Holiday tradition

Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s big show returns

Few acts usher in the holiday season quite like Trans-Siberian Orchestra, with its Christmas cocktail of classic rock, classical music and theatrical flourish topped with lasers and smoke bombs. Fans set their calendars by them, gathering families to take in a show that gets bigger and better each year.

For their stop in Manchester on the day after Thanksgiving, TSO will reprise the rock opera that put them on the map, The Ghosts of Christmas Eve. Originally a 1999 television special, it offers traditional songs such as “O Come All Ye Faithful” and originals including “Music Box Blues” and “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24),” the latter the template for the massive band that’s captivated audiences for over 25 years.

Recent times have been challenging. In 2017, visionary founder Paul O’Neill died, but at the behest of his widow Desi and other family members TSO carried on. Three years later, the pandemic sidelined them from playing live; instead they did a virtual pay per view show that was a far cry from their epic arena firepower.

“It was as strange for the band members as it was for the fans,” drummer Jeff Plate said of the lost year in a recent phone interview. Returning to the stage in 2021, he had “a whole new appreciation for wow, we are so lucky to do what we do. But we were also in the bubble; we were anxious, there was this anxiety … I was so relieved when we got done.”

Breathing easier this time around, the group is focused on keeping O’Neill’s vision going, a task that in the days after his death seemed overwhelming.

“When we lost Paul, I’ll be honest with you,” Plate recalled, “there was a moment when I sat down on the couch with my wife and said, ‘maybe that’s it’ … none of us were really sure what was going to happen.”

However, it soon became clear that continuing was “exactly what Paul would want us to do … he had said many times, ‘It’s going to outlive us all, we’re going to pass this on from generation to generation.’ The reality is, TSO has become a tradition. That’s a pretty heavy statement, but it’s true…. Some people can’t even function until they see TSO to get their holidays going.”

Moving forward was also helped by the fact that TSO is a well-oiled touring machine, with separate East and West Coast runs. Each has its own cast, crew and semi-truck fleet.

“We’ve been operating like that since the year 2000,” Plate said. “Losing Paul was huge, but everybody knew the job at hand and just how much more focused we needed to be…. There’s no way to make these tours as good as they are, and as successful as they are, without that kind of commitment.”

Plate first worked with O’Neill in Savatage, the band that spawned TSO, on their 1995 album Dead Winter Dead. “It was a really interesting time, because the band had changed so much and Paul’s gears were turning all the time,” Plate recalled. At first, no one knew what to make of the “Carol of the Bells” meets Emerson, Lake & Palmer track “Sarajevo,” which would reappear on the first TSO album, Christmas Eve and Other Stories.

“We were all questioning, what was Paul thinking, putting this song on this record, but there was no denying how great the final version was,” Plate said. “To see that song take off in a completely different direction and all of a sudden become this huge hit, it was like, you know, Paul could see down the road further than the rest of us.”

Once again, the upcoming show will be divided into two acts, starting with Ghosts of Christmas Eve stitched together with narration, followed by a greatest hits segment. “This is a fan favorite, and it’s a band favorite too,” Plate said, “one of my favorite shows to play. It’s high energy, with a really good vibe to the whole thing.”

As the interview ended, Plate made sure to make a note of another TSO tradition: donating a dollar from every ticket sold to a local charity. It came with another nod to their founder’s family. “Over $16 million we’ve donated across the country all these years,” he said. “It could have easily gone away when we lost Paul, but his wife and daughter really stepped up. … We can’t thank Paul enough for everything that he’s done, but his family has also been very, very critical to all that too.”

Trans-Siberian Orchestra – The Ghosts of Christmas Eve
When: Friday, Nov. 25, 3 and 7:30 p.m.
Where: SNHU Arena, 555 Elm St., Manchester
More: $52.50 to $102.50 at

Featured photo: Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Courtesy photo.

The Music Roundup 22/11/17

Local music news & events

Listen & learn: Given the recent focus on her career and a summer return to performing, The History of Joni Mitchell is a timely celebration hosted by the guitar/vocal duo of Chris Albertson and Cait Murphy. They’ll discuss her growth as an artist, and the performers Mitchell influenced, while playing selections from her debut Song to a Seagull through Shine, her final record, released in 2007. Thursday, Nov. 17, 7 p.m., Leach Library, 276 Mammoth Road, Londonderry. See

Funny Friday: A triple bill of jokesters hold forth at Tupelo Night of Comedy, led by veteran comic Kenny Rogerson, who began in Chicago before moving to Boston during the burgeoning early 1980s comedy scene. He later appeared in Fever Pitch and Something About Mary. He’s joined by Ryan Gartley, who was goaded by friends on a Portsmouth booze cruise into doing standup over two decades ago, and local favorite Dave Decker. Friday, Nov. 18, 8 p.m., Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A St., Derry, $22 at

