Monthly Archives: December 2011

‘Tis The Season To Investigate Pols

Ron Stodghill

‘Tis the season to be jolly – and, for several North Carolina pols, cooperate with investigators.

In recent weeks, the yuletide has brought us some juicy probes into whether our Carolina pols have been naughty or nice.  As the ball drops into 2012, here are a few N.C. probes to watch.

Of course, there’s Harold Cogdell, whose clumsy entrance into the chair of the Mecklenburg County Commission turned positively madcap. His colleagues, many of them still salty over his Machiavellian move to unseat Jennifer Roberts, launched an independent probe of a nonprofit’s questionable hiring of Cogdell, who had pushed the county to give the health center an additional $110,000.

 As though to make matters even messier, commissioners also plan to dig into whether commissioner George Dunlap, a Democrat, was aware but turned a blind eye to the shady-looking deal.

 Then there’s former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory. Once again he’s poised to challenge North Carolina Governor Bev Purdue. While polls show Purdue vs McCrory would be a tight race, McCrory hasn’t quite escaped the past: the State Board of Elections has opened an investigation of McCrory’s campaign finances stemming from his run against Purdue in 2008. The board has dismissed one complaint, and is still investigating another.

 These are Democratic Party complaints from some 18 months ago that have been dismissed by McCrory as frivolous and politically motivated. So when did that ever matter?

 And, then there’s North Carolina Gov. Purdue herself. Her former campaign finance chairman, Peter Reichard, hid $32,000 in illegal payments from a Perdue donor. The money was used to help pay a campaign worker. Reichard pleaded guilty and was sentenced this month to probation and fined $25,000.

 There are also indictments against some former campaign workers and a donor connected to an investigation into unreported air travel during her 2008 campaign. The probe into her campaign casts yet another shadow over Purdue, who has struggled to breathe life into the state’s economy.

 

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Mac and Cheese and Peace on Earth

Photo Courtesy Marie Z. Dunn

Last month, a food fracas broke out over a new hot-button topic:  macaroni and cheese. We won’t go into the unsavory details here, except to say that some powerful media pundits disagreed about whether it was proper to serve the dish at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Regardless of your political leanings, if you’ve ever visited a school cafeteria, picnic or pot-luck dinner, someone has offered you mac and cheese. Most often, it’s a side dish among several accompanying an entrée.

But cookbook author Lukas Volger suggests something radical: Make macaroni and cheese the main attraction at the meal.

The Brooklyn-based Volger is the author of Vegetarian Entrees That Won’t Leave You Hungry. On a recent visit to Charlotte, he demonstrated just how beguiling a dish mac and cheese can be. His version is rich with goat cheese, fresh mushrooms and minced herbs, and it’s topped with homemade bread crumbs (recipe ‘below the fold’).

Volger terms it a “flavorful main course that fills the center of the plate.” But guests seemed a little skeptical at first. After all, this looked nothing like the familiar, blue-boxed, quick dinner Kraft introduced in 1937 and sold by the millions. (That product, by the way, now has its own Facebook page with more than 560,000 hits.)

Volger doesn’t proselytize. He doesn’t need to. People who said they were too busy to stop slowed down to chat when the author put a plate in their hands. A man from D.C. talked a bit about life in Charlotte. Two women heading for the door turned around for a taste, then lingered to discuss Cuban oregano and other ways to make a dish distinctive.

Like the iconic bagel or barbecue, mac and cheese is something tangible we can defend when we think someone is attacking our tastes, our beliefs  – or our identities. But it doesn’t have to be.

This is because it’s hard to hurry, and even harder to quarrel, when you have a plate of good and beautifully prepared food in front of you. This season, no matter which holidays you celebrate, make some mac and cheese, and make it as humble or elegant as you wish. And simply serve it forth.

Keep reading for a recipe for Mushroom Macaroni with Goat Cheese. mmmmm…

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Savoring The Tradition of Holiday Sauerkraut

The Dusek sauerkraut tastes best piled between the turkey and dressing, so you get a bit of kraut in every bite.

By: WFAE’s Julie Rose

Part of an ongoing series from NPR on unique holiday dishes.

Listen to this story

My great-grandma Mary Dusek kept alive the Czech heritage of her parents and immigrant husband through food. In the one photo I’ve seen of her, she’s wearing a crisp, white apron. Our signature holiday dish comes from Mary’s kitchen.

Reporter Julie Rose's great-great-grandmother, Mary, and her husband, Frank Joseph Dusek

My mom, Dee Dee — Mary’s daughter — is the keeper of the Dusek kraut tradition.

“Sauerkraut has been with us forever — whenever there was a turkey, which was always Thanksgiving and Christmas,” my mom says.

Yes, sauerkraut. I know you’re probably gagging right now. All my friends do when I tell them how I can’t wait for the holidays to eat sauerkraut and turkey. But this is not the stuff you pile on a polish dog at the ballpark. It starts that way, but Mom rinses off the brine and then it simmers for hours in chicken broth and spices.

I’d sneak into the kitchen as a kid and peek under the lid to get a sauna blast of tangy steam in my face. When I called my mom to get the recipe, she said no one had ever written it down.

“It was just handed down. I watched my mom make it for years and years,” she says…

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Looking to cash in on DNC housing? Don’t be too greedy

Ron Stodghill

Charlotte might be a business town, but when it comes to pricing our homes for leasing or renting to DNC staff and conventioneers, we don’t have a clue.  At least, that’s a conclusion one might draw chatting with local real estate agents, including Lexie Longstreet. She’s the founder of DNCDigs.com, a new website launched to cash in on next year’s political convention (another site is DNChomes4rent.com, which was included in this WFAE story about DNC housing).  

