Live for the season

Step out for a musical December

From big stages to small, national touring acts and regional heroes will fill the nights with mirth and melodies throughout December.

Here’s a taste of what’s coming.

• Bookend the month, and then some, with Recycled Percussion. The junk rockers close out their latest, Redonkulous, at their personal performance venue, The CAKE, with 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. shows (tickets $35 to $110) on two Saturdays, Nov. 26 and Dec. 3, and Sunday, Dec. 4, at 2 p.m. On Wednesday, Dec. 28, they’ll invade Manchester’s Palace Theatre ($35 and up) for a 13-show run that concludes on Jan. 7.

• Over at the Palace’s sister room The Rex Theatre, get festive and international with a week of holiday-themed events. On Saturday, Dec. 10, at 7:30 p.m. Boston-based jazz singer Rich DiMare serves up A Sinatra Christmas($29 and up), followed Sunday, Dec. 11, at 4 p.m. by the Celtic fiddle mastery of A Joyful Christmas with Eileen Ivers ($39). On Wednesday, Dec. 14, Italy takes a jazzy bow with Anthony Nunziata: My Italian Broadway Christmas; the next day, it’s Eric Mintel’s Charlie Brown Jazz Christmas. The Spain Brothers offer a blend of holiday-themed Irish and American folk on Saturday, Dec. 17 (all shows 7 p.m., $29).

• At the state’s largest venue,the SNHU Arena, the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra returns for the 21st time since their Manchester debut in 2001, on Saturday, Dec. 10, at 7:30 p.m., as Keith Lockhart conducts the 2022 Holidays Pops Tour. Tickets are $55 and up at

• At Concord’s Bank of NH Stage on Friday, Dec. 2, at 7 p.m., Portland, Maine-based Spencer and the Walrus recreate The Beatles’ studio recordings with astounding accuracy, joined by a six-piece horn section ($38). The theme continues with well-regarded Talking Heads tribute act Start Making Sense on Saturday, Dec. 3. at 8 p.m. ($15 and $30). Tim Reynolds, who rose to fame through his collaboration with Dave Matthews, plays with his TR3 band on Friday, Dec. 16, at 8 p.m. ($36).

• The Capitol Center for the Arts hosts a trio of seasonal shows starting with The Seamus Egan Project’s Celtic Christmas on Saturday, Dec. 3, at 7 p.m. ($32 and up). The Capital Jazz Orchestra does its Holiday Pops show on Sunday, Dec. 11, at 4 p.m. ($27.50 and up) and the annual Morning Buzz Christmas Ball happens Thursday, Dec. 15, at 7 p. m. ($45, recommended age 18+)

• Tupelo Music Hall is packed from Day 1, as bluesman Popa Chubby stops by, with local favorite Brooks Young as an opener, on Thursday, Dec. 1, at 8 p.m. ($30). Guitar shredder Gary Hoey, whose Ho! Ho! Hoey! holiday show is synonymous with the season, plays Sunday, Dec. 4, at 7 p.m. ($35 and up). Musicians’ musician Martin Sexton hits Tupelo Friday, Dec. 9, at 8 p.m. ($40 and up), and folk chanteuse Judy Collins offers hits and holiday songs Sunday, Dec. 18, at 7 p.m. ($55 and up).

• At Jimmy’s Jazz & Blues Club, guitarist and legendary side man Larry Carlton digs into Steely Dan’s catalog — that’s him wailing on 1976’s “Kid Charlemagne” — and plays other hits Saturday, Dec. 3, at 7 and 9:30 p.m. ($35 to $115). Singer-songwriter Dar Williams serves up erudite folk songs Thursday, Dec. 8, at 7:30 p.m. ($10 to $60), while British Blues Hall of Fame guitarist Matt Schofield plays Saturday, Dec. 17, at 7:30 p.m. ($15 to $55).

• At the nearby newly renovated Music Hall Lounge, the utterly charming Antje Duvekot appears Thursday, Dec. 8, at 7:30 p.m. ($37 and up), and Thanks to Gravity, a band key to the early ’90s Seacoast scene chronicled in the 2012 documentary In Danger of Being Discovered, plays two shows, Saturday, Dec. 10, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 11, at 8 p.m. ($28 and up).

• 3S Artspace has a few live music events, including free ones like Mission of Burma’s Roger Clark Miller playing from his boundary-stretching album, Eight Dream Interpretations for Solo Electric Guitar Ensemble, on Friday, Dec. 2, at 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. Small Pond tops a Saturday, Dec. 3, 7 p.m. show with Hello Shark and Sneaky Miles ($15). The headliners began in Portsmouth doing DIY shows, later opening for national acts like The Ballroom Thieves and Haley Heynderickx. Their sound is described as “swingy, laid-back indie rock with big hooks and undeniably catchy lyrics.” Boston emo stalwarts Piebald plays a 3S date on Wednesday, Dec. 28, at 8 p.m. ($25).

