Squeeze solo

Tupelo Music Hall welcomes Glenn Tilbrook

On the strength of songs like “Tempted,” “Black Coffee In Bed” and “Up The Junction,” the Squeeze songwriting team of Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook has been likened to Lennon and McCartney. However, since Difford penned lyrics and Tilbrook wrote music, a better analogy is Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

In Difford’s biography, Some Fantastic Place, he recalled waiting giddily to hear what Tilbrook had done with his words. “Glenn sits in the middle of my life like the musical maypole,” he wrote. But it was also a fractious relationship marked by an eight-year separation, when Squeeze broke up in 1999. 

During this time Squeeze’s melody man found a way with words, starting in 2001 with The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook. In a recent phone interview, however, the singer-guitarist recalled going solo as a less than joyful experience. “It was a bit of a nasty shock, actually,” Tilbrook said. “There were moments I thought, I’m proud of that, I think that stands out … then there are other things I wish I hadn’t done.”

He’s made three more solo albums; the latest is 2014’s Happy Ending, an effort Tilbrook is quite proud of. “It points at how Squeeze could be in some ways, and still is to me,” he said. There’s similar fondness for Pandemonium Ensues, a 2009 album that featured a surreal guest vocal appearance by Johnny Depp.

Tilbrook came to a conclusion at the end of his learning curve, though. “I’m confident in myself now as a lyricist, and I’m also confident in the fact that I don’t really want to do solo records,” he said. “I’d like to bring my expertise to Squeeze.”

Now, he contributes more lyrically to the Difford & Tilbrook writing process, albeit from a different wheelhouse. “He’s a brilliant lyricist… such a great imagination,” Tilbrook said of Difford. “I can tie things up really in a more forensic way than Chris, and so we’re sort of combining those skills.”

The two just completed a new song, “Food For Thought,” that will be released in the U.K. to raise funds for Trussell Trust, a charity focused on food insecurity issues. 

“When we play gigs in the U.K., we funnel money to local food banks,” he said. “I’d love to be able to do that here [in the U.S.], because people need that. It’s a shame, but they do. I’ve been working with [Trussell Trust] for five years, and it seems that people need it now more than ever.”

Tilbrook was slated to play the Tupelo Music Hall in Derry on Sunday, Oct. 2, but at the end of last week Tupelo owner Scott Hayward learned that the Oct. 2 appearance was canceled: “We are so sorry for the bad news,” Hayward wrote on Facebook “We were really looking forward to this one.” As of Sept. 26, Tilbrook’s Oct. 7 stop at City Winery in Boston is still on the schedule. See glenntilbrook.com.

Although he has no plans to do more solo albums, Tilbrook enjoys playing alone; it offers a contrast to his still-burgeoning group. “Squeeze is very meticulously rehearsed, and we’re a great band; I think we’re the best we’ve ever been,” he said. “Conversely, when I’m by myself, I can improvise, I don’t work with a setlist…. I like to go off on tangents, so each night is different from the one before, and people like that.”

The shows offer an eclectic mix that touches on every stage of a career that began in the mid-’70s, along with a few tasty covers, which began with Tilbrook’s livestreams during lockdown. “I love other people’s music, and it’s really great to get inside that and do it yourself,” he said of the sessions, which grew to include his wife and son. “I had no reason to do that other than I wanted to, and to bring the family together.”

Fans at recent gigs have been treated to David Bowie’s “Starman,” the Human League dance hit “Don’t You Want Me,” and “Rocket Man” by Elton John. “What a lovely song,” Tilbrook said of the latter. “It translates very well to just me and a guitar, and it’s a tip of the hat to what a magnificent achievement Elton’s career has been. I’m full of admiration for him.” 

Squeeze will be back on the road soon enough, after doing several festivals in England over the summer.

“It was like witnessing magic,” Tilbrook said of the experience. “The sense of relief from the crowds was really palpable, the joy of being able to do something communal again. Because I’ve been gigging for a year now, I’ve got used to it, but you still see that in people’s faces when you’re playing…. It just shows you what a joy it is — not just for us, but any event that you share with people is really precious.” 

Featured photo: Glenn Tilbrook. Photo by Rob O’Connor.

10 films for $10

See movies and join the festival jury at Manhattan Short

See 10 movies and then vote for your favorite film and favorite actor at the Manhattan Short film festival, which will screen all over the world but locally at NHTI in Concord from Friday, Sept. 30, through Sunday, Oct. 2.

Admission costs $10.

The films range in subject matter from serious historical and political issues to short stories with a sense of humor that deliver almost punchline-like conclusions. The films come from around the world: Scotland, Spain, Australia, Finland, Lebanon, Czech Republic, Slovakia, U.S. and France.

