Ice Cream, Thrice Tested

ice cream thrice testedTest three different methods for making ice cream? Yes please! When our kid tester pitched this idea to me, it didn’t take much convincing. After a little research, we decided to test the Young Chef Ice Cream Maker by Five Stars (retails for $20-$40), the Camper’s Dream Ice Cream Maker by UCO Industrial Revolution (retails for $25) and the Plastic Bags Method (2 plastic baggies! Woot!). Let the battle of the ice cream makers commence, Hope!

young chefHi everyone! First up is the Young Chef Ice Cream Maker by Five Stars. The ice cream maker came in separate pieces, which Dr. Dana hand washed and assembled at home. The set also contained 4 little plastic cups, 1 orange plastic serving spoon, 4 blue plastic “eating” spoons, 2 small containers with holes in the tops (for sprinkles, alas, none were provided in the kit! ☹), and directions in English, German, Spanish, Dutch, French, and Italian.

The machine consisted of a white, high-sided “bowl.” Suspended above the bowl was a resealable metal cylinder that sat on pegs. A blue plastic handle connected to one side of the cylinder. When you turned the handle, the metal cylinder spun on the pegs. There was also an orange plastic “scraper” that you could raise or lower to scrape your ice cream as it solidified on the cylinder.

young chef ice cream partsWe got started on the recipe. The directions were pretty hilariously translated from German. For instance, at the beginning of the directions it said: “Before starting, you have to read the instructions, which inform you about how to assemble your ice cream machine and use and clean it.”

Another example, from the end of the directions: “Put a biscuit, one you like, on a plate. Put a ball of your favorite ice cream on the biscuit. Put one more biscuit on top of the ice cream. You can now eat your ice cream sandwich or deep freeze it until another day.” PRICELESS!

The recipe was in milliliters and grams, so Dr. Dana had to use the handy dandy internet convert it to ounces and cups. Here’s the Young Chef Ice Cream Maker recipe:

4 oz cream
4 oz milk
2 tsp sugar
1 pinch of salt

Dr. Dana and I wanted to make sure that all of the ice cream recipes were as similar as possible. So even though the Young Chef directions called for regular salt in the cylinder, we used rock salt for all three recipes. We also used half and half in all the recipes as opposed to cream and milk in the Young Chef recipe. Once the ice cream ingredients were mixed, I put ice and 1/2 cup rock salt into the metal cylinder.

loading the cylinderThe directions said to pour hot water (!) into the cylinder with the ice. I was confused! Why hot water? But I followed the directions, and moved on. I put the cylinder in place above the bowl, which was holding the ice cream ingredients.

According to the directions, if I turned the cylinder around and around, the ice cream ingredients would freeze and solidify on the cylinder. When enough ice cream was stuck to the cylinder, the scraper could be used to literally undermine the ice cream, causing it to flake off into a plastic cup. Dr. Dana and I were deeply, deeply, skeptical of this method.

I started turning the cylinder around and around. It was VERY noisy. WHIR! CLANK! WHIR! CLANK!

The crank was kind of awkward, so Dr. Dana and I took turns spinning it around and around, until finally, the ice cream started solidifying. Yes, the machine worked! Basically, when the freezing cylinder passes through the liquid ice cream ingredients, some of it freezes and attaches to the cylinder. We used the scraper to ease the ice cream off the cylinder in a long, creamy ribbon.

ice cream ribbonOnce we had enough, we put it into bowls and grabbed some spoons, anxious to try our creation. Scooping up a spoonful we counted 1! 2! 3! Put it into our mouths, and…..

BLECH!!!! YUCK!!!!! GROSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!! IT WAS DISGUSTING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The yellowish ‘ice cream’ had almost no sweetness, and was watery. To be honest, it tasted like frozen milk. Yuck. The ice cream consistency was a little weird too, because it came off the machine in a ribbon. Oh and there were a lot of parts to clean up afterwards. The actual machine was cute though, and it worked.

