Wide ranging

Concord band celebrates debut album

For Andrew North, the stage and the studio are two distinct places, with the latter a place for adventure. Phosphorescent Snack, the debut album from North and his band the Rangers, is a multi-tracked gem, with elements of funk, soulful pop and progressive jazz. It’s Steely Dan meets Frank Zappa at a 1969 Chicago Transit Authority listening party.

“Electrostatic Chills” expresses a solid groove intention, while the instrumental “Epiphone” showcases the four band members’ prowess: North on keys, drummer Dale Grant, bass player Chip Spangler and horn wizard Rob O’Brien. That the song is missing the instrument it’s named after is not lost on North.

“Yeah, there’s no guitar on the album, which has kind of become a point of pride for us,” he said in a recent interview.

Other standouts include “Down the Pipes,” with its echoes of Dixieland jazz, the can-do anthem “Dig Deep” and “Aditi,” the latter sounding like an unmistakable nod to a certain Vermont jam band.

“It’s hard to admit, because when we say we’re Phish-influenced, the reaction can go either way,” North agreed. “But there’s no question I‘ve soaked up so much of that over the decades, and it comes across in what I do. … I’ve stopped trying to downplay it.”

The connection is understandable; North moved from Burlington, Vermont, to Concord five years ago, bringing the energy of his first home along with him. Andrew North & the Rangers is a multigenerational ensemble; Grant has played drums for close to five decades, including sessions with members of Yes, Survivor and Cheap Trick, while the younger Spangler’s resume includes work in far-away places like Alaska.

Like many bands, the quartet planned to complete its debut disc in 2020, but when the pandemic ended live shows, time was used to polish it a bit more. O’Brien, who plays an electronic Roland Aerophone he affectionately calls Dustbuster that can emit a multitude of sounds, opened his laptop and created walls of horns that would please Earth, Wind & Fire.

“Covid-19 gave us a good chance to sit down and work the tracks up with some overdubbing,” North said, “and obviously, if you let Rob loose with a chance to take more than one pass at a song, he’ll take full advantage.”

North and his mates marked the record’s release with an August show at Area 23, a Concord haven for original bands like theirs. They’ll appear at Newmarket’s venerable Stone Church on Sept. 2.

“I was in a jam band in like 2006, and we were dying to get a gig at Stone Church,” North said, “and they never gave us the time of day… so I may be irrationally excited about that one.”

On Sept. 4 they’ll play a late set at the Keene Music Festival, a massive outdoor showcase of regional bands on multiple stages. Along with North’s group, Plague & Pestilence, a side project featuring Dead Harrison’s Jason Skulls and Lucretia X. Machina from Lucretia’s Daggers, will play its first public show.

Jake McKelvie & the Countertops, Jonee Earthquake Band, Kennedy Drive, Tyler Allgood and the Humans Being are among the New Hampshire bands represented at the event, which runs from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

“This is our first one and I’m really excited about it,” North said. “We’ve been kind of incubating in Concord for a while, and the music scene here has really started to gel in the last few years, which has been fun. Places like Area 23 really help to nurture it.”

Andrew North & the Rangers will appear again in their Concord hometown later this year, at Penuche’s Ale House on Friday, Oct. 22, and Area 23 on Friday, Nov. 5.

Andrew North & the Rangers
Thursday, Sept. 2, 8 p.m.
Where: Stone Church, 5 Granite St., Newmarket
Tickets: $5 – more at facebook.com/andrewnorthandtherangers
Also appearing Saturday, Sept. 4, at Keene Music Festival in Downtown Keene – City Tire Stage, 7:15 p.m.

Featured photo: Andrew North and the Rangers. Courtesy photo.

The Music Roundup 21/09/02

Local music news & events

Songbird: With a set list of covers ranging from Lulu to Sara Bareiles, Marlena Phillips also offers original music and engaging energy. She’s spent close to three decades entertaining audiences of all types, from resorts to restaurants. Last June, she appeared at the Rex Theatre in Manchester, opening for Cars tribute act Panorama. Recently, Phillips released the sunny love song, “Meant to Love You” and the country-flavored “Running Under Water.” Thursday, Sept. 2, 6 p.m., LaBelle Winery, 345 Route 101, Amherst. See marlenaphillips.com.

Jokemeister: A big finish in Season 2 of Last Comic Standing led Kerri Louise to star in a Women’s Entertainment Network reality show with her husband, comic Tom Cotter; Two Funny focused on raising their twin sons. In 2016 she published the tongue-in-cheek how-to guide Mean Mommy, offering “inspiration, encouragement and non-stop laughter that will last way longer than the warm feeling on your baby’s butt.” Friday, Sept. 3, and Saturday, Sept. 4, at 8:30 p.m., Chunky’s Cinema, 707 Huse Road, Manchester, $20 at chunkys.com.

