Monthly Archives: March 2012

Marsh Madness

Homemade marshmallows. Photo by Flickr/poppet with a camera.

The world of food has never been more competitive. Top chefs, iron chefs and cake bosses are stepping up to challenges on chopping blocks all around the U.S. and abroad.

And if you’ve been asking yourself, “When will we have a competition for the most amazing and exotic marshmallow?” we have your answer. It’s happening right now and it’s called MARSH Madness.

It started with Marshmallow Madness, a new cookbook boasting “dozens of puffalicious recipes.” Between the candy-colored covers, author Shauna Sever guides readers through the simple – yes, simple! – steps of creating fun and flavorful marshmallows.

Homemade chocolate marshmallows. Photo by Flickr/bochalla

This skeptic was won over after making just one batch of Classic Vanilla Marshmallows. And so were the reluctant tasters I ambushed – once they stopped talking and started tasting.

The marshmallows were completely unlike the gummy and chalky store-bought versions we all grew up with. Without the familiar and uniform rounded edges, handmade marshmallows look different. (You can slice them into wedges, rounds or other shapes but I kept it simple and cut mine into 1” squares.)

They were pillow-y and perfect, sweet and light in texture but with real, non-nonsense flavor. A couple of folks nearly swooned.

Strawberry marshmallows. Photo by Flickr/Jocelyn | McAuliflower

And that was just the vanilla. There are almost endless flavor combinations: cinnamon, chocolate, key lime, rum, margarita and more.

Of course, in this reality-show world, it’s not enough to invent a better marshmallow. You’ve got to spread the word. Over at “Serious Eats,” a Sweet Sixteen selection of food writers are competing by region, bracket-style, for bragging rights as the best marshmallow maker.

It’s getting down to the wire. The ’mallow masters in the Southeast Region are the last to play. Will it be Raspberry Cheesecake or Cinnamon Toast? Or will Cookie Dough Swirl come from behind to win it all? Only time – and taste – will tell…

Here & Now  |  Forget Peeps, Make Your Own Marshmallows!

Click below for recipes.

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Weighing Healthy Choices In The School Lunch Line

Students line up for lunch in Highland Creek Elementary School's cafeteria.

WFAE’s Charlotte Talks recently devoted an hour to examining and grading school lunches. Listen back here.

A sign in the cafeteria kitchen.

Cindy Ayers takes great pride in her kitchen. She keeps everything clean and well organized. She has to – she feeds hundreds of Elementary school kids every day. Ayers is the Cafeteria Manager at Highland Creek Elementary and oversees the preparation and serving of about 800 meals daily, including breakfast and after school snacks. But the real haul comes at lunchtime when 600-700 kids buy a school made lunch (out of 1200 enrolled). We visited the cafeteria on an ordinary Tuesday to see how it all goes down.

All about choices. Students enjoy their hand selected lunches.

Inside the cafeteria kitchen.

Cindy Ayers (left,) Cafeteria Manager at Highland Creek Elementary and Glenda Shepardson, Northeast Area Supervisor for CMS

While taste is of utmost importance for the kids, parents and educators alike are hoping for a little healthful nutrition as childhood obesity becomes a very real problem. Child Nutrition Services for Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools uses guidelines set by the USDA to develop their menus. Every elementary, middle and high school system-wide follows the same menu. Four week-long menus are set and rotate on a monthly basis. (See the menus for March here.)

How Child Nutrition Services describes lunch service at CMS schools on their website:

A complete lunch consists of an entrée, two sides, and milk. Students may select a minimum of an entrée and one side to have the purchase count as a meal. By offering a variety of nutritious choices, students can select a meal made up of foods they enjoy. The menus follow the nutrient-based guidelines established by the USDA and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which assure meals average no more than 30% of their calories from fat.

Critics still say there is too much salt, saturated fat and cholesterol in many of the meals. USDA guidelines for school lunches continue to evolve; First Lady Michelle Obama recently announced they will aim for more whole grains, low fat dairy and fruits and vegetables.

