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Jim Hill returns with answers to your Disney-related questions. This time around, Jim talks about why Walt Disney World isn’t hurrying to re-open “River Country,” describes what “Baby Herman’s Runaway Buggy Ride” would have been like, discusses future plans for this website as well as revealing the winners of this week’s trivia contest.

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First up, RandomRabbit writes in with a follow-up question that relates to yesterday’s “Dead Men Tell No Tales … ” column:

Jim —

Loved today’s article about the “Pirates” water park. What other details do you have about this proposed project for Disney World? Is this what they’re going to replace “River Country” with? I can’t wait to visit this water park.

You had lots of good articles up on your site this week. Please keep up the great work.

Dear RandomRabbit —

Thanks for the kind words regarding the content that we had up on JHM this week. As for additional info on that “Pirates of the Caribbean” Water Adventure Park … I’m afraid that what you see is what you get. At least for the time being.

To explain: Remember how I mentioned — in yesterday’s article — that the “Pirates” water park was still in its blue sky phase? Well, “blue sky” is an in-house term that the Imagineers use when they’re still knocking an idea around. Still exploring all of the inherent possibilities of a particular proposed project.

That’s the current status of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” Water Adventure Park. I’m told that the Mouse House’s money guys are very intrigued by the profit potential of this project. But — that said – – they still want to hold off on approving a final construction budget until they see how “Pirates II” & “III” do at the box office in 2006. If either of these two sequels under-perform (Which — I know — seems unlikely. But remember what happened with those two “Matrix” sequels ) … Well, I think you can understand why Disney might then not want to go forward with a “Pirates” themed water park project.

Mind you, one thing that I CAN tell you with a fair degree of certainty, RandomRabbit, is that this “Pirates” themed water park will NOT be “River Country” ‘s replacement. Yes, at first glance, it would probably make sense for the Mouse to replace the “old Swimmin’ Hole” at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground with something a bit more state-of-the-art. But then you have to understand that WDW’s current management has some serious logistical concerns with “River Country.” Chief among these being that water park’s size as well as its remote location.

To put it bluntly, “River Country” is just too small a site for what the Walt Disney Company wants to do with its “Pirates of the Caribbean” Water Adventure Park. Then — when you add in the transportation issues …

“What transportation issues?,” you ask. Well, how many of you out there remember how truly difficult it was to get down to “River Country”? How — even if you were staying on property — you still had to take a bus on down to Pioneer Hall and then hike all the rest of the way to the “Old Swimmin’ Hole.” Or — if you were staying at one of the Magic Kingdom Area Resorts — you still had to take a boat over to Fort Wilderness and then walk on over to “River Country.”

And if you were one of those poor unfortunate slobs who was actually staying off-property who wanted to visit “River Country” … fuggedaboutit. First you had to park your car in a remote parking lot. THEN you had to board the bus for Pioneer Hall. THEN you had to hike over to the water park.

You see what I’m saying, RandomRabbit? The “River Country” experience wasn’t at all like what WDW guests are now used to with “Typhoon Lagoon” and “Blizzard Beach.” Where all the bus stops are right up close to the entrance. Where even the day visitors to these WDW water parks have an easy time of it. They just drop their cars in the parking lot and stroll right up to the entrance.

Which is why re-opening “River Country” hasn’t really been all that high priority for the Walt Disney Company. The Mouse now thinks of that water park as a fairly problematic project. One where it’s really hard to see how the corporation would get a good return on its investment. Were Disney to ever throw a sizable amount of dough at this Fort Wilderness institution for expansion and/or retheming.

Which is why the “Old Swimmin’ Hole” remains locked up tight. Every so often, I hear rumors that Disney is thinking of re-opening “River Country” as a water park that’s exclusive to guests staying at Wilderness Lodge, the Villas at Wilderness Lodge as well as Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground. But then I’m told that just the cost of bringing “River Country” up to current ADA compliance would be fairly considerable. Which is why the redo of this WDW water park remains (seemingly forever) on Disney’s bank burner.

