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Why For?

Jim Hill’s back with even more answers to your Disney-related questions. This time around, Jim talks about an early Disneyland attraction that never quite made it off the drawing board, why “The Wild” actually was screened for a few critics last week as well as offering a peek at what’s been going on lately over at WDW’s Pleasure Island

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First up, T.S. writes in to ask:


 



Dear Jim:


 


I was wondering if you could clear up a Disneyland-related mystery for me. For years, I’ve owned a copy of that concept painting that Peter Ellenshaw did of this theme park back in the early 1950s. Hopefully you’re familiar with the painting that I’m talking about here. It’s the one that Walt stood in front of during that very first episode of the “Disneyland” TV show back in 1954.


 


Anyway, the reason that I’m writing to you today is that I’ve always been intrigued by what Peter painted in the upper right-hand corner of this early Disneyland concept painting. Which seems to show a quaint old colonial village, complete with a white steepled church.



Photo by Jeff Lange



Which brings me to my question: Was this where Walt originally planned on building Liberty Street / Liberty Square? My understanding was that he always wanted that new land built out behind Main Street U.S.A. next to the Opera House. Yet here is Ellenshaw placing a colonial village inbetween Fantasyland and Tomorrowland.


 


So did Walt’s plans for the park change between 1954 and 1956 (When first International Street and then Liberty Street were announced)? Or is what Peter painted here actually an indication of some other land or attraction that never made it off of WED’s drawing board?


 


Here’s hoping you can answer my question,


 


T.S.


 


Dear T.S.


 


You know, I too had wondered about that particular section of the Disneyland concept painting. I mean, for years now, I have been used to the idea that there were these entire lands (I.E. “Anything-can-Happen Land”), individual attractions (I.E. “Mickey Mouse Club Island”) and facilities (I.E. The on-site TV studio) that were originally proposed for the Anaheim theme park but ultimately never built.


 


But this … This was different. The very fact that this land / attraction / whatever was actually included as part of the painting that Walt stood in front of on the very first broadcast of the “Disneyland” TV show … Well, that meant something. That meant – at least as of October of 1954 – something of size was supposed to be built back in this corner of the park. Something that evidently involved quite a bit of design.


 


But for 20+ years, no matter who I talked with, no matter what books I read, I could never get a straight answer about what Peter Ellenshaw had painted in the upper right hand corner of that Disneyland concept painting …


 


But then one day, I was talking with Jeffrey Ford. (I.E. The son of Tennessee Ernie Ford, who now rides herd on the web site that honors his late father’s name, ErnieFord.com). And while we were chatting about Ernie’s professional & personal relationship with Walt, Jeffrey mentioned that – through a family friend who had actually been Disney’s personal projectionist back in the late 1950s / early 1960s – he had acquired a lot of material that pertained to the early days of Disneyland. In particular the development of the Anaheim theme park.


 


And one of the more intriguing pieces of paper that Tennessee Ernie’s son had in hand was a copy of a script for a presentation that was used to woo prospective Disneyland sponsors. This presentation laid out some specifics about the 1954 version of the Anaheim theme park, what Walt hoped to accomplish with the project. More importantly, what sorts of shows & attractions were supposed to be up & running on opening day.


 


And among the proposed rides that is described in great detail as part of this proposed Disneyland sponsor pitch session was the ride-in-the-country ride.



Photo by Jeff Lange


Literally, that’s all this proposed Disneyland attraction was supposed to be, folks. For a dollar, you would have to rent an old fashioned horse and buggy. Then you & your friends or family could then go for a ride down a recreation of a quiet country lane. En route, you’d pass through a recreation of a quaint old New England village as well as an old fashioned family farm.


 


But Disneyland visitors weren’t going to allowed to stop and explore any of these areas. Oh, no. Their horse (Which – it was hoped – would eventually be able to repeatedly ride along this route with little or no prompting from the passengers in back. Who – likely as not – wouldn’t have all that much experience when it came to operating a horse & buggy) would proceed right on through at a very moderate pace. Eventually returning its buggy-load of guests right back to the attraction’s off-load / on-load area.


