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Why For Returns!

Jim Hill answers your Disney-related questions. This time around, he talk about why it took so long to revive this JHM column, where “The Producers” appears at MGM as well as allowing us a look back at the young John Lasseter. Plus Scott Liljenquist of Mouseketrips offers up some details about the new Disney Dining Plan

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First, Brother Bare writes in to ask:

Jim:

I’m glad to hear that you’re soon going to be starting up your weekly “Why For” columns again. But what I don’t understand is why you stopped writing that column in the first place. It was honestly my favorite feature at JHM. And I know that a lot of friends liked “Why For.”

So why for did you stop writing something that was so popular?

Brother Bare

Brother Bare;

You know, it was really never my intention that almost eight months would go by before I’d finally get around to writing another one of these columns. I just figured that “Why For” would go away for a few weeks during the summer. Then I’d start this feature up again once Fall rolled around.

But then September gave way to October … And suddenly it’s the last week of January in 2006. And the last time I put together a new “Why For” was … Back in May of 2005?! Yikes! I gotta seriously make up for some lost time here. So let’s get started with your questions, okay?

Next up, Richard F. writes in to say:

Jim —

Love the site. I’m glad to hear that you’re bringing back “Why For.” That column used to be my favorite thing about your website.

The question that I’d like you to answer deals with in-jokes. Specifically an in-joke that’s supposed to be on public display at Disney-MGM that has absolutely nothing to do with a Disney film. A WDW cast member once challenged me to find this gag. And since then, I’ve repeatedly searched the studio theme park only to come up empty-handed.

So can you help me out, Jim, by telling me where this non-Disney in-joke might be?

Richard F.

Dear Richard F.

I think I know what that WDW cast member was talking about. And what’s particularly cool about this particular Disney-MGM in-joke is not only doesn’t it have any Mouse-related ties, but that this gag actually references a recent Universal Pictures release!

Okay. You know the studio theme park, right? Specifically Disney-MGM’s Echo Lake area. Right next to the “S.S. Down the Hatch,” you’ll find a bunch of cargo boxes stacked next to this faux tramp steamer. Have you ever taken a close look at the labels on these boxes?

Photo by Robert Bish

Well, if you had, you’d notice that they’re all addressed to various famous film characters. For example, there’s a box here for Scarlett O’Hara of “Gone with the Wind” fame. She’s supposedly receiving a shipment of dresses from Fleming Fashion Ltd. of Atlanta, GA.

Now what’s really great about this gag is how thorough the Imagineers were. Take — for example — that “Fleming Fashion” portion of the address. That’s actually a sly tribute to “Gone with the Wind” ‘s director, Victor Fleming.

You’ll find these sorts of labels on all of the boxes stacked near “Min & Bill’s Dockside Diner.” Rick Blaine (I.E. That’s the name of the character that Humphrey Bogart plays in “Casablanca”) is recieving a shipment of liquor from Curtiz Wine & Spirits. Curtiz (As any good film historian will tell you) refers to “Casablanca” ‘s director, Michael Curtiz.

But you know what my favorite shipping crate in this stack is? It’s the one that’s being sent from …

Photo by Robert Bish

to …

Photo by Robert Bish

Now, as any good Mel Brooks fan will tell you, Max Bialystock is the name of the sleazy Broadway producer that was initially played by the late, great Zero Mostel in the 1968 Academy Award-winning comedy, “The Producers.” But — more recently — this colorful character was portrayed by Nathan Lane. First in the Tony Award winning stage musical, then in the movie version of this same musical.

Now there’s a couple of reasons that I really love the labels on this box. First there’s that return address: the Anita Doubleset Ledger Company. As in: I need a double set of ledgers so that I can scam everyone who wants to invest in my deliberately terrible musical, “Springtime for Hitler.”

Then there’s the address of Bialystock & Bloom Theatrical Productions. 246 West 44th Street. Which is actually the address of the St. James Theatre in NYC. Which is where the stage version of “The Producers” will soon begin its fifth year of performances.

Now add to this the fun that the recent movie musical version of “The Producers” was actually a Universal Pictures release … And you can understand why WDW cast members might find it cool that this particular shipping crate is still on public display at Disney-MGM.

Photo by Robert Bish

Next up, Alex writes in to say:

I had a friend tell me recently about the new dining offer Disney has made available as a part of their vacation packages. She told me that the plan costs significantly less than buying the same meals on your own. Forgive my skepticism, but I find it hard to believe that Disney would offer anything that would actually REDUCE the price a guest had to pay for something. Can you provide some more details on how this whole thing works and whether it really is a good deal or not?

Well, Alex … To be honest, I’m probably not as well versed with WDW’s dining plans as I should be. So why don’t I hand this question off to Scott Liljenquist of Mouseketrips.com. Take it away, Scott!

Thanks you, Jim. And hello, Alex. Please don’t apologize for being a little dubious about the claims you’re hearing about the new Disney Dining Plan. Here at Mouseketrips we’ve been flooded with questions about this new offering ever since it was announced earlier this year. Believe it or not, it actually does work out to be a great deal and can save you a significant amount of money on your food bill.

