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Around the World with Why For

Disney World, that is. In honor of next week’s Mega-Mouse Meet at WDW, Jim Hill answers your questions about Central Florida’s vacation kingdom. Revealing what the Costa Rica pavilion that was proposed for World Showcase was supposed to have been like as well as talking about all the problems that Disney had with constructing the Contemporary & Polynesian hotels. Plus the winner of this week’s JHM readers contest!

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First of all, let me apologize for my somewhat low profile at JHM this week. But we’ve had some pretty wild weather these past couple of days up here in New England. With winds of 45-50 MPH knocking down tree limbs. Which — in turn — took out a number of power lines in our neck of the woods.

And — you know — there’s nothing like sitting a cold, dark house for a couple of days to make you think: it’s really time to get back to Orlando.

Which is where I’ll be this time next week. Doing the meet-n-greet thing at Mousefest 2004 as well as running my latest set of JHM tours over at the Magic Kingdom. (Though — to be honest — I don’t know which I’ll enjoy more: Getting to chat with all you nice JHM readers at Saturday’s Mega-Mouse Meet or just being someplace where it’s nice and warm again. Anyway … )

In honor of next week’s festivities in Orlando, I thought that I might put together a special Disney World edition of “Why For.” Where I’d answer JHM readers’ questions about Central Florida’s vacation kingdom.

So — first up — is a question from Carla F. Who asks:

Dear Mr. Hill —

As they say on talk radio, I’m a long-time listener, first-time caller. I’ve been a fan of your stuff ever since I first read your “California Misadventure” series over at MousePlanet. (Those are the sorts of stories that I think you really do best, Jim. Those long-winded tales about theme parks or attractions that never got built. Which is why it’s been nice to see you getting back to articles like that lately and not spending so much time beating up on SaveDisney.com.)

Speaking of stuff that never got built, I was wondering if you could tell me something about my favorite theme park: Epcot. Whenever I’m walking around World Showcase lagoon, I always notice all the huge gaps between the international pavilions. Like that big open space between China and Germany. I know that — back in the early 1980s, when Epcot Center first opened — that Disney had originally hoped that a lot more countries would eventually sign up to be part of World Showcase. But that — for some reason or another — that never happened.

So can you help me fill in the gaps, Jim? Tell me what country was supposed to be where in World Showcase?

Thanks,

Carla F.

Dear Carla F. —

Sure, I’d be glad to help out you out here. Take — for example — that gap between China and Germany where the “Villager Traders” souvenir shop and the “Refreshment Outpost” snack stand are currently located. That was where Epcot’s Equatorial African pavilion was supposed to have been built.

But — when we’re talking about what-was-supposed-to-be-where at World Showcase — it’s always important to remember that WED had several different site plans for this section of Epcot Center. And that — over the decade that this theme park was in serious development — World Showcase’s layout actually changed a number of times.

Take — for example — the 1977 plan. Back when the Imagineers were still convinced that they’d be able to recruit enough countries to fill up every available inch of space around World Showcase Lagoon. Of course, this was back when the U.S. pavilion wasn’t supposed to be housed in some enormous red-brick federalist-looking building on the other side of the lake. But — rather — an immense futuristically-styled structure that was to have stood (on stilts, no less!) in the Showcase Plaza area. Right inbetween where the “Port of Entry” and “Disney Traders” shops are currently located.

Yeah, that version of World Showcase (as it was envisioned by the Imagineers back in 1977) was to have been decidedly different from the one that we have today. Instead of the “American Adventure” occupying the 12 o’clock position at the very top of World Showcase Lagoon, WED wanted to build an ornate bridge in that spot. One that was to have allowed Epcot visitors to walk past this beautiful fountain, which was supposed to have sprayed water hundreds of feet in the air.

“A fountain? There?!,” you gasp. “But then where would all of the countries have gone?” Well … Sticking with our clock face analogy for a while: If you would have traveled around World Showcase Lagoon — moving from the 12 o’clock to 3 o’clock position — you would have encountered (in this order):

  • Italy
  • Great Britain
  • Sahara / Africa
  • France
  • Mexico

At the 3’clock position, you would have encountered another bridge. Which was pretty much in the position where you’ll find the bridge that separates Epcot’s France and United Kingdom pavilions today.

Then — moving from the 3’oclock to the 6 o’clock position around World Showcase Lagoon — you would have encountered (in this order):

  • Scandanavia
  • Israel
  • South Korea
  • Canada
  • Saudi Arabia

At the 6’clock position, we would have found that futuristic-looking U.S. pavilion that I described earlier. Then — moving from the 6 o’clock to the 9 o’clock position — you would have encountered (in this order):

  • Morocco
  • Costa Rica
  • Taiwan
  • Australia / New Zealand
  • Switzerland

At the 9 o’clock position, Epcot visitors would have found yet another bridge. One quite similar to the one that lies between the China & German pavilion today. Then — moving from the 9 o’clock to the 12 o’clock position — you would have encountered (in this order):

  • Holland
  • West Germany
  • Brazil
  • Japan
  • Poland

That’s one pretty wild mix of countries, don’t you think? Europe right next to South America, which is then right next to Asia. But you have to understand that this was actually the effect that the Imagineers were originally shooting for. To give Epcot visitors that sharp sense of contrast that can only come when you place several distinctly different types of architecture right next to one another.

