Chewy tahini, chocolate and almond cookies

Get ready for a bold statement. I think I've found the best cookie recipe ever.

Soft, chewy, salty and sweet with a wonderfully toasty, nutty flavour from the tahini and melting chocolate on top – these have it all.

Before I go on, you should know I have a bad track record when it comes to making cookies. I've pumped out tray after tray of disappointments. One attempt produced puffed up little cake pillows, not unpleasant but not what any sane person is looking for in a cookie. On my next try the results were thin, shrapnel-like discs likely to chip a tooth.

I tried chilling the dough in the fridge to prevent butter seepage, I mixed up the sugar in the recipe, all to no avail. I was coming to terms with the idea that I might just bake a bad cookie. Then these came along...

Mmm caramelly tahini gooness

I saw the recipe by Cook Republic on Pinterest and, having a serious tahini addiction, I just couldn't resist.

After gently heating tahini, salt, vanilla and maple syrup until it formed a gorgeous caramelly mixture I stirred it together with ground almonds then rolled into balls, added toppings and baked for 15 minutes. It couldn't have been easier!

The smell was so amazing I had to try one before even turning off the oven. Imagine warm, freshly baked peanut butter cookies meets the sweet-savoury flavour of old-fashioned sesame snaps. Add gooey chocolate and a moreish texture and you've got these.

That's all it took. Seven ingredients and a matter of minutes. Oh, and they just happen to be vegan and gluten-free, too.

See, told you. Best cookies ever.

Chewy tahini, almond and chocolate cookies recipe 
Originally from Cook Republic
Makes 14 (I halved this and it made 7 perfectly)
Takes 20 minutes
  • 2 cups (225g) ground almonds
  • 3/4 cup (200g) tahini, I used Tesco's
  • 1/2 cup (130ml) maple syrup
  • 1/2 tspn salt flakes
  • 2 tspn good vanilla extract
  • Chopped dark chocolate chips and pistachios

  1. Preheat the oven to 150°C fan and line a baking tray with baking paper.
  2. Place the tahini, maple syrup, vanilla and salt in a small saucepan on medium heat. Heat for a few minutes, stirring constantly until smooth. Be careful not to leave it on the heat as it will burn quickly. Remove from the heat and leave to cool for 10 minutes.
  3. Add the ground almonds to the melted mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until it comes together. 
  4. Roll 1-2 tablespoons of dough together in your hands to form a ball. Place on the prepared tray and flatten slightly with your fingertips. 
  5. If you're adding toppings, press the chocolate and nuts on top of the cookies, making sure they stick. 
  6. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes then switch off the oven and leave the cookies in there to brown slightly for another 5 minutes. Keep an eye to make sure they don't burn! 
  7. You should cool on wire racks to get chewy cookies but these were SO good eaten warm from the oven, I'd recommend trying both. 

Why I fell in love with magical Pushkar, India

The view from our terrace
Our arrival in Pushkar was one of the most intimidating, scary moments of our whole trip.

We booked a taxi to take us from Jaipur on what should have been an easy three-hour journey but it just happened to be the last day of Pushkar's annual camel fair. When we realised our dates overlapped with the fair we didn't think much of it, hoping to cruise in a few hours before the end, see a couple of camels and get some Gram-able pictures. We should have done more research...

As we got closer to the small town the traffic got worse and worse until we were at a total standstill. Our car didn't move for two hours while a constant stream of Rajisthani villagers, women wearing traditional saris and nose rings, men with machetes, farmers leading camels or horses and hawkers selling sugar cane surged past us. We peered out of the windows as our driver Imran told us that around 200,000 people come to this famous event every year. We'd got it wrong. This wasn't just a fair, it was camel Glastonbury.

Tension started to build in the car as Jack, Imran and I sat in silence, unable to move with so many people blocking us in and banging on the doors. A young woman draped in glittering red saw me in the back, screamed and grabbed her friends, who flattened their noses on the windows and shouted "hello! hello!" It was just meant to be friendly but made me feel like Free Willy when he's in the aquarium.

Pushkar streets once the camel fair was over
Just when I thought I couldn't feel any more claustrophobic, Imran turned around nervously and said he was sorry, the police had shut the road and we would have to walk the final 2km. I know that doesn't sound far now, but wedged between so many people, my blonde hair hidden under a scarf and heavy backpack on, it felt like miles. We pored with sweat while trying to stay unnoticed and Jack navigated the way through the madness with Google maps. Some boys next to us started a fight, women pinched my arms (it's actually a sign of affection) and we got lost a few times.

Half an hour of pushing, shoving, dipping and diving later we fell through the door of our beautiful (if slightly crumbling) guesthouse and Meera welcomed us with a big smile and sweet chai tea. She showed us to our clean, cosy room with its own little terrace and the view took my breath away. We could see the sacred lake, encircled by temples and bustling bathing ghats which were alive with colour, voices, gongs, chanting and cows. Mountains on the horizon turned the sky a dusty blue and birds swooped in every direction. I fell in love with Pushkar instantly.