Two movies use different styles of animation to examine a family’s history: In Freedom Swimmer sketch-like illustrations (often white on black or dark backgrounds) illustrate a conversation between a granddaughter, uncertain about her future in modern Hong Kong, and her grandfather, who fled China for Hong Kong in the 1950s. Love, Dad uses a style of animation that blends collage and stop-motion, with figures frequently appearing as the cut-out shape in a letter or as “animated” photos.

Another standout for me (I was able to see a screening of the films thanks to local festival organizers) is Don vs Lightning. We all have flaws, a neighbor tells Don. She has an extra toe; Don happens to frequently get struck with lightning. This Scottish movie rolls a lot of charm into his tale.

Fans of Cobra Kai will recognize Peyton List (she plays Tory on the Netflix show), who stars in the quirky violent comedy Save the Bees with Jackson Pace (whose credits include 9-1-1: Lone Star). Spanish film The Treatment is a perfect amuse bouche of cleverness ending in a fun punchline. Freefall highlights a grim moment from the book Swimming with Sharks by Joris Luyendijk, about finance bros in London (spoiler alert: the finance bros do not come off as good guys). Both Fetish and The Big Green basically use a woman’s internal monologue, with Fetish going for broad comedy and The Big Green something a little quieter and more reflective.

I’m not usually a fan of kid-in-peril short films (what happens to the kid? How do I prevent this from happening to my kid?!?) but The Blanket does a good job of giving us a little girl with her little-girl playfulness and her big-sister task to go get some milk for her family set against war in Finland in 1939. Luckily, you can calm down with Warsha, a slice of life of a man who works construction and has no space for himself in the apartment he shares with what appears to be like a dozen guys. He finds a somewhat terrifying but oddly peaceful spot to let himself relax and dream.

This year’s finalists range in length from 9 minutes (the delightfully pithy The Treatment) to just over 19 minutes, with most of them hitting the 10-to-15-minute range. I’ve seen shorts collections (think the Oscar documentary shorts in particular) with films that stretch beyond 30 minutes but the overall shorter runtimes of these films makes them an ideal experience for those who are new to short films screenings.

After the screenings, viewers will get to vote for their favorites, picking a best film and best actor. The winners, as picked by international audiences, will be announced at manhattanshort.com on Monday, Oct. 3.

Manhattan Short
Where: NHTI, 31 College Drive in Concord
When: Friday, Sept. 30, at 7 p.m; Saturday, Oct. 1, at 2 and 7 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 2, at 2 p.m.
Tickets: Admission costs $10.
More info: manhattanshort.com

Featured photo: Don vs Lightning.

The Music Roundup 22/09/29

Local music news & events

Rocket mannish: American Elton stars piano player Bill Connors, a tribute performer who looks a lot like the object of his impersonation, He’s been on America’s Got Talent and Legends in Concert doing his best Captain Fantastic and has received raves for inhabiting the subtleties of Sir Elton in voice and manner, along with bringing the bling, with costume selections that evoke different stages of a legendary career. Thursday, Sept. 29, 7:30 p.m., Rex Theatre, 23 Amherst St., Manchester, $29 at palacetheatre.com.

Triple topper: An end-of-week comedy show stars Will Noonan and two more standups routinely found at the top of the bill, Jody Sloane and Joey Carroll. The three perform at an Italian eatery that’s part of a trend making Headliners, New England’s largest comedy franchise, even bigger. Friday, Sept. 30, 7 p.m., Tuscan Kitchen, 67 Main St., Salem, $30 at tuscanbrands.com.

Probiotic music: The first kombucha brewery in New Hampshire also offers music, with rising indie acts Lily Byrd and Molly McDevitt. Byrd blends dreamy electro-pop with folk music sensibilities on songs like “Don’t Move” and “Better Now,” both from her 2018 EP Numbers. McDevitt, whose hushed vocals will appeal to fans of Beth Orton and Holly Humberstone, is equally evocative. Saturday, Oct. 1, 8 p.m., Auspicious Brew, 1 Washington St., Suite 1103, Dover, $10 at auspicious-brew.square.site.

Roots bookends: Along with fronting North Coast band Over the Bridge, Mike Forgette keeps busy playing solo, including a brunch and evening set at a country-themed downtown restaurant. Forgette’s originals blend roots and hip-hop, as evidenced by the lovely, spiritual “Grain of Sand.” For shows like these he’s covering others, including a smooth take of Marshall Tucker’s “Can’t You See.” Sunday, Oct. 2, 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., The Goat, 50 Old Granite St, Manchester. See facebook.com/mike.forgette.9.

