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Why For?

What do a moose, a caterpillar and a carnotaur all have in common? They’re all the subjects of answers to the Disney-related questions you’ll find in this week’s column.

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First up, Evan writes in to ask:

Hi Jim,

I love your web site and I read it often. It is a great site to get information I had yet to learn about Walt Disney and various other topics.

Which brings me to my question: I’ve noticed this week that — to coincide with “George of the Jungle 2” being released — 2 stories on the great Jay Ward have appeared on your site. Now I know that Walt Disney was a fan of Rocky and Bullwinkle, and he enjoyed watching “Rocky and His Friends” each week on primetime television.

But what boggles (my mind) is the Bullwinkle statue on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood, located right in front of the former Jay Ward production facilities and adjacent to the Dudley Do-Right Emporium, a Ward family owned store. Now I know the story of the statue. But among the many names in the cement near it (Paul Frees, Bill Scott, June Foray, and others who worked [on] the show) is the Walt Disney’s name scrawled in the cement.

Did Walt actually attend the unveiling of this statue in 1961? Or did (Disney) perhaps make a visit to the studio and place his name in the cement then? If you know anything in regards to this, I’d love to hear about it.

Thanks!

Evan

Dear Evan:

Boy, I wish I had better news for you here. But that Walt Disney signature that you see in the cement at the base of the Bullwinkle statue in Hollywood? It’s a fake.

Or — rather — a sort of a goof on Walt Disney. You see, Evan, Jay Ward and Bill Scott (the two comic geniuses behind “The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show”) really enjoyed taking swipes at Uncle Walt.

I mean, surely you recall that infamous episode of “Fractured Fairy Tales” when Prince Charming — instead of waking up Sleeping Beauty — opts to build a theme park around the slumbering princess. (If you HAVEN’T seen this particular cartoon before: Not to worry, Evan. You can actually find it on the “Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends” 4-disc DVD set. Which came out back in August and is currently on sale over on Amazon.com.)

Anyway … The next time you watch this episode of “Fractured Fairy Tale,” Evan, pay particularly close attention to Prince Charming. Doesn’t he look an awful lot like a certain studio head? Right down to the slicked-back hair and that pencil-thin mustache.

To put it bluntly, Ward and Scott were not big fans of Walt. Want proof? Here’s a quote from Keith Scott’s excellent book, “The Moose That Roared: The Story of Jay Ward, Bill Scott, a Flying Squirrel and a Talking Moose” (Thomas Dunne Books, July 2000):

“Disney worked twenty years to get animation to appear as real as possible, and the nearer he got to reality, the duller the shows got. We believe animation should involve a push beyond reality. If you’ve got a picture that can be done with live characters, you might as well use live characters. We use animation to sell a story, Disney uses the story to sell animation.”

That’s Bill Scott explaining how Jay Ward Studios’ approach to animation differed fundamentally from Disney’s. (By the way: “The Moose That Roared” is a flat-out wonderful book. It’s the definitive volume on the Jay Ward operation. Keith Scott — who, oddly enough, is NOT related to Bill Scott in any way — did a really great job with this book. If you’re an animation fan, I highly recommend that you pick “The Moose That Roared.” Which — not-sot-coincidentally — is also currently on sale over at Amazon.com.)

Jeese, is it just me … or does this column already have more plugs than an electrician’s convention?

Anywho … Given that the guys at Jay Ward Productions were always looking for way to tease and twit Uncle Walt, when it came time (on September 19, 1961) to formally dedicate that Bullwinkle statue in front of what-was-then the company’s main office, Bill and Jay came up with what they thought was a truly inspired gag to pull on the head of Walt Disney Productions.

I mean, given that Walt Disney was the least likely guy to attend this sort of flakey affair, what better way would there to be to make fun of the Old Mousetro than to forge his signature in cement? So that — for years yet to come — thousands of people would do just as you did, Evan. Which is drop by the plaza on Sunset Boulevard where the Bullwinkle statue still stands. Then cast your eyes down at all those signatures that have been cast in concrete and suddenly go: “Is that Walt Disney’s signature?”

Sadly, Jay and Bill are no longer with us, Evan. But — wherever they are — I’m sure that they’d get a kick out of knowing that — over 42 years after the fact — that this one gag is continuing to trip up animation fans.

