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A JimHillMedia exclusive: Your first look at “Project Gemini”

Be among the first to find out what Walt Disney Imagineering really has in store for Epcot's Future World section … or should I say Epcot's new Discoveryland section?

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The dictionary defines “Gemini” as

A constellation in the Northern Hemsiphere. The third sign of the Zodia. A remarkable event; an omen.

Given all three of these meanings, I have to assume that the Imagineers had the third definition in mind when they opted to name their Future World redo “Project Gemini.” For — if WDI’s plans for this extremely ambitious revamp of the front half of Epcot actually does come to pass — they will have accomplished something truly remarkable. Which is to fundamentally change how WDW guests will experience this part of the Park.

How big a change are we actually talking about here? Well, let’s start with the name of that the Imagineers initially came up with for this part of the Park: Future World. As of October 1, 2006, that name will be a thing of the past. From that point forward, the front half of Epcot will be known as Discoveryland.

Why “Discoveryland?” To be honest, this name change is mostly coming about because the Walt Disney Company is tired of flushing millions of dollars down the drain in its attempts to keep Future World futuristic. So — since the Mouse has spent the last couple of years trying to position Epcot as “The Discovery Park at Walt Disney World” — the Imagineers thought: “What the hey. Why don’t we just make this message extremely clear to the public by renaming the front park of the Park ‘Discoveryland’? Then we won’t have to keep struggling to keep all of Future World’s exhibits continually on the leading edge of science.”

Of course, in order to sell the public on Future World’s brand new name, it’ll be necessary to give Epcot’s Discoveryland a bold new look. WDI plans to do this by tearing out much of the neon and the expanses of concrete that make up the heart of this part of the Park and replacing them with trees. Hundreds and hundreds of trees.

The idea behind this part of the redo is to change Epcot’s Discoveryland into a lush, green environment. Not the sterile, beige “Future as designed by Republicans” that EPCOT Center’s original design team dreamed up for Future World. But something more along the lines of the “Montana of the future” that Disney CEO Michael Eisner tried to sell to the Imagineers as his vision of what Disneyland’s New Tomorrowland should look like.

Though — truth be told — I think that this reinvention of Epcot’s Future World section owes a lot more to the Imagineers’ original plans for the Disneyland Resort’s second gate, rather than Disneyland itself. How many of you out there remember WDI’s plans for Westcot Center? Specifically the lush, green island that was supposed to have served as the base of Spacestation Earth?

Picture that sort of environment … but now on a grand scale. Encompassing all of Epcot’s Future World. Flowers, shrubs and trees everywhere. Curving pathways in and around all of the pavilions in this part of the Park. Not a straight line to be seen anywhere. With the “Fountain of Nations” still presenting elaborate water pageants every 15 minutes.

Wanna take a tour of this radically revamped part of Epcot? Okay. Let’s start by having you take a quick look at that “Epcot Discoveryland” map that serves as the central illustration for this article — you can click the image to the right to see it full sized — then you can meet me at the main entrance of “The Discovery Park of Walt Disney World” circa October 1, 2006.

As we push our way through the turnstiles, you’ll notice that things really don’t look all that different. At first. After all, Spaceship Earth still towers over the main entrance plaza.

But — as you get closer to that golf-ball-on-steroids — you suddenly realize that you’re no longer able to walk under the left side of Spaceship Earth. That area has now all been enclosed. It serves as the pre-show / queue area for the new attraction that’s now housed inside the geodesic sphere. Not to mention providing some much needed retail space for the radically expanded Gateway Gifts.

So what’s the name of the exciting new attraction that will zooming around inside Spaceship Earth once October 2006 rolls around? “Time Racers,” Epcot’s latest and greatest thrill ride, sponsored by Microsoft.

And what’s “Time Racers” supposed to be like? More importantly, what’s this attraction supposed to be about? Well, you can say “good-bye” to that herky-jerky omni-mover trip through the Ages of Man that AT&T used to sponsor. The next attraction to make its home inside “The Ball” will literally send Epcot visitors racing across time. Using time lapse photography as well as cutting edge technology, the Imagineers hope to give WDW guests the impression that they’re fast-forwarding through all of human history. Rocketing forward from the time when we were all still living in caves right up today’s modern age … and beyond.