Heritage act: There are powerful bloodlines running through North Mississippi All-Stars, starting with brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson, who formed the group in 1996. The lineup has shifted over the years and currently includes Lamar Williams Jr., son of the Allman Brothers bassist, along with Jesse Williams, who’s played with well-known acts like Al Kooper, Johnny A. and the New Black Eagle Jazz Band. Wednesday, Oct. 5, 8 p.m., Jimmy’s Jazz & Blues Club, 135 Congress St., Portsmouth, tickets $20 to $65 at jimmysoncongress.com.

Don’t Worry Darling (R)

Don’t Worry Darling (R)

A sunny mid-20th-century suburb has a dark side, obviously, in Don’t Worry Darling.

Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack Chambers (Harry Styles) are a blissful-seeming young couple living in a Palm Springs-like desert town full of beautiful mid-century ranches, palm trees and other blissful-seeming couples, including Alice’s neighbor and best friend Bunny (Olivia Wilde, who also directed) and her husband Dean (Nick Kroll), that they regularly hang out with for cocktails and cigarettes. When Alice rushes to greet Jack at the door after his day working for the secretive Victory Project, he is delighted to see her and not just because she has a drink for him in her hand and a steak on the table.

But there is some fraying in the pastel fabric of this company town. What is the Victory Project, the place the husbands leave for in a herd of Cadillacs driving into the desert every morning? Is it top-secret weaponry, as one wife speculates? And why is big boss Frank (Chris Pine) such a creepy cult leader about not just whatever they’re doing out there but the town itself? Alice starts to really consider these questions after her friend Margaret (Kiki Lane) cracks up and loses her young son out in the desert — with Alice’s questioning much to the dismay of Jack, who seems to be on the cusp of big advancement.

Don’t Worry Darling is both better and worse than you probably think it is. You may have heard about this movie’s behind-the-scenes drama (Vulture has a whole roundup if you want to spare yourself the Googling; the Olivia Wilde/Harry Styles stuff, the various actor kerfuffles). All that and the intense coverage of it prepared me for a mess, which this movie isn’t. But, as a fan of Booksmart, Wilde’s first directorial outing, I was also hoping for something with that movie’s charm and cleverness, which this movie doesn’t have. So let go of all your expectations, is I guess what I’m saying.

Pugh does a good job of giving us both the around-the-edges wariness of living in a too-perfect paradise and the increasing anxiety of a person afraid that they’ve been caught in a really dangerous trap but can’t convince anyone else of that. She is highly watchable even when the story doesn’t exactly hold together or seems to be fluffing up the demonstrations of dread because it doesn’t have a lot else to do. It’s clear early on that there’s going to be a “Thing” about this desert oasis. But the movie takes a while to reveal the Thing and then doesn’t do much beyond deliver that (kinda predictable) revelation. Even if you can just go with what’s happening and don’t ask questions about the mechanics (though I couldn’t help but nitpick the mechanics), the delivery of the Thing isn’t sleek enough to smooth out all the bumps, from “wait, what?” plot elements to the performances (Styles doesn’t give much until the movie’s final moments, Wilde feels a notch out of phase with the rest of the movie but Pine seems to be digging into his weirdo character with two spoons). Don’t Worry Darling feels like it’s stalling more than building tension and then hurries through what feels like the important bits, perhaps because it wants us to focus on the message and themes about this woman in a very stylish cage more than some precisely constructed story. I feel like this movie would have been stronger if it could have delivered both. C+

Rated R for sexuality, violent content and language, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Directed by Olivia Wilde with a screenplay by Katie Silberman, Don’t Worry Darling is two hours and two minutes long and is distributed in theaters by New Line Cinema.

Featured photo: Don’t Worry Darling.

The Milky Way: An Autobiography of our Galaxy, by Moiya McTier

The Milky Way: An Autobiography of our Galaxy, by Moiya McTier (Grand Central Publishing, 244 pages)

In college, I once signed up for an astronomy class. I dropped out after two weeks, having painfully discovered that astronomy isn’t so much about looking at celestial bodies in awe as it is about doing complex math. After that, other than a star-gazing class at a local community college, my knowledge of outer space hasn’t evolved much beyond watching Men in Black, which I maintain is a documentary.

So I was excited about the publication of Moiya McTier’s promised examination of the Milky Way in down-to-earth terms, billed as “an autobiography of our galaxy.” Finally, I could get the astronomy class of my dreams, on my couch, in a mere 244 pages, with an instructor who studied both astronomy and mythology at Harvard and went on to earn a Ph.D. in astrophysics at Columbia.

