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Stage version of “Mary Poppins” draws a lot of its inspiration from … Well, drawings

Jim Hill looks back at the development of this Disney / Cameron Mackintosh production. Which is not just based on the 1964 film, but also draws its inspiration from P.L. Travers’ stories and Mary Shepard’s illustrations

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When the North American National Tour of “Mary Poppins” opens in Chicago in March of 2009 …



Copyright 2007 Disney / CML. All Rights Reserved


… both Disneyana & theater fans are sure to be thrilled. After all, this road company will not only feature Ashley Brown (i.e. the actress who originated the title role in the Broadway version of this Disney / Cameron Mackintosh musical) but also Gavin Lee (i.e. the Drama Desk Award-winning actor who portrayed Bert in both the New York & London productions of “Mary Poppins”).



Gavin Lee and Ashley Brown enjoy a spot of tea in the original Broadway version
of “Mary Poppins.” Copyright 2006 Disney / CML. Photo by Joan Marcus


That said, fans of the original 1964 film



Copyright 1964 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved


… might be a little confused by the stage version of “Mary Poppins.” Which doesn’t feature a tea party on the ceiling …



(L to R) Julie Andrews, Karen Dotrice, Matthew Garber, Ed Wynn and Dick Van
Dyke in the Academy Award-winning movie version of “Mary Poppins.”
Copyright 1964 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved


… and / or Bert & Mary “larking about” in the show’s “Jolly Holiday” number.



Copyright 1964 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved


Mind you, it’s not that Bob Crowley — “Poppins” Tony Award-winning set & costume designer — didn’t want to incorporate particularly memorable elements of that movie into this stage show. Take — for example — the smoke staircase that you see in that film.



Copyright 1964 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved


For the London production of “Mary Poppins,” Crowley actually did design a set that would have replicated that moment from the motion picture.



Copyright 2004 Disney / CML. All Rights Reserved


But in the end, this proposed setting for the stage version of “Mary Poppins” was deemed to be impractical. And given that the production team was looking to deliver a “Practically Perfect” musical here … Well, that’s why this particular element got dropped from the show.


More to the point, the creative team behind this “Mary Poppins” musical (i.e. director Richard Eyre, choreographer Matthew Bourne and librettist Julian Fellowes) weren’t out to create just some stage-bound clone of the Academy Award-winning film. They had something far more ambitious in mind.


You see, the goal here was to create an entirely new entertainment experience. Something that would merge familiar elements from the “Mary Poppins” movie with scenes & characters that had been drawn from the eight books that P.L. Travers wrote.


Which is why — if you only know Mary Poppins through the 1964 Disney film — some of the characters that you’ll see in this new stage show will be unfamiliar to you. Take — for example — Robertson Ay, that accident-prone footman who is featured prominently in this musical’s “A Spoonful of Sugar” number.



Mark Price as “Robertson Ay” in the Broadway production
of MARY POPPINS at the New Amsterdam Theatre.
Copyright 2006 Disney / CML. Photo by Joan Marcus


Though this character doesn’t appear at all in the Disney film, Ay has been a part of the “Mary Poppins” universe ever since the very first book in the series was published back in 1934. Where — on Page 2 — Travers lists his household duties as …



” … to cut the lawn and clean the knives and polish the shoes and, as Mr. Banks always said, ‘to waste his time and my money.’ “


Robertson’s other notable skill from the “Mary Poppins” book was his ability to fall asleep practically anywhere in the middle of whatever task Ay had just been assigned.



Copyright 2006 Harcourt, Inc. All Rights Reserved


Mind you, other characters featured in the stage version of “Mary Poppins” may be somewhat familiar to fans of the film. You may recall Mrs. Corry and her daughters, Annie and Fannie …



Copyright 1964 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved


… who make a very brief appearance in the opening moments of that movie. You may remember that Bert — as he’s busking in the park — makes up a comical poem about this odd-looking trio.



“Ah, Mrs. Corry. A story for you.
Your daughters was shorter than you.
But they grew.”


