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“Shrek 3D” makes for fun home viewing

Not heading down to Orlando or out to Hollywood anytime soon? Well, now you can enjoy Universal Studios’ latest 3D attraction right in your own home by picking up a copy of “Shrek 3D.”

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Okay. Let’s start with the obvious: Watching “Shrek 3D” in the comfort of your own home ISN’T really the equivalent of getting to see the “Shrek 4D” attraction at the Universal theme parks in Orlando, Hollywood and Tokyo. Unless — of course — you have friends or relatives who are willing to shake your chair and/or spray mist in your face at appropriate moments as you’re watching this DVD.

But — that said — “Shrek 3D” is still a lot of fun. A sweet little 16-minute-long movie that basically bridges the gap between the first “Shrek” film and “Shrek II.” Revealing what happened to our favorite ogre, Princess Fiona and Donkey after they left the wedding reception.

And I’ll say this much about “Shrek 3D” : The folks at Dreamworks really didn’t stint when it came to putting together this project for the Universal theme parks. Rather than fobbing this 3D movie off to underlings (so that the A Team could just concentrate on “Shrek 2”), Jeffrey Katzenberg insisted that Dreamworks’ top guys actually work on “Shrek 3D.” To make sure that “Shrek” ‘s story would shift seamlessly from the first film to “Shrek 3D” right into “Shrek 2.”

This is why you’ll find guys like Simon J. Smith — the Head of Layout on the first “Shrek” feature — serving as the director of “Shrek 3D.” Making sure that the distinct look of Shrek’s fractured fairy tale world would stay consistent from the first film right through to the theme park film. And — to make sure that the characters looked just as we remembered them — Raman ***, “Shrek” ‘s supervising animator was brought on board at “Shrek 3D.” (And — as soon as he finished with this theme park movie — *** began riding herd on these same set of characters again . In his role as Supervising Animator on “Shrek 2.”)

The key to this project (at least to Jeffrey Katzenberg’s point of view) was consistency. Which was Dreamworks persuaded Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow to all come back and do the necessary voice work for the “Shrek 3D” film. Jeffrey even convinced Harry Gregson-Williams — the talented composer who did the score for both the first “Shrek” film as well as “Shrek II” — to do the music for the theme park film.

Why all this attention to detail? Because Katzenberg honestly believes that Shrek is Dreamworks’ Mickey Mouse. So — what with “Shrek III” already penciled in for the Summer of 2006 (And supposedly with a “Shrek IV” due to arrive in theaters several years after that) as well as a “Shrek” musical heading to Broadway sometime over the next few years — a lot is obviously riding on this character now. Which is why Jeffrey couldn’t afford any slip-ups right now. Have some lackluster theme park film undercut any of Shrek’s future earnings potential.

Which is why Katzenberg assigned himself the job of producing “Shrek 3D.” And — immediately after taking charge of this project — Jeffrey then roped in David Lipman, the co-executive producer of the first “Shrek” film, to help this Dreamworks senior exec keep this theme park project on track.

Eventually, Katzenberg assigned Lipman additional duties. Putting David in charge of pulling together a script for “Shrek 3D.” This Lipman did with the help of Steve Hickner, who was one of the directors of Dreamworks’ first animated feature, “The Prince of Egypt.”

Okay. By now, I think you get the idea. Dreamworks didn’t just fob “Shrek 3D” off on the folks at Universal Creative. Saying” “Do whatever you’d like with these characters.” The crew at Dreamworks Animation / PDI were actually active participants in this theme park project. Making sure that the Shrek you encounter at the Universal theme parks looks, acts and sounds the same as the ogre that movie-goers met in the first film first. And (hopefully) will rush out to their local multiplex to see again when “Shrek II” officially opens tomorrow in theaters nationwide.

Alright. That’s enough back-story on the creation of “Shrek 3D.” Now let’s talk about the film itself.

Like I said earlier: Watching this DVD in your own home, while admittedly fun, isn’t quite the same as seeing “Shrek 4D” at one of the Universal theme parks. After all, you miss out on all those great in-theater effects. Plus you don’t get to experience this theme park attraction’s great pre-show and post-show area.

