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Why For?

Jim Hill returns with even more answers to your Disney-related questions. This time around, Jim reveals who “Captain EO” ‘s original Supreme Leader was supposed to be, talks about why Disney’s animated “Robin Hood” is a bit of a train wreck as well as sharing what he knows about that “Simpsons” simulator ride that Universal Studios once wanted to add to its theme parks.

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First up, Frank T. writes in to ask about:

Jim –

I loved today’s story about Eric Idle’s involvement with various projects at Disney. I have one question, though: Who was the actor that Idle replaced in “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience?”

Thanks,

Frank T.

Dear Frank –

You know, I’ve been trying to get an answer to that question myself for about 10 years now. I’ve asked various friends who work at WDI and Theme Park Productions (I.E. The division within Walt Disney Imagineering that actually creates all of the movies that are shown in the theme parks). I’ve even made inquiries of Randal Kleiser, the director of both “Honey, I Blew Up the Kid” and “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience.” But everyone that I’ve spoken with has been ridiculously tight-lipped about this tale.

Of course, were you to look at this situation from Disney’s side of the fence, I’m guessing that you could understand why the Mouse might want to keep mum about this matter. The company certainly doesn’t want to do anything to embarrass the performer who originally signed on to do this 3D film.

After all, sometimes actors will back out of jobs at the very last moment for reasons that they really don’t want publicized. Take – for example – what happened with Shelley Duvall on the production of “Captain EO.”

It was actually the star of “Popeye” and the producer of Showtime’s acclaimed “Faerie Tale Theatre” series that George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola originally hired to play Michael Jackson’s nemesis in this 3D movie, the Supreme Leader. And Duvall was reportedly really excited to be part of the project … Until Shelley found out about all the make-up that she was expected to wear in her role as the film’s villain.

As this character had originally envisioned by Academy Award winning make-up artist Rick Baker, any actress who was going to play the Supreme Leader would be covered from their neck to the top of their head with latex appliances. So that – at the end of the movie, when Captain EO gives the Supreme Leader his “gift” – her transformation from crone to fair maiden would be all the more startling.

Well, as it turns out, Ms. Duvall is terribly claustrophobic. The very idea that her face would be buried under tons of latex for hours at a time was just terrifying to Shelley. I’m told that – as a personal favor to Francis – she did one make-up test. But Duvall found that experience to be so excruciating that — immediately after that – she bailed out of the project.

Mind you, Shelley tried to be as professional as possible about her untimely exit. I’m told that she made apologetic phone calls to everyone involved in the “Captain EO” project. From the two Michaels (I.E. Michael Eisner & Michael Jackson) to Lucas to Coppola. Explaining that she’d still dearly love to be part of Disney’s new 3D film but that she just couldn’t handle the make-up.

Which was why – just days before “Captain EO” was scheduled to begin shooting – Disney’s new 3D movie was suddenly in need of a new Supreme Leader. Thankfully, Francis knew that Angelica Huston was available at the time. So Coppola made a few phones. Which is how the star of “Prizzi’s Honor” would up menacing Michael Jackson.

But you want to know the ironic part of this whole situation? It turns out that Ms. Huston was just like Ms. Duvall. In that Angelica really didn’t like roles that required her to wear an awful lot of facial appliances. (Which – the way I understand it – made the filming of that her 1990 fantasy film, “The Witches,” particularly hellish for this Academy Award winner … Anyway …)

So here was another actress that was balking at playing “Captain EO” ‘s Supreme Leader. At least in the facial make-up that Rick Baker had originally designed. So – rather than recast this role for a second time – Lucas and Coppola just went to Baker and said: “Can we lose the latex and just go with regular paint-on make-up for this character instead?”

Rick reluctantly agreed. Which is why “Captain EO” ‘s Supreme Leader wound up looking the way that she did in the final film. With few facial appliances & just that weird head piece.

