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From “Just Around the Riverbend,” here comes a brand-new Why For column

Jim Hill returns with even more answers to your Disney-related questions. Like why the Imagineers never got to build a “Pocahontas” –themed Friendly Indian Village along the Rivers of America, why “The Snow Queen” just went back into the deep freeze at WDAS and what the future hold for WDW’s DisneyQuest

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Pavement Chaser starts things off with a rather succinct query. Which reads:

Copyright 1995 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Was there ever a Pocahontas ride in development?

Pavement Chaser

Dear Pavement Chaser –

Whenever Walt Disney Animation Studios has a new project in development, you can pretty much count on the guys from WDI making a special trip over the Roy E. Disney building. Where they then kick the tires (so to speak) on each & every animated feature. See if this still-in-production movie has theme park potential.

And in the case of “Pocahontas” … Well, yes, the Imagineers did take a long, hard look at this Mike Gabriel / Eric Goldberg film. Only to ultimately be stymied by the artistic ambitions of this particular production.

Long story short: The feeling in-house at WDI was that “Pocahontas” was just too serious for its own good. That – due to their stylization & overly-noble natures – the Native Americans who served as the central characters in this 1995 Walt Disney Pictures release didn’t provideall that much inspiration when it came to creating light-hearted, fun new rides or attractions for the Parks.

Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

Which isn’t to say that the Imagineers didn’t try and find a permanent home for Pocahontas & her pals inside the stateside parks. Among the many ideas that were floated back in the mid-1990s involved a retheming of that Friendly Indian Village that you see whenever you cruise along the Rivers of America at Disneyland Park and/or WDW’s Magic Kingdom.

What the Imagineers wanted to do here was renovate this portion of Frontierland so that the Friendly Indian Village would then more closely resembled the one that audiences saw in “Pocahontas.” So the teepees that havebeen on display here were to have been replaced by yehakins (i.e. those rounded structures made of bark & saplings that the Powahatan Indians of Coastal Plain Virginia typically lived in back in the 1600s).

And as for the formerly anonymous members of the Pinewood tribe (so named because – as the story goes – the Native American figures that originally lined the shores of Disneyland’s Rivers of America back in the 1950s were actually made of pine), they were to have been replaced by full-sized statues of Pocahontas’ Dad, Chief Powhatan; her would-be suitor, the fierce warrior Kocoum; as well as Pocahontas’ childhood friend, Nakoma. These characters from the animated feature were to have been prominently positioned within the Friendly Indian Village.

As for Pocahontas and John Smith … WDI had a couple of ideas as to how these star-crossed lovers could effectively be displayed along the Rivers of America. One suggestion involved a tableau that would have been staged downstream from the Friendly Indian Village which would have shown Pocahontas – with Meeko & Flit by her side – introducing John Smith to Grandmother Willow. Another possible staging idea had statues of this ill-fated couple being placed on opposite sides of the River. So that Pocahontas & John Smithcould (in theory, anyway) see each another but — reflecting the bittersweet ending of the film — forever be destined to be apart.

Copyright 1995 Disney. All Rights Reserved

“So if all this development work was done by the Imagineers, then why wasn’t the Friendly Indian Village ever rethemed around the characters & settings of ‘Pocahontas’ ?,” you ask. Well, at least when it came to Disneyland Park, the continuing popularity of “Fantasmic!” played a deciding role in Parks & Resorts opting not to install this proposed enhancement in Anaheim.

“And why was that?,” you query. Because during the busier times of year, all boat traffic on Disneyland’s Rivers of America has to shut down in the late afternoon so the Cast can then get Tom Sawyer’s Island set for that night’s performances of “Fantasmic!” Which means that … Well, it just didn’t make sense (from a cost effectiveness / Operational point of view) to do a multi-million dollar renovation of this remote corner of Frontierland. When — due to the limited capacity of the Mark Twain riverboat, the Columbia sailing ship as well as the Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes (Not to mention the Rivers of America’s newly restricted operating hours) — only a handful of Guests would ever get the chance to see this new “Pocahontas” -themed tableau during daylight hours.