Supergroup: A regional showcase includes Marble Eyes, which came together during the pandemic when Pink Talking Fish bassist Eric Gould and Mike Carter, guitarist for The Indobox, made good on a years-long promise to jam together. The two recruited Seacoast mainstay Max Chase to play keyboards, and Kung Fu drummer Adrian Tramontano, and their driveway sessions at Gould’s house were elating. Saturday, Sept. 4, 6 p.m., Prescott Park, 105 Mercy St., Portsmouth, $8 donation suggested, prescottpark.org.

Rocksteady: Enjoy an extra weekend night at I Love Dancehall, Part Two, an event that dives into the dance music born at the intersection of Jamaican reggae and dub, a genre much discussed recently with the death of legendary producer Lee “Scratch” Perry. Hosted by local luminaries DJ K-Low and DJ Ace, the show includes live performances from C-Scharp, Mic Vee, Illijah, Young Chrigga, Dynamic , Xiomy and Fate-One. Sunday, Sept. 5, 8 p.m., 603 Bar & Grill, 1087 Elm St, Manchester , $10 cover; 21+.

Crossover: With a lead vocalist, harpist, cellist and piano player, Sons of Serendip isn’t the sort of band one expects to cover Kansas, Keane or Stevie Wonder, but they do, injecting classical elements into pop songs. Formed by a group of graduate student friends at Boston University, they made it to the finals of America’s Got Talent, and later the Billboard charts, with their ethereal reimagining of current hits. Wednesday, Sept. 8, at 8 p.m., Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 S. Main St., Concord, $35 and up at ccanh.com.


CODA (PG-13)

High school senior Ruby discovers her talent for singing but she is conflicted about leaving her family to go to music school in CODA, a sweet and extremely charming coming of age story.

Unlike her mom Jackie (Marlee Matlin), dad Frank (Troy Kotsur) and older brother Leo (Daniel Durant), Ruby (Emilia Jones) is hearing (the “child of deaf adults” of the movie’s title). Ruby works with her dad and brother on their fishing boat, often serving as the one to negotiate the price for the day’s catch, before heading to school.

On a whim — and as an excuse to hang out around Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), a fellow senior she’s crushing on — Ruby joins the school’s choir. Though able to belt out Motown classics on the fishing boat, Ruby is shy singing in front of other students, particularly since she was bullied for the way she talked as a child and is still picked on for her family generally. But choir teacher Bernardo Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez) pulls her past this and helps her let loose her love of singing and her natural talent. He also picks Ruby and Miles to sing a duet at an upcoming recital — leading her to break out of her shell with him as well.

As she finds her footing in choir, the family’s fishing business grows more precarious. Their earnings for each catch are decreasing and government oversight is increasing. Leo wants to start a co-op with the other fishermen that will get them better prices but Frank is uncertain about getting involved with the hearing fishermen. Leo also struggles with the family’s reliance on Ruby to interpret, as does Ruby. She wants to pursue singing and the possibility of getting in to Berklee School of Music, which Bernardo says he will help her apply for. But she also feels obligated to help her parents.

Delightfully, the movie builds a relationship between Ruby and her family that features her fierce love of them as well as her thorough (and realistic) teenage “mom!” annoyance — when they play music too loud as they pick her up from school (her dad loves the loud bass of rap), when they have a wonderfully (purposefully) awkward conversation with Miles, when her mother gets on her about how she’s dressed. It’s so perfectly teenage-parent, so much meaning-well and love and delighting at her embarrassment and “gah, back off” all rolled up into the moment. Likewise, Ruby’s loving sibling relationship with Leo is highlighted by a series of excellent insults (not one of which I can repeat in print). Because of the movie’s well-drawn relationships and fully realized characters, CODA feels as much like a family coming of age as much as it is the story of Ruby’s coming of age. Not only is Ruby making decisions about her life and what she wants to do; each member of the family is taking steps in new directions in a way that also feels very real.

There are excellent performances all the way around in this movie — Jones but also Kostur, Durant and Matlin. And it was really a joy to watch Derbez in this kind of role. I mostly know him from big, broad comedies but here he hits the right note as a caring and talented teacher.

CODA is a joy throughout. A

Rated PG-13 for strong sexual content and language and drug use, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Written and directed by Sian Heder (and based on a French film from 2014 called La Famille Bélier), CODA is an hour and 51 minutes long and is distributed by Apple on Apple TV+. CODA is screening in theaters (in Massachusetts as of Aug. 31) and on Apple TV+.

Candyman (R)

An artist living in a recently gentrified Chicago neighborhood finds himself and his work tied up in local lore in Candyman, a sequel to the 1992 horror movie.

Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), whose name comes with backstory for people who have seen the original movie (I haven’t), has recently moved with his girlfriend, Brianna (Teyonah Parris), to an airy apartment in the gentrifying neighborhood of Cabrini-Green, the onetime home of housing projects (that were the setting of the first movie). He is blocked, artistically, presenting pieces to an art gallery operator that are just riffs on earlier work. After Brianna’s brother, Troy (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), tells a story about a series of murders involving a woman named Helen Lyle, Anthony decides to dig into the history of the area, hoping he’ll find some inspiration.

