c. cold water
3 drops liquid rennet

Optional flavorings:
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp Italian Seasoning

Heat the goat's milk to 90 degrees. (Yes, you do need a thermometer for this.  Winging it just won't work).  Add the buttermilk, stir, and let the pot sit for 15 minutes off the heat.

In a separate bowl, combine the cold water and rennet.  Add three tablespoons of the water-rennet mixture to the goat's milk (and save the rest in your refrigerator for next time).  Stir for three minutes, cover, and let it sit for twelve hours at room temperature. 

Cut the curds into 1/2 inch cubes.  (If you've never cut curds before, check out the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company, which has tutorials in their recipes.)  Let the curds sit for an additional twelve hours at room temperature.

Drain through a cheesecloth, hanging until 1/3 of curds remain.  Mix in seasonings to taste - or experiment with your own!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Foraging Report : End-of-Summer Peaches

I've recently joined a Homesteading Circle, and I'm still on a high about it.

For our first meeting we picked a plum tree clean, ending up with huge bowls and buckets full of plums that we converted into plum chutney.  Projects like canning large quantities of fruit can be tedious alone (pitting all those plums!) but are perfect to do in groups.  It's what our grandmothers did, right?  Hours later, the kitchen smelled like cloves and condensation ran down the kitchen windows, and we had jewel-like jars of deep-purple goodness.

But I actually want to tell you about the peaches.

A friend from my Homestead Circle tipped me off to a peach tree in a vacant lot near Ashby BART that she hadn't been able to harvest before she left town.  I was excited enough that, despite the blast-furnace heat, we decided to head over with our improvised fruit picker - a long wooden pole with a basket at the end, with a claw made from twisted-wire to grab the fruit above it.  (It works ok. But a real fruit picker is definitely on my Christmas list.)

It was the end of the season for this tree, and at first we thought we had come too late.  We gathered about 20 in the end, and their smell kept wafting up at me all the way home. Foraged fruit is likely to be less perfect than what you'll find in the supermarket, but if you're willing to overlook a few blemishes, you'll be richly rewarded.  We ended up with more than enough for a pie.

After we cut off the bruises, we had a disagreement about whether you can leave the skins on for a pie.  I was shocked to hear it was a possibility - I remember my mother skinning peaches growing up, and I'd never thought to do it differently.  My partner convinced me that peach skins will basically melt during their time in the oven and it would be silly to spend the time peeling them, especially when there are more nutrients in the peel anyway.  Still skeptical, I decided to go along with it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Monster Project

Just around the block from my house, a monster appeared yesterday.

As a "commentary on our collective strengths and fears," Brooklyn artist Kylin O'Brien has been painting large-scale monsters as public art for several years.  The artist asks children to show him what they're most scared of, and then translates their pictures into murals.  I'm thrilled that The Monster Project hit up my neighborhood!

The mural, on the wall of a custom autobody shop on Genoa St between 59th & 60th, is slated to be temporary.  I know that the Community Rejuvenation Project is planning a different mural at the same location later this year, which will focus on classic cars at the request of the shop's owner.  But I have to admit, I'm going to be sad to see the monster go.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Capers from Nasturtiums?!?

I love all things pickled or salty - and capers are an absolute favorite.  I would use them all the time if they weren't quite so pricey.  When I heard that you could make a nearly identical substitute from nasturtiums, of all things, I knew I had to try it.

I wasn't familiar with nasturtiums before I moved to California, but here, they grow like weeds.  They're great groundcover and produce showy orange or red blossoms that nestle perfectly on top of a salad.  They add a nice spicy flavor kick, too.

But what part of the nasturtium could you pickle?  I hadn't observed them closely enough to notice that once those beautiful orange petals dry up, they leave a light green seedpod, roughly the size of a normal caper (real capers are produced from flower buds of Capparis spinosa, not seedpods).  Nasturtiums only start producing these seeds in the late summer, so now is the perfect time to pickle.

Be careful, though - only pick the light green ones. (See recipe below)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Sweet Spot

This blog explores my efforts to try to live at the intersection of art, sustainability and frugality in the urban wilds of Oakland, CA.  These categories often reinforce each other - except when they don't.  I'm constantly looking for the sweet spot of overlap where my ideals fit my lifestyle.

Urbanite typifies the sweet spot for me. It's a cheeky name for the broken up concrete pieces that are left after you, for instance, break up the parking lot in your backyard to plant a garden.  You can either get a dumpster to dispose of the mounds of concrete, or try to use the waste as a recycled building material.  There's so much of it in cities that it started to be called urbanite, as in "What did you use to make the retaining wall?"  "It's made out of urbanite, of course!"  I've been using a lot of it to make mosaic stepping stones, with broken tiles from Heath Ceramics and Caesarstone, among other places.  Our garden stepping stones are an example of quirky urbanite.

And then there's the use of "urbanite" to refer to a city-dweller.  I think of quirky urbanites in this sense as people who cultivate interests and hobbies outside of what may pay the bills (although, if you're lucky, they can be one and the same). They're people who remain alive to all the possibilities that surround us in our urban environment, people who are doing amazing things with very little, lifelong learners. They are artists whether they are cheesemakers or filmmakers. I aspire to be one - a quirky urbanite - and I'm in awe of the the many fascinating people around me who already fall into that category.  This blog chronicles the quirky urbanites I run into in & around Oakland, CA, and my journey towards becoming a quirky urbanite myself.