Powerful voice

Faith Ann Band celebrates new album

As it touches on a myriad of musical moods, from tuneful grunge to full-throttle rockers and tender ballads, there’s a clear thread running through In Bloom, the second album from the Faith Ann Band: raw, naked emotion. More precisely, it’s a crackling live wire, shooting furious sparks and sparing no one.

Two minutes of rage, the breakneck-paced “Miller Time” exemplifies this, as a would-be suitor is sneered away with a dismissive line. “I wouldn’t be you for all of the sh-t you could possibly shove in my face,” band leader Faith Ann Mandravelis sings.

Another standout, “Jungle Law” is a credo of sorts. “I ain’t no live-in house pet,” she sings, “I don’t sit pretty.” Odious corporate dronage is drubbed on songs like “Songbird” and “Reaper,” a backward glance at the singer-songwriter’s entrance into music; she quit a job as an engineer to become a math teacher.

“I saw like what day-to-day life was doing to people in an office environment,” she said in a recent phone interview.

One of her students had a band, which inspired her to start hitting the open mic scene around Manchester and Concord.

“As I was writing my songs, I found a lot of healing,” she said. “Giving myself permission to speak up was huge, after having been kind of in the shadows of my musician boyfriend and not really ever feeling like I was worthy enough.”

Buoyed by this newfound courage, Faith Ann hit the road for shows in the South and headed west to play in Arizona. The response to her music led to an epiphany.

“We can focus on not just fixing things that are broken but things that are not … that have just never been used,” she said. “Brushing those off, as a way to bring ourselves back to being inspired by life.”

Her first album was 2020’s Long Last — “Which is pretty much a statement: Finally, I’ve broken out of my shell,” she said. “I’ve stopped letting myself be contained, pushed down and ashamed for my past, and as soon as you own it, you find an acceptance of yourself.”

The only musician from the debut still in the band is bass player Alfredo Benavides. Concord guitarist Mike Stockbridge and drummer Alex Hershman helped make In Bloom, but someone new will take over the drum kit soon. Axile Beighley, who plays with Benavides in Manchester band Dank Sinatra, serves as a fifth member at live shows, like the release party coming up on April 16 at Strange Brew Tavern.

“Feral” is one of the words Faith Ann uses to describe her approach to music.

“I mean it as a way to staying true to the parts of ourselves that are unclaimed territory, that haven’t been cultivated,” she explained. “It’s the parts of us that are the most raw. Whatever you might say unkind about yourself, these are part of the things I do that I enjoy. I don’t need to justify them to anybody.”

As a relative newcomer to the local scene, she finds the New Hampshire music community a welcoming one. She’s paired up with many local bands, and has several shows on the horizon. She’ll support Andrew North & the Rangers at Penuche’s in Concord on May 7, and play at the Market Days event the following month. In July she and her band host a festival of her own called Level Up Get Down at Auburn Pitts. It will include Big Sandy, Chodus, Tumbletoads, The Humans Being and Dank Sinatra.

“Everyone I have played with is super-supportive, and everybody wants to see everyone succeed,” she said. “I don’t think I have ever really heard of anyone bashing on any other musician, because there’s just this understanding of how much guts it takes and how vulnerable you are to do it. People don’t always go out of their way to invite you in their little realm, but once you’re in there, everyone wants to help you out.”

Faith Ann Band
When: Saturday, April 16, 8 p.m.
Where: Strange Brew Tavern, 88 Market St., Manchester
More: thefaithannband.com

Featured photo: Faith Ann Band. Courtesy photo.

The Music Roundup 22/04/14

Local music news & events

Sense of place: An immersive experience, A Journey to the White Mountains in Words and Music is a collaboration between writer Howard Mansfield and composer Ben Cosgrove. A reflection of how 19th-century landscape painters helped expand awareness of New England’s wilderness, the content is based on a chapter from Mansfield’s Chasing Eden: A Book of Seekers, published in 2021, and driven by Cosgrove’s music. Thursday, April 14, 7:30 p.m., Bank of NH Stage, 16 S. Main St., Concord, $24 at ccanh.com.

Throwback guy: Few acts dominated late 1960s Top 40 radio like Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, who reeled of a string of hits including “Lady Willpower” and “Young Girl,” the latter an early example of conscious songwriting — sort of. The group racked up six gold records and sold more vinyl in 1968 than any other act in the music business, including The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Friday, April 15, 7:30 p.m., Palace Theatre, 80 Hanover St., Manchester, tickets $39 to $49 at palacetheatre.org.

Progressive rock: Digging into classics and deep tracks from Yes, Genesis, ELP, Rush and others, ProgJect includes veteran musicians like drummer Jonathan Mover (Alice Cooper, Marillion, GTR), Mike Keneally on guitar (Frank Zappa, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani), along with Saga singer Michael Sadler, Ryo Okumoto on keyboards (Spock’s Beard, Asia, Phil Collins) and Matt Dorsey playing bass (Sound Of Contact, Beth Hart). Friday, April 15, 8 p.m., Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A St., Derry, $40 at tupelohall.com.