Particularly in Orlando (Where USF’s “Shrek 4D” attraction replaced that theme park’s enormous “Alfred Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies” facility), Universal Creative and the folks at Dreamworks had the room they needed to tell the “Shrek 4D” story right. The attraction’s storyline actually starts out in the queue. Where — via some cleverly written posters — we get a quick recap of what happened in the first film. With the most important bit of news being that Lord Farquaad (Who we last saw being eaten by Donkey’s dragon lady-friend) has risen from the grave, determined to have his revenge on Shrek and Princess Fiona.

From the outside queue area, we now transition into “Shrek 4D” ‘s pre-show area. Which is done up to look like a dungeon. In overhead cages, we see that the Three Little Pigs & Pinocchio have been imprisoned. As Farquaad’s ghost — working with the Regent’s old dungeonmaster, Thelonius — tortures them to try get this quartet to reveal the information that he needs. Which is the exact location of those happy honeymooners, Shrek & Fiona.

On an overhead monitor, we see that the Gingerbread Man too is back in the dungeon. But — before Fraquaad’s Ghost & Thelonius can actually get to prying this info out of Gingy — he runs, runs as fast as he can away. Right straight out of the dungeon. And he urges us to follow his lead.

Unfortunately, we don’t listen to the Gingerbread Man. Which is why Farquaad’s Ghost — finally noticing all of us standing there in “Shrek 4D” ‘s pre-show area — orders us to enter the dungeon (AKA the show’s main theater) for questioning.

So we enter the theater (Which — sadly — doesn’t continue the queue & pre-show’s castle / dungeon motif. It just looks like your standard theme park theater), take our seats … and this is where the film that you’ll see (should you purchase “Shrek 3D”) is screened.

Now, what follows is a fairly spoiler filled description of the first half of this Universal theme park attraction. So — if you don’t really want to know what happens during the first portion of “Shrek 3D / 4D” — now might be a good time to bail out of this story.

 

Okay. Still with us? Alright, let’s continue …

 

This 3D movie starts off with a pretty obvious poke at Disney. As a Tinker Bell look-alike flies out from behind the curtain and starts waving her magic wand around over the audience’s heads. “Wonderful World of Color” -like fireworks magically erupt as the curtains part. Just then, a frog’s pink tongue shoots out — snagging the sprite. As the giant bull frog swallows Tinker Bell with a satisfied smile, this is your first clue that you’re NOT watching a Disney theme park show.

Of course, Tinker Bell refuses to go down without a fight. So — zooming out of the frog’s mouth, even though the fairy is still attached to his tongue — she now drags the surprised amphibian all over the enchanted forest. Eventually bringing us out onto the road where we encounter Shrek, Princess Fiona and Donkey.

Now these characters are pretty much as we left them at the end of the first film. With Shrek & Fiona off to begin their honeymoon. With Donkey along for the ride because he’s the ogre’s “noble steed.” Only — when we meet up with this trio again — they’re not going anywhere fast.

Why for? Because — as they were making their way to the Honeymoon Hotel — Shrek somehow made a wrong turn with their enchanted onion coach. And now they’re lost.

So — as “Shrek 3D” officially gets underway — our favorite ogre is standing in the middle of the road, trying to figure out where he went wrong. He has a map in his hands that lists such fearsome sounding destinations as “The Forbidden Forest,” “Death Canyon” and “Dead End Cemetery.”

As Shrek continues to look at the map, Donkey tries to noodge him along:

Donkey: Come on, Shrek. Who needs a map when you’ve got animal instincts? I say we take the 10 to the 305 and then get off at Fairy Tale Falls.

When Shrek refuses to listen to him, Donkey wanders over to the enchanted onion carriage. Where he feeds Princess Fiona weeping.

Donkey: What’s wrong, Princess? You shouldn’t be this unhappy ’til years into the marriage.

Princess Fiona: What? This is the happiest day of my life.

Donkey: Oh, oh. Let me guess. You’re overwhelmed by love.

Princess Fiona: No. I mean yes. I mean. That isn’t why..

Donkey: The shrimp platter was bad?

Princess Fiona: No!

Donkey: Wait, Wait. I got it. I got it. You always wanted a puppy. But all you got was toasters.

Princess Fiona: NO! I’m sitting in an onion! This carriage is one big onion.

Donkey: Oh. Why didn’t you say so? I’ll turn on the air.

Donkey steps on a pedal (or that petal?) on the side of the enchanted onion coach. Its side roll down, exposing the base / interior of the carriage to the open air. Shrek’s bride immediately begins to breath easier.

Princess Fiona: Much better.