And I could have, and should have, except for the dumb gimmick that cripples the book: the Milky Way as narrator.

Maybe if this had been a kindly, wise Milky Way, a sort of cosmic Gandalf the Grey, the gimmick would have been easier to stomach. But we are instead given a haughty, snarky, disparaging galaxy, whose persona is made even worse by its perception that it is talking to puny, finite creatures not really worth its time. “I know it’s likely a lot for you to take in, and your brain is fully formed!” the narrator says at one point.

Another time, it says, “Sadly, your ignorance compels me to explain so much to you that I’m still not at the part about me yet.” And then there’s this: “A mayfly can live its entire life in one room of your homes. Isn’t that sad? Don’t you ever wonder why the mayfly even bothers to do anything at all? Because that’s how I feel about you.”

He seems nice, right? Or she. Who knows? This middle-school snark is hard enough to stomach for one chapter; it’s wearisome for the whole of a book. And this persona is so unnecessary; plenty of people write autobiographies without constantly addressing “dear reader.”

The implication of “Dumb reader,” over and again, is even worse.

To be fair, McTier is trying to convey the unconveyable: the vast chasm between small, finite creatures like human beings and the unknowable expanse of space and, if you’re into that sort of thing, a cosmic Intelligence, with a capital I. But Ed Yong did this without talking down to us in An Immense World, and for that matter, there are Twitter accounts that do as much without even using words, like ones that consist of nothing but photos of outer space or microscopic images.

Maybe this is just the kind of unintentional dumbing down that occurs when astrophysicists try to talk to regular people. There aren’t that many of them, after all, and they’ve got their own peculiar brand of humor. As McTier says while trying to explain red dwarf stars, the most common ones in the Milky Way, astronomers don’t all agree on the “initial mass function” of red dwarf stars: “If you ever want to cause an uproar among your astronomers, stand in a crowded planetarium and claim that the Kroupa IMF is better than the Salpeter. Most won’t be able to refrain from loudly asserting their opinion back at you.” Astronomers are clearly the life of the party.

McTier awkwardly hobbles from the Big Bang (“Don’t concern yourself with thoughts of what came before the Big Bang. That kind of knowledge is not for the likes of you — or even me, though I am fabulously worthy on nearly all other counts — to understand”) to the creation and destruction of other galaxies, to black holes, to the modern, mind-boggling telescopes to myths about space, to theories about when and how the world will end. It’s not all terrible, but it’s like eating pistachios with shells; at some point, you question the effort, particularly when she answers the question of extraterrestrial life, “Well, that’s for me to know, and hopefully for you and your scientists to find out.”

What’s most disappointing is that McTier does have a fascinating story to tell: her own.

In a much-too-short foreword written in her voice, McTier throws out a tantalizing morsel of her life story: how a girl who grew up in a cabin with no running water after her parents’ divorce fell in love with the universe and launched herself on an intellectual journey that found her, in her undergraduate studies at Harvard, having an internship that involved spending hours “analyzing five-dimensional data cubes to measure properties of a distant star-forming galaxy.” This from a girl who had to cross state lines to visit a bookstore when she was child.

It speaks to the power of imagination — she used to imagine the sun and the moon were her celestial parents — but also an incredible internal drive and intellect. I would gladly read 500 pages of McTier’s autobiography. But spare me her version of the galaxy’s in half that. D

Book Events

Author events

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, gibsonsbookstore.com).

STEPHEN PULEO visits the Nashua Public Library (2 Court St., 589-4600, nashualibrary.org) on Sunday, Oct. 2, at 2 p.m. to discuss his book Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919. Registration is required.

RENEE PLODZIK, Concord author, visits Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St., Concord, 224-0562, gibsonsbookstore.com) on Thursday, Oct. 6, at 6:30 p.m. to present her cookbook Eat Well Move Often Stay Strong.

MARGARET PORTER presents The Myrtle Wand at Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St., Concord, 224-0562, gibsonsbookstore.com) on Wednesday, Oct. 12, at 6:30 p.m.

JOSH MALERMAN, horror novelist, will be at Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St., Concord, 224-0562, gibsonsbookstore.com) to present his newly released bookDaphne on Thursday, Oct. 13, at 6:30 p.m.

JOHN IRVING The Historic Music Hall Theater (28 Chestnut St., Portsmouth, 436-2400, themusichall.org) will host novelist and Exeter native John Irving to present his newest release, The Last Chairlift, at the Music Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 18. Tickets are $49 and include a book voucher.

