Ryan Montbleau unveils first of four new EPs

On the first track of his latest record, Ryan Montbleau celebrates imperfection. “If things don’t have to be perfect, it’s a lot easier for them to be right,” Montbleau sings, quoting his therapist.

There’s a lot of self-care on the new EP Wood, the first in a series to be followed by Fire, Water and Air. Montbleau tends to look on the bright side of things, like his upcoming gig at Portsmouth’s Music Hall on March 19. True, social distancing rules will reduce crowd size, but performing in the storied Historic Theatre instead of the smaller Loft space is a big plus.

“I’ve always wanted to play there; all it took was them limiting capacity to 20 percent,” Montbleau said with a laugh in a recent phone interview.

Similarly, the Massachusetts-born singer-songwriter managed to turn his pandemic year into a growth experience.

“It kind of sped up the process of life,’ he said. “It’s weird, but in some ways I’ve almost never been happier.”

Montbleau purchased his first house, in Burlington, Vermont. He took piano lessons, did weekly Facebook Live sets and the odd solo gig, and appeared on a local music talk show.

“I’ve been very lucky through all this; it’s kind of allowed me to stay in one place for once and start to build a home life,” he said.

Spotify and other streaming services provided a cushion as well.

“I’ve been building this thing for 20 years, and I don’t have to tour my face off like I used to,” he said.

One bit of good fortune: He completed the basic tracks for the new music in summer 2019, playing with a rotating cast that included jazz jam legend Martin Medeski. Montbleau worked with producer Adam Landry (Deer Tick, Rayland Baxter) at Guilford Studio in southern Vermont.

“I had just amazing people coming in and out,” he said. “Turning it into a record [is] what’s taken the last year and a half … a lot of tweaking, taking things out and putting them in.”

He divided the collection’s 15 tracks into four themes. Wood is rustic and down to earth, while Fire rocks hard. Water is calm, reflective, with songs inspired by time Montbleau spent doing medicine work in Peru.

“I would sit in the jungle in a tent for 10 days and work with different plants,” he said, calling the experience “pretty life-altering. … It points you in a different direction. … I feel like some of those songs were gifts; that’s why they ended up on Water.”

The final chapter, Air, offers a sense of closure and peace. It ends with “The Dust” and Montbleau singing, “just know that you are not alone, and that’s all you get to know now.”

Wood, Fire, Water and Air’s songs reflect a long and sometimes difficult period for Montbleau.

“My old band split up around 2013 and I lost my management at the time; I had a long relationship end and I’d been on the road for 10 years,” he said. “I had a lot of growing to do. Since then, I’ve been searching for who I am, how to heal and how to be better.”

Wood was scheduled to be released on March 12; the others are expected to arrive over the next three to four months.

The just-released EP includes the charming “Ankles,” an autobiographical song that touches upon his first tour, where he suffered a burst appendix and a busted van. Montbleau soldiered on in spite of that nightmare, becoming a festival staple along the way.

“If I could survive this, I could survive anything,” he decided.

“On the road I found my muses, off the road I lost my mind,” he sings, concluding with, “off the road I lost my uses, on the road I found my shine.” For most touring musicians, Montbleau explained, standing still is where the trouble begins.

It’s also where his growth had to start.

“You get so used to being on stage and having people appreciate what you do… when you get home finally and you’re just sitting alone in a room, it’s really daunting,” he said. “What is my purpose? What are my uses? Back on the road, I would find my shine under the lights, and find my purpose again. So I think the years leading up to now have been me digging deep and figuring out who I am, and who I was before I started doing this.”

An Evening With Ryan Montbleau
: Friday, March 19, 8 p.m.
Where: The Music Hall, 28 Chestnut St., Portsmouth
Tickets: $38 at themusichall.org

Featured photo: Ryan Montbleau. Photo by Shervin Lainez.

The Music Roundup 21/03/11

Mainstay: As his band Truffle marks 35 years together, front man Dave Gerard performs solo as he waits for the regional club scene to flower again. Truffle is perhaps the longest-running band in New Hampshire, a constant presence. The secret? “We keep writing music and bring back things we haven’t done in a while,” Gerard said once. “We’re always blowing the rust off of something and changing up the set list.” Friday, March. 12, 8 p.m., Telly’s Restaurant & Pizzeria, 235 Calef Highway, Epping, 679-8225.