Every time I saw that movie when I was at the theme parks, I couldn’t help but think: “You know, if they’d just started off with this sort of make-up treatment for the Supreme Leader, Shelley Duvall could have probably handled this role.”

Though – that said – I wonder if Disney theme park visitors would have found it all that entertaining to see the King of Pop being menaced by Olive Oyl.

Anywho … Next up, B. Baker wrote in to ask about last week’s “Don’t like the way your cartoon is turning out? Hit ‘rewind’ and recast” article:

Re: Your “Voice Replacements” article…

Many years back — before myriad details of Disney works-in-progress were so closely scrutinized in the press (and the ‘net didn’t yet exist) — I used to keep up with upcoming films by reading Variety every week. I would carefully study the trade paper’s “Production Chart,” which listed most every major movie then in production or about to begin shooting. It was sometimes useful to keep an eye on this chart from week to week, because it included a short credits summary for each project — and when creative personnel would change on a film, the paper would accordingly update its listing on the chart. As entertainment journalism was not nearly as mainstream back then, quiet alterations of this chart and a similar one in The Hollywood Reporter were sometimes the only prominent announcements/confirmations of certain cast and other creative changes in pictures-in-progress.

Anyway, when a Disney animated feature landed on the production chart in the ’60s and ’70s, it would, of course, stay there for well over a year. As did ROBIN HOOD. For some months it sat on the chart with the listing looked something like this, if memory serves:

ROBIN HOOD (Disney) ANIM. PROD./DIR.: Wolfgang Reitherman. CAST (voices): Tommy Steele, Phil Harris, Peter Ustinov, Terry-Thomas, Roger Miller, Andy Devine. DISTRIB: BV

[Something like that, anyway.]

Perhaps you can see where I’m going with this.

After what seemed many weeks of production, I scanned the chart one Wednesday to see — well, I didn’t see Tommy Steele. The British song-and-dance guy’s name was missing from the listing for ROBIN HOOD. Brian Bedford, a fine English actor, was now heading the voice cast.

Bedford did a great job, to be sure — but I don’t recall ever reading or hearing about this pretty sudden (and major) casting change anywhere else.

Do you know the scoop — or can you point me somewhere that might have some details about this?

Regards,

B. Baker

Dear B. Baker –

Ah, yes. “Robin Hood.” One of the more misbegotten movies that Disney Feature Animation ever turned out.

Don’t get me wrong, B. There’s still a lot to like about this 1973 Walt Disney Productions release. But — based on stories that I’ve heard from various WDFA vets who actually worked on this project — “Robin Hood” was a bit of a train wreck. Due almost entirely to constant second-guessing on Woolie Reitherman’s part.

“What was the problem?,” you ask. Well, you have to understand that “Robin Hood” was actually the very first film that Disney Feature Animation produced all on its own following Walt’s death. By that I mean, even “The Aristocats” (which was released in 1970) had at least been given a very tentative greenlight by the Old Mousetro just prior to his death in December 1966.

Whereas “Robin Hood” … This was the very first film that the studio’s animation staff did all without any input from Walt. Which — as you can probably understand — made the animators extremely nervous. Which is why — throughout this film’s production — “Robin Hood” ‘s production staff constantly kept asking themselves “Are we doing the right thing here? What would Walt have done?”

Which was why — on this particular WDFA project — the studio’s motto seemed to be: “When in doubt, play it safe.”

Mind you, “Robin Hood” didn’t start out a safe project. The first animator assigned to the project — Disney Legend Ken Anderson (Who’s credited with coming up with the film’s initial concept as well as its character design) — initially wanted to play fast & loose with this legend. Which is why Ken proposed shifting the story’s setting from the woods of Merrie Old Englande to the swamps of the deep south. So that WDFA could then produce an Americanized animated version of “Robin Hood.” A project that Anderson hoped would recapture some of the fun & the spirit of “Song of the South” ‘s animated sequences in “Song of the South.”

