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Disney California Adventure’s original entrance complex gets ready to make its exit

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I know that this is going to sound strange to all of you
folks out there who absolutely hate Disney California Adventure, who have been happily
sitting back and watching as this theme park undergoes its $1.4 billion
makeover … But it kind of makes me sad that they've begun dismantling Sunshine
Plaza.  That – starting later today —
those two huge, beautiful mosaics that flank that miniature version of the
Golden Gate Bridge are getting pulled down.


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But maybe the reason that I'm feeling so down about this
particular aspect of the DCA redo is that I know how long & how hard the
Imagineers struggled to come up with a suitable entrance complex for the
Disneyland Resort's second gate. Believe it or not, WDI fretted about this
particular creative decision for almost 15 years. Which is why many pieces of
this particular puzzle didn't actually come together 'til 18 months shy of
Disney California Adventure's grand opening back in February of 2001.

Strange but true, folks. This story actually begins back in
late 1984 / early 1985. Which was right after Michael Eisner had come onboard
at Disney as the Company's new Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. And one of
Eisner's first orders to the Imagineers was to find ways to expand Disneyland.
So that it could then go from being just a stand-alone theme park to becoming a
multi-day destination resort.

Obviously this plan was put into play before January of
1988. Which was when The Walt Disney Company acquired the Wrather Corporation
so that the Mouse could then own the Disneyland Hotel outright. But I digress …


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Anyway … The easiest way to expand Disneyland was
to build a second gate (i.e. theme park) in Disneyland's old parking lot. But
that then raised issues about where Guests would park once they arrived in
Anaheim. More to the point, how thousands of people would transition from The
Happiest Place on Earth to … Well, whatever theme Disneyland's companion park
was going to be built around.

Back when Westcot 1.0 was in the works, Disneyland Plaza (as
the area between the two theme parks was then known) was supposed to have been
this world-class public space. A seven-acre area that would not only provide
Guests with a Dramatic Entry Sequence (which then created a sense of place as
well as providing notable gateways to the theme parks) but would also serve as
the transportation hub of the Disneyland Resort.  Giving DLR visitors the option of walking
(if they wanted to visit Disneyland Center. Which was supposed to be this
version of the  Resort's retail, dining
and entertainment district), boarding a Monorail (if they were headed to one of
Disney's on-site Resort Hotels) or hopping an elevated PeopleMover (if they wanted
to return to their car. Which was located in one of the Disneyland Resort's peripheral parking structures).

Now as for what the entrance plaza of Westcot 1.0 was
supposed to have looked like … Given that the Imagineers now felt that Epcot's
original entrance plaza was rather austere (which is why "Leave a Legacy" was
eventually added to the front of that theme park), they were looking to create
something lush and green.


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So the original entrance complex for this first iteration of
Disneyland's second gate … Well, you were to have crossed this highly stylized bridge
and then walked under a cascading waterfall.  After you'd have done this, you'd have found
yourself in this enormous lobby. Where you could then have boarded Westcot
1.0's signature attraction. Which was to have been housed in Spacestation
Earth. Which was this 300 foot-tall golden sphere that would have loomed over
the horizon in most of Anaheim.

But when Orange County residents began carping about the
size of Westcot 1.0's icon (Based on how big Spacestation Earth seemed to be from
the Disneyland Resort model, one Anaheim wag quipped that this 300-foot tall
golden sphere looked like a Sunkist Orange on steroids), the Imagineers then decided
to revise their plans for the Disneyland Resort. Opting instead to go with
Westcot 2.0. Which (it was felt at the time, anyway) would have been a far
better fit with that world-famous theme park right across the way.

Mind you, one of the reasons that it was felt that Westcot
2.0 would be a better fit with Disneyland is that the portions of these two
theme parks that faced into Disneyland Plaza would share a similar sort of
architecture. With Disneyland's train station obviously reflecting Main Street
U.S.A.'s turn-of-the-century stylings while Westcot 2.0's entrance complex was
to have been modeled after those beautiful glass-and-iron structures that were
built to house Philadelpia's Centennial International Exhibition of 1876. Which
was the first official World's Fair to be held inside of the United States.


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But after Euro Disney struggled to meet its initial
attendance & financial projections after that $4 billion Resort opened in
April of 1992, Eisner lost his enthusiasm for ambitious multi-billion dollar projects.
Which is why – in January of 1995 – Michael pulled the plug on Westcot (which –
at one point, anyway – was to have cost $3 billion to build) and then asked the
Imagineers to come up with a more affordable alternative. Which is where the
idea for Disney California Adventure came from.


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Now for a while, the plaza that Disneyland and DCA were to
share did retain some of the features that had been initially designed for the
Westcot versions of the Disneyland Resort's expansion plans. To be specific: A
huge fountain that – just like Epcot's Innoventions Fountains (which are
located in Future World's Innoventions Plaza) – were to have presented
elaborate water ballets to entertain Disneyland Guests every 15 minutes.

