A long, long time ago

‘American Pie’ marks 50 years with Don McLean show

As Don McLean began a phone interview in advance of a performance marking 50 years since “American Pie” debuted, Dolly Parton had just asked the Rock and Hall of Fame to withdraw her nomination. The songwriter who’d cataloged the saints of rock in his iconic song was pressed for his thoughts.

“I will take any award that is given to me; I don’t have the kind of character it would take to turn [them] down,” McLean answered with a wry chuckle, adding that early on, “a certain religious quality, fostered by Rolling Stone, made for a very good Hall of Fame … but now they’ve run out of people. How many times can Paul McCartney get in?”

When “American Pie” hit the airwaves in 1971, it caused a sensation unlike any song that came before. Scholars analyzed it and fans obsessively pored over each line for hidden meaning. McLean gave listeners plenty to sift through, but said his epic tune began like any other, with him alone in a writing room.

Near the same time, The Beatles were working their way through “Let It Be,” but he didn’t have the luxury of tossing around ideas with bandmates.

“In my situation it’s all me,” he said. “My brain, my heart, my memory and my thoughts … I know exactly what I want to do. It’s very hard for me to work with people.”

In the studio, that became a problem.

“It was rehearsed for weeks,” he said. “The boys that did the record now brag about it, but they couldn’t play it to save their ass.”

Only Paul Griffin’s rousing gospel piano was able to transform it into the song he’d heard in his head while toiling at home.

The first line he came up with was “a long, long time ago” — to describe an event barely 10 years on. The rest followed quickly.

“I had a melodic concept, then I got a rock ’n’ roll chorus, then I figured out all I had to do was speed up the slow part and write the rest of the song,” he said.

He had fun burying multiple meanings in the lyrics. It’s one of the reasons he laughs at anyone trying to divine his intent.

“The problem people encounter with this song is that it goes along seeming like it’s rational, then it will reach a metaphor or a symbol of some sort that’s two or three things at the same time,” McLean said. He may be talking about John Lennon, or Vladimir Lenin. As to the identity of the jester, king and queen, “I could have said Elvis instead of James Dean. I say he lost his thorny crown, but only Christ had a thorny crown.”

McLean’s musical achievements extend beyond creating one of the 20th century’s most lauded songs. “Vincent” is a classic, a deep cut that leapt into the charts on the strength of “American Pie.” A cover of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” as the ’80s dawned was also a hit.

Finally, McLean may be the only musician whose strength as a song craftsman inspired someone else to pen a hit about him. Lori Lieberman began writing “Killing Me Softly with His Song” after seeing McLean in concert.

He continues to make music, and his upcoming show will range across dozens of albums and hundreds of songs. McLean also has a new long-player coming called American Boys.

“I wrote some songs with my guitar player, and I wrote a bunch of songs by myself,” he said. “So that’s a brand-new album.”

The upcoming disc follows up 2018’s Botanical Gardens; he’ll also draw from 2009’s Addicted to Black in Laconia.

He’s aware many fans will be impatient for him to play favorites but said, “I treat every song with respect; I don’t trot it out like, ‘Oh, here’s the famous one.’ There’s no difference in my attitude toward ‘American Pie’ or something from a lesser-known record.”

“I explain stuff to people and talk about whatever occurs as I’m going along,” he said. “I have this weird ability to be able to sing a song like ‘Vincent’ and be completely immersed in it. At the same time I’m thinking about what I’m going to say next after I’m through, and then what two or three songs I’m going to play [later] in my mind at the same time … I’m giving it my undivided attention. … I’ve been doing this my whole life.”

Don McLean
When: Sunday, April 24, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Colonial Theatre, 609 Main St., Laconia
Tickets: $40 to $99 at coloniallaconia.com

Featured photo: Don McLean. Photo Credit 2911 Media

The Music Roundup 22/04/21

Local music news & events

• Beach party: Touring behind last year’s One Way Out, Melissa Etheridge stops by the Seacoast for a show promising a mix of hits and new-to-fans cuts that grew out of Etheridge’s Facebook Live shows during the pandemic. They featured an array of unrecorded songs spanning her career, like “Wild Wild Wild,” which stayed on the shelf because it dealt with gay relationships at a time when she wasn’t ready to come out. Thursday, April 21, 8 p.m., Casino Ballroom, 169 Ocean Blvd., Hampton Beach, $25 to $79 at ticketmaster.com.

