Re-wild your lawn

Start small to build up your garden

Tired of mowing your lawn, but afraid to stop? What would it look like, and what would the neighbors say? I was on a panel discussing “re-wilding” the lawn on New Hampshire Public Radio recently. Here are a few of the points we discussed.

First, a lawn is the easiest, least time-consuming way to maintain your property. If you want a meadow of flowers for birds, bees and pollinators of all kinds, lots of work is involved. You can’t just quit mowing, or rototill the lawn and broadcast some wildflower seeds, and then step back to enjoy. You would get some nice flowers, but your yard would also fill up with weeds and invasive trees.

My advice? Start small. A little corner of the yard, say something four feet wide and 15 feet long, would be a good start. Decide how much time you can commit to it, and how often you want to work in the garden. Can you dedicate half an hour each morning before work? An hour after work? Good gardens are built by people who do something in the garden every day.

Get a soil test done. New Hampshire and Rhode Island have stopped doing tests, Vermont will do them for Vermonters, and Maine, Massachusetts and Connecticut accept samples from out of state. Get a home gardener test with as much info as possible.

Next, you have to remove the grass. That means slicing through the lawn to create one-foot by one-foot squares that you can remove and take away to your (new?) compost pile. Don’t try to do it all at once. Do a little at a time.

Do your homework. Read books and go online to see what will work in your yard. Do you have full sun (six hours or more each day), part sun, or shade? Is your site hot and dry or cool and moist? Select flowers that will work in your climatic zone, and get a variety of bloom times: some for spring, others for early summer, late summer and fall.

Improve your soil. All soil can be improved with compost. Buy it by the truckload, not the bag. Get it delivered if you don’t have a truck. Work the compost into the soil after the grass is removed.

If you want to support butterflies, birds and bees, think native plants. Native plants are those that co-evolved with the wildlife. And let wildflowers be part of the mix. Right now Queen Anne’s lace is in bloom along the roadside. It’s a biennial in the carrot family and is loved by the bees. Learn to recognize the small first-year plants, dig up a few and plant them. Once established, the flowers will drop seeds each year.

But what about the neighbors? One of the panelists had done a study in Springfield, Mass. She asked homeowners to mow their lawn either weekly, every two weeks, or every three weeks. So that the neighbors would be more understanding, they put signs in the yards telling others that they were part of a scientific study.

They counted insects and found a two-week schedule for mowing was best for bees and pollinators: clover and dandelions had time to bloom and to provide food without being hidden in tall grass.

To create a sustainable non-lawn, you need to introduce not only those tall, bright flowers like black-eyed Susans and purple coneflower, but groundcovers that will fill in between plants.

One of the panelists, Thomas Rainer, is the co-author with Claudia West of the book Planting in the Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes. In their book they explain that in nature there are plant communities: plants that need roughly the same soil and light, and that co-exist nicely. If you want a balanced plant community, you need a diverse, supportive collection of plants, including groundcovers.

Groundcovers can act a bit like mulch: They can prevent soil erosion and suppress weeds. It is often tough to find good native groundcovers like groundsel or goldenstar for sale, but they are available if you look hard enough. Winecup is a good groundcover for hot dry, sunny places, and is often available. Oregano and thyme can be used as an understory ground cover that bees love, and they are readily available.

And Creeping Charlie? It’s that “weed” hated by lawn-lovers because it can “spoil” a nice lawn and spread like crazy in part shade. But it is a native plant with nice flowers and is loved by bees. Think about letting it proliferate in your “non-lawn.”

Lastly, if you want a landscape that is beautiful and low-maintenance, think about planting trees and shrubs. Many bloom nicely and all are useful to wildlife. Some native shrubs that I grow and love are fothergilla, blueberries, elderberry, buttonbush and our native rhododendron and azalea.

If you stop mowing the grass and want flowers, put up a sign. I recently saw one that was very simple: it said “Butterfly Crossing.” Hopefully that appeased the neighbors a little.

A sign like this lets neighbors know you are not lazy, but letting the lawn grow for a reason. Photo by Henry Homeyer.

In the spirit

Unique Beatles tribute act The Weeklings play Manchester

The Socially Distanced Concert Series closing out the summer at Delta Dental Stadium includes several tribute acts, most of which promise note-for-note recreations of hit songs. On Aug. 28 and Aug. 29, Dancing Queens does ABBA, followed the next weekend by local heroes Recycled Percussion playing their trademark junk rock. Ending the series, Almost Queen appears Sept. 12. They’re exactly as billed, right down to the lead singer’s Freddy Mercury motorcycle jacket.