On this particular day, (Tuesday March 27) Highland Creek Elementary was serving chicken nuggets, spaghetti casserole or chef salad with mashed potatoes, mixed veggies, side salad and bread along with fresh pears, grapes, strawberries and applesauce. Also available were milk, chips, a variety of ice cream novelties, cookies, cupcakes and juice boxes.

Three ice creams, a juice box and chicken nuggets comprised this child's lunch.

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Is Gay Marriage Vote All For Naught? Probably

North Carolina is shaping up as a gay marriage battleground come May. Numerous outside groups are getting involved in the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. California’s Democratic Party, for example, has joined the fight.

So when NC House Speaker Thom Tillis spoke to a group of NC State University students, some were caught off guard by his comment that the marriage amendment is a “generational issue,” adding that the “data shows right now that you are a generation away from that issue.”

Furthermore, the Speaker added, “if [the marriage amendment] passes, I think it will be repealed within 20 years,” according to the NCSU student newspaper, the Technician.

The heated fight for and against the marriage amendment has already begun, but the striking aspect is that Speaker Tillis’ first point is right: A generational gap has emerged over the issue of gay marriage.

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released a poll in February of this year, indicating the 46 percent favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry, while 45 percent oppose.  This, the poll indicates, is the first time in 15 years that the public has been evenly divided on the issue. 

This is a remarkable turn of public opinion on a highly divisive issue.  Only two years ago, a majority opposed gay marriage while just 37 percent favored it. 

In a poll taken by the Public Religion Research Institute in 2011, 62 percent of “Millennial” Americans (those age 18-29) said that gay and lesbian couples should marry legally, while only 31 percent of those who are 65 or older said so. 

But what is even more striking is the fact that among white Evangelical Millennials, 44 percent favor legal gay marriage, compared to only 12 percent of evangelical seniors.

Among black Protestants, 63 percent oppose or strongly oppose gay and lesbian couples marrying legally, while only 33 percent favor or strongly favor it.  The only other major group that is more opposed to gay marriage are white evangelicals, with 75 percent against (oppose or strongly oppose) compared to 20 percent for gays to marry legally (favor or strongly favored). 

I would take exception with Speaker Tillis’ contention that, if the amendment passes, it will take 20 years. I would contend it could be sooner than that.

With the California initiative, known as Proposition 8, working its way through the federal appeals courts, the issue will most likely land in the lap of the U.S. Supreme Court.  And the High Court has already indicated a willingness to strike down state constitutional amendments if the justices see a violation of the equal protection clause in the U.S. Constitution.

One only needs to look at the 1996 landmark case of Romer v. Evans to find the U.S. Supreme Court willing to strike down a state constitutional amendment that was seen as blocking gay people from “safeguards that others enjoy or may seek without constraint.” 

Currently on appeal to the full 9th Circuit, this case may be what the Supreme Court uses to strike down all constitutional amendments regarding gay marriage. It typically takes an appeal less than two years to go from a circuit court of appeals to the US Supreme Court. 

And while Amendment 1 supporters may gain a victory in North Carolina, the exercise begs the question: Would it all be for naught after only two years?



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“Bless His Heart:” What Southerners Think Of Romney

Michael Bitzer

A few days ago, I wrote about how Dixie might be derailing Mitt’s chances of gaining the GOP’s presidential nomination.  Now that we are about halfway through the Republican presidential primary process (Romney has nearly half of the 1,144 delegates needed for the nomination), I wanted to revisit some of the key exit poll results in the states. But this time, I sorted the results based on Romney’s support, in descending order, among specific voting groups in the various states.

Many would label the following groups are core factions to the modern GOP Party: self-identified Republicans (of course), those voters who consider themselves “very conservative,” evangelical voters, voters who are strong supporters of the tea party movement, voters who are seeking a “true conservative” for their nominee, and those who want to defeat President Obama. 

