Funfetti Cupcakes

Nothing spells party time like sprinkles!!  Little Dash turned two this weekend, so it was time for some serious baked goods!!  Whilst it’s well known that the key to an excellent children’s party is ample amounts of wine for the adults, these funfetti cupcakes were a hit!!  Thankfully there weren’t many of these left over after the party, or I most likely would have eaten all of them!!

Funfetti cupcakes

I used this recipe from Crazy Crust….the cakes themselves were perfect….with the addition of buttermilk, they were seriously delicious!!  They’re sugary….they’re buttery….they’re delicious!!

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 125 grams butter, melted
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk (or combine 3/4 cup milk + 1 teaspoon white vinegar and let sit for 5 minutes)
  • 1/2 cup Sprinkles

Frosting

  • 250 grams butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1-2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  • Additional Sprinkles, for decorating

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Line cupcake tins with liners (makes 15).
  2. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
  3. Add melted butter to a large bowl and mix in sugar with a hand mixer for 30 seconds, until thick and yellow. Add eggs one at at time, beating after each addition. Beat in vanilla extract.
  4. Add the flour mixture and buttermilk alternately, starting and ending with the flour. Don’t over mix! Stir in sprinkles. Divide batter among liners, filling 2/3 full (about 1/4 cup of batter per cupcake). Bake for 15-20 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. (Mine took less than 20, so check at 15!) Cool completely before frosting.
  5. To make the frosting: Beat butter until creamy. Beat in salt and 1 cup of powdered sugar at a time until it’s all added. Beat in vanilla extract and 1 tablespoon of heavy whipping cream. Add more cream as needed for desired consistency.
  6. Frost cupcakes by placing frosting in a pastry bag. I like the 1M tip, it gives pretty swirls. Add sprinkles for fun!
  7. Note: you can make the frosting the day before, but let it come to room temperature before using.

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Dash can’t stop saying “good birthday” and it’s too adorable!!  I’m sure these delightful cakes had something to do with it!!

Do you have a shopping ADDICTION? How to beat it!!

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Is your Visa bill bigger than your savings account? Do you continuously find yourself eating two minute noodles until your next pay cheque comes and you can afford to live large again? Then this post is for you!!

Fear not, you are not alone! One in 12 Australians report compulsive shopping, also known as Oniomania (Intill, 2004).   Research also shows that women are more often affected than men. Oniomania is often a response to feelings of sadness, depression, low self esteem, loneliness or anger. As we feel worse, our urge to spend increases. Have you found that post shopping binge, those same feelings return? Whilst spending may relieve painful emotions short term, the job of shopping is a temporary fix only. Those negative feelings often return, intensified….especially when this is coupled with a large credit card bill or poor financial choices.

Why is purchasing such a pleasurable experience? Why do some people have more trouble controlling the urge to purchase than others? Biological components are also at play.

Dr Joshua Buckholtz (2011) showed that people with high concentrations of the neurotransmitter Dopamine were more likely to engage in compulsive behaviour, such as overspending and even behaviours such as gambling and drug use. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter present in all healthy brains, is associated with “reward” and high levels may cause individuals to seek reinforcement through negative behaviours. The implications of this are that compulsive spenders may also engage in other compulsive behaviours such as overeating or risky.

How is shopping addiction treated?

Psychological treatment focuses on helping people with shopping addictions to change their behaviour patterns. This involves looking at the underlying feelings or thoughts that drive the spending, and then helping to address and change those thoughts and feelings. Treatment may also involve helping to replace shopping with more positive behaviours and building alternative coping strategies.

Anti-depressant medication may also be utilised if compulsive shopping stems from underlying depression. Some anti-depressants may also assist in reduce impulsivity, which also may be a factor underlying compulsive shopping.

Could changing the way you spend your money be a useful strategy? Can you get more bang for your buck!?

Money doesn’t always buy happiness, so they say! (Although, I wouldn’t know, having not yet experienced the money part of the equation….). Dunn, Aitkin and Norton (2008) posit that the way we spend our money may be at least as important as how much we earn.

In a study by Dunn, Gilbert and Wilson (2011), the authors outlined several key concepts which underlie why spending doesn’t always bring happiness and provided some key learnings to help us get more “value” from our money.

1)   Purchasing of experiences brings more happiness than the purchasing of material goods. Think about the happiest moments you’ve experiences in the past year…. Did they include “that time you bought that fabulous $200 sweater you wore once, then shortly ruined after misreading the dry clean only tag!?” or were they the memories you shared with friends… An overseas trip, seeing an amazing live band or learning to scuba dive…

2) Many small pleasures trump excessive large ones – savouring a small piece of chocolate is often far more satisfying than gorging on the whole box. A special treat like a good coffee, a delicious cupcake, a massage or a night out will bring you far more satisfaction than a whole box of cupcakes or having a night out every night of the week. One new handbag will probably bring you more happiness than 10 new handbags.

