(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.

Dairy-Free (and Vegan!) Chocolate Pudding with Candied Orange Slices

Dairy Free (and Vegan!) Chocolate Pudding with Candied Orange Slices | Sarah J. Hauser

My husband and I just finished a Whole30, and I’m trying to ease into other foods gradually. While I don’t have any food allergies or severe sensitivities, I know that diving right into chocolate cake or pizza after having avoided grains and dairy for a month probably wouldn’t be the best decision! (I have to admit it’s tempting, though.)

That being said, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner—which means I at least need a little chocolate. We don’t typically make a big deal about Valentine’s Day, mostly because for the last four years we’ve been too tired or too busy with the kiddos. But, we do enjoy a good date night in at home, a bottle of wine that’s a bit better than what we’d normally buy, and something special for dessert.

This pudding is perfect for just that! It only requires a few ingredients, it’s dairy-free and vegan, and you can make it in advance. (I actually suggest making it in advance since it has to firm up in the fridge and the orange slices have to dry out.) The dark chocolate pairs perfectly with a hint of orange, and the candied orange slices add a fun, creative twist.

I will tell you, too, that this pudding is rich. It may look at first like the recipe doesn’t make very much, but a little goes a long way. You can also add a bit more maple syrup for a slightly sweeter version. (I love really dark, bittersweet chocolate.)

What do you do for Valentine’s Day? Or Galentine’s Day? Do you head out on the town or have a quiet evening in? Let me know in the comments below! I’m always looking for new ideas!

Dairy Free (and Vegan!) Chocolate Pudding with Candied Orange Slices | Sarah J. Hauser
Dairy Free (and Vegan!) Chocolate Pudding with Candied Orange Slices | Sarah J. Hauser
Dairy Free (and Vegan!) Chocolate Pudding with Candied Orange Slices | Sarah J. Hauser
Dairy Free (and Vegan!) Chocolate Pudding with Candied Orange Slices | Sarah J. Hauser
Dairy Free (and Vegan!) Chocolate Pudding with Candied Orange Slices | Sarah J. Hauser
Dairy Free (and Vegan!) Chocolate Pudding with Candied Orange Slices | Sarah J. Hauser
Dairy Free (and Vegan!) Chocolate Pudding with Candied Orange Slices | Sarah J. Hauser
Dairy Free (and Vegan!) Chocolate Pudding with Candied Orange Slices | Sarah J. Hauser
Dairy Free (and Vegan!) Chocolate Pudding with Candied Orange Slices | Sarah J. Hauser

Dairy-Free Chocolate Pudding with Candied Orange Slices
Yields 2-3 servings*
Adapted from Paleo Running Momma

⅓ cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons arrowroot powder
⅛ teaspoon sea salt
1 cup coconut cream (the hardened cream from a can of coconut milk)*
3-4 Tablespoons maple syrup (plus more to taste)
1 Tablespoon Cointreau (optional)
Coconut whipped cream
Zest of 1 orange
Candied orange slices (see note below)

In a small bowl, sift together the cocoa powder, arrowroot powder, and salt. (Sifting helps prevent lumps in the pudding.)

In a small saucepan, add the coconut cream and maple syrup. Heat over medium-low heat, whisking frequently, until the coconut cream melts. LIttle by little, add in the dry ingredients, whisking after each addition until smooth. Add in the Cointreau if using (it’s optional but adds the perfect bit of citrus flavor to the pudding. Skip this, though, if adults avoiding alcohol or kids will be eating the pudding!) Add additional maple syrup if you want a sweeter pudding.

Whisk the pudding constantly for 3-5 minutes until thickened. Turn the heat off and transfer the pudding to containers for serving. (Ramekins, small mason jars, and other types of dishes work great for this.) Refrigerate until cold and firm, at least a couple hours. To avoid a “skin” at the top of the pudding, cover the top in plastic wrap so that the plastic lays directly on top of the pudding.

Top with coconut whipped cream, orange zest, and a candied orange slice (see below).

*This recipe is very rich, so a little goes a long way!

**Put a couple cans of full fat coconut milk in the fridge for a few hours. The cream will separate and hardened at the top of the can, so you can easily scoop it off with a spoon.

Candied Orange Slices

For the candied orange slices, I followed this recipe from Taste of Home, but I cut the recipe in half. After the slices dried overnight, I dipped them in granulated sugar.

Make sure to keep the orange simple syrup that’s leftover. It’s perfect for cocktails and other fun recipes!

Mixed Berry + Cocoa Smoothie [and growing into motherhood]

I watch my son, Josiah, hold onto the old, scratched up coffee table, gripping the edge with his tiny fingers while he shuffles over to the couch. At 10 months, he’s still wobbly, but every day I notice his legs grow sturdier and his confidence stronger.

He also falls. Often. Sometimes his face gets red with frustration when he can’t keep up with his older siblings, and tears well up when he stumbles. But he’s just learning, and stubbornness propels him onward.

I hear the slap of his hands on the hardwood floor as he makes his way to the front stairs. He’s beginning to climb steps now—a milestone I’d prefer to delay. I follow closely behind, because even though he’s gotten quite adept at going up, he hasn’t exactly mastered coming down—or at least coming down safely.

