Halloween man

Currier hosts Doctor Gasp & the Eeks

In October 2001, inspired by being a moaning cowboy ghost in a haunted house, Dan Blakeslee wrote his own Halloween song and performed it a few nights later at the Press Room in Portsmouth. The moment he finished, Blakeslee apologized and promised the crowd he’d never attempt anything like it again.

The audience, however, had other ideas.

“I wrote one song, and I didn’t like it, but everyone there said, ‘man, you gotta do more of this stuff,’” Blakeslee recalled in a recent phone interview. The next year, he began a tradition that’s lasted for two decades, appearing as his spooky alter ego Doctor Gasp, with his band The Eeks — Mike Effenberger on keys, bassist Nick Phaneuf and drummer Jim Rudolf.

Blakeslee even managed to perform 10 frosty shows outdoors during the pandemic year.

“I love doing this stuff so much, it really feeds my soul,” he said. “It’s my favorite holiday, since I was a kid.”

Eighteen dates are booked for the 20th anniversary, including the first in Manchester since an early 2010s appearance at Jewell & the Beanstalk, a now-shuttered restaurant. The free show on Oct. 13 at the Currier Museum is part of the weekly Art After Work series. It will feature selections from the two Doctor Gasp & The Eeks albums, 2003’s Vampire Fish and 2013’s Vampire Fish For Two.

Setlists always include Blakeslee’s bang-up version of Bobby Boris Pickett’s “Monster Mash” and “Witchtrot Road,” the song that started it all in 2001. Always a highlight, “Teeth of Candycorn” should be a seasonal standard. It’s a hurdy gurdy howler with a haunting and addictive chorus, based on a real person.

“I wrote that about a friend of mine who I call the King of Halloween,” Blakeslee said. “Go into his place, and it’s literally Halloween year-round in there. It’s crazy, it’s awesome. Early on, when we were first starting to get to know each other, he told me he was born with teeth of candy corn. I’m like, ‘OK, I have got to write a song about this.’”

In 2012 the band mapped out a tour itinerary in the shape of a pumpkin, an effort that found him playing in a few strange places simply to connect the dots. This time around, “it looks more like a scribble” according to Blakeslee. But he did do something special for the two-decade landmark, illustrating a novella written by friend and fellow musician Brian Serven called Lore of the Jack-O’-Lantern.

Blakeslee’s reputation as an artist almost overshadows his music. He’s drawn posters for Newport Folk Festival, the iconic Hearts For Boston riff on Zakim Bridge, created in response to the Marathon Bombing in 2013, and Alchemist Brewing’s Heady Topper label, voted the industry’s best in a craft beer poll.

His pen and ink talents were a natural for the task, but it took a while to happen.

“Brian asked me if I would illustrate the book, and at the time things were just too hectic,” he recalled. “I was going on my first cross-country tour and there was a lot of activity that year, so he kind of put the book on the back burner. In 2021, he asked again if I could do it, so I carved out a good chunk of this year to make it happen, and I’m so glad I did. The book is so beautifully written, it’s super intriguing and it’s a great read for all ages.”

A first printing sold out at a Sept. 30 book release show, but Blakeslee held out hope that there may be a few copies at his Currier appearance. Barring that, the singer always has plenty of his own works of art on the merch table — lithographs, posters and other collectibles.

The tour will again end on Halloween night at the Press Room, where Blakeslee will share the stage with Soggy Po’ Boys front man Stu Dias’s band Cirque Desolate. As winter approaches, the Doctor Gasp persona will give way to Christmas — Blakeslee released an album in 2020 to honor his second-favorite holiday.

He’d like to blend both into a single show one day, sometime during the sweet spot between pumpkin spice latte and mistletoe seasons. “I did that during the pandemic, set up my kitchen with Halloween décor and then turned the camera to my living room, which is decorated completely for Christmas. We changed costumes and everything; it was pretty wild.”

Doctor Gasp’s 20th Annual Halloween Special
When: Thursday, Oct. 13, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Currier Museum of Art, 150 Ash St., Manchester
Tickets: doctorgasp.com and currier.org

Featured photo: Doctor Gasp. Courtesy photo.

The Music Roundup 22/10/13

Local music news & events

Jersey boys: After Pat DiNizio’s passing in 2017, The Smithereens split lead singing duties between Robin Wilson of the Gin Blossoms and Marshall Crenshaw, who will front them in Derry. Powered by hits like “Blood and Roses,” Behind the Wall of Sleek” and “A Girl Like You,” the group was all over MTV and rock radio back in the day. Thursday, Oct. 13, 8 p.m., Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A St., Derry, $45 at tupelohall.com.

Axe channeler: Grateful Dead and the Jerry Garcia Band hit full throttle with Marcus Rezak’s Shred is Dead, just one of the tribute efforts helmed by the high-velocity guitarist. For this local show, he’s joined by the drumming duo of Vinnie Amico (moe.) and Russ Lawton (Trey Anastasio, Soul Monde). Alex North & the Rangers open. Friday, Oct. 14, 8 p.m., Bank of New Hampshire Stage, 16 S. Main St., Concord, $18 at ccanh.com.