Power pop: Making the case for an oft-neglected musical decade, Donaher delivers songs clearly inspired by ’90s bands like Weezer, Nirvana and Jellyfish. Their newest record, Gravity And The Stars Above, released earlier this year, is packed with gems like “Lights Out,” a hook-tastic breakup song brimming with pain, and the equally happy/sad “Sleepless in New England.” Lovewell and Cool Parents round out a rocking trifecta. Saturday, Nov. 19, 9 p.m., Shaskeen Pub, 909 Elm St., Manchester,

Local lights: Though officially disbanded, JamAntics continues to perform, and the JamAnnual GetDown is becoming a regular thing. This year’s celebration welcomes another area fixture, Supernothing. Being in the band, which formed in the mid-2000s and helped jump-start the Concord music scene, is like riding a bicycle; however long its five members are apart, at the moment they plug in and play, their reliable groove reappears.. Saturday, Nov. 19, 8 p.m., Bank of NH Stage, 16 S. Main St., Concord, tickets $15 to $25 at

Get chronic: Mississippi by way of the West Coast rapper Afroman rose to fame on his early millennium hits “Because I Got High” and “Crazy Rap,” earning a Grammy nomination in 2002. He’s appearing at a downtown bar/restaurant just in time to roll out a few selections from his unconventional mid-2000s holiday disc A Colt 45 Christmas, which has bangers such as “O Chronic Tree” and “Afroman Is Coming To Town.” Sunday, Nov. 20, 8 p.m., The Goat, 50 Old Granite St., Manchester, $29.50 at

At the Sofaplex 22/11/17

Sassy girls in olden times edition

Rosaline (PG-13)

Kaitlyn Dever, Isabela Merced.

Before there was Romeo and Juliet, there was Romeo and Rosaline — also a Capulet who was wooed by Montague Romeo in secret. An off-screen character who just rates a mention in the Shakespeare play, Rosaline (Dever), here the center of the story, is so certain of her True Love for Romeo (Kyle Allen) that she makes an extra effort to scare off all the potential husbands brought to her by her weary father (Bradley Whitford), who really just wants her to pick someone and leave the nest already. But Rosaline, when she’s not dreaming of Romeo, dreams of being a cartographer and not so much of being some thrice-married widower’s most recent wife. Rosaline is particularly peeved when one of these forced dates — with actual handsome young man Dario (Sean Teale) — makes her late to the masquerade ball where she was planning to meet up with Romeo.

Rosaline writes letter after letter to apologize for missing him but later learns that he has been spending all of his time writing letters to her young cousin, Juliet (Merced). Rosaline tries to convince Juliet to enjoy the single life and forget about this sweet-talking phony Romeo but, with a kind of Disney princess sweetness, Juliet can’t quit the equally besotted Romeo.

Rosaline is a fun bit of romantic comedy using the familiar story to (lightly) examine romantic heartbreak and the dearth of occupation choices for women in Renaissance-era Italy. Dever is a treat as Verona’s Daria, who doesn’t like to admit when she’s wrong, and Merced does a good job of walking the line between dopily innocent and smarter than people give her credit for. Allen makes his Romeo a goofy but good-natured dude who could be plausibly appealing to two very different kinds of girls. B Available on Hulu

Catherine Called Birdy (PG-13)

Bella Ramsey, Andrew Scott.

Or, if you prefer, Game of Thrones’ little badass Lady Lyanna Mormount playing the daughter of Fleabag’s hot priest/Sherlock’s Moriarty. In this Lena Dunham-written and -directed movie (based on the book by Karen Cushman), Birdy (Ramsey), as Catherine, the oldest daughter of a noble but not terribly flush family in 1290 England, is called, gets her period and finds out that she’s the most valuable asset her spendy father Lord Rollo (Scott) has. Thus is Birdy paraded in front of a series of men, whom she is able to scare off by pretending to be various kinds of unhinged — or just demonstrating that she’s mouthy and willful, which, this being medieval times, is enough to brand a woman unmarriable. But Rollo keeps on — he’s in need of the cash a dowry will bring, what with Birdy’s mother Lady Aislinn’s (Billie Piper) regular (if sadly unsuccessful) pregnancies, his son Robert’s (Dean-Charles Chapman) own marriage hopes and the family manor to run. But Birdy wants to stay at her family home with her nurse (Lesley Sharp), her childhood buddy Perkin (Michael Woolfitt), fellow reluctant-marriage-market-participant Aelis (Isis Hainsworth) and her mother’s brother, Uncle George (Joe Alwyn), a former soldier in the crusades whom Birdy girlishly worships. She sees him as a hero and wishes to either be him or marry him — oh if only he were her cousin and not her uncle, she says with “I know that boy band singer and I would be perfect together” breathlessness.

Catherine Called Birdy sort of straddles the line between being a thoroughly modern story with a medieval setting and being a peek at life in an earlier time. Birdy is sassy and opinionated and often scored with a solid line-up of pop songs that would make Sofia Coppola proud. But she also has only the life options of a 1290s girl. Even as she scares off some suitors, it’s clear that eventually she will have to let one of them catch her and that the rough stuff of childbirth and mothering is in her future, like it or not.