Funny lady: The Rex’s Friday Night Comedy event stars Kelly MacFarland, who’s appeared on appeared on Comedy Central, NBC’s Last Comic Standing and the 2019 Comics Come Home benefit show in Boston; she has sets on the Hulu show Up Early Tonight and the SFW web channel Dry Bar Comedy. MacFarland is inspired by comics like Joan Rivers, who had what she called “an aggressive … unapologetic” style. Friday, April 22, 7:30 p.m., Rex Theatre, 23 Amherst St., Manchester, 18+, $25 at palacetheatre.org.

New thing: For those familiar with his percussive acoustic guitar talents, the Senie Hunt Project is a change, a plugged-in blues rock power trio occasionally augmented by horns. The effort is a throwback to Hunt’s days playing in bands while attending college, before a transfer forced him to go solo and make his own musical layers. Check out the growling “Lovers on the Run” on his YouTube page for a taste of this new direction. Saturday, April 23, 8 p.m., Bank of NH Stage, 16 S. Main St., Concord, $24 at ccanh.com.

Back home: Though he’s now in Nashville and officially retired from music, Tom Dixon still finds time for his New Hampshire fans once or twice a year. A current run of shows includes Dixon playing with from his full band, with fellow southern man J.D. Roberts opening. The two are also doing a few solo acoustic double bills around the region, including one Sunday afternoon (April 24) at Stumble Inn in Londonderry. Saturday, April 23, 9:30 p.m., Bonfire Country Bar, 950 Elm St., Manchester. See tomdixonmusic.com.

Brunch sounds: Since forming over a decade ago, naming the sound of Red Tail Hawk has been elusive as the majestic bird that gives them a name. “Trees,” from their eponymous debut EP, was ethereal, bathed in lush harmonies, while Night Soup, their first full-length album, was studio polished, hook-filled and, again, widely varied. 2020’s Strokes was a groove-filled treat, while last year’s EP King Kong turned toward a soulful vibe. Sunday, April 24, 11 a.m., Rooftop at the Envio, 299 Vaughan St., Portsmouth, theredtailhawk.com.

Tobacco Wives, by Adele Myers

Tobacco Wives, by Adele Myers (William Morrow, 344 pages)

Is there any good reason for a parochial New Englander to read trade fiction set in the South?

I’d argue yes, although the stories need to be extra compelling, such as Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, a book about Black maids in 1960s Mississippi that turned out to also be a decent movie. However, novels that draw much of their oxygen from a particular setting have to work harder to appeal to readers in distant regions.

Adele Myers tries to do that in Tobacco Wives, a story set in her home state of North Carolina, where the tobacco industry reigned in the years after World War II. It’s the story of a teen, Maddie Sykes, who goes to live in a town, Bright Leaf, where almost everyone, from field hands to executives, gets their money from tobacco and worships it like a god.

Tobacco was for more than cigarettes, Maddie was told. “Farmers and gardeners misted their plants with tobacco-soaked water to keep moles and gophers away.” Doctors prescribed it for asthma attacks, “and, of course, we all used tobacco poultices to calm a croupy cough or beat back a bad cold.”

Maddie is an aspiring seamstress like her aunt, with whom she goes to live after her widowed mother decides a teenager in the house is inhibiting her hunt for a new husband. Aunt Etta, who lives alone, makes good money by outfitting the glamorous wives of tobacco executives, and Maddie dives eagerly into that world.

But she soon learns (cue ominous music) that there is an unseen danger in the community, something that seems to be afflicting everyone in the tobacco community.

There is, alas, no opportunity to be shocked at what the villain is ultimately revealed to be, not with Maddie coming home from her first visit to a tobacco factory with grainy black specks all over her hands and body. “My calves, my ankles, even between my toes, were caked in a sticky brown dust that smelled of tobacco. We couldn’t have been in the factory more than fifteen minutes and I looked like I’d been there all day.”

If that wasn’t enough of a spoiler, while Maddie was at the factory, she noted a “tall, forbidding fence covered with yellow and orange signs: AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY. NO TRESPASSING. RESTRICTED AREA. VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED. I didn’t know there were so many ways to say ‘Keep Out.’”

