’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 (simplesweetsbakery0.wixsite.com, 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 thechef603.com, 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 thaifoodconnection.com, find them on Facebook and Instagram or call 935-7257

Featured photo: Chicken satay. Courtesy photo.

Feeding the birds, naturally

Trees and plants for your feathered friends

By now many of us are providing seeds to the neighborhood birds. Of course the seeds we provide are just a part of the diet of a wild bird. It’s important to grow a diverse selection of native trees, shrubs and perennials to help provide shelter and nesting places for our wild friends, and to provide food all year long. Why native? Native species evolved with the birds and they are genetically programmed to feed on them.

Doug Tallamy, an entomologist living in Pennsylvania, counted the number of butterflies and moth species that, as caterpillars, fed on an oak tree on his property. He counted over 400 species. He also counted species on a non-native shrub, burning bush (Euonymus alatus), and found only one. The caterpillars of those butterflies and moths are what birds feed their babies each spring and summer, providing protein and fat needed for their development.

If you watch the birds at your bird feeder carefully now you will see that not only are many of the birds eating the seeds you provide, they are also nibbling things on the trees they perch on. In crevices in the bark are dormant insects and their larvae. Chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers — three of the most common birds at our feeders — are constantly pecking at bits of food.

There is a huge native cherry tree (Prunus serotina) right by our feeders, a white pine and several Canadian hemlocks along with a couple of mature pear and apple trees nearby. The birds grab a seed at the feeder, zoom off to eat it and rest before returning. But while they are in those trees they almost always find something tasty to peck at. Planting trees near your house and bird feeders is a good plan if you want to support your birds.

Fruit trees are great for your birds. Apple, pear and especially crabapple trees hold on to some fruit in winter. And while a chickadee might not tear into a dry and wizened apple, bigger birds do. I have seen turkeys feeding in a small weeping crabapple tree that could barely support them. Blue jays, crows, cardinals, grosbeaks and finches and other birds enjoy fruit in winter, too.

So what shrubs have edible fruit that is available to your birds in winter? Right now I see berries on cranberry bush viburnum (Viburnum opulus) and nannyberry (Viburnum lentago). Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), a native deciduous holly, produces myriad bright red berries visible now in swamps and drainage ditches along the road. It is only eaten by a few birds, so the berries linger on into the winter — and are great for decorating wreaths. Junipers, a low-growing bush on low-fertility fields, has berries now too. Eaten by grouse, pheasants, grosbeaks and others, juniper berries are also used to flavor gin!

Alders (Alnus spp.) generally are considered weedy and not planted in the landscape. They grow in wet places as large shrubs or small trees. They are nitrogen-fixing plants, and their seeds are eaten by sparrows and finches, among others. The seeds persist well into December.

Roses that bear fruit are important food sources, too. The invasive climbing wild multiflora roses (Rosa multiflora) are loved by birds, but they drop seeds that grow and take over and smother other shrubs and trees. Beach roses (Rosa rugosa) produce lots of rose hips, and these are eaten by some birds. And although this species of rose is originally from Asia, it does not seem to take over the landscape the way multiflora roses do.

Of the big trees useful to birds, white pine (Pinus strobus) and Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) are two of the most important. Some 40 species of birds eat seeds of the white pine, and at least two dozen eat seeds of Canadian hemlock. Importantly, both are used in winter for shelter. They hold their leaves (needles), providing a break from cold winter winds. Both are used for nesting in the summer.

Any plant that holds onto its berries or seeds into winter is eventually eaten by birds. One of the small trees, staghorn sumac (Rhus hirta), is the least favorite of our birds. The red fruit generally is ignored until spring, when returning robins and other migratory birds arrive and food is scarce. The fruit is sour and low in the fats that birds love, but a hungry robin will chow down on sumac if earthworms are not available. Sumacs grow mainly along roadsides in sandy, low-fertility soil. They spread by root and I don’t recommend planting them. But if you have some, leave them be if you can.

Mentioned above as food for caterpillars that feed baby birds, oaks are important winter food sources, too. Acorns are a preferred food for turkeys and grouse, and can be cracked by a surprising number of small birds. Others eat the meat of acorns that are broken by cars or people, or clean out shells opened by large birds or mammals. Bears and squirrels love acorns, too.

Gray squirrels have been pirating my bird feeders, so I looked up online just how much they eat per day. Only a quarter of a cup of sunflower seeds per day will feed one, so I am letting the two portly, geriatric squirrels eat, and only chase them away if they get too greedy when my little chickadees are waiting.

Henry is offering one of his books, Organic Gardening (not just) in the Northeast, a Hands-On, Month-by-Month Guide, as a holiday special for $15 including shipping. To get a signed copy, mail him a check at PO Box 364, Cornish Flat, NH 03746.

Featured Photo: Alder catkins provide seeds now. Photo by Henry Homeyer.

Kiddie Pool 20/12/17

Family fun for the weekend

A Shaker Christmas

Take a A Magic Journey through the North Shop Barn at Canterbury Shaker Village (228 Shaker Road, Canterbury), now through Dec. 23, and from Dec. 27 through Dec. 30, daily, from 1 to 5 p.m. The North Shop Barn, which has been transformed into a winter wonderland, will feature art vignettes like a Shaker Christmas, a dollhouse, a skating panorama and snowy forest scenes; a Find-the-Elf treasure hunt; hot cocoa and cider, and shopping at the Village Store. Additionally there will be a Christkindlmarkt-inspired artisan market of handcrafted holiday gifts on weekends, and food trucks with sweet treats on Saturday, Dec. 19. Admission costs $10 for adults and is free for youth. Visit shakers.org or call 783-9511.

Meet Santa

Enjoy a Polar Express family brunch with LaBelle Winery (345 Route 101, Amherst) on either Sunday, Dec. 20, or Thursday, Dec. 24, from 10 a.m. to noon. The event will feature a multi-course brunch menu accompanied by a screening of the family holiday film The Polar Express on a large projector. Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus will be stopping by for a live reading of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Tickets to the brunch are by the table only, and there is a six guest limit per table (price breakdowns are $22.99 per person). Visit labellewineryevents.com.

There’s still time to visit with Santa Claus at Bass Pro Shops (2 Commerce Drive, Hooksett), where he’ll be now through Dec. 24. Santa will have an acrylic “magic shield” barrier in place between families. Free online reservations are required, as spots are limited to allow social distancing. Visit basspro.com/santa.

Holiday tales

Ballet Misha performs The Nutcracker at the Dana Center (Saint Anselm College, 100 Saint Anselm Drive, Manchester) on Saturday, Dec. 19, at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Ballet Misha’s production of the holiday classic won the 2019 Hippo Best of award for “Best Dance Performance of the Year.” Tickets cost $28, and reservations must be made via phone at 641-7700.

Watch Eleanor’s Very Merry Christmas — A Musical from the comfort of home. Based on the book by the same name, the musical tells the story of a rag doll at the North Pole searching for a family of her own. This production is available for livestream via the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord, through Dec. 27. Tickets start at $20 (plus a $3 fee) for streaming during a 48-hour window; packages with games and other items are available.

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