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Why For?

This time around, Jim answers your Disney-related questions about Epcot’s latest additions, the disappearance of the highly detailed queue as well as what could have been done with the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights this year.

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First up, it’s Barry from East Boston. Who writes in today to say:

Dear Jim:

What the hell is going on at Epcot? All of the rides that I used to love as a kid – “World of Motions,” “Horizons” and “Journey in Imagination” – are being ripped out and replaced by these pale copies of the original attractions and/or by stupid hi-tech thrill rides.

Why is the Walt Disney Company turning its back on its own heritage? What’s the matter? Is there some sort of corporate conspiracy currently in place that calls for all of Disney’s AA-based shows to be replaced with cheaper-to-produce movies & off-the-shelf rides?

I mean, how expensive can it be nowadays to produce an attraction that features a few Audio Animatronic figures?

Color me Dis-gruntled & Dis-appointed, Jim.

Barry B.

Barry –

Well, to hear my friends at Walt Disney Imagineering explain it, there IS considerable cost involved in creating an AA-based attraction for one of the Disney theme parks. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of dollars you have to spend annually to maintain these highly sophisticated robotic figures.

But — honestly, Barry — that’s really not the reason that the Mouse has begun to shy away from these sorts of shows. To hear the guys in WDI tell it, the real reason that Disney has pulled the plug on elaborate attractions like Epcot’s “World of Motion” and “Horizons” is that … well … tastes change. When WED was initially putting together rides, shows and attractions for Epcot’s Future World section (back in the mid-to-late 1970s), the Imagineers felt that elaborate shows loaded with AA figures were really the way to go. That this was the sort of stuff that would really dazzle Disney World visitors.

The only problem was — when EPCOT Center finally opened in the Fall of 1982 — all of these earnest, well meaning, thoroughly researched and incredibly-expensive-to-produce shows failed to really wow the public. WDW guest surveys that were done during this period showed that — while Disney World visitors appreciated all the obvious effort that had gone into the creation of Epcot — they weren’t all that enthusiastic about the place. When these folks got back home and friends and family would ask them about Disney’s newest theme park, these people would invariably say something like “Oh, EPCOT Center was nice enough. But it’s no Magic Kingdom. The rides and the shows there were kind of boring.”

This is why — when Michael Eisner came on board in October of 1984 as the new CEO of Walt Disney Productions — one of his very top priorities was to revitalize / jazz up Epcot. To bring some real color and excitement to this well-intended but still rather dull theme park.

Which was why the Norway pavilion and its flume ride, the “Maelstrom,” were quickly added to World Showcase. Not to mention the “Wonders of Life” pavilion with its hi-tech thrill ride (“Body Wars”) and its two colorful, celebrity-filled film-based shows (“Cranium Command” and “The Making of Me”). Eisner did everything that he could think of to try and re-energize Epcot.

And — given that it was typically the slower moving shows like “World of Motion” and “Hozizons” that were scoring the lowest on Epcot’s guest satisfaction surveys — this is why, when the leases were up on these particular shows, that Disney would push these pavilions’ corporate sponsors to allow them to replace the previous attraction with something bright, something colorful. Ideally, a brand-new thrill ride.

It wasn’t that Disney was deliberately trying to destroy Epcot’s Future World section. Pulling out all of these highly themed rides, shows and attractions that Disneyana fans now look upon with such fondness. But rather, they were just trying to fix a park that was performing poorly with the public.

And the fixes continues, folks. Even today, almost 20 years after Michael Eisner came to power at Walt Disney Production, this CEO is still trying to make the place a success with a broader segment of the theme-park-going public. After all, what is “Mission: Space” — with its centrifuge-based simulated-flight-to-Mars ride — but a flat-out naked attempt to make the Future World section of this troubled theme park into something that will be much more appealing to teens?

And “Project Gemini?” That’s really Epcot’s “Hail Mary” play. The Imagineers’ last-ditch effort to re-invent / re-energize / revitalize WDW’s science and discovery park. Given how radically that once-ambitious plan has now been downsized, one wonders if “Project Gemini” will now even be worth the effort. Will a new version of “Soarin'” and a “Finding Nemo”-themed overlay for the “Living Seas” pavilion really be enough to make a significant number of tourists come back to Epcot?

Time will tell, Barry. But — for now — given that “Mission: Space” is already shaping up to be an incredibly expensive near-miss (And the Imagineers are reportedly really regretting all that pricey carpet that they laid down directly under each of the centrifuge units. Given all the “protein spills” that they’re regularly having to deal with here, WDI employees in Florida are already supposedly taking bets on how long it will be before “M:S”‘s carpeting gets torn out … only to be replaced by a much-easier-to-maintain-and-clean tile floor), it’s pretty safe to say that we’ve seen our last multi-million dollar make-over of a Future World pavilion for a while.

