Write through it

Tyler Allgood shines on soul-baring Through The Empty

Surgery and its aftermath are often challenging; for a recovering addict, the experience can be harrowing. As Tyler Allgood faced a spine operation in early 2019, he worried about whether essential pain medication would lead to relapse. For six to eight months prior to entering the hospital, this fear had him “staring at the ceiling … going crazy wondering if my life was ever going to change,” Allgood said in a recent phone interview.

“Knowing I’d have to take drugs again to go through this,” he said, “I kind of had to revisit my past and revise it.”

The answer came through his music, on songs like “Downtime” and “Who Am I Now.” The latter is a dreamy meditation about being “always off, lost in the fixtures,” while keeping vigilant. Both appear on Allgood’s soon to be released album Through The Empty, a 13-track cycle that’s both starkly honest and expertly composed.

“The writing saved me,” Allgood said. “I had to keep writing; it’s really saving my life.”

Though this is his second LP, Allgood feels the new effort is a lot like a debut.

“It’s kind of a wrap-up of all those years,” he said, noting that 2019’s The Weight of Thunder “was whipped together kind of quickly [when] a friend of mine had had an opportunity and he was an engineer. It’s still very meaningful, but on [this] record I finally bring my composing all together … and really produce the sound that I’m going for.”

Allgood, who also deals with alcoholism, “depression, PTSD and plenty of other mental issues,” said his songwriting is “ninety percent personal experience and stories.” Some can be heartbreaking — “Love In Vermont” deals with a love affair that ends in suicide.

There’s also hope. One of the record’s highlights, “No Visions of Fear,” contains the memorable line, “I’m too miserable to die.” Allgood is quoting a friend who succumbed to breast cancer.

“I don’t think he knew how powerful it was coming from him as he was dying,” he said, adding the statement was a reflection of his friend’s giving nature. “He hadn’t done all of his work helping people … that was the reason he was miserable. That he would have to leave other people behind.”

Along with strong songwriting, what distinguishes the new album most is its music: densely layered guitars, delicate keyboards, deft time changes and Allgood’s haunting vocals. He played and sang nearly every note.

Through The Empty was recorded at Loud Sun Studios with producer Ben Rogers, who also plays drums on the record. Dan Labrie, from Allgood’s old group BandBand, played slide guitar on a couple of tracks, and Eliot Pelletier contributed guitar as well.

Allgood got into music as a teenager.

“A friend of mine, Kyle Weber, was this really talented guitar player right from the get-go,” he said. “He played the talent show at our middle school, and that was where I realized that I really wanted to do that as well.”

He agrees that most listeners will detect a clear influence running through the new album.

“Jerry Garcia was hugely important finding my way through whatever it is I’m doing with music,” Allgood said. “The Grateful Dead, George Harrison’s solo stuff, all helped open my eyes to what was possible on my own, to create, to not have limits.”

When a release event happens — never a certainty these pandemic-limited times — Allgood plans to assemble a band to back him. For now, though, he plays solo and eschews looping sounds.

“I might incorporate that soon, but I tend to keep it as original as I can, I suppose,” he said.

His shows also include judiciously chosen covers of artists like The Beatles and Johnny Cash.

“I try to cater to everything, and then also mix in my original work,” he said.

Allgood expects to release the album in early March — “It’s coming as soon as possible,” he said.

He’ll play a lot of it during a livestream show hosted by Nova Arts on March 19 (novaarts.org).

Tyler Allgood
: Thursday, Feb 25, 6 p.m.
Where: Village Trestle, 25 Main St., Goffstown
More: instagram.com/tgood_extrabetty
Allgood also appears Saturday, March 6, 6 p.m. at Village Trestle in Goffstown

Graig Murphy, Francis Birch & Mike Smith
When: Saturday, Feb. 13, 8 p.m.
Where: Strikers East, 4 Essex Dr., Raymond
Tickets: $20 at laughriotproductions.com or call 895-9501

Featured photo: Tyler Allgood. Courtesy photo.

The Music Roundup 21/02/18

Serenading: Check out a recent Facebook Live stream from Jessica Olson for an idea of her musical outlook. The Granite State native can switch from a classic Carpenters song to Carrie Underwood country pop and pivot to a vintage rocker like Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck In the Middle With You.” She has a few originals, too, such as the lover done wrong scorcher “Worth It.” Thursday, Feb. 18, 5:30 p.m., Fratello’s Italian Grille, 194 Main St., Nashua, 889-2022; more at facebook.com/JessSongBirdOlson.

Localized: Musician, promoter and Capitol City booster Lucas Gallo has a six-song EP ready for mastering and due to drop next month. Darlingside’s Don Mitchell helmed the project, a follow-up to From The Attic, an album assembled from many years’ worth of material while Gallo was hunkered down early in the pandemic. He plays an acoustic set at a favorite scene spot. Friday, Feb. 19, 8 p.m., Penuche’s Ale House, 16 Bicentennial Square, Concord, facebook.com/penuches.concord.

