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Why For?

As Jim Hill wings his way out to Southern California, he still finds the time to answer some of your more obscure Disney-related questions.

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Greetings from Seat 21A – United Flight 211. Currently cruising at 28,000 feet.

As I mentioned at the tail end of yesterday’s column, I’m currently en route to Southern California. Winging my way west so that I can be on hand when my darling daughter, Alice, turns the big 1-0 minus 1.

I won’t lie to you folks. Being a long distance daddy sucks. It’s a life that’s made up of too few hugs and too many phone calls. As well as lots and lots of plane trips like this. Flying solo to Southern California so that I can get some significant face time with Alice.

FYI: For those of you who may be wondering, this IS a really interesting time to be traveling. Pre-war jitters seem to have put any awful lot of people off the idea of flying. My flight from Manchester down to Washington D.C. as well as the leg from D.C. out to S.D. was extremely under-populated. Which meant that there was plenty of room to spread out on the plane (which is a good thing). Even though the 5-hour-plus trip out west did get a trifle lonely.

Anywho … one of the advantages of flying on United is that the plane’s on-board audio programming features a Walt Disney Records channel. This time around, I was able to preview the soundtrack for “Piglet’s Big Adventure” which is due out in theaters on March 21st. What’s kind of unusual about the latest “Winnie the Pooh” feature (which was actually produced by the folks over at Disney Television animation, not the crew at Disney Feature Animation) is that it features Carly Simon. The ’70s era songstress reportedly wrote and performed several new songs for “Piglet’s Big Movie,” in addition to performing the classic Sherman Brothers “Winnie the Pooh” song.

Mind you, the “Piglet’s Big Movie” soundtrack doesn’t actually go on sale ’til March 18th. But — based on what I was able to able to preview on the plane today — Carly does an okay job with the classic Sherman Bros. tune. As for the rest of the film’s score … well, truth be told, I only got to hear just one new Simon song: “With a Few Good Friends,” the tune that Carly wrote to underscore the moment in the movie where Pooh and pals build a new house for Eeyore. It seemed nice enough. Sweet. Simple. Though — given that I’ve already forgotten what “With a Few Good Friends” sounded like — I guess that I can’t say that the song was all that memorable.

Now the audio programming has slide into a section that features highlights from the soundtrack of “Jungle Book 2” … “What highlights?,” I hear all you cheapquel haters saying.

Look, I agree that it’s unfortunate that the Walt Disney Company now feels that it has to undercut its own artistic legacy by producing all of these unnecessary sequels to the studio’s animated classics. (Coming soon to a theater near you: “Bambi II.” Seriously, folks. I sh*t you not!)

That said, I am really getting tired of seeing all these alleged animation fans going out of their way to bash the artists who actually work on these movies. Sure, the stories for these projects aren’t what they should be. But the actual animation that’s being done on these video premieres — particularly the stuff that’s being done by Walt Disney Television Animation – Australia — is very good. Almost as good, in fact, as the stuff WDFA was doing back in the mid-tolate-1980s with “The Great Mouse Detective” and “Oliver & Company.”

This uptick in animation quality may explain why WDFA execs are reportedly toying with the idea of giving the Mouse’s Down Under Crew its very own really-for-real animated feature. Not another direct-to-video “Lion King” sequel (Though — that said — I have been hearing that the Aussies did a really nice job with “Lion King III,” which is due to hit store shelves sometime later this Fall), but an actual film of their very own to produce.

Sort of similar to what happened with Disney’s Paris studio. When that group of animators did such a nice job with “The Goofy Movie” that they were given a shot at the big leagues with “Tarzan.” Of course, the exemplary work that Disney’s French animators did on that 1999 feature didn’t stop WDFA execs from eventually shuttering their Parisian satellite.

Maybe Disney’s Australian animators better keep that in mind before they begin celebrating their coming promotion to the big show. When it comes to the Mouse these days, it’s important to remember that no good deed goes unpunished.

Radically changing the subject here … the Walt Disney Records audio programming of United Airlines’ Channel 12 has now segued into a series of songs from a soon-to-be-released recording, “O Mickey, Where Art Thou? : The Voices of Bluegrass Sing the Best of Disney.” Given the CD’s title, is it really a surprise to hear that this album is sort of a riff on the best selling “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack?