Now for test #2, the Camper’s Dream Play and Freeze Ice Cream Maker by UCO Industrial Revolution.

camper's dreamThis ice cream maker was a blue plastic sphere with two chambers. One chamber was the outer part of the sphere (where the ice and the rock salt was poured in). The other chamber was a metal cylinder within the sphere (where the ice cream was going to be made). The sphere had two openings that lead to each chamber. I packed ice and 1/2 cup rock salt tightly into the outer chamber. It was hard to shove the ice in – I had to do it one cube at a time.

stuffing the iceI mixed up the ice cream ingredients and poured them in the inner chamber. Here’s the Camper’s Dream recipe:

1 pint half & half
1.5 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar

Then it was time for the fun (and noisy) part.

The whole point of the sphere shape was to play while making the ice cream.  I quote: “Shake, roll and pass it around as you mix and freeze the ingredients. You don’t need electricity, just have a ball!” Sadly however, Dr. Dana and I had to crouch on the floor and roll it back and forth, back and forth, because you could not (the directions stated) bounce or kick the ice cream ball. This was slightly disappointing, because rolling the ball around was a tad anticlimactic. However, the ice cream chamber had a little ‘window’, so I could check the progress of our ice cream, which was cool!

rolling the ballAfter rolling the ice cream ball around for about 10 minutes, we opened up the metal cylinder and scraped the sides as best we could. The directions called for a plastic spatula or wooden spoon. I used a wooden spoon, but the sides were super hard to scrape! I had to use the handle of my wooden spoon!

wooden spoonThen, as the directions suggested, we replaced the ice and rock salt in the outer chamber, as it was melting. We rolled the ball around for 7 more minutes. And shook it up and down too! (At this point, Dr. Dana and I were convinced that it was really a giant maraca with anger issues. It was SO DANG LOUD.) Nervous, (because of our past taste-testing experience) we unscrewed the inner chamber. Inside, we found a soft-servish liquid (it probably would’ve been thicker if we had shaken it longer). Scooping it into some bowls, Dr. Dana and I raised our spoons… and…

YUM YUM YUM YUM YUUUUUUMMMM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The ice cream was delicious, delectable, enticing, exquisite! Dr. Dana and I gobbled up a whole bowlful each.

Then we started to clean up our mess to prepare for the next (and final) testing. But when we tried to open the ice chamber, it was frozen shut! We tried to use the tool that came with the kit to open it. Not strong enough. We had to ask a passing gentleman to open it for us! Then we had to dump everything out of the ice chamber. NOISY! And messy. We had a glob of ice and rock salt sludge in the sink. Also, ice cream ‘puddles’ formed on the exterior of the maker.

getting messyIt was… messy. No. Not a little messy. It was catastrophically messy. Not a camper’s dream!!!! After finally finishing off the titanic disaster of a mess, grinning and licking up the excess ice cream in our bowls, we moved to the final ice cream method…the Plastic Bags Method.

plastic bagsSimple, and easy, all we had to do is put 1 pint-sized plastic bag inside 1 gallon-sized plastic bag. We put ice and 1/2 cup rock salt in the gallon bag, and here’s what went into the pint-sized bag (the recipe is from wikiHow):

2 tablespoons white sugar
1 cup half & half
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

ice cream bagWe zipped the smaller bag inside the bigger bag, and…noticed that the small bag was leaking. So we double bagged it. Then, as the directions suggested, I started shaking it up and down, while holding it inside a towel. The recipe calls for a towel or gloves and THAT IS DEFINITELY A GOOD IDEA. Holding an ice bag for 10 minutes is COOOOLD!

shaking the bagWe shook it for 7 minutes. Then 10 more. Then we pulled the smaller bag out and stuck our spoons in. It definitely had the best consistency, and it had decent flavor (we maybe could have used more sugar), but the winning super wowsie recipe was the Camper’s Dream Play and Freeze. Dr. Dana and I returned to our hoard of Camper’s Dream ice cream, and chowed down. By the way, cleaning up the Plastic Bags Method was a snap. Just toss everything in the garbage!


Young Chef Ice Cream Maker by Five Stars: 2 OUT OF 5
How ironic. This ice cream was not five stars, nor was the machine.

