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Introducing … Dale Ward’s Mouse FACTory

Wondering what went on this week in Disney-related history? Let JHM’s newest contributor fill you in on some of the more significant dates as well as the intriguing bits of trivia.

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Hello and welcome to what I hope will be the first of many “Mouse FACTory” reports.

The following is a look back at this week in Disney history. It’s not surprising that spring is a busy time for a major entertainment corporation like the Walt Disney Company. After a long, hard winter, the country is beginning to thaw and people are ready for a change.

But even for Disney, this is a pretty significant week. Take — for instance — all the interesting stuff that happened on:

Significant Dates this Week

April 18th

April 18, 1983 — At 7:00 a.m. the Disney Channel begins its first broadcast day with an episode of “Good Morning Mickey”, showcasing classic Disney cartoons. The channel has 18 hours of programming a day for the first three and a half years. Twenty-four hour programming begins in December of 1986.

April 18, 1994 — “Beauty & the Beast: A New Musical” officially opens at the Palace Theater in New York. Disney’s musical includes all of the songs from the Academy Award winning film as well as “Human Again,” a new number that had originally been cut from the film’s score. Working with lyrcist Tim Rice, Alan Menken wrote several new songs for the Broadway production.

This popular play, now in its 11th year, holds the record for sixth longest running Broadway play. With approximately 4500 performances under its belt, “Beauty” only needs to run 7 or 8 more years to replace “Cats” as longest running play. (Can you see the headlines? Mouse finally catches “Cats” “Disney beats Cats”, etc.)

April 18, 1998 — To celebrate Disney Channel’s 15th birthday, Toon Disney is launched. The twenty-four hours of cartoon programming is targeted towards kids aged 2-11. This is where “The Disney Afternoon” went to die.

April 20th

April 20, 1946 – “Make Mine Music” debuts. While the war years were profitable for many Hollywood studios, it was a lean time for Disney. Since most of Walt’s animators enlisted or were drafted, production at the studio slowed down considerably. For the most part, the Disney Company got through the war making training films for various branches of the military.

To get some much needed cash after the war, Disney cobbles together “Make Mine Music,” a patchwork film consisting of 10 separate cartoon shorts. Nicknamed “the poor man’s Fantasia,” this mixed bag included “Casey at Bat,” “The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at The Met” and “Peter & the Wolf.” Interestingly enough, “Make Mine Music” ‘s premiere was held in New York almost four months before the film’s general release.

April 22, 1964 – The 1964-1965 New York Worlds Fair Opens. Six hundred and twenty six acres of Queens known as Flushing Meadows became the site for the 1939/1940 Worlds Fair. New York Park Commissioner Robert Moses transforms what was once a dump site into an amazing and popular world showcase. It’s Moses dream to eventually build a huge beautiful park on this site once the fair is over. It didn’t happen.

To borrow a phrase from the boss, “Why For?” … Well, while the 1939/1940 fair is acclaimed as a monumental achievement, it wasn’t a financial success. Since the fair operated on a loss, the funding necessary to transform the fair grounds into a state-of-the-art park just wasn’t there. However, twenty years later, a small group of NYC businessmen want to try & hold another Worlds Fair on the Flushing Meadow site. Moses sees this as his last opportunity to build his dream park, so he agrees to head up the project.

In crunching the numbers, the fair committee finds it needs about 70 million people coming through the turnstiles in order for this project to be profitable. To reach those numbers, the fair will need 2 years of operating from April to October. The fair is submitted to the Bureau of International Expositions (BIE), a governing body for Expos and they have issues with the plan.

Seattle is going to be the home of the 1962 Expo and — according to the BIE — a country can only have an Expo every 10 years. New York also planned to lease the space to exhibitors, another BIE no-no.

Moses takes his case to the media and the BIE resents the ploy. Not only do they deny New York’s sanction, they ask host nations to boycott the fair. Many nations are conspicuously absent but the loss is made up with US corporations looking to make an international impression. The Fair opens with 140 pavilions covering approximately one square mile.

A few years before the opening of the 1964 Worlds Fair, Walt is out offering the services of his company to American corporations who want to create a pavilion. His Imagineers think he’s nuts. The method to Walt’s madness is creating good relationships with big business while getting them to foot the bill for innovations he can use at Disneyland and beyond.

When the fair opens, Disney has four exhibits:

  • The State of Illinois’ “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln”
  • General Electric’s “Progressland”
  • Ford Motor Company’s “Magic Skyway”
  • Pepsi/UNICEF’s “it’s a small world”

The attractions are four of the five top rides for the two year run of the Fair. “Mr. Lincoln,” “small world” and “Progressland” (AKA”The Carousel of Progress”) are moved to Disneyland pretty much intact. “Magic Skyway” doesn’t make it back whole, but a piece of it becomes “The Primeval World” diorama that can be seen from the Disneyland Railroad.

