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A Special Weekend Edition of Why For?

Since he was without power for most of Friday, Jim Hill was unable to send along this column ’til just now. Which details what Disneyland would have been like if the “Disney Decade” plan had actually been followed as well as revealing which lucky JHM readers won the NYC “World of Disney” contest.

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My apologies, folks. But a freak wind storm blew into New Hampshire today. And somewhere out in the woods, a branch came down on a wire. Which was why Nancy and I were without power for most of Friday. Which prevented me from being able to button up this week’s “Why For.”

But finally around 5:30 p.m. EST, the lights (more importantly, the heat) came back on. Which is why I’m finally able to answer Darlene D.’s e-mail. Which reads:

Jim —

Love the site. Particularly those articles that you do about all the rides & attractions that are proposed for the Disney theme parks but then never actually got built.

Which brings me to my question: What is this “Disney Decade” that you keep referring to? This ambitious plan keeps popping up in a lot of your “What If” articles. But then you never actually get around to explaining what exactly the “Disney Decade” was supposedly to entail.

So — for once — could you give us some actual details about the “Disney Decade”? What attractions were proposed for what parks, etc.

Thanks in advance for your help. Keep up the great work,

Darlene D.

Dear Darlene —

Details on the “Disney Decade,” eh? How much time do you have?

Sorry. I don’t mean to be glib, Darlene. But the plans for the “Disney Decade” are kind of hard to sum up in just a few paragraphs. You see, the Walt Disney Company was on a real roll in the late 1980s. Coming off the smashing success of the grand opening of the Disney-MGM Studios theme in May of 1989, Michael Eisner told the Imagineers to dream big. And dream big, they did.

The “Disney Decade” — arguably the most ambition plan that WDI ever out together — called for many successful WDW attractions to be recreated in Anaheim. Above, you’ll find a concept painting for Disneyland’s Hollywoodland, a brand new “land” for the Anaheim theme park inspired by Disney-MGM Studios theme park.

Look, rather than try & sum up this entire plan in today’s “Why For,” why don’t we concentrate on what was supposed to happen to just one of the Disney theme parks? Disneyland, to be specifc. Let’s see what the “Happiest Place on Earth” would have wound up looking like if all of the rides, shows & attractions that were proposed for the Anaheim theme park as part of the “Disney Decade” plan had actually been built.

The first new show that was proposed for Disneyland — “The *** Tracy Musical Revue: Diamond Double Cross” — actually did get built. The action-packed stage show ran during the summer of 1990 and (to be honest) was a lot more entertaining than the Warren Beatty film that inspired it.

But — after that — things got pretty hit & miss about what made it off of WDI’s drawing board and what didn’t. Take — for example — 1991, when Disneyland was supposed to recieve:

  • The Young Indiana Jones Adventure Spectacular — This elaborate stunt show (which was to have been presented in an outdoor arena where Disneyland’s “Hunchback of Notre Dame Festival of Fools” show was eventually presented) was to have been produced in collaboration with George Lucas. According to Disneyland press releases circa the Spring of 1990, this ” … this action-packed live extravaganza will thrust Young Indy into a series of thrilling adventures and misadventures, adding a new dimension to the legendary lore of one of Hollywood’s greatest heroes.”
  • Here Come the Muppets — Disneyland was supposed to have gotten a clone of Disney-MGM’s original Muppet attraction (which used to be presented in the theater where that theme park’s “Voyage of the Little Mermaid” stage show is now being presented). This stage show — which was originally supposed to replace the “*** Tracy: Diamond Double Cross” stage revue — would have been performed several times daily in the Videopolis Theater.
  • The Magnificent Muppet All-Star Motorcade — Similiar to what wound up happening back in 1992 (When both Disneyland and Disney-MGM got copies of the “Aladdin Royal Caravan” parade to run in their theme parks), both the Anaheim & Orlando theme parks were supposed to get ” … a daily parade featuring the Muppet characters, their own ‘Electric Mayhem’ band and the legendary Muppet tour bus.” Sounds pretty neat, huh?

Well, obviously, none of that stuff ever got built. Mind you, the Imagineers did a little bit better in 1993. When that year’s plans for the “Disney Decade” called for (and I’m quoting directly from the Disneyland press release here) :

  • Mickey’s 65th Birthday – Mickey Mouse will celebrate his birthday with a yearlong party at Disneyland and the opening of a whole new “land” in his honor:
  • Mickey’s Starland — In addition to being the home for Disneyland’s biggest star and providing a place for guests to personally meet Mickey, Mickey’s Starland will serve as party headquarters during Mickey’s 65th birthday celebration. It will be located on a 4.5 acre site adjacent to “It’s a Small World.”

Of course, prior to the beginning of construction, this Disneyland expansion project underwent a name change. With “Mickey’s Starland” (Which — not so co-incidentally — was named after the new “land” that had been hurriedly added to WDW’s Magic Kingdom back in 1988 as part of Mickey’s 6oth birthday celebration) eventually becoming “Mickey’s Toontown.”