Beatles Night on Sept. 11 features a very different kind of doppelgänger, however. The Weeklings do cover “Baby, You’re a Rich Man” and “Paperback Writer” in their set, along with several more Fab Four favorites. But the band’s sweet spot band lies in creating originals that sound like lost Lennon & McCartney gems.

Imagine that Revolver had been followed not by Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but by another Rubber Soul. That describes The Weeklings’ sound on songs like “In the Moment” and “Little Elvis.” It’s a wonderful glimpse into what might have been, in a show that also includes never-released Beatles tracks.

The John and Paul of the band are Zeek and Lefty Weekling, the stage names of Bob Burger and Glen Burtnik. The two have worked together since the 1980s and share a love of Beatles music. Burtnik’s resume includes stints with Styx and the Broadway hit Beatlemania; he also co-wrote “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough” for Patty Smyth and Don Henley.

Rounding out the group are guitarist John Merjave and drummer Joe Bellia as Rocky and Smokestack Weekling.

Burger co-wrote a few Styx songs with Burtnik and has three solo albums out, but for shows like the upcoming one he asks to be quoted as Zeek — that’s how completely he inhabits his character. Like many children of the ’60s, he picked up a guitar after seeing The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, and never looked back.

With The Weeklings, the two feel free to follow a muse with an English accent.

“We wrote together for years, very often having to intentionally avoid sounding too much like The Beatles,” Zeek said in a recent phone interview. “So when we got this band together it was like, ‘OK, the gloves are off.’ We could do whatever we wanted to do.”

The band grew out of Birth of the Beatles, a tribute show focused on the Fab Four’s first two albums.

“We found out at that point in their career they were playing live in the studio,” Zeek said. “We said, ‘Well, this is fun, a little self-contained four-piece. … Let’s go take some Beatles songs they didn’t record.’”

Their eponymous debut album, released in 2016, contained “Because I Know You Love Me So,” a McCartney song dating back to their Quarrymen days — the version quotes “She’s a Woman” and “Drive My Car” — along with the Help! outtake “That Means a Lot.” Quickly they diverged from being a pure covers band.

“We had original songs that also fit into the same mode, so we started moving away from the tribute band concept almost immediately, by playing our own arrangements of obscure Beatles songs, and originals that sound like them,” Zeek said.

The formula worked; they’re staples on satellite radio stations The Loft and Little Steven’s Underground Garage, and in demand as live performers. They’ve released a trio of albums; the latest, 3, arrived in mid-January.

A harbinger of Burger’s future success happened in 2003, when he played a Hamptons party for fellow New Jersey native Jon Bon Jovi. Prior to his set, he learned some big names might be at the bash.

“Jon goes, ‘There’s a 25 percent chance that Paul McCartney will come,’” Zeek said.

Sure enough, a jam session broke out with Bon Jovi, Jimmy Buffett, Billy Joel and Roger Waters. But all that star power paled next to Sir Paul, who’d also arrived.

“The rest of them might as well have been bar band players,” he said. “Because Paul McCartney was there. Bruce Springsteen came, but he didn’t play — and I didn’t care.”

Later, he spotted Macca mouthing the words to “Back in the U.S.S.R.” in the raucous crowd.

“Raising his arm, fist in the air, I’m thinking, ‘This is not real….’ It was like a gambling machine, where all the cherries line up in a row,” he said.

Featured Photo: The Weeklings. Courtesy photo.

Socially Distanced Concert Series
Dancing Queens ABBA Tribute –
Friday, Aug. 28, and Saturday, Aug. 29, $23
Recycled Percussion – Saturday, Sept. 5, and Sunday, Sept. 6, $35
Beatles Night featuring The Weeklings – Friday, Sept. 11, $23
Almost Queen – Saturday, Sept. 12, $23

Shows at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, 1 Line Drive, Manchester; shows start at 7 p.m. Tickets at

The Music Roundup 20/08/27

Artful: A free courtyard concert by River Sister offers a wonderful blend of folk traditions and jazz rhythms, pure harmony married to musical complexity. It’s part of the Currier’s Art After Work event, which includes happy hour drink specials and a full menu for purchase outdoors. Timed tickets are available in advance, and highly encouraged. Thursday, Aug. 27, 5 p.m., Currier Museum of Art, 150 Ash St., Manchester,

Tribute: With big tours on hold for now, tribute acts like Pink Houses are getting a lot of action. The band recreates John Mellencamp’s extensive catalog, led by singer-guitarist Doug Hoyt as the Hoosier’s doppelganger, with drummer Jeffrey Brayne, bass player Ken Lloyd and guitarist Justin Carver. The Arts In The Park concert is held adjacent to Belknap Mill, which is sponsoring the event. Friday, Aug 28, 6 p.m., Rotary Riverside Park, Beacon St. East, Laconia,

