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A special “Lucky Rabbit” edition of Why For

Jim Hill’s back with even more answers to your Disney-related questions. This time around, Jim talks about what reportedly really caused the Oswald acquisition deal to happen, Pleasure Island’s original line-up of nightclubs and the current status of “Toy Story III”

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First up, Peter R. checks in with an interesting bit of news:

Never would think I would be sending you a questions concerning Monday Night Football, but I guess with ESPN being a jewel in the Disney Sports Crown anything is possible.

What is this that I heard that Al Micheals was “traded” to NBC for Oswald the Rabbit? Could it be that Oswald has indeed come home to Disney after all?!?!?!?

Dear Peter R.

Yep. This story is true. You can read about all the particulars here.

But what I find fascinating is what isn’t turning up in any of the official press accounts about the Al Michaels / Oswald the Lucky Rabbit trade. To be specific, how Bob Iger initially got interested in reacquiring this character. More importantly, what Bob plans to do with Oswald now that Disney’s got him back.

The story that I’ve heard from a number of Disney insiders is that it was actually an article that ran on Jerry Beck & Amid Amidi’s excellent Cartoon Brew website back in January of 2005 that reportedly put Oswald the Lucky Rabbit on Iger’s radar. You see, Jerry & Amid had just done a story about how Oswald merchandise was (for some inexplicable reason) suddenly selling like hotcakes in Japan. And Bob — while doing his standard every morning routine of trolling-around-the-Internet-while-strolling-on-his-treadmill — allegedly just filed this factoid away.

Later that same morning, once he actually got into work, Iger supposedly began making inquiries about Oswald. As he tried to find out A) Who now really held the rights to this classic Disney cartoon character and B) what the licensing rights to the lucky rabbit might actually be worth in today’s marketplace. Bob’s staffers eventually got back to their boss with all the necessary info (I.E. That Universal still held the rights to Oswald. More importantly, that there was some seriously unrealized marketing potential in this classic Disney cartoon character). And then Iger just tucked that info away in his pocket … and waited.

Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC

Mind you, Bob did reportedly make a few folks aware that he eventually intended to reacquire Oswald. In March of 2005, after Iger was officially named as the Walt Disney Company’s CEO-to-be, he supposedly spoke with Diane Disney Miller. According to the AP article, Ms. Miller recalled that their conversation went something like this:

“When Bob was named CEO, he told me he wanted to bring Oswald back to Disney, and I appreciate that he is a man of his word.”

Mind you, Iger still had to wait for just the right opportunity to present itself. When Universal really needed something that Disney had. So that Bob could then horse-trade for the rights to the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Get the character back at a fairly affordable price. And this opportunity finally emerged with this Al Michaels trade.

“So now that Oswald’s officially back home at Disney, what does Iger actually intend to do with this character?,” you ask. Well, you may be surprised by what Bob’s got up his sleeve. You see, it’s not what all you animation fans think is going to happen (I.E. That now we’re going to get a “Disney Treasures” DVD that finally collects all of Walt’s versions of the “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit” silent cartoons).

Oh, sure. That product (Or a product like that) will eventually make its way to the marketplace. Perhaps in late 2007 or early 2008. But as for Oswald’s first gig as a newly reacquired Disney character … Well, this lucky rabbit is about to go hi-tech.

To explain: Given that Oswald-related merchandise is still very popular in Japan, Disney’s reportedly looking into creating some brand-new animation of this classic cartoon character as he appeared back in the 1920s. So that this lucky rabbit can then make appearances on cellular phones and/or on other handheld devices.

I don’t know about you guys. But there are numerous aspects of this Disney-reacquires-Oswald story that I just find to be very pleasing . The fact that it was Jerry Beck’s website that supposedly initially brought the Lucky Rabbit to Bob Iger’s attention. Meaning that — because of the efforts of this noted animation historian — a classic Disney cartoon character from the silent era is now being brought back from the brink of obscurity.

Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC

Or — better yet — that this film star of the 1920s is now going to be reborn as a hot commodity in 2006. As a classic cartoon character who will cavort on cell phones in Japan. I mean, you couldn’t really make up a story that has bends & twists like this.

But as for Bob Iger … This particular reacquisition does give us a lot more insight into the way Disney’s new CEO actually operates. The way he really views the Disney Company. More importantly, the corporation’s future.

I mean, sure. Clearly the guy understood all the good publicity that would be generated by this story. “New Disney boss arranges for long lost character to finally come home.” Who wouldn’t love a story like that?

But there’s more to this reacquisition deal than just the nostalgia factor, people. Iger recognizes that the Walt Disney Company’s core strength actually lies in its stable of characters. That if this valuable resource is properly tended during the content-crazy era that we currently live in (I.E. Where characters can not only appear in movies or on television but also on DVDs, on the internet, in handheld games and/or cellular phones), that there are billions upon billions to be made for decades yet to come.