Watching Birdy grow up a little, going from a clearly loved and indulged child to someone who comes to understand more of the balance of bitter and sweet in life, is surprisingly affecting. Beneath all the veils and period dress, we get a lot of frustrated parents trying to help their kids find their way and very teen-like kids trying to balance duty and their own desires. Ramsey does this well, making for a compelling not-quite-kid but not-yet-adult woman coming to terms with society’s limits and how and when she can push them. It’s a sweet story, told with a winning sense of humor. B+ Available on Amazon Prime Video.

The Princess (R)

Joey King, Dominic Cooper.

A princess in unspecified olden times wakes up to find that the jerk (Cooper) her father the king (Ed Stoppard) wanted her to marry has seized the castle and is holding the king, the queen (Alex Reid) and the princess’ younger sister (Katelyn Rose Downey) hostage. She left him at the altar, correctly sensing his tyrannical ways, but now he’s going to force a marriage like it or not. The princess is chained and locked in a tower until the ceremony; good thing her warrior buddy Linh (Veronica Ngo) has spent years teaching her to sword fight with the best of them.

Look, this ain’t Shakespeare or even a riff on a Shakespeare tertiary character, but The Princess is real punchy kicky swashbuckle-y fun. It’s an hour and 34 minutes long and could probably lose another 20 minutes, much in the manner that the princess loses bits of her fancy wedding dress with each fight, becoming more badass with each encounter. We get some training flashbacks, some flashbacks to “girl as a ruler? Preposterous!” from the father-king. But mostly it’s just the princess, kicking and stabbing as she grows more determined to save her family and friends. B Available on Hulu.

The School for Good and Evil (PG-13)

Sofia Wylie, Sophia Anne Caruso.

Besties find themselves at a boarding school for the future heroes and villains of one-day fairy tales in this Harry Potter-y, The Descendants-ish warmed over mash with a strangely good cast.

Behind the scenes: director Paul Feig. In front of the camera: Michelle Yeoh, Rachel Bloom, Rob Delaney and Patti freaking LuPone, all in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bit parts, as well as Kerry Washington and Charlize Theron as the leaders of the Good and Evil schools respectively and then Laurence Fishburne as the one school headmaster to rule them all. How? Why? And if you have them, why not give them something interesting to do?

Teenage-y Sophie (Caruso), living in a crummy ye olden days village filled with small-minded ye olden days peasants, is a crackerjack dress designer who dreams of becoming a fairy tale princess and has the talking-to-squirrels skills to back up that dream. Her best friend Agatha (Wylie) is the daughter of the town witch and shunned as a witch herself. When Sophie is dragged off to the School for Good and Evil after making enrollment there her fondest wish-upon-a-wishing-tree wish, Agatha follows her in hopes of keeping her friend safe. They’re dumped off in the school yards — but are they the right school yards? The golden-haired princess-wannabe Sophie finds herself at the School for Evil, where the students are called Nevers. Agatha is in the taffeta nightmare that is the School for Good, where the Evers might be future heroes and princesses but they are currently snotty jerks. Not that the goths at Evil are any better. Why are all these fairy tale folk so awful? Can Agatha save Sophie? Did this movie need to be two and a half hours?

To answer the first and last of those questions: because this is basically high school, and not at all. “People are not all good or all bad” is the message of this movie, but rather than examine this the movie mostly just states it over and over. There are not-bad ideas here about not letting yourself believe whatever arbitrary labels your school or peer group puts on you, but the movie never goes more than half an inch deep. It doesn’t even dig deep enough to be the sort of silly fun that something with Theron as a vampy villain should be. C Available on Netflix.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (PG-13)

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (PG-13)

Marvel says goodbye to Chadwick Boseman, his T’Challa and his version of Black Panther while expanding the ideas of Wakanda and its place in the world in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, a lovely, complex entry in the more thoughtful side of the MCU.

The movie opens on a desperate Shuri (Letitia Wright), sister to King T’Challa and Wakanda’s scientific genius, trying to save an off-screen T’Challa who is dying from illness. His death seems to not only shake her emotionally but sever some connection to her culture and family’s sense of spirituality. She sinks into extreme rationality and guilt about not being able to cure her brother.

We jump forward a year, when Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) has become Wakanda’s leader. With T’Challa dead and the country’s Black Panther protector gone (the flowers that make new Black Panthers were destroyed by Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger in the first movie), Ramonda has to fight off international attempts to obtain the country’s all-powerful element, vibranium. At the United Nations, Ramonda endures the insincere disappointment by Western countries who want Wakanda to willingly share (or just give up) their vibranium — while at the same time those countries try to steal vibranium via military raids.

Plan B when Wakanda’s Dora Milaje (the country’s army of female warriors) prove to be more than equal to fighting off those raids is for Western nations to find their own vibranium elsewhere. A machine designed by Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), the Shuri-level genius who is still a college student in Boston, looks for vibranium in the oceans — and finds it in the Atlantic. But much like other things “discovered” by Western nations, this vibranium has been long claimed by another nation.