And that’s pretty much all you ever see of the Corry family in that motion picture.


Which is really a shame. For in the “Mary Poppins” books, Mrs. Corry and her two “great galumphing giraffes” of daughters Annie & Fannie …



Copyright 2006 Harcourt, Inc. All Rights Reserved


… are rather magical creatures. You see, these three not only run a bake shop which sells pieces of ” … gingerbread (that are) so studded with gilt stars that the shop itself seemed to be faintly lit by them,” but then …



Copyright 1981 P.L. Travers


… under cover of darkness, the Corrys — with Mary Poppins’ help — paste these very same Gingerbread Stars up into the night sky.


The creative team behind the stage version of “Mary Poppins” just loved this vignette from the book. And they labored mightily to try & find a practical way to fit the Corrys-star-pasting routine into their show. Using Mary Shepard’s original illustration, Crowley first worked up a concept drawing …



Copyright 2004 Disney / CML. All Rights Reserved


… and then even had a model made of this proposed set.



Copyright 2004 Disney / CML. All Rights Reserved


But in the end, this proposed setting for the stage version of “Mary Poppins” was also deemed to be impractical. Which is why this particular sequence was eventually dropped from the show.


But as for the Corrys themselves … At this point in the development of the show, the “Mary Poppins” production team had really grown quite fond of Annie, Fannie and their diminutive mother. Which is why it was decided that the Corrys’ sweet shop would now become the setting for “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”



The cast of the
Broadway production of MARY POPPINS at the New Amsterdam
Theatre. Copyright 2006 Disney / CML. Photo by Joan Marcus


In the stage show, Mary, Bert, Jane and Michael suddenly find that they’re running out of conversation. Which is why they then drop by Mrs. Corry’s “Talking shop” and pick out the letters for ” … the greatest word you ever heard.”


Mind you, to reinforce the idea that Mrs. Corry’s establishment is actually a bake shop, Crowley actually designed this character’s dress so that it would resemble the sort of display rack that a baker might place cakes, cookies and pies on.



Copyright 2004 Disney / CML. All Rights Reserved


Please note that — in the above drawings — Mrs. Corry has exceptionally long fingers. That’s because — in the original P.L. Travers story — this character’s fingers were actually made of barley-sugar. Which Mrs. Corry could then snap off and hand out as treats to the children who were visiting her store.


Which — I know — is a kind of dark & weird idea. But if you’ll actually go back and re-read the original “Mary Poppins” books, you’ll find that P.L. Travers slips lots of these sorts of touches into her stories.


In fact, the creators of the stage show took one of P.L. ‘s darker ideas (i.e. The “Bad Wednesday” chapter from “Mary Poppins Comes Back,”  where Jane — as she’s throwing a temper tantrum in the nursery — accidentally cracks the Royal Doulton Bowl up that’s on the mantelpiece …



Copyright 1963 P.L. Travers


… The next thing Jane knows, she’s been magically sucked into the illustration that decorates the inside of this bowl. Where the characters depicted there then take Jane to task for creating that crack) …



Copyright 1963 P.L. Travers


… as the inspiration for an entirely new number for this stage show. George Stiles & Anthony Drewe (i.e. the song-writing team that Disney & Cameron Mackintosh hired to supplement the Sherman Bros. Academy Award-winning score) used “Bad Wednesday” as their jumping-off point when they created “Temper Temper.” Which shows what can happen to bad little children who mistreat their toys.



Copyright 2006 Disney / CML. Photo by Joan Marcus


Speaking of those dark moments that you’ll sometimes find in the original “Mary Poppins” books … To add a bit of conflict & tension to the second act of their show, the creative team brought to the stage perhaps the scariest character that P.L. Travers ever created: Miss Andrew, Mr. Banks’ original governess.



Copyright 1963 P.L. Travers


Played in the Broadway version of “Mary Poppins” by Ruth Gottschall, Miss Andrew is a terrific comic villain. Who — instead of following Mary Poppins’ “Spoonful of Sugar” approach — tries to keep the Banks children in line by feeding them ” … brimstone and treacle and cod liver oil.”