Welcoming: Guitar man Chris Lester has built a lengthy resume, from ’90s rockers Wild Horses to backing Godsmack’s Sully Erna and playing “Faux Walsh” in tribute act Dark Desert Eagles. He’s earned a reputation for talent and versatility as a player, singer and producer. Most recently, his band Ghosts of Vinyl released a pair of songs, “Amnesia” and “Zero Gravity.” Tuesday, Feb. 23, 5:30 p.m., Homestead Restaurant & Tavern, 641 Daniel Webster Hwy., Merrimack, 429-2022.

Irelander: A weekly tradition continues with Marty Quirk performing Irish music in the afternoon. The “Marty Party” is preceded by a brunch that includes traditional Irish fare like black sausage and white pudding, washed down with a pint of Guinness if the mood suits. Optimistically, the downtown haven will have corned beef dinners ready the week of St. Patrick’s Day. Sunday, Feb. 21, 3 p.m., Shaskeen Pub, 909 Elm St., Manchester, facebook.com/theshaskeen.

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar (PG-13) | Judas and the Black Messiah (R)

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar (PG-13)

Everybody is wonderfully game in the delightfully silly Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, a movie co-written by Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig, the writers of Bridesmaids.

Comparatively, Bridesmaids played it straight. Barb and Star goes all in on its weirdness.

Barb (Mumolo) and Star (Wiig) are poofy-haired besties whose favorite flavor is “plain,” whose wardrobe is built on culottes and who work together at a Jennifer Convertibles in Nebraska. When their store is closed and they are kicked out of Talking Club (run with an iron passive-aggressive fist by a woman played by Vanessa Bayer, so well used here as so many of the movie’s supporting roles and cameos are), Barb and Star decide to throw caution to the wind and go on an exotic vacation — to the middle-aged-vacationer-friendly Vista Del Mar, Florida. They end up at a hotel with a real “cruise ship but on land” vibe and, during their first night, end up at the bar sharing a giant hallucinogenics-containing scorpion bowl with Edgar (Jamie Dornan). Edgar is drowning his sorrows over his would-be girlfriend, Sharon Gordon Fisherman (also Wiig, looking very “Dr. Evil meets 2013’s Snowpiercer” but chic). Sharon won’t become an “official couple” with him until after he helps her release a swarm of genetically modified mosquitoes meant to kill the residents of Vista Del Mar because they were mean to Sharon when she was a kid.

Other things that happen in this movie: A character has a conversation with a crab. Andy Garcia shows up in a cameo, still in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again! mode. A human cannon serves as a significant plot point. Dornan shows an almost superhuman lack of vanity (there’s a power ballad! on a beach! I have never liked him more than I do here).

I did wonder, occasionally, if this movie was being cruel to Barb and Star, if it was punching down at these ladies with their haircuts and their general middle-ness. But I don’t think it is, ultimately. Through all the silliness, Wiig and Mumolo, who seem to be having such a sunny great time here, give these characters a core that includes general decency and their deep love and friendship for each other.

Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar is great goofy fun and I highly recommend it. B+

Rated PG-13 for crude sexual content, drug use and some strong language, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Directed by Josh Greenbaum with a screenplay by Annie Mumulo & Kristen Wiig, Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is an hour and 47 minutes long and is distributed by Lionsgate. It is available to rent.

Judas and the Black Messiah (R)

Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield do standout work in Judas and the Black Messiah, a movie about the real-life activism and death of Fred Hampton of the Black Panther Party.

In the late 1960s, Bill O’Neal (Stanfield) is arrested after a rather inventive car theft and given a choice by FBI agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons): prison time or becoming an informant for the FBI. Bill picks not-prison and is sent to join the Black Panther Party in Illinois, where Fred Hampton (Kaluuya) is the Illinois party chairman. As Bill finds his way into the party and Fred’s inner circle, he sees Hampton attempt to unite different social-political factions in Chicago to work for similar goals, largely related to poverty and police brutality.

We also see the charismatic Hampton begin a relationship with Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback), now known as Akua Njeri. They try to build a life of activism together while the FBI relentlessly pursues Hampton and the Panthers however they can.

Judas and the Black Messiah shares some of the same historical space as fellow award-season hopeful The Trial of the Chicago 7. But where that movie was filled with big Aaron Sorkin speeches and cutesy Aaron Sorkin character notes, this movie feels like it is about real people with real motivations and personalities. There are little moments, particularly with Kaluuya and Fishback as Fred and Deborah, where you feel like you’re watching a fully-formed person wrestle with not just Big Political Ideas but with what those ideas mean to them and the course of their life. Stanfield makes you feel O’Neal’s uncertainty about what he’s asked to do by the FBI and his growing difficulty of balancing what seems like a genuine respect for Hampton and the aims of the Black Panthers with his willingness to help Mitchell (and his desire to stay out of jail).

This is a well-told story filled with strong performances about a slice of history the movie makes feel fresh and relevant. A

Rated R for violence and pervasive language, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Directed by Shaka King with a screenplay by William Berson and Shaka King, Judas and the Black Messiah is two hours and five minutes long and distributed by Warner Bros. It is in local theaters and on HBO Max until mid-March.