K’uk’ulkan, also called Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía), is the king of a people who live in Talokan, a nation under the ocean. Once living in Central America, the Talokanian ancestors escaped the colonizing Spanish and their diseases with the help of a plant that, similar to the flower Wakanda used for Black Panthers, offered extraordinary strength and an ability to live under the water. The people moved into the sea where their vibranium-dependent city has kept them safe for centuries. But now that the wider world knows about vibranium and its potential, Talokan is at risk and Namor blames Wakanda and T’Challa’s push for openness.

I like how this movie can be both about T’Challa and the grief over his (and Boseman’s) loss and about the unintended consequences of his response to Killmonger’s argument that the prosperous and powerful Wakanda owes something to the oppressed elsewhere in the world. Like Wakanda before the first movie, Talokan has chosen to hide its power from the rest of the world in response to colonialism and theft of resources. But Wakanda’s openness has made Talokan vulnerable. Does this make them natural allies, natural enemies or something else? I rewatched a bit of 2018’s Black Panther and that movie has a well-defined purpose and clarity of mission that this movie doesn’t. But this movie’s murkiness largely works, as some of the questions here are just messier and the overall story feels more contemplative.

Of course, we get great performances all the way around — including from returning players Danai Gueria, as the badass Dora Milaje general; Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, who has been working as a school headmistress in Haiti, and Winston Duke as M’Baku, the leader of a Wakandan tribe. Bassett and Wright do an excellent job of giving us the weight of grief — a weight they each carry in a different way. Mejía offers a nuanced Namor — not a villain but not a saint either. The movie’s actual villains — represented by someone who I guess is one of the Disney+ Marvel TV show characters (it’s hard to keep up) — are the predatory U.S. and European powers and their plans for vibranium, which don’t seem great based on the CIA director’s near cackled “I dream about it,” a response to the question of what the U.S. would do if it had vibranium.

Namor isn’t quite the electrifying antagonist Killmonger was and, though cool, the watery Mesoamerican wonderland of Talokan isn’t quite as thrilling as the Afro-futurism of Wakanda (as with Aquaman’s Atlantis in the DC universe, making bright and majestic-looking stuff under water is just tough). And, despite its two-hour-and-41-minute runtime, there is a slight “sudden stop” quality to the movie’s final conflict (perhaps because of the nature of “the true villain is colonialism”). Wakanda Forever is nevertheless a deeply touching movie that holds your attention with enough Dora Milaje fighting action to add some pep. A-

Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, action and some language, according to the MPA on Directed by Ryan Coogler with a screenplay by Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is two hours and 41 minutes long and is distributed in theaters by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

Featured photo: Wakanda Forever.

Mad Honey, by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan

Mad Honey, by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan, Ballantine, 450 pages

The new novel by Jodi Picoult, co-written with Jennifer Finney Boylan, is too much about bees. Its protagonist, a divorced New Hampshire mother whose profession is apiarist — beekeeper — describes her work this way: “Like firefighters, we willingly put ourselves in situations that are the stuff of others’ nightmares.”

That includes schlepping out to rescue bees in the cold and dark after a bear has broken into their hive, a first-world problem for sure, but also an old-world problem; beekeeping is the second-oldest profession. And also: informing the bees when their beekeeper has died and formally requesting that they accept the replacement. “In New Hampshire, the custom is to sing, and the news has to rhyme.”

And you thought your job was tough.

This custom is so fanciful that it seems made up, especially being told by two master storytellers. But a quick search of Google confirms that “telling the bees” is actually a thing — not just of deaths, but births, marriages and other momentous events. Mad Honey indeed.

The novel could have been subtitled “more than you ever wanted to know about bees,” and the constant presentation of bee facts at times makes Mad Honey seem like it has a third co-author named Wikipedia. But there is, in fact, a good story here to justify the bee trivia.

Olivia McAfee lives in Adams, New Hampshire, with her son Asher, having moved there from Boston after her marriage to an abusive surgeon blew up. Their lives intersect explosively with a young woman named Lily, who takes turns narrating the novel with Olivia. The narrative conceit is that Olivia tells her side of the story going forward, while Lily tells her side looking back.

Lily moved to Adams seven years ago after her forest-ranger mother found a job that would enable them to escape a bad situation in Seattle. (In one funny moment, when Lily’s mother is telling her about the move, she says she has one question: Where are the White Mountains?)

Asher and Lily are dating and are finding in each other kindred souls, as both are being raised by single mothers and have fraught relationships with their fathers. (Asher meets his dad surreptitiously once a month at a Chili’s in Massachusetts.) They reach the point in their volatile but passionate relationship where they are confiding their deepest secrets and on the verge of becoming intimate.

Soon after, Lily is found dead, and when police arrive, Asher is standing by her body. Despite his insistence that he wasn’t responsible, Asher is charged with first-degree murder. As we work our way to the apex of the trial, we learn more and more about both families’ backgrounds — the difficulties of both the mothers and their children.

