Swag of the season

Music fan gift guide

From modest to massive, local to legend, light fun to heavy tomes, there’s a great gift for the music fan in your life. Here are some ideas sure to bring a smile this holiday season.

Rocking Horse Music Club’s Circus of Wire Dolls (rockinghorsemusicclub.com) is one of the best records to come out of New Hampshire in years, an ambitious rock opera of memoir and anthropomorphism that could very well be on Broadway one day. Its lineup includes area talent and progressive rock legends, led by creator and producer Brian Coombes — available on vinyl and CD.

Speaking of local acts, several released great albums this year. Couple Gravity and the Stars