How to Make Playdough (easy recipe)

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How to make playdough? This recipe is so easy even I could do it!

I’m amazed how many parents at playgroup ask me how to make playdough. It’s so easy that you need never buy the Hasbro stuff again.

This is an uncooked playdough recipe, but does use freshly boiled water so probably best not to involve the kids in making it – at least with the boiling water bit! While there are plenty of recipes out there that are more child-helper friendly, this is the one that’s worked best for us in terms of the finished result.

You’ll probably have most of the ingredients in your store cupboard, though the hefty amount of salt required may exceed your usual cooking requirements in this sodium reduced age.

This stuff keeps kids amused for HOURS at a time, so get in the kitchen and whip some up quick!

How to Make Playdough (recipe)

Ingredients

  • 280g flour
  • 30ml (2 tbsp) vegetable oil
  • 175g salt
  • 2 tbsp (25g) cream of tartar
  • 350-400 ml boiling water (added gradually)
  • food colouring (40ml bottle)
  • few drops of glycerine
  1. Mix the flour, salt, cream of tartar and oil in a large mixing bowl
  2. Add food colouring TO the boiling water then into the dry ingredients
  3. Stir continuously until it becomes a sticky, combined dough
  4. Add the glycerine (optional, but recommended)
  5. Allow it to cool down then take it out of the bowl and knead it vigorously for a couple of minutes until all of the stickiness has gone (This is the most important part of the process, so keep at it until it’s the perfect consistency!)
  6. If it remains a little sticky then add a touch more flour until just right

This is my take on how to make playdough. What’s yours? Please comment below.

Top Five Awesome Alternatives to Disney Princesses

When I became a father of a daughter, I quickly became aware I needed to seek out alternatives to Disney Princesses. If you’re raising a girl, there’s no escaping the reign of them over their generation. Frozen’s Anna and Elsa have only strengthened the power that the princess industrial complex wields over their developing cultural lives.

If you’re tired of all the trappings of princess culture cluttering up your little girl’s childhood, or just wish to expose them to alternative female led films, TV, books, and toys – here are my top five Disney Princess alternatives to inspire and empower your little girls.

1. Studio Ghibli

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‘My Neighbour Tototo’, Dir: Hayao Miyazaki, © 1988 Nibariki – G/Studio Ghibli

My search for alternatives to Disney Princesses struck a rich seam in Japan. The animated films of Studio Ghibli, and Hayo Miyazaki in particular, should be a part of everyone’s cinematic childhood.

My Neighbour TotoroKiki’s Delivery Service, and Whisper of the Heart are particular favourites of ours and they boast a wonderful range of female characters, any one of whom is a great Disney Princess alternative. Scarcely a day goes by without my daughter requesting to see at least one of them.

Totoro centres on the gentle adventures of two young sisters in fifties Japan and their encounters with kind hearted forest spirits; Kiki is an entrepreneurial 13-year-old witch who leaves home and earns a living by starting the small courier business of the title; Whisper of the Heart also features a teenage girl, who is an aspiring writer seeking inspiration.

I have seen them all more times than I could possibly count, and I still find them moving, inspiring, and utterly delightful. There is plenty official and unofficial merchandise around. We picked up some Totoro soft toys when we passed through Japan a few years back, and bought the 3yo a much loved Kiki dress up for Christmas.

For other movies, also check out Miyazaki’s pre-Studio Ghibli Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind for a wonderful female led eco-adventure, Ponyo for younger kids, and Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke for older ones who can take more intense scenarios. But perhaps save Grave of the Fireflies for another time – it’s possibly one of the saddest films ever made.


2. Wonder Woman 

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Ms. Magazine issue 1 and 40th Anniversary editions, featuring Wonder Woman on the cover. © Liberty Media for Women, LLC, wholly owned by Feminist Majority Foundation. Wonder Woman ©DC Comics

One of the few female superheroes that non-comic fans know about, Wonder Woman remains a pop cultural feminist icon and an awesome Disney Princess alternative.

Conceived in the forties by American psychologist William Moulton Marston, he wanted to “create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman”. Hmm.

Anyway, Wonder Woman is a warrior, and – yes – a PRINCESS, but she refuses to let being a princess define her, and it’s something she successfully rebelled against in her very first appearance.

The character’s continued fame goes back to the fondly remembered seventies TV show starring Lynda Carter. The show tied into the popular feminism of the decade, typified by the likes of Gloria Steinham – who had previously launched Ms. Magazine in 1972, with none other than Wonder Woman on the cover.

