Making Stevia Syrup

This last spring I decided to try growing stevia and then see if I could process it into a useable product, rather than buy the “stuff” at the stores. If you want to know why – you can read this article HERE.  The project began easily enough.  In other words – I got two of the three stevia seeds I planted to germinate! They didn’t seem to mind being transplanted into the garden and grew fairly well in the beginning.  To tell you the truth – I almost forgot about those sweet little plants because they were almost completely engulfed by the summer squash!    In fact, I even stepped on one of them when I was trying to harvest the zucchini – but with a bit of neglect, they grew anyway!  Not into huge plants, mind you, but they did grow!

  • Stevia seedling, just transplanted into the garden. April 28, 2013
  • Stevia plant, starting to grow a bit, but shaded by the zucchini! June 3, 2013
  • Growing a bit more, but still in the shade of the zucchini. June 30, 2013
  • Aaahhhhh. No more zucchini, finally growing! October 4, 2013

Note to self – don’t plant the stevia near squash next year.   Actually, I guess I shouldn’t plant the stevia near anything that will shade it because stevia is actually a sun loving plant!  But, in the end, both of the plants survived and I decided to harvest them on Tuesday, October 22nd.  It sounded like as good a day as any.

Growing Stevia

I repotted the rest of the stevia plants to over-winter in the house. Hopefully they will survive!

I had read that stevia is actually a perennial in warmer climates and will survive over the winter in a sunny window.  So, I harvested the stems and left about 6-8 inches on the two plants, then transferred them into a pot that I had filled with some of my earthworm soil.  That earthworm soil is like Miracle Grow on caffeine.  Anything I have planted with the stuff is healthy and grows quite quickly!  If you would like to read about my earthworm soil farm, click HERE.

With the plants cut back and replanted into a pot, now sitting in a sunny window, it was time to turn my attention to the actual making of the stevia syrup!

Making Stevia Syrup

I dried the leaves in a warm oven overnight.

I stripped the leaves off the branches of stevia, gently washed the leaves in cold water, then spread them out on a couple of cookie sheets to dry in a warm (about 110 degrees) oven overnight.  With the leaves nice and crispy, I followed the instructions I found HERE.   Which means I had to buy some vodka – which isn’t something I keep around the house on a normal basis.  Well, actually, I do have some old stuff in my cupboard, but I think I will have to throw it out.  Why?  Because my now grown sons have recently fessed up that when they were teenagers, they would take a sip or two (maybe

How to make stevia syrup

I used middle of the road – brand name vodka – to extract the sweetness from the leaves of stevia

three) from the liquor bottles my husband and I had stocked in the cupboard, and then put water in the bottles so we wouldn’t know that any was missing!  That was pretty smart because they knew hubby and I aren’t big drinkers of hard liquor and would probably never know the difference!  We didn’t!  In fact, those bottles of hard liquor are still sitting on the shelf in our cupboard fifteen years later!

I guess it’s too late to discipline them, but they have kids of their own now, and paybacks are coming!   🙂

So, off to my local grocery store I went.  I was amazed to see that there were quite a few choices for vodka, flavored and unflavored, starting at $5.99 a bottle for the cheapest stuff up to over $40 for the higher-end stuff.  There was no way I was going to spend $40 for a bottle of vodka, just to steep my stevia!  I ended up buying the middle of the road, common brand-name vodka.

The instructions were simple enough:  place the dried leaves into a clean jar, pour in enough vodka to cover, place a lid on the jar and shake.  Then leave the jar on the kitchen counter for 24 to 36 hours, shaking once in a while, but never letting it steep more than 36 hours or it could get bitter.  I decided I would go “middle of the road” and let it steep for 30 hours.

Okay – now comes the hard part.  You are supposed to strain the leaves out – easy enough – but then simmer the vodka without letting it boil – which thickens the liquid and neutralizes the alcohol!  Okay, I’m not the best cook, but for some reason I have always thought simmering was slow boiling!  So, luckily my new stove has a setting called simmer, so I suppose that should be about right.  I have read some articles about people not liking the taste of this method of extracting the sweetness out of stevia because it tastes “green”.  Well, after about 1/2 hour I could see some particulates forming at the bottom of the pot, which I think I can assume is the chlorophyll because the liquid isn’t as green as it was before. Maybe this is the part that tastes “green”?  So, I thought, perhaps if I can decant the liquid without the particulates in it, it might not taste as “green”?  Or (the light bulb just lit) perhaps I can strain the liquid through a coffee filter!!!  So, that’s what I did.  I don’t know if I should have, but I did.  So there!

