Holiday cheerful

Dan Blakeslee celebrates Christmas LP with show

It takes real Grinch-iness to resist the ebullient charms of Christmasland Jubilee, the new holiday album from Dan Blakeslee. From the Dixieland-themed opener “Mister Candy Cane” and its story of a “boogie woogie Santa Claus … bouncin’ on the keys, makin’ you believe” to his sincere reading of the disc-closing “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” it’s irresistible, one of the best in the genre to come out of New England.

Blakeslee celebrates the release with an afternoon outdoor show at Stone Church in Newmarket on Dec. 19, backed by his three-piece band and plenty of portable heaters. Senie Hunt will open.

A big reason the new record works so well is the way Blakeslee created it. In mid-December 2019, the Seacoast-born and -raised singer-songwriter decided he’d waited long enough to unleash his inner Bing Crosby — and he wanted to do it during the season. Dover producer Chris Chase offered him five hours of time at his Noise Floor studio in the days before Christmas, and the project was set in motion.

“I came in the studio, and I decorated the place like crazy,” Blakeslee said in a recent phone interview. “I feel it reflects in the audio somehow; I get inspired looking at the stuff, it just makes me happy. Then my band came in and we recorded … throughout the winter, while there was still snow on the ground.”

Backed by his longtime group The Calabash Club they produced an ebullient mix of classics and originals that dated back to when Blakeslee began making Christmas songs as presents for his family. One of the first was “We Three Kings” — his version takes the line about “westward leading” musically to heart, giving the song a gentle twang.

The musicianship is stellar; keyboard player Mike Effenberger is especially good, and the vintage rhythm team of bassist Nick Phaneuf and drummer Jim Rudolf is in the pocket throughout. A guest list including Soggy Po’ Boys horn players Chris and Eric Klaxton, New Hampshire pedal steel legend Bruce Derr and string players Tim Moore and Dave Talmadge — among others — provided stellar support.

“I love the guys in my band,” Blakeslee said. “I’ve seen them in so many different musical acts through the years and I’m still blown away whenever I see them play. And whenever I play with them, I feel like I’m in awe the whole time. … I can’t focus sometimes on playing the songs.”

Blakeslee’s timing in making the record was ideal in more ways than his good luck having a winter wonderland to work in.

“We had two things left to record when the pandemic came,” he said. Thus, Derr’s contribution was done in his home studio, and backing vocalists emailed their tracks. “We got most of it, though.”

Other standouts include the whimsical originals “To Be An Elf” and “The Somerville Lights” — the latter provides a nice counterpart to “Silver Bells,” which also appears. The rollicking “Reindeer Boogie” is a nugget Blakeslee unearthed from a Hank Snow Christmas album made in the 1960s.

“Over the past two years I’ve been obsessed with that song,” he said, noting that an alternate take was his template. “It has such grit to it. … I was literally playing it every single day throughout the holiday season.”

A bonus track, “Let’s Start Again” is one of the record’s most endearing. It’s an optimistic ode to better angels, and though it’s over a decade old it fits perfectly with the times.

“Awaken with hope and forgiveness, surprise us with news that is good,” Blakeslee sings. “Together let’s move towards a difference, whether you work in policy or wood.”

The song was born after a painful breakup found him wandering around Somerville on New Year’s Eve in 2009. He ended up at the Lizard Lounge, a Somerville music hub where Tim Gearan was appearing.

“Every time he takes the stage it’s like it’s New Year’s Eve. He just has this delivery on all his songs,” Blakeslee said of Gearan.

Blakeslee taped the New Year’s countdown on a recorder he carried in his pocket.

“It was the most moving thing,” he said. “Sometimes you can listen to a song for two minutes and have your outlook changed; that’s what happened at that show. Then I walked outside and this girl shouts out, ‘2010, let’s start again!’ It just kinda happened. She gave me a hug, and I wrote the song that night.”

Dan Blakeslee & the Calabash Club Christmas Show
: Saturday, Dec. 19, 1 p.m.
Where: Stone Church, 5 Granite St., Newmarket
Tickets: $60/table of 4, $90/table of 6

Featured photo: Dan Blakeslee and personally bedazzled stockings done for his crowdfunders. Courtesy photo.

