iPad & X10: The Ultimate Home Automation Controller?

Since Startrek TNG I've been eagerly awaiting delivery of my PADD. Disappointed for years and whilst not perfect, my newly acquired iPad is prettty damn cool. A little on the heavy side and terrible in sunlight, but otherwise fantastic.

When I blogged about X10 in February I mentioned that I thought iPad would make a "stunning HA remote control".

Other than general reliability, since starting with X10 in 2007 I've been most disappointed by the terrible remote controls. I've 2 Logitech Harmony remotes which whilst marginally better than the 6 official remote types I've tried, still fall far short of my ideal.

X10 Commander, the iPhone app which has gotten coverage including prime time TV ads is, for me, not a lot better. Certainly not something I'd pay for, especially as if using a mac you have to pay for the serverside portion as well.

So, for a while now I've been planning on writing an iPad web app interface. I'm going to share with you how and what I've achieved so far.

Shion + Mac Mini + CM15Pro

A couple of weeks back I started looking at what free software there was available for Mac OSX for interfacing with my CM15Pro (aka CM15a). At first I found nothing, only trial software which claimed to be fully functional but turned out not to be.

Eventually I found Shion about a week ago, which whilst basic does seem to do what I need. It's currently free if you email for a license.

All you need to do is set up an X10 device for each that you have. I've currently 17 physical devices and many macros over 2 house codes.

Annoyingly and after much hair pulling I discovered that only Shion 2.0 is compatible with CM15Pro - whilst 2.1 detects the controller it doesn't work as it should.

One massively annoying thing I should mention - my mac mini absorbs X10. It's the only device in the house that does. I'm going to have to buy a filter for it shortly, which are overpriced at £30.

Apache + PHP + AppleScript

I was rather hoping to find software with a web interface, but Shion has the next best thing - the ability to interface with it by AppleScript. I'd not come across AppleScript previously (I've only been using a mac for a couple of months), but it's super simple and easy to pick up.

OSX comes with Apache and PHP preinstalled, it's just a case of enabling them. I had to edit the httpd.conf to run apache as a standard user, as otherwise it wouldn't be able to call exec() and run applescript. This isn't generally adviseable for use on the Internet, but on a secure home network it's fine.

I set about designing an iPad interface and whilst am writing it with re-usability in mind it's not ready for any sort of public release. The good part is that the actual code you need to interface PHP -> X10 is 1 line:

exec("osascript -e 'tell application \"Shion\"' -e 'activate device named \"$device\"' -e 'end tell'");

For example:

if($action == "on") {
    exec("osascript -e 'tell application \"Shion\"' -e 'activate device named \"$device\"' -e 'end tell'");
elseif($action == "off") {
    exec("osascript -e 'tell application \"Shion\"' -e 'deactivate device named \"$device\"' -e 'end tell'");

Simple huh?

Interface Design

The best part about being able to write your own PHP is that you can make an interface that ideally suits your house and how you naturally want a remote to look.

I thought at first about making an iPad version of Domia's 10" PictureTouch using photographs and imagemaps, but I decided to make it a bit more advanced than this.

I wanted it to look vaguely like a native iPad app and whilst I thought about using a framework (if I had several weeks to kill I'd reverse engineer AdLib) I decided it'd be quicker to make up my own interface with images and text.

I designed it on Firefox a couple of days before getting my iPad, then did some final tweaking when it arrived. I wanted an interface that would fill the entire browser but not require scrolling.

I wrote the initial interface for landscape mode, which I plan to be in most of the time whilst using the device. Annoyingly Apple decided not to make the screen 16:9, but I came up with a way of fitting everything on.

Inspired by other apps I choose to display a list of rooms down the right hand side of the screen, along with some information about each. Clicking on a room's picture changes the left hand side of the screen, showing a photograph then controls bellow.

I found that I had space for 12 devices / macros, divided into 3 tables each with a header. It suits my house to have a table for lighting, one for appliances and one for macros. I created images to place around the table, giving it a rounded corners look. Finally I created some buttons in Gimp - big enough to be pressable but not so big as to take over the display.

Where to from here?

What I have so far represents only a few hours work.

Next step is to have the interface change when the screen is turned through 90 degrees, to show all available devices / macros.

I believe in Open Source, so if I've time and effort available I'll create a reusable package for others to play with. In the meantime hopefully what I've described here will give anyone with a basic understanding of PHP enough to get going with.

Being HTML it can be used on our PCs, but I plan to make both an iPhone version and 10 foot version for use on TV.

Finally I plan to make the icon on my home screen point not to the web interface, but a public IP that redirects either to the internal address if I'm at home or a passworded public interface (connected via a tunnel) when I'm out and about.

Any thoughts are appreciated :)

A Decade of Vegan Products (2000-2010)

So I decided to write about vegan products - those that are currently available and those that once were.

I figured it might be useful for new vegans or those who don't shop in as many stores that I do.