Even that once-ambitious “Spaceship Earth” redo — featuring its hi-tech “Time Racers” thrill ride — is reportedly being rethought. So — at least for now, Barry — you can assume that there are no “World of Motion” / “Mission: Space”-style radical redos in Epcot’s future.

But — beyond that — Future World’s future does look rather bleak.

Anyway … next, Ted E. writes in to ask:

Jim –

Love the site. I was wondering, though, if you could answer a theme park related question for me. As in: What became of all the great themed queues & pre-shows that Disney used to do for its theme parks attractions & rides. These days, particularly over at DCA, it’s just painted steel rails and overhead monitors. You don’t really get a sense of a story anymore. That you’re about to embark on some magical adventure. You’re just crowded in like cattle.

So am I wrong, Jim? Are the glory days of the Disney pre-show – where we’d get an elaborate queue like the one is “Star Tours” that set up the whole story before you even got on your Star Speeder – really dead and gone?

Please say it isn’t so.

Thanks in advance for whatever info you can throw my way.

Ted E.

Sadly, yes, Ted. I honestly do think that — at least for the foreseeable future — the elaborate queue (An item that — back in the late 1980s / early 1990s, anyway — was the hallmark of a truly great Disney theme park attraction) is dead.

At least here stateside, where WDW and Disneyland Resort visitors are constantly complaining about the amount of time that they have to spend in line, no one at WDI is thinking about creating elaborate queues anymore. They’re just looking for ways for even faster ways to load guests onto attractions.

The introduction of Fast Pass did help to deal with this issue a bit. But what’s complicating that matter is the significant number of complaints that Disney Guest Relations Dept. has been received from theme park guests who now find themselves stranded in the “Stand By” line. People who really seem to resent being held back as those guests who are clutching their “Fast Passes” are allowed to board these attractions that much faster.

Strange as this may seem, Ted, there are actually Disney theme park regulars who are strongly advocating that the Mouse drop the Fast Pass system entirely. To go back to the old ways. When everybody had to stand in line together. When no one got special treatment.

Even more intriguing are the folks with WDI who are suggesting that the Disney theme parks take a real step backwards. Abandoning the pay-one-price-to-ride-every-attraction-in-the-park-as-often-as-you-like admissions media in favor of returning to ticket books. That’s right. Ticket books.

Mind you, this may not be as odd an idea as it initially appears to be. After all, back in the day when both Disneyland and WDW’s Magic Kingdom used tickets, guests were more evenly distributed around the theme parks. In order to get the most out of their investment in Disney admissions materials, these folks would deliberately try to use every one of their tickets. So they’d go out of their way to visit the park’s A, B, C, D and E Ticket attractions.

Which is how attractions like the Mike Fink Keelboats and Disneyland’s Motor Boat Cruise were able to justify their existences. By turning over the admittedly-not-large-but-still-rather-steady number of tickets that guests handed over each day. Which allowed the operators of those Disney theme park attractions to say “See? People DO like us. They’re still willing to pay good money in order to ride us.”

And — based on the number of tickets that a Disney theme park attraction would taken in annually — WED could then justify making additions and/or improvements to that attraction during its yearly rehab. How would the Imagineers do this? By pulling an annual tally for the number of tickets that had been collected for a particular ride, show or attraction. “Snow White’s Scary Adventure,” for example.

WED’s reasoning would go something like this: “4.5 million rode ‘Snow White’s Scary Adventure.’ Given that a C Ticket has a cash equivalent of 50 cents, that means that this Fantasyland attraction made $2.25 million for the Disney corporation last year. Which is why I think it’s reasonable for Imagineering to spend $100,000 next year on upgrades and upkeep for this show. So that ‘Snow White’s Scary Adventure’ will continue to stay popular with the guests. So that this Fantasyland dark ride will continue to pull its weight — financially, that is — for Disneyland.”

But once the stateside Disney theme parks switched over to the Passport system in the late 1970s, that financial model flew right out the window. And the Imagineers found it harder and harder to justify to increasingly cost-conscious executives how it made sense to continually attempt to improve (or — at the very least — maintain the status quo) the theme park’s older attractions. This was just about the same time that Disney management became fixated on the idea that they’d use a brand-new E Ticket — something that they add to the parks, with much hoopla, every 3 to 4 years — to keep attendance levels at the theme parks consistently high.

Of course, when you tie this mentality in with all of the cost cutting that Disney has done at its stateside theme parks over the past few years, you can end up with a pretty lame lean bunch of new attractions. Rides like “Aladdin’s Magic Carpets” at WDW’s Magic Kingdom and “Tricera Tops Spin” at DAK — even though they are new rides — don’t exactly inspire tourists to catch the next flight to Orlando.

So what’s it going to take to bring back the good old days at Disney’s stateside theme parks? That time when you got to wander through a wonderfully detailed queue like the one you find in Disneyland’s “Star Tours” and/or that quarter of a mile of thrills and chills you encounter while you’re making your way through the Temple of the Forbidden Eye? According to some folks at WDI, ticket books would be “just the ticket” to clean up this particular mess.