Interplay: Always a fun evening of music and comedy shaped by audience participation, Dueling Pianos is served up in Celtic green with a side of shamrock for a St. Patrick’s Day themed performance. The formula is simple: Two piano players play requests dropped in a tip jar — and occasionally pre-empt a song when someone’s friend outbids, say, “She’s Got A Way” into silence (or, in this case, “Danny Boy”). Friday, March 12, 8 p.m., Chunky’s Cinema & Pub, 151 Coliseum Ave, Nashua, $20 at chunkys.com.

Countrified: In the early days of the pandemic lockdown, Maddi Ryan hosted weekly Couch Sessions with drummer and guitarist Charles Greenwood, playing everything from Dolly Parton to Buffalo Springfield, along with many of her own twanged-up originals. She and Greenwood are playing out again, Friday, March 12, 8 p.m., Bonfire Restaurant & Country Bar, 950 Elm St., Manchester, facebook.com/MaddiRyanMusic.

Reunited: Even a three-fifths JamAntics reunion is cause to celebrate, as The Special Guests — guitarist Lucas Gallo, bass player Eric Reingold and singing drummer Masceo — perform in the Capital City’s own cellarful of noise. The power trio promises a musical stew of rock, blues and funk, an extension of the genre-bending, “high energy, tasty licks” jammy, jazz-inflected sound the band established its reputation with in the late Zeroes. Saturday, March 13, 8 p.m., Penuche’s Ale House, 16 Bicentennial Square, Concord, 228-9833.

Greenery: 2020’s first Covid cultural casualty was St. Patrick’s Day. The Cam McMaster Irish Trio is one of several performers trying to keep the spirit alive this year at both branches of a pub that in past times would have a line wrapped around the building to feast on corned beef and cabbage washed down with a Guinness, but these are different days. Mark Lapointe kicks things off in Manchester at 8 a.m. Wednesday, March 17, 4 p.m., Murphy’s Tap Room & Carriage House, 393 Route 101, Bedford, murphystaproom.com.

At the Sofaplex 21/03/11

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run (PG)

Voices of Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke.

SpongeBob and Patrick — and then eventually all their buddies from Bikini Bottom — go to the “lost city of Atlantic City” to confront Poseidon and rescue SpongeBob’s pet snail Gary in this new animated movie. Sponge on the Run is delightful, if a bit more violent than you might want for your youngest Nick viewers (SpongeBob’s pending execution is a significant plot point in the movie’s back-half). But the animation has a nice bit of Play-Doh-like roundedness and a generally cheery color scheme. There are some delightful cameos (particularly during a weird detour where animated characters wander into a live-action-ish setting) and general goofy humor both visually and in the dialogue that make this movie a fun bit of silliness for adults as well as for kids, say, middle-elementary and up. B Available on Paramount+.

Moxie (PG-13)

Hadley Robinson, Lauren Tsai.

Rounding out the teen cast, Alycia Pascual-Peña, Nico Hiraga, Josie Totah, Sabrina Haskett, Sydney Park, Anjelika Washington and Patrick Schwarzenegger. Adults include Ike Barinholtz, Marcia Gay Harden and Amy Poehler, who also directed the movie based on the YA novel by Jennifer Mathieu.

Vivian (Robinson), daughter to single mom Lisa (Poehler), keeps her head down in high school and dreams of graduating and escaping, with best friend Claudia (Tsai), to the safety of a college science lab. But then outspoken new girl Lucy (Pascual-Peña) has Vivian reconsidering her passive reaction to the jerky and predatory behavior of school bully/star football player Mitchell (Schwarzenegger) and her school’s general discriminatory approach to girls versus permissiveness toward the school’s boys. Full of her mom’s good-ole-days memories of riot grrrl bands and patriarchy-fighting protests, Vivian pastes together a zine called Moxie, dropping 50 copies in the girls bathrooms. The zine spurs the girls to stand up for themselves and each other, but Vivian’s newfound zeal also causes a rift with her friend Claudia.

I mean, we can quibble about whether schools today are this laissez faire about very menacing bullies or if it’s really all that cool that high school girls need to resort to vaguely-Handmaid’s Tale-ish secret signals of support for each other but — Moxie is adorable. I don’t know how it reads to actual teens; from my vantage point this movie feels like mom wish-fiction about what you want your teen daughter’s life to be like. The girls here are rallied by a zine, love 1990s girl rock and social media is just a thing that exists at the margins. You (by which I mean me) want your daughter to feel empowered, not really have to deal with social media all that much, find support from fellow empowered girls, have honest conversations about different life experiences with friends and meet a boy who is genuinely respectful and supportive. And you (by which I mean me) want her to like awesome music that you will also turn up and embarrassingly mom-dance to, like the soundtrack to this movie (which doesn’t appear to be available yet as a purchase-able album but song lists exist all over the internet; time to make a mixtape!). Does this movie provide the same hit of Gen-X nostalgia as the Listen to Sassy podcast and the Real World season one reunion? Why yes it does! Now who’s up for starting a zine? B Available on Netflix.