Forceful: While you can’t catch Metallica in person, a filmed concert by the iconic band screens at a local drive-in, with opening act Three Days Grace. Each carload ticket includes four digital downloads of S&M2, a new live album chronicling their reunion with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra last year, which opened that city’s new (and currently dormant) Oracle Arena. Saturday, Aug. 29, 8 p.m., Milford Drive-In Theater, 531 Elm St., Milford. Tickets $115 at

Authentic: After postponing an appearance last month, Nick Drouin performs at a downtown country themed bar/restaurant. The drummer turned front man has a well-tuned instinct for crafting good songs, as exemplified by “Small Town,” an autobiographical paean to growing up in Candia recorded in Nashville with Jason Aldean’s III Kings rhythm section. Saturday, Aug. 29, 9 p.m., Bonfire Restaurant & Country Bar, 950 Elm St., Manchester,

At the Sofaplex 20/08/27

*Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado (TV-14)
You don’t have to know who Walter Mercado was to understand his place in the 1990s TV ecosystem, thanks in part to clips presented here of his appearances on shows hosted by Sally Jessy Raphael and Sinbad. And that’s just for English-language American audiences; the movie also helps to explain his far greater fame among Latin Americans (both living in the U.S. and in the rest of the hemisphere). An astrologer, Mercado had a wardrobe Liberace might envy and projected a love for all of his viewers that had an almost Mister Rogers-like tone. Certainly, fans meeting him shortly before his death in 2019 seemed to be filled with a kind of giddy awe mixed with childhood nostalgia. As one fan (Lin-Manuel Miranda) explains, his show was the stuff of afternoons spent with grandma and a general aura of unconditional love. Fans, friends and business associates (including one who eventually sued Mercado for use of his own name) explain the legend and the impact of Walter Mercado in this jolly documentary. Even if you aren’t a Walter Mercado fan going in, you will be when the movie is done. A Available on Netflix.

Boys State (PG-13)

Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

Teenage boys who might be some degree of embarrassed by this movie when they are older spend a week giving a pretty good demonstration of modern American politics in the documentary Boys State.

The opening credits remind you of where you’ve likely heard of the week-long, American Legion-sponsored government camp Boys State before: that iconic photo of Boys State try-hard teenage Bill Clinton, shaking hands with President Kennedy at Boys Nation (whose participants are chosen from Boys State). Other notable participants, as the movie highlights, include Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh and Samuel Alito (also Cory Booker). As we are introduced to the participants in 2018’s Texas Boys State we meet kids who seem like fitting heirs to that list. In particular, hit-the-ground-politicking Robert MacDougall feels like exactly the sort of kid who would introduce himself by saying he’s the future governor of Texas. We also met Ben Feinstein, a teen who lost both his legs to meningitis as a preschooler. He has worked hard to achieve and, he explains, that has shaped a very “up by your bootstraps” mindset. The big prize of Boys State is to get yourself elected governor (or, as becomes Ben’s goal, be the teen-behind-the-curtain for the kid who does get elected).

“Oh, their poor mothers” I found myself thinking about the crop of boys who are absolutely certain in their world views (so many opinions about abortion!). We also meet kids who arrive ready for a challenge: René Otero and Steven Garza come to Boys State aware that many of their fellow participants are likely more politically conservative than them but they are eager to make their mark nonetheless. Watching them figure out how to work themselves into the boy-created power structure is probably the most compelling action of the early part of the documentary.

Then, about halfway through this movie when I was wondering why Girls State wasn’t chosen as the focus (girls unleashed to be aggressive political animals feels like something more ripe for examination and suited to this moment in history than boys yelling into mics about masculinity), the movie makes a little turn and shows you a story of kids really caring about really making a difference — and really, aggressively playing politics the way you would if your formative political experience was 2016.

Though the documentary clearly anoints its heroes, I don’t really think it turns other kids (and these are just kids, kids who I hope are OK with how this movie shakes out) into villains. You see people with political viewpoints and also political instincts and a desire to win. The movie demonstrates why this is a worthwhile program and not just a resume-burnisher; we see boys care, and care deeply and watch them become genuinely respectful of their peers. It’s a fascinating little study of what this moment in American history means to the practice of politics and how it’s being learned by the next generation of politicians and activists. B+

Rated PG-13 for some strong language, and thematic elements, according to the MPA on Directed by Amanda McBane and Jesse Moss, Boys State is an hour and 49 minutes long and distributed by A24. It is available on Apple TV+.

