Clean slate

Robert Dubac tries to make sense in Book of Moron

The idea of aliens landing and attempting to understand human nature has been around a while. In his one-man show The Book of Moron, Robert Dubac gets more down to earth, playing an amnesiac desperately in need of people to explain the current state of a world where the loudest voices are frequently the dumbest.

Dubac begins by being bewildered at what makes some people angry. “Isn’t same-sex marriage all marriages? You marry one person and have the same sex forever,” he says at one point.

All the other characters in Book of Moron are voices in Dubac’s head trying to fill his brain’s blank slate with their version of the truth.

“It expounds on Freud’s id, ego and superego,” he said by phone recently. “You’ve got the inner child, inner moron, the voice of reason, common sense and your inner a-hole, who obviously is the one who says things that you don’t want to say out loud, but they’re swirling around in the back of your head.”

The premise for the show came to Dubac as he was doing his previous one-man show, The Male Intellect – An Oxymoron? for a crowd in Amish country. “Even though this group of people have chosen not to interact, they still have kind of a higher moral standard,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if you woke up like that and you had no idea?’ There’s a good and bad side — you could be in the Amish community, or you could wake up in a camp run by Taliban.”

Though its “Idiocracy is a documentary” subject matter is up to the minute in a culture peppered with alternative facts and ignorant bluster, Dubac began developing the show over a decade ago. He had the help of his good friend, the late comic and television star Garry Shandling. Experience taught them both to spot the writing on the wall.

“If you’re really pushing comedy, you’re doing it before the rest of the world piles on if you’re doing it right,” Dubac said. “We could see the insanity starting to foment… everybody lives in their own little bubbles, and the public doesn’t really realize what’s going on outside as much as a traveling artist.”

Dubac began doing comedy in the late 1970s, first as a magician opening rock concerts, followed by standup in a West Coast scene that included pioneers like Dana Carvey, Bob Saget and Robin Williams. During that time, he came up with the idea of a stupidity tax — five bucks assessed for transgressions like pushing an already-lit elevator button.

Now, the bit is back.

“I resurrected that, and it’s in The Book of Moron, because it’s just timeless,” he said. “When I came up with it, it was just a surface joke, but now, coupled with this whole meaning of the change of culture and the dumbing down of America, it resonates more graphically.”

He’s quick to point out that the show isn’t about left versus right, but smart and stupid, noting, “the thing about stupidity … is stupid people won’t admit they’re stupid because it was intelligently designed that way, so all they do is double down.” Even if one side is more guilty, the comedy needs to stay balanced. “It can’t just be full tilt against stupidity and right-wing idiots, because then you’re going to lose the crowd. There’s a lot of stuff I’ve put aside, because it’s just too much.”

Instead, he keeps things level, though it can be difficult. “It’s done from a point of view of let’s start from scratch; let’s take some points from the left and the right, and solve some problems,” he said. “It’s also a way to get some great one-liners.”

In mid-2000s, the Mensa organization challenged its members to take a word from the dictionary and add or subtract one letter to give it a new meaning. One wag came up with “bozone,” defined as “the substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating.” 

Reminded of that, Dubac observed, “We’re living in a time where irony doesn’t mean anything anymore; people can’t even grasp the concept.” Asked if there’s something that gives him hope in spite of this, he answered quickly.

“Humor! I mean, funny is the only emotion that brings everybody together, in truth.”

Robert Dubac’s The Book of Moron
When: Friday, Oct. 28, 7:30 p.m.
Where: The Rex Theatre, 23 Amherst St., Manchester
More: $39 at

Featured photo: Robert Dubac. Courtesy photo.

The Music Roundup 22/10/27

Local music news & events

Hanging out: Closing out a two-month residency in downtown Nashua, The Humans Being bring a jammy sound that’s elevated, energetic and disciplined, spreading a sunny message of planetary unity. They’re joined by the equally inventive Fiesta Melon. The venue is a music-friendly beer bar offering a relaxed vibe, with sandwiches named after a litany of Red Sox heroes, from Rico Petrocelli to Big Papi. Thursday, Oct. 27, 8:30 p.m., Nashua Garden, 121 Main St., Nashua, $10 at the door, 21+,

Gator guys: Halloween’s tribute act side happens as Being Petty – The Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Experience takes the stage in Concord. Along with doing a more than credible job of recreating the sound of the great American band, the group brings the look and feel — wigs, wardrobe, accessories like Tom’s top hat, along with the instruments, including the late rocker’s iconic Rickenbacker guitar. Friday, Oct. 28, 8 p.m., Bank of NH Stage, 16 S. Main St., Concord, passes $28 at