Featured photo: Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar

Doomed Romance: Broken Hearts, Lost Souls and Sexual Tumult in Nineteenth-Century America, by Christine Leigh Heyrman

Doomed Romance: Broken Hearts, Lost Souls and Sexual Tumult in Nineteenth-Century America, by Christine Leigh Heyrman (Knopf, 304 pages)

Perform a Google search for “Martha Parker” and “Dunbarton, New Hampshire” and nothing especially interesting comes up. There’s just a smattering of obituaries and grave-marker sites related to assorted Parkers from the Merrimack County town near the intersection of Interstates 89 and 93.

What a difference a century or two makes.

Had there been Wikipedia in her day, Martha Parker would have been at the top of Google search results. For a time, she was one of the most famous young women in this part of New England, and a couple of men tried to make her one of the most scandalous. Let’s just say, if reality TV had been a thing in the early 19th century, there might have been a show called “Keeping Up with the Parkers.”

Historian Christine Leigh Heyrman discovered the story by accident, while studying correspondence to and from “pious Yankees set on saving the world,” missionaries originating in New England. In multiple letters, there were tantalizing mentions of the beautiful, young Parker, spurned suitors, broken engagements and a reputation in danger.

This was all the more interesting because Parker was no Jezebel; she was a pious, educated young woman who hoped to be a missionary’s wife in the Ottomon Empire. America may have been the promised land, but many of its 20-somethings, as it turns out, were clamoring to leave. For girls who grew up in a culture steeped in Calvinism, Heyrman writes, becoming a missionary’s wife was a prime aspiration, and these “assistant missionaries,” as they were called, were celebrities in New England villages, their adventures written up in the local newspapers.

“Years spent in the company of high-minded people have given me a taste for low gossip,” Heyrman says, and she wanted to learn more. Her investigation led to an archived box of correspondence that had been collected by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the powerful organization that controlled which pious New Englanders would be sent overseas to save the heathens.

The story was all there but in pieces, like a puzzle: letters, disaries, depositions and testimony the board had collected about Parker’s character.

That was difficult work, but then came the hardest part: convincing a publisher that all this antique correspondence would make an interesting book.

Fortunately, Heyrman succeeded, on both counts. Doomed Romance loses points for the titular spoiler, but it’s a surprisingly compelling account of a messy love triangle, examined through the mores of the time. Heyrman knits the travails of a 21-year-old who grew up in Dunbarton, bent on obtaining “assurance” of her salvation, into a tapestry of what New Hampshire was like in the early 1800s, as aspirational young women pushed back against the men who were bent on keeping them busy on the home front.

In the process, she makes clear the differences between a culture defined by religious faith and a culture defined by the lack of it, but also that despite the chasm between 1821 and 2021, a basic human nature prevails, with or without social media.

Heyrman at one point describes Parker and one of her suitors as “supremely self-absorbed, steeped in hothouse emotions and skilled at working up themselves and each other.” They had, she said, “over many years, become addicted to the drama of their relationship.”

Not that any of us would know anyone like that.

Like most of her contemporaries, Parker was in the market for a spouse, and because she was by all accounts (there are no photographs) comely and whip-smart, there were multiple men competing for her hand. The two that figure most into this story are Thomas Tenney and Elnathan Gridley, and for a time she was engaged to both.

Although Tenney, Heyrman writes, emitted an “odor of sanctity,” Gridley was richer and had better prospects on the mission field. (And, can we agree, a much better name?) So despite Tenney’s remonstrations — which included an hour-long dramatic reading of his account of their relationship to that point, delivered to Parker and her sister — Parker settled on Gridley. And then the fireworks began.

An anonymous tattletale reported to the American Board that one of their aspiring missionaries had, basically, the morals of an alley cat. Was it Tenney who filed the report? That’s one of the small mysteries that drives this story, as well as what will become of the three central parties.

Heyrman does superb work in piecing together this obscure, 200-year-old story, made even more challenging because, as she writes, “private lives were much more private then.”

“For centuries, stoicism served as the default mode for nearly everyone in the Western world, ordinary people especially. The harder life was, the more crucial to hold emotion in check: sometimes survival itself demanded restraint, even hiding the heart’s desire.”

While the book bogs down at points, weighted by the quaint language of the day and a historian’s penchant for mind-numbing detail, it is frequently enlivened by Heyrman’s light touch. She writes, for example, of the melodramatic exchanges between Parker and her suitors echoing “the purple prose of those novels evangelicals were not supposed to be reading.”

Overall, however, while this is a well-crafted history, let the buyer beware: Doomed Romance is no romance novel. It’s a serious book for the serious minded. B

Because the federal government doesn’t understand that none of us are emotionally equipped to deal with taxes during a pandemic, the tax filing season began last week.

Maybe you’ve already filed yours and are just waiting for the check to show up. For everyone else, let this be the year you take advantage of every possible deduction. There’s a wealth of books, some newly updated, that promise to help you do that.

