S’mores: a little fun in the Twitterverse

Remember s’mores, that gooey campfire treat we brought back from Scout camp? Several things have happened.

  • It’s a US delicacy
  • It’s hard to get the makings off-shore
  • S’mores have inspired many gourmet Graham cracker, marshmallow and chocolate creations in the form of bars, pies, and ice cream.

Twitter friend @SamsBellabob’s mum smuggled (Bella would never smuggle) a packet of graham crackers and a packet of marshmallows into the UK while returning from her US hollibob. Sam had heard tell of the mystical s’more but had never prepared them. @SamsBellabob posted a photo of the makings on Twitter and asked the #houndsoftwitter for help. All activity came to a halt as Bella and 10 of her dearest Twitter friends figured out how one might make s’mores in a country where you can’t buy the makings and there is no dry wood for a camp fire.

The rest of the world is s’mores deficient

In the US, s’mores and the makings for s’mores are ubiquitous. In the UK and much of the rest of the world, Graham Crackers and Marshmallows are found in the world food corner of Tesco or mail ordered from Amazon at premium prices if they are available at all. I dare say, we could find Hobnobs and Walker Shortbread Fingers at a lower premium here. So their first handicap is that it is difficult to get the ingredients, hence the need to bring some back in the overhead bin.

The second problem is that few UK/EU folk have prepared this gourmet delicacy so there was a difference of opinion about how one should go about s’mores. Nobody knew that it was campfire food so there was lots of speculation about microwaves, regular ovens, and such. And health and safety weighed in that lava erupted from toasted marshmallows. Apparently, toasted marshmallows are on the list of UK national menaces.

So after much hound role playing silliness, the group agreed to make s’mores this week.

How Mum made em

We almost always had s’mores on a day where the barbie was used to cook supper. We would mount the marshmallows on kabob skewers and toast them over the dying charcoal fire. You could toast them slowly or let them ignite for that activated carbon taste. Once the marshmallow was done to the maker’s specification, a Graham cracker was broken into halves, a square of Hershey’s milk chocolate placed on it, then the gooey marshmallow, and topped with another Graham cracker to make a sandwich. The eater allowed the marshmallow to cool and the chocolate to melt to personal taste before consuming the finished product.

Occasionally, we made them in the kitchen without the barbie. We had an electric hob with Calrod coils. Turned the puppy on high and used the outdoor procedure to toast the marshmallows over the red coils and proceeded as on cookout nights.

They should look like the example in the top of the photo in this article.

As you can see from the remainder of the article, s’mores have inspired all manner of gourmet variations. I do not endorse any of them. Just stick to the basics. Apparently, there is a National s’mores day, complete with Presidential proclamation and Michelle Obama recipes.

2016 Challenge

I thought everybody was being silly about how to make s’mores without a cook fire. Then I realized I had an induction hob and could no longer toast marshmallows over the glowing coils. How would I make them today? How would I make them for a grand-kid’s name day party?

After reflecting on this a bit, I came up with the following untested method.

  • Preheat oven to 350 F or equivalent C degrees
  • Prepare baking sheet with baking parchment
  • Place marshmallows 4 inches on center on parchment as needed to serve the assembled multitudes. They don’t spread but room is needed to remove them with a spatula, hopefully without injury.
  • Place in oven and roast until nicely toasty. I have no idea how long this will take — think 10 minutes like cookies to start. Convection oven will be faster for a given temperature. My oven makes me choose between bake and roast. I have no idea how the two differ having tossed the booklet.
  • While marshmallows are toasting, prepare a tray with Graham cracker squares and thin milk chocolate bar sections to cover and tops handy.
  • When marshmallows are toasted and flames extinguished, transfer still hot marshmallows to the prepared cracker/chocolate bit and top with the second square to make a sandwich. Be advised that lava can erupt at any handling miss-step.
  • Allow hot marshmallow to melt the cool chocolate to personal taste.

When cooled somewhat, consume noting that too hot marshmallow has lava-like properties and can cause pizza-burns inside the mouth if not cooled sufficiently.

Where to get s’mores makings

UK bloggers report that Tesco stocks s’mores makings in the world foods section. At a world foods price. I believe their Graham crackers and marshmallows are free-range raised in the Loire valley near Chateau Margot or Chateau Rothschild and commend an appropriate price. If you happen to have a US military person among your friends, they can be approached to procure the s’mores makings from the post Commissary at US home market prices or better. A bottle of single malt is the appropriate gratuity.