Party down: There will be dancing, drinking and costume prizes at the Shaskeen Halloween Bash, as DJ Myth spins the music in celebration of both the spooky holiday and the upcoming Gaelic observation of Samhain, which marks the end of harvest season and the onset of the darker half of the year. Yep, the end of daylight saving time is well-nigh around the corner, along with all the other elements that make us a hardy lot. Saturday, Oct. 29, 9 p.m., Shaskeen Pub, 909 Elm St., Manchester,

Full strength: Though his return to the region finds him mostly playing solo, the Brooks Hubbard Band occasionally returns to New England from Nashville. Justin Kimball and Erin Nelson have made the trip and will perform a special one-night reunion show packed with Americana energy on the main stage of a country-themed restaurant-bar celebrating its one-year anniversary since opening in the Queen City, Sunday, Oct. 30, 9 p.m., The Goat, 50 Old Granite St., Manchester,, 21+.

Big night: Few bring a genuine spirit to All Hallows’ Eve like Doctor Gasp & the Eeks, the seasonal band led by folk musician and artistic polymath Dan Blakeslee. A treat for young and old, the masked singer-guitarist is a one-man Alfred Hitchcock movie, channeling his personal favorite Bobby Boris Pickett and others through favorites like “Monster Mash” and wacky original tunes. He’s joined by Cirque Desolate. Monday, Oct. 31, 9:30 p.m., The Press Room, 77 Daniel St., Portsmouth, $15 and up at We talked with Blakeslee in the Oct. 13 issue of the Hippo; find the e-edition at (the story is on page 38).

Black Adam (PG-13)

Black Adam (PG-13)

Dwayne Johnson is the magnetic core of the “too many items on the menu” comic book adaptation Black Adam, an entry in DC’s Extended Universe.

We meet Black Adam (Johnson) — who is, to oversimplify, a “Shazam”-type — as well as the Justice Society, presented as a good guy Suicide Squad (also directed by Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller). The team is led by Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), who is sorta cool and rich, and includes Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Atom Smasher (Noah Centino), a new-guy superhero whose funnest attribute is that his uncle, the previous Atom, is played by Henry Winkler. We also learn about Intergang, a group of criminal mercenaries occupying Kahndaq, a country presented as the vaguely Middle Eastern. And, rounding out the DCEU business, there is a mid-credits scene that is, in my opinion, some complete nonsense.

The movie also talks vaguely about colonizers, oppression, freedom, the idea of being a hero versus being protector and why it is bad to murder people. And, it seems like the movie can’t decide whether it’s deadly serious or quippy and so it does both.

In the movie’s present, Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi), a professor in the oft-invaded and oppressed Kahndaq, is desperate to find an ancient Kahndaq artifact, a blue-ish iron-y crown that can give its wearer godlike powers (of demonic origin). She wants to rehide it so Intergang and other baddies will never find it. But one of her shifty compatriots, Ishamel (Marwan Kenzari), has other plans. Adrianna finds the crown in an ancient tomb just as Intergang arrives and demands it at gunpoint.

Certain she is going to die, she does some on-the-fly translating to call on Kahndaq’s ancient protector, and the muscle-y Adam (Johnson) appears. He lays waste to nearly all of the Intergang group and allows Adrianna and her comic relief brother, Karim (comedian Mohammad Amer), to get away. Later, Adrianna introduces Adam to her young son, Amon (Bodhi Sabongui), a big fan of superheroes who has some advice for Adam on how to improve and capitalize on his image in this modern world.

Amanda sends in the Justice Society to neutralize Adam because of some secret ancient texts that suggest he isn’t the public-protecting superhero that legend paints him as. When the Justice Society arrives in Kahndaq, they discover that “international stability!” isn’t exactly an electrifying rallying cry and maybe oppressed people aren’t so concerned with what happens to their oppressors.

Or, I mean, that’s an element that is mentioned and that I found kind of interesting — justice and prioritizing the global peace vs. more direct protecting of one’s people. But for all that the movie throws it out there, the Big Ideas are kept kinda vague.

Like a kid sprinkling Fruit Loops and M&Ms on top of a Nutella and potato chips Eggo sandwich, the movie drops those nuggets of “saying something” on top of an overstuffed pile of comic book lore: this character and their relationship to that character and the magical this thing, created by the wizard-y those guys. We don’t get a whole lot of time with any one element and most of it is just told directly to us in flashback or exposition dump. While I’ve often wanted superhero movies to skip the origin stories and get right to the superheroing (not unlike how the MCU handled Spider-Man), Black Adam skips any kind of context about these people or groups. Watching Black Adam isn’t a whole lot different, experience-wise, from reading the character’s Wikipedia page. You get plenty of raw data but not a lot of emotional connection to characters or their quests.

