Monthly Archives: February 2012

In The Weight Loss Battle: Fighting Your Own Biology

Have you ever lost weight, only to have that number on the scale creep back up months or years later? Well it turns out your body might be plotting against you.

By WFAE’s Roger Sarow

You know it is winter because the TV airwaves are filled with celebs touting weight loss plans. Pitch persons range from Marie Osmond to Charles Barkley.

Some health professionals treat weight control as though it’s the world’s simplest math problem – lose more calories through exercise than you add through eating – and the weight should automatically drop off.

The painful truth is that more Americans struggle with their weight than not. Many dieters say if weight loss were simple, they wouldn’t be tempted to shred their calorie counter booklets.

But wait. Or weight.  The really hard part is keeping the pounds off. There are now serious experts saying that repeated weight gains after losses – yo-yo dieting – may bring additional health hazards.

There is increasing speculation that your body’s metabolism may work against you to ratchet your weight up. That makes sense to those of us who have experienced sudden cravings for fatty or sweet foods, or overwhelming urges to eat heavily when placed near large amounts of food.

I want to call your attention to a recent Talk of the Nation show on WFAE. Neal Conan interviewed Tara Parker-Pope, a New York Times writer, about her insightful piece called The Fat Trap. It looks at the science behind weight gain and weight management and specifically, a unique study conducted in Australia.

Anyone who has ever dieted knows that lost pounds often return, and most of us assume the reason is a lack of discipline or a failure of willpower. But Proietto [a physician at the University of Melbourne] suspected that there was more to it, and he decided to take a closer look at the biological state of the body after weight loss.

The study followed 34 obese men and women on a very strict low-calorie diet. After losing an average of 30 pounds each, most of the participants regained some of the weight in the following year and they also reported feeling more hungry than before the weight loss.

While researchers have known for decades that the body undergoes various metabolic and hormonal changes while it’s losing weight, the Australian team detected something new. A full year after significant weight loss, these men and women remained in what could be described as a biologically altered state. Their still-plump bodies were acting as if they were starving and were working overtime to regain the pounds they lost.

Find out how the researchers explain this reaction in ‘The Fat Trap’ from The New York Times here. It’s a complex issue and there’s more research to be done; but in the meantime, let’s hope that our approaching Spring – and the chance to enjoy more outdoor exercise – will lighten our spirits as well as our bathroom scales.

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The Southern Tradition Of Prayer And Politics

Michael Bitzer

In the South, prayers and politics are as sacrosanct as tea and sugar.  A couple of news items that I came across speak to the current blending of religion and politics.

Locally, a meeting of Rowan County Board of Commissioners had the feeling of a church revival, where the board chair opened the meeting “in Jesus’ name,” to a collective “Amen” by the assembled crowd.  It was in direct response to the U.S. Supreme Court affirming a lower court’s ruling that Forsyth County commissioners had impermissibly used prayers “invoking the name of Jesus Christ” to open their public meetings.

Then, Franklin Graham, son of North Carolina’s Billy Graham, appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and went through, at times, a terse exchange about whether the president is a Christian, and whether Mitt Romney, a Mormon, was a Christian as well.

In publicly professing their religious beliefs, Rowan County commissioners and Rev. Graham demonstrate the importance of religion in the Southern way of life, and that importance extends to its political behavior.  Most notably, the largest percentage of evangelicals are found in the South, with their belief, as Rev. Graham would define it, of personal, and often public, acceptance of Jesus Christ as the only means to salvation.

Thus, when pressed if President Obama or Mitt Romney were Christians, Rev. Graham took to his evangelical definition of Christianity to frame his answer.

Scholars who study Southern politics have long recognized the invaluable role of religion in the region’s political landscape and culture.  And within the region, Christian religious beliefs can be considered in two distinct ways: evangelical and mainline Protestants.

Evangelical voters came into their true political power when Reagan molded the modern GOP coalition of fiscal and national security conservatives with an untapped voting bloc: that of social, evangelical conservatives. With the South realigning itself into a critical component of the Republican base, evangelical Southerners believed that spreading their gospel — of both the pulpit and ballot box — were important to their core beliefs.

One sees this faith-based influence on voting most profoundly when comparing white evangelical voters against all others. In 2008, John McCain received 74 percent of white born-again/evangelical votes, compared to just 24 percent for Obama.  Among all other voters, Obama won 62 percent to 36 percent for McCain.