The Music Roundup 20/12/17

Local music news & events

Food music: Though Covid-19 ate his annual booze cruise, Chad LaMarsh is still performing out at places like a Salem restaurant/bar and its Bedford counterpart. A set list can include everything from Peter Gabriel to the Eagles to Matchbox 20 to Nine Inch Nails. LaMarsh is a diverse guy, and a charitable one as well; his annual Bundles of Books effort has helped a lot of folks over the years. Thursday, Dec. 17, 6 p.m., Copper Door, 41 South Broadway, Salem. See

Song circle: While live music continues in some venues, this year’s Holiday Java Jam will be a virtual affair. Beloved Manchester native Alli Beaudry again hosts, inviting local musicians to sign up and play original or traditional holiday songs for the event, which is usually held downtown at Café La Reine. Dress up in seasonal finery and light the home tree for this unique evening. Friday, Dec. 18, 6 p.m., get a Zoom link by signing up at

Brew-versary: A Queen City craft brewery celebrates two years of business with Paul Nelson playing songs. “Song crafter, blues explorer, mystery muser” Nelson has appeared at Club Passim in Cambridge, opening for folk legend Ellis Paul, and has been featured on many big stages since he broke out as musician in 2018. Last year he released his first album, Over Under Through, to solid praise. Friday, Dec. 18, 4 p.m. at To Share Brewing, 720 Union St., Manchester,

Holiday giving: While the Bank of NH Stage is dark until at least mid-January, Seth Glier will perform a free online show with the Concord venue’s imprimatur. The Holiday Spectacular promises music, jokes and dancing offered by Glier and his good friends — he promises, “even Jesus Christ will be there!” While there’s no cost to watch on Facebook Live or YouTube, those with the means can and should donate. Saturday, Dec. 19, 8 p.m., login information at

At the Sofaplex 20/12/17

Let Them All Talk (R)

Meryl Streep, Candice Bergen.

Also starring Dianne Wiest, Gemma Chan and Lucas Hedges. Famous serious novelist Alice (Streep) heads to the U.K. to accept an important literary prize. Because she won’t fly, her eager-to-please new agent Karen (Chan) books her transatlantic passage on the Queen Mary 2, which this Steven Soderbergh-directed movie sometimes seems like a giant ad for. Alice brings along guests, including her nephew Tyler (Hedges) and two friends from college, Susan (Wiest) and Roberta (Bergen). Susan seems to have had a full life and matured into a normal adult who takes the trip as a fun getaway and a chance to see two people she hasn’t seen in three decades. Roberta is there to settle some old scores. Roberta is bitter about Alice’s most famous book, which she claims was taken from her life and led to the disastrous end to her marriage (and financial ruin). Roberta’s plan seems to be to either snag a wealthy man while on the ship or get Alice to pay up (or both).

By the end of the movie, I found myself mostly thinking about the ship — the nightly formal-wear requirements seem hellish but I do like the idea of fancy afternoon tea. It seems like it would be fun, for a little while at least, to wander around the Queen Mary 2, which was perhaps the thought that inspired this movie. At times it feels more like you’re wandering through a collection of scenes that are individually interesting and somewhat related but not entirely pulled together. Some of the scenes are funny, some feature nice acting moments from one of the performers and some just feel like a bit of filler. In the moment, though, the performances kind of carry you through this voyage. B Available on HBOMax.

The Prom (PG-13)

Meryl Streep, James Corden.

Other stars in this Ryan Murphy adaptation of a 2018 Broadway musical include Nicole Kidman, Kerry Washington, Keegan-Michael Key, Andrew Rannells, Mary Kay Place and Tracy Ullman.

When Dee Dee Allen (Streep) and Barry Glickman (Corden) see their newest play close on opening night after terrible reviews, they search for a good cause to align themselves with to improve their public images. They pick Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman), a high schooler whose school has canceled prom rather than let her attend with her girlfriend. Dee Dee and Barry travel to her Indiana town with fellow actors Angie (Kidman), who longs to step out of the chorus and play the lead, and Trent (Rannells), whose career is currently in a holding pattern. The school’s patient principal Hawkins (Key) is trying to convince the PTA, headed by Mrs. Greene (Washington), to be more inclusive but the sudden appearance of the Broadway people throws the situation into disarray. Though their goals are well-intentioned (if very self-serving), the actors’ big publicity-generating plans often overshadow Emma and her desire to just go to a dance with her girlfriend Alyssa Greene (Ariana DeBose), the not-out daughter of Mrs. Greene.