Dwayne Johnson is a top-notch action movie player — he is one of my favorite parts of the whole Fast & Furious experience at this point. Black Adam doesn’t use his talents nearly enough and doesn’t give him a solid story. It never really settles on who it wants Black Adam, the man or the movie, to be. C

Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, intense action and language, according to the MPA on Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and written by Adam Sztykiel and Rory Haines & Sohrab Noshirvani, Black Adam is two hours and four minutes long and distributed in theaters by New Line Cinema.

Ticket to Paradise (PG-13)

The charms of and genuine good will between George Clooney and Julia Roberts do most of the work in the rom-com Ticket to Paradise.

Long-divorced couple David (Clooney) and Georgia (Roberts) have a deeply antagonistic relationship, bickering all the time — including throughout the college graduation ceremony of their daughter Lily (Kaitlyn Dever). They seem delighted to walk swiftly away from each other at the airport after saying goodbye to Lily, who is vacationing in Bali with her buddy Wren (Billie Lourd). After the post-college pre-life trip, Lily is slated to start work at a prestigious law firm.

But is law really Lily’s dream, or something her parents have talked her into? When she meets Gede (Maxime Bouttier), a local seaweed farmer, she starts to doubt her whole life plan. Thus, some two months later, do David and Georgia find themselves on a plane to Bali to stop their daughter from marrying Gede and derailing her big career.

There is, of course, all kinds of baggage. A similar post-college engagement between David and Georgia, followed quickly by the birth of Lily, derailed Georgia’s career plans. Though divorced more than a decade, David and Georgia are clearly still angry about how their relationship ended — and maybe even that it ended. David is currently unattached and Georgia is maybe not looking for forever with her boyfriend Paul (Lucas Bravo), an airline pilot.

Roberts and Clooney are good separately — clunky exposition scenes where they tell various stories of their relationships to other people work because they are such watchable actors. Together they crackle and spark — they’re great scene partners whether their characters are fighting or flirting. Their plan to break up Lily and Gede allows for a fair amount of charmingly executed scheming and gentle capers.

The rest of the movie is a flat fountain soda, watered down in flavor and generally lacking in effervescence. Everything that isn’t based on Roberts’ and Clooney’s star power and chemistry is tepid at best. The story feels like so much warmed over “haven’t we seen this before” and the romance between the youngs is fairly spark-free. Lourd, whose oddball neglected-rich-kid character is interesting, doesn’t get nearly enough to do to really bring anything to the movie.

Clooney and Roberts and the beauty of Bali carry this movie further than it has any right to go, but it ultimately underwhelms. C+

Rated PG-13 for some strong language and brief suggestive material, according to the MPA at Directed by Ol Parker with a screenplay by Daniel Pipski, Ticket to Paradise is an hour and 44 minutes long and is distributed in theaters by Universal Studios.

Featured photo: Dwayne Johnson in Black Adam.

Leech, by Hiron Ennes

Leech, by Hiron Ennes (Tordotcom, 336 pages)

If you’re looking for gothic fiction, horror spiced up with adventure, LGBT representation or just plain good writing, check out Hiron Ennes’s debut novel, Leech. Fair warning: This novel is packed with spookiness, body horror and psychological dread. Upsetting things that happen in this book that make it appropriate only for older teens and adults, like murder and rape. A few times I had to put the book down and felt my skin crawl (or I was delightedly disgusted).

Anyway, I liked Leech quite a bit! I was immediately hooked by the first few pages. You follow the narrator, a doctor traveling to a haunted château in a remote alpine town to investigate the death of their colleague. When a string of hideous discoveries threatens the doctor’s existence, their control of the situation and themself unravels. It’s later revealed that the main characters are not the people you were at first led to believe they were.

The story has good pace; each chapter ended with a discovered secret or new information that underscored the horror and kept the plot surprising. As the reveals pile up, you slowly learn more and more about the narrator, their relationship to the denizens of the château, and what secrets they keep hidden.

The writing is heavily erudite and had me reaching for a dictionary even more often than Seth Dickinson’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant. I wrote down more than 50 terms to double-check. Many of these are medical or scientific, like “atrophic,” “hyphae,” and “enucleated.” The obscure vocabulary sometimes distracted me (if I bothered at all to stop and discover its meaning), but I also think that the vocabulary supports the narrator’s character as an overly educated doctor. Regardless of that, the writing was obviously talented and enjoyable on its own.

The setting is a post-apocalyptic steampunk-ish version of Earth orbited by the pulverized chunks of a destroyed moon and beset by natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes that are as normal as the weather. Some of the details felt a bit disjointed when put together. Why was it mentioned that one city is paved with ruby bricks? This didn’t turn out to be important. Nevertheless, other elements of the setting well support the genre and themes. The very landscape seems to haunt humanity for its past transgressions, isolating modern society into a huddled clan terrified of science, the sky and the unknown. Fantastical elements such as the mineral wheatrock used for fertilizer, the arctic cryptids called the ventigeaux, and the native Montish with their black eyes give the novel a mystical feel like a fairy tale or myth.

