Running from the Law

Friday, December 9, 2016

Fall Family Photos & Our 2016 Christmas Card

Hello friends! I'm so excited to share our fall family photos with you and give you a sneak peek of our 2016 Christmas card! I went a little bit out of my normal comfort zone with our card this year and used multiple photos on the front, instead of just one photo - mainly because I just couldn't decide which adorable photo to use, I love them all so much! My ultra-talented friend (and BFF's sister-in-law) Becca of Little Fox Photography took these photos of us in Ryan's parents' backyard. We were planning on hitting a local park with a lakeside beach, but it was an overly warm day in October and the park was so crowded that afternoon that we couldn't even find a parking spot! Luckily, we were able to take advantage of the gorgeous yard and creek behind Ryan's parents' house, just down the highway. The kids loved playing in the creek a bit and we even brought along stuff to roast s'mores at the end of the session as a reward. 

This session was a bit atypical for us because all of a sudden, Mac seemed to love the camera (or at least the Smarties I was bribing him with) and Mim wanted nothing to do with us, photos or Smarties. She played along for a while, but mainly only participated when she could get Becca's full attention to herself. Otherwise, she mainly just wanted to go back in the house and play kitchen with grandma. Mac, on the other hand, was all smiles and cheesing it up! This is so unlike both of them, we were thrown for a loop. Becca was great with the kids (having 3 of her own) and got some really great shots of me with them, which was my number 1 request. I'm thrilled to finally have a few (even if they're fake) smiling photos of Mac, but certainly wish Mim would have played along too. Oh well...one of these days we're all going to nail pictures. Until then, this session was pretty awesome and turned out better than I anticipated (I tend to keep my expectations very very low these days). Thank you so much, Becca! 

Also, I owe a big GIANT thank you to my lovely friend (and personal stylist) Dacy of Mindful Closet for coming over to the house, picking out our outfits and styling the entire family. I gave her some general directions on what colors I was leaning towards and Dacy picked out every piece of clothing, shopping exclusively from our closets! Everything we're wearing we already owned, which I think is fantastic. It is also so incredibly awesome to not have to think/stress/worry about what we're going to wear in our photos for the days/weeks/months leading up to them. I'm terrible at putting everything together with coordinating colors, patterns, layers and textures, but she's amazing at it. She had all four of us styled (in clothing we felt confident and comfortable in) in less than an hour. Plus, the money she saved me from buying us all new stuff was way more than she charges for a consult, so GO HIRE HER RIGHT NOW. 
 
(all photos taken by Becca Fox of Little Fox Photography)

Like I said, there were just too many cute photos to pick from! I had the hardest time narrowing it down to just one photo...so I didn't! Once again, I used Minted for our Christmas cards because their quality and selection is just outstanding. I love their beautiful, classic, simple designs and really love the fact that you can see your own photos in the sample cards, to help you choose the right layout and colors. I love that they have options for foil printing, envelope liners, return address labels and let you add images/text to the back of the card. Plus, they will print and address your envelopes FOR FREE! 

It took me about 5 hours and an entire bottle of wine, but I finally narrowed down my 600 card choices to one final winner. And here it is! (it's the Merry Glow style, in case you care) (and if you haven't yet received our card, act surprised when you get it...)


Have you ordered your holiday cards yet?


*A huge thank you to Minted for inspiring this post. I received this product in exchange for my honest review and feedback. I couldn't be happier! All opinions and adorable kids belong to me! 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