LYNN LYONS, psychotherapist and anxiety expert, returns to Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St., Concord, 224-0562, gibsonsbookstore.com) on Wednesday, Nov. 16, at 4:30 p.m. with The Anxiety Audit: 7 Sneaky Ways Anxiety Takes Hold and How to Escape Them.

JOSH FUNK & KARI ALLEN Children’s authors Josh Funk and Kari Allen present their newest books, The Great Caper Caper: Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast Book No. 5 and Maddie and Mabel Take the Lead, atGibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St., Concord, 224-0562, gibsonsbookstore.com) on Saturday, Nov. 19, at 11 a.m.

Album Reviews 22/09/29

Maraton, Unseen Color (Indie Recordings)

Well, here’s a nice attempt at prog rock by a bunch of Norwegians, whose first album, 2019’s Meta, set the band off in the direction of serious things like festival concerts and all that happy stuff, not that basically every European band doesn’t get to play at those things. On this one, their fifth in three years, believe it or not, the singer is growing into his own as a Seal-soundalike, at least in album opener “In Syzygy,” which is probably indicative of a desired future as some sort of New Age festival staple band, a la Shadowfax and such. Do I mind this stuff? No, to be honest; it’s not Yes or Return To Forever, it’s slightly like Asia, but with a gentler, less in-your-face melodic approach. “Blind Sight” is really ’80s-sounding; they’re probably big into Tangerine Dream, which works for me, given other tacks they could have taken. It’s OK. B+

Kristian Montgomery and the Winter Kill Band, Lower County Outlaw (self-released)

It’s really not hard for me to keep up with eclectic Vermont-based folk-rocker Montgomery, what with the friendship we hatched on social media, but that’s not why this six-song EP gets a high mark. I was drawn to his stuff from the first time I heard it, a couple of records back; it’s fedora-rock but with top-drawer melodic urgency and no filler. I’m sure the ever humble Montgomery would attribute that to the synergy he’s developed with drummer Andrew Koss, but he’s had it in him the whole while, I assure you, and these songs are yet another quantum leap. His trip is a hybrid that melds bluegrass-tinged folk-rock to, well, name an arena band and he’s probably tried it on for size. “Gypsy Girl,” for instance, starts out with an early Yes guitar line, down to the backward-masked reverb effect, and then goes all-out Allman Brothers like a boss. “Easy To Forget You When I’m Gone” has a Chris Whitley angle to it, if that’s your thing; “Annie Pay Your Band” is a swampy Cajun beef-fest whose lyrics are directed at a Massachusetts concert promoter. A+


• Friday, Sept. 30, is the next big date for CD releases, and we may as well kick off the anti-festivities with Slipknot’s new album, The End So Far. There are many people who like this pseudo-metal band, but I am not among them. In fact, one of the least enjoyable interviews I ever did was when I talked to their DJ, Sid Wilson, back when he was trying to sell himself as a massively indie jungle/dubstep edgelord. He went by the name DJ Starscream back then and had a sort of MF Doom trip going on, with some stupid metal facemask thing and all that. Anyway he was really annoying when I spoke to him, like he expected me to know all the obscure underground dubstep guys he was referencing, and the whole interview got bogged down with him trying to “OK boomer” me with a barrage of nonsense. The interview was for a show he was doing in Miami if I recall correctly, and the article had to be full of nice words, so as much as I wanted to simply write a bunch of jokes about how contrived and stupid he is, I wrote some nice things I didn’t want to. Karma did win in the end though, folks — Wilson did send me a couple of vinyl singles that I immediately sold on eBay. But that’s all neither here nor there, Wilson is just one cog in the Slipknot “juggernaut,” so let’s leave behind my memories of wanting to bake him in a pie and see how much I can stand of sampler single “The Dying Song (Time To Sing).” Yup, there we go, it’s the same old Slipknot: half the song is death metal lunchmeat and the other half is old-school emo/nu-metal. A lot of people dig this stuff, which I find is the only interesting thing about it.

• Wait, here’s something I can deal with, the new album from Yeah Yeah Yeahs, titled Cool It Down. As you may or may not know, the New York-based post-punk-revival band features South Korean-born American singer Karen O, along with a guitarist and a drummer who looks like he’s 12 years old. Pretty bratty stuff from this band, historically, not as mentally ill as Hole or whatnot, but pretty jagged and always interesting, so hopefully the new single, “Spitting Off the Edge of the World,” which features Perfume Genius. Well, listen to that, it’s a departure from their norm, but a nice departure: slow, melodic, epic shoegaze, with Karen coming off as an asexual moonbat, which she plays rather well. I love stuff like this and hope you do too.