3) Delay consumption!! The anticipation of a new purchase makes it all the more exciting. As adults, no one tells us what we can and can’t have. Without setting our own limits, it’s easy to fall into an “I want it all, now!” trap.   By delaying purchases, we are better able to consider the value of that purchase and are more likely to make a wiser choice. It also means that when we do make a purchase, that it’s all the more satisfying!

4) Using money to benefit others brings us more happiness than using the money to benefit ourselves. Dunn, Aitkin and Norton (2008) conducted a study where people were randomly assigned to spend money on either themselves or others. Participants assigned to spend money on others experienced greater happiness than those assigned to spend on themselves.

Ok great….so spending differently might help but what can I do to reduce my spending entirely?

1)   Set yourself a goal – examples may include saving a small amount each week for a special purchase, such as a holiday, without using credit card or savings. The more meaningful you make this goal, the more likely you are to stick with it. Just remember to make this goal realistic and attainable!! A small success will encourage you to set bigger goals.

2)   Delay consumption! Next time you have a sudden urge to purchase a fabulous new bag or delightful pair of shoes, stop and reflect. Often once we take away the emotion from the purchase, we realise we never needed it that much in the first place. Try waiting 24 hours before you go back to the store/website

3) Unsubscribe from shopping related mailing lists and newsletters. Each day my inbox is flooded with emails about various sales, new products, fantastic deals etc…. Try removing yourself from online shopping mailing lists. Unsubscribe/stop viewing “consumer blogs” such as fashion blogs. If there are certain blogs which influence you to spend, try and avoid these pages. Consumer blogs often project an ideal picture of what it’s like to “have it all.”  Bloggers may seem to have a new outfit every day, but stop and reflect – they’re probably a) given these items from sponsors, or b) live out of their car so they can afford shiny things. If you also find magazines are also motivating you to spend, trying eliminating these for a while and replacing them with reading a novel or interesting article instead.

5) Avoid spending time in shopping centres/malls! If you don’t see it, you won’t be tempted to buy it!!

5) When the urge strikes, engage in exercise instead. A short walk or trip to the gym can help us to disconnect from the urge to spend.

6) Examine the underlying thoughts that are driving you to spend. Are you shopping to deal with feelings of depression and anxiety? Are you lonely or bored? Are you trying to boost your self esteem through material goods? Once you understand the underlying motivation behind your spending, you’ll be better able to deal with negative emotions in a healthier way.

7) Avoid shopping when you’re feeling depressed. You’ll be far more likely to use purchasing as an emotional bandaid and potentially make impulse buys. If you’re having a bad day, try engaging in meaningful activity such as exercise or a hobby, or arranging a time to meet up with a friend or chat to them over the phone.

8) Use positive self talk when you feel tempted to spend. For example “I can choose not to spend” or “imagine how good I’ll feel if I reach my savings goal.”

9) Practice gratitude!! It could help improve your self control!! Try keeping a log of three things you’re grateful for each day!!

Do you struggle with shopping addiction!?  Do you want to change your habits?  Try some of these tips!!  If you’re finding shopping addiction is interfering with day to day life, see your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

Cookies and Cream Cupcakes

There’s been far too many healthy recipes on Pop Therapy of late, so it was definitely time to bake something devious!!  I made these cupcakes for a friends birthday and they were a hit…. easy to make, and loved by all!!

Nothing beats an Oreo…..except maybe combining it with delicious chocolate cake, coating it in cookies and cream icing, then topping it with another Oreo….and don’t forget to serve with milk….possibly milk which contains additional Oreos…. and maybe a side of ice cream, also containing Oreos…

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I used this recipe from Bakerella

Cupcakes:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup natural unsweetened cocoa
1 1/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon bi-carb soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup hot water
24 Oreos, plus more for crumbs

Frosting:
250 grams butter
250 grams icing supar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 or more teaspoons Oreo cookie crumbs

For the cupcakes:

  • Preheat oven to 180 degrees.
  • Line tray with 12 baking cups.
  • Place one whole cookie in each cup or break apart at least 12 cookies and place the broken pieces into each cup.
  • Mix the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl using a wire whisk.
  • Add the eggs, oil, vanilla and milk and mix well until thoroughly combined. Add the hot water and mix until combined.
  • Transfer the batter (it will be very liquid) to a large measuring cup and then pour batter into each baking cup so it’s about three quarters full. You should have a little left over.
  • Bake for 16-18 minutes.