“But which one — out of all of the World Showcase pavilions that the Imagineers ultimately didn’t build — do you think was the biggest loss, Jim?,” you query. To be honest, I think I’d have to say that it was actually the smallest structure that WED ever designed for this part of the theme park … The Costa Rica pavilion.

I mean, take a look at this photo of several Imagineers fussing over the model for Epcot’s proposed Costa Rica pavilion.

1980 Walt Disney Productions

Doesn’t the exterior of this proposed pavilion look really great? Like a set for some yet-to-be-filmed “Indiana Jones” film?

“So what would the inside of the Costa Rica pavilion have been like?,” you ask. Here. Let’s let David Baron — the WED executive who actually supervised the development of World Showcase — take you on a brief tour of this show building:

“We feel (that this proposed World Showcase addition will be) a jewel. The architecture is Spanish colonial. We’ve taken the liberty of creating a crystal palace containing tropical gardens of Costa Rica. There’s an orchid show at the entrance. The conservatory covers a third of an acre, it has waterfalls, tropical birds — a very relaxing atmosphere. You’ll exit through a tourism area. There’ll be a snack bar serving seafoods and melons. Leather items, carved wood and that sort of thing will be sold in the craft and merchandise area.”

Mind you, I’m evidently not the only person who thought that the Costa Rica pavilion was really something special. The model that’s depicted in the above photograph was actually stolen out of WED’s model shop back in the early 1980s. Evidently some Imagineer — who was upset to learn that the Costa Rica pavilion had suddenly been pushed back from EPCOT Center’s “Phase I” to “Phase II” (Which meant — in essence — that this attraction was now mostly not going to get built) — decided to protest this decision by stealing the model.

Given the cost of creating a highly detailed model like this, Disney Productions management was (understandably) furious when they learned of the theft. The company launched a full-scale investigation, interviewing dozens of Imagineers. (After all, given the size of this model, it’s highly unlikely that just one man — or woman — could have spirited the thing out of WED’s model shop all by themselves.) But the culprit and/or culprits were never found.

To this day, the model for Epcot’s proposed Costa Rica pavilion remains MIA. Though — to be honest — every so often, I go over to eBay and type in the words “Epcot & Costa Rica.” Just to see what the site’s search function comes up with.

Anyway … I hope this gives you a little better sense of what was supposed to have been where in Epcot, Carla F.

Next up, BestinShow writes in to ask:

Jim —

What do you know about the hotel rooms over at the Contemporary? Weren’t they supposed to be built with this state-of-the-art construction technique where the completed rooms were slid straight into the building’s A frame — like drawers into a dresser?

If that’s really what happened here, Jim, then why haven’t we seen any cranes towering over at the Contemporary whenever that WDW hotel has had a rehab? Wouldn’t it stand to reason that — whenever Disney’s redone that resort — that they should just pulled out the old hotel rooms and replaced them with brand-new rooms?

Just wonderin’,

BestinShow

Dear Bestinshow–

Yeah, that was the plan originally. That — every decade or so — the folks at Walt Disney World would just be able to yank the old rooms out of their slots at the Contemporary and Polynesian Resort Hotels and replace them with brand-new state-of-the-art units.

But then — when Disney & the folks at U.S. Steel (I.E. The corporation who actually built & operated the on-site factory that constructed all of the hotel rooms for the Contemporary and the Polynesian) came up with this innovative construction technique — they forgot to take one rather important thing into account: Central Florida’s incredible humidity. Which is how all of these 1970s-era hotel rooms basically wound up rusting in place inside of their resort’s metal frames.

Thus ended Disney’s experiment in modular construction. Though — truth be told — given the enormous cost over-runs that the company incurred during the construction phase of these two hotels (U.S Steel had originally promised to deliver finished modular hotel rooms to the Disney Corporation for just $17,000 per unit. But — by the time the construction of the Contemporary & the Polynesian had basically been completed — the cost of these finished modular hotel rooms had actually risen to over $100,000 per unit. So is it any wonder that Disney & U.S. Steel eventually had a huge falling-out? With the end result being that the Mouse actually bought out U.S. Steel’s share in the resort and then booted this American manufacturing giant off of the WDW project? Anywho …), I seriously doubt that Disney is ever going to use this particular construction technique again.

And — finally — Michael M. writes in to ask:

Jim —

I don’t get it. Disney World has a monorail system that runs from the Magic Kingdom to Epcot. And yet it only runs buses to Disney-MGM and Animal Kingdom.