But you want to hear the really funny part of the story, kids? “O Mickey, Where Art Thou?” ain’t half bad. Songs like “Circle of Life,” “You’ll Be In My Heart,” “Baby Mine” and “When She Loved Me” are rendered simply and sweetly with banjo, guitar and fiddle. More to the point, Disney’s recruited some of country’s top talents to warble these classic tunes. Folks like Ronnie Milsap, Sonya Issacs and Collin Raye provide inspired vocals for this recording.

In fact, I’m enjoying “O Mickey, Where Art Thou?” that I’d go and pick a copy of this recording right now … if it weren’t for two small things:

1. I’m currently flying at 40,000 feet.
2. “O Mickey, Where Art Thou?” doesn’t actually go on sale ’til April 1st.

Okay, enough with the self indulgent “Look at me! I’m writing a column while I’m flying in an airplane” crap. Let’s finally get around to this week’s “Why For?” shall we?

First up, Roger has a question that relates to “Spy Kids 2”:

Dear Jim,

I just listened to Robert Rodriguez’ fascinating commentary on the “Spy Kids 2” DVD, and was very interested to learn that he originally planned to shoot the opening sequence at Disneyland. When he asked about it, though, he was told that Disney doesn’t allow any movies to be shot at Disneyland, not even their own (which SK2 is, indirectly). His main regret was losing one of his jokes (Carmen was to have said “I’m tired of these Mickey Mouse assignments,” while tossing off her Mouse ears. Instead of [saying] “rinky dink” while tossing off her propeller head cap). But it did allow (Rodriguez) to come up with whacked rides that ended up in the film.

I’m curious, though, especially after reading your “Khrushchev at Disneyland” article. How come Disney won’t let movies (be filmed) in their theme parks.

Thanks,

Roger

Wait a minute. Rodriguez was actually told that Disney doesn’t allow movies to be shot in their theme parks? By who?

The reason I sound surprised is that I know of at least three motion pictures that have been shot at a Disney theme park. The most recent one — “Marvin’s Room” — was actually shot in WDW’s Magic Kingdom in 1997. By Miramax Pictures, the parent company of Dimension Films, the studio that actually produced Robert Rodriguez’s latest “Spy Kids” opus, “The Island of Lost Dreams.”

And the Disney World section of this Jerry Zacks film wasn’t just a throwaway, Roger. Miramax flew the film’s stars — Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton and Leonardo Dicaprio — down to Orlando. The “Marvin’s Room” production team spent several days filming in the Magic Kingdom. Including a scene where Diane Keaton faints and is rescued by a WDW cast member dressed as Goofy.

And Disneyland — the very park that Rodriguez reportedly wanted to shoot “Spy Kids 2″‘s opening sequence in — that theme park has also been as a key setting for a major motion picture in the not-so-distant past. By a non-Disney studio, no less.

Back in 1995, the Walt Disney Company gave 20th century Fox permission to come into the Park and shoot a sequence for “That Thing You Do” in and around the Matterhorn. This film (which Academy Award winner Tom Hanks made his directorial debut on, by the way) featured a sub-plot where a musician (Giovanni Ribisi) who was about to make his network television debut. But — once he was out in Hollywood — Disneyland’s siren song proved to be too much for the musician. Which is why Ribisi’s character ditched rehearsal and made his way out to Anaheim … where he ended up sharing a bobsled with a Disneyland cast member dressed as Mickey Mouse.

You see what I’m saying here, Robert? Each of these films had key sequences that were shot right inside a Disney theme park. With scenes that featured central players interacting with the Disney characters. Yet the Walt Disney Company supposedly suddenly said “No” when Robert Rodriguez came calling. A guy who had just directed a big hit picture for the corporation. Something doesn’t seem quite right about this story.

Truth be told, the Walt Disney Company has been allowing various film production companies to come into its theme parks for over 40 years now. Oh, sure. The Mouse can be pretty particular about who they allow on property with motion picture camera. (I’ve heard that Walt personally turned down offers from 20 different producers before he finally allowed a film to be shot inside of Disneyland. That movie — by the way — was a 1962 Universal Pictures release. “40 Pounds of Trouble,” starring Tony Curtis and Susan Pleshette.