First, for those who might not be familiar with the plan, here’s how it works: If you book a vacation package through Disney (which includes lodging at a Disney hotel and theme park admissions), you can add the Disney Dining Plan to your reservation. The cost of doing so is $35 per adult, and $10 per child (age 3-9) per day. The number of days on your Dining Plan must match the number of days of your vacation package – in other words you can’t book a 7-night vacation package and only get the Dining Plan for 3 days.

    Included in the Dining Plan are vouchers that entitle each person on your reservation the following for each day:

      • One table service meal – appetizer, entrée, dessert, non-alcoholic beverage, and gratuity.
      • One counter service meal – including entrée, dessert, and non-alcoholic beverage.
      • One snack – ice cream, bag of chips, popcorn, non-alcoholic beverage, apple juice, or a piece of fruit.

All taxes and gratuities are included in the price, so all you have to do is make Advance Reservations, show up at the appointed time, enjoy a good meal, give the server/cashier your Dining Plan voucher, and then head back out to the parks.

There are a few limitations to the plan, but nothing too onerous. If a child’s menu is offered at the dining location, anyone on a child’s Dining Plan must order from the child’s menu. Not every Walt Disney World Dining location participates on the Dining Plan, so you do have to do a little planning in advance.

There is, however, also some nice flexibility in the Dining Plan as well. You can use one of your table service vouchers for a Character Dining meal, or you can exchange two table service vouchers for a “signature” dining experience at some of the best and most expensive restaurants on property, or for a dinner show such as the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue.

Okay, but is it really worth it? Does it really save you money or is this just another way for the Mouse to remove more of your money for less value? Let’s consider a fictional family planning to visit Walt Disney World this fall. Tom Morrow and his wife Maybetu want to spend 4 nights at the parks with their two kids, ages 3 and 8.
We’ll assume that the Morrows stop at the grocery store on their way to the hotel to buy milk, cereal, bagels, cream cheese, juice, paper bowls and plastic utensils, a few snacks, etc. We’ll further assume that they always pay a 15% gratuity at any table service restaurant.

First off is a summary of the Morrow’s food budget if they were to forego the Disney Dining Plan and eat on their own:

Day 1

Breakfast – Bagels, cereal, juice, coffee in hotel room – $8
Snacks at food cart in Animal Kingdom – $12
Lunch – Pizzafari in Animal Kingdom – $34.68
Dinner – Whispering Canyon Café at Wilderness Lodge – $93.77

Day 2

Breakfast – Character Breakfast at Chef Mickey’s at Contemporary- $68.22
Lunch – Snacks at Sunshine Tree Terrace in Magic Kingdom – $14
Dinner – Pecos Bill’s in Magic Kingdom – $31.78

Day 3

Breakfast – Bagels, cereal, coffee, juice in hotel room – $8
Lunch – Electric Umbrella at Epcot – $31.68
Snacks at food card in Future World – $10
Dinner – Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue at Fort Wilderness – $151.30

Day 4

Breakfast – Bagels, cereal, coffee, juice in hotel room – $8
Lunch – ABC Commissary at Disney-MGM Studios – $33.32
Dinner – Snacks at Hollywood Hills Theatre before Fantasmic – $12

Total – $516.75

Now let’s look at the same plan for the Morrow family should they choose to purchase the Disney Dining Plan:

Day 1

Breakfast – Bagels, cereal, coffee in hotel room – $8
Snacks at food cart in Animal Kingdom – $ 1 Snack Voucher
Lunch – Pizzafari in Animal Kingdom – $ 1 Counter service voucher
Dinner – Whispering Canyon Café at Wilderness Lodge – $ 1 Table Service Voucher

Day 2

Breakfast – Character Breakfast at Chef Mickey’s at Contemporary- $ 1 Table Service voucher
Lunch – Snacks at Sunshine Tree Terrace in Magic Kingdom – $ 1 Snack voucher
Dinner – Pecos Bill’s in Magic Kingdom – $ 1 Counter service voucher

Day 3

Breakfast – Bagels, cereal, coffee, juice in hotel room – $8
Lunch – Electric Umbrella at Epcot – $1 Counter service voucher
Snacks at food card in Future World – $ 1 Snack voucher
Dinner – Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue at Fort Wilderness – $ 2 Ttable service vouchers

Day 4

Breakfast – Bagels, cereal, coffee, juice in hotel room – $8
Lunch – ABC Commissary at Disney-MGM Studios – $ 1 Counter service voucher
Dinner – Snacks at Hollywood Hills Theatre before Fantasmic – $ 1 Snack voucher

Total – $384.00 (Cost of the Dining Plan plus the grocery store bill)

As you can see, the Dining Plan actually does end up saving the Morrows over $130.00 on their food bill. In preparing the above examples I did not use the most expensive restaurants in every case, nor did I choose the most expensive items on the menu. You can save even more money if you do some planning and select the venues and menu choices that maximize the value of the Dining Plan.