It is this very philosophy (I.E. That Disney needs a steady stream of characters with which to create content. Which can then be moved across a variety of platforms & pipelines in order to produce profits for the corporation) that allows Iger to justify the $7.4 billion the Walt Disney Company just spent in order to acquire Pixar Animation Studios. That — properly tended — the Pixar characters will make money for the Mouse House for “infinity and beyond.”

Well, I hate to be a spoilsport. I mean — as much as I enjoy this Mouse-reacquires-Rabbit story — I still think that Disney seriously over-paid for Pixar. More importantly, given the glut of CG films that we’re seeing in 2006, I can’t help but think that Steve Jobs may soon replace Mark Cuban (I.E. The web-based entrepreneur who sold broadcast.com to Yahoo for $5.7 billion literally weeks before the dotcom bubble burst) as the poster boy for “Knowing the exact right moment to sell.”

Anyway … While we’re talking about ways that the Walt Disney Company can make the most of the characters that the corporation currently has in its stable … I was wondering: Do you think that it would really kill those guys to find something for the Muppets to do? I mean, besides having Kermit & Miss Piggy appear in commercials for Pizza Hut and Ford.

Next up, Amy writes in to ask:

Dear Jim,

All of the talk surrounding Pleasure Island and it closing reminds me of when it was being built. I was a kid when the walls were errected next to the Empress Lilly and the “Village”. But for some reason I thought they were going to put a skating ring in Pleasure Island. I believe that’s what was written on the walls that described what was going to be there. Am I wrong? Do you have the original description for Pleasure Island?

Dear Amy —

Ask and ye shall receive. What follows is a somewhat abridged transcript of an official Walt Disney World press release from the Spring of 1989. Which attempted to explain to the world what exactly WDW’s Pleasure Island was supposed to be:

Nightlife in spotlight at Pleasure Island, a new Walt Disney World attraction

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Mannequins dance, the “spirits” speak and guests rollerskate back to the future at Pleasure Island, a new themed nighttime entertainment complex rocking with music and high energy at Walt Disney World Village.

Six themed nightclubs, a dozen exciting shops and six innovative restaurants and food courts offer a new kind of nightlife experience starting this summer at the island complex inspired by fabled sailmaking magnate Merriweather Adam Pleasure.


Copyright 1988 The Walt Disney Company

In the Disney tradition of detailed theming, Disney “Imagineers” created this phenomenal waterfront neighborhood by first spinning the legend of Pleasure — an adventurous wag who moved to the island in the late 19th century to build his sailmaking empire during the rise of the leisure yachting business.

After disappearing at sea during a trip around the world, Pleasure’s island industrial complex fell into decay, according to the tall tale. Decades later, Disney Imagineers fashioned a nightlife paradise from more than 120,000 square feet of abandoned lots, warehouses and factories. The result: a fun-filled, themed entertainment park featuring comedy & magic, live dance bands, high-tech video entertainment and a rockin’ roller rink.


Copyright 1998 The Walt Disney Company

Guests can dance or rollerskate into the future at the XZFR Rockin’ RollerDrome (pronounced “zephyr”) — a novel, high-energy gathering place where revelers can take a dining break to refuel for more fun. The Imagineers’ answer to a rock ‘n’ roll encounter of a futuristic kind, the one-time wind tunnel and laboratory is said to have been used by Pleasure to develop a fantastic flying machine. Members of the club’s live band, the “Time Pilots,” take flight above the main dance floor in a Starpool vehicle that hovers beneath a giant “mothership.” Guests on rollerskates orbit the dance floor on a second-level roller rink.

At Mannequins Dance Palace, visitors are on center stage with mannequins — animated and live — that move to the beat of the theatrical world around them. Transformed from the remains of a cavernous warehouse once used to store Pleasure’s canvas and sewing machines, the nightclub brings the drama and the magic of the theater to a unique turntable dance floor surrounded by stage rigging, lights and catwalks.

Strange things can happen during an expedition into the unknown at the Adventurers Club, once a salubrious retreat for Pleasure’s affluent yachting clientele. Around every corner of this lavish, eccentric hideaway awaits a new surprise: In the mask room, the walls are “alive” with 150 authentic masks brought from Africa and the Far East. In the Treasure Room, guests are startled when the spirit of a beheaded adventurer speaks out.

The voice of “HyperActive” takes over at Videopolis East, a pulsing, high-tech teen club featuring 170 video screens and a colorful menu of non-alcoholic drinks. Doubling as a giant video game controlled by the artificial intelligence of “HyperActive,” the club introduces an exciting new concept: members of the teen crowd interact with the video screens to gain access to corners of the club where they control flashing lights and other atmospheric effects.


Copyright 1989 The Walt Disney Company

The flavor of the Southwest tempts visitors at the Neon Armadillo, where long-necked beer and sizzling fajitas are served to the tune of toe-tappin’ country-and-western bands. Formerly a greenhouse for exotic plants collected during Pleasure’s world travels, this spacious saloon features a balcony lookout and a hot tub packed with ice to keep the beer cold.