I began writing it a while ago and have been adding bits to it every now and then. It's become a bit of a monster.


Overall, being vegan in the UK is pretty damn easy. I didn't find it particularly hard when I transitioned in Jan 2000 and things have, on the whole, gotten better. There are some exceptions, that I'll mention further on. It frustrates me when people talk about how difficult being vegan is because I know it's not. If anything it's less convenient than being an omni in 2010, but more convenient than any diet between 1950 and the dawn of time.

As well as choice increase, labeling has also improved. In 2000 supermarkets already had lists of vegan suitable products if you wrote to them (and the Vegan Society had launched their Vegan Shopper book), but most have since started labeling packaging. Coverage remains sparadic, with Sainsburys and Co-operative doing the best job. Sainsburys went through a phase a couple of years ago when their labelling got worse, but I think we're past that now. Tesco & Morrisons are on the whole a bit shit, with only a handful of products in the store labeled. Waitrose isn't good for labelling either, but do sell many vegan friendly products which can be checked on the Ocado website.

Restaurant choice and vegan awareness remains shite. I tend to avoid those which don't explicitly cater for vegans and have choice already on the menu. This isn't especially a bad thing - I saved endless amounts of money at university by not being able to eat takeaway.


I'm more than a little obsessed with bread. All in all I think we're in a worse position now than we were 10 years ago, especially at the speciality end of the scale. Though labelling has improved the choice has diminished. Still, it's pretty easy to find vegan bread in the UK, so perhaps I shouldn't whinge about it too much.

Ciabatta remains in good supply (Sainsburys olive rolls are my prefered choice) and labelling on standard loaves is much better than it was. Waitrose sell frozen stone baked pizza bases (often on offer, we get through a lot of these), have a fresh base (a rip off - not worth the money) and a fresh pizza (again a bit of a rip off with very few toppings).

Waitrose previously sold an amazing focaccia (seriously, I'd make reasonably long trips to Waitrose just for this), which a couple of years ago they replaced with something containing milk powder (milk powder, in italian bread - why?). Tesco sold a pretty good caramelised onion focaccia, complete with lumps of roasted garlic. I ate a lot of that at university (00-04). In '07 they sold a pretty decent fresh pizza base. Sainsburys sold very good pizza bases around 01-04, a ready to bake flatbread (with garlic and mushrooms) and until recently an italian flatbread (who I may have been the only customer for, as they regularly had it reduced).

Pasta / Noodles

Not a lot to say, other than Waitrose currently sell fresh vegan pasta. They are the only supermarket I know of to have done so in the past 10 years (they previously had some vegan spaghetti for a short period several years ago). It's well priced and thoroughly recommended.

Clearspring (vegan importer/distributor) started selling decent noodles (udon are my favourite) early on, which made their way into Sainsburys a couple of years later (originally only in health food shops). Health food shops still sometimes carry a larger range of them than Sainsburys.

Biona have sold several stuffed vegan pastas for a while now, but I don't see them very often outside London. They're alright, but nothing to get overly excited by.

I remember years ago there being a tofu ravioli sold in jars. It wasn't good, at all, so am not fussed that I can't remember the brand or know if it's currently available.

Cake & Biscuits

Not a lot has changed in so far as the number of options available. Biscuit vendors change recipes every few years, creating new options and removing others. Tesco used to sell amazingly good half chocolate dipped ginger biscuits, but I've not seen them in a while. Bourbons, fruit shortcake and fig rolls are often vegan. I used to buy packs of bourbon biscuits at university, then sit in the library doing revision, picking off the top layer of biscuit, throwing it away, eating the middle then throwing the remaining part away. Does that make me weird?

Tru-free used to sell vegan custard creams, but helpfully changed their recipe without making it obvious on the packaging.

Cake remains scarce. Gluten free cherry bakewells have been available (not sure which if any are still vegan), but the case is really crap / not short at all. Mrs Crimbles have sold vegan suitable long life cake for a number of years, but I'm not a fan and would never think to buy it. There are several vendors of allergy aware products, who make complete junk and sell it at rediculous prices.

For years vegans believed that Tesco sold vegan doughnuts, due to an error in The Vegan Society's Vegan Shopper. M&S used to sell good ring doughnuts, but I've not seen them in recent years. Co-op currently sell both jam and custard doughnuts that are pretty good. They're no longer labelled vegan due to the fact that they're made in-store, however I've read that the staff are pretty good at avoiding cross contamination (from a vegan staff member I should add!).

Several companies sell cereal / fruit bars these days. I eat Nakd products regularly (2 of your 5 a day!) and went through a phase of eating way too many Doves Farm chocolate crispy bars and flapjack bars.

Seasonal products (hot cross buns, mince pies etc) change every year (I assume based on which supplier won the contract and what raw ingredients are cheapest) - sometimes we have a good year, other times there's virtually no choice.