Raya and the Last Dragon (PG)

Raya and the Last Dragon (PG)

Awkwafina voices a dragon and Kelly Marie Tran voices a warrior in Raya and the Last Dragon, a beautifully animated Disney movie in theaters and available via Disney+.

Similar to Mulan, this movie is available for an extra fee to Disney+ subscribers: $29.99 to see the movie before it becomes available to all subscribers on May 4. The fee allows you to watch it as many times as you like, something my kids took full advantage of this weekend.

The movie is set in the fictional land Kumandra, which feels like it is to Southeast Asia what Frozen’s Arendelle is to northern Europe. As Raya (voice of Tran) explains, Kumandra was once a land of harmony and dragons. But smoke creatures called the Druun sucked away much of the life from the land and turned people and dragons to stone. Sisu (voice of Awkwafina), the final dragon, used the last of her powers to create a gem that was able to banish the Druun and un-stone the people — but not the dragons.

The people responded to this brush with annihilation by fighting with each other over the gem and breaking into five kingdoms — Fang, Talon, Spine, Tail and Heart. Heart guarded the dragon gem, which caused mistrust in the other four kingdoms, who were constantly at odds with each other.

Thus is the state of things for centuries until Heart’s Chief Benja (voice of Daniel Dae Kim) tries to get all the kingdoms to come together. He has trained his daughter, Raya, to be a warrior who protects the dragon gem but also has tried to convince her that a rebuilding of trust between the five groups is necessary for the long-term survival of all people.

Naturally, Raya’s first attempts at trust — she thinks she’s found a friend in fellow dragon-fan Namaari (voice of Gemma Chan), the daughter of Fang leader Virana (voice of Sandra Oh) — do not go great. The dragon gem is cracked (with each group grabbing a piece) and the Druun are set loose upon the land again (and return to their turning-people-into-stone ways). Raya ends up on her own, out in the wilderness. (Raya and Namaari are maybe tweens or young teens during this flashback and six years older during the movie’s present day.)

After years of questing, Raya finds Sisu, who reawakens and admits that while she may be the “last” dragon she wasn’t really the “best” dragon, skills-wise. Raya and Sisu decide to undertake another quest: to find the pieces of the dragon gem, each of which contains a magical power from Sisu’s more powerful siblings, and bring them together to give Sisu the power to defeat the Druun (and bring back the people and dragons turned to stone and just generally save the world). Along the way, Raya gathers a crew: kid chef Boun (voice of Izaac Wang), baby pickpocket Noi (voice of Thalia Tran) and her hench-monkeys, and Spine warrior Tong (voice of Benedict Wong). Trailing this group are Namaari and her army. Fang is very determined to pursue a dragon-gem-as-deterrent-weapon policy and seeks to control more of the gem pieces.

Raya and the Last Dragon is absolutely beautiful to look at with some lovely world-establishing in its creatures (the colorful dragons, Raya’s armadillo-y pet), in its landscapes (which vary by kingdom), and in its mythology. Disney animation continues to wow with how it executes little details, such as how it renders water (which here behaves in all sorts of magical ways around dragons and their power). There is also something very Marvel-esque in the way it presents some of the action and the establishing shots, and in how the team came together (I got some serious Guardians of the Galaxy vibes at times).

The score is also very beautiful with melodies that really add some extra oomph to more emotional moments. This movie just missed this 2020’s Oscar contention cutoff (extended until Feb. 28 for the April awards) but I fully expect both this movie and its score to be in serious awards consideration next year.

I saw this movie several times throughout the weekend and while my initial reaction was to wonder if all the questing and history of Kumandra crowded the characters and their emotional arcs, I found that I appreciated this movie’s story-telling and rich world-building more with each viewing. These are solid characters; Raya, Sisu (who is sometimes a dragon and sometimes an Awkwafina-esque human) and Namaari all get interesting arcs that help examine the movie’s themes of trust and how a society at odds can find a way to work for the greater good and the difficulties of doing so. (Add this movie to the list of movies bringing me back to The Good Place and its “what we owe to each other” ruminations.) Even the supporting players (the con-artist baby and her monkeys, the Drax-like Tong, the cautious Virana) get enough space to add something to the emotional fabric of the story. It’s sophisticated stuff — delivered with visuals that look great no matter the size of the screen you’re seeing them on and in a kid-friendly way with the right amount of funny baby and animal antics. A

Featured photo: Raya and the Last Dragon (PG)

Books Notes 03/11/21

It seems strange for a book to come out first in paperback, but that’s the format for the new Stephen King thriller Later (Hard Case Crime, 272 pages), released last week.