Never mind the fact that a “Pirates of the Caribbean” Water Adventure Park doesn’t really fit in with Fort Wilderness’ America-frontier-of-the-mid-to-late-1800s theming …

Anyway … if I were a betting man, RandomRabbit, I’d bet that Disney will follow its old “Blizzard Beach” / “Typhoon Lagoon” battle plan. As in: If the Walt Disney Company actually does decide to build a “Pirates of the Caribbean” Water Adventure Park in Central Florida, that they’d then pick a parcel of land that’s just off of an already existing on-property road. That the site that they pick will have plenty of room for a parking lot as well as the attraction’s back-of-house areas.

Soooo … Anyone out there wanna eyeball an aerial map of the Walt Disney World Resort and hazard a guess as to where on property a “Pirates of the Caribbean” Water Adventure Park might fit?

Next up, Neil B. of Watertown, MA. asks:

Jim —

I really enjoyed that “Disney Decade” article that you wrote earlier this week. I was particularly intrigued by all the attractions that were proposed for Disney-MGM that were ultimately never built. Could you someday do a story about some of them? Like that Baby Herman Runaway Buggy Ride. How was that supposed to work?

Neil B. —

Actually, you picked one of my favorites, Neil. Had it ever made it off the drawing board, “Baby Herman’s Runaway Buggy Ride” would have been a whole lot of fun to ride. It’s a real shame that — due to Disney’s never-ending battle with Steven Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment over which company actually controlled the rights to the Roger Rabbit characters — that the Imagineers never actually got the chance to build this particular attraction

“So what would have ‘Baby Herman’s Runaway Buggy Ride’ been like to ride?,” you query. Well, picture this: You’re on line at Maroon Studios. Where you’re supposedly about to get a tour of the set of the new Roger Rabbit / Baby Herman cartoon, “Tummy Trouble.”

But — as you make your way past Baby Herman’s trailer — you can hear that the diminutive star is inside that trailer & he’s throwing a tantrum. Baby Herman is saying things like: “That sequence is far too dangerous for a star like me to perform, Raoul. You better go hire some stuntmen to take my place in that scene.”

And the next thing you know, this cartoon’s frantic director is walking up to you & your party in line, asking you if you’d like to take Baby Herman’s place in the picture. To shoot a brief scene for the movie that’s perfectly safe. That really shouldn’t be any problem at all.

And — before you really have a chance to think this question over — you suddenly find yourself in Maroon Studios’ wardrobe department. Where you’re being fitted for a giant baby bonnet. And the next thing you know, you and three of your close, personal friends are being loaded into an over-sized baby buggy.

Once the lap bar comes down, Raoul shouts “Lights! Camera! Action.” And — with that — you’re suddenly whizzing around the wards of St. Nowhere Hospital, supposedly shooting a stunt sequence for “Tummy Trouble.”

Below, you find images from storyboards for this proposed Disney-MGM attraction, which shows your baby buggy bouncing over beds full of patients …

Copyright 1989. The Walt Disney Company

… as well as making wild turns in the hospital’s corridors, where it feels like you’re almost going to fall out of your ride vehicle.

Copyright 1989. The Walt Disney Company

And the best part of “Baby Herman’s Runaway Buggy Ride” was that this proposed Disney-MGM attraction was supposed to feature image capture. Which means — as you exited the ride — you’d have the opportunity to buy a picture of you & your friends seated in a giant buggy. With all of you wearing baby bonnets.

Yeah, just for the retail opportunities alone, Disney desperately wanted to built this “Baby Herman” attraction as part of the Sunset Boulevard expansion project. But then Steven Spielberg started getting all snippy about what could and could not be done with the Roger Rabbit characters. Which — in the end — meant no “Toontown Trolley” simulator ride for Disney-MGM …

Copyright 1989. The Walt Disney Company

… No “Baby Herman’s Runaway Buggy Ride,” no “Benny the Cab” ride … Well, at least for Florida.