How to Pay Zero Taxes by Jeff Schnepper, billed as “The IRS’s Worst Nightmare” (McGraw-Hill, 928 pages), is said to be the guide to every tax break the federal government allows. Given that one chapter is on cattle-breeding programs, that appears to be true.

If 928 pages is too daunting, there’s J.K. Lasser’s 1001 Deductions and Tax Breaks 2021 by Barbara Weltman (Wiley, 464 pages).

And, if you want to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, the IRS and Department of the Treasury publish their own paperback book, Tax Guide for Individuals (“Independently published,” it says; 137 pages). Infuriatingly, the IRS wants us to pay $12.99 in order to understand how to file our taxes instead of making all this information free on its website. At least it’s only 99 cents on Amazon Kindle for those inclined.

For a lighter take on the subject, take a look at Daylight Robbery: How Tax Shaped Our Past and Will Change Our Future by Dominic Frisby (Penguin Business, 288 pages). Frisby is a British comedian who apparently moonlights as a financial writer. He had me at the first page, in which he genially explains how in 1696 British monarchs William and Mary replaced the hated “hearth tax” (literally a tax on every fireplace in a home) with a tax on windows. Not surprisingly, people started building homes with fewer windows.

Daylight Robbery was published in hardcover last year, but a paperback version is out this month.


Author events

DIANE REHM Author presents When My Time Comes. Virtual livestream hosted by The Music Hall in Portsmouth. Tues., Feb. 23, 7 p.m. Tickets cost $5. Call 436-2400 or visit themusichall.org.

PAUL KRUGMAN Author presents Arguing with Zombies. Virtual livestream hosted by The Music Hall in Portsmouth. Tues., March 2, 7 p.m. Tickets cost $5. Call 436-2400 or visit themusichall.org.

C. J. BOX Author presents Dark Sky. Virtual livestream hosted by The Music Hall in Portsmouth. Tues., March 9, 7 p.m. Tickets cost $5. Call 436-2400 or visit themusichall.org.

Book Clubs

BOOKERY Online. Monthly. Third Thursday, 6 p.m. Bookstore based in Manchester. Visit bookerymht.com/online-book-club or call 836-6600.

GIBSON’S BOOKSTORE Online, via Zoom. Monthly. First Monday, 5:30 p.m. Bookstore based in Concord. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com/gibsons-book-club-2020-2021 or call 224-0562.

TO SHARE BREWING CO. 720 Union St., Manchester. Monthly. Second Thursday, 6 p.m. RSVP required. Visit tosharebrewing.com or call 836-6947.

GOFFSTOWN PUBLIC LIBRARY 2 High St., Goffstown. Monthly. Third Wednesday, 1:30 p.m. Call 497-2102, email elizabethw@goffstownlibrary.com or visit goffstownlibrary.com

BELKNAP MILL Online. Monthly. Last Wednesday, 6 p.m. Based in Laconia. Email bookclub@belknapmill.org.

NASHUA PUBLIC LIBRARY Online. Monthly. Second Friday, 3 p.m. Call 589-4611, email information@nashualibrary.org or visit nashualibrary.org.



Offered remotely by the Franco-American Centre. Six-week session with classes held Thursdays from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. $225. Visit facnh.com/education or call 623-1093.

Special events

EXETER LITFEST Literary festival will feature local authors, keynote speaker Victoria Arlen, book launches, a Saturday morning story hour for kids, and programs on various topics including publishing tips, mystery writing and homeschooling. Hosted virtually via Zoom by Exeter TV. Thurs., April 1, through Sat., April 3. Free and open to the public. Visit exeterlitfest.com.

Featured photo: Doomed Romance

Album Reviews 21/02/18

Disco Shrine, xxoo Disco (self-released)

Man, the world just needs to stop a second so I can catch my breath. This week I had to deal with a string of disasters, including two different hacks of critical life stuff, then it was the news about the “Robin Hood” subreddit Wallstreetbets helping desperate people make big money by trolling hedge funds, and today, this came into my emailbox with little explanation, the first EP from a day-glo Los Angeles-based girl who, I’m told, “bops,” in other words writes songs that have a lot more to offer than most of the corporate-run ridiculousness you usually hear on dance radio. The Iranian immigrant does have a great formula if you can get past the many trap beats (I still can’t, I’m sorry); the song structures and hooks are more like MIA and Gwen Stefani than anything else, marinated in hip-hop but with an eye toward ’90s-throwback radio. She’s getting big overseas and will probably take down a good number of slow-moving Taylor Swift fans as things progress. A-

Trance Wax, Trance Wax (Anjunabeats Records)

Here we have a Belfast-based DJ specializing in more-or-less throwback trance and meanwhile being touted as an innovator. That didn’t sit well with me for obvious reasons, but I was going to inspect this album anyway, being that it’s on my beloved Anjunabeats imprint, the home of the Above & Beyond dudes, whom I’ve talked about plenty of times here. It is a throwbacky record for sure, made of ’90s rave afterparty chill as opposed to more modern, immersive hypnotics. And that’s OK; if you’re big on slightly stripped-down electro, you came to the right place. Toward that, it can feel a bit cheesy here and there, not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. Wish they had put the single Clannad’s Moya Brennan. I’m sure it’s gorgeous, which I’m off to verify now, but again, that tune’s not on here, so it doesn’t even apply. B+