Clean, The New Science of Skin

by James Hamblin (Riverhead, 253 pages)

He was a doctor with questionable judgment, or so it seemed, when he gave up medicine to become a journalist and, at roughly the same time, decided to stop showering.

So why isn’t Dr. James Hamblin’s new book called “Unclean”?

It’s because there’s an increasing body of evidence that we are doing our bodies no favors with all the soap, deodorant, moisturizers and exfoliants to which we daily subject our skin. Skin isn’t just a covering; it’s the body’s largest organ, and it teems with more organisms than there were residents of New York City before the pandemic.

Meet, for example, the demodex, a microscopic arachnid that lives in your facial pores and eats your dead skin cells.

That seems a good reason to shower hourly, but like the gut flora that keep our intestinal tract happy, it appears that these organisms are there to help, and we are becoming unhealthier by scrubbing them away. “Research into the microbiome seems poised to overturn even our most basic assumptions about how to take care of our skin,” Hamblin writes.

So Hamblin, who was downsizing anyway when he moved from Los Angeles to New York, decided to delve into “the new science of skin” while going three years without washing his face. Before you dismiss him as kooky, know that this is an emerging trend. The internet is full of people who have stopped showering regularly and people who simply rinse off with water, who swear that not using soap and shampoo made their skin and hair healthier. They also insist that they don’t stink.

Hamblin weaves his own journey to becoming one of the “Great Unwashed” with the history of cleanliness, from the Romans’ public baths to Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap. Especially fascinating is how cleanliness became a sign of social status after germ theory was introduced, and an unkempt and soiled person came to be seen as dangerous. “To appear ungroomed suggested that you could not afford to wash, and that your toilets were the excrement pits in alleys adjacent to your tenement. You may be one of the disease carriers.”

That led to a new standard, in which people were required to do more than simply not look or smell gross; “a person was to smell actively good” to signal that they didn’t harbor germs or fleas. Then capitalism, which Hamblin says “sells nothing so effectively as status,” took over, and something human skin had done without for thousands of years — soap — became a necessity. Until late in the 19th century, soap was primarily used for laundry, in part because it was so harsh, such as the combination of lye and animal fat that early colonists made.

In the most compelling chapter, “Lather,” Hamblin tells the origin story of iconic brands such as Dr. Bronner’s, Ivory, Dove and Camay. (Fun fact: Wrigley’s chewing gum was developed to help sell soap that William Wrigley Jr. made. The gum sold better than the soap, which is why Chicago has Wrigley Field. Also, the Dr. Bronner of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps “was not a doctor, nor particularly tethered to scientific reality.”

Hamblin is a staff writer for The Atlantic, and some of the content in Clean will seem familiar to the magazine’s readers. He wrote about his no-showering policy in 2016, and I remembered a catchy couple of lines I’d read just a few weeks earlier in The Atlantic: “In October, when the Canadian air starts drying out, the men flock to Sandy Skotnicki’s office. The men are itchy.”

I encounter these reruns with no resentment, however, because Hamblin’s voice is, frankly, delightful. The line about the itchy men and Canadian air could be set to rap music, and we’d all nod along. Hamblin is one of a genre becoming known as “media doctors” and is the best in the burgeoning field. His explanation of how soap is made will make you wish he’d been your high-school chemistry teacher, and he strikes just the right balance of being funny enough to entertain while being wonky enough to trust as a source of medical information.

Which brings us to an elephant in the room, which is the pandemic. Hamblin finished the manuscript in January, before anyone foresaw the horror that is 2020, and his publisher had to worry that a book that suggests we clean ourselves less frequently might raise some eyebrows and serious questions. He addresses this in one paragraph of the prologue, saying “the stories and principles I share are no less relevant in this new era of pandemic awareness, as we recover from one and brace for the next.”

I’m not so sure about that as I survey the supply of soap and hand sanitizer at Hannaford. But Hamblin never says we shouldn’t be washing our hands. And he says that he’s never been one to touch his face. So carry on as you were in that department, but consider his invitation not to scrub every inch of your body so zealously, and with so many products. Your friendly neighborhood demodex will thank you.


The ink was still wet on the World Health Organization’s declaration of a pandemic when enterprising writers started churning about the novel coronavirus.

On Amazon, you can find books with titles like The Covid-19 Catastrophe, The Coronavirus Prevention Handbook, God and the Pandemic, and (Expletive) Off, Coronavirus, I’m Coloring, many of them self-published.

