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Never mind “Captain EO” — what about “Captain Eeyore” ???

In a follow-up story to a somewhat controversial question in last week’s “Why For?” Jim Hill shines a spotlight on a little known but still quite funny Disneyland-cast-member-produced film. (Now try and find a copy of THIS ONE up for sale on eBay!)

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You know, it’s getting harder and harder to predict what’s going to set you guys off.

Take — for example — Last Friday. As part of my most recent “Why For” column, I answered a reader’s question about “Captain EO.” To be specific: A query about whether this 17-minute long 3D spectacular was ever going to be available for purchase in the home video or DVD format.

My reply to this JHM reader was that I thought it extremely unlikely that “Captain EO” would ever be available for purchase here in the states. Due mostly to the extremely convoluted deals that the Walt Disney Company had had to cut with Michael Jackson, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas in order to have this particular project go forward.

Which was when the e-mails began pouring from all these JimHillMedia.com readers who — while they seemed to like the site — seemed positively eager to point two things that they felt that I’d gotten wrong in my answer to that particular question:

1. “Captain EO” actually aired once on VH1 back in the mid-to-late 1990s.

2. That there were at least three copies of seemingly authorized “Captain EO” videos and DVDs currently available for purchase/up for bidding on eBay.

Soooo … does this mean that I should now start doing my Commander Blogg impression? (You remember Commander Blogg, don’t you? That officious character that the late comic *** Shawn played in “Captain EO?” The one who was unable to see all of the chaos that had erupted on board Captain EO’s ship when that vessel came under attack … because Hooter — the obnoxious little elephant-like alien in this film — had flung a fried egg unto Blogg’s hologram, thereby blocking the commander’s view.)

Nah. There’s no need for me to wipe egg from my face. Not this time, anyway.

You see, I was answering that JHM reader’s question about whether “Captain EO” would ever be available for purchase. Not whether this 3D film had ever aired on network television. Had I actually been asked that question, I would have talked about how it was Michael Jackson himself who had supposedly negotiated a deal with the Walt Disney Company, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas. Paying each of the parties a pretty hefty fee just so that “Captain EO” could air — for one time only — on VH1.

If I’m remembering correctly, this was done as part of the promotion for Michael’s “History” album. The gimmick here was supposed to be that — in one marathon-length TV special — all of the music videos that Jacko had ever appeared in would be shown back-to-back. (This was done with the hope that — by showing VH1 viewers all of Jackson’s previous hits — this might compel them to rush on out and buy copies of “History.” Which would hopefully drive up domestic sales of the King of Pop’s newest album to “Thriller”-esque levels. It’s just too bad that that’s not actually how things went down …)

Anyway … I’m not exactly sure why Michael felt that “Captain EO” had to be included as part of this music video marathon. Perhaps it was because Jacko lumped this theme park project in with his longer form projects like “Thriller” and “Ghosts.” Whatever the reasoning involved here, what is certain is that — sometime in the mid-to-late 1990s, well after “Captain EO” had stopped being shown in Disneyland and Walt Disney World (“EO” ended its run at Epcot’s Imagination” pavilion on June 6, 1994; the Disneyland version of the 3D movie didn’t shut down ’til April 6, 1997) — this film aired on VH1 … which was when (evidently) a large number of JHM readers decided to make a tape of this particular 3D movie.

Near as I can figure, at least 50 of you set up your VCRs that night specifically so you could tape “Captain EO.” Which brings us to the second part of the equation: all those “Captain EO” videos and DVDs that are currently up for sale/up for bid on eBay.

My apologies if this next bit sounds like I’m splitting hairs. That I’m deliberately trying to be slippery. But — honestly, folks — I thought that the JHM reader who was writing in last week was asking if there’d ever be an AUTHORIZED home video or DVD version of “Captain EO” up for sale.

You see, near as I can figure, all of those “Captain EO” videos and DVDs that are currently for sale/up for bid on eBay are knock-offs. Cleverly packaged and admittedly very professional looking. But — in the end — they’re still knock-offs. Illegal copies of a film that hasn’t yet officially been released in the home video and DVD format.

Based on conversations that I’ve had over the past weekend with representatives from Buena Vista Home Entertainment, I can say (with some amount of certainty) that “Captain EO” has never officially been issued in the home video and/or the DVD format. At least here in the U.S. Mind you, I’ve still got people overseas checking to see if this Michael Jackson 3D movie was ever up for sale at Disneyland Paris and/or Tokyo Disneyland. When they finally get back to me, I’ll pass along the definitive report. But — as of right now — that seems kind of unlikely as well.

Which — again — points to these various versions of “Captain EO” that are currently for sale/up for bid on eBay as being knock-offs. Which — given the vast differences in the additional features that are offered on each of these tapes and discs — sort of makes sense now.

Take — for example — an “EO” VHS that’s currently up for bid. This tape includes four different versions of the movie: A director’s cut of “Captain EO,” a standard version, a widescreen version as well as a widescreen work print version that still has the time codes embedded in the film. This tape also includes a copy of the “Making of ‘Captain EO'” TV special (hosted by Whoopi Goldberg) as well as the attraction’s grand opening celebration at Disneyland (a parade which was hosted by “Family Ties” Justine Bateman).