Uncategorized Video

TabloTV Update

A couple of years ago, I wrote about Tablo TV, an off-air DVR product. Since then, TabloTV continues to improve with an Apple TV 4 App in the works (real soon now). TabloTV made firmware updates to support the app but the app is still awaiting release.


Plex is a OS independent media server that runs on Linux, MacOS, and Windows. The server component is free with the clients a la carte. There is also a subscription option that enables watching content away from home.

Plex has plugins that allow Plex to present foreign content such as Tablo TV recordings and live TV. I’ve started using Plex to watch the evening news and recorded content. The Plex Tablo plugin has a much nicer interface for viewing content than that in the iPad app. The plugin is unable to manage schedules or recordings but it allows AppleTV 4 to play content without AirPlay from an iPad. My iPad is free for ill-behaved apps like Facebook (network hog).


All of this stuff works well enough that I’ve been using Plex for most of my audio and video playback. The Plex Media Server is mature, the Plex ATV plugin is mature, and the iPad client is mature.

Once the TabloTV AppleTV client becomes available, it should be possible to manage recordings and schedules directly from AppleTV. Until then, the Plex TabloTV server plugin will fill the bill.


IPad Faceplant

In a moment of clumsiness in the dark my original iPad took a high dive off my dresser to do a face plant on the oak floor five feet below. Miraculously, there was no visible damage but sadly, no Apple Care. Yesterday I dropped by the Apple Store to visit the Genius Bar. Had I been an Apple Care dude, they would have swapped it for a refurbished unit. In spite of my clumsiness. My alternative was to do an exchange for $250. I spent some time looking at the new one while awaiting my turn at the bar. You can’t believe the new display; it is drop dead gorgeous. Since I use mine for magazine reading etc, I opted to pick up a new iPad. What to with the old one?

Well, it’s not kaput but mostly usable because there’s about a thumb width of dead screen at the top. Many tasks are still possible and for someone without, it is a free introduction to iPad and half off on a refurbished unit. A little display flipping moves the bad stripe out of the way, the touchscreen is still good and AirPlay is unaffected. The bad spot is an annoyance.

A friend lives in a house full of Frankenstein Windows machines built by her son and handed down. Mike keeps current so she has Win 7, Home Essentials, Xbox Live, and Netflix but is still tied to her desk. I showed her the new one at church and pitched my retired unit to her. She was fascinated by Scribbles and Paper. And she paints which means she’d like the drawing programs that can do water colors, pastels, and pen and ink — that’s Paper. And I showed her the conceptual design her son’s Small Potatoes architect friend had made for me. She’s game so I’ll clean the beast up and get her started with an iTunes account and a good password so her granddaughter doesn’t spend her into the poor house. And add a few of my favorite apps so she won’t have to run them down herself.

The real magic of iPads is AirPlay. I can play anything in my iTunes library on the iPad or send the output to Apple TV to see on the big screen. As Cult of Mac has noted iTV is here today, you just have to integrate the bits as I described in an earlier post. The magic of the new one is the high res Retina display. Text approaches book quality, Time Magazine’s Lightroom, Flipboard Photos, NatGeo, PBS video, etc are crisp and luminous because blacks and contrast, already good, are the best LCD display out there. Images are smoother with noticeably less posterization. Skin tones are natural. (Nothing helps the Fox bimbos! Not even Apple magic can make them real) After that, it is little things like touchscreen insertion being easier and textures and shading in the UI widgets.

The camera is a pleasant surprise. It is the same one in iPhone 4s and it is sharp. The Retina display shows the full image in a manner almost like using a big view camera. You can see to compose. This may turn out to be a surprising bonus. Maybe some entrepreneur will make a tripod mount for it.


Almost Vegan Life

As I mentioned in my holiday letter, I’m eating mostly vegan. I’ll have a cheat meal or ice cream on the weekends but I’m sticking to the straight and narrow during the week — fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts. Since the holiday, I’ve lost about 10 pounds.

Eating vegan is not hard. To actually loose weight, I’ve had to switch from a mostly vegetarian diet that included dairy products to a vegan diet with dairy only as a cheat day treat. Since making that change, I’ve actually started to loose weight as Dr Furman described in Eat to Live. He writes that if you keep the faith, your weight should settle in near your healthy weight.

The past 18 months has been a search for meal alternatives a meal at a time. When I moved up here, I switched breakfast from cereal to salmon and fruit. After 6 months, I switched to fruit and nuts. Twelve months ago, I stopped fixing meat entrees because I couldn’t find the good lean grass fed beef that I like. I started learning to make chills, curries, etc using beans. Last summer, I found One World Vegetarian Cookbook and began making some of the African and South American fare found in its pages. About six months ago, I stopped eating frozen for lunch and began eating fruits, vegetables, and nuts. At this point, I was pretty much eating vegetarian other than bacon with eggs on Saturday. This fall, I started baking bread with the return of cool weather but was eating too much so I’ve had to give up baking. During this experimentation period, my weight was slowly creeping up so I had to drop the cheese and chocolate I’d also been eating. Since making this change, I’ve started to loose weight.

