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Why For? : Baxter in 20K, Tiki Room Jokes, Haunter Hollywood Hotel, Disney TV Special, Project Gemini and a Mea Culpa

Tanned (okay, sunburned), rested and refreshed, Jim Hill returns with even more answers to your Disney related questions, including some insight into several Disney theme park attractions.

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First, an apology.

You know, in yesterday's review of Carlene Thie's "Disneyland Under Construction" books, I'm afraid that I may have come down a bit too hard on Ms. Thie. Or — at the very least — criticized things that I didn't really know about.

For example: In yesterday's article, I chided Carlene for getting the freeway that ran past Disneyland wrong. In a caption in her "Disney's Early Years Through the Eyes of a Photographer," she identified this highway as the 101 rather than the I-5. Well, as several veteran Southern Californians have since pointed out to me, prior to 1964 (when the State of California suddenly decided to renumber a great number of its roadways), that highway really was designated as the 101. NOT the I-5.

So that was my mistake. NOT Ms. Thie's.

And then — as for getting the name of the place where her own grandmother worked (I.E. Cat Foot Cove instead of Catfish Cove) wrong in "A Photgrapher's Life with Disney Under Construction" — well, I've since learned that this was an error on the printer's part, rather than by Carlene.

So let me now extend a sincere apology to Ms. Thie for criticizing things that I didn't really know about. More to the point, let me again state that I still think that Carlene's "Disneyland Under Construction" books (which feature the amazing photographs of her late grandfather, Mell Kilpatrick) are still well worth purchasing. So go out now and snap up a set today! And — just to show that there are no hard feelings between myself and Ms. Thie (more importantly, to prove that Carlene is a really class act) look for an in-depth interview with this author to turn up on JimHillMedia,com in the not-so-distant future. Where she'll discuss what went into the creation of her next "Disneyland Under Construction" book, "Disneyland: The Beginning."

Okay. That's enough with the mea culpas for today. Let's get started with answering your questions, shall we?

First up. Eric P. drops by with a "20K" related question:

Hi,

I was wondering if you could confirm something I realized for the first time a few days ago. Being an old fan of WDW's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" and who never tires of seeing it again on home video, this was always my favorite line of the attraction ever since I was a kid.

CAPTAIN NEMO: Mr. Baxter, if you think you're seeing mermaids and sea monsters, you've been submerged too long!

Was this a deliberate in-joke about Imagineer Tony Baxter, since it's my understanding that he was responsible for "20,000 Leagues" at WDW?

Eric P.

Eric,

Yep. The "Mr. Baxter" that Captain Nemo talks with as part of the audio for this late, lamented WDW attraction really was a none-too-subtle tribute to the veteran Imagineer. Of course, back when the soundtrack for the Magic Kingdom's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" ride was being recorded, Tony was really just starting out in his career at WED.

In fact, the very first time that Tony ever took a trip to the field to oversee the installation of a Disney theme park attraction was back in 1970. When he went down to Orlando to supervise the latter part of construction and the final detail work on WDW's "20K" ride.

Given the extreme dedication that Baxter had shown on this assignment (I.E. spending weeks working in the wilting Central Florida heat and humidity to make sure that each concrete piece of coral, each plastic fish was in its proper place), it only made sense to the Imagineers who were in charge of the "20,000 Leagues" ride that they should pay tribute to Tony's extra effort.

Which is how that originally un-named crew member on the "20K" soundtrack eventually became known as "Mr. Baxter."

And — speaking of soundtracks for Disney theme park attractions — Jeremy H. writes in with a few questions about Disneyland's "Enchanted Tiki Room":

Jim,

I love the site and appreciate the candid "Why For" responses to … questions. But now I have some questions … about "Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room" at Disneyland.

1) During the "Enchanted Tiki" room dialogue, there is a large amount of banter going on between the four masters of ceremonies in the center of the theatre. One part has been especially bothering me. It is when Fritz responds to Pierre.

PIERRE: My profile may not be marvelous, but my (voice) is out of this world.

FRITZ: Jawohl, but the trouble is it's not far enough out of this world. Isn't that right, Herr Smith? Oh ho, I see. Smith has no hair.

Who is Fritz referring to? An Imagineer?