Camper’s Dream Play and Freeze Ice Cream Maker by UCO: 4 OUT OF 5
Delicious ice cream, kind of fun, the lid froze shut, SUPER LOUD!

Plastic Bags Method: 5 OUT OF 5
Good ice cream, fast to make, easy to do, cheap, quick clean up, good ice cream consistency.

Overall, the easiest and most effective method of ice cream making was plastic bags. The most delicious recipe came from the directions of the Play and Freeze Ice Cream Maker. Even so, the plastic bag recipe could be tweaked to match the Play and Freeze one. All in all, this was a most delicious testing! SPOONS UP!

(Hey Dr. Dana, I heard we had some ice cream left over….?) ;)
(Wait! Don’t tell the readers! They might invade the staff lounge!)

If you’re looking for a more earth-friendly version of the Plastic Bag Method, I spotted a cool, kid-friendly technique at a Colonial America demo. Stick a tall canister (or pot) with lid in a bucket of ice and rock salt. Add your ice cream ingredients to the canister, cover, and rotate briskly for 10-15 minutes (or until the liquids solidify). You might need to take the lid off once in a while to scrape the sides of the canister. No plastic needed!

Dragons & Catapults

dragons and catapultsEnter the realm of mythical beasts, sieige engines, and truly stunning Medieval headdresses…it’s time for more kid-tested product reviews! Today, Hope is taking on the Aquarellum Junior paint kit by SentoSphere (ages 7+, retails for approximately $20) and the Tabletop Catapult kit by Sterling Innovation (ages 8+, retails for approximately $25). Have at thee Hope!

Hi everyone! I’m back… and this time, with a Medieval twist! First, I’m going to review the Aquarellum kit.

aquarelleum kitOpening the box, I found four pieces of light, thin, cardboardy canvas, referred to in the instructions as “Aquarellum Board.” The face of each board had a rendering of a dragon outlined faintly on the surface. One of them looked like a Chinese dragon, and the other three were a jumble of Viking and Medieval. There was also a plastic paint palette, six watercolor paints in bottles, a paintbrush, a plastic eyedropper, and a set of instructions. Dr. Dana thought the instructions were beautiful, and their bright colors captured my attention too.

french instructionsThe instructions were a 3 page, double-sided foldout. I started reading them hoping to glean a bit of information on using the product. But the instructions were written completely in French! Scouring them, I finally found a miniscule paragraph written in English. Sadly, it offered me only a vague idea of the procedures of the project. It described the board and how to paint on it, how to mix and dilute your paints, gave a few application tips for the paints, and then… nothing. But I got the “picture” (hahaha). However, I was sad that I couldn’t read the rest of the lovely illustrated instructions. Ah well. C’est la vie!

Basically, each Aquarellum “canvas” had a picture of a dragon outlined in wax. Since the paint was water-based, any messups would be deflected by the wax. What an epically cool concept! It was almost impossible to mess up!  Choosing one of the canvases, I assembled the extra materials recommended for the project.  And I quote…

  • a blank sheet to test mixed colors on
  • absorbent paper
  • A glass of water in which to rinse your brush, dilute inks, and clean the dropper used to dose the inks
  • Direct light (sunlight or a desk lamp), allowing you to clearly see the designs, since the varnish is very pale.

Setting up the materials, I readied the brush and paints.

prepping the paintI used the plastic dropper to place the paint in the cavities of the palette, tested the mixed colors on a piece of paper, and washed the dropper and the brush off in a cup of water.

paint testsThen I started to paint. Oh! What fun!!! The colors were vibrant, the paint easy to use, and it was nearly impossible to mess up!

wax outlines I finished one dragon, and moved onto the next. I found that the paint dried super quick, which made it easy to layer more colors onto the canvas, creating new shades. It was awesome! The only downside was that the paint dried so quickly, it sometimes dried on the wax, creating smudges. Here’s a finished canvas:

finished red dragonOverall, I really enjoyed this project! It was super fun, and my results turned out beautifully, even though I am not an expert at painting. The only downsides of the product were that if you went outside the main outline of the dragon, the smudges dried so fast that they could permanently mar your art.