Donkey: Noble steed at your service.

Shrek — now consulting a copy of “The Sir Thomas Guide” — announces that he thinks that he’s finally found a shortcut to the Honeymoon Hotel. All they have to do is taking their coach through the Forbidden Forest.

The camera quickly pans to the Forbidden Forest. Which is full of gnarled, evil looking trees. Lightning flashes ominously as vultures wheel overhead.

Donkey: Are you crazy?… That forest could be hexed or voodooed or anything. Uh uh. I ain’t going in there.

Shrek: Listen, I’m an ogre. I’m the one who does the scaring. What’s there to be scared of?

Donkey: (Gesturing off-camera) That.

The camera turns to catch Lord Farquaad’s somewhat loyal henchman, Thelonius, riding up on a dark horse. The horse & rider leap over Shrek, Donkey and the audience before coming to a stop in front of Princess Fiona in the onion coach.

Princess Fiona: Hey, what are you doing?

Thelonius: Sorry, Princess. Honeymoon’s over.

Thelonius quickly ties up the Princess. Then — throwing her on the back of his horse — Farquaad’s henchman takes Fiona off into the Forbidden Forest. Seeing his bride being carried off, Shrek turns to Donkey and says:

Shrek: To the carriage.

The two of them scramble into the coach. Then — riffing on “The Blues Brothers” signature speech — Donkey turns to the camera and says:

Donkey: We got a donkey driving a carriage that’s made from an onion, it’s dark and our horses are wearing sunglasses.

Shrek: Cut to the chase, Donkey. Just cut to the chase.

And that’s just what “Shrek 4D” does: Cuts to the chase. While bouncing along in their enchanted onion coach, Shrek and Donkey frantically pursue Fiona & Thelonius. At one point in this chase sequence, the road becomes so bumpy that Donkey actually bounces right out of the coach. Via the magic of 3D, it looks like he’s about to fall into the audience’s lap. But — at the last moment — Shrek grabs Donkey’s tail and yanks him back into the coach.

Donkey: (to audience) Wow, this 3D is pretty cool! (To Shrek) I saw into another dimension.

Shrek: Oh, for the love of Pete.

As the chase sequence continues, the Gingerbread Man is just up ahead. Putting the finishing touches on his brand new Gingerbread house. Which involves using a pastry bag to finish writing “Home Sweet Home” on his front door in icing.

But then Gingy hears the hoofbeats of the horses bearing down on his new home. He turns in horror to see Thelonius. Who somehow manages to makes his horse jump over the Gingerbread House with minimal damage to the structure.

On the other hand, Shrek & Donkey take their enchanted onion carriage straight through the Gingerbread House. The collision seems to send a shower of candy corn flying out into the audience. As they emerge on the other side, Gingy cusses them out.

Gingerbread Man: Hey, Shrek! I hope you’re insured. That house cost me a lot of dough.

The chase ends suddenly with Shrek & Donkey — having somehow survived their leap over Death Canyon — stranded in Dead End Cemetery. As they wander around the fog-filled graveyard, searching for Fiona, they stumble upon Farquaad’s tomb. Which depicts the diminutive Regent standing on top of this enormous column as he makes ready to do battle with a ferocious dragon.

Looking up at the statue of Farquaad, Shrek stops to think:

Shrek: I wonder if he’s behind all this.

Donkey: Can we get out of here?

Shrek: Sure. Of course. Now you wouldn’t happen to have another carriage in your pocket, would ya?

Donkey: Donkeys don’t have pockets. But some of us do have wings.

With that, Donkey begins to whistle for his lady love. You know, the female dragon that he wooed & won in the course of the first “Shrek” film? But — instead — Donkey’s whistling seems to bring the stone dragon on top of Farquaad’s tomb to life. As it turns toward Shrek & Donkey and roars, the frightened ass turns to the ogre & says:

Donkey: Uh oh. Wrong dragon.

Shrek: Wrong whistle.

As if things weren’t already bad enough, now Farquaad’s Ghost appears.

Donkey: Farquaad!

Shrek: What have you done with my wife?

Farquaad: Your wife? Don’t you mean your widow?

Donkey: I know I seen you die in the first movie.

Farquaad: You fools! This time, it’s your turn to be the entree. (To dragon) Okay, my sweet. Take care of them. Bon appetit!