 


Based on the description of the ride-in-the-country ride that Jeffrey recently read to me over the phone, I can assume that this proposed Disneyland attraction was originally supposed to be the Anaheim theme park’s equivalent of a “Tunnel of Love.” As in: The ride that young couples could go on so that they could then have a little “alone time” during their visit to this family fun park. Maybe steal a kiss or two while leisurely riding by all of that faux New England scenery.


 


That sounds like kind of an intriguing attraction, don’t you think? So why wasn’t the ride-in-the-country ride ever built? There are three reasons, actually: Time, space and money.


 


Even as Walt was standing there in front of that concept painting of Disneyland in October of 1954, talking about what his new family fun park would be like, the clock was already ticking. There were less than nine months of construction time left ‘til Disneyland had to open. And – to be honest – at this point, the Anaheim construction site still looked more like a former orange grove than a Magic Kingdom.


 


Then there was the fact that Disneyland wound up costing a lot more to construct than Walt originally thought it would. An awfully lot more.


 


Which is why – as various parts of the Anaheim theme park finally got greenlit (EX: Tomorrowland wasn’t originally supposed to be one of the “lands” that Disneyland would have ready for opening day. If all had gone according to plan, Tomorrowland wouldn’t have come on line at the Anaheim theme park ‘til sometime in 1957. But in the Fall of 1954, Walt suddenly changed his mind and decided that Disneyland just couldn’t open without the theme park having some sort of Tomorrowland. Which is why the Imagineers really had to rush and/or ad-lib in order to have something ready on that side of the park for guests to see on July 17, 1955) – other aspects of the project had to be put on the back burner.


 


And then there was the size issue. If you look closely at the space that this proposed ride-through-the-country ride was supposed to occupy, you’re talking about a huge portion of the available developable land inside of the berm. The equivalent of the entire piece of property that the Jungle Cruise currently occupies. And all of it dedicated to a single extremely-low-capacity attraction that had a very high (At least for the 1950s, that is) ticket price.


 


So when you take all of that into consideration … I guess it’s easy to see why Walt eventually opted to cut that ride-in-the-country ride out of Disneyland’s opening day assortment of attractions. And then, given how the Ol’ Mousetro had to aggressively expand his family fun park in the late 1950s in order to meet guest demand … Well, it becomes obvious that this particular piece of property became far too valuable to be occupied by a single over-sized attraction.


 


So instead of getting that ride-in-the-country ride, Disneyland wound up with the Fantasyland Autopia, the Motor Boat Cruise, the Phantom Boats, the Submarine Voyage as well as the Matterhorn. Which – when you think about it, T.S. – is actually a pretty good trade for a tired old horse-and-buggy ride.


 


Besides, those Disneyland visitors who needed someplace in the park where they could then be alone with their significant others … They eventually got that in 1967, when the Imagineers finally got around to building “Adventures thru Inner Space.”


 


But I digress … Anyway, I hope that answers your question, T.S.  


 


Next, Windy City Wayne blows in to say:


 



Dear Jim:


 


I’ve really been enjoying your coverage of “The Wild,” particularly this week’s story about Jim Svejda. I too hate it when these allegedly-legitimate critics write such ridiculously positive reviews, with the hope that these bogus quotes will then get pulled out of their articles and used as part of that film’s promotion.


 


That said, I did want to point out one error in Monday’s story. Toward the end of that article, you quote Eric Lurio as saying that Walt Disney Pictures wouldn’t be holding any advance screenings of “The Wild” for critics. At least here in Chicago, that wasn’t really the case.


 


We actually got to see “The Wild” on Tuesday, April 4th. Mind you, Disney’s PR people didn’t tell us about this screening until late in the afternoon on Monday, April 3rd. So it was pretty obvious that the studio wasn’t all that eager to screen this film to critics. But that said, Disney did give us a chance to see “The Wild” prior to its theatrical release.