Retro Playlist

Going back to Feb. 17, 2011, your not-so-humble Playlist guy here (moi) was babbling something about Boston oi-pop band Dropkick Murphys, who “have made a career out of making Jonathan Papelbon into a tutu-wearing dancing bear.” The new album at the time was Going Out in Style, a concept album about some Irish guy, because as we all know, there are no other types of people in Boston except for Irish mill-workers who work 78-hour shifts. Thus a departure, more or less, but I did note that there were a few songs Bruins fans could sing at the top of their lungs “while the Bs get pasted by horrible teams like the Panthers” (that sentiment has changed now, of course, being that the team has no good scorers these days except for a few 40-year-olds and maybe the mascot).

Not that my B- grade reflected it as much as it deserved, but truly the loser album up for discussion that week was Native Speaker, from Montreal-based indie band Braids. The buzz over this, their debut album, was deafening, which made me instantly suspicious. And they did get some blowback from the press, which surprised me. The haters (I was one of them) thought these guys were too much like Animal Collective, “indulging in the sort of repetitive robot arpeggios you hear during the happier moments of nature documentaries.” In other words it was nice, sappy and disposable. I mean, it’s not a horrible album; I guess what surprised me was that no one jumped on the band for the album’s title track. It sounded too much like a Fever Ray tune, which is, admittedly, not shocking, being that the band’s singer sounds so much like Karin Dreijer Andersson (i.e. part Sinead, part Bjork).


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• Just like every Friday, Feb. 19 will see a few new albums, from bands and people and self-aware robots with Soundcloud accounts. One of the albums is from The Fall, and it is titled Live At St. Helens Technical College ‘81. If I’m still the professional music critic I’ve always been, the consummate tastemaker who can identify what an album is going to sound like just by looking at its title, I predict that the songs will all be live versions of old Fall songs, probably at a technical college of some sort, recorded circa 1981, or perhaps 1881, when this music was relevant to people other than those brothers who made the Stranger Things TV show. I don’t like The Fall and, um, uh, never really did, like it was always too messy, like Captain Beefheart on mood stabilizers. Feel me, guys? I know, I know, I’m supposed to be the noise-rock connoisseur around here, but The Fall isn’t noise rock, it’s just awful and gross. It’s OK if you like them, and if you do have that particular brain malfunction, I hate to tell you, but you’ll be sad to know that their landmark tune “Hip Priest” is not part of this package. Bummer, dude, but lots of other stupid Fall songs are on there, like “City Hobgoblins” and blah blah blah whatever, I don’t know.

• I think Brooklyn indie-rock band The Hold Steady sounds like They Might Be Giants with a Pennywise (lack of) personality, at least going by the only song of theirs you’ve probably ever heard, 2013’s “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” the punkish spazz-out that was pretty popular back then. Fast forward to today, and their eighth album, Open Door Policy, which streets on the 19th and is propelled by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones-ish horns of leadoff single “Family Farm.” It’s more along the lines of Barenaked Ladies, that kind of thing, stompy and danceable. I can deal with it.

• Scottish post-punk crew Mogwai have always been pretty cool, don’t you think? Buzzy, loud and all that stuff. But it is a new year, and a new album, As The Love Continues, which has a single, called “Dry Fantasy.” This tune is something of a surprise, like ’90s radio-techno-chill, not a lot of meat to it, but that’s OK, it definitely works if you want to relive all those afterparties where you passed out on your roommate’s futon while talking about French philosophy, and then talk turned to how much the both of you love Ren & Stimpy, which is basically the same concept as Foucault but with better graphics.

• Lastly, it’s Australian indie-folkie Julia Stone, who often records albums with her brother Angus, but not this time. She had some modicum of fame last year when she re-did the Midnight Oil song “Beds Are Burning,” but it didn’t save her from the fate that befalls all decent Australian musicians, specifically the problem with American audiences taking Australians seriously unless they’re in the band AC/DC. Her third solo record, Sixty Summers, will include the song “Dance – Alone,” which I assume is a variation on the wispy, angelic tune “Dance” that was on her last EP, a romantic trifle about picking someone up at a bar. It’s music for moonbats, but it’s nice.

Honolulu Cooler

Early on in the Covid lockdown, I decided to take ice cream to the workers at my dump. I wanted to do something for someone in essential services and I have a lot of respect for people who do hard, thankless work.

Every week during hot weather I would swing by the general store in our town on the way to the dump and grab them some ice cream bars or cold sodas. A small gesture of thanks.0

So I was at the dump transfer station, dropping off our trash and talking with one of the guys there, telling him some sort of stupid joke, something like:

Q: Why did the dolphin flunk out of ballet school?
A: Poor poise.

My friend laughed loudly enough to get the attention of one of the other guys working behind a giant stack of cardboard.




I’d kind of like that on my grave: THE JOKE GUY. HE BROUGHT ICE CREAM.