The plot was always exciting and the reveals unexpected, sometimes putting me on the edge of my seat. I was caught off guard when the narration changed focus to different characters midway through the novel, and the genre took a swing toward hopeful adventure, fast-paced, full of danger and action. The uplifting final act was a sweet way to wash out the doom and gloom from earlier. My only critique is that the very ending was a bit abrupt and open-ended for my taste.

In Leech, some characters suffered, some heroes became the villains, and others got the second chances they deserved. This novel’s horror lightened by relief, clever writing, and compelling characters made it an enjoyable read. Give Leech a shot for a spooky Halloween! A-

— Alaina Tocci

Album Reviews 22/10/27

Nelson, A Nelson Family Christmas (UME Records)

So glad to get the first holiday record of the season into the books, and this one is actually nice, if you like being in a good mood in front of a crackling fire, or eating Hobo Beans out of a can under the Interstate 93 overpass or whatever you’ll be doing this season. No, you’re not seeing things, this is indeed Matthew and Gunnar Nelson, the twin sons of Ricky Nelson, the same photogenic pair of boys who graced the post-hair-metal world with the marginal hits “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection” and “After the Rain,” the latter of which is the only one I remember at all, it was actually OK. This is a decent holiday album, no knuckleballs or weirdness, and it includes jangly, poppy, rather pretty versions of everything from “Jingle Bells” to “Joy To The World” to (really the only Christmas song I can stand anymore) “Holly Jolly Christmas.” Solid, nice, nothing wrong here. A

Peggy Lee, Norma Deloris Egstrom from Jamestown, North Dakota [50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition] (Capitol Records)

Odd little vintage curio here, the 50th anniversary release of the jazz-pop singer’s final album for Capitol Records, released in 1972. For the most part the tunes were bum-outs about love and loss and everything in between, including “Just for a Thrill,” “Superstar,” “The More I See You,” “I’ll Be Seeing You,” all made fascinating by her unique, somewhat low-throated warble. “Love Song,” a gently finger-picked number, was the biggest song on board; released as a 45-rpm single, it was a minor hit, spending four weeks on the Billboard Easy Listening chart and peaking at No. 34 in October 1972. It was also Lee’s last single for Capitol, nearly three decades after she released her first on the label. This set includes a 23-page booklet, annotated by Iván Santiago, featuring new interviews with Tom Catalano, Artie Butler and Brian Panella, as well as previously unseen photos from the 1972 recording session. A


• It’s Halloween, baby, and new albums will hit the streets this Friday, Oct. 28!

We’ll go over And I Have Been, The latest full-length from U.K. singer-songwriter Benjamin Clementine first. He is billed as being “one of the great singer-songwriters of his generation, and the future sound of London,” although critics have had a hard time placing his music in any one genre. After listening to the new single “Genesis,” I’d categorize him as a trip-hop-infused Nick Cage, not that his voice is all that annoying but yeah, it kind of is. The song kind of rips off “House Of The Rising Sun,” and it looks like he’s dancing with his mom in the video, which is weird, but whatever.

• Canadian electro-pop band Dragonette is now a solo act consisting of singer Martina Sorbara, the daughter of a former Member of Provincial Parliament and Minister of Finance in Ontario. Now gather ’round, kids, this little story isn’t going to be about nepotism in rock ’n’ roll or government or whatever, it’s actually a sad tale of love gone horribly wrong, because Sorbara was originally married to the band’s bass player, Dan Kurtz, but that didn’t pan out so much, like maybe he said something inappropriate during some fundraising banquet for the Canadian Prime Minister or he used a salad fork instead of an actual normal fork to eat his royal poutine when the Pope or Finland’s Chancellor came to visit the Canadian White House or whatever they have in the frozen hinterlands of our “neighbors to the north.” And such and so, but the title track of this album, “Twennies,” is OK if you usually like mall-techno, it’s got sort of like an aughts-era Miss Kittin-style house groove, pretty harmless and unoriginal but it’s alright overall, bedroom vibe and all that, decent enough hook, etc.