Aside from the occasional stilted recitation of bee facts, Mad Honey is skillfully plotted, and Picoult and Boylan have created deeply sympathetic characters who are intelligent and interesting; it’s impossible not to care about them. They authors are, however, a bit slow getting to the point; it’s as if when divvying up the writing tasks, they dispensed with the pesky business of editing and decided they would both write the equivalent of a full book, readers be damned.

But Mad Honey also has an underlying purpose, which is to pull back the curtain on a certain divisive social issue and give readers a glimpse into the humanity at the center of it. I can’t say any more without spoilers. Of course, the biggest spoiler of all is that we know Lily dies at the start, and so there’s no happy ending to be had. But it is not an unhopeful novel, nor depressing; it is saturated more with love than with cruelty. And the ending is as perfect as it can get under the circumstances.

How this book came to be is a story in itself. As Boylan tells in the authors’ notes, she dreamed the basic plot of this book, and that she had co-written it with Picoult. Then she tweeted about her dream, and Picoult reached out, asked what the book was about, then said, “Let’s do it.” (The two had read each other’s work, but never communicated before.) So it’s hard to be too critical of a book that seems to have sprung fully formed from the universe; it was clearly a book meant to be. Picoult says she expects to get hate mail about it, but it won’t be from beekeepers clearly. And for those who just can’t get enough of the sweetness, there are a handful of character-connected recipes at the end of the book. For those of you who like this sort of thing, you’ll love it. For those who don’t, wait for the movie. B+

Album Reviews 22/11/17

Enuff Z’Nuff, Finer Than Sin (Frontiers Music)

Early holiday present for me; new albums from long-irrelevant (at least in the U.S.) hair-metal bands basically write their own reviews after about a minute, unless there’s some smidgeon of off-kilterness present (there never is). This is another band I really never listened to, mostly because of their stupid name, but trust me, I’ve listened to plenty of hair-metal bands (and was in one back when I was a simply irresistible babe), so when I say really dumb band names said all there was to say about a hair-metal album, it’s true. These guys formed in Chicago and were known for their obligato power ballad “Fly High Michelle” (um, wow, this isn’t all that bad) and an obligato dance-metal tune, “New Thing” (well well, ditto). So yeah, singer Donnie Vie is gone; bassist Chip Z’Nuff runs the show now, “Intoxicated” is the obligato power ballad, “Catastrophe” is a decent midtempo rocker. It’s not bad, really, this stuff. The takeaway for me is that these guys did have the potential to become a hair metal Cheap Trick. Too bad about that dumb name. A+

Long Mama, Poor Pretender (self-released)

This Milwaukee-based band has gathered a relatable-enough bunch of tunes together for their debut album, its inherent humanness coming courtesy of singer Kat Wodtke, whose voice traverses the wintry border that separates Dolores O’Riordan from Natalie Merchant (which means it’s pretty thin, which I’d never noticed before). Standard guitar-bass-drums setup here, one that you’d picture floating the background to a k.d. laing record or something like that, but there’s also engineer Erik Koskinen, who added lap steel, electric guitar, and Wurlitzer. Don’t let the Wilco comparisons lead you into this if you happen to see any; it’s really pretty basic Americana-indie-pop, very light on the indie, although there are some punk-ish passages here and there, which is as advertised. The tunes benefit quite a bit from Koskinen’s seemingly ubiquitous steel guitar, leaving me wondering why he’s not a permanent member. Picture a country-fied 10,000 Maniacs and you’d be about there. A+


• Uh-oh, look what’s coming, it’s Friday, Nov. 18, only like 10 seconds left for your holiday shopping before all the corporate music-streaming platforms and rock stars starve and become skeletons, all because you had to be all like, “It’s too commercial, what care I if the dude from Coldplay can’t buy his weekly Maserati?” Always thinking of yourself, do you know it’s Christmas, don’t be such a Grinch, holy crow! I mean it’s definitely a festive day for me, because look over there, it’s one of the favorite punching bags of rock ’n’ roll critics all over the world! Yes, I’m talking about none other than Canadian false-metal muttonheads Nickelback, with an album titled Get Rollin’, how could they have thought of such an original thing? Ha ha, you want to know something awesome, has a collection of the best Nickelback jokes, ready? “Fire alarms should just play Nickelback: Anyone who stays in the building deserves what they get,” and, “I can’t get over how cruel some people are. I had some Nickelback tickets on the passenger seat of my car, and I popped into the shop for just five minutes. When I came back, someone had smashed the window and left two more.” Now that is some good old down-home hilarity, isn’t it folks, but uh-oh, there are five or six dudes looking at me all mad right now, and they have mullets and knockoff WWE championship wrestling belts, so I reckon I’d better get a move on, huh? OK, moving on, there’s a video here for the new single “These Days,” look at them, the fellas are walking into someone’s garage, and there’s a lava lamp, a random first-generation Atari system, and now they’re playing, and it’s kind of a neo-country half-ballad that’s just lame and emo-y. It’s like they’re trying to be some sort of boy-band for soccer moms? I don’t know. Anyway, the ’Back is back folks, Nickelback, everyone.

