Best Homemade Playdough Recipe

I make playdough all the time.  And I strongly prefer cooked playdough.  It has a nice texture and keeps well so it can be enjoyed for months.

My kids love it and I love knowing that it supports their learning and development.

Playdough is an open-ended toy that promotes creative and imaginative play as well as a child’s social and emotional development.   It helps improve hand-eye coordination and strengthens those fine motor skills used in hand-writing.

It’s more than just a fun activity that keeps them busy (but I like that about it, too).

lizzie homemaker hydrangea inspired playdough
This hydrangea inspired playdough was a big hit with the littles. To create a relaxing floral scent I added a couple drops of geranium rose essential oil to the dough.

Best Homemade Playdough Recipe

Making playdough is easier than you think and the possibilities are endless. Switch up the colours and add scents to match the seasons or complement current interests.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups of water
  • 2 tbsp cream of tartar
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • food colouring

Directions

  1. Mix all the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed pot or saucepan.
  2. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly for about 3-5 minutes.  The dough will start to pull away from the sides of the pan and should no longer be sticky to the touch.
  3. Remove the dough from the pot.  Allow to cool slightly and knead.

Store dough in an air-tight container.

I like icing gel colours.  They are vivid and come in a greater variety of colours than liquid food colouring.

Essential oils and glitter can be kneaded into the dough at the end to add scent and sparkle.

A Simple Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

A bowl of butternut squash soup
This butternut squash soup is delicious, easy to make and incredibly healthy.

I love soups.  They can be made ahead, doubled and frozen.  They work well for lunches and dinners and can be paired with a variety of breads and salads to fill out a meal.  More than that, soups are pure comfort food and incredibly good for you!  This recipe is simple to make and it remains one of my kids’ favourites.

Simple Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

This recipe is packed with vegetables and full of flavour.

Ingredients

  • 1 butternut squash
  • olive oil
  • rosemary, sage or thyme (1 tsp dried or a couple sprigs of fresh, stems removed)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 large carrot, sliced
  • 2 stalks of celery, sliced
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (for vegetarian option)
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Cut squash in half, remove seeds, place on baking sheet.  Drizzle with a little olive oil, sprinkle with rosemary or thyme and bake in the oven for 45 minutes.  Allow to cool, then peel and chop.
  3. Add a little olive oil to a dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot, add onion, carrot and celery, cook for 5-10 minutes over medium-low heat.
  4. Add diced butternut squash and stock, bring to a boil then lower heat, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  5. Allow to cool slightly then transfer to a blender and puree.  Blend in Greek yogurt for a little tang and creaminess if you wish.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

 

This recipe can easily be made vegetarian, vegan or dairy-free.  For vegetarian and vegan options use vegetable stock.  For vegan and dairy-free options omit the yogurt.

 

Raising Mason Bees

Lizzie Homemaker mason bee cocoons
The kids examine our mason bee cocoons before we put them out to hatch.

Our family is keeping mason bees this year and we’re all very excited.

We decided to raise mason bees for a few reasons.

First off, it’s easy.  Unlike the social honey bee, mason bees are solitary bees so they don’t live in a hive that you’d have to manage – they require almost no effort.

Secondly, it’s a great hands-on educational project for the kids.  In case you’re wondering, I’m not worried about the kids getting stung.  Mason bees are extremely gentle creatures – they have no colony or queen to protect and male bees don’t even have stingers.

Lastly, pollinators are on the decline and we need to help them flourish so that we can flourish!  Since our visit last fall to the Museum of Science in Buffalo, NY, my daughter has regularly reminded me that nature doesn’t need us, we need nature: this is our little way of giving nature a helping hand.

Keeping mason bees is simple.   It requires three things:  a home for the bees, a garden for the bees, and, of course, bees.

#1 – A Home for the Bees

You can buy mason bee homes online or you can make one.  Place the house at eye level on a south or south-east facing wall that will receive morning sunlight and not blazing afternoon heat. Make sure the house is at eye level so you can watch the action unfold!

# 2 – A Garden for the Bees

Mason bees need a garden with spring flowering plants because they are only active for about 6 weeks in the spring.  They’ll need a steady supply of nectar and pollen during this time and some mud and/or exposed dirt for their nests.  By June they’re done foraging and the larvae are sealed off to become cocoons for next spring. Pesticide use is strongly discouraged since its primary purpose is to kill pests.