Anyone who’s ever visited an Amazon warehouse has seen similar signs, but I digress. The point is, this is not so much foreshadowing as it is hitting us over the head with a shovel. Tobacco: Bad. Maddie: Good. We get it.

This sort of heavy-handed narration follows Maddie throughout the book, as she gets to know the people of Bright Leaf and starts to be concerned about seemingly unrelated health problems that dog them, from lost pregnancies to chronic asthma. At the same time, a local tobacco company is unveiling a new cigarette called MOMint, targeted for women. The mint-flavored cigarette is to be marketed as something that will calm nerves, ease indigestion and control appetite.

This sets up what little bit of tension there is in the novel: what Maddie should do about her increasing alarm about the effect of tobacco, given the impact it will have on the lives of the people she has grown to care about.

Tobacco Wives seems, in some way, a fictionalized knock-off of Kate Moore’s The Radium Girls, narrative nonfiction of 2017 that exposed the terrible impact of radium on young women who worked with it early in the 20th century, when the element was seen as a miracle substance, not a killer. Their story was also told in a movie and play, and I suppose Tobacco Wives is also headed to a big or small screen, although it feels stale compared to the radium story. To be fair, this is partly because the demonization of the tobacco industry is relatively new, owing to whistleblowers like Jeffrey Wigand (whose efforts were also made into a movie, The Insider, which starred Russell Crowe).

Tobacco Wives is a perfectly serviceable, middle-brow novel, and Myers adds a layer of interest by adding details about the war-related rationing that was going on at the time it was set. (Everyone knows about the tin foil, but I was interested to learn that fabric was also rationed.) But it suffers from a predictable villain made even more predictable by a debut novelist’s overenthusiastic foreshadowing. It might be a laborious read for the people of New England, particularly if they happen to smoke. The good people of North Carolina, however, will surely love the book, unless they happen to grow tobacco. C

Book Events

Author events

WILD SYMPHONY READING AND CONCERT WITH DAN BROWN New Hampshire native and bestselling author of The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown will join the University of New Hampshire Wind Symphony to debut his classical work based on the musical album, released in conjunction with a corresponding children’s book of the same name. Sun., April 24, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Johnson Theatre at University of New Hampshire (30 Academic Way, Durham). Free; purchase tickets in advance. Visit unh.universitytickets.com.

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.

SY MONTGOMERY Author presents The Hawk’s Way. Gibson’s Bookstore, 45 S. Main St., Concord. Tues., May 3, 6:30 p.m. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

Book sales

SPRING BOOK SALE Features thousands of hardbacks and paperbacks including fiction, nonfiction, mystery and a variety of children’s books, plus DVDs, CDs and audio books. Brookline Public Library, 4 Main St., Brookline. Sat., May 14, and Sun., May 15, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.


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

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.

Vinyl destination

Record Store Day returns

By Jack Walsh


Each year thousands of people gather at independent record stores worldwide to celebrate the now unique pastime of collecting vinyl records. This holiday is known as Record Store Day — the festivities return on Saturday, April 23, and will often include barbecues, parades and performances from internationally known artists.

Store to store, record lovers also have the opportunity to purchase limited-edition vinyl records of their favorite bands. This holiday was created as an annual event to help maintain and boost sales at local independent shops.

There are 15 in New Hampshire that participate in Record Store Day, and more than 1,000 across the country. Chris Brown, chief financial officer of Bull Moose, proposed the idea in 2007. The indie music store chain has three locations in New Hampshire, including one in Salem.

“The general feeling out in the public, but also in the record industry itself, was really negative,” Brown said. “Chain stores had been closing and CD sales were down, but what was different was the independent stores were doing really well, and I felt that everybody should know. I also thought that we needed to do something for our customers.”

Brown never thought that RSD would be so attention-grabbing right away, but he hoped it would push the celebration of local and major bands, therefore ensuring music of all genres to be very much alive. It also seemed to have brought back the public’s interest in vinyl records, as CDs were at that time much more prevalent. The first RSD had signings by Metallica in the band’s hometown of San Francisco, which was just the start of this global celebration.

