Running from the Law: June 2016

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Homemade Strawberry Preserves

All across the country (well, maybe just all across Instagram), I've seen kids in strawberry fields, filling giant baskets and buckets full of strawberries. I took Mac and Mim strawberry picking at our favorite local orchard Eckert's Farms the first possible weekend we could back in May and we came home with more strawberries than we could eat in a year. So...what's a girl to do with two tons of strawberries? Make strawberry margaritas!!! Well, yes...and also make jam! (Although, I highly recommend making both.) 

What you may not know about me is that I grew up in the country, in a very small town, basically in the middle of nowhere with strong roots to Southern traditions.  My grandparents (and parents) always had a big garden and if there were more veggies than we could eat at any given time (which was always), canning them was the answer. My Grandma Opal used to raise us on jars of canned green beans, beets and tomatoes from her garden. I've watched my parents implement this tradition and I get so excited to bring home jars of pickled beets, okra and cucumbers from my dad's garden any time we visit. 
Easy Ideas for Using Freshly Picked Strawberries
While canning and making jam may sound like things from a bygone era, I've noticed there's been a revival lately of these old-fashioned techniques and a new passion for home-made home-grown products. Making your own jam/preserves and pickling veggies no longer sound outdated and old-fashioned, they're now hipster and super trendy instead! And while I am anything but hip and trendy, I do love the idea of making food with items you grew yourself or picked with your family because there's such an amazing connection with knowing what's in your food and where it comes from. These are things I think are important for kids to know too. 
Strawberry Picking and Preserves Recipe
If you've never canned or made jam before, it probably sounds intimidating, but both are surprisingly easy! Making jam doesn't take all day slaving away over your stove and only requires a few ingredients. Canning hot liquids like jam is also really easy to do with the hot seal method (described below) and doesn't require fancy equipment. Everything you need can be found at your local grocery store, including canning jars! And you've got me to walk you through the process...I'm Sara and I'll be your tour guide! This is the modern mama's guide to canning! 

The only products you really need for canning are the jars, lids and rings. For jam or preserves, I personally love using these small 4 ounce Ball quilted crystal jars. These are such a cute size for gifting and come in a box of 12 for about $9 (includes the jar, lid, rings and labels). There are also a few tools that are helpful, but not necessary for canning, including a canning funnel, a magnetic lid wand and liquid fruit pectin. A wide-mouth canning funnel is the perfect size for the mouth of canning jars and a magnetic lid wand is nice to have so you don’t burn your fingers, but neither or necessary. Liquid fruit pectin is a kind of preserved apple syrup, which helps set up jams and jellies. This is sold in your local grocery store and comes in a box with two 3-ounce pouches for about $5. It's helpful for jams made from fruits (like strawberries) that are naturally low in pectin, but not necessary and if not used, you’ll just have runnier preserves (they'll still taste great).
Making Jam is Easier Than You Think!
Before you put anything into your jars, you need to sterilize them. Years ago, when my parents canned fruits and vegetables from our garden, they would boil the jars in a giant pressure cooker on the stove, then carefully remove them with tongs, trying not to spill boiling water all over the place. These days, most of us have a giant sterilizing machine in our kitchen — the dishwasher. All you really need to do to sterilize your jars is run them through the dishwasher on high heat. Viola! 