Music flight: The latest turn in singer-songwriter Susan Werner’s widely varied career, The Birds of Florida was made during the pandemic. With moments of reggae rhythm, bolero ballad and Bakersfield twang, the EP is a happy accident, she told American Songwriter, of trying “to get through a really long winter.” The EP follows Flyover Country, a concept album rooted in Werner’s love of heartland music. Saturday, Oct. 15, 7:30 p.m., Rex Theatre, 23 Amherst St., Manchester, $25 at palacetheatre.org.

Opening up: With her first-love video “Something Real,” Kimayo continues the themes started on her 2021 coming out song “Becoming Untamed,” which chronicled a journey of “re-wilding … shedding expectations and old belief systems to awaken intuition, curiosity, and self-love.” The songstress says music is her “confidante, dance partner, comforter … mood lifter.” Sunday, Oct. 16, 1 p.m., Contoocook Cider Co., 656 Gould Hill Road, Contoocook. See facebook.com/KimayoMusic.

Bubbling back: Celebrating 15 years since her debut song, “Bubbly,” went viral, Colbie Caillat stops by Portsmouth for an evening of music. The singer broke through when MySpace was still a thing and YouTube was fairly new; the 2011 hit “Brighter Than The Sun” solidified her pop music reputation. She took a country turn with 2019’s Gone West, and her show promises new songs written over the past two years. Wednesday, Oct. 19, 7:30 p.m., The Music Hall, 28 Chestnut St., Portsmouth, $47 to $84 at themusichall.org.

Amsterdam (R)

Amsterdam (R)

John David Washington, Margot Robbie and Christian Bale are Americans who enjoy liberation in post-WWI Europe but find themselves tangled up in intrigue in pre-WWII New York in Amsterdam, a movie written and directed by David O. Russell that backs into a piece of history called the “Business Plot.”

Spoiler alert if you decide to dive down the Wikipedia rabbit hole of the nutty incident that is the Business Plot before seeing this movie.

In World War I, medical doctor Burt Berendsen (Bale) joins a mostly African-American Army regiment that has suffered from dangerously hostile and disrespectful leadership by white officers. Aspiring lawyer Harold Woodman (Washington) makes a deal with Burt that if Burt actually works to help the troops and keep them alive Woodman will try to keep Burt alive. When most of the regiment, Burt and Harold included, end up in a French hospital with injuries, the friendship deepens and grows to include Valerie (Robbie), an American working as a nurse.

Valerie takes the men with her to Amsterdam, where two “businessmen”— Henry Norcross (Michael Shannon), in US Naval intelligence as a chyron tells us, and Paul Canterbury (Mike Myers), really MI6 — offer to help the men receive medical treatment for their wounds and in Burt’s case an unlimited supply of glass eyes to replace the eye he lost. In exchange, Norcross and Canterbury might one day need some kind of favor from Burt and Harold, maybe a favor similar to the kind of information-passing favors Valerie did during the war. In Amsterdam the men get a rest — not just from war but from all of the constraints they suffer from at home, such as the antisemitism lobbed at Burt (including from his tony in-laws) and the deadly racism that plagues Harold and would make his romance with Valerie impossible.

Eventually Burt returns home to his wife Beatrice (Andrea Risenborough). He’s kicked out of his fancy Park Avenue medical practice because he brings veterans in for treatment — all veterans regardless of race. Eventually, Burt and Harold join forces to help veterans try to get the care and the benefits they deserve.

Which brings us to the now of the movie: 1933. Burt and Harold agree to perform an autopsy of their beloved former general when his daughter (Taylor Swift) suspects that he’s been murdered. But then she is murdered, pushed into the street by a man who points the finger at Burt and Harold. They must find out who killed the general and his daughter in order to clear their name.

A story of interwar hopefulness and romance is folded into a crime caper and it all comes together in a tale of the international political storm of the 1930s. And it’s long. And feels it.

Amsterdam meanders around, spending some time being a comedy about the buddyship of Burt and Harold, with characters played by Chris Rock and Zoe Saldana, then spending some time in a whirl of crime and early spycraft, in storylines filled with shady people with shady motives. The movie doesn’t have time to settle into any one groove. I have liked John David Washington in everything I’ve seen him in but here, like most of the people in this movie, he’s so busy ferrying the story from this moment to the next that he doesn’t really get to do much with his character. Bale goes big with his character and Robbie is, I dunno, fine, but with the vast list of movie chores for everybody to tick off it almost doesn’t even matter who we think they really are. Everybody gets a few nice moments but nobody really gets to build layers.

I appreciate the goodness that this movie seems to want to advocate for — one of its messages is “you know what’s better than war? Love and mutual respect,” which is, you know, accurate and laudable and even kind of sweet in its earnestness. But the buffet of styles and tones and everything made it too easy for whatever was the point of all this to get lost along with any really standout work from the actors. Amsterdam needed to get where it was going quicker, with more bounce and with a lot less of everything else. C+

Rated R for brief violence and bloody images, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Written and directed by David O. Russell, Amsterdam is two hours and 14 minutes long and is distributed in theaters by 20th Century Studios.

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile (PG)

A family moves to New York City and finds a singing crocodile living in their brownstone in Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, a live-action musical whose songwriters include The Greatest Showman’s Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

I mention this because the songs here had the same unremarkable-to-me feel that the Greatest Showman songs did. But now every kid who has ever dipped a toe in a theater class can bust out “This Is Me,” so my personal tastes don’t necessarily serve as a gauge of wider success. I still wouldn’t listen to that movie’s album but I do own it thanks to my kids — the same kids whom I can see wanting the album of original songs for this movie. The songs, sung by Shawn Mendes, who is Lyle’s singing voice, were half of what my kids seemed to enjoy most about the movie.

