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Cartoonist-at-Large #1: The “Secret Origin” of San Diego’s Comic-Con International

Guest columnist Scott Shaw! looks back on the early, early days of SDCCI. Back before the Con had consumed the entire San Diego Convention Center, when the meet could still be held in the U.S. Grant’s moldering basement.

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From July 14th through 17th, the city of San Diego will once again play host to Comic-Con International. Over the years, I’ve read and overheard a number of accounts relating how the annual event — once known as the “San Diego Comic-Con” — came into existence in the first place. Well, I was one of the small group of people who were there at the very start, and I’m one of the only remaining original organizers still involved with SoCal’s annual media-fest. So, to the best of my memory, here are the actual events — as I experienced them — which led to the formation of what has become the nation’s biggest annual geek-gathering of its type.

Growing up in San Diego, I was lucky enough to become friends with a few similarly-inclined young weirdos during my junior high and high school years in the 1960s. These included: Greg Bear (who’s since become a Hugo Award-winning science fiction writer); John Pound (who’s since become a well-known fantasy painter and humorous illustrator who’s created hundreds of images for Topps Cards’ infamous “Garbage Pail Kids” trading cards); and Roger Freedman (who’s since become an award-winning physics professor and textbook author who teaches college courses on “Science Fiction for Scientists”). Other members of our oddball gang were H.P. Lovecraft aficionado Dave Clark and actor and horror movie maven/actor “Bilzo” Richardson. Working together, we formed our own “Underground Film Society,” we published hand-lettered mimeographed fanzines with goofy titles like WORLDS OF WOW and FAN ATTIC and we occasionally ventured northward to Los Angeles for visits to Forrest J Ackerman‘s fabled “Ackermansion“. There, we first met “big name” fans like Donald F. Glut and Bill and Beverly Warren, their names already familiar to us through Forry‘s classic FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine. These contacts led to attending my first convention, BayCon, the 1968 World Science Fiction Convention, held in Berkeley, California. There, my pals Greg and Dave and I met fellow fans (some soon to become pros) like Larry Ivie, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Rob and Jeff Gluckson, and Keith Tucker. Remember, this was 1968 Berkeley; I can’t imagine a more mind-blowing introduction to fandom-at-large. And after BayCon 68, nothing seemed the same to our little fan contingent from San Diego.

Back in San Diego, we soon fell in with publisher/retailer Ken Krueger (an attendee of the very first “scientifiction” convention held in 1939, officially making him a member of the elite-if-obscure group known as “First Fandom“) and collectible book dealer John Hull. We formed our own sci-fi fan club, “The ProFanests” (the group consisted pros and fans and we were certainly profane at times), quaffed beer and ate raw hamburger cocktails (don’t ask) and hung out at Ken‘s flyblown Ocean Beach bookstore where we discussed the latest batch of “Ace Doubles” with the walk-in locals who frequented the place.

At that same time, I was working as a floor clerk at the newly opened B. Dalton, Bookseller retail store in San Diego’s then-newly-opened Fashion Valley shopping center. (To my impressionable eyes, it seemed like a very sophisticated bookshop; I was particularly fascinated by the shop’s window-display of a pyramid of paperbacks of Grove Press’ adaptation of the controversial, semi-pornographic Danish art-film I AM CURIOUS YELLOW.) One night, a fellow named Bob Sourke came in, looking for a then-current series of PRINCE VALIANT reprints thinly disguised as children’s books. When he learned I was an aspiring cartoonist and general funnybook fiend, Bob invited me to a get-together of comic book fans he knew. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was always interested in meeting other people who loved comics and cartooning.

A few weeks later, I showed up for the informal meeting at a small apartment one Sunday afternoon. There, I met San Diego’s “other” fan group, which included: Shel Dorf (then in his mid-thirties and recently relocated from Detroit, where he was one of the organizers of its “Triple Fan Fair“), Richard Alf (a local teenager who was one of the first — and most successful — mail-order back-issue comics dealers), and other fans, including Bill Lund, Mike Towry, Barry Alfonso, and the aforementioned Bob Sourke. Shel was running a slideshow of Golden Age comic books covers. (I recall his expression of surprise when I, a mere teenage hippie, correctly identified a vintage cover as having been drawn by Bernard Baily.)