Enough time has elapsed, however, for other titles appropriate to the global trainwreck called 2020 to emerge, and two are notable this week.

First, Flatiron is reissuing How to Survive a Pandemic by Dr. Michael Greger. He’s a vegan-lifestyle advocate who has built a brand around the words “How Not To.” His previous books include How Not to Die and How Not to Diet. The new paperback (592 pages) is the timely expansion of a book first released in 2006. Greger, who runs the website, says he donates all book proceeds to charity.

A more lighthearted title to be released Sept. 8 is The Lake Wobegon Virus (Arcade, 240 pages), your enjoyment of which may have much to do with whether you’ve forgiven Garrison Keillor for the transgressions that led to his canceling. It’s been three years since he was fired by Minnesota Public Radio for inappropriate behavior, and his publisher must believe he’s been punished enough, because there are two titles scheduled from him this fall. (The other is a memoir, This Time of Year, set for release Nov. 17.)

The Lake Wobegon Virus sounds fun. The description, provided by the publisher: “A mysterious virus has infiltrated the good people of Lake Wobegon, transmitted via unpasteurized cheese made by a Norwegian bachelor farmer, the effect of which is episodic loss of social inhibition.”

Not nearly as fun as that coronavirus coloring book, though.

Album Reviews 20/08/27

Rudresh Mahanthappa, Hero Trio (Whirlwind Recordings)

Jazz sax legend Charlie Parker is often referred to by his nickname “Bird,” which explains the title of this Princeton jazz director’s widely acclaimed 2015 album Bird Calls. If you’re familiar with Parker, you know he had the ability to dazzle with his bebop stylings, and so has Mahanthappa, who viewed this LP as an opportunity to pay rapt obeisance to Parker, his biggest and most obvious influence. But whatever, my goal here, as always, isn’t to lay out some eggheaded synonyms for the benefit of solemn aficionados whose record collections are 20-feet-wide end-to-end, but to rope in the odd stray who’s thinking of taking a dip in the depthless pool that is jazz. The long and short of this business here is that I can’t recommend this album highly enough if you’re wanting to be blown away by technical wizardry; most of its contents are extremely busy, effecting to cover the listener in bright musical glitter, but the touchstone knuckleball’s a beauty too, a rub of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” that plays with the modal subject like a dolphin with a beach ball. Nice one to have around. A-

The Milwaukees, The Calling (Mint 400 Records)

You can imagine how many times the great cosmic metaphorical Lucy van Pelt has pulled away the football just when I’m about to pronounce a straight-ahead rock record something special, leaving me tripping hilariously and landing on my duff, holding a half-written review that has to get sent to the recycle bin. It’s happened a lot. No, if your band wants to sound like Goo Goo Dolls with a side of Foo Fighters and get your local following of working stiffs to pay actual attention, this is what you want to sound like. As demonstrated here, decent guitar riffage is only one tool on hand, not the whole box; these guys prove that there’s still a place for non-indie hooks in our world, even if the most common place for hearing such stuff — sports bars — seems to be gone for good in the face of Covid. This is the sixth full-length from a crew of New Joisey die-hards who’ve worked their formula to the point that anyone would be convinced they were paper-trained by Bryan Adams. Some really catchy, heartfelt stuff here. A+

Retro Playlist
Eric W. Seager looks back at hip-hop.

Now that the Covid virus has left us all marooned on our own domestic desert islands, any elephant in the room is getting close examination. The elephant in the room regarding my 16-year-old column here is, of course, the fact that I don’t cover a lot of hip-hop. No reader has ever complained to me about it; I’ve posted the occasional Lil Wayne review and whatnot, but you and I both know I largely avoid the genre.

Fact is, I’m at the point where I find basically all corporate hip-hop quite tedious to write about. I was the first kid on my block to buy a Run-DMC cassette, I’ll have you know, and quite frankly, I decided that after Public Enemy’s 1990 masterpiece Fear of a Black Planet, there was nowhere to go but down for the entire genre.

I tell you, I’ve tried, and yeah, I’ll continue to. I paid some lip service to Swedish rapper Yung Lean’s recent LP Stranger, but now that we’re all friends here, lazily tossing peanuts at Dumbo, I can say that I think the guy just sucks. No, I was more hopeful about white-guy indie-rap in 2006, upon hearing AstronautalisThe Mighty Ocean & Nine Dark Theaters (some truly immersive beats there), but to be honest, to me, if it isn’t Chuck D-level angry, I don’t have time for it. Same as I like DMX a hundred times more than Ludacris, I like Death Grips a hundred times more than Kendrick Lamar. Make sense?

