Thursday, July 31, 2008

Homemade Playfood - Muffins

My last post was a birthday present for my nephew...but both my little ones have summer birthdays; so there are more birthday posts to come. These muffins were for my son's 2-year-old birthday a few weeks ago. I took pictures along the way when I made the last one since the pattern finally had my approval (my pattern was a work in progress...I made the carrot one first; it's kind of blobby...the zucchini and blueberry are better, but still possess some blobbiness). are the pictures and instructions (see the bottom of this post for color/flavor ideas).

Cut the pattern out of felt (or whatever fabric you are using). To those of you that are playfood purists, just pretend that I used beautiful soft wool felt. To those of you that are on a budget or can't find wool felt...go to the craft store and buy the little squares of acrylic felt; yes, you'll be able to feel the difference, but your kids will probably just be happy to have playfood and won't care that it's not made with the best of the best. I've said before...find any fabric from any project and make it work.

The first thing you need to do is sew the little things on the top...whatever you choose to put on it. This one is a banana muffin. My banana is a second piece of the same color felt, and I've sewn it on with 3 strands of embroidery floss with a blanket stitch. At the end I added a little brown thread to finish off my banana.

The next step is to sew together the four sides of the second piece. I've done this part by hand and I've done it with the sewing works well either way; it's a lot faster with the sewing machine, obviously. Turn this piece right-side-out so the seams are on the inside.

Lay the circle on top of the bottom, and sew a blanket stitch with embroidery floss (all 6-strands) around 3/4 of the circle (the top edge of the bottom piece lays flat against the circle when you do this so that you are folding the edge of the bottom piece out and sewing the two edges together).

Leaving the long floss hanging off to the side, fill the muffin with rice on the bottom (for weight) and stuffing (fabric scraps, stuffing from the fabric store, cotton balls, old socks, whatever), then blanket stitch the remaining edge to finish your muffin.

The picture at the top shows my banana, carrot, blueberry, and zucchini muffins, here are some additional ideas:

Apple - red or green muffin with an apple on top
Strawberry - pink muffin with a strawberry
Wheat/bran - light brown with wheat stalk on top
Lemon, Lime - yellow or green with a slice on top (see my zucchini, and picture it with half a circle)
Pineapple - yellow muffin with a pineapple on the top
Cranberry-orange - orange/peach muffin with an orange slice and/or cranberries on the edge with cranberry colored thread
Blueberry-peach - same concept as the cranberry-orange with different colors
Chocolate-chip - light brown muffin with dark brown spots

or....CUPCAKES...use the same pattern to make chocolate or vanilla cupcakes with icing on top. I've made cupcakes, donuts, and cookies for my daughter's birthday coming up in a few more on this later.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Homemade Toys: I-Spy Game

I like to give homemade gifts if I have time to make them. This one was for my nephew's 3rd birthday earlier this summer. I got this idea from other moms that make homemade toys; it's an I-spy game/toy. Earlier this year when I was making these, I was searching for something to hide inside them, and I found my answer at JoAnn's. They are buttons! They carry them in so many different shapes (cars, school supplies, animals, foods, sports, flowers, etc) and they are a perfect size for this type of toy.

To make the toy, I used fleece that I had around from other projects. The great part about the fleece was that I didn't have to worry about finishing the edges; I just left them plain. I cut my shapes in two layers, then cut the "window" in one piece. For the window material, I used the clear, flexible packaging that I got with some kids toy (sometimes sheets come in this type of packaging or you can buy some at the fabric's just clear vinyl). I sewed my window in, pinned the two parts together, then stitched most of the way around the outside leaving a 3 inch hole to fill it. I put my button shapes in and filled it with lentils (You could also use rice, beans, small pasta...I guess the assumption is that no one would ever put an I-spy bag into a boiling pot of water). Don't fill it too tight, you need to be able to squish the stuffing around. Sew the last few inches closed, and the toy is finished.

Not that it was necessary, but I decided to make cards to go with these so that my nephew knew what he was looking for. One bag has animals, food, and school stuff in it; the other one has things-that-go and sports stuff in it. I downloaded clip art to put together cards, printed them out at home, then laminated them (if I were doing it again, I would have printed them on cardstock or glued them to a card...they're a bit too flexible). The cards also allowed me to personalize the gift for Luke and give him the directions.

Happy Birthday, Luke!
(My sister tells me that she put one of these in the car for Luke; it's a great thing to play with when you are stuck in a carseat.)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Homemade Frappuccino

We are now living in a country that grows a good amount of the coffee that Starbucks uses, but there is not a single Starbucks here....I agree with them (there's not much market for a Starbucks here), but I'm on my own for Frappuccinos...and I've found something that works really well (and doesn't cost $4 a cup).

Step 1: Brew 2 cups of coffee (or wait for the day that no one wants to finish the last 2 cups in the coffee pot).

Step 2: Add a big spoonful of powdered milk
(If you are in the States, you will only be able to find fat-free powdered milk...if you are overseas like us, go for the good stuff, 2% or more).

Step 3: Add sugar, flavored syrups, hot chocolate powder to taste.
(I like Ovaltine in spite of it's annoying commercials, since it doesn't have hydrogenated in Costa Rica I buy the one in the orange idea what it's called since I immediately dump it into the frequently depleted cannister that I keep going)

Step 4: Pour into an ice cube tray and freeze it.

