Nashville bond

Amanda McCarthy duos for hometown show

On a Thursday afternoon in late October, Amanda McCarthy played a set at Bobby’s Idle Hour, a no-nonsense bar nestled at the edge of Nashville’s Music Row. The busy performer had another gig scheduled later that evening, but this one was special, marking the release of “Lifeline,” a song that takes a healthy look back at a long-gone relationship.

“When I finished that song in the writing session, I was like, ‘Well that’s all I have to say,’” McCarthy recalled in a recent phone interview. “I think there’s something really cool about that feeling.” Begun a few years ago and completed with the help of her fiancé, Tom Shubsda, and Martin Butter, its finality shares common ground with Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well.”

At her side that day was Sam Ferrara, a singer-songwriter she’d worked with a lot since leaving New Hampshire just over two years ago, lately singing backup on Ferrara’s own ex-boyfriend burn, “Get Out of My Town.” The two will be making a trip North in early December, with dates at NYC’s Cutting Room and Over The Moon Farmstead in the Granite State.

“I played in New York City before, but she’s from there, so it’ll be really cool to meet her people and be with her in her home environment,” McCarthy said. “Then I’ll get to bring her to New Hampshire.”

The bond with Ferrara is one of many McCarthy has formed since her 2020 leap of faith to Music City. She’s been a part of several songs that have been recorded, co-writing Benn Park’s “Mountain Steep” and penning “Unwrite Every Song” with Emily Myers. “That was a special one,” McCarthy said. “She’s also one of my best friends.”

Though written years ago, “The Long Haul” recently helped April Cushman win a New England Music Award for Best Country Act. McCarthy still hews to the song’s message of tenacity in the face of challenge. “I’ve kept my expectations low but my work ethic high,” she said. “I’ve always been kind of an underdog in a way, and I have no problem working harder day by day, trying to figure it out.”

Her biggest success isn’t one song or even the award she received from Young Entertainment Professionals Nashville for being its most active member. “Being able to quit my job was certainly validating because it let me say I’m stable enough, I’m getting enough work that I can do this,” she said.

She’s aware it’s a crucible that’s not for everyone. “I was always a full-time musician up north and the big question was can I do this in Nashville,” she said. “I was able to, and that really gave me a confidence boost and let me know I’m on the right path, no matter where it’s going. Every time someone records a song I’ve helped write is validating, because it shows me that other people see the value in what I write, not just me.”

The move also helped her growth as an artist. “I’ve learned so much about songwriting from being here, and it hasn’t even been from anyone telling me that I was doing anything wrong. I think just being around so much of it, you absorb a lot, you get inspired by a lot. I’ve kind of become in tune with knowing how to really pull out my inner voice. But I can also become other people’s voices, which is a very cool way to switch things up — and my voice has gotten stronger.”

McCarthy looks forward to seeing friends and family and doing some tax-free Christmas shopping during her brief visit, which also includes a solo show at The Bar in Hudson on Dec. 4. Beyond that, performing at Moonlight Meadery’s home base is about more than music for her.

“The owners, Michael and Bernice, are my best friend’s father and stepmother, and she’s my maid of honor,” McCarthy said, noting that the bridal shower for her wedding next spring happened at the facility. “So not only are they part of an amazing music venue, but I have a very personal connection with them…. I’ve known them since I was a kid, so it’s very cool to be playing there.”

Amanda McCarthy & Sam Ferrara
When: Saturday, Dec. 3, 2 p.m.
Where: Over The Moon Farmstead, 1253 Upper City Road, Pittsfield

Featured photo: Amanda McCarthy. Photo Credit Nash Bash Collective.

The Music Roundup 22/12/01

Local music news & events

Song Circle: A series focused on singer-songwriters, Come On Up To The House has a trio of luminaries: Mark Erelli, Jesse Dee and Ali McGuirk. Erelli’s latest is the poignant “You’re Gonna Wanna Remember This,” a co-write with Lori McKenna. Dee is inspired by vintage soul — his Sam Cooke-flavored “Slippery Slope” is a good example — and McGuirk is a rising star, with a Signature Sounds debut recently released. Thursday, Dec. 1, 7 p.m., The Word Barn, 66 Newfields Road, Exeter, $15 to $25 at

Genre-blender: A solid draw in their Midwest home and on the festival circuit, Tropidelic began hitting the Northeast a few years ago. The six-piece band fuses a lot of genres, including reggae and hip-hop, exuding positivity with a spirited call to activism. To illustrate their variety, 2018’s Heavy is the Head included eerie a capella, rage rapping and an uplifting ballad — and that was only the first three songs. Friday, Dec. 2, 8 p.m., Wally’s Pub, 144 Ashworth Ave., Hampton Beach, $20 at

