Checking in with Paula Poundstone

Paula Poundstone can find something to talk about with just about any audience, anywhere; her act has a handful of jokes and a whole lot of back and forth. The reason for this becomes clear during a 20-minute interview, as the comedian easily moves from topic to topic like a Beetle at a car rally.

She begins with a quick disquisition on her Sisyphean cat litter box duties (“I’m usually sifting”). Next up is her newly found passion for hydroponic gardening, and what it says about her at a certain age. “I eat collard greens, and I’ve been diagnosed with bursitis,” she said. “I’ve become Granny from The Beverly Hillbillies.”

Poundstone lives in Santa Monica “for no good reason” and the recent California heat wave seems to have made her PA a bit mouthy, which prompts her to proclaim, “it’s assistant-firing season.” This boss/underling dynamic’s similarity to the plot of Hacks somehow leads to a discussion about why she’s not ready for binge watching in television’s new golden age.

It’s partly technology, and the rest would definitely take longer than a phone call to enumerate.

“Streaming? That’s stuff they say on Lost in Space; I don’t know how to do any of that, and I’m glad,” she said. “I have 10 cats, two big dogs, and a couple of jobs. How would I ever get anything done with something compelling me to sit down and watch it all the time?”

It’s not hypothetical. When Poundstone was starting out in comedy, she spent a lot of time on buses, rolling from town to town, finding her voice at open mics. It was the late 1970s, and an addiction to M*A*S*H reruns threatened to bankrupt her every time the Greyhound had a layover.

“Back then, bus stations had these little chairs with coin-operated televisions attached to them. I didn’t even have enough money for food, but I’d put my quarters in so I could watch M*A*S*H.” She quit when she realized it was also emotionally draining; a gut punch episode would leave her so bereft she could barely work.

So she missed Seinfeld, avoided Downton Abbey and skipped This Is Us. One exception is Breaking Bad, which she has on DVD. “I’ve watched it probably the whole way through maybe 50 times. So I don’t transition well.” She did watch The Mentalist, but as for the rest? “People look at me like I have two heads, but it’s just too much for me…. I really try to limit my engagement, because I get too upset.”

In her 2017 book, The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness, Poundstone used a made-up metric of “heps and balous” to rate experiences that varied from driving a rented Lamborghini to getting tidy and taking dancing lessons. Asked about her current supply of the units — a bunch of heps adds up to one balou — she admitted she hadn’t been counting lately.

“Like many of us, I feel like I’m just putting one foot in front of the other these days,” she said. “But this last year, I’ve been able to work steadily, and I’ll tell you that really lifts your spirits, being with audiences. I tell my little jokes and … people come up to me and say, ‘Oh, thank you for coming, I haven’t laughed this hard in’ … whatever span of time. It’s funny, because they thank me, and the truth is they were the ones who paid to be there. So the thanks go the other way.”

Growing up in Massachusetts, Poundstone began as a standup in Boston before moving to California and finding success. “I had a feeling that life could be different in a different place,” she said, adding, “In Boston I did a substantial amount of bombing, because everyone does, because that’s how you learn.”

She still thinks of New England as home, and is hoping that her upcoming run there will coincide with the autumn colors, though she’s unwilling to refer to that experience as many New Englanders often do. “The phrase ‘leaf peeping’ has come in my absence, and it makes it sound sort of sinister.”

Poundstone will be in the region as September ends and October begins; she hopes this helps her luck. “Every year it looks like I’m going to be [there] during peak foliage,” she said. “Then I show up, and it turns out it happened earlier, or it wasn’t really that good. … I’m always seeing brown molding leaves. So I’m very much looking forward to getting there at the right time.”

Paula Poundstone
When: Saturday, Sept. 24, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 S. Main St., Concord
Tickets: $19 to $39 at
Also Saturday, Oct. 1, 8 p.m., The Music Hall, 28 Chestnut St., Portsmouth, $32 to $45 at

Featured photo: Paula Poundstone. Photo by Shannon Greer.

The Music Roundup 22/09/22

Local music news & events

Bon voyage: A side project of a musician known for his percussive guitar exploits, Senie Hunt Project plays its final show of the season. The solid blues rock combo is a definite departure from the fingerpicking brilliance of his debut CD, Song Bird, with danceable grooves ideal for this early autumn street party. With summer’s end, the Sierra Leone-born, Concord-raised Hunt will spend more time in his new home, Nashville. Thursday, Sept. 22, 6:30 p.m., Warner Main Stage, 16 E. Main St., Warner. See

Release bash: Local indie singer-songwriter Benjamin Harris celebrates his debut album, Blue, with a basement show, joined by a bevy of area musicians. As Harris strums his six-string, the title track, a meditation on mental health, asks: If all things happen for a reason, then where’s the lesson? “What was I supposed to learn?” sings Harris, who at the event is joined by Kaedance Dae, Chris Sammon and Alfredo Benavides. Friday, Sept. 23, 9 p.m., Penuche’s Ale House, 16 Bicentennial Square, Concord. See

Community: An evening of regional acts is topped by Promise Game, a southern New Hampshire quintet that blends melodic riffs with a Rage Against The Machine edge on its first video, “Thanks For the Anxiety,” followed by the punk rock energy of all-female Girlspit. Rounding out the lineup are two Boston bands: Sweetie, a quartet who had a song played on Rocky Rhino Radio in the U.K. last year, and Indoor Friends. Saturday, Sept. 24, 9 p.m., Shaskeen Pub, 909 Elm St., Manchester, $5 at the door, 21+.