• I’d be a complete loser if I didn’t mention Doggerel, the new album from Pixies, a local band that helped bring about the fall of the Boston rock scene that was actually happening during the 1980s after The Cars got big. Anyone remember that? If it hadn’t been for bad bands like Pixies and all those guys, Boston would have been a pretty happening place, a legitimate mecca of music that would have attracted major-label guys and big producers, which would have resulted in about 30 Led Zeppelins taking over the world from our dumb New England area, but alas, when all the big shots came to Boston from L.A. and New York, they weren’t impressed by Del Fuegos or the Neighborhoods, but they did sign the Pixies. That brings us to now, and the new tune “There’s A Moon On,” a rockabilly-tinged garage song that is decidedly OK, nothing to hate and nothing to be impressed over.

• We’ll close with Nymph, the debut album from British rapper-DJ Shygirl, who cites Aphex Twin and Madonna as influences. That makes no sense, but the kickoff single, “Coochie,” is nice enough, with its bloopy, half-there, Billie Eilish-ish beat, Empire Of The Sun-inspired melody and Shygirl’s pretty soprano. My stars, the record company’s bots have gone nuts posting comments on the video. Whatever it takes, I suppose.

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).

Give in to pumpkin spice

Long, long ago, when I was a child in the Late Cretaceous, late September was one of the low-key best times of the year. That’s when the new cartoons premiered on Saturday mornings. I’m at the age when strong feelings of joy and anticipation are largely a pale memory, but at the time, the prospect of new episodes of Jonny Quest filled my world with a sparkle and wonder that I miss dearly.

For adults, weeks crawl by, seasons bleed unremarked into each other, and the next thing you know, you’re having earnest conversations with strangers about dental plans and snow tires.

So — what to do about it?

Another fall has rotated into place. Perhaps, the key to being more alive and in-the-moment might be to look to the past and do what our ancestors did to mark the change of seasons.

The ancient Celts believed that grain spirits were trapped in the last grain to be harvested and needed to be set free, so they would weave the stalks of the last of their harvests into a Wicker Man, then symbolically burn that and scatter the ashes across their fields.

My fear of confrontation is such that I think I’d have trouble murdering even a piece of glorified deck furniture.

Perhaps the best plan is to lean into our own fall tradition — Pumpkin Spice.

Pumpkin Spice Simple Syrup

  • 7 grams whole cinnamon sticks, broken
  • 5 grams fresh ginger, chopped
  • 3 grams allspice berries
  • 3 grams whole cloves
  • 5 grams whole nutmeg
  • 1 cup/200 grams sugar
  • 1 cup/225 gram (ml) water

Lightly crush the allspice, nutmeg and cloves in a mortar and pestle. You might want to start with the nutmeg, because it is probably in one big chunk. You’re not trying to grind these spices down to powder, just to crack them all open to allow more surface area contact with the boiling syrup.

Put all ingredients into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Let the mixture boil for 15 to 20 seconds to make sure that the sugar is completely dissolved.

Set aside and allow to steep for an hour.

Strain with a fine-meshed strainer, then filter with a coffee filter to take out all the bits of spices.

Bottle and label. Store in your refrigerator.

Because this recipe measures the spices by mass, not by volume, theoretically, it should work just as well with ground spices, but the end result will probably be a cloudier syrup.

An easy cocktail to make with this:

[Your Name] Special

  • ¾ oz. pumpkin spice syrup (see above)
  • 2 oz. applejack
  • ¾ oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
cocktail in martini glass surrounded by ingredients
[Your Name] Special. Photo by John Fladd.

Shake over ice.

Pour into a coupé glass.

Drink with a glad heart, full of good will.

Is this a glorified daiquiri? Possibly.

A brandy sour? Well, yes, that, too.

Lemon juice and simple syrup are a classic combination, because the lemon brings a bright acidity, without too much baggage, flavor-wise. In this case, the heavy lifting is done by the pumpkin-spice syrup, which reminds you of hay rides and stuff, while the applejack, an apple brandy, gives the whole enterprise some boozy authority.

This is one of those drinks that you can make for a friend, and when they sip it and ask what it is, you can call it a “[Their Name] Special.” When they ask what’s in it, you reply, “Trust.”

Then you sit on the deck together and make fun of the squirrels.

Featured photo. Pumpkin Spice Simple Syrup. Photo by John Fladd.

Quick and spicy pineapple jam

Happy fall! Not only is it the return of cooler weather, it is also the return of me wanting to spend time in the kitchen cooking and baking. Yes, I do cook all year long, but once the temperatures drop, even just a little bit, I’m more excited to work with my oven and stove.

Today’s recipe is incredibly simple and makes a delicious accompaniment to a snack menu.