He meets William (Colman Domingo), a longtime resident, who tells Anthony about the legend of Candyman, a presence who appears after saying his name in a mirror five times and who then kills those who summoned him. But the legend isn’t just a local boogeyman tale; the more Anthony digs in to the story the more he learns about the various men who are considered to be the figure’s origin, all the way back to Daniel Robitaille (Tony Todd) in the 19th century — all killed by police or lynch mobs. This investigation of Candyman takes Anthony’s work in strange directions and seems to be messing with his head. He is also having an extremely bad reaction to a bee sting. Anthony’s deteriorating mental and physical states have Brianna concerned. And then acquaintances of the couple start dying.

I think I generally like where this movie starts out, the various issues it sets up: Anthony’s artistic block, Brianna’s career ambitions, Brianna’s current status as the breadwinner of the couple and how that clearly bugs Anthony, the gentrification of the neighborhood they now live in. And I like where the movie seems to be wanting to go with its overall message. But in the middle, the movie seems to wander a bit and lose the threads at times.

The movie is tightly focused on Anthony at first but somewhere around the two-thirds point it just sort of drops him as a person we’re in the mystery with, which makes his story feel unfinished. Not that a movie like this needs to make perfect sense but there are elements that felt like they needed more explanation — or maybe just a more organic explanation. Frequently it feels like plot points connect in that “puzzle pieces smashed together” sense, resulting in information having to be told to us rather than more naturally revealing itself.

I’m a sucker for this particular kind of horror, though, one that puts dread and spookiness ahead of gore (though this movie has gore). And this movie has a great visual style, particularly in the way it uses shadow puppets to illustrate exposition — they are both eerie and very pretty. Candyman may not perfectly click together for me with its plot but it delivers on atmospherics. B-

Rated R for bloody horror violence, and language including some sexual references, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Directed by Nia DaCosta with a screenplay by Jordan Peele & Win Rosenfeld and Nia DaCosta, Candyman (that’s six; do computer screens count as mirrors?) is an hour and 31 minutes long and is distributed by Universal Pictures in theaters.



Cinemark Rockingham Park
15 Mall Road, Salem

Red River Theatres
11 S. Main St., Concord
224-4600, redrivertheatres.org

Regal Fox Run Stadium 15
45 Gosling Road, Newington


Stripes (R, 1981) 40th anniversary screening at Cinemark in Salem and Regal Fox Run in Newington on Thursday, Sept. 2, at 7 p.m.

The Green Knight (R, 2021) screening at the Red River Theatres in Concord Friday, Sept. 3, through Monday, Sept. 6, at 3:15 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Stillwater (R, 2021) screening at the Red River Theatres in Concord Friday, Sept. 3, through Monday, Sept. 6, 12:30, 3:45 and 7 p.m.

Together (R, 2021) screening at the Red River Theatres in Concord Friday, Sept. 3, through Monday, Sept. 6, at 1 p.m.

Backdraft (R, 1991) 30th anniversary screening on Sunday, Sept. 5, at Cinemark in Salem at 3 p.m. and Regal Fox Run in Newington at 3 and 7 p.m., and on Wednesday, Sept. 8, at both locations at 7 p.m.

The Alpinist (PG-13, 2020) screens on Tuesday, Sept. 7, at 7 p.m. at AMC Londonderry and Cinemark in Salem.

Featured photo: CODA. Courtesy photo.

Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light, Essays by Helen Ellis

Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light, Essays by Helen Ellis (Doubleday, 176 pages)

Resist the temptation to dismiss Helen Ellis because of her previous titles, Southern Lady Code and American Housewife, which sound like something Paula Deen might have written.

Ellis was, in fact, raised in Alabama, but shrugged that life off early in her 20s to move to New York City in hopes of becoming a writer. Before that dream was realized, however, she made a name for herself as — no joke — a high-stakes poker player. When the writing career came, it was jump-started by an anonymous Twitter account she called “American Housewife” with the handle @WhatIDoAllDay. Her timeline was richly sardonic, the MiracleGro for popularity on that platform, and a brand was born.

Her fourth book is a collection of essays called Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light, mostly composed of foul-mouthed reflections on aging, periodically interrupted by foul-mouthed reflections on cancer and other indignities of life. It begins benignly enough, with Ellis reporting that she is heading for Panama City, Florida, “aka ‘The Redneck Riviera,’” with four friends for a jaunt she calls the “grown-ass ladies’ trip,” the highlight of which is a night out to see a TV psychic, Theresa Caputo, star of a show called Long Island Medium.

After the national anthem, which everyone sang while facing an American flag projected onto the screen, the TV psychic explained that she goes “where the Spirit leads” and that occasionally she gets hot, because perimenopause. This caused Ellis to whoop and clap. “God bless this woman for yelling ‘menopause’ in a crowded theater.” she writes. “I wasn’t sure if I believed in her power, but I believed we could be friends, so she had me now, and I was rooting for her.”