Bring the funny: A comedy showcase is headlined by Johnny Pizzi, who also does magic tricks in his act. A native of East Boston, he brings a decided regional flavor to his standup, while offering observation of life as a parent and granddad, along with the challenges of aging. Pizzi is joined by Jason Merrill and Scott Higgins. Merrill is also promoting the show, dubbed Shooting From the Hip Comedy Night. Saturday, April 16, 8 p.m., Cello’s Farmhouse Italian, 143 Raymond Road, Candia, $30 at eventbrite.com.

Well read: A live broadcast of local music spotlight radio show Granite State of Mind has singer, songwriter and band leader Hunter Stamas in conversation with host Rob Azevedo. Stamas also performs at the event, drawing from her group Hunter’s growing catalog. Their most recent release is 1960, which helped garner them a New England Music Award for best act in their home state at last year’s confab. Wednesday, April 20, 6 p.m., Bookery, 844 Elm St., Manchester, more at wmnhradio.org.

Ambulance (R)

Ambulance (R)

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Bay slo-mo star in Ambulance, a two-hour-and-16-minute version of, like, a 9-1-1 episode.

Or 9-1-1: Lone Star. Or Station 19, which I’ve seen about 12 minutes of but I feel like I pretty much get the show — pretty people do rescues and somebody wears their hair down in a situation during which any normal lady would have secured her hair in at least a ponytail but probably a bun.

Which is to say, even though her very minimalist use of a hair claw clip is a plot point, I couldn’t help spending a lot of this movie thinking about how Los Angeles EMT Cam (Eiza González) really needed someone to give her two scrunchies and a handful of bobby pins if she’s going to be expected to get stuff done.

This movie spends unnecessary time setting up the backstories of Cam and her new partner Scott (Colin Woodell), young police officers Zach (Jackson White) and Mark (Cedric Sanders), police bank robbery division head Captain Monroe (Garret Dillahunt) and FBI bank robbery head Anson Clark (Keir O’Donnell). We see everyone mull around their day before they get to the figurative fireworks factory that is the bank robbery that sets off the action in this movie.

Brothers Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal) Sharp have a loving but friction-y relationship due to their upbringing and the father who drew them into a life of crime. Will got out, became a decorated Marine and has a wife and a young child. Danny is still engaged in shadiness, though he constantly claims he’s not like their violent father and robbing banks is his job, which he performs with professionalism and without hurting people.

Will’s wife, Amy (Moses Ingram), would like Will to have nothing to do with Danny but she’s also fighting an aggressive cancer and her only hope is a treatment that their insurance won’t cover. Will goes to Danny to ask for a loan to pay for the surgery but instead finds himself at that moment told to suit up to participate in a bank robbery. He reluctantly goes along with what is supposed to be a sure thing, all-set-up robbery with a huge payday.

Naturally, stuff goes wrong.

Zach, who showed up at the bank mainly to flirt with one of the tellers, is taken hostage. The truck meant to transport Danny’s crew post-robbery gets stuck near Mark, who then realizes what’s happened in the bank. The situation quickly becomes a shoot-out, with Mark joined in firing at the robbers by other police officers under the command of Captain Monroe who had been watching the bank and didn’t intervene at first because they wanted to catch the robbers after they left.

Eventually, Danny’s men are struck down, their means of escape is blocked and he and Will are stuck in a parking garage. They decide their only way out is to hijack the ambulance that’s come to rescue Zach, whom Will accidentally shot during a scuffle between Zach and Danny.

Will, Danny, Cam and the severely wounded Zach manage to get away from the scene but are soon being chased across Los Angeles as Cam tries to save Zach and Will and Danny try to figure a way out of their situation.

This movie is at its best when it’s not setting up these characters’ personalities and backstories and just literally cutting to the ambulance chase, all intercut scenes of car crashes and Cam doing battlefield triage. It’s not good but it’s engaging and watchable, sort of in the way you can sometimes eat a fast food fried chicken sandwich and know that you’re eating something “not good,” not even all that tasty, but also still find it momentarily satisfying. The attempts by the movie to make us care about certain characters also feel strangely uneven because it’s Gyllenhaal who is giving the most compelling performance (kind of a good-natured sociopath whom I enjoyed watching even if I didn’t really for a minute care about him) while Cam and Will are the people the movie wants us to empathize with. I found myself character-wise most interested in random police lady Dzaghig (Olivia Stambouliah) and her banter with Monroe, a character who feels like he’s given too big a helping of personality before he’s sort of shrugged off in the movie’s final third.

Despite all of this and the at least 35 unnecessary minutes of padding that help to push this movie past the two-hour mark, Ambulance wasn’t a bad watch. It keeps you right there with the in-the-second action, it has some plot fun with its cops and robbers pursuit and it makes very little sense if you stop to think about any element of it but it all works well enough as you’re watching the chase go from freeway to side street to paved river bed that you feel entertained enough to continue the ride. B-

Rated R for intense violence, bloody images (like, seriously bloody, in-moving-vehicle surgery-type bloody) and language throughout, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Directed by Michael Bay with a screenplay by Chris Fedak (based on a movie called Ambulancen), Ambulance is two hours and 16 minutes long and distributed by Universal Studios.

