(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.

Orange + Spice Pancakes with Bourbon Buttered Syrup

Orange + Spice Pancakes with Bourbon Buttered Syrup | Sarah J. Hauser

I have all these romantic, fond memories of Christmases when I was a kid. We’d drive about an hour away to a tree farm to chop down the “tallest of allest” we could find, then spend half the afternoon struggling to get it inside the house. My dad would carefully string the lights, determined to fix any tiny broken bulbs and bring 10-year-old strands back to life. We’d unwrap cheesy handmade ornaments (which I can’t believe my mom agreed to save) as we listened to anything from Bing Crosby to Handel’s Messiah.

On Christmas Eve, I’d gently shake the boxes under the tree, trying to choose the one gift I was allowed to open that night. The next morning, I’d run to the family room and stand in awe of the overflowing stockings and sea of boxes waiting to be unwrapped, counting down the seconds until I was allowed to wake everyone else up. Eventually, with plates of scrambled eggs and Mom’s homemade Swedish Tea Ring in hand, we’d begin the rounds of gift opening.

Over the years, the magic of the season has waxed and waned. Some years, the snow falls at the perfect moment on Christmas Eve while I’m sitting in front of the fire drinking eggnog, and it’s like I’ve stepped into a Norman Rockwell painting. Other years, it’s anything but magic. Christmas Day is spent unexpectedly in a hospital waiting room, or the grief of an absent loved one is tangibly felt. Sometimes, the monotony of everyday living takes over – kids still get cranky on holidays, the flu sweeps through the family, the house needs to get cleaned, and any attempts to savor the season seem futile.

Keep reading and get the recipe at Coffee + Crumbs!

Orange + Spice Pancakes with Bourbon Buttered Syrup | Sarah J. Hauser
Orange + Spice Pancakes with Bourbon Buttered Syrup | Sarah J. Hauser
Orange + Spice Pancakes with Bourbon Buttered Syrup | Sarah J. Hauser
Orange + Spice Pancakes with Bourbon Buttered Syrup | Sarah J. Hauser
Orange + Spice Pancakes with Bourbon Buttered Syrup | Sarah J. Hauser

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

Baked Oatmeal With Apples, Bacon + Maple Syrup

Baked Oatmeal With Apples, Bacon, & Maple Syrup

Nothing can totally prepare you for motherhood. We know this.

When I was pregnant, I did everything I could to learn about breastfeeding. I read books, took a class, sought advice from other twin mamas, and got the best pump I could afford. But it was still a completely unknown world to me, and I was nervous. Would I be able to produce enough milk? Would they be able to latch correctly? Would I ever sleep again? Would they gain enough weight?

I tried to hold on to the idea of nursing lightly. Like much of motherhood, the things you hold onto most tightly are often the same things that get painfully ripped out of your hands. As I anticipated, feeding turned out to be a huge challenge during those early months. My son took weeks to latch, and I remember at an outpatient appointment, the lactation consultant kindly looked at me and said, “How are you doing with this? Do you want to keep going?” She offered support and encouragement, but I was also relieved that she offered me permission to quit. As we talked, I choked back tears of exhaustion and frustration. I was about one feeding away from giving up completely

Continue reading and get the recipe at Coffee + Crumbs!

Baked Oatmeal With Apples, Bacon, & Maple Syrup
Baked Oatmeal With Apples, Bacon, & Maple Syrup
Baked Oatmeal With Apples, Bacon, & Maple Syrup
Baked Oatmeal With Apples, Bacon, & Maple Syrup

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

Cold Brew + Bourbon Cocktail

It's the evening of Thanksgiving. The main course is ending, you're starting to hit that food coma phase but the night is still young. It's time for some dessert in a glass - and the combination of coffee and bourbon couldn't be more perfect. 

Enter Cold Brew + Bourbon Cocktail. Using cold brew concentrate instead of regular coffee ensures the coffee taste won't get lost in the mix, and the maple syrup and nutmeg give this drink its quintessential winter flavor. The bourbon adds just the right amount of warmth and bite for the perfect accompaniment to your holiday feast. 

If you love playing bartender, whip up one or two of these at a time using a cocktail shaker. Alternatively, you can follow the proportions below and mix together a crowd-sized batch. (Local friends, skip making the cold brew and pick up FreshGround Roasting's Black Ice Brew!)

What cocktails are on your holiday menu? I'd love to hear in the comments!

Cold Brew + Bourbon Cocktail
Yields 1 drink

1 1/2 ounces cold brew coffee concentrate* (see recipe below or use FreshGround's Black Ice Brew)
1 ounce bourbon
1 ounce heavy cream
1/2 ounce maple syrup
Ground nutmeg

Add the coffee, bourbon, cream and maple syrup to a cocktail shaker (or other airtight container) with ice. Shake vigorously for about 15 seconds. Strain out the ice, pour into a glass and top with ground nutmeg. 

Note: If you want to make this to serve a crowd, adjust the recipe using 3 parts cold brew coffee concentrate, 2 parts bourbon, 2 parts heavy cream and 1 part maple syrup.

*Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate

You can easily make cold brew coffee using a Toddy Cold Brewer. However, if you don’t have a Toddy, here’s an alternative method that uses a French Press.

1 cup coarsely ground coffee
4 cups cold water 

Add coffee to a French Press. Pour the cold water over the grounds, ensuring that all of the grounds get wet. Let steep overnight, or for 8-16 hours. After coffee has steeped, use the plunger on the French Press to strain your coffee.

Pour brewed coffee concentrate into a container that can be covered and stored in your refrigerator. Leftover concentrate can be refrigerated for up to two weeks and used to make iced lattes, baked goods and other treats!

This recipe was originally featured on the FreshGround Roasting blog