When I caught up with Longstreet, she was lamenting the number of folks who contact her for help putting a price tag on their digs for DNC week – and in some cases, the months leading up to the convention. 

“Nobody in Charlotte knows what their rental rate should be,” says Longstreet, who hopes to rent her own 400-square- foot Dilworth garage guest suite (typically $650 per month) for $1,000 a month or $300 per week.

“And I can’t really determine that for people. They have to set their rental rate for themselves- and it’s going to depend on their home. I can’t say ‘Three bed, two baths, two miles from town – that’s $3,000,’” she says. “There’s no formula. I do know that historically from other conventions that people have tended to overprice their houses.”

She adds: “There are some people in uptown asking $3,000 to $4000 for the DNC days.  But there are going to be a lot of people coming to Charlotte who will be here for 2 or 3 months in advance – real people working in advance of the convention.”

Ben Wilson’s hoping his Craigslist ad will attract a renter willing to pay $15,000 a week for his 1BR Uptown condo. Photo: Tanner Latham

Calculating a price isn’t so difficult, Longstreet says. “You can figure out what a motel room rate would cost for a comparable room and with a pullout couch, then add for utilities and inconvenience. I mean, it’s not like everybody’s house is set up to have strangers move into it for a week.”

Launched in August, Longstreet says her fledgling site averages 300 to 400 hits per day, with people mostly from New York, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Washington,  D.C. spending some five minutes clicking on more than dozen or so listings.  The site boasts a simple rate structure:  a one-time fee of 35 bucks to post  a room, and $100 for a house,  apartment or condo. There’s no charge or limit to modifying a listing.

Longstreet admits the number of listings and visitors to the site have been disappointing. “I thought we would have more people signing up.”

But she’s optimistic. “January and February, I think it’ll pick up,” she says.

“People will start to realize how many people are coming to this town, and how few hotel rooms there are. And people coming here don’t realize how far some of these hotels are. People will say `I would rather be renting a place in Dilworth or Plaza-Midwood than rent a hotel room in Mint Hill.”

As for her own digs, Longstreet says: “I’m getting inquiries for dates during the DNC, but I would rather rent it for 2 months. So I’m not going to jump on it for someone who wants it for only four days.”

Coincidentally, as we spoke, a homeowner had signed up:  “In Chantilly, a brand new cool-looking house, one year old, 1,800 square feet, great outdoor space, walking distance to bars, outdoor fireplace, three beds and two-and-a-half baths,” Longstreet reports. “They want $5,000 for the week. You know, I think they can get that.”

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A Tasty Last-Minute Gift

Still looking for a present for your foodie friend or Secret Santa?  Search no further!  Trader Joe’s has this wonderful thing called cookie butter (who wouldn’t want something called cookie butter??).  It looks like peanut butter but tastes like your favorite gingerbread cookie.  It’s Christmas in a jar!

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Cogdell Shows peculiar ambition in alliance with Bill James

Ron Stodghill

If Harold Cogdell was once viewed as a rising political star, recent events cast serious doubt on what his future holds.  These days, Cogdell is looking less political comer than wet-eared wannabe, an-elected-but-not-quite-ready-for-prime-time chairman of the Mecklenburg County commission. 

What’s spoiling Dems on their darling?

Could be his highly unconvincing portrayal as a rogue bridge builder between fractured parties, the guy who wants to, as he told the Charlotte Observer last week:  set a tone where the future of our community is more important than loyalty to a political party.”

That sounds good. But as commission Democrats suck their teeth over Cogdell’s successful unseating of their party faithful Jennifer Roberts, Cogdell’s deeds reek with hubris and personal ambition.

Harold Cogdell

Or maybe it’s that Cogdell, a seasoned attorney and former Charlotte city councilman, is feigning surprise that his hiring by a non-profit that received county funding has raised eyebrows among his colleagues. 

As pay-to-play politicians lose credibility and even jobs over ethics violations, Cogdell’s “Aw shucks, I didn’t know” reaction seems frighteningly naive.

And then there’s the dangerous alliance Cogdell has formed with Bill James to elevate his position.  Listing James’s offenses against blacks and gays are likely too voluminous for this blog. Suffice to say James’ stance and rhetoric against these groups has been – how do we put it? – unfriendly.  According to this King James version, blacks live in a “moral sewer” and gays are sexual predators.

About a year ago, James’s bigotry led Cogdell to draft a resolution for the board that decried hateful speech and extolled Mecklenburg County as a place of “diversity, tolerance and inclusion.” Now, Cogdell is attaching his political fate to James? Talk about flip-flop.

 As Abe Lincoln once said, “Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition.” For Harold Cogdell, those ambitions are very peculiar indeed. We’ll see where they land him.

 

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Charlotte Talks Gets Saucy

Chef Peter Reinhart (left) and Chef Fred Tiess (right), both from Johnson & Wales brought us several homemade sauces to sample.

Some chefs would argue that the sauce is the most important component to a meal. From savory to sweet – salsas, gravies, barbecue sauce, hollandaise… even ketchup (!)… they can really make or break the meal. Today on Charlotte Talks, Chefs Peter Reinhart and Fred Tiess from Johnson and Wales joined us to discuss different types of sauces and shared tips for how to improve your techniques. Listen to the show.

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