The other half was the action scenes, and with a series of people unexpectedly discovering a crocodile, there’s plenty of the wacky, chase-y, adults-screeching action that seems to resonate with kid audiences.

When we first meet Lyle, he is a gecko-sized crocodile living — and singing — in a cage in the back of a pet store. Not-so-great showman Hector P. Valenti (Javier Bardem), desperate for a new act, takes Lyle home and teaches him the movie’s first original song in hopes that they can take the performance on the road. By the time Lyle is a preschooler-sized crocodile, Hector thinks he’s ready and sets up a show, backing the expenses with the inherited brownstone he and Lyle have been living in. But when the curtain rises, Lyle can’t make a sound, and Hector loses his house. He goes on the road to earn cash and leaves Lyle, telling him to pretend he’s stuffed if anybody visits his attic home.

When the Prim family — mom (Constance Wu), dad (Scoot McNairy) and lonely eighth-grader Josh (Winslow Fegley) — moves in, they have no idea that anyone lives in the building other than themselves and the downstairs apartment dweller, Mr. Grumps (Brett Gelman). Then Josh pokes around the attic and discovers Lyle. The two become friends and Josh learns that Lyle can sing. Later Josh’s parents each discover Lyle and, after some screaming, realize the crocodile is not just friendly and tuneful but has the ability to help them work through their various adult existential stuff.

That stuff includes the father’s difficulties with his new class of chatty private-school kids and the mom’s sadness about Josh growing up plus a whole lotta baggage about her marrying Josh’s dad after the death of Josh’s mom and her, I guess, continued uneasiness with her stepmother status? Whatever the exact source of her troubles, it’s something that required just enough talking between adults that kids — mine and others in the theater where I saw the movie — were moving around, chatting, going to the bathroom, all the standard behaviors of a young audience that has lost interest in a movie. The movie comes in at around an hour and 45 minutes and I feel like the adult chatty parts could have been tightened to the “fireworks factory” faster, which in this case is a great escape from the city zoo. The hijinks of that did seem to reel younger audience members back in and leave my kids with an overall positive opinion of the movie.

And “overall positive” would probably be my judgment as well. It’s fine, with a few cute lines and some campy business from Bardem, who is not Hugh Grant in Paddington 2 but seems to be enjoying himself. The physicality of the animated Lyle in an otherwise real world is good enough; a scene of him dancing with Constance Wu is cute and well-executed. The movie doesn’t dazzle but nor does the animation get in the way. Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile is a serviceable, pleasant-enough family viewing experience. B-

Rated PG for mild peril and thematic elements, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck with a screenplay by Will Davies (based on the book by Bernard Warber), Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile is an hour and 46 minutes long and is distributed in theaters by Columbia Pictures.

Featured photo: Amsterdam.

Sacred Nature, by Karen Armstrong

Sacred Nature, by Karen Armstrong (Knopf, 224 pages)

In the opening to Sacred Nature, Karen Armstrong tells a story of visiting a British library to look at original manuscripts of the poets William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge and John Keats. She was deeply moved by the visit, which she described as “a kind of communion.”

“I was looking at the moment that these poems, which were now part of myself, had come into being. I did not want to analyze the manuscripts. I simply wanted to be in their presence.”

Today, she is troubled by the people who walk through museums seeming more interested in taking photos and selfies than allowing themselves to become absorbed in the extraordinary things stored there. This tendency is also reflected in our relationship to the natural world, which Armstrong says has become an irrelevant backdrop in our busy lives. She quotes Wordsworth to describe this: “light and glory die away / and fade into the light of common day.”

It’s not all because of social media. In fact, the disconnect between humans and nature can’t be fully explained without also explaining the ways in which Western culture dissociated from nature when it embraced monotheistic religions.

The ancient Egyptians believed the annual flooding of the Nile was a “divine event,” as was the rising and setting of the sun; as such, it was near impossible to ignore Mother Nature, who could, at any moment, be ready to unleash divine wrath. As science and theology ran down separate paths that grew further apart, the thought of nature being somehow divine, or even vaguely important, was swept aside as dusty myth.

Armstrong wants to change that, by gleaning wisdom from the myths and practices of the Axial Age, 900 to 200 BCE, a time she says was “pivotal to the spiritual and intellectual development of our species.”

The religions of that time, including Confucianism, Daoism, Hinduism and Buddhism, had practices that can profoundly benefit us today if we can look beyond our modern view of a myth as being a fabrication, a “charming story,” and instead look at the meaning of the myth and allow it to be a guide. Yes, that is Oprah-level malarky, but hear her out. “A myth is true because it is effective,” she writes.

Armstrong begins by exploring the Confucian belief in “qi,” the energy that links all life, animal or plant, human or divine. Interestingly, Chinese religions are unlike others because they have no creation story, no God-creator, but the opposing forces of yin and yang. (They also were among the first to articulate what is known in Christianity as the Golden Rule.)

Early Buddhism, too, taught that enlightenment could be achieved in not just human beings but was “inherent in plants, rocks, trees and blades of grass.”