Makes at least 12 cupcakes

For the frosting:

  • Beat the butter in a mixer until smooth.
  • Add vanilla and mix until combined.
  • Add the powdered sugar in three additions, scraping down the sides after each addition.
  • Add a Tablespoon of milk at a time and mix together until you achieve the consistency you like.
  • Add the cookie crumbs and mix until completely combined. You can add more if you like, but I just wanted a light speckling to show off the white frosting.
  • Place frosting in a decorator bag with a 1M tip and swirl on top of each cupcake.
  • Insert a cookie on top of each cupcake.
  • You can also apply frosting on each cupcake in a mounded shape. Turn upside down and roll the top around in a small bowl of cookie crumbs to coat.

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Would you try these?  Are you an Oreo lover?  What’s your dream cupcake flavour!?

Boost your Mental Toughness!!

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When you hear the term “Mental Toughness” it’s easy to think of sportspeople, or people putting themselves through extreme feats like climbing Mount Everest!!  Mental Toughness seems to be everywhere today, and is frequently referenced in sporting literature…. but do you need to be super sporty, or hike through mud and snow to be mentally tough?  Or can mental toughness help anyone achieve their goals?  Are there mentally tough musicians, dancers, office workers, accountants etc!?

Anyone, in fact, can be mentally tough….regardless of your interest or lack of interest in sport/ice bucket challenges/Tough Mudder/eating insects etc.  *Phew!*

jem balcony 3Mentally toughness can be defined as “a collection of values, attitudes, behaviours, emotions, which enable and individual to persevere through any adversity, and to maintain concentration and motivation when things are going well” (Gucciardi & Gordon, 2007).  So in a nutshell, it’s about having qualities which can help direct you to persevere towards your goals and to be motivated to keep persevering!!

So what are these wonderful qualities which make up mental toughness?  Clough & Strycharczyk (2011) use the 4 “C’s” model of mental toughness, which breaks mental toughness into:

  •  Challenge – this is about embracing change, and seeing challenges as opportunities for growth!
  • Control – this is about having a “can do” attitude, feelings of accountability and belief you can achieve the outcomes you want, as well as your ability to control your emotions.
  • Confidence – a belief in your own abilities, as well as confidence in your ability to influence others!
  • Commitment – an ability to set clear goals, and to persevere towards them!

This all sounds great in theory, but are some people just born more “mentally tough” than others!?  Well luckily, mental toughness can be taught, and there are several strategies which have been tried and tested in the field of sports psychology, which are now translating to coaching and management literature.

There is no quick fix to become mentally tough, but through a combination of strategies, you can increase your mental toughness….here are a few of my favourite strategies!!

  1.  Goal setting.  Whilst this sounds simple, setting clear goals can help to direct your attention to the important tasks you need to focus on, and can enhance your commitment to goals.  Just remember to set your goals at a level of difficulty that is at the right level of challenge.  You may start which smaller, easier to achieve sub goals, then work towards increasing your sense of challenge buy progressing setting more difficult goals.  Think about how you will measure your goals….how will you know when you’ve achieved them?  Think about the support or resources you might need to achieve your goals.
  2. Mindfulness.  Mindfulness compliments mental toughness in many ways – mindfulness is actually a fantastic tool for helping you to develop attentional control and focus (a key element of the “control” component of mental toughness!).  In turn, when you’re better able to focus and remain in control of your emotions, you may just find you experience increased confidence as a result of this!
  3. Imagery.  Imagery, or mental rehearsal, is commonly used by athletes who are trying to practice and perfect their technical skills, without engaging in physical practice, and can also help increase your feelings of confidence and control.  Whatever you’re working on developing your mental toughness for, you can apply imagery to.  Are you giving a performance?  A speech?  Playing in a tennis match?  Whatever the task, close your eyes and imagine performing the task in real time.  Imagine yourself in the same setting where you would perform the actual task.  Think of the feelings you would typically have at the time of the task, and try and bring those to mind.  Practice your task/performance in as much detail as you can, using all your senses (imagining the task, imagining the sensations you would feel, imagining the sounds that you would hear).  Imagine yourself performing the task perfectly!
  4. Reflection.  Mentally tough people regularly reflect on their successes and setbacks…what worked well and what didn’t.  Reflection is a key tool to help you to review your progress, acknowledge your successes and improvements, and to make adjustments to your goals and strategies to achieve them if they’re not working!!  You could also reflect on your past successes in similar situations to increase your optimism and confidence even more!!

