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You will believe that a Pig can fly. (Frogs too!)

Jim Hill digs down deep into LaughingPlace.com’s archives and unearths a chunk of one of his earlier articles. Which details what WDW guests might get to see — provided that the Mouse actually builds “The Muppet Movie Ride” and the “Great Gonzo’s Pandemonium Pizza Parlor.”

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God, who knew that there were this many Muppet fans out there.

Following yesterday’s article, I got absolutely inundated with e-mail from people who wanted to know more-more-MORE! about the Disney/Henson deal.

I got notes from people who wanted to know why Brian and Lisa would ever agree to sell these much beloved characters off to the Mouse House for such a low price? I got instant-messages that asked me about how long this deal has actually been in the works? I even got frantic phone calls from felt fans who wanted to know what Disney was going to do with the Muppets now that it has them?

Well, I’m working on getting answers for those first two questions. But as for the third one … I hear that Walt Disney Imagineering had its very first official meeting on the Muppet characters yesterday. And that one of the very first things that WDI did was pull out the plans for the “Muppet Movie Ride” and “The Great Gonzo’s Pandemonium Pizza Parlor.”

“Yeah. What’s the deal with those two projects, Jim?” you ask. “Can you tell me more about them?”

Well … Actually, I did already. 2½ years ago. When I was working for LaughingPlace.com and I was writing that “When You Wish Upon a Frog” series. That multi-part saga that I never quite got around to finishing because the story didn’t have an end.

Obviously that’s changed now …

Anyway, rather than repeat myself here, what I’ve done is lifted an excerpt out of Part 5 of that series. (How many parts were there to “When You Wish Upon a Frog” when I walked away from that saga? Nine, I think. Possibly 10.) Which goes into great detail about “The Muppet Movie Ride” and “The Great Gonzo’s Pandemonium Pizza Parlor.”

If you’d like to read the full-blown version of Part 5 (or the other 8 or 9 chapters of “When You Wish Upon a Frog”), then I suggest that you head on over to LaughingPlace.com and check out that site’s “Columns” section. If you scroll on down to the bottom, you’ll find my contribution to that site’s archives buried down in the discontinued columns section.

(And — while you’re over there — you might want to check out the rest of LaughingPlace.com. It really is one of the better Disneyana info sites out there on the web.)

Anywho … to understand what the Walt Disney Company may do with the Muppets at Disney-MGM, you need to understand that …

… “Jim Henson’s MuppetVision 3D” was only supposed to be … the start of things. That the whole backmost corner of Disney/MGM Studio Theme Park wasn’t meant to be home to just the Hunchback amphitheater and/or that bland bunch of New York Street facades. But — had the Disney/Muppet merger (actually) gone through the way it was supposed to — this part of the park would have become home to Muppet Studios.

Which — as it turns out — Muppet Studios would then have been home to Disney-MGM’s best ever ride-through attraction: “The Muppet Movie Ride.”

So what was supposed to so special about this “Muppet Movie Ride” thingy?

This was going to be *THE* ride for Disney/MGM. The one that — barring all others — you *HAD TO* see during your day at the theme park. A “Pirates of the Caribbean” for the 1990s. An epic attraction that would have featured elaborate set pieces, amazing special effects as well as dozens upon dozens of audio-animatronic Muppets.

I hear you “Tower of Terror” fans mumbling out there. “Better than Twilight Zone Tower of Terror?,” you say. “No way.” Yes way, guys. “The Muppet Movie Ride” was going to be just as technically advanced as TZTOT. Only — instead of thrilling — this Disney/MGM attraction was going to be funny.

Lord, was the “Muppet Movie Ride” going to be funny! Not just “fall-down funny” or “pee-in-your-pants funny,” but “I’m-going-to-have-to-ride-this-thing-a-dozen-or-more-times-to-make-sure-I-get-all-the-gags” funny.

Why was the “Muppet Movie Ride” going to be so much fun? Because it was going to have the Muppets do what they did so well so many times on “The Muppet Show”: (Which was) send up great old movies as well as reveal all the behind-the-scenes chaos that went on whenever the Muppets tried to put on a show.