Well, those of you who read this week’s “Rewriting Uncle Remus” article are already aware that — by the early 1970s — execs at Walt Disney Productions were already starting to have some very serious concerns about the studio’s 1946 live action / animated release. So Ken’s proposal to turn “Robin Hood” into “Song of the South Revisited” just wasn’t going to fly.

Which is why — in the end — Reitherman nixed Anderson’s idea, insisting that Disney’s new animated version of “Robin Hood” be just like the live action version of this classic English folk tale that the studio produced back in 1952. As in: This story is set in England.

The studio’s whole “play it safe” philosophy even extended to the actors that WDFA initially hired to do voicework for “Robin Hood.” They deliberately chose Tommy Steele to voice the film’s title role because Walt had so enjoyed watching this Broadway vet work perform on the set of “The Happiest Millionaire.” Likewise, Woolie chose Peter Ustinov to do the voice of Prince John because Disney — during one of his last visits to the studio — had really enjoyed watching this Academy Award winner frolic on the set of “Blackbeard’s Ghost.”

Well, Peter proved to be an inspired choice for “Robin Hood” ‘s villain … Whereas Mr. Steele … Well, my understanding is that – after just a few weeks of recording –  it was determined that this “Happiest Millionaire” star just didn’t have a very heroic sounding voice.

Sure, Tommy could pull off “Robin Hood” ‘s sillier scenes without any problem. Likewise his character’s more romantic moments with Maid Marian seemed to come off fine. But in those parts of the picture where Robin had to sound heroic, inspirational … Steele just came across as rather goofy sounding.

Which was why — in the end — Tommy was quietly let go and Reitherman found another, more heroic-sounding Englishman to do voicework for the film’s title character: veteran stage actor Brian Bedford.

However, given all the time that was wasted on exploring different settings for the film and/or auditioning new actors to voice the film’s title character, “Robin Hood” fell ridiculously behind schedule. So much so that — in order to get this picture out in time to meet its December 1973 release — the staff at WDFA had to recycle animation that had been used in the production of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Jungle Book” and “The Aristocats” in order to complete some of the trickier scenes in the picture.

Don’t believe me? Then go pull out your “Robin Hood” DVD. Jump to the chapter that features the “Phony King of England” musical number. Now watch this scene carefully.

If you’ve a good eye or/or have a great memory for Disney animation, you’ll be able to recognize the moments where the folks at WDFA “repurposed” footage from other pictures. Snow White’s dance with the dwarfs. King Louis and Baloo boogie-ing. There’s even bits borrowing from the musical felines from “The Aristocats.”

This all-too-obvious recycling remains a real sore point with some animation professionals. They feel that  the folks who were then-working at WDFA should have created all new animation that actually fit this sequence, rather than borrowing so obviously from the past.

But — to be honest — this practice continued well into the 1990s. Remind me sometime to tell you where — the studio’s 1991release, “Beauty and the Beast” — you can see footage that was repurposed from “Bambi” and “Sleeping Beauty.”

And — finally — Derek S. writes in to ask:

Hey, Jim!

I have a vague memory of hearing a long while back that Universal was pursuing creating a theme park attraction based on The Simpsons–perhaps to do with a bus ride with Otto. Have you ever heard anything about this or am I merely mis-remembering?

Thanks!

Derek S.

Oh, yeah. Universal’s infamous “Simpsons” simulator attraction. The one that was supposed to have taken theme park visitors on a high-speed thrill ride through Springfield with everyone’s favorite stoner — Otto Mans — at the wheel.

But you want to know what would have really been killer about this proposed “Simpson” simulator? It wouldn’t have been plain, old ordinary Springfield that you were riding through as you bumped along inside that school bus. No, this was supposed to be a “Treehouse of Horror” version of Homer’s hometown.

Speaking of Homer … It was America’s favorite boob (Insert your own Lindsay Lohan joke here) who supposedly set this attraction’s story in motion. In the attraction’s pre-show, we learn that — as parents of students at Springfield Elementary — we’ve been assigned to join Miss Krabappel, Principal Skinner and Groundskeeper Willie Homer as chaperones on a tour of the Springfield nuclear power plant.