Bank of NH Stage 16 S. Main St., Concord;
The CAKE Theatre 12 Veterans Square, Laconia;
Chubb Theatre (Capitol Center for the Arts) 44 S. Main St., Concord;
Jimmy’s Jazz & Blues Club 135 Congress St., Portsmouth;
Music Hall Lounge 131 Congress St., Portsmouth;
Palace Theatre 80 Hanover St., Manchester;
Rex Theatre 23 Amherst St., Manchester;
SNHU Arena 555 Elm St., Manchester;
3S Artspace 319 Vaughan St, Portsmouth;

Featured photo: Recycled Percussion. Courtesy photo.

The Music Roundup 22/11/24

Local music news & events

Hail queen: Basking in the glow of a New England Music Award for Country Act of the Year, April Cushman plays a local microbrewery. Cushman was nominated in six NEMA categories, and she performed at the ceremony with guitarist Brad Myrick, who also picked up a nod that night. Cushman’s most recent album The Long Haul represents some of the region’s best music, so her shiny disc is much deserved. Friday, Nov. 25, 6 p.m., Backyard Brewery, 1211 S. Mammoth Road, Manchester. See

Rap represent: A celebration of the area hip-hop scene, Hellhound for the Holidays offers a long list of artists. The show is curated by Hellhound Crew, which includes Cody Pope, Byron G, 8-BZA, Fee The Evolutionist, Deja Solo, Even Tho, Trip Seat, Neek100 and more. Friday, Nov. 25, 8 p.m., Nashua Garden, 121 Main St., Nashua, $10, see

Clam clowns: Due to a health issue, an evening with Mike Girard’s Big Swinging Thing is now switched to The Fools, Girard’s longtime group and sometimes musical comedy troupe. Born in “Home of the Fried Clam” Ipswich, Mass., the group broke through the 1970s Boston scene with its irreverent Talking Heads parody “Psycho Chicken,” later scoring a national hit with “It’s a Night for Beautiful Girls” and touring extensively. Saturday, Nov. 26, 8 p.m., Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A St., Derry, $35 at

Nineties redux: A fantastic double bill for music mavens is led by Sophie B. Hawkins. The singer is touring to mark the 30th anniversary of her smash debut, Tongues and Tails, with its ethereal breakout single, “Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover.” Since that start, she’s acted and released five more albums, scoring a big Adult Contemporary hit with “As I Lay Me Down.” Talented singer-songwriter Seth Glier opens the afternoon show. Sunday, Nov. 27, 4 p.m., Bank of NH Stage, 16 S. Main St., Concord, tickets $55 and $65 at

She Said (R)

New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor investigate reports of sexual harassment and assault by Harvey Weinstein in She Said, a movie based on the real-life investigation and the subsequent book by the same name.

When we first meet Twohey (Carey Mulligan) she’s investigating allegations against then candidate Donald Trump — while also going to OB appointments as her pregnancy progresses. Kantor (Zoe Kazan) is covering refugees, while also juggling her two girls’ schedules with her husband, who is also a reporter. Kantor gets a tip about allegations of sexual misconduct, possibly years of misconduct, by Weinstein and starts looking into it, making calls and finding women with stories who can’t talk or won’t talk on the record out of fear of damaging their careers or because of non-disclosure agreements signed years ago. Twohey joins her on the investigation when she returns to work from maternity leave, still sort of reeling from what the movie depicts as postpartum depression.

The paper’s editors — including Rebecca Corbett (Patricia Clarkson) and Dean Baquet (Andre Braugher) — believe in the story but know that hefty on-the-record corroboration is needed. Twohey and Kantor chip away at the process of finding documents to back up the stories about settlements, charges that are dropped, HR complaints and the many non-disclosures. They also search for women with a story to tell about Weinstein, hoping they can find at least one who will go on the record, talking to the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Rose McGowan and Ashely Judd (who appears in the movie as herself). They also talk to former assistants who have spent years carrying the trauma of their interactions with Weinstein. The more they investigate, the more Twohey and Kantor are told that Weinstein himself will be coming for them, having shut down all previous attempts to tell these stories.

I almost feel like She Said isn’t quite about what it seems to be about. The trailer sells the idea that the movie is some John Grisham-meets-All the President’s Men high-pressure race to get Weinstein and go after the “whole system” or something — the trailer sort of feels like it’s just one explosion short of a Michael Bay movie. And there are moments in the movie itself where we get some real TV-exposition-style lines of the “what? Sexual harassers getting away with it?” variety that feel kind of silly coming from fully grown women in 2016 and 2017 who work in national media.