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Remember, like all changes, building mental toughness takes time and persistence!!  Enlisting social support from friends and loved ones can also be a great tactic to help support you in your changes.

Would you try some of these strategies?  Would you go on a mental toughness journey to help you to achieve and persevere at your goals?

Change your habits

Change is hard work!!  It’s often much easier to maintain the status quo than to challenge ourselves to change habits.

Here are a few of my favourite posts on goal setting to help you get started on the path to achieving your goals!!

What do you want to achieve?  Why does it matter to you?  Would you try some of these tips?

A simple strategy to improve your self regulation

I for one, know what it’s like to set goals just to realise I haven’t come close to achieving them!!  I’ve set about many resolutions to increase my exercise, save money, improve my diet etc, but haven’t got there…why is this? Did I not clearly define what I wanted to achieve?  Was I not motivated to actually achieve the goal? Or could it have been that I hadn’t taken the time to look at what I was currently doing, and reflect on this is relation to what I wanted to achieve.

Self regulation lies at the heart of goal setting.  Self regulation is about firstly setting a standard for our desired behaviour, then monitoring our current behaviour….if the fit between our desired goal and our current behaviour is right, then we don’t need to act to change what we’re doing….. but if what we want to achieve does not match up with what were currently doing, this discrepancy (also known as Cognitive Dissonance) then motivates us to act!!

So….when preparing to make a change, firstly, set a clear goal for what you want to achieve (for example, I want to reduce my coffee consumption to one cup per day)…and then spend some time collecting some observations about what you are currently doing (currently drinking four cups!). It’s likely that simply comparing what you’re currently doing, to the goal or standard you wish to achieve, will increase your motivation to act towards change, as you have a clear baseline for what you want to address.  Taking the time to really notice what we’re doing, also helps us to notice when we’re doing things on “auto-pilot” and to reflect on possible triggers for our behaviours. Is it that in fact I go for another coffee when I’m in need of a break, or is it to relieve boredom?

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Wanting to change your diet?  Start with a 1 week food diary where you write down everything you eat each day.  Wanting to save money?  Keep a log of every purchase you make (no matter how small) for seven days.  At the end of your week reflect on your log/diary in relation to where you want to be.  Then have a think about the triggers or antecedents that might have led to the behaviour you’ve logged.  This simple self monitoring task is very likely to increase your motivation and help you achieve your goals.  Continue your log as you set about achieving your goal, and this will give you objective feedback of your progress!!

It may sound basic, but it works!!  Have you tried this strategy when making a change?

References:

Watson, D.  (1997).  The principles of self-regulation.  Self directed behaviour:  self modification for personal adjustment. Pacific Grove:  California, pp 111 – 136.

Tumeric glow balls

I was at my local cafe the other day, and in my usual fashion, didn’t have enough coins for my coffee, and had to meet the $10 EFT minimum to pay for my precious cappuccino….usually in such a predicament, I would find this to be the perfect excuse to buy a chocolate brownie….but instead, I decided to try a bright yellow “glow bar” displayed neatly on the front counter…. the yellow “glow”, comes from tumeric, so says the delightful barista…. so I gave it a whirl, and it was delicious!!

I decided to try and make my own version (to save me $4.50 a pop)!!  These are free of sugar, dairy and wheat, but were seriously delicious!!  The addition of pineapple makes them naturally sweet and gives a tropical flavour!!

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Ingredients:

  •  1/2 cup pitted dates, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup tinned pineapple (you could use fresh if you want to also…I just couldn’t be bothered chopping one up!! Or you could use dried pineapple, but if you do, use less almond meal!!)
  • 1 cup almond meal (for more texture, you could also use crushed macadamias or cashews instead)
  • 1/2  a cup dessicated coconut
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla protein powder (optional)
  • An additional 1/4 cup dessicated coconut for rolling the balls

 

Method:

  1.  In a food processor, blitz the dates and pineapple
  2. Add in tumeric, and , coconut powder and protein powder and blitz again.
  3.  Gradually add in almond meal, stirring to combine
  4.  To make the balls, scoop out approximately two tablespoons of mix, and roll into balls, dipping into the extra coconut to form a coating on the outside.

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These little balls were absolutely delicious, and make the perfect mid morning snack (especially when you’re avoiding chocolate brownies!).  Have you tried tumeric in your smoothies or protein balls?

The biggest predictor of happiness

What is it that you feel you need in order to live the good life?  Is it money, a good career, being able to enjoy creature comforts?  What is it that keeps us happy throughout our lives?