• Yikes, it’s yet another album from Australian psychedlic-stoner freaks King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard! It wouldn’t be a normal week without a new album from these guys, you know? Ha ha, I can’t stand it, this is their literal fifth album of 2022, their 23rd overall, and it’s titled Changes. Boy, you have to admit, it’s a pretty smart gimmick, the whole idea of being in a band and putting out a bunch of albums, what madness is this, amirite? OK, whatever, it’s Halloween, so let’s go to the YouTube and find a video for one of these new songs and, like Frankenfurter said on The Rocky Horror Picture Show, see what’s on the slab! Ah, here’s one of their new rock ’n’ roll songs, “Oce V,” and uh-oh, look at this video, our boys are in Italy or some other country, whatever, and it looks and sounds like some goofy B movie from like 1971, like dig the funky beat! LOL, these guys are such stoners, if they had a time machine, they’d probably go back to the Jurassic age just so they could watch a velociraptor hatch out of an egg and put a little baseball cap on it, because randomness is so cool.

• We’ll end this week’s rundown with another Canadian indie musician, namely Dan Mangan, whose new album, Being Somewhere, is in the books as of this Friday! He’s done soundtracks scored for feature films (Hector and the Search for Happiness for one), as well as music for things you may have seen on Netflix and AMC. The first single is “All Roads,” which has the same kind of vibe as Modest Mouse’s “Interstate 8,” you know, quirky and half-plugged-guitar-y but not as stupid as Figurine or any of that garbage. Pretty boring, that’s it, folks, nothing much to see here, truth be told.

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).

In a dark and stormy mood

OK, this one is going to be fun.

First, you’re going to need about a pound and a half of bee pollen — the Italian stuff, if you can get it, otherwise whatever you can get your hands on. After that, you’re going to need some small-batch bourbon. This particular label is a little hard to track down, but if you—


And, of course, you’re going to need to sculpt some ice into—


I beg your pardon?

I said no. Every couple of weeks, you come here and get very excited about some fancy, or exotic, or, worst of all, “interesting” cocktail, and I go along with it, because it’s mildly amusing and you seem like you need the attention.

But I just can’t do it this week. Do you have any idea how many soccer games are involved in the end of a season? And I hurt my knee in Zumba class. And my mother-in-law has decided that she’s coming for a visit. Not at Thanksgiving, not at Christmas — next week. Do you have any idea how much house cleaning that involves?

So, no. Don’t come at me with freakin’ bee pollen. What else do you have?

A Champ—

If you’re about to say “Champagne,” you can stop right there.

[A thoughtful pause.] What if you can get almost everything at the supermarket?

[Suspiciously] How many ingredients?

Three. Four, if you count ice.

Special artisanal ice?

No. Just ice.

[A pause.]OK, hit me with it.

Dark and Stormy

A Dark and Stormy is a classic drink. If you’re making it for yourself, it is cold, refreshing and quick to make, but just a little different from your standard highball. It feels a little bit like giving yourself a treat. If you’re making it for a special friend, they might have had it before and if so it might bring back that summer they spent with Fancy Yacht People. If not, it will probably sound familiar and thus non-threatening.


  • 2 ounces dark or black rum — I like to use a black rum, but Meyer’s will work very well.
  • ½ jalapeño or Fresno pepper — My preference is for the heat and flavor of a jalapeño, but they can be undependable. You never know what you’re going to get heat- and flavor-wise.
  • 5 to 6 ounces ginger beer — I like Goya, but whatever they have in the soda aisle at the supermarket will be fine. Just remember to get ginger beer, not ginger ale.
  • A lime

Cut your pepper in half lengthwise. Cut a little bit off the tip and taste it to see how hot it is. If it seems a little too aggressive for your taste, scoop out the seeds and membranes with a spoon; that should knock the heat down a little bit. If you’re happy with the heat level, put it in a cocktail shaker.

Muddle the pepper thoroughly against the bottom of the shaker. You can use an actual bartender’s muddler for this, but a wooden spoon will work just as well. I use the pestle part of a large mortar and pestle to do this sort of thing.

Add the rum, and dry-shake the two ingredients. Dry-shaking means shaking it without ice. The reason you’re doing that in this case is that the capsaicin in the pepper is not water-soluble but it is alcohol-soluble. That means that the rum will be able to strip away a maximum amount of flavor and heat from the chile. Ice and melt-water would only get in the way at this point.

Strain the rum over ice, in a tall glass. Top with ginger beer, and stir gently.

Garnish with a quarter of a lime. I would slice the lime in half lengthwise, then again, but that’s a personal preference.

Rum goes extraordinarily well with lime, and just as well with warm spices, like ginger. This is a cold, delicious drink that will help you get a little distance from the chaos and entropy in your life. This is the “self-care” people are always encouraging you to practice.

Though maybe not at work. Although it might make budget meetings more interesting.

Butternut squash chili

With frost warnings in our forecasts, it is the time of year for slow-cooked meals. Simmering on the stove or in a slow cooker or instant pot, this meal shows that comfort foods can be vegetarian.