In 1969, Shel arranged trips for many of us to visit cartoonist Jack Kirby and his wife Roz at their home in Thousand Oaks, California. (The warmth, hospitality, generosity and interest that the Kirbys showed us cannot possibly be overstated; Jack mentored me over the next three decades, until his death in 1994.) That’s where we met Jack‘s assistants (and my friends for now over three decades) Mark Evanier and Steve and Gary Sherman. During one visit, Jack even volunteered to give five of us — Bill Lund, Mike Towry, Roger Freedman, John Pound, Barry Alfonso and myself — cameo roles in an issue of one of the “Fourth World” comics he’d recently begun doing for DC. Sure enough, SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN No. 144 (December, 1972) introduced “The San Diego Five-String Mob“, a rock band of evil assassins from the Darkseid-ruled planet, Apokolips, sent to Earth gunning for the Man Of Steel! (One of us, Barry Alfonso actually inspired two different Kirby creations: the Five-Stringers’ “Barri-Boy,” and later, “Klarion The Witchboy” in THE DEMON. Recently, Klarion received his own comic book series and the real Barry received a Grammy Award for his CD liner notes!)

By that time, most of my group of high school fan-friends, the ProFanests and Shel‘s group had become amalgamated into the ever-growing social blob that was San Diego’s core of funnybook fandom. It wasn’t long before we decided to stage our very first one-day comic convention. (San Diego’s Mission Valley had already hosted the WesterCon science fiction convention a few years earlier.) We all eagerly agreed that a comic book convention was just what we — and San Diego — needed.

(Strangely enough, it never occurred to any of us that — since in those days, the majority of the talents involved in the comic book industry lived in or near New York City — San Diego was the perfect place to combine business and pleasure, and to take a tax-deductible family vacation, to boot!)

We plunged blindly ahead. Shel Dorf provided his list of professional contacts and potential guests, Richard Alf provided the vital seed-money for our initial operating expenses, and Ken Krueger provided his valuable savvy and know-how from a lifetime in fandom, conventions, publishing, and retail sales. The rest of us provided the raw enthusiasm to do whatever it took to get the con off the ground and running, if not flying. As for my role in the proceedings, I served as one of the first con’s five committee chairmen and designed the convention’s first logos and drew its advertising posters. I also hosted many of our early con-planning meetings on the patio at my parents’ house in the College Grove area. (Hey, I was only 17 or so at the time!)

Shel enlisted our first pro guests for both the March one-day mini-con and August’s first, full-blown, three-day “San Diego Comic-Con”: Forry Ackerman, Mike Royer, Jack Kirby, Ray Bradbury, San Diego EVENING TRIBUNE editorial cartoonist Bob Stevens, and science fiction author A. E. Van Vogt. That first con, held in the basement of the U.S. Grant Hotel, was, for its day, a rousing success. (The U. S. Grant Hotel wasn’t the snazziest of venues, but it was the only one made available to us; in fact, no other hotel in town was willing to risk hosting an event that would garner such a low bar-attendance. Fortunately, we had Ken and Shel to sign the contract; the rest of us were under-age!) Other than young Jackie Estrada (now co-publisher of Exhibit A Press and administrator of the prestigious Eisner Awards), the only females attending the 300-attendee event were fans’ mothers!

My involvement with the convention continued. Its second year, saddled with the exhausting title of “The San Diego Golden State Comic-Con” (>Phew!<), the growing event was held on the campus of the University Of California At San Diego, and the one after that was hosted by the Sheraton Hotel located on San Diego’s Shelter Island. Then the con moved to downtown San Diego, with its exhibition hall at the Community Concourse, and with lodging and most of the programming at the nearby El Cortez Hotel (the swimming pool of which was often clouded with fan-dispensed shark repellant.) It was early during this period that the convention’s committee wisely voted to apply for a “not-for-profit” business status. Years later, the San Diego Comic-Con finally relocated to its current venue, San Diego’s ocean-side Convention Center. (In fact, this will be the first year in which the con &shy; estimated to have a total attendance near 100,000 people — will occupy the entire available space of the Convention Center; from now on, there’s nowhere to extend its domain — except upwards!) Now known as “Comic-Con International” (a name that oughtta keep San Diego’s tourist bureau in a continual state of cooperative fear), the little 300-person basement-gathering has grown, over the past thirty-seven years, into the United States’ largest event of its kind. In fact, it’s San Diego’s single biggest annual tourist event, its presence accompanied by a mind-blowing ballyhoo of TV and radio ads, street-banners and bus-posters.