While most sponsors are happy with their participation, the 1964/65 New York Worlds Fair (just like its 1939/40 counterpart) loses money. Initial attendance projections of 70 million people prove to be highly optimistic. Give that the Fair’s overall attendance for its two years is actually closer to 57 million. If there hadn’t been a huge spike in attendance in the last few weeks, New York might still be footing the bill for the thing. Sadly, Robert Moses’ plan to turning Flushing Meadow into a beautiful park falls flat .. again.

April 22nd

April 22, 1998 — Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park opens at Walt Disney World. Everything about WDW’s newest theme park, including its trivia:

Size of park: More than 500 acres, five times the size of the Magic Kingdom. The “Kilimanjaro Safari” ride is larger than Disneyland

Parking Capacity: 6,000 cars

Attractions (on opening day): 13 attractions. DAK is separated into 5 lands: Camp Minnie-Mickey, Dinoland U.S.A., Africa, Safari Village, and the Oasis

Admission (on opening day): $42.14 for Adult; $33.92 for children

Initial construction Cost: $800,000,000

Keep on truckin’ : Sixty dump trucks of dirt were delivered to the DAK’s construction site every day for two years straight, equaling 4.4 million yards of dirt.

There’s one million sq. feet of rockwork to be found in this theme park. That’s twice the volume of the sculpting that was done on the Mt. Rushmore sculptures.

Employees: More than 4,500 people were hired to be members of Animal Kingdom’s original cast.

April 23rd

April 23, 1957 — Midget Autopia Opens. Disneyland’s “Autopia” was one of the most popular rides at the Anaheim theme park when it opened in July of 1955. Unfortunately, it seemed that two tracks aren’t enough to hold all of the moppets who were rarin’ to rear-end their friends & family. So Walt ordered that a third track be designed: A “Midget Autopia,” which would cater to the under five crowd.

The roadsters used in the “Midget Autopia” had two steering wheels and yet neither one makes any difference. Why? Because this Fantasyland attraction is really an outdoor dark ride on a track. No kiddie whiplash here. Instead of a noisy drive through a cloverleaf jungle, the ride is a slow Sunday drive along a country road, rolling past grassy berms and weaving through the countryside.

To make way for “it’s a small world” in 1966, the “Midget Autopia” was removed from Disneyland and sent to Walt’s boyhood home, Marceline, MO. The city of Marceline rebuilt the track and ran the ride for a few years. But maintenance became a problem and the ride eventually closed. When Disneyland opened their new “Autopia” in 2002, the Imagineers negotiated with Marceline and arranged for one of the cars to be returned. The now bronzed Midget vehicle stands as a statue along the new “Autopia” highway.

April 24th

April 24, 1989 — The All New “Mickey Mouse Club” show debuts on the Disney Channel. While some elements of the first “Mickey Mouse Club” are evident (themed days, dance numbers, the serials), these are not your father’s Mouseketeers. In fact, the performers on the show were never referred to as Mouseketeers and they skipped wearing the mouse ears as well. This Disney Channel exclusive runs for seven seasons and gives 34 kids the chance to sing, dance and perform. Among the future big name performers that appeared on this program were pop stars Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake as well as Keri Russell and Ryan Gosling (who eventually made names for themselves in movies and television).

This week’s birthdays

April 18th

Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) – Leopold Stokowski was a character. He was born in London England in 1882 but he liked to make up the year he was born. His parents were native to England, yet he told the tale of his parents being Polish and Irish and somewhere, he picked up an undefined accent that sounded vaguely European. He was married to the rich and famous 3 times and he had a very public affair with Greta Garbo. In spite of his eccentricities, no one denied that Leopold loved music.

His first job was as organist at St. James Church in London. That gig got him invited to become the organist of St. Bartholomew’s in New York and he jumped the pond. While well liked for his exuberant performances, he was actually fired from the church for ending a service with Stars & Stripes Forever with the volume on the organ cranked. His first conductor job was a stand in when someone got sick. This led to a job as conductor of the Cincinnati Orchestra. From there he went to Philadelphia where he established himself as one of the preeminent conductors of the day.

A chance meeting with Walt Disney at a party led to Fantasia. Walt told Stokowski of his plans to make a cartoon using composer Paul Dukas Sorcerers Apprentice as the backdrop to a Mickey Mouse cartoon. The idea intrigued the conductor and he volunteered to come to the studio to conduct the piece. The visit snowballed into a feature film with Stokowski’s involvement every step of the way.