‘Retro’ Wonder Woman imagery continues to adorn all manner of merchandise today, and this iconic cartoon look is as visually appealing as any Disney Princess.

There is a LOT of merchandise out there if you hunt for it, but be warned – it’s far easier to get hold of a Wonder Woman t-shirt for a woman than a little girl. In addition to Wonder Woman, also be on the lookout for Batgirl and Supergirl gear. DC licensees are much better than Marvel in creating merchandise with their female heroes.

It’s time to “Woman Up” Marvel.



3. The Wizard of Oz

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3yo daughter in her Dorothy outfit

While Frank L. Baum’s original book has been eclipsed by the colourful 1939 movie, both feature the engaging Dorothy Gale and her adventures in Oz with her three male sidekicks.

While the film is wonderful, Dorothy is certainly more proactive and determined in the book, for instance not relying on her male friends to rescue her from the Wicked Witch but rescuing them instead.

However she is an appealing character in both, with an iconic eye catching look that makes a nice change from glittery pastel dresses – and because the book has been out of copyright for a long time there are lots of affordable merchandise out there, ranging from dress up outfits to apps.

Perhaps start with one of the books adapted for first readers, or of course there’s the wonderful film – the technicolour reveal of merry old land of Oz still remains one of the great moments of Hollywood magic, that will leave your little one on awe.

Film & Video:

Books:

Dress up:

4. Katie Morag

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From ‘Katie Morag and the Tiresome Ted’ by Mairi Hedderwick, published by Red Fox Picture Books

Set on the fictional Isle of Struay, off the west coast of Scotland, this series of books (and now a TV series) feature the independently minded little girl Katie Morag.

Wonderfully written and beautifully illustrated by Mairi Hedderwick, the stories see our young red-headed hero in her trademark white jumper, green tartan skirt, and wellies, on her everyday adventures involving her family and fellow islanders.

The spirited Katie is a great role model for little girls – our 3yo daughter has been inspired by this Scottish girl to be more independent herself. The books offer lots of other great female role models too, from her mother who runs the Post Office while also breastfeeding her new baby, to ‘Grannie Island’, Katie’s no-nonsense dungaree wearing, tractor driving grandmother.

I really enjoy both reading these to my daughter and watching the TV show with her.


5. Star Wars

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From ‘LEGOS Girl Problem’ published on ‘From Bricks To Bothans’

The galaxy far, far away is just as much a place for girls as boys – it just hasn’t been marketed that way since a long time ago. But the female characters offer great alternatives to Disney Princesses.

Top of the list of great female characters (showing my aged bias) is Leia, who is a great Disney Princess alternative. A royal in name only, she is a rebel fighter, political leader, and social activist. She is a central character in the Star Wars universe and there is a ton of merchandise out there – HOWEVER, there currently isn’t much new stuff at all.

Despite Disney buying Star Wars, and churning out all kinds of new Star Wars goodies, don’t go to a Disney Store expecting to find anything much with Leia on it. If that bothers you, please read more here, and complain to them here about that.

For other more recent characters, check out Padme/Amidala from the prequels and The Clone Wars cartoon, Ahsoka Tano also from the Clone Wars, or Sabine & Hera from the new Star Wars Rebels animated TV series.

These are great empowered women for any child to look up to, and a terrific way into Star Wars and the wider area of sci-fi for little girls. Things are looking very promising in terms of female characters from The Force Awakens, but let’s just see how things go with that.

Geek culture is synonymous with the STEM worlds of our children’s future, so if we don’t want to lose vast swathes of the next generation of world builders – because they’re girls who think this is boys stuff – then get them some Star Wars toys. You may even have some in your parents attic. 🙂

Princess Leia:

Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels:

 

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What do you think about this list of alternatives to Disney Princesses?

What about the princesses themselves? Are they harmful or harmless?  I’d love to read about any additions you have to this (short!) list, or why you think Disney Princesses are fine. Please comment below, join the conversation on the Facebook page, or on Twitter @manvspink.

You Baby Me Mummy

“Girls Rule!” (Until They Grow Up)

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“Girls Rule!” t-shirt, featuring Supergirl, Wonder Woman, and Batgirl. (Photo courtesy of @UKToyCollector)

Supergirl, Wonder Woman, and Batgirl all on the same kids t-shirt. As a geek dad it’s the kind of item I’m always on the lookout for. I don’t even mind (too much) that it’s pink. What’s troubling is the slogan, “Girls Rule!”. Because “Girls” don’t rule at all.