Baking your own vegan cake and biscuits is so easy that I've never really been bothered by lack of commercial offerings. It would be nice to just go out and buy a birthday cake on occasion, but there you go. Jus Rol have offered several vegan pastry products for as long as I remember.

Like many I was drawn towards egg replacer when I turned vegan, however I soon realised that it is complete redundant and has no real use. It's better to adapt recipes to not need egg, rather than make non-vegan recipes with it and hope it comes out vaguely similar.


Supply of silken tofu in 2000 is comparable to 2010 - in most supermarkets.

Firm tofu supply has increased a lot however. Originally I was buying only Cauldron plain/smoked (marinated came available shortly after) from health food shops (soon adopted by Supermarkets). I switched to Taifun and Clearspot when they came available (I first found Taifun in '04). Their flavoured tofu is extremely convenient (can be eaten without cooking, or fried with onions when making curries) and though more pricey it's cheaper than organic meat. We use a couple of blocks a week (mostly their smoked types, though basil goes very well in thai green curry). We use Clearspot on the odd occasion when we eat plain or smoked.

I've encountered other brands, but nothing stands out. Tofu is sometimes available pre deep fried in Chinese supermarkets, however its really fishy smell has put me off!

Soya Milk

I personally drink Fresh So Good and use whatever is cheap / organic / longlife for cooking. There's always some in the fridge. I've tried oat / nut milks and get OK with them, but rarely buy any (certainly Oatly varieties contain sheep). Fresh So Good is an acquired taste and has been recently withdrawn from Sainsburys.

I don't get on so well with Alpro (other than their fresh chocolate milk). The Lite version is OK, but I wouldn't think to buy it.

10 years ago there were no fresh milks available in supermarkets, but already a good selection of long life. I don't remember mainstream coffee shops offering soya milk before 2003.

Soya Cream

Alpro started selling fresh single cream a couple of years ago, which is excellent in every way. We buy several cartons at a time as it has a long life. It has a neutral taste and is usable in cooking as well as with on desserts.

There are several long life single creams available, but none are in the same league.

From 2005 onwards Soyatoo have sold whippable cream, as have Granovita (I can't tell the difference). The latter is in Tesco and Sainsburys (recently we bought a year's supply when we found it massively reduced). It's not got a neutral taste and it's not a direct replacement to dairy (recently described as tasting like baby food). It's pretty good though.

Soyatoo also introduced squirty cream in 2005. It's pretty good, but some of the bottles have issues (if none comes out, shake and try again. If you just keep the nozzle held down you'll waste all the propellant) and the nozzles difficult to completely clean (growing mould if you don't do a good enough job). I'm not sure I've seen it in a supermarket, but it's in most independent health food stores.

Tofutti sour cream has been around for a long time and is pretty good. There was a hoo-hah a few years ago when it transpired that they don't always use vegan sugar, however UK products seem to be unaffected.


Vegan Margarine was once widely available, however some time ago all margarine brands switched to selling 'spread' instead, which is margarine plus butter milk for flavour. I can't believe it's not butter, because it contains butter.

By far the best margarine currently available is Pure, which has been in most supermarkets since 2003. Their nicest spread (organic) has recently been withdrawn, due to cheapskates not paying the extra few pence per week for organic. The sunflower is best in baking, soya marginally nicer used as a spread. Typically we buy sunflower. Take care when making toffee with it - it contains water which will spit at you if you add to hot sugar.

When I first turned vegan there were no vegan margarines available that were any good. One I tried was grainy! Books suggested using tahini instead, which isn't a valid alternative in my eyes. Sainsburys introduced a dairy free spread that was at the time the best, but quickly got displaced by Pure.

Vitalite is currently vegan I believe (for a while it wasn't due to vitamin D), but we prefer Pure.


Ten years ago vegan cheese was not good. There were a few options and all sucked. The only one I did enjoy I found after a couple of months thinking I was vegan that they contained casein, to make them melt.

In around 2004, Redwoods launched their cheezly super melting range, which to this day are my favourite cheese product. We eat 1-2 blocks mozzarella a week. It's not perfect, but it does melt and perform the vague function of cheese in many dishes. Their cheddar is very good, but for some reason only available in slices these days (where you get the amount for the same price as a block). I'm not a fan at all of their non super melting stuff.

Scheese improved their products around 2006 and I became a fan. They're not so good cooked (unless chopped on pizza), but much better than cheezly when eaten on crackers.

Many vegans are waiting with baited breath for Daiya being released in the UK. It's currently in the US only and apparently the best vegan cheese so far, by a long way.

Tofutti Cream Cheese remains the best for cooking. Scheese do versions with bits added which are OK eaten on crackers. Pure launched cream cheese recently which is widely available and not very good.

Pure have also released cheese slices which are really manky. The only vaguely palatable way I've found of serving them is melted on a burger. They were threatening to make cheese triangles, but it never came to anything.