 


I just thought you’d want to know,


 


Wayne from the Windy City


 


Dear Wayne –


 


Yeah, after I’d actually posted “Tis a pity that he’s a ‘quote whore’,“ I began hearing about these rather begrudged screenings for “The Wild” that were held around the country last week for critics. And there’s actually a pretty funny rumor associated with these screenings.


 


The way I hear it, the folks who actually produced “The Wild” were furious when they learned that Disney’s PR staff was planning on not screening their film for critics.


 


But Disney … Well, you have to understand the attitude in-house back at Burbank when it came to “The Wild” seemed to be that … “Well, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.” Meaning that – even without having actually seen this picture – people were already making unfortunate comparisons to Dreamworks’ May 2005 release, “Madagascar.” Insisting that this new Walt Disney Pictures release was somehow just a cheap copy of that earlier CG film.


 


Mind you, anyone who actually knows anything about animation will tell you that “The Wild” may be many things. But this film wasn’t cheap to produce. I’ve heard figures as high as $80 million (Canadian) floated as possible production budgets for this particular animated feature.


 


More to the point, “The Wild” isn’t actually a clone / copy of “Madagascar.” Truth be told, the basic idea for this animated feature made the rounds in Hollywood for a number of years before the folks at Disney & C.O.R.E.  finally got together and decided to turn this bare-bones concept into a really-for-real motion picture. And it’s been suggested that the folks at Dreamworks Animation may have “borrowed” heavily for that initial “The Wild” proposal that was making the rounds as they began development of “Madagascar.”


 


Now far be it from me to point fingers here … But ever since the days of “Antz” and “a bug’s life,” there have been these whispers about Dreamworks. How that animation studio allegedly keeps extremely close tabs on what its competition is up to. Which is why the story development teams at Disney & Pixar would often get irked when Dreamworks would suddenly put a project in its production pipeline (EX: “Shark Tale”) that would share an awful lot of turf with a film that they were already working on (EX: “Finding Nemo”).


 


So (Not to get too far off-track here, folks) don’t be so quick to call “The Wild” a “Madagascar” clone. If what I’ve been hearing from many animation vets turns out to be true … Well, perhaps the proper way to describe what actually happened here is that “The Wild” (While this animated feature was still in its concept phase) may have served as the inspiration for “Madagascar.”



 



Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC



 


Okay. Now that I’ve made the staff at Dreamworks Animation mad, let’s get back to infuriating the folks at Disney …


 


Anyway … Disney’s attitude toward advance screenings for “The Wild” seems to be … Well, in a recent interview with the Associated Press, Disney publicity chief Dennis Rice summed up the studio’s philosophy quite succinctly:


 


“If we think screenings for the press will help open the movie, we’ll do it. … If we don’t think it’ll help open the movie or if the target audience is different than the critics’ sensibilities, then it may make sense not to screen the movie.”


 


This – in a nutshell – pretty much sums up the attitude that Walt Disney Pictures’ PR department reportedly had toward “The Wild.” It seemed like America’s critics were already gunning for this particular animated feature. That they seemed downright eager to tear this picture apart. So why give these guys even more ammo by allowing them to see “The Wild” prior to its theatrical release?


 


I mean, wouldn’t the smarter thing to do here be to just release the film without any critics screenings? So that – when the inevitable negative reviews came … Well, they’d at least be run on Saturday, rather than Friday. Which would then give “The Wild” kind of a chance to find its audience before the picture got buried in bad reviews.


 


So that (hopefully) explains why Disney was originally thinking of taking the no-advance-screenings-for-critics route with “The Wild.” But all that supposedly changed once the film’s producers got wind of Disney’s plan.


 


To put it bluntly, these guys were p*ssed that Disney was thinking about sending “The Wild” out into theaters without first letting critics take a look at the picture. I mean, the crew at C.O.R.E. had spent three years slaving over this film. And they were proud of their movie. Which is why they wanted this motion picture launched with as much fanfare as possible.