Armstrong walks through practices of other ancient modern religions, including the respectful rituals of animal sacrifice (many of the ancients who practiced it would be horrified by our mass slaughter of animals today, she says) and the practice of kenosis, or “anatta,” the “emptying” of the self required in many faiths. St. Paul, Armstrong notes, used the language when he wrote that Christ had “emptied himself” on the cross.

Although Armstrong makes clear the ways that Christianity dissuaded people from seeing nature as sacred, there have been exceptions. A disciple of St. Paul called Denys saw the natural world as revelatory of God, believing “We can only intuit God’s presence through the veils of natural objects, which conceal as much as they reveal. If we could see God clearly, it would not be God. But if we learn to contemplate nature correctly, we find that the tiniest particle of soil can yield a glimpse of the ineffable divine.”

At the end of each chapter, Armstrong offers what she sees as “the way forward.” Her recommended practices include altering our perception of “God” to be not a male dwelling apart from the Earth, but a “dynamic inner presence that flows through all things”; embracing not only stillness and silence, but images of suffering in order to develop compassion; developing our own “Five Great Sacrifices” similar to Hindu practice; the ritual practice of gratitude for the natural world that sustains us; and adopting the Indian rule of “ahimsa” or harmlessness that holds every creature deserves to live, or at least not to suffer. (The Jains took this to the extreme, believing that even stones were capable of pain.)

Regrettably, there is an overarching preachiness in Sacred Nature with regard to deepening “our spiritual commitment to the environment” that will repel some readers.

“Recycling and political commitments are not enough,” Armstrong says, later adding, “We must re-form our attitude to nature and that will entail sacrifice. We can no longer board airplanes, drive our cars or burn coal with our former insouciance.”

You can agree with her completely but still wish for a book that is more poetry, less sermon. Although it is an interesting compilation of major religious traditions’ teachings on the natural world, Sacred Nature will appeal mostly to those who already share Armstrong’s views. B-

Book Events

Author events

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

MELODY RUSSELL will sign and discuss her book Noni and Me: Caregiving, Memory Loss, Love at Toadstool Bookshop (12 Depot Square in Peterborough, toadbooks.com, 924-3543) on Saturday, Oct. 15, at 11 a.m.

RICHARD LEDERER will discuss and sign his books about language at Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St., Concord, 224-0562, gibsonsbookstore.com) on Monday, Oct. 17, at noon.

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 The Last Chairlift, at the Music Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 18. Tickets are $49 and include a book voucher.

History, stories & lectures

BRET BAIER, the Fox News Chief Political Anchor and author of several books, will discuss his career in media and news journalism, followed by a book sale and signing, on Saturday, Oct. 15, at 7:30 p.m. at the Palace Theatre (80 Hanover St. in Manchester; palacetheatre.org). Tickets start at $59.


GAIL DiMAGGIO and KAY MORGAN hosted by the Poetry Society of NH at Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St., Concord, 224-0562, gibsonsbookstore.com) on Wednesday, Oct. 19, from 4:30 to 6 p.m.

Writer events

THREE-MINUTE FICTION SLAM Monadnock Writers’ Group is hosting its regional Three-Minute Fiction Slam on Saturday, Oct. 15, at 9:45 a.m. at the Peterborough Town Library, 2 Concord St., Peterborough. Prizes will be awarded to the top three winners. The first-place winner will advance to the statewide finals and a chance to win $250. Everyone is invited to take part in the free competition by either participating or observing the fun. The competition challenges writers to perform original pieces of fiction in three minutes or less before an audience and a panel of judges. The regional event is part of an annual competition sponsored by the New Hampshire Writers’ Project. See monadnockwriters.org.

TENACITY PLYS and JULES PERLARSKI host a craft class on nonlinear storytelling for all at the Bookery (844 Elm St., Manchester, 836-6600, bookerymht.com) on Saturday, Oct. 22, at 4 p.m.

Album Reviews 22/10/13

Gogol Bordello, Solidaritine (Cooking Vinyl Records)

I swear, one of the few remaining genres I can still consistently stomach is European-folk-rooted punk. Have you ever been disappointed by Korpiklaani or any of those bands? Never mind, I already know you haven’t, like, who could? It’s drunken noise that’s so sweaty and smelly you can’t help holding your nose and bobbing your head up and down to it, and that brings us to this New York City-based outfit that’s been putting out albums since 1999’s Voi-La Intruder. By all rights Solidaritine should be their supernova, given that most if not all of them are Ukrainian, but yes, this band’s putting out a political punk album right now is definitely good business. Typical Ramones/Bad Brains rattle-bang hardcore here for the most part, Slayer meets Borat, you know the routine. A

Laufey, The Reykjavík Sessions (Awal Recordings)

From Ukrainian folk-punk to Icelandic wombat-jazz, we’ve got all the bases covered today, my friends. I dunno, Fader loved this record, and I’m fine with it in the main I guess; her sold-out tour, which took her to Boston’s 500-seat Sinclair in September, compels me to take her a little more seriously than I might, and I’m in a lousy mood right now, so when I say she sounds a bit hacky, you might not want to take it to heart; I’m simply referring to her rather uneventful, unadventurous voice. She’s a good songwriter, though, specializing in a weirdly edgy but quite palatable style that makes the songs sound like they’d been written during mid-century romantic periods; she dabbles in things like bossa nova and cowboy-saloon player piano at odd but fitting moments. She plays piano and cello here at turns, exhibiting some serious musicianship, not that the songs really call for it. Music to drink coffee by, sure. A