One of the great side effects of becoming vegan is learning about where food comes from and how it's made. When you realise that most non vegan icecream is made from vegetable oil you realise why perfectly good tasting vegan icecream is available. Swedish Glace was in health food shops in 2000, then hit supermarkets during the cholesterol awareness phase that also brought in fresh soya milk. It remains the best available, with several flavours (all good except for Neapolitan, which does a very good job of tasting just like cheap and nasty Neapolitan icecream from the 80s). They changed their vanilla a few years ago to include specks of black (assumebly vanilla, not plastic). It's far cheaper in supermarkets than health food stores.

Tofutti and Sainsburys have(/still?) sold icecream, but it's not great. Booja Booja sell icecream, which (like their other products) is nice but chronically overpriced.

Swedish Glace choc ices (fake Magnum things) are good and well priced. They've made the chocolate thicker since launch, but it could go thicker still. Including nuts and caramel would be a welcome addition too! They sell cornetto type icecreams, which are OK, but not overly exciting. Tofutti sell them too and whilst more promising (with chocolate and nuts) the cones are always soggy which really puts me off. I thought at first it must be a problem with the shop's freezer, but they've been like it consistently for years.

Various supermarkets have sold fruit sorbet over the years. Sainsburys are the only company that currently label (to my knowledge). On a sorbet related note, there's a coconut based sorbet thing that comes in pyramid shaped packets that you buy unfrozen and place in your freezer. They're pretty good, in Sainsburys and some independent shops. I forget the name, which I realise isn't overly helpful. Are you still reading this post? Isn't there something else you should be doing?

Meat Replacement

I'm not obsessed with the concept of recreating meat, however I do believe that meat replacements have their place. They make transitioning easier for some people (most of us, myself included, were bought up eating meat) and some products are nice in their own right. Other meat products are actually formats - ways of delivering food to you in a convenient form, such as burgers. Some just fail miserably - in the quest to make something that looks like meat they completely miss the point of making something that's pleasurable to eat.

We bulk buy Frys products - their sausages and burgers are very good. Not such a fan of other products they sell - their meaty strips are like chopped up burger and not good at all. They are sold in H&B and independent shops.

We also buy a lot of Redwoods products, most of whose range we like. Their 'beef' products are a bit creepy, but other than that they're pretty good. Their chicken pieces are currently my favourite. Redwoods used to sell really good sandwich filler things (chunks of 'meat' in curry sauce, BBQ etc). I have no idea why they were discontinued. Redwoods have entire ranges which are only available in certain shops. ASDA for instance sold several products for a while I've never seen elsewhere. The brand was purchased fairly recently Heather Mills (McCartney), who sells their products heated up in her VBites cafe (which I've no interest in visiting!).

H&B sell good frozen sausages. Their ready to eat range has recently had a revamp and seem to better than previous (they've been several discussions online about mouldy sausage rolls). I'm not at all fussed by the frozen cheesecakes they've just started selling or Amy's imported products.

Linda McCartney vegan options are OK (pies, sausages, sausage rolls etc), but we seldom buy them. The were originally sold in yellow boxes, then several turned non vegan when switched to red. To the amusement of my housemates at university I filled my freezer drawer with yellow boxed sausage rolls when they were discontinued, then rationed them off over the coming months.

A 'technology' known as Gardein was licensed by several companies in the UK a couple of years ago, and Tesco amongst others started selling pretty decent nuggets and other 'chicken' products. Unfortunately it was short lived.

Real Eat sell the best frozen soya mince. It used to come in resealable bags, I don't know why they stopped. It's become more difficult to find in supermarkets recently, but is in H&B and independent shops still. Redwoods fresh mince is OK in some dishes.

Taifun sell several tofu sausages, which are alright. Biona used to sell very good tofu sausages (available in Waitrose), but I've not seen them in a few years.

Chocolate, Sweets and Crisps

Plamil have been making vegan chocolate as long as I remember. Being one of the few vegan companies in the UK I should really be endorsing them, however I'm not a fan.

For a long time, Green and Blacks was the vegan chocolate of choice. They were bought out by Cadburys however and later stopped labelling vegan (going as far as listing butterfat an ingredient even when it isn't). Recently it's become Kraft and is far off the radar. Whilst organic, G&B only ever had 1 fair trade bar and in my book, fair trade overrides organic.

Divine is our favourite. It's cheap in supermarkets (until recently 89p for 100g), fairtrade and tasty. We use far too much of it. Organica is organic and overpriced, but some milk chocolate loving people find it the only palatable non dairy alternative.

I've eaten a lot of Ritter Sport Marzipan over the years. I've had to stop myself from eating it, as I consume a bar with too much ease. It's sometimes on offer in Tesco (we've been known to buy 10 bars at a time).

