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Knott’s Berry Farm honors its heritage by revamping / refreshing Calico Mine Train & Camp Snoopy



On the heels of its highly successful redo of that theme
park's iconic Timber Mountain Log Ride, Knott's Berry Farm is doubling down for
the Summer of 2014.

This time around, two elements of this Southern California
favorite are receiving some much needed TLC: The Calico Mine Train (which first
began riding the rail back in November of 1960) and Camp
Snoopy (which greeted its first
guests back in July of 1983).

Campy Snoopy back in the early days. Photo by Shelly Valladolid

In the case of Calico, Knott's is sticking to its Timber
Mountain template. As in: Preserve
what everyone originally loved about this Ghost Town attraction while at the
same time updating many of the figures & effects found deep inside of this
seven stories-tall show building.

This time around, though, Garner Holt Productions (i.e. the
San Bernardino-based operation that built the 58 animatronic figures that were
installed in Timber Mountain Log Ride during its redo) really have their hands
full. You see, when themed entertainment legend Bud Hurlbut & his team
originally built the Calico Mine Train ride (for a then-absolutely-astounding
sum of one million dollars), they used 275 tons of steel.

Calico Mine Train attraction under construction in 1960.
Copyright Cedar Fair Park. All rights reserved

That coupled with the extremely tight passages that those
ore-cars-full-of-passengers have to travel through as the Calico Mine Train
makes its 8 minute-long journey through a detailed recreation of an 1880s gold
mining operation … Well, that didn't leave Garner and his team much room to
work within this enormous show building. Especially when it came to finding
places to install new figures & effects.

One of Garner Holt's new miner animatronic
Photo by Shelly Valladolid

But as it turns out, Holt has already had some experience when it comes to
Calico. You see, Garner & his team actually built 5 new characters for Knott's
mine train ride back in the early 1990s. And it was the info / experience that
Holt gained from installing those figures inside of this attraction two decades
ago which then made it possible for his crew to place over 50 new state-of-the-art
animatronic figures along its track this time around.

And what's an animatronic miner without his mechanical burro? Photo by Shelly Valladolid

Now add in the 70-or-so donkeys, bats, fishes &
creepy-crawly things that Garner Holt Productions has built to place along the
Calico Mine Train's track along with a brand-new audio & themed lighting
system … And you have just the sort of stellar attraction that Bud Hurlbut
& his crew would have built back in 1960 if the necessary funds &
technology would have been available.

But you want to know the very best part? Things that Bud himself had put into
place decades inside of the mine train ride that were eventually shut off or
discontinued are now being restored. Take — for example — the ethereal music
that Knott's visitors used to hear as their ore car climbed to the highest point
along the track, the "Ascending into Heaven" room" (i.e., that
chamber deep inside this attraction which was filled with hundreds of
stalagmites & stalactites).

The "Ascending into Heaven" room inside of Knott's Berry Farm's Calico Mine Train ride
as it initially appeared back in the 1960s.
Copyright Cedar Fair Park. All rights reserved

The music for this area inside of the Calico Mine Train was supposedly to have replicated
that eerie, unearthly sound which the wind sometimes makes as it whistles
through deep caverns. Sadly, the recording which had used to serve as the
soundtrack for this specific scene in the ride has severely degraded over the

Mind you, Bill Reyes — a longtime fan of this Knott's Berry Farm —  had begun a restoration of the music that was
used in this portion of the Calico Mine Train. All with the hope that he'd
eventually be able to present a copy of this music to Hurlbut as a gift. Sadly,
Bud passed away in January of 2011 prior to this project being completed.

Bud Hurlbut with one of the Calico Mine Train ride trains prior to painting.
Copyright Cedar Fair Parks. All rights reserved

But the upside is — thanks to the restoration work that Reyes had already been
done — an all-new recording of the music for Calico's "heaven room"
sequence could now be made. And on a Mighty Wurlizter organ, no less. And
thanks to this new soundtrack recording (as well as the new themed lighting
package that's being installed in this portion of the attraction), this scene
in the ride will be more spectacular than it's ever been.

Another nice aspect to the Calico Mine Train redo is that
Garner Holt Productions — while it didn't reuse / duplicate  any of the animatronic figures that it
created for Timber Mountain Log Ride in the second Ghost Town attraction GHP
revamped / enhanced — did make sure that these figures looked similar. That
they all appeared to be members of the same community. So that Knott's guests
could imagine that — at the end of their workday — all the lumberjacks who
worked up on Timber Mountain & all of the miners who dig for gold deep down
inside the Calico Mine could then meet up for drinks at the saloon in Calico

The entrance area / exterior queue for Calico Mine Train is still being refurbished.
Photo by Shelly Valladolid

As you might expect, given that the revamped / refreshed
version of Calico Mine Train isn't supposed to open 'til June, this corner of
Knott's Berry Farm's Ghost Town is still very much a construction site. Even
so, the marketing staff at this theme park was nice enough to take us behind
the barriers yesterday. Where we actually got to enter this show building and
then walk down the mine train track for a hundred feet or so.