So — as we tour the plant — we get to interact with Mr. Burns, Smithers, Lenny and Carl  before we finally arrive at Homer’s control console in Sector 7-G. And — of course — as we’re visiting Bart & Lisa’s dad, he accidentally releases a cloud of deadly radiative gas (Insert your own Taco Bell joke here). Which begins to cause various workers at the plant mutate horribly.

Clearly this isn’t a place that we want to be anymore. So Skinner hurries us all back outside to the school bus. Where we learn that the gas has now leaked out of the plant and is now effecting the entire town of Springfield. Shelbyville. This is when the Principal gives Otto the order to drive to straight to Shelbyville.

Mind you, Otto or Principal Skinner or Miss Krabappel doesn’t actually last all that long in the attraction. They’re picked off in gruesome but funny ways by various monsters that we encounter along the way.

Take — for example — Otto’s fate. As we come around a corner, we suddenly encounter a 50-foot version of Marge. Who — after picking up the school bus and shaking it back & forth a few times — swallows the stoner whole.

It’s then that chronic under-achiever — Bart Simpson — comes to our rescue by taking the wheel of the bus. Which is when that the thrills & laughs start coming thick & fast.

This proposed Universal Studios attraction has dozens of great gags. But here’s my absolute favorite:

As we’re zooming through the streets of Springfield, who should pull up beside us in a speeding jeep but action film star Rainier Wolfcastle? Dressed in full “Terminator” regalia (I.E. The leather jacket, the sunglasses, the works), Rainer tells everyone on the bus: “Come with me if you want to live.”

The only problem is — as Rainer is talking with us — he doesn’t see that bridge abutment that’s directly in front of him.  Wolfcastle’s jeep hits the concrete pillar at full speed, then explodes in a ball of flames.

After a short pause, Bart — while still driving the bus — looks over his shoulder and says to the assembled theme park guests: “All in all, it’s probably best that we didn’t go with him.”

Doesn’t this sound like a killer idea for a theme park attraction? So why hasn’t Universal Studios built this “Simpsons” simulator yet? Because — to be honest — doing theme park attractions based into this popular Fox program isn’t really all that high a priority to “Simpsons” executive producer James L. Brooks.

Representatives of Universal Creative reportedly met with James L. three or four years back to get his approval on this project. But while Brooks admitted that this was a really funny idea, one that was very much in the spirit of the show … “The Simpsons” production team had other, more pressing projects. Like keeping this animated sitcom on the air long enough to beat out “Ozzie & Harriet” ‘s old record (I.E. That TV program had a 14 year run on ABC) as well as prepping the “Simpsons” animated feature.

Don’t get me wrong, folks. James L. still likes the idea of Universal putting a “Simpsons” simulator into its theme parks. But only after these other projects are wrapped up. Which is why we may have another couple of years to wait ’til we get to ride in that school bus with Otto & Bart.

Anywho … That’s it for this week, folks. Sorry that this edition of “Why For” was somewhat on the short side. But — you see — I wrote it on the plane while I was flying west to do this coming weekend’s JHM tours of Disneyland.

Speaking of which: Scott Liljenquist tells me that we’ve still got a few open spots on the Saturday morning tour (What’s the matter? You guys just can’t tear yourselves away from watching “Kim Possible” on ABC Kids?). So — if you’d like to join me tomorrow for a rather unique look at the “Happiest Place on Earth” — then I suggest you follow this link.

Even if I don’t see you  in Anaheim on Saturday or Sunday, you folks have a great weekend, okay?

jrh

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Jens Dahlmann of LongHorn Steakhouse has lots of great tips when it comes to grilling

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Sure, for some folks, the Fourth of July is all about fireworks. But for the 75% of all Americans who own a grill or a smoker, the Fourth is our Nation’s No. 1 holiday when it comes to grilling. Which is why 3 out of 4 of those folks will spend some time outside today working over a fire.