By eyeballing “Time Racers” site plan, you’ll note that the attraction’s ride vehicle is actually supposed to exit the show building and — just like at GM Test Track — take a quick spin outside before it comes to rest in the post-show area. Which will now be housed in the “Global Neighborhood” area of the old “Spaceship Earth” complex.

Now some of you may be asking “Why change Spaceship Earth?” The short answer is: Because this ride — which many folks consider to be the thesis attraction for the entire theme park — hasn’t really changed since EPCOT Center first opened up back in October of 1982. Oh, sure. Spaceship Earth’s narration (and narrator) has been changed several times. And the ride’s finale got radically revamped back in the mid-1990s. But beyond that, this omni-mover based attraction has pretty much stayed the same for the past 20+ years.

Which is why a lot of guests who are making return trips to Epcot just opt to breeze on by Spaceship Earth as they enter the Park. After all, what’s the point of getting on this Future World attraction again? It’s still going to be the same slow moving ride past sleeping monks and smoking ruins.

But — if Disney changes Spaceship Earth so that there’s now an exciting new attraction hidden inside the geodesic sphere — guests might once again feel compelled to go check out “The Ball.” Particularly those hard-to-please teen and pre-teen visitors, those family members who have never really been big fans of this particular part of the Park.

Truth be told, this is the real reason that Disney is about to undertake such an ambitious and expensive (internal WDI documents suggest that the projected construction costs for “Project Gemini” could run as high as $500 million) revamp of Epcot’s Future World section. Recent WDW guest surveys supposedly show that this specific part of “The Discovery Park at Walt Disney World” has almost zero appeal to returning visitors under the age of 18.

Translation: teens and pre-teens who have already been to Epcot — particularly the Future World section of that Park — often try to talk their parents out of going back to Epcot during their family’s return visits to the Walt Disney World Resort. Among the many reasons that these under-18-year-olds cite is “There’s nothing for kids to do there” and “Epcot’s boring.”

For well over a decade now, the Imagineers have known about Epcot’s somewhat toxic reputation among teens and pre-teens. That’s why WDI has been fighting with WDW management for years, trying to get the company to free up the funds necessary to build a series of low budget “Kidcot” attractions (I.E. interactive kid-friendly exhibits that usually feature an arts and crafts activity that’s closely tied thematically to the World Showcase pavilion that’s located nearby).

Unfortunately, WDW management has been resisting the Imagineers’ suggestions for improving Epcot’s kid appeal since the early 1990s. As a prime example of how stubborn Mouse House managers can be, let me tell you about that Viking Boat-themed pay area located right next to the rest rooms for the Norway pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase area. It took almost five years of screaming and threats before WDW management finally agreed to put up the extremely small amount of dough it took to build this Viking Boat play area. Now this low cost attraction typically gets high marks on almost every Epcot guest satisfaction survey. Some WDW guests (8 and under) have even gone so far as to say that the Viking Long Boat play area was their favorite part of Epcot.

Anyway … with an eye toward increasing Epcot’s appeal among returning WDW guests 18 years of age or younger, “Project Gemini” is really trying to pile on the thrills.

Take, for example, the inverted roller coaster that’s supposed to be installed right outside the entrance to “The Land” pavilion. This off-the-shelf thrill ride would reportedly take Epcot guests on a fast, fun and informative trip through the canopy of a simulated rainforest.

Right next door to the “Rainforest Rollercoaster,” the Imagineers would also like to build two giant Omni-max theaters so that they can finally bring DCA’s only hit attraction — “Soarin’ Over California” — to Florida. According to WDI sources that I’ve spoken with, the plan is that Epcot’s version of “Soarin'” will feature the same exact ride mechanism and theater set-up as the popular Condor Flats attraction. The only difference is that Epcot’s “Soarin'” ride film would take Discoveryland visitors soarin’ over some of the Earth’s more intriguing terrain.