Mind you, the Imagineers’ original plans for this Disneyland addition do differ significantly from what eventually actually got built. For — if WDI had gone forward with their first line-up of attractions for this part of the park, “Mickey’s Starland / Mickey’s Toontown” would have featured:

  • Kermit the Frog presents Muppetvision 3D — Yep, prior to this show being proposed as a possible replacement for Disneyland’s “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” attraction (and long before “Muppetvision 3D” wound up in DCA), the Imagineers envisioned building the Muppet Theater right in the middle of Toontown’s downtown area. Which (I’ll admit) seems like kind of a strange fit. But wait ’til you hear what was supposed to built right next door to Miss Piggy & pals.
  • The Little Mermaid — According to the “Disney Decade” press release: “Set to open in the mid-1990s in Mickey’s Starland, this magical adventure will take guests for a ride in the mirthful, musical undersea kingdom of Ariel the meraid and her friend Sebastian the Crab.

FYI: The “Little Mermaid” dark ride that the Imagineers were proposing for construction in Disneyland’s “Mickey’s Starland / Mickey’s Toontown” area was actually going to be a clone of an attraction that WDI was already planning on building as part of Euro Disneyland’s “Phase II.” You can actually see images of this proposed “Little Mermaid” attraction on early versions of the EDL souvenir map, which list the ride as “Coming Soon.” Sadly, neither the Disneyland nor the Euro Disneyland version of this “Little Mermaid” drak ride ever get built.

Starting to get depressed yet, Darlene? Wait. It gets worse. In 1994, Disneyland was supposed to have gotten a brand new Tomorrowland. AKA Tomorrowland 2055, a completely new take on this side of the theme park. Quoted again from that “Disney Decade” press release:

Disneyland’s exciting “land of the future” will get a totally new 21st Century look for the summer of 1994. Guest will be able to stroll along “Sky Walks” which will give the area a second story. The ever-popular “Star Tours” and “Space Mountain” attractions will be joined by several sensational new adventures:

  • Alien Encounter, produced in collaboration with George Lucas, will put visitors in the middle of a teleportation experiment gone wrong. An interplanetary foul-up will cause a terrifying alien to appear in the spectators’ midst.
  • Plectu’s Fantastic Galactic Revue will house a resident troupe of itinerant alien entertainers. Stranded in Tomorrowland, these extraterrestrials will turn to show business for survival, presenting an outer-space musical-variety revue.
  • A New Circle-Vision 360 Film — Presented by Delta Air Lines, the spectacular new addition to the Circle-Vision 360 theatre will explore the scenic wonders and culture of Western civilization. Sophisticated Audio-Animatronics characters will disappear into the film at key points, blurring the line between fantasy and reality.

A New Disney 3-D Motion Picture, produced by George Lucas, will offer visitors to the new Tomorrowland the latest in dazzling, 3-D film technology.

Of the four projects listed above, only two of them — “Alien Encounter” and that new Circle-Vision 360 film (I.E. “The Timekeeper” AKA “From Time to Time”) — ever actually made it off WDI’s drawing board. And even then neither of these attractions were ever built in Anaheim. But — rather — made their debuts in WDW’s “The Future That Never Was” version of New Tomorrowland and Euro Disneyland’s Discoveryland, respectively.

For 1995 … The Imagineers were able to stay on track for at least part of their “Disney Decade” plans for the “Happiest Place on Earth.” Which called for ” … Walt Disney’s first theme park will celebrate a historic birthday with bigger-than-ever festivities, parades and shows.” One of the proposed highlights of Disneyland’s 40th anniversary celebration was “… the welcoming of Disneyland’s 400 millionth guest.” Sadly, this part of the Imagineer’s plan did pan out either. For the Anaheim theme park didn’t actually receive its 400 millionth visitor ’til July 5, 1997, when Minnie Pepito pushed her way through the turnstiles.

Anyway … Once 1996 rolled around, had the “Disney Decade” masterplan been closely adherred to, Disneyland would have seen the addition of a brand-new attraction — *** Tracy’s Crime Stoppers — which would have actually heralded the coming of a whole new “land” at the Anaheim theme park, Hollywoodland.

“So what would it have been like to ride the ‘*** Tracy’s Crime Stoppers’ attraction?,” you ask. Quoting again from that Disneyland press release from the Spring of 1990:

Guests will literally get “into the act” in this new high-tech action-adventure featuring the very latest in Audio-Animatronics, simulation, sound and special effects.Guest will join America’s favorite comic-strip detective in a high-speed chase with his gangster adversaries.

1999 would have seen the completion of Disneyland’s Hollywoodland. Which was to have been constructed on that piece of backstage property between Tomorrowland and Main Street U.S.A. This new “land” was to have been ” … an idealized recreation of Hollywood Boulevard in the ’30s and ’40s, complete with shops, restaurants and the atmosphere that marked the ‘Golden Age of Movies.’ “

“But what about Space Mountain?,” you query. “Wouldn’t that large white futurristic-looking building looming up behind Hollywood Boulevard have blown the effect that the Imagineers were going for?” Not to worry, folks. WDI had a plan. Which involved redressed the backstage-facing portion of Space Mountain so that the show building now resembled the Hollywood hills. Complete with its very own replica of the original Hollywood sign.