I know that this all sounds rather unlikely, folks. But there are some staffers at Walt Disney Imagineering — some rather senior staffers, I might add — who are actively advocating for this idea. We’ll keep you posted as to whether they actually make any progress.

Finally, Jeff L. from Connecticut writes in to say:

Jim:

I had just finished making the travel arrangements for my next trip down to Disney World when I learned that the Mouse had suddenly pulled the plug on this year’s version of the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights . $%#&@ !? That was one of the main reasons that I was headed down to Disney this holiday season, Jim. Just so I could walk along Disney-MGM’s Residential Street and check out this over-the-top Xmas lights display that I’ve heard so much about over the past few years.

Obviously, I’m disappointed, Jim. As well as kind of annoyed. I mean, the Walt Disney Company owns 43 square miles of land down there in Orlando. Surely they could have found some empty spot down there at WDW and set the Osborne Lights over there.

So what’s the real deal here, Jim? I know that they’re currently doing all sorts of work on New York Street (replacing facades and all that) as well as tearing down the “Golden Girls” house to make room for an Americanized version of WDS’s auto stunt show. But surely there was somewhere else at Disney World — Downtown Disney, for example — that could have served as a temporary home for the Osborne Lights. At least ’til all the construction was completed over at Disney-MGM.

So what gives, Jim? Inquiring Disneyana fans wanna know!

Jeff L.

Jeff –

Believe me, you’re not the only person who’s upset at Disney’s seemingly sudden decision to pull the plug on this year’s Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights. Given that this somewhat garish holiday display was recently voted the resort’s most popular holiday attraction by WDW annual passholders, I’m told that Disney World got hundreds of letters from angry and disappointed would-be guests. Many of whom — just like Jeff L. — had been planning their WDW vacations to coincide with the previously announced dates for this year’s light display.

I’m also told that there were many veteran Disney World cast members who were surprised that the Mouse didn’t at least try to jury-rig a smaller version of the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights display for Disney-MGM this coming holiday season. Maybe just set up a highlights version along Mickey Avenue.

When asked about doing something like this, WDW management’s response went something like this: “Oh, there’s not enough time to do something like that. We’re just going to have to wait ’til 2004 — or maybe 2005 — for all the construction to be completed on the stunt show.”

Oh, really? Five months isn’t enough time to find a way to display the Osborne Lights this year at MGM? How many of you remember when “Mickey’s Birthdayland” debuted at WDW’s Magic Kingdom back in June 18, 1988? That entire land (which was built specifically to help Disney World’s visitors celebrate Mickey Mouse’s 60th birthday) was designed and constructed in just three months. From the initial meeting where someone said “Wouldn’t it be cool if …” to the moment then-First Lady Nancy Reagan cut the ribbon at Mickey’s House … just 90 days. And that involved changing the layout of the Grand Prix Raceway to accommodate the footprint of the new show buildings, creating a new station for the Magic Kingdom’s railroad, erecting steel, putting in new pipes and electrical wiring, etc.

Obviously, that was no lightweight project. But still — with three months of hard work — the folks at Walt Disney World were still able to pull it off. Creating something that — even 15 years later — millions of WDW visitors are still getting a kick out of.

Now contrast that with what happened with Disney World’s current management team was given FIVE months to come up with a new place on property to display the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights. Their response was: “There’s not enough time. It would cost too much to quickly put together a temporary place to display those lights. It’s better that we should wait ’til all the construction is complete on MGM’s backlot.”

Well, while Disney is sitting around waiting, Universal Orlando is really on the move. Sensing that there are some seasonal customers that they can snatch away from the Mouse this year, USF is ramping up the holiday displays at both of their Central Florida theme parks. Universal Studios Orlando will be bringing back the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade balloons for the holiday parade that will run daily through that theme park. While — over at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure — a bigger, beefier version of Grinchmas will be bowing over in Suess Landing this holiday season.

Will these customers come back to Disney-MGM once that the management team at that studio theme park gets its act together again? Maybe. But — right now — there are certainly a lot of angry WDW annual passholders (as well as Dis-appointed vacationers) who really feel like they’ll be missing out on something this holiday season … just because the dim bulbs who currently run the Walt Disney World Resort couldn’t find a new place on property to display the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights.

Okay. That’s it for this week, folks. Again, my apologies for my exceedingly low profile at JimHillMedia.com this week. But we’ve nearly gotten all the worms and viruses taken care of at this end. So — hopefully — things will get back to normal around here next week. (By that I mean: As normal as things usually get around JimHillMedia.com. Which isn’t very normal at all.)

And remember … come by on Saturday and Sunday to catch Parts V and VI of Jim Korkis’ on-going “History of the Comic Book” series. The first four installments made for some pretty fascinating reading.

That’s it for now. Talk to you next Monday, okay?

jrh

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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