(Paleo + Vegan) Maple-Cinnamon Hot Chocolate [and the gift of play]

(Paleo + Vegan) Maple-Cinnamon Hot Chocolate | Sarah J. Hauser

My daughter keeps asking to have a tea party or a picnic or play doctor with her. I oblige when I can, but preschool play is not my strength. But little by little, my kids draw me into their worlds, teaching me how to play again. They show me the joy of silliness and letting go of inhibitions. They help me loosen my grip on practicality. I still fight it every day. I want to see check marks on my to-do lists and know I’m working toward a goal. Those desires aren’t all bad, of course, but we’ve lost something when we let utility push fun completely out of the picture. We’ve lost the joy and beauty of play.

Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, researched how the absence of play contributed to the violent behavior of homicidal males. (Don’t worry. This blog post won’t take a dark turn toward examining the psychology of murder, but if you want to learn more check out Dr. Brown’s TED talk or resources on the National Institute for Play website.) Through years researching both humans and animals, Brown “came to understand that humans are uniquely designed by nature to enjoy and participate in play throughout life.”

We shouldn’t wait to play until all the more important things get done. Play—doing something for the sheer joy of it rather than as a means to an end—is essential for human thriving. It’s something we need in our everyday lives. It cultivates creativity, combats stress, and stimulates the brain. Whenever I watch my kids play, I see them creating, adapting, growing, working together, figuring things out, smiling, and so much more. Yet somehow as an adult, I decided play wasn’t important.

Even when I do try to play, I struggle. I play with my kids but grow easily frustrated by the fact that they’re not following the rules of Candyland or adequately explaining the rules of their own made-up game. I set a mental timer trying to decipher how long I have to sit and eat pretend food or roll cars across the floor before I’ve fulfilled my duty as an attentive mother. To be honest, preschool play can feel utterly mind-numbing to me sometimes. (Please tell me I’m not the only one?) I marvel at the creativity of my kids’ preschool teachers and friends and family who play with my kids with ease. Give me a basketball and a high school kid, and I’m good to go. Give me Play-Doh and a three-year-old, and I’m lost at sea.

When I attempt to play as an adult, I often only do so when there’s a clear goal. I run for exercise. I photograph to get a blog post out. I create a recipe in the kitchen so I can share it online. But what if I did all those things—running, photography, cooking—for the joy of it? What if I allowed myself to do something I love just because? That sounds so...frivolous.

Despite my ineptitude for play, having kids has given me a new chance to learn how to do this. I see them making funny faces, running in circles until they’re dizzy or creating elaborate story lines as they talk to their stuffed animals. They’re learning and growing in many areas that could be labeled as productive. But my daughter doesn’t assign dialogue to her stuffed sloth because she's practicing her language skills. She’s doing it because it’s fun.

O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great. There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.
— Psalm 104:24-26

God has given us the gift of play—a gift we see his creatures using throughout creation. In Psalm 104, the psalmist writes of the Leviathan in the sea, “which you formed to play in it.” Leviathan (whatever we deem that creature to actually be) was created to play. We see the playfulness of God throughout his world, in the colors of the sunsets or the creativity of the animal kingdom. What was God thinking when he made a platypus? I wouldn’t be surprised if he simply thought it was fun. If we’re to image God, one of the ways we do this is through play. We see and recognize the joy he takes in his creation, and we image that to the rest of the world. If we only ever image our God as practical, realistic, or utilitarian, are we really demonstrating who he is to others?

When’s the last time you did something for the fun of it, not as a means to an end? When’s the last time you allowed yourself to truly and wholeheartedly play? Do you view it as a luxury, or as a necessity? What can you do this week to wholeheartedly, unabashedly play?

(Need some play inspiration? How about playing in the snow and then savoring some hot chocolate afterwards? The recipe below is dairy-free, paleo, vegan, and so, so good! Scroll down to learn how to make it!)

