Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I got your Stevia, right here!

I must make a confession (hangs head in shame) I love the sweet stuff.


I will take it just about any form. Chocolate, lemon drops, lollipops, cake, cupcakes, heck, if you had road kill and covered it in sugar, I would probably eat that too. It's that bad. 

I have to be good. I could easily go on a major sugar eating frenzy. 

Like that scene from the Simpsons where Homer steals a truck load of Sugar. He mumbles in his delirious sugar stupor...

Homer: First you get the sugar, then you get the money, then you get the women. 

Paraphrasing Scare Face. 

Problem is, the money and the woman part would never enter my consciousness. I would be dead from sugar overdose. 

Significate Other: Doctor!! What killed him???!!!! 

Doctor: Jelly Belly Jelly Beans. 

No one wants as their epitaph "killed by beans". 


Instead, I have been growing some Stevia. 

Okay. That's nice, but what the heck is it? 

Well, wikipedia explains it better than I do:

"subtropical and tropical regions from western North America to South America. The species Stevia rebaudiana, commonly known as sweetleafsweet leafsugarleaf, or simply stevia, is widely grown for its sweet leaves. As a sweetener and sugar substitute, stevia's taste has a slower onset and longer duration than that of sugar, although some of its extracts may have a bitter or licorice-like aftertaste at high concentrations."


But wait there is more!!!

"Other studies have shown stevia to improve insulin sensitivity in rats[45] and possibly even to promote additional insulin production,[46] helping to reverse diabetes and metabolic syndrome.[47] Preliminary human studies suggest that stevia can help reduce hypertension[48] although another study has shown it to have no effect on hypertension.[49] Indeed, millions of Japanese have been using stevia for over thirty years with no reported or known harmful effects.[50] Similarly, stevia leaves have been used for centuries in South America spanning multiple generations in ethnomedical tradition as a treatment for type II diabetes.[51]"

But here is the kicker...

"10-15 times sweeter than table sugar"


But you say, "That's some pretty sick stuff there SuburbanDweller, but what does this have to do with me?" I'm glad you asked that! (don't you love how I put words in your mouth?)

I made my own Stevia extract!! Yes, no longer will I be a Sugar junkie!!! Well, okay,  that's total BS. I just won't be as bad...really.
This is how I did it. 

First get a million dollars, oh wait, that's how you become a millionaire.

First, grow your own...


It's fairly easy to find and grow. I got my starter plant from our good friends at Home Desperate.

One teeny tiny 6 inch plant.

Partial shade is a must. It's supposed to do well in blazing heat, but I say BS on that. Out in the sun it would crisp in a matter of hours.

Mine gets about 4 hours of direct sun, then shade for the rest of the day.

I put this in our herb pot around April. I let the stems grow to about 2 feet tall. If I let it go, it would probably continue growing but the "sweetness" gets a little...gnarly. So you want to harvest the stems when they are about 1 1/2 feet to 2 feet tall.

When harvesting, you only want the top 2/3's of the stem. You want to leave at least a 1/3 standing. It must still have leaves. We learned the hard way the first time around. If you cut it down to the base, it will die.

So with your stems cut...


You want to give them a good course chop...


You want to be able to pack two cups worth of the stuff.

Get a large 3 quart Ball jar and dump your chopped Stevia into it.


Next, the fun part...


It's not just for screw drivers any more! Or shots...Not that I did any of that while making the extract...hic...

Measure off one liquid cup of your favorite variety. OR you can just get the cheap stuff. It doesn't effect the flavor, however it will effect your hangover. If you wish to have a "flavored" Stevia, you can buy one of those flavored vodkas out there.

I choose not to go the "flavored" route, mainly because the "flavoring" that is added to those vodkas isn't very...natural, regardless of their "natural flavoring" moniker.

If you really wanted to go hardcore, you could always soak some vanilla beans and add the soaked juice from them to the final project, but I digress...

Pour the one cup of vodka into the jar, tighten down the lid and shake well.

Let stand for 24 hours but not longer than 48. If you do, it will go from sweet to bitter.

You want to shake and turn it periodically.

Sooooooooooooo....I wait...shake...wait...shake...

Now through the incredible technology of the internet tubes, here's the result...


Looks like soggy spinach. Actually, it's more like pickled lettuce. Pickled as in 3 sheets to the wind.

Get a bowl, a wire strainer and some cheese cloth.


Open up the jar and dump its contents in the cheese cloth and drain.

Frankly, that will take forever.

Once in the cheese cloth, wrap up the cheese cloth around the soggy stevia and squeeze the living...poop out of it! Through the cheese cloth and drain through the sieve, that is.

This is what it should look like...


Mmmmmm, green.

Okay, this stuff is still alkie-hol soaked. While some of you might enjoy the taste of sweet vodka (tried it. all I'll say is, It was sickly sweet with a punch.)

Dump the drained green liquid into a small pot...


And simmer for 30 minutes. NEVER EVER let it boil. Keep it on the lowest possible heat. All you are trying to do here is cook off the alcohol.

After 30 minutes, turn off the heat and let it cool down.

Find your favorite funnel and a tiny jar and pour off your now extracted Stevia. Here is what you get...


That's it?????

You must remember, this is concentrated evil, I mean, sweetness.

Try a drop, it's powerfully sweet stuff.

You might want to dilute it a little. I did. I added about a tablespoon of water.

And because it's so concentrated, it will last quite a while.

Right now, we use it primarily in all our drinks we wish to sweeten, but in the future, I will be experimenting with it in baking. As I do, I will report the results.