Personally, I think that one of the funnier aspects of Disney/MGM’s proposed “Muppet Movie Ride” ride is that this attraction was clearly a parody of another ride at that same theme park: “The Great Movie Ride.” Just like at the show that was being presented just up the street inside the Chinese Theater, guests would slowly glide through the enormous show building aboard giant theater cars past these highly detailed recreations of great moments from famous Hollywood films.

Only in the Muppet version, something just off-screen would go wrong … and then the fun would begin.

Take — for instance — the tribute to Hollywood’s classic horror films that the Imagineers and Henson wanted to do as part of the ride. This sequence’s set was deliberately designed to ape the art direction of James Whale’s 1931 version of “Frankenstein.” So picture a secret laboratory hidden away in a cobweb-filled dungeon of a huge stone castle. Bizarre electric equipment flickers and sparks in the dark, as the mad scientist makes ready to bring his evil creature to life.

Only in this version of the movie, it’s Miss Piggy and Kermit who are the heroes who have just discovered the fiend’s lair. As they stand on the stone staircase — agape with horror — looking down into the lab, the frog and the pig realize that they’re too late. The mad scientist makes ready to throw the switch …

So who’s the mad scientist? Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, of course. Which means that the monster laid out on the slab is — you guessed it — Beaker. Only a 10 foot tall version of Beaker with bolts sticking out of his neck.

Okay, that already sounds funny, doesn’t it? But just wait ’til you see what’s going on behind-the-scenes as this particular sequence in the “Muppet Movie Ride” attraction is being filmed. Our director (Indeed, the host of the entire attraction) is the Great Gonzo. Dressed in a beret and jodhpurs (with his trusty script girl — Carmella the Chicken — at his side), Gonzo shouts stage directions to his cast through a megaphone. Rizzo is sitting behind the camera, while Scooter works the boom mic.

This sequence’s truly brilliant touch? Fozzie Bear is in charge of the sequence’s special effects. But — in true Fozzie fashion — things aren’t quite going according to plan. Fozzie holds the power cord from the studio’s generator (which is evidently powered by two rats running inside an exercise wheel) in one paw and the extension cord that leads to all the electrical equipment in Bunsen’s lab in the other. But every time the Bear tries to plug one cable into the other, someone on set accidentally throws the switch.

The consequences were supposed to be as dazzling as they were comical. Fozzie’s eyes lwould ight up, his bow-tie would spin around wildly and his fur would stand on end as the electricity surged through his body. With smoke pouring out of his wiggling ears, the world’s worst comic would have shouted “Wacka-wacka-wacka!” And our theater car would then roll on into the very next sequence for the ride …

You get the idea here? Dozens of audio-animatronic Muppets looking just like they did on the TV shows or in the films. Only in three dimension — cavorting just a few feet away from our theater car.

The idea of working with audio-animatronics really excited Jim Henson. To be honest, it was one of the main reasons that Jim decided to try and merge with Disney: The possibility of telling new stories with the Muppets that would make full use of all the snazzy theme park technologies that Walt Disney Imagineering had cooked up over the years.

Henson — who’d always been a heavy-duty technology nut (Remember Waldo, the “Spirit of 3D” who’s featured so prominently in “Jim Henson’s MuppetVision 3D”? That computer generated character — who’s full name is Waldo C. Graphic, by the way — was originally created for 1989’s “The Jim Henson Hour.” Jim pushed for the development of Waldo because he became fascinated with the entertainment possibilities that grew out of CGI characters interacting in real time with the traditional Muppet family) — thought that using AA with the Muppets could move the fun to a whole new level.

