More play dough

Same recipe, different colors. I made a bunch of play dough for an event, the perfect opportunity to try new colors.

Previously I had used McCormick brand food coloring; this time I used up the last of the green and started on a store brand with a different formulation which made me realize the colors probably depend on brand as well. Oops.

Top left was supposed to be “raspberry” according to McCormick recipe, but I used the store brand colors and it was a pretty muddy color. Vaguely like the color of black raspberry ice cream maybe. Made with 34 drops red and 6 blue.

Top right was an attractive red color: not quite red but definitely not pink. 20 drops red.

Middle left was 20 blue 5 green, mostly because I had a lot of green.

Middle right was 10 red, 20 yellow, a very attractive color in the orange range (but not really a true orange).

Bottom left was 30 drops of green, and I actually made two batches: one that was some of each green and the other was all store brand (because I had a LOT of green). The two batches were not distinguishable.

Bottom right: 25 drops yellow. A very nice yellow.

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Yellow Play Dough

Same recipe as before, this time with 30 drops of yellow food coloring (and no other colors). It is a decent yellow color, not pastel.

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Favorite Board Books

favorite board books

Here are some of our favorite board books.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle is so popular now I almost didn’t mention it, but it is a favorite.  It is unabridged from the original picture book, including the truncated pages and holes!  Bright, fun, holes in the pages, actually a story, all-around good.  It also has counting, days of the week, and lifecycle of the butterfly, but that’s all rather beyond the board-book aged child.

Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What do you See? (Martin/Carle) is another unabridged classic in board book form.  The cadence of the text is perfect for reading out loud, and most pages picture one brightly illustrated animal.  (The “prairie dog” still kinda creeps me out, though.)

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes (Mem Fox) is an oversized board book about babies all over the world, who all have “ten little fingers and ten little toes.”  The illustrations are delightfully sweet.

Byron Barton’s Boats and Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs have bright, simple, appealing pictures with some minimal text/story.  I’m not familiar with his other books.

Say & Play’s First Words and Oink, Moo, Meow feature a single cut-out photograph image per page.  I like these two better than some of their other books.  First Words features individual pictures with a single word on each page (“Cat” “Baby” etc.).  It’s fun to show baby an actual rubber duck next to the rubber duck picture in the book, particularly when they near one year old.  Oink, Moo, Meow has an animal and text of what the animal says (“The cat says Meow” — the same cat as from the other book).  At some point babies enjoy hearing the animal sounds, and this book has a LOT of animals.

Indestructibles are not actually board books, but rather pamphlet-style books made out of a very resilient paper-like material which is, in fact, indestructible to a baby.  You can let baby handle these independently long before traditional board books.  They do wrinkle immediately.  We like Plip Plop Pond and Mama and Baby.  Note: neither has any words, which doesn’t bother me, and the pictures seem oversaturated, but it is such a unique item I give them a pass.

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Paper or nothing?

Not meaning bags, but whether to use cupcake liners (aka muffin papers).

I hate cleaning muffin pans, and I find it hard to get muffins out cleanly without liners.  My husband doesn’t like liners because they stick to the muffin.  Our compromise, dating back to our first year of marriage, was for me not to use liners and he gets to remove the muffins and wash the pans. Done.  (At this point I usually remove them myself, but I only rarely wash the pans).

But what about cupcakes?  It hasn’t come up often since he doesn’t like cupcakes–he’d rather have cake and I’m good with that–but what about for a shower?

I’m making cupcakes for a baby shower this weekend.  Chocolate with chocolate frosting.  My new favorite chocolate cake is fantastic but I’ve never made it as cupcakes.  Neither have I paired it with my favorite chocolate frosting; the cake calls for ganache but that is not practical for cupcakes.  I needed to make a test batch anyway so I have tested the following and will share the results here for your reference and viewing pleasure:

  • Cupcakes baked directly in greased pan (sprayed with Pam)
  • Cupcakes baked in paper liners
  • Cupcakes baked in paper lines that have also been sprayed (not at all inspired by overspray from the unlined cupcakes, of course)

Reasons to choose one method over another:

  • Aesthetics
  • Ease of cleanup
  • Ease of transport & handling
  • Minimizing waste
  • Hygiene
  • Ease of consumption
  • What bakes best
  • Taste, of course!