(L to R) Henry Hodges as ‘Micheal Banks’ and Ruth Gottschall as ‘Miss Andrew’ in
the original Broadway company of MARY POPPINS at the New Amsterdam Theatre.
Copyright 2006 Disney / CML. Photo by Joan Marcus


When I recently spoke with Ruth about this role, Ms. Gottschall explained her take on the character:



“I can’t play Miss Andrew as bad. She’s just a nanny who’s not up on these new-fangled methods. She still believes that children should be seen and not heard.


But that said, I still know how this character comes across in the show. Sometimes when I’m up on stage, I actually hear the kids out in the audience say ‘Scary, Mommy.’ “


Anyway … As you might expect, these two wildly different approaches to child-rearing eventually lead to a magical showdown between Mary Poppins & Miss Andrew. And once again, the show’s creative team tried to bring one of P.L. Travers’ original ideas to life. In that Mary dispatches the nastiest nanny in the world by first downsizing Miss Andrew and then sticking her inside of the birdcage in which Miss Andrew used to imprison a wild lark.



Copyright 1963 P. L. Travers


And while it’s obviously not possible to shrink a live performer on stage and then stuff them into a birdcage, the “Mary Poppins” creative team did come up a rather clever way to replicate this moment from “Mary Poppins Comes Back.” Which is why Miss Andrew’s comeuppance is one of the real highlights of this show’s second act.


Speaking of the second act … The “Mary Poppins” creative team wanted to give their title character a spectacular entrance in this part of the show. So once again borrowing an idea from one of Mary Shepard’s illustrations …



Copyright 1963 P. L. Travers


… they had this Practically Perfect nanny descend from the heavens on the end of Jane & Michael’s kite string, while the cast of “Mary Poppins” sang (what else?) “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.”


Which — I know — changes the film’s finale into the second act’s opening number. But let’s remember that the “Mary Poppins” creative team wasn’t out to create an exact clone of the motion picture. But — rather — they wanted to make a stage show that would blend all of this source material together (i.e. Walt Disney’s film, P.L. Travers’ stories) to create something new that still felt familiar.


Which brings us to perhaps the most entertaining sequence in the stage version of “Mary Poppins,” the “Jolly Holiday” number. Which — just as it does in the 1964 film — begins with Mary, Jane and Michael meeting Bert at the entrance of the park.



Copyright 2004 Disney / CML. All Rights Reserved


But instead of having this quartet jump into a chalk sidewalk painting and then having Bert cavort with some cartoon penguins …



Copyright 1964 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved


… the “Mary Poppins” creative team opted to go an entirely different way with their stage show.  Borrowing a story idea from Travers’ 1943 book, “Mary Poppins Opens the Door,” this sequence now starts off with Mary taking the Banks children to the park …



Copyright 1971 P.L. Travers


… Jane & Michael then complain (in a new contra punctual refrain that Stiles & Drewe wrote for this old Sherman Bros. tune) that Ms. Poppins is …



“Boring, just like other nannies
Thinking parks are good for us
It’s just statues, ducks and grannies
I don’t understand all the fuss.”


Of course, what the Banks children don’t realize is that Neleus — a statue that’s been in the park for ages …



Copyright 1971 P.L. Travers


— is about to step down off of his plinth …



Copyright 1971 P.L. Travers


… to begin cavorting with these kids.



Copyright 1971 P.L. Travers


Well, the “Mary Poppins” creative team took one look at Mary Shepard’s charming illustrations for the “Marble Boy” chapter in “Mary Poppins Opens the Door” and then they wondered: What if it wasn’t just one statue in the park that was effected by Mary Poppins’ magic? But — rather — all of the statues in that park?



The original Broadway company of MARY POPPINS performs “Jolly Holiday.”
Copyright 2006 Disney / CML. Photo by Joan Marcus


Choreographer Matthew Bourne even used Shepard’s illustration as the inspiration for some comic relief in this production number.