• So I saw that Richard Dawson has a new album coming out called The Ruby Cord this Friday, and then I was like, wait, is he even alive anymore or is he hosting some bizarre version of Family Feud in heaven for the entertainment of all the angels and whatever. OK, I found a video trailer for something that will be on this album apparently, something called “The Hermit,” which is billed as “the trailer for the film,” which means that there will be a movie featuring this dude I guess — Wait a freakin’ minute homies, that isn’t Richard Dawson, it looks more like Ricky Gervais, help me, Hippo readers, I don’t know what I’m even looking at. He’s sleeping in some bed, and the music is sort of like an unplugged Red Hot Chili Peppers B-side but there’s no singing and — wait, some YouTube review says that the opening track for this album is 41 minutes long, I’ll be taking a hard pass there, like, if it’s all like this boring snippet I’d rather eat a bowl of crickets. Another few commentators on YouTube are warning that this dude is into some sort of weird evolutionary theory and he’s sort of insane. Let’s leave this all right here and get out while we can, whattaya say?

• Boy howdy, if there’s anyone who knows how to put out two or three albums every year just to get on my nerves with their bad singing and prehistoric hippie iconography, it’s Neil Young & Crazy Horse, and it’s time for a new one, World Record! Short and sweet: New single “Break The Chain” is like a basic Tom Petty song except the guitar has heavy distortion on it, and, you know, that voice. Aaaand we’re moving.

• Finally, let’s listen to “Denimclad Baboons,” from Röyksopp’s new album, Profound Mysteries III. It’s (spoiler alert) krautrock with some mid-Aughts-house and ’70s-radio-pop vibe. I pronounce it “Fine, whatever.”

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).

Reds with your bird

How to pair red wines with the Thanksgiving feast

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday, a gathering of friends and family to share a large meal after the morning road race and football game. We give thanks for the fellowship, but we also look forward to the sumptuous meal, only to be outdone by late-night snacks of leftover turkey and cranberry. The turkey and sides are the main attraction of the event, taking hours of painstaking work, not without days, if not weeks of planning, assigning various side dishes to those joining in the event.

In addition to the food, an essential element to the planning of the dinner is the proper pairing of “the right wine.” The trick is to find a wine that goes with the vast array of flavors that make up the event. Toward that end, several different wines garner consideration. For appetizers, the selection of a sparkling wine is important. It should be dry, such as a brut from France or California. A cava from Spain is an excellent choice, but a prosecco is just a little too light and sweet to go with the oysters, shrimp or cheeses so typical of the beginnings of this banquet.

White wines for the main course are typically the “go-to” for many hosts. They are versatile, and with the rich butter and sauces that accompany the bird, a dry wine with “green notes” such as a sauvignon blanc or riesling makes for a good choice. While fuller-bodied wines like cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay are crowd-pleasers, their bold and typically oaky notes are better suited to the roasted meats of December’s holidays.

So, about the reds. I recommend a pinot noir. There are so many to choose from. Whether from California or Oregon, or the Burgundian wines of France, you cannot miss with a well-balanced pinot noir to sip with the main course. Pinot noirs are food-friendly and often show classic fall flavors, such as cranberry, red apple skin, dried leaves and resonating allspice. What better match can one find?

Our first wine is a 2018 La Crema Pinot Noir Fog Veil Russian River Valley – Sonoma County,available at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets, originally priced at $64.99, reduced to $29.99. The grapes for this wine come from neighboring vineyards to their Saralee’s Estate. The primary clones are Pommard and Flowers, first planted in 1996, and the wine is aged for 14 months in 100 percent French oak. The color is a ruby red. To the nose there are notes of black cherry, raspberry and baking spices. To the tongue, there is black plum and pomegranate, balanced by fine tannins, with very slight acidity. As the name implies, a late afternoon fog visits the valley daily, ensuring slow and steady ripening, leading to the grape’s slight acidity. Historically Russian River Valley pinot noirs had bright red fruit and delicate earthy, mineral notes. But changes in viticultural and winemaking practices have led to riper fruit and bolder wines, exhibiting black cherry and blackberry notes over the more traditional pinot noir notes of strawberry, raspberry and sour cherry. This is a bolder pinot noir worth trying and comparing to an Oregon or Burgundian-sourced pinot noir.

Our second wine is a 2020 Domaine Olivier-Nicolas de Bourgueil Cuvée Domaine, available at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets, originally priced at $22.99, reduced to $12.99. This wine is 100 percent cabernet franc from the Loire Valley, France. To the nose, there are floral aromas, along with pink peppercorns, all linked to the senses of fall. There are notes of raspberries along with some minerality. This is a great wine that pairs well with the flavors of fall. The earthy-woodsy notes may not please all palates, but it is worth trying, as the price-point is most appealing. If it doesn’t suit your taste alongside the bird, try it with a piece of smoked Gouda. This could lead to a great pairing to be sampled again and again!