2) Why was the show whittled down from its original running time? As a young child, I remember a musical sequence featuring classical music and the "Enchanted Fountain." And it seems like every time I go into the attraction and listen to the show, I seem to remember dialogue/lyrics that are no longer there. I do have sound clips confirming that the show used to be longer, but I wanted to be sure.

That's all for now. Thanks!

Jeremy H.

Jeremy:

The "Herr Smith has no hair" gag is strictly that: a gag. This joke wasn't aimed at anyone in particular (hence the use of the name "Smith," which is a pretty common last name here in the States). Nor (to the best of my knowledge, anyway) was this jape referencing any balding Imagineer who may have worked on the "Tiki Room" show.

Remember what Sigmund Freud once said, Jeremy. "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." Well, sometimes the jokes in Disney theme park attractions don't have any secondary meaning either. Sometimes they're just … well, jokes.

Now — as for your questions regarding cuts that may or may not have been made to Disneyland's "Enchanted Tiki Room" show — THAT I can confirm. In an effort to cut back on the number of guest walk-outs that this once-beloved now-fairly-slow-moving Adventureland attraction had been experiencing, the Imagineers opted to lop the "Offenbach" sequence out of the show in the mid-1990s. Thereby shaving nearly two minutes off of "Tiki"'s 17-minute running time.

Sadly, this somewhat clumsy bit of cutting didn't actually cut down on the number of guest walk-outs that the "Enchanted Tiki Room" had been experiencing. Which is why the Imagineers continue to toy with the idea of changing out and/or updating this aged Adventureland attraction.

"Just how aged?" you ask. Well, the Disneyland version of "The Enchanted Tiki Room" will actually celebrate its 40th anniversary sometime later this month. The once state-of-the-art show (Disneyland press releases from the 1960s used to boast that the electronics equipment that was used to make the Tiki birds talk is the same technology that guided the Polaris missiles) opened back on June 23rd, 1963.

As for what the future holds for DL's "Enchanted Tiki Room" … well, there are a number of rumors coming out of WDI these days. One story has it that the Imagineers — in the not-so-distant future — may opt to radically revamp this Adventureland attraction by folding Lilo & Stitch into the mix. I.E. Creating audio animatronic versions of the title characters of Disney's 2002 animated release and having Lilo and Stitch host a new Hawaiian-themed version of "The Enchanted Tiki Room."

There's also reportedly been some talk of WDI going back to Walt's original concept for the Tiki Bird show. Which was to have these 1960s era AA figures serve as the overhead entertainment for an in-park Polynesian-themed restaurant. I've also heard some Imagineers say that they'd love to just tear down the "Enchanted Tiki Room" show building as well as the "Aladdin's Oasis" restaurant facility (formerly the "Tahitian Terrace") that's located right next door to make room for a Disneyland version of that Tokyo Disney Sea show, "The Magic Lamp Theater."

But — as of right now — the smart money is on DL's "Enchanted Tiki Room" to stay just as it is. At least until the Disneyland Resort is finished with its 50th anniversary celebration in January 2006. After that … well, Piere, Fritz, Jose and Michael may finally be forced to fly the coop.

Which would be kind of sad, don't you think?

Anyway … Next, Andrew M. writes in to ask:

I keep hearing and reading that at one point Imagineers actually considered having a legitimate guest resort in or around the Tower of Terror attraction at Disney-MGM Studios. How close did this project actually come to fruition? What kinds of plans were on the drawing boards and what unique ideas would have made this a great resort?

Andrew M.

As strange as this may sound, Andrew, it was reportedly Michael Eisner himself who came up with the idea of having WDW guests actually stay inside of the Tower of Tower. (Keep in mind, though, that Eisner was always coming up with somewhat lame-brained concepts for new Disney World resorts. How many of you out there recall when Uncle Michael actually suggested that the Walt Disney Company build a hotel that was shaped like Mickey Mouse? Talk about your cheesy ideas … Anywho …)

As I understand it: The way that Eisner allegedly initially envisioned this project (which was then just called the "Haunted Hollywood Hotel" and/or "The Hollywood Horror Hotel" — way before the whole "Twilight Zone" mythos got folded into the project) was that it would be the most exclusive of the Disney World resorts. The number of rooms that were available for guests to stay in would be extremely limited. Some versions of the proposed hotel's floor plans only showed 10 rooms for WDW guests to stay in. Still other versions of the project (I believe) put the hotel's room count at 50. But never any higher than that.