If you don’t have a dishwasher or just want to do it the old-fashioned way — break out your biggest stock pot and submerge the jars in boiling water for 15 minutes. Either way you do it, place the clean jars upside down on a clean kitchen towel until you’re ready to use them. This should be done the day you will be canning and no earlier. Lids should be boiled in a small sauce pan on the stove top for 4 minutes, right before canning begins.
How to Make Homemade Strawberry Preserves
You’re going to be shocked how easy it is to make preserves. Once you have your fresh strawberries cleaned and hulled, throw them in a bowl with the sugar, lemon juice and zest. It might sound like a lot of sugar, but the sugar is the preservative and helps thicken the juices. Let the mixture sit covered with a kitchen towel for 2-4 hours, stirring occasionally. The longer the mixture sits, the more the strawberries will break down, so if you like super chunky preserves, stay on the shorter end. Transfer the mixture to a large stockpot, bring to a boil over high heat, and boil rapidly for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the liquid pectin, then boil for an additional minute. Skim off the foam, if desired.
How To Can Jar Homemade Strawberry Preserves steps
Getting a proper seal on your jars is the most important and trickiest part of canning. While our parents may have used a hot water bath or pressure cooker method for sealing jam, us modern mamas have a new and improved (and super easy) technique called the hot seal method. This method works best on jams, jellies and other high acidic items that have been cooked. While your preserves are still hot, fill the sterilized jars with the preserves, leaving about ½ inch from the top with the mixture. Take a damp paper towel and wipe all the way around the rim of the jar, making sure there is nothing on there to prevent a proper seal or allow bacteria to grow. Place a sterilized lid on top of the jar and tighten with a ring. Flip the jar upside down and let it rest for 5-10 minutes. The heat of the mixture will suction the lid right to the jar and you’ll start hearing the lids pop seal themselves. Turn the jars over and check the seals. If the small circle in the middle of the lid isn’t depressed, push it down to seal. If it doesn’t seal within a few hours, put in the fridge and eat right away. Otherwise, sealed preserves can last 18 months to 2 years unrefrigerated (the more sugar you use, the longer the shelf life). Once opened, the preserves should be refrigerated and should last about a month.
How to Make Homemade Strawberry Preserves
And that's it! You've just made preserves and canned! It may sound intimidating and overwhelming the first time you do it, but trust me, it's easy and gets easier every time. Farm to table, just like that. And your kids are going to love them! The preserves can be used on biscuits or toast, served over ice cream or waffles, mixed into yogurt or on a cracker with cream cheese. The possibilities are endless. Plus, think of how impressed all your friends and neighbors are when you hand them a jar of your very own homemade preserves! They make great gifts and are perfect for teachers gifts, hostess gifts, holiday gifts, party favors, or for welcoming a new neighbor. 

If you want a free printable lid label, head over to Savvy Sassy Moms for ones I designed (sized perfectly for the small 4 oz. jars). 
Strawberry Preserves Printable Lid Labels
Homemade Strawberry Preserves Recipe Card

Have you ever made jam or canned?

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Date Night Gift Package & Giveaway from Uncommon Goods

Instead of the traditional Father's Day gift of a tie or mug, I decided to go with something a bit different this year to shake things up a bit. My husband is a gear junkie and already has nearly everything he could want or need in the fishing/hunting/camping/golfing areas, so I wanted to get him something that we could use to have fun together, whether at home or out of the house (get your mind out of the gutter!). As parents of little kids with full-time jobs and lots of hobbies, it's hard to find time to spend together. Last year we made a committment to have more date nights - ones where we left the house and didn't spend the entire time talking nonstop about the kids - and while we did a good job at first, more and more we started skipping them in order to get things done around the house or try to get caught up on work. Or when we did make it out of the house together, all we did was discuss the kids and worry about all the things on our to do lists (ok, that might just be me). And while sometimes that's fine (I mean, I gotta get stuff done), I also know how important it is to focus on our marriage and make sure we stay connected on a level that's different than just being mom and dad. 
So, with that in mind, I decided to put together a little "Date Night" gift package for Ryan , to get us out of our dating rut and force us to do some fun and unexpected things.  First off, I worked out an arrangement with our nanny for three nights of babysitting over the next few months so he and I could have a couple date nights. Woo hoo! Then, I put together a package of fun games and activities from Uncommon Goods that we could play during dinners out or even at home, once the kids were in bed, over a glass (or six) of wine. The games range from trick questions and word games, to more traditional conversation starters and discussion topics. Plus, I threw in a fun game for us to play with friends (about our phones), for when we have a double date with one of our favorite couple-friends (scheduled for July!) and a Date Night Bucket List barrel full of date night ideas and activities to inspire us to try some new things. (psst...they also have a Family Fun Bucket List that would be a blast to do with your kids)
Ryan and I had our first date night this past weekend and we got to try out a few of the games. We took the Word Teasers - Old Wives Tales game and the Table Topics game with us to dinner at a new Spanish restaurant we've been wanting to try out. Initially, I think Ryan was a bit apprehensive when I pulled all these cards out of my purse and told him we were going to play a game, but he quickly warmed up (he's a good sport) and after a few questions we were cracking up and talking about topics we've never really discussed together (ghostly encounters, retirement aspirations, favorite teachers, most influential books, etc.). The Table Topics game was a huge hit and we spent nearly two hours asking each other question after question, which inevitably lead to more questions and I learned so about my husband. I got the "original" version of the game, but they also have eight other variations on this, all with different topics and audiences (couples, teens, family, girl's night out, etc.). How fun would it be to get the Girl's Night Out one and try it with friends on your next girl's night or trip? (Hint hint, Tahoe ladies..)  
Even though the Table Topics game was a huge hit, I'm really excited to try this Game of Phones, which is basically a scavenger hunt on your smartphone! The prompts I looked at include things like asking everyone to show the last photo they took, funniest nickname for a contact, finding the weirdest Google image for your name, see who's parents will text back the quickest and create an emoji story. You earn points and the person with the most points at the end of the game wins (maybe free drinks?). I think Game of Phones will be so much fun to play with a group of friends or on a double date. 
The other game we haven't tried yet is the Trick Question game. However, I checked out some of the cards and they're good brain-teasers and play on word questions that require you to think outside the box. This one requires you to be quick and clever and I think it would be fun to play and discuss possible answers with a couple teammates. Definitely a fun one to play with family and it'll be going to the farm with us the next time we go visit my parents. I have a feeling my little brother is going to dominate in this one. 
Lastly, in the date night gift package, I gave Ryan one last item, mainly for us to use at home. This Smartphone Projector is a really cool DIY gadget that will turn your smartphone into a movie projector, so we can watch all those adorable iPhone videos of the kids on a big wall in our house. I absolutely love this idea, because we've both been trying to take more videos of the kids, but then they live on our phones and we don't get to share them with anyone (or even each other). With Ryan taking more videos of Mac fishing and me downloading my silly snaps of the kids throughout the day, I think this is a great way for us to be able to watch the videos together without huddling over a tiny phone screen or me having to do a ton of work uploading them all, putting them in iMovie and all that. I'm really excited about this one and can't wait to be able to throw videos of the kids up on the wall for our parents, as well. 
I am so happy with the way this little date night gift package turned out and I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Uncommon Goods. This is a company that is committed to sustainability and prides itself on carrying unique and creative products that are socially and environmentally responsible. Since their founding, they've featured products that contain recycled components and have not sold any products containing leather, features or fur. Their goal is to sell nothing that harms any animal or human. In addition, they created a program called Better to Give, which allows customers to select a non-profit at checkout, which will receive a $1 donation from the company after every purchase. 