Family affair: To borrow a phrase from Michael Franti, reggae music is the sound of sunshine, and Dis-N-Dat Band is an excellent embodiment of that sentiment. With over 20 years together, the group is led by the ebullient Sista Dee on steel drums and vocals, surrounded by family members — her husband Rangotan Smith, formerly with Black Uhuru, along with her son on keyboards and her daughter sharing vocal duties. Sunday, Sept. 25, 4 p.m., Penuche’s Pub, 4 Canal St., Nashua. See

Listen & learn: A music analysis seminar hosted by Cody Pope & Byron G is both a listening session for the duo’s debut collaborative album, Meet Me In Gate City, and a breakdown of how it was made. The two will go in depth on their writing process, the instruments used and, according to a press release, “entendres, cultural references, creative influences, song structure, creative process [and] songwriting stories.” Wednesday, Sept. 28, 7 p.m., Nashua Public Library, 2 Court St., Nashua. See

At the Sofaplex 22/09/22

Beast (R)

Idris Elba, Sharlto Copely.

Idris Elba fights a lion in this most “exactly as advertised” thriller. Sure, everybody gets a bit of backstory: Elba plays a father of two daughters (Iyana Halley, Norah Samuels), the older of whom is nearly levitating with rage at him for separating from their mother right before the mom got sick and later died of cancer. Copely is a guy in charge of a South African nature reserve who has maybe tangled with poachers. And the lion they eventually fight has the backstory of watching poachers kill his pride and then going all John Wick, lion-style. But all that is very secondary to “Elba v. Lion,” which is why we’re all here.

And on this score the movie delivers. It is fine, maybe even good if probably not great. Elba is exactly what you expect him to be — the movie doesn’t make him superhuman but does make him an Elba-amount of strong and increasingly capable at fending off the angry lion. It offers you exactly the action and suspense you expect and doesn’t get bogged down by trying to do anything more. B Available for rent or purchase via VOD.

Pinocchio (PG)

Tom Hanks, Cynthia Erivo.

The already disturbing story of Pinocchio does not get cuter in this shiny plasticine live-action adaptation of the 1940 Disney cartoon. Here, Hanks (presumably involved because of director Robert Zemeckis? Or is this a “sea witch gives you legs but at a price” situation?) is Geppetto, a sad widower made even sadder by thoughts of his young son who has also died. He makes a large-ish puppet, wishes on Cynthia Erivo (a blue star/Blue Fairy) and wakes to find that the puppet is now sorta alive (with a voice by child actor Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) but his new “son” is still wooden. Jiminy Cricket (voice of Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a cricket and the movie’s narrator with meta tendencies, is tasked with serving as Pinocchio’s conscience, which is a tough job when a kid knows nothing about the world, is chucked out the door to go to school and is immediately preyed upon by a con artist fox (Keegan-Michael Key) who sells Pinocchio to a traveling puppet show producer.

This movie sort of pokes fun at some of the crazier aspects of the story and gives us some of the songs — “I’ve Got No Strings” etc. — but that’s just not enough to make your olden-days cautionary tale to kids about the untrustworthy world entertaining or charming or funny. It’s weird — its strange spread of accents is weird, its general joylessness is weird and its ending is so weirdly abrupt I rewound to make sure I didn’t miss something. C- Available on Disney+

Luck (G)

Voices of Eva Noblezada, Simon Pegg.

In this animated movie, 18-year-old Sam (voice of Noblezada) ages out of the foster care system and has to make her own way — working a job at a gardening store, taking online classes, navigating her new apartment. But she’s worried about something that has always plagued her: bad luck. How bad? She accidentally locks herself in her bathroom, drops her toast jelly side down and gets a flat tire, all on her first day of work. But then she meets Bob (voice of Pegg), a black cat. Bob is an employee in the Land of Luck and he accidentally drops his lucky penny right next to Sam. She picks it up, planning to give it to Hazel (voice of Adelynn Spoon), a young girl she bonded with at the group home who yearns for a forever home just like Sam once did. While holding the coin (and absorbing its luck) she experiences how the other half lives, with computer uploads that work and streetlights that are always green.

When Sam accidentally flushes the lucky penny, she tracks down Bob to get Hazel a new one. She follows him to the Land of Luck to score herself another penny, and Sam and Bob reluctantly work together to try to get the coin but find themselves upsetting the delicate balance of good and bad luck.

This movie is light and generally sweet and has a lot of cuteness in the form of cats, leprechauns, a colorful dragon and adorable hazmat bunnies. It also has a fair amount of talking and while my elementary school kids basically stuck with the movie I could tell that their attention waned a bit in the middle as the movie gets bogged down in a bunch of tasks for its characters to complete. A richly textured Pixar movie this ain’t but it was acceptable for family movie-night entertainment. B- Available on Apple TV+.

Me Time (R)

Kevin Hart, Mark Wahlberg.

“Regular person in crazy situations” is the formula for this buddy movie about a stay-at-home dad who gets a week by himself. Sonny’s (Hart) wife Maya (Regina Hall) urges him to chillax at home while she takes the kids to her parents for spring break. Maybe he’ll even attend the multi-day 44th birthday party of his longtime friend Huck (Wahlberg; sure, ha, “44”), who he hasn’t seen for a while due to Huck’s “woo-hoo, Burning Man!” lifestyle while Sonny is more focused on PTA meetings and family schedules. Huck drags a bus full of his weirdly young friends out to the desert for their own off-the-grid music-festy experience full of alleged fun that just sounds like a parade of horrors (Forage for food! Sleep in this yurt! Poop in this bucket!). But this overplanned, underplumbed event is only the start to the craziness Sonny encounters now that he has taken a step into Huck’s world.