The above pencil drawing is one of the only layouts that I’ve ever seen for Disneyland’s Hollywoodland. Guests would have enter this part of the theme park via the arch at the lower right, which was to have been located near just off of Town Square in Main Street U.S.A.

As for the attractions that the Imagineers hoped to have built in Disneyland’s Hollywoodland area, these were to have included (again quoting from that 1990 press release):

  • Toontown Trolley will introduce a new fantasy dimension to the simulator technology made popular by “Star Tours.” Roger Rabbit will take guests on a wild ride through the cartoon world of Toontown, first seen in the Touchstone Pictures release, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” executive-produced by Steven Spielberg.
  • Baby Herman’s Runaway Baby Buggy Ride, inspired by the misadventures of Baby Herman and Roger Rabbit in the recent Disney cartoon short “Tummy Trouble,” will zoom through the sets of Toontown Hospital, fly down stairs, crash through doors and bound over beds.
  • The Great Movie Ride, which debuted last year at the Disney-MGM Studios at Walt Disney World in Florida, travels through the most memorable scenes from classic films of yesteryear, as recreated with the most complex and realistic Disney Audio-Animatronic technology ever developed.
  • Superstar Television will enable guests to step into scenes from classic television programs and take co-starring roles opposite their favorite TV stars.

Above is a concept painting of the interior of the “Toontown Trolley” attraction, where Roger Rabbit was supposed to take Disneyland guests on a tour of “The City That Toons Built” … And — of course — something goes horribly wrong as soon as the ride gets underway.

As for the plans for the rest of the Disneyland Resort, this press release mentions that “… the Disneyland Hotel is already seeing the first steps in a $40 million enhancement program which will bring major improvement and additions in guest rooms, recreation and dining.”

As for a second gate for the resort, there’s absolutely no mention of Westcot, Port Disney or California Adventure. Just a bland, deliberately vague paragraph which reads:

Development and construction of a second Disney theme park for Southern California will begin before the end of the 1990s. The new park will be located either adjacent to Disneyland or in Long Beach.

And that — my friends — is Disneyland’s portion of the “Disney Decade” plan. Please note that nowhere in this plan is there any mention of a “Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin” ride, an “Indiana Jones Adventure” attraction or a “Fantasmic!” waterfront show. Or — for that matter — is there any talk of a “Light Magic” streetacular or the “Rocket Rods.”

Anyway … That’s enough “Disney Decade” for this week, Darlene. Maybe sometime in the not-so-distant future, I’ll get around to detailing what sorts of rides, shows & attractions the Walt Disney World resort would have gotten under this plan.

Alright. Enough with talking about what might have been built at Disneyland. Let’s get to the questions & the answers that you folks really want to hear. As in: Who won this week’s JHM NYC / Disney Trivia Challenge.

QUESTION NO. 1: What’s the name of the NYC theater where “Steamboat Willie” had its theatrical debut?

ANSWER: “Steamboat Willie” debuted at the Colony Theater in New York City on November 18, 1928.

QUESTION NO. 2: Which Disney feature length animated cartoon had its world premiere at this very same theater some twelve years later?

ANSWER: “Fantasia” debuted at this same theater (which — sometime during the intervening years — had changed its name from the Colony to the Broadway Theater) on November 13, 1940.

QUESTION NO. 3: What was the name of the first Disney animated feature to be adapted to the stage?

ANSWER: This was the trick question that tripped up most JHM readers. The answer was NOT “Beauty and the Beast,” but — rather — “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Which Walt Disney Productions presented in NYC in 1979.


QUESTION NO. 4:
In which theater was this show presented?

ANSWER: The stage version of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was presented at Radio City Music Hall.

QUESTION NO. 5: What was the name of the first Disney Theatrical production to be presented in the newly renovated New Amsterdam theater?

ANSWER: A concert version of “King David” was the inaugural event at the New Amsterdam. This new musical by Alan Menken & Tim Rice debuted on May 18, 1997 was only performed nine times in NYC (Six regular performances and three previews).

Of the nearly 200 entrants, would you believe that we only had three JHM readers who actually got it right? Their names are:

  • Robert A. Kolakowski
  • Tony Ruberto, Jr.
  • Benji Breitbart

Congratulations, gentlemen! I’ll be contacting you shortly to get your mailing information. Thanks to all of you who entered this week’s JHM readers contest. If you’d like another shot at some pretty nifty prizes, go check out Andrew Frank’s “Incredibles” contest.

That’s it for this week, folks. Here’s hoping that the lights stay on where you are this weekend. We’ll see you all again on Monday, okay?

Have a great weekend,

jrh

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.

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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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