This movie, which started out feeling flat to me, improves as it moves through its two-hour-and-10-minute runtime time — or maybe it just sorta grew on me. Murphy is also the creator of Glee and this movie feels kind of Glee-ish in its staging. With a few exceptions, the musical numbers feel boxed in in a way that keeps them from dazzling you the way it seems like they might in a theater.

That said, Meryl Streep seems to be having a blast and is maybe even making a little fun of her own actorly self. Overall The Prom is a good time, with a delightfully hammy sensibility and occasional scenes (and songs) with sudden and genuine big, deep feelings. B Available on Netflix.

The Croods: A New Age (PG)

The Croods: A New Age (PG)

The Neanderthal-ish cave family the Croods meets some yuppie helicopter-parent homo sapiens in The Croods: A New Age, an animated movie in theaters now and coming to PVOD soon, possibly this Friday, Dec. 18.

Meet the Croods: dad Grug (voice of Nicolas Cage), mom Ugga (voice of Catherine Keener), tween-seeming son Thunk (voice of Clark Duke), baby Sandy (voice of Kailey Crawford), Gran (voice of Cloris Leachman) and teenage daughter Eep (voice of Emma Stone), and Guy (voice of Ryan Reynolds), the teenage modern-human-like boy who joined the Croods pack in the first movie. He spends a lot of time flirtily saying “hey” to Eep, who flirtily says “hey” back. Guy is tired of the Croods’ family sleep-pile and other instances of too-much-togetherness and would like to strike out on his own with Eep, who is interested in this “privacy” thing he speaks of. Grug wants everyone to stay together to improve their chances of survival (and because of general dad-ness).

When Grug stumbles upon a wonderland of delicious foods planted in neat rows in a lush paradise, he announces that he has found a place everybody can live happily forever, together. But what he’s actually found is a farm — specifically, the Bettermans’ farm, home to husband Phil (voice of Peter Dinklage) and wife Hope (voice of Leslie Mann, who is perfect here) and their teenage daughter Dawn (voice of Kelly Marie Tran). The Bettermans have found a, well, better way to be, as they explain: they live in a walled off compound of fresh food and drinkable water and a lovely tree house with a shower and a flush toilet and separate rooms for everyone. And, they know Guy — the Betterman family and Guy’s family were friends years ago, before Guy’s parents died in a tar pit. Guy seems like a perfect fit for the Betterman lifestyle and for Dawn, who has been lonely living in her parents’ protective paradise and is happy to see Guy again.

While wooing Guy away from the Croods might be the Bettermans’ plan, to this PG kids’ movie’s credit, it isn’t interested in any teen love triangle. Guy’s struggles seem to be between Eep and the comforts (and privacy) of the Bettermans’ way of living. Dawn isn’t on his radar, nor is he on hers. Dawn is more interested in being friends with Eep; they become fast besties, both having an “ugh, parents” mindset and a desire for adventure.

Details of the first The Croods have largely vanished from my brain, just as details from this movie felt like they were fading from memory as I watched the movie. A New Age is full of fun vocal performances (Mann and Keener, in particular) and cute moments (Gran’s memories of the “Thunder Sisters” clan of female warriors sets up a solid action sequence in the movie’s climax) but there’s nothing sticky about the overall story. The characters are more types than personalities (the overprotective mom, the dad who doesn’t want things to change, etc.) and the story hits marks like an amusement park ride chugging past its various attractions — there’s the wacky monkey stuff, there’s the mid-movie couple fight. This movie is forgettable, but with its fantastical creatures (land sharks! wolf-spiders!) and landscapes, all colorfully rendered, it’s not unpleasant in the moment — not for me, the parent, or for kids old enough (age 7 or 8 maybe?) to sit through teenage drama. B-

Rated PG for peril, action and rude humor, according to MPA on Directed by Joel Crawford with a screenplay by Kevin Hageman & Dan Hageman and Paul Fisher & Bob Logan, The Croods: A New Age is an hour and 35 minutes long and distributed by Universal Studios.

