3-Ingredient Fig & Almond Bites | Raw, Vegan

Each one of these 3-ingredient fig & almond bites is a perfect mouthful of sweet fig, delicate almond and nutty tahini, and is packed full of vitamins A, B2, E & K, calcium and more.Fig & Almond Bites, Raw Vegan | The Tofu DiariesI seem to be on a roll at the moment making lots of vegan desserts. This time of year, and all of winter really, makes me crave sugary things and hopefully these will be something to turn back to for a sweet treat that doesn’t really have any added sugar. These fig & almond bites are another ideal healthy option.Fig & Almond Bites, Raw Vegan | The Tofu DiariesAs I mentioned in my last recipe post (a vegan apple crumble recipe using quinoa if you missed it!) my new kitchen is slowly coming together with the addition of some carefully chosen blue crockery. Another recent addition is this adorable Scandinavian-inspired Setesdal set of measuring cups that were sent to me by Culture Vulture Direct. I’m excited about these for two reasons. Firstly they add some much needed animals into my crockery collection with foxes, squirrels, hedgehogs and more incorporated into the folk print.Fig & Almond Bites, Raw Vegan | The Tofu DiariesSecondly, as someone who only really weighs ingredients so I can write proper recipes that stand a chance of being followed, these really appeal to me as an effortless way to measure ingredient ratios. Actually, as a bonus they make following US recipes that rely on cup measurements a whole lot easier too!Fig & Almond Bites, Raw Vegan | The Tofu DiariesCulture Vulture Direct is a website full of what they call ‘finds from a world well-travelled.’ I’ve completely fallen in love with their curated selection of home and kitchen ware and, consequently, I now have my eye on several things from their website such as these zinc photo frames and this gorgeous folk print coffee pot. They are exactly the kind of website I love stumbling across to find something that bit more special and I know these measuring cups are going to be very well-used in my kitchen.Fig & Almond Bites, Raw Vegan | The Tofu DiariesFor this recipe, using measuring cups was an ideal way to get the right ratio of figs/almonds/tahini easily and quickly. I’ve been making some kind of raw treat almost every week as they are perfect to keep me going during an afternoon in the office, without resorting to something processed or full of refined sugar. The quantities here make twelve small balls but can be increased or decreased just by keeping the 4:2:1 ratio the same.

Makes approx. 12

Ingredients:

1 cup dried figs, chopped

1/2 cup chopped almonds

1/4 cup tahini

Method:

1. Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and blend until they have formed a sticky dough

2. Separate the mixture and roll into small balls

3. Eat and enjoy!Fig & Almond Bites, Raw Vegan | The Tofu Diaries

What have you bought for your kitchen recently? Share in the comments!

Eating Out: The Brown Cow, Bingley

Being someone who regularly eats out (albeit a bit too frequently) and lives in a city that just gets better and better when it comes to restaurants, I’m a little disappointed in myself at how few restaurant reviews are on here. To be honest, the main barrier for me is a strong case of “behind-the-camera shy.” I can’t help but cringe getting my DSLR camera out and snapping my food before tucking in. I feel slightly less conspicuous using my phone’s camera but usually end up feeling the photos aren’t high enough quality and scrapping the review.

It’s been a bit of a relief to discuss this with other bloggers lately and discover I’m not the only one who worries about this kind of thing. The best advice I’ve had from everyone, of course, has been to just do it! Well, it makes a lot of sense so I have been endeavouring to brave getting my camera out in restaurants more often and, though there have still been too many missed opportunities where I haven’t taken any photos, I am slowly building up a to-blog list… which brings us onto a gorgeous pub lunch I want to share with you all now.

The Brown Cow, BingleyThe Brown Cow Pub, BingleyTo blow out the cobwebs and enjoy some country air, a few weeks ago I went out to the beautiful St Ives estate in Bingley for a long Saturday morning walk. It already felt like I’d achieved something great just being up and out of Leeds so bright and early but the walk itself was fantastic with gorgeous views and wonderful company and a chance to get my camera out.

The Brown Cow Pub menuThe walk around St Ives came to an end, somewhat conveniently, at the Brown Cow pub back in Bingley town. We were warmly welcomed in and got down to the business of perusing the menu. With five veggie options on the menu and one more on the daily specials board, it was a tough choice but I opted for the bubble & squeak cakes with watercress sauce. Bubble & squeak isn’t something you would expect to see on a pub menu so I was intrigued to see what they would do with it.Bubble & Squeak at the Brown Cow, BingleyAs you can see, the bubble & squeak cakes arrived beautifully presented with the watercress sauce in a milk bottle. It couldn’t have been any more photogenic, right? The cakes themselves were encased in crunchy breadcrumbs that contrasted delightfully with the soft potato and cabbage inside and accompanied with roasted cherry tomatoes.

Bubble & Squeak at the Brown Cow, BingleyEveryone else was suitably impressed with their mains and the other two veggie dishes on the table; the mushroom risotto and the goat’s cheese and beetroot tart looked equally delicious. Even as more standard veggie dishes you would expect to see on a menu they both had extra flourishes that showed more thought had gone into them than usual.