The stone dragon now steps down off of Farquaad’s tomb and begins chasing after Shrek & Donkey. Things look pretty bleak until …

You don’t want me to give away the entire picture, now do you? Well, I know that the folks at Universal Studios as well as Dreamworks certainly wouldn’t want me to.

So what happens next? Well — Given that “Shrek 2” arrives in theaters tomorrow — you can obviously assume Shrek, Donkey and Fiona survive their ordeal and that this story ends somewhat happily. Except for Lord Farquaad, of course.

But the stuff that I won’t get into here (I.E. The mid-air battle with all of its witty “Star Wars” references, Fiona’s rescue at Fairy Tale Falls … which doesn’t go quite as well as Shrek had hoped it would, as well as who’s waiting for these two when they finally arrive at the Honeymoon Hotel) is just as entertaining as the scenes that came before them. Which do a beautiful job of recapturing the look & the feel of the first “Shrek” film. Not to mention doing a superb job of setting the stage what happens next in the “Shrek” sequel.

Now I won’t lie to you, folks. The people who run Universal’s theme parks aren’t exactly thrilled that “Shrek 3D” is now available for sale. They do feel that — by choosing to release this film at this particular time — Dreamworks has really undercut the marketability of Universal’s less-than-one-year-old attraction.

But — at the same time — the folks at Universal Studios are fairly philosophical. After all, the Orlando studio theme park has its new “Revenge of the Mummy” ride opening this Friday. With Universal Hollywood’s version of this attraction due to open a month later. And — given that this new state-of-the-art attraction was obviously going to become the centerpiece of those theme parks’ marketing efforts for the next year or so — “Shrek 4D” was going to be shunted out of the spotlight anyway … So why cry over spilled milk?

Besides, Universal is sure to move a ton of these “Shrek 3D” DVDs in the attraction’s post-show gift shop. After all, what better way is there to remember an attraction than to bring home your very own copy of the film you just saw. Here’s hoping that — should these “Shrek 3D” DVDs prove to be a popular item in the “Shrek 4D” gift shop — that Disney follows Universal’s lead. I mean, wouldn’t be great if we could all finally purchase a copy of “Muppetvision 3D”? To take home with us to commemorate our visits to Disney-MGM or DCA? Paging Chris Curtin — the Mouse House’s main Muppetmeister. If the Walt Disney Company’s really serious about trying to make some money of of its recent acquisition of Jim Henson’s characters, selling a DVD of “Kermit the Frog Presents Muppetvsion 3D” might be a great way to start …

Anyway … As I said at the start of this article: While owning your very own copy of “Shrek 3D” is nice, it really isn’t a replacement for getting to see “Shrek 4D” in the theater where it was intended on being seen in. I mean, just to experience all the in-theater physical effects in perfect synchronization with the movie is great fun.

Plus the end gag! Sure, you see Tinker Bell get nailed by that champagne cork at the end of “Shrek 3D.” But you don’t get to see where this unlucky sprite ends up after that. Audiences exiting “Shrek 4D” in Orlando, Hollywood and Tokyo have been just howling when they see what’s become of Peter Pan’s pal.

But I’m not going to give that away …Sorry, folks. But if you want to experience that gag, you’re going to have to buy an admission ticket to a Universal theme park.

But if you’d to experience a stripped down version of this attraction (As in: No queue, no pre-show and no post-show shop. Just the “Shrek 3D” film itself), all you really have to do is chase down a copy of this DVD. Which — according to the folks that I’ve spoken with at Universal Home Entertainment — isn’t going to be on the market for all that long.

So — if you’d to bring home a little bit of Universal theme park magic (Not to mention find out what really happened to Shrek, Fiona and Donkey on their way to the Honeymoon Hotel) — go pick up a copy of “Shrek 3D” today, okay?


Would you like to own your very own copy of this Universal Studios theme

park film as well as help support JimHillMedia.com? Then pick up the DVD

of “Shrek 3D” from Amazon.com by clicking the link to the right.

Your cost will (unfortunately) remain the same. Though Amazon.com

is currently selling its “Shrek” / “Shrek 3D” two

pack for 30% off! But — if you go to that site through JHM — you

help support JimHillMedia.com because we get a tiny cut of whatever it

is you spend. So — if you’d like to help keep Jim Hill behind a computer

where he belongs — pick up a copy of the “Shrek 3D” DVD through

the link to the right.

Shop at Amazon.com

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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