Featured Photo: The Croods: A New Age (PG)

The Sentinel by Lee Child and Andrew

The Sentinel by Lee Child and Andrew Child (Delacorte Press, 253 pages)

As I settled down in a chair with this book, my husband asked what I was reading.
“It’s the newest Jack Reacher novel,” I replied.
“Jack Reacher?”
“Yeah, he’s kind of like a scruffy James Bond. He always knows what to say and how to get out of a jam. He’s actually pretty cool.”
“Huh,” was his reply.
My husband said this because thrillers are usually not my go-to kind of book, but give me a Jack Reacher story any day of the week and I will stop what I’m doing and start reading.
Reacher is ex-military. He’s a bit of a lost soul and travels with only some cash and a toothbrush (when he needs to change his clothes he buys new ones). He is clever and he always outsmarts the bad guys. Sometimes that’s what you need.
The fight scenes are the absolute best because we can read his thought process as he analyzes his opponent’s strengths and weaknesses and then goes in for the kill. It’s why he wins when he’s faced with five opponents at the same time. A Reacher fight scene is pretty much scripted for the big screen.
Reacher helps people in trouble and in this book he’s helping a young man who has been accused of orchestrating a ransomware demand on his town. The town has turned against him, making his life miserable. An elite bad organization (Russian) is after him because they believe he has some files that they need for election interference (and when I say bad, these guys have a basement where you go in whole and come out in several suitcases).
The storyline is a little predictable and seems to be “ripped from the headlines.” That didn’t bother me as it might others.
The pace in a Reacher novel is quick. Each chapter has plenty of action propelling the reader to the next scene. Reacher likes precision and much of his dialogue is about calling people on what they actually mean when they speak.
“Leave town. This morning. Right now, in fact. He has a car waiting outside to take you to the highway. And he wants your word you won’t come back.”
“Well what if I don’t want to leave town?”
“Come on, Reacher. Work with me here. Yesterday you asked him for a ride.”
“That was yesterday. The town has grown on me since then.”
All this is what makes a Reacher novel so desirable right now. We need a hero. We need someone who will kick the bad guys’ butts and who will emerge victorious. We need hope even if it only comes from a fictional character in a book.
The Sentinel is co-written by Lee Child’s brother, Andrew Child — it’s the first collaboration and those who have read the Reacher books will notice some slight differences. Reacher is a little chattier now, a little more emotional. I didn’t mind the evolution but purists might be put off by these subtle changes. I anticipate some growing pains before the new Reacher finds his sweet spot.
And I guess we need to talk about the love interest. Reacher always gets the girl in each of his books. In The Sentinel he does get the girl, but not with his usual panache. This time it seems a little forced.
With all of these comments you would think that I might not have liked this book. Nope. Although it wasn’t my favorite Reacher novel, I did enjoy it. I liked seeing the bad guys get what is coming to them. I liked seeing Reacher come to the aid of people who need help.
And I liked reading about a character who has integrity (the first chapter cements that personality trait).
For these reasons, I’ll be giving this book a solid grade. Who knows, if I had not read it during a pandemic I might have been more critical; however, in times like this when we could use a tough, smart guy, this Reacher book, even with a few bumps, gives us a little bit of much-needed escapism and is worth the read. B
— Wendy E. N. Thomas


Author events
• KJ DELL’ANTONIA Author presents The Chicken Sisters. Hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Online, via Zoom. Wed., Jan. 6, 7 p.m. Registration required. Visit or call 224-0562.

Book Clubs
• BOOKERY Online. Monthly. Third Thursday, 6 p.m. Bookstore based in Manchester. Visit or call 836-6600.
• GIBSON’S BOOKSTORE Online, via Zoom. Monthly. First Monday, 5:30 p.m. Bookstore based in Concord. Visit or call 224-0562.
• TO SHARE BREWING CO. 720 Union St., Manchester. Monthly. Second Thursday, 6 p.m. RSVP required. Visit or call 836-6947.