And Ellis is off, with her particular brand of humor, which is a combination of Nora Ephron without the divorce and Erma Bombeck without the kids. Married for 25 years and happily childless, Ellis identified ironically as a housewife until just a few years ago, when she started owning the title “writer” after years of being famous as a pearl-wearing poker player. That distinction is one that makes her a “character,” which she explains is different from a naturally funny person. “A character wants to be the life of the party. Or the life of a seven-hour flight delay. Or the life of a Piggly Wiggly checkout line.”

For the perplexed, Piggly Wiggly is a chain of supermarkets mostly in the South. That, and the pearl-wearing, however, is about Southern as Ellis gets. There’s some of the late Texas humorist Molly Ivins in her, but she would be right at home in the cast of Sex and the City, and her humor is as racy in places as that of Carrie Bradshaw. There is, for example, the chapter in which she admits that she and her husband speculate about the sex lives of their friends. For example, she will say, after long-married friends leave, “There’s no way they’re still having sex,” to which her husband will respond, “Shh, they’re still in our hallway.”

She writes of salivating over a velour housecoat in the Vermont Country Store catalog, and the potential effect it would have on her husband’s libido. She says he would rather come home and catch her in a pyramid scheme than in that robe.

Ellis nails the one-liners in this short string of folksy anecdotes, as when she describes garage-sale regulars as “people who want to profit from your poor life decisions.” She used to wear all black to her poker games because “I myself am a pop of color,” which is shown to be true in stories about accompanying friends to have a baby or to get Botox in possibly illegal circumstances. She and her husband don’t drive (“yes, we will wing it in a zombie apocalypse” but having never owned cars, they “are not confident drivers’’), and as such have collected many comical stories involving public transportation, such as taking long bus rides to casinos. She distrusts technology (“The cloud is tech talk for something Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg invented to store your political preferences, porn searches and high school reunion pictures”) and invents descriptions of her friends when storing their contact information in her phone; rather than John or Mary, for example, they are the “the grifter,” “the puzzler,” “the saint” or “the zookeeper.”

In short, she’s your zaniest friend, on steroids and on her third drink, still possessed of the presence of mind to write everything down.

The collection, however, doesn’t rise to Sedarisian heights, however, because it’s too frothy. David Sedaris is one of the greatest humorists working today because there is a point to everything he writes, no matter how hilarious. There’s not much of a point behind these stories than to make us laugh, or to mildly rage. Ellis’s mother used to tell her, “Helen Michelle, you’re not for everyone,” although she’s probably for everyone who spends more than seven hours a week on Twitter. Hers is a particular brand of humor, for the perpetually caustic with short attention spans. The title notwithstanding, the book packs light and wants a bit more baggage. C+

Book Notes

Can a funny title alone sell a book?

Probably not if the content is wretched, but some publishers seem to be lapping up bad puns these days. Witness the success of the Chet and Bernie mystery series by Spencer Quinn, which features narration by a dog and titles like Scents and Sensibility and (reviewed here recently) Tender is the Bite.

The mystery genre seems especially prone to punnage, given that there is also an “undercover dish mystery series” by Julia Buckley that includes the titles The Big Chili, Pudding Up With Murder and Cheddar Off Dead.

Then there’s the Avery Aames mystery series built entirely around cheese that includes the groan-inducing titles To Brie or Not To Brie, As Gouda as Dead, The Long Quiche Goodbye and Days of Wine and Roquefort. (Aames also has a novel entitled Cheddar Off Dead, and Connecticut author Korina Moss has a Cheese Shop mystery coming out with that title in the spring of 2021, indicating that publishers like bad puns so much they’re willing to reuse them.)

Perhaps most impressive is the “Bought the Farm” mystery series by Ellen Riggs, if not for its punnage, just for the sheer volume of words.

Riggs’ titles include the forthcoming How to Get A Neigh With Murder (for now, only available on Kindle pre-order), and the previously published Dogcatcher in the Rye, Dark Side of the Moo, Till the Cat Lady Sings, Twas the Bite Before Christmas and Swine and Punishment.

For a more erudite look at puns and why we love them, check out John Pollack’s The Pun Also Rises (Avery paperback, 240 pages).

Pollack, a journalist and former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, knows something of which he writes, having won the O’Henry World Pun-Off competition in 1995. Yes, that’s a real thing. This year’s contest is scheduled for Oct. 23. Check it out at punoff.com.

Featured photo: Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light.