There will be a handful of limited-edition releases at each of Bull Moose’s stores, such as a remastered version of Rick Astley’s Whenever You Need Somebody on a vinyl LP, as well as David Bowie’s Brilliant Adventure and a deluxe two-sided vinyl release of Stevie Nicks’ Bella Donna. The Salem shop will likely receive a relatively diverse stock of limited vinyls, although it’s unclear yet which shipments are going to which locations. Collectors should intend on browsing on the earlier side in order to stand a better chance at seeing the records they may wish to buy. The store will open on Record Store Day at 8 a.m., according to its website. It is estimated that only one to seven copies of each vinyl will be available, and the store will not reserve anything for customers — everything is first come, first served.

Another local spot taking part in RSD is Metro City Records, on Somerville Street in Manchester. Owner Bill Proulx has been in business for 35 years, originally starting out as a record label before moving into retail wholesale distribution. Proulx said he is now down to strictly retail, due to economic factors.

“I watched, right here in this store, vinyl go away and come back again,” he said. “Trying to get the few releases that are available to our side of the country … there are a lot of these releases, [but] they sometimes only make 100 or 1,000 [vinyl copies]. Some … make as many as 15,000, but many are in very, very small quantities. Sometimes we don’t always get what we order.”

Proulx added that this year there should only be around 350 releases, as opposed to previous years, when there tended to be up to 900. For this RSD, however, Proulx believes that he will receive most of what he has requested. A special release he is looking forward to, and one he said will be very popular among record collectors, is the Grateful Dead’s live vinyl box set.

Album Reviews 22/04/21

Cypress Hill, Back In Black (Mnrk Records)

You have to admire the timing of this ’90s rap group’s latest release, given that the last Super Bowl halftime show was a showcase of that genre, and the rush will surely be on to revive the whole thing. And that’s OK with me, at least in the case of this crew, whose Latin-tinged cannabis anthem “Insane in the Brain” became a meme before there were memes (my favorite use of the song was its appearance in the movie Bulworth, if that matters to you). They released an album called Elephants on Acid a couple of years ago, in case you were too stoned to notice, but this LP brings them back to their OG roots. The songs aren’t total cartoons, which kind of detracts from the half-joke tunes I’d expected, but they’re definitely old-school, meant for sitting in a 1964 Lowrider and hoping there isn’t a cop within smelling distance. OK, there’s “Open Ya Mind,” which is more plugged into their sillier side, but the subject matter is serious, at least to them: Did you know that weed is still illegal in some parts of the U.S., which means some people will go to jail for it while others will make mad bank selling it? It’s true! B

Nazareth, Surviving The Law (Frontiers Music s.r.l.)

Holy crow, Scottish arena-metal dudes Nazareth, who are like one million years old, now hold the distinction of having the coolest album cover in history (the one for Hair Of The Dog, which is just endlessly fascinating) and the worst (this one). I was just Twittering with a few folks who agreed with me that the fadeout solo to HOTD’s “Changin’ Times” is the greatest solo ever, but that was back when this band was actually Nazareth. The only surviving original member is, as is always the case, the bass player, Pete Agnew; crazed-banshee-voiced singer Dan McCafferty died a couple of years ago and has been replaced by Carl Sentence, who sounds like a cross between Paul Stanley and David Whatsisface from Whitesnake. The guitar sound, courtesy of long-time new guy Jimmy Murrison, is blissfully heavy, and as for the tunes, they’re OK: Opener “Strange Days” is rote hair-metal; “You Gotta Pass It Around” wants to grow up to be Zep’s “When The Levee Breaks”; “Runaway” reminds us that band Fastway was once kind of awesome; “Better Leave It Out” pickpockets Living Colour’s “Cult Of Personality.” Above average stuff, all hail Naz (RIP). A-


