Monthly Archives: May 2012

Meatball Mamas from Around the World

Photo by Flickr/gavinr

This entry is one of our Mother’s Day contest winners. We asked readers for their favorite food memory about mom.

By Denny Fernald

On Mother’s Day, we celebrate not only our own mothers and grandmothers, but all the Moms in our lives, including our own daughters, and daughter in law, the mothers of our grandchildren. Even all the other Moms in our extended family.

Our blended family is blessed with a richly diverse group of at least three generations of Moms that have roots from around the world. When our family gathers for a holiday meal, it is like pot luck at the United Nations.

My fondest food memories are of my Mom’s Swedish meatballs. We had no Swedish ancestors, but she was a great cook of all things.  She used the Fanny Farmer Cook Book (from The Boston Cooking School, my home town).  I still use that book frequently to re-create her best dishes.  I have successfully duplicated her Swedish meatballs with healthier ground turkey.  Those meatballs still evoke wonderful taste bud memories, immediately transporting me back 60 plus years to my Mom’s loving table.  That’s real comfort food.

Surprisingly, meatballs are prominent in many of the comfort foods of our family.

My wife’s Mom, Grandma A. (who grew up in Brooklyn with parents from Naples and Sicily), makes the world’s best Italian meatballs.  The Neapolitan secret is starting the meatballs raw in the “gravy”, i.e., the red sauce.

My wife makes a fine spinach broth with egg/parmesan balls, that honors her Italian roots. All the children, even the vegetarians, love it.

Our vegetarian daughter, in Greensboro, Mom to one, makes great Middle Eastern falafel balls from chick pea flour.

Our daughter in Pittsburgh, Mom of three (grand) daughters, has perfected the local favorite Italian Wedding Soup with tiny little meatballs she purchases around the corner at the tiny little Italian grocery in their neighborhood.

Pierogies. Photo by Flickr/Kitchen Wench

Our daughter in Queens, NYC, Mom to our one grandson, makes matzo balls and gefilte fish balls from her Jewish grandmother.

Our daughter-in-law in Delaware has pierogies – wrapped Polish meatballs–from “Barcia”—the Polish name for the other grandma of our granddaughter.

Then there’s our son-in law’s Mom from the Philippines, who can do wonderful won ton balls.

Our niece has mastered the little Asian dumplings of her mother-in-law from Korea.

Ugali (corn meal mush formed into little balls with your fingers at the table) is a favorite of our granddaughter whose other grandmother is from Kenya.

Mother’s Day is an American holiday, but we celebrate all the mothers of our lives, domestic and international, and how they have nurtured us with food from each the corner of the Earth with every class of meatball!

Other Mother’s Day contest winners:


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Third Parties Need A Face To Succeed

Michael Bitzer

In my previous post, I wrote about the failure of Americans Elect to secure a candidate for their third party attempt at the 2012 elections.  Along with the formal rules of the game, Americans Elect apparently could not get over its own rules: The viability of candidates to win the group’s primary process. 

But beyond the internal rules of the third party movement, there are other “informal” rules that play a crucial role in a third party’s viability to impact American politics, beyond the first factor of “the formal rules of the game.”

Factor 2: The “first-past-the-post” electoral rule. Contrary to some beliefs, the U.S. often doesn’t elect its representatives on a majority vote, but rather on a plurality vote — and more specifically, whoever gets one more vote than the person who came in second. 

The “first-past-the-post” system allows a candidate to win with only 43 percent of the vote (see Bill Clinton in 1992). 

Factor 3: The “single-member district” rule. When we elect members of Congress or state legislatures, we do so from what are called “single-member districts,” meaning that only one person will represent a geographic area, unlike in a “multi-member district.”

If you’re running for the presidency, then consider the Electoral College: For the top position in the nation, it’s not the popular vote, but rather the electoral vote that determines the winner. 