One reason I mostly avoid corporate rap is because the reviews always end descending into reams of in-crowd nonsense about this or that tweet or Instagram beef. Gag me. As far as indie rap, I’m down, like I’d be big into giving some press love to a local artist who’s got some beats, if one even exists.

If you’re in a local band, now’s a great time to let me know about your EP, your single, whatever’s on your mind. Let me know how you’re holding yourself together without being able to play shows or jam with your homies. Send a recipe for keema matar. Email for fastest response.

A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• One more round of new CDs for August comes at us on the 28th, and then it will be September, and I’m just going to shut up about what comes next, because surely nothing good will come of it, unless you are an abominable snowman or a ski buff, neither of which I’ve ever had an interesting conversation with. Self-taught musician Angel Olsen is from St. Louis, Missouri, and her deal is art-pop/indie folk. She received the most love for her 2016 album My Woman, because she successfully tried to get away from being pigeonholed as a lo-fi indie artist (pro tip for local musicians: Don’t play lo-fi indie if you want to avoid said pigeonhole). Pitchfork liked that one and, as usual, wrote way too many wordy words to indicate same (“congeal” was in there) but that’s Pitchfork for you, and the PopMatters review was poorly written, but that guy loved it too, all of which then presented a double-edged sword, because now all the hipsters were used to her not being a sad, privileged gloom-girl anymore, so all the critics hedged their bets on her next album, Phases, which covered songs from Bruce Springsteen and Roky Erickson, and gave it middling grades. That sort of brings us to now, and her new one, Whole New Mess, which comprises a bunch of songs from her 2018 album, All Mirrors, but supposedly these are more “intimate” versions, which tells me that if this stuff isn’t going to sound lo-fi and gloom-girl, I’m a monkey’s uncle in a striped suit. Yeah, yep, the title track is all gloomy, and I think one of her guitar strings is a little out of tune, which will bring joy to anyone who loves their music crappy. She’s a good singer, a little like k.d. lang, but gloomy and redundant. Come and get it, three-toed sloths.

Toni Braxton is trapped in fame purgatory these days, now that she’s more of a reality show oddity than what she was originally, a cool bedroom-soul lady who was name-checked by a Spike Lee character in Do The Right Thing. Whatever nonsense is on her upcoming new album, Spell My Name, I’m sure it’s decent as long as she hasn’t switched over to doing Slim Whitman covers, but come on, isn’t there footage of her tripping over a Gucci bag and skinning her knee, or whatever happened on her reality show? Right, I’m supposed to take this seriously? Fine, I will, I’ll listen to her new single, “Dance,” and if I barf, it’s on you. Right, it isn’t bad, sort of like Sade but with more soul. Some gentle 1980s UFO bloops, a 1970s-radio orchestra section. Ha, now it’s getting all excitable toward the fadeout, and the overall effect is like a disco dance scene from The Love Boat. Let’s just forget this ever happened, fam, and move on to our next tale of terror.

• I know I’ve talked about Toots & the Maytals in the past, in this award-winning column, but I totally forget/don’t care what they do, so this’ll be like that movie where Drew Barrymore forgets where she is every day upon waking up. Wait, here we are, they’re a Jamaican ska/rocksteady band, maybe I was thinking of someone else. The band’s new album, Got to Be Tough, is coming, and the title track is pretty standard one-drop chill with a cool guitar part. The lyrics are about caring, which obviously nails the current zeitgeist.

• We’ll end this week’s parade of shame with another soul singer, Bettye LaVette, who, to her credit, doesn’t have a stupid reality show. Blackbirds is the new album, “I Hold No Grudge” the single. OK, now this is authentic and awesome, torchy soul, electric piano, and her voice is all croaky and old. Nice.

Local bands seeking album or EP reviews can message me on Twitter (@esaeger) or Facebook (eric.saeger.9).

Beach-time porters

Drink these beers now

Look, I know, when you think beach time and summertime, you don’t think about porters and stouts. I don’t either, except sometimes I do.

From May through September beer enthusiasts are drinking and talking about beers that are crisp, fresh, light and bright, and that’s great. I’m all for it. Most of the time in the summer, that’s what I want too.

You have to shake things up, though. You just do. Sometimes things just get a little too crisp and a little too bright, and nothing resets your palate in summer quite like a rich porter or stout.

Now, OK, I’m not suggesting that you crack open a Guinness at 1 p.m. on a blazing hot summer day at the beach. You’d regret that move. Not every day is a blazing, hot summer day at the beach, though. Especially in New England — though admittedly perhaps not this summer — you have plenty of days at the beach or at the lake or in the mountains where cool breezes stand out more than the fiery sun, so seize those moments and treat yourself to something a little richer.