Album Reviews 21/09/02

Kazemde George, I Insist (Greenleaf Music)

There’s something of a precedent for this album, at least in an inspirational sense. In 1960, jazz drummer Max Roach released We Insist! Freedom Now Suite, a set of five songs intended to be performed during the centennial celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1963. Impossibly, more than 50 years since, the equal rights struggle is still mostly a political battle that’s far from resolved. This, then, is George’s own musical thoughts on the matter, submitted in the — as I’ve noted a million times now — now-hopeless hope that art will inspire humanity to finally stop being idiotic about obvious things. But putting the intent aside, this is a really nice Barcalounger-jazz record from the sax player, leading a group for the first time under the auspices of Dave Douglas’ Greenleaf Music label. Beautifully engineered, these mellow pieces form a crystal clear pond of dive-right-in ambiance. George is definitely a sax player to watch, as his terrific soloing attests, and vocalist Sami Stevens is a treasure, scatting and crooning her way around most elegantly and with an original, unstressed sound. I’d recommend this to anyone. A+

Foghat, 8 Days On The Road (Select-O-Hits Records)

The only original Foghat member in this band is drummer Roger Earl. Singer Dave Peverett died years ago, and so did their lead guitarist, Rod Price (Fritz Wetherbee would want me to mention that Price died in 2005 in Milford after a household mishap). Who cares about the bass player, so that leaves the 70something drummer, like I said, and a bunch of other arena-rock pros, all of whom put up a good enough live front. This record launches with one of my fave overlooked oldies, “Drivin’ Wheel,” then gets into the goods, resurrecting the version of “Road Fever” from the original Foghat Live LP that put them on the map; only thing that’s missing is the energy you could literally feel wafting out of the giant-ass crowd (this all has more of a club vibe). Obviously for Foghat completists, if there are any still alive, and if that’s you, you’ll be psyched to learn that they’re playing at The Big E in Springfield, Mass., on Sept. 19. B


• Jane, stop this crazy thing, it’s September, and on Friday the 3rd new albums will appear as spam choices in your friendly streaming service, that super-friendly app that has totally never happily handed over the list of all your personal music choices to marketing data companies so that they could estimate your age, relationship status and economic privilege level and know what ads to send you, because there is no way that you are just viewed as a mindless consumer-bot by the Sentinels of the Big Tech matrix. No, I’m not kidding, everything’s fine, did you know that when you use the free wi-fi at Target, they track you through the store and make notes about what products you look at so they can fine-tune their email spam, no, I’m joking, seriously, oh look, there’s a squirrel, um, I mean a new album, called Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, from U.K. experimental rapper/actress Lil Simz! Her career has had a lot of help from famous Hanna-Barbera cartoon and trip-hop band Gorillaz; she opened for them during the 2017 Humanz Tour, and they’ve guested on each other’s albums. The single, “Introvert,” starts with an orchestral part that’s bombastic and Wagnerian, then settles into a pedestrian, almost-trip-hop beat over which Simz lays down some fluttery grime-ish bad-assery. The tune takes itself way too seriously, but whatever, you might honestly love it, and that’s your right!

gg bb xx is the fourth album from Los Angeles synthpop band LANY, and it is on the way, which is actually good news, because they’re nowhere near as horrible as so many Top 40 bands are today. In fact, the new single, “Up To Me,” is like a cross between Above & Beyond and Boyz II Men, really chill but vocally rich. At the rate these guys are going, this LP will probably reach No. 1, I’m serious.

• Ha ha, look folks, it’s Nevada-based sort-of-rock band Imagine Dragons, with a new album, called Mercury – Act 1! Yes, that’s right, they didn’t break up, that was only a rumor that surfaced when one of the guys said he wanted to spend more time with his family. I know, drat the luck, am I right? To me, Imagine Dragons are basically the Dane Cook of modern ringtone-rock, sort of like if Coldplay and Ed Sheeran had a baby that stuck to whipping out the Millennial Whoop in every one of their stupid songs and only cared about appealing to 11-year-olds who have smartphones, despite the Surgeon General’s warning about smartphones lowering preteen IQs by one point every week they’re used. No, I kid, so, moving on, the new single, “Wrecked,” is a chillout song, an amalgam of Bon Iver, Coldplay and Seal I guess.

• We’ll wrap up the week with Senjutsu, the latest album from arena-metal stalwarts Iron Maiden, who are from England! Fun fact, and I don’t know if this is some sort of publicity stunt or whatnot, but the band’s singer, Bruce Dickinson, apparently contracted Covid-19 even though he was vaccinated. As always, I hesitate to believe anything a rock star says, because usually it’s just a prank to get media attention, which I personally refuse to provide, oh wait, darn it, I just did. The tire-kicker single, “The Writing On The Wall,” is southern-rock-ish, like the Outlaws, except with Bruce Dickinson’s voice. The video is a cartoon about some motorcycle dudes and some guy dressed like the Grim Reaper and there’s a dragon-shaped nuclear bomb; none of it makes any sense, par for the course with this band, whose visuals were always dumb.

If you’re in a local band, now’s a great time to let me know about your EP, your single, whatever’s on your mind. Let me know how you’re holding yourself together without being able to play shows or jam with your homies. Send a recipe for keema matar. Message me on Twitter (@esaeger) or Facebook (eric.saeger.9).

Espresso martini

Editor’s note: Sometimes the essence of a drink can be summed up in short story. ‘Tis thus with this week’s cocktail.

Elizabeth closed her eyes and took several deep breaths, before opening them again and walking to the bar.

Friggin’ Sheila O’Brien

Elizabeth had spent the better part of a week making arrangements to get one evening to herself, to spend a couple of hours alone, drinking a glass of wine and reading. She’d grabbed a book from the middle of the pile on her nightstand. She’d even remembered an umbrella.