• POSTCARD POETRY CONTEST Peterborough Poetry Project seeks submissions of original poems written on picture postcards for an upcoming anthology. Deadline is Dec. 31. Visit
• CALL FOR BLACK WRITERS New Hampshire-based theater company New World Theatre announces an open call to Black writers to submit monologues that reflect their experience of living while black, to be published in an anthology titled “08:46.” The deadline for submissions is Jan. 1, 2021. Visit

Featured photo: The Sentinel by Lee Child and Andrew Child

Album Reviews 20/12/17

Sculptor, Untold Secrets (Frontiers Music)

Is “melodic death metal” an oxymoron, a shameless way to sell out, or a sure sign that a band doesn’t belong together owing to artistic differences? This quintet is from Brazil, here tabling their debut album, which is released through one of the few record labels that actively seeks out this kind of stuff, specifically Evanescence-level power-metal sung by guys whose preferred vocal style is totally Cookie Monster. Well, maybe not strictly Cookie Monster; there’s black-metal devil-monster caterwauling too, and rainy gloom-death riffing if you tend to keep score when listening to this kind of album, not that I ever do. I mean, good luck to these dudes, is what I say, not that a Brazilian death metal band that sounds kind of like In Flames would need extra help in the form of best wishes from a critic as detached from the genre as I am — São Paulo is where I’d want to be personally if I were playing in a band like this. B- — Eric W. Saeger

Deafkids, Ritos do Colapso (self-released)

I honestly had no intention of turning this week’s column into a central repository of Brazilian doom-music, but that’s how the dice rolled, first with Sculptor’s debut album and then with this one, which basically caught my fancy after discovering that this slightly experimental ambient-noise-techno band landed a spot on the soundtrack for Cyberpunk 2077, a dystopian role-playing video game starring none other than Keanu Reeves (it seems Australia has some sort of problem with the game’s messaging, which means it’s probably fun in some way). Whatever, this digital-only EP reads like a Whitman Sampler of experimental spazz-beats, starting with two dubstep-ish rinseouts that were apparently played on real drums. That’s a pretty cool trick, but “Tentáculos” is a lot more interesting, a creepy blend of tribal rhythm and random snake-taming bizarreness that would have fit in well on the Hurt Locker soundtrack. Like I said, strictly experimental, but cool; nicely organic, undoubtedly with an eye toward more soundtracking gigs. A

Retro Playlist

I have to admit, sometimes I’ve gotten it right the first time. For those who’ve subjected themselves to this column for the last 15 years plus, you may remember the bit in 2009 when I talked about New Orleans band Stanton Moore/Garage A Trois’s then-new All Kooked Out album, and how there was “nothing wrong with you” if you’d never heard of him. On this one-man effort, I posited, Moore was trying to be “Spyro Gyra and That F–ing Tank in the same album,” a recipe for commercial failure if ever there was one, or, just as possibly, a spazzy version of Charles Mingus’ least listenable records. As you’d guess, the random fricassee of honking, clattering and Wayne Shorter-style sax suddenly stopped about a third of the way in, for a decent-enough tune called “Purgatory,” and then a rather mellow version of Roberta Flack’s “The Closer I Get To You.” As well, there was “Fragile,” which sounded like the E Street Band trying to weird each other out, and “Electric Door Bell Machine,” a look at what Weather Report might have sounded like if they’d been really idiotic hipsters. Nevertheless, believe it or not, in my review of the album, I didn’t cover Moore in snark gravy and bake him at 350 for an hour. I was pretty nice to the dude.

At times I’ve experienced the joy of dissing multiple artists at a time, when unwary compilation albums come in. But it’s not always mean-spirited claptrap I spew; in fact I was quite genial to the various artists featured on 2014’s Le Sigh, Vol II. Le Sigh is/was an online zine based in Brooklyn, supporting women in the arts. In order to prove they were serious, the editors threw together a couple of female-punk comp albums, which gathered together such bands as Slutever, Fleabite and Alice. Soundalike touchstones ranged from X-Ray Spex to The Waitresses, but it was all good fun, really, with more attitude than a 13-year-old girl threatened with losing her iPhone if she doesn’t wear the cute bunny pajamas Grandma sent for Christmas.

Moral: I can be nice at times. It really depends on the quality of our current dinner leftovers, to be honest.