Enjoy the holiday. Share it with friends and family. Try some alternatives to “the usual go-to” white wine with turkey. Explore new wines and show your friends just how pioneering one’s taste buds can be!

Homemade applesauce

Applesauce is one of my favorite easily made dishes. On a weekend afternoon, the smell of simmering apples adds warmth to a chilly day.

This is a simple recipe, which gives you the ability to adjust it to your palate. The most important decision is the type of apple you will use. You can lean into a tarter version with Granny Smiths or you can go with a sweeter flavor by using Honeycrisps. Almost anything in between can work as well. The second most important decision is the amount of sugar. I prefer just a hint of sweetness, which is why I tend to use a slightly tart apple such as a McIntosh and add only two tablespoons of sugar. You definitely can change the amount of sugar. However, do it in small increments! Finally, the amount of cinnamon is personal. A great option is to serve the applesauce plain with a shaker of cinnamon nearby. Individually seasoned applesauce for all!

With Thanksgiving only a week away, this is a great recipe to keep handy. When you’re eating all the heavier leftovers (stuffing, veggie casseroles, and mashed potatoes — I see you) a side of applesauce could be the perfect choice.

Homemade applesauce
Makes 4

2 pounds apples (approximately 4 large)
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup water
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

Peel and core apples.
Cut apples into small cubes.
Combine apples, lemon juice, and water in a medium pot, and bring to a boil over high heat.
Reduce heat to low, and simmer for 25 minutes stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat, and mash apples with a potato masher.
(If you prefer smoother applesauce, you can use an immersion blender.)
Add sugar, stirring to combine.
Season with cinnamon as desired.
Serve warm, or allow to cool before storing in a covered container.

Featured Photo: Homemade applesauce. Photo by Michele Pesula Kuegler.

In the kitchen with Lauren Collins-Cline

Lauren Collins-Cline of Bedford is the owner of Slightly Crooked Pies (, and on Facebook and Instagram @slightlycrookedpies), offering home-baked pies in a variety of rotating seasonal flavors. The business gets its name from the “crooked kitchen” of Collins-Cline’s 18th-century home, where the oven sits on a sloped floor. Around the holiday season of 2020 and into early 2021 was when Collins-Cline, always an avid pie baker, decided to turn her passion into a business venture. In September she won first place at the New Hampshire Farm Museum’s Great New Hampshire Pie Festival for her Sweater Weather pie, an apple-pear pie with cardamom, cinnamon and vanilla. You can find her regular-sized, miniature and hand-held pies at several local spots, like Angela’s Pasta & Cheese Shop (815 Chestnut St., Manchester), the farm stand at the Educational Farm at Joppa Hill (174 Joppa Hill Road, Bedford) and the artisans’ market at the Cider Mill Gallery (24 Francestown Road, New Boston). Slightly Crooked Pies is also accepting Thanksgiving pre-orders through Sunday, Nov. 20, on its website.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

It’s got to be my silicone pastry mat, because nothing sticks to it, it’s easy to clean up and it goes anywhere.

What would you have for your last meal?

The maple bourbon steak tips from Wicked Good Butchah [in Bedford], with corn on the cob and then I’m always torn about whether I would have macaroni salad or potato salad with it. … Then for dessert, strawberry shortcake.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

I have favorites for different things, but the restaurant that is the most special to me is The Corner House in Sandwich. My husband and I went there on our first date. … It’s a really charming place. They’ve got a formal dining room and a tavern area and it’s in a 19th-century house.

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

A woman named Dori Sanders. She owns a peach farm in South Carolina, and she’s written a few novels … and the most beautiful cookbook I’ve ever read. I use her pie pastry recipe for my crust, and so I would love for her to let me know if I have done her justice.

What is your favorite pie flavor that you offer?

It’s a toss-up between the maple blueberry pie and the Christmas pie [featuring a combination of apples, pecans, cranberries and seasonal spices]. … The Christmas pie is just instant happiness, comfort and joy when I bite into it, and then the maple blueberry tastes like blueberry pancakes, but in pie form. It’s just such a great balance of the senses.

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

Gourmet-level tacos. Wherever you go, I feel like you can find them on a menu. … We love food trucks, so wherever there’s a collection of food trucks, we’re drawn to them and tacos are always the perfect things to get.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

I love the challenge of taking a bunch of random assorted items and making a good dinner out of them. … So either creative leftovers, or a Thanksgiving dinner.