And then Sheila had been standing by the door inside the bar.

They’d gone to high school together; Sheila had always been able to smile and cut Elizabeth down with a sentence, to crush her effortlessly. From how easily she’d done it again tonight, it was almost like she’d been practicing.

But, Elizabeth thought as she settled herself at the bar, that was over for the moment. She caught the bartender’s eye. Raven, was that her name?

She started to order a glass of the house white, but Raven was a step ahead of her and deposited an espresso martini in front of her. This is absolutely not what Elizabeth would have remotely considered ordering, but it did look good…

It was dark and deep, and skull-shrinkingly cold. The coffee was rich and a little bitter, but there was a sweetness in the background that rounded it out.

Elizabeth looked up at Raven and started to speak, to thank her for reading her situation so well, but the bartender beat her to the punch.

“You have kind eyes, but I wouldn’t mess with you.” Then she walked away.

This was not what Elizabeth was expecting, but the more she thought about it, and the more of her martini she drank, the more she liked the sound of it.

She almost hoped Sheila was still by the door when she left.

Espresso martini


2 ounces coffee-infused vodka (see below). Could you make this with regular, run-of-the-mill vodka? Yes, of course, but it wouldn’t contribute to the depth of the overall flavor. Using the infused vodka will deepen the finished drink.

½ ounce Kahlua

½ ounce simple syrup

1 ounce cold-brew coffee concentrate

Combine all ingredients over ice in a mixing glass and stir gently but thoroughly with a bar spoon.

Strain into a chilled martini glass.

If you are drinking this at a bar, make direct eye contact with yourself in the mirror.

There is a lot of reverse nostalgic snobbery associated with an espresso martini. It is often too sweet, or creamy, and it doesn’t tend to get a lot of respect. Made very strong, very black, and only a tiny bit sweet, it is a force to be reckoned with.

Speaking of snobbery — there are a lot of cocktail purists who, given the opportunity, will lecture you at great length about how you should never shake a martini. It “bruises the gin” apparently. It is incredibly galling to admit that they are right. This drink will taste noticeably different if it is made in a cocktail shaker than if it is stirred. It’s got something to do with science. It’s worth the extra minute or so to mix this gently.

Coffee-infused vodka


10 grams whole French-roast coffee beans

6 ounces 80-proof vodka, probably not your best vodka, but not the bottom-shelf stuff, either

Using a mortar and pestle, or cereal bowl and the bottom of a drinking glass, crush the coffee beans. You’re not trying to grind them into a powder, but break them up quite a bit.

Combine the vodka and crushed coffee beans in a small jar. Shake them together, then store somewhere cool and dark for 24 hours, shaking periodically.

Strain and label the coffee vodka.

Featured photo: Espresso martini. Photo by John Fladd.

The other flavors of Italy

A look at two lesser-known Italian wine styles

This week we will explore two Italian wines, both from the north of Italy, but decidedly different not only from each other but from other Italian wines.

One is from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region in the very northeast of Italy, the other from the Piedmont region, the very northwest of Italy. Both regions are established producers of signature wines. The Friuli-Venezia Giulia region is well-known for producing pinot grigio and light-bodied rose wines. The wine we will profile in this column is not made from a grape that is well-established in this region, but instead is made from a French grape, a sauvignon blanc. The Piedmont is well-known for the production of nebbiolo wine, sometimes known as a barolo, but 55 percent of the grapes grown in Asti, a region within Piedmont, are barbera, a well-established, light-bodied red Italian grape.

What happens when you cross a large local vineyard operation owned by a well-known hotelier and restaurateur with a good amount of American capital generated by popular culture? Sun Goddess Friuli Sauvignon Blanc 2019, available at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets and originally priced at $21.99 but reduced to $17.99.

Produced by the Fantinel Winery, managed by a third generation of owners of 450 acres, the wine transcends cultures. Spanning three denominations, or growing regions dictated by microclimates and terroir, the Fantinel family has planted several indigenous grapes as well as international varieties such as pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, merlot and cabernet sauvignon. The terroir of this region is rich in minerals that enhance the structure and complexity of the wines. The region is characterized by cool nights and very warm days. This enables the grapes to develop a significant acidity, which in the glass reveals fragrant aromas that turn to citrus notes for the palate.

The Sun Goddess label comes from Mary J. Blige, American singer and actress. She was introduced to Marco Fantinel, through her love of white wine, to promote the vineyard in America through the Sun Goddess label.

The wine has a straw-yellow color with a slight greenish tinge. To the nose it has notes of tropical fruit, banana and melon. To the tongue it is rich in citric notes, first among them grapefruit, but with strong mineral notes. Its acidity will cut through creamy sauces to fish and poultry.

Our second wine is Tenuta Garetto Barbera D’Asti 2017 (originally priced at $33.99 at New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets and reduced to $16.99). It is made from the hardy, non-fussy staple grape barbera. It is known as the wine of the working people. It is respected less than nebbiolo, its haughty neighbor, and was frequently shunted to less-desirable locations. However, it is now grown in California, where a warm climate has produced some well-balanced wines.