DIY Homemade Hot Chocolate Gift Basket

One of the things on my holiday to do list this year is make a batch of gift baskets to have on hand and ready to give to friends, neighbors, teachers, co-workers and hostesses, as the need arises. I feel like every year I'm scrambling at the last minute to come up with cute and clever ideas for little gifts for all those people that we love, appreciate and want to thank with a sweet little gift. My initial idea was to put together a basket full of homemade fruit spreads and jams that I made over the summer from all our Eckert's fruit picking adventures (spiced blackberry honey jam, peach salsa, strawberry preserves and apple butter) with a loaf of freshly baked bread or some muffins. I mean, how amazing would that have been, right? But, alas, when I went to check my stock of canned jams, I realized that we (the kids!) ate nearly everything I made this year already! Reminder for next year to double up on all picked fruit! 
DIY Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix Gift Basket
My next idea was to make something a little more "holiday" appropriate, so I decided to go with a homemade hot chocolate basket. Homemade hot chocolate mix is stupidly easy to whip up and throw in a cute Mason jar with a printable lid label and direction tag (both of which I've included below). But mainly, I've been really excited to make my own homemade marshmallows! This has been on my baking bucket list for a while now and I was stunned by how easy they were to make and tasted even more delicious than I expected. And since I had some chocolates and candies leftover from another project, I decided to make a few chocolate candy coated spoons to dunk into your hot chocolate to give it an extra little kick. Add a few pretty paper straws and some candy canes, throw it all in a box/basket and voila! You've got the perfect gift for everyone on your list! 
Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix
Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix
Let's start with the main ingredient, shall we? Homemade hot chocolate mix is comprised of 4 simple ingredients (powdered sugar, cocoa powder, dry milk and salt) and all you have to do is mix them together. It literally couldn't be any easier! Once everything is incorporated together, spoon out enough mix to fill a jar. The recipe below will fill 3 pint sized Mason jars - I used the ones with handles, so they'd double as a mug for the recipient. 
Ingredients:
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup dry milk
  • 1 tsp salt
Directions:
  1. Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container.
  2. To make hot chocolate, mix 1/2 cup hot chocolate powder into 1 mason mug of hot water. Add marshmallows (and any other fun toppings or fixings) and enjoy!
DIY Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix recipe and printable labels
Once your mugs are filled, free free to use these free printable lid labels and attach a direction tag. I've included links to both below. I printed the tags on kraft paper and tied the them on with some red baker's twine, but any ribbon would work. 
Printable Happy Holidays Mason Jar Lid Labels
Printable Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix Direction Tag
Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix Recipe with printable lid labels and tags
Homemade Vanilla Bean Marshmallows
While the hot chocolate mix might be the main ingredient in this gift basket, these homemade vanilla bean marshmallows are going to steal the show! They are UNREAL. So light and fluffy. So creamy and melty and amazing. If you've never had homemade marshmallows, you are missing out! They are super easy to make, I promise. And you'll never go back to store-bought again! 
First up, mix your gelatin with cold water in the bowl of your standing mixer. Let sit to solidify while you bring your sugar, corn syrup, salt and water to a boil on the stove. Make sure you have a candy thermometer (I have this one - it's cheap and works like a charm) and get your melted mixture up to 240 degrees. This is important and it takes a bit longer than I would have boiled it had I not been using my thermometer. And by bit, I mean a couple minutes. This whole process is pretty quick (less than 10 minutes). 
Once your syrup mixture is sufficiently HOT, add it to the gelatin mixture in the mixing bowl and whip on high for about 15 minutes until the mixture is very thick. At the very end, stop your machine and add your vanilla bean paste. You can use regular vanilla extract, but vanilla bean paste will give this a much richer, stronger vanilla flavor and you'll be able to see those awesome little specks of vanilla bean in the marshmallow. If you can, warm the vanilla bean paste (or extract) up a bit so it melts into the marshmallow mixture easier (and doesn't make it separate). Mix for another minute or two until completely incorporated. 