Woofa goofa: A rousing tribute to the J. Geils Band, Whammer Jammer recalls the Boston sextet that had a habit of blowing headliners off the stage during its very brief period as an opening act; more than a few fans think it’s a crime that the stellar group isn’t in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. With singer Rich Ashman standing in for Peter Wolf (who still performs solo), the group does a credible job of reviving their timeless sound. Saturday, Dec. 3, 8 p.m., Stumble Inn, 20 Rockingham Road, Londonderry,

Xmas shred: Transforming Santa season into a shredding surf safari, Gary Hoey provides a great way to get into the holiday spirit with his annual “Ho! Ho! Hoey!” show. The Dick Dale acolyte first donned his Kringle hat more than 25 years ago; the guitarist’s franchise now includes Hallmark greeting cards playing rocked-up holiday favorites. Hoey was also featured in the 2006 Danny DeVito film Deck The Halls. Sunday, Dec. 4, 8 p.m., Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A St., Derry, $35 at

Only one: With its bracing, metal-limned hardcore punk sound, Cro-Mags broke through with The Age of Quarrel in the mid-’80s, followed by Best Wishes, before internal strife split them in two. Last October, bassist-vocalist Harley Flanagan secured rights to the band’s name from its former singer, ending a protracted legal battle. With Flanagan the only founding member, the group kicks off a short tour in Manchester. Monday, Dec. 5, 9 p.m., Shaskeen Pub, 909 Elm St., Manchester, $20 at

At the Sofaplex 22/12/01

Tár (R)

Cate Blanchett, Noémie Merlant.

Lydia Tár (Blanchett) is the conductor of a symphony in Berlin. She has professional success; a large apartment; a child with her wife and the symphony’s first violinist, Sharon (Nina Hoss); a book about to hit shelves, and a much-awaited recording of a Mahler symphony in the works. But behind all of this are the increasingly desperate emails from a young woman Lydia had some sort of relationship with and has now blackballed from work with other symphonies. Her assistant Francesca (Merlant) seems aware that this relationship has the potential to do real damage (there are regular suggestions that this relationship is not the first of its kind) but Lydia pretends not to be aware of the mounting darkness — nor does this gathering storm stop her from pursuing a new young musician in the symphony.

The movie is very clever in the way it puts all the Bad Man behavior in this female character. And I find it interesting how it shows us the power dynamics, the fragile self-esteem, the carelessness and the selfishness but not the sex. We’re seeing the wreckage, not the crash, and Blanchett does great things (particularly with the way she uses her voice and with small gestures) as the person walking through the scene and trying hard to stay convinced that they didn’t cause the disaster. Truly, Blanchett is the movie, and I can see why Oscar predictors have been labeling hers as the performance to beat this year. The movie is long with deliberate, not-at-all speedy pacing but Blanchett makes the destructive Lydia impossible to look away from. A Available for rent or purchase.

Causeway (R)

Jennifer Lawrence, Brian Tyree Henry.

Lynsey (Lawrence) is recently home from military service in Afghanistan, where she suffered a traumatic brain injury, and has had to relearn basics like walking, holding things and sleeping without spiraling into panic. James (Henry) is a mechanic she meets when her family’s truck needs work. Both Lynsey and James have lived in New Orleans all their lives; both have suffered familial tragedy in the city, which led Lynsey to run to the Army and James to stay put.

Joe Reid and Chris V. Feil, hosts of This Had Oscar Buzz, frequently talk about “friendship cinema,” which this very much is — a movie where the development of a non-romantic relationship is the heart of the story. Lynsey and James find in each other something Lynsey isn’t getting from her mother (Linda Emond), with whom she is staying while she tries to recuperate, and that James can’t get from his empty house. And both Lawrence and Henry are bringing so much unsaid to their performances, so much we aren’t specifically told about their characters but can understand from what they do with their eyes or the way they smile. Causeway is a calm surprise of a movie built on these standout roles. A- Available on Apple TV+.

The Wonder (R)

Florence Pugh, Toby Jones

Pugh is an English nurse hired to go to mid-1800s Ireland to report on the case of Anna O’Donnell (Kila Lord Cassidy), an 11-ish-year-old girl who appears to be healthy despite, as her family claims, not eating for more than four months. A group of men in this small, very religious village including the local doctor (Jones) and priest (Ciaran Hinds) have called in Nurse Elizabeth Wright (Pugh) and a nun, Sister Michael (Josie Walker), to watch Anna and report what they observe. Wright thinks this is all nonsense — as do a good number of the townsfolk — but Anna seems sincere in her belief that she is existing only on manna from heaven and has attracted quite a bit of attention for what people seem to believe is a kind of saintliness.