Anyway, one of my friends at the transfer station gave me a gift one week, a 1963 copy of The Barmen’s Bible — a well-worn cocktail manual from the time when bartenders could reasonably be expected to wear bowties.

This week, I was looking through The Barmen’s Bible and ran across a drink recipe that stopped me cold. Under a section devoted to “coolers” was something called a Honolulu Cooler — a solid name. A promising name. Until you get to the Southern Comfort.

Crushed ice — check

Lime juice — check

Pineapple juice — check

Southern Comfort … ?

Really, Oscar Haimo, President of the International Bar Managers Association, circa 1963? Southern Comfort?

As my wife pointed out, though, this drink is obviously called Honolulu because of the pineapple juice. It doesn’t necessarily have anything more to do with Hawaii than that. It could have been invented in an Elks Club in Akron.

So, this is what I figured. I’d make this clearly awful drink, figure out what was wrong with it (the Southern Comfort), then reformulate it to taste better.

As it turns out, there was a flaw in that plan.

The Honolulu Cooler is a solid, tasty drink. It’s shockingly good. You would think that Southern Comfort and pineapple juice would be cough-syrupy sweet, but the fresh lime juice keeps them on a leash. “Shhhh, boys,” it says, “these are our friends; be nice.”

It is refreshing and delicious. You could easily drink an injudicious number of these.

Honolulu Cooler

Juice of half a lime, about 1 oz.

1 jigger (1½ oz.) Southern comfort

Approximately 5 oz. pineapple juice

Fill a tall glass with cracked ice.

Add lime juice and Southern Comfort

Fill to the top with pineapple juice

Stir with a bar spoon.

A little research on this drink hints that it was actually invented and served in a large hotel in Honolulu. The more I thought about it, the more this made sense. It would be incredibly fast and easy to make for wide-eyed tourists and the use of a name-brand alcohol would allow the hotel bar to bump the price by a good 30 percent.

Of course, the fact that this is a perfectly good drink already did not stop me from reconfiguring it anyway.

My version uses lime syrup instead of lime juice, which would make the drink too sweet, but I countered that with the bitterness from Campari and a bracing note from gin.

Existential Luau

1 oz. lime syrup (see below)

1 oz. Campari

2 oz. gin (I like Death’s Door)

4 oz. pineapple juice

cracked ice or tiny ice cubes

Fill a tall glass – a pint glass or a Collins glass – with ice.

Add lime syrup, Campari, and gin.

Top off with pineapple juice.

Stir with a bar spoon.

This drink is pink, but not bubble-gum pink. It’s the color of a sunset. An apricot that someone has whispered a dirty suggestion to. The color of contentment at the end of a hot, trying day. The ingredients have a tendency to separate very slightly, so the Luau starts out a little bitter-sweet, then becomes more limey as you drink it.

As do your thoughts.

Lime Syrup

Juice of 3-4 limes

An equal amount (by weight) of white sugar

Zest of 2 limes.

In a small saucepan, bring the lime juice and sugar to a boil. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved, about 10-15 seconds, once it’s boiling.

Remove from heat and add lime zest. Let it steep for 30 minutes.

Strain the zest from the syrup, so it doesn’t get bitter.

Label your jar so you won’t have an awkward moment a week from now, when your wife wants to know what’s in that jar in the door of the fridge. Or maybe that’s just me.

Featured photo: Photo by John Fladd.

Wines for meatless meals

Veggies and seafood pair well with white wines

Grilled steak or spaghetti and meatballs call for a robust wine such as a cabernet sauvignon or a Chianti. Easy enough. But when the dishes are lighter fare, such as a baked or broiled fish or seafood, a salad, a cheese plate, the selection of the wine becomes a bit more complicated and can result in either a perfect pairing of flavors and richness or sheer disaster.

Often wines for these dishes tend to be white wines, although a bright, light red pinot noir or Beaujolais can be paired with some seafood, such as grilled salmon, grilled scallops and tuna, or a mushroom risotto. White wines can be light and crisp or fuller in body with some creaminess to the mouth. They span the spectrum from the dry citric notes of sauvignon blanc of Bordeaux to the less acidic notes of whites from the Venezia district of Italy, to Alsatian whites with their minerality, to California chardonnays, with their full mouth feel along with the possibility of oak.

The first wine is Bertani’s 2018 Velante Pinot Grigio (originally $14.99, reduced to $7.99, at New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets). As the name suggests, this may be considered the “Italian white wine” as pinot grigio is the most imported variety of wine in America. The grape variety is indigenous to Burgundy but is now grown throughout northern Italy and has migrated to the rest of the world. In Italy it is found in Veneto, Trentino, Friuli, and south to Umbria and Emilia-Romagna. This wine is mildly acidic, with a low alcohol content of 12.5 percent. The grapes come from the Venezia Giulia region, grown vertically trellised, harvested, and fermented in steel containers for three months, followed by another three months in bottle maturation.

To the nose it has an aroma of green or golden tart apples along with the subtle sweetness of pear and peach. It remains light and crisp to the tongue and to my palate is a bit like an unoaked chardonnay. This wine is perfect with light plates like a salad with greens, oranges and nuts, or broiled fish, pasta dishes and risottos. It is a pleasure to be enjoyed when cooled to 45 to 50 degrees.