• April 22 is a Friday, which means a bunch of new albums will be out, for your perusal, enjoyment and, mostly, general disappointment. But that’s being cynical, and I won’t be that today, because the summer is all but here, and when it comes I will be content, eating clams and french fries and random Doritos by the seashore, just looking at all the peeps and judging. But there is news in the world of rock ’n’ roll, because the quirky, half-cocked Australian psychedelic rock scene that was spearheaded by King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard has another contender you’ve probably never heard of, namely the Psychedelic Porn Crumpets! Let’s welcome these Crumpets to our pages with our traditional first question, folks, ready: Just how bad is this band anyway? Well, I don’t know yet, but if they’re anything like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, we can expect a band with the brains of Black Lips, the sloppiness of the guy who sings the “Rock ’n’ Roll McDonald’s” song from the documentary Supersize Me, and a lot of sub-Flaming Lips pseudo-psychedelic nonsense. But I’m getting ahead of myself, not that I don’t want this part to be over already, so let’s put this new album, Night Gnomes, on the barbie, like an Australian shrimp, and see if I can stand more than 10 seconds of whatever these guys are doing, what do you say? They’re influenced by Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and The Beatles, which would normally herald a depleted-soil disaster if a bunch of millennials were trying to do it, but no, the single “Bubblegum Infinity” is pretty cool indeed, a grungy, high-octane cross between Oasis and early Soundgarden, kind of. Welcome to the pages of The Hippo, Psychedelic Porn Crumpets, I’m glad to have you aboard, but do keep in mind that it’ll be all downhill from here.

• I never really liked Bon Iver at all, but too bad for me, because here’s a new album from Bon Iver’s drummer and second-banana singer, S. Carey! His singing has been compared to — I hope you’re sitting down, folks — Beach Boy singer Brian Wilson, so I am sitting here with a barf bag nearby, ready to listen to the 42,000th hipster singer to ruin Beach Boys music for posterity. No, let’s not be like that, for all I know, this guy’s new album, Break Me Open, will amaze me; maybe it will dazzle me with totally not-awkward existentialism as experienced by overeducated dunces and enthrall me with its acumen. Here’s one of the songs, the title track, are you ready? OK, it’s sad and floaty and chill, and Carey sings like the Beach Boys of course. It is morose and sad, a tune that should be playing in the background as your girlfriend drives off in her 3-foot-long electric vehicle, looking at you sadly but determinedly, never to see you again. Brings a tear to my eye, folks, let’s move on.

• Right, then, here’s another Australian, a dream-pop singing girl called Hatchie, with her latest album, Giving The World Away. The single is called “Quicksand,” and it’s kind of nice, especially if you like Echosmith, because she sounds exactly like Sydney Sierota during the hook. I would call it influencer-technopop; it’s dreamy and catchy, meaning most people would like it, which of course makes me very suspicious.

• We’ll wrap up this week with Skinty Fia, the third LP from Irish post-punk band Fontaines D.C.! If you’re one of the five people who actually still watch the Tonight show, you saw these guys perform “Boys in the Better Land,” in 2019, but as for the here and now, the band’s new single “Jackie Down The Line” is a cross between Violent Femmes and Blur in mellow mode, meaning I have no use for it whatsoever.

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).

Beer-braised carnitas

The best tacos on the planet?

Imagine crispy, yet tender, bits of pork exploding with savory, sweet flavors in every bite. Next, imagine a super-simple cooking process that is borderline impossible to mess up and results in perhaps the best taco base in existence.

I’m talking about pork carnitas and while we’re at it, let’s make them with beer. Beer adds complexity and flavor to the meat as it cooks slowly, tenderizing in its own juices. Also, I think, and I can’t promise this is accurate, beer actually aids in the tenderization process, helping the meat get where you want to go faster.

Making carnitas, which translates to “little meats” in Spanish, is really more process than recipe. First you braise chunks of pork until tender, and then you crisp up the tender chunks. My understanding is that traditionally the meat is fried in its own fat until tender before it is deposited into tacos.

I’ve followed a bunch of different recipes and I’ve never been disappointed. I’ve made them with a variety of seasonings and braising liquids, including chicken broth, beer, white wine, cider, and a mixture of orange and milk — they’re all winners.

If you choose a lighter brew like a Mexican lager, such as Revuelta by Able Ebenezer Brewing Co. in Merrimack, it will impart some pleasing funkiness. A hard cider, such as Wild Thing by Contoocook Cider Co. in Contoocook, adds a little fruitiness and acidity that helps balance a pretty rich final product. A stout would impart more richness but I’d lean toward a drier stout so it doesn’t overpower the dish.

For carnitas, you need to use pork butt, which is actually pork shoulder. The meat is quite fatty and filled with connective tissue, which requires long cooking times to break down.

Start by searing the meat in a big Dutch oven, add the seasonings you like, add your braising liquid, and then either slowly simmer it on the stovetop, or cook it covered in the oven or in a crockpot until the meat is tender.