  • These are the blue bottles I bought at Greenals! Supposedly a tincture (or stevia syrup, in this case) is not supposed to be exposed to light, hence the dark tinted bottles.
  • This is the color of the liquid strained from the jar with the stevia leaves and vodka. I was actually a beautiful green color. So, I set the stove temperature to "simmer" and came back every few minutes to stir.
  • After about 1/2 hour a green powdery precipitate began to form in the bottom of the pan. I assume this was the chlorophyll separating out of the liquid, but I'm not sure. Maybe this is what caused the "green" taste I have heard others complain of when they make their own stevia syrup.
  • So, since I don't like green stuff in my syrup, I decided to filter it out with an unbleached coffee filter. The resulting liquid was now a clear amber color! Success! I did pour it back into the pan to thicken up just a bit more, maybe another 10 minutes.
  • The final result of this extraction process was about 3-1/2 ounces of the stevia syrup, which filled - well - 3 and 1/2 one ounce jars! The jars will now reside on the door of my refrigerator and will last, from what I have read, three months - if we haven't used it all by then!
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I ordered the beautiful blue jars with built in droppers from a company called Greenals through Amazon.  All six jars were less than $10.00!  Including shipping!  I am certainly going to order more of these for storing essential oils, once I learn how to make my own, but for now, I am going to keep the stevia syrup in these bottles.  Apparently you are supposed to protect the stevia syrup from light.

So, I made some coffee to test it out.  Wow.  Holy Cow!  Geeze Louise!  This stuff is sweet.  And good!  Not really “green” tasting at all!  Of course, coffee has a pretty strong flavor in itself.  I will have to try using this sweetener in other things before I can make a final judgement, so right now the jury is still out, but at this point I think I like it!  Bring on the recipes!

Thank you for your comments, suggestions and questions – I love them all and will try to answer each and every one!

 

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Mandarin Farm

Morse Farms Mandarin Farm

This Satsuma Mandarin tree is absolutely LOADED with fruit. The mandarins will gradually ripen to a deep, vibrant, golden orange color in November

In the foothills above Lake Oroville in California is a small, sustainably run, family oriented citrus farm – Morse Farms.  The owners, John and Glenda Morse, are native to the Oroville Area and began this five acre Mandarin Farm about twelve years ago.  Their main crop is the seedless Satsuma Mandarin, but they also have lemons, oranges, grapefruits and Minneolas.

We were privileged to visit the farm during the Sierra-Oro Farm Tour, and were treated to samples of meat balls with their Mandarin Jalapeno BBQ Sauce and also a wonderful Mandarin Sheet Cake.  The BBQ sauce is excellent – spicy and tangy and sweet, all at the same time.  We had to buy some!

Morse Mandarin Farm Tour

After tasting this BBQ sauce, we just had to buy some! And that beer – soooo good – even at 10:30 AM!   😉

Morse Farms also partners with the Feather Falls Casino Brewing Company to make their Emperor’s Mandarin Wheat Beer, and we were given a generous sample, even though it was only 10:30 in the morning!  Oh well, it was 5:00 PM somewhere in the world, right??!! It was really good, but this beer is a specialty, and rightly so isn’t brewed year round. We are just going to have to go to the casino to get some more before it’s all gone!

We took a tour through their mandarin orchard and were able to see the trees absolutely laden with fruit!  I was actually surprised that Satsuma Mandarins would survive and do so well at the elevation of this farm, but Glenda explained to us that these Mandarins are of the Owari variety with their rootstock being Tri-Folia, which means they can withstand some frosty temperatures.

Morse Mandarin Farm

A smudge pot from the old days.

The farm no longer uses smudge pots like the one in the picture on the left.  These were used in the old days (they are polluting and didn’t really work very well) and now just turn on sprinklers when the temperature falls below 27 degrees Fahrenheit.  Ice forms around the leaves and fruit and actually insulates it from the colder temperatures!  I am so glad to know this because I have a Tango Mandarin and I wasn’t sure if it would survive where our future homestead will be!  It’s in a large pot, so I was assuming I would have to bring it inside for the winter – but maybe not!  It rarely gets below 27 degrees where we will be building our house, so I suppose if I leave it in the pot and put it on the front porch (the pot is beautiful, and so is the tree – it’s a dwarf), then I should only have to protect it on the coldest of nights!

The farm is sustainably run: Morse Mandarin Farm

You can click on the picture to read it better.  I am so glad to see that they are careful with their use of water for irrigation.  Wells in the mountains and foothills are not at all like wells in the valley – and are susceptible to being pumped dry.

 

Morse Mandarin Farm

Mandarins are good for you!