Featured photo: Ambulance.

The Kaiju Preservation Society, by John Scalzi

The Kaiju Preservation Society, by John Scalzi (Tor, 258 pages)

What kind of creature is Godzilla? If you answered “giant lizard,” you’ve got lots of company, but you’re wrong.

Godzilla and other movie monsters out of East Asia have a formal name — kaiju — which translates roughly to “strange beast.” And kaiju are at the center of the new novel by John Scalzi, a popular writer of science fiction who lives in Ohio. The Kaiju Preservation Society is a fun and engaging story that perfectly entwines the real life of the past two years with an alternative universe where kaiju dwell.

It begins with the untimely firing of Jamie Gray, a well-educated employee of a DoorDash-type startup that calls its gig workers “deliverators” and requires them to announce that it is their “passion” to deliver their customers’ vegan egg rolls and Korean fried chicken.

Jamie loses his job at the start of the pandemic and can’t find anything else, so he’s reduced to delivering for his former employer to pay his bills. One of his regular customers on the Lower East Side of New York turns out to be someone he vaguely knew, and they strike up a conversation about why a former Ph.D. candidate is now delivering food. (The sly punchline: “I was looking down the barrel of adjunct professorships for the rest of my life.”)

As it turns out, the customer, named Tom Stevens, has a job opportunity for Jamie, because one of his team members had just come down with Covid-19. He doesn’t explain much about the job — only that it’s for an “animal rights organization” that works with large animals, and that the job requires only “a warm body that can lift things.” It turns out to be a job that pays extremely well, includes a $10K signing bonus and even covers his monthly rent and student-loan payments.

Jamie is desperate enough for a reliable income that he accepts the position with no further information. And he doesn’t back down even when the recruiting officer tells him that the animals are “very wild, very dangerous” and that death is a possible outcome of employment, so he would need a will, an alarming number of shots and a Covid test involving a “a cotton swab through my nostril all the way back to my brain.”

By this point, Jamie has established himself as a totally endearing narrator, possessed of a snarky sense of humor that could have gotten him a job as a writer for late-night TV. (When the recruiter asks if he has any dietary restrictions, Jamie says he disdains vegan cheese because it is “orange and white sadness that mocks cheese and everything it stands for.”)

And Scalzi is a master at crafting snappy dialogue seeded with bon mots, making the story flow easily, even when it leaves the solid footing of early pandemic life in the U.S. and flies into another dimension enabled by nuclear explosions, where an Earth look-alike is populated with strange flying beasts the size of small mountains and other strange animals.

Yeah, it’s weird, and it gets even weirder when there are billionaire tourists who come to this alternative Earth to “pet the monsters.” And when a complication is revealed that threatens life on the “real” Earth, requiring Jamie to do much more than the “lifting things” he signed on to do.

It’s pretty astonishing that Scalzi was able to craft a science-fiction story that so perfectly aligns with the pandemic, while even throwing in a lot of talk about nuclear bombs, which definitely weren’t in the conversation in March 2020 but suddenly are now a foreboding part of the news. It’s even more astonishing that Scalzi wrote this one in the span of two months — February and March 2021. (There’s a super interesting back story to how that happened that Scalzi reveals in his author’s note, and that alone is worth the price of the book, especially if you’ve ever had a malign computer eat your work.)

Although there are shades of Jurassic Park here, The Kaiju Preservation Society is not preachy or brooding; it’s more like a timeline cleanser on Twitter, something light and fun and memorable. I wasn’t surprised to learn that it’s already been picked up by Fox Entertainment for serialization.


Book Notes

At the recent Grammy Awards, rapper Jay-Z became the artist with the most lifetime nominations, with a total 83. The person he surpassed is Quincy Jones, who had 80 nominations between 1961 and 2019.

But Jones is far from retired and is out with a new book. 12 Notes: On Life and Creativity (Abrams Image, 192 pages) is described by the publisher as a “self-development guide,” which sounds a couple of bars better than self-help. The youngest millennials may not be familiar with Jones, but they’ll know the artist who wrote the foreword, The Weeknd, who says that Jones “changed not only the course of my life, but the course of history.”

On the subject of history, there are also two new books about royalty — the American kind, and the British monarchy.

American royalty, of course, would be the Kennedys, and journalist Neal Thompson has written what looks to be an engrossing account of the first couple of that lineage to arrive on U.S. soil. Bridget and Patrick Kennedy were poor Irish Catholics, and when Patrick died of tuberculosis at age 35, his body had to be carted outside of Boston because the city didn’t allow his kind to be buried in its cemeteries.

Thompson began researching the couple after covering the plane crash that took the life of John F. Kennedy Jr. in 1999, and early reviews of The First Kennedys (Mariner, 352 pages) are great.