Also, the bulk of the instructions were in French! This was especially frustrating because the French instructions were beautifully illustrated and clearly had more detail than the paragraph written in English. Also, Dr. Dana and I could not figure out the correct way to pronounce the product name! Aquarellum? What a tongue twister!

And the Scores Are In!


PROS: Fun to use, vibrant colors, easy, entertaining, beautiful results.
CONS: Directions mostly in French, smudges dried too quickly.

SCORE: 5 OUT OF 5!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Setting aside the dragons, I turned to the weaponry….BEHOLD!  A catapult!

catapult kitOpening the box, I found a book titled The Art of the Catapult, wood pieces, wooden pegs, directions, a chunk of brown clay in a plastic baggie, metal washers, white twine, a wire, and some glue. Unfolding the directions, I discovered that they were mostly illustrated. While I liked that they were so precisely illustrated, the text directions were vague, which confused me. The directions also called for a “Healthy Snack,” which was funny, because we only had marshmallows handy (more on those later)!

I used the inventory sheet on the first page to make sure I wasn’t missing any pieces, and started building the catapult. It was pretty straightforward. Use the wooden pegs to connect the wood pieces together to construct the base of the catapult.

base of catapultHowever, some of the pegs were loose. I used some glue, which (thankfully) seemed to help. Other pegs were too tight and had to be hammered in with a piece of stone that Dr. Dana had in her office!?! It was ludicrous, but equally hilarious, to see me pounding pegs into the wood with a huge chunk of stone. Rock dust flew everywhere, and the noise… let’s just say it was painful.

hammer timeAfter I had finished building the base and support structure, I had to construct the torsion string. When I saw the word torsion I thought, “WHAAAAAAAAT?!?!” (Torsion means “to be twisted” or “the act of being twisted”).

In a nutshell, to make the torsion string, I had to coil the string several times and use a wire to thread it through two washers and two holes in the catapult base. Then I wound the ends of the string loops around two pegs (called the “tensioners”). The catapult’s swing arm was inserted in the center of the torsion string and I used the tensioners to tighten it. Dr.Dana assisted, using her knightly muscle.

torsion stringThe directions for this part definitely could’ve used more clarification. The picture/word combination was just too weak for the complexity of the task. I couldn’t figure it out, so I called in Dr. Dana, who also had to carefully inspect the directions and fiddle with the catapult. But figure it out we did!

finished catapultWe made a ball out of the clay…but there was another problem. The wooden peg on the “trigger” was too weak to hold the catapult arm back – the peg just kept popping out. So Dr. Dana reinforced it somewhat with masking tape.

taped trigger pegBut there was another problem. Now the entire trigger would flop over, releasing the catapult arm. It just wasn’t strong enough to hold the arm down. So we ignored the trigger and used our fingers to hold down catapult arm while we loaded it.

But it was fun to use! It was just so utterly entertaining to watch stuff fly through the air! First, we launched the clay ball. Later, we launched a marshmallow and a ping pong ball. The clay ball had the lowest altitude when launched, the marshmallow went the farthest distance, and the ping pong ball went the highest.

Then we decided (of course) to try to launch a marshmallow into curatorial staffer Ellen’s mouth. First, we made sure she was wearing proper head and eye gear:

ellen's awsome headgearEllen sat in a chair approximately 65” away from the catapult. We tried again and again, moving the chair all over, but missed every time! Finally, Ellen took matters into her own hands:

Needless to say, we had fun!

The kit also came with a book called The Art of the Catapult, by William Gurstelle (Sterling Innovation, 2004). The book was broken up into nine chapters. Each chapter contained at least one or two additional catapult-like projects you could build. However, they were far more complex and difficult than the catapult that came with the kit.

The rest of the book was information about the evolution and variation of catapults around the world. To me… well, some of it was cool. Alexander the Great, Saladin, and Richard the Lionheart. But the rest of the projects and history of the catapult…. frankly, it felt like too much dry detail.