No matter who you're shopping for, Uncommon Goods has some of the most unique, creative and fun gifts out there. The site is searchable by gender, age, interest (beer, foodie, sports, gardener, hostess, etc.). Uncommon Goods is also really awesome at curating fantastic gift guides/collections to help you pick from the overwhelming selection of amazing products on their websites. Some of my favorite collections for the men in your life (husbands, boyfriends, dads, brothers, uncles, and guy friends) are the Anniversary Gifts for Him collection (HERE), the Boyfriend gift collection (HERE) and the Birthday Guy collection (HERE). Why is it that guys are so much harder to shop for, anyway? 

And because I love you and want you to have a fun date night with your partner in crime (or just the chance to get an amazing gift for yourself or someone special), I'm pairing up with Uncommon Goods to give away a $50 gift certificate to their website. Use the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win! Good luck! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

* I received the items reviewed free of charge from Uncommon Goods in exchange for my honest review and feedback. I was not compensated in any way for this post. All opinions expressed and the incredibly dorky love of games and trivia are all mine. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Friday Favorites

Hooray, it's FriYAY! In honor of it almost being the freakin' weekend, baby, I thought it might be fun to share a few of my favorite photos of the kids from the last couple weeks. I've been trying to snap some photos here and there of our "everyday" know, the ones that don't quite feel big enough or important enough to fill a whole blog post, but still capture sweet and funny moments in our lives and really showcase the kids' personalities right now. For example... 
We got this yellow Hummer for Mac for his 4th birthday and he loves it. He calls it a "Hoover" and cannot say the word "Hummer" to save his life. Believe me, he tries and just can't do it; it's hilarious. He cruises the neighborhood and drives like a maniac, doing fishtails and slamming it into reverse at the drop of a hat. He keeps the back of it stocked with sticks, rocks, gardening gloves, extra sunglasses, a remote control car and his water gun...just in case he needs to shoot any rogue Storm Troopers that show up.
Even though her birthday isn't for another month, Mimmy has officially entered the "terrible twos," which is equally frustrating and hilarious. Her temper tantrums, while a big deal to her, are about a quarter the intensity Mac's were and she's just so stinking adorable when she pouts and fake cries, that we just can't help but laugh. She's got the pout lip down flat and uses those big eyes to get whatever she wants, which are way more effective than throwing herself on the ground and yelling "GO AWAY!" which is her favorite (and only insult). She's got a lot more work to do if she's going to compete with his tantrums. 
Last week our nanny had the day off, so Ryan and I both took off work and surprised the kids by taking them to the arcade and go kart track. They were both so excited and adorable about it. Mac couldn't play games fast enough and tried out about 30 different ones before deciding that he wanted to spend the next hour shooting and blowing up dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park game. Mim flitted around from game to game, thinking that she was playing them all and finally found the indoor playground in the back of the arcade, where she went down the slide and through the noodles nine thousand times. They both got to ride the go karts (Mim's first time) and loved it. At the end of the ride she kept saying, "More fast! More go go!" and screamed bloody murder when we had to leave.
Today was the final day of Mac's 10-day intensive swim camp and despite some tears that first week, he did great and ended up loving it! His new swim camp BFF is a little boy from down the street and I'm thrilled that he's finally got a boy in the neighborhood to play with. Everyday he's excited about going to camp to see his friends and tells me how good he is at swimming and how brave he is for going to camp all by himself. It's adorable and has really fostered a newfound independence in him. 
Surprisingly, both kids seem to be getting along better with each other lately. I'm not sure if it's because Mac's been gone all day at swim camp or if there's been a shift in the dynamic at home, but my fingers are crossed they keep this up. Mac's been really great about helping Mim with things like putting on her shoes and finding her sunglasses for her. He is so sweet when she gets hurt or scared and tries to calm her down and sings songs to her. He insists that they wear matching jammies every night. He likes having her around, even if it is just to have someone to boss around and scold. Sharing is still really hard, but I think that's to be expected. I need to write another post on the sibling dynamic and how things have changed since that post.

