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Why For

Jim Hill answers even more of your Disney-related questions. This time around, Jim offers up a Muppet update, talks about his next round of Disneyland tours, brings Scott Liljenquist in to speak about what DVC may be doing in sunny California, talks about where WDW’s Matterhorn might have been built as well as revealing the winners of this week’s JHM readers contest.

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First up, Splurge — a hardcore Muppet fan — writes in to say:

Dear Jim —

Did you see that Dove soap commercial that features a cameo by Miss Piggy? Is this really all that Disney can think to do with the Muppets? Stick them in ads for pizza and soap?

The Muppets deserve better than this. If this is really all that Disney can think to do with these classic characters, then I think that Disney should just sell the Muppets back to the Jim Henson Company.

What do you think?

Splurge

Dear Splurge —

Look, I know that I’ve been really critical in the past about how the Walt Disney Company has been handling the Muppets. But — to be honest — I’m not all that upset with Disney placing Miss Piggy & pals in commercials.

Why for? Because — as I keep hearing from the various arms of the Walt Disney Company — the Muppets are a faded franchise. That (based on all of the survey work that Disney has done to date) beyond having some limited appeal to baby boomers, Kermit & Co. aren’t exactly what you call a hot property.

Which is why the Mouse — under the guidance of Chris Curtin (I.E. The general manager and vice president of the Muppet Holding Company LLC, that teeny-tiny arm of the Mouse House that actually controls what Disney does with the Muppets) — is attempting to kickstart this franchise. The plan (as I understand it) is to ease the characters back into the spotlight. Not ram them down our throats.

Which explains Kermit & Piggy’s appearance as the anchors of the Disneyland portion of the 2004 “Disney World Christmas Day Parade” special. As well as that new Muppets / Pizza Hutt commercial that debuted on Super Bowl Sunday. Each of these recent Muppet TV appearances were supposedly carefully calculated by Disney in order to slowly raise the characters’ profile.

That effort continues this coming Sunday night as the Muppets appear on ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” Believe it or not, Kermit, Miss Piggy and Fozzie actually team up with Ty Pennington and his team of designers to retool a Birmingham, Alabama home that was damaged by Hurricane Ivan.

And — if that’s not enough Muppets stuff for you — the frog & friends then make another appearance on ABC on Monday night as part of that “Extreme Makeover” spin-off, “How’d They Do That?”

Then — when you factor in the Ebert & Siskel impression that Stadler and Waldorf have begun doing over at Movies.com — you can see that Disney really is trying to get the word out about these characters. All with the hope that — once May rolls around — the public will be that much more aware of the Muppets and will then go out of its way to watch “The Muppets’ Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

‘Cause make no mistake, folks. A lot is riding on how well this new Muppet TV movie does in the ratings. If “Oz” wins its time slot that night, I’m told that Disney will greenlight production of a new Muppet TV movie (Possibly the “Muppets’ Alice in Wonderland”) the very next day. If “Oz” does poorly … Well, that really doesn’t bode well for Kermit & Co.

And — as for the Muppets returning to the Jim Henson Company … Sorry, Splurge. But that ain’t gonna happen.

Why for? Well, never mind the fact that Michael Eisner has dreams of turning the Muppets into another Winnie the Pooh (I.E. A group of much beloved characters that annually make billions for the Disney Company). But — over the past 12+ months, Brian & Lisa Henson have been busy turning the Jim Henson Company into a Muppet-free zone.

Brian & Lisa’s vision for this family-owned firm is to turn Henson into a start-of-the-art production house that specializes in high concept fantasy films in the wein of  “The Dark Crystal” and “Labyrinth.” In fact, their initial effort along this line, “Mirrormask” debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival to much acclaim.

Mind you, “Mirromask” doesn’t  have an official theatrical release date yet. (I’m told that the studio that currently has the distribution rights to this Neil Gaiman /Dave McKean film [I.E. Sony Pictures] absolutely loves this motion picture. They’re just a trifle unsure still about the proper way to promote this rather quirky project.) But that hasn’t stopped Brian & Lisa from plunging ahead with other productions.

Just last week, “Daily Variety” reported that Henson’s daughter had aquired the production rights to a number of interesting novels. These included:

  • Sean Stewart’s “Perfect Circle,” a darkly comic novel about a Texan in his 30’s who’s regularly visited by ghosts.
  • Paul Fleishman’s “Weslandia,” a children’s book about a boy who doesn’t quite fit into this world. Which is why he invents a world of his own.
  • Agapi Stassinopoulos’ “Conversations With the Goddesses” and “Gods and Goddesses in Love.” (Which Jane reportedly sees more as a project for television).

FYI: To assist in the development of the above project, Brian & Jane have actually hired several old Disney hands: Andrew Chapman (Who worked as a screenwriter on “Pocahontas’) and Alison Taylor (Who wrote the teleplay for that popular Disney Channel movie, “The Cheetah Girls.”

So — to be honest, Splurge — there really isn’t a place for the Muppets now at the newly re-configured Jim Henson Company. Kermit & Co. just wouldn’t fit in with Henson kids’ vision for their new production company.