Then there’s Queen of Our Times, a biography of Queen Elizabeth II, by Robert Hardman. You’ll have to be a serious fan of the monarchy to get through this, coming in at 690 pages (Pegasus Books). Then again, she’s been queen for seven decades, so there was a lot to write about.

For less history and more gossip, you’ll have to wait a few weeks for Tina Brown’s The Palace Papers (Crown, 592 pages), a follow-up to her 2007 bestseller The Diana Chronicles. It releases April 26.

Book Events

Author events

MAGGIE SHIPSTEAD Author presents The Great Circle. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Wed., April 13, 6 p.m. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

EMMA LOEWE Author presents Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us, in conversation with author Hannah Fries. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Wed., April 13, 7 p.m. Registration is required. Held via Zoom. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

MARIE BOSTWICK Author presents her new book The Restoration of Celia Fairchild. Bookery, 844 Elm St., Manchester. Fri., April 15, 5:30 p.m. Visit bookerymht.com or call 836-6600.

ANNE HILLERMAN Author presents The Sacred Bridge. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Tues., April 19, 7 p.m. Held via Zoom. Registration is required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

BRANDON K. GAUTHIER Author presents Before Evil: Young Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Mao, and Kim. Gibson’s Bookstore, 45 S. Main St., Concord. Wed., April 27, 6:30 p.m. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.


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

Writers groups

MERRIMACK VALLEY WRITERS’ GROUP All published and unpublished local writers who are interested in sharing their work with other writers and giving and receiving constructive feedback are invited to join. The group meets regularly; the next meeting is scheduled for Tues., April 5, from 5 to 7:15 p.m., and will be held virtually over WebEx Meetings. To reserve your spot, email pembrokenhtownlibrary@gmail.com.

Writer submissions

UNDER THE MADNESS Magazine designed and managed by an editorial board of New Hampshire teens under the mentorship of New Hampshire State Poet Laureate Alexandria Peary. features creative writing by teens ages 13 to 19 from all over the world, including poetry and short fiction and creative nonfiction. Published monthly. Submissions must be written in or translated into English and must be previously unpublished. Visit underthemadnessmagazine.com for full submission guidelines.

Book Clubs

BOOKERY Monthly. Third Thursday, 6 p.m. 844 Elm St., 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

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

Album Reviews 22/04/14

Julieta Eugenio, Jump (Greenleaf Music)

Sorry, but the first thing that jumped out at me is how huge this Argentinian jazz up-and-comer’s tenor sax is. That thing is huge, like she could probably use it as a decoy in order to use the carpool lane. But I digress already, which isn’t fair, because lest we forget, the music’s the thing in jazz, and what a masterful collection this is, single-handedly helmed by nowadays-New Yorker Eugenio, accompanied by an upright bassist guy and a drummer. That may look a bit sparse on paper, but Eugenio fills all the space with divine runs and passages, like a kid trying to cover an entire page with their favorite crayon, rub rub rub. The CSI mostly reveals various shades of utterly charming post-bop of course, some neo-swing (“Snowbirds”), and a ballad that isn’t too obligato (“For You”). She got her master’s degree at Aaron Copland School, if that makes any difference to you, but this is far from any sort of trite academic exercise. A+

Roland & Albert & The Orb, Roland & Albert Meet The Orb Upcountry in Uganda (Orbscure Recordings / Cooking Vinyl)

Well, what a stop-the-presses moment this is, folks. If you and I were just being casual and you asked me what the weirdest band in the world is, chances are very good that I’d say it’s London afterparty club act The Orb, unless — OK, no, The Books are weirder, but they’re broken up. And that’s all moot anyway because of this project, which finds the Orb guys futzing with an EP’s worth of traditional blues and Ugandan rhythms originally recorded by (spoiler alert, these guys are obscure) Roland & Albert. I know, I know, who cares, but I’m telling you, these beats are completely addictive, right from the EP’s leadoff track “Squirrels In Jumpsuits,” whose mellow, urban vibe is driven by plinky guitar, ’70s synth and — because it’s The Orb, a constant stream of random dialog. It’s stuff that even I could fall asleep to on a plane, which says something, because all I think about on planes is, you know, gravity’s effect on large metal objects. Curiosity-seekers will thank me for this. A+


• April 15 is this Friday, I hope you will not be arrested for doing anything untoward with your tax documents. It is also a day for new albums, like the newest one from indie-rock fixture Kurt Vile, a guy I’ve been meaning to look into a little bit, and now I have no choice, because at this writing there isn’t too much else for me to talk about in the way of new releases. His influences range from the unassailable (Neil Young, Tom Petty, Dinosaur Jr.) to the unbearable (Pavement); all I really know about him is that he helped launch the band The War On Drugs in 2008, and they are still around, floating Guster-ish tunes that I have no interest in whatsoever. That doesn’t bode well for the proceedings at hand, I know, but life is always full of surprises, so I will surf over to YouTube to check out “Hey Like a Child,” a song from his new album, (watch my moves), and yes, the album title is stylized precisely like that, because tiresome gimmicks are an important ingredient in good rock ’n’ roll. Here, you’re near a phone or a computer, let’s listen to this song together. Hmm, it’s sort of Bob Dylan-ish I suppose, but he uses a weird “wobbly guitar” technique when he strums, which isn’t something I’ve heard before. That’s kind of cool, and the song is OK, if you like music that basically drones on without any ambition and has no drop or “cool part.” OK, that was enriching.