So what would WDW guests have gotten as part of their high priced stay at this highly themed hotel (FYI: The projected cost of renting rooms at this proposed WDW resort ranged from $500 to $1500 a night)? To put it bluntly, it would have been like you were staying inside the Haunted Mansion.

By that I mean … ghostly faces were supposed to have appeared in your bathroom mirror. Room service carts — seemingly pushed along by unseen spirits — would have wandered through the hotel's corridors. And — of course — every trip up and/or down in elevator would have been a thrill unto itself. And let's not forget about that exclusive backdoor access to the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park that the hotel would have offered its guests.

Sadly, this pretty snazzy sounding project got tripped up by two fairly important factors.

COST: No matter how aggressively Disney's accountanteers massaged the project's numbers and/or bumped up the room count, they couldn't make the "Haunted Hollywood Hotel" / "Hollywood Horror Hotel" financially viable. Given the resort's projected construction costs (what with all the built-in illusions that were supposed to be an essential part of the resort's appeal, initial budget projections put the HHH at costing something in the neighborhood of a $100 million to build. Mind you, this didn't include the $75-$90 million that the Imagineers expected to pour into the construction of the Tower of Terror itself. That initial $100 million was just to cover the resort and its tricked-up hotel rooms), there was just no way that this proposed WDW resort was financially feasible. Even if the hotel was sold out for a solid decade, with guests paying top dollar to occupy ever single room, there was just no way that this proposed resort would ever come close to covering its construction or operations costs.

THE LEGAL ASPECTS: To put it bluntly, Disney's attorneys were scared absolutely sh*tless with the idea that the Walt Disney World Resort might actually go forward with construction of a horror themed, extremely tricked-up, illusion-filled hotel. "What if someone staying at this place were to become so frightened by an illusion that they suddenly keeled over and died?" the lawyers supposedly asked. "The Walt Disney Company could be considered responsible for their death. We could be opening ourselves up to tremendous liability." To counteract this, WDW resort executives reportedly toyed with the idea of having each guest — as they arrived at the "Haunted Hollywood Hotel" / "Hollywood Horror Hotel" — sign a waiver stating that they would not hold the Mouse responsible for any scare-related mishaps that might occur during their stay at the resort.

Luckily for Disney's attorneys, Eisner eventually lost enthusiasm for his idea of having guest stay (or — more importantly — having guests pay through the nose for the privilege of staying) inside a tricked-up illusion-filled horror-themed hotel. Which is why this concept eventually ended up in WDI's "Discard" pile.

Though I have heard that — when Disneyland Resort executives initially proposed adding a "Tower of Terror" clone to DCA's assortment of attractions — that the idea of building a smallish horror-themed hotel in the Timon parking lot (which was to have faced out toward the corner of Harbor and Katella appearing as if this new Disneyland resort was the only part of the Hollywood Tower Hotel that had not been damaged by that infamous lightning strike back in 1939) was briefly toyed with. Before (of course) the old concerns about construction and operations costs as well as legal liability were raised yet again. Which resulted in the Imagineers once again abandoning this intriguing idea.

Ah well … it would have been cool if they'd actually built this thing. I don't know how many of us would have actually been able to afford to stay at the place. But the "Haunted Hollywood Hotel" / "Hollywood Horror Hotel" still sounds like it would have been a fun place to stay, doesn't it?

Next, Chris chimes in with a music-related question:

Jim –

I came across your website several months ago and have become a devoted reader since the, There is a question that has stumped every person I have asked them, and I am thinking that perhaps you may be able to solve this mystery.

In the late 1970s or early 1980s there was a Disney made-for-TV special about a family traveling to WDW. Featured in this movie is a song that goes something like this:

"We're on the road,
On the way,
To a magical holiday,
Bye-bye blues.
Excuse our dust,
It's Disney World
Or bust!"

If you can solve this long time riddle, I would be most appreciative.