If one were to divide the 2008 national exit poll into regions, one could see a Southern distinctiveness of religion.  Of those who said they attended church at least once a week, Southerners led with 34 percent, followed by Midwesterners at 25 percent, the Northeast at 17 percent and the Pacific Coast at 16 percent.

Southerners made up nearly 40 percent of all nation-wide self-identified evangelicals who voted in 2008, and they voted for McCain 80 percent to 18 percent for Obama.

In North Carolina, white born-again/evangelical voters made up 44 percent of the 2008 electorate, and cast 74 percent of their vote for John McCain.

Religion has always been a powerful influence on the nation’s politics, and one can understand how Southern evangelicalism provides a sacred base to today’s GOP party.

The only thing that provokes Southern religious fervor equal to politics is collegiate sports. And since we’re entering the high holy season of March Madness, it might be best to say a little prayer for all of us.

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Pilav: Not Just White Fluff

When asked, we might describe many worldly cuisines with a handful of adjectives: vibrant, spicy, flavorful, sweet, smoky, tangy, sour, melt-in-your-mouth, exotic and so on. Many main dishes of these cuisines burst with color on our plates and delight our taste buds. However, with all that show put on by the main dish, there is always a side dish. Side dishes remind me of the middle child, never getting to take the center stage. In many cuisines, that side item next to your vibrant dish turns out to be the white fluff, called rice.

Rice has been the most important grain that is solely for human consumption for centuries and comprises 35-80 percent of the calories consumed by humans. USA Rice Federation says there are over 120,000 varieties worldwide, mostly falling under long, medium and short grain categories. The history of rice can be traced all the way back to 2500 B.C. in China. From there, it spread to Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, eventually making its way to Mediterranean countries. In America, rice first appeared in the Carolinas region in late 17th century with rice farming taking off in other parts of the U.S. after the Civil War ended.

In Turkey, where I grew up, and in its surrounding countries, rice dishes, largely under the name “pilav” are a staple on dinner tables. These dishes range from just plain boiled white rice to extravagant dishes embellished with saffron, meat, chickpeas, pine nuts, currants, lentils and a variety of spices. In Turkey and Central Asia, pilav plays an important role at large festivals such as weddings, memorials feasts and celebrations. Turkish cuisine features rice as a side dish, as a filling in main dishes, in soups and even in desserts.

In Turkey, it is believed that the way one’s pilav tastes says a lot about that person’s cooking skills. Rice grains should be fluffy and each should hold their individuality, not sticking to each other. This is achieved by washing the grains several times to get rid of the starch and then sautéing the rice grains in butter for several minutes before the water is added. That way, each grain is coated well with fat before it’s boiled.

İçpilav, a traditional Turkish rice dish often accompanies lamb.

İçpilav (recipe below) is a traditional Turkish rice dish made on special occasions or for guests, usually accompanying a main course of meat, generally lamb. Yet, this dish is definitely not one of those humble rice dishes that hides behind the taste of a main dish. It has sweetness, crunch and freshness coming from the synthesis of its ingredients. In my opinion, with all its pine nuts, currants and spices, içpilav can be a star on its own at the table.

Next time, instead of rushing to boil some rice, take the time to jazz it up…whether with simple sautéing or with a handful of spices.You will see this white, ancient fluff in a different light.

Recipe for Pine Nut-Currant Pilav (İçPilav) ‘below the fold.’

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Got Milk? Candidates Want Your Money

Michael Bitzer

If the old saying that money is the mother’s milk of politics is true, then we should see millions of cows getting udderly squeezed by both parties in this year’s campaign.

In 2008, over $1.6 billion was raised by all presidential candidates, according to the Federal Election Commission.  Out of that $1.6 billion, 44 percent — or $747 million — was raised by Barack Obama.  To put it into comparison, Obama outraised all of the GOP presidential candidates in the 2008 election cycle combined.

In 2008, North Carolina donors contributed $18.2 million. Again, Obama raised more than all of the GOP presidential candidates put together: $8.6 million to $5.1 million. 

So where do things currently stand among the candidates?  The FEC released it latest reports recently, and here are some of the numbers from what North Carolinians donated in 2011 for both Obama and the GOP field.

North Carolinians contributed a total of $2.3 million last year to all candidates vying for the White House.

On the Republican side, Mitt Romney led the pack with total contribution of a little over $352,000, or 30 percent of all the money contributed to the Republican field by North Carolinians.