It doesn’t take a psychologist to make some guesses about what might be in the intersection of a “miracle” for a young girl deeply invested in the stories of female saints, denial of food by a tween and a recent family death. But the journey of Wright finding out what is behind this supernatural-seeming happening is nonetheless captivating. The men in the story have some personal gains to protect — the religious members of the town want a saint; the doctor thinks Anna might be the beginning of some scientific discovery (for him to make, of course); William Byrne (Tom Burke), a journalist from London who has his roots in this village, is chasing a story. Wright may have limited agency and some personal baggage but she is determined to figure out what’s really happening and, eventually, find a way to keep a girl from starving to death for dumb reasons. Pugh makes this investigation compelling. B Available on Netflix.

Armageddon Time (R)

Anthony Hopkins, Anne Hathaway.

This movie about Paul Graff (Banks Repeta), a tween from a Jewish family growing up in 1980 Queens, has a very novella, moment-in-time feel. Paul and public school classmate Johnny Davis (Jaylin Webb) are fast friends with a real George-and-Harold energy (for those who know their Captain Underpants), with Paul having a love of drawing and both of them disliking school and very much liking goofing off. The consequences of their goofiery are not equal, though — Johnny, one of the few Black kids at the school, seems to get punished harshly whether he’s done something or not. One particular misadventure has Johnny, who is cared for by a grandmother in poor health, dodging foster care officials while Paul is sent to his older brother’s private school to set him straight.

Surprisingly to Paul, the advice to his parents —Esther (Hathaway) and Irving (Jeremy Strong) — to send him to the tonier school came from Esther’s dad, Paul’s beloved grandpa (Anthony Hopkins). Having struggled against antisemitism throughout his life, Paul’s grandpa tells him to take the opportunities he gets. But he also urges Paul to stick up for the non-white kids that the students at his new private school disparage; be a mensch, he tells him.

The movie has its compelling moments, with characters like his mother, his often angry father and his grandfather often presented to us from his kid’s-eye-view of them. But the pieces of this movie don’t always hang together. Each of the adult characters, while well-performed, feel like they’re working at slightly different frequencies. Armageddon Time isn’t bad but it lacks a certain clarity. B Available for rent or purchase.

See How They Run (PG-13)

Saoirse Ronan, Sam Rockwell.

In 1950s London, Inspector Stoppard (Rockwell) and Constable Stalker (Ronan) investigate the murder of Leo Kopernick (Adian Brody), an American director tasked with turning Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap into a film. As in any English country house murder, there are an assortment of potential suspects with an assortment of connections to (and disagreements with) the victim. Eager and slightly star-struck Stalker and uninterested, world-weary Stoppard make an odd-couple pairing as they interview the various players — an ego-filled star (Harris Dickinson), an ego-filled writer (David Oyelowo), the play’s no-nonsense producer (Ruth Wilson), the potential producer of the movie (Reece Shearsmith) and his mistress (Pippa Bennett-Warner) — and try to figure which of the many reasons for wanting Leo dead actually moved someone to murder.

This movie has all the trappings — in how it’s shot, in the very Character-y characters, in its wry dialogue — of a buoyant murder mystery. But somehow it’s missing the bounce, the spark that would make it the kind of fun it seems to want to be. See How They Run seems to be aiming for “Knives Out but cozier” but instead it’s merely inoffensive and mildly pleasant. B- On VOD and HBO Max.

The Menu (R)

The Menu (R)

Diners at an exclusive, multi-thousand-dollar-per-diner restaurant realize their evening is about more than foams and locally sourced seafood in The Menu, a thriller that’s probably more cute than clever but does leave you hungry for a really good [spoiler alert].

Let’s just say the food item in question isn’t quite the Chef grilled cheese sandwich but it’s in that vein and I will be thinking about it long after I stop thinking about the rest of the movie.

Hawthorne is the kind of restaurant that patrons have to wait months to get a reservation for and then can get to only by taking a boat out to a secluded island where only a dozen customers are served per night. Before even getting to the restaurant, front-of-house manager Elsa (Hong Chau) takes the diners on a tour of the island and the restaurant’s gardens and chicken coop and smokehouse — the base camp of bull—- mountain, as Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) observes. Of all the guests, she is the least impressed by all the artisanal nonsense of the restaurant. And she’s the date of the guest who is most obsessed with the idea of each dish’s umami and presentation and Instagramability, Tyler (Nicholas Hoult). She is not, we quickly understand, the date he was supposed to bring, and when she and another guest, older man Richard (Reed Birney), recognize each other and then pointedly look away from each other, we can guess pretty quickly how she came to be with Tyler. Richard is there with his wife, Anne (Judith Light). Other guests include three finance bros (Mark St. Cyr, Arturo Castro, Rob Yang); a restaurant critic (Janet McTeer) and her editor (Paul Adelstein); a past-his-prime movie star (John Leguizamo) and his assistant (Aimee Carrero), and an older woman (Rebecca Koon).

Chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) commands great respect — or something — from his kitchen staff, who snap to attention and “yes, chef” him loudly when he gives an order. The dishes come out, one by one, each with a story (and accompanying title card), and each one gets a little more conceptual and insane than the next. When a taco course comes out featuring a chicken thigh with small scissors stuck it (to go along with a story about Slowik stabbing his abusive father in the thigh) and tortillas laser-printed with the guests’ various misdeeds, the guests realize that the uneasiness they’ve felt all evening was the correct emotion.

What if Jigsaw from Saw went to culinary school and started to take food really seriously while still wanting to mess with people — is what I’m getting from this movie. Yes, the title cards are funny and there are a few genuine laugh-out-loud moments, often juxtaposing the la-di-da nature of foodie talk with menace or outright violence. But the customers are more monied sadsacks than monsters and the kitchen staff come off as either either dead-eyed cult members or wild-eyed lunatics. Which, fine — but the movie spends a lot of time on speechifying and seeming to have characters believe they’re making a point about class and the shallowness of high-end foodie culture. The movie acts like it’s saying something but really every statement of purpose boils down to “people suck,” which kind of takes the air out of that part of the movie and makes it feel more like window dressing to the suspense than a clever message. It is, as Paul Hollywood would say poking his thumb into these sections of the movie, underbaked.

We are also boxed in to only rooting for Taylor-Joy (well, maybe her and Judith Light, who is able to do great things with the tiniest of looks or motions). This is by design but the movie doesn’t give her much more than “Girl You Root For” as a character or personality. Fiennes, as the Big Bad, doesn’t get a whole lot more than that — his character basically delivers Chef Julian’s whole deal during one of many pre-course monologues — but he does seem to be having fun with this Great Man gone off the rails.

For all this, I enjoyed The Menu — it’s gleeful about its different kinds of villainy and really relishes, ha, sending up needless extravagance and foodie culture. B

Rated R for strong/disturbing violent content, language throughout and some sexual references, according to the MPA at Directed by Mark Mylod and written by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, The Menu is an hour and 47 minutes long and distributed by Searchlight Pictures in theaters.

Featured photo: Ralph Fiennes in The Menu.

Our Missing Hearts, by Celeste Ng

Our Missing Hearts, by Celeste Ng (Penguin Press, 352 pages)

Celeste Ng’s latest novel is a depressing dive into a dystopian society, but I had high hopes for it when I found a handwritten note tucked inside the copy I picked up from the library that said, “It is so, so, so good!” I have to wonder if I would have liked it more if that note hadn’t been there, messing with my expectations.

In Our Missing Hearts, the government has passed PACT, the Preserving American Culture and Traditions Act, which has resulted in the banning of anything that might promote anti-Americanism and forces children of parents who don’t fully support the act to live with state-approved foster families. PACT targets Asians, particularly the Chinese; the American government blames the decade-old “Crisis” — an economic downturn marked by unemployment and poverty — on Chinese manipulation.

The story follows 12-year-old Bird, whose mother, Chinese-American poet Margaret Miu, left him and his father three years prior, after the line from her poem “Our Missing Hearts” was adopted as a slogan for anti-PACT activists. Worried that the government would take Bird away because she was perceived as a traitor, Margaret left first.

While the idea is good, its execution drags the story down. Ng (author of the adapted-for-Hulu novel Little Fires Everywhere) made some interesting writing choices in Our Missing Hearts. My biggest pet peeve is that she doesn’t use quotation marks at all, anywhere, even though the characters have dialogues. The decision struck me as somewhat arrogant, serving no purpose other than showing that Ng has become well-known enough as an author to take such liberties. But I realized I wasn’t being fair and should find out if there was a good reason for it, so, naturally, I asked Google. An article on BuzzFeed gave me the answer; Ng was asked about her style choices, specifically the lack of quotation marks. Her response:

“When I started writing the novel, I found that I was instinctively writing without quotation marks … but I had to think about why. (I’ll be honest, I usually hate when there are no quotation marks.) … I wanted the novel to feel slightly folkloric, almost dreamlike; for Bird, the events feel a little bit like stepping into a fairytale, one of the stories his mother told him when he was young. When you think of a story being told out loud, the way folktales often are … there’s a blurring between the person narrating, and the words of the story, and the things the characters say. So, removing the quotation marks helped create that effect for the reader.”