I suspect that the real reason that Disney turned down Rodriguez when he went to the Mouse, seeking permission to shoot “Sky Kids 2″‘s opening sequence at Disneyland, had more to do with the film’s script. You recall that the scene that we’re actually talking about here, Roger, had the President’s daughter deliberately sabotaging an attraction at “Troublemaker” theme park. So that the ride would malfunction and her daddy — the President of the United States — would have to come rescue her.

On the heels on those extremely high profile accidents involving Disneyland guests who were injured while riding “Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin” and/or while waiting to board the “Columbia,” I would imagine that the Mouse wasn’t all that eager to have the Grand Dame of the corporation’s theme park chain portrayed as a place where a little girl could easily circumvent all of Disneyland’s safety protocols. Which is why (I’m guessing here) Mickey opted to politely turn down Robert’s request to shoot “Spy Kids 2” on location in Anaheim.

Of course, the really ironic part of this whole story is that — in the not-so-distant future — Disneyland may actually have a “Spy Kids” themed attraction. I’ve recently heard from several WDI insiders that the Mouse is giving some very serious thought to using the 3D sequence that serves as the centerpiece of “Spy Kids 3” (which is currently shooting in Texas, by the way) as the leaping off point for a new 3D attraction for the company’s theme parks.

So Rodriguez may not have been able to shoot his movie inside Disneyland. But — in the not-so-distant future — Robert may find himself working closely with WDI to create an all-new “Spy Kids” film that can only be seen inside of the Anaheim theme park.

Funny how life works out sometime, isn’t it?

Next up is an e-mail from … Dang, I can’t read the name. (The turbulence on today’s flight has been something fierce. So much so that my glass of water just up-ended into my briefcase. Which caused the type to run on some of the print-outs I brought along on this trip.)

So let’s just say that this is a letter from Mr. A. Nonymous, who writes to ask:

Hi There Jim:

Ok, a poser for you. Do you have any info on possible alternative Fantasyland rides planned for WDW in the 1970s. I heard once that (the Imaginers) were thinking of new rides before they decided to just build duplicates of DL faves. I never heard any confirmation of this …

… and then the rest of this e-mail is just one blurry blob.

Sorry, whomever. Let me see if I can try and answer Mr. A. Nonymous’s question.

To the best of my recollection, the Imagineers really had hoped to put three brand new dark rides into Fantasyland at WDW’s Magic Kingdom. These would have been:

A “Sleeping Beauty” dark ride. This was supposed to have been the Florida theme park’s “Pretty Princess” ride — something similar to Disneyland’s “Snow White’s Scary Adventure.” In that it was supposed to have started out fairly sweetly with Princess Aurora dancing around with her forest friends and then ended fairly intensely … with several encounters with an increasingly scary Malificent. The next-to-last room of the ride was to have show Prince Phillip triumphing in battle with an enormous Malilicent-as-a-dragn AA figure. Followed by the obligatory “… And They Lived Happily Ever After” scene where Prince Phillip and Princess Aurora dance on their wedding day.

The “Mary Poppins” ride. This was supposed to have been WDW’s “Magical” ride. Similar in feel and effect to Disneyland’s “Peter Pan Flight.” Though — instead of boarding a miniature Spanish Galleon and flying off to Neverland — guests were supposed to have climbed into giant up-ended umbrellas (4 guest per umbrella). Then these WDW visitors were supposed to have been whisked through several three dimensional recreations of memorable moments from the 1964 Academy Award winning film.

Among the scenes that were supposed to have been in this proposed Disney World attraction was the film’s pop-into-a-chalk-painting sequence, tea at Uncle Albert’s as well as Mary’s memorable arrival at Cherry Tree Lane.

And finally, Disney World was also supposed to have gotten a “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” ride. This was to have been WDW’s scary / thrilling kiddie ride. Similar to Disneyland’s “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.” Guests were supposed to have boarded giant hollowed pumpkins for a trip through the gloomy forest that the Headless Horseman haunted. WDW visitors were supposed to have had several close encounters with this grisly ghoul as their pumpkin twisted and turned its way through this weird wood.

The finale of WDW’s proposed “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was supposed to have been particularly thrilling. With the Headless Horseman’s black stallion rearing up, threatening to slash Disney World visitors with its hooves, as the fearsome fiend fired a flaming jack-o-lantern right at their heads.