You may wonder why I didn’t just buy jam. I have two good reasons. First, when I make the jam I can control the amount of sugar in it, so it isn’t overly sweet. Second, I can add additional flavors, such as a bit of spice.

Let’s look at the ingredients. I use light brown sugar, as I like its flavoring. You can use dark brown, but it will add more of a caramel note. For the onion, I think sweet onion really is the best, but in a pinch you could use yellow. I wouldn’t substitute red onion; it has too much bite. The pineapple needs to be fresh, not canned. Canned pineapple has too much moisture. Finally, if you like heat, you definitely can double the amount of chili powder or add a little hot sauce to the final product.

Once the jam is ready, it makes a great addition to your snack time. You can serve it with some cheddar cheese or manchego and crackers. It makes an interesting dip for chicken tenders. It also could be a delicious topping for savory cheesecake. It definitely is a fun condiment to have on hand.

Quick and spicy pineapple jam
Makes 24

⅓ cup cider vinegar
¼ cup light brown sugar
2 Tablespoons finely minced sweet onion
1½ cups diced pineapple
½ teaspoon chili powder

Combine vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat.
Stir occasionally until sugar dissolves.
Add onion and simmer for 3 minutes.
Add pineapple and chili powder; bring to a boil.
Lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for 40 minutes.
Allow to cool slightly
Then transfer to a serving dish and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Featured Photo: Quick and spicy pineapple jam. Photo by Michele Pesula Kuelger.

In the kitchen with Rocky Burpee

George “Rocky” Burpee of Loudon is the owner of Shaker Road Provisions (89 Fort Eddy Road, Suite 2, Concord, shakerroadprovisions.com), which opened April 16 in the former Smokeshow Barbeque space. Scratch-made bacon is the heart of the operation at the shop, which offers everything from flavored slices and bits to all kinds of bacon-incorporated prepared foods, like burgers, macaroni and cheese and even bacon chocolate bars. Shaker Road Provisions regularly sells its bacon at the Concord Farmers Market on Saturdays, from 8:30 a.m. to noon, and at the Salem Farmers Market on Sundays, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. — both markets will continue to run outdoors through the end of October. The shop also carries a selection of various locally sourced products, and recently received approval to sell its bacon to restaurants.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

The most important thing to me, for bacon specifically, is my slicer. I spent the money on a really nice slicer and it’s made all the difference from when I first started.

What would you have for your last meal?

I’d have to say … a surf and turf. Just an amazing aged rib-eye and a nice fat lobster tail, or something like that.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

Without a doubt, Industry East [in Manchester]. [Chef] Jeff Martin is a genius, especially with what he has to work with in that kitchen. And, [owners] Jeremy [Hart] and Dan [Haggerty] are just amazing guys. … My wife and I, we try to go there at least a couple times a month. … I always try to get the specials, but you can’t go wrong with the Goon Glizzy, their crab rangoon hot dog, and also the steak and cheese tacos.

What celebrity would you like to see trying your bacon?

I’m a die-hard Gordon Ramsay fan, but I also know that he doesn’t pull any punches, so I’d be really nervous for him to try it. … The only other person that comes to mind immediately would be Alton Brown. He taught me a lot when his show came out, just because he’s so analytical and the way he breaks things down is great.

What is your favorite thing you make that incorporates your bacon?

I think the bacon burgers are just out of this world … and you also can’t go wrong with our sweet and spicy bacon bits in a scrambled egg dish. They are just fantastic. That was actually my wife’s idea.

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

The trend is not to be trendy. It’s innovation and it’s trying new things. It’s like, more [about] who can outdo the next person and who can get crazy and put stuff together that hasn’t been put together before.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

I love prime rib. My prime rib is slathered in my bacon fat, covered in my spice mix and then I sous vide it for 10 hours. … Serve that with a side of potatoes any way you like it, and it’s just like upscale meat and potatoes.

Baked potato soup with bacon
From the kitchen of George “Rocky” Burpee of Shaker Road Provisions in Concord

1½ pounds baked potatoes
½ cup flour
6 cups milk
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 bunch green onions, chopped
6 to 8 ounces Shaker Road Provisions bacon (maple or peppered), cooked and roughly chopped (substitute sweet and spicy bacon bits for an extra punch of flavor)
Salt and pepper to taste

Bake potatoes in a 400-degree oven for one hour or until fork tender. Once cool, peel and cut into small chunks, or lightly mash. While the potatoes cool, in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, add the flour and slowly stir in the milk, whisking continuously until the flour is fully incorporated. Continue stirring often until the milk is bubbling and thickened (about 10 minutes). Add the potatoes to the pot and blend with an immersion blender, or transfer to a blender in batches and blend until smooth. If you prefer more texture, you can also fully mash the potatoes prior to adding them to the milk and skip blending them. Return the blended soup to low heat. Add the cheese, sour cream, green onion and bacon or bacon bits (reserve some bacon for a garnish if you want to make it look extra pretty). Season to taste with salt and fresh cracked black pepper. (Optional: As a gluten-free option, use 4 cups of milk and skip the flour).