On the tour through the orchard we saw several signs just chock full of information, such as this one to the left.  According to this sign (it’s true, I looked it up on other sources) one Mandarin is only 45 calories!

I like mandarins because they are seedless, easy to peel, and taste great!

 

When we got home from the tour, one of the first things we had to do was cook with the Mandarin Jalapeno BBQ Sauce.  Ray had just recently caught another salmon (yum), so we decided to try marinating it in the BBQ sauce for a few hours in the refrigerator, then grilling it on the BBQ.  Words cannot describe how good this was!

Morse Mandarin Farm

Salmon marinated then grilled with Morse Farms Mandarin Jalapeno BBQ Sauce. Mmmmm good!

As a final note, I would like to share with you the recipe of the Mandarin Sheet Cake that we sampled while on our tour of the Morse Mandarin Farm.

MANDARIN SHEET CAKE

Cake:

1 pkg white cake mix (or make your own)

1 cup water

1/2 cup canola oil

1/4 cup Morse Farms Mandarin Marmalade

3 Egg whites

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  In large bowl combine all cake ingredients; beat at low speed until moistened, then beat 2 minutes on medium speed.  Pour batter into prepared (ie. spray with cooking spray or butter and floured) 9 x 13 cake pan.  Also fills two 8″ or 9″ round cake pans.

Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes (check often) or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool completely before frosting.

Mandarin Frosting:

2/3 cup butter, softened

4 cups powdered sugar

1/4 cup Morse Farms Mandarin Marmalade

1/4 cup Morse Farms Mandarin Syrup

1 to 3 tablespoons milk

In large bowl, beat butter until light and fluffy, gradually add powdered sugar beating well after each addition.  Beat in mandarin marmalade and syrup.  Add milk 1 tablespoon at a time beating until of desired spreading consistency.  When serving, drizzle a little more syrup on the cake and serving plate for a wonderful presentation!

For more recipes using their mandarin products, you can go to their website – click HERE.

Morse Mandarin Farm

Ask for the Emperor’s Mandarin Wheat Beer – if there is any left!

If you would like to try out the wonderful beer brewed with mandarins at the Feather Falls Casino, you can get more information by visiting their website – click HERE.

Just FYI – I have not been paid to mention or recommend any of these products or businesses.  The Morse Mandarin Farm was included in the Sierra-Oro Farm Trails Tour,  If you are ever in Oroville, CA, you might want to visit one of these!

I adore any comments, advise or stories you may have – come on – speak up!  I try to answer each and every one!

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Outhouse progress

Another weekend (actually two) and the outhouse is now sewn up for the winter!  We still have a lot of trim work to do, make a front porch, landscape, add solar lights, and paint; but at least the outhouse is safe for critters (we can lock it up now) and is now in service!  🙂

Building an Outhouse

We used OSB with TechShield (the shiny part you can see), which is supposed to prevent heat from radiating from the roof to the inside, as the first layer on the roof. It didn’t cost any more than the other OSB without the TechShield, so we went ahead and bought it.

We used metal roofing and James Hardie cementitous siding because of it’s fire resistance.  Once the landscaping is done by clearing away the brush and forest duff, the only way the outhouse will burn down during a wildfire is if there is a crown fire (a fire that is up in the trees) and a tree actually falls onto the structure!  At least in theory.

For venting the pit, we chose 4″ black ABS pipe that was 10 feet long.  Supposedly, because of convection currents when the sun hits the black pipe and heats it up, the foul odors will actually be sucked up and out of the top!  This also helps to dry the contents in the pit – which will contribute to better composting and further reduce odors.

How to build an outhouse

Putting in a header for the door and starting to place the Hardieboard siding.

Next spring, however, we will probably be installing one of those wind turbine thingys on top of the pipe, which will help with the venting even on cold and rainy days.

The door was constructed with 2 x 3 framing, with a fairly thin wood veneer board on the inside and the Hardieboard siding on the outside.  We went ahead and threw some batt insulation (you know, that pink stuff) inside the door.  Why?  Because we had some left over from insulating the tool shed!  Actually, we have a lot of the insulation left over and will probably go ahead and insulate the walls of the outhouse also.  Because we can.

Building an outhouse

The interior structure of the door, built with 2 x 3 lumber, faced with Hardieboard on the outside and a wood veneer on the inside, with insulation between!

We bought most of the hardware for the door from our local Habitat for Humanity Re-Store.  Those hinges, which are pretty heavy-duty, were priced at only three for $1.

How to build an outhouse

Over the OSB, we stapled down tar paper and then attached a metal roof. We used a specific type of roof jack that is meant to weatherproof the hole for the 4″ vent pipe. This is the back of the outhouse.