In 1992, Ross Perot received got 19 percent  of the popular vote, but no electoral votes.  The last third party candidate to gain any electoral votes was the 1968 presidential run of “American Independent” party candidate George Wallace, with 46 electoral votes.

What made both the Perot and Wallace runs viable (in some ways) is that they were charismatic leaders who tapped into the distrust of both political parties in a way that Americans Elect never did. 

Tapping into the reserve of independent angst without a leader is difficult to do, even in our polarized environment.

Factor 4: More Americans claim “independent” political affiliation, but do they really? According to the Gallup Poll study released at the beginning of this year, a record-high 40 percent  of Americans identify as “independent” in 2011, with Democrats claiming 31 percent  to 27 percent  for Republican.

Gallup Poll of Party Identification

So with 4 out of 10 Americans saying they don’t identify with one of the two major parties, shouldn’t this be the ideal time to have a third party?  Well, how truly “independent” are these independents?  Not very, according to the same Gallup study.

When asked “which party do you lean towards,” Independents tend to side with one party or the other.  When including “leaners” from the Independents, we get an equally divided party allegiance.

When independents break as much as they do for one of the two major parties, it leaves only about 10 percent  open to a non-majority party affiliation. 

Granted, the overall environment shows us a level of disgust and distrust of government and the political parties that make up the government at record levels.  But supporting a third party candidate may be something that the voters aren’t willing to do, because they see it as a wasted vote.

Factor 5: Third parties often end up as spoilers.  Because of all the above formal and informal rules, third party candidates come down to being party spoilers. In the 2000 Florida fiasco, Al Gore lost the Sunshine State’s electoral votes by 537 votes.  On the same ballot, Ralph Nader, a perennial third-party candidate to the left of Gore, received 90,000 votes. 

If Nader hadn’t been on the ballot and those 90,000 votes went to someone else, say Gore, would we have had the “hanging chad” controversy? Some voters are willing to cast a sincere vote for their favorite candidate even if there’s no chance of victory. And there are many other voters who are strategic by voting for the lesser of two evils, even if neither is their preference. Such voters are a challenge for third-party candidates.

With the failure of Americans Elect to become a viable third party for this year’s electoral contests, we are left with our traditional two parties, each vying to solidify their base with enough “independents” to win according to the Electoral College rules of the game.

For a future third party to overcome so many formal and informal rules, they need a combination of what our history has taught us: A group of dedicated activists willing to make the investment in the formal rules, and to have the leadership that attracts the support. 

Whether the two parties in control will allow that to happen is another rule of the game we can’t predict.

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Korean Girl Seeks American Food

Kraft macaroni and cheese, an American classic. Photo by Flickr/smiteme

This entry is one of our Mother’s Day contest winners. We asked readers for their favorite food memory about mom.

By Angela Yoo

Growing up as one of the few Asians in Harrisburg, North Carolina, I always envied the American food the rest of my friends ate on a daily basis. While dreaming of gooey slices of pizza, fluffy mashed potatoes, and chicken smothered in gravy, I would frown and pick out limp, slimy specks of scallions from dishes of kimchee and guk with my chopsticks   “Those green onions are good for you, and there are starving children in Africa!” my mother would scold. At least once a week, a fight would ensue as I insisted that my friends ate “good” food that I never did.

Kimchee Beef. Photo by Flickr/stevendepolo

My complaint really was not about the quality of the nightly home-cooked dinners of steamed dumplings, Korean glass noodles, stuffed squid, or kalbi steaks. My mother was a terrific cook, making every dish from scratch, but somehow, these meals never seemed as special as a plate of bright orange macaroni and cheese served in my friends’ homes.

When I moved to Chapel Hill to begin my college career, I was eagerly anticipating daily indulgences of American cuisine. With my meal plan, every meal was an all-you-can eat smorgasbord of everything quintessentially American or, at least, Americanized “exotic” fare. Hamburgers, waffles, tacos, lasagna, corn on the cob, ice cream sundaes – all without scallions! I was living my butter-rich, starch-laden, all-American dream. However, what once was so wonderful, soon became bland, colorless, and frankly, boring. I found the dairy-rich foods to be incompatible with my lactose-sensitive Asian gut, and the carb-heavy dinners tasted one-dimensional.  I missed the spices and heat and everything else that makes Korean cuisine complex and interesting.