For guests who prefer low-tech fun, WDI is also reportedly looking into creating a hedge maze for the south-western corner of Discoveryland (I.E. the piece of land between “The Land” and the “Imagination” pavilion) — something that Epcot visitors can wander through and stumble upon various educational exhibits as they try to find the exit.

Over at what used to be Future World’s somewhat tired looking “Living Seas” attraction, the Imagineers are hoping that the characters from “The Little Mermaid” will help liven up this particular corner of Discoveryland. Ariel, King Triton and Sebastian are slated to serve as the new hosts of the aptly named “Under the Sea” pavilion. The new pre-show (as well as the bulk of “The Living Seas”‘s revamped exhibits) will now stress how we must all learn to live in harmony with the world’s oceans. Not over-fish or pollute … or we risk destroying this precious resource forever.

I’m told that Seabase Alpha will now be repositioned as the finale of the “Under the Sea” show. To show us all how idyllic the future could be if we really do learn to live in harmony with the ocean.

Meanwhile, over at GM “Test Track,” the Imagineers are looking to bring an old Disneyland favorite — the Jr. Autopia — back to life. The idea behind this particular addition to Discoveryland is that this would be the gentle, kid-friendly ride that WDW guests who are too young and/or too short to safely enjoy “Test Track” could experience while Mom, Dad, and big brother / sister are getting tossed around like test dummies.

According to the “Project Gemini” documentation that I’ve seen, there are no current plans to change out “Ellen’s Energy Adventure” at Future World’s … excuse me … Discoveryland’s “Energy” pavilion. And — given that the Imagineers are assuming that the soon-to-be-opening “Mission: Space” attraction will be a huge hit with the public — WDI also has no plans to change out this new Epcot thrill ride by October 2006.

Unfortunately, Epcot’s “Wonders of Life” pavilion may not be quite so fortunate. As the Discoveryland site plan that’s included with this article clearly illustrates, the Imagineers are reportedly giving some very serious thought to shutting down this entire pavilion (which used to be sponsored by Metropolitan Life) and using this space for “Future Expansion.” Whatever THAT means.

So my advice is — if you’re really a big fan of “Cranium Command” and/or “Body Wars” — now might be a good time to schedule your next WDW vacation. Wrack up a few last rides on both of these attractions. For Epcot’s “Wonders of Life” pavilion looks like it will soon be joining “Horizons” and “World of Motion” as a member of the “EEE” Club (I.E. Epcot’s Extinct Exhibits).

Speaking of getting your last crack at things … those of you who are into snagging interesting Disney collectibles, now also might be a good time to start picking up any Epcot merchandise that you can find with the name “Future World” emblazoned on it. For that name officially goes away forever on October 1, 2006.

Speaking of shopping … let’s now talk about Innoventions East and West. That part of Epcot’s Future World where you’ll find most of the shops and restaurants in this part of the Park. This area has also been slated for a rather severe makeover. As I mentioned earlier, WDI’s really trying to create a lush, green look for Discoveryland by planting hundreds of new trees in this section of Epcot.

However, in order to facilitate the growth of all these new trees, Disney’s going to have to pull down the roofs that used to connect those old Communicore buildings. The end result is that Innoventions East and West will lose their classic parenthetical shape and become six separate smaller buildings.

To the East, you’ll have the “Leading Edge” (a building that will feature exhibits of the latest and greatest in scientific breakthroughs), the “Robot Restaurant” (where guests can dine on burgers and fries while watching “Battle Bots”-like shows live every half hour or so) as well as the “Future Mart” (which — just like this retail establishment did back when it was called “The Centorium” and “Mouse Gear” — will sell a wide variety of Epcot- and Disney-related merchandise).

To the West, you’ll find the “Home of the Future” (which — provided that what I’ve been hearing coming out of WDI lately proves to be true — could become the new home for most of the AA figures that used to be featured in the soon-to-be-closing “Carousel of Progress” show over at WDW’s Magic Kingdom), the Internet Café (which — just like the name implies — would be the restaurant where Epcot visitors could dine as they checked their e-mail) as well as “Cool Stuff” (the place where WDW visitors could check out the latest in cool consumers products. Doing fun things like taking a Segway out for a test spin, etc.).