Once the meat is tender, you drain off the braising liquid and either fry up the tender chunks until crispy on the stovetop or, and this is what I prefer, crisp up the meat in a screaming hot oven or under the broiler. It’s just easier, more consistent, and less messy.

Smash your crispy bits of pork into a warmed tortilla and top with whatever you want: salsa, fresh lime juice, sour cream, cheese, lettuce, pickled onions, and so on. I do think less is more when it comes to toppings here.

Here’s just one way to make carnitas.

Pork Carnitas

  • 3 to 4 pounds boneless pork butt, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 Tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3 or 4 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 Tablespoon kosher salt, probably more
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 12 ounces beer, preferably craft-brewed in New Hampshire
  • Vegetable oil, for searing

Heat a pot with a heavy bottom over high heat. Once hot, add a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil. Sear chunks of pork in batches, don’t crowd, until browned all over. Add all ingredients and bring to a simmer. Maintain a simmer, either over low heat on the stovetop or in a 350-degree oven, for about 3 hours until the meat is fork tender. Strain meat and remove garlic cloves and bay leaf. Arrange meat in a broiler-safe pan, drizzle over a few tablespoons of the braising liquid, and broil on high heat for about 10 minutes, turning halfway, until the meat is richly browned and crispy. You could also do this last step in a super-hot oven if you don’t have a broiler. Smash 2 or 3 chunks into a warm tortilla and top however you like.

What’s in My Fridge
Double Clip Double IPA by Stoneface Brewing Co. (Newington)
I’m sure I’ve had this before but somehow, maybe not? As my brother-in-law remarked as we cracked open a couple of these, “This is delicious.” It’s big, juicy and bold but the finish is quite smooth. Cheers.

Featured photo. Make pork carnitas. Photo by Frankie Lopez.

Warm butternut and apple salad

Salad season is almost here! Yes, I know salads are all-year food items, but the warmth of summer makes them so much more enjoyable. As we navigate the transition from cold winter to hot summer, this is the perfect salad to serve. It’s veggie-centric but served warm, making it a good choice for a warm spring day and cool evening.

This salad does require a bit more prep time than your typical salad recipe. First, you have three different ingredients that require dicing. Then you have roasting time for the squash, onions and apple. Finally, you need to cook the pancetta. This is not meant as a deterrent; rather this info is shared so that you plan adequately. From start to finish, you need about 45 minutes to an hour.

The time and effort are well worth it. This salad has a nice mix of textures and flavors.

Warm butternut and apple salad
Serves 4

¼ cup cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon dried sage
1½ pounds butternut squash, peeled & seeded*
1 small sweet onion
1½ Tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces pancetta
1 apple, core removed
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Combine vinegar and maple syrup in a small saucepan; bring to a boil.
Reduce heat slightly, stirring occasionally until reduced by half.
Stir sage into dressing, and set aside.
Dice squash into 1-inch cubes.
Slice onion into small wedges.
Combine 3 cups squash and onion on a rimmed baking sheet
Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil, and toss to coat fully.
Bake for 15 minutes.
While squash and onions cook, dice pancetta into small pieces
Heat a frying pan over medium; cook diced pancetta for 3 to 5 minutes or until crispy.
Drain pancetta on a paper towel-lined plate.
Dice apple into 1-inch cubes.
Drizzle apple cubes with remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil, and toss to coat.
After baking for 15 minutes, remove tray from oven.
Add apple to tray, return to oven, and bake for an additional 5 minutes.
Transfer squash, onion and apples to a large bowl.
Pour reduced dressing over it; stir well.
Top with pancetta.

  • Save leftover squash for another recipe.

Featured Photo: Warm butternut and apple salad. Photo by Michele Pesula Kuegler.

In the kitchen with Saurav Goel

Saurav Goel of Nashua is the general manager of Raga Contemporary Kitchen (138 Main St., Nashua, 459-8566, find them on Facebook @raganashua), overseeing its kitchen and bar operations. Raga opened in downtown Nashua last October, its menu made up of a variety of items inspired by Indian street foods. Options include a selection of curries, like tikka masala and korma masala, as well as various starters, burgers and wraps. There is also an emphasis on cocktails, which feature many of the same ingredients traditionally used in Indian cooking — Streets of Mumbai, for instance, is a vodka-based cocktail handcrafted with fresh ginger and curry leaves, while American Dreams is smoked with bourbon and a blend of amaretto and fresh lime. Raga, which gets its name from the Sanskrit word meaning “melody,” is known for featuring a regular schedule of live music every week, including acoustic acts on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, jazz performers on Sundays and karaoke nights on Tuesdays.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

I would say a santoku knife. Santoku, in Japanese, means it is a “three virtues” knife. It is used in the kitchen for cutting, slicing and chopping … so that’s why it’s very handy and useful.