Despite a childhood of fantasizing of escape from Cabarrus County, I was never happier to return home than that first semester break. My mom, who had re-entered the workforce at this point, rarely spent much time cooking any more, but she labored in the kitchen just for me those few days. Not a single morsel of American food entered my mouth that weekend, and I made sure to gorge myself on as much Korean food as possible. When I packed to make the drive back to Chapel Hill, the back of the car was piled with Tupperware containers and Ziplock bags full of enough food to last a couple of weeks.

The next semester, I cancelled my meal plan and decided to try my hand at grocery shopping and easy-to-prepare meals. Prior to this, my few experiences with cooking included baking a box of gingerbread cookie mix that produced what my family called burnt horse dung. I knew that even my science major would be insufficient in preventing food chemistry disasters and some expert advice would be required.  During the first semester, I had barely called home, but now there was a need for regular consultations with my mother.

I had never been close to my mother as our regular bonding sessions ended once she finished teaching me how to read and ride a bike. Any attempts at conversations after that would almost always turn into an argument about my messy room, skipping church, and my lack of ambitions to become a doctor. These arguments usually included some variation of “You don’t love me!” from me and “Korean parents don’t gush over their children like idiots!” from her. However, when I called to ask her cooking questions, we would manage to have civil conversations that no longer ended in screaming and tears.

Had I known food could so easily transcend the differences between generations, culture, and values, I would have asked her to teach me to cook earlier. Once I grew older, I realized how, unlike her verbally expressive American counterparts, my mother truly did not know how to be demonstrative. I began to understand that her Korean upbringing wasn’t just an excuse she used and that open praise and adoration for her children really did not fit into her cultural vocabulary. Food was a second language for her to show how much she did love me and my siblings. Today, my mother still criticizes my over-seasoned soup and my improper knife skills. I shrug my shoulders and silently think how grateful I am that she cares enough to tell me so.

Other Mother’s Day contest winners:


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Happy Kick-Off to Grilling Season!

Memorial Day weekend is upon us. The pools are opening, temperatures are staying above 80 degrees and school’s almost out for summer. That means the unofficial kick-off to summer grilling season, right? We’re looking forward to firing up the grill and hanging out by the pool. Have a great weekend and Happy Memorial Day!

– WFAEats

P.S. If you’re looking for some new tips and techniques to jazz-up your grilling routine this summer, be sure to check out Charlotte Talks on Monday when they’ll discuss grilling ‘outside of the box.’

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Two-Party System Successfully Blocks Competition

I was sitting in my office reading the news that third-party Americans Elect failed to secure a viable candidate when I got an e-mail from Julie Rose of WFAE, hoping for some insight on the issue.

As we discussed the latest attempt at creating a viable third party, I went through a litany of different reasons why the American electoral system ultimately comes down to just two major parties.  While Julie’s reporting (her first story here and her must recent here) are well done, I thought I might spend a blog post deciphering the various reasons why the U.S. has traditionally been a two-party system.

Factor 1: the formal rules of the game are stacked against third party attempts.  At the heart of my view of American politics is the analogy of a “game,” and with most games, there are rules to playing the game.

Most notably is the rule regarding gaining access to the all-important ballot.  In North Carolina, there are a number of requirements that detail how a party can gain access to the piece ballot.  A state statute defines the particulars:

1. For any new political party to gain ballot access, they must obtain signatures of registered and qualified voters on a petition equal to at least 2% of the total number of votes cast for Governor in the most recent election by no later than 12:00 noon on the first day of June before the election in which the Party wishes to participate.