Which is why we’d all better hope that the Walt Disney Company is ultimately successful in its effort to revive the Muppet franchise. Otherwise, Miss Piggy & pals could wind up on a shelf somewhere with Kukla, Fran & Ollie and/or Howdy Doodie. Lumped in with those other long-ago puppet stars that were once wildly popular but eventually fell out of favor.

Anywho … I’m hoping to talk with some of the Disney folks who are working directly with the Muppets when I get out to Southern California later this month. When I hear more, I’ll be sure to share that with JHM readers.

And — speaking of my upcoming trip to LA — Betty V. of Torrance, CA. wrote in to say:

Dear Jim —

I just saw that you’re coming back to California in March to do another round of JHM tours. I really enjoyed that tour of Disneyland that I took with you back in March of 2003 and I was thinking of maybe signing up for another tour next month. But I was wondering: Are you going to tell the same stories that you told last time or will you have some new material for this go-round?

Betty V.

Dear Betty V.

Actually, yes. I am going to be folding a lot of new material into my Disneyland and DCA tour this go-round. If only because it keeps me from getting bored from doing the same tour over and over and over …

So — this time around — in honor of Disneyland’s 50th anniversary, I thought that I might try & do something different. Rather than focusing on the history of the Anaheim theme park (Which everyone’s going to be doing this coming summer), I thought that I might talk about the Disneyland that never was. All the ideas that Walt had for “The Happiest Place on Earth” that he was never quite able to pull off … As well as all those other ideas that the Imagineers have proposed for Anaheim over the past 50 years.

Some of the projects that I plan to talk as part of this next round of tours are:

  • Liberty Street
  • International Street
  • Edison Square
  • Mythia
  • Big City U.S.A.
  • Discovery Bay
  • Hollywoodland

Plus great never-built attractions like “Garden of the Gods,” “Plectu’s Fantastic Galactic revue” and the “Atlantis Expedition.” So — if you’re really into Disney what-might-have-been stories, this is the series of JHM tours that you really want to sign up for.

Speaking of signing up: If you do want to join me in Anaheim on March 19th & 20th for a really unique Disneyland tour, then I suggest that you follow this link over to Mouseketrips.com. Where Scott Liljenquist will be more than happy to sign you for the next round of JHM tours.

Speaking of Scott: As you may notice by “Why For” ‘s new logo, this regular  JHM feature  now has an official sponsor. And — from here on in — Mr. Liljenquist will be occassionally be assisting me with this column. Particularly with those questions that I don’t actually have answers for.

Take — for example — this e-mail from Paul S.:

Jim:

My fiancee and I went through a DVC presentation {some people will do anything for a free lunch! ;)} and although there are plenty of DVC options in Florida and even one in Hilton Head, you’re out of luck if you go to California (or at least you’re out a lot more of your points). With all the land that Disney has in Anaheim now that could be developed (both near the 3rd park and in the vicinity of DL and DCA), has Disney ever seriously considered opening a DVC resort near DL?

For that matter, why don’t you ever hear about DVC when you visit the Disneyland Resort?

To be honest, Paul, I don’t know an awful lot about the Disney Vacation Club. Whereas my good friend, Mr. Liljenquist is a veritable whiz when it comes to this sort of stuff. So take it away, Scott!

Well, Paul, funny you should ask. If you look carefully, you’ll see the groundwork being laid for the first of several Disney Vacation Club (DVC) resorts in southern California. But before we go into details, perhaps a little history is in order. As you mentioned in your question, there are plenty of DVC options in Florida. In fact, the Disney Vacation Club was for a long time one of the few bright spots on the Walt Disney Company’s balance sheet. Disney loves DVC and the capital it brings in to the company, and they’ve pushed forward full speed ahead building new DVC resorts in Florida where land is not a problem.

From early on the suits at Disney wanted desperately to bring the Disney Vacation Club to California. In fact, Disney at one time actually purchased property in southern California with the intent of turning it into the area’s first DVC resort. The site where the Marriott Newport Coast Villas now stands was once destined to bring the DVC to the west coast. As with a lot of Disney’s plans, however, the property was never developed and was subsequently sold to Marriott, who went on to build the resort almost unchanged from Disney’s original plans.

So what happened (or, to be more cohesive with the title of this column, Why For)? Two things, actually. First, keep in mind that this property is located about 20 miles from Disneyland. The original intent was to make this a “Disneyland optional” destination – one where members could enjoy everything southern California has to offer without necessarily visiting Disneyland. However, market research quickly proved that most vacationers would indeed be using the property for a Disneyland visit. The research further showed that the thought of being shuttled back and forth to Disneyland in traffic was as unappealing to potential DVC members as it was to Disney, who did not want the expense and liability of running a fleet of shuttle buses back and forth.