Look, I’m not, like, mad that this movie exists. It’s not terrible. Kevin Hart is in movies like this for a reason; he is skilled at being the comedy straight man who can also go a little zany. And there are nice touches — the big friend-relationship step of learning the name of a fellow parent previously only known as “Kid’sname’s Dad.” But there aren’t as many truly askew moments as you’d want to really sell the “wild ride”-ness of this movie. C+ Available on Netflix.

Easter Sunday (PG-13)

Jo Koy, Lydia Gaston.

Comedian Jo Koy plays a version of himself called Jo Valencia who is a comedian with a big Filipino-American family, a sullen teenage son called Junior (Brandon Wardell) and a shot at landing the lead in a sitcom pilot. Jo is having a hard time balancing co-parenting Junior with giving his all at his audition, where they knock him off balance by asking him to give his character a Filipino accent. He’s wrestling with this angle to the job opportunity and trying to help Junior figure out his teenage life when his mom, Susan (Gaston), asks him to travel from the L.A. area up to the Bay Area for Easter. It’s a whole to-do — church, a big meal, family drama — and Jo decides to go and drag Junior along. Family and work become even harder to balance as Jo tries to make a surprise second audition a five-hour drive away and deal with family nuttiness that includes a half-baked gangster and a stolen pair of Manny Pacquioa’s gloves.

Easter Sunday has a lot of good ideas but it still has some very rough draft-y qualities, like an impromptu comedy set Jo Valencia does at his church and some of the sillier gangster stuff. There is a subplot about Junior’s not quite fitting in with the wider community of his Filipino-American family that makes for some good “first- and second-generation American kids in an immigrant family” stuff, but it is never quite as fully realized — more a pitch for a thing that could be a part of Jo Valencia’s story than something the movie fully examines.

And ultimately, I hope that’s what Easter Sunday turns out to be — a starting point for a stronger, more fully filled in story that Jo Koy gets to tell in some future vehicle. C+ Available on VOD.

The Woman King (R)

The Woman King (R)

Viola Davis makes a serious play for a second Oscar win in the action-drama The Woman King, which is set in early 1800s West Africa and based on the real Dahomey army of female warriors called the Agojie.

Nanisca (Viola Davis) is the general of the Agojie and a member of Dahomey King Ghezo’s (John Boyega) council. Ghezo being a relatively new king, Nanisca seems hopeful that he can be persuaded to end the country’s participation in the slave trade with the Europeans. She is also helping the king to fight a war with the Oyo empire, which has demanded tribute from Dahomey for many years. She becomes particularly intent on bringing down the Oyo when she sees that their new general is Oba Ade (Jimmy Odukoya), one of the men who had captured and raped Nanisca decades earlier.

Meanwhile, young woman Nawi (Thuso Mbedu) does not want to wind up in the abusive marriage her father arranges for her. Always somewhat in awe of the passing Agojie, Nawi is dumped at Ghezo’s palace by her father and the Agojie take her in to join a class of new recruits. The recruits are from a mix of backgrounds, including some who were taken prisoner during a recent raid to free Dahomey people held by Oyo and their allies Mahi. If you make it through the training, mentor types like the bad-ass Izogie (Lashana Lynch) and Nanisca’s second in command Amenza (Sheila Atim) reinforce to the recruits, your background won’t matter and you’ll be Agojie. Nawi isn’t exactly a “fall in line” type but she badly wants to be part of this powerful group of women.

One could argue that some of the twists of the personal stories of Nanisca, trying to navigate court politics, and Nawi, who meets and has a sort of flirtation with half-Dahomey Brazilian Malik (Jordan Bolger), can border on the soapy. And one might feel tempted to get all “well, actually” about some of the historical elements and the gratifying but wish-fullfill-y turns the story takes. But I am not that one. To borrow one of critic Joe Reid’s oft-used terms of affection, this movie is rad: Davis with her blend of weariness and determination is rad, Mbedu is rad, all the ladies of the Agojie are rad but particularly Lynch and Atim (Lynch is having a rad career that includes playing Carol Danvers’ friend and colleague Maria Rambeau in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Nomi, a 007, in No Time to Die). This world isn’t some made-up utopia; the women here all deal with various patriarchal restraints. But the Agojie also get to be confident and self-assured, and not in some girl-boss-y way but like the battlefield tested warriors they are. Instead of male gaze of these strong women, the movie (directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood) shows them in a kind of sisterly appreciation light and we get to be dazzled by their relationship with each other and their Wonder Woman-likeathleticism (there are some real Themyscira moves in their fighting style, which, along with Black Panther’s whole Dora Milaje, suggests that comic books owe a lot to this slice of history). I know I should scrape together some kind of intellectual read on this movie but where I’m at: The Woman King is rad and you should see it. For my part, I can’t wait to see it again. A

Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, some disturbing material, thematic content, brief language and partial nudity, according to the MPA on Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood with a screenplay by Dana Stevens and Maria Bello, The Woman King is two hours and 15 minutes long and distributed in theaters by Tristar.

Confess, Fletch (R)

The frequently barefoot, occasionally overconfident but basically capable detective-ish Fletch investigates the theft of paintings and gets himself tangled in a murder in Confess, Fletch.