So there it is, the sweet stuff. Home grown. Now if I could figure out how to make my own vodka. Well, if society collapses, I will post on how to make your own still!

Fun times.

Until then...

Remember, Green is Good!!!


Monday, August 23, 2010

Fried, fried, fried...

If you all recall my potato issue. First they were alive then I thought they were dead, then they were of a zombie variety, then then were alive again.

Sadly, I have to report some bad news...


The potatoes didn't make it.

WTF??!!! I follow the information (or so I thought) from a "grow potatoes in a barrel" site.

The whole thing with potatoes is; when they are ready, the plant dies off. Well, mine were dead. (granted, I didn't think that the 100 plus degree weather could have had ANYTHING to do with it).

I'm thinking to myself, "well, their dead, they should be ready!" I had all sorts of potato concoctions running through my head. Creamy mashed potatoes, double smashed garlic potatoes, home fries, french fries, baked, boiled and grilled.

So over I dump the metal trash can that I modified for potato production. Eagerly I dug through the dirt. I dug...and dug.....................and dug. Nothing. Not a spud to be had.

I looked at the stalks of the plant. The roots vanished about 6 inches into the dirt. They rotted away.


So I run back inside, jump on the net, google growing potatoes and wouldn't you know it, the original site that I got the info from...NO LONGER EXISTS!!!!

Is it any wonder?????!!!!!!!!!!!

So I googled other people who grew container potatoes, everyone else seemed to jibe with the same info in regards to soil prep. Which I might add, went completely AGANST THE SITE I GOT MY ORIGINAL INFO FROM!!!!!

So in essence, the person on the site I got my original info from was chatting out the back of her front!!!


So now I have to wait till February to try again.

The death of the potatoes really didn't help my mental state. I have lost my squash, pumpkins, peas and string beens in the last 2 weeks due to the oppressive heat.

It's been a lousy summer for me gardening-wise.

I still have hope with my new tomato and pepper plants. They seem to be hanging on. I actually have one only pepper so far, but it seems strong! My basil and the rest of my herbs seem to be hanging tough. The blackberry bushes are a little crisp but still going strong. The lemon tree and grape vine have bounced back and are doing well. The fig tree was looking a bit sorry yesterday, but I gave that a deep watering and it perked right up.

Bottom line: we need rain. I start using my reserves tomorrow. Yeah, the monster tanks are already empty. I used the last of the water tonight.

I don't know how farmers do it.

It's a bit of a downer this time around, but I'm hoping that the forecast for rain later this week proves to be true. That would go a long way.

And as always, Green is Good. A bit crunchy and brown at time, but still good!


Monday, August 16, 2010

On a serious note...

This past weekend found me in NYC with my family.

Being of the suburban nature, the middle aged nature and of the 1500 miles from my nearest sibling nature, I found myself missing them.

I know, right? What's with that? Me, Mr. Suburban wanna-be survivalist/farmer/fix-it type man. I should be the "go-it-alone, I can live by my suburban wits, who needs civilization" type that should be the "tough as Don Draper, cool as Frank Sinatra, insightful as Gandhi, as creative as McGiver and as stoic as an Amish Farmer"!

But alas, I miss my family.

I think about 100+ years ago, before there were airlines, reliable trains or even phones; when people moved out west to stake their land and make a go of it. They pretty much said goodbye to their immediate family. And those left in the city, were lucky to get a letter once a year containing information over 6 months old.

I hadn't seen many of my siblings for years.  I was expecting them to look the same way I saw them several years ago. However, everyone was a little grayer and had a few more wrinkles.

I was, quite suddenly, struck by how quickly time passes. The reality of life made me pause.

The coils of my very mortal soul vibrated with reflective sadness.

How busy we all are, how sometimes petty differences create voids for ridiculous reasons and how "not having the time" stretches into a habit of excuse. We all suffer from these very simple human shortcomings. Suburban man is certainly no exception. But suffering from them, and not finding a cure, is my failure.

Before my eyes, my nieces and nephews aged dramatically; while it seemed that there was no discernible passage of time, two of them were adults. How did that happen?

While I buried myself in first renovating my home and now my yard, Suburban man unwillingly and willingly allowed himself to be taken over by life's myriad of issues thus letting Suburban man forget what is truly important.

Family takes many forms. There are the traditional ones, the extended ones and the accepted ones. Whichever yours is, please keep in mind, we all really have no concept as to how truly short life is really is until it's too late.

Make sure you don't wake up one day and realize how much time has passed.

We inhabit this earth for a very brief amount of time. There are turtles that live longer than us. Turtles!

Real families love you no matter what. Just remember that. It's such an amazing thing.


Green is Good.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Florence Ambrico



I love this photo of her. She's a young 20 something with her whole life ahead of her. She has the look of whimsy, hope and peace.

This was soon after she was married in 1947.

She was my mom.

One of her favorite authors was, Somerset Maugham.

Here are a few quotes from him that I believe suites her well.

"When you have loved as she loved, you grow old beautifully."

"D'you call life a bad job? Never! We've had our ups and downs, we've had our stuggles, we've always been poor, but it's been worth it, ay, worth it a hundred times I say when I look round at my children."

"Imagination grows by exercise, and contrary to common belief, is more powerful in mature than in the young."

"Impropriety is the soul of wit"

Oh how you embodied this sayings.

My mom always loved snow, loathed, as she would say, the summer ick. Since I live in Austin, Texas, snow doesn't come our way to often.

I know my mom loved flowers. Combining both white of snow and her love of flowers we planted this in her memory.


I miss you ma.