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Did Stan, Kyle and Cartman really save “Raiders of the Lost Ark”?

Hey, you “Indiana Jones” fans. Before you rush on out to buy that Indy 4-disc DVD set (which goes on sale today), why don’t you offer up a little thanks to the guys who supposedly kept Steve Spielberg and George Lucas from digitally altering “Raiders”: “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

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Okay. Quick show of hands here: How many of you actually like the new improved version of “The Lion King” that made its DVD debut earlier this month? Particularly that Jeese-I-thought-that-this-was-a-lousy-song-in-the-Broadway-show-but-it’s-even-worse-now new musical number, “The Morning Report”?

For the life of me, I can not understand why – these days – certain movie makers feel that they MUST revisit their earlier films and make unnecessary changes and additions. In Disney’s case, this usually involves reanimating various sequences that supposedly weren’t up to snuff but actually contain some questionable content that the Mouse wants quietly excised. Or folding in a new song – with the hope that this move will be enough to convince people who already own this particular picture on video to now spring for the DVD.

But – in this one particular instance — I have to acknowledge that the Walt Disney Company is NOT the worst offender here. For – if we’re really going to talk about the two people who have made the most unnecessary changes to their own motion pictures – then we have to turn our attentions to George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

Arguably, these two gentlemen have directed and/or produced some of the greatest popcorn flicks of the late 1970s and early 1980s. “Jaws,” “Star Wars,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Films that were perfect pieces of entertainment – just the way they were.

But then — with the advent of digital filmmaking – Lucas and Spielberg suddenly decided that perfection could be improved upon. Which is why these two once-brilliant filmmakers opted to such lame-brain changes to their earlier films. Like as having Greedo shoot first in “Star Wars IV: A New Hope” and replacing all the federal agents’ rifles with walkie-talkies in “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.”

That’s why (me personally) I was dreading the release of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” on DVD. The very thought of what George and Steven might do to “improve” one of my favorite films just sickened me. Why for? Because I didn’t want a new, improved Indy. I liked “Raiders” just the way it was.

So – through friends at Skywalker Ranch — I had been keeping track of the “Raiders” redo. What sequences were supposedly slated for improvements, etc. And – based on what I’d been hearing from folks deep inside ILM – this project really was a go for Fall 2002. With the new, enhanced version of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” scheduled to make its debut on DVD in the Fall of 2003.

But then … late in the Summer of 2002, Lucas and Spielberg abruptly changed their minds. The word now was that the DVD version of “Raiders” would have no improvements made to it whatsoever. Other than cleaning up the print, rebalancing the color and remixing the sound, the film that we’d watch on our home entertainment center would be the exact same movie that we’d all seen in theaters back in June 1981.

What supposedly caused George and Steven to change their minds? Two words: “South Park.”

As strange as this may sound, but – allegedly – it was “Free Hat,” a particularly brutal episode of this animated Comedy Central TV series (which originally aired on July 10, 2002) that supposedly made Spielberg and Lucas have second thoughts about adding any digital enhancements to “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

What was it exactly about this one episode that reportedly made George and Steve cancel the “Raiders” redo project? Funny you should ask …

“Free Hat” opens with Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Tweak seated in South Park’s cinema, the Bijou. A preview is unspooling as an off-screen announcer is heard to say:

“Coming this summer. It’s the classic film that changed America. “E.T.: The Extraterrestrial,” the new, redone version for 2002. All the E.T. effects have been digitally upgraded. All the guns have been digitally changed to walkie-talkies. And the word ‘terrorist’ has been changed to ‘hippie.’ “

Stan complains, saying “Aw, dude, why would they do that?” Cartman concurs, given that “… hippies and terrorists are the same thing.” Kyle corrects Cartman, explaining that the real reason that “… they changed ‘terrorist’ to ‘hippie’ to make ‘E.T.’ more P.C.” Which – to Stan’s way of thinking – is “Gay.”

But then another trailer appears on the screen, as the off-screen announcer dramatically proclaims:

“Coming this summer! It’s the motion picture that changed America. “Saving Private Ryan,” the re-release. Where the word ‘Nazi’ has been changed to ‘Persons with Political Differences,’ and all their guns have been replaced by walkie-talkies.”

And – sure enough – up on the Bijou’s big screen is a scene from the revamped “Saving Private Ryan.” The Landing at Normandy in all its bloody glory. Only – in this version – all of the soldiers are carrying walkie-talkies instead of guns.

Stan continues to complain, saying “Why the hell do these directors keep updating their movies?” But then the previews are over and the main feature is about to begin. As the house lights dim, the off-screen announcer is heard for one final time:

“And now for our feature presentation: the classic re-re-re-release of ‘Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.’ In this version, the word ‘Wookie’ has been changed to ‘Hair Challenged Animal” and the entire cast has been digitally replaced by Ewoks.”