As a conductor, he was always controversial, Stokowski chose new music pieces and placed them next to old standards in concert. He rewrote certain pieces of compositions by Bach and others to better suit his needs. He was an inveterate tinkerer, moving entire sections of the orchestra to see how it changed the sound and always using the newest recording technology. He made over 600 sound recordings in his lifetime. Obviously an optimist, he signed a six year recording contract when he was 94. Stokowski died in 1977 at the age of 95.

Melissa Joan Hart – Sabrina the teenage witch was going to be a one shot character in an “Archie” comics parody of old monster movies in 1962, but she proved a little too popular for just a one-shot. She was introduced to the Riverdale regulars in 1968 and became an animated cartoon in 1971. In 1996, Showtime did a TV movie starring Melissa Joan Hart. The movie was picked up by ABC and turned into an anchor show for their Friday “TGIF” lineup and then moved to the WB. The witch gets around. Melissa turned 29 this week.

Eric Roberts – Star of ABC’s “Less Than Perfect” celebrates 49.

Rick Moranis – The SCTV alum who played Wayne Szalinski in Disney’s “Honey” trilogy: “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” (1989), “Honey, I Blew up the Kid” (1992) and “Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves” (1997); turns 51

James Woods – Hades, God of the Underworld turns 58

Hayley Mills – In the early 60’s, Disney had two “it” girls: Annette Funicello and Hayley Mills. Hayley starred in “The Parent Trap” (1961), “In Search of the Castaways” (1962), “The Moon-Spinners” (1963) and “That Darn Cat” (1965). She turns 59

April 19th

Tim Curry – Probably best know for his portrayal of Dr. Frank-N-Furter in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” Curry has voiced too many animated villains to count. For Disney, he’s voiced “Gargoyles,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Teacher’s Pet” and “Teamo Supremo.” He was also the voice of S.I.R for the now defunct “Alien Encounter” attraction at WDW’s Magic Kingdom.

Clint Howard — I’m sure that — just once — Clint Howard would like to see an article or column that doesn’t mention that he’s Ron Howard’s younger brother. Sorry, but that’s not going to be this one. While I personally remember him as the kid who got to play with “Gentle Ben,” Clint was also the original voice of Roo in “Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree” (1966), “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day” (1968) and “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too” (1974).

April 20th

Betty Lou Gerson (1914 – 1999) – The narrator of “Cinderella” (1950), and the voice of Cruella DeVil in “One Hundred and One Dalmatians” (1961), Gerson’s extremely expressive voice made her a much sought after radio star and animation voice.

April 21st

Charles Grodin – While I’m sure it’s not the most taxing role he ever did, Grodin plays a wonderfully stodgy Left Brain in the “Cranium Command” show for the “Wonders of Life” pavilion at WDW’s Epcot. IMDB also says that Charles played an uncredited drummer in Disney’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” (1954). Can anyone tell me the scene that they might be talking about?

April 22nd

Flora Call (1868 – 1938) – A young Flora Call has a crush on Elias Disney but the older Elias was a rather tongue-tied man who couldn’t bring himself to court her. When Flora and her parents move from Kansas to Florida in 1884, Elias Disney moves as well. The two are finally married New Year’s Day 1888. The Disney’s have five children; Herbert, Ray, Roy, Walt and Ruth. The youngest son, Walt, becomes mildly famous for making some funny animal cartoons.

Joseph Bottoms – “When I volunteered for this mission, I never thought I’d end up playing straight man to a tin can.”– Lt. Charles Pizer, “The Black Hole” (1979). Bottoms turns 51

April 23rd

George Lopez – ABC’s funniest low-rider turns 44

Shirley Temple – In 1938, Walt Disney was given a special Oscar in recognition of “Snow White.” The Oscar had seven little Oscars in tow; a nod to the Seven Dwarves and the remarkable achievement of Hollywood’s first full length cartoon.

This one-of-a-kind trophy was presented by 10-year-old Shirley Temple. Who, like Mickey Mouse, had just saved a studio (I.E. 20th Century Fox) from bankruptcy. Shirley Temple was the number one box office draw in the country at that time. More to the point, the diminuative darling had been Hollywood’s top draw for the last 4 years; a feat which has never been duplicated. Which is Ms. Temple was probably Walt’s closest competitor when it came to prying the nickels and dimes from the piggy banks of Depression era kids.

Film footage of the “Snow White” Oscar presentation ceremony is fun to watch because Shirley is so much more at ease in front of the cameras than Walt is. In fact, Shirley advises Walt:”Relax, Mr. Disney”. Shirley will be 77.

Okay, that’s it for the debut of Dale Ward “Mouse FACTory.” If you liked this JHM column, be sure and sling a note at Jim and let him know. Hopefully — if enough positive notes come in — I’ll be back with another edition of this column next week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

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

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

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

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

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

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

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

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

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