Notice that there are at least two key requirements in this one section alone. First, secure 85,379 signatures from registered, qualified voters, and second, at least five months before the general election. But wait, there’s more:

2. “Also the petitions must be signed by at least 200 registered voters from … four congressional districts in North Carolina.”

And beyond the exact numbers of signatures, new political parties must adhere to certain requirements:

3. New political parties must have a designated chairman, as well as a specific name that does not contain “any word that appears in the name of an existing political party recognized in this state or if, in the Board’s opinion, the name is so similar to that of an existing political party recognized in the state as to confuse or mislead the voters at an election.”

So, basically, the “Republican-Democratic Party” wouldn’t work in North Carolina.

4. Each petition “shall be presented to the chairman of the board of elections of the county in which the signatures were obtained.”

So, instead of presenting all of the petitions to the State Board of Elections in Raleigh, the new political party has to go before the county in which the signatures were gained. Granted, probably nothing more than a bureaucratic roadblock, but certainly one not designed to enable easy access.  But here’s another “time requirement.”

5. “The group of petitioners shall submit the petitions … no later than 5:00 PM on the fifteenth day preceding the date the petitions are due to be filed with the State Board of Elections.”

So, let’s say that a group of citizens doesn’t want to form a political party, but instead nominate an “unaffiliated” candidate on the ballot (for example, another Ross Perot candidacy).

Ironically, the process is almost identical to having a new political party put on the ballot as well, except instead of having “12:00 noon on the first day of June” requirement, it is “12:00 noon on the last Friday in June.”

But everything else stays the same. Why? Because guess who wrote the rules of the game? The party in control.

Americans Elect did jump through all the hoops and gained access to the general election in North Carolina; and it’s to their credit that they were able to surmount a fairly rigorous obstacle course to do so.  In fact, before they discontinued their efforts, they had achieved access to 29 state ballots.

But beyond these “formal” rules of the game, there are some informal factors that stymie third party chances for success.  I’ll cover those in the next post.




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Sustainable Seafood on Charlotte Talks

Michael LaVecchia brought some Outer Banks scallops with brown butter and parsley on Carolina-grown blue grits. At Charlotte Talks' Spirit Square studio.

Michael LaVecchia in his Iron Chef shirt and 'fish slinging' boots. He's the 'Chief Fish Guy & Butcher' at the Meat & Fish Co. at 7th Street Market.

America’s love for seafood is threatening some species due to over-fishing. Some fish are even ‘harvested’ from fish farms. Do you make an effort to seek out and buy sustainable fish? Wednesday, Charlotte Talks took on the subject to find out how to shop more consciously with Chef Peter Reinhart from Johnson & Wales University and Carrie Brownstein, Seafood Quality Standards Coordinator for Whole Foods. Michael LaVecchia also joined us, he’s the so-called ‘Chief Fish Guy & Butcher’ at Meat & Fish Co. at 7th Street Market. He even brought us some samples. Find out how our habits are affecting the health of the oceans and fishing populations and what questions consumers can ask to become more educated about what we’re eating.

Listen to the show.

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Mother’s Special Sandwich

Photo by Flickr/sea turtle

This entry is one of our Mother’s Day contest winners. We asked readers for their favorite food memory about mom.

By Anne W. Little

As a young child I was pleased to have a “special” lunch sandwich prepared by my Mother.  She explained to me how special it was.  She said not many others in the neighborhood, indeed the county, could have this wonderful sandwich.  I  believed every word, after all, she was Mother.  So, while my sisters were in school, we would sit down to this “specialty”.  It was two slices of bread, mustard on one side and mayonnaise on the other.  When I started school I realized that other children HAD to add bologna on their mustard/mayonnaise sandwiches… and felt sympathy for them.  I now know my special sandwich was a way for Mother to save a little on the grocery bill while allowing my sisters to have the bologna for their lunches, but to this day I eat my “special” sandwich with pleasure.

Other Mother’s Day contest winners:


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