But the actual story, the meat of the movie, is more about the unglamorous work of investigating — a lot of phone calls and searching for documents and showing up at the doors of people who don’t want to talk — paired with the pushing-a-boulder-up-a-mountain quality of trying to work while parenting. Specifically, I think, of trying to work while being the mother of in Megan’s case a new baby and in Jodi’s case two young kids. The limitations, the constant sense of being behind and running late and keeping it all together with tape. At one point Jodi gets a pivotal call and, to get the time and quiet to have the conversation, she essentially bribes her daughter with Netflix time. That moment felt incredibly well done and true to life, as do scenes where Megan tries to find her work self again while swimming through her postpartum struggles. It captures the “backwards and in heels” aspect of what was involved for these two specific reporters to work this investigation and goes to the movie’s larger themes about women, the situations they have to deal with and the choices they make.

When the movie just lets itself be about this, about the work and Jodi and Megan and the way they try to honestly foster relationships with the women hurt by Weinstein without over-promising or being false about their motivations, She Said is absolutely riveting. The core duo of Mulligan and Kazan bring a lot that is unsaid to their characters, with facial expressions and little moments that fill their characters out and make them people. Mulligan even gets one really good explosion, a “had it with All Of This” moment, that is just a chef’s kiss. Clarkson is also solid; I wish she’d had even more to do.

She Said occasionally seems to get tangled up in the needs of a conventional movie versus the still-developing story that its characters are enmeshed in. But when it works, when its elements all come together, it’s thoroughly captivating.

Featured photo: She Said.

Novelist as a Vocation, Haruki Murakami

Novelist as a Vocation, Haruki Murakami; translated by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen (Knopf, 224 pages)

The career of Haruki Murakami is one of the more mystifying legends in the literary world. He’s told the story many times: how, sitting in the stands at a baseball game, he suddenly had the thought that he could write a novel, despite not having written anything much more substantive than college papers. It was, as he calls it, an epiphany. The next day, he bought a fountain pen and paper and started writing a novel at his kitchen table after he got home from work in the evening. It took six months.

That was 35 years and 25 books ago.

Everyone now trying to do the same thing (or something similar) during November for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) should know, however, that even Murakami didn’t think much of that first book, Hear the Wind Sing, of which he now writes, “What I had written seemed to fulfill the formal requirements of a novel” yet “was rather boring, and as a whole, left me cold.”

But possessed of the idea that writing a novel was his destiny, Murakami did not stay discouraged even though he wasn’t satisfied with the first draft. As he tells in his new memoir Novelist as a Vocation, he swapped the pen and paper for a typewriter and started again in English instead of his native Japanese. That limited the vocabulary available to him and forced him to write more precisely — to create, as he says, “a creative rhythm distinctly my own.”

Ultimately he rewrote the entire novel in this style and found that writing “filled the spiritual void that had loomed with the approach of my thirtieth birthday.” A year later, the book was short-listed for a prize for new writers, which he won. And Murakami Inc. was off and running, despite the disdain of some of Japan’s literary elites, one of whom has called him a “con man.”

Novelist as a Vocation recounts many of the stories that Murakami has already told, including how he got started and why he became a long-distance runner who runs every day (and a marathon every year). It also explains, in some ways, the Murakami phenomenon — why he has enjoyed enduring popular success despite a writing style that is often plain-spoken. Along the way, he offers advice to aspiring novelists, although he doesn’t seem to have a high opinion of them as a species, writing, “The way I see it, people with brilliant minds are not particularly well suited to writing novels.”

He also says, “There are exceptions, of course, but from what I have seen, most novelists aren’t what one would call amiable and fair-minded. Neither are they what would normally be considered good role models: their dispositions tend to be idiosyncratic and their lifestyles and general behavior frankly odd.” He tells the story of the 1912 meeting of Marcel Proust and James Joyce, who barely spoke to each other at a dinner party in Paris. “Writers are basically an egoistic breed, proud and highly competitive. Put two of them in the same room and the results, more likely than not, will be a disappointment.” A certain arrogance also helps novelists who succeed, he suggests.

What novelists are, besides dogged, is accommodating. They are tolerant of other novelists because, as Murakami puts it, there’s always more room in the ring. Many people write one or two novels; few do what he does: churn them out consistently. Not that even Murakami makes his sole living from writing novels — he also has done English-to-Japanese translations for 30 years.

I have always been something of a Murakami skeptic. Even his celebrated memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which I’ve read twice, seems flat to me, its sentences as matter-of-fact as a grocery list. So it was interesting to read that the author himself does not pay heed to too much of his press. “… I am, when all is said and done, a very ordinary person,” he writes. “ … Not the type to stand out when I stroll around town, the type who’s always shown to the worst table at restaurants. I doubt that if I didn’t write novels anyone would ever have noticed me.”