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• OMG, it’s totally the last-minute holiday rush, when those 14 million newly unemployed Americans, all snug in their warm cardboard refrigerator-box condominium complexes comfortably located somewhere under the overpass, need direction as to where to spend that stray $20 bill they found skittering across the parking lot at Whole Foods! Well, I’m here to help, homies, with the latest albums you can buy, all of which are coming to your stores and whatnot, on Dec. 18! As you’d guess, there is basically nothing new coming out except for metal albums and reissues from rich bands and whatever, and trust me, I already looked. First thing that jumped out at me was a 50th anniversary of The Kinks’ eighth album, Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, a fine album that was released in 1970, in case you’re deficient in math skills like I am! I have to confess that I was never the biggest Kinks fan, like they were basically the prototype for every joke-band ever put together, but this album did have one awesome song on it, I’d be the first to admit it. No, I don’t mean the titular “Lola,” a song I could literally live forever without ever hearing again; it’s in fact “Apeman” to which I refer, a joke song about alienation or whatnot, and it was kind of ahead of its time. Check out these lyrics: “I think I’m so educated and I’m so civilized / ‘Cause I’m a strict vegetarian / But with the over-population and inflation and starvation / And the crazy politicians / I don’t feel safe in this world no more.” Cool, huh? Anyway, there you go, fam, the Kinks, with a new-old album, you are now free to go pay good money for whatever you’re going to get out of it, maybe extra cowbell or whatever.

• If you can stand the suspense and wait until Saturday the 19th, there is a new EP from hip-hop guy Letoa coming out that day, called Glocstarr V1! There is already a user review (not a review from an actual music critic, in other words) on the Album Of The Year website, from someone identified as mIlk, and that person says it’s awful. Actually they didn’t say anything, they just left a one-star rating and wrote “0” as a comment. All that goes to prove is that no one really uses the Album Of The Year website except for rock critics who are desperately trying to find albums coming out at the last minute, because nearly a half-million people have streamed at least one of the tunes, called “Ice Cold.” The beat sounds like some incidental theme music from Lord of the Rings, except for the beginner-level haunted house bass and the stupid trap drums. Can I shut this off now?

• OK, I give up, there’s nothing else coming out this week, and I refuse to talk about whichever black-metal bands are only putting out records because they either hate Christmas or don’t even know when it is, so we’re going to wrap up with chillwave/ambient techno guy Tycho! It’s not that he even has a real album coming out, just a remix album, called, appropriately enough, Weather Remixes, based on his 2019 Grammy nominated LP Weather. That one was great, a little bit guitar-tronic and a little indie-rock, so I’m sure all the remixes are good as well, if they’re even half as decent as the gorgeous remix of “Japan” by Satin Jackets. Awesome stuff.

’Tis the season

Beers for the holidays

You need some beer to get you through the rest of 2020. Has a truer statement ever been made?
In a year like no other, I think we’re all eager to get the rest of this year over with. Yes, OK, we should probably take a minute and try to enjoy a subdued holiday season, but really, let’s get 2020 in the rearview mirror as quickly as possible.
Beer isn’t going to help the end of the year get here any faster, but maybe it will help make the road a little less bumpy and the holidays a little more enjoyable. Well, we can all hope.
We’re celebrating the holidays with fewer people all together this year, but I think we’re still all looking for the same things when it comes to beer at this time of year: rich, malty, maybe a little sweet and maybe with a little spice. I’m thinking flavors of chocolate, caramel, mint, nutmeg and vanilla, and so on.
Here are a few beers to help get you through the holidays and through the rest of the minefield that is 2020.

Kringle’s Krook by Portsmouth Brewery (Portsmouth)
This robust black ale has plenty of roasty, toasty malt character and it’s balanced out by sweet flavors thanks to the addition of candy canes and fresh mint—so yes, this is like drinking a peppermint patty in beer form. A seasonal treat for sure.

Sundae Nights Mint Chocolate Chip Stout by Kettlehead Brewing (Tilton)
Wow. If Kringle’s Krook is a peppermint patty in beer form, it sure sounds like this one is mint chocolate chip ice cream in beer form. This imperial milk stout, which comes in at 10.8 percent ABV, is brewed with cocoa nibs, mint and a “heavy dose” of milk sugar, says the brewery. My goodness — I look forward to trying this indulgent brew.

Bell’s Christmas Ale by Bell’s Brewery (Comstock, Mich.)
My dad said he and my grandfather used to take the Samuel Adams Scotch Ale and mix it with a Budweiser to lighten it up in terms of body and flavor, as the brew was quite “strong.” Look, I was just a kid when he told me this, and at that time who was I to question the move? I’m an actual adult now and as such I have questions, like, I don’t know, maybe just don’t buy that particular beer if you need to water it down? I don’t understand. Anyway, Bell’s Christmas Ale is a bold, richly flavored brew with big notes of caramel and a nice touch of warming alcohol — perfect for sipping by the fire.