This – in the end – was one of the main reasons that the Imagineers decided to cede “Pocahontas” over to Disneyland Entertainment. Who – as you’ll recall – managed to put together a very entertaining stage show, “The Spirit of Pocahontas,” which was built around the characters, settings and songs from that 1995 Walt Disney Pictures release. Which – thanks to the huge capacity of the Fantasyland Theatre – was able to entertain thousands of theme park Guests on a daily basis over the 27 month-long run of this show.

Now if you’re grumbling about this being a particular stupid reason for Disneyland executives to have not allowed this “Pocahontas” – themed renovation of the Friendly Indian Village to have gone forward, know this: DLR management actually used this very same argument (i.e. Due to the fact that we have shut down all boat traffic on the Rivers of America in the late afternoon so that we can then get Ton Sawyer’s Island set for that night’s performances of “Fantasmic!,” it just doesn’t make sense – from a business point of view – to spend a large amount of money on enhancements & improvements that only a handful of Guests will ever get to experience during daylight hours) as an excuse to kill Bruce Gordon’s proposed retheming of the entire Rivers of America. Which would have involved replacing decades-old scenes like the Burning Settler’s Cabin & Smuggler’s Cove with brand-new tableaus that paid tribute to heroes from American folklore like Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed and John Henry.

Copyright 2000 Disney. All Rights Reserved

But – again – this has been the unending struggle at Disney. With the Imagineers on one side, proposing all sorts of great ideas for new rides, shows & attractions for the Parks. While on the other side sit the execs who actually manage these theme parks. Who first have to come with the cash necessary to build and/or install these enhancements & improvements. And then find the funds to properly staff & maintain these brand-new rides, shows and attractions on an ongoing basis.

Trust me, folks. It’s a never-ending battle. With “What makes good business sense for Walt Disney (the Company)” constantly butting heads with “What would  improve the Guest’s experience at the Parks.” Which is how neat sounding enhancements like this proposed “Pocahontas” –themed renovation of the Friendly Indian Village sometimes don’t make it off the drawing board due to Operational issues.Or simply because the numbers don’t add up the right way. But such is life in Disney’s World.

Next up, Sotiris from Cyprus writes in to say:

Hi Jim,

I’m concerned regarding the fate of Disney’s “The Snow Queen.” Some anonymous posters at the TAG blog reported that “The Snow Queen” which was to be Disney’s next hand-drawn animated movie after the Winnie the Pooh feature, has been officially canceled (again). Also, that there are currently no other 2D projects in development. Do you have any insider’s info on this?

Thanks,

Sotiris

Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

Dear Sotiris –

Yeah, the word coming out of Burbank (this week, anyway) is that “The Snow Queen” has been tabled. At least temporarily.

Though – to be fair – this particular Hans Christian Andersen story has been in and out of development at Walt Disney Animation Studios for decades now. As far back as the late 1930s (when Walt Disney first began talking with Samuel Goldwyn about an ambitious collaboration. Which would have been this bio pic of Denmark’s favorite son which Goldwyn would have handled the live action aspectsof. Whereas Disney Studios was to have provided all of this movie’s animated fairy tale vignettes), veteran artists and storymen have been struggling to get a handle on this frosty female.

More recently, during the Michael Eisner era at the Company, Walt Disney Animation Studios took yet another run at “The Snow Queen.” Seeing if it might be possible to turn this Danish favorite into a full-length animated feature.

James B. Stewart – as he was working on his terrific book, “DisneyWar” (Simon & Schuster, February 2005) — actually sat in on a June 2003 creative meeting where Eisner, then-WDAS head David Stainton and then-VP of Creative Development Pam Coats reviewed the animated projects that Disney Animation then had in its production pipeline. With “The Snow Queen” being the film that most excited Michael (at that time, anyway).

Copyright 2005 Simon & Schuster. All Rights Reserved

Here’s an excerpt from that portion of “DisneyWar”:

The discussion turned to Christmas 2007. Eisner had just read a script for “Rapunzel.” “Someone told me that a woman with long hair is old fashioned,“ Eisner said.

“That’s why this has to be a Legally Blonde-type comedy,” replied Mary Jane Ruggels, another creative vice president.