Obviously papers make cleanup easier, and you have less waste without them (unless the cupcakes stick terribly to the pan).  But how much is baking affected by the use of liners?  Direct thermal contact with the pan could reasonably be expected to make a difference, and it did:

It’s similar to the difference between using wet cake strips around a metal cake layer vs not, except with an extreme little ridge on the side.  Without the liner, the sides bake quickly and the centers dome.  (I have not noticed this issue with most muffin recipes).

Spraying the liners vs not?

Not so much:

Maybe the sprayed wrapper stuck slightly less, especially the center bottom (upper left), but not a big difference.

You could do your own test with your recipe.  Or, just use the papers for cupcakes.  Don’t bother with spraying them.  You’re welcome.

P.S. Don’t bother with cute papers if you’re making chocolate cupcakes unless they’re some kind of fancy, heavy-duty papers with high opacity.  You won’t be able to see much of the design.

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Cocoa-Hazelnut Spread

When asked if I liked, and wanted, hazelnuts, I said sure!  Hazelnuts are delicious, right?  It turns out I don’t actually like them by themselves but rather only in chocolate.  Oops.

I finally used some to make cocoa-hazelnut spread.  I based it on this recipe, but the recipe is British and required some translation.  It is delicious!  Just a little nibble makes a tasty snack.

Apparently, 200 g of hazelnuts is about 1 1/2 cups.

Peanuts are a type of groundnut, so I used peanut oil.  If you don’t have any peanut oil you can substitute other oil.  It doesn’t contribute to the flavo(u)r.  I think I used a little more than they called for to get it all to come together.

I assumed vanilla essence is either another name for, or similar to, vanilla extract.

Caster sugar is between granulated and powdered sugars.  The link suggests making it from granulated sugar in the food processor.  Since I needed the food processor for this recipe anyway I gave it a go, but I think it was too little sugar to work well.  Next time I would use honey.

As I typically do, I tried the recipe as-written the first time (or as close as I could get).  I tasted it and then doubled the cocoa powder.

My least favorite part was getting the skins off the roasted nuts.  It took way too long for such a simple recipe.  I wonder how much it affects the finished product to leave the skins on.

Overall, I like this recipe.  It is simple, tasty, and a good way to use up the hazelnuts in my possession.  The sugar was just a tiny bit gritty and this version was too sweet for sandwiches for my taste, but reasonably spreadable and not at all sticky.  Next time I will start unsweetened and add a little bit of honey at a time, to taste.

P.S. I bet this would make awesome truffles.

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Homemade Play Dough

finished play dough

I’m sure there are 100 similar recipes for homemade play dough out there.  This is the one I use.  It is simple, quick, cheap, and non-toxic.

Homemade Play Dough Recipe:

  • 2 cups flour (cheap all-purpose white flour works best)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup salt (basic cheap salt)
  • 2 Tbsp oil (canola or whatever)
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • food coloring (basic liquid from the grocery store, or use concentrated specialty gels for colors like red or purple)

Mix ingredients in a big pot.  Stir over medium heat until it thickens and then comes together in a big ball.  Dump on counter and knead a bit until smooth.

Ideally your end user would observe or assist with the process as he is able.

Today’s play dough (pictured) had 20 drops green and 10 drops yellow food coloring.  Cooking time was less than 10 minutes and I barely had to knead it.

Just beginning to heat / Starting to thicken / Ready to remove from heat

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Seahorse Toy with Pattern

Applying the Seahorse Principle to making a toy seahorse!

James has enjoyed sewing with me (mostly watching).  After we made a turtle for Baby Luke, James continued to request that we work on the turtle.  I reminded him that we had already finished the turtle and suggested we start a new project.  Here it is! I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out, especially since it was a bit quick-and-dirty so as not to lose the toddler along the way.