Why? Well, listen to the explanation that Jim gave to “Disney News” back in the spring of 1990 as part of an interview with Disney publicist John McClintock. In particular, pay attention to how excited Henson sounds:

“This is a form of technology I’ve never been into before, and it’s as if these characters were designed to be audio-animatronics,” (Jim) now says enthusiastically. “When we try to do a live person or a cartoon character as an Audio-Animatronic figure, we’re changing medium. We’re trying to turn a person or a cartoon character into something plastic or fabric. But when we take puppets into Audio-Animatronics, we’re staying in the same medium. These characters were created in these three-dimensional forms, so we should be able to use them in park attractions in a way that will still look very authentic.”

After you read this, that’s when you realize that “Jim Henson’s MuppetVision” — with its 20 or so Muppets that make appearances in the show through the magic of Audio-Animatronics — was really just a test. A dry run, if you will, for all the fun stuff that Henson wanted to try and do on the Muppet Movie Ride. When Jim could create room after room full of Audio-Animatronic pigs, frogs and bears who were ready to do his zany bidding.

Speaking of which, let’s get back to that description of sequences from “The Muppet Movie Ride,” shall we? After all, the sci-fi scene was sure to be a big hit with all you Miss Piggy fans out there.

Why for? Because that sequence in the proposed Disney / MGM attraction was going to take you on the soundstage where a big screen version of “Pigs in Space” TV show was being filmed. And our theater car was going to roll right through the middle of the set where the intrepid crew of U.S.S. Swinetrek was locked in mortal combat with a scurvy bunch of space pirates.

Sorry. Excuse me. I mis-spoke myself there. The above sentence has a teeny tiny typo. I didn’t really mean to write “space pirates.” I meant to type “space pie-rats.”

Rats. As in Rizzo and all his relatives.

So picture — on one side of the soundstage — a full-sized version of the U.S.S. Swinetrek. Link Hogthrob, Dr. Julius Strangepork and Piggy — all dressed in spacesuits and wearing clear plastic helmets — stand on the exterior of their spaceship, laser pistols blazing away. On the other side of the soundstage … Well, picture a space-going Spanish Galleon. Covered with rats who are dressed as — well — space pirates. Striped bandanas tied around their heads, cutlasses in their teeth. Also with laser pistols a-blazing.

Our theater car goes right through the thick of the battle. With laser blasts flying all over the place, rats swinging on ropes — just out of reach over our heads — as the rodents try to board the Swinetrek. It’s a wild, wild scene.

And maybe even a little dangerous. For — as we ’round the corner and head off to the next soundstage — we see Statler and Waldorf in their golf cart. (These two elderly hecklers were supposed to have been a running gag for the Muppet Movie Ride. Literally. At various moments in the attraction, Statler and Waldorf were supposed to have rolled up next to our theater car, offered a few caustic comments, then zoomed off into the darkness again.) It seems that a stray shot from one of those laser pistols has sliced the curmudgeons’ golf cart right down the middle. The only thing that’s now keeping the vehicle from falling apart is that Statler and Waldorf are now holding hands.

Funny, right? It gets better.

How could the Muppets possibly top a scene that puts you right in the middle of an epic space battle? How about a scene where Kermit and Co. make fun of the Mouse?

Picture — if you will — that your theater car now rolls on to a soundstage where the nursery set from Disney’s 1953 animated classic, “Peter Pan,” has been lovingly recreated down to the last detail. As we arrive, Peter has just taught the Darling children that when “you think of the happiest things, it’s the same as having wings.”

Only these aren’t exactly the characters as we remember seeing them in Disney’s animated classic. Sure, the costumes look the same. Only … Since when is Peter Pan played by Kermit the Frog? Wendy by Janice (the girl singer from the Muppet’s house band, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem)? The be-spectacled and top-hatted John is played by Scooter. And — dressed in footie pajamas and clutching a teddy bear — Fozzie Bear plays Michael.

Each of these Muppet characters hang from painfully obvious flying rigs, wires which are secured to elaborate pulley rigs which dangle down from the ceiling of the soundstage. Rat technicians high above tend to these rigs, which allow Kermit, Janice, Scooter and Fozzie to gently bob up and down in the air.