But here’s the thing: Though 14 million Americans can cook a steak with confidence because they actually grill something every week, the rest of us – because we use our grill or smoker so infrequently … Well, let’s just say that we have no chops when it comes to dealing with chops (pork, veal or otherwise).

So what’s a backyard chef supposed to in a situation like this when there’s so much at steak … er … stake? Turn to someone who really knows their way around a grill for advice. People like Jens Dahlmann, the Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef for Darden Restaurant’s LongHorn Steakhouse brand.

Given that Jens’ father & grandfather were chefs, this is a guy who literally grew up in a kitchen. In his teens & twenties, Dahlmann worked in hotels & restaurants all over Switzerland & Germany. Once he was classically trained in the culinary arts, Jens then  jumped ship. Well, started working on cruise ships, I mean.

Anyway … While working on Cunard’s Sea Goddess, Dahlmann met Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque 2000. Sirio was so impressed with Jens’ skills in the kitchen that he offered him the opportunity to become sous-chef at this New York landmark. After four years of working in Manhattan, Dahlmann then headed south to become executive chef at Palm Beach’s prestigious Café L’Europe.

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

And once Jens began wowing foodies in Florida, it wasn’t all that long ’til the Mouse came a-calling. Mickey wanted Dahlmann to shake things up in the kitchen over at WDW’s Flying Fish Café. And he did such a good job with that Disney’s Boardwalk eatery the next thing Jens knew, he was then being asked to work his magic with the menu at the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill.

From there, Dahlmann had a relatively meteoric rise at the Mouse House. Once he became Epcot’s Food & Beverage general manager, it was only a matter of time before he wound up as the executive chef in charge of this theme park’s annual International Food & Wine Festival. Which – under Jens’ guidance – experienced some truly explosive growth.

“When I took on Food & Wine, that festival was only 35 days long and had gross revenues of just $5.5 million. When I left Disney in 2016, Food & Wine was now over 50 days long and that festival had gross revenues of $22 million,” Dahlmann admitted during a recent sit-down. “I honestly loved those 13 years I spent at Disney. When I was working there, I learned so much because I was really cooking for America.”

And it was exactly that sort of experience & expertise that Darden wanted to tap into when they lured Jens away from Mickey last year to become LongHorn Steakhouse’s new Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef. But today … Well, Dahlmann is offering tips to those of us who are thinking about cooking steak tips for the Fourth.

Photo by Jim Hill

“When you’re planning on grilling this holiday, if you’re looking for a successful result, the obvious place to start is with the quality of the meat you plan on cooking for your friends & family. If you want the best results here, don’t be cheap when you go shopping. Spend the money necessary for a fresh filet or a New York strip. Better yet a Ribeye, a nice thick one with good marbling. Because when you look at the marbling on a steak, that’s where all the flavor happens,” Jens explained. “That said, you always have to remember that — the higher you go with the quality of your meat — the less time you’re going to want that piece of meat to spend on the grill.”

And speaking of cooking … Before you even get started here, Jens suggests that you first take the time to check over all of your grilling equipment. Making sure that the grill itself is first scraped clean & then properly oiled before you then turn up the heat.

“If you’re working with a dirty grill, when you go to turn your meat, it may wind up sticking to the grill. Or maybe those spices that you’ve just so carefully coated your steak with will wind up sticking to the grill, rather than your meat,” Dahlmann continued. “Which is why it’s always worth it to spend a few minutes prior to firing up your grill properly cleaning & oiling it.”

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of heat … Again, before you officially get started grilling here, Jens says that it’s crucial to check your temperature gauges. Make sure that your char grill is set at 550 (so that it can then properly handle the thicker cuts of meat) and your flattop is set at 425 (so it can properly sear thinner pieces of meat).

Okay. Once you’ve bought the right cuts of quality meat, properly cleaned & oiled your grill, and then made sure that everything’s set at the right temperature (“If you can only stand to hold your hand directly over the grill for two or three seconds, that’s the right amount of heat,” Dahlmann said), it’s now time to season your steaks.