Ron Paul, the Republican candidate who truly stirs the passions of his followers, came in second with $284,000, or 24 percent of the total field’s take from North Carolina. In third place was Herman Cain, pulling in nearly $166,000, followed by Newt Gingrich at $148,000.

All told, North Carolinians contributed $1.156 million to various GOP presidential candidates.

In comparison, the Obama campaign received $1.143 million, or a little under $13,000 less than all the Republicans combined.  The 5,633 donations to the president’s election campaign were an average of $200; of those donations, 5,310 donations were less than $1,000.

So what difference does it make that Obama’s donations were typically about $200?  Well, the campaign contribution limit this year is $2,500 per election per candidate, so a donor could make a contribution of $5,000 to one candidate for both a primary and general election.  The Obama campaign’s strategy has always been to focus on smaller donations, with the hope to get folks to contribute repeatedly that small amount until they get to the contribution limit. 

When looking at Obama’s donor base, it’s not surprising that the major metro regions make up significant portions of his contributions.  Those donors listing Charlotte as their home city made up 549 of the total donations, totaling $101,600.  From Raleigh, the president got $144,386 from 558 donations, while Durham contributed $153,967 from 655 donations.

Charlotte contributed over $228,000 to all the Republican candidates, with Raleigh chipping in over $126,000.

Many will bemoan the fact that so much money goes into this year’s campaigns. Conservative estimates about how much money will be raised — just at the presidential level, not including Congressional races or state-level races — will most likely blow past the $1.6 billion raised just four years ago.

But consider this: Americans spent $13 billion in 2010 just on snack foods ($4.8 billion on potato chips alone). So there’s an easy question to ask when it comes to political campaign donations. Got milk?

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King Cake, A Mardi Gras Tradition

King Cake. Photo by Emily Carlin on Flickr.

By WFAE’s Catherine Little

Returning from a visit to our “southern sister,” New Orleans, left me with a craving for the flavors, spices and distinct aromas of that fair city on the Gulf.   One of the city’s many Mardi Gras season specialties is the King Cake.

Mardi Gras season begins on January 6th of each year and ends on Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent.  The King Cake, a New Orleans tradition, borrows heavily from European influences and is believed to have begun in the 1870’s.  It is traditional for residents to bake this cake in honor of the three kings – the King Cake.

A small plastic baby, symbolizing baby Jesus, is hidden inside of the King Cake.

Oval-shaped to symbolize the unity of faiths, and with twisted strands of cinnamon spiced dough, the cake is decorated with sprinkled colored sugars in traditional Mardi Gras hues – purple represents justice, green represents faith, and gold represents power.   Hidden inside this confection is a surprise which insures that a party will most certainly follow.

In New Orleans, King Cake parties are held during the Mardi Gras season.  Throughout the city, King Cakes are sliced and enjoyed by all.  The cake is baked with a small plastic baby, symbolizing the baby Jesus hidden inside.  The “search for the baby” culminates as everyone waits to see which slice of cake gives up its hidden surprise.  Custom holds that the person who “finds” the baby is rewarded with good luck, and is traditionally responsible for bringing the King Cake to the next party or gathering.

New Orleans bakeries abound with unique versions all clamoring “the best” or “original” – and many include cream cheese, or other fillings adding to the surprise.  The following recipe will inspire your personal Mardi Gras celebration and satisfy that yearning to strut Bourbon Street  with New Orleans locals.

And don’t forget to add the surprise!   A reminder to advise your guests that King Cake contains  a hidden surprise and care should be taken with each bite of this tasty New Orleans tradition – the King Cake.

Recipe for the colorful and tasty King Cake ‘below the fold.’

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Obama’s Coalition Similar To 2008

Michael Bitzer

The Pew Center for the People and the Press released a poll this week, conducting a trial heat between President Obama and the Republican rivals vying to face him this fall. What is surprising is that as of 200 days out from the general election, Obama has managed to replicate his electoral coalition from 2008. 

Why is this important? First, candidates can’t just rely on their party’s base of supporters.  The United States isn’t a nation with one majority political party; it is a coalition country.  As Gallup and Pew report, the electorate divides itself roughly into thirds. In Pew’s survey, 32 percent of the electorate consider themselves a Democrat, 26 percent line up with Republicans, and 36 percent consider themselves Independent. 