# 3 – Mason Bees

If you keep a garden you may already have mason bees but if you don’t, or if you want to watch these amazing insects from the cocoon stage onwards, you can simply purchase them online.  Google where to buy mason bees.

I ordered cocoons and they came in the mail.  I’ve been storing them the fridge, patiently waiting for the good spring weather to come – and now it’s time to put them out to hatch!

Place the bees outside in or near their house when temperatures are consistently above 10 degrees Celsius/50 Fahrenheit.  You should have spring flowers blooming in the garden.  You can stagger the release of the bees and put them out in a couple batches but be sure to put out a mix of males and females.  You can identify gender by the size of cocoons as the males are smaller than the females.

Watch the video above to learn more and enjoy!  It’s really that easy.

Rainy Day Things-To-Do

Lizzie Homemaker kids finger painting with chocolate pudding on a rainy day
Finger painting with chocolate pudding is something the kids adore doing and it requires little effort.  I keep a stash of pudding cups in the pantry specifically for this rainy day activity.

This spring embrace rainy days at home by creating a fun things-to-do list for the kids.

Last week it was pouring rain and my kids couldn’t have been any happier.  We’ve found the best rainy days are slow ones where we enjoy spending time together with options but no specific plans.  We go with the flow and it’s lovely.

Our strategy is to create a list of fun activities.  We brainstorm ideas on the chalkboard in our dining room and leave the list up during those rainy weeks in the early spring, checking off activities as we go.  You could just as easily write a list on a piece of paper and post it anywhere in your house, allowing the littles to enjoy a self-guided tour through the day. They may ask for help to set up activities but will spend long stretches playing freely.

25 Things To Do on a Rainy Day:

  1. Finger painting with chocolate pudding
  2. Take a bubble bath
  3. Bake something
  4. Have a tea party or indoor picnic
  5. Play dress up
  6. Take a family portrait
  7. Paint/draw portraits of each other
  8. Go outside and splash in puddles
  9. Dig for worms
  10. Build a fort
  11. Make playdough
  12. Build a bee house
  13. Snuggle up and read books together
  14. Write a letter to someone
  15. Make popcorn
  16. Watch a movie
  17. Ice and water play
  18. Look at family photos
  19. Play freeze dance
  20. Have an indoor scavenger hunt
  21. Play hide-and-seek
  22. Make paper airplanes
  23. Make jewelry
  24. Build an obstacle course
  25. Make a fruit salad

Having options but no plans is the best way to spend a rainy day at home with kids.

Spinach, Tomato and Feta Frittata

Lizzie Homemaker Spinach Tomato Feta Breakfast Frittata
I often make this frittata on the weekend. It’s so healthy and easy to put together.

This is my go-to frittata.  It’s easy, packed with healthy veg and protein, and I love that I can clean up my prep mess and set the table in the time in takes for the frittata to bake.

Spinach, Tomato and Feta Frittata

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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This frittata can also be enjoyed as a light lunch or dinner when paired with a salad.

Ingredients

  • 2-3 tbsps of olive oil or a generous spoonful of garlic confit
  • 142g/5oz baby spinach (or go spinach heavy like I usually do and use 312g/11oz)
  • a handful of chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, basil or dill and/or a couple sliced green onions
  • 1 cup cherry/grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese, cubed
  • 8 eggs, whisked
  • fresh cracked pepper to taste
  • pinch of chili flakes (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Heat olive oil or garlic confit over medium heat in cast iron or non-stick pan.
  3. Add handfuls of spinach and toss as it wilts.  Continue adding and tossing spinach until the entire package has been added.
  4. Add herbs and/or green onions and toss.
  5. Pour eggs over spinach then top with the tomatoes, feta, fresh cracked pepper and chili flakes (if using), making sure to distribute evenly.
  6. Transfer frittata to oven and bake for 20 minutes.

 

To release the frittata run a spatula or knife around the edge of the pan.  You can cut it into wedges in the pan and serve it family style (with one less dish to clean).  Or transfer the frittata to a plate or cutting board and cut it into wedges for a nicer presentation.