Also, he writes of being removed from the literary elites, having failed to win a couple of other prizes that he was shortlisted for early in his career. This has made him question the value of any prize, “from the Oscars to the Nobel.” The most important thing to have is good readers, not the acclaim of one’s peers, he says. (It’s worth noting, though, that Murakami also acknowledges that his career as a novelist might have fizzled if he hadn’t won the Gunzo Prize for his first effort.)

In short essays about his life and the craft, he goes on to muse about the importance of originality (and the difficulty of having an original style be accepted, whether in writing, painting or music); the mechanics of writing (he doesn’t work on novels unless “the desire to write is overwhelming” and instead does more mundane tasks, like translation, until that occurs); and why a scene from the movie E.T. is an apt metaphor for novelists who don’t have a lot of life experience. (Short version, you have to assemble a transmitter with an odd assortment of junk stored in the garage.)

Murakami estimates that 5 percent “of all people are active readers of literature” but those 5 percent are ardent, he says. “As long as one in twenty is like us, I refuse to get overly worried about the future of the novel and the written word.”

Perhaps the most fascinating line in Novelist as a Vocation is this: “I don’t make promises, so I don’t have deadlines. As a result, writer’s block and I are strangers to each other.” So many writers convince themselves that they need deadlines to motivate them to work, but Murakami suggests that creativity flows best without this pressure. He also doesn’t seem to put a lot of pressure on himself as far as output goes, writing only about 1,600 words a day when he’s working on a novel, with a hard stop after 10 pages, even if he wants to write more.

Interestingly, this memoir was released in Japan in 2015 and took seven years and two translators to make it to the U.S., just in time to help NaNoWriMo participants who need a jolt of adrenaline to power through. It serves that purpose well, and is also a surprisingly pleasurable read for anyone trying to understand the magic of Murakami more broadly. B+

Album Reviews 22/11/24

Soen, Atlantis (Silver Lining Music)

With Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s traditional holiday tour coming soon, our thoughts turn of course not to Santa Claus and all that stuff but instead to progressive metal bands, like this Swedish one, which first hit the scene in 2004 as a “supergroup” consisting of former Opeth drummer Martin Lopez, ex-Testament bassist Steve Di Giorgio, Willowtree singer Joel Ekelöf and some dude named Joakim Platbarzdis on guitar. I don’t know if it’s still considered a supergroup, but they’re good, if you like epic prog-metal and whatnot, especially live albums from same, which is what this is. I don’t know how “live” this album actually is; if I’m reading this right, they just re-rubbed a bunch of their po-faced old stuff, opening the set with “Antagonist,” which is a lot more Scorpions than it is Megadeth. There’s a version of Slipknot’s “Snuff” added for variety, but most of the time it’s a mixture of different but usually depressing sci-fi-convention ambience. Is what it is. B+

Louis Armstrong, The Standard Oil Sessions (Dot Time Records)

Any list of the greatest jazz musicians of all time would automatically include Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden and Earl “Fatha” Hines. From 1948 through 1951, those three legends played as Louis Armstrong and His All Stars. Unfortunately they didn’t make many studio recordings, and most of the live recordings that have survived are in really bad shape. But on Jan. 20, 1950, Armstrong, Hines and Teagarden appeared in a San Francisco recording studio to record a number of songs for Standard Oil’s “Musical Map of America” program. Teagarden got to do his signature “Basin Street Blues” while Hines performed a show-stopping version of his “Boogie Woogie on St. Louis Blues.” But it was Armstrong who was in the spotlight throughout, in peak form vocally and especially on the trumpet, improvising completely different solos on “Muskrat Ramble,” “Panama,” “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue” and other signature numbers. “Classic” would almost be an insult; this is timeless stuff. A+


• Great, here come the holidays, which means there’ll be barely anything for me to write about here in a couple of weeks, in this multiple award-winning column. But for now I am safe, because look at all these albums that you will be able to buy at Walmart or 7-Eleven or Petsmart, you know, anyplace that still sells albums! Look gang, can you even believe all these — oops, wait a minute, it’s Black Friday this week, and the next general-release date for albums is Nov. 25, so there’s no time to put out any new albums in time for the holidays, I’m in some hot water now, just great, holy catfish! Well, we’ll have to do something here, and you probably don’t want to hear about all the ins and outs of my last medical exam, so let’s ’ave a look at the new album by Stormzy, titled This Is What I Mean, coming out this Friday! This dude’s real name is Michael Ebenezer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr., and he is a British rapper, singer and songwriter who gained attention on the U.K. underground music scene through his Wicked Skengman series of freestyles over classic grime beats. Like everything else that’s grime-based, it was cool stuff, but what about this new record? I don’t know, let’s find out, shall we? The teaser single, “Hide & Seek,” is high-class stuff, kind of a cross between Seal and Drake, but with a humble, eminently British attitude that doesn’t rely on controversy or dissing someone else. Yes, folks, in other words it is doomed to eventual failure just because it’s good and decent and nice, you know how this goes by now.