It’s a phrase synonymous with “Girl Power”, which probably has its origins in the Riot Grrrl feminist punk movement of the 90’s. While the progressive message of “Grrrl Power” was diluted when transformed into the safe and snappy commercial slogan “Girl Power” for 90’s pop phenomenon the Spice Girls, at least that version introduced many children to the notion of girl empowerment. However, the band also popularised the far more problematic “Girls Rule!”.

The girls who were fans of the band in the 90’s are now women in their twenties and thirties. What kind of world have they grown up in? Is it one where “Girls Rule”? The gender pay gap remains entrenched, and in the UK is even widening. Only 30% of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates in the UK are women, and just 17% of all professors in STEM are female. Both houses of UK parliament have only 23% women.

Globally, while there are high profile women in leadership roles at a corporate level, boards and executive committees remain 83%-96% male. The recent IMF report Fair Play: More Equal Laws Boost Female Labor Force Participation found that 90% of countries have at least one important gender based legal restriction. The UNDP states that “Gender inequality remains a major barrier to human development.

A slogan like “Girls Rule” seems little more than a lie in this context. It implies that women leaders are respected, listened to, and rewarded for their hard work, talent, and intelligence – when that is clearly not the case. Perhaps the slogan “Girls Rule!” was created as a way of hiding the sad reality of gender inequality.

The empowering messages we convey to our children are important, but they can easily backfire. As American comedian Sarah Silverman wryly observed, “Don’t tell girls they can be anything they want when they grow up. Because it would have never occurred to them that they couldn’t.”

Recent research on marketing to girls found that when “…girls hit the age of 13 they start to feel less confident and more worried about the world around them.” The reasons are unclear, but this would also be the time they experience the dawning revelation that the reality of being a woman, on the wrong side of the gender bias divide, isn’t quite how they imagined it would be when they were little girls.

Advertisers obviously know the power of a good slogan, and a source for a new girl empowerment one has come from an unlikely place. Always (makers of ‘feminine hygiene products’) found through their market research the same issue of girls suffering a significant drop in self-confidence around the time they hit puberty.

The company tried to address these feelings for an ad campaign, and a new slogan entered the girl empowerment lexicon – #LikeAGirl. They deftly took the former playground insult, and transformed it into plaudit. When you run like a girl, throw like a girl, fight like a girl – you are not doing it badly, you’re doing it incredibly. At least that’s the shift in meaning hoped for.

The fantasy of “Girls Rule!” seems tepid next to the optimistic reality of doing amazing things ‘like a girl’.

All I need now is to get THAT on a kid’s female superhero t-shirt.

Because little girls have big dreams of being superheroes too. #likeagirl

A post shared by Man vs. Pink (@manvspink) on

I’m not going to pretend to my daughter that she’s growing up in a world where “Girls Rule”. She will have many challenges to face in life, and lying to her about them won’t help her deal with them.

But I’m buying Asda’s “Girls Rule!” t-shirt for her. Three awesome female superheroes, drawn in the classic retro style, on a kid’s sized top in the UK? Sold. I also want Asda to know that female superheroes sell too.

And my daughter can’t read. Yet.

What do you think about the slogan “Girls Rule”? Helpful, harmful or neither? Please discuss by commenting below, joining the conversation on the Facebook page, or on Twitter @manvspink.

Do We Need to Stop Talking About Working Mothers?

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‘Working Mom’ by Ran Zwigenberg. Photo used under CC license

Whenever there’s coverage of mothers in the workplace, it’s never long before the topic of how they cope with the competing needs of their children and their job comes up. What’s wrong with this? It’s a narrative that’s only ever applied to working mothers, and rarely – if ever – working fathers.

On the BBC series Inside the House of Commons this week, one of the featured MPs was a busy mum who juggles the demands of her job with the needs of her family. As the listings described the scenario: “Lib Dem MP Jenny Willott… seeks to balance new parenthood with politics.”

I am not denying Ms. Willott’s very real struggle between being a parent and an MP (and Deputy Chief Whip), but yet again, the search for this ‘balance’ was presented as an issue only for the working mother. While we did see the involvement of her partner, where was the male MP also struggling in the same way, having family dinners in his parliament office, dropping off his children at the House of Commons nursery, or leaving his crying child with an aide so he can dash off to the house for an important vote? Maybe he doesn’t exist. Maybe society’s expectations of working mothers are different from those of working fathers.