I love eating this frittata with chipotle hot sauce or a hot pepper relish.

Chia Pudding

Lizzie Homemaker healthy breakfast chia pudding with cherry chia jam
Chia pudding topped with cherry chia jam, buckwheat groats, cacao nibs and coconut flakes.

Chia pudding has to be the easiest make-ahead breakfast and it’s incredibly versatile.

It’s also very healthy as chia seeds pack a big punch.  These little gems are full of essential fatty-acids, fibre, omegas, anti-oxidants, protein, and vitamins and minerals which support good heart, brain and bone health.  They also stabilize blood sugar and fight belly fat and inflammation.  It’s no wonder this superfood is becoming so popular.

If you find it hard to manage breakfast before work, chia pudding is a great option to have ready to simply grab and go.  My husband often rushes off to work in the morning and loves to bring this to eat at his desk.

At home I take the time to turn my chia pudding into a pretty breakfast bowl with an assortment of fresh fruits or chia jam and sprinklings.  It’s a lovely way to start my day.

The most basic version is simply 1 cup of milk to 1/4 cup chia seeds.  For vegan options you can use nut milks such as almond or cashew, or soy milk if you wish to go nut-free.

Give the mixture a stir after 15 minutes or so, otherwise the chia can clump together which yields an undesirable texture.

Chia Pudding

  • Servings: 1 - 2
  • Difficulty: easy
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This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled and can be made advance and eaten over a couple of days.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of your choice milk (almond, cashew, soy and cow’s milk all work well)
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla

optional:

  • 1-2 tbsp of sweetener such as maple syrup, agave, or honey
  • toppings of your choice such as chia jam, fresh fruit, dried fruit, granola, nuts, seeds, cacao nibs, coconut flakes

Directions

  1. Whisk together your choice of milk with vanilla and chia seeds.
  2. Allow to stand for 15 minutes then whisk again.
  3. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight while the chia seeds plump up.
  4. Add sweetener, if desired, and any toppings of your choice.

 

The pudding can end up a little too thick or thin if you don’t measure correctly.  To correct this simply add a little more milk to thin it out or a scant amount of chia seeds to thicken.

Playing with Ice

Sticky Ice Cube Magic Trick

kids science experiment playing with salt and ice

My five-year-old loves science experiments and she loves magic so this activity was a huge hit with her.  It can be a little finicky – too much salt or not enough contact can cause the experiment to fail but my science-minded child appreciated that.  She had to find the sweet spot.  We started the experiment with plain little ice cubes then progressed on to using coloured ice that I made in muffin tins.

You will need:

  • two ice cubes
  • salt

Directions

  1.   Sprinkle salt on top of one ice cube.
  2.   Place second ice cube on top and wait about 15 or 20 seconds.
  3.   Lift the top ice cube and see what happens.

The ice cubes should stick together – the surfaces that touch need to make solid contact with each other so put the two flat sides together.

If you put too much salt on the ice then the cubes just continue melting. All you want is for the ice cubes to melt slightly then refreeze in order to stick together.

Creating Ice Sculptures

Ice sculpture made by Lizzie Homemaker's child
The ice sculptures made by the kids were really beautiful. My 5-year-old made this one.

This ice activity was a fun one to continue with after the Sticky Ice Cube Magic Trick. We started with plain little ice cubes then progressed to making ice sculptures using coloured ice that I made in muffin tins and a variety of empty plastic containers.

You will need:

  • a large tray or plastic bin that can contain ice and water
  • various blocks of ice (directions below)
  • salt (I provided table salt and epson salt)

Directions

  1.   Freeze water in empty yogurt containers, muffin tins, ice cube trays and random plastic containers to create ice in a variety of shapes and sizes.  Add food colouring if you wish to have coloured ice.
  2.   Show the kids how to “stick” two pieces of ice together by adding a little salt to one piece of ice and placing another on top.
  3.   Let them play, experiment and be creative.

When the kids were generous with the salt, the ice didn’t stick but it would mold and form complimentary divots allowing for the sculpture building to continue.

I also extended this activity by giving them a couple of containers with water and some turkey basters to suction up the water and squirt it on top of their sculptures.