“Don’t be afraid to be bold here. You can’t be shy when it comes to seasoning your meat. You want to give it a nice coating. Largely because — if you’re using a char grill — a lot of that seasoning is just going to fall off anyway,” Jens stated. “It’s up to you to decide what sort of seasoning you want to use here. Even just some salt & pepper will enhance a steak’s flavor.”

Then – according to Dahlmann – comes the really tough part. Which is placing your meat on the grill and then fighting the urge to flip it too early or too often.

“The biggest mistake that a lot of amateur cooks make is that they flip the steak too many times. The real key to a well-cooked piece of meat is just let it be, “Jens insisted. “Of course, if you’re serving different cuts of meat at your Fourth of July feast, you always want to put your biggest thickest steak on the grill first. If you’re also cooking a New York Strip, you want to put that one on a few minutes later. But after that, just let the grill do its job and flip your meat a total of three or four times, once every three minutes or so.”

Of course, the last thing you want to do is overcook a quality piece of meat. Which is why Dahlmann suggests that – when it comes to grilling steaks – if you’re going to err, err on the side of undercooking.

“You can always put a piece of meat back on the grill if it’s slightly undercooked. When you over-cook something, all you can do then is start over with a brand-new piece of meat,” Jens said. “Just be sure that you’re using the correct cut of meat for the cooking result you’re aiming for. If someone wants a rare or medium rare steak, you should go with a thicker cut of steak. If one of your guests wants their steak cooked medium or well, it’s best to start with a thinner cut of meat.”

Photo by Jim Hill

As you can see, the folks at Longhorn take grilling steaks seriously. How seriously? Just last week at Darden Corporate Headquarters in Orlando, seven of these brand’s top grill masters (who – after weeks of regional competitions – had been culled from the 491 restaurants that make up this chain) competed for a $10,000 prize in the Company’s second annual Steak Master Series. And Dahlmann was one of the people who stood in Darden’s test kitchens, watching like a hawk as each of the contestants struggled to prepare six different dishes in just 20 minutes according to Longhorn Steakhouse’s exacting standards.

“I love that Darden does this. Recognizing the best of the best who work this restaurant,” Jens concluded. “We have a lot of people here who are incredibly knowledgeable & passionate when it comes to grilling.”

Speaking of which … If today’s story doesn’t include the exact piece of info that you need to properly grill that T-bone, just whip out your iPhone & text GRILL to 55702. Or – better yet – visit  ExpertGriller.com prior to firing up your grill or smoker later today. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, July 4, 2017

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Brattleboro’s Strolling of the Heifers is a sincere if somewhat surreal way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont

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Some people travel halfway ‘around the planet so that they can then experience the excitement of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. If you’re more of a Slow Living enthusiast (as I am), then perhaps you should amble to Brattleboro, VT. Where – over the first weekend in June – you can then join a herd of cow enthusiasts at the annual Strolling of the Heifers.

Now in its 16th year, this three-day long event typically gets underway on Friday night in June with a combination block party / gallery walk. But then – come Saturday morning – Main Street in Brattleboro is lined with thousands of bovine fans.

Photo by Jim Hill

They’ve staked out primo viewing spots and set up camp chairs hours ahead of time. Just so these folks can then have a front row seat as this year’s crop of calves (which all come from local farms & 4-H clubs) are paraded through the streets.

Photo by Jim Hill

Viewed from curbside, Strolling of the Heifers is kind of this weird melding of a sincere small town celebration and Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade. Meaning that – for every entry that actually acknowledged this year’s theme (i.e. “Dance to the Moosic”) — …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something completely random, like this parade’s synchronized shopping cart unit.

Photo by Jim Hill

And for every piece of authentic Americana (EX: That collection of antique John Deere tractors that came chugging through the city) …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something silly. Like – say – a woman dressed as a Holstein pushing a baby stroller through the streets. And riding in that stroller was a pig dressed in a tutu.