Featured photo: George “Rocky” Burpee, owner of Shaker Road Provisions in Concord. Courtesy photo.

Cooking with magic

Cucina Aurora owner releases new recipe book

By Mya Blanchard


Everybody needs food to survive — this commonality connects all of us as human beings, and is a sentiment at the core of local chef Dawn Hunt’s new book Kitchen Witchcraft for Beginners: Spells, Recipes, and Rituals to Bring Your Practice Into the Kitchen.

Released Sept. 27, the book chronicles various methods of harvesting and cultivating love, connection and relationships through food. It’s the latest project for Hunt, the owner and founder of Cucina Aurora Kitchen Witchery, which offers a line of products like infused olive oils and risotto mixes.

Originally from New York, Hunt grew up in a traditional Italian family where, she said, “food is our religion.” As she has food allergies, Hunt began to look for ways to cook for herself that didn’t compromise flavor. Eventually her cooking spread beyond her own personal table, as she started selling at farmers markets and teaching classes about the principles of cooking with good intentions. This, she said, is what it means to be a self-proclaimed “kitchen witch.”

“For me, it’s about cooking with love, putting positive energy into the food and doing my cooking, my shopping, [using] my resources and purchasing foods intentionally,” she said, adding that it is this focus on intention that is at the core of witchcraft.

During her days of traveling to various farmers markets, Hunt found support in New England.

illustrated cover for recipe book
Kitchen Witchcraft for Beginners is out now.

“My experience was that in New England people really got what I was doing, [and] they understood,” she said.

She found that she was embraced by the people in New Hampshire, a place where she had always wanted to live.

“The way the community … embraced this idea of cooking with love and [being] really intentional with what you’re eating and creating in the kitchen … was really unique for me to find,” Hunt said. “It wasn’t that experience in New York.”

A year after moving to New Hampshire in 2010, Hunt quit her job and decided to work on Cucina Aurora full-time. The company has been in Salem since 2012.

Hunt started working on her new book after being scouted out by the publisher, who was looking for someone to write about the basics of putting love and intention into one’s food. Unlike her previous book, 2020’s A Kitchen Witch’s Guide to Recipes for Love & Romance, which focuses on aphrodisiac food, this book provides more basic knowledge about the ingredients and tools used to make the recipes. It also includes recipes that don’t involve food, something she was challenged to do by the publisher, who asked Hunt if she could come up with blends for everything from teas to cleaning solutions and soaps. In addition, the book contains “seasonally synchronized” recipes.

“I try to stay connected to the rhythm of the seasons by eating and cooking seasonally,” Hunt said. “That’s a big part of what I consider kitchen witchcraft.”

To Hunt, “food is the connective tissue between human beings.” This notion is at the core of Hunt’s company and her book. Hunt said she believes “there is magic in the connectivity of food,” which the recipes and rituals in the book will help readers unlock.

Kitchen Witchcraft for Beginners
Kitchen Witchcraft for Beginners: Spells, Recipes, and Rituals to Bring Your Practice Into the Kitchen, by Dawn Hunt
Available now wherever books are sold. Visit cucinaaurora.com to order a signed copy.

A Kitchen Witch’s cure-all chicken soup
Courtesy of Dawn Hunt, as seen in her book Kitchen Witchcraft for Beginners: Spells, Recipes, and Rituals to Bring Your Practice Into the Kitchen (serves 6 to 8)

chicken soup in mug with handle on table with bread

2 32-ounce cartons chicken broth (organic is preferable)
2 cups cubed cooked chicken
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped celery
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 cup chopped carrots
3 garlic cloves, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
Rosemary sprigs

In a large (5-quart) sauce pot, warm the oil over medium heat. Add the celery, onion, carrots and garlic. Cook, sauteeing on medium heat until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the chicken broth and the chicken. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the salt and the pepper to taste and stir three times, clockwise, to infuse the soup with positive intentions for health and healing. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the rosemary on top of the liquid and cover the pot. Let the soup simmer on low heat for at least one hour. Serve hot with noodles or crusty bread for dipping.

Featured photo: Dawn Hunt of Cucina Aurora. Courtesy photo.

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