A limited-edition, collectible hardcover is promised for the future, but for now paperback is your only option because like two previous King novels (The Colorado Kid and Joyland) Later was written for Hard Case Crime, a throwback to pocket-sized novels published in the middle of the 20th century.

The venture, the publishers say, “is dedicated to reviving the vigor and excitement, the suspense and thrills — the sheer entertainment — of the golden age of paperback crime novels.” King’s new book, like the others, is also distinguished by an original painting made for the cover.

The novel may have a 1950ish look, but the narrative is more late ’90s. That’s because the story involves an 8-year-old boy who can see and converse with the dead, a la the 1999 film The Sixth Sense, which King acknowledges in the book, saying the ability is “not like in that movie with Bruce Willis.”

Other authors in the series — which, we must presume, are primarily targeted at men because of the scantily clothed women on most of the cover art — include Joyce Carol Oates, film director Brian DePalma (writing with Susan Lehman), the late Ray Bradbury and the late Donald Westlake. See more at hardcasecrime.com.

For those who prefer their thrillers to be nonfiction, check out The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson, out this week (Simon & Schuster, 560 pages). It’s about how Nobel Prize winner Jennifer Doudna came to crack the code of genetics with what is known as CRISPR technology.

Like his subject, Isaacson, now a history professor at Tulane University, is the sort of person who exists to make the rest of us slackers feel badly about our life choices. Previously chairman of CNN and editor of Time magazine, he’s written seven other acclaimed books, including biographies of Leonardo da Vinci, Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Henry Kissinger and Benjamin Franklin.


Author events

ELLIOT ACKERMAN & ADMIRAL JAMES STAVRIDIS Authors present 2034. Virtual livestream hosted by The Music Hall in Portsmouth. Tues., March 16, 7 p.m. Tickets cost $5. Call 436-2400 or visit themusichall.org.

THERESA CAPUTO the star of TLC’s Long Island Medium will present “Theresa Caputo: The Experience Live” at the Capitol Center for the Arts (44 S. Main St. Concord, ccanh.com) on Wed., April 7, 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $39.75 (with option for a VIP Photo Op for an additional $49.95).

MICHAEL TOUGIAS Author of The Waters Between Us presents. Virtual, via Zoom. Part of Concord’s Walker Lecture Series. Wed., April 7, 7:30 p.m. Free. Call 333-0035 or visit walkerlecture.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.


TEENS POETS LAUREATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE READING The Teen Poets Laureate of New Hampshire will be reading, screen sharing and discussing some of their work. An open mic will be open to any teen poets and teens who are interested in applying for next year’s Teen Poet Laureate New Hampshire program. Part of the Poetry Society of New Hampshire’s Reading Series. Virtual, via Zoom. Tues., March 30, 7 p.m. Visit poetrysocietynh.wordpress.com.

DOWN CELLAR POETRY SALON Poetry event series presented by the Poetry Society of New Hampshire. Monthly. First Sunday. Visit poetrysocietynh.wordpress.com.

Featured photo: Stephen King thriller Later

Album Reviews 21/03/11

Decouplr, Digital Bonfire (self-released)

Debut LP from this boy-girl electronic music duo, who, I’m advised, have been duking it out on the “DIY scene” in Philadelphia for a decade or so (I could be a real jerk with regard to translating that particular claim to fame, but let’s just proceed). Singer Bailey Walker’s soprano is chill and breathy, sort of a cross between Goldfrapp and Billie Eilish, not something you haven’t heard before, but mildly interesting in the settings in which it basks, a series of low-intensity, subterranean trip-hop beats that pulse, twinkle and cross rhythms here and there. There’s nothing here that has the sheer depth of Portishead, let’s say that, but by the same token the songs hold their own and do aim for the same sort of broke-down subway ambiance as Dummy, an album that’s — my stars, around 27 years old now. Much as I’d love to recommend it, then, the record seems a little, I dunno, underdone. B+

King Yosef and Youth Code, A Skeleton Key in the Doors of Depression (self-released)