After we had all taken a little time for our mains to settle, some more time to choose our desserts (also not an easy choice…), and lots of time for conversation, we ordered our next course. I opted for the treacle tart served with fresh cream and raspberry coulis. Once again, the presentation was stunning with coulis arriving in its own tiny jar. In fact the presentation was gorgeous for all of our desserts so I’ll give you a peek at some of the others too, namely the chocolate fudge cake and jam roly poly!Desserts at the Brown Cow, BingleyOverall, I was very impressed with the quality of the food and the reasonable prices. The atmosphere and décor was very much of a country pub but the food was a step above! I’ll definitely return next time I’m in the area!

You can find out more about the pre-lunch walking route I did in Bingley on the Walk in Yorkshire website and see my photos of the walk itself featured on the Turtle Mat blog.

How do you feel about taking photos in restaurants? Any tips for getting over the fear?!

Cruelty-Free Bathtimes | Introducing Stvdio 5

“There must be quite a few things that a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.”

- Sylvia Plath

For me baths are one of those magic cures for almost everything, be it the beginnings of an illness, the stress of a bad day or any sort of aches and pains. When I lived in South Korea, it was like a dream come true that going out for a bath was a perfectly sociably acceptable thing to do with my friends and that is firmly on the list of things I will never stop missing about Korea. The bath is also one of my favourite places to read, knowing I’ll be undisturbed and can completely immerse myself in it (I’m currently reading The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe and am hoping to sneak off into the bathroom and finish it this coming week during a long soak).Cruelty-free BathtimesIn a recent blog post, I shared some of my favourite cruelty-free beauty blogs and mentioned how much I would love to share more on this topic, including introducing and sharing my support for the lovely companies who, well, make bathtime better! And on that note, today I’d like to introduce Stvdio 5. Stvdio 5 - Vegan CosmeticsBased in East London, Stvdio 5 are a small company who specialise in natural vegan products. Designed and produced in Britain with locally sourced ingredients, the products are handmade, making each one unique. As well as 100% vegan products, Stvdio 5 are cruelty-free and ensure their suppliers are too. By using natural ingredients that have been used for generations, they can also be sure these were not developed through animal testing.

To make sure their products are kind in all respects, Stvdio 5 do not use sodium laureth sulfate (SLS) in any of their range. SLS is often used as a foaming agent in bath, shower and hair products, and a known skin irritant and questionable long-term safety.Stvdio 5 - Vegan Cosmetics Stvdio 5 kindly sent me a ‘pamper kit’ and it really lived up to its name. Their bath truffles and shower soaps are delicately scented with essential oils and left my skin feeling well and truly loved. I would probably call the bath truffles more of a bath bomb as they fizz when you drop them in but they do leave the water feeling richer as you would expect from the name. The lavender bath truffle was perfect for a relaxing pre-bedtime bath with the lavender oil having been blended with myrrh and amber for a luxurious scent. Stvdio 5 - Vegan CosmeticsThese beautiful little chocolate shower soaps and English rose soap are made with cold-pressed oils and cleansing kaolin clay. To make their soaps even more skin-friendly, Stvdio 5 have used tea-tree oil; a natural antibacterial and antiseptic that supports the skin in preventing and combating a whole array of conditions.Stvdio 5 - Vegan CosmeticsI also love the fact that they all arrive wrapped in recycled packaging – although one of my bath truffles did crumble in transit so maybe they could do with something a little more robust or maybe a more tightly packed box.

It’s always great to find new, independent companies who are starting out with firm principles and fantastic items, and I’m looking forward to trying more from Stvdio 5!

What bath products have tried lately? Share your cruelty-free recommendations in the comments!

Wholemeal Quinoa Apple Crumble | Vegan

A tangy base of gently cooked organic apples bursting with cinnamon topped with a crunchy, wholesome crumble. Added quinoa ups the nutrition for a healthy dessert perfect for autumn but delicious any time of year!

Wholemeal Quinoa Apple Cumble, Vegan | The Tofu Diaries

Ever since spotting that the tree in my new back garden is an apple tree, I’ve had my eye on it just waiting for the right moment to pick the fruit. To be honest, I did have to do a bit of research to be sure that the apples would be edible. Luckily said research confirmed that no apples are actually poisonous; the worst that could happen is that the apples would be very sour but still very much edible.

Wholemeal Quinoa Apple Cumble, Vegan | The Tofu Diaries

Once a couple had started to drop, it seemed the time was nigh to pick the others if I wanted a big enough batch to make something from. With a little assistance from Pete’s shoulders, some giant tongs and a lot of laughter (let’s hope no neighbours were watching) I have a batch of organic, home-grown apples that I knew were destined for my autumn favourite, apple crumble.Wholemeal Quinoa Apple Crumble | @TheTofuDiaries

My favourite kind of apple crumble is always one where the tartness of the apple shines through and there is only a hint of tempering sweetness from the crumble. That’s why this recipe doesn’t add any sugar into the stewed apples, instead there is just a sprinkling that browns on the crunchy top. You could of course change this around to suit your taste, or even skip the sugar all together for a version healthy enough to dig into for breakfast.