He sets his hands on the first stair and waits for me. The corners of his mouth turn up and his blue eyes squint in excitement. I tentatively “chase” him to the top. He enjoys the game and doesn’t realize I’m actually spotting him. Mama’s not about to let him take another tumble, although it seems to him like that possibility is all part of the fun of it. The threat of falling doesn’t deter him from climbing.

Somewhere along the way, I lost that fearlessness. I started to assume I should be able to walk without ever crawling, to bolt up the stairs without a misstep. In the past, I traveled across the world without the prospect of getting lost holding me back. I applied for jobs without being crippled by the idea of rejection. I jumped into new ventures headfirst simply because I found joy in possibility. But now in the daily work of mothering, I easily forget it’s not only okay to fall, but it's normal, expected, and part of the learning process.

Keep reading and get the recipe at Coffee + Crumbs!

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

Cocoa + Cardamom Waffles [and reflections on creativity and self-worth]

Cocoa + Cardamom Waffles

There are two voices, one for each ear, whispering supposed truth to me. I waver between listening to one or the other. It’s a constant struggle to choose to heed the words I know are true, the words that say I’m worthwhile, I have something to offer, I’m created in the image of a God who has designed me for a purpose. Other times, I turn away and listen to the voice that mocks me. “You’ll never be as good as that person. Why even try? It’s all been done before. The world doesn’t need your creativity, your thoughts, your words. You have nothing to offer.”

That latter voice is crippling. It causes me coil up and hide, refusing to share anything at all for fear of how it may be received, or for fear that no one will even take notice.

And then the other voice speaks, waking me up to the truth. My words are needed. They’re my words – no one else’s, and the idea that something is only worth contributing if it’s the best (according to our culture’s idea of “the best”) is a blatant lie. How do you think the people who are deemed “the best” got there? They practiced, worked and contributed before becoming the best in order to excel in their craft. Sure, some had more God-given talent in a certain area, but prodigies still have to practice.

But then what if I don’t ever get to that point? What if I don’t really want to get to that point? I honestly don’t really have the desire to be famous, and I’m OK if my work isn’t the best of the best of the best. Is my work still valid if it’s not at the very least a stepping-stone to public recognition? Should I even bother if the platform on which I speak remains small?

Yes. The extent to which others acknowledge and appreciate your work does not dictate its value – or your value.

“Nothing has transformed my life more than realizing that it’s a waste of time to evaluate my worthiness by weighing the reaction of the people in the stands” (Brene Brown). When I stop and think about why I’m struggling through this debilitating cycle of comparison, what I often realize is that I’m trying to find my worth in the affirmation of other people. If I’m doing that, then my worth is constantly changing. If someone likes me, I’m worthy. If they don’t, I’m worthless. If I receive affirmation for my work, it’s good. If I don’t, it’s terrible.

It’s exhausting.

When my sense of worth and creative value rests on the shaky ground of outward recognition, it is so easy to falter, to doubt, to grow weary, tired and discouraged. But when I realize that I have worth as a human being, created by God in his image, I remember that I have worth, because HE has given it to me. I can echo the words of the psalmist and say, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psalm 139:13-14).

My worth and the value of my work are determined by the Creator God, and he doesn’t change. Even if no one else sees what I do or recognizes my contributions, or even if it’s not up to the quality of the person next to me, He sees it and values it if it is offered up to glorify Him.

Francis Schaeffer wrote, "How can art be sufficiently meaningful? If it is offered up merely before men, then it does not have a sufficient integration point. But it can be offered up before God…So the man who really loves God, who is working under the lordship of Christ, could write his poetry, compose his music, construct his musical instruments, fashion his statues, paint his pictures, even if no man ever saw them. He knows God looks upon them." (And may I add, "cook and photograph her recipes" to that list?)

Over the last couple years, I’ve been learning better how to silence the debilitating voice and listen to the words of the life-giving one. The truth is finally starting to sink into my heart – and the irony is that as I’ve recognized my worth from God and have been grounded in him, my work has improved. My courage has grown. I’m more willing to show myself to the world, and if I’m not well received, that’s OK. My identity and value are not on the line.

The volume of the lies is gradually fading. Thoughts of worthlessness are becoming mere white noise, drowned out by words speaking beauty and truth. I choose to listen to the truth.

Our topic for Wednesday March 1st is "The Environment." What does it actually mean to take care of the environment? Who's job is it really? Do we have a moral obligation to do so?
Cocoa + Cardamom Waffles
Cocoa + Cardamom Waffles

Cocoa + Cardamom Waffles
Yields about 10 (7-inch round) waffles

2 eggs
2 cups buttermilk
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cocoa powder
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
½ teaspoon salt
Cooking spray or additional butter (to grease the waffle iron)

Preheat a waffle iron to medium-high (I set mine to setting number 4 out of 5). In a medium bowl, beat the eggs. Whisk in the buttermilk and melted butter.

In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, cardamom, baking powder, baking soda, instant coffee, and salt. Combine the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients, and stir just until combined.

Grease the waffle iron if needed. Pour about ½ cup of batter onto the center of the preheated waffle iron. (You may need to adjust this amount based on your waffle iron and the manufacturer’s recommendation.) Close the waffle iron and cook until the waffles are crisp on the outside. Repeat this step until you use all the batter.

Serve immediately, or keep the waffles warm in a 200-degree oven until you’re ready to serve. (Hint: They’ll stay crispier if you avoid stacking them!) Top with powdered sugar, fruit, whipped cream, maple syrup, or any other favorite toppings. Enjoy!