Up until 2006 there was no such thing as vegan white chocolate. I tried making my own after going through the lengthy process of acquiring cocoa butter, but achieved only chocolate smelling massage bars. Then organica white was released, which was an instant disappointment. Like their 'milk' it's overpriced and tastes more like Caramac than white chocolate. To add insult to injury it goes funny when melted. Within the last year bags of dairy free white buttons have been released, which are excellent in every way. We buy 10-20 bags at a time, open them all and store the contents in a tin. By weight they work out cheaper than organica, I just wish they'd start selling it in bars to cut down on packaging.

I've never understood carob.

Booja Booja make pretty good truffles, however at those sorts of prices I'd rather eat Montezumas. Tescos started selling "Gianduiotti" a year or so ago, which is rather tasy hazlenut chocolate. Sainsburys have recently started selling chocolate covered caramels. They're very good, but again terribly overpriced. Talking of overpriced - Hotel Chocolat. I just can't fathom how they are still in business - their product is no better than divine yet 5x the price. What sort of a name is Hotel Chocolat anyway?

Vegan marshmallows are available, but again way, way, way overpriced and not 100% identical to their gelatinous counterparts. Turkish delight isn't far off, which is available at cheaper prices.

There are several products made for people with allergies that are vegan, but most of them are overpriced and disappointing. I used to buy slightly odd chocolate mini eggs, but didn't see them this year.

Wrigleys have always made vegan gum. Choice of sweets from other mainstream manufacturers however remains shite. There's no reason why more vegan sweets couldn't be manufactured, but the companies choose not to (I assume it's more profitable that way).

Choice of crisps has remained roughly the same, with Kettle and Tyrells at the high end of the market, various walkers at the bottom. Walkers have changed recipes a few times, but there's currently a good selection (though none are labelled). Kettle have recently changed recipes, removing previous vegan options and created new ones. Tyrells are my favourite, but then I'm not a great crisp eater.

Ready Made Sauces / Pastes

We're in pretty much the same situation we were 10 years ago here, with many sauces being vegan but not marketed as such.

Something that has gotten better is Thai curry paste. Originally I found none in supermarkets not containing (shell)fish. The first jar of green I found was from a Chinese supermarket (and is to the day one of the cheapest and best I've tried). These days there are several widely available options.

We use jars probably more than we should, but it's one step up on a week night from really lazy 'stick it in the oven' food.

There are a few things I miss, such as the sundried tomato hemp pesto that Sainsburys once sold. It was pricey but very good. This reminds me; I've not used hemp seeds in baking for ages. I must rectify this.


Not a lot has changed here over the past 10 years. Labelling has become a bit better, with Sainsburys, M&S and Co-op marking vegan wines. Tesco & Waitrose have some listings on their respective websites. Some beer and cider companies label (Batemans, Westons etc). Famous brands of beer change recipes every few years. When I was at university the only beer on tap in every local pub was Stella (aka wife beater), which meant I got more pissed than friends on pub crawls who were drinking weaker beer. It then went non-vegan until recently, which when I tasted it again my university days came flooding back... :D

Various lists have been available on the Internet of vegan alcohol, but they get outdated very quickly and become rather meaningless. Barnivore is currently the best site, which records the date and response from the company.

Co-op drew our attention to the fact that not all juice is vegan (as the fruit may have been glazed with shellac), by being the first supermarket to label products as not vegan. It should also be mentioned that some juice is clarified with gelatine.

Household Products

We currently use Method:Home for cleaning products, which came available within the last couple of years (Homebase, B&Q, Waitrose, Sainsburys) and is very good. When I say we, actually I do very little of the cleaning ;)

We use their granite, stainless steel, wood & glass cleaners/polishes, as well as range of accompanying microfibre clothes. We use their all purpose spray, bathroom and toilet cleaner.

Until a couple of years ago we all believed Ecover to be vegan (including The Vegan Society, who accredited their products), when we found that actually they do conduct animal testing afterall. Vegans were left instead with Clearspring and Bio-D, both of which are unfortunately substandard. I struggled to find a dishwasher detergent as good as Ecover (Bio-D's gel is crap), but eventually found Co-op's tablets which as just as good (and often on offer, when we buy several boxes). Bio-D's rinse aid is OK, which we still have some left of from a 4 litre bottle I bought several years ago. Co-op have recently started selling vegan dishwasher cleaner, which is good news.

There are lots of choices for washing detergent / softener. We currently use Co-op's liquid detergents, as neither of us got on with ASDA's. We were using Simply previously (who sell powder in capsules, in tubs from Waitrose, Sainsburys etc), however not all of the powder dissolved in each wash and eventually blocked our drain.

Washing up liquid supply has fluctuated several times. Currently we're using Co-op, as Sainsburys seem to have stopped labelling their's.

Astonish products are vegan, but of all we've only tried the oven cleaner (then only vegan one I could fine). It seemed to work pretty well.