And in particular, according to two political scientists who wrote the book on “Divided America” and the importance of regionalism in our nation’s politics, the South is a crucial foundation for the GOP.

So, using the exit polls in the contests held so far, how’s the front-runner doing among these various groups?

Let’s take self-identified Republicans. Sorting the various states by the descending level of support given to Romney, we see key states emerge at the very bottom in terms of Romney’s support (those highlighted in the black box—the numbers above the state’s abbreviation indicate the group’s size in the primary electorate).

Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, South Carolina, Iowa, Ohio, and Georgia are all at the bottom when it comes to Republican voters who support Romney’s bid for the GOP nomination.

How about those voters who consider themselves “very conservative?”

While not necessarily in the same order, it’s the same old gang of states that show the least support to Romney among very conservative voters: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Oklahoma, Tennessee, South Carolina, Iowa, and Georgia.

What about strong supporters of the Tea Party? What’s Romney’s support like among those key voters who gave the GOP the land slide win just two years ago?

OK, I’ll be honest — at this point, it’s just easier to cut and paste from above, because the same culprits show up: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Oklahoma, Tennessee, South Carolina, Iowa, and Georgia.

When it comes to evangelical/born-again Christians—well, as my father used to tell me, “I’ll give you three guess, and the first two don’t count.”


Is there any good news for Mitt among his party’s base of supporters?  Well, it would seem that Republicans—no matter the state—really want to defeat President Obama, and with that said, here are the descending results as well:

But, alas, it’s the same states at the bottom of that group as well.

Finally, how about those voters who believe the most important quality in their presidential nominee is being a “true conservative?” Well, here we get one slight change from the above results:


It’s our typical gang of eight, but including Nevada in the middle of the pack.

But if you take these eight states so far, you are looking at among the most reliable Republican red states in the nation — with all of them, save Iowa, being Southern (or, in Oklahoma’s case, Southern-like).

Now, I’m not saying that this Dixieland Gang of 8 are going to align themselves with the Democratic blues in November. These states remind me of the old Southern saying about voters in the mid-20th Century Democratic Solid South: “I’d rather vote for a yellow-dog than a Republican.”

These states are now willing to vote for Old Yeller over a Democrat, it seems — and Mitt may be hoping he’s that yellow dog in November.

But it’s very unusual, to put it mildly, to see a frontrunner who does everything he can to sell himself to his own party’s base.  And unlike the run on EtchaSketchs of late, loyal GOP consumers — the grassroots who make up the brand — just ain’t buying what Mitt’s selling.

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Political Opinions Come Down To Different Interpretations Of ‘Facts’

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

Attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, long-time serving U.S. Senator from New York

Michael Bitzer

As if things aren’t strained enough in North Carolina politics nowadays, there’s a growing tiff between the governor and conservative advocates about the “true” budgetary impact on North Carolina’s public education system.

This week, Gov. Bev Perdue, freed from the hamstrings of running for re-election, launched her own campaign calling for more school funds in the upcoming budget. She points to the NC Department of Public Instruction’s “Table 16: State Summary of Public School Full-Time Personnel” for the past two years to reinforce her claim that teaching positions were cut by the GOP-led General Assembly. 

In those tables, NC DPI reports that the total funding sources for elementary, secondary, and other teacher positions go from 94,879 in 2010-11 to 93,964 in 2011-12. 

But two conservative advocacy groups, Americans for Prosperity and the John W. Pope Civitas Institute, have joined forces to institute their own campaign, entitled “N.C. Real Solutions.” In their campaign, they point to the exact same spreadsheets that the Governor does, but arrives at a different interpretation. 

In their support of the Republican budget for K-12 education, AFP and Civitas point to state-funding sources that show an increase from 78,963 in 2010-11 to 81,020 positions for elementary, secondary, and other teachers. 

So whose opinion is based on the facts? Well, both — and it is all based on how each side “frames” the issue.