While all this mixing is going on, line a pan with plastic wrap, spray it with non-stick cooking spray and dust the whole thing with a heavy coating of powdered sugar. This mixture is STICKY like you wouldn't believe, so be sure to coat everything nook and cranny thoroughly. Smooth the top of the mixture and dust the whole thing with more powdered sugar. Store uncovered in a cool dry place overnight. 
Homemade Vanilla Bean Marshmallows for Hot Chocolate
Homemade Vanilla Bean Marshmallows for Hot Chocolate
Once you're ready, turn the mixture out onto a cutting board covered in (you guessed it) powdered sugar and cut into 1 inch wide strips (using a knife or a pizza cutter!). Then cut your strips into squares. Roll the sides in powdered sugar to prevent sticking and store in an airtight container. 
Homemade vanilla bean marshmallows
Homemade vanilla bean marshmallow recipe
Ingredients:
  • 3 envelopes unflavored gelatin 
  • 1 c. cold water, divided 
  • 1 1/2 c. granulated sugar 
  • 1 c. light corn syrup 
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt 
  • 2 T. vanilla bean paste
  • 2 cups powdered sugar, for dusting 
Directions:
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine gelatin and 1/2 cup cold water. Allow to sit while you prepare the sugar syrup.
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup cold water. Cook over medium heat until sugar dissolves, stirring frequently. Raise heat to high and cook until the sugar syrup reaches 240 degrees on a candy thermometer.
  3. Remove sugar syrup from the heat. With the mixer on low speed and fitted with the whisk attachment, slowly pour sugar syrup into the gelatin. Turn mixer up to high speed and whip until very thick, about 15 minutes. Add vanilla bean paste (warmed) and mix thoroughly. 
  4. Line the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13" glass baking dish with plastic wrap. Spray plastic wrap with non­-stick cooking spray and dust generously with powdered sugar. Pour marshmallow mixture into pan, smooth the top, and dust top with more powdered sugar.
  5. Allow marshmallows to stand uncovered overnight to dry. 
  6. Turn marshmallows out onto a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut marshmallow into 1­ inch wide strips. Cut strips into 1­ inch squares. Roll cut sides in powdered sugar. 
  7. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 or 4 days. If marshmallows become sticky, remove the container lid for a bit to allow marshmallows to dry.
Homemade Vanilla Bean Marshmallows for Hot Chocolate
Chocolate Dipped Spoons with Toppings for Hot Chocolate
Chocolate Dipped Spoons
My last homemade addition to the hot chocolate basket was a trio of chocolate dipped spoons, topped with Ande's mints, white chocolate chips and mini cinnamon chips. Again, this is super easy. I started with these wooden spoons and dipped them into melted milk chocolate. Once they solidified a little bit, I sprinkled the toppings on and let them harden in the fridge overnight. Each hot chocolate box contained one bag of a variety pack of chocolate dipped spoons. Other amazing variations would be butterscotch chips, peppermints, salted caramel, coconut, peanut butter chips, sprinkles, etc. 
Chocolate Dipped Spoons with Toppings for Hot Chocolate
Chocolate Dipped Spoons with Toppings for Hot Chocolate
Chocolate Dipped Spoons with Toppings for Hot Chocolate
Chocolate Dipped Spoons with Toppings for Hot Chocolate
Assembling your gift basket
When that was all said and done, I threw it all together into the cutest little hot chocolate kit you ever did see. I added a few red striped straws, some candy canes for dipping/stirring and tied a pretty bow around a little wooden fruit basket. You could use any basket, bin, crate or bag you wanted. I just so happened to have a few of these wooden baskets on hand and they made the perfect size container for 2 jars of hot chocolate and all the fixings. Although, you could probably go even smaller and just gift one jar of mix, with the toppings (I think that'd be plenty). 
DIY Homemade Hot Chocolate Gift Basket with Marshmallows
DIY Homemade Hot Chocolate Gift Basket
Homemade Hot Chocolate Gift Basket with Homemade Marshmallows
Homemade Hot Chocolate Free Printable Direction Tags

DIY Holiday Gift Basket Ideas
I'm joining forces today with a few other bloggers to bring you a variety of fun, cute and clever gift basket ideas for the holidays. If hot chocolate and/or baking isn't your thing, be sure to check out some of the other ideas (for beer lovers, crafty kids, the perfect hostess or your best friend). 

Hostess Gift Basket - I Love You More Than Carrots
Craft Beer Gift Basket - Ellie & Addie
Coffee Lovers Gift Basket - Chasin' Mason
DIY Money Tree - Seeing All Sides
Homemade Hot Chocolate Gift Basket - Running From The Law 
Champagne Gift Basket - East Coast Chic
Spa Day Gift Basket - Secrets of a Stay At Home Mom
Kid Craft Gift Basket - The Adventure Starts Here

DIY Homemade Hot Chocolate Gift Basket

Hopefully none of my co-workers, neighbors or Mac's teachers read this blog, because I made 10 of these little baskets and they're all getting one! (If you read this and get one, please just pretend to be surprised). 
DIY Holiday Gift Basket Ideas & Tutorials

Do you like giving (or receiving) gift baskets?