Speaking of the “Benny the Cab” ride, let me share a little story about how this attraction was originally supposed to be laid out. Back when Mickey’s Toontown actually went by the name “Mickeyland.”

Take a close look at this piece of concept art.

Copyright 1989. The Walt Disney Company

Notice that the ride vehicles for the “Benny the Cab” attraction load at ground level, but then — via a ramp leading to the top floor of Toontown’s Powerhouse — head for the second floor. Where they then stay for the rest of the ride. Which includes a brief outdoor trip across the rooftops before your cab — via a ramp that takes you from the top floor of the Acme Warehouse back down to ground level — returns to the off-load area.

Wouldn’t that have been fun? To have gone outside in your “Benny the Cab” ride vehicle. Not to mention motoring along on the rooftops of Toontown. But — as you might expect — as they began cutting back on the budget for this Disneyland expansion area, some items had to get cut.

So out went the outdoor track section of the “Benny the Cab” ride (as well as the somewhat unique idea of staging most of this attraction so that it played out on Toontown’s second floor). Cut too was the “Little Mermaid” dark ride as well as the Mickeyland Opera House. Which was where the Imagineers hoped to present “Muppetvision 3-D” after Orange County residents got so upset about WDI’s original proposal. Which was throw our 16th president out of the Main Street Opera House and replace “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” with this new Muppet movie.

Copyright 1989. The Walt Disney Company

Which reminds me. I really should fold this piece of concept art into my “When You Wish Upon a Frog” series over at Laughingplace.com.

And — speaking of my long form stories — I got this note from Ryan R. earlier this week concerning my ” A Very ‘Mary’ Christmas” series.:

Jim,

Please don’t make (your) “Mary Poppins” story become the next journey through the “Light Magic” fiasco. That one was started twice and I am still waiting to hear the end. Now, I am waiting desparately for the end of the “Mary Poppins” story and it seems to not be coming soon.

Thanks for the site

Ryan

Ryan —

You can relax. The end of that “Mary Poppins” story is nigh. Though I should warn you that this series has mutated somewhat.

As longtime JHM readers already know, I know no short stories. So what starts out as just a simple two part story sometimes turns into a three parter or a four parter. Or — in the case of ” A Very ‘Mary’ Christmas” — a five part series.

Plus — given that this series is now going to finish up in January — my attempt at a Christmas tie-in for these “Mary Poppins” stories just doesn’t make any sense anymore. Which is why I retitling the series. It’s now going to be called “Mary Poppins: From the Page to the Stage.” And the series’ new opening installment (which may go up next Tuesday, more likely next Wednesday) will deal with Walt Disney’s 22-year long effort to acquire the movie rights to the P.L. Travers books. Part II will be the original Part I of the ‘Very ‘Mary’ Christmas” series. Part III will be a slightly rewritten version of Part II of the original version of this JHM series (Which talked about “The Poet & the Nightingale”). Part IV will deal with the Walt Disney Company’s attempt in the late 1980s to get a “Mary Poppins” sequel off the ground. And Part V will talk about Cameron Mackintosh’s 19-year struggle to acquire the rights to do a stage musical version of “Mary Poppins.”

My goal is to have this whole “Mary Poppins” series buttoned by over the next week or two. So that there will be no loose ends when it comes to my take on the Disney / P.L. Travers / Cameron Mackintosh tale.

But wait! There’s more, folks. As this new year got underway just eight days ago, I made a promise to myself: To finish up in ’05. As in: All of the other series that I’ve left abandoned all around the Web? To finally finish them all off.