Sweater Weather pie
From the kitchen of Lauren Collins-Cline of Slightly Crooked Pies

2 firm pears (D’Anjou or Bartlett varieties are preferred) and a mix of 3 or 4 other baking apples of a similar firmness
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Scant ¼ teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 9-inch pie crusts
1 egg yolk
1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cream

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Peel, core and slice the fruit. Toss in a bowl with sugar and spices and let stand while rolling out the top and bottom crusts. Line a pie pan with one crust and fill with the fruit mixture. Add the top crust, crimping or fluting the top and bottom crusts together along the edge of the pan. Mix the yolk and cream and brush over the pie top. Place in the oven. After 15 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another 35 to 40 minutes. The pie will begin to bubble juice and the top should be a golden brown. To keep the filling and edges of the pie from shrinking in the cooling process, turn the oven off when done baking and let the pie sit in the oven for another 10 minutes. Crack the door and let it stand for 10 minutes more before removing to a cooling rack. The pie stores well, covered, at room temperature and is best eaten within four to five days.

Featured photo: Lauren Collins-Cline, owner of Slightly Crooked Pies, based in Bedford. Courtesy photo.


Meet the cooking, singing and dancing Calamari Sisters

Celebrities of Brooklyn, New York’s public access circuit, the duo performing as the Calamari Sisters offer an all-singing, all-dancing, all-cooking live show that mixes culinary tips, demonstrations and tastings with traditional musical numbers and comedy shticks.

Delphine and Carmela Calamari brought their nationwide traveling show to New Hampshire for the first time in May with a performance at Manchester’s Rex Theatre. The audience response and word-of-mouth were so positive that the Sisters are back — they’ll take the stage once again at the Rex on Saturday, Nov. 19, with a matinee at 2 p.m. and an evening show at 7:30 p.m.

The Sisters, who have been performing since 2009, are stars of the Brooklyn public access cable production Mangia Italiano and also regularly post short videos to social media. Each 90-minute show at the Rex — billed as a “musical cooking lesson” — will be packed with family stories, Italian folk dancing and plenty of audience participation with the dishes to be cooked on stage.

Pausing between rehearsals for their Christmas-themed shows in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts next month, Delphine and Carmela recently connected with the Hippo via phone for an interview about their upcoming return to the Queen City.

This past May was your first time coming to New Hampshire. What was the story behind your coming to the Granite State?

Delphine: We’ve always been friends with the great people at the Palace. … The artistic director had seen our show when we were in P-Town [Provincetown, Mass.], where we were, of course, in 2015, ’16 and ’17, during the summer. … So we came [to Manchester] this past time in May and it was such a great experience, because they have that smaller space. Our show is a little bit more intimate than some of the other shows that they do, because it’s just the two of us. … So when they opened the Rex Theatre, it was just perfect for our little show.

Carmela: We’ve been all over the country. I’m not kidding you. We’ve been as far as California, [and] we’ve been to Phoenix, and Wisconsin.

Delphine: I tried to leave her in all of those places, but she always found her way home.

Carmela: But yet, when we came to Manchester, New Hampshire, no one had heard of us.

Delphine: Yeah, and so the word-of-mouth was great. … Everyone was like, ‘You’ve got to come back because I want to bring my friends,’ and so that’s why we came back, just because we wanted to give more people the chance to see us. Because it’s hard to describe the show. It’s not like anything else.

Will audiences recognize the songs and dances?

Delphine: Yes, so some of them are more from the classic songbook of Italian America, so we do “Volare,” we do “Food, Glorious Food,” and we do “Be Our Guest.”

Carmela: We also do a tarantella, which you’ll recognize even if you didn’t know it was called the tarantella. We shake the rafters!

How much audience participation is there during your shows?

Delphine: Oh, quite a bit. So we’re always talking and connecting with the audience, and we do bring them up sometimes.

Carmela: Sometimes we try the food. Sometimes they help us make a dish, if we need an extra pair of hands.

Delphine: It depends on the person and it depends on the dish. … Sometimes they taste, sometimes they help, [or] sometimes we just play games. So it’s very interactive.

What types of dishes do you prepare on stage?

Delphine: We have different ones that we do for different shows, but in this musical show, we do a traditional Italian antipasto and we do a cannoli.

Carmela: We’ve done fried dough on stage, sausage and peppers, [and] we do chicken a la Calamari, which is a secret recipe, and you’re not getting it no matter how much you want it.

Delphine: This one is designed to be more of a pop-up, if you will. … And so, because we are teaching a lesson, we have a chalkboard, some prep tables, aprons, and a good old tambourine, because if you’re going to do a tarantella, you need a tambourine.

Carmela: My favorite is when we do a clambake. Biggest, juiciest clams you’ve ever seen. Oh, so good.

Delphine: Yes, we know New England takes claim on the whole clambake thing. We beg to differ.

What’s your favorite thing about performing these shows?

Delphine: Especially in today’s world, I think we all need more laughter, we need more silliness, and we all need to be able to laugh at ourselves. … And, just being able to be that escape and that outlet to people is my favorite part, because it also just reminds you that things aren’t so bad.

A Musical Cooking Lesson with the Calamari Sisters
When: Saturday, Nov. 19, at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Where: The Rex Theatre, 23 Amherst St., Manchester
Cost: Tickets range from $29 to $39, plus fees

Featured photo: Delphine (left) and Carmela Calamari. Courtesy photo.

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