Irwin M. Fletcher— Fletch (Jon Hamm) to his friends, enemies and frenemies — has been hired by an Italian count, the father of Angela (Lorenza Izzo), to find some paintings (Picassos and the like) stolen from him. As Fletch meets with Angela to give her an update on his progress, he learns that the Count has also been kidnapped, with his kidnappers demanding the Picasso for his safe return. Angela fears that her father is already dead and tells Fletch that her stepmother, the Countess (Marcia Gay Harden), is probably behind it. Fletch has information that two of the stolen paintings have already been sold and travels to Boston to follow up. But when he arrives at the posh apartment Angela has rented for them, he finds a woman dead in the living room and himself the most obvious suspect. Though police detectives Monroe (Roy Wood Jr.) and Griz (Ayden Mayeri) try to dissuade him, Fletch investigates the murder and the art theft, which he comes to believe are related.

“Goofy Bond” is how something I read described this movie — which I took as a selling point — but for me the goofiness frequently felt off. Or maybe it was a specific temperature of goofiness that I just had a hard time acclimating to. Hamm is good at goofy comedy and good at straight-faced comedy (which is what I choose to believe he’s doing in Top Gun: Maverick) but Fletch is an oddball mix of the two that I didn’t really warm to until about halfway through the movie. It’s fine, but not strikingly silly or delightfully weird. There are bits of comedy business where I thought “ha, nice” but didn’t actually laugh out loud. I like many of this film’s characters — Wood and Mayeri have nice comedy-crime-solver chemistry with each other and with Hamm; John Slattery shows up at Hamm’s one-time newspaper editor and adds a note of tartness — but even with solid actors doing solid work this movie never heats up past a simmer.

I don’t know that “Confess, Fletch: You’ll grow to appreciate its slightly-better-than-average-ness!” is the review you’ll see on any movie posters, but here we are. B-

Rated R for language, some sexual content and drug use, according to the MPA on Directed by Greg Mottola with a screenplay by Zev Borrow and Greg Mottola, Confess, Fletch is an hour and 38 minutes long and distributed by Paramount Pictures in theaters and via VOD.

Featured photo: The Woman King.

The Book Eaters, by Sunyi Dean

The Book Eaters, by Sunyi Dean (Tor, 298 pages)

Does the world really need another story about mythical un-human creatures who hide in plain sight among us and need to destroy human beings in order to eat?

Why, yes, as it turns out, we do.

Despite its vague resemblance to Twilight, The Walking Dead and others in popular humans-as-foodstuff genre, Sunyi Dean has penned a marvelous, mind-bending novel about a class of creatures deposited on Earth as a science experiment of sorts. The majority of them don’t eat people, but instead eat books. Yes, that sounds ridiculous and would be garbage in the wrong hands, but Dean — an autistic American-born writer of fantasy novels who now lives in the U.K. — brings a sly wit to the enterprise and has produced a sophisticated fantasy world that will doubtless beget movies and sequels.

The story revolves around Devon, a young mother who is part of six family lines that hide among humans on Earth, their purpose being to absorb human knowledge through eating books and, for some of them, through consumption of human brains. You can’t tell them apart by looking at them; they all look like humans, but book eaters grow “bookteeth” at about age 3, and mind eaters have a mosquito-like proboscis and a serpent-like tongue.

Devon is a book eater. Her 5-year-old son, Cai, is not. And Devon has the choice of watching him starve to death, or bringing home some hapless human whose brain is suitable for consumption about once a month.

This is not a good way of living for either Devon or her son, so she is intent on finding a class of book eaters who possess an elixir called Redemption that can turn brain eaters into book eaters. (It’s not just a question of will, as it was for the Cullens in Twilight.) But there is more to her story than that.

Despite being fed a carefully planned diet of fairy tales as a child, designed to suppress her imagination and keep her from questioning the Family Rules, Devon grew up with a rebellious streak and would sometimes sneak a book she wasn’t supposed to consume. She would even do something that was forbidden — read the book. (Book eaters cannot write, and they are only supposed to consume books, not read them.)

Devon had a happy childhood, however, despite never knowing her mother. Among book eaters, women are precious and rare because of a genetic flaw that causes ovarian failure in their late 20s. Their marriages are both arranged and “enforced” — because of the dangers of inbreeding, the patriarchs of the families must place brides like chess pieces, and so at age 19, Devon had been sent to another family for the requisite term of three years to be a wife and bear a child, after which she is to return to her family of origin.

Book eaters, who drink “inktea” and large amounts of alcohol, are big on ceremony, and the lavish weddings give Dean’s fertile imagination room to run wild: The bountiful spread of food includes a “salad” — “shredded pages of Midsummer Night’s Dream that were dyed different shades of green” along with edible origami made of pages torn from books and made into the shape of swans, and a wedding “cake” in the shape of the biblical Tree of Knowledge, “printed pages carefully shaped into origami apples.” When Devon tastes wine for the first time, she reflects that it tastes a little bit like “a well-crafted romance novel. Complex, sweet, and a little stinging.”

The wedding cake is a metaphor for what is to come: Devon’s knowledge expands first with the consummation of her marriage and then with the birth of her first child. With that birth comes the first of several surprises that alter our perception of what is happening. The shrewd plotting switches constantly from present-day to the past but is easy to follow and reveals Devon’s back story and motivation in slow motion.

Another smart literary device is in the telling of the book eaters’ history in snippets of quotes from a book called Paper and Flesh: A Secret History, written by an unfortunate reporter who tried to infiltrate Devon’s family and paid a price for his interest.

To preserve their secrets, the families must keep distant from humans, whom they largely disdain. But Devon must navigate the human world — and learn the secrets of the other five book eater families — in order to get Redemption for her son, who, as he grows older, will need to eat not just once a month, but once a week.