So — as you can see — this proposed revamp of Epcot’s Future World area really is ambitious. It’s not going to be just another Innoventions con job — which tried to use tons of neon, fiber optics and free video games to try and convince WDW guests that there really was something worth seeing in this part of the Park.

And everyone from Imagineering veterans from Walt Disney World management right on down through those rank-and-file Epcot cast members who’ve been lucky enough to get in on some of the Discoveryland preview sessions agree that “Project Gemini” could be a real lifesaver for this theme park. That the Walt Disney Company would no longer have do things like stage WDW’s 15 month long millennium celebration at that Park in order to artificially inflate Epcot’s attendance figures.

(FYI: The Walt Disney Company is planning on doing much the same thing in 2005, when the corporation hold a year-long, ’round-the-world celebration of Disneyland’s 50th anniversary. Epcot — because it’s the WDW theme park that most desperately needs an attendance boost — is where the Florida portion of the celebration will be held. Over in Europe, Disney Studios Paris — which hasn’t even come close to meeting its attendance projections — will be the host park for the Disneyland Paris Resort’s version of this celebration. You get the idea, right?)

The only thing that’s currently preventing “Project Gemini” from getting an official greenlight is — of course, what a surprise — money. While the suits seem to love the idea of turning Epcot’s Future World into Discoveryland and what all the proposed changes / additions to this part of the Park could potentially do to WDW’s attendance levels, they’re also not all that eager to pour $350 – $500 million into Epcot.

I’m told that Paul Pressler — the former head of Disney Parks and Resorts — turned WDI’s plans for “Project Gemini” down flat when he first saw them back in the Spring of 2002. Paul reportedly told the Imagineers that he liked a lot of the ideas that they’d come up with for improving Epcot, but that he wouldn’t okay their plans unless they radically reduce the scope of their Future World redo. Come up with a more affordable alternative.

But then Paul Pressler left the Walt Disney Company in September of last year to pursue other opportunities with the Gap Corporation. And now Jay Rasulo is the new President of Disney Parks and Resorts. And — when the Imagineers showed Jay the exact same set of “Project Gemini” plans that they’d originally showed Paul back in April of 2002 — Rasulo reportedly responded with great enthusiasm. He supposedly saw this plan as the way to fix Epcot’s Future World once and for all.

So does that mean that “Project Gemini” will now actually go forward? To be honest, I don’t know. Based on the rumbling that I’ve been hearing, Epcot’s Discoveryland plan really does have an awful lot of supporters inside the Walt Disney Company. But — no matter how good a job that Jay Rasulo does with selling “Project Gemini” to the Mouse House’s upper management — this decision actually comes down to just one man: Disney CEO Michael Eisner.

Is Eisner really in a mood right how to embrace a plan that calls for a $350 – $500 million expenditure in order to save Epcot? Given that Disney’s institutional investors have been leaning heavily on Uncle Mike to keep the corporation’s profits high by keeping costs low, Eisner wouldn’t be making a whole lot of new friends on Wall Street if he decided to put these plans in motion.

Indeed, with the U.S. economy currently in the toilet and the threat of war in the Middle East looming ever larger every day, the Walt Disney Company is reportedly considering all manner of cost savings measures right now. I’ve even heard talk that the Mouse is giving semi-serious thought to actually shutting down each of WDW’s theme parks for one day each week. At least ’til the war with Iraq is over and/or tourist traffic patterns for the Orlando theme parks get back to normal.

So, given the current overly-cautious climate, I have to admit that I think that it’s unlikely that Eisner — even with Jay Rasulo doing his damnedest to sell Disney’s CEO on this idea — will actually allow the full-blown version of “Project Gemini” to go forward. A smaller, less ambitious version of the same plan? Sure. But not the complete bells-and-whistles version of the project that you got to read about today.

So why did I post that Discoveryland site plan and/or write this article today? I thought that JHM readers might enjoy finding out what WDI’s plans for “Project Gemini” were really all about. Here’s hoping that these remarkable plans for overhauling Epcot really are an omen of great things yet to come.