Imagine taking in the summer sunset on a cool, clear New Hampshire evening with a decadent coffee stout. It’s truly hard for me to imagine something more relaxing and more satisfying than that. I want that experience right now and I think you should want it too.

This notion really came to me a week or so ago when I was on vacation enjoying a porter called “Portah” by Barnstable Brewing of Hyannis, Mass. The deep richness and complexity was unlike anything I’d drunk recently and it was invigorating as I, wait for it, took in the sunset at the beach.

Here are four stouts and porters you should try this summer.

Granite Stout by 603 Brewery (Londonderry)

This is big on chocolate and coffee and I really do think that’s what the doctor ordered. I think summertime is about enjoying something a little extra. Maybe you say yes to that ice cream run on a Tuesday night because it’s summer. Or maybe you have this decadent, delicious brew instead of the ice cream. (Or you have both.) At 8 percent ABV, this is one you can savor over the course of an evening.

Campfire by Throwback Brewery (North Hampton)

This is a smoked robust porter, which, yes, makes it the perfect accompaniment to a campfire or to hearty, grilled meats and barbecue, so says the brewery. This brew is in fact robust, but at 6.4 percent ABV this is much more palatable in terms of its heft than you might be thinking. You’ll pick up smoky notes for sure, along with pronounced rich malts, but again, neither is overpowering. In addition to grilled meats, I think this would pair well with a wide range of foods.

Draken Robust Porter by Kelsen Brewing Co. (Derry)

While the roasty, toasty malts are the defining characteristic here, I think you get a bit more sweetness on this one than you might expect. To that point, the brewery says, it has flavors of dark fruit and raisins, in addition to coffee, chocolate and caramel. This one has layers of complexity to appreciate and savor.

Black Cat Stout by Portsmouth Brewery (Portsmouth)

If you get this on tap, the brewery uses nitrogen, which produces a thick, rich, creamy brew boasting big flavors of chocolate and coffee. This one is pretty dry, and I mean that in a good way. I wouldn’t really refer to a stout as refreshing but this is very easy to drink and one I wouldn’t hesitate to order on a summer day or evening.

What’s in My Fridge
Things We Don’t Say by Wandering Soul Beer Co. (Beverly, Mass.)
This was tremendous. Just one of those beers that makes you say, “Yup. That’s real good.” This is a “New England Double IPA brewed with flaked oats, white wheat, and aggressively dry hopped,” according to the brewery. It’s got the citrusy burst that you want, coupled with a balanced finish — and not overly bitter. Find this one for sure. Cheers!

Featured photo: Don’t overlook stouts and porters in summer. Courtesy photo.

In the kitchen with Steve Chase

Steve Chase of Belmont is the owner and founder of Steve’s Original Sauces (, find them on Facebook @stevesoriginalsauces), a small-batch producer of fresh barbecue sauces he launched in April 2018. The company was born out of the positive feedback Chase from friends and family for his Kentucky Barbecue sauce, which he’s been making for about 15 years. Along with that, Chase’s product line includes a New Hampshire maple syrup barbecue sauce, a honey Sriracha sauce and a teriyaki barbecue sauce. He also makes and bottles his own barbecue rub and seasoning. Chase participates in several farmers markets, like the Concord Farmers Market (Capitol Street) on Saturdays and the Canterbury Community Farmers Market (9 Center Road) twice a month on Wednesdays. You can find Chase’s products in dozens of specialty stores, like The Wine’ing Butcher (16 Sheep Davis Road, Pembroke), Mike’s Meat Shoppe (1009 Upper City Road, Pittsfield), the River Hill Market (189 Carter Hill Road, Concord) and the Temple Food Mart (121 Baker St., Manchester).

What is your must-have kitchen item?
I would say the things I mostly have in my hands are tasting spoons.

What would you have for your last meal?
A really nice thick Wagyu beef steak, with a baked potato and lots of sour cream and butter.

What is your favorite local restaurant?
The Beefside in Concord has really good roast beef. I love the ‘Super’ roast beef sandwich.

What celebrity would you like to see trying one of your sauces?
[TV chef and cookbook author] Emeril Lagasse.

What is your favorite sauce that you make?
It would have to be the Kentucky Barbecue. It’s a sweet sauce that I made up to almost mimic a mint julep. It’s got a nice oaky flavor to it with brown sugar and a hint of mint at the end.