Meanwhile, that DVD version of “Captain EO” … well, this auction item includes the 3D movie in standard and wide screen and a copy of the “Making Of” TV special. But — in addition — this disc includes the “Another Part of Me” promo video. Plus the seller is throwing in a CD of the attraction’s soundtrack, which features “… edits and arrangements of ‘We Are Here to Change the World’ and ‘Another Part of Me.'”

Mind you, this particular version of the “Captain EO” DVD is only available in the PAL format. Which — once again — has me wondering if a Disney authorized edition of “EO” actually was available for sale for some point in video or DVD format in Europe and Asia. Just not here in the Americas. (Hey, stranger things have happened, kids. Please remember that “Song of the South” has been available for sale in Japan for nearly a decade now. While — back here in the States — Buena Vista Home Entertainment keeps telling consumers that the Walt Disney Company has placed a permanent moratorium on “SOTS.” Meaning: We’ll only pull this title out of our library and up for sale after we run out of other things to sell.)

But — as I look over all the additional features listed on these (perhaps bogus) “Captain EO” videos and DVDs on eBay — I never see the extra feature that I’m really looking. Which is a copy of “Captain Eeyore.”

“What’s ‘Captain Eeyore’?” you ask? Surely, some of you know about the films that Disneyland cast members used to make to amuse themselves. Typically, these productions were put together — with management approval, mind you — as entertainment that could be shown at area parties. You know, when the crew that worked in Fantasyland and/or Tomorrowland would gather at the end-of-the-summer season for a beer blast or after Christmas for a “We Actually Survived the Holiday Season at Disneyland” celebration.

Over the past 15 years, I’ve been lucky enough to see a number of these admittedly-amateurish-but-still-somewhat-entertaining movies. As you might expect, there are some films that are better than others. I recall one that was built around Frontierland and Adventureland employees lip-syncing to Prince songs — a gimmick that got old real fast — that still had its moments. There was also one that featured the crew from Disneyland’s old “Skyway” attraction that was pretty funny. Particularly when these cast members began singing their version of “Ole Man River.” AKA “Ole Man Skyway.”

But the best — by far — was “Captain Eeyore.” Which is a dead-on spoof of the theme park’s $15 million 3D extravaganza. Starring Pooh’s old pal — that terminally depressed donkey, Eeyore — as Captain Eeyore.

As one watches this video, one can’t help but wonder “How did these Disneyland cast members ever get permission to do this?” For — you see — the central gag behind this film is that you have Disneyland walk-around characters standing in for the various characters from the “Captain EO” 3D film. And the members of the “Zoo Crew” who are wearing these costumes are behaving in a very undignified (or is that “unDisneyified”) manner.

So — instead of the Geex, that furry two-headed creature from the original “Captain EO” 3D film that was called Idy and Ody — you have Tweedledum and Tweedledee. And — instead of the metallic Major Domo — you have Tigger in a Future World-ish space suit. And — instead of Hooter — you have Pooter. That’s right. Our old pal, Winnie the Pooh.

Mind you, “Captain Eeyore” features a Disneyland cast member performing in the old version of the park’s Winnie the Pooh costume. You know, the one that was notorious among “Zoo Crew” members because — due to the restrictive way that this costume was constructed — the person who was stuck inside had virtually no use of his arms. Which meant that — should a performer trip and fall down while they were wearing this particular Pooh costume — they were screwed. They were forced to stay sprawled on the ground until another cast member came along to help them back onto their feet.

Given the horrible reputation that this particular character costume had, “Captain Eeyore” attempts to mine a lot of humor out of that Pooh suit. Some of you may recall that scene in “Captain EO” where Hooter has to jump and strain in order to reach the button that will pull in the spaceship’s sails. Well, in “Captain Eeyore,” the cast member who’s stuck in the Winnie the Pooh suit has the same assignment. Only — in this version of the film’s story — you get to see Pooh failing away with his useless arms, trying to hit that button. You even get to see the human inside the suit — straining to reach that button — by reaching his hand out of the “Hunny” pot that sits on top of Pooh’s head.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee also provide a lot of humor in this picture. But only if you realize that — for a number of years — Disney CEO Michael Eisner insisted that these “Alice in Wonderland” characters no longer be allow to appear in the theme parks. Why for? Because Eisner evidently thought that the rounded facial features of these walk-around characters made Tweedledum and Tweedledee looked too much like mongoloids. So — since Uncle Michael didn’t want the Walt Disney Company to ever be accused of making fun of retarded children — he ordered that these character costumes could no longer be used in the park.

Of course, the operations staff at Disneyland and Walt Disney World immediately obeyed Michael’s orders. And these characters were indeed kept from appearing in the parks for a number of years … until people began to realize that — given how rarely Eisner ever actually walks through the theme parks — the Disney Company’s CEO would never know if they were using Tweedledee or Tweedledum again. So the ops people put these “Alice in Wonderland” walk-around characters (which had always been quite popular with the guests, by the way) back in the parks a couple of years ago. And Uncle Mike has never caught on that his expressed order was now being deliberately ignored.