This chili is 100 percent vegetarian, which is why I included butternut in the name. This is not a recipe where you might be able to hide that it is vegetarian. However, it also is a terrific recipe to show how hearty and delicious a vegetable-based dish can be.

There are many options for accoutrements and side dishes to make this chili even more appealing. You can top it with shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, scallions, chives, diced onions or jalapeno rings. If you’re looking for something carby to pair with it, you can’t go wrong with a fresh batch of cornbread or biscuits. Of course, a loaf of store-bought Italian bread would work well also.

As for the ingredients in this recipe, they are all pretty straightforward. All of the vegetables in the recipe are fresh. Don’t try substituting with frozen butternut squash; it will be much too soft for this dish. The spice level on this chili is pretty tame. If you prefer a spicier chili, you can add some diced jalapeno or hot sauce.

Put that cold weather at bay with a bowl of this chili.

Butternut squash chili
Serves 4

Olive oil
1 large green pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 cup diced sweet onion
4 cups cubed butternut squash
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, minced
1½ Tablespoons chili powder
1 26.5-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
Salt and pepper

Preheat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat with a small amount of olive oil.
Add pepper and onion, and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes.
Transfer pepper and onion to a crockpot or stockpot.
Add squash, tomatoes, garlic and chili powder.
If using a slow cooker or instant pot, cook on low for 4 to 5 hours or until squash is tender.
If using a stockpot, cover and cook over low heat for 2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes.
Add beans to chili, and cook for 30 minutes or until heated through.
Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

Featured Photo: Butternut squash chili. Photo by Michele Pesula Kuegler.

In the kitchen with Ashley Tardugno

Ashley Tardugno of Derry is the owner of Whisk Chick (, and on Facebook and Instagram @whiskchickbakes), specializing in charcuterie-style sweet boards and boxes consisting of freshly baked goods, chocolate-dipped items, candies, fresh flowers and seasonal fruits, as well as some pies and cream- or mousse-based cakes. A graduate of New England Culinary Institute, Tardugno oversaw all of the bakery items and sweet treats at Roundabout Diner & Lounge in Portsmouth for around a decade prior to launching Whisk Chick about six months ago. She works out of Creative Chef Kitchens (35 Manchester Road, Derry), a shared commercial kitchen space — a one-week advance notice is recommended for all orders, which include multiple sizes depending on the number of people being served. In addition to owning Whisk Chick, Tardugno also runs the New Hampshire chapter of For Goodness Cakes, a national nonprofit providing underprivileged youth with a birthday or graduation cake.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

For me, I feel like a rubber spatula is so important. I can’t do anything without that thing. It’s multi-purpose — you stir with it, you scrape with it, you do everything with it.

What would you have for your last meal?

Fried chicken. … Other than that, it would be my mom’s soups.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

I’m going to go with Jocelyn’s in Salem. It’s Mediterranean … and everything at that place tastes amazing. I love the kafta and the hummus.

What celebrity would you like to see trying something that you’ve made?

Jack Black, because he’s awesome and he makes me laugh, and maybe he’d write an awesome song about it or something.

What is your personal favorite order you’ve fulfilled?

I love doing them all — they are all so individual. But I’m probably going to go with the first one that I did for a customer. … It was just basic stuff, like chocolate chip cookies, brownies, blondies and fruit and all that stuff … [but] I had had this idea for so long, and it was just really nice for me to see it finally come together.

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

Definitely charcuterie, grazing tables and those kinds of things. They are popping up everywhere.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

Anything having to do with breakfast. It’s my favorite meal.

Homemade shiny cookie icing
From the kitchen of Ashley Tardugno of Whisk Chick in Derry (makes enough to cover 30 medium-sized cookies)

1½ cups powdered sugar, sifted
1½ to 2 Tablespoons milk
1 Tablespoon light corn syrup
½ teaspoon vanilla

Mix all of the ingredients until combined, using only the 1½ tablespoons of milk. If the icing is too thick, add the remaining ½ tablespoon. Proper consistency will make it drizzle thinly off the back of the spoon. Drizzle icing on the cookies. Allow at least two hours to set before stacking or storing them.

Featured photo: Ashley Tardugno of Whisk Chick, based in Derry. Courtesy photo.

Get in the spirit

New Hampshire Distiller’s Week returns

By Katelyn Sahagian

New Hampshire in early November is the place to be for everyone who adores fine spirits like tequila, whiskey, gin and vodka. Celebrities of the industry come from across the country and the world to partake in the spirited celebration.

The annual Distiller’s Week, with the highlight event of the Distiller’s Showcase of Premium Spirits on Thursday, Nov. 3, is back.

