Play D’oh!

You have to love those emails from the teacher that come on a Wednesday afternoon: Your child needs to bring clay to school by Friday. That leaves a fair amount of time for some parents, but not I: my kids go to their dad’s every Thursday.

I just went through this last week with my other child. Homemade clay is easy, I reasoned. And cheap. They can make it at their dad’s house. Only they didn’t: I got a text Thursday night asking me to meet him at the gas station the next morning with a batch of clay. “It’s easy.” I told my date after reading the text. “Anyone can do it.” I just didn’t feel like doing it.

Still, at 5:30 the next morning, I got up early and started the process. I’d figured I’d send an extra bag of clay in case some other mother in the class is as scatterbrained as this one. Only I didn’t have enough salt for my regular recipe, let alone enough to make a double batch. I did, however, have a container of coarse salt, so I ground that up into powdered-salt in my blender (don’t breathe that!), added the flour, then added enough water and dishsoap to make a gloriously smooth dough. It took me almost half an hour to mix and knead such a large batch, but Mary said it was the best dough in the class: smooth, supple, and not sticky.

So when I got ANOTHER Wednesday email from Ethan’s teacher, asking for four colors this time, I figured I could totally handle it. In fact, I’d make it even cooler: This clay would be colored with koolaid and cocoa so it would smell neat, too!

Chocolate, jello, and glittery homemade playdough

My first task was easy: Buy more salt. Done. Also; these fancier pants recipes required Cream of Tartar, so I bought that as well. Then I hit a hurdle: no one around here carries blue Koolaid anymore. So I found a recipe for jello clay instead. I still had to go to another store to buy a box of blue Jello, and they didn’t carry it in the 3oz size the recipes called for. Not to worry, though; I could measure half a box of blue jello easily enough, right?

The next task was to actually make the dough. I started with my box of green sugar-free jello, cooking it according to the recipe directions. Holy smokes, that clay was hard to stir! And when it was finished and kneaded and all, it wasn’t very smooth: the salt (normal Morton table salt this time) was grainy. Also, I’d thought this clay would smell gloriously limey. It smelled faintly of lime, but mostly of clay. Still, it was fine, so I bagged that wad of dough and cleaned the pan.

For batch two, I blended the salt to make it smoother, added the flour and cream of tartar, and used half a box of blue sugared jello. This time it was extraordinarily sticky. 😦 I think I might not have cooked it long enough — the recipes say I should stir until a ball forms, but I guess my arm was too tired at that point, so I gave up early. Figuring I might be able to salvage the recipe, I added a little flour and some dishsoap until it had a more workable consistency. And then I put the pan in the sink and grabbed the other pan I’d just cleaned.

I wasn’t sure whether I needed a packet of unflavored gelatin for the white clay, so i just went without. This time the clay was even stickier than before. I ended up kneading several spoonfuls of flour into the mix. I also added glitter. The white clay is for snow-topped mountains and I thought that’d look cool. Hopefully my boy won’t mind. Maybe he’ll share some with a cute girl. Who knows.

So I cleaned out this pan and then whipped up a larger batch of cocoa-play doh. They’re making maps of Utah with this stuff, so I figured he’d need plenty of brown. The cocoa playdough smelled glorious and worked nicely, but by now my shoulders were about worn out, so the cook & stir part was very tiring.

I have not cleaned that cocoa dough pan yet, and the blue dough pan is still in my sink. My arms and wrists are shot, I’m sweaty, and I need another shower. And a nap. But I also need to go to school and work in the drafting lab today. Tired me!

Shouldn't recipes include clean-up time?

In all, I probably spent 3 hours making enough clay dough for these two projects, and my kitchen is still a blue, green, brown, and glittery mess. Even if I were earning far less than minimum wage, it would still be more cost-productive to have purchased the clay at the store. “But it’s so fun and easy to make!” I reasoned with myself; only the reasonable part of me rolled my eyes. “But making homemade clay dough somehow makes me feel like a great mom!” I reasoned again… only it really didn’t.

The moral of this story: It’s OK for good moms to just buy Play-dough. Still, if you’d like the recipe that worked out best for us, use this one. It didn’t require cooking, only got one bowl messy, and I didn’t need Cream of Tartar, either.

The Best Homemade Play Dough – no cream of tartar, and no cooking:
1 cup salt (blending this to powder seemed to make it smoother)
1 T corn starch
2 cups flour
About a half teaspoon of dish soap
1/2 to 1 1/2 cups warm water

Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add 1/2 cup water and the dish soap. Stir and knead. Add more water, just a little at a time, as needed, until the dough clings to itself more than it clings to your hands, and is soft and supple. You’re done. Store it in an airtight bag.

If you’d like the other recipes I tried, you can find them here and here.

Or, you can just buy a case of Play Dough from Amazon… or use my favorite air-dry dough: Model Magic by Crayola. Easy peasy. I know what I’m doing next time!

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