In addition, the writing style seemed to change throughout the book. Sometimes it felt like an adventure novel, sometimes a history textbook, and other times, translations of ancient writings, like the Torah, Bible, or Koran. It was odd, because the book was by one author. But maybe the author’s interests were also varied, and his writing simply reflected that. It just didn’t flow very well.

The catapult kit was kind of fun, but overall it was more confusing than excellent. The directions were annoying with their briefly captioned illustrations. The project was recommended for ages 8+. Yet I had to use a rock to hammer pegs into the catapult. To me, it suggests that something is wrong. And so…

The Scores Are In!


PROS: Fun to use (because of laugh factor. It was so fun to launch marshmallows at Ellen), good excuse to eat marshmallows, sturdy materials, came with a book (yay!), built a catapult!

CONS: Confusing directions with not enough written description, aiming was hard, trigger not effective, clay projectile a bit disappointing, book was a little dry.


Postscript: Dr. Dana here! Last night, I took the catapult home to my 2 children (ages 4 and 6). For 3 straight hours, they launched ping pong balls around the house. The little catapult held up beautifully, even though the trigger never worked. We ended up removing the trigger and just using our fingers. For extra fun, use a Sharpie to draw silly faces on the ping pong balls.

One Amazing Airbrush

super sprayerA kit that turns a regular marker into an airbrush? What is this insanity!?! The moment I spotted the Crayola Marker Airbrush, I just knew that Hope, our kid tester, had to try it…

I’m back, everyone! The Crayola Marker Airbrush is a product that has always kept me wondering. It looked awesome…but would it work? So, when I learned that Dr. Dana wanted me to test it, I was ecstatic!!!!  The purpose of this product is to turn a regular Crayola marker into an airbrush, or paint sprayer. Dr. Dana, Katie and I were a little skeptical about this, and decided to work as a team to test the product. Together, we opened the box.

crayola airbrushInside, there was an 11” tall air tank with a hand pump at the top and 29” of clear plastic tubing protruding from it (to me, it looked like a detonator made of blue and green plastic). Attached to other end of the plastic tubing was the airbrush. It looked like a green glue gun with a little gray cone extending from its tip. Later, I learned this was called the “nozzle.” The nozzle was open at the top, which allows a marker to be inserted in it.

airbrush kit contentsAlso in the box: 20 blank paper sheets, two packages of markers (4 neon fabric markers and 8 washable markers), 4 stencil sheets, 20 blank paper sheets, and a small set of directions. We extracted the materials and looked at the directions.

Houston? Come in, Houston, we have a problem.

Step 1 was titled “Twist it!” and showed a marker stuck inside the airbrush nozzle. But Step 2 was titled “Inset it!” with a picture of the marker hovering above the cavity intended for the marker.  Umm…shouldn’t that happen before you twist it?

directionsConfused, we decided to put the rules of logic and practicality to good use, and “Insert it!” first, and then “Twist it!” Katie set to work doing the third direction, “Pump it!” Grabbing the air pump handle, she pulled up, pressed down, pulled up, pressed down, until the air pressure made it too hard to pump anymore. We taped a piece of white poster board to a door, I pulled the trigger, and…


A spurt of air could be heard escaping, but no ink came out!!!

Thinking that maybe the paper needed to be horizontal to work, Dr. Dana and I moved the poster board face down on a table, where we sprayed at close range, trying unsuccessfully to get a speck of ink onto it. We took the marker out, and tested it by coloring on a piece of paper. It definitely wasn’t out of ink. We put the marker back in the airbrush. Nothing. We switched markers. Nothing. We switched to a fabric marker.

pink splatterFinally! A few drips of bright pink ink!!!  But that was all. Just a small splatter on the empty tundra of a poster. Confused, we tried every method we could think of, including using the troubleshooting section of the direction sheet. Nothing worked. Eventually, I said, “Hey! How about calling Crayola? Their products sometimes have quality warranties. Maybe we could get help.” So I called.