Winter by Wachusett Brewing Co. (Westminster, Mass.)
This is a nostalgic pick for me from an underrated brewery as many family holiday gatherings featured this brew as a prime selection. Winter features a traditional holiday bouquet of vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice in a roasty, toasty brew that doesn’t overpower your palate. Extremely well-balanced, Winter is the quintessential holiday brew.

Udder Vanilla Milk Stout by Loaded Questions Brewing Co. (Portsmouth)
I haven’t tried this one but when you combine lactose, vanilla and chocolate malt together in a beer, are we not talking about a glass of chocolate milk? What could possibly be wrong with this one? The brewery says it has “restrained sweetness,” which I think suggests this brew might have a good bit of versatility, too.

What’s in My Fridge
Pompadour by Schilling Beer Co. (Littleton)
This is about as good an American pale ale as I’ve ever had. It’s been a few years since I’ve had this one and it just did not disappoint. Characterized by flavors of citrus, peach and maybe apricot, this is easy drinking and delicious. Absolutely one of my favorite beers of all time. Cheers!

Featured Photo: Beer is your friend as we close out 2020. Photo courtesy Portsmouth Brewery.

Courtney Parker

Courtney Parker of Nashua is the owner of Simple Sweets Bakery (, or on Facebook @simplesweetsbakery11), a homestead business specializing in gluten-free baked goods made fresh daily, like cupcakes, cookies, muffins, doughnuts, brownies, whoopie pies and oatmeal cream pies. Orders are accepted via phone, text, email or Facebook messages, with deliveries within a 20-mile radius of Nashua. Dairy-free and soy-free options are also available. Now through Dec. 21, Parker is offering specialty Christmas orders for items like chocolate cream or pumpkin pies, peppermint brownies and gingerbread doughnuts.

What is your must-have kitchen item?
Definitely a silicone spatula.

What would you have for your last meal?
Chicken tenders and Jojo potatoes from Chicken ‘n’ Chips [in Nashua].

What is your favorite local restaurant?
Bistro 603 [in Nashua].

What celebrity would you like to see ordering something from you?
Obviously Carrie Underwood.

What is your favorite thing that you offer?
Snickerdoodles! They are my absolute favorite and are so easy to make!

What is the biggest food trend in New Hampshire right now?
Apple cider doughnuts.

What is your favorite thing to cook or bake at home?
I love to bake and will try just about any recipe, but I’d have to say my favorite thing to bake is anything that contains apples. The aroma from [them] reminds me of Christmas.

Simple sugar cookies
From the kitchen of Courtney Parker of Simple Sweets Bakery in Nashua
6 tablespoons butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
1 large egg
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1½ cup flour (Parker uses Cup4Cup brand gluten-free flour, or you can use regular flour)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking pan with parchment paper. Cream butter and sugar together. Add in egg and mix until smooth. Add vanilla, salt, baking powder, baking soda and flour and mix. Using a cookie scoop, place a teaspoon-sized scoop onto the cookie sheet. Bake for eight to 10 minutes.