At the Comedy Warehouse, an improvisational comedy troupe ignites the laughter that fills the one-time power planet of Pleasure’s domain …

As you can see, Amy, Pleasure Island was loaded with unique clubs and experiences. At least back during this nighttime entertainment complex’s first summer of operation.

As to what became of the island’s roller rink … I’m told that that particular aspect of the XZFR Rockin’ RollerDrome didn’t even make it all the way through PI’s first summer. All it took was the first few patrons (Who — admittedly — had already had a few too many drinks at one or more of Pleasure Island’s other establishments) to strap on skates and then fall down and/or crash into some other skaters and then cause a few injuries … And Disney’s lawyers (terrified by the idea of a never-ending series of lawsuits that were directly attributable to XZFR and the allegedly unsafe operating conditions at that club) quickly ordered the roller rink aspect of this nightclub shut down.

Copyright 1989 The Walt Disney Company

I know of one die-hard Disney fan who was particularly upset when Pleasure Island finally shut the roller rink portion of XZFR’s Rockin’ RollerDrome down. Michael Jackson supposedly spent hours in the place during the Summer of 1989 (I.E. During the afternoon, when this PI nightclub wasn’t actually open to the public) blissfully skating around the second floor. According to what Pleasure Island vets tell me, Michael was devastated in 1990 when he returned to XZFR and learned that Disney’s lawyers no longer allowed anyone to skate inside that building.

Anywho … As I skate over to our last JHM reader letter for this week, Emaneul P. writes in to ask:

Hi Jim,

I was surfing the net when I ran into this article. It’s basically about (how) the suits at the Mouse House decided that Pixar is going to go ahead and do “Toy Story 3,” with Disney’s original story line. Pretty short article. I was wondering 1) is it true? and 2) what is the story behind this project being brought back to life?

I know you have your sources, so i’m sure you can tell us more than this measly article. I absolutely love “Toy Story 1” and “2,” so I’m stoked about this.

Your Thoughts?

Thanks,

Emanuel

Dear Emanuel —

Rest assured that — sometime in the next five years — the Walt Disney Company, through Pixar Animation Studios, will be producing and then releasing “Toy Story III.” The third and final installment of what’s-now-being-billed as the “Toy Story” trilogy.

However, when this film is finally made, it will not be the version of “Toy Story III” that Disney’s Circle Seven Studios had initially cooked up (I.E. Due to a malfunction with that entire line of toys, every Buzz Lightyear in the world has to be sent back to their factory in Tawain. Where all of these action figures will then be dissembled. Of course, Woody and the gang don’t find out about the dissembling part until after Buzz has actually been put in the mail. So now it’s up to Andy’s toys to try & get to Tawain ahead of Buzz. So that they can then stop their favorite space ranger from being dismantled). But — rather — the sequel story that John Lasseter and the late Joe Ranft came up with while they were still working on “Toy Story II.”

To be honest, Emanuel, there is very little public information out there about this particular version of “Toy Story III.” Other than to say that this proposed film supposedly features a story that’s built around Jessie. More importantly, that this film will end with all of the characters in a happy safe place. So that — as moviegoers exit the theater — they know that Woody, Buzz and the rest of the crew will indeed live happily ever after.

And let me repeat here: “Toy Story III” will be the last installment of the series. In spite of the fact that — in earlier press releases hyping Circle Seven Studios — Disney had previously talked up both “Toy Story III” (which was originally supposed to have been released theatrically in 2008) as well as “Toy Story IV” (No release date was ever announced for this proposed fourth part of the series) .. The folks at Pixar absolutely insist that this next movie will be the very last one to feature Andy’s toys.

As for a release date for “Toy Story III” … Given that this “Toy Story” follow-up is John Lasseter’s baby, and given that John’s hands are expected to be pretty full for the next 18 months or so … I don’t think that it’s very realistic to expect that Lasseter will be able to focus his full attention on this project anytime soon.

However, once Disney Feature Animation & Pixar Animation Studios are fully intergrated and John finally gets a handle on what’s really going on with WDI … Maybe then we’ll finally see some progress on “Toy Story III.”

If I were a betting man, Emaneul … I’d bet that we wouldn’t see this particular sequel before 2009 or 2010. But — then again — given that Lasseter actually has to fill that hole in Disney’s 2008 release schedule (You know? The one that he created by shutting down production of Circle Seven’s version of “Toy Story III”?) … Maybe John will fast-track his own version of “Toy Story III.”

Let me make a few phone calls and see what I can find out …

A FEW MOMENTS LATER … Okay. So far, I don’t have a whole lot on “Toy Story III.” Though I can confirm that the sequels that Disney had wanted for “Monsters, Inc.” and “Finding Nemo” have been cancelled. Though an “Incredibles” follow-up may still make it to the big screen.

Okay. That pretty much does it for this week here at JHM. You folks have a great weekend, okay? And we’ll see you all again right here, bright & early next Monday morning.

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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