What would you have for your last meal?

A humble bowl of kadhi pakora and rice, which is a traditional dish from Northern India.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

I’m very new [to the area] … so I haven’t experienced many local eateries, but one which I really like is Bagel Alley. That’s one of my favorites.

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

Without a doubt, Gordon Ramsay. I consider him a mentor in many ways.

What is your favorite thing on your menu?

The Delhi aloo chaat is probably one of my favorites. … They are basically potato fritters, stuffed with lentils, finished with a dollop of fresh yogurt, sweet and sour chutneys, freshly chopped onion and tomato, and then garnished with fried vermicelli.

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

I think more and more people are moving toward vegetarian or vegan [items]. … We get a lot of guests every single day who are asking for vegetarian or vegan options, and they are really happy to see that we have so many of them on our menu.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

I like to cook dhal fry, which is an Indian dish with lentils, and some steamed rice. It’s the easiest and the healthiest thing that I would prepare at home.

Mint chutney (mint dipping sauce)
Courtesy of Saurav Goel of Raga Contemporary Kitchen in Nashua

2 cups mint leaves
1 cup cilantro
2 green chili peppers
1 Tablespoon grated ginger
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tablespoon sugar
Salt to taste
½ cup water

Add all ingredients to a blender. Blend at low speed until the ingredients start to mix, then increase the speed and blend into a smooth paste. Stop and stir the ingredients a couple of times if necessary.

Featured photo: Saurav Goel. Courtesy photo.

Greek eats return

Nashua’s St. Philip Church presents pop-up event

Last October, St. Philip Greek Orthodox Church in Nashua held a first-come, first-served gyro and baklava pop-up, its first food event in a year, and it far exceeded organizers’ expectations.

“We sold out twice during the day, had to make an emergency run to get more supplies … and still ended up having to close up,” said Christina Eftimiou, who co-chaired the pop-up with fellow parishioner Tina Alexopoulos. “I think we really underestimated just how much people missed having our annual festival and the Greek food that we put out.”

A second pop-up highlighting Greek pastries and cookies followed, just ahead of the holiday season, and was also a resounding success. Now, Eftimiou and Alexopoulos are organizing a new pre-ordering event featuring more favorites like pastitsio (Greek lasagna), keftedes (Greek meatballs) and spanakopita (spinach pie). Online orders are available now through April 30, with pickups on Saturday, May 14, coincidentally falling on the church’s normal festival weekend.

“We didn’t want people to not be able to get the food that they wanted,” Eftimiou said, “so at least by having the pre-order end about two weeks before the actual pickup date, we’re going to be able to make exactly what we need so that everyone who places their order is going to get it.”

Planning for this new pop-up began in February. When coming up with a menu, Eftimiou said she and Alexopoulos looked both at what some of the bigger sellers were from previous events, and which items they could produce in bulk and in a reasonable amount of time. The pastitsio, keftedes and spanakopita are all available to order as dinners with rice and Greek string beans baked in a tomato sauce. Those same dinner-sized portions can also be ordered a la carte.

Spanakopita. Courtesy photo.

Pastitsio is a Greek-based pasta dish with ground beef and a béchamel sauce. The keftedes, also prepared using beef, are cooked in a tomato sauce and come three per order, while the spanakopita has layers of spinach and feta cheese. The church’s own freshly baked baklava, made from an old recipe, is also on the menu a la carte — that comes in a pack of four per order.

A cookbook of recipes collected by the church’s Agape Ladies Society is being sold too.

When ordering through the website, you’ll choose a pickup time between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.

“We’re trying to plan so that the food is coming out of the oven fresh, so that we’re able to package and deliver it to people hot and ready to go,” Eftimiou said.