Can’t beat that!  I was really impressed with our Re-Store.  They have brand new windows and doors that apparently were left over from construction jobs or were custom ordered to the wrong size, etc., with the original tags and stickers still on them!  Some of these items – especially the doors that had the miniblinds inside the window – were half of what you would pay at the regular big box home improvement stores!  Once we get the homestead house plans squared away with out architect, we will probably start buying doors, windows, cabinets, light fixtures, etc., when we see those items at the Re-Store or on clearance at the big box stores!

Anyway, back to the outhouse.

How to build an outhouse

We put a window in the west side, completed the siding, and then used the Hardieboard trim around the window. We will eventually be using the same trim on the corners and under the eaves of the outhouse.

Hanging the door was a feat in itself.  That sucker was pretty heavy and at first it didn’t fit!  We didn’t take into account the thickness of the door when opening it, and so had to take the whole thing down, pull one side off, trim it down, put it back together again, and then re-hang it!  Whew!  When that was done we were very pleased with our work!  A handle and locking hasp  finished the door!  Now all we have to do is paint it and embellish it with a crescent moon and a star!  (Female and Male symbols on old outhouses back in the day) For an explanation of this, you should probably read the first post on building our outhouse, which I have listed at the bottom of this article.

Building an outhouse

Once the door was hung, Ray attached a handle and matching hasp so that we can lock the door. It will at least keep out honest criminals and curious critters!

Once the outside was pretty much weatherproof, we turned out attention to the inside.  The bench seat was fairly simple to construct and is solid as a rock!  The framing was tied into the structure of the outhouse with both nails and screws (you don’t want us to fall in, do you?), then the entire bench seat was clad in plywood.

Building an outhouse

This is the framing used to support the plywood and actual toilet seat. That sucker is solid!

Before the plywood was attached, however, Ray installed a piece of  sheet metal on the inside of the plywood, to prevent the plywood from getting wet with – well – urine. 😉   We cut holes in the top of the plywood to fit the specialized toilet seat and the vent pipe, placed the vent pipe through the hole and the toilet seat in it’s place and – wow – we could finally use our outhouse!  Hooray!  I never thought I would get so excited about being able to “go” in an outhouse!

🙂

Our next task will be to finish the trim work on the outside, add door jams with weatherstripping (not as much to keep the warmth in, but to keep the critters out!), insulate and put walls up on the inside, hang the sink and medicine cabinet, build a front porch, and landscape.  Oh, and paint.  And maybe tile the bench seat with the tons of tile my sister gave me.

Building an outhouse

A fully functional outhouse! Wahoo! We still have a long way to go with all the finishing details, but at least now it is useable and safe!

I know a lot of you are out there thinking, “why in the world would they go to so much trouble building a silly outhouse?”  Well, my answer is simply this:  if we are going to be our own contractors and build most of our new home ourselves, we need to practice using a lot of the materials and techniques we have employed in both the tool shed and now the outhouse.  Does it need to be insulated?  No, but we have two rolls of insulation taking up room in our garage right now.  Do we really need to use that tile?  Why not!?  It’s free, my sister didn’t want it, and it will surely be easier to clean than plywood!

This may or may not be the last post about our outhouse this year, as we are going to start turning our attention to other projects up on the homestead and also in our valley home!  If you haven’t read the previous posts on the outhouse, you can find them here:  #1.  We’re Building An Outhouse!,  #2.  Our Outhouse, Part 2,   #3.  Fixtures for the Outhouse,  #4.  Outhouse Update,  and finally #5.  Another Outhouse Post.

Thank you for reading this blog post and for any comments, questions or advice you leave below!  I try to answer every one!

 

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K-Cup Advent Calendar

I know, I know – it isn’t even K-Cup Advent Calendar Halloween yet!  But if you want to make some of these Advent Calendars  for your kids or grandkids, you should probably start thinking about it now!

Supplies needed:

– 24 K-Cups

– One 9-1/2″ x 14″ shirt box

– Glue

– Wrapping Paper

– Enough toys or candy – or both for the 24 K-Cups

What is so great about this project is that it doesn’t cost much, reuses something you would probably throw away any, and is a wonderful gift for any child!  If you don’t use K-Cups, some doctor’s offices or business offices are using them in their waiting rooms and break rooms.  Ask them!  I’m sure they would be glad to get rid of them!  BTW  I tried to take a picture of every step along the way.  Some of the pictures are blurry because it’s hard to take some pix one handed – sorry.  😉     Also, you want to read the whole tutorial through to the end before you start – just so you have a general idea of what you are doing.

So………Here we go

First things first – clean out the K-Cups!