(Paleo + Vegan) Maple-Cinnamon Hot Chocolate | Sarah J. Hauser
(Paleo + Vegan) Maple-Cinnamon Hot Chocolate | Sarah J. Hauser
(Paleo + Vegan) Maple-Cinnamon Hot Chocolate | Sarah J. Hauser
(Paleo + Vegan) Maple-Cinnamon Hot Chocolate | Sarah J. Hauser
(Paleo + Vegan) Maple-Cinnamon Hot Chocolate | Sarah J. Hauser
(Paleo + Vegan) Maple-Cinnamon Hot Chocolate | Sarah J. Hauser

(Paleo + Vegan) Maple-Cinnamon Hot Chocolate
Yields 1 large serving or 2 small servings
Adapted from Detoxinista

1 ½ cups unsweetened almond milk
3 Tablespoons maple syrup
2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
Coconut whipped cream for topping*

In a small saucepan, add the milk, maple syrup, cocoa powder, cinnamon, salt, and cayenne pepper (if using).

Turn the head to medium-low. Cook until warmed through, whisking frequently until the hot chocolate is smooth.

Pour into a mug and top with coconut whipped cream. The coconut whipped cream adds an amazing creamy richness, especially as it melts into the drink!

*For full instructions and tips to make coconut whipped cream, click here for a post from Tastes Lovely. Basically, take a can of full fat coconut milk and put it in the fridge for a few hours (I just store a can in my fridge at all times). The cream will separate from the coconut water. Scrape the cream off and add it to a bowl. Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer, beat for a couple minutes until soft peaks form, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. I whip in a bit of maple syrup to sweeten the cream. The ratio I like is about 1 tablespoon of maple syrup per cup of coconut cream.

Cranberry Sauce Muffins

Cranberry Sauce Muffins | Sarah J. Hauser

I meant to post these muffins around Thanksgiving when, if you’re like me, you’re swimming in leftovers. But as maybe you can relate, the holiday craziness seemed to appear out of nowhere and suddenly trips to the post office, last minute errands, and making cookies for my kids’ preschool party became both urgent and important tasks. Freshly baked muffins don’t usually qualify as urgent—but hey, still important, right?

Thankfully, cranberry sauce is simple to make even when leftovers are long gone. I’ve also made this muffin recipe using the good ‘ol store bought stuff from the can, although I recommend buying the “whole berry” cranberry sauce instead of the jellied version. (Did anyone else’s grandmother serve the jellied version on a serving dish in the exact shape of the can? I usually buy a can every year and serve it like that in her memory. It’s funny how the random quirks can make such an impression.)

Anyway, here you go: freshly baked muffins with warm spices and festive cranberry sauce. I also highly recommend a generous pat of butter for serving, for obvious reasons.

What are you baking this time of year?

Cranberry Sauce Muffins | Sarah J. Hauser
Cranberry Sauce Muffins | Sarah J. Hauser
Cranberry Sauce Muffins | Sarah J. Hauser
Cranberry Sauce Muffins | Sarah J. Hauser
Cranberry Sauce Muffins | Sarah J. Hauser
Cranberry Sauce Muffins | Sarah J. Hauser

Cranberry Sauce Muffins
Yields 12 regular-sized muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup whole milk
1 egg
4 Tablespoons butter, melted
¾ cup prepared cranberry sauce*
1 Tablespoons turbinado (raw) sugar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a regular sized muffin tin, or use paper muffin cups.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, egg, and butter.

Slowly mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, being careful not to over mix. It’s okay if there are lumps. (If you overmix, the muffins get tough.)

Spoon about half the batter into the prepared muffin tin. Add a spoonful of cranberry sauce on top, distributing the sauce evenly between all the muffins. Top with the remaining batter and a sprinkle of turbinado sugar.

Bake for 15-17 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Serve warm with butter and enjoy!

*Note: I have also made these using jam, but in my opinion they turned out too sweet. I like the tartness the cranberry sauce brings. If you do use jam, I suggest decreasing the amount and skipping the turbinado sugar.

Spiced Chai Bread with Cream Cheese Glaze

Spiced Chai Bread with Cream Cheese Glaze

Seven years ago on Christmas Day, my husband and I anxiously sat in a hospital waiting room. Carols played in the background, and strands of lights glimmered around the windows. Every once in awhile we heard a chime through the sound system, a tradition signaling the birth of a baby. The reminder of new life became a welcome interruption as we waited to hear from my mom’s surgeon.