Of course, the term “Comic-Con” doesn’t even begin to describe the diversity of SDCCI’s wall-to-wall programming. Aside from comic books, the convention’s schedule includes events devoted to contemporary comic books (and their creators), vintage comic books (and their creators), original artwork (from both categories), science fiction and fantasy literature, animation (both domestic and foreign), genre television shows, pulp magazines, weaponry (both real and faux), genre theatrical (and direct-to-DVD) films, role-playing games, action figures, vintage toys, old time radio shows, video games, glamour art, costumes — and, oh, I give up (in much the same way I’m now forced to give up my hopes of navigating the con’s entire exhibit hall.) Let’s just say that, if a topic is considered to be somewhat dispensable and silly in real life, chances are, it¹s considered to be of primary importance at SDCCI.

Over the past thirty-seven years, some of my personal high points at the con have included: hosting the Inkpot Awards presentations, where I was able to shake the hands of so many notable creators; meeting cartoonists for the first time who would become some of my best friends, including Sergio Aragones, Stan Sakai, Dan Nakrosis, Mike Kazaleh, Dave Thorne, William Stout, Bill Morrison, Batton Lash and Don Dougherty, among many others; performing on-stage during the con masquerade with “Raoul Duke And His All-Human Orchestra“; befriending Sam Glanzman, the artist behind one of my childhood’s favorite comic books, Dell’s KONA, MONARCH OF MONSTER ISLE; presenting my Oddball Comics slideshow over the last four decades; and introducing our infant son Kirby to his namesake, Jack Kirby.

As for the low points? Being told, as an aspiring cartoonist, by Neal Adams to “give it up“? (Years later, he swears he was just kidding — and supposedly said the same thing to Frank Miller!) Getting physically threatened by a muscle-bound contestant who was furious that, while hosting the annual masquerade, I dared refer to his costume of the mighty Thor’s immortal enemy, the Destroyer as “the Michelin Man“? (Hey, he really did look like he was made out of radial tires!) Or perhaps it was facing an angry crowd of blood-donors who were misinformed that I’d do a complimentary drawing for each and every one of them? (For the life of me, I can’t possibly think of a less appropriate time or place to donate blood than at a funnybook convention.) Considering that I¹ve attended every single day of every single San Diego Comic-Con — International and otherwise — that really ain’t such a bad track record.

(Y’know, William Shatner was right — I’ve really gotta get a life.)

As I look back at those early days of the Comic-Con and attempt to compare them to its current incarnation, I’m stymied — there’s really no comparison at all! As I mentioned, attendance is huge, and bigger with every coming year. (I understand that the staff of the world-famous San Diego Zoo is justifiably jealous, they no longer can boast having the town’s largest collection of exotic critters.) If comic book sales reflected this sort of public interest, the funnybook industry would be booming (which, by all counts — except those of the publishers’ PR flacks — definitely ain’t.) At times — usually on Saturdays — its exhibit hall’s aisles are jammed with shoulder-to-shoulder pedestrian gridlock, and there’s “standing room only” for many of the con’s individual programs upstairs. The con’s also become surprisingly diverse, with Kevin Smith-lookalike males barely outnumbering the females. (Where, oh where were you when I was 19, single and desperate for the companionship of a cute girl-geek?) Even entire families visit the con; in fact, some of their kids have literally grown up there, attending every year of their young lives!) By now, Hollywood’s presence is unavoidable; it’s hard to walk a few yards without tripping over Angelina Jolie or Keanu Reeves or a full-scale model of the Millennium Falcon. In general, big business seems to exert amazing influence over the convention — why else would otherwise intelligent individuals stand in line for hours on end for the privilege of purchasing a special, limited “variant edition” of a Muppet toy? Among all of these conspicuous displays of marketing and branding, old comic books and their fans seem to have actually become something of a minority at this crowded “comic-con.” Sometimes, when I feel overwhelmed by all the Hollywood hype and corporate chest-beating, I can¹t help but miss the heady days of the U. S. Grant’s moldering basement. But when I consider that Comic-Con International allows me the opportunity to reconnect with friends I’ve known for decades, at the world¹s biggest “class reunion,” it’s easy to shrug off whatever misgivings I may foster regarding the con’s ever-mutating size and tone.

Still, there remain two aspects of the convention that haven’t changed an iota. Despite advancements in the field, convention-hall food is just as rotten and overpriced as ever. And, as before, approximately one out of every thirty convention-goers seems to allocate their personal budgets toward the purchase of comic books rather than items of personal hygiene. (One of these days, I’m gonna invent “collectible deodorant” and make a financial killing — while simultaneously earning the undying thanks of the other four-fifths of the crowd. But with my luck, the buyers will probably refuse to remove my collectible deodorants from their wrappers to actually use ?so they can keep ’em in minty-fresh mint condition!)