Upon hearing this, Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Tweek are furious. The boys exit the theater and immediately demand their money back. Only to be told by the Bijou’s manager that they’re out of luck.

As the boys walk away from the theater, Kyle starts complaining.”Why don’t they leave those movies alone?” he says. “We liked them the way they were.” Tweek chimes in with a somewhat deep thought: “Don’t you see what this means? All our favorite movies are going to be changed, and updated, until we can’t even recognize them anymore.”

Stan decides to take a stand. He says that “It isn’t fair for those a**hole directors to keep changing their movies and making them different! Movies are art, and art shouldn’t be modified!” Which is why he proposes starting a club that will protect classic films from their directors. So that these movies can’t be messed with.

Of course, given the way the world operates in the “South Park” universe, the boys soon find themselves on “Nightline” with Ted Koppel. With Kyle saying things like “We believe that films have to be taken away from people like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas because they’re insane.”

Which – of course – is the cue for Spielberg and Lucas to suddenly pop on the program. The animated version of Steve offers a spirited defense of his decision to alter “E.T.,” insisting that “… all we’re doing is trying to reach a new audience with our movies. As the makers of dreams, we like to speak for the children.” Kyle then chimes in: “Ah, I thought that we were speaking for the children.” With Cartman backing him up by saying: “Yeah, we’re children.”

Angered by Cartman’s comments, Spielberg sputters: “You little brat!” Quickly regaining his composure, the animated version of the Academy Award winning director continues his defense. “You darling children don’t know what you’re talking about. Changing ‘E.T.’ was the best thing I ever did.” Kyle tries to reason with Steven: “Dude, don’t you see that it’s not? It’d be like changing ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’!”

Spielberg and Lucas both immediately spark to Kyle’s comment. “Wait a minute,” says Steven. “What’d you say?” George chimes in: “That’s brilliant!” Spielberg continues: “Yes. Change ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’! Why didn’t we think of it before?!” Kyle – immediately regretting that he ever made this suggestion – screams “Noooo!”

Of course, now that Spielberg and Lucas have decided to digitally alter “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” it’s up to Kyle, Stan, Cartman and Tweek to save the day. And the only way to do this is to break into Skywalker Ranch and steal the original negative of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

It’s in this sequence that “South Park”‘s writers really being pouring on the “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” references. After the boys are caught in Skywalker Ranch’s film library, Kyle appeals directly to George – using dialogue that was lifted straight from “Return of the Jedi.”

Kyle: It’s not too late to do what’s right. Give us the print. There’s still some good in you, Mr. Lucas. We know there is.

George Lucas: (Hanging his head in shame and turning away) It is too late for me, boys.

Kyle tries to lure Lucas back from the Dark Side, so to speak. He reminds George that “You yourself led the campaign against the colorization of films. You understand why films shouldn’t be changed.” Lucas counters with “Well, that’s different. These are my movies. I made them, and I have the right to do whatever I want with them.”

That’s when Stan steps forward and – speaking for film fans everywhere – says: “You’re wrong, Mr. Lucas. They’re not your movies. They’re ours. All of ours. We paid to go see them, and they’re just as much a part of our lives as they are of yours.”

Kyle then chimes in: “When an artist creates, whatever they create belongs to society.” Lucas – clearly wavering under the power of the boys’ argument — says: “Have I become so old that I’ve forgotten what being an artist is about?”

Seeing his chance, Stan says “Give the print to us so that we can protect it from Spielberg and anyone else who wants to alter it.” Lucas – as he starts to hand the boys the “Raiders” original negative – states “Perhaps… you are right.”

But — just as Stan is about to claim the can of film from George – a door bangs open and someone cries “Stop!” It’s Steven Spielberg, accompanied by three walkie-talkie toting goons. Spielberg convinces Lucas to give him the “Raiders” negative by muttering darkly “Don’t forget: You belong to me.” After telling the boys that “I’m sorry,” George gives the film can to Steven.

Cackling wildly, Spielberg tells his guards: “Now take the children prisoner! You troublemakers shall be my guests of honor at the premiere of the NEW ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’!” The boys try to elude the goons, but only Tweek is actually able to escape.

A few moments later, in a scene that’s lifted directly out of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Spielberg is leading a group of people through a desert canyon on their way to the premiere of the revamped version of the movie. Just as they did in the original film, four litter-bearers are carrying a large packing case on two poles. But – instead of containing the Ark of the Covenant – this box contains the “Final Print – Raiders of the Lost Ark – 2002.”

Steve, George and their old friend Francis Ford Coppola (Who is also infamous for reworking his own earlier films. Witness “The Godfather Saga” as well “Apocalypse Now Redux”) are leading the three goons as well as Stan, Kyle and Cartman (who have their hands tied behind their backs). It’s just then that Tweek appears on a nearby hillside. And – just like Indy did in the original film – the freaked-out fourth grader is packing a bazooka.