K-Cup Advent Calendar

 

Now you need to use a little bit of math – or use my measurements if you are using K-Cups and have a 9-1/2″ x 14″ box – grid out the box so that the K-Cups fit fairly evenly.  I found that if you have about 1/4″ between each K-Cup it comes out pretty even.  Don’t worry about messing up the box with pencil marks – it gets covered anyway.  Once you have everything done, cut out the circles about 1/16″ inside the circles – for the lip to glue the K-Cups onto.K-Cup Advent Calendar

Okay, so now the circles are cut out.  Place some other (not used yet are fine) K-cups upside down where the space between the K-Cups will be.  These are used for support.  Don’t worry, you can take them out later!

K-Cup Advent Calendar 4

Now, place the box with the holes you cut over the bottom of this box, place glue around the very edge of the cut out circles and insert a K-Cup.  You can see how the upside down K-Cups act as spacers.K-Cup Advent Calendar

Once all of the K-Cups are in, place something fairly heavy in each cup to hold down each cup.  I used some of those decorative glass thingys, but you could use beans or something like that. Making K-Cup Advent Calendar

Now for the fun part.  This should already be done, of course, but gather the toys and/or candy that you have accumulated.  This one is for a girl.  You can see barrettes, hair bands, bracelets, light-up rings, pedometer (I thought that was pretty cool), shrinky-dinky washcloth egg (also super cool – when you put it in the bath it becomes a washcloth!), gold coin chocolate, puffy stickers, hershey’s kisses, a bracelet, and a christmas ornament.  Make sure each one fits inside of your cups.  I actually went shopping with a couple of cups in my purse.  Most of the items seen here were purchased at the Dollar Store, Michael’s and Big Lots.  Once you are sure you have all you need, proceed!

K-Cup Advent Calendar 2013

Okay – time to shore up the box.  First, make sure your box corners for both the lid and bottom are pretty stiff.  I taped my corners down.  Then, once your K-Cups are pretty well glued in and dry, flip the box over, put a dollop of glue on the bottom of each cup, and place the bottom over the box.  Of course, you remembered to take the spacer K-Cups out – right ?????  Advent Calendar made of K-Cups

Before you go any further with your closed up box, cut your wrapping paper!  You should cut it as if you were wrapping a present, with overlapping on both ends and in the back.  It is important to do this now, before you go onto the next step.

K-Cup Advent How To

Now is the best part – fill up the cups!  I used a combination of candy and presents, so I mixed them around a bit.  But, I made sure that on December 24th the K-Cup would hold an ornament for the tree!

How To Advent Calendar

Okay – you are now on the home-stretch!  Carefully place glue around each K-Cup.  Try not to get any on the actual cup or inside the cup!2013 K-Cup Advent Calendar

Now – CAREFULLY place the wrapping paper over the top of the glue and K-Cups.  Don’t slide it or you may get some inside the cups!  Make sure you are getting the paper on so that you will be taping the seam shut on the back side! Now, put some cardboard over the top and then some things that aren’t too heavy on top to weigh it down.  Not too heavy – you don’t want to crush the whole thing!  Yes, I know the juxtaposition of the pumpkins against the Christmas wrapping paper is a little strange….. please don’t judge me!2013 Advent Calendar K-Cup

While you are waiting for this glue to dry, cut out or stamp out some shapes, then write or stamp numbers on them 1-24.

Advent Calendar from K-Cups

Once your glue is dry, it’s time to finish wrapping your package!  You can use two sided tape and it would look better than this one.  I ran out just before I did this tutorial!   😉Advent Calendar Wrap Up

Now, lightly with your fingers, figure out where the center of each K-Cup is, put a dollop of glue there, then stick on your numbers.  You can go in order, like I did, or you can do them randomly – which ever you like!Calendar for Advent K-Cups

Now, you can leave as is (you’re done!!!) or decorate further with ribbon, bells, ornaments,  whatever floats your boat!  I put the ribbon on because these are fairly lightweight and with the ribbon they can be hung on a wall like a picture!

K-Cup Advent Calendar

So there you have it!  Each day, the child pokes his finger through the paper, corresponding to the day where the number is, and receives his prize!

Yes, this can be done with Yogurt cups also!  For the Yogurt cups, however, you need a much bigger box, or you could just do 12 yogurt cups.  This can also be done for Hannukka, Kwanza, or even for the 12 days of Christmas.

If you make one of these and have a blog, I would love to see it!  Please let me know in the comment section that you have posted a picture of it because I would love to have a post with just pictures of all the calendars!

Stay Tuned!  Next week I will post a tutorial on Snow Man Kits!

Keeping the Christmas Spirit Alive 365

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