Due to the initial efforts of Richard, Shel, Ken and all of the others who worked on that first San Diego Comic-Con committee — as well as the hundreds of people who’ve served on all the San Diego con committees ever since then — Comic-Con International has become the biggest and best celebration of cartoonery in the United States. I’ll always be justifiably proud of the small part I had in its inception, over thirty-seven years ago.

So, who’s got a nice copy of DC’s SHOWCASE No. 71 (November – December, 1967) — featuring “The Maniaks” and guest-starring Woody Allen — for sale, cheap?


SCOTT SHAW! was born in New York City on September 4, 1951, but being a Navy brat, he grew up in San Diego, California. His first published work in comic books was for Ken Krueger¹s GORY STORIES QUARTERLY and other underground “comix” in the late 1960s, and his first mainstream work appeared in various mid-70s Hanna-Barbera titles, including THE FLINTSTONES, YOGI BEAR and LAFF-A-LYMPICS, all published by Marvel. With Roy Thomas, he co-created DC’s CAPTAIN CARROT AND HIS AMAZING ZOO CREW! Since then, he¹s edited, written, pencilled and/or inked many other kid-friendly funnybooks, including Eisner Award-winning work on Bongo’s SIMPSONS COMICS and BART SIMPSON’S TREEHOUSE OF HORROR. Scott has also worked extensively in animation as a producer/director/designer/writer/story director, receiving four Emmy Awards for his work on JIM HENSON’S MUPPET BABIES. For nearly ten years, he was Senior Art Director for the Ogilvy & Mather advertising agency, writing, designing, storyboarding and art directing all of the animated TV commercials, print ads and package designs for Post Pebbles (starring the Flintstones) and Alpha-Bits cereals. Scott¹s recent projects include writing and drawing gags and storyboarding sequences for Disney¹s direct-to-video productions, MICKEY¹S TWICE UPON A CHRISTMAS, MULAN II and THE THREE MUSKETEERS. Recent TV projects include Disney¹s TEAMO SUPREMO, AMERICAN DRAGON and KATBOT and Warner Bros.¹ DUCK DODGERS, WHAT¹S NEW, SCOOBY-DOO?, JOHNNY TEST and KRYPTO THE SUPERDOG. Scott also writes and draws stories for Bongo’s line of comic books starring THE SIMPSONS. Additionally, he writes a popular weekly online column, ODDBALL COMICS, with over 1,000 archived entries that humorously examine and deconstruct “the craziest comic books ever published” (appearing exclusively at www.comicbookresources.com/columns/oddball/). Scott currently resides in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely and patient wife Judith, talented son Kirby, three black cats (Ditko, Stanlee and Simon), a border collie (Daisy) and all-too-many vintage comic books, toys, DVDs, books, artwork, statuettes and other bizarre byproducts of a happily misspent life as a cartoonist-at-large. Visit Scott¹s website at http://www.shawcartoons.com/

Check out the CRAZIEST comic books ever published!

SCOTT SHAW! presents ODDBALL COMICS — voted Comic Book Resources’ “Favorite Column”! A new weird ‘n’ wacky funnybook every Friday — with over 1,050 Oddball Comics now archived — exclusively available at: http://www.comicbookresources.com/columns/oddball/

New next week: ODDBALL COMIC # 1,076: FRIDAY, JULY 8, 2005 — Sure, many of you are well-aware of Charlton’s superheroes such as Blue Beetle, Thunderbolt and Peacemaker! But have you ever heard of their would-be enemy — “evil’s own superhero-or super smart aleck” &– Jack Biceps, AKA Sinistro, Boy Fiend? No, he’s not Green Lantern’s longtime foe — that’s “Sinestro”! Instead, he’s the star of an ODDBALL issue of CHARLTON PREMIERE from 1968! (If poor ol’ Blue Beetle hadn¹t already been murdered, seeing this story again would have killed him for sure!)

Visit my Oddball Comics discussion board and vote in the weekly Oddball Comics Rate-A-Rama at http://forums.comicbookresources.com/forumdisplay.php?f=27
—–
Visit my website for my art samples and resume! http://www.shawcartoons.com/

© 2005 Scott Shaw!

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.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“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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