My special thanks to Mr. Bogart (the guy who originally threw the “Project Gemini” site plan my way) as well as Michelle and Nancy (the two women who labored to turn that original piece of art into something that JHM readers would enjoy but that would still prevent me from having to spend the rest of my life in Disney jail and/or prevent some poor Disney employee from accidentally losing their job thanks to today’s disclosure of the “Project Gemini” site plan).

Your thoughts?

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Jens Dahlmann of LongHorn Steakhouse has lots of great tips when it comes to grilling

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Sure, for some folks, the Fourth of July is all about fireworks. But for the 75% of all Americans who own a grill or a smoker, the Fourth is our Nation’s No. 1 holiday when it comes to grilling. Which is why 3 out of 4 of those folks will spend some time outside today working over a fire.

But here’s the thing: Though 14 million Americans can cook a steak with confidence because they actually grill something every week, the rest of us – because we use our grill or smoker so infrequently … Well, let’s just say that we have no chops when it comes to dealing with chops (pork, veal or otherwise).

So what’s a backyard chef supposed to in a situation like this when there’s so much at steak … er … stake? Turn to someone who really knows their way around a grill for advice. People like Jens Dahlmann, the Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef for Darden Restaurant’s LongHorn Steakhouse brand.

Given that Jens’ father & grandfather were chefs, this is a guy who literally grew up in a kitchen. In his teens & twenties, Dahlmann worked in hotels & restaurants all over Switzerland & Germany. Once he was classically trained in the culinary arts, Jens then  jumped ship. Well, started working on cruise ships, I mean.

Anyway … While working on Cunard’s Sea Goddess, Dahlmann met Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque 2000. Sirio was so impressed with Jens’ skills in the kitchen that he offered him the opportunity to become sous-chef at this New York landmark. After four years of working in Manhattan, Dahlmann then headed south to become executive chef at Palm Beach’s prestigious Café L’Europe.

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

And once Jens began wowing foodies in Florida, it wasn’t all that long ’til the Mouse came a-calling. Mickey wanted Dahlmann to shake things up in the kitchen over at WDW’s Flying Fish Café. And he did such a good job with that Disney’s Boardwalk eatery the next thing Jens knew, he was then being asked to work his magic with the menu at the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill.

From there, Dahlmann had a relatively meteoric rise at the Mouse House. Once he became Epcot’s Food & Beverage general manager, it was only a matter of time before he wound up as the executive chef in charge of this theme park’s annual International Food & Wine Festival. Which – under Jens’ guidance – experienced some truly explosive growth.

“When I took on Food & Wine, that festival was only 35 days long and had gross revenues of just $5.5 million. When I left Disney in 2016, Food & Wine was now over 50 days long and that festival had gross revenues of $22 million,” Dahlmann admitted during a recent sit-down. “I honestly loved those 13 years I spent at Disney. When I was working there, I learned so much because I was really cooking for America.”

And it was exactly that sort of experience & expertise that Darden wanted to tap into when they lured Jens away from Mickey last year to become LongHorn Steakhouse’s new Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef. But today … Well, Dahlmann is offering tips to those of us who are thinking about cooking steak tips for the Fourth.

Photo by Jim Hill

“When you’re planning on grilling this holiday, if you’re looking for a successful result, the obvious place to start is with the quality of the meat you plan on cooking for your friends & family. If you want the best results here, don’t be cheap when you go shopping. Spend the money necessary for a fresh filet or a New York strip. Better yet a Ribeye, a nice thick one with good marbling. Because when you look at the marbling on a steak, that’s where all the flavor happens,” Jens explained. “That said, you always have to remember that — the higher you go with the quality of your meat — the less time you’re going to want that piece of meat to spend on the grill.”

And speaking of cooking … Before you even get started here, Jens suggests that you first take the time to check over all of your grilling equipment. Making sure that the grill itself is first scraped clean & then properly oiled before you then turn up the heat.

“If you’re working with a dirty grill, when you go to turn your meat, it may wind up sticking to the grill. Or maybe those spices that you’ve just so carefully coated your steak with will wind up sticking to the grill, rather than your meat,” Dahlmann continued. “Which is why it’s always worth it to spend a few minutes prior to firing up your grill properly cleaning & oiling it.”