Photo by Jim Hill

And given that this event was being staged in the Green Mountain State & all … Well, does it really surprise you to learn that — among the groups that marched in this year’s Strolling of the Heifers – was a group of eco-friendly folks who, with their  chants of “We’re Number One !,” tried to persuade people along the parade route not to flush the toilet after they pee. Because – as it turns out – urine can be turned into fertilizer.

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of fertilizer … At the tail end of the parade, there was a group of dedicated volunteers who were dealing with what came out of the tail end of all those cows.

Photo by Jim Hill

This year’s Strolling of the Heifers concluded at the Brattleboro town common. Where event attendees could then get a closer look at some of the featured units in this year’s parade…

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

But as for the 90+ calves who took part in the 2017 edition of Strolling of the Heifers, once they reached the town common, it was now time for a nosh or a nap.

Photo by Jim Hill

Elsewhere on the common, keeping with this year’s “Dance to the Moosic” theme, various musical groups performed in & around the gazebo throughout the afternoon.

Photo by Jim Hill

While just across the way – keeping with Brattleboro’s tradition of showcasing the various artisans who live & work in the local community – some pretty funky pieces were on display at the Slow Living Exposition.

Photo by Jim Hill

All in all, attending Strolling of the Heifers is a somewhat surreal but still very pleasant way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont. And that’s no bull.

Photo by Jim Hill

Well, that could be a bull. To be honest, what with the wig & all, it’s kind of hard to tell. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Sunday, June 4, 2017

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Looking to make an authentic Irish meal for Saint Patrick’s Day? If so, then chef Kevin Dundon says not to cook corned beef & cabbage

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Let’s at least start on a positive note: Celebrated chef, author & TV personality Kevin Dundon – the man that Tourism Ireland has repeatedly chosen as the Face of Irish Food – loves a lot of what happens in the United States on March 17th.

“I mean, look at what they do in Chicago on Saint Patrick’s Day. They toss all of this vegetable-based dye into the Chicago River and then paint it green for a day. That’s terrific,” Kevin said.

But then when it comes to what many Americans eat & drink on St. Paddy’s Day (i.e., a big plate of corned beef and cabbage. Which is then washed down with a mug of green beer) … Well, that’s where Dundon has to draw the line.

Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon displays a traditional Irish loin of bacon with Colcannon potatoes and a Dunbrody Kiss chocolate dessert. Photo by Tom Burton. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Green beer? No real Irishman would be caught dead drinking that stuff,” Kevin insists. “And as for eating corned beef & cabbage … That’s not actually authentic Irish fare either. Bacon and cabbage? Sure. But corned beef & cabbage was something that the Irish only began eating after they’d come to the States to escape the Famine. And even then these Irish-Americans only began serving corned beef & cabbage to their friends & family because they had to make do with the ingredients that were available to them at that time.”

And thus begins the strange tale of how corned beef & cabbage came to be associated with the North American celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. Because – according to Dundon – beef just wasn’t all that big a part of the Irish diet back in the 19th century.

To explain: Back in the Old Country, cattle – while they were obviously highly prized for the milk & cheese that they produced – were also beasts of burden. Meaning that they were often used for ploughing the fields or for hauling heavy loads. Which is why – back then — these animals were rarely slaughtered when they were still young & healthy. If anything, land owners liked to put a herd of cattle on display out in one of their pastures because that was then a sign to their neighbors that this farm was prosperous.

“Whereas pork … Well, everybody raised pigs back then. Which is why pork was a staple of the Irish diet rather than beef,” Dundon continued.

So if that’s what people actually ate back in the Old Country, how then did corned beef & cabbage come to be so strongly associated with Saint Patrick’s Day in the States.? That largely had to do with where the Irish wound up living after they arrived in the New World.