Featured photo: Courtney Parker

New Italian option

The Chef opens in New Boston

For more than two decades, Angel Santiago has built his culinary resume at restaurants all over New Hampshire and Massachusetts, including local Italian spots Mangia Sano in Milford and Pasquale’s Ristorante in Londonderry. His first restaurant as owner — aptly named The Chef, which opened in New Boston last month — features a variety of traditional Italian and Italian-American dishes, from pizzas and paninis to fresh seafood and pastas, plus a full bar with domestic and imported wines, local craft beers and cocktails.
Santiago, who lives in New Boston with his wife, Christine, said the couple had looked at several potential spaces for a restaurant over the last few years before finding the one that fit the bill in August. The building on River Road near the Goffstown and New Boston town line most recently housed Sliders, an eatery that closed in the spring.
Since its opening, the chicken Parmigiana has been among the top sellers, as have the seafood entrees, which include seafood risotto and alfredo, cioppino (a fish stew), baked or fried haddock and stuffed lobster ravioli.
“We do a lot of seafood,” Angel Santiago said. “I buy a full case every week and I go through the whole thing. By Sunday I have probably one-third of a pan left over.”
Lunch is normally available from 11:30 a.m. to about 3 p.m., with options like fresh paninis and sandwiches, pastas, and seafood plates like fish and chips.
In addition to soups and salads, there are various house appetizers available on the dinner menu, like sauteed mussels, Buffalo chicken tenders, breaded and fried four-cheese ravioli, and arancini balls with peas, mozzarella and marinara.
The pizzas can be ordered with a gluten-free crust, and house specialty pastas include chicken or veal saltimbocca, piccata and marsala.
“One of the big things we’ve been doing is a family to-go meal,” Christine Santiago said. “It feeds a family of five and you get a half tray of chicken Parm or chicken broccoli alfredo, then a Caesar salad or a garden salad, garlic bread and five sodas, all for $50. We sell a lot of those.”
For dessert Angel Santiago makes cannolis and a tiramisu from scratch. A few other locally sourced treats, like a death by chocolate cake, are also available.

The Chef
: 737 River Road, New Boston
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday, until 8 p.m.
More info: Visit, find them on Facebook @thechefofnewboston or call 384-2574

Featured photo: Haddock puttanesca. Courtesy photo.

Tastes of Thailand

Thai Food Connection opens in Manchester

Chicken krapow. Courtesy photo.

Not long after Republic Cafe moved all its operations down the street into its sister restaurant Campo Enoteca in August, Thailand native Annie Nault was walking down Elm Street in Manchester and saw a “for rent” sign in the window. She had worked in several Thai restaurants in southern New Hampshire and had been searching for a space that could be her own.

Khao soi. Courtesy photo.

“I knew it was a great opportunity, because I walk around here often and it’s always busy,” said Nault, who comes from Phetchabun, Thailand, and whose mother worked as a high school culinary instructor. “I’ve wanted to open a restaurant my whole life.”
Thai Food Connection, which opened Dec. 1, features a menu of authentic Thai dishes like soups, curries, appetizers, entrees and street foods — all of which showcase the diversity of flavors and options available from within the country, Nault said.

“I knew it was a great opportunity, because I walk around here often and it’s always busy.”

Annie Nault

“In Thailand, when you go to any one place, they don’t have a variety [of options],” she said. “If you want chicken and rice, you have to go to this place, or if you want khao soi [curry with egg noodles], you have to go to another place, and they don’t sell anything else.”
Nault purchased a three-station wok for the restaurant and, during the months of renovation leading up to her opening, added all new furniture, curtains and kitchen equipment. A Thai mural and photos of her homeland taken by her friends adorn the walls, while an open kitchen is featured near the back of the restaurant.
Due to its location downtown, Nault said she expects Thai Food Connection to be a popular spot for takeout during the lunch hour. A full page of the menu is dedicated to lunch specials, like chicken, beef or tofu and vegetable noodle soup; pad Thai with chicken, tofu or shrimp; rice dishes, like stir-fried steamed jasmine rice with a hot basil sauce; and curries, like a mild coconut massaman curry and a coconut green curry with sliced chicken and roasted eggplant.
Other items include street foods like krapow, or stir-fried ground chicken with garlic, fresh chili, onion, pepper and basil; and various house specialties, like roasted duck curry, casseroled shrimp or lemongrass chicken with coconut milk, turmeric and Thai spices.
A chili pepper-shaped icon on the menu indicates that dish’s normal level of spice, but you can request anything to be as mild or as spicy as you want, Nault said.
“When you combine everything and all the ingredients with the chili, it reduces the kick of the spice,” she said, “so it’s not burning your mouth.”
There is also a small selection of desserts, like deep-fried breaded ice cream, a deep-fried banana roll topped with honey, and roti, or fried pan bread, with caramel sauce and chocolate syrup.
Online ordering and deliveries within a five-mile radius of the restaurant are also available, and Thai Food Connection is currently in the process of acquiring a liquor license, Nault said.

Thai Food Connection
: 1069 Elm St., Manchester
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, until 10 p.m.
More info: Visit, find them on Facebook and Instagram or call 935-7257

Featured photo: Chicken satay. Courtesy photo.

Stay in the loop!

Get FREE weekly briefs on local food, music,

arts, and more across southern New Hampshire!