(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.

Blackberry-Thyme Vodka Collins [featuring Heritage Distilling Co.]

Blackberry-Thyme Vodka Collins - Sarah J. Hauser

My husband and I just got back from a (kid-free!) vacation in Sedona, Arizona, and while I was ready to come home and see the kiddos, I'm still feeling the vacation vibes. I can't quite keep track of what day it is (although that's often true even during a normal week), and I'm perfectly content having a quiet and (relatively) lazy week. I didn't expect the slow week, but that's sort of the way things shook out.

Apparently I'm getting older, because on the last day of our trip as we were packing to leave, I lifted my suitcase and tweaked my back. I'm choosing to use the term "tweaked" instead of "threw out." Somehow the latter makes me feel like I'm deteriorating at faster rate than I care to admit. But then we sat in the car for a few hours, had a three and a half hour plane ride, and finally another hour car ride. The next day, I could barely get out of bed and only did so with ridiculous pain rivaling that of my C-section recovery. 

I'm on the mend and moving much better (thanks to chiropractic care and having physical therapists as friends!), but my husband and I decided we're going to start fresh on Monday and give ourselves a grace week to get back to normal (whatever normal means).

So here's to another week of relaxation, whether caused by vacation or immobility. Cheers!

Blackberry-Thyme Vodka Collins - Sarah J. Hauser
Blackberry-Thyme Vodka Collins - Sarah J. Hauser
Blackberry-Thyme Vodka Collins - Sarah J. Hauser
Blackberry-Thyme Vodka Collins - Sarah J. Hauser

A vodka collins is a light, refreshing cocktail (based on the Tom Collins) that's perfect for summer. I added blackberries and thyme because I love the fruit and herb combo. You can use whatever you have on hand, like strawberries, basil, blueberries, or rosemary!

Blackberry-Thyme Vodka Collins
Yields 1 drink

1 ½ ounces vodka (I used Heritage Distilling’s Batch No. 12 Vodka
1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
½-1 ounce simple syrup (depending on how sweet you like it)
Small handful of blackberries
2-3 sprigs of thyme
Club soda or seltzer
Fresh lemon slices for garnish

Add the vodka, lemon juice, simple syrup, blackberries, and thyme to a highball or Collins glass. Muddle using a cocktail muddler or the back of a spoon. Add ice and stir thoroughly. Top with club soda. Give it another gentle stir, and garnish with a slice of lemon.

Pomegranate + Gin Cocktail [a holiday take on the "Martinez"]

Pomegranate + Gin Cocktail

I’m all about holiday baking, but what I really love are holiday cocktails. Bring on the cookies and cakes and pies…as long as you don’t forget to pour a little something special in my glass.

This Pomegranate + Gin Cocktail brings all the Christmas and New Years’ vibes – deep red color, bright gin, and sweet pomegranate flavor with a touch of orange from the Cointreau. It's inspired by the "Martinez," a cocktail that I didn't even know existed until about a month ago, but one that has quickly become a favorite.

Think of a Martinez like the perfect middle ground between a Manhattan (whiskey, sweet vermouth, and Angostura bitters) and a Martini (gin, dry vermouth). And just like with the Manhattan and Martini, there are a million variations of the Martinez. 

A traditional Martinez uses Old Tom gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur, and orange bitters, although there are a thousand recipes out there with slightly varying ingredients and proportions. Because of the addition of pomegranate juice, I wouldn't quite call my version below a Martinez, but with the gin, vermouth, and bitters, you can definitely see a family resemblance. 

It’s the holiday season in a glass, and it doesn’t get much better than that. Cheers!

(To geek out a bit more on the Martinez Cocktail, check out this article from Saveur.)

Pomegranate + Gin Cocktail
Pomegranate + Gin Cocktail
Pomegranate + Gin Cocktail
Pomegranate + Gin Cocktail
Pomegranate + Gin Cocktail

Pomegranate + Gin Cocktail
Yields 1 drink

2 ounces gin
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 ounce 100% pomegranate juice*
½ ounce Cointreau
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Strip of lemon zest and pomegranate arils

Put a cocktail glass in the freezer while you mix together the drink.

Add the gin, vermouth, pomegranate juice, Cointreau, and bitters to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Stir with a spoon for at least 15 seconds.

Remove the glass from the freezer, and rub the rim with a strip of lemon zest. Drop the zest in the glass.

Strain the cocktail from the shaker into the cold glass, and add a fresh ice cube and pomegranate arils. Serve and enjoy!

*Add more pomegranate juice if you prefer a sweeter cocktail. You can also top the drink off with sparkling water if you want to tone down the alcohol. 

This recipe was originally featured at Lark + Linen.

Meyer Lemon + Pomegranate Tom Collins [featuring Sonoma Syrup Co.]

Meyer Lemon + Pomegranate Tom Collins | Sarah J. Hauser

Warm weather is here! Living in the Chicago area, I'm sure we'll still get a few cold and wet days ahead, but I'm guessing the snow is behind us (hopefully!). That means it's time to fire up the grill, pull out the yard games and grab a cold beverage - like this Meyer Lemon + Pomegranate Tom Collins. 

Meyer Lemon + Pomegranate Tom Collins | Sarah J. Hauser
Meyer Lemon + Pomegranate Tom Collins | Sarah J. Hauser

A Tom Collins is typically made with lemon juice, simple syrup, gin and club soda. This recipe adds a touch of pomegranate juice and uses Meyer lemons, which are less tangy and slightly sweeter than regular lemons. For even more lemon-y goodness, I used Sonoma Syrup Co.'s Meyer Lemon Infused Simple Syrup. If you're looking for a refreshing, summery cocktail, this is it. 

Meyer Lemon + Pomegranate Tom Collins | Sarah J. Hauser

Are you heading outside this weekend? What's your favorite drink for warm weather days?

Meyer Lemon + Pomegranate Tom Collins
Yields 1 cocktail

2 ounces gin
1 ounce Meyer lemon juice
½ ounce pomegranate juice (make sure you use 100% pomegranate juice)
½ ounce simple syrup, such as Sonoma Syrup Co.'s Meyer lemon simple syrup
2-3 ounces club soda
Meyer lemon wedge for garnish

Combine gin, lemon juice, pomegranate juice and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker. Add a handful of ice and shake. 

Strain into a highball or Collins glass filled with ice. Top with club soda and garnish with a wedge of Meyer lemon.    

Quick Tip: If you can't find Meyer lemons, you can use regular ones. You may want to increase the amount of simple syrup since Meyer lemons are sweeter. 

Simple syrup for feature was provided by Sonoma Syrup Co. All opinions are 100% my own.