The addition of quinoa was an experiment that paid off; it adds an extra layer of texture and slight nutty flavour to the crumble top, already deeper in taste through the wholemeal flour. Breaking open the quinoa seeds in a pestle and mortar before mixing them in ensures that you still benefit from the nutrients inside – otherwise, unsoaked as they are, they would pass through undigested.Wholemeal Quinoa Apple Cumble, Vegan | The Tofu Diaries

I just have one more thing to add: how gorgeous is this Le Creuset mixing bowl and utensil pot? I’m slowly building up a blue theme in the kitchen – I adore mismatched crockery and kitchenware held together by a colour theme and (despite the green dish here spoiling the illusion!) these additions have fitted in a dream. I picked them up in TK Maxx at an absolute bargain of a price and am keeping my fingers crossed I see more in this colour!

Serves 6

Ingredients: 

For the filling:

700g apples, peeled, cored, chopped

100ml water

1/2tsp cinnamon

For the topping:

150g wholemeal flour

1tbsp quinoa, uncooked

125g dairy-free margarine

2-3tsp brown sugar (optional/according to taste)

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to around 180C/350F/Gas mark 4.

2. In a large pan, add the chopped apples, water and cinnamon. Cook over a medium hob for around ten minutes, stirring frequently, until the fruit has softened.

3. Meanwhile, in a pestle and mortar, lightly crush the uncooked quinoa. In a large bowl add the quinoa, flour and margarine. Rub together with your fingertips (or using a fork) until it forms breadcrumbs.

4. In a large oven-proof dish, spread out the stewed apple and top evenly with the crumble mix. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the top according to taste and cook in the oven for around 20-25 minutes until the topping has turned golden with a slight crunch.

5. Serve!

Wholemeal Quinoa Apple Cumble, Vegan | The Tofu Diaries

What is your favourite autumn dessert? Have you cooked with apples lately?

Going Digital – 5 Essential Photography Tips

I’ve had a DSLR camera for over six years now (previously an Olympus E510, I switched to a Canon 60D last summer). Though I’ve made some effort to get to grips with the more technical side of things, I’ve tended to just go for it and see what works best when I’m actually taking photos.

Right from the start, I have avoided sticking my camera on auto but wouldn’t say I’ve always known precisely what I need to adjust to get the results I want. There have also been (disappointing) times when a photo is nowhere near as good as I’d expected it to be once it’s up on the computer screen. In a bid to improve and get more out of my camera, last month I attended a digital photography workshop.

Generously hosted by the Copthorne Hotel in Sheffield and Pandora of Going Digital, the session was aimed at getting us ‘off auto’ but was equally suited to myself as a not-beginner-but-could-do-better. The workshop covered all of the basics such as depth of field, exposure, ISO, and so on, but the value for me really lay in discovering how these functions interact with each other. We were also shown the shortcut buttons for our specific camera brands – I’d really recommend taking a moment to learn these as it makes altering the settings on the go a much more manageable task!

Operating in aperture-priority mode is ideal as it gives you a lot of freedom and control over most of the camera’s settings. Most importantly, you can be more responsive to fast changing situations and different conditions than in manual mode. I wanted to share here the five most important elements in setting up your camera but also some tips on how these impact upon each other…5 Essential Photography Tips | The Tofu Diaries

  • Aperture – this refers to how much light is allowed to enter the lens and is used to control the depth of field (i.e. how much of the image is in focus).

Top tip: A small f-number (e.g. f/1.8) will let in a lot of light and create a shallow depth of field for a blurred background, whilst a large f-number (e.g. f/22) will result in more of the image being in focus for a large depth of field.

  • Shutter Speed – as you would expect, this is how long the shutter stays open for when a photo is being taken. A faster shutter speed gives a sharper image whilst a slower speed can be used to create movement.

Top tip: In aperture-priority mode, the shutter speed changes automatically according to the other setting you use. For example, creating a large depth of field will slow down the shutter speed. You can compensate for this by using a high ISO setting.

  • ISO – the ISO affects the sensitivity to light. In darker conditions, a higher ISO will give you a quicker shutter speed to still achieve sharper images.

Top tip: A high ISO will however result in a grainier image so it is advisable to use a tripod in low light so you can balance the slower shutter speed with a lower ISO to keep the photo clearer and sharper.

  • White Balance – this setting compensates for different light conditions to give the most accurate colours in an image.

Top tip: If you are shooting indoors the ‘tungsten’ setting will add a blue tint to counteract the orange cast a light bulb gives.

  • Exposure – exposure determines how light or dark an image will be. Sometimes even with of the above factors set correctly, an image will be too bright or too dark to our eyes; moving the exposure up or down will manually correct it.

Top tip: Upping the exposure will slow down the shutter speed therefore a higher ISO may be needed to still get a sharp image.

I hope to share some more photography tips in the future as I endeavour to improve myself but in the meantime you can find some fantastic landscape photography tips from Pandora here. Thanks to both Pandora and Millennium Hotels for a fantastic day!

Do you ever venture off auto? What are your essential photography tips?