But – over time – as the Imagineers struggled to stretch the
$1.4 billion that Michael Eisner had given them as far as they possibly could
(Because – let's remember – this wasn't just $1.4 billion that had been set
aside for construction of a new theme park. No, this money also had to be used
to build the Grand California Resort & Spa, the Downtown Disney shopping
& dining district, that six-level Mickey & Friends parking structure as
well as DCA), certain decorative elements got dropped along the way. And among
those items were the fountains that supposed to have been built at the very center
of Disneyland Plaza.


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Now as for the entrance complex for Disney California
Adventure itself, this area went through 5 different iterations on the next
four years. As the Imagineers struggled to get a handle on what the icon for
this theme park should be. Should it be a huge ornamental fountain shaped like the State
of California …


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… or a giant golden spike (Which was supposed to be
referencing the California Gold Rush of 1848 – 1855.


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Though – truth be told –
this icon was actually a carry-over from the massive Future World show building
that the Imagineers had initially designed for Westcot 2.0.


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Which – to be
completely honest – had been inspired by the Trylon and the Perisphere, the
Theme Center for the New York World's Fair of 1939-1940. But – again – I
digress …)

The only problem with the first five versions of Disney
California Adventure's entrance complex is that they were clearly inspired by
the all of the Spanish & Mediterranean-style architecture that you already
see throughout Southern California. In short, while this type of design was
entirely appropriate for a theme park that celebrated the Golden State, it was
also nothing special. It just didn't stand out.


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Or so thought Tim Delaney. At that time (circa 1998), this
veteran Imagineer was already the Creative Director, Producer & Field Art
Director of DCA's Paradise Pier area (which was supposed to be this
affectionate recreation of California's seaside amusement piers of the 1920s).
But as Delaney watched WDI constantly flailing and then failing to come up with
a suitable concept on Disney California Adventure's entrance complex, Tim
finally felt that he had to intervene.

Back when I interviewed Delaney at DCA's Grand Opening in
February of 2001, Tim talked about how concerned he was.

"After all, you only get one chance to make a first
impression. And the designs that WDI had come up with previous to my coming
onboard this project were … To be honest, they weren't special enough," Tim
explained. "I mean, this is the theme park that's being built right across the
way from Disneyland. People have been coming to Anaheim for almost 50 years now
for the magic and the fun. Which is why they're going to expect that the Park
that Disney builds right next door to Disneyland is going to be magic and fun
as well."


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And to get that point across, Delaney suggested that WDI
step away from all of the Spanish & Mediterranean-style architecture and
instead turn DCA's entrance complex into this giant 3D postcard version of
California. So that – even while they were standing outside of this theme park
— Disneyland Resort Guests could get a sense of some of the Golden
State-themed fun & magic that lay just beyond those turnstiles.

So Tim pitched this design to Imagineering management. Who
liked it and then immediately passed this concept along to Eisner. Who quickly
signed off on the 3D picture postcard idea for Disney California Adventure's
entrance complex.

The only problem was … Again, this was 1998. And – what with
the Paradise Pier project — Delaney's plate was already very full. So could he
really pull that part of the theme park off as well as supervise the design
& construction of DCA's entrance complex?


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Tim didn't even think about it. He just plunged right in.
With one of his first tasks being determining how high that miniature version
of the Golden Gate Bridge should be.

"We were originally going to make those bridge supports
79-feet tall. But then when we did some balloon tests and stood at the Partners
statue at the Hub, we found that a 79-foot tall support would have stuck up
from behind the Main Street Train Station," Delaney continued. "So we lowered
the height of those two supports to 72 feet. And that way, DCA's entrance
complex didn't visually intrude into Disneyland.

Determining the proper height for those enormous letters
that are used to spell "CALIFORNIA" just outside of DCA's entrance led to one
of the funnier moments on this construction project. As senior principal
construction designer Charlie Kowalski recalled:

"(Mock-ups of the letters C and A had been constructed in
both 12-foot and 13-foot heights). It was early one Sunday morning and we had
both sets of CAs next to one another. Within half an hour, Operations comes
running over yelling 'Quick, knock one of those letters down! Our
Spanish-speaking Guests at Disneyland are upset about the giant CACA they can
see from the Monorail! (So we quickly knocked down that second A)."


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As for the 210-foot long mural portion of this project,
Delaney decided that the left side would represent Southern California from
Mount Whitney & Yosemite Valley down to San Diego. While the west side
would depicts Northern California landmarks from San Francisco north to Mount
Shasta. Tim also included all sort of witty touches as part of his design, like
those whales & mule deer that appear to be jumping over DCA's security fence
in order to gain entrance to this theme park.