Wouldn’t it be less expensive in the long run (and more environmentally sound) for Disney to just extend its pre-existing monorail system to the resort’s two other theme parks as well as Downtown Disney? Not to mention Wilderness Lodge, Animal Kingdom Lodge, the Boardwalk resorts and all those water parks?

I mean, not running monorails to WDW’s value resorts … That — I guess — I can understand. But to only have trains that service the Magic Kingdom, its resorts and Epcot just seems like incredibly poor urban planning on Disney’s part.

So what’s really going on here, Jim? Why doesn’t Disney run monorails all over its Central Florida property? Did the company have some sort of  falling-out with Alweg? What’s the real story here?

Thanks for agreeing to answer my letter. Please keep up the good work at your site,

Michael M.

Dear Michael M. —

Well, for starters, Alweg didn’t  make Walt Disney World’s monorails. That resort’s first set of trains were actually constructed by the Martin Marietta Corporation at that company’s Central Florida production facility.

Now — as to why the monorails don’t run to Disney-MGM, Animal Kingdom et al  … Well, it’s the same old story when it comes to the modern Walt Disney Company, Michael M. The projected cost of adding several different monorail lines to the WDW resort eventually proved to be too high.

How high are we talking here, Michael? Well, I’ve seen reports that suggest that it could cost as much as $1 million for every quarter mile of track that was to be added to the pre-existing system. And we’re just talking about track here, folks. Not the new trains that you’d need to ride on Disney World’s expanded monorail system. Not the new stations that you’d have to build at each of the resorts and theme parks on these lines. Not the new personnel that you’d need to hire to drive these trains and/or mann those stations. Or all of the back-of-the-house stuff and/or the annual maintenance involved. Just the track itself. Anyway …

The good news is that all the survey work that’s necessary for Disney World to eventually expand its pre-existing monorail system was actually done back in the early 1990s. And all this info (which includes a monorail line out to Celebration & back as well as an extension of the existing Magic Kingdom / Epcot line to accomodate a 5th WDW theme park) is currently on file at the Team Disney  building in Lake Buena Vista. Just waiting for a Disney CEO who isn’t afraid to spend a little (Alright. A lot of) dough to upgrade Disney World’s current transportation system.

So maybe if we all wish and hope … Hey! Speaking of wishes: We actually have a winner in this week’s contest. Where JHM readers had to write in and list exactly how many different characters the Genie played in “Aladdin.”

Well, I’m pleased to report that loyal JHM reader Gregory K. won this week’s contest by putting together this fairly exhaustive listing of the Genie’s characters. In alphabetical order, no less.

According to Mr. K, the Genie’s characters in the original “Aladdin” film  include:

Real People
Walter Brennan
William F. Buckley, Jr.
Julius Caesar
Carol Channing
Rodney Dangerfield
Robert De Niro
Elvis
Arsenio Hall
Groucho Marx
Ethel Merman
Jack Nicolson
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Ed Sullivan
Señor Wences (ventriloquist)

Cartoon Characters
Jafar
Pinocchio
Sebastian

Professions
boxing trainer
chef
cheerleadering squad
drum major
fat man
French waiter
Frenchman
flight attendant
game-show host
harem girl
little boy
magician
muscle man
nightclub entertainer
one-man band
pitcher (baseball)
Scotsman
script prompter
stewardess
tailor
teacher
tourist
TV parade hosts

Inanimate Objects
certificate
fireworks rocket
hammock
lampshade
moon
pair of lips
roast turkey
slot machine
submarine

Animals
bee
devil
dragon
goat
pink rabbit
rabbit
Scottish terrier
sheep
tiger
zombie

So — in recognition of all of Gregory’s fine work here — I’ll be sending him a copy of the “Aladdin” screenplay. Just as soon as he forks over his mailing information. So hop to it, Mr. K. !

Anyway … That about does it for this week’s “Why For.” (Mind you, Scott L. over at Mouseketrips.com would love it if I reminded you that there were still some spots available for the JHM Magic Kingdom tours that we’ve got scheduled for this coming Thursday & the Monday-after-next. So — if you’re going to be in Orlando over the next 10 days and would like to hear yours truly tell some seldom-told tales about that theme park — then I suggest that you  follow this link and sign up for one of those tours ASAP.)

Beyond that … Even if you’re not in a mood to hear me yammer about the Magic Kingdom, I’d still be pleased if all you JHM readers who’ll be in the Central Florida area next Saturday would drop by the Swan Hotel and check out this year’s Mega-Mouse Meet. I — along with dozens of other Disneyana webmasters — will be attending this once-a-year event. So this event should be a lot of fun.

So — if you’re free next Saturday — be sure to drop by Ballroom Salon 10 at the Swan Hotel and say “Hello.” You won’t be able to miss me. I’ll be the loud man in the loud shirt who’s wearing the extremely large name tag.

That’s it for this week, folks. Have a great weekend, okay?

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.

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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