The real killer of this deal, however, was located clear across the country on the east coast. Disney’s first experiment in DVC locations not adjacent to the theme parks opened in South Carolina, and quickly became a colossal disappointment. Disney’s Hilton Head Resort was the DVC’s first sales disaster. Up to that point, all of the DVC resorts had quickly sold out at a premium price. Hilton Head sold much more slowly, taking Disney by surprise and making them very wary of any further resorts not associated with the theme parks The Newport Beach property was quickly and quietly put up for sale. (Not only that, but properties in Colorado and Virginia intended for DVC resort were sold as well.)

All is not lost, however. Rumblings and rumors have been greatly increasing in frequency regarding DVC activity around the Disneyland Resort. Sales kiosks, similar to the ones found in Florida, will soon be constructed inside Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure. These sales positions will initially focus on the Florida resorts, but it doesn’t take a huge leap of logic to see where the whole process is heading.

Disney’s ultimate preference would be to include a DVC option for the flagship Disneyland resort, the Grand Californian. Several different plans have been proposed to add a DVC wing or convert existing rooms to accommodate the DVC. However, the high occupancy rate at the Grand Californian and the very limited real estate available for expansion have thus far put the kibosh on those plans. Options are still being considered, however, and this plan is by no means dead.

Most sources now indicate, however, that the most likely location for any Disneyland Resort DVC expansion would be adjacent to the new 3rd park to be built in the recently acquired strawberry fields. While no concrete annoucements have been made for that 3rd Disneyland Resort gate, plans are well underway for the DVC property to be featured as a part of that property. In fact (and remember, you heard it here first), don’t be surprised to see some kind of announcement made during the Disneyland 50th celebration concerning Disney’s plans for bringing the Disney Vacation Club to California.

So there you have it, Paul. Pretty cool, huh?

And speaking of cool stuff, Rocket Jay Swirl writes in to say:

Jim —

How come Disney World doesn’t have a Matterhorn. So many other of Disneyland’s classic attractions were recreated in Orlando. Why not the Matterhorn?

Rocket Jay Swirl

Dear Rocket Jay Swirl —

(By the way: As a longtime “Bullwinkle” fan, I really like your Internet handle. Anyway …) Actually, *** Nunis — the former Chairman of Walt Disney Attractions — tried for years to get a Matterhorn built in Orlando.

Initially, *** envisioned this 100th scale version of the Swiss mountain being built just about where Mickey’s Toontown Fair is located today. So that it would rise up dramatically between Cinderella Castle & Space Mountain. Which (to his way of thinking, anyway) would have made a really great picture postcard.

Nunis also wanted this Disneyland favorite (when it was recreated in Orlando) to straddle the WDW Railroad tracks. Why For? Because then the train could roll through the base of the mountain. And — as the steam engine pulled those passenger cars through those artificial ice caves — *** wanted those Magic Kingdom visitors who were on board the train to be treated to a fake blizzard. Talk about your interesting ways to beat the Florida heat.

Anyway … Just about the time that Nunis was winning Disney Company management over to the idea that Disney World really needed its very own version of the Matterhorn, Epcot Center opened up. And it quickly became apparent that this science & discovery theme park desperately needed some thrill rides.

Which was why — for a time in the late 1980s / early 1990s — World Showcase was slated to get a new country: Switzerland! This Epcot addition was (natch) due to be nestled between the German & Italian pavilions. And what was supposed to be seen rising up been the Swiss pavilion? You guessed it! An Orlando version of the Matterhorn.


Copyright 1990 The Walt Disney Company

Mind you, WDW’s version of the Matterhorn was supposed to be one of two mountains that World Showcase was originally supposed to have received as part of the late, great “Disney Decade.” Epcot’s Japanese pavilion was all set to get a miniature version of Mount Fuji, which was to have had a bullet train ride inside. Maybe next week (If I can persuade Jeff Lange to dig some images of this proposed WDW attraction out of his vast photo archives) I’ll share some pictures of “Fire Mountain” with you guys.

And speaking of sharing stuff — let’s make with the prizes by announcing the winners of this week’s JHM readers contest.

While I will admit that “Mix That Media!” was NOT one of the site’s more popular contests (As of midnight of last night, we had only received 37 entries), there were still some very funny entries.

Take — for example — this entry from Leslie C. Which combined a sitcom from the 1960s, a Disney film from the 1970s and an ABC newscast to create:

Gilligan’s Island at the Top of the World News Tonight

Or — better yet — how about this entry from Peter B. of Buffalo, N.Y. Who took a movie that starred O.J. Simpson, another Disney film from the 1970s as well as a Chuck Norris action adventure from the 1980s to create something that sounds like the ultimate drive-in flick:

Capricorn, One of Our Dinosaurs is missing in action

“So which was your favorite entry, Jim?,” you ask. To be honest, I think it was the one that MonkeyFaced Fred sent in. Which cleverly combined the names of two historic playthings, a beloved 1960s sitcom and Cuba Gooding’s catchphrase from “Jerry Maquire” to come up with this unlikely sounding phrase:

Raggedy Ann & Andy Griffith, show me the money

So if you three folks could please get in touch with me and send along your mailing addresses, I’ll be happy to send out your prizes.

Anyway … That’s it for this week. You folks try & have a great weekend, okay? And we’ll all meet here again on Monday, alright?

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.

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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