With the return of cool weather, I’ve been making “Red Soup”, a Hamby family thing. I believe my grandmother served it while my parents were growing up. Dad married the girl next door and went off to war. Mom lived with Dad’s parents during that period and learned to make red soup from my grandmother. (Watsons don’t know red soup.) I’ve since figured it out and started making chicken and Manhattan clam chowder variants. This fall, I learned to make a bean variant that comes out pretty good. I use 6 oz dried beans soaked, onion, cabbage or celery, corn, sweet potato, peas, and a couple of cans of unsalted diced tomatoes. The onion is softball sized. Everything else is 1 cup of whatever. Process is simple. Sauté the onions in a dutch oven or stock pot, add everything else and water to cover plus a cup or so and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low for a slow simmer. Let cook until the beans are soft. Add make-up water as needed. You can add herbs and spices as desired. I’ve tried sherry, fresh basil, dried basil, cinnamon, black peppercorns, dried red pepper, and a red chili power.


2011 Holiday Letter

Merry Christmas and best wishes for a happy and prosperous new year.

2011 is drawing to a close as a rather unremarkable year for me personally. I’ve been back in the Virginia low country for about 18 months now and am slowly recovering from my stay up north. Last winter, I managed to paint the living room and hallway. This winter, stripping the master bedroom trim and painting are the plan. I’m slowly getting settled. Maybe I’ll actually make it by retirement.


The three of us (Dave, Rhea, and Lord Nick) remain in good health. Rhea will be twelve in a couple of months and Nick will be 6. Both are liking Tidewater after having their doubts about the 2010 heat and southern strength thunderstorms. The year started with the Boxing Day snow and the New Years day snow (a foot). For thunder storms, we only had a couple that were impressive here at home though several more passed through the area. We also had one gentlemanly hurricane which flooded the Hague and turned my church’s basement into an indoor wading pool. Later that week, the pecan tree did drop a widow maker in the yard, fortunately with nobody in the LZ.

Nick’s Toes

Nick is recovered from peeling nails. The horny outer covering was separating from the interior causing some distress. This condition can have several causes, bacterial, fungal, or autoimmune. In Nick’s case, several months of tetracycline cleared his condition so it was most likely bacterial. He goes back for a well baby check on Tuesday. He’s been making a big production of scuff marking, something which stopped while the toes were tender. Hopefully this is cured. But he’s missing his regular peanut butter treats.

Dave’s a Vegan, Mostly

Dave had a rather interesting encounter with his cardiologist back in November. After years of preaching the American Heart Association diet, Dr. Panigrahi is now advocating the “Eat to Live” diet because he was not pleased with the results the AHA diet was producing in his patient population. The Eat to Live diet is one of several low fat vegan diets. The author is a cardiologist and does have a side business selling some supplements and condiments but is promoting this diet because it offers quantifiable health benefits in his patient population. The diet is a vegan diet that is sustainable. It is plant based with fruits, vegetables, and beans being unlimited. The author recommends some nuts such as almonds or walnuts to cover essential fatty acids. Protein is not a concern as long as what you are eating is diverse. The author makes an interesting point, 100 calories of broccoli has more protein than 100 calories of beef.

The diet works by reducing fats and animal proteins, increasing vegetable and fruit antioxidants, and adding beans and their antioxidants and fiber. It is a really easy diet that is gimmick free and opens up the broad spectrum of world fare from Africa, India, and the Caribbean nations.

I do still have bacon and eggs for Saturday breakfast and eat meat for holiday meals and the occasional lunch in town. I’ve found that I’m less hungry and that a handful of nuts or dried fruit is a good filling snack. By eating complex whole foods, blood sugar remains more stable and I’m not bingy.

I had been moving in the vegan direction anyway for a number of reason, mostly the difficulty of obtaining tasty meat in the big city and the difficulties of cooking for a family of one. By the time I dropped in for my fall checkup, I was 90 percent of the way there. Cereal wasn’t working so I’d switched fruit and nuts for breakfast. I’d be ravenous by 11 AM when eating cereal breakfast. In January, I’d switched to vegan suppers. In June, I’d stopped eating frozen for lunch and switched to a vegan lunch. For me, only some small adjustments remained, mostly eating more greens. One advantage of the changes made was that in November, my cardiologist was able to halve my blood pressure medication (Diovan). I hope, that by watching grains and starchy vegetables, I can begin to loose the weight that has come to stay over the years.