Maybe someone who is less of a stickler about grammatical rules would appreciate that artistic perspective, but strong dialogue can really move a plot along and give the characters personality, and this didn’t have any of that. In fact, my main issue with the novel is that I didn’t really care about the characters; they were flat, dull and one-dimensional. Ng switches perspective about halfway through the novel, from Bird’s point of view to Margaret’s, and while it helps explain her reasons for leaving more clearly, that emotion still isn’t there. A mother who has to leave her child should be devastated; what we see is her focusing instead on her anti-PACT mission. It’s noble, of course, but she seems almost robotic.

The character I actually liked the most was Sadie, who was removed from her home because her parents were working against PACT. At first we get to know from Bird’s memories of her; later he meets up with her on his journey to find his mother — which he seems to do only because she sent him a cryptic letter that he thinks is a request for him to find her, and not because he has a strong emotional desire to see her. He might, but the story focuses more on how he works through the clues his mother gave him to find her.

Dystopian novels are often bleak, but Our Missing Hearts was both bleak and boring. At times I didn’t even want to finish it, but it’s pretty short, and I promised to write a book review about it, so here we are.

While the concept was good, it might have been better as a short story, where the lack of character development would be less noticeable. As a novel, Our Missing Hearts is missing, well, heart. Maybe that’s the point. But the story would have been more powerful if there were more feeling behind it. C+

Album Reviews 22/12/01

Monster Magnet, Test Patterns: Vol. 1 (God Unknown Records)

Holy cats, a new Monster Magnet album, folks — there’s a jolt to the brain, isn’t it? They suddenly showed up from out of nowhere — a.k.a. Red Bank, New Jersey — working a noise rock angle that was, and I quote, “a cosmos away from the major-label, alternative rock boom that would suck the band into the shiny MTV world of the early to middle 90s.” In other words they were pretty useful, and antidote to all the Hawkwinds and Nirvana wannabes that made the 90s so useless, and this is more of the same, two versions of a 25-odd-minute-long fuzz-jam called “Tab.” The first version is a remix from 2021, pure Brian Jonestown Massacre meets Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” but without any real musical purpose aside from being trippy, and then comes the original version, from a 1988 demo, which is virtually indistinguishable from the last 150-odd songs King Gizzard has put out this fiscal quarter. And here I’ll bet you’d thought these guys were gone forever, didn’t you? Weird, or what? B

The White Buffalo, Year Of The Dark Horse (Snakefarm Records)

When the pandemic put everyone in the entertainment business into stasis chambers, people did different things to stay sane. I know of two guys who picked up the drums just to stay sane, but this fellow here, Oregon-born Jake Smith, a guitarist by trade, picked up a synthesizer to make this LP, the follow-up to his 2020 full-length On The Widow’s Walk, more of a creative challenge as he “embarked on a voyage of discovery.” Well isn’t that special, and this isn’t a synth tour-de-force, but it does work in many ways, especially if you dug his early Americana-rock (he hates it when people call it that). The first tune, “Kingdom For A Fool,” begins with the same sleepy-but-buzzed-out vibe as Bread’s “Guitar Man,” but then it’s on, folks, Smith’s vocal tabling some unabashed rawk-melodics I wasn’t expecting at all. The sound is pretty full and rich as far as California-steeped radio-pop goes (he’s living in Cali these days, for the record), for example “C’mon Come Up Come Out” has a Red Hot Chili Peppers laziness to it, and if you like Beck, you’ll like a lot of this stuff. A


• Land’s sakes, Jane, stop this crazy thing, we’re into the first week of December already, and there will be (I hope) a few new albums slated for release on Friday, Dec. 2. Ah, here’s a few of the little rascals, the first thing to which I’ll give a funny sideways look is (or course) a box set (because box sets and reissues make great holiday gifts for record collectors who already have everything they don’t need), specifically the big fat Sail On Sailor – 1972: Super Deluxe Box Set from the Beach Boys, who are celebrating their 60th year of making totally groovy music for Woodstock druggies or whatever their mission statement is. But now it’s time for today’s big reveal: I, multiple-award-winning music journo that I am, had no idea whatsoever that the Beach Boys were the ones who did that song in the first place. No, seriously, I’d always figured it had been some Chicago-wannabe 1970s band like Stealers Wheel, but no, it was the Beach Boys. I never really liked that song all that much, but you guys remember when it was playing over some scene in The Departed involving hams or whatever, and it was so edgy and cool? No? Well maybe you should go watch it again, just try to get past Jack Nicholson’s usual overacting and all that, it was a cool scene. And so on and so forth, this $120 heap of CDs and nonsense covers the Boys’ 1972 albums Carl And The Passions and Holland. Says here “This 6-CD set features a 48-page book with extensive liner notes, rare photos and more. The collection includes remastered versions of the original albums as well as outtakes and session highlights from the original Mount Vernon and Fairway EP from Holland, plus a previously unreleased concert from Carnegie Hall, 1972. Also included are dozens of studio and live additional tracks, sessions and alternate versions.” Yow, all I needed was a normal version of “Sail On Sailor,” but instead it’s basically a hilariously overpriced pu pu platter of mostly chicken fingers instead of the beef teriyaki strip I really only wanted in the first place. How do I shut this off?