• We’re up against Friday, Oct. 14, gang, a whole bunch of new albums coming at us in a burst of crazy, hoping for your holiday gift-buying dollar (what, your Halloween skeletons are wearing Santa suits, come on!) and we’ll probably have to start with the ’90s band I like the least, Red Hot Chili Peppers, with their new LP, Return Of The Dream Canteen! No need to belabor the point again; as I’ve said before, I think when historians close the book on ’90s rock, it’ll be Pearl Jam that’s considered the Band Of The Decade. I mean, lots of people love the Chili Peppers, with their perfect blend of jangly, watered-down Sublime-ska and basic quirky bar-rock, but come on, Pearl Jam, you know? Everyone can stomach at least one Pearl Jam tune, don’t kid around with me. Anyway, that, so let’s move it along here and check in with the Peps, and whatever they’ve done this time. When last we left them it was April of this very year, when they released their previous album, Unlimited Love, which saw the return of Rick Rubin as their producer, but wait a minute, it wasn’t that great, and that’s not according to me, it’s what fans have told me: They didn’t like it. So I guess I was right when I uttered such sweetness as “[on and on] the tune drags, with Anthony making stupid rapper hand movements even though he doesn’t rap, and then there’s some psychedelic ’70s vibe that’s just annoying and then some Austin Powers 1960s-pop vibe that also just made me depressed.” So shout out to you Pep fans who agreed that it was an awful album: you like me, guys, don’t you, you really, really like me! Sorry, could you repeat the question? Well no, I think the dude from Primus is a million times better a bass player than Flea, but let’s proceed to the part where I force myself to listen to whatever these overrated little rascals have done to destroy rock ’n’ roll this time. Rick Rubin is on board for this one, rakin’ in the mad bank, just cold helpin’ make boring songs famous, but hold on folks, let’s see what the dilly is with the first single, “Tippa My Tongue,” whatcha think of them apples? Oh, look at this video, this is so cool, guys, it’s like random colorful Austin Powers psychedelic just, you know, weirdness, right, and then they start their little joke song, and it’s sort of a mixture of Eminem and parts from the only two songs people know from this super-hilarious joke band, and look at the guys in their funny music video for this idiotic song, all dressed up in 1970s disco clothes, trying to look like they should be in one of those awful Will Ferrell “comedies.” It’s working, folks, any minute I’m expecting to see John C. Reilly or Chris Kattan pop out of nowhere and make funny jokes, those freakin’ hams, ha ha.

The 1975 is one of those bands that has no idea what the ’70s were really like, yet everyone thinks their ’80s music is ’70s music. Their new album, Being Funny In A Foreign Language, is out on Oct. 14 and features the single “I’m In Love With You,” a tune that’s catchy but unexciting, like if the Cure and Guster had a boring baby.

Todd Rundgren used to be famous, but nowadays he begs for nickels from Zoomers who have been taught that music is supposed to be awful. The title track from his new LP, Space Force, steals the hook from Toad The Wet Sprocket’s “All I Want,” apparently to remind us that “All I Want” was an OK song 40 years ago.

• Finally, it’s annoying quirk-chill band Wild Pink’s ILYSM, the single from which, “Hold My Hand,” sounds like Bon Iver on animal tranquilizers. I do not like it, nope.

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).


I’ve got a firm rule for buying old photographs at flea markets; I’ll definitely buy one, if the price is right, but there has to be some sort of identification on it, so I can do some research and find out who the subjects are. I want to know more about them. Where did they live? How were they related to each other? What happened to them? Were there any shocking skeletons in their closets?

vintage photograph of 5 member family, serious expressions, a man, a woman, 2 boys, a girl

One look at this family, though, convinced me that they almost had to have a minimum of three literal skeletons. In the time it took me to get $5 out of my pocket, I constructed a backstory for each of these (technically unknown-to-me) people. I named the daughter Hortense.

From the quality of the photograph and the style of their clothes, I suspect that the picture was taken in the very early 1900s, perhaps 1904 or 1905. In very old photographs, from the mid-1800s, subjects did not smile, for fear of blurring the image in the several minutes that the film was exposed, but by the beginning of the 20th century the exposure time was down to a few seconds, so this somewhat forbidding-seeming family did not have to look this way. I get the feeling that it was just their default expression.

I don’t know about you, but I feel like drinking something bitter.

Negroni – Two Ways

Perhaps the best-known bitter cocktail is the Negroni, a mixture of gin, Campari, sweet vermouth and a splash of soda water. If you are a fan of bitter-sweet flavors, it’s a lovely break from the sweet/sour/boozy rut a lot of us find ourselves in from time to time.

One of the reasons you’ve heard of Negronis but rarely see anyone drinking one is the Campari. I like Campari enormously and use it for background bitterness in many drinks, but there are some cocktail fans, perhaps with less enlightened palates, who are not strictly fans of the red liqueur.