Step 5: When you are ready to drink it...put the cubes (half or all) in the blender with milk. It's a good amount for 2 people.

Step 6: Keep your eye open for the next pot of unfinished coffee and repeat.

My kids usually try to steal some of this from me when I'm making it...I'll have to come up with a coffee-free version sometime. Our empleada says it tastes like ice cream :-) Since it isn't made with plain ice, it stays good even while it's never gets watery at the end.

Take that Starbucks...I can live without you!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Homemade Milk

Yesterday marked the two year anniversary of a healthy nursing relationship with my little guy. I thought that I would post today in honor of all the mom's that are making milk at home daily.

Did you know that the World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of a baby's life and 2 or more years of breastfeeding in addition to receiving other healthy food?

The American Association of Pediatrics says: Increased duration of breastfeeding confers significant health and developmental benefits for the child and the mother, especially in delaying return of fertility (thereby promoting optimal intervals between births). There is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychologic or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer.

For more information on breastfeeding and extended breastfeeding, visit:

Other interesting information about breastmilk:
Breastmilk can be used to heal: eye infections, cracked nipples, scratches, bug bites, ear infections, sinus's also great for anyone with low immunity. Check it out!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Homemade Playfood - Bag Lunch

More Playfood Pics - this was last year's Christmas gift for my kids (I made one for my niece and nephew, too)... a sandwich with roast beef, tomato, lettuce, cheese and whole wheat bread...carrots and sugar snap peas...and a yogurt. The grilled cheese sandwich was a piece of bread that didn't turn out as I made it into grilled cheese. I bought some soft wool felt for the lunch bags, and for the rest I was able to use my left over fabric from other projects and old clothes.

The inside pieces of the sandwich are all one or two layers of fabric...nice and thin. The lettuce needs to be a stretchy fabric so that you can pull it (stretch it) while zig-zag stitching over the edge...this makes the crinkle effect on the edging.

The bread is stuffed with automobile microfiber towels (I use these for so many things - cloth diaper stuffing, nursing pads, mama pads...and bread). This makes the bread light and fluffy. The grilled cheese bread was stuffed with two layers of washcloth. This worked, but it was I changed my plans for the sandwich bread and used this stiff piece for grilled cheese after I finished the rest of the project.

The carrots and snap peas are stuffed with the fleece scraps I made while cutting them out. For the snap peas, I cut scraps of fleece into strips, tied them in knots (little balls), then put four or so of them in each snap pea...the finished result is that you can feel the "peas" inside each one...and see them, too.

The yogurt was a pain to make., and didn't turn out as well as I had hoped...I didn't include it in the gift, and I only made my kids got it (just like the grilled cheese, they kind of get the parts of the project that are functional, but never quite worked out). I did add one thing to the yogurt that I have always been happy I did...the lid is attached to the bottom piece with a 3 inch piece of ribbon. This way I'm not always trying to figure out where in our house the lid is hiding.

All it needs now is something like chips (like these) or cookies (like these)...there is always next Christmas, I guess.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Homemade Mixes

Here in Costa Rica, I can't always find some of the things I grew up with...for example, no one seems to sell Aunt Jemima's Whole Wheat pancake mix. This is not really too much of a shock, I had a hard time finding it in the States at times. Since, to me, whole wheat pancakes do really taste so much better than regular ones (even if I don't buy the >$4 bag of chocolate chips that the Walmart-owned store wants to sell me down here), I've resorted to putting together my own mix with a little help from Better Homes and Gardens. I'll put the recipe below, but my main point for this post is how surprising it always is to me at how few ingredients some of the mixes on store shelves have. How much extra time does it take to add 7 ingredients instead of just 4. Some mixes save us a lot of time; some can be whipped up at home in less than a few minutes. Keep them in tubs, give them as gifts in little bags or in jars, or just make a single batch.

On the other hand, there are some things that we have tried to replicate with a mix down here, that just don't cut it. Josh tried a spice mix he found online for chili powder (a rare sighting down here), and it just didn't make it. I was going to include it when I got around to writing this post, but I don't want you trying it. It's not worth ruining a good batch of chili. And Josh found the one store that sells overpriced imported chili powder; so we're past the chili powder emergency.

Do you have any good mixes that you would like to share? Put them in the comments; I would love to try them.

Whole Wheat Pancake Mix

For each cup of whole wheat flour, add:
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/4 salt

Store in an airtight container/bag in the refrigerator or freezer (don't forget: whole wheat flour will go bad over time if it is not kept refrigerated or frozen ... so, this mix will, too).

To make the pancakes:
1 cup of pancake mix
1 egg
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons oil

This makes about 8 pancakes (or if you don't have a griddle because you left it in the States because of airline bag-weight limits, it makes about 4 huge pancakes, one by one, in a medium sized skillet).

Yummy Add-ins (anything dry can be added directly into your mix...this is especially nice if you use it as a gift...anything moist should wait until you make the pancakes)
  • chocolate chips (of course) or any flavored chip
  • apple bits
  • nuts
  • blueberries (mmm....blueberries...I can't buy these anywhere down here) fresh or dried
  • craisins
  • m & m 's (my daughter's personal favorite and one she talks about having when Grandpa makes her pancakes) - best added to the pancake after pouring it into the pan, otherwise the color runs away and the pancakes look scary

Playdough Update

I've updated my earlier homemade playdough post with pictures and fun add-ins. Check it out!