So why didn’t any of these cool new rides ever get installed in Florida’s Fantasyland. I’m sure that this will come as no surprise to regular readers of this website, but (All together now! With feeling!) Disney Company execs ultimately decided that this particular project cost too much. Which is that they decided to cut the budget.

The Disney World resort had originally been budgeted for $100 million. By the time October 1, 1971 rolled around, Walt Disney Productions had poured $400 million into the project. So, in a desperate attempt to get WDW’s spiraling construction costs under control, Roy O. Disney told the Imagineers to forget about doing something new for WDW’s Fantasyland and just go with what Disneyland already had.

Of course, the Imagineers being the quality conscious bunch of guys that they are, they couldn’t just go ahead with recycling the same old shows that had been done for Disneyland’s Fantasyland back in 1955. So even though WDW’s Magic Kingdom DID end up with a “Snow White” ride, a “Mr. Toad” and a “Peter Pan Flight,” these were NOT cloned attractions. If anything, WED / WDI rethought and restaged each of these classic Disney dark rides … with an eye toward doing everything they could to improve the original attraction.

So — in a way — WDW’s Magic Kingdom did end up with some all-new rides for its Fantasyland area. But — instead of being really original (like those proposed “Sleeping Beauty,” “Mary Poppins” and “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” rides that the Imagineers had really wanted to build) — they were radically reworked versions of those Disneyland favorites: “Snow White’s Scary Adventure,” “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” and the “Peter Pan Flight.”

I hope this answers your question, Mr. whoever-you-are. Please drop me a note so that I can give you proper credit for the interesting question you came up with.

Finally, Peter H. writes in to ask:

Jimbo:

I’m sure you’ve already heard about this, But Reuters is reporting that the Walt Disney Company is making another bid for the Jim Henson Company.

This time around, the Mouse is supposedly offering $70 million for the rights to all of Jim Henson’s Muppet characters (excepting the “Sesame Street” crew, of course) as well as 600+ hours of TV shows and movies from the JHC’s film library.

As for the rest of the company – the Jim Henson Creature Shop as well as the corporation’s Chaplin Studio complex on LaBrea … Well, I have heard that the Mouse is taking a pass on all of that stuff this time around. All Mickey really wants are the Muppets.

Since you’ve got such great sources inside Henson as well as the Walt Disney Company, I was wondering if you could tell us what’s going on with these negotiations.

Thanks,

P.H.

Give me a couple of days in Southern California, Pete, okay? I’d like to gather a wee bit more info before I officially file a report on this proposed acquisition.

Just so you know, though: based on the stories that I’ve been hearing, the sale of the Jim Henson Company isn’t actually expected to go through ’til the end of April.

More importantly, just because the Mouse is getting the lion’s share of the press coverage right now, don’t overlook the fact that there are other entertainment companies out there — eager to swallow up Kermit & Co.

In short, P.H., Disney’s acquisition of the Muppets is far from a done deal. So don’t beak out those party hats just yet. EM.TV’s sale of the Jim Henson Company is a long and twisted saga … and it ain’t over yet. My advice is to not actually count your Miss Piggies before they’ve been poked, okay?

Alright. The flight attendant just made the “We’re descending into the San Diego area” announcement. So I guess that it would be best if I closed here. Folded away my tray table. Put my seatback in a full and upright position.

Thanks for keeping me company during the long flight out to Southern California. I promise that I’ll check in again early next week, after I get settled in with Alice and Michelle in Poway.

Oops. Almost forgot. Just prior to leaving on this trip, I found out that a few folks who had signed up for next weekend’s JHM’s Disneyland tours had to regretfully back out at the last minute. Which has left me with a couple of openings on my 10 a.m. tour on Saturday, March 22nd as well as my 2 p.m. tour on Sunday, March 23rd.

So — if you’re going to be in Southern California next weekend and would like to try and get in on the fun of the inaugural run of the JHM Disneyland tours — drop me a line at my stadlerhill@mindspring.com address and I’ll see what I can do, okay?

Well, it looks like we’re about to touch down. So I guess that’s it for today. Thanks for tagging along on my flight west.

Talk to you all again next week, 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.

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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