So here are recipes for two variations on the Negroni theme:

Mostly Traditional Negroni

  • 1 ounce Campari
  • 1 ounce botanical gin – I’ve been enjoying Uncle Van’s
  • 1 ounce sweet vermouth – I’ve been using Dolin Rouge
  • 3 to 4 ounces plain seltzer
  • 1 very large ice cube

Pour the Campari, gin and vermouth over a large ice cube in a rocks or highball glass.

Pour the seltzer over the other ingredients, and stir gently to combine.

Drink while looking at a photo of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday.

As advertised, this version of the Negroni is both bitter and sweet. The addition of so much soda is somewhat controversial, but I feel that the cocktail benefits from the dilution and carbonization. It is a complex, adult drink.

But pink.

An Alternate Negroni

  • 1 ounce Campari
  • 1 ounce gin
  • 1 ounce sweet vermouth
  • 1 ounce Amaro Lucano
  • ½ ounce plain seltzer
  • Another very large ice cube

This version is made in the same way as a traditional Negroni except that it replaces the Campari with another bitter Italian liqueur, Amaro Lucano, which uses different herbs and is less flamboyantly colored. The resulting cocktail is less frivolous-looking and doesn’t need the extra soda.

Is it bitter? Yes. Is it delicious? Yes. Is it pink? Not even a little. Would the mother from the antique photograph drink one out of a teacup? Probably.

Featured photo. Negroni. Photo by John Fladd.

Cheesy sausage balls

The chill of fall is officially here! Last week’s salad may be my last hurrah into cold main dishes for a while. This week it’s all about food served piping hot.

Meatballs are one of my favorite appetizers because they are easily made ahead of time, can be served with just a toothpick, and have the ability to deliver many flavors. This week’s recipe starts with hot turkey sausage, which already has a substantial amount of flavor and keeps this recipe a pinch healthier. However, this recipe is in no way a healthy dish — three-fourths of a pound of cheese is in these. They’re well worth the indulgence.

The first time I made these sausage balls, I served them with pasta sauce for dipping. Since then I have tried pairing them with buffalo sauce and tzatziki. Both worked well. In fact, I’m sure there are many more options. Of course, you also can eat them as they are, but doesn’t dipping make a snack even more fun?

As for the recipe itself, it is about as straightforward as a recipe can be. Yes, you could use regular sausage instead of turkey sausage, but they might be a bit on the greasy side. (You have been warned.) I prefer sharp cheddar in this dish to give more of a bite, but mild cheddar works fine also. In fact, you could use mozzarella as well. It definitely will add some gooeyness to the sausage balls, but you will also lose some flavor. It’s your call.

Make a shopping list according to your preferences. Then let the appetizer making begin!

Cheesy sausage balls
Makes 24

20 ounces hot turkey sausage
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried oregano
3 cups shredded cheddar, mild or sharp
1 large egg
Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Remove sausage from casing, if needed.
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl; mix by hand to thoroughly combine.
Form mixture into 2-inch balls.
Place sausage balls on lined baking sheet, leaving space between them.
Bake for 20 minutes.
Serve with dipping sauce of your choice.

Featured Photo: Cheesy sausage balls. Photo courtesy of Michele Pesula Kuegler.

In the kitchen with Krystal Hudon

Krystal Hudon and her husband, Chris, of Nashua are the co-owners of Comfort Spice Co. (comfortspiceco.com, and on Facebook), now offering nearly two dozen homemade premium spice blends and several fruit jams since their launch two years ago. The couple started their company with an authentic Mexican spice blend that Krystal Hudon, who grew up in southern California, learned how to make from her neighbors at the time. Since then, their product lineup has grown to include everything from a roasted chicken rub, a steak and beef rub, a lamb seasoning and a pork seasoning to a house curry blend, a pumpkin pie spice and an apple pie spice. Comfort Spice Co.’s blends can be found at Trombly Gardens (150 N. River Road, Milford) and at Gigi’s Country Store (10 Main St., Wilton), as well as at Creative Vibes, inside the Pheasant Lane Mall (310 Daniel Webster Hwy., Nashua) — four-ounce bottles are available inside each of the stores, or you can contact them directly via email or Facebook Messenger to inquire about eight- or 12-ounce bottles. As for the jams, those come in eight-ounce jars and are available at Creative Vibes only.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

Normally, I would say a sturdy stirring spoon or a type of wooden paddle. … But no matter what you use in the kitchen tool-wise, nothing is going to come out well unless you have good, quality ingredients.

What would you have for your last meal?

For me, it’s cheesecake. I don’t even care what kind. … For [my husband] Chris, he said tacos and tequila.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

We love the Copper Door. It’s a scratch kitchen. They source most of their ingredients locally … and the food is always excellent.

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

We picked Jason Mraz, for an interesting reason. … He has a farm in California where he grows all of his own vegetables, and his wife is also a chef. … I would have to talk to him and find out what he likes, because our spice blends are all very, very different.

What is your favorite spice blend that you make?

Chris says his favorite is the Cajun blackening mix, and he likes to put it on everything. … Mine is the roasted chicken rub. I think my favorite thing to use that on is pan-seared chicken legs and thighs with roasted vegetables and a nice pan gravy.

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

A lot of people seem to be into … locally sourced [foods], but it definitely should not be a trend.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

Any comfort food or anything that feels cozy. Things like beef stew and chicken soup. … I love making a Lancashire hotpot, which is so good. … It has fall-apart beef on the bottom, [with] carrots, peas and onions, all roasted, and then you layer potatoes on top that are sliced in discs and you bake it.