Candles are something that many don't realise aren't all vegan and those that do think you have to pay through the roof for overpriced tea lights. Ikea have recently started specifying which of their candles are made from animal source and which are not. They have a good selection and prices are sensible.


There always been a good choice of Shampoo / Conditioner. Currently I use Superdrug (who have gotten very good at labelling recently) 2 in 1, but my hair is happy with Co-op and Original Source - all of which are cheap and often on offer.

There are many premium brands that have vegan options. I used to use Neals Yard, but it all got a bit expensive. My partner uses Lush, but I think their hair products are overpriced for the amount of time they last.

Lush do have some good products and I've tried a large number of those that are vegan suitable. They started labelling vegan products around '04 and have a good choice. I'd recommend their massage, moisturiser, lip balms and shower products. The bath bombs are good, but seriously overpriced. Their shaving cream is the worst I've ever tried. Original Source sell good, cheap, vegan friendly shaving gel. Lush soaps are nice, but I'm not a fan of solid soap. Simple sell cheap, no nonsense, squirty anti bacterial hand soap (cheapest in Morrisons) and Method:Home sell more interesting flavours / foaming stuff.

Kingfisher vegan toothpaste has been available as long as I remember. Co-op whitening is good, though we're currently using Beverly Hills formula whitening, which is easier to find. Co-op sell the only sensibly priced vegan mouth wash I know of (blue tastes better than green).

Perfume / Aftershave

This is more of a tricky area, with limited choice.

Ted Baker products are vegan (according to them). The Stella McCartney range is vegan (according to various sources, but not them directly). The Jean Paul Gaultier range is vegan, however they sell fur and are on my naughty list.


Having renovated (gutted and started again) a house recently I've done a lot of research on this topic. It's vegan where possible*, with stone, wood, laminate and natural fiber carpets. All walls, plaster and woodwork was painted with Ecos Paints, which are vegan, environmentally friendly and very good (pricing similar to that of premium paints, like Farrow and Ball (who won't say if their products are vegan or not)). There's no wool, leather, feathers or silk in any of the furnishings (including mattresses, sofas and cushions).

When vegan products have been available they've been used. The reason for the * is that whilst we've not knowingly used anything that isn't vegan, there are products which probably are vegan but no manufacturer will state for sure that it is suitable. Thus risks have to be taken with certain things, which isn't great, but reality. Obviously I avoid brands I boycott due to animal testing and will err towards no product rather than one I think has a good chance of being non vegan.

There are several other vegan paint options available now (including those that come in powder form). I am however happy enough with Ecos (having used Lily White, White, Olive and Vanilla matt paints, white gloss, wood sealer, wood gloss, wood varnish, plaster sealer).

Is that all?

For now. I've probably missed out loads of things and I'm not going to re-read it all and check for grammar :)

Courgette Pasta

Who'd have thought that a fruit as disgusting as courgette could be actually quite pleasant raw?

Though I get on OK with cucumbers, courgettes have always creeped me out a bit. Maybe it's something about their furry skin or that they go mushy when cooked. With the exception of ratatouille, up until a week or so ago you'd have been hard pushed to find me voluntarily eating courgettes.

Saf last weekend has done weird things to my view on food, specifically to do with eating hated vegetables in raw form.

Kale (one of my top 5 most hated veg) was grotesquely disgusting when I first tried it a couple of years ago. It had been cooked up with a bit of oil, garlic and was apparently very nice according to the person I ate it with. Not so, my gag reflex went into overdrive.

This week I actually chose to go out and buy a bag of curly kale and try it raw in a smoothie. Having blended a handful up with a banana and some apple juice it actually was drinkable. Not the nicest thing I've ever tasted, but the banana did a good job of hiding the taste and it was very similar to the spinach smoothies I've been having recently. Spinach (in case you're wondering) is OK when raw, as it's more like a salad leaf than yucky cabbage. It's bearable in certain instances when cooked, such as in lasagne. Yesterday morning I blended a handful spinach, handful kale, 2 bananas and apple juice. Again it was OK - not amazingly tasty, but OK and more raw greens than I've possibly ever consumed in one go.

So anyway, back to the purpose of this post. Since last weekend I've made 3 'pasta' dishes from raw courgette. The first 2 used shop bought pesto, yesterday's (and that which is detailed / photographed here) with fresh pesto. It doesn't take an awful lot of prep and does taste good. It's better with some chopped up sundried tomatoes added, but we'd run out when I made this batch. I sometimes add other nuts and/or balsamic vinegar to pesto, but balsamic isn't strictly raw (the grapes are cooked during the process).

Ingredients (per person):
  • 1 large courgette (or several small)
  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Extra vigin olive oil
  • Olives
  • Pine Nuts
  • Sundried Tomatoes
  • Chopped garlic
  • Sea Salt
Using one large courgette is easier than using smaller ones. To make the noodles use a julienne peeler, taking first a strip off the underside so you have a stable base. You can leave skin on or peal first (the latter being nicer, but less nutritious). Chop off the opposite end from which you start each slice.