Given that I’m all up into horror-techno in general and KMFDM in particular (with caveats), I was pleasantly surprised by this collaborative EP from a trio of underground industrial/hip-hop artists. Portland, Oregon-based Yosef (real name Tayves Yosef Pelletier) has produced songs for Billboard Hot 100-charting rap artists like the late XXXTentacion and Ski Mask the Slump God, while Youth Code is a boy-girl pair-up from Los Angeles. The latter act’s singer Sara Taylor is the broken-glass-gargling singer in front here, sounding every bit the Lucia Cifarelli worshipper, and maybe even better, and the grinding, crazily angered beats are up there with Terrorfakt, if you have any idea who that is. The Skinny Puppy/Front Line Assembly cabal is big into them too; having Pelletier along to provide a little underground-rap sensibility makes this a tough one to top, I don’t care who you are. When you absolutely, positively have to get everyone on Elm Street running for the safety of the shops. A+

Retro Playlist

Wow, exactly (almost) 10 years ago, we had a couple of real doozies to talk about on this page, and the Playlist stuff was full of big-album news too. There was F.A.M.E., the then-new LP from Rihanna’s ex, Chris Brown. Ha ha, remember that one, with the song “Yeah 3X,” where Brown tried super-hard to dance like Michael Jackson? Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t that bad, and there wasn’t even a lot of Auto-Tune on there, so I really didn’t have anything bad to say about it, except for, of course, “ha ha, look, it’s Chris Brown!”

Anyway, of the two albums I talked about in this space the week of March 14, 2011, Angles, the album from The Strokes, was the biggest disappointment. Granted, the band ran into a ton of problems during the making of Angles, not the least of which was singer Julian Casablancas’ total absence from the planning of it, but nevertheless some critics claimed to think the album was good, a “return to form” (what, they’d actually left the form at some point?). The press’s praise, I noticed, was of the sort parents gush in the direction of their kids on Christmas morning, when the little dears finally break down and put on the pink bunny pajamas Grandma sent them. But I was free. I wasn’t trying to sell my opinion to Rolling Stone or Nylon editors, so I was able to snark at will: “Five years it took these guys to barf out what amounts to Second Impressions of Earth? Five years?” And etc., viewer discretion advised.

Now, the other album that week, Pet Shop BoysThe Most Incredible Thing, was another matter entirely. “There’s likely no band other than PSB,” I blowharded back then, “more culturally credentialed and intellectually licensed to combine techno and classical toward the creation of a modern ballet, as this is — the stage production is a modernization of the Hans Christian Andersen story, which grew from his disgust with the pointless conflict of his own time, the Franco-Prussian War.” Yes, it was a technopop/classical “soundtrack” album of sorts, from, yes, the same guys whose first hit single, “West End Girls,” substantially lowered the bar for pop music in 1984. My, what a terrific band those guys grew up to be, really.


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• The next general CD release date is this Friday, March 12, and now for a message about the rumors of my selling out to the corporate matrix! For months I’ve been amusing myself with a mutual dragging contest over email, with a mysterious cabal of underground-music guys, all of whom have a nicely warped sense of humor but who don’t seem to understand that you can’t ask for publicity in this fine upstanding newspaper while also remaining completely anonymous and — here’s the key — not having an actual, official album/mixtape/EP/single available for sale (or whatever, free download, I don’t care, anything that loosely resembles a finished product). In other words, to tweak the old, stale Game Of Thrones meme, “One does not simply send Uncle Ewic an email demanding coverage for a music release that is not a release and then spazz about the fact that he doesn’t take you seriously.” We’ll start with Zach and Emily, an “artist-promoting” couple who, under the corporate name of Cupcake Kamikaze, promote bands that are, you know, different. When last I heard from them, they were pushing a “band of meatheads” from Maine, The Imbosills, which had just released The Imbosills Sing Your Favorite Marvel Theme Songs on YouTube only. This fine collection kicks off with some joke song about Marvel superhero Scarlet Witch, and I had to shut it off about 30 seconds in, because it sounded like two 4channers singing in joke voices over a boombox recording of a guitar riff and nothing else. They also sent along a demo of “all-disco versions” of King Crimson songs that weren’t horrible, which isn’t to say they were good. So there you have it, guys, whoever you are; you have officially gotten some press in the Hippo. If this is all a troll, I technically won, because you spent a lot more time making these nonsense-songs than I did writing about them. I. Win.

• There’s really not a lot else to chat about this week, but we can discuss Louisiana sludge-metal band Eyehategod’s first LP in seven years, A History Of Nomadic Behavior, just so I’ll have a reason to go listen to them, which I’ve avoided doing for years. Ah, yes, here we are, the first single, “High Risk Trigger.” The band is like Crowbar with Trent Reznor singing. OK, moving along.