In a beautiful little twist to the story, the Steven Spielberg character in “Free Hat” now starts acting like the villainous Belloq from “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Fanning himself with his hat, Spielberg says: “Your persistence surprises even me.” Also stepping in another character from the movie (I.E. the sadistic Nazi), Coppola states: “Surely you don’t think you can escape from this premiere.” Tweek – in Indiana Jones mode – says: “That depends on how reasonable we’re all willing to be. All I want are my friends.”

This sequence in this episode of “South Park” is a film geek’s dream. A beat-for-beat riff on the similar scene in “Raider of the Lost Ark.” The sequence reaches its satirical apex when Spielberg – again channeling for Belloq – challenges Tweek to “… Blow (the box) back to God. All your life has been the pursuit of seeing a great film! This new version of ‘Raiders’ has digital effects beyond your wildest dreams! You want to see it screened just as much as I. Son, we are simply passing through history. This is improved history.”

In the end, Tweek can’t bring himself to blow up the new, improved version of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Which is why he eventually finds himself tied up in the theater, along with Kyle, Stan and Cartman. As the premiere begins, Stan (Just as Indy warned Marian) warns his friends: “Close your eyes … Don’t watch the movie, you guys. It’ll be terrible. Close your eyes!”

And – as it turns out – Stan is right. The digital enhanced version of “Raiders” really is terrible. So horrible that (in another great life from the original film) it causes Lucas and Coppola’s faces to melt and Spielberg’s head to explode. The revamped version of the film also manages to kill everyone else who’s attending the premiere.

Everyone except Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Tweek. Who – after everything goes quiet – open their eyes again and survey the carnage.

Stunned by the devastation that they’re seeing, Cartman pretty much sums it up for everyone by saying: “Man, that new version must have sucked b*lls.”

This was – without a doubt – one of the strongest, meanest and funniest episodes of “South Park” ever produced. By that I mean: Spielberg, Lucas and Coppola had been teased before. By other TV shows, comics and comedians, even “Mad” magazine. But never before had this trio of supposedly revered filmmakers been so brutally filleted.

For days afterward, it was all that people in Hollywood could talk about: “Did you see this week’s episode of ‘South Park’? Man, they totally trashed George and Steven. Made them both look like greedy idiots.”

And Lucas and Spielberg didn’t like being thought of as greedy idiots. Being the subject of this much ridicule really didn’t appeal to these two filmmakers. Which is why George and Steve supposedly began talking about whether it was actually wise to go forward with the redo of “Raiders.” To leave themselves open to this sort of criticism.

Mind you, Lucas and Spielberg wouldn’t ever admit that this particular episode of “South Park” was what eventually persuaded them to leave “Raiders of the Lost Ark” alone. If anything. George and Steve made an elaborate public show out of shrugging that particular program. Insisting that – yes – they got the joke. That they were both honored and very flattered to be the subjects of such ripe satire on Comedy Central’s No. 1 program.

Spielberg even went so far as to send a letter to Trey Parker and Matt Stone, thanking them for including him in their show. Matt described Steve’s note as being almost schizophremic. “The nicest, nastiest letter I’ve ever gotten.”

But – seriously, folks – can it really be a coincidence that – just weeks after “Free Hat” originally aired on Comedy Central – Spielberg and Lucas opted not to go forward with production of a digitally enhanced version of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”?

Matt and Trey certainly don’t think so. They seem almost gleeful in their recent appearance on the VH1 TV special, “VH1 Goes Inside South Park,” when Stone and Parker claim that they’re the ones who actually got the “Raiders” redo cancelled.

If you’d like to hear this story in Matt and Trey’s own words, VH1 will be re-airing this particular program a few more times over the next few weeks. In fact, today “VH1 Goes Inside South Park” is airing twice: Once starting at 1 p.m. (12 Noon Central Time) and again at 11:30 p.m. (10:30 p.m. Central Time).

There will also be additional repeats of this VH1 special on Wednesday, November 5th (11:30 p.m. / 10:30 p.m. Central Time), Thursday, November 6th (6 p.m. / 5 p.m. Central Time) and Sunday, November 16th (1 p.m. / 12 Noon Central Time).

So – those of you who are sitting down tonight to watch that all four discs of your newly purchased collector’s edition of the “Indiana Jones” DVD and are thrilled to find that “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is just as you remember it (with no appearances by a CG Jabba the Hutt or unexpected celebrations on Coruscant) – please keep in mind that you have Stan, Kyle, Cartman and especially Tweek to thank.

It’s pretty amazing what a cartoon character can accomplish, don’t you think?

Your thoughts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

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

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

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

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

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