By the way: For those of you who have never seen the Bullwinkle statue on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, Nancy and I dropped by there earlier this year and took this picture:

This impressive 15-foot-tall edifice is located at 8217 Sunset Boulevard, just across from the Chateau Marmont hotel.

Sadly, Jay Ward’s animation studio is no more. So what company now occupies this historic piece of Hollywood turf? Would you believe a dog groomer? Which means that — as the canine customers are killing time out in the courtyard directly under the Bullwinkle statue — they occassionally widdle on Uncle Walt’s faux signature. Which — again — I’m sure would amuse Bill Scott and Jay Ward to no end.

Speaking of Jay Ward: His daughter, Ramona, still operates a cool little boutique that’s just up the street from the Bullwinkle statue. It’s Dudley Do-Right’s Emporium. Which is located at 8200 Sunset Boulevard.

Nancy and I spent a pleasant half hour or so poking around in this funky little shop. There’s all sorts of neat Jay Ward related items available for sale here. Stuff like Wottsamatta U sweartshirts, limited edition Bullwinkle watches and “George of the Jungle” storyboards.

So — if you’re ever out in Hollywood and (just like Evan, Nancy and I) want to make a pilgrimage to the place where the Kirward Derby was concieved — I suggest that you follow this link. (Alright! Enough with the links already!) Where the nice folks at seeing-stars.com will tell you exactly how to get to the Bullwinkle statue as well as Dudley Do-Right’s Emporium.

And — speaking of “George of the Jungle” — Bill writes in to ask:

Hi Jim:

Great article today about “George of the Jungle 2”! It is too bad that some of (Brendan Fraser’s) original ideas weren’t included (in the sequel).

In a related question, I was wondering if you knew whether Caterpillar’s lawsuit against Disney over GOTJ2 was going to impact their presence in Disney’s California Adventure?

Thanks for the great read every day!

Bill

Dear Bill:

Actually, Disney and Caterpillar have been on the outs since October of last year. Ever since the Imagineers rethemed DCA’s Bountiful Valley Farm into A Bug’s Land. And Disneyland resort guests began racing past Caterpillar’s display tractors so that they could catch a ride on Heimlich the caterpillar’s Chew Chew Train.

In fact, there are many within the Walt Disney Company who believe that the only reason that Caterpillar Inc. actually filed this lame-brained lawsuit against the Mouse was NOT because “George of the Jungle 2” cast the corporation’s heavy equipment in a bad light. But — rather — because Caterpillar execs were angry that Disney hadn’t lived up to their end of the bargain on DCA.

To explain: When Caterpillar Inc. initially signed up to be one of the sponsors of Disney’s California Adventure theme park, company officials were reportedly promised that hundreds of thousands of people would walk through that park’s Bountiful Valley Farm area each year and see their corporation’s tractors on. Which — in theory — would help enhance the reputation of this heavy equipment firm among the millions of tourists who annually visit the Disneyland Resort.

But then DCA opened in January 2001 and pretty much immediately underwhelmed theme park fans. And guest surveys done during California Adventure’s first year of operation quickly pointed to Bountiful Valley Farm as being the most boring part of the park. The “district” of California Adventure that Disneyland resort visitors liked least. To add insult to injury, Caterpillar’s tractor display was often singled out as the worst “attraction” in the entire theme park.

Clearly something had to be done to spruce up this corner of California Adventure — and fast. Which is why WDI pulled the “A Bug’s Land” retheming idea out of their Sorcerer Mickey shaped hat. The “Bountiful Valley Farm” name was quickly erased. And — out behind where Caterpillar’s tractors are on display — the Imagineers swiftly erected “Flik’s Fun Fair,” a clever collection of kiddie rides inspired by the 1998 Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation Studio’s release, “A Bug’s Life.”

This DCA expansion area immediately proved to be a hit with the public. But the downside of this rushed addition to the theme park was that — where a few hundred people used to tour the Caterpillar tractor display on a daily basis prior to “Flik’s Fun Fair” opening — now virtually no one was climbing up the stairs to peek into those cabs.

And — given that Caterpillar Inc. had supposedly paid the Walt Disney Company some pretty big bucks for the privilege of prominently displaying the firm’s heavy equipment in what used to be DCA’s “Bountiful Valley Farm” area — I guess you can understand why executives of this Illinois-based corporation allegedly decided that it was time that they made some noise. That they let the Mouse know how truly unhappy they were with the way that “Flik’s Fun Fair” had so egregiously upstaged Caterpillar’s tractor display.