Marcus Paquin is a record producer/writer/multi-instrumentalist who has worked with Arcade Fire, The National, Stars, Raine Maida, Local Natives, basically any Canadian indie band that’s gotten on my nerves over the last 12 years. His new album is Our Love, and the single, “The Way Forward,” is likable enough, fronting your basic Bon Iver/Sigur Ros chill-tech-indie contrivances, but it’s OK. His vocals have a weird but not entirely unapproachable effect added in order to make them more awkward and anti-edgy, the sort of angle we’ve heard a million times by now, but there is indeed some epic-ness once you get to the chorus, where the vocal sound remains weird but actually works within the scheme of it. I dunno, an overproduced Gorillaz ballad would be similar; it’s not wildly addictive but a lot better than the recent things I’ve heard in this genre.

• Wait, ermagerd, looky over there, my little rascals, it’s an album on which we can just go to town and laugh our little tuchuses off, and bonus, it’s a holiday album! It’s 80-year-old pop-crooner Cliff Richard, who was once the most dreaded name in “rock ’n’ roll,” basically about as counter-culture as Lawrence Welk! Christmas With Cliff, his first holiday-themed album in 19 years, features 10 covers done by the only artist in the world to achieve Top 5 albums in eight consecutive decades! Includes classics like “Sleigh Ride,” “Joy to the World,” “Blue Christmas” and whatnot, as well as three original songs.

• We’ll finish this off and get to some serious drinking by talking about Glasgow-based goth-glam sextet Walt Disco and their new EP, Always Sickening, won’t that be terrific? There’s a cover of Stephanie Mills’ 1980 disco hit “Never Knew Love Like This Before,” but it’s super slow and weird, you’ll probably be like “I hate this,” just letting you know ahead of time. And there we are.

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).

Staggering toward 34th Street

There are two great scenes in 1947’s Miracle on 34th Street:

“Hey, Lou! How many letters do we have to Santy Clause down at the Dead Letter Office?”

“I don’t know — there must be fifty thousand. Bags and bags of them comin’ in every day….”

Charlie — because I’ve decided that his name is Charlie — gets thoughtful for a second. The scene cuts to the courthouse, where things don’t look good for Santa Claus, or maybe Kris Kringle, who is defending his sanity in court. He doesn’t want to be institutionalized. The D.A. doesn’t actually want to institutionalize him and risk alienating his own children. The judge, who is worried about re-election, doesn’t want to fit Santa with extra-long sleeves on Christmas Eve.

Then Lou and Charlie and the other postal workers give them all a legal loophole and save Christmas. It’s a brilliantly cynical bit of emotional manipulation. I love it.

Even better is at the beginning of the movie, when it’s discovered that the Macy’s Parade Santa is soused and can’t finish the parade. How can that not have happened at least once in real life?

In that spirit, here are a trio of drinks to enjoy while you watch the parade this week.

Macy’s Parade

  • 1 ounce apple brandy – I like Laird’s Applejack
  • 1 ounce rye – I’ve been enjoying Knob Creek
  • ½ ounce cranberry syrup – see below
  • ¼ ounce Cynar – yes, the stuff with the artichoke on the label
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Pour all ingredients over ice in a mixing glass. Stir gently.

Let rest 15 to 20 minutes, to let the ice chill and dilute this very authoritative cocktail.

Strain into a coupé glass, and drink while singing show tunes along with the lip-synching, float-riding Broadway stars with overly bright eyes. Do this until your teenage child threatens arson.

This drink, courtesy of Craig Eliason in Minnesota, is not a light, frivolous cocktail. It is sweet, boozy, and a little herbal, courtesy of the Cynar and the bitters. It stares you in the eye and dares you to get cynical about the parade.

“Don’t you dare make fun of Al Roker,” it tells you in a low growl.

Cranberry Syrup

Combine frozen whole cranberries with an equal amount of white sugar, by weight, in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, mashing the berries with a potato masher once they have thawed. By using frozen berries, you have forced ice crystals to stab through all the cell walls of the cranberries, encouraging them to give up their juice.

Bring to a boil, to make sure that all the sugar has dissolved, then strain, battle and cool. This should last a very long time in your refrigerator, but the point is somewhat academic, because the odds are very good that you will use it all to make cranberry margaritas throughout the holiday season.

Parade Route

  • 1½ ounces rye
  • ¾ ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • ¾ ounce simple syrup
  • 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
  • 4 to 5 ounces sparkling rosé

Combine the rye, lemon juice, syrup and bitters with ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake and chill thoroughly.