Family and friends stopped by to check on us and ask about my mom. One couple dropped off sandwiches and salads for lunch. Later that night in a last minute attempt to salvage Christmas dinner, we heated up white chicken chili from my brother’s freezer.

Two years later, I answered emails and made phone calls while I “worked from home” at my mom’s bedside. The doorbell rang, a frequent occurrence in those last months as people visited and dropped off food and gifts for my family. It was my parents’ elderly neighbor. I anxiously twitched when I saw her, even though she was a perfectly pleasant woman. I couldn’t help but remember backing into car as a teenager and causing $800 worth of damage. But she wasn’t there to relive stories of my negligent driving.

Keep reading and get the recipe at Coffee + Crumbs!

Spiced Chai Bread with Cream Cheese Glaze
Spiced Chai Bread with Cream Cheese Glaze
Spiced Chai Bread with Cream Cheese Glaze

Full post and recipe instructions can be found at Coffee + Crumbs!

[healthy-ish] Cinnamon + Sweet Potato Muffins

Whole Wheat, Oat + Sweet Potato Muffins

On days when my eyes start drooping by 10am and dark clouds keep us indoors, I pile everyone in the minivan and we get out of the house. I usually don’t know where we’re headed until we get there. Some days, we make an impromptu trip to Aldi, and other times, we stop by FreshGround to pick up coffee and visit my brother.

And other days, we don’t even get out of the car. We head to the Panera drive-thru. I pick up a muffin for the kids and a sandwich or drink for myself, and we sit in the car for a few minutes of precious peace and quiet. I get to listen to a podcast (The Next Right Thing is my latest obsession), and the kids get a treat. Glamorous, right? But you do what you gotta do.

Blueberry muffins from Panera have saved my sanity over the last few months, but our drive-thru routine will lose its luster if I resort to it too often. I need to save that getaway plan for when we really need it - like when the twins had croup last week and we were holed up at home for way too long.

Plus, I really don’t want to be paying $3 for a muffin when I could make them for a fraction of the cost myself (although I guess I consider it paying for my sanity, which is more than worth it).  But when I can, I try to do things the homemade route – and these Cinnamon + Sweet Potato Muffins are perfect for when we don’t need to utilize our Panera escape plan.

They’re made with pureed sweet potatoes, oats, and whole-wheat flour - healthy enough that I feel good about giving them to my kids, but tasty enough to be toddler-approved. 

Whole Wheat, Oat + Sweet Potato Muffins
Whole Wheat, Oat + Sweet Potato Muffins
Whole Wheat, Oat + Sweet Potato Muffins
Whole Wheat, Oat + Sweet Potato Muffins
Whole Wheat, Oat + Sweet Potato Muffins

Cinnamon + Sweet Potato Muffins
Yields 12 regular-sized muffins

1 cup white whole wheat flour*
½ cup all purpose flour
¾ cup rolled oats
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 1/3 cups pureed sweet potatoes
½ cup applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Turbinado sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray, or use liners. Set the prepared pan aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flours, oats, cinnamon, baking powder, soda, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the butter and brown sugar. On medium speed, cream the butter and sugar together, mixing for about 1-2 minutes. Add in the sweet potato puree, applesauce, and vanilla extract, mixing after each addition.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and stir with a wooden spoon or spatula, just until combined (don’t overmix!).

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin (I like using an ice cream scoop for this). Top with turbinado sugar if you’d like.

Let the batter rest for about 10 minutes before putting it in the oven. Do not skip this step! (Read why.)

Place the muffin tin in the oven and bake for about 20-24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let the muffins cool for a few minutes, and then place them on a wire rack to cool completely.

*Note: ”White” whole-wheat flour is still 100% whole wheat – it’s simply one particular type of wheat. It’s milder in flavor and lighter in color than some other whole-wheat flours. You can easily find it at many grocery stores (I most recently purchased a bag at Trader Joe’s). 

This recipe was originally featured at Lark + Linen.