Homemade Lancashire hotpot
From the kitchen of Krystal Hudon of Comfort Spice Co. in Nashua

2 pounds shoulder roast, diced, or stewed beef, cut into slightly smaller chunks
1 ½ large onions, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
4 carrots, chopped into ¾-inch pieces
1 cup frozen peas
½ cup Marsala
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
4 cups beef stock
4 to 5 potatoes, sliced into ¼-inch thick slices
2½ Tablespoons Comfort Spice Co. steak and beef rub
¼ cup melted butter
1 Tablespoon canola oil
1 to 2 Tablespoons cornstarch

Massage the steak and beef rub into your beef. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven, then add onions and garlic and saute on medium heat until soft. Turn the heat up and add the beef. Brown the beef, stirring often so that the onions and garlic don’t burn. Cook until most of the liquid is gone, then add the Marsala and the Worcestershire sauce — this will loosen any bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook for about three minutes. Add the beef stock. Simmer, covered on low, for about an hour and stir occasionally. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Mix your cornstarch with equal parts cold water and pour into your beef, stirring until thickened. Turn off the heat. Add the frozen peas and the chopped carrots and mix well. Layer your potatoes on top and brush them evenly with the melted butter. Sprinkle a little more of the steak and beef rub evenly on top. Bake covered for 30 minutes. Uncover, turn up the heat to 400 degrees and continue to cook for 30 more minutes to brown the potatoes. Remove from the oven, let it cool for five minutes and enjoy.

Featured photo: Krystal Hudon. Courtesy photo.

Brews for vets

New brewfest coming to Goffstown

A new event coming to Goffstown this weekend will feature more than a dozen beer options from area breweries — along with local food vendors and live music — all to raise money for local disabled veterans in need. The inaugural Mount Uncanoonuc Brewfest is happening on Saturday, Oct. 15, from 1 to 5 p.m. in the parking lot of the town’s former Shaw’s supermarket.

The event is being presented by the Worker Bee Fund, its beneficiary nonprofit organization, in conjunction with Mountain Base Brewery. Plans to hold a brewfest were conceived shortly after the brewery’s opening late last year, according to Worker Bee Fund founder Brian Hansen, following some conversations he had with co-owner Carrie Currier and her daughter, event coordinator Candice Pendagast.

To date, the Worker Bee Fund has completed around 30 home projects to date benefiting disabled veterans within an hour’s drive of Manchester.

“In a nutshell, what we do is fix up houses for people in really low income brackets,” Hansen said. “The idea is to help them age in place, and what that basically means is that when folks get older, it’s really nice that they can stay in their homes as long as possible. … As a result, we may go in and fix up their kitchen so that it’s wheelchair-accessible, or we’ll do like a full kitchen model or bathroom model or something like that. And we raise all of the funds ourselves.”

Set to take place rain or shine, the brewfest will take place in a cordoned off area in the south end of the parking lot, Hansen said, with plenty of tents and bar-height cafe tables for attendees. He expects around 14 breweries — nearly all from southern New Hampshire — to be represented, either via their beers being donated for the festival or the brewers pouring the beer themselves. Four-ounce samples of each featured beer will be available to ticket holders, encompassing several styles.

In addition to the beers, the brewfest will feature food options from a few local purveyors, including those that have hosted pop-ups at Mountain Base Brewery in the past. Squaloo’s BBQ of Manchester, for instance, which held its first pop-up at the brewery back in late July, will be there — chef Ira Street is known for traditional Midwestern barbecue staples and smoked meats. Other vendors at the brewfest will include Granite State Whoopie Pies, which will have fresh baked cookies, and The Bakeshop on Kelley Street, with its soft baked pretzels. Live music will be featured by the Robyn V Group, a young rock cover band based in Nashua.

At the conclusion of the brewfest, attendees can cross the parking lot and visit Mountain Base Brewery, which will be open that day and evening. The brewery recently debuted the release of its Grand Pumpkin, a vanilla pumpkin porter.

A three-barrel commercial nanobrewery, Mountain Base originally began as a homebrewing passion project for the Curriers — longtime residents of Goffstown — in their basement more than a decade ago. The brewery opened in the site of a former RadioShack inside the Shaw’s Plaza in mid-December 2021, across the parking lot from where the brewfest will take place. Currier said Mountain Base features anywhere from six to 12 rotating brews on a regular basis.

“[We keep] four or five [beers] on pretty consistently, just because we’ve … established some regulars at this point who drink specific ones,” she said.

Mount Uncanoonuc Brewfest
When: Saturday, Oct. 15, 1 to 5 p.m.
Where: 553 Mast Road, Goffstown (at the southern end of the parking lot)
Cost: $25 in advance or $30 at the door; admission is free for designated drivers
Visit: workerbeefund.org/events/brewfest
Event is rain or shine and 21+ only. All proceeds benefit the Worker Bee Fund.

Featured photo: courtesy photo.

Granite grazing

Taste of New Hampshire returns (in person!)

Experience the best of what several local eateries have to offer during the 17th annual Taste of New Hampshire — for the first time post-pandemic, the event is due to return in person to the Grappone Conference Center in Concord on Tuesday, Oct. 18, featuring opportunities to meet with chefs, discover new restaurants and breweries and bid on all kinds of silent auction items.