A recent longitudinal study provides us with key insights into what matters most when it comes to happiness.  The Harvard Study of Adult Development is the longest study of adult development that’s ever been done.  The study involved tracking the lives of 75 men, asking them detailed questions about their health, work, family and their home lives.  The participants in the study were a group of two men; the first, a group of Harvard graduates, and the second a group of men from Boston’s poorest suburbs.

The key findings of the study were:

  •  Forget about wealth, fame and success – it’s good relationships that keep people happier and healthier
  • People with good social connections with family, friends and community are happier, healthier and live longer.
  • People who are more isolated than they want to be are less happy, have more declining health, their brain functioning declines sooner and they live shorter lives.
  • It’s not the number of friends that you have, it’s the quality of your close relationships that counts!
  • High conflict relationships can be bad for our health!
  • Positive relationships can serve as a buffer against declining health as we age
  • With age, being in a secure relationship where we can count on the other person, can be protective for our brains (participants in their 80s in secure relationships had sharper memories than those who weren’t!!)

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The study’s director, Robert Waldinger, concludes that “the good life begins with good relationships.”

This study is another reminder that for all the demands life places on us, positive relationships are worth prioritising over all!!    Do you nurture your relationships? What can you do to feel more connected to family, friend or your community?

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Chocolate Chia Pudding

Chia seeds…..apparently they’re really good for you etc…BUT, did you know, you can also make delicious, low carb desserts with them!?  The consistency may appear alarming, but I assure you, this is a delicious and guilt free dessert or breakfast….so much so, that I’m now making them all the time!!  Yes, that’s right….and this is coming from someone who previously thought a Nutella Cronut constituted a super food (“you’ll always be super to me cronuts!”)

Chia seeds absorb liquid, and form a pudding like consistency if you leave them soaking for an hour or so.

Cocoa chia pudding

These are really easy to make!  Recipe below makes 2 servings!!

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 2 teaspoons cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons honey (you can add more or less honey depending on your desired sweetness)
  • 1 cup almond and coconut milk (or whatever milk you would like – I used Almond Breeze Coconut almond blend)
  • Raspberries and flaked almonds (or any fruit, nut etc) for topping

Method:  

  •  Combine chia seeds, cacao powder and cinnamon,, and pour into the bottom of an empty jar or glass
  • Pour in almond milk and stir to combine
  • Add in honey and continue stirring
  • Cover your container or jar, and leave to set in the fridge for at least one hour, or up to overnight
  • Remove from the fridge, stir, and top with your desired toppings!!

You can add any other flavour combination to this, such as vanilla bean paste, pureed mango or berries, banana etc.  You can also puree the entire pudding to make a smooth and creamy consistency if you’re not a fan of the seeds – keep in mind you may need to add some additional sweetener if you do this!!  Try dates, or additional honey or maple syrup!

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A simple, easy and guilt free dessert!!  A great option for when you’re craving some chocolately, but attempting to avoid actual CHOCOLATE!!  Are you on the chia seed bandwagon yet!?

Simply Delicious Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies

I’ve been attempting to clean up my diet lately, and this means cutting back on the delicious, butter and sugar filled baked goods I’ve been baking all too often lately!!

I’ve done several dairy free recipes in the past, and was loving coconut oil as an alternative to butter!!  This recipe takes it a step further, and is gluten free, as well as dairy free!!  It also uses Coconut Sugar instead of refined sugar.. Coconut Sugar has  lower GI than regular sugar so is a (slightly) better alternative.

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It uses a mix of almond meal and coconut flour in the place of regular sugar, which gives these a crumbly and slightly coconutty flavour.

These cookies are simply delicious!!  Thick and crumbly, and full of chocolate goodness!!  I used this recipe from Ambitious Kitchen.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled
  • 1/2 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 pack dark chocolate melts – you can use dairy free chocolate if you’re keeping the recipe dairy free Coles stock a brand called “Sweet William” who make baking chips.
  • Coarse sea salt, for sprinkling

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  2. In a large bowl, add add in beaten egg, melted and cooled coconut oil, coconut sugar and vanilla extract. (Please make sure your coconut oil is cool!) Next add in almond flour, coconut flour and baking soda, mixing well to combine and form a dough. Fold in dark chocolate chunks. You may need to use your hands to moisten the dough so that it sticks together well.
  3. Use a cookie scoop or large tablespoon to drop dough onto a baking tray lined with baking paper. Gently flatten the dough with your hand. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until edges are slightly golden brown. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and allow to cool on cookie sheet for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finishing cooling. Makes 12 cookies.

Easy to make, and easy to eat!!!  Perfect for your gluten free and dairy free pals too!!!  Do you have a favourite paleo recipe?