If thse Independents had to pick a party, 17 percent said they lean Democratic to 13 percent Republican.  Combining those “leaners” into the party numbers would give Democrats a national 49-39 edge in identification.  But these independent leaners tend to give more headaches to their parties than those who are firm partisans.

Over the past few election cycles, exit polls show us that those who identify as partisan (Republican or Democrat) will typically vote 90 percent of the time with that party. That’s a solid bet that most analysts would take on election predictions.

But among independents, we see a much more disagreement.  In the 2008 national exit poll, independents split 52-44 for Obama over McCain. But in 2010, self-identified independents went 56-37 for Republican House candidates over Democratic candidates.  Unlike their partisan identifiers, the independent “swing voters” will make or break a candidate’s campaign.

With 200 days to go before November 6, every political analyst has North Carolina as one of the true battleground states; more importantly, North Carolina tends to reflect the voting patterns that we see at the national level, with one critical exception.

In the North Carolina presidential battle of 2008, 90 percent of NC Democrats voted for their party, while 95 percent of NC Republican identifiers voted for their party. That’s very close to the national average.  But NC independents tend to be more right-of-center, with 60 percent of independents voted for McCain.  So how did Barak Obama win North Carolina in 2008?

Part of the reason is that Obama’s campaign “expanded” the electorate, particularly his own base of support.  In 2004’s presidential election in North Carolina (where Bush won NC by 12 percent), Democrats were 39 percent of the electorate; in 2008, self-identified Democrats were 42 percent of the electorate.  On the other side of the aisle, Republicans made up 40 percent of the 2004 electorate, while in 2008 they dropped to 31 percent of the electorate.  And independents went from 21 percent in 2004 to 27 percent in 2008. 

Ultimately, electorates are like soups; what goes into the pot makes for an interesting taste for some candidates, or something that sours on the palate for other candidates.

For both Democrats and Republicans, they will find North Carolina to have just about the right ingredients: according to Gallup’s State of the States report, North Carolina breaks down 43-42 percent between Democrats and Republicans, including leaners for both parties.  Recognizing how truly competitive North Carolina is this year, candidates have to consider how to increase their size of the pot.

Electoral coalitions make or break a candidate’s fortunes at the ballot box, and with Obama seeming to reassemble the same coalition this far out from the general election, it may be an indicator that things are shaping up for the President’s bid for re-election.  But as I told WFAE’s Scott Graf recently, the only prediction that I’m making is that this election year will be unpredictable.  And that’s probably the safest bet to make right now.

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It Was The Oysters

By Becka Tait

Becka is one of five winners of WFAEats’ Valentine’s food writing contest. We asked our readers to describe their most memorable Valentine’s dinner.

I should have known when he ate the oysters.  It was already a special night, Valentine’s Day in Memphis 26 years ago.  We were medical students, living off salaries of zero, and meals were usually quick and cheap. Ritz crackers and peanut butter, ramen noodles with canned tuna, an apple, splurging for the crispest ones.  If we had a good week, we’d go out for our favorite treat: Memphis barbeque so tender that the smoky pork shoulder would melt in your mouth.

Becka and David in 1986

On this night, he planned the date, beginning with dinner at the Four Flames, a landmark Memphis restaurant.  The choices of entrees of that fine meal are lost to memory, but I do remember ordering the barbeque oyster appetizer.  And I remember my surprise when he, no oyster lover, savored them.  We laughed and drank from our $30 bottle of wine, recommended by the sommelier, a first-time experience for us.

For dessert, he took us downtown to our favorite sweet spot, a French bakery nestled off the lobby of the Peabody Hotel.  A fruit tart with a flaky crust for me, a sumptuous chocolate mousse cake for him.  And then, a visit to the roof top terrace of the Peabody.  It was a date night destination of ours, to see the lights on the Mississippi River Bridge and look down Beale street just beginning its revitalization.

But it was February in Memphis, and the unpredictable weather had brought in a cold front that day.  For some seemingly inexplicable reason, he wanted to stay out on the terrace, but not me.  I was cold and stuffed from the rich meal, ready to go home to my toasty warm apartment.

It was there on my fourth-hand brown couch, while we sipped cheap Chablis, he brought out the little red box.  He spilled some wine while he put down his glass and I noticed his hands were shaking.  It was then I realized he had planned the perfect engagement night.  I should have known when he tried the oysters.

Becka and David in 2011

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