When Mark Roy began Distiller’s Showcase and Week, it wasn’t something he anticipated getting this big. Roy conceived the show when he was hired as the New Hampshire Liquor Commission’s spirit marketing and sales specialist. He saw that there was a week-long celebration of wine in New Hampshire, and thought, why not one for liquor and spirits as well?

“We did a trial run our first year to see how it would work with the support of our local brokers,” Roy said. “We had a whopping 250 people in attendance and it was a smashing success.”

While it started off small, this year there are expected to be around 1,000 participants alone. Roy, when he spoke with the Hippo, said that more than 800 tickets had already been sold.

The showcase will have 180 booths set up with different brands of alcohol at many of them. The tables will offer tastings, and some will have specialty cocktails for people to try. Roy said that he recommends people look up the brands that will be visiting, to try to make a game plan of brands they want to see and have never experienced before.

“I tell them to use this as an event to try products that you normally wouldn’t try or maybe try ones a bit out of your price range,” Roy said. “If you make a checklist of who you want to see and what you want to taste, that’s a really good idea.”

There’s more than just alcohols and tastings. Brands like Pepsi and Stonewall Kitchen will have non-alcoholic beverages, water and cocktail mixers for people as well. Restaurants like 110 Grill, Tuscan Brands and Whole Foods Market will have stalls for people to peruse.

Before the Showcase, there will be a special event called A Taste of Ireland. The experience will begin at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 2, at the Manchester Country Club (180 S. River Road., Bedford). This event was curated by Bord Bia, the food board in Ireland.

Teresa Phelan, the board’s Vice President of Alcohol for North America, said her entire job is to get people in America excited about Irish alcohols. While most people think of whiskey when it comes to Irish spirits, Phelan said that there is a growing emphasis on gin on the island.

“A lot of our distilleries started producing gin when they weren’t quite ready to release their whiskey, but they’ve used all these wonderful botanicals from the Irish countryside and made these excellent gins, which are now super-popular,” Phelan said. “They’re also not as traditionally juniper-heavy.”

A Taste of Ireland will highlight the love of gin with the Irish botanicals, but will also have an emphasis on the diverse flavors of Irish whiskey.

Phelan explained that while most whiskeys have a lot of rules they must follow, Irish whiskey isn’t bound to many more than having to be made in Ireland and contain malted cereal grain. For example, bourbon can only be made of over 50 percent corn and stored in new, charred white oak casks for at least two years before bottling.

This lack of hard rules on what makes Irish whiskey an Irish whiskey allows for distillers to have more freedom with the flavors and process, said Phelan. To really drive this point home, she had scratch-and-sniff booklets created for people to smell different parts of the distilling process, as well as the Irish countryside.

“I think one of the greatest things about Irish [whiskey] is that it’s got this distinct flavor profile,” Phelan said. “It’s a lot lighter, it’s fruity, it’s got some cereal notes.”

She added that a great example of this type of classic Irish whiskey is Jameson Original, which has a strong flavor of orchard-ripe apple, as well as a deep spice from the used bourbon casks it’s aged in.

While the flavors and variations of Irish whiskey are going to be highlighted at the event, Phelan said that the history of Irish whiskey was something she really wanted to drive home.

According to Phelan, there were hundreds of Irish distillers making whiskey in the 1700s. Nearly all the whiskey in the world was made in Ireland, and it was exported across the globe for consumers to enjoy.

The downfall of Irish whiskey was a twofold event, Phelan said.

“We would have had almost a distillery in every town in Ireland, except for Prohibition in the U.S., which was one of our biggest markets,” she said. “Along with us getting independence from the British, that cut off pretty much our sales market instantly.”

By the 1980s the total number of distilleries in Ireland had dropped to just two. Now, that number has grown to 42, a greater than 4,000 percent increase in a decade.

Many of the distilleries in Ireland will be featured in the Showcase, along with new whiskeys made in America — and, at least one new release is from the Granite State.

Tamworth Distilling, owned by Scott Grasse, is coming out with a new whiskey. Grasse, who engineered the viral Crab Trapper whiskey, is using a cone to help his newest creation during the aging process. The whiskey is called Dunce, an homage to John Duns Scotus, a Franciscan priest and philosopher who wore a cone-shaped hat because he believed it heightened his mind.

“It’s remarkable because it’s added magic to the aging process,” Grasse said. “You’ll taste it, [and] you’ll say, ‘What am I tasting?’ What you’re tasting is the divine energy of the universe.”

Grasse recently wrote a book about his life as a distiller with renowned spirits expert Aaron Goldfarb. It’s scheduled for a Nov. 8 release, just after Distiller’s Week comes to a close.

While Grasse and Goldfarb won’t be able to come up to celebrate the release of the book, or the whiskey, the Showcase is something they both look forward to hearing about.