Strain into a small Collins glass. Top with sparking rosé.

This is light and delicious. For reasons that defy mere logic, it turns out that rye and sparkling wine go really well together. The sweetness from the syrup takes the edge off the booziness, and the lemon juice keeps things from getting too sweet.

If you decide to double down, here’s your next stop:

34th Street Miracle

  • 1 ounce cognac
  • 1 ounce orange curaçao
  • 1 ounce orange juice
  • 1 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice

Combine all ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake and chill.

Strain into a cocktail glass

The orange juice and orange liqueur go together extremely well in this drink — no surprise there. The cognac adds a boozy backbone to keep things from getting too orangey — not vodka or gin boozy, but something a little more gracious and civilized. The lemon juice keeps everything from taking itself too seriously.

At this point, when the Parade finally gets to Macy’s, is where you should weepily sing “Over the River and Through the Woods” in at least three different keys. Your family will encourage you to go take a nap. Everybody wins.

Soft sugar cookies

Welcome to eating season! I’m embracing it wholeheartedly with this cookie recipe. Who doesn’t want to bake cookies with cold weather and dark afternoons? There’s nothing like some freshly baked cookies to make the evening brighter.

Although I am a fan of traditional sugar cookies, where you roll out the dough and cut out shapes, I also have a fondness for this version. These cookies are incredibly tender and are best topped with a buttercream frosting. Consider them really short cupcakes.

Not only do these provide a moist and delicious cookie, but they also require less time and effort. There is no floured counter to prepare (or clean afterward), and you don’t have to worry about how thick or thin each cookie is. Just grab a small scoopful of dough, roll for a moment, and the cookie is formed.
Of course, you still can decorate these cookies to your heart’s content. Get the eating season going with a batch of freshly baked cookies!

Soft sugar cookies
Makes 36

Cookie dough
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
½ cup plain Greek yogurt
2 teaspoons vanilla
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
2 to 3 cups powdered sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 to 2 Tablespoons milk
food coloring, if desired

Make the cookies
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Combine butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or a large mixing bowl.
Beat for 2 minutes on low speed using paddle attachment or hand mixer.
Add eggs, one at a time, and mix until combined.
Add yogurt and vanilla, mixing until incorporated.
Add baking powder, soda, salt and flour. Mix on low.
Form dough into a ball the size of a walnut.
Place on a baking sheet, leaving 2 inches between cookies.
Flatten balls of dough slightly.
Bake for 12 minutes. (They will not be golden.)
Cool completely.

Make the frosting
Combine butter, 2 cups powdered sugar, and vanilla; mix well.
Add milk, as needed, 1 teaspoon at a time.
More sugar can be added if you prefer a sweeter frosting.
Frost cookies, as desired.

Featured Photo: Soft sugar cookies. Photo courtesy of Michele Pesula Kuegler.

In the kitchen with Alan Frati

Alan Frati of Derry is the co-owner and co-founder of Crack’d Kitchen & Coffee (327 S. Broadway, Salem, 212-1511,, which opened its first New Hampshire location in his hometown of Salem in April 2021. Inspired by their love of breakfast sandwiches, Frati and business partner Danny Azzarello opened the first Crack’d Kitchen & Coffee in Andover, Mass., in 2019. The eatery is a fast casual concept specializing in locally roasted coffees, smoothies, bowls and eclectic breakfast options like loaded hash browns and egg sandwiches with creative toppings. A third location would later follow in Peabody, Mass., opening earlier this summer, in addition to a 20-foot food trailer known as The Yolkswagon — catch the trailer at a special Black Friday event at From the Barrel Brewing Co. (1 Corporate Park Drive, Unit 16, Derry) on Friday, Nov. 25, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

A good sharp knife is kind of like the cornerstone of any kitchen. … Even though we’re primarily a takeout restaurant, one of the things we were founded on is that we cook real food, and so we’re cutting up all of our vegetables, slicing bread, things like that, so you need a good knife.

What would you have for your last meal?

A really good steak. I like my steak medium rare, and I think I’ve got to do a prime cut cooked over some really nice charcoal or hardwood.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

I’ll give a shout out to my friends at a newer spot that opened up, Los Reyes [Street Tacos & More] over in Derry. They do some killer stuff over there, and they’re really good people.

What celebrity would you like to see eating in your restaurant?

I’d love to see my guy Bill Belichick come in and order. I think we would get a pretty big kick out of that.

What is your favorite thing on your menu?

Honestly, I think all of our breakfast sandwiches stick out. I love the Live Free or Die, which is one of our signature sandwiches, and we call it that because we get our bacon from up at North Country Smokehouse. [It has] our house-made ketchup, a sharp cheddar cheese and we always use 100 percent cage-free eggs, and that’s on a nice buttery soft brioche bun.