In today’s political environment, part of the key to winning an argument is presenting your interpretation of the “facts.” Republicans would point to a difficult year of budgeting (no one would dispute that fact) and say “we increased state-funded positions for K-12 teachers.”  Democrats would point to the overall funding numbers for positions and say “they cut K-12 teachers.” 

And therein lies the inherent conflict, which is the essence of a political campaign.

For most political scientists, this isn’t anything new; those in office seek to define and construct frames by which the average voter — even ones who don’t necessarily follow the intricacies of day-to-day political combat — can easily relate and see a definitive choice, based on the frame that the issue is presented in.

How political leaders frame an issue — whether it’s state-only funding or the total amount of funding from all sources — can be a powerful communication tool for voters and citizens to evaluate not just the candidates, but to reinforce voters’ perceptions and energize them for a bitter election.

Harold Cogdell

This plays into the growing polarization of our politics — at the nation, state, and yes, even local level. Just look at what Mecklenburg County Commission Chair Harold Cogdell credited with his departure — the fact that political brinksmanship ensures “the political party’s role of getting people elected. But it doesn’t ensure good policy decisions are made.”

Let’s face it, both political sides want to win, and they will use whatever techniques and tools to achieve their desired results at the ballot box, even if their opinions are based on the same facts.  Let’s just hope that in the coming year, the facts aren’t collateral damage on the electoral battlefield.

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A Colorful Stroll Through A Spice Bazaar In Istanbul

Spice counter at the Spice Bazaar

I got off the tram with my mom and another thirty people at the Eminonu stop and was pushed right in the middle of a sea of busy, impatient Istanbulians.  I stopped for a while to get my bearings, and then we headed towards YeniCami (New Mosque).

It always takes me a day or two to get used to crossing the streets, finding a proper way to walk among the sometimes busy, sometimes lazy pedestrians when I visit Istanbul.  It is like riding a bike. Once I find the balance, I gain my old quick feet back, dodge the many opportunities to get slammed by gray, black, and brown coat covered shoulders.

The New Mosque in front of the Spice Bazaar

Looking into the courtyard of the New Mosque

Once I adjusted my footsteps to the other people walking hastily and crossed the busy street, I was in front of the soot-loaded walls of the Mosque. We turned right, and approached the street vendors. Their rolling carts were loaded with boiled and grilled corn on the cob and roasted chestnuts, and steam was coming out of every one of them.

Oh, how I miss my city’s street food! Tasting the street food is one of the “must-dos” in Istanbul. The city does not leave you hungry, not even for a minute. My mom and I shared a grilled corn on the cob, then I got a bag of chestnuts.  We watched some kids for a while who were feeding the pigeons on the footsteps of the Mosque.

More of Ilke’s trip inside the Turkish spice market and photos ‘below the fold.’

Dried vegetables and fruit hanging at the store fronts

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What Might Mitt Run Into In North Carolina?

Michael Bitzer

So it looks like the late North Carolina May 8th Primary will be a deciding contest in the GOP’s presidential candidates’ rocky road to Tampa’s nomination.

Some early polling of the state seems to show that, once again, Romney may have problems in Dixie.  Public Policy Polling shows that if the GOP three-way race continues into North Carolina between Romney, Santorum and Gingrich, Romney should eke out a win with 31 percent to Santorum’s 27 percent. 

But if Newt should drop out between now and May 8th, then Santorum benefits from a two-man Tar Heel contest, winning 42 percent to Romney’s 38 percent. But, as many political prognosticators will say, it all depends ultimately on “who shows up.”

What might we expect in terms of the composition in a GOP primary electorate?  If past Southern primary contests are any indicator, a much more conservative electorate should show up in May than what we typically see in a November general election.  But looking at the 2008 exit poll composition of GOP and independent (read, unaffiliated) voters might give us a clue. 

Why combine both the GOP and independent voters for the analysis?  North Carolina’s May primary election is a semi-closed election, meaning that only registered members of the party, plus those who are registered “unaffiliated,” may vote in a party’s primary; therefore, only registered Republican and registered unaffiliated voters can cast a ballot in the GOP presidential primary contest.