Anywho … there’s this gag in “Captain Eeyore” that actually manages to makes fun of both Michael Jackson and Michael Eisner in one single dialogue exchange. As the crew of Captain Eeyore’s ship stands cowering before the Supreme Leader (You know, the spider-like alien that Angelica Huston played in the original “Captain EO” film? Well — this time around — the villianess is this particularly demented looking version of Minnie Mouse), Tweedledum turns to Tweedledee and asks:

Tweedledum: Who’s that?

Tweedledee: The Supreme Leader.

Tweedledum: What? Diana Ross?

Tweedledee: (exasperated sigh, then …) You really are a mongoloid!

These sorts of in-jokes abound in “Captain Eeyore.” Take for example, the punishments that the Supreme Leader metes out to Captain Eeyore and his crew. “You (pointing to Pooh, Tigger, Tweedledum and Tweedledee) turn them into photo characters. While you (pointing at Eeyore) a hundred years of torture in the Inn Between.”

Now — in order to get those gags — you have to understand that Disney “Zoo Crew” members consider being assigned work as photo characters (where you have to stand in the hot sun all day being overly nice to tourists as they each get a picture of you posing with their children) as sheer torture. And that the Inn Between is the cast-members-only cafeteria that’s located right behind the Plaza Inn on Disneyland’s hub.

But it’s Captain Eeyore himself that truly makes this film a must-see. Mind you, I don’t know the name of the performer who’s trapped inside of that donkey suit. (Sadly, the version of “Captain Eeyore” that I saw didn’t have any production credits.) But clearly this guy (or was it this girl?) could dance. He made Michael Jackson’s trademark moves down cold. But there’s something that’s just fall down funny about seeing this six-foot-tall donkey trying to moonwalk. Or — better yet — Eeyore doing Jackson’s infamous pelvic thrusts.

Yeah, “Captain Eeyore” isn’t exactly a family film. And — admittedly — a number of its jokes are just a bit too inside for most members of the public to get. (EX: At one point, Commander Bob — “Captain Eeyore”‘s version of Commander Blogg — spies Tweedledum and Tweedledee sitting down inside the spaceship. Bob barks at the characters: “Hey! No sitting in costume!” Which always gets a big laugh from Disneyland cast members. But not so much as a snicker from foamers like you and I.) But — that said — this movie is still worth seeking out.

After all, how many times do you get the chance to see:

Eeyore leading a troupe of 24 professionally trained dancers (supposedly the cast of Disneyland’s “Videopolis” stage show) performing an exact copy of the “We Are Here to Change the World” number from “Captain EO.”

The Seven Dwarfs, wielding spears, goose-stepping their way toward the dancing donkey.

Two Queen of Hearts, each cracking a bullwhip, moving in to attack Captain Eeyore.

Clearly, a lot of time and effort went into this project. Given the size of “Captain Eeyore”‘s cast (as well as the large number of official Disneyland walk-around character costumes that were used in the making of this movie), it’s pretty hard to believe that Disneyland officials didn’t know that this movie was in production. More than likely, the managers in Anaheim were well aware of what was going on and that — provided that these Disneyland cast members made their film on their own time — they didn’t really have a problem with the project.

Now, what I find interesting is … I’ve seen several of these Disneyland-cast-member-produced movies from the 1980s … but I’ve never ever seen any cast-members-only films from the 1990s or the 2000s surface. Which begs the question: After Michael Eisner came to power and proved himself to be a fairly humorless individual, did Disneyland management begin to actively discourage this film-making practice? Out of fear that some of the somewhat pointed jokes that Anaheim’s amateur movie makers were making at Disney Studio’s expense might piss off someone powerful back in Burbank … which perhaps might result in someone (or maybe even several someones) getting their butts fired from Disneyland.

Which — if that’s what actually happened here — is really a shame. For these cast-members-produced movies don’t come across as being anything really malicious. They’re just films made by a bunch of kids who are blowing off a little steam. Poking fun at their supervisors and/or the silly attractions that they work on. After all, Disneyland is supposed to be “The Happiest Place on Earth,” isn’t it? So shouldn’t the employee who work there occasionally be allowed to poke fun at the place?

Evidently not. Or — at least — not anymore. Which is a shame. For — given the strides that have been made over the past 10 years in digital photography and editing technology — I’m betting that Disneyland cast members out there could turn out some home-grown epics right now that would really put “Captain Eeyore” to shame.

Anyway … should Disney ever actually get around to putting together an authorized version of the “Captain EO” film that could be sold here in the states, here’s hoping that they fold “Captain Eeyore” into that DVD’s extra features. After all, how many times in life do you get to see a film that features an exchange like this:

TIGGER: So how do we find the Supreme Leader?

TWEEDLEDUM: Follow the Yellow Brick Road?

TWEEDLEDEE: (Pulling a Moe Howard) Why, I oughta …

Your thoughts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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