Photo by Shelly Valladolid

Once we were inside of the Calico Mine Train show building, we got to see a
test of this attraction's steam effect (The new boiler which powers this steam
effect had just been lowered in through the roof the day before). We also got
to peek in to the bottom of the Glory Hole, that 65 foot-wide & 90
foot-deep show scene which (later this Summer) will be filled with dozens of
animatronic prospectors all looking to strike it rich as they dig for gold.

Workmen prep the "Glory Hole" portion of Calico Mine Train for the upcoming
installation of its new animatronic figures.
Photo by Shelly Valladolid

Meanwhile over in Campy Snoopy … Well, the folks at Knott's
Berry Farm weren't as much interested in gold as they were with forest greens
& browns.

To explain: Back in 1983 when the Knott family took 5 acres of their theme park's
parking lot and then turned it into a celebration of Charles M. Schulz's characters,
that project used the most recent feature-length "Peanuts" film —
1977's "Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown!
" — as its inspiration.
Which is why — rather than showcase these comic strips stars in the sort of suburban
setting that Schulz usually placed his characters in — Knott's Berry Farm
opted to go the Camp Snoopy
route instead. Create this lush green area that replicated the look & feel
of California's High Sierras.

Copyright 1977 Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved

Unfortunately, even though the 10 foot-tall trees that
Knott's horticultural  team planted back
in 1983 have now reached over 60 feet in height, Camp Snoopy's original "high-in-the-Sierras"
feeling slowly began slipping away. Beginning back in December 1997 (which —
not so co-incidentally — was when Knott's Berry Farm was acquired by Cedar
Fair), there was less & less emphasis placed on "How can we preserve
this area's theme?" and more & more emphasis placed of "How can
we shoehorn another ride in back here?" Which is how Camp
Snoopy wound with
wildly-out-of-theme attractions like GR8SK8, which was this giant skateboard,
and Lucy's Tugboat. 

Copyright 2014 Fox / Blue Sky Studios. All rights reserved

Well, now that there's a new "Peanuts" movie on
the horizon (An all-CG production from Blue Sky Studios which will hit theaters
in November of 2015), Knott's Berry Farm has decided to seriously spruce up Camp
Snoopy. Not only replace the rides
that don't really fit in this part of that park but also fold in more Charlie
Brown-based fun. Which is why, sometime in June or thereabouts, three brand-new
"Peanuts" -themed family rides will come online in Camp
Snoopy. These include:

Copyright 2014 Cedar Fair Parks. All rights reserved

  • The Linus Launcher — This spinner recreates that classic
    moment from the "Peanuts" comic strip when Snoopy would grab Linus'
    blanket and then drag him around the neighborhood. On the Linus Launcher,
    guests will lay on one of twelve "blankets" as they get spun around. This
    attraction replaces Camp Snoopy's
    old Charlie Brown's Speedway ride.

Copyright 2014 Cedar Fair Park. All rights reserved

  • Pig Pen's Mud Buggies — As Pig Pen looks down from his
    central perch, guests can take their very own all-terrain vehicle for a circular
    drive through the High Sierras. Pig Pen's Mud Buggies replaces Knott's old Log
    Peeler attraction.

Copyright 2014 Cedar Fair Park. All rights reserved

  • Charlie Brown's Kite Flyer — Remember the bad ol'
    kite-eating tree from the "Peanuts" comic strip? Well, he's back,
    bigger & badder than ever. Swinging 32-passengers 18 feet up in the air
    while good ol' Charlie Brown looks on, lashed upside down to the truck of this
    tree in a tangle of kite string. Charlie Brown's Kite Flyer replaces Camp
    Snoopy's old Snoopy-themed bounce

Copyright 2014 Cedar Fair Park. All rights reserved

And as for Lucy's Tugboat … Again taking their inspiration
from "Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown!" (More importantly, that
animated feature's whitewater rafting scenes), Camp
Snoopy's tugboat is now being
rethemed as Rapids River Run.

Lucy's Tugboat has been turned into a whitewater raft.
Photo by Shelly Valladolid

And as for GR8SK8, that oversized skateboard has gone to
that great skate park in the sky. In its place, Knott's Berry Farm is building Beagle
Scout Headquarters. Which will soon be where guests can go if they're looking
to meet-n-greet with the Peanuts characters.

Concept art for Knott's Beagle Scout Headquarters / meet-n-greet area.
Copyright 2014 Cedar Fair Park. All rights reserved

And as a longtime Charles M. Schulz fan, I have to admit that I
love the great attention-to-detail that Knott's creative team has folded into
Beagle Scout Headquarters. How they are recreating iconic "Peanuts"
locations as Lucy's psychiatry booth and that low stone wall where Linus &
Charlie Brown would often stand & talk.

But what's also great about Beagle Scout Headquarters is —
even though the interior features some faithful recreations of memorable
location from the "Peanuts" universe — the exterior of this
meet-n-greet area has deliberately been designed so that it then fits Camp
Snoopy's High Sierras setting.
Everything from the natural wood that this building will be constructed out of
to the split-cedar shingles that cover its roof will tell Knott's visitors that
they're now somewhere deep in the woods.