• Los Angeles skate-punk veterans NOFX have been a thing since 1983, but they still know where to buy Day-Glo Hawaiian shirts, K-Mart cutoff shorts and all the other parts of their clown outfits, so here’s to those guys and their new album, titled Double Album! Wait a second, though, guys, wait a second, you’ll die when you hear this, are you ready? Right, it’s not actually a double album, just a single album, with 10 songs! The irony, I’m sorry, I’m really getting the vapors and need to lay down with my smelling salts, land’s sakes alive. So, whatever, appropriately enough, the test-drive single is called “Punk Rock Cliché,” and it’s pretty gosh darn cool if you don’t mind that the main riff is pretty much stolen from Thin Lizzy’s “Thunder and Lightning,” and the whole tune will be mistaken for a disposable Hoobastank filler song, but that’s the price of fame: help to invent a genre one year, and then watch as a bunch of 18-year-old scamps put you out of business. Seriously, how do you stop this crazy thing?

• St. Louis-based hip-hop producer/DJ/etc. Metro Boomin has only been around since 2009, but one of the first questions that comes up when you Google the guy is, “Is he retired yet?” Yes, that’s how ancient you are, I’m sorry for you. Heroes & Villains is his new record, and the beats are epic (but annoyingly trappy) in the single “Gods Don’t Bleed,” which features 21 Savage & Travis Scott. You might like it.

• We’ll end with Cleveland-bred techno-dude Galcher Lustwerk and his new 100% Galcher LP. “Put On” is a nice, hypnotic bit of mid-aughts deep house, unadventurous but perfect mall ambiance for chilling out to while your girlfriend tries on dresses she’ll regret buying.

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).

Rosemary Mixed Nuts

Over the next month, odds are likely that you will be hosting or attending a gathering where you are requested to bring an appetizer to share. There are bound to be an assortment of dips and charcuterie trays. Why not make something simple, different and utterly memorable? Let me introduce you to this mixed nut recipe.

You may be wondering why you can’t just buy a container of mixed nuts at the grocery store and bring that to the party. The answer is simple: The flavors in these mixed nuts are not going to be found on a grocery store shelf. The combination of sweet, salty and herbaceous delivers a snack that is truly unique. It will work as a part of an appetizer menu, as well as a dessert menu.

Let’s talk about the ingredients. The ratio of walnuts to pecans is up to you. In fact, if you want to use only one type of nut, that is fine. The butter should be unsalted. If you only have salted butter, you should use only 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Fresh rosemary is preferred, as dried rosemary has a pine needle sort of texture.

I have made this recipe for many a gathering, and it is always popular. Thankfully, you can easily double or triple the recipe to feed a big, hungry crowd. Let the season of eating continue!

Rosemary Mixed Nuts
Serves 4-6

2¼ cups walnuts and pecans
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
2½ Tablespoons brown sugar, divided
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
2 Tablespoons fresh rosemary, minced
1 Tablespoon water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Spread walnuts and pecans on a rimmed baking sheet; bake for 10 minutes.
Right before the nuts are done, melt the butter in a small bowl (15 to 30 seconds in a microwave).
Add 1 tablespoon brown sugar to melted butter, and stir well.
Remove nuts from the oven, and push into a pile using a spatula.
Pour melted butter mixture over nuts, and toss to combine.
Spread nuts into a single layer; sprinkle with salt and rosemary.
Bake for 10 minutes.
Combine water and remaining brown sugar.
Remove nuts from the oven, and drizzle with sugar syrup.
Bake for 5 more minutes.
Serve warm, or cool and transfer to a storage container.

Featured Photo: Rosemary Mixed Nuts. Photo by Michele Pesula Kuegler.