This was yet another example that feeds into the myth that when a mother is working, childcare is her responsibility. That the need for flexibility is the preserve of the working mother, not the father. That mothers struggle to maintain a work/life balance in a way that fathers don’t.

This week there was a report about the rising costs of childcare in the UK, which is indeed a big problem for parents. Yet I kept reading how this was an issue for working mothers or mothers returning to the workplace, never about fathers.

My wife has a full time job, and I freelance as well as being home with our daughter. In any discussions I enter into about work, the cost of childcare up at the top of the list when determining the feasibility of me taking on the job. The issues around flexible hours and an understanding that I may have to be absent when my child is sick are also important for my employer to know, because I am the primary caregiver to our daughter.

Why We Need to Stop Talking About Working Mothers

I don’t understand why are we always framing any discussion about childcare, flexible working, balancing the demands of home and work, with ‘Working Mothers’. These issues are not exclusive to mothers – they are parenting issues.

As a father, I find it depressing that people think dads don’t care this much about their children, that we too don’t lament the lost hours we could be spending with them when working. But as a parent of a daughter, I find the sexism of this prevailing attitude towards women in the workplace far more depressing.

It’s an attitude that is especially toxic when there are employers that would prefer not hire a mother, because they think that it’ll be too much hassle. It’s an attitude that fathers rarely encounter.

I am not seeking to diminish the emotional stress and logistical hassle of being a working mother. Despite not being a mother, I understand it completely.

I just think we need to stop talking about working mothers, and start talking about working parents instead. These are issues that affect us all and problems for us all to deal with.

What do you think about the way working mothers are perceived? Is being a working mother different than being a working father? Please get involved by commenting below, joining the conversation on the Facebook page, or on Twitter @manvspink.

Healthy Wholewheat Pancake Recipe (Not Just for Shrove Tuesday)

A few tweaks to the ingredients led to this healthy wholewheat pancake recipe. Well, it’s healthier at least, with wholewheat flour, semi-skimmed milk, etc.

We pretty much only eat pancakes on or around Pancake Day. I don’t know why we don’t have them more often, because I love them.

I know the vogue these days is for the thick American style  pancakes, but this is a basic pancake recipe for the thinner ones of my childhood – but not quite crepes, as they’re too fancy!

I think this pancake recipe was probably adapted from Delia’s, but it was so long ago I can’t remember.

Fillings? If you’re going to be ‘healthy’ then banana or blueberries with yoghurt is a good place to start. Unhealthy? Well the rest of my family enjoys the likes of ice cream, caramel sauce, Nutella, etc. But as far as I’m concerned, there’s only one way to serve a pancake – lemon juice and a sprinkle of brown sugar.

Healthy Wholewheat Pancake Recipe 

Makes approximately 16 pancakes

      • 250g wholemeal flour
      • Pinch of salt
      • 4 eggs
      • 568ml/pint semi-skimmed milk
      • 30ml Vegetable oil (optional), plus more for cooking
      • Brown sugar
      • Lemon juice
  1. Mix the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre of the flour and break the eggs into it. Whisk the eggs into the flour, gradually pouring in the milk.
  2. When all the milk has been added, gradually add the oil if using, continuing to whisk until the batter is smooth, with the consistency of thin cream. Cover and refrigerate for 30 mins.
  3. Allow 4 tblsp (60ml) of batter per pancake. Cook in pan over a medium heat, with a splash of oil for each pancake.
  4. Use a ladle so mixture can be poured into the hot pan in one go. As soon as the batter hits the hot pan, tip it around from side to side to get the base evenly coated with batter. It should take only half a minute or so
  5. Flip the pancake over with a pan slice or palette knife – the other side will need a few seconds only – then simply slide it out of the pan onto a plate. You can try and flip it in the pan if you’re feeling theatrical, but that way lies sorrow.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that the first pancake will be crap” – Jane Austen (probably)

I recall that according to Delia, you should stack the pancakes as you make them between sheets of greaseproof paper on a plate fitted over simmering water, to keep them warm while you make the rest. But that all sounds a bit fussy to me, so I just stack them and microwave the lot when ready to serve.

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My healthy wholewheat pancake recipe being served with unhealthy ingredients!