In every possible way, Knott's creative team is making
changes to Camp Snoopy
to reinforce this High Sierra theming. Take — for example — all of the new
signage that's being creating for the 13 rides that guests will be able to
experience in this 5-acre forest-themed section of the park. All of these three-dimensional
signs are being made out of real redwood. Not only that, but they're being
sandblasted to bring out their wood grain. And best of all — again to
reinforce the whole you're-at-a-camp-in-the-High-Sierras feel of this area at
Knott's — all of these Camp Snoopy
ride signs are deliberately being designed to look like merit badges.

Photo by Shelly Valladolid

And this readjusting / reinforcing of Camp
Snoopy's deep-in-the-woods themes
goes all the way down to the pavement treatment for this part of the park.
Knott's creative team is in the process of resurfacing every walkway that runs
through this 5-acre area. Replacing all of that old slurry with brand-new
concrete which — thanks to the color it's been painted as well as all of the
pebbles that have been embedded in its surface — will now make it look as
though a dirt road runs through the camp.

That said, given that they were replacing all of the
pavement that ran through Camp Snoopy,
the creative team at Knott's also used this opportunity to address some ADA
issues that this side of their theme park had. To be specific: They lowered the
bridge in front of Grizzly Creek Lodge by a foot or so to make it that much
easier for guests in wheelchairs & ECVs to traverse.

Getting back to the Peanuts theming now … Knott's Berry
Farm is going all-out this time around. It's looking for all sorts of
innovative ways to get people interested in Charles M. Schulz's characters. Take
— for example — the "Peppermint Patty's Pucker Powder" that will soon
be sold in Camp Snoopy's
new candy store.

Copyright 2014 Cedar Fair Park. All rights reserved

But of all the "Peanuts" plussing that's being
done in & around Camp Snoopy,
I think the attraction I'm most looking forward to is the revamped version of Grand
Sierra Railway. Starting in June, this miniature replica of an actual steam
locomotive will begin chugging past wilderness scenes which show many members of
the Peanuts gang camping in the High Sierras.

Copyright 2014 Cedar Fair Park. All rights reserved

Garner Holt handled the fabrication of these Peanuts characters.
And as you can see by the version of Sally & Franklin that were on display
during Knott's Calico Mine Train / Campy Snoopy media event, they did an
excellent job when it came to translating Charles M. Schulz's original drawings
into fully dimensional figures. By the way: 
Before these figures could then be installed in six different scenes
along the Great Sierra's track route, the Schulz family first had to sign off
on all of GHP's dimensional sculpts of these characters.

A 3D printer-created version of Woodstock.
Photo by Shelly Valladolid

Another interesting side note: When it came to producing Woodstock
& all of his Beagle Scout bird friends for the Great Sierra Railway, Garner
& his team opted to the 3D printer route. Holt used the exact technology
when it came to producing some of the bats & fish which will appear in the
caverns of Calico Mine Train.

So what's my favorite part of Knott's Great Sierra Railway
redo? To be honest, it's a tie between learning that Linus Van Pelt himself
will be narrating this eight minute-long journey or the fact that — en route
to the Peanuts' characters campsite — this miniature steam train will roll
past a recreation of Needles, California.
Where Snoopy's brother Spike will be hanging out with all of his cacti buddies.

And once the Great Sierra Railway pulls back into the
station and guests disembark at the Camp Snoopy Depot, there'll still be a
whole lot more new stuff to see. Things like the Peanuts Play Lot. Which will
be this area right next to the Timberline Twister where nature, adventure &
imagination come together and little kids can then play in a safe zone.

Construction continues on Campy Snoopy's Peanuts Play Lot.
Photo by Shelly Valladolid

Not to mention the overall beautification effort that
Knott's horticultural staff is putting into this side of the park. Which — in
addition to the redwoods, pine trees, shrubs, ferns and perennial flowers that
people can already see as they walk through Camp
Snoopy — will soon include river
birches & blue cedar trees by the stream next to Rapid River Run.

In short, Campy Snoopy will soon be returning to its roots.
Becoming the same sort of inspired / inspiring tribute to the High Sierras that
it was back when this 5-acre area first opened back in July of 1983. But at the
same time, this corner of Knott's Berry Farm will also have a fresh &
modern feeling.

Mind you, with what's being done to Calico Mine Train &
Camp Snoopy looking like it's actually going to top the refresh / restoration
work that was done on Ghost Town in 2012 & Timber Mountain Log Ride in
2013, what's Knott's Berry Farm going to do for an encore? Well, this theme
park's creative crew & marketing team weren't exactly ready to go
on-the-record. Not yet, anyway. But it's been suggested that Knott's Fiesta
Village area may be the next part
of this park to receive a makeover. One that will take its inspiration from
LA's festive Olvera Street
. But — hey — you didn't hear that from me.

Will Knott's Fiesta Village be the next park of this theme park to get a
Photo by Jim Hill

In the meantime, while I have to admit that it was fun to
wander around the park this past Thursday & the sample all of the
Boysenberry flavored culinary delights to be found at Knott's Berry Bloom, I
just can't wait for June to get here. So that I can then see how the finished
versions of Calico Mine Train & Camp Snoopy turned out.

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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 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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