Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Homemade Play Dough

I loved playing with play dough as a kid, and enjoyed working with clay in my pottery classes in high school as well. There's something to be said for making something out of a clump of clay...or dough...or even mud - although play dough is the least messy of the three!
Lately I've noticed that my son seems really interested in the different textures of his food. I've seen him squeeze birthday cake, yogurt, and bananas through his little fingers, and he seemed delighted by the texture. Without a doubt, I figured he was ready for play dough.
I whipped up a batch of this simple dough that I used to make for the kids back when I was teaching preschool. You can add a few drops of flavoring extract (orange, strawberry, vanilla) to make scented dough, but my son is young and I didn't want to confuse him ("It smells like food. Why can't I eat it?"), so I left it out.

You'll need:

1 cup flour
1 cup warm water
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. oil
1/4 cup salt
food coloring

1. Mix all ingredients together. Stir with a wooden spoon over medium heat until the dough thickens, pulls away from the sides, and forms a ball (about 5-10 minutes).

2. Remove from pan and knead until blended smooth.

3. Food coloring can be added when mixing ingredients before heating, or kneading the dough afterward. (I made 2 batches and split them each in half, so I added the food coloring afterward.) Add a few drops at a time and knead until the color is completely incorporated - add more if necessary. 

4. Store in a plastic bag or airtight container when cooled.

I know it will be a few years before he's able to really build and work with the dough, but for now he has fun squishing it and throwing the balls I roll for him. I'm always amazed to see how something that takes only minutes to make can provide hours of entertainment!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How to make a Goldfish Piñata

As I mentioned before, this post inspired me to make a goldfish pinata for Abe's birthday party. I started it the weekend before the party and wasn't able to find orange crepe paper, so I bought some orange tissue paper and did it the old-fashioned way (i.e. the way I learned in grade school Spanish class) instead.

You'll need: 

Cardboard Box
Masking Tape
18-20 sheets Orange Tissue Paper, cut into 1½ inch squares
½ sheet Black Tissue Paper, , cut into 1½ inch squares

1. Sketch a fish shape on the cardboard and cut out. Trace cut fish onto second piece of cardboard and cut. (I used a box with sides measuring approximately 11x14 inches.)

2. Cut strips of cardboard for the edging. (I used the top and bottom flaps from the same box for the edges.) Tape strips together to make one long piece.

3. Wrap edging around one side of the fish, taping it in place as you go. It should bend easily around curves and corners.

4. Poke two holes in the top and attach a string or zip tie to hang it from later.

5. Attach the other side of the fish and tape around the edges to close any gaps. Make sure to leave a flap open for filling the pinata later!

6. Wrap cut tissue paper squares around the end of a pencil and dip in glue.

7. Place on the cardboard and gently slide the tissue off the pencil making sure the glue holds it in place. This step obviously takes the most time, but it'll go faster if you have help!

8. When the pinata is almost completely covered, fill it with treats and seal the open flap. 

9. Continue to cover the sealed flap with tissue paper, and fill in any other bare spots.

10. Hang it up and have fun!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Banana Bread Muffins

I always seem to have bananas in my kitchen that look like this:

Ugh. I don't know why I buy bananas! Except my son likes them (although not enough to eat an entire bunch before they go bad), and my husband is a runner so he eats them...sometimes. I'm not a huge banana fan, but they are cheap and convenient, so I buy them...and watch as they turn brown far too quickly. Overripe bananas, however, are good for one thing that I do like: banana bread!

Since I never seem to have enough variety in the breakfast foods department I decided to make this batch of bad bananas into banana bread muffins - oh, and I added some chocolate chips just because I like to start my day with a little chocolate. I used the banana bread recipe my sister has been using since she was about 10 years old (my sisters learned to bake early - I knew how to make toast), but modified it just a bit (replaced walnuts with chocolate chips - adjusted baking times as needed), and ended up with some really delicious Chocolate Chip Banana Bread Muffins!


2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. lemon juice
3 oz. butter
1 1/4 cup peeled, mashed banana (2-3 bananas)
2 eggs
1 cup chocolate chips
1 1/3 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. baking powder

Mix together the sugar, lemon juice, and melted butter. Add bananas and mix well. Beat in eggs. Stir in chocolate chips and other dry ingredients and mix very well.

Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray (or use paper muffin cups), and pour the bread mixture into the cups filling 2/3 full.

Bake at 350° on the middle rack of the oven for 28-30 minutes (20 minutes for mini muffins).

Let cool for ten minutes before removing from the muffin tin. Makes 12 muffins.

Yep, these disappear much faster than regular bananas...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

How to build a Sandcastle Sandwich

The sandcastle sandwiches I made for Abe's birthday party were so easy I may just start making them all the time...

Start with two plain ham and cheese sandwiches - hold the mayo for now...

...and using round cookie cutters, or glasses in various sizes, cut three circles. 

Once the circles are cut you can add mayo or any other spreads to the cut bread.

Tear up the leftover bread crusts and run through a coffee grinder...

...to make breadcrumb sand!

Stack the sandwich circles biggest to smallest and top with a flag. (I used bamboo grilling skewers that were cut in half, and double-sided tape to attach the paper flags.)