Regards,

Chris

Sad as it is to say, Chris, I actually DO know where this song came from. Which clearly indicates to me that — someday very soon — I really need to get a life.

This particular song was sung as the opening number for a 1982 CBS television special, "Kraft Salutes Walt Disney World's 10th Anniversary." This program starred Mouse House movie vets Dean Jones and Michelle Lee (who both can currently be seen on the recently released collector's edition DVD of "The Love Bug" which I STILL haven't be able to find in any stores … on the East OR the West Coast … but I digress…) as well as Dana Plato, Ricky Schroeder and Eileen Brennan as members of the Lane family. At the start of the show, these performers were singing as they packed up the family station wagon for a trip down to WDW. Hence the "Disney World or bust" line.

An interesting side note: Were you to watch the "Kraft Salutes Walt Disney World's 10th Anniversary" special today, you might be intrigued to see who CBS hired to provide comic relief for the program. Check out the wiry guy playing that bumbling-but-well-meaning Disney World cast member. (One of the running gags of the show is that — no matter where the Lange family goes on Disney World property as part of their vacation — this guy keeps popping up. Checking their bags at the Contemporary Hotel, selling balloons at the Magic Kingdom, etc.) It's Michael Keaton. AKA "Batman" / "Beetlejuice."

Pretty weird, huh?

And finally, Scott Mills chimes in with a question about "Project Gemini."

Hi Jim

First I just wanted to say how much I enjoy the site. It's great having a place to find out what really goes on behind the scenes.

Anyway, on to my question – I was scouring through the "Project Gemini" scenarios and one thing caught my eye – the fact that there is a proposed "Little Mermaid" overlay of The Living Seas. It seems to me that the more logical theme would now come from "Finding Nemo," especially since this weekend it experienced the largest opening of any Disney / Pixar film (somewhere north of $70 million, if I'm right).

Now, of course, the Project Gemini plans were drawn up well before anyone knew that "Nemo" would be a hit, so hopefully the Imagineers will re-think this idea. Somehow I've got this image of going down (in) the Hydrolators to Bobby Darin's "Beyond the Sea" stuck in my head. Also, they should replace the Hydrolator "windows" with video screens that would show various "Nemo" characters pass by as we go down (something similar to what you see in the closing credits).

Thanks again for the great work you do.

Scott M.
Los Angeles

Scott:

It's funny that you should bring this up. For — just last week, as Michael Eisner was speaking at the Bernstein's Strategic Decisions Conference in New York — Disney's CEO revealed that a "Finding Nemo" attraction would soon be going into the "Living Seas" pavilion at WDW's Epcot.

Now where this gets interesting is that — as of March of this year — this new "Finding Nemo" attraction was initially supposed to make its debut at DCA as part of the Pixar-ization of that theme park's Pacific Wharf section. Mind you, that's still going to happen (in addition to clones of this "Finding Nemo" attraction going into Tokyo Disney Seas and the Walt Disney Studios theme park in Paris). But as of last week, this new WDI-designed attraction will be making its world premiere on the East Coast. NOT the West Coast.

So why did Eisner decide to ditch the "Little Mermaid"-themed redo of Epcot's "The Living Seas?" To be honest, I'm not sure, Scott.

Mind you, it's not that Uncle Mikey hasn't done something like this before. Some of you JHM readers may recall when the show that was originally supposed to have been presented inside of the "Tree of Life" at WDW's Animal Kingdom theme park was themed around the "Lion King" characters.

Well, that DAK show was all ready to go … until Eisner had one of his brainstorms. Coming back from an early work-in-progress screening of Pixar's "A Bug's Life," Michael reportedly had an epiphany: "Wait a minute! Bugs live in trees!"

And that my friends, is how Flik and Hopper ended up as the stars of the "It's Tough to Be a Bug" show at DAK's "Tree of Life." Strange but true.

Okay, that's it for this week, gang. Now that I've finally got unpacked from last week's trip, I should be able to start churning out some halfway decent stories about Nancy's and my California Adventure starting next week. Which (hopefully) will make for some interesting reading.

Til then … well, all you dads out there have a happy Father's Day, okay? And I'll talk to you next week.

jrh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

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

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

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

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

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