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of heat … Again, before you officially get started grilling here, Jens says that it’s crucial to check your temperature gauges. Make sure that your char grill is set at 550 (so that it can then properly handle the thicker cuts of meat) and your flattop is set at 425 (so it can properly sear thinner pieces of meat).

Okay. Once you’ve bought the right cuts of quality meat, properly cleaned & oiled your grill, and then made sure that everything’s set at the right temperature (“If you can only stand to hold your hand directly over the grill for two or three seconds, that’s the right amount of heat,” Dahlmann said), it’s now time to season your steaks.

“Don’t be afraid to be bold here. You can’t be shy when it comes to seasoning your meat. You want to give it a nice coating. Largely because — if you’re using a char grill — a lot of that seasoning is just going to fall off anyway,” Jens stated. “It’s up to you to decide what sort of seasoning you want to use here. Even just some salt & pepper will enhance a steak’s flavor.”

Then – according to Dahlmann – comes the really tough part. Which is placing your meat on the grill and then fighting the urge to flip it too early or too often.

“The biggest mistake that a lot of amateur cooks make is that they flip the steak too many times. The real key to a well-cooked piece of meat is just let it be, “Jens insisted. “Of course, if you’re serving different cuts of meat at your Fourth of July feast, you always want to put your biggest thickest steak on the grill first. If you’re also cooking a New York Strip, you want to put that one on a few minutes later. But after that, just let the grill do its job and flip your meat a total of three or four times, once every three minutes or so.”

Of course, the last thing you want to do is overcook a quality piece of meat. Which is why Dahlmann suggests that – when it comes to grilling steaks – if you’re going to err, err on the side of undercooking.

“You can always put a piece of meat back on the grill if it’s slightly undercooked. When you over-cook something, all you can do then is start over with a brand-new piece of meat,” Jens said. “Just be sure that you’re using the correct cut of meat for the cooking result you’re aiming for. If someone wants a rare or medium rare steak, you should go with a thicker cut of steak. If one of your guests wants their steak cooked medium or well, it’s best to start with a thinner cut of meat.”

Photo by Jim Hill

As you can see, the folks at Longhorn take grilling steaks seriously. How seriously? Just last week at Darden Corporate Headquarters in Orlando, seven of these brand’s top grill masters (who – after weeks of regional competitions – had been culled from the 491 restaurants that make up this chain) competed for a $10,000 prize in the Company’s second annual Steak Master Series. And Dahlmann was one of the people who stood in Darden’s test kitchens, watching like a hawk as each of the contestants struggled to prepare six different dishes in just 20 minutes according to Longhorn Steakhouse’s exacting standards.

“I love that Darden does this. Recognizing the best of the best who work this restaurant,” Jens concluded. “We have a lot of people here who are incredibly knowledgeable & passionate when it comes to grilling.”

Speaking of which … If today’s story doesn’t include the exact piece of info that you need to properly grill that T-bone, just whip out your iPhone & text GRILL to 55702. Or – better yet – visit  ExpertGriller.com prior to firing up your grill or smoker later today. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, July 4, 2017

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Brattleboro’s Strolling of the Heifers is a sincere if somewhat surreal way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont

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Some people travel halfway ‘around the planet so that they can then experience the excitement of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. If you’re more of a Slow Living enthusiast (as I am), then perhaps you should amble to Brattleboro, VT. Where – over the first weekend in June – you can then join a herd of cow enthusiasts at the annual Strolling of the Heifers.

Now in its 16th year, this three-day long event typically gets underway on Friday night in June with a combination block party / gallery walk. But then – come Saturday morning – Main Street in Brattleboro is lined with thousands of bovine fans.

Photo by Jim Hill

They’ve staked out primo viewing spots and set up camp chairs hours ahead of time. Just so these folks can then have a front row seat as this year’s crop of calves (which all come from local farms & 4-H clubs) are paraded through the streets.

Photo by Jim Hill

Viewed from curbside, Strolling of the Heifers is kind of this weird melding of a sincere small town celebration and Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade. Meaning that – for every entry that actually acknowledged this year’s theme (i.e. “Dance to the Moosic”) — …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something completely random, like this parade’s synchronized shopping cart unit.