Next year will mark the church’s 50th anniversary. Eftimiou said she hopes the festival can be brought back to its traditional format by then, and a gala is also in the planning stages for the fall.

Greek food festival pop-up

When: Pre-orders are available now through April 30; pickups will be on Saturday, May 14, between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.
Where: St. Philip Greek Orthodox Church, 500 W. Hollis St., Nashua
Cost: Foods are priced per item; see ordering form for details
Visit: nashuagreekfestival.com

Featured photo: Pastitsio (Greek lasagna). Courtesy photo.

Culinary creativity

Fire & Fusion chef competition returns

A timed cooking challenge involving four “mystery” ingredients — think Food Network’s Chopped — the Fire & Fusion executive chef competition pits local chefs against one another to create their best dishes in under 30 minutes before a live audience. The event returns for its ninth year on Wednesday, May 4, at the Alpine Grove Banquet Facility in Hollis, and will also feature a People’s Choice appetizer challenge.

Fire & Fusion was last held in person in 2019, although a virtual iteration of the cooking challenge featuring pre-recorded video of the chefs in action did take place in the fall of 2020.

“We’re super excited to have it back in person,” said Judy Porter, director of marketing, communications and development for the Nashua Senior Activity Center, which hosts the event. “People just love to feel the energy in that room. They want to see what the chefs are doing and they want to smell the food … [and] if they’ve never gone before, they’ll just be blown away.”

female chef preparing food at outside table during event
Courtesy photo.

Each of the nine participating chefs currently works in senior, long-term care or assisted living facilities in the area, and that’s by design, Porter said. Six are taking on the timed challenge, while three additional chefs are competing in the People’s Choice round only.

“That was really the genesis of this event, was to show and let the public taste the food from the health care community,” Porter said. “I think back in everyone’s memory, we have this image in our minds of health care food not being very good or having a ton of flavor … and so we wanted to show people that things have changed. … Especially amongst assisted living, you want to have really top-notch food, because for a lot of people it’s a high point of their day.”

The evening will begin at 6 p.m. with a wide selection of both hot and cold appetizers provided by each of the chefs, who are encouraged to bring cuisine as part of this year’s theme, “A Night in Monte Carlo.” Guests can meet the chefs, sample various items and vote on their favorite to win the People’s Choice Award. The unveiling of the mystery ingredients, courtesy of celebrity judge Nicole Barreira of Great New Hampshire Restaurants, will then take place at 7 p.m.

The ingredients themselves are kept a secret right up until the night of the event, Porter said, but will typically consist of one meat and some other uncommon items. The chefs have 30 minutes and must incorporate all four of them into their dish to serve to the judges.

“We’ll have it all being broadcast on two big screens, plus people can get up and walk around the outside of the table areas [to] see what the chefs are doing and ask them questions,” she said.

2 chefs preparing h'ours d'oeuvres at event table
Courtesy photo

This year’s roster includes both new and returning contestants. Rejean Sheehy of The Courville at Nashua, a previous Fire & Fusion champion and three-time People’s Choice award winner, is back this year, and so is Guy Streitburger of The Arbors of Bedford, who was awarded “Top Chef” in the 2020 virtual competition. James LeBlanc of Bedford Falls, Bailey Bocci of Bridges by Epoch at Nashua, Celina Saccardo of Nashua Crossings, and Jim Younce of the Hunt Community will each also be showcasing their culinary creativity.

Longtime radio personality and author Mike Morin is returning as the event’s host. Judges, in addition to Barreira, will include WMUR anchor Sean McDonald, New Hampshire Magazine columnist Susan Laughlin and meteorologist and Realtor Josh Judge.

Raffle tickets will also be sold throughout the evening for the chance to win one of more than two dozen deluxe themed gift baskets. Prizes include everything from sports memorabilia to vacation getaway tickets, gift certificates, specialty food items and more.

9th annual Fire & Fusion executive chef competition
When: Wednesday, May 4, 6 to 9 p.m.
Where: Alpine Grove Banquet Facility, 19 S. Depot Road, Hollis
Cost: $50 per person, or $450 for a reserved table of 10 (early admission VIP tickets are $60 per person and $550 per table of 10 and get you into the event at 5:15 p.m.)
More info: Visit nashuaseniorcenter.org, or call the office at 816-2642 to purchase tickets

Featured photo: Courtesy photo.

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