But wait! Didn’t Tinker Bell play an important part in the “You Can Fly” number in Disney’s version of “Peter Pan”? Sure she did. Which is why the Muppet’s grand dame — Miss Piggy — has strapped on a pair of wings and squeezed herself into a tiny spangly green gown to try and play the flying fairy.

Only — in poor Miss Piggy’s case — there have obviously been some problems with her flying rig. As the hog sized holes in the scenery can attest to, the crew seems to have had trouble controlling this over-sized sprite once she gets up in the air. As our theater car goes ’round the corner, we see that there’s about a half dozen rats along with Sweetums — straining to hang on to Miss Piggy’s control rope as she swoops through the air.

With Miss Piggy screaming at Gonzo to get her down, our theater car moves on …

You see? “The Muppet Movie Ride” would have been a comic triumph. A real break-through for the Disney theme parks. An attraction that was just as ambitious as “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “The Haunted Mansion.” But funny.

Of course, with two great Muppet-themed attractions within 100 feet of one another, it stands to reason that Muppet Studios deserves a great Muppet-themed restaurant. Well, the building that was supposed to have housed this particular eatery actually did get built. It was thrown up — along with the “Stage 1 Company Store” and the “It’s a Wonderful Store” retail areas — while construction was being completed on the main “Jim Henson’s MuppetVision 3D” theater complex.

These days, the restaurant is known as Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano. The cobbled-together interior suggests that this building was once a warehouse that some enterprising soul tried to turn into an Italian restaurant. (And a pretty good one at that. My friends and I usually make a point of dining at Mama Melrose whenever we’re visiting Disney / MGM. You just can’t beat its mix of quirky atmosphere and great cuisine.)

That said, I still miss the restaurant that was originally supposed to be installed in this building. For this is the place that Muppet fans would have killed to be able to eat at: “The Great Gonzo’s Pandemonium Pizza Parlor.”

The backstory for this eatery was simple: Just like Arnold, Bruce and Sly did in the early 1990s, Gonzo and Rizzo decided to go into the celebrity restaurant business. They hired the Swedish Chef to run the kitchen for them. And the rest … Well, while it wasn’t exactly history. But it was still going to be great fun.

The walls of this restaurant — just like the interior lobby area of “Jim Henson’s MuppetVision 3D” — would have been covered with recreations of props from various Muppet movies. TV monitors would hang down from the support beams of the restaurant. Just like in Planet Hollywood, diners would get to watch clips from various Muppet movies and TV shows. Every so often, there’d be a live broadcast from the kitchen — where Gonzo and Rizzo would assure that things were going great and that our food would be out shortly.

Only — based on what was going on in the background of these scenes that were supposed shot in the kitchen — things were clearly *NOT* going great. We’d watch as lobster banditos escaped from their pots and held the waitstaff hostage, or observe as the Swedish Chef was suddenly attacked by a very large — and very lively — mound of pizza dough. Better yet, we’d watch as Carmella was suddenly sucked up into the exhaust fan over the stove, then watch as Gonzo climbed in after her. Then — out in the main room of the restaurant — we’d laugh because we could hear Gonzo and Carmella in the air conditioning ducts right over our heads, stumbling around in the dark, trying to find one another.

You see? The Great Gonzo’s Pandemonium Pizza Parlor — with its kitchen doors that would occasionally belch open, sending great clouds of smoke and chicken feathers into the dining room — was going to be a great place to eat while visiting the Muppet Studios section of Disney / MGM.

Even the throw-away details on this side of the park were going to be fun for Muppet fans. That fake fish market that’s currently located right next door to “It’s a Wonderful Store”? That was supposed to be Lew Zealand’s Boomerang Fish Market. If you listened very carefully as you walked on by, you were supposed to be able to hear Lew practicing behind closed doors. And — every so often — the Muppet-tized fish in the window were supposed to spin around in the ice and/or say awful fish-based puns to one another.

Sounds pretty amazing, doesn’t it? Well, keep in mind that the Imagineers will be revamping these ideas. Folding more contemporary films and cultural references into these Disney/MGM projects so that the Muppets once again seem current.

So … whaddaya think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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