Cherry Chia Jam

Cherry Chia Jam
This cherry chia jam recipe is healthy and delicious. It contains no added sweetener of any kind so feel free to eat it by the spoonful.

This cherry chia jam was a huge hit with the littles.  They ate the entire jar so next time I will definitely have to make a double batch.

Chia jam is so easy to make and it’s incredibly healthy.  I make some every week with whatever fruit happens to be in season.  And when nothing local is in season I often use frozen fruit instead.  Dark cherry is my absolute favourite in the winter.  It’s perfect with warm oatmeal on a cold winter’s day.

Cherry Chia Jam

This fresh jam can be put together in less than 10 minutes. Then you simply pop it in the fridge and wait for it to thicken.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup frozen dark sweet cherries
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • squeeze of lemon

Directions

  1. Add cherries and 1 tbsp of water to a small saucepan and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, for 3-5 minutes until the fruit starts to break down.
  2. Remove from heat and mash.
  3. Add a squeeze of lemon and chia seeds.
  4. Refrigerate for several hours while the chia seeds plump up and thicken the jam.

This recipe can easily be doubled. Store in fridge for 4 or 5 days or freeze. Canning is not recommended.

Garlic Confit

lizzie homemaker garlic confit baked in the oven
Garlic confit is an indispensable condiment in our kitchen.  The secret to making it is low and slow.

Garlic confit is incredibly easy to make and it’s a staple that we always have in our fridge.  Compared to raw garlic it is rich, sweet and creamy.  It’s great in marinades, mashed potatoes, sauces, soups and stews.  I love using it as a base when I cook up greens.  You can even spread it on bread.  The garlic infused oil is perfect for roasting vegetables, in dressings and dips and adding to tossed pasta.  Really, it can be drizzled on anything you fancy.  It is so versatile.

There are two ways to make it – on the stovetop or in the oven.

Garlic Confit

Ingredients

  • 2 or 3 heads of garlic, peeled (you can easily double or triple the recipe – use as much as you want)
  • enough olive oil to completely cover the garlic

Directions

STOVETOP METHOD

Place peeled garlic cloves in a small saucepan, completely cover with olive oil, and slowly poach at a very low temperature for about 45 minutes until golden brown.  Allow to cool and refrigerate immediately.

OVEN METHOD

Preheat oven to 275F.  Place peeled garlic cloves in an oven proof dish, completely cover with olive oil, and bake for about an hour and a half until golden brown.  Allow to cool and refrigerate immediately.

The garlic confit can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for several weeks.  The cloves should be completely covered with the oil.

Chocolate Chip Granola Bars

lizzie homemaker chocolate chip granola bars
These chocolate chip granola bars are easily one of my family’s all-time favourite recipes.

When I started making these chocolate chip granola bars in the fall they quickly became a family favourite that was put into heavy rotation.  I whip up a batch every week.  They are easy to make, tasty, and infinitely cheaper and healthier than store bought.  They are nut-free and sesame-free, making them safe to bring to school and community spaces with allergy-friendly food policies.  They also keep well.  I pop them into the daughter’s lunch box, and pack them for snacks at the park and for after-school activities throughout the week. My husband also takes them to work to munch on when that afternoon slump hits.  The ingredients are all from the pantry.

Chocolate Chip Granola Bars

  • Servings: 24 bars
  • Difficulty: Easy
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Ingredients

DRY

  • 4 cups large rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup raw cacao nibs (optional)
  •  generous pinch of salt

WET

  • 1/2 cup avocado oil (or another neutral flavoured oil)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 300F and line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
  2.  In a large bowl combine dry ingredients.
  3.  In a medium bowl or large measuring cup combine wet ingredients.
  4. Drizzle wet ingredients over dry ingredients and THROUGHLY combine.
  5. Spread the mixture on the prepared baking sheet and PRESS DOWN FIRMLY to shape it into a rectangle (about 11×12 inches). If you don’t press it together well and it’s loose then you’ll end up with granola instead of granola bars.
  6. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until the top starts to turn golden.
  7. Allow to cool for about 15 minutes, then cut into bars (thirds lengthwise, then eight across).

 

These granola bars can be stored in a container for a couple weeks (if they last that long).