50 Thrifty Fun Things To Do: Clay Fairy Food

My daughter has something of an obsession with fairies and spends a lot of time crafting elaborate houses for them. I’ve lost count at how many she’s made, and some of them live permanently outside. She’s made them at her grandparents’ house, too. Whenever we bust out the playdough she’s made little plates and bowls and food for the fairies but, because of the ephemeral nature of play dough creations, they’ve all crumbled and disintegrated and become, well, gross. What she’s needed was clay.

Enter my artistic Aunt Trisha. Aunt Trisha is a full-time artist who can create art with anything: eggs, oil, stained glass, dolls, sculpture, and of course, clay. During our last visit she learned of Isobel’s desire to “make art” and promised to send us some Sculpey clay in the mail. (She did the exact same thing for me when I was a kid, and for much of my life my main goal was to be an artist “like Aunt Trisha.”)

When the box arrived I squirreled it away to be used as part of our Daily Summer Fun Thing. I set aside a whole day for this activity because I knew she was going to love it and it would occupy her for a long time, and also because the process involves more steps than play dough and it’s been so long since I’ve used clay I knew there’d be a learning curve. The box came with instructions which I glanced at but Isobel was chomping at the bit and I learn by doing, so we tossed caution and the directions to the wind and forged ahead.

Some of the things we made include:

  • a fairy’s cup of water
  • a bowl with strawberries inside
  • a pink and a red bell pepper
  • several varieties (colors) of carrots
  • a mandarin orange
  • strawberries of various sizes
  • tomatoes
  • two bowls
  • a plate
  • a weird giant mushroom that I think I may have overbaked a tad
  • a plum
  • a slice of watermelon
  • candy canes
  • an eggplant that doesn’t exist in nature probably

See if you can spot them from the pictures!

I put on various clay tutorial videos on from pinterest and youtube as inspiration while we worked, though we didn’t follow any of them. I did notice that in just about all the videos the women who were expertly creating the most amazing things out of clay also had long, immaculately done faux nail manicures. I am finally healthy enough to have long nails again and they were immediately crusted over with clay. I have no idea how those women managed to keep their manis clean, rhinestones and all. It’s a mystery to me. This is one of the facets of womanly arts I know I will just never master. (And I’m fine with that!)

The one tip that we learned from a video that we did follow was tremendously helpful and worth sharing: Have a small bowl of cornstarch handy for dipping molding utensils in so they won’t stick when you un-mold them. We used paintbrushes of various sizes plus two little tools my aunt sent us.

This was super fun and we are already planning on what we are going to make next time–beads maybe. Elias was with us and so he didn’t feel left out we gave him regular play dough, which he tried to eat whenever he thought I wasn’t looking.

Recipe: Summer Standby Tomato Salad

It has been a looooong time since I’ve posted something from my Little Big Kitchen series, and to make up for it I’m sharing a recipe that celebrates summer in all it’s garden-bursting glory.  When we have tomatoes in the garden I perpetually have a container of this in the fridge at all times. It’s the best way to use up a surplus, or a constant garden-supply of cherry tomatoes, though it is made just as easily with chopped tomatoes of any size. I always use cherry tomatoes because I’m very good at growing them, while I’ve had dismal results with several varieties of regular tomatoes in the past. This year I didn’t attempt to grow any due to the double problems of drought and ill-health, but I still made it whenever we had tomatoes on hand that weren’t earmarked for anything else.

In some of the photos you’ll notice that I added shredded carrots. I was adding them to a green salad in that case, which was fabulous, but I consider those and add-in, as is the avocado. Once you learn the base recipe for this salad, you can go crazy with the add-ins.

So, to get to the point of this recipe: the tomato salad is a combination of tomatoes, chopped red onion, herbs, spices, a little bit of oil, and a healthy dose of citrus juice and/or vinegar. The whole thing marinates together in your fridge and the onion mellows, losing its harsh bite, and the tomaotes and all the other ingredients soften and meld together to make a really flavorful salad. But that’s not where the story ends. You can absolutely enjoy this salad as-is, eaten as a vegetable side dish or straight out of the fridge with a spoon, but that undersells this salad completely. The brilliant part is once you have it on hand, you add it to everything: tomato salad + avocado + baked potato = easy, healthy dinner. Tomato salad + shredded carrots + leaf lettuce = amazingly flavorful salad. Tomato salad + goat cheese + toasted baguette = speedy bruschetta. Eat it as nachos! Add in grilled corn! Put it over poached fish! You get the idea. Having this on hand means you are so close to putting delicious food with complex flavor in your mouthhole. It’s also really healthy and stays fresh in the fridge a long time thanks to the preserving action of the acid or vinegar.

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The amounts of ingredients here are an estimate, and it’s all very flexible with what you have on hand.

  • a large handful cherry tomatoes, sliced in halves or fourths; or regular tomatoes, roughly chopped into large dice
  • a fourth of a red onion, diced
  • a tablespoon or two of chopped parsley
  • the juice of two limes, or one large lemon, or two tablespoons of red wine vinegar
  • a few drops of olive oil, the nicer the better
  • pinch of salt, generous grinding of black pepper

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–Start with the tomatoes, and add everything else a bit at a time, especially the vinegar, to find the balance you like. If the lemon or lime is just too mouth-puckeringly sour, don’t add less, just add a pinch of sugar or two until it balances out.

–Mix everything in a lidded refrigerator container. It will be delicious now, but for full effect, let it sit overnight in the fridge so the flavors can get friendly with each other.

–I like to add flat-leaf Italian parsley as the herb because it doesn’t overpower the dishes you pair it with, but I have a serious dill addiction and have added fresh dill, too (though it’s not so great in nachos that that point). Other fantastic choices would be cilantro or fresh basil.

–Again, thanks to the acid component it keeps in the fridge a long time. This is also a great dish to take to work because the onions are softened so you don’t get onion breath after eating!

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