You have 2 options - shave off slices then cut into noodles, or do long cuts along the length, so each slice comes off already in noodle form. If using the second method, I found through trial and error that cutting slices 90% of the way through leaves enough connecting tissue to hold it together whilst you slice. Otherwise it can get a little unmanageable.

When you've created your noodles, sprinkle with salt and set them aside in a bowl. I'm not a great fan of salt, but if you don't add it they won't soften and become pasta like.

Blend all other ingredients together in quantity of your choice, or chop the basil, olives, tomatoes and crush the nuts in a pestle & mortar.

Toss together with the courgette and serve.

It would go exceptionally well with some warm crusty bread, but all thoughts of such things must be banished! :O

Vegan London Food Binge

24 hours, 4 restaurants, £200.

Having once visited London and eaten at its vegan restaurants on a regular basis (2000-2004 - I was a student with endless free time and cheap train tickets) I've since been visiting less and less. Not through a dislike of our capital, but through ridiculously expensive walk up fares and slow trains that really don't encourage you to use public transport. In the meantime various new places have popped up that we've yet to try.

To celebrate my partner's birthday we decided to book a hotel and cheap train tickets in advance, then go for an all you can eat food binge, to make up for lost time.

The reviews of the 4 places we ate at (Sagar, Inspiral, Saf & Zilli Green) follow. They range from Exceptional to OK, disappointing and robbery.


I discovered Sagar (South Indian, vegetarian) by chance in autumn 2008, on Percy Street in London. It's sandwiched between Soho Wine Supply on one side (the only shop in the UK I've found selling vegan sweet vermouth) and Camerino (omni Italian restaurant, who did a genuinely good job of catering for me when on a work do there). Two doors down is Joi (vegan chinese, where I've been more times than I'd like to admit).

Though not fully vegan, Sagar has a separate vegan menu with a lot of choice. We returned due to their amazing onion bhajis - unlike any we've had before and very good.

We weren't overly hungry (Friday lunchtime), so ordered some bhajis and popadums to munch whilst waiting for our main courses. As with before; the bhajis were excellent and a generous portion size. For some reason they served condiments to us with one non vegan option, which they pointed out we shouldn't eat. Why include it, or if realising on serving it shouldn't be there, not take it away?

For mains we had masala dosa and some kind of aubergine curry with garlic rice.

The dosa itself was good, but filling a little uninspiring - more like spicy baby food than curry. The garlic rice was tasty, but a little overpriced (£3.95). I can't comment on the slimy vegetable dish, but am informed it tasted good (though a little too spicy).

Sagar's food is, on the whole, well priced. The two of us ate for £23 with soft drinks. You get a lot for your money and the food is reliably OK. I'd certainly return, but not before trying many of the other restaurants on my list.

Inspiral Lounge

I've heard a lot of hype about Inspiral since it opened a couple of years ago. The main reason for visiting was their cakes, of which Tiramisu was the most exciting.

Camden is more or less how I remember it - a mass of tourist tack and overpriced imports, marketed at middle class rebellious teenagers and wannabe hippies. An endless warren of market stall selling more or less the same stock. There are exceptions to this and a few good shops (such as Oddballs juggling shop just over the bridge), but in general it's best avoided (or visited at 10am on Sunday when at its quietest).

Inspiral was, how shall I say this? Not my cup of tea.

It was overcrowded with smoky incense and small, oddly shaped tables (i.e. not in a good way). The cakes were overpriced (£4 a slice) and disappointing. The tiramisu cake was not tiramisu how I remember - whilst well presented it seriously lacked any kind of flavour, let alone tiramisu. The peanut butter cake was over sweet and unimpressive for the price. We had a scoop of icecream which according to the board was meant to come in a vegan waffle cone, but instead came in a paper cup.

For some unknown reason they use wooden cutlery, which as well as being bad for the environment is unpleasant to eat off (try licking a spoon made of wood, ick).

Inspiral sell all sorts of things we didn't try, so there's a chance that at a less busy time it's more pleasant and I'd consider returning. All in all this time however, it wasn't for me.

Edit: Their website says their tiramisu cake has a money back guarantee! I feel an email coming on....


As the vegetable hater you all know me to be, the concept of attending Saf was more than a little disturbing. Though I like trying new things, expensive raw vegetables don't have quite the same allure as a nice wedge of focaccia or slice of lemon cake; especially vegetables I actively dislike.

I'm pleased to say however that I was pleasantly surprised by Saf - it was one of the best restaurant visits I've ever had. We each ate 3 raw courses and were buzzing for hours afterwards.

Saf is located outside the centre of London (on the edge of Zone 1) in a building with high ceilings, good decor and comfortable seating (choose a table at the rear for better seats than at the front). We arrived at 7.30 on Friday evening and by 8.30 it was almost full.