So, Alex, believe it or not, the Disney Dining Plan does really offer visitors to Walt Disney World a way to save some money. With a little bit of careful planning, vacationers can enjoy days of wonderful meals at a great value while visiting Walt Disney World. Do keep in mind that Disney will increase the price of the dining plan in 2006 to $37 for adults and $12 for kids, but even then it’s still a good deal.

Anyway, that’s my take on Disney’s new dining plan. Let’s now throw this week’s “Why For” back to Mr. Hill. Jim?

Thank you, Scott … Our final question for this week comes from Atom Aunt writes in to say:

Don’t you think that you were awfully hard on John Lasseter with Wednesday’s column? Here’s a man who could potentially have a huge impact on both Disney Feature Animation and Walt Disney Imagineering, turning those two divisions entirely around. But all you could say was that you’d doubted that Lasseter would actually be able to accomplish much of anything. That doesn’t seem like a very smart thing to say about a man who’s about to become an extremely powerful executive at the Walt Disney Company.

Atom Aunt:

I think you misunderstood what I was trying to say in that article. The point that I was trying to get across is that John faces some pretty significant challenges in the weeks & months ahead. As he & Ed Catmull try to decide to integrate Disney Feature Animation and Pixar Animation Studios. Given the current redundancies between these two animation studios, there are almost certain to be lay-offs and firings. And one wonders if John is actually going to be able to keep his nice guy image intact once he & Ed have to start making significant changes.

But — that said — I’ve been a John Lasseter fan from ‘way, ‘way back. I can remember how excited I was when I first got to see that “Where the Wild Things Are” animation test that Lasseter and Glen Keane put together in the early 1980s. How it seemed to herald that something truly remarkable lay just beyond the horizon.

So having John Lasseter come back to Disney … There’s a lot about that news that just feels right. Of course, some of that feeling comes from the knowledge that John is a hardcore Disney geek. That his ties to this company run deep.

Don’t believe me? Then take a look at this photograph …

Copyright Walt Disney Productions

… Which Disney’s Publicity Department included as part of a press release that the studio sent out in the early 1980s. As the Mouse proudly talked up its newest employee.

John Lasseter
A Biography

It is the task of every artist to stimulate an audience, to evoke mood or emotion based on human experience. When John Lasseter, then a student at California Institute of Arts, was planning an animated film for his senior project he toyed with the story of a small boy whose bedroom filled with monsters when the lights went out. His classmates found the idea provoking. Lasseter was inundated with descriptions of the monsters which had haunted the darkened rooms of their youth. He had tapped a common experience. “Nitemare” went on to win the 1980 Student Academy Award for Animation.

“Nitemare,” five minutes of pencil animation was John’s second award-winning film. In 1979 he won his first Student Academy Award for animation on “The Lady and the Lamp.” Today Lasseter, who wears granny glasses on a head blonde and ruddy-cheeked like a peach, is a story artist with Walt Disney Productions. He is developing an untitled project based on the music of different cultures, a film that he hopes will bring Mickey Mouse back to the big screen.

Lasseter was born on January 12, 1957, in Los Angeles. Saturday morning cartoons first stimulated his interest in animation. “I realized that some cartoons like Bugs Bunny were better than others. Then I wanted to learn why,” he says

With advice from his mother, a high school art instructor, he began drawing. His models were waht he saw in the comic strips, particularly the work of Hank Ketchum. It was always his ambition to work for Disney, and while he was in high school he sent many drawings to the studio, asking for artistic and educational guidance.

At Disney’s suggestion, he enrolled in California Institute of the Arts. During his four years there he completed the Disney Studio’s animation training program in addition to winning his undergrad Oscars.

Before starting full time as a story artist he appeared on “The Today Show” and “Good Morning, America,” traveled alone in Europe for three months (“When you’ve seen five cathedrals, you’ve seen them all. What fascinated me was the people.”) and worked with Richard Williams Animation (“Just to know that there is life outside of Disney.”) Lasseter, who has a twin sister and an older brother, is single and lives in Glendale, California.

What amazes me about this press release is how many hints to John’s future you can find in this press release. “The Lady and the Lamp” serving as the jumping-off point for “Luxo, Jr.” “Nitemare” providing inspiration for “Monsters, Inc.”

As for that unnamed animated feature that was supposed ” … to bring Mickey Mouse back to the big screen” … Well, that was “Musicana,” an early 1980s attempt to follow up on “Fantasia.” And the portion of that production that Lasseter was developing was an animated version of the classic Hans Christian Anderson tale, “The Emperor and the Nightingale.”

Copyright Walt Disney Productions

One wonders if John would have stuck with Walt Disney Productions if “Musicana” had actually gone into production. Or — for that matter — if the studio had greenlit that all CG-version of “The Brave Little Toaster” that Lasseter had wanted to make in the mid-1980s. Would Pixar even exist today if John had stayed with Walt Disney Feature Animation?

These are all interesting questions. Maybe we can talk about some of them as part of next week’s “Why For.” Til then … Well, you folks all have a great weekend, okay? And we’ll see you all again come Monday morning.

Later,

j

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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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