Around the Neighborhood

Rhea and Nick are liking Tidewater. They enjoy oceanfront walks, trips to the local pet expos, and the luxury of a fenced yard. Nick likes to torment the squirrels. I suspect that is a sport the squirrels also take up from time to time because they’ll run along the top rail of my neighbor’s stockade fence just out of reach. Our bunnies have all learned to eat at the neighbors. Dave likes the access to the beach, big city parks, shopping, culture, and entertainment. And Tidewater has some of the best healthcare in the nation.

I live next to Norfolk airport. A lake, one of the city reservoirs, separates Azalea Acres from the airport and we have a nice treed park at the end of the street. The Norfolk Botanical Garden is our other major neighbor. The subdivision is mid-50’s modern hip roof ranches and most of the neighbors are senior Navy enlisted, Navy retirees, and small businessmen. We have a good mix of people. This morning while the air was still, the neighborhood was fragrant with the smells of Christmas curries in preparation. Many of my neighbors originated in the west Pacific island nations.

Bald Eagles Return

Norfolk Botanical Garden is home to a pair of bald eagles. This spring, the female flew into the path of an airliner on final approach at Norfolk airport and was killed. The wildlife folks took the three chicks off to raptor rescue because they were a size dad couldn’t feed by himself. The chicks have been released and migrated north normally. In early December a new pair had occupied the nest and set up house. They should be laying eggs soon. The Norfolk Eagle Cam has been updated and you should check in from time to time. There are now three cameras, one looking down on the nest, and two that can be tilted, panned, and zoomed to follow activity in and around the nest. You can read more about the Norfolk eagles here. The page should become active in January.

This Old House

I’m catching up on home repairs this year and next. The electrical service panel needs replacement. The old FPE panel is notorious for breakers that fail to trip and bus bars that fail to hold breakers. It will be history in the next few weeks. This is a good time to do such work. Our local tradesmen are pretty open right now and looking for renovation work with new construction still in the dumps. I also need to make some carpentry repairs to cover accesses that the plumbers cut to reach plugged and leaking kitchen drains and to cover the TV, phone, and data distribution panel in my closet.

Longer term plans are to renovate the baths and kitchens but those plans are still in the conceptual design phase. My old hip roof ranch is about 1000 square feet so the baths, linen closet, and utility closet are a Chinese box puzzle of interlocking pieces. The baths feature 24 inch doors and I’m a good 23 inches wide. I’d like proper 32 inch entry ways. That means moving everything around. The house has a full bath plus a half bath off the master bedroom, a bit of a conceit in such a small house. I’d like to reconfigure the space to separate the bath and the water closet with both accessible from the hall. That means moving the furnace which is a big cost driver because the central duct in the crawl space would need replaced and the gas and vent relocated. The furnace and air handler are about 5 years old with 15 years of service ahead.

21st Century TV

I did update the TV after 20 years of service from my faithful Hitachi CRT. I retired it and  added a new Panasonic plasma TV. It connects by HDMI to my TiVO HD and Apple TV 2. My old DVD player continues in service for now. I use the Apple TV for Netflix and iTunes rentals. I’m finding it difficult to justify a Blue Ray player when the Apple TV is playing HD video without trouble. We’ll see. The future new disk player will also pick up SACD duties but HD Tracks is making DRM free high resolution audio available at market disk prices.

The  TV passes audio to the hi-fi via TOSLINK. I can now hear nice stereo TV audio on my 70’s relic preamp, amp, and speakers. A Cambridge Audio DacMagic turns the bits back into analog stereo and does a glorious job of it. The DacMagic up samples the audio to 24 bit 192,000 samples per second audio which is lush and detailed. A new version of the DacMagic features another doubling of the up sampling and an audio level control allowing it to be used to directly drive a high quality power amp.

Between the Apple TV and the DacMagic, it looks like disc media is on the way out. Most music goes into the Mac to be added in lossless form to iTunes. I have the sound of the disk without having to search for it in a disorganized music library.



At the end of June 2012, Apple is retiring so I’ve decided to move the blog to WordPress. WordPress is one of several web site content management systems and should be much more flexible than the Apple iWeb service. iWeb was convenient but the code was ugly and appearance changes difficult.

I expect to continue to post personal news and political commentary. I find Facebook very unsuited for long form expression and it is a bit of a black hole. Anything that goes to Facebook stays in Marky Mark’s attic for ever.