Of course, given that the Walt Disney Company was still — in theory — honoring its part of Caterpillar’s DCA sponsorship agreement, the heavy equipment corporation really couldn’t do much more than just *** and moan about how “Tuck and Roll’s Drive ’em Buggies” were continually drawing away potential visitors from the firm’s tractor display. (“And what was WDI’s response to these complaints?” you ask. Well, the Imagineers kept trying different signage to see if that might convince more youngsters to stop for a brief moment and peer inside one of the three tractors on display. To date, nothing that WDI has done has helped.)

But then Caterpillar execs reportedly learned that the company’s Wheel Loaders played a prominent role in “George of the Jungle 2″‘s finale (I.E. That film’s villain — Lyle Vandergroot, played by “Wings” sitcom star Thomas Haden Church — plans on using the dozers to destroy George’s jungle home), they supposedly thought: “Now here’s a way that we can legally stick it to the Mouse.” And so they did.

Which is why — earlier this month — Caterpillar Inc. filed suit in Federal District court against the Walt Disney Company. The corporation sought a restraining order, asking that Buena Vista Home Entertainment be prevented from selling any and all “George of the Jungle 2” videos and DVDs in the United States. Why for? Because — according to papers that the heavy equipment company filed in Illinois — the big yellow bulldozers featured in the film’s climax prominently feature the Caterpillar name and logo.

And why exactly should this concern U.S. Federal court officials? Because — according to the argument that Caterpillar’s attorneys put forward — this sequence in the film (which showed George and his CG animal pals doing battle with a bunch of the corporation’s Wheel Loaders) could have a negative impact on children watching the “George of the Jungle 2” video and/or DVD. And — as a result — could have a significant impact on the sale of Caterpillar’s line of children’s products and/or tarnish the heavy equipment corporation’s reputation by association.

Of course, when Disney’s lawyers heard what Caterpillar Inc. was up to, they were supposedly shocked. I mean, they knew that there had been some bad blood between the heavy equipment corporation and the entertainment conglomerate. But to go so far as to file an obviously frivolous nuisance lawsuit just to trip up “George of the Jungle 2” just took Mouse House attorneys totally by surprise.

In response to Caterpillar’s request to stop all sales of “George of the Jungle 2,” Disney’s attorneys said: “While we have great respect for Caterpillar, we consider this (suit to be) without legal merit and we expect (that people who purchase this DVD) will view these sequences for their comedic value and not take them seriously.”

Luckily for the Mouse (given the millions that the Walt Disney Company and its promotional partners had already invested in the “George of The Jungle 2” October 21st launch date), District Court judge Billy McDade refused to honor Caterpillar’s request for a temporary restraining order that would block the scheduled sale of the sequel in the United States.

As he dismissed Caterpillar’s lawsuit this past Tuesday, District Court judge Billy McDade wrote that “… the court finds this argument to be unpersuasive.” Disney — obviously thrilled to have dodge a bullet here — attempted to mend fences with the heavy equipment corporation. While still trying to assert that the Mouse House was in the right in this case.

In a prepared statement, Disney’s attorneys said that “… while we have great respect for Caterpillar, we have — from the start — considered this (lawsuit to be) without any legal merit and we believe the court reached the proper decision. We expect the audience will view these sequences for their comedic value and not take them seriously.”

So — getting back to your original question, Bill — where does this leave Disney and Caterpillar’s relationship? On pretty shaky ground. I would imagine that the Imagineers are now going to redouble the efforts to try and improve signage around “A Bug’s Land”‘s tractor displays. With the hope that more DCA visitors will then opt to visit this heavy equipment display. Which would then (in theory) make Caterpillar execs happy with the Walt Disney Company once again.

But given the bad blood that exists between the heavy equipment corporation and the entertainment conglomerate, I would imagine that things are going to remain pretty iffy between Caterpillar and Disney right up until January 2006. Which is when Caterpillar’s DCA sponsorship agreement supposedly expires.

And — finally — Rick (who’s actually getting married this weekend in Las Vegas … so congrats to Rick and his lovely bride, Molly) writes in to ask:

Jim

Is it true that Universal holds the rights to the Tyrannosaurus Rex and that’s why Disney used the Carnotaurus (in “Dinosaur”) instead? If this is true, this will settle a bet that I have with one of my friends and I’ll have bragging rights

Talk to you soon.