Sleeping Beauty was 1938,” Eisner says. “The ending was forced. Like Treasure Planet – it just ended. It wasn’t funny or clever. Are you sure you can save this? Is Ice Queen better?”

“You mean Snow Queen?” Ruggels says.

“I love the Taming of the Shrew idea,” Eisner says. “Take Martha Stewart. She’s tough, smart – a worthy adversary. If she were a doormat of a woman, no one would be after her. Marlo Thomas used to call me about marketing ‘That Girl.’ She said, ‘If I were a man, I’d be president of thenetwork.’ “

Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

Eisner expresses some reservations about the team assigned to Snow Queen, then adds, “John Lasseter. If we can make a new deal with Pixar …”

Stainton jumps in. “You mean when we make a new deal with Pixar.”

“I said to John, you can have Snow Queen. He loved it. John said, ‘I want to do a princess movie.’ “

Eisner asked for the Snow Queen synopsis.

“The Snow Queen is a terrible bitch,” Ruggels says. “When her suitors try to melt her heart, the Snow Queen freezes them.”

“Each of them should be a phony, but different,” Eisner says of the suitors.

“Then along comes a regular guy,” Ruggels continues.

“This is perfect!,” Eisner exclaims. “I’m afraid to hear more.”

“The regular guy goes up there, he’s not that great, but he’s a good person. He starts to unfreeze her … she melts.”

“It’s great,” Eisner says. “Finally. We’ve had twenty meetings on this.”

“We’ll have a treatment in two weeks,” Ruggels promises.

“Can we have this for 2006?,” Eisner asks.

“No way,” (Pam) Coats says.

Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

Of course, the irony here is … WDAS’ 2003 take on “Snow Queen” – which Eisner seemed so enthusiastic about — eventually went off track as well. This project then wandered from Walt Disney Animation Studios over to Disney Parks & Resorts. Where – in March of 2006 – it was announced that Disney Creative Entertainment would be producing “The Snow Queen” as a musical for the stage. More importantly, that this project (which was to have featured music byAlan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater as well as a book by John Weidman) would have its world premiere in the Summer of 2007 at Tokyo DisneySea as a lavish production for the Broadway Music theatre.

But then … As I understand it, someone at the Studios saw the stage version of “The Snow Queen” as it was being workshopped, liked what they saw and then suggested that – in the long run – it might make better business sense (at least from a licensing point of view) if this project followed the “Beauty and the Beast” route. As in: Start off life as a full-length animated feature, and then get translated to the stage.

So back to WDAS “The Snow Queen” went. Supposedly to be the third in a trio of brand-new Disney fairy tales. Where (it was hoped) “The Frog Princess,” “Rapunzel Unbraided” and “The Snow Queen” would then duplicate the success that WDAS’s last trio of fairy tales (i.e. 1989’s “The Little Mermaid,” 1991’s “Beauty & the Beast” and 1992’s “Aladdin”) had had.

But now on the heels of “The Princess and the Frog” not exactly setting the world box office on fire, Walt Disney Animation Studios seems to be having second thoughts about getting back into the animated fairy tale business. Don’t believe me? Then why is it – on Wednesday of this week – that Mouse House managers just registered a bunch of new non-fairy tale-sounding titles for “Rapunzel” ? Among them …

  • TANGLED-MOVIE.COM
  • THEHIDDENTOWER-MOVIE.COM
  • THEHIDDENTOWERMOVIE.COM
  • THESWITCH-MOVIE.COM
  • THETHIEFANDTHETOWER-MOVIE.COM
  • THETHIEFANDTHETOWER.COM
  • THETHIEFANDTHETOWERMOVIE.COM

And then — just today — The Walt Disney Company registered three additional “Rapunzel” -seque domain names:

  • THESECRETTOWER-MOVIE.COM
  • THESECRETTOWER.COM
  • THESECRETTOWERMOVIE.COM

Copyright 2010 Disney. All Rights Reserved

And as for “The Snow Queen” … Even though Chris Buck (i.e. the co-director of Disney’s “Tarzan” and Sony Animation’s “Surf’s Up”) had been placed in charge of this project late last year … The unfortunate combination of continuing story problems as well as the Studio second-guessing its commitment to producing another trio of animated fairy tales resulted in “The Snow Queen” being put on ice. Again.