• Drum-playing human Evan J Cartwright had a good thing going with Canadian experimental-pop band U.S. Girls, whose specialty is quirky but mellow disco/soul-indie. He also had a pretty good thing going with the similarly girl-commanded quirk-folk band Weather Station, but he apparently got tired of being in good bands and has struck out on his own to release his first solo album, Bit By Bit. Ha ha, I actually like the first single, “And You’ve Got Nobuddy,” because the video has him just sitting down playing his drums, but there are no drums in the song, just a sleepy guitar, and his mouth moves along to the words, which are perfect for your favorite Generation Z doomer to laugh-and-cry-at-the-same-time to, viz: “I always had it in my mind that life was kidding this whole time.” I hope this strange little man gets his music on an episode of Euphoria someday, because it’d be fitting, and I’m sure he’d call it a successful career right afterward and, with any luck, never darken my door with his joke songs ever again.

• OK, hold it, no, here’s an actual band folks, look, it’s Cancer Bats, with a new album called Psychic Jailbreak, I can hardly wait to talk about an album made by an actual band that does something more than joke songs and ringtones for dairy farmers! I’d say something critic-ish like “You’d have to have been living under a rock to have never heard of Cancer Bats before,” but that wouldn’t be fair; I’m probably the only person in New Hampshire who knows that the band is a semi-cool southern-rock/sludge metal outfit. But now you know, so let’s lend an ear to the album’s title track. Hmm, it’s got some doom-metal parts, and the singer basically just yells, and then it rips off Alice in Chains’ “Would.” Yes, this is the best thing on board so far this week.

• No, don’t leave yet, I have to tell you about Los Angeles-based singing girl Primer, whose new album Incubator is already getting press attention, because I’m about to pay attention to it now! The single, “Warning,” is really cool, an ’80s-tinged chillout with really nice syncopation courtesy of a tabla sample, or so it sounds. Her voice is kind of low and really listenable. (I’m glad there was one thing I could actually recommend out of this week’s really stinky barrel of fish.)

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).

Rediscover Chianti

Exploring the variations of this classic Tuscan red

Those of us of a certain age fondly remember the bottle of Chianti, wrapped in a straw basket sitting on the red-checkered tablecloth in Billy Joel’s Italian Restaurant.

The best part of that bottle of wine was, in fact, the bottle. So romantic, repurposed as a candle holder as in that back-alley spaghetti dinner of Disney’s Lady and the Tramp. That bottle grew in texture and affection that only the wax could give it because the wine was dreadful! Is it any coincidence that “il fiasco” is Italian for a rough glass flagon, or flask, that is then wrapped in straw to protect it and allow it to stand properly?

But let’s move on to today’s Chiantis. You will have some difficulty in finding the straw-wrapped fiasco of Chianti today. Instead, there are bottles of Bolla Chianti lining the shelves of stores everywhere at very affordable prices. And most are vastly superior to that Chianti of 40 to 50 years ago. Chianti is a wine to be drunk with food. Its medium body, dryness and light tannins are a superior complement to baked Italian pasta dishes, pizza or braised beef. It is not a wine to sip unless it is accompanied by Italian cheeses from mozzarella to pecorino. It is a wine enjoyed in your college years because it’s affordably priced, but the experience shouldn’t end there. We have a line-up of three Chiantis from one winery that vary from each other significantly. And the bottles are not wrapped in straw!

Our first Chianti is the 2020 Castello di Querceto Chianti D.O.C.G. (originally priced at $15.99, reduced to $8.99 at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets). Just as with other Chiantis, this wine is principally made with sangiovese grapes, with a small fraction of other varietals added to soften the hard edges of the sangiovese grapes. Chianti wine emerged in the Renaissance in the Chianti region of Tuscany, between Florence and Siena. The Chiantis we enjoy today were formulated in the third quarter of the 19th century, providing some continuity and control within the region. The terroir of Chianti varies widely, resulting in a wide range of quality. This bottle can be loosely interpreted as “entry-level D.O.C.G. Chianti” (D.O.C.G. is a designation given to wine of the highest level of quality from that region). The wine has a ruby color, and to the nose a pleasant floral note, along with a fresh but dry tongue of cherries. Upon opening, this wine has strong tannins, so it should be decanted or opened well in advance of drinking to allow the tannins to subside. If you plan to cellar, this wine has an aging potential of three to five years.