• Wow, more fringe-metal, might as well: it’s Rob Zombie, with new LP The Lunar Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy! I haven’t cared about this dude since his “Drag-U-La” days, but maybe this is good, I’ll go listen to his new song, “The Triumph of King Freak.” Whoa, this is cool, an Arabian-metal trip, sort of like Ministry’s “Khyber Pass” (the tune at the end of Hurt Locker). It is OK!

• We’ll wrap up this week with alt-blues/folk singer Valerie June’s The Moon And Stars: Prescriptions For Dreamers, in specific its single, “Call Me A Fool [feat. Carla Thomas].” It’s a nice little soccer mom song, sort of like “Blue Bayou,” a decent vehicle for June’s Kate Havnevik-ish sour-pickle voice. Norah Jones fans would like this I think.

Three random beers

March is unpredictable; so are these selections

Nobody knows what the month of March is going to throw at us. Exhibit A? March 2020 brought us essentially a nationwide lockdown.

On March 1, 2020, you had no doubt heard of Covid-19 but you can’t look me in the eye and say you had an inkling that in a matter of days you were headed for a full year of working from home. You could try to tell me you saw it coming but I promise you I won’t believe you. OK, OK, maybe I’d believe you if you are a medical professional. But most likely you are not.

March brings us bizarre, varied and often extreme weather. It brings us one of the biggest drinking holidays of the year. It also brings us a huge college basketball tournament. Sometimes, it brings us Easter. And fun fact: The Eiffel Tower opened on March 31, 1889.

What will March 2021 bring us?

With a month that’s this all-over-the-place, your beer choices are probably going to be equally random. Sometimes you get an 80-degree day in March, and that’s when you cue something light and refreshing. This March opened with bitterly cold temperatures, and, in turn, I stuck with big stouts and porters. Anything and everything in between is on the table.

Here are three random beers to enjoy this March.

Lighten Up by Lithermans Limited (Concord)

This double dry hopped pale ale is bursting with citrus aroma and fresh hop flavors in, as you might expect, a pretty light package — perfect at any time. Sometimes, I find that with all the super-hoppy IPAs available now, just enjoying a straight pale ale can be an enlightening and delicious experience. This is basically a toned down IPA but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more pleasing hoppy beer — juicy, crisp and tasty.

Fun side note: You can download the Lithermans Limited playlist right on its website (lithermans.beer) with Spotify or iTunes and “experience the musical stylings of Lithermans from the comfort of your own home.” Maybe other breweries do this too? I don’t know. But in a time where we’re all still finding ways to adapt, this is just another thoughtful way to recreate “normal” for your own sanity and beer-drinking enjoyment.

Farmhouse Noir with Raspberries by Stoneface Brewing Co. (Newington)

This is a complicated, unpredictable beer, making it perfect for March. This saison is quite dark on the pour and definitely brings some richer maltiness. But at the same time it’s also super bright and tart and just oozes raspberry flavor. It’s a little funky, a little sweet, maybe even a little chocolatey? This beer is going to keep you on your toes. Be ready for anything.

Beamish Irish Stout by Beamish & Crawford (Cork, Ireland)

Guinness gets all the attention in the United States on Saint Patrick’s Day and that’s just fine with me, but there are other traditional Irish stouts that deserve your attention. The Beamish Irish Stout is a little more decadent than a Guinness with a bit more chocolate and coffee character. Yes, drink this on Saint Patrick’s Day, but don’t limit yourself to that single holiday. This brew is incredibly pleasing and at 4.1 ABV it is exceedingly easy to drink for even the most stout-averse beer drinkers.

What’s in My Fridge
Sam Adams Gameday Beers by Boston Beer Co. (Boston) I love a good mixed pack and Sam Adams is the first company I think of when it comes to variety packs. The Sam Adams Gameday Beers pack features four lighter brews: Boston Lager, Cold Snap White Ale, Alpine Lager, which is new, and a Golden Ale. First, I think this variety pack would be perfect for summer, as these are all lighter, easy-drinking options. All of these brews are just “beers,” and I mean that in the best kind of way. They are flavorful, crisp and refreshing, and yes, agreed, these are perfect for gameday. Cheers.

Featured photo: Photo courtesy of Jeff Mucciarone.

Bryan Leary

Bryan Leary has been the executive chef of the Oak & Grain Restaurant (Inn at Pleasant Lake, 853 Pleasant St., New London, 873-4833, innatpleasantlake.com) since early 2016. In addition to indoor dining open to the public, the Oak & Grain is now offering seasonally inspired a la carte takeout meals. Its menu options change every two to three weeks but often include locally sourced steaks, seafood, soups and appetizers. Three-course brunches are served on Sundays. A New Hampshire native, Leary has amassed experience in all kinds of cooking styles over the course of his career. He graduated from Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island and later accepted a culinary position at the Scottsdale Fairmont Resort in Arizona. Before coming to the Inn at Pleasant Lake, he worked as a chef at The Grill Room in Portland, Maine.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

Either [a pair of] tongs, or my two-pound meat cleaver.