Photo by Jim Hill

And for every piece of authentic Americana (EX: That collection of antique John Deere tractors that came chugging through the city) …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something silly. Like – say – a woman dressed as a Holstein pushing a baby stroller through the streets. And riding in that stroller was a pig dressed in a tutu.

Photo by Jim Hill

And given that this event was being staged in the Green Mountain State & all … Well, does it really surprise you to learn that — among the groups that marched in this year’s Strolling of the Heifers – was a group of eco-friendly folks who, with their  chants of “We’re Number One !,” tried to persuade people along the parade route not to flush the toilet after they pee. Because – as it turns out – urine can be turned into fertilizer.

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of fertilizer … At the tail end of the parade, there was a group of dedicated volunteers who were dealing with what came out of the tail end of all those cows.

Photo by Jim Hill

This year’s Strolling of the Heifers concluded at the Brattleboro town common. Where event attendees could then get a closer look at some of the featured units in this year’s parade…

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

But as for the 90+ calves who took part in the 2017 edition of Strolling of the Heifers, once they reached the town common, it was now time for a nosh or a nap.

Photo by Jim Hill

Elsewhere on the common, keeping with this year’s “Dance to the Moosic” theme, various musical groups performed in & around the gazebo throughout the afternoon.

Photo by Jim Hill

While just across the way – keeping with Brattleboro’s tradition of showcasing the various artisans who live & work in the local community – some pretty funky pieces were on display at the Slow Living Exposition.

Photo by Jim Hill

All in all, attending Strolling of the Heifers is a somewhat surreal but still very pleasant way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont. And that’s no bull.

Photo by Jim Hill

Well, that could be a bull. To be honest, what with the wig & all, it’s kind of hard to tell. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Sunday, June 4, 2017

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Looking to make an authentic Irish meal for Saint Patrick’s Day? If so, then chef Kevin Dundon says not to cook corned beef & cabbage

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Let’s at least start on a positive note: Celebrated chef, author & TV personality Kevin Dundon – the man that Tourism Ireland has repeatedly chosen as the Face of Irish Food – loves a lot of what happens in the United States on March 17th.

“I mean, look at what they do in Chicago on Saint Patrick’s Day. They toss all of this vegetable-based dye into the Chicago River and then paint it green for a day. That’s terrific,” Kevin said.

But then when it comes to what many Americans eat & drink on St. Paddy’s Day (i.e., a big plate of corned beef and cabbage. Which is then washed down with a mug of green beer) … Well, that’s where Dundon has to draw the line.

Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon displays a traditional Irish loin of bacon with Colcannon potatoes and a Dunbrody Kiss chocolate dessert. Photo by Tom Burton. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Green beer? No real Irishman would be caught dead drinking that stuff,” Kevin insists. “And as for eating corned beef & cabbage … That’s not actually authentic Irish fare either. Bacon and cabbage? Sure. But corned beef & cabbage was something that the Irish only began eating after they’d come to the States to escape the Famine. And even then these Irish-Americans only began serving corned beef & cabbage to their friends & family because they had to make do with the ingredients that were available to them at that time.”

And thus begins the strange tale of how corned beef & cabbage came to be associated with the North American celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. Because – according to Dundon – beef just wasn’t all that big a part of the Irish diet back in the 19th century.

To explain: Back in the Old Country, cattle – while they were obviously highly prized for the milk & cheese that they produced – were also beasts of burden. Meaning that they were often used for ploughing the fields or for hauling heavy loads. Which is why – back then — these animals were rarely slaughtered when they were still young & healthy. If anything, land owners liked to put a herd of cattle on display out in one of their pastures because that was then a sign to their neighbors that this farm was prosperous.

“Whereas pork … Well, everybody raised pigs back then. Which is why pork was a staple of the Irish diet rather than beef,” Dundon continued.

So if that’s what people actually ate back in the Old Country, how then did corned beef & cabbage come to be so strongly associated with Saint Patrick’s Day in the States.? That largely had to do with where the Irish wound up living after they arrived in the New World.