One other important point before we see the numbers: independent voters in 2008 cast 53 percent of their votes for McCain versus 45 percent for Obama, and if I had to guess, it’s likely that only those McCain independents would participate in a primary. 

So, to give some comparison among different groups, I’m going to present four sets of numbers:

  • Self-identified Republicans
  • Self-identified Independents
  • Self-identified Republicans & Independents who voted for McCain
  • Finally, all Self-identified Republicans and Independents combined

When looking at these four groups, some distinct characteristics emerge among them.  For example, when looking at each group’s ideological composition—liberal, moderate, or conservative—we find what we would expect:



2008 Exit Poll Responses in North Carolina based on Liberal, Moderate and Conservative Ideology

North Carolinians who identified as a Republican in 2008 were overwhelmingly conservative (69 percent), in comparison to independent voters, a majority (55 percent) who said they were moderate. 

If the 2012 GOP primary electorate is made up of just Republicans and independents who voted for McCain, then it would be a much more conservative electorate (65 percent) than if all independents and Republicans participated (54 percent conservative). 

When looking at 2008’s voting patterns, it is not surprising that North Carolinians who identify with the GOP voted for McCain; by the national exit polls, 90 percent of self-identified Republicans voted for their party’s candidate, and in North Carolina, 93 percent of self-identified Republicans voted for McCain. 

Among North Carolina independents, McCain got a closer 53 percent of the vote, but add independents and Republicans together, over three-fourths of the combined group voted for McCain. 


2008 Exit Poll Responses in North Carolina based on Obama vs. McCain voting

One voting bloc that Romney has truly struggled with in the South are white evangelical/born-again voters.  As a core constituency of the GOP, evangelical voters are important players, even here in more moderate North Carolina.


2008 Exit Poll Responses in North Carolina based on White Evangelical/Born-Again or Not

In 2008, nearly three-quarters of white North Carolina Republicans identified themselves as evangelical/born-again Christians, in comparison to 57 percent of N.C. independent voters. 

When you combine GOP voters and independents who voted for McCain, it resembles the pure GOP group, with 71 percent identifying as evangelical; combining all GOP and independent voters, over two-thirds of them identify as evangelical.

There was an interesting question on the 2008 North Carolina exit poll that asked “Do you think Barack Obama’s positions on the issues are: too liberal, too conservative, or just about right.”   Breaking down these responses, one shouldn’t be surprised when three-quarters of North Carolina Republicans say Obama was too liberal, while a plurality—49 percent—of North Carolina independents say that Obama’s positions were just about right.

2008 Exit Poll Responses in North Carolina based Obama’s Ideology

Finally, one of the most interesting aspects gleaned from the GOP presidential primary contests is the split in Romney’s support between urban and rural voters.  For example, in Ohio, Romney won the counties that Obama carried in 2008—urban counties—while Santorum won the counties that McCain carried—rural. 

For North Carolina Republicans, rural voters tend to be a large portion of the party’s base: 52 percent come from rural areas, while independents tend to be more urban and suburban (57 percent total).

2008 Exit Poll Responses in North Carolina based on Rural, Suburban and Urban Voters

What these pieces of information tell me is that if the GOP presidential contest comes to the Tar Heel State in May, Romney may be facing another key test of whether he can win in Dixie, and especially among his own party’s core base. 

While the 2008 exit polls may not give us the full picture for May, it is a pretty safe bet that this portrait of the state’s Republican base—made up of significantly conservative, overwhelmingly white Evangelical voters in rural areas—underestimates the representation and influence of these core groups, and may present yet another challenge to Romney’s march to the nomination. 

Will North Carolina repeat its claim to fame in the primary season by deciding the eventual nominee, like it did for the Democrats in 2008?  It’s still too early to tell, but what Romney may find, as he has in other Southern states, is that North Carolinians may lack the warm hospitality the region is known for.

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