Like baklava, The Book Eaters has complexity in its many layers: as a jacket blurb says, “Truth is found between the stories we’re fed and the stories we hunger for,” and readers can chew for days on the points the author is trying to make. But at the center of her sharp criticism of patriarchy and the cage of tradition and extended family, is a rollicking good story. Twilight had one, too, but the series was poorly written. The Book Eaters, in contrast,is sophisticated, thought-provoking and as immersive as a quality video game, whether or not you’re a fan of the fantasy genre.

And readers will become conversant with a wonderful, rarely used word: bibliosmia, which means the enjoyment derived from sniffing a good book. A+

Book Events

Author events

DAMIEN KANE RIGDEN will be at the Toadstool in Nashua on Saturday, Sept. 24, at 11 a.m. for his novella All Manor of Beast and Man.

SUSIE SPIKOL, a naturalist at the Harris Center for Conservation Education in Hancock, will come to Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St. in Concord;, 224-0562) to “teach your kiddos how to find critters in their neighborhood” on Saturday, Sept. 24, at 11 a.m. with her book The Animal Adventurer’s Guide: How to Prowl for an Owl, Make Snail Slime, and Catch a Frog Bare-Handed, according to a press release. The book, which is slated for release Sept. 13, features “50 hands-on activities and adventures that bring you closer to wild animals than you’ve ever been,” the release said. Spikol will also bring supplies to do one of the crafts from the book.

BETSY THOMASON will discuss her book Just Breathe Out: Using Your Breath to Create a New, Healthier You at the Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough (12 Depot Square;, 924-3543) on Saturday, Sept. 24, at 2 p.m.

HUMA ABEDIN The Historic Music Hall Theater (28 Chestnut St., Portsmouth, 436-2400, will host Huma Abedin, longtime political advisor and aide for Hillary Clinton, to discuss her bookBoth/Andat the Music Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 27, at 7 p.m.Tickets are $15 and include a book voucher.

DONALD YACOVONE will discuss his new book Teaching White Supremacy: America’s Democratic Ordeal and the Forging of Our National Identity on Thursday, Sept. 29, at 7 p.m. at Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St., Concord, 224-0562,

History & lectures

FRAN LEBOWITZ Author, humorist and social commentator Fran Lebowitz will appear at the Capitol Center for the Arts (44 S. Main St., Concord) on Friday, Sept. 30, at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $45 to $65, plus fees.


KATHARINE GREGG & HOWARD FAERSTEIN will read from their collections of poetry (Mere Thread by Gregg and Googootz and Other Poems and Dreaming of the Rain in Brooklyn from Faerstein) at the Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough (12 Depot Square;, 924-3543) on Saturday, Sept. 24, at noon.

MARTHA COLLINS and L.R. BERGER hosted by the Poetry Society of NH at Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St., Concord, 224-0562, on Wednesday, Nov. 16, from 4:30 to 6 p.m.

Album Reviews 22/09/22

Franklin Gothic, Into The Light (Very Jazzed & Pleasure Tapes)

Nothing I hate more than committing to writing up a new release and there’s literally nothing about them to be found through a basic Google search. After 10 minutes of backbreaking effort, all I really know about this one is that the principal — Jay DiBartolo of Portland, Oregon — has taken the name of a computer font as his stage name, and that he’s a really interesting songwriter. His stuff is out there but eminently accessible, in the eclectically hip manner of guys like Luke Temple and Winston Giles (I know, you’ve never heard of them, just trust me on this) but with a more mellow bent. DiBartolo stated that this 12-song EP’s mission was to mold something that was so genre-mixed as to be original, and I’d say he’s in the ballpark; opening tune “Beneath” is like a cross between Byrds and Zero 7, and that’s just for starters. Love this kind of stuff. A

Whitney, Spark (Secretly Canadian Tapes)

Fourth full-length from this Chicago band, although they’d describe it more as a debut of sorts, a departure from their first three. Vibe-wise that claim does pass the smell test; they were eminently more hip-hop/aughts-indie infused in their last LP Candid, which was often like a cross between Jamie Lidell, MGMT and Grizzly Bear. But their new thing is applying their samples and (spoiler alert) falsetto voices to things that speak more to an afterparty thing. That ties in with the environs in which these tunes were slapped together: (very) late-night recording sessions in a rented Portland, Oregon, bungalow, which appears to have dredged up a certain melancholy resident with all humans; what I’m saying is that there’s a bizarre but very tuneful trace element of Elton John’s Captain Fantastic to be heard if you pay close attention, a subdued, desperate, lonely-but-dealing-with it angle on tap here. The overall sound is a bit contrived, sure, but this is no Jr Jr wannabe, not at all. A+


• As is tradition, Friday, Sept. 23, is the next date for CD releases, and guess what, gang, this week I get to riff on that TV show Stranger Things, because the first album on the docket is Maya Hawke’s second album, MOSS! Hawke is, of course, the daughter of actress Uma Thurman and actor Ethan Hawke, so we know that her path to stardom was a tough row to hoe, probably involving waiting tables at IHOP for six shifts straight, you people just don’t know what it’s like! On the show, she plays the chick who dresses up like Popeye the Sailor for whatever kinky reason. I’m trying to remember anything she did in the show other than annoy her coworker, she’s that great of an actress, but then again, to me, that show is just a big fat fricassee of random 1980s cultural tropes with an unfollowable storyline about — you know, I don’t honestly know what it’s about, even though I’ve seen the whole series twice already. Whatever, it’s about ecto-monsters from another dimension or some idiotic thing, and the biggest headline that it ever inspired was “Wow Look It’s That Kate Bush Song On A TV Show,” which just made me and all the other incorrigible grumps say, “Who cares.” Will the 80s craze ever fizzle out? and yes, it’s news to me that she did an album before this, but yes, she did, in 2020, an LP called Blush, a set of country and folk songs that received a 6.8 rating from our friends at Pitchfork. I haven’t the motivation to go listen to any of that, but as far as the MOSS album, there’s a single, “Sweet Tooth,” a half-there twee-quirk-pop trifle that’s pretty and catchy enough if not very tuneful or adventurous, but seriously, gang, you have to hand it to this hilariously privileged wombat-pop wannabe for hanging tough in the face of all her obstacles. Warms my heart.