Copyright 1971 P.L. Travers


In that — during this dance sequence — the park-keeper just can’t understand why or how the statues in his park keep winding up in different positions.


And did I mention that — as a capper to “Jolly Holiday” — the Queen herself drops by the park and then briefly dances with Mary & Bert?



(L to R) Ashley Brown, Ruth Gottschall and Gavin Lee dance with the cast
of the original Broadway company of MARY POPPINS.
Copyright 2006 Disney / CML.
Photo by Joan Marcus


FYI: If the Queen in the above photo looks somewhat familiar… Well, there’s a good reason for that. You see, that part in the Broadway version of “Mary Poppins” is played by Ruth Gottschall. The same actress who plays Miss Andrew in Act Two.


Getting back to “Jolly Holiday” … Now I know that there are a number of die-hard “Mary Poppins” movie fans out there who may feel that Cameron Mackintosh & the folks at Disney Theatrical went too far and took far too many liberties with their favorite film. With the end result being this “Poppins” stage show that they don’t quite recognize.


Well, whenever the “Mary” movie fans out there bring this issue up … I just point to the number of times that the “Mary Poppins” creative team actually went out of their way to include elements from that movie. Take — for example — the Pearlies who appear in that film’s “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocius” number.



Copyright 1964 Walt Disney Productions


Bob Crowley remembered those animated characters as he was designing the Starlighter costumes for the stage version of “Mary Poppins.”



Copyright 2004 Disney / CML. All Rights Reserved


Though — to be fair — I guess I should also point out that Crowley took a lot of his inspiration for these costumes from the illustrations that Mary Shepard drew for “Mary Poppins Comes Back” ‘s “Evening Out” chapter. Where the constellations themselves (i.e. characters who are literally made up of stars) perform in a special circus for Ms. Poppins.



Copyright 1963 P.L. Travers


You see what I’m saying here, folks ? The “Mary Poppins” creative team was always looking for ways to mix elements of the movie in with scenes & characters from the Travers books to create an entirely new entertainment experience. That’s why the show’s poster actually features this line:


“Based on the stories of P.L. Travers and the Walt Disney Film”


Mind you, some of the creative compromises that the “Mary Poppins” production team made may seem — in hindsight — a trifle bizarre. Take — for example — that Mary-and-the-Corrys-paste-Gingerbread-Stars-up-into-the-night-sky sequence that I mentioned toward the top of this article. Because the ladder concept was eventually deemed to be unworkable for this stage show, what Crowley & his designers decided to go with instead was a giant light-up umbrella. Which Mary, Bert and the rest of the cast now dance around as they all sing a new Stiles & Drewe tune, “Anything Can Happen If You Let It.”



Ashley Brown and the original Broadway cast of MARY POPPINS
at the New Amsterdam Theatre.
Copyright 2006 Disney / CML. Photo by Joan Marcus


Which — I know — once again seems like a departure from the “Mary Poppins” movie. But if you’re a fan of the P.L. Travers books … Well, then you already know that Travers just loved scenes like this. Where all of the characters that she’d created for her “Poppins” stories would suddenly come together and dance.


Take — for example — the illustration below from “Mary Poppins in the Park.” Which shows Mary Poppins & Mrs. Corry dancing with the shadows of characters from various P.L. Travers books.



Copyright 1980 P.L. Travers


Which is why (I guess) if you want a full appreciation of what Richard Eyre, Julian Fellowes, George Stiles, Anthony Drewe, Bob Crowley and Matthew Bourne have done with the stage version of “Mary Poppins,” you first need to revisit the 1964 Disney film as well as reread the eight P.L. Travers books.


Once you do that, you can then finally fully understand how the various elements of these earlier “Poppins” projects were woven together to create a brand new entertainment experience. Which is now being presented 8 times at a week at NYC’s New Amsterdam Theatre as well as entertaining theater goers in England (The UK tour of “Mary Poppins” got underway earlier this month at the Theatre Royal Plymouth). Not to mention the show’s North American National Tour, which kicks off at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre in March 11, 2009.


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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