What is the biggest food trend in New Hampshire?

I think it’s the whole vegan and plant-based movement. I definitely see that way more now than I have in the past — people coming in and asking for egg substitutes, vegan cheeses, things like that.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

We’re those people that like to grill 12 months out of the year. We do a lot of grilling, everything from steaks and chicken to vegetables and starches. … We cook a lot of comfort food too. I have three kids now, so we’re not usually doing stuff that’s too fancy.

Maple turkey sausage
From the kitchen of Alan Frati of Crack’d Kitchen & Coffee

2 pounds ground turkey
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon ground sage
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon paprika
2 Tablespoons maple syrup

In a mixing bowl, combine the maple syrup with all of the seasonings to create a paste. Add the ground turkey and mix thoroughly so that all the ingredients are well-incorporated. Form the turkey mix into 3-ounce patties and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Flatten into ½-inch thick circles. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes, ensuring that the turkey is cooked through. Serve as is or sear-cook sausage in a cast iron pan for a more caramelized flavor.

Featured photo: Alan Frati, co-owner of Crack’d Kitchen & Coffee in Salem. Courtesy photo.

Doughnut you know it

NH Doughnut Co. opens in Bedford, expands menu offerings

When Amanda Baril opened the first New Hampshire Doughnut Co. on Route 4 in Chichester in 2019, her concept was simple — an outlet where you create your own doughnuts, choosing from a variety of toppings to customize them not unlike how you might an ice cream sundae.

Fast-forward just three short years, and Baril’s business has since evolved in a big way, introducing two additional brick-and-mortar locations, delving into brewery collaborations, doughnut pop-ups and custom orders for weddings, and even converting a former horse trailer into a miniature food truck. Her newest shop, now open on South River Road in Bedford, has further expanded the menu to offer yeast ring and filled doughnuts, fritters and French crullers.

It’s quite the success story, as Baril’s husband Chad pointed out, when you consider that all of this took place amid a global pandemic. The original New Hampshire Doughnut Co. opened back in late August 2019, some six months before Covid would arrive in the Granite State.

At the time, the business started out with a basic vanilla cake doughnut and a completely customizable list of coatings, toppings and drizzles to choose from. But as Amanda Baril quickly came to find out, most customers would prove to have a hard time choosing their own.

“We ended up putting out a favorites menu, and we found that people were really just choosing from the favorites. So we started putting those out and ready to go and people would just be like, ‘I’ll take this, this and this,’” she said. “They wanted the variety, but they also wanted it ready for them.”

In February 2020, the Barils signed a lease to open a second shop in downtown Concord, in the space formerly occupied by the Capital Deli. It was around that time, Amanda Baril said, when they decided to shift to a weekly doughnut menu that would regularly change with new offerings.

“Every week we would update the menu … and it would be different, and people really loved that,” she said. “We had the key normal favorites but then we’d change up everything else.”

The pandemic’s arrival that March ended up delaying the opening of the Concord shop all the way to December 2020. It’s unique for only operating as a retail storefront — according to Baril, the plan was always to bake everything fresh in Chichester and ship to Concord every morning.

Special doughnut-themed weeks, such as Harry Potter, Disney and others, also entered the mix.

By the summer of 2021, the couple began looking for a new location in the Manchester or Bedford area; they signed a lease on the South River Road property by the end of that year. The buildout of that space was relatively quick, Amanda Baril said, but ongoing supply chain issues with their equipment delayed their opening to mid-September of this year. For similar reasons, they have also since shifted to a monthly doughnut menu.

Today, the Barils now have staff members wholly dedicated to all different aspects of the business, from the newly available crullers in Bedford to gluten-free and dairy-free doughnuts made in Chichester, which has since transitioned into a production-only facility. They recruited Vanessa Robinson as a baker — she formerly worked at Van Otis Chocolates in Manchester.

“I was like, ‘I need to find somebody with experience who knows flavors better than I do,’ and she has been fantastic,” Amanda Baril said. “I am so happy to have her on board because she really adds so much.”

New Hampshire Doughnut Co. even now has its own wedding division, regularly fulfilling catering orders for doughnut walls, doughnut buffets and other gatherings large and small.

Chad Baril added that they’ve begun partnering with local colleges for internship opportunities — a student even designed their current logo — and have worked with several breweries to host doughnut pop-ups. Some, for instance, feature homemade icings made with locally brewed beer — on Friday, Dec. 9, and Friday, Dec. 30, they are expected to return to Lithermans Limited Brewery in Concord.

While there are no plans to open a fourth location, Amanda Baril said she hopes to eventually find a larger available space in Concord where they can bake doughnuts.