I sketched out the original pattern pieces on scrap paper.  Just for you, I will scan in those pieces and clean them up in case you’d like to make your own.  It seems only fitting that we should have our own little mascot here on The Seahorse Principle.

Tip: if you want to make other creatures using a similar technique, apply the Seahorse Principle and make animals that will look good flat!  A four-legged animal made in this way would be a stylized silhouette, which is fine if that’s what you’re going for but it would be a different look.  Fish would work great using this method; in fact that is next on my list if James gets the urge to sew again.

General procedure:

All seam allowances are 1/4″.  I used scraps of quilting cotton in two patterns and a bit of embroidery floss.

Cut a pair of main body pieces.  Embroider or otherwise make eyes on each.  Stitch just the front edge of the seahorse including the whole tummy part of the seam, from the “neck” to the beginning of the tail.  Trim curve with pinking shears.

Cut two pairs of pouch pieces (optional!).  Sew each pair, right sides facing, along the long curved edge.  Trim seams with pinking shears to reduce bulk.  Open them up–now you have a lining and an outside.    Stack right sides together, seams aligned (no longer flat; one will be cupped inside the other).  Stitch all the way around, leaving a small opening for turning along one of the long edges.  Clip corners, turn, (finger-) press (tucking the raw edges in line with the seam at the turning opening).  Align the the pouch with the curve of the tummy on the main body of the seahorse.  Stitch the pouch to the body from the corner, down the long edge, and up the other side (this will close the turning opening).  Don’t forget to reinforce the corners with backstitching.  The top of the pouch remains open.

Cut a pair of fins.  Sew together on three curvy sides, right sides facing.  Trim with pinking shears, turn right side out, and press flat (finger pressing is fine).  Stitch radially in & out on the fin to make it flat and give it some detail; use a color that blends or contrasts as you wish.

Turn the body inside-out again.  Pin the fin sandwiched between the body pieces in the middle of the back.  (The raw edge of the fin and the body align, with the finished fin tucked inside).  Stitch from the neck, up around the head, and down just past the fin.  Pink/clip corners & curves (especially under the chin).  Turn.  Carefully stuff tiny bits of stuffing tightly in to each bit of the head and then the body.  Stuff firmly for best results.  Flip the tail so that right sides are together again, and stitch from the bottom of the tummy, around the tail, and back up toward the fin, leaving an opening for turning.  Pink/clip corners & curves.  Turn the tail all the way out to the end.  Stuff firmly with very tiny bits of stuffing all the way into the tail.  Stuff remaining gap and hand-stitch the opening closed.  Done!

The pattern pieces:

Seahorse Pattern Pieces (PDF)

Please let me know if you make one, and share a picture if you’d like!

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Black Raspberry Ice Cream

My husband loves black raspberry ice cream. This is how we made our own.


  1. Obtain black raspberry cuttings from a local friend.
  2. Leave cuttings out in the sun until almost dead, then plant the survivors. (This is known as “hardening” if you do it on purpose.)
  3. Allow plants to become established over several years until you get a decent crop of berries.
  4. When you see berries forming be sure to water plants well.
  5. Collect ripe berries daily before the birds get them.
  6. Freeze berries on a pan in the freezer, then transfer to ziplock bags. (We rinse & dry the berries first.)


  • 3 c black raspberries (makes 1 1/4 c puréed fruit)
  • 1 pint cream
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 1 T lemon juice


  1. Purée raspberries (if frozen, let them melt at room temperature or in the fridge first).
  2. Blend all ingredients thoroughly in blender.
  3. Strain out seeds.
  4. Process for 25-30 minutes in ice cream maker (makes one batch in a 1.5 quart machine).
  5. Freeze overnight.

*Adapted from

The original recipe called for double the fruit, resulting in an icier product (and too much to be processed at one time in my ice cream maker). This version is still very flavorful but much creamier, having proportions more similar to our usual basic vanilla ice cream recipe.

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