“The New Hampshire Liquor Commission has been an amazing partner,” Grasse said. “New Hampshire is one of the biggest single buyers of spirits and [they’ve] been so helpful with us when we launched something. I don’t think we could be doing or leading the world in innovation if we didn’t have such an amazing partner.”

Ninth Annual Distiller’s Showcase
Where: DoubleTree by Hilton Manchester Downtown, 700 Elm St., Manchester
When: Thursday, Nov. 3, 6 to 8:30 p.m.
Price: Tickets start at $60

How are all the types of whiskey different?
Source: New Hampshire Liquor Commission
Must be made in America
Must have at least 51 percent corn in the mash
Must be aged in a new charred oak barrel for minimum of two years
Must be made in Canada
Must contain no less that 40 percent alcohol by volume
Must be made in Ireland
Must have at least 30 percent malted grain in the mash
Must be made in Japan
Is allowed to contain rice
Must be made from at least 51 percent rye
Must be made in Scotland
Must be aged in oak barrels for at least three years
Age statement is the youngest age after bottling
Must be made in Tennessee
Mash must be at least 51 percent corn

Featured photo: Courtesy photo.

The Weekly Dish 22/10/20

News from the local food scene

Spooky servings: Still haven’t made your plans yet for Halloween? Several area bars, restaurants, breweries and other venues have you covered with costume contests, dance parties, comedy shows and other 21+ events. The Shaskeen Pub and Restaurant (909 Elm St., Manchester), for instance, is holding its 16th annual Halloween Bash on Saturday, Oct. 29, from 9:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., featuring a night of drinks, dancing, live music from DJ Myth and prizes awarded for the best costumes. At LaBelle Winery Derry (14 Route 111), there will be an adults-only Spooktacular Halloween party on Friday, Oct. 28 — the festivities begin at 7:30 p.m. and go until 11 p.m. inside the Vineyard Ballroom, featuring a local DJ, appetizers, snacks and desserts included for late-night munching. The bar will also be open all night, featuring themed cocktails available for purchase, as well as wine, beer and mixed drinks. Check out the Hippo’s Oct. 20 issue for a complete list of Halloween-related happenings at local restaurants and bars, beginning on page 15 — go to to read and download the e-edition for free.

Greek eats: Grab your lederhosen and head to Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church (68 N. State St., Concord) for Greektoberfest, a special event happening on Saturday, Oct. 29, from 6 to 10 p.m. inside the church hall. Enjoy a full buffet of German and Greek specialties, from schnitzel and bratwurst to loukaniko (Greek sausage), along with potato salad, sauerkraut, pretzels, rosemary flatbread and feta and beer dips, plus desserts, Greek and German music, dancing and more. Tickets are $25 per person (free for kids and teens under 18). The boxed Greek meal-to-go fundraisers, meanwhile, continue at Holy Trinity Church with a stuffed peppers dinner on Nov. 13 and a cheese pita and Greek vegetable medley dinner on Dec. 11. Visit

Join Assumption Greek Orthodox Church (111 Island Pond Road, Manchester) for its annual Fall Food Fest Bazaar on Saturday, Oct. 29, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. inside its church hall. Presented by the church’s Ladies Philoptochos Society, the event features a variety of homemade Greek foods available for purchase. Menu items will include lamb shanks, roast chicken, meatballs, pastichio, spinach and cheese petas, and a variety of assorted Greek cookies and pastries. There will also be a 50/50 raffle and basket raffles for Thanksgiving, along with vendors selling imported Greek items. Visit or call the church office at 623-2045.

Cider fever: More than 10 local and regional purveyors are expected to participate in a cider and mead fest tasting event to be held at Beer & Wine Nation (360 Daniel Webster Hwy., Merrimack) on Friday, Oct. 28, from 5 to 7 p.m. A free event, the tasting will include options from Citizens Cider, Stowe Cider and Downeast Cider, as well as Shipyard Brewing Co., Smuttynose Brewing Co. and several others. Beer & Wine Nation, which opened in June 2021 in Merrimack’s 360 Shopping Plaza, has one of the largest selections of beers, wines and ciders under one roof in the area, with more than 2,000 at any given time. Visit

Food and flannel: Save the date for the Junior Service League of Concord’s fifth annual Fall Festivus, a sampling and fundraising event set to return to The Barn at Bull Meadow (63 Bog Road, Concord) on Thursday, Nov. 3, from 6:30 to 10 p.m. In addition to food and craft beer samples provided by area restaurants and breweries, the event features live music and a silent auction with the chance to win all kinds of prizes. Flannel attire is encouraged. Single tickets are $25 in advance and $30 the day of (event is 21+ only), with proceeds going to the Junior Service League of Concord, a volunteer organization supporting women and children in crisis. Visit

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