What is the biggest food trend in New Hampshire right now?
The whole plant-based food trend is still going strong.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?
I actually do a lot more baking when I’m at home. I like to do a lot of pies, or I’ll make some breakfast pastries for my wife to take to work.

New Hampshire maple-roasted chicken dinner
From the kitchen of Steve Chase of Steve’s Original Sauces

1 whole roast chicken
Steve’s Original Sauces New Hampshire maple syrup barbecue sauce
Chili powder
Red tomatoes
Dried thyme
Granulated garlic
Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Rinse and clean chicken, patting dry with a paper towel. Brush with oil and season with salt, pepper and chili powder. Place in the oven and set the timer for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Coat chicken with barbecue sauce and return to the oven for 60 minutes. Cut the potatoes into cubes and coat with oil. Season with thyme, salt, pepper and garlic and place on a sheet pan. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove chicken from the oven and allow it to rest for about 10 minutes. Slice chicken and serve with roasted potatoes and vegetable of choice.

May the best chef win

Fire & Fusion chef competition returns (virtually)

A friendly contest featuring local chefs who are asked to create their best dishes in under 30 minutes using “mystery” ingredients, the Fire & Fusion executive chef competition will be held virtually this year — and the winning chef will be chosen by viewers based on production and stage presence while making their dish rather than the taste of their dish.

“It became obvious that we wouldn’t be able to have an in-person event,” said Judy Kunz Porter, director of marketing, communications and development for the Nashua Senior Activity Center, which hosts the event, “but it’s also our biggest fundraiser of the year, so we knew we needed to find a way to have it.”

The competition, now in its eighth year, will feature Mike Morin of 106.3 Frank FM radio as the host. It has been professionally produced and will stream on Wednesday, Sept. 2, at 7 p.m. on the Senior Activity Center’s Facebook and YouTube pages. A number of local public access television stations are also carrying the broadcast, including Channel 96 in Nashua, Channels 12 and 191 in Hollis, Channel 23 in Manchester and Channel 20 in Hudson. Channel 96 will then air the show every day for the following week.

“It’s kind of an interesting twist, because for the past five years we’ve sold out the event at 350 tickets,” Porter said. “So more people than ever before are going to get to enjoy it now.”

Throughout the last couple of weeks, Porter, along with a crew from Molloy Sound & Video, met with each of the six participating chefs to tape their segments, which were then returned to the studio and edited for production of the show.

As with previous competitions, the chefs are all from local assisted living or long-term care facilities, a feature that came along with the event’s conception. Rejean Sheehy of The Courville at Nashua, a previous Fire & Fusion champion, is returning this year, while a few new faces, like Bailey Fischer of Bridges by Epoch at Nashua and Joanne Johnston of Benchmark Senior Living at Nashua Crossings, are competing. Other contestants include Hilton Dottin of Bedford Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, Dennis Hickey of The Courville at Nashua – Aynsley Place, and Guy Streitburger of The Arbors of Bedford.

Usually the chefs are not given their ingredients until the start of the 30 minutes to make their dish. But this year, Porter said, they were given out shortly before taping and will be revealed to the viewer at the top of the show when it airs. Each chef was required to utilize all of the ingredients that were given to them.

“They knew they had no more than 30 minutes to spend, and most of them took between 17 and 20 minutes to make their dish,” Porter said. “We were amazed, and I think viewers will be too, at the number of different ways they used the same ingredients. I think especially because people are cooking more in their homes, it may open their eyes to try and switch things up a little bit.”

The show, Porter said, is expected to run about an hour and a half, featuring each of the six chefs’ segments in succession. At the end, audience members will be able to vote for their favorite chef online at, on Facebook @nashuasac or by calling 889-6155. Voting will be open for one week following the event’s air date.

“That’s new this year,” she said. “People will get to vote for whoever they think had the best production and stage presence.”

The conclusion of the show will also feature a raffle of more than 50 items. For $35 you can be entered into the raffle for a chance to win prizes, like round-trip airline tickets, passes to Disney World, ski lift tickets, wine baskets, restaurant gift cards and more. The raffle will run through Sept. 15, with drawings to take place shortly after.

Featured Photo: Chef Hilton Dottin of Bedford Nursing & Rehabilitation Center. Photo courtesy of Virtual Fire & Fusion.

8th annual Fire & Fusion executive chef competition (virtual)
Wednesday, Sept. 2, 7 p.m.
How to watch: Stream the competition on the Nashua Senior Activity Center’s Facebook or YouTube pages, or on multiple local public access television channels, including Channel 96 (Nashua), Channels 12 and 191 (Hollis), Channel 23 (Manchester) and Channel 20 (Hudson).

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