FaceTiming home 
We spent our time playing cards while watching monkeys skip across the rooftops and throngs of pilgrims come to the lake to wash clothes or take a dip in the holy water. The spiritual atmosphere was captivating. At sunset, families gathered outside the temples to sing and light floating candles. One morning I was woken by the sound of women in colourful saris singing as they plaited each other's hair on the steps. Pushkar was a much calmer place (I mean calm for India) once the fair was over.

We also had some of the best food in Pushkar. At Honey & Spice cafe (my favourite cafe in all of India) I tucked in to homemade granola with toasted grains, nuts and figs served with yogurt, banana, papaya and pomegranate... pure breakfast heaven, especially with a cup of spicy, fresh lemongrass tea.

The best breakfast at my favourite cafe, Honey & Spice
For dinner, we had an incredible cashew nut curry with fresh naan, sticky fried aubergines, a navratan korma (meaning "nine jewels", it's made with banana, pineapple, nuts and vegetables – sounds weird, tastes amazing) and a secret beer, given to us in a plastic bag, at Raaju Garden Roof Terrace.

At chill-out spot Nirvana cafe I had a cup of chai so good that it set the standard for all other chai teas. Sweet, milky and fragrantly spiced with cardamom, cloves and black peppercorns. After not much convincing we tackled Hello To The Queen, a huge, mysteriously-named dessert made with bananas, crushed cookies, ice cream and a drowning of chocolate sauce – like a next-level banoffee pie.

We had four nights to soak up the magical atmosphere of Pushkar and I think that was the perfect amount of time. The journey in might have been really overwhelming but I forgot about it almost instantly and Pushkar still remains one of my favourite places in India.

Stay: Bharatpur Palace, £14 a night, we had room no.1
Eat: Honey and Spice cafe, Raaju Garden Roof Terrace and Nirvana Cafe

Watching the floating candles at sunset

5 little ways to feel happier

Sunshine and shadows in the garden
When was the last time you felt happy? I don't mean the little 'yessss' moments in life, like when there's a seat on the bus or the good cheese is on sale at Sainsbury's. I mean truly happy, the kind that makes you feel calm and content? For some people, that might be hard to answer. 

It's not that we don't feel happy in our day-to-day lives, most of us do. The problem is we're so busy thinking of yesterday or tomorrow that we don't stop to register the feeling properly. Just as the emotion hits it's chased away again by work, stress or a stream of over-active thoughts.

Since I've started learning about what it means to be mindful, I've realised my mind is often so preoccupied with the future (job, flat, life, money, ahhh) that I don't give it a chance to be happy with the present moment. Instead of crashing through life worrying about what's happening next, I decided to try being more mindful and to fully embrace the happy moments in every day. 

Below are a few things which I do to make myself more mindful so that I'm aware of the happy moments.

"Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your actions." – The Dalai Lama 

Golden afternoon sun always makes me happy
Being outside, surrounded by nature, is a good place to start if you want to feel happier. Remember the last time you were by the sea, watching or listening to the waves probably made you feel very calm. Back at home, away from the beach, it can feel a million miles from that calm feeling, but you can recreate it in your everyday life. 

Breathe in the cold, energising wind as it brushes your cheek on the train platform, notice changes to the light as you leave the house each morning, take ten minutes on your lunch break to walk through a park or notice the colour of the sky on your way home from work

Write it down
When I was travelling around India and Sri Lanka I kept a journal. Every day I wrote three happy moments, sometimes big and sometimes small, to keep me feeling positive (even when I was worried or homesick) and make sure I enjoyed my time away to the fullest. I never included a negative thought, if something bad happened I would change my attitude and say "I was really happy when we survived the overnight train..." It meant that during the day I would often think of how I could write each moment in a positive way. 

Keep a journal next to your bed and try writing one happy moment at the end of each day.

Whether it's a sweaty class or 15 minutes of gentle stretches before bed, yoga always makes me happy and gets good energy flowing. It's not just about the endorphin-high which comes with exercise. It's the combination of deep breathing, connecting mind with body and using all your muscles. It's impossible not to smile after a good yoga practice! 

Don't be put off if you're not flexible or can't touch your toes, when I went to my first yoga class in Goa I was as bendy as an ironing board. Start slow with some breathing and basic stretches. For a more guided practice, I like Yoga With Adriene or Alo Yoga on YouTube.

Practice gratitude
I first read about gratitude when I was in Sri Lanka, in a book about the basics of buddhism. It's a way of appreciating and finding joy in what we have right now, instead of wishing for something to be different and believing that will eventually make us happy. The longer we spend living in the past or future, the more unhappiness will continue to grow. I do this mostly when I'm feeling like I need a boost and it always leaves me feeling more optimistic. 

In the morning or before bed, mentally list things you're grateful for. Or write them down in your journal. 

Eat something that makes you feel good
For me, sometimes that's a big bowl of fresh, crunchy vegetables with tofu and tahini and other times it's two helpings of homemade macaroni cheese. Listen to your body, only you know what you need. One evening in Sri Lanka I was so homesick, I couldn't get myself out of it. Jack said "what can we do to make you happier?" My reply was "I need dessert." As soon as I demolished a giant chocolate, banana and coconut roti with ice cream I was smiling again.