Happy Friday!
What are your weekend plans?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Summer Days Drifting Away

Hello friends! You may have noticed that things have been a bit quieter than usual around here, so I wanted to let you know what was going on. Mainly, right now it's summer and we're just busy busy busy! I'm sure you are too. Ryan and I spent a whirlwind weekend on the Eastern Shore attending the most gorgeous wedding I've ever seen. Mac is out of school and finishing up an intense swim camp. Mim is also swimming and doing gymnastics this summer. We're planning weekend getaways, camping trips and fun summer adventures in between Ryan's crazy work travel schedule as he prepares for trial. I'm also heading to Lake Tahoe with the girls next month for the first time ever, so please share your favorite places to eat, hike and shop with me! 

But...I've also got a little something up my sleeve that I've been working on around the clock, that I cannot wait to share with you! You know...because I needed ANOTHER thing on my plate! ;) But this is a passion project of mine and I'm hoping it will spark my creative juices in a whole new way and give back more than I can even imagine over the next few years. To say I'm excited about it is a complete understatement and it's been something I've been wanting to do for a while, but haven't had the guts to take the plunge. It's not ready yet and I promise that I'll have all the details for you soon (and probably lots of questions for you before then), but just know that even though it's quiet here, that doesn't mean I'm not working hard on something really exciting! I hope you'll stick around and be a part of it with me! And if you're dying to know and want a sneak peek...follow along here.  

Until then, I'm here! I've got some really fun posts coming up over the next few weeks, including a date night package, a 4th of July inspired photo shoot, a giveaway, updates on the kids, Mim's second birthday, some fun (boozy) popsicle recipes and more! 

Hope you're enjoying your summer! 
Any trips planned? 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


This weekend was a hot one! Temperatures got all the way to triple digits on Saturday, so we decided to go somewhere we could stay cool and (at least) get our feet wet. We packed up the kids and headed to a local state park to explore the creeks there, equipped with water shoes, nets and minnow buckets. I grew up in the country and we had an awesome little creek at the end of our driveway. I can't even begin to tell you how many hundreds of hours my brothers and friends and I would spend in that creek. It was our happy place. So, I get really excited when I have the chance to take my city kids into the woods to act like country kids...and they're really good at it! 

The water was cold and felt great in the heat. There were fewer minnows and more mosquitoes than we were expecting, but the kids didn't seem to mind one bit. Mac was intense in his hunt for minnows to fill our fishtank at home and Mim exclaimed "baby fishy!" everytime she saw one. We didn't find any crawdads, but we did find a sculpin, snails, clusters of caterpillars and lots of rocks with really cool fossils. Both kids loved exploring, but went about it in their own ways. As usual, Mac was full-speed ahead and forged his way down the creek bed, splashing and throwing rocks as he went. Mim lagged behind, taking her time examining every rock, every leaf, every flower. It took her 20 minutes to cover the same distance as it took Mac 2 minutes. We fielded a million questions from Mac, such as "Is this a dinosaur tooth? Is this the same kind of water that's in the river? Is it illegal to throw rocks at people? Why can't people eat rocks? Do fish eat rocks? Do dinosaurs eat rocks? Why is the water cold? Why does that tree look like that? Is this a vine? Are there any dinosaur eggs here? Is that a crocodile? Is this poison ivy? Can we find a snake? Are there trout in here? Where are all the turtles?" Having a 4-year old is exhausting. After a couple hours (and a couple meltdowns), we headed back to the car with our fill of fresh air, sunshine and mosquito bites. 
Hope you have a chance to get out and explore this weekend!