• And moving on, let’s see, blah blah blah, etc., here’s a band called The Comet Is Coming, with an album titled Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam. I’ll assume since I’m completely unfamiliar that this is going to be a Flaming Lips trip or a Kaiser Chiefs clone, and either way I’ll hate every note their instruments and voices produce, let’s go see what this nonsense does to my sensitive stomach. Nope, they’re a nu-jazz band from London, England, and, just like every other techie-ish band, they have pseudonyms like “King Shabaka” and “Danalogue” because their real names — “Dan,” “Max” and something else — won’t get people to buy their albums, and — oh, let’s just get it over with; the teaser track is “Code” (see how techie they are, folks?), a stompy, big-beat thing with a lot of skronky saxophone. It’d make great background music for a YouTube of someone getting chased around by a moose in real life, Benny Hill-style, let’s keep moving.

Makaya McCraven is a jazz drummer from France, and the big news here is that I almost never see actual jazz albums in my corporate “You need to talk about this” list. This dude’s new album, In These Times, includes a number called “Dream Another,” an unbelievably boring, mid-tempo song that makes me think of Ben Kweller but with no singing. The video uses an animation technique in which images are composed and laser etched on stone and played through a zoopraxiscope, not that anyone will know what that means other than that it looks kind of dumb.

• We’ll end the week with Oakland-based singer The Soft Moon and his sixth LP, Exister, whose tire-kicker single “Become The Lies” is like 1980s Duran Duran but with some Depeche Mode goth going on. It’s OK.

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).

The many faces of chardonnay

This ubiquitous grape can be a product of its upbringing

Chardonnay may have reached its peak in the 1980s as a “wine of choice,” where a number of labels were sold as bladder boxes, housed in the household refrigerator, ready to be savored after a long day of trials and tribulations. However, this grape should not be slighted. It is, after all, one of the most widely planted of grape varieties. With over 500,000 acres planted, virtually worldwide, it may be considered the entrée to grape-growing and the production of wine.

Its recognized origins lie in Burgundy, France, but the grape’s true origins are a bit clouded. Tales trace it to the Crusaders bringing the grape to Europe from indigenous vines in Cyprus. Modern DNA research suggests chardonnay is the result of crossing two indigenous varieties, pinot noir and gouais blanc, a Roman grape, first found in Croatia. Whatever the true source of the grape, it has been grown and cross-bred so that as of 2006, 34 clonal varieties of chardonnay could be found in vineyards throughout France. The Dijon clones are bred for their adaptability, and the New World varieties, such as Mendoza, produced some of the early California chardonnays.

Why is there this interest in chardonnay? There are some, including my wife, who are true believers in “ABC” (Anything But Chardonnay). However, these same “non-imbibers” will drink heartily of white Burgundy or Champagne! This is simply because many consider chardonnay to be a neutral grape, a chameleon that fully expresses its terroir, the climate and soils of where it is grown. Chardonnay has an affinity to three soil types: chalk, clay and limestone, all prevalent in Champagne and Burgundy. California, with its volcanic soils and climate warmer than France, produces a wine with tropical and citric notes. The story of chardonnay is long and complex in each of the regions wherein the grape is grown and the wine is produced.

Our first wine, a 2021 Josh Cellars Chardonnay (originally priced at $16.99, and on sale at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets until Sept. 25 for $11.45), is a Lake County California chardonnay. The color is light straw. To the nose there are notes of citrus and honey. These carry through to the tongue, with hints of peaches and the slightest touch of leather given by some exposure to oak. The flavor lingers on the palate with a fresh and clean finish. You could describe this as a classic California buttery chardonnay. This is an excellent value and would pair well with mild soft cheeses or rotisserie chicken.

Our second wine, a 2021 Maison Louis Jadot Mâcon-Villages Chardonnay (originally priced at $15.99, and on sale at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets until Sept. 25 for $12.95). is a classic Cote d’Or White Burgundy wine. With grapes harvested from the Maconnais region of Burgundy, Louis Jadot produces some of the most prestigious Premier and Grand Cru wines. With its light straw color and floral notes to the nose, coupled with apple and citrus, this is a decidedly different chardonnay from the Josh Cellars. To the tongue, the taste is full of lemon curd or tangerine, but these flavors are coupled with the minerality of the chalk and limestone soils of Burgundy. This wine is 100 percent unoaked chardonnay to maximize the complex and vibrant nose and flavors it offers up. It can be sipped as an aperitif or paired to shellfish or goat cheese.

Our third wine, Pommery Brut Royal Champagne (originally priced at $46.99, and on sale at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets until Sept. 25 for $39.99), is a blanc de blanc Champagne. That is, it is made of 100 percent chardonnay grapes sourced from 40 selected villages in the Côte des Blancs and Montagne de Reims areas of the Champagne region. The color is pale yellow with faint green highlights. To the nose, it is lively with that touch of brioche dough so closely linked to the yeast of the double fermentation. To the tongue the taste is rich and rounded, smooth and not dry with touches of apples. This is a wine for toasting, to be shared to acknowledge a special event.