Our second Chianti is the 2019 Castello di Querceto Chianti Classico D.O.C.G. (originally priced at $18.99, reduced to $10.99 at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets). This wine comes from vineyards in Greve in Chianti. It is matured in casks for 10 to 12 months, and then refined in the bottle for a minimum of three months. Produced from sangiovese grapes, with an addition of canaiolo grapes, it too has a ruby color, but with the slightest tinge of amber at the rim. To the nose it has notes of cherries, but with an added hint of clove. The tannins are lighter than the first Chianti and it remains fresh to the finish. Its dry smoky flavor is a departure from the first Chianti and worth the $2 increase in cost. This vintage can be cellared for an additional five years.

Our third Chianti is the 2017 Castello di Querceto Chianti Classico Riserva D.O.C.G. (originally priced at $24.99, reduced to $12.99 at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets). This wine has a nose of cherries, augmented by cassis, berries, with slight floral notes. To the tongue, the fruit is joined by the addition of walnuts and chocolate and thus it becomes richer and more complex than the earlier Chiantis. Made from grapes grown at altitudes exceeding 1,200 feet, and barrel aged for two years, this Chianti exemplifies the best of the central region of Chianti Classico. While Chianti Classico improves with cellaring, this is a wine produced five years ago and unfortunately will only cellar for another handful of years, so purchase and enjoy this lush treat in a bottle now.

Have a little fun and treat yourself to a “horizontal tasting” of these three Chiantis. Consider it to be a trip through Tuscany to sample the bounty of the land. You will be delighted and enriched by the experience!

Featured photo. Courtesy photo.

Tudor Convertible

So, here’s the thing – if you asked me to describe myself, I’d say I’m a fairly regular, run-of-the-mill guy. “High maintenance” is not a phrase that springs to mind. I’m a mushroom and jalapeño pizza with a Diet Sunkist kind of guy.

And yet, “regular” and “run-of-the-mill” are apparently terms that cover a wide spectrum of standards.

I was talking recipes with a work friend, as one does, and mentioned this Indian dish I was really grooving on at the moment.

“What’s in it?” she asked suspiciously. Apparently, I have a reputation.

“That’s the great thing about this,” I told her. “Aside from paneer, it’s all stuff you have around the house.”

“What’s paneer?” she asked.

“A type of Indian cheese,” I said.

“Could I use cheddar?” she asked.

“Um, not really. Anyway, you basically just need some cashews, and—”

“I’m going to stop you right there,” she interrupted. “When you say ‘cashews’, do you mean those nuts that fancy people serve at cocktail parties? Who keeps those in their house? I have seriously bought cashews maybe three times in my life.”

I assured her that they were easy to find, but completely flummoxed her when I mentioned cardamom.

“I’ve never even heard of that,” she informed me.

I’m not sure why I continued to describe the dish, because our communication gap just kept widening from there.

I mention this because I tried a new cocktail recipe this week. As I read over the ingredients, I was pleased to note with each one that I had it on hand:

“Pimm’s? Check. Elderflower liqueur? Also check. Gin? Very much, check.”

As I worked my way down the list, though, I realized that aside from lime juice and ice cubes, most people would not actually have any of these ingredients.

I wonder sometimes, if anybody actually makes any of the cocktails I develop, and I’m realistic enough to concede that the more exotic ingredients I call for, the less likely anyone is to actually try one of these drinks. I tried making the new cocktail with several shortcuts and substitutions that would bring it marginally more into the mainstream, and all of the variations were fine, but not as stunningly delicious as the exotic, labor-intensive version.

So, here’s what we’ll do — take out the best gin you have and make yourself a classic gin and tonic. Drink it while you make out your shopping list. You’ll feel braced and even a little sophisticated by the time you’re done.

Our high-maintenance drink is a riff on a cocktail called War of the Roses. I’ve taken some liberties with it, so it needs a new name. Based on the emotional scars I still have from watching the 1989 Kathleen Turner/Michael Douglas movie of the same name, I thought about calling this a Kathleen Turner Overdrive, but then I found out that there is a heavy metal band by the same name, and that’s not really the vibe I’m going for. I ended up settling for a simple, classic name: a Tudor Cocktail. The actual War of the Roses is where Henry VII defeated Richard III and became the first Tudor king of England.

Tudor Cocktail


  • 1½ ounces Pimm’s No. 1, the liqueur usually used for making a Pimm’s Cup
  • ¾ ounce cucumber-infused gin (see below)
  • ¾ ounce St. Germain elderflower liqueur
  • ¾ ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • ¼ ounce simple syrup
  • dash Peychaud’s Bitters
  • 0.4 grams fresh mint leaves
  • 4 ice cubes

Bruise the mint by rolling it around between the palms of your hands, until it looks like sad spinach. Drop it into a cocktail shaker.

Add the rest of the ingredients and shake vigorously for about a minute.

Strain into a chilled coupé glass.

Garnish it, if you feel the need, but be aware that this drink is very confident in its own deliciousness and will give you some serious side-eye if you do.