Rick

Dear Rick:

Actually, it’s the other way around. You see, the real reason that Disney opted to use the Carnotaur as the defacto villain in its Summer 2000 theatrical release, “Dinosaur” (as well as using this massive meat-eater as the heavy in Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s “Countdown to Extinction” attraction. Which — of course — in honor of the release of Walt Disney Pictures’ first CG animated feature, was renamed “Dinosaur — The Ride” in May of 2000) was because they couldn’t find a way to copyright Tyrannosaurus Rex.

You see, Rick, almost every other director in the history of Hollywood — whenever they’d previously made a picture that featured dinosaurs — used Tyrannosaurus Rex as their film’s villain. Which — from the Walt Disney Company’s point of view — made this variety of ancient reptile damned difficult to copyright. And since the Mouse was looking to make millions off of the sale of “Dinosaur”-inspired toys, books, posters, etc. it became clear to Mickey’s merchandising team that this movie’s creative team had to take a very unique approach to the characters that they were creating. In short, to insure that Disney’s dinosaurs didn’t look like anyone else’s dinosaurs. Which meant that the corporation could then have a exclusive license on creatures that looked like the dinos in “Dinosaur.”

Which was why Ralph Zondag and Eric Leighton (“Dinosaur”‘s directors) were always getting odd notes from the merchandising side of the Mouse House. Weird memos that would say things like: “Don’t go for the obvious dinosaurs in this film. Your apatasaurs, your triceratops, your T-rexes. Give us characters that are unusual. That moviegoers haven’t seen before. Both because they’ll have unique visual appeal to our audience as well as being easy to copyright.”

Which is why Baylene ended up being a brachiosaur, as opposed to being a garden variety brontosaurus or apatasaur. And why Eema became a styracosaur, rather than your stereotypical triceratops. And why it’s a pair of carnotaurs — rather than a herd of T-rexes — that relentlessly pursue Aladar and his friends.

It’s like what Deep Throat supposedly told Watergate reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein: “Follow the money.” When the Mouse does something unusual like this, Rick, you can usually bet that there are some bucks involved. Disney thought that — by going with some unusual looking reptiles for “Dinosaur” — they’d be guaranteeing themselves that, when kids came clamoring to their parents for “Dinosaur” toys, that these adults wouldn’t be able to buy off their offspring with “Jurassic Park” action figures and/or “Land Before Time” plush. That these children would insist on toys that looked exactly like Baylene and Eema and Aladar and — of course — the carnotaurs.

It’s just too bad that “Dinosaur” didn’t actually do all that great a job of connecting with kids. Which was (I guess) why the Disney Stores were eventually forced to remainder so much of their “Dinosaur” — related merchandise.

Still — given that, just this past week, I noticed that our local Disney Store was selling Aladar Halloween costumes — I have to assume that (somewhere) the Mouse still has a warehouse full of this stuff. All of these dinosaurs that Disney’s artists deliberately designed to look unlike any other dinos that had ever appeared on the big screen.

Speaking of you Hollywood artistic types … pay close attention now. This is Jim Hill being subtle:

Between October 30th and November 5th, I will be out in Southern California. So if — by chance — some of you studio types (I.E. You folks who are still working on major motion pictures. Films that feature — oh, I don’t know — talking cows, wisecracking rabbits, hat wearing cats, curious chimps and/or rude green ogres) would like me to drop by and say “Hello,” I can be reached by lobbing an e-mail at stadlerhill@mindspring.com.

And — speaking of next week’s trip out to LA — time’s a-wasting if you still want to sign up for this next round of JHM tours of Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure. At this point, virtually all of the slots for Sunday’s tours are gone. Mind you, there is still some wiggle room for Saturday’s tours. But not a whole hell of a lot. So — if you want to get in on the fun — you’d best send me an e-mail ASAP.

Anywho … That wraps up another extremely busy week here at JimHillMedia.com. Here’s hoping that you enjoyed our most recent assortment of articles and that you’ll come back next week … when we’ll have got some even better pieces (including an extra-special Halloween surprise that you won’t want to miss) to post.

Beyond that, you folks have a great weekend, okay? And we’ll see you again on Monday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

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

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

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

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

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

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

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

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

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