Three examples of chardonnay that are so different from each other, and all to be enjoyed for their very different qualities. Give them a try!

Featured photo. Courtesy photo.

Baked cauliflower tots

I am all for making healthier versions of snacks, if they are still delicious. A great example is these cauliflower tots. They definitely deliver on crunch and flavor, while still being a fairly healthy snack.

This recipe has a lot of important notes, so let’s get right to them. I make these with raw cauliflower. You can use riced cauliflower, but the amount needed will be less. I’m guessing it will be closer to two cups when riced, but you should be able to tell by the consistency of the mixture. Also, although you need only two tablespoons of panko, it really is a better choice than plain bread crumbs for the crunch factor.

For the directions in this recipe, there also are notes. I suggested waiting 10 minutes before removing the moisture from the cauliflower. That’s based on its cooling. If the cauliflower is still hot, wait a bit longer to avoid getting burned. Next, when baking these tots, you want to see a deep golden brown exterior. That will provide the crunch that you’re seeking.

You can’t pass these off as actual Tater Tots, but they definitely make a delicious variation on the original.

Baked cauliflower tots
Makes 24

3 cups cauliflower florets
2 egg whites
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons panko
1/2 cup shredded cheddar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Place cauliflower florets in a food processor, and purée until the consistency of bread crumbs.
Place the ground cauliflower in a microwave-safe bowl, cover, and heat for 2 minutes on high.
Stir, re-cover, and return to the microwave for another 2 minutes.
Uncover and allow to sit for 10 minutes, then transfer to a double layer of paper towels.
Gently squeeze the paper towels to remove excess liquid.
Return cauliflower to the bowl.
Add egg whites, flour, panko, cheddar and garlic powder, and mix well.
Season with salt and pepper, if desired.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Scoop 1 tablespoon of the mixture, and form into an oval tot shape; place on the prepared pan.
When all tots are formed, place tray in oven and bake for 12 minutes.
Flip tots, and bake for another 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown on both sides.
Serve immediately with ketchup or preferred dipping sauce.

Featured Photo: Baked cauliflower tots. Photo by Michele Pesula Kuegler.

In the kitchen with Jenn Spelas

Jenn Spelas and her husband, Troy Waterman, regularly appear across the Granite State with two food trailers — Monster’s Tacos (find them on Facebook @monsterstacos) specializes in made-to-order street tacos, while Let’s Get Loaded (find them on Facebook @letsgetloadedfries) features a menu of french fries and hot dogs loaded with all kinds of ingredients, as well as fried dough. The pair took over ownership of the two trailers back in April, and since then have held pop-ups in several local spots. Find them next at the Contoocook Chamber of Commerce’s inaugural fall festival on Saturday, Sept. 24, at Elm Brook Park in Hopkinton, where Spelas and Waterman will be with both food trailers. Then on Thursday, Oct. 6, Monster’s Tacos will hold a pop-up at Lithermans Limited Brewery (126B Hall St., Concord). Both trailers are also available to hire for private catering. This winter, Spelas said she and Waterman plan to change the Monster’s Tacos and Let’s Get Loaded trailer names to Truck Off Tacos and Fork Up Ahead, respectively.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

A good knife is really important … but there’s also nothing more frustrating than a can opener that won’t open the can. So a good can opener. And I also have to have my personal favorite spatula.

What would you have for your last meal?

It would have to be steak and potatoes.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

The Flying Goose [Brew Pub & Grille in New London]. That is my favorite date-night place to go. … They do a really solid fish, and they have a really good spinach dip. And I love their daily seasonal soups.

What celebrity would you like to see ordering from one of your trailers?

I would like to see Matthew McConaughey.

What is your favorite thing on your menu from each trailer?

On the taco truck, I love the carnitas pork, and then I add black beans. … Then for Let’s Get Loaded, I can make my own fried dough every day of the week if I want to, which is pretty awesome. But I also definitely dig the pulled pork sundae. You cannot go wrong.

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

I think non-alcoholic beverages are becoming a thing. … The other thing we’ve gotten a lot of calls for are vegan and vegetarian options.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

We’ve started doing some of those meal subscription boxes, and those have been a really big hit. It’s been really fun to try out different things that we wouldn’t normally do … and the kids have really gotten into helping us out with those. … We made pork flautas, and those were super yummy.

Homemade lime crema
From the kitchen of Jenn Spelas and Troy Waterman of the Monster’s Tacos and Let’s Get Loaded food trailers

8 ounces sour cream
1 lime
1 clove garlic, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon garlic powder)
Salt and pepper to taste

Zest the lime and set aside (you may not need all of the zest). Squeeze the lime juice into a small bowl. Add the sour cream and the garlic. Add in your desired amount of lime zest, then add the salt and pepper to taste. (Optional: If using the crema as a drizzle, add small amounts of milk or cold water until you’ve reached the desired consistency).

Featured photo: Jenn Spelas with her husband, Troy Waterman.

Together at the table

Ansanm to open new restaurant space in Milford

After a year and a half of hosting successful monthly pop-up dinners, the Viaud family is gearing up to open a brick-and-mortar spot in Milford, where you’ll soon be able to get their authentic Haitian meals on a regular basis for the first time, along with some new spins on classic flavors.

Ansanm, which gets its name from the word meaning “together” in Haitian Creole, is due to open on Thursday, Sept. 29, in the former Wicked Pissah Chowdah storefront, just a stone’s throw away from the Milford Oval. It’s the latest phase of a venture that started back on New Year’s Day 2021, when Greenleaf owner and chef Chris Viaud and his mother, Myrlene, ran a menu special of soup joumou, a traditional Haitian squash soup widely referred to as “freedom soup.” The response was so positive that it inspired Viaud, a James Beard Award nominee and a featured contestant on Season 18 of Bravo’s Top Chef, to turn it into a dinner series, bringing his entire family together to share their Haitian heritage with authentic dishes presented at Greenleaf each month.