Formerly known as the Taste of Concord, the event — a chief fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central New Hampshire — began welcoming restaurants in other neighboring cities and towns in 2017. The last two years, Covid regulations caused it to go virtual in the form of discounted restaurant gift card promotions. Although the Boys & Girls Club was able to raise more than $160,000 for local restaurants over those two years, development manager and event coordinator Tanya Frost said she’s “thrilled” to be able to have it back in person once again.

“The gift card portion was such a huge hit that we’ve had people reach out about it, and we’re actually working with the restaurants now to see who would like to participate in that,” Frost said of this year’s event. “So we will also be selling gift cards to some of those restaurants in attendance as well, and that will be at a discounted rate, so the consumer is still getting that deal. … For $20 you get a $25 card and then for $40 you get a $50 card. We will be reaching out to those who purchase them after the fact, just like we’ve done in past years.”

Frost added that the event, normally held on a Thursday, has been moved up to a Tuesday to accommodate the participating restaurants, many of which continue to experience staff shortages.

“We’re just trying to be respectful of the restaurants as well [with] every step that we’re taking,” she said. “Even before we started planning, we surveyed the restaurants and ended up moving the event to Tuesday to try and help them and so that we could also get more people.”

hand passing plate with small burger in bun to another person
Courtesy photo.

Attendees will have free rein to graze their way through the venue, sampling sweet and savory options from more than two dozen vendors this year. The Red Arrow Diner, for instance, will serve American chop suey with garlic toast, onions and peppers, while O Steaks & Seafood will offer its homemade macaroni and cheese. Some vendors, like the Banquet Center at Pats Peak Ski Area in Henniker, are bringing a whole smorgasbord of items for you to try — they’ll have bacon-wrapped shrimp drizzled in a honey garlic sauce, along with fried chicken and mini waffles served with maple syrup, and teriyaki beef kabobs with onions and peppers.

New Taste of New Hampshire participants include the 110 Grill, which is due to open a location in Concord next year. Reed’s North of Warner and the Flannel Tavern of Chichester — both owned and operated by local chef Carrie Williams, a friend of Frost’s — are also newcomers.

For dessert, there will be items like a flourless chocolate torte from The Crust & Crumb Baking Co.; pumpkin cheesecake and chocolate cake shots from The Red Blazer Restaurant & Pub; and chocolate-covered cream candies from Granite State Candy Shoppe. The Boys & Girls Club will even be serving its own pumpkin whoopie pies throughout the evening. As for drinks, New Hampshire Distributors and Horizon Beverage Group will be providing some wines and a wide variety of craft beers to sample, including several Oktoberfests, pumpkin brews, IPAs and more.

Silent auction items are available for all event attendees to bid on — in the past, items have included everything from restaurant gift certificates and assorted gift baskets to VIP brewery tours and some other special experience gifts. All proceeds from the Taste of New Hampshire benefit various programs of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central New Hampshire, which has expanded to more than 20 service sites across the state.

17th annual Taste of New Hampshire
When: Tuesday, Oct. 18, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Where: Grappone Conference Center, 70 Constitution Ave., Concord
Cost: $40 per person, or $350 per 10 people; tickets are available in advance or at the door, with all proceeds benefiting the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central New Hampshire
Visit: tasteofnh.com

Participating local businesses
• 110 Grill (110grill.com)
• Alan’s of Boscawen (alansofboscawen.com)
• The Barley House Restaurant & Tavern (Concord, thebarleyhouse.com)
• Boys & Girls Clubs of Central New Hampshire (Concord, nhyouth.org)
• C.C. Tomatoes Restaurant (Concord, cctomatoes.com)
• Chuck’s BARbershop (Concord, find them on Facebook @chucksbarbershopnh)
• The Common Man (Concord, thecman.com)
• Constantly Pizza (Concord, constantlypizza.net)
• The Crust & Crumb Baking Co. (Concord, thecrustandcrumb.com)
• Downtown Cheers Grille & Bar (Concord, cheersnh.com)
• El Rodeo Mexican Restaurant (Concord, el-rodeo-nh.com)
• Flannel Tavern (Chichester, flanneltavern.com)
• Granite State Candy Shoppe (Concord, granitestatecandyshoppe.com)
• Grappone Conference Center/Catering by Design (Concord, cateringbydesignnh.com)
• Hermanos Cocina Mexicana (Concord, hermanosmexican.com)
• Horizon Beverage Group (Concord, horizonbeverage.com)
• Lakehouse Tavern (Hopkinton, lakehousetavern.com)
• New England’s Tap House Grille (Hooksett, taphousenh.com)
• O Steaks & Seafood (Concord, osteaksconcord.com)
• Pats Peak Banquet Center (Henniker, patspeak.com)
• The Red Arrow Diner (Concord, redarrowdiner.com)
• The Red Blazer Restaurant & Pub (Concord, theredblazer.com)
• Reed’s North (Warner, reedsnorth.com)
• Smokeshow Barbeque (Concord, smokeshowbbq.com)
• Sunshine Baking (sunshineshortbread.com)
• Twelve 31 Events (Tilton and Concord, twelve31.events)
• The Wine’ing Butcher (Pembroke, wineingbutcher.com)

Featured photo: Photo by HK Photography.

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