This means the long-awaited conclusions to my “Tower of Terror” series, my “Light Magic” series, even “When You Wish Upon a Frog” (That one actually kind of frightens me. Given that I figure– what with trying to cover everything that happened between the Jim Henson Company & the Walt Disney Company from 1990 to today — that one may need another 15-20 chapters). Not to mention buttoning up my unauthorized Disneyland history book as well as finally getting out that first issue of the JHM newsletter.

My goal is — by the time December 31, 2005 rolls around — that I’ll go from being Jim Hill, the guy who never quite finishes the stuff he starts, to being Jim Hill, the guy who tells these really-cool-but-sometimes-really-long Disney-related stories.

I won’t lie to you, folks. Getting this all done is going to take some time. As well as a lot of work on my part. So I’m afraid that I’m going to have to ask for a little more of your patience. The current plan calls for me to first wrap up the “Poppins” series, then get out the first issue of JHM newsletter, then finish up “Little Magic” (I think). And then — after that — the Tower of Terror series & the Muppet stuff. So — if you can just hang in there a little while longer — I think the wait will really be worth it.

And — speaking of waiting — I know that there are a number of JHM readers who are frantically waiting to hear who won this week’s “Monday Mélange” trivia contest. The question was:

Who was the first Disney character to be rendered in CG? And for what film/project was this classic character computer animated?

And the answer was: Mickey Mouse, who was rendered in CG back in 1990 for Disney-MGM’s “Kermit the Frog presents Muppetvision 3-D.”

Given the large number of folks (73!) who entered this week’s trivia contest and correctly identified the character and the film, I have randomly selected three winners. They are:

  • Mark Noack
  • Bill Sencio
  • Rob Steere

So — if you gentleman would please send me your address information — I’d be happy to put those bags of “Just Plain Joe Coffee” in the mail for you.

Curiously, nobody got this week’s bonus question. Which was:

What’s so ironic about the company that Disney hired to do the computer animation for this film/project?

And the answer is: The company that computer-animated Mickey Mouse for “Muppetvision 3-D” was Pacific Data Image, also known as PDI. What’s ironic about this whole situation is that PDI would eventually be acquired by Dreamworks SKG. (They’re the folks who actually produce all of Dreamworks’ computer animated features like “Antz,” “Shrek,” Shrek II” and “Sharktale.”)

So here you have the very first company to render Mickey in CG eventually turning into Disney’s direct competitor in the computer animation field. That’s kind of ironic, don’t you think?

Anyway … It’s been a big week here at JHM. Plus we just had a big snowstorm up here in New Hampshire. So I think I’d best close now and get started shoveling that six inches of “partly cloudy” off my front deck.

“Isn’t it going to be unpleasant to have to go outside, Jim,” you ask, “and muck around in all that cold and snow?” Nah. I’ll just consider it excellent training for next month’s trip to Minneapolis. Where I’ll be covering Disney’s next annual meeting.

Yep. You heard right. Disney’s next annual meeting is going to be held in Minnesota. On February 11th. Me personally, I figure that the only reason that Eisner chose the Minneapolis Convention Center as the venue for this year’s meeting is that the one in Nome, Alaska must have already been booked. 

Ah, but a little cold & a little distance isn’t going to stop JimHillMedia.com from attending this extra-special event. Our current plan is to strap on some snowshoes and mush on out to Minnesota. Where we’ll bring you detailed coverage of Bob Iger’s coronation … Er … I mean “this year’s annual meeting.”

Anyway … I’ll soon be bringing you details about what JHM plans to do once we get out to Minneapolis next month. But — for now — just like every other news organization out there that just learned yesterday what Disney had in store for this year’s annual meeting, I’m now scrambling to arrange for my plane ticket as well as my hotel accomodations. Hmmn … I wonder if I can get a direct flight into Minneapolis or if I’m going to have to make a stopover at Lake Wobegon first?

Okay. That’s enough stalling on my part. I gotta go shovel the deck now. You folks have a great weekend, okay? And we’ll all meet here again next week, alright?

Later,

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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