Service was excellent (for once it was worth the 12.5% 'optional' charge): we were well looked after by people who knew about and could explain components of the dishes they were serving.

We ordered a couple of cocktails whilst choosing what to eat, which whilst took a while to come were very well presented. A little on the expensive side, but interesting and unusual flavours that had had more work put into them than mixing the contents of store bought bottles together. Mine (a Rhubarb Triangle) contained balsamic vinegar and basil, which unfortunately didn't quite work for me. I'm glad to have tried it and it was drinkable. I've not considered balsamic to be a cocktail ingredient before, but as someone who sometimes drinks it neat from the bottle I'll be doing some experimentation with it.

We were a bit in the dark when it came to food, as the menu we were presented with was different from that on their website and from which we'd received recommendations. More disappointingly there was no cheese board (which we'd been particularly looking forward to) or taster plate.

For starters I chose Cannelloni (raw courgette slices, rolled with cream cheese, served with salsa and some kind of oil), Becky chose Pesto au Poivre (cashew cheese, tortilla chips, dehydrated tomato).

Mine was a little on the small side, but really tasty (coming from someone who doesn't like courgettes this is praise indeed), the cheese extremely good and generously portioned.

For mains we chose Salsify Fettucine and Lasagne. We ate half each and surreptitiously swapped mid way through.

I've always been somewhat sceptical of the whole fake pasta thing, but this really worked. It was quite obviously not your normal sort of pasta, but it was a good compromise between soft and crunchy, without the weird taste I'd expect. I've not had the pleasure of salsify before, nor for that matter knew what it was until I googled. It was (if wikipedia is to be believed) very popular in the UK a few hundred years ago.

I was more a fan of the lasagne. Again it bore very little to the lasagne we cooked earlier in the week, but was full of olivey goodness.

Disappointed by the lack of cheese platter, the manager agreed to let me order a macadamia cheese dish from the lunch menu, whilst Becky had the raw chocolate torte.

As others have mentioned the dessert sizes are small, but it was by far and away the best raw chocolate thing I've tried (I had a slice of disgusting raw 'chocolate cake' at a vegan festival a few years ago). The cheese was also good, though came with an insufficient amount of tortilla chips and think I preferred the cashew.

The lemonade we ordered to come with dessert arrived several minutes after we'd finished, so we had an odd (over sweet) lemonade course.

All in all Saf was the introduction to raw food I've been looking for. It was good, tasty, healthy food I could imagine eating more of without feeling like I'm punishing myself. I'm not looking to turn 100% raw over night (if ever), but we both agreed to trialling a (mostly) raw day once a week.

They have an unpolished iPhone recipe app (ingredients don't tally up with instructions) and various of their recipes can be found online. I'll certainly try making their nut cheeses.

The bill came to £88, which whilst on the more expensive side was worth it for the experience and is justifiable given the amount of prep that goes into their dishes. We'll definitely return.

Zilli Green

Since it's launch in February we've heard mixed reviews for Zilli Green (vegetarian Italian restuarant in Soho, owned by Aldo Zilli), but based on the menu wanted to check it out for ourselves.

Whilst I still think the Guardian article was a little harsh, the experience was not a good one and the food not worth the price. We left feeling deflated and a bit like we'd been robbed by Aldo himself.

I don't feel particularly compelled to write a long blog post about it, if I thought it'd achieve anything I'd rather funnel my effort into writing a complaint.

We visited at lunchtime (arriving at 12.30pm), having been to Saf the night before (i.e. it had a lot to live up to). We were the first people to arrive in what was a small and over cramped restaurant (it's never a good sign when they have to move the table to let you into your seat, then move it back pinning you in!). Service was disorganised and cold - not worth the 'optional' charge.

By 1.30pm it was about 20% full (not exactly buzzing), but we at least benefited from a short wait in between courses.

We ordered a meze to nibble whilst waiting for starter, which was genuinely tasty and worth it's price. My sushi for starter wasn't either of these things however - it was worse than supermarket bought vegan sushi. I can't remember what Becky's starter was - it was that memorable.

My main course was an overpriced burger, served with over manicured, under flavoured chips. Though hungry I left part of the burger. Becky had a tofu+noodle dish that was alright, but fairly uninspiring and with an ungenerous amount of tofu.

We ordered a dessert platter for pudding, which again we ended up leaving some of. The lemoncello cheesecake was quite nice, but not worth the money. The tiramisu cake was better than Inspiral's (some have said it's the same, but it was layered differently) in terms of taste, but still no where near real tiramisu in taste (the Guardian's subliminal advert for dairy quote isn't far off). The carob torte was simply vile and left half uneaten.

The bill came to £62, including 1 alcoholic drink. It was half as good as a meal from The Warehouse in Birmingham costing £30-£40.

I really can't recommend Zilli Green to anyone, especially when there's so many other places to find vegan food in the area.