“When the Irish first arrived in America following the Great Famine, a lot of them wound up living in the inner city right alongside the Germans & the Jews, who were also recent immigrants to the States. And while that farm-fresh pork that the Irish loved wasn’t readily available, there was brisket. Which the Irish could then cure by first covering this piece of meat with corn kernel-sized pieces of rock salt – that’s how it came to be called corned beef. Because of the sizes of the pieces of rock salt that were used in the curing process – and then placing all that in a pot of water with other spices to soak for a few days.”

And as for the cabbage portion of corned beef & cabbage … Well, according to Kevin, in addition to buying their meat from the kosher delis in their neighborhood, the Irish would also frequent the stores that the German community shopped in. Where – thanks to their love of sauerkraut (i.e., pickled cabbage) – there was always a ready supply of cabbage to be had.

“So when you get right down to it, it was the American melting pot that led to corned beef & cabbage being found in the Irish-American cooking pot,” Dundon continued. “Since they couldn’t find or didn’t have easy access to the exact same ingredients that they had back in Ireland, Irish-Americans made do with what they could find in the immediate vicinity. And what they made was admittedly tasty. But it’s not actually authentic Irish fare.”

Mind you, what Kevin serves at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs (which – FYI – Orlando Magazine voted as the area’s best restaurant back in 2014) is nothing if not authentic. Dundon and his team at this acclaimed gastropub pride themselves on making traditional Irish fare and then contemporized it.

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“Take – for example – what we serve here instead of corned beef & cabbage. Again, because it was pork – rather than beef – that was the true staple of the Irish diet back then, what we offer instead is a loin of bacon that has been glazed with Irish Mist. That then comes with colcannon potatoes. Which is this traditional Irish dish that’s made up of mashed potato that have had some cabbage & bacon mixed through it,” Kevin enthused. “This heavenly ham – that’s what we actually call this traditional Irish dish at Raglan Road, Kevin’s Heavenly Ham – also includes some savory cabbage with a parsley cream sauce as well as a raisin cider jus. It’s simple food. But because of the basic ingredients – and that’s the real secret of Irish cuisine. That our ingredients are so strong – the flavors just pop off the plate.”

Which brings us to the real challenge that Dundon and the Raglan Road team face every day. Making sure that they actually have all of the ingredients necessary to make this traditional-yet-contemporized Irish fare to those folks who frequent this Walt Disney World favorite.

“Take – for example – the fish we serve here. We only used cold water fish. Salmon, mussels and haddock that have been hauled out of the Atlantic, the ocean that America and Ireland share,” Kevin stated. “Not that there’s anything wrong with warm water fish. It’s just that … Well, it doesn’t have the same structure. It’s a softer fish, which doesn’t really fit the parameters of Irish cuisine. And if you’re going to serve authentic food, you have to be this dedicated when it comes to sourcing your ingredients.

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

And if you’re thinking of perhaps trying to serve an authentic Irish meal this year, rather than once again serving corned beef & cabbage at your Saint Patrick’s Day Feast … Well, back in September of last year, Mitchell Beazley published “The Raglan Road Cookbook: Inside America’s Favorite Irish Pub.” This 296-page hardcover not only includes the recipe for Kevin’s Heavenly Ham but also it tells the tale of how this now-world-renown restaurant wound up being built in Orlando.

On the other hand, if you happen to have to the luck of the Irish and are actually down at The Walt Disney World Resort right now, it’s worth noting that Raglan Road is right in the middle of its Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival. This four day-long event – which includes Irish bands and professional dancers – stretches through Sunday night. And in addition to all that authentic Irish fare that Dundon and his team are cooking up, you also sample the fine selection of beers & cocktails that this establishment’s four distinct antique bars (each of which are more than 130 years old and were imported directly from Ireland) will be serving. Just – As ucht Dé (That’s “For God’s Sake” in Gaelic) – don’t make the mistake of asking the bartender there for a mug of green beer.

“Why would anyone willingly drink something like that?,” Dundon laughed. “I mean, just imagine what their washroom will look like the morning after.”

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Friday, March 17, 2017

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