“I think when we had it written on paper before we opened up in Chichester, it’s come full circle now, I would say,” Chad Baril said. “The creativeness of Amanda and her staff was kind of the awesome curveball that we got, but now it’s starting to get back into that community. … We want to touch people’s lives and create a kind of legacy, sort of like, ‘Look at what we did.’”

New Hampshire Doughnut Co.
Where: 410 S. River Road, Bedford, 782-8968; 2 Capital Plaza, Concord, 715-5097 (a third location, on Route 4 in Chichester, is now used as a production facility only — no walk-in service)
Hours: Both the Bedford and Concord locations are open Wednesday through Sunday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., or until doughnuts sell out
More info: Visit, email or find them on Facebook and Instagram @nhdohco

Featured photo: Photo courtesy of NH Doughnut Co.

Coffee, cocktails and community

Café la Reine opens second spot in Manchester’s North End

Nearly a decade after Saint Anselm College alum Alex Horton opened Café la Reine on Elm Street in Manchester, she and her team have expanded to a second location built on quality eats, great coffee and community. Café la Reine North End, which arrived in the space of the former Blake’s Restaurant last month, is more than three times the size of its downtown counterpart, introducing a full-service breakfast and lunch dining experience in addition to craft cocktails.

It was March 2013 when Horton, a Methuen, Mass., native who has lived in the Queen City since her college days, opened the original Café la Reine. At the time, there were not a lot of places around like it, and Horton herself recalls as a student always looking for a place where she could order a cup of coffee and comfortably sit down and do her homework.

Over the years, the spot has added everything from sandwiches and salads to avocado toasts, oatmeal bowls and açaí bowls to its menu, and has become known for its live “Java Jams.”

Even pre-pandemic, Horton said she had been looking for a potential second location. She happens to also live in the North End neighborhood where Blake’s closed its Hooksett Road restaurant in early January 2021, a spot that had been open for nearly four decades.

“When Blake’s closed, I knew that it was going to be kind of a loss for our neighborhood,” she said. “I mean, my husband and I went here on the weekends for breakfast forever, or we’d walk the dogs down [here] and get ice cream from the window. We frequented this place a lot.”

Soon after the property went on the market, Horton — along with her general manager, Dominique Gibson — decided to inquire about potentially taking it over.

“I really wanted a second location that had parking, and I wanted to expand on my menu, because you can only offer so much in a 1,000-square-foot space downtown. It’s so small and our kitchen is so tiny,” Horton said. “And so, I wanted a spot that had a bigger kitchen so that we could possibly make things for both locations out of this kitchen here.”

A few aesthetics, such as the tables and the blue-colored booths, have been kept and may be familiar to those who frequented Blake’s. But Horton and her team still spent the last several months revamping the space, even recruiting Alexis Clark and Nicole Rocha of The Terracotta Room on Elm Street to help install the plants you see along most of the booths.

As you walk inside, you can immediately turn to your right and order coffee or food to go from a counter, or you can be seated at a booth or table. Horton said her team plans to utilize the takeout window for online orders.

With the exception of the açaí and oatmeal bowls, just about everything on the menu downtown is available at Café la Reine North End. But that’s not to say that the new eatery’s menu is a carbon copy of its predecessor. A wide variety of items are exclusively available at this space, from pancakes and Belgian waffles to eggs Benedicts and hash brown bowls.

“We have a bunch of starters, like loaded fries with eggs and hollandaise on top, which is so good,” Horton said. “We have wings, boneless [and] bone-in, and then we have huge breakfast sandwiches … and your classic big breakfast where you get everything. … For lunch, we have tuna melts, avocado BLTs and then some burgers and salads, so it’s a pretty full menu here.”

Café la Reine North End also differs from the downtown location in that there is a full bar, from which you can order mimosas, bloody marys, and what Horton calls Above Average Joes.

“They are our boozy coffee cocktails that we serve in a pint glass. They’re so good,” she said.

Horton said she soon hopes to host either open mic or weekend live music events at her new space. A side room directly to the left of where you walk in has also already been used for larger parties and gatherings, or for those who want to go and work where it’s a little bit quieter.

Reflecting on the last decade, Horton said she never thought she would eventually expand to this degree, but has nonetheless enjoyed the experience and the response from the community.

“I was so young when I opened downtown, and I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll be OK with this,’” she said. “But then, I guess it’s just been the excitement and adventure of opening new businesses, especially with people that you love to work with. I feel like it’s all of our projects because we all had a hand in it, and that kind of reflects in everything from the menu to the way it’s decorated.”

Café la Reine – North End
Where: 53 Hooksett Road, Unit 6, Manchester
Hours: Thursday through Tuesday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Closed on Wednesdays.
More info: Visit, find them on Facebook and Instagram @cafelareine.northend or call 782-5367

Featured photo: Photo by Ethos & Able Creative,

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