 


More to the point, the folks at C.O.R.E. knew that – if “The Wild” were sent out into theaters without first staging any screenings for critics – that would send a message to the rest of entertainment industry that Disney had zero confidence in this motion picture. That they didn’t really expect the picture to perform. Or – worse yet – that Mouse House management actually thought that this movie stank. Which would make it that much more difficult for the crew at C.O.R.E. to persuade another studio to underwrite the production costs of their next animated feature.


 




Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC


 


But luckily C.O.R.E. had an ace up its sleeve. In that William Shatner (I.E. William’s one of the principal investors in this Canadian CG operation. More importantly, Shatner is actually the CEO of this corporation) was also the Emmy Award winning star of a very popular ABC series, “Boston Legal.” Which is why it was supposedly strongly suggested that – if there were no advance critic screenings of “The Wild” – Mr. Shatner might be very unhappy. And an unhappy William Shatner might not be inclined to show up for work for a couple of days on “Boston Legal.” Or — worse yet — might feel the need to talk with the press about how Disney isn’t being all that supportive of “The Wild.”


 


Once news of this “suggestion” reportedly got back to Mouse House management, word quickly came down from on high that Walt Disney Pictures should hold press screenings for “The Wild.” Which explains those hastily announced / quickly thrown together screenings for the film that were held around the country last week.


 


Me personally? Given that I’ve always been a fan of those “Ray & Carl” commercials that C.O.R.E. used to produce for Blockbuster, I’ll be heading out to the multiplex later today to go check out “The Wild.” Hoping that I’ll have a good time when I finally get to see this film.


 


Mind you, I’ve heard all of the negative buzz about this picture. How industry observers are saying that “The Wild” has to at least out-gross “Ice Age 2: The Meltdown” this coming weekend at the box office in order to be considered a success. Which – in theory – shouldn’t be all that difficult to do. Given that this will be the third weekend that this 20th Century Fox animated feature will be playing in theaters.


 


But – then again — “Ice Age 2: The Meltdown” is a hugely popular follow-up to the original “Ice Age.” By that I mean: It’s the first film this year to actually achieve blockbuster status (I.E. Earn over $100 million during its initial domestic release). So – in spite of all of the promotional effort that Disney’s finally thrown behind “The Wild” – there’s no guarantee that this CG animated feature will actually be able to out-gross “Ice Age 2” this coming weekend.


 


Well, I guess we’ll all have to wait ‘til Sunday rolls around and we get finally get a sense of what this Walt Disney Picture’s grosses actually are. Here’s hoping that Good Friday  translates into some great box office for “The Wild.”


 


And – finally – Gerry M. writes in to ask:


 



Jim:


 


I was wondering if you could give JHM readers an update on what’s going on over at Pleasure Island.


 


Dear Gerry –


 


Sure. I’d be glad to pass along what little I know. As you can see by the photo below that Max Schilling took this past weekend …



Photo by Max Schilling


The construction walls are already up on PI. Various shops along Hill Street are already being cleaned out and are getting ready for their renovation. Construction crew have already begun dismantling both the Hub Stage and the West End Stage. Now as to what Pleasure Island will look like once all of this work is complete, hopefully this overview of the new site plan for WDW’s night-time entertainment district will give you a clue.



Photo by Max Schilling


As to possible new tenants on the island and/or the impact that all these changes may have on PI’s remaining nightclubs … Well, there are a lot of rumors currently flying around. When I get some more solid information about what’s actually going on with this section of Downtown Disney, I’ll be sure and post an update here.


 


And that pretty much concludes this week’s edition of “Why For.” My apologies for it taking this long to post, folks. I’ll try & do better next week.


 


Anyway, here’s hoping that all of you have a very Happy Easter. We’ll see you again on Monday, alright?


 


j



 


 

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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