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And to turn his design (which drew its inspiration from the
artwork that you used to see on those citrus labels that California's fruit
packing plants used to slap on packing crates back in the  early 20th century) into ceramic tiles,
Delaney turned to Theodora Kurkchiev and Dimitri Lazaroff  of TND Studio, Inc. Which is this San
Pedro-based art studio that specializes in the design and production of ceramic
works of art.

In a February 2001 interview with the Los Angeles Times,
Theodora recalled what it was like when Tim initially came to TND Studio,
asking if they'd be able to pull off the mural component  of the DCA entrance complex project:

"Dimitri told (Tim that) it would take at least 19 months to
do this, but Disney wanted it in half that time. We started work in February of
2000 … I worked seven days a week, 12 to 16 hours a day, hand-painting each and
every tile (for this project). I couldn't take even one day off in the last six
months because I was afraid we would not make it."


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"And why was that?," you ask. Because translating Delaney's
design into individual pieces of ceramic tile was a fairly labor-intensive
process. It involved taking Tim's design (which had been broken up in this series of
8-foot-long paintings) and then blowing those images up into 16-foot-tall
posters. Which then had to be enlarged 105%  (because clay shrinks
5% when it's being fired).

After each piece of clay was baked, it was then hand-painted
and glazed (sometimes with 14-carat gold paint). Afterward all 14,500 ceramic
tiles were alphanumerically encoded so the Imagineers would then know just
where to put each piece of ceramic once it arrived on site.

And did I mention that – as Delaney, Kurkchiev and Lazaroff were
designing and then building what eventually became one of the largest
hand-crafted tile murals in the world – that they had to take the sometimes
brutal Southern California sun in account? Which is why – to prevent all of
those exquisitely painted pieces of ceramic from cracking – these two giant murals
feature expansion joints.


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Anywho … From the moment that Disney California Adventure
opened, this theme park's 3D picture postcard entrance plaza was a hit with the
public. People immediately began using the enormous "CALIFORNIA" sign outside
of this Park as a point of reference at the Resort (i.e. "Meet me at the Letter F at 4 o'clock"). They also happily took pictures of friends & family as
they climbed on and/or posed in front of these over-sized letters.

But all of that goes away starting today. DCA's original
entrance complex and Sunshine Plaza will be pulled down to build Buena Vista Street.
Which will be this romanticized version of the Los Angeles that Walt Disney
encountered in the 1920s after he made that fateful train trip from Kansas City
to Hollywood in 1923.

And while I'm sure that people will enjoy entering Disney
California Adventure through a recreation of the entrance of LA's old
Pan-Pacific Auditorium (After all, WDW Guests have enjoyed Disney's Hollywood
Studios
' entrance for over 20 years now. Which also draws its inspiration from
the Pan-Pacific), I know that – me personally – I know that I'm going to miss
DCA's original entrance complex as well as its Sunshine Plaza area.


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Mind you, not all aspects of this part of Disney California
Adventure worked for me. That large metal sunburst statue and fountain located
towards at the back of Sunshine Plaza were pretty ineffective icons. I don't
know if this was because of their positioning and/or because (to be honest)
these pieces were kind of on the puny side. But that sunburst statue &
fountain never worked as weenies. At least for me. They never made me feel like
I had to go deeper into that theme park, find new things to experience and
explore.

That said, what did work for me (at least in DCA's Sunshine
Plaza area) was that replica of the California Zephyr. Looking at this thing,
it's hard to believe that the Imagineers found this engine rusting in a pond
next to a rail salvage yard in Moline, IL. I've spent many a happy afternoon
seated right outside of this beautifully restored engine  enjoying a sweet treat from Baker's Field
Bakery or Bur-r-r Bank Ice Cream.  Or
looking down at DCA's feral cats (which – for some reason or another – just
love to sleep in the sun right on those train tracks that are directly in front
of the California Zephyr. As if to say "Go ahead. I dare you. Try and run me
over.") Or just sitting in the shade there, taking notes, chatting with
friends, smiling whenever I'd hear Al Jolson start to sing "California, Here I
Come!
"


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It's sad to think that this part of DCA is now going away. I
mean, I'm certain that Walt Disney Plaza will have its charms. And it'll be
interesting to see what eventually winds up being installed of that recreation
of the Carthay Circle Theatre (Which was where the Imagineers had initially
hoped to install a West Coast version of "Mickey's PhilharMagic." Until they
realized that this show building wouldn't actually be big enough to house that
150-foot wide seamless projection screen which Disney needs in order to properly present this 3D
film).


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But until that happens … Well, at least I'll have those
pictures of my daughter Alice seated in the gap of the letter A in DCA's old
"CALIFORNIA" sign to remind of what the entrance complex of this theme park
used to look like.

But what about you folks? Is there anyone else who's going
to miss Disney California Adventure's entrance complex after it exits? Or are
you all just focusing on what Buena Vista Street and Walt Disney Plaza will
look like once they open in 2012?

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.

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

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

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

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

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