What would you have for your last meal?

My wife’s enchiladas with charred grilled chicken, and a Coke slurpee.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

I like The Coach House in New London. I also love The Black Trumpet [Bistro in Portsmouth]. Evan [Mallett] is an incredible chef there.

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

Probably [New York chef] Dan Barber. He’s one of my favorites. He’s incredibly smart in terms of food and expanding our horizons into what we should be eating.

What is your favorite thing that you’ve ever featured on your menu?

I really like being able to use product to create something that’s multi-faceted and just unique and different. … So, for example, we’ve done our own Tahitian buttermilk panna cotta from butter we make from local cream.

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

Switching to more of a family-friendly aspect in fine dining. We were strictly French service my first year here … [but] now the atmosphere is more easygoing and approachable.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

Barbecue food, because there’s a lot of complexity that goes into it. I love ribs especially.

Seared Canadian sea scallops and citrus-braised pork belly, with yellow curry yogurt, burnt leek puree, herbs and chicken kombu grains

From the kitchen of Bryan Leary of the Oak & Grain Restaurant, at the Inn at Pleasant Lake in New London

For the burnt leek puree:

Split a full leek down the middle. Rub with oil and burn on the grill or saute pan until black. Chop each side into quarters and place on a sheet tray. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove leek from the oven. Place it in a blender and puree with olive oil just until it is a smooth paste. Season with salt and a little bit of lemon juice. Set aside for plating.

For the yellow curry yogurt:
½ cup Greek yogurt
½ tablespoon curry powder
1 tablespoon yellow curry
juice of half a lemon

Mix all ingredients together until incorporated. Set aside for plating.

For the chicken kombu:
1 quart chicken stock (pre-bought or homemade)
2 tablespoons tamari (wheat-free soy sauce)
1 sheet kombu seaweed
1 cup mixed grains (quinoa, sorghum, millet or other grain of choice)

Pour chicken stock, soy sauce and kombu seaweed into a saucepan and simmer for 30 minutes.

For the pork cure:
Juice and zest of 1 lime, 1 orange, 2 lemons and 1 grapefruit
½ cup salt
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup bourbon
Pork belly

Mix ingredients together and rub on both sides of the pork belly. Place in a hotel pan, wrap and refrigerate for two days. After removing the cure, line the same hotel pan with foil and parchment paper and bake at 350 degrees for an hour and 45 minutes. Let it rest for 20 minutes, then cut up into 1-by-1-inch cubes. Set aside for plating. (Optional: For quicker time, you can use a few strips of bacon and bake at the same temperature for 17 minutes.)

Clean scallops under cold water, then pat dry. In a small mixing bowl, add a little oil and seasoning. Let the scallops sit at room temperature for at least 20 minutes. Add ½ tablespoon of oil to the pan. Carefully place scallops into the pan until golden brown, then flip and remove pan from heat. Let them sit in the pan for two minutes.

Add a small pile of the kombu chicken stock grains in the center of the plate, followed by a few dollops of burnt leeks puree. Place a few pieces of pork belly on top of the puree. Scatter the scallops around the plate, adding a dollop of curry yogurt on top of each. Sprinkle with fresh herbs.

Featured photo: Bryan Leary of Oak & Grain Restaurant in New London

Soup it up

Order now for outdoor SouperFest

Roasted Red Pepper & Butternut Squash Bisque from O Steaks & Seafood, Hungarian Mushroom Ale from the Concord Food Co-op, Smoked Brisket Chili from Georgia’s Northside — those are some of the soups on the menu for the 12th annual SouperFest, and you can only get them if you order ahead.
The event, hosted by the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness, will be held Saturday, March 20, at White Park in Concord.
In the past, Souperfest was held inside a school and brought in 800 to 1,000 attendees. Thirty-five soups were prepared mostly by home chefs and served to hungry patrons.
“People just had as much soup as they wanted,” said Greg Lessard, board vice chair of the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness.
This year, eight local restaurants will be preparing the soup, which must be pre-ordered on the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness’s website, concordhomeless.org. Anyone placing an order will select a half-hour window of time to pick up their soup.
With last year’s SouperFest getting canceled in March, Lessard said, soup orders are already pouring in for this year. The other five options are Pumpkin Apple Bisque from The Barley House, Clam Chowder from The Common Man, Vegetarian Chili from Hermanos Cocina Mexicana, Lentil Soup from The Works Cafe and Miso Noodle Soup from Col’s Kitchen.
“It’s a wonderful selection. You’re hard pressed to say ‘I’m only taking two of these,’” Lessard said. “The choices are so great you just can’t say no.”
Col’s Kitchen is a new face in Concord’s restaurant scene, having just opened in August. O Steaks & Seafood, meanwhile, has been participating in SouperFest since home chefs made up the bulk of the competition.
All proceeds from SouperFest will benefit the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness.
“[The Coalition] has a number of different programs that support people that are experiencing homelessness,” Lessard said.
These programs include an emergency winter shelter, a resource center and more.