In the kitchen with Christina Wormell

Christina Wormell of Hillsborough is the owner of Queen of Tarts Pâtisserie (find her on Facebook and Instagram @queenoftartspatisserie), specializing in French cookies, breads, éclairs and other pastries and baked goods in a variety of rotating seasonal flavors. Originally from Maine, Wormell attended New England College in Henniker, and left her job at the beginning of 2021 to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a baker. Her passion started at an early age, when she and her Memere would bake and watch cooking shows together every weekend. Wormell regularly participates in area farmers markets during the summer months, as well as fairs and craft shows, and she also accepts custom orders through social media for local pickup.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

I definitely would have to have a whisk, because it’s so versatile.

What would you have for your last meal?

I would definitely have a Maine lobster roll. I mean, I don’t eat meat anymore, but if it was my last meal, I’d make an exception for that. … It has to be with mayonnaise and on a toasted roll.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

Ichiban [Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar] in Concord. … They have a vegetarian roll that has seaweed, avocado and cucumber, and that’s my go-to.

What celebrity would you like to see ordering from you?

It would have to be chef Gordon Ramsay. He’s my favorite. I’d be pretty confident he’d like my stuff.

What is your favorite thing on any one of your menus?

I really like to make éclairs. My personal favorite flavor that I made was a lemon poppy seed éclair. I do that one around June or July.

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

I think the trend right now is because of the TV show Is It Cake? You’ll see a scene where, say, there’s a laptop, a phone and a piece of paper, and one of those things is [made of] cake, but it’s so realistic that you don’t [know which one] until they cut into it. That’s something that I see everywhere and I think it’s because of that show.

What is your favorite thing to make at home?

I love to make homemade bread. … I like to do herbed French breads and just plain French breads.

Homemade banana bread
From the kitchen of Christina Wormell of Queen of Tarts Pâtisserie
¾ cup packed brown sugar
1 stick butter
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 overripe bananas
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-by-5-inch pan. In a separate bowl, mash three of the four bananas and set aside. In another separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon and set aside. Using your mixer, start by creaming the butter and sugar together. Add in the eggs one at a time. Add in the vanilla and mashed bananas and mix until incorporated. Add your flour mixture into the batter and fold until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Take your remaining banana, peel it and cut it down the middle vertically. Place the two halves of the banana facing up on top of the batter. Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (about 45 to 60 minutes). Let the bread cool in a pan for 10 minutes before putting it on your wire rack.

Featured photo: Christina Wormell. Photo by Selena Massie,

Cheeses, spices and teas

Made in New England Expo returns

New England-based businesses will gather at the DoubleTree by Hilton Manchester Downtown’s Expo Center on Saturday, Dec. 3, and Sunday, Dec. 4, to showcase and sell their products at the Made in New England Expo.

“The goal … is to shine a light on businesses and help them get recognition, [and] … to kind of get their name out there,” show director Christine Carignan said.

These businesses include Nothin’ But Curd, a Vermont-based company that makes cheese curds and spreads; Vermont Condiment, which sells a variety of maple products; and New Hampshire Herb & Spice Co., offering custom rubs and blends.

Mixed Up Nut Butter, a Vermont business offering craft nut butters made from different tree nut blends with pecans, cashews and almonds, is back for the second time this year, as is Critical Mass Coffee, based in Manchester and offering multiple bagged blends of organic fair trade coffee.

You’ll also find Puckerbush, a newcomer specializing in jams, jellies and unique drink infusions; Holy Moly Snacks, based in Manchester and selling pre-packaged beef chips, cookies and brownies; and 27Teas, a New Hampshire tea company now also based in Manchester.

Margaret Gay, owner and founder of 27Teas, started the company about four years ago after noticing there wasn’t much out there for tea drinkers.

“When I would go places with my … now husband, he would always be able to walk into a coffee shop or a cafe and get this awesome beverage,” Gay said, “and then I would go to order something tea-related and it seemed like there [were] no options.”

Gay decided to take action.

“I feel like when people start cafes, they do it thinking of the coffee and then tea as an afterthought, and I really wanted to change that for the people that are tea lovers,” Gay said. “So I started doing my own blending and things.”

After years of selling online and doing wholesale work with cafes, 27Teas moved to Manchester a few weeks ago, where it now has its own retail shop.

“My mission is changing the way people in New England and beyond … drink tea,” she said. “So I really focus on making education available as well. I want to make the switch to drinking loose leaf tea unintimidating, easy, delicious, but also affordable.”

Another important aspect to her business is giving back, which Gay does by giving a percentage of her profits to The Water Project, a Concord-based clean water initiative.

Now being located in Manchester, Gay felt it was especially important to attend this year’s expo.

“My hope is that I get to run into a lot of people who haven’t maybe seen my products before and get to try it,” she said.