But the upside is … There’s a lot of people at WDAS who still believe in this project. And if the right talent comes along and eventually figures out how to solve all of “The Snow Queen” ‘s story problems, this animated feature will get made. Some day.

I mean, let’s remember that Disney artists had been trying to turn “Beauty & the Beast” into a feature-length cartoon for over 40 years. And it wasn’t ‘til Howard Ashman, Alan Menken, Kirk Wise & Gary Trousdale mapped out a workable dramatic arc for this fairy tale’s second act  (i.e. when the Beast & Belle are stuck together in that castle) that this decades-in-development project finally became a viable motion picture.

So, alright. For right now, anyway, it’s okay for animation fans (not to mention the talented artists & storymen who were already hard at work on this proposed Holiday 2012 release for Walt Disney Pictures) to be sad that “The Snow Queen” has been placed on hold. Again.

Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

But if a project like “Joe Jump” (which – this time last year – was deader-than-dead at WDAS) can be brought back to life and then put into active development, anything’s possible. So let’s wait to see what happens on the heels of “Rapunzel” (Or “The Thief and the Tower,” “Tangled” or whatever it is that Walt Disney Pictures winds up calling its Holiday 2011 release). Ifthat film hits, and then the just-officially-announced-yesterday “Enchanted II” scores at the box office in late 2011 / early 2012 … WDAS may suddenly find itself back in the fairy tale business.

And if that happens, don’t be surprised if “The Snow Queen” suddenly comes out of the deep freeze.

And – finally – Joe N. of LA writes to say:

I thought that DisneyQuest was closing for good a couple of years ago. But it’s still around. What happened?

Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

Dear Joe –

You know, when I was down at Orlando last December covering the NFFC-Disneyana Fan Club’s Disney World Holiday Extravaganza, I had lunch with a longtime Downtown Disney manager. Who – when I brought up the whole “Wasn’t DisneyQuest supposed to close two or three years ago?” issue – just roared with laughter.

“Ah, the good old days,” this WDW vet giggled. “When DisneyQuest and its aging assortment of interactive games were our biggest concern around here. Nowadays — what with Pleasure Island being a ghost town and the Virgin Megastore standing there vacant – that indoor theme park is the least of our worries.”

So long story short, Joe: DisneyQuest dodged a bullet a while back. And while there may have once been a plan to turn this West Side structure into a full-sized ESPN Zone for Disney World … Those days are long gone now.

Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

“So what happens next?,” you ask. “Will any of that $1.5 billion that The Walt Disney Company has reportedly set aside for the development of next generation guest experiences be used to upgrade DisneyQuest? Because the last new game that went into this place – ‘Pirates of theCaribbean: Battle for Buccaneer Gold’ – dates back to December of 2000.”

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, folks. But The Walt Disney Company has already spent everything that it’s going to spend on DisneyQuest. Though WDW will continue to maintain & properly staff this indoor interactive theme park, Disney Parks & Resorts has absolutely no plans to do any significant reinvesting in this property.

“These days, it’s all about what the Company can get out of DisneyQuest,” my DTD manager friend explained. “And you’d be surprised how many families still head there on a cold, wet, rainy day. We do a good enough business on those days to warrant keeping the place open indefinitely at this point.”

Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, at some point off in the future, this WDW vet did see the Resort revisiting the idea of doing something different with the DisneyQuest building. But as he so eloquently put it over our lunch back in December : “… There are so many other things in and around Downtown Disney that need our immediate attention. So why waste time & energy on something that — while it isn’t exactly hip anymore — still makes money for the Company?”

So there you have it, Joe. DisneyQuest will continue to limp along until the rest of DTD gets fixed. Which could be quite a while from now.

And speaking of fixed … Here’s hoping that Comcast gets its act together in the coming week so that I’m then able to deliver next Friday’s Why For on time.

And remember, folks – if you’d like me to answer your Disney-related questions – please send them along to whyfor@jimhillmedia.com.

Have a great weekend, okay?

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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