“When the Irish first arrived in America following the Great Famine, a lot of them wound up living in the inner city right alongside the Germans & the Jews, who were also recent immigrants to the States. And while that farm-fresh pork that the Irish loved wasn’t readily available, there was brisket. Which the Irish could then cure by first covering this piece of meat with corn kernel-sized pieces of rock salt – that’s how it came to be called corned beef. Because of the sizes of the pieces of rock salt that were used in the curing process – and then placing all that in a pot of water with other spices to soak for a few days.”

And as for the cabbage portion of corned beef & cabbage … Well, according to Kevin, in addition to buying their meat from the kosher delis in their neighborhood, the Irish would also frequent the stores that the German community shopped in. Where – thanks to their love of sauerkraut (i.e., pickled cabbage) – there was always a ready supply of cabbage to be had.

“So when you get right down to it, it was the American melting pot that led to corned beef & cabbage being found in the Irish-American cooking pot,” Dundon continued. “Since they couldn’t find or didn’t have easy access to the exact same ingredients that they had back in Ireland, Irish-Americans made do with what they could find in the immediate vicinity. And what they made was admittedly tasty. But it’s not actually authentic Irish fare.”

Mind you, what Kevin serves at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs (which – FYI – Orlando Magazine voted as the area’s best restaurant back in 2014) is nothing if not authentic. Dundon and his team at this acclaimed gastropub pride themselves on making traditional Irish fare and then contemporized it.

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“Take – for example – what we serve here instead of corned beef & cabbage. Again, because it was pork – rather than beef – that was the true staple of the Irish diet back then, what we offer instead is a loin of bacon that has been glazed with Irish Mist. That then comes with colcannon potatoes. Which is this traditional Irish dish that’s made up of mashed potato that have had some cabbage & bacon mixed through it,” Kevin enthused. “This heavenly ham – that’s what we actually call this traditional Irish dish at Raglan Road, Kevin’s Heavenly Ham – also includes some savory cabbage with a parsley cream sauce as well as a raisin cider jus. It’s simple food. But because of the basic ingredients – and that’s the real secret of Irish cuisine. That our ingredients are so strong – the flavors just pop off the plate.”

Which brings us to the real challenge that Dundon and the Raglan Road team face every day. Making sure that they actually have all of the ingredients necessary to make this traditional-yet-contemporized Irish fare to those folks who frequent this Walt Disney World favorite.

“Take – for example – the fish we serve here. We only used cold water fish. Salmon, mussels and haddock that have been hauled out of the Atlantic, the ocean that America and Ireland share,” Kevin stated. “Not that there’s anything wrong with warm water fish. It’s just that … Well, it doesn’t have the same structure. It’s a softer fish, which doesn’t really fit the parameters of Irish cuisine. And if you’re going to serve authentic food, you have to be this dedicated when it comes to sourcing your ingredients.

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And if you’re thinking of perhaps trying to serve an authentic Irish meal this year, rather than once again serving corned beef & cabbage at your Saint Patrick’s Day Feast … Well, back in September of last year, Mitchell Beazley published “The Raglan Road Cookbook: Inside America’s Favorite Irish Pub.” This 296-page hardcover not only includes the recipe for Kevin’s Heavenly Ham but also it tells the tale of how this now-world-renown restaurant wound up being built in Orlando.

On the other hand, if you happen to have to the luck of the Irish and are actually down at The Walt Disney World Resort right now, it’s worth noting that Raglan Road is right in the middle of its Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival. This four day-long event – which includes Irish bands and professional dancers – stretches through Sunday night. And in addition to all that authentic Irish fare that Dundon and his team are cooking up, you also sample the fine selection of beers & cocktails that this establishment’s four distinct antique bars (each of which are more than 130 years old and were imported directly from Ireland) will be serving. Just – As ucht Dé (That’s “For God’s Sake” in Gaelic) – don’t make the mistake of asking the bartender there for a mug of green beer.

“Why would anyone willingly drink something like that?,” Dundon laughed. “I mean, just imagine what their washroom will look like the morning after.”

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Friday, March 17, 2017

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