SouperFest: Hosted by Concord Coalition to End Homelessness
When: March 20, 3 to 5:30 p.m.
Where: White Park, 1 White St, Concord
More info: concordhomeless.org/souperfest-2021

Featured photo: Hungarian Mushroom Soup from the Concord Food Co-op. Courtesy photo.

West Side comfort

Hotbox to open soon in Manchester

chicken wrap
Chicken teriyaki wrap. Courtesy photo.

Like many Granite Staters at the onset of the pandemic, Pedro Gonzalez of Manchester started cooking at home more often. Fast forward nearly a year and now he and several of his family members and friends are about to open their own eatery on the West Side, focusing on Latin soul and street foods with a New York City bodega-style storefront.

The concept of the Hotbox — fondly referred to by Gonzalez as simply “The Box” — began on a whim last spring with positive feedback for his family’s home-cooked Spanish meals.

“Restaurants were closed … and so our friends would come over and they’d be like, ‘What are you guys cooking? Can I grab a plate?’ We didn’t expect money or anything, so of course we were like, ‘Sure!’” said Gonzalez, a native of Bronx, N.Y. “Then we started showing our plates on social media, and it just took off after that, like wildfire.”

Gonzalez and his wife Kelli, daughter Ally, mother Sonia and family friends Kelley Richard and Kalley Mihalko all now have a hand in cooking or baking different items for the Hotbox. The original plan, he said, was for them to expand their newfound catering venture into a food truck before that later shifted to a brick-and-mortar restaurant. They found their current spot, most recently occupied by Rita Mae’s Restaurant, last August.

Hotbox’s menu will feature a variety of Latin soul and street food items, some of which will be available all the time, others on a rotating basis. Options may include chicken, beef or pork guisado, or a tomato-based sauce, with servings of rice and beans.

“Guisado is very popular in the Spanish community,” Gonzalez said. “We can do a Jamaican-style jerk chicken guisado, or we can do a hot Mexican guisado with spices. … We can do guisado with any meat, but the most popular one we have is our chopped chicken, which we cook in a sauce with onions and peppers.”

You’ll also find several types of empanadas and burritos, as well as Cubanos and fresh pressed sandwiches called “bobos” — the name, Gonzalez said, is a reference to Joseph “Bobo” Benedetti, who founded Benedetti’s Deli in Haverhill, Mass., in the early 1960s.

“I grew up literally five minutes from Benedetti’s Deli,” he said. “We’ll have massive subs, just like the ones I grew up eating.”

But Hotbox will offer more than just Spanish food — an ever-changing a la carte menu Gonzalez calls the “flip-flop” will be available to those who walk in, where you might find everything from pasta dishes to fried pork belly, half-chicken or shrimp. Once one “flip-flop” option is gone, he said, a new one will take its place.

Gonzalez said all kinds of unique dessert creations are expected too. One of the most popular options among their catering customers has been a layered “Oreo lasagna” cake.

Takeout and curbside pickup will be available, while between four and six tables will be set up in the eatery’s dining room by reservation only. Up to six people per party can reserve a table.

“We’re not trying to rush you out of here. We want to have it be a very intimate experience with your party when you come in to eat,” he said. “Our plates are big, too, so there will be leftovers.”

The front of the store will look similar to that of a bodega in New York City, with a few small grocery and household items for sale, as well as marinated meats, cold cuts and more.

Hotbox will be open for lunch and dinner to start, but Gonzalez said the plan is to branch out to serving continental breakfasts, omelets, breakfast sandwiches and other similar options.

An opening date announcement is expected in the coming weeks. Follow them on social media for updates.
Where: 280 Main St., Manchester
Hours: TBA
More info: Find them on Facebook @hotboxlfe or email hotboxlfe@gmail.com

Feautred photo: Jerk chicken plate with white rice and marinated onions. Courtesy photo.

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