Gay’s business is a great example, Carignan said, of why the expo is such an effective platform for others like hers to expand their customer reach.

“We want to help give these small businesses the exposure that they want, [and] to help take their business to the next level,” she said. “We also want … our audience … to be able to find unique products and support local companies and … see what’s available right around the corner from them that they may not be aware of.”

Made in New England Expo
When: Saturday, Dec. 3, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 4, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: DoubleTree by Hilton Expo Center, 700 Elm St., Manchester
Cost: $8 admission for adults, $7 for seniors and $2 for children ages 2 to 12. Tickets can be pre-purchased online or at the door the day of the event.
More info: Visit or find the event on Facebook @madeinnewenglandexpo

Featured photo: Photo by Matthew Lomanno Photography.

Peace, love and barbecue

Smokin’ Spank’s food trailer rolls into Litchfield

Kevin Anctil of Litchfield grew up on family-owned farmland in Lewiston, Maine, where his late grandfather was revered in the community for his barbecued chicken. Several Sundays out of the year, Armand Anctil would purchase a batch of chickens from a local processing plant and cook them out in front of his home, using his own barbecue pits he had designed and built.

“They were sandwich-type grates, so he could load them up and close them down, then walk down the line and baste all the chickens and flip all the grates over, and he’d do that for 90 minutes to two hours,” Anctil said. “Then the people of Lewiston, after mass, would walk up the hillside with their blankets and picnic baskets, or their potato salad and lemonade, and they’d buy Pepere’s chicken and eat it out there on the yard in front of the farmhouse.”

As owner and pitmaster of Smokin’ Spank’s Barbecue, a 22-foot food trailer launched earlier this fall, Anctil pays homage to his family’s roots. He has the same original basting sauce and finishing sauce recipes for his own barbecue chicken, and he even added a custom-built pit for his trailer that uses the same type of sandwich grating techniques his grandfather once employed.

top view close up of macaroni and cheese in small plastic cup
Macaroni and cheese. Photo courtesy of Smokin’ Spank’s.

Smokin’ Spank’s Barbecue is scheduled to appear at 446 Charles Bancroft Highway in Litchfield on several weekend dates this month, with the next one on Saturday, Dec. 3. Anctil is also cooking up barbecue for attendees of Spirit of Litchfield’s fifth annual tree lighting, set for Saturday, Dec. 10, at Roy Memorial Park.

Anctil, who is affectionately known in his college friend circle as “Spank,” described his concept as traditional Southern barbecue, but with some New England roots. His brisket, for instance, is smoked Texas-style with salt and pepper in tribute to his own travels, while other items include maple baby back ribs that are finished with maple syrup as a glaze.

“I do a blueberry spare rib that’s a bigger, meatier rib with a blueberry barbecue sauce on it,” he said. “I also have local apples in the apple bacon barbecue sauce that I serve with my pulled pork, and I do a blueberry jalapeno slaw that I guarantee you’ve never had anyplace else. … It starts as sort of a traditional coleslaw, but then I include big whole blueberries and slivers of seeded jalapeno in there. It doesn’t bring a lot of heat but it does bring a bright fresh green pop.”

Anctil also serves traditional macaroni and cheese and loaded baked potato salad, both of which he considers to be his flagship sides. Last week, he offered a menu of “spankwiches” for the first time, featuring a half-pound of pulled pork or pit beef and a house sauce — the apple bacon sauce, he said, is designed to pair with the pork, while the Texas table sauce goes with the beef.

“Peace, love and barbecue” is Anctil’s unofficial slogan, the words adorning his trailer.

“I spent the first 30 years of my working career in IT, and following Covid, I made a career change,” he said. “I was doing something that really wasn’t my passion or was in my heart, and so … my family got behind me and wanted to support me to try to make a go of doing what I love. … I’m at peace when I’m cooking and I show my love through my food.”

Smokin’ Spank’s Barbecue
Upcoming appearances; visit or find them on Facebook and Instagram @smokinspank
• Saturday, Dec. 3: 446 Charles Bancroft Hwy., Litchfield (noon to sellout)
• Saturday, Dec. 10: Annual Christmas tree lighting at Roy Memorial Park, Wood Hawk Way and Albuquerque Ave., Litchfield (4 to 7 p.m.)
• Saturday, Dec. 17: 446 Charles Bancroft Hwy., Litchfield (noon to sellout)
• Friday, Dec. 23: 446 Charles Bancroft Hwy., Litchfield (noon to sellout)

Featured photo: Blueberry spare ribs. Photo courtesy of Smokin’ Spank’s.

Stay in the loop!

Get FREE weekly briefs on local food, music,

arts, and more across southern New Hampshire!