Our second wine is Substance 2019 Washington State Chardonnay (originally $18.99, reduced to $14.99 at state stores). Charles Smith, winemaker and former rock concert tour manager, respects hard work and puts that hard work into his wine. This is a chardonnay that is aromatic with some citric, apples and flowers to your nose. The mouth is rich and creamy, with oak and vanilla and a bit of yeast that you would find in a Champagne. At 14 percent it is higher in alcohol than the pinot grigio, nudging the alcoholic content of rich cabernet sauvignons.

The wine is sourced from several vineyards in the Columbia Valley, all at elevations from 1,350 to 1,650 feet above sea level. Interestingly, the high elevations allow the vineyards an extended growing season as early late-summer harvest frosts can settle into the valleys before reaching the hillsides. This results in a higher sugar content in the grape and a full, rich flavor that excels beyond the citric notes a less mature chardonnay would have. This is an excellent wine to pair with lobster or salmon, but it can also hold up to a Caesar or vegetarian Cobb salad, and perhaps a simple green salad of lettuces and herbs, with a creamy and not too acidic dressing.

Jason Duffy

Jason Duffy is the executive chef of Bistro 603 (345 Amherst St., Nashua, 722-6362, bistro603nashua.com), which opened last August. Born in Brighton, Mass., and raised on Cape Cod, Duffy got his start in the industry at the age of 14 as a dishwasher at the Chart Room restaurant before moving up the ranks there over the course of a decade. He and owner Jeff Abellard are also part of a close-knit restaurant team that has run Bistro 781 on Moody Street in downtown Waltham, Mass., since 2015. Like its predecessor, Bistro 603 features an eclectic menu of items out of a scratch kitchen, ranging from small shareable plates to larger meals with optional wine pairings.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

Tongs, a side towel and a knife. You can get most things done as long as you have that stuff on hand. … The tongs are like extensions of my hand. I do a million things with them.

What would you have for your last meal?

Probably a big crab boil, with corn on the cob and whatever shellfish I can get.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

In N Out Burritos [in Nashua] has great aguachile. It’s basically heavily marinated citrus-spiced shrimp. We also recently went out to Michael Timothy’s [Local Kitchen & Wine Bar] for my birthday, which is a really cool place.

What celebrity would you like to see eating at your restaurant?

I am a book nerd at heart. I would love to have Stephen King in here.

What is your favorite thing on your menu?

Our braised short ribs. It has tender fall-apart beef, our house made gnocchi, truffled mushroom cream sauce and roasted Brussels sprouts. It’s one of our biggest sellers. Every part of it just always comes out great and consistent.

What is the biggest food trend in New Hampshire right now?

Scratch-made comfort food with a twist. … We can spend all day coming up with all sorts of intricate stuff, [but] I try not to use all sorts of terms on the menu that people wouldn’t recognize. We’ve noticed that the recognizable stuff sells tremendously at the outset, but as you build a client base and people know who you are then they start to trust you more.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

I love all kinds of soups. I’ll spend a couple of days making a really nice chicken stock.

Smoked tomato chimichurri
From the kitchen of Chef Jason Duffy of Bistro 603 in Nashua

1 cup smoked tomatoes (halved and smoked at 200 degrees for two hours)
1 tablespoon raw garlic
1 tablespoon raw shallot
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
½ tablespoon dry oregano
½ tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 cup vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine everything but the oil in a blender and puree. While running the blender, trickle in the oil to emulsify it all together. According to Duffy, the chimichurri is great as a sauce or a marinade for meats.

Featured photo: Jason Duffy

Tastes of Africa and beyond

Mola Foods to open new tasting room and kitchen

Since launching Mola Foods in 2016, Jeannette Bryant of Nashua has opened a retail store, established a culinary scholarship program and published a cookbook offering ideas on how to best utilize her globally inspired spice blends and chili relishes into one’s meals. Now Bryant is expanding her “culture in a bottle” theme even further in the form of a new space, which will serve as a combination store front, tasting room and commercial kitchen.

Set to open on Saturday, Feb. 20, the new Mola Foods location is much more than a larger retail spot for Bryant’s products.

You’ll also be able to order traditional meals from her home country of Cameroon in Central Africa as well as other nations, prepared fresh in the kitchen and available weekly through a grab-and-go model.

Bryant, who has been offering a similar meal service at Creative Chef Kitchens in Derry, known as Jals Cuisine Bantu, said the transition to Nashua allows her to do everything under one roof.

Although she expects meals to be available on the first day for visitors stopping in to the store, orders going forward will be accepted by 10 a.m. every Thursday, for pickup on Saturdays, either fresh out of the oven or out of a refrigerated case.

“People can experience Cameroonian cuisine right here in Nashua,” she said. “[Meals] will be from other countries too, so you’ll be able to taste different things from different countries, but you’ll always find at least one Cameroonian meal that you can try.”