Myrlene — who is originally from the Port-au-Prince suburb of Pétion-Ville and whom Viaud endearingly refers to as “Chef Mom” — has been the primary head chef of the series, while his dad, Yves; siblings Phil, Kassie and Katie; wife, Emilee, and sister-in-law Sarah have all also taken part. Most of the dinners have been at Greenleaf, although Ansanm has participated in a number of other local events since its inception, most recently at the Concord Multicultural Festival.

Expanding Ansanm into a full-service restaurant first entered the conversation a few months ago, when Myrlene Viaud came across a video online featuring a Haitian food truck in New York.

“I sent the video to Chris and I said, ‘Oh, wouldn’t that be cool!’ We can go to different places, park our truck and sell our food,” she said. “So he was like, ‘Sure, yeah, let me look into it.’ So he started looking around online for a food truck and then this building popped up on his feed.”

Coincidentally, the available space not only ended up being within walking distance of Greenleaf, but it was already outfitted as a restaurant. Wicked Pissah Chowdah, as it turned out, had been operating out of the storefront seasonally and was temporarily closed for the summer — it became vacant once the owners moved across the Oval to rebrand as Bouillon Bistro.

“I didn’t know what to expect, but once I came in here, I was like, ‘Oh, this is really neat,’” Myrlene Viaud said. “It’s already all set up. We don’t have to do much work. … It’s not a huge space, but it’s good enough, and then kitchen-wise I was like, ‘OK, we can do this.’”

Upon walking into the restaurant, you’ll likely immediately notice a transformation, with bright and vibrant colors, hanging artwork and thatch roofing. Myrlene Viaud’s younger sister even brought back all kinds of items she purchased in some Haitian markets that are displayed inside.

Ansanm’s menu will continue to include items that have been main staples at the pop-ups — the griot, or a marinated twice-cooked pork, and the poule nan sós, or braised chicken in Creole sauce, to name a couple — as well as all kinds of authentic dishes totally new to the space.

“I was always telling Chris that there is so much more that we can offer,” Myrlene Viaud said. “[With] the once-a-month thing we were doing, we were limited to two proteins and then the rice and the plantains. So it’s kind of exciting in a way to start opening it up to more and showing off more of the Haitian food that we actually eat on a daily basis, not just the chicken and the griot.”

She has plans to expand into offering Haitian oxtail, stewed goat and stewed fish in a Creole sauce, for instance, in addition to all kinds of options that appeal to vegans and vegetarians, from legume, a stewed vegetable dish made with eggplant, squash, watercress, carrots and spinach, to espagheti (Haitian spaghetti) and macaroni au gratin (Haitian baked macaroni and cheese).

For drinks, there will be some traditional Haitian juices and sodas, including bottles of Cola Couronne, a tropical fruit soda known as the oldest manufactured soft drink from Haiti.

Akasan, which Myrlene Viaud described as a milkshake that’s made from cornmeal flour and served either warm or cold, is also a drink she’s excited to offer. Soon, she said, she’d like to also begin serving menu specials of Haitian fritay, or an assortment of various fried foods.

“Basically what it is is a platter of fried everything. It could be the griot, it could be a fried turkey or beef, but your proteins and everything else on that platter is always fried,” she said.

One facet of Haitian cooking she said is universal is the epis, or a blend of herbs and spices that’s used as a seasoning base for almost everything. Epis is made with scallions, onions, parsley, garlic, peppers, thyme and cloves. Additionally, one of the more hot-ticket items during Ansanm’s pop-ups was pikliz, a spicy pickled vegetable slaw consisting of cabbage, carrots, onion and peppers — just like before, jars of fresh pikliz will be available for purchase.

Ansanm will also feature some of its own sandwich creations that uniquely embrace Haitian ingredients and techniques. The “V.O. Griot,” for example, will feature pork shoulder that’s marinated in epis before it’s roasted, sliced and served on a house adobo-seasoned brioche bun with smoked ham, cheese, spicy pickled cucumber and a pikliz aioli.

“A lot of the sandwich inspiration is going to be just based on the same ingredients … or cooking processes that we use for the meats, but applied to sandwich form,” Chris Viaud said.

As for dessert, you can expect Myrlene Viaud’s famous scratch-made pineapple upside down cake, another favorite from Ansanm’s pop-ups. Tablet, commonly referred to as brittle but described by Chris Viaud as being more like a praline-style treat, will also be available — that, he said, is typically made with either peanuts, cashews or shredded coconut.

To start, Ansanm will be open Thursday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, and while there is available seating inside, Myrlene Viaud said she expects most of the service to be takeout. Limited hours on Sunday mornings will also likely be coming soon.

Even though she never thought she’d open her own restaurant, Myrlene Viaud said she’s humbled by the interest and support that Ansanm has received.

“The evolution has been something special … and it’s been very exciting to offer and to see the interest that people have and the willingness to try the food,” she said.

Opening Thursday, Sept. 29, at 11 a.m.
Where: 20 South St., Milford
Anticipated hours: Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., with expanded hours likely early on Sunday mornings
More info: Visit, find them on Facebook and Instagram or call 605-1185

Featured photo: Braised chicken in a Creole sauce, with plantains, rice and pikliz, a spicy slaw. Photo courtesy of Ansanm.

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