Every ingredient in this drink makes its presence known. Yes, you can absolutely make this with regular gin, but the cucumber gin raises the taste to another level. I tried muddling a couple of slices of cucumber instead, and it was fine, but not as good. I also tried using cucumber syrup instead of simple syrup and that was fine too, but not transcendent.

Gin & Tonic. Photo by John Fladd.

Is this drink a project? Inarguably.

The good news is that once you’ve bought all the specialty alcohols and made the cucumber gin, you will have everything you need to drink a seriously injudicious number of these cocktails and recover, for a brief moment, a sense of wonder and an open heart.

Cucumber gin

Wash but don’t peel some cucumbers. The little Persian ones are really nice, but don’t stress over not finding any. Add equal amounts — by weight — of cucumbers and gin to a blender. Blend them on your lowest speed. The idea here is to chop the cucumbers finely enough to expose a lot of surface area to the gin, to help the infusion process. Pour the mixture into a wide-mouthed jar. Store in a cool, dark place for seven days, shaking twice per day. Strain and filter the gin.

You will be glad you did.

Featured photo. Tudor. Photo by John Fladd.

Bite-sized sausage-stuffed mushrooms

Stuffed mushrooms can be a tricky dish to make. Although they’re relatively easy to prepare, it is also easy to produce a stuffed mushroom that is boring. The most important part of making a good stuffed mushroom is getting lots of flavor into the filling. The second most important part is cooking them in a way that prevents them from being soggy. Today’s recipe conquers both of those tasks.

The main ingredient in these mushrooms, not shockingly, is sausage. I chose turkey sausage to prevent the filling from being too greasy. I also chose hot sausage to add a good amount of flavor without needing to raid the spice rack.

Next, when baking these stuffed mushrooms, the directions instruct you to place them on a baking rack. This is not mandatory, but it is beneficial. Doing so keeps the mushrooms out of the liquid that pools, delivering a stuffed mushroom that is tender but not soggy.

Finally, the recipe includes small amounts of two cheeses. If these aren’t cheeses you usually have on hand, you can use just one. I really like the Parmesan in the filling for the sharp bite it has and the Asiago as the topping for its melting ability. If you decide to use just one, I would recommend the Asiago.

Bite-sized sausage-stuffed mushrooms
Makes 20

20 small button or cremini mushrooms
1/2 pound hot turkey sausage
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup dried bread crumbs
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup shredded Asiago

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Wipe mushrooms and remove stems; save stems.
Remove sausage from casing (if needed) and place in preheated nonstick skillet over medium heat.
Saute sausage for 5 minutes or until fully cooked.
While the sausage cooks, dice mushroom stems.
Transfer cooked sausage to a paper towel-lined plate.
Wipe excess grease out of pan and add diced stems.
Saute mushrooms for 2 minutes; add garlic, and saute for 1 additional minute.
Combine cooked sausage and mushroom mixture in a medium-sized bowl.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes.
Add bread crumbs, Parmesan and pepper to taste.
Fill each mushroom cap with a spoonful of mixture.
Place the filled mushrooms on a wire baking rack set on top of a rimmed baking sheet.
Top each with Asiago cheese and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.
Serve immediately.

Featured Photo: Bite-sized sausage-stuffed mushrooms. Photo by Michele Pesula Kuegler.

In the kitchen with Jay and Lori Desmarais

Gerard “Jay” and Lori Desmarais are the owners of Bowlful (1536 Candia Road, Manchester, 232-3923, thebowlful.com, and on Facebook and Instagram @thebowlful), a takeout restaurant that opened inside Nickles Market in Manchester in late 2020. Bowlful specializes in all kinds of made-to-order rice, salad and pasta bowls prepared using fresh ingredients — popular options include a teriyaki bowl with bacon fried rice, broccoli and sesame seeds; a taco salad bowl featuring fresh lettuce, tortilla strips, cilantro rice, Mexican cheese, onions, salsa, avocado crema and jalapenos; and a garlic and spinach pasta bowl that’s finished with Parmigiano Reggiano. Bowls additionally feature the option to add a protein like grilled chicken, ground beef, pork carnitas, sauteed shrimp or grilled tofu.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

Jay: For me, it’s a sharp chef’s knife.

Lori: A spatula.

What would you have for your last meal?

Jay: I would say lamb chops. That’s my once-in-a-year thing that I’ll have.

Lori: I’m Polish, so I love pierogi. The potato and the farmer’s cheese are my favorite.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

Lori: We both love Tucker’s. … I love the Belgian waffles.

Jay: I always get the Sedona skillet. Their lunch is good, but more often than not, we typically find ourselves going there for breakfast.

What celebrity would you like to see ordering from your restaurant?

Lori: I would love for Keith Urban to come see me.

Jay: Keanu Reeves. … I’d make him one of everything.

What is your favorite thing on your menu?

Jay: For me, it’s the barbecue bowl. We make our own barbecue sauce, and it’s got some balsamic vinaigrette with tomato and cucumber. It’s like a summer outing in a bowl. It’s very refreshing and good.