One such meal is ndole — because it’s a dish made with a plant that’s indigenous to Cameroon, Bryant said, she uses spinach as a substitute, stewed together with peanut sauce, shrimp and beef, and served with boiled plantains.

A vegan version of ndole will also be available.

Other options will include a black bean and mango rice bowl with cilantro vinaigrette and red bell peppers; a Cameroonian peanut soup, made with tofu or beef and served with basmati rice; and a blackened sauce, known as mbongo, that will be cooked with bone-in pork.

New menus will be updated on Sundays for the following week. All of them will be used with Mola Foods spice blends, each of which is inspired by a different country, from African nations like Cameroon, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Morocco to those in Asia, like India, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

“Everything here is made fresh. There will never be meat in here that is conserved or frozen,” Bryant said. “That’s why we have people place the orders on Thursday. It gives us time to go to the market, purchase everything and start cooking.”

In the front of the retail store, small standing tables will be set up for designated tasting events of Mola Foods products, and the space can be used for private tastings for larger parties too.

Bryant said the concept of her company started when she was experimenting with a hot sauce recipe made from a Cameroonian ghost pepper.

The feedback she received from it was so positive that she began working with other world-inspired spice blends, sauces and marinades, and she has continuously expanded her product line ever since.

Most recently she has introduced hibiscus and golden milk turmeric tea, as well as a new sweet and spicy wing sauce.

Mola Foods
: 9 Simon St., Suite 103, Nashua
Hours: Retail store hours are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Order meals by 10 a.m. on Thursdays for pickups on Saturdays
Visit: molafoods.com or jalscuisinebantu.ecwid.com

Featured photo: Cameroonian ndole (spinach cooked with peanuts and served with boiled plantains). Photo courtesy of Mola Foods.

May the best chilis win

Amherst, Merrimack Lions Clubs to host “virtual” chili cook-off

If a hot bowl of chili has been one of your favorite go-to at-home meals, you’ll be able to showcase your creation during a special “virtual” cook-off. The event, a collaborative effort of the Amherst and Merrimack Lions Clubs, will be video recorded on Tuesday, March 2, at the former Buckmeadow Recreation and Conservation Area Clubhouse in Amherst.

“Covid has taught us to be very creative,” Amherst Lion and event co-captain Joan Ferguson said. “We said, ‘What can we do to continue the tradition?,’ and we kind of got more creative with it as we went along. There were a lot of combined resources to make this fall into place.”

One of the first tasks in organizing this event involved recruiting local chefs and restaurateurs to serve as “celebrity” judges, a significant change from the people’s choice voting of previous cook-offs. Merrimack Lion Adam Jump, who has been a participating chili maker in the past, helped select the three judges — Jay Smith, executive chef of the Copper Door Restaurant in Bedford; Dan DeCourcey, owner of the Up In Your Grill barbecue food trailer in Merrimack; and Alan Frati, owner of Crack’d Kitchen & Coffee Eatery in Andover, Mass.

Now through Feb. 24, anyone can register their chili by filling out an entry form on the Amherst Lions Club’s website and emailing a copy of their recipe. Chili cooks will then be invited to the March 2 taping at a designated time. Submissions will be divided into three categories for judging: individuals, restaurants and Lions Club members. Smith, DeCourcey and Frati will rate each chili on a scale of 1 to 5 in a variety of factors, like taste, smell, creativity and presentation.
“They’ll be judging everyone from each category at one time frame,” Ferguson said. “The entrants will get to receive constructive comments from these chefs, which is another thing that’s different this year and can be valuable as well.”

To promote social distancing, participants will be given a time within the two-hour event window for when their presentation will be recorded. Tables, napkins, spoons and gloves will be provided, but you must bring your own bowls, serving ladle, electrical cords and heating elements, in addition to at least one quart of your chili.

Among the restaurant contestants is Smokehaus Barbecue in Amherst — last year’s winner in the Restaurant category — as well as The Common Man of Merrimack, Tomahawk’s Butchery and Tavern in Merrimack, the Alamo Texas Barbecue & Tequila Bar in Brookline and Bobby and Jack’s Memphis Barbecue in Tewksbury, Mass.

Shortly after its taping, the recorded video of the cook-off will be uploaded onto the Amherst Lions Club’s website and social media pages. Viewers will be given the opportunity to purchase recipes from each of the cook-off entrants, with all proceeds going to the Lions Sight and Hearing Foundation of New Hampshire. Winners of each cook-off category will receive an engraved trophy and bragging rights for a year.

“Virtual” Chili Cook-off
: Tuesday, March 2, 5 to 7 p.m. (open to chili registrants only, with recorded video of the cook-off to be posted online soon after; enter your chili by Feb. 24 to participate)
Where: 30 Route 101A, Amherst (former Buckmeadow Recreation and Conservation Area Clubhouse)
Cost: No cost to register; participants’ recipes will be sold online ($5 for one recipe, $12 for three recipes and $25 for 20 recipes), with proceeds going to the Lions Sight and Hearing Foundation of New Hampshire
More info: Email amherstlionsclub@gmail.com, or visit e-clubhouse.org/sites/amherstnh

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