Sprinkle breadcrumb sand over the top for some added texture and enjoy! 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fish-in-a-Bag Birthday Invitations

I'm so excited to share my fish-in-a-bag invites! As I mentioned yesterday, they were inspired by these party favors from Martha Stewart. The invitation was all designed in Photoshop and printed on white cardstock using my ink jet printer. I printed the first page, then reloaded the printed pages in my printer and printed the second page as the back. The fish were printed separately and cut out by hand. Then I stuck a strip of magnetic tape to the back of each fish, and used another loose magnet behind the invite to hold the fish in place once it was placed in the cellophane bag.

These treat bags from Wilton were the perfect size for the invitation, and after tying them with ribbon, I put them into these envelopes from Paper Source (although any business or A7 envelope should do).

When I made the invitations, I wasn't quite sure when the party would be, so I left space on the back for the details to be filled in by hand. And since every fish brought home in a bag eventually needs a new home, I included a note to cut along the dotted lines to turn the invitation into a fishbowl...

...which is why I wanted a magnetic fish in the first place. 

The printable part of the invitation can be downloaded here. (The treat bags and magnetic tape are usually available at craft stores like Michael's and Joann Fabrics if you don't want to order them online.) 

Hope you love these little fishies as much as I do!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Abe's First Birthday Party

We celebrated Abe's first birthday almost a week after he turned one. He loves fish (that's one of the animal sounds he can make, and it's sooo cute), so I started gathering inspiration for a fish party a few months ago. 

Fish in a bag invitation.

The invitations were one of the last things I figured out. Our long drive to Nashville gave me a lot of time for brainstorming, and after deciding against trying to make these favors, I suddenly realized I could make fish in a bag invites instead! (More information on the invitations tomorrow, along with a free download!)

His cousins brought a pet fish as a gift!

Fishy photo booth.

We set up a photo booth with the goldfish piñata I made, and included some speech and thought bubbles for guests to write messages on. The kids mainly used them to interact with the fish

"Happy birthday, Abe!"

Being diabetic, I generally think in terms of healthy (as apposed to sweet) when it comes to party food.  I expanded on the fish theme by incorporating another one of Abe's favorite things - the beach! - to create a lunch menu that was fun and nutritious. 

Ham and Cheese Sandcastle Sandwiches

Beach Buckets of Veggies with Ranch Dip

Go Fish Jello Jigglers

"Lake Water" Lemonade

Goldfish Crackers

Sandcastle Sandwiches

(Go here to see how to make sandcastle sandwiches.)

Fish and Starfish Melon Skewers

And did I mention, it was easy? I was able to prep most of the food the day before, so I just had to cut the melons and make the sandcastle sandwiches that morning. My brother came early to help, and made a sub sandwich for the adults while I was taking pictures. 

Pasta Shells with "Seaweed" Pesto

Yellow pepper, carrot, and celery sticks.

Happy Birthday Bunting

I picked up a this stack of card stock from Joann Fabrics to make the birthday bunting, and used the scraps from the bunting to make sandwich flags and thank you notes for the party favors.

Submarine Sandwiches for the Adults

Blue Lemonade with Fish Ice Cubes

When we got married, my husband and I collected glass cream containers to use for centerpieces. The thick glass bottles were also perfect for serving drinks! I just covered the name of the dairy farm with stickers made from some of the same card stock I used for the bunting, and labelled one for each of our guests. I found the cute polka dot paper straws on Etsy, and made fish ice cubes using trays from Ikea.

Seashell Centerpiece

I kept the table decorations simple with just a couple jars of sand and seashells we've collected on trips to the beach.

#1 Cake with Goldfish Topper

I decided to do a #1 cake after seeing this sailboat-themed cake. I liked the flags and boats but didn't want to get too far off track, so when I saw these cake toppers I had to try to make one for Abe's cake! I basically followed her directions, but cut the tissue in a fish shape instead of a circle. Luckily I had just enough orange tissue paper left over from making the piñata!

Since I didn't have the time to bake a cake from scratch, I picked up a couple boxes of Devil's Food cake mix at the grocery store. For the filling, I used one package of chocolate pudding, but followed the directions to make pie filling instead of regular pudding (reduce the milk to 1 3/4 cups instead of 2). Easiest and yummiest cake filling ever! 

My husband ran to the store for me twice to pick up cream cheese frosting. I thought one container would be enough but in the end we used three, along with almost half a bottle of blue food coloring! Someday I'll learn to frost a cake without getting crumbs all over... 

It was fun watching Abe tear into his birthday cake. He did eat some of it but mostly just mashed it up and squished the frosting between his fingers.

This is his "I'm so excited" scream.

Blue Beard

I was glad I made his ironed-on #1 shirt from an already stained onesie because I know I will never get those blue frosting stains out!

The goldfish piñata.

When I saw this post about how to make a number piñata, I was immediately inspired. It looked so easy! No balloons, no papier-mâché - just cardboard, tape, and crêpe paper. Probably something I should have started more than a week before the party, but with a long drive up north and back, followed by a few days with a sick baby who spent a lot of time sleeping, I somehow managed to finish it in time for the party!

I was a little afraid Abe might get freaked out to see his cousins whacking the goldfish with a stick, but they gave him the first swing and he thoroughly enjoyed it.

Happy with his little pile of loot.

For the party favors, I found these metal pails in the dollar bin at Target (in just the right colors too), and filled them with homemade sidewalk chalk and a thank you note from Abe.

Beach Bucket Favors

Homemade Sidewalk Chalk

I wasn't sure if Abe was really old enough to appreciate a party all for him, but he really seemed to enjoy it, so I'm glad we put a little time and effort into making his day really special.

Abe's new fish.