Lori: The Cobb salad.

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

Lori: I feel like food trucks are really a thing. I feel like they are popping up everywhere, and so many people have come into the restaurant saying that we’ve got to do them, that what we do with the bowls would be great on a food truck.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

Jay: I love to grill a rib-eye. That’s probably one of my favorite things to eat when we can.

Lori: Mine is stuffed shells.

Bowlful’s cucumber tomato salad
From the kitchen of Jay and Lori Desmarais of Bowlful in Manchester

5 medium plum tomatoes, cored and diced into ¼-inch cubes
1 English cucumber, ends removed and diced to ¼-inch cubes
1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon lime juice
Pinch of salt to taste

Combine all ingredients and serve as is, or top with your favorite vinaigrette.

Featured photo: Jay and Lori Desmarais. Courtesy photo.

Plant-based perfection

The Sleazy Vegan launches in Manchester

Directly behind Manchester’s SNHU Arena, a new ghost kitchen is serving up whole food plant-based breakfast and lunch items, with plans to soon expand into a food truck later this year.

It’s called The Sleazy Vegan, and while there’s no retail storefront, online orders are now being accepted every Wednesday through Saturday, with local deliveries within a 5-mile radius of the venue. Owner Kelley-Sue “KSL” LeBlanc hopes to offer catering on the weekends, and she’s also set to participate in some upcoming events, like a private menu tasting at To Share Brewing Co. on April 19, as well as at the Manchester Taco Tour on May 5.

LeBlanc, who grew up in Nashua and now lives on the Queen City’s West Side, officially launched public online ordering on April 1. The Sleazy Vegan’s name origin is twofold — as she dreams of sailing, she wanted a business that could enable her to travel more. She came up with the phrase when playing around with other names that would share the “S.V.,” or sailing vessel, prefix. But the name, she added, is also reflective of her mission — bringing approachable whole food plant-based meal options to everyone regardless of their diet identity.

“People get really, really heated about the word ‘vegan,’ and I mean, it doesn’t have to mean anything bad,” LeBlanc said. “I’m not all the way vegan, but I do choose to eat whole food plant-based [meals] more often than not. … So much gets lost in the labels because they are loaded terms, with different meanings for people. I want to feed everybody great-tasting, fill-your-belly food that is good in your mouth and even better for your body and the planet.”

LeBlanc found her current kitchen space through a connection with Manchester Housing Authority and will also be feeding lunch twice a week to the residents of the building.

Grilled cheese and roasted tomato soup. Courtesy of The Sleazy Vegan.

The online ordering menu is designed to be approachable and enticing to people of all diets — not just vegans or vegetarians. Popular breakfast options out of the gate have included scrambles and burritos made with Just Egg, a plant-based egg substitute made from mung beans; as well as steel-cut oatmeal with cinnamon and nutmeg, and chia pudding made with oat milk and vanilla.

As for lunch items, LeBlanc’s biggest winners thus far have been the “sleazeballs,” or her take on a meatball sub featuring handmade plant-based meatballs on a hoagie roll; the spicy Thai chickpea wrap, which features a combination of chickpeas and navy beans chilled in a crunchy peanut sauce and dressed with various veggies; and the Buffalo “kitchen” nugget wrap. The play on words with the latter’s name comes from her daughter, Cheyenne, who confused the word ‘chicken’ with ‘kitchen’ as a toddler.

“The product we use for the plant-based ‘chicken nugget’ has a small amount of egg powder in it, so it’s not truly vegan. The taste and flavor are such a great alternative to chicken [that] we still wanted to offer it to folks,” LeBlanc said. “The fact that it’s a ‘kitchen’ nugget is a shy version of a chicken nugget … without me calling it that and offending a bunch of people.”

While certain menu items will be available every week, LeBlanc said she hopes to offer different specials in line with the seasonality of ingredients.

During the Taco Tour she’ll be set up at To Share Brewing Co., offering jackfruit tacos with a mango-jalapeño salsa. The April 19 event, also at the brewery, will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Tickets are $30 per person and will include a pint of beer and a selection of menu samples of Sleazy Vegan favorites.

Even once the food truck is ready, LeBlanc plans to continue operating out of the ghost kitchen — the goal, she said, is to make The Sleazy Vegan a reputable option for business catering.

“There are tons of businesses that have breakfast and lunch meetings and other events … that get catered all the time,” she said. “As an IT person, I used to be part of these events all the time, and there was nothing I could ever eat except for a salad. … So I really hope to be able to target businesses and I want them to understand that they can offer food [that is for] everyone.”

The Sleazy Vegan
Visit thesleazyvegan.com and click on the “online menu” tab

Where: Local deliveries are available within a 5-mile radius of the SNHU Arena (555 Elm St., Manchester). A food truck is also expected to launch later this year.
When: Wednesday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., for breakfast and lunch. Special event catering is also available.

Featured photo: Spicy Thai chickpea wrap. Courtesy of The Sleazy Vegan.

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