Tenuta Garetto winery is a relatively small winery acquired in 2017 by the Gagliardo family. It is in Agliano Terme, known for not only barbera vineyards but its popular thermal springs. Coming from vines planted between 1937 and 1950, vinification takes place in concrete and wood casks before blending and bottling. Its color is dark red, accompanied by cherry notes that carry through to a light, dry feel to the tongue. This is a wine to go with vegetarian dishes, fish or risotto but lacks the body to accompany red-meat dishes. However, it remains complex and is a “self-promoter” among wines. We had the wine with a cheese souffle (thank you, Julia Child, for the recipe!) with a side of wilted baby spinach. Outstanding!

Try these two lesser-known but distinctive wines, a real departure from “standard fare” and a real treat to your palate!

Featured photo: Courtesy photo.

Caramel apple scones

September is here, which means two things in New Hampshire. First, it’s back to school time. Second, it’s apple season. With so many apple orchards within a short drive, it’s a common weekend outing to pick (or at least buy) locally grown apples.

When you get home with all those apples, you may default to a classic treat, such as apple pie or apple crisp. Why not add another sweet treat to your repertoire, especially when it’s one that can be served as breakfast?! These caramel apple scones are a deliciously indulgent way to start your day. Tender scones filled with chunks of apple and caramel chips are the baked goods you didn’t know you needed.

I have two hints for making these scones. First, use an apple that is tart. The caramel chips add a good amount of sweetness, and a tart apple balances that out. Second, you don’t have to buy buttermilk to make these. You can make your own, using the directions at the bottom of the recipe.

Go get some apples, and then let the baking begin!

Michele Pesula Kuegler has been thinking about food her entire life. Since 2007, the New Hampshire native has been sharing these food thoughts and recipes at her blog, Think Tasty. Visit thinktasty.com to find more of her recipes.

Caramel apple scones
Makes 8

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 Tablespoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 Tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, diced
3/4 cup caramel chips
3/4 cup peeled, diced apple
3/4 cup buttermilk*
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 Tablespoons sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Mix flour, 1/4 cup sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.
Add butter.
Combine dry ingredients using a pastry blender, two forks, or fingers until butter is reduced to the size of peas.
Add caramel chips and diced apple to the flour mixture, tossing gently.
Whisk buttermilk, egg yolk and vanilla in a 2-cup liquid measuring cup or small bowl.
Add liquids to dry ingredients; mix until dough forms a ball.
Place dough on a lightly floured surface and press into an 8-inch round.
Cut into 8 wedges. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar.
Transfer wedges to rimmed cookie sheet, preferably lined with parchment paper.
Bake for 15 to 25 minutes or until the scones are crusty on top and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
Serve warm.

Instead of using buttermilk, I often combine 1 tablespoon lemon juice and enough milk to equal 3/4 cup. (This can be done with either dairy or non-dairy milk.)

Photo: Caramel apple scones. Courtesy photo.

In the kitchen with Kristen Mader

Inspired by made-to-order tableside guacamole at his favorite Mexican restaurants, Gabriel “Gabe” Alpuerto of LKristen Mader of Pelham is the owner of Cakes 5th Avenue (cakes5thavenue.com, find them on Facebook), a homestead business she founded in 2008 that offers custom cake orders for several occasions from weddings to birthday parties. Originally from Georgia, Mader got her start in the industry working as a cake decorator for the former Breadbox bakery in Windham. Custom wedding cakes are at the forefront of her business, with all kinds of traditional and specialty flavors and filling options to choose from. Cakes 5th Avenue is also a featured vendor at the Pelham Farmers Market (Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. outside the First Congregational Church of Pelham at 3 Main St.), where you’ll find Mader on select dates selling home-baked cookies, cupcakes, lemon squares and fruit-filled hand pies.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

A rubber spatula, because with the amount of cake batter I make, I am constantly scraping bowls all day long.

What would you have for your last meal?

I would like a perfectly cooked medium filet mignon, with a little bit of seasoned butter and some mashed potatoes with garlic and mascarpone. It’s one of my favorite meals.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

I have two. In Salem, there’s a place called Fuego Latin Fusion [Bar & Restaurant] that is great. They started doing family meals for curbside pickup last year during Covid that we took advantage of. … A longtime favorite of ours also is Scola’s [Restaurant] in Dracut, [Mass.].

What celebrity would you like to see trying one of your cakes?

Betty White. I would love to sit down and have cake and a vodka cocktail with her.

What is your personal favorite cake design that you’ve ever done?

My favorite was a four-tier cake I created back in 2013 for a cake competition down in Hartford, Connecticut. The reason that one sticks out is because I used different techniques that were unfamiliar to me and was just feeling very adventurous. … I won second place in the competition, so that one probably means the most to me.