A nice lady answered the phone. She asked for the product number and name. She looked it up and then she said, “Okay, what’s your problem?” So I told her about the lack of marker spray. She said “Did you hear the two clicks when you put the marker inside the handheld sprayer?” Whaaaaat? I was confused. The directions never mentioned “two clicks!” I replied that no, I did not even know I was supposed to hear two clicks, thanked her for her help, and hung up.

Returning to the poster board and the markers, Dr. Dana and I teamed up to shove a marker into the nozzle, determined to try until we heard two clicks. After much pushing, we heard a magical CLICK click! I pulled the trigger…AND I SPRAYED INK ALL OVER THE POSTER BOARD!

spraying“AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It wasn’t a TV marketing hoax!” I thought.  We started spraying onto the poster. It was amazingly entertaining! It was, in essence, a paint sprayer! I could spray ANYTHING onto the poster board! The airbrush was easy to hold and aim. There were no limits!

canvas 3canvas 2We decided to take advantage of the stencils included in the kit. They were fun to use. Each Stencil had a “theme”.  One was space themed, one sea themed, and the other two were fantasy/random. Cool! But the ink usually “leaked” out of the stencil, giving the resulting picture a blobby look.

stencilDr. Dana suggested that we use a stencil on my arm so we could see what would happen if a kid sprayed ink on their arm. They came out blobby/blurry. But they washed off super easy! I ran my arm underwater and they practically melted away! So no worries if some WASHABLE marker gets on your kid!

airbrush tattooBy the way, when we got out the stencils, we flipped through the paper sheets too. Inside, mixed with the paper, was another set of instructions! These instructions had the marker loading directions in the right order, which was nice. However, they didn’t mention the key two clicks. Without the clicks, the product is a total wash!

There were problems with this kit. Sometimes the ink would bubble and clog the nozzle. This was fixed by pulling out the marker and swabbing the inside with a paper towel.

pooled inkAlso, the marker could unpredictably pool, clog or change consistency as it was spraying onto to the paper (getting my hand green, purple, red, or whatever color happened to clog it). The fabric markers also seemed to run out of ink way faster than the regular markers and they splattered too.  As I mentioned above, the stencils had leaky edges. On some of the stencils, it looked cool (lightning bolt), on others, it looked messy (crab).

crabAnd then there was the pump. The pump turned out to be an Aggravating Annoyance of Frustrating Proportions. I had to stop painting in order to pump every 15-20 seconds, or ask someone to constantly pump to keep the ink going. The job befell Katie. She had to hunch over a table behind me, pumping and pumping, and wheezing, and pausing, and…getting…tired. Needless to say, the pump gave us some good exercise. But when Katie wasn’t there, I had to spray, and then pump for a while, and then spray, and pump. Spray and pump, spray and pump! UUGH! It was enough to make anyone want to explode!

pumpingTo be fair, Crayola does make a similar product for ages 3+. It’s called the “Crayola Color Wonder Mess Free Airbrush” The pump is battery operated, so it’s better for younger kids. So if you don’t want to worry about the pumping issue, maybe you should order the battery powered version.

So there was a lot of starting, stopping, wiping, pumping, and starting up again, heaving, wheezing, and arm fatigue. Or, as Dr. Dana wryly noted, you definitely have to “troubleshoot as you go”.

Overall, this product was super fun and satisfying, but the pump gave a bit of a workout, and the directions seemed to be out of order. Also, this product was recommended for ages 6+!!! I think that’s a bit young! Maybe 6+ with Adult Supervision or 8+ with Adult Supervision, but 6+? Come on! It took Dr. Dana, Katie, a phone call to the company, and me to get the product to work!

I think we have the ratings…

Crayola Marker Airbrush

Pros: Fun, Cool, Entertaining, satisfying, endless ways to use, fascinating.

Cons: Hard to use because of constant pumping, bulky, confusing directions, constant troubleshooting, bad recommended age.

Score: 4 stars out of 5!

By the way, if you’re wondering how we made the “spray the camera” photo that begins this post, Hope gets all the credit for that! She suggested we spray a piece of clear plastic with the airbrush, then shoot the image through it. Looks awesome, eh?