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

If I had to pick one, I’d say farm-to-table [and] supporting local growers and ingredients.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

I would have to say homemade pizza. … We start with a garlic crust and we like to do a white pizza with a mix of mozzarella and ricotta, some seasoned shredded chicken and freshly sauteed spinach. That’s probably the most frequent one that we make and we never have leftovers.

Kladdkaka (Swedish sticky chocolate cake)
From the kitchen of Kristen Mader of Cakes 5th Avenue in Pelham

10 tablespoons salted butter
1⅓ cups sugar
2 eggs
5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spray an eight-inch round or square cake pan with baking spray, or grease the pan with butter and dust with flour. Line the bottom of the pan with a round or square-shaped piece of parchment paper cut to the size of your pan bottom. Place butter in a medium-sized microwave-safe bowl and cover with a paper towel. Cook in the microwave on high power for 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between, until butter is melted. Add sugar to the bowl with melted butter and whisk to combine. Add eggs one at a time and stir well after each addition. Add the cocoa, flour, vanilla and salt. Stir just until all dry ingredients are incorporated. Transfer batter to the prepared pan and spread out to an even layer. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, being careful not to overbake — the cake should be slightly firm on the outside with a delicate crisp top, but soft and sticky on the inside. Let cool in the pan for 20 minutes. To remove, run a thin-bladed knife around the outer edges of the cake. Invert the pan onto a similar sized cutting board or dinner plate and, holding them together, give it a good shake downward. If the cake does not release, go around the edges again with a knife and repeat with inverting cake. Once the cake is released, remove the parchment paper and invert again onto your serving plate using the same method. Dust with confectioner’s sugar or cocoa powder, or serve each slice with a dollop of fresh whipped cream or ice cream.

Featured photo: Kristen Mader. Courtesy photo.

Eclectic and elevated

SOHO Bistro & Lounge opens in Manchester

Chef Steve Shoemaker had already worked for some of the biggest names in South Florida’s dining scene upon arriving in New Hampshire to open Mint Bistro in the summer of 2011. Now, after other culinary stints at the 1750 Taphouse in Bedford and the Colby Hill Inn in Henniker, Shoemaker has returned to the Queen City to introduce an all new restaurant concept.

SOHO Bistro & Lounge features an eclectic menu of scratch-made items, with special attention to detail right down to every individual ingredient and an intimate dining experience to match. The eatery opened Aug. 20 in the former Whiskey’s 20 space on Old Granite Street, its name an homage to the elegance of the famous neighborhood of Lower Manhattan in New York City.

“We’ve implemented a menu where there’s something for everyone, [with] killer handcrafted food and an amazing cocktail list,” said Shoemaker, who is also a partner in the restaurant. “I was really happy to get back into the Manchester landscape because the age demographic is perfect for the hospitality industry here. … You have a great clientele of people from their late 20s to their 40s who love going out to eat and just enjoy themselves.”

Each of SOHO’s menu items is a new or elevated version of a dish unique to the space. The hard shell lobster rangoons, for instance, have been among the top-selling appetizers out of the gate, in addition to truffle fries with homemade oil from real truffles.

Entrees run the gamut, from elevated classics like steak frites with prime hanger steak, to options like a bourbon-brined half chicken, an heirloom vegetable risotto with roasted garlic pesto and a vegan pad Thai with rice noodles, crispy tofu and a coconut peanut glaze. There are also burgers and sandwiches with creative ingredients in their own right, like a crispy pork belly-wrapped tenderloin on focaccia, with lemon-dressed arugula and Grana Padano cheese.

“We have short ribs going throughout the night, and that produces our short rib entree and also the beef for our nachos,” Shoemaker said. “We also offer pork for the nachos, which is a classic old Mexican dish called cochinita pibil. It’s little known in the United States … We take seasoned pork shoulder and we wrap it in banana leaves and cook it throughout the night.”

Dessert options feature the opportunity to try something simple, like sorbet or creme brulee, or a bit more fancy, like the banana cheesecake spring rolls.

“We take fresh bananas and make sheet pans of cheesecake, then cut it up, wrap it in spring roll paper and deep fry it,” Shoemaker said. “We serve it with homemade caramel sauce and an eclair ice cream. … That’s probably our top dessert seller.”

The kitchen closes at 10 p.m. each evening, but Shoemaker said a late night menu of smaller, shareable options is in the works, featuring a combination of regular selections and other items. The cocktail menu is regionally sourced, too — one drink, known as the Bee’s Knees, features gin from Barr Hill of Montpelier, Vermont, which produces it from fermented honey.

Brunch offerings will likely be added to SOHO’s menu. Shoemaker said he also hopes to soon hold specialty wine events, or a Japanese-themed night with sushi options and saké pairings.

SOHO Bistro & Lounge

Where: 20 Old Granite St., Manchester
Hours: Tuesday and Wednesday, 4 to 10 p.m., and Thursday through Saturday, 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.
More info: Visit sohonh.com, find them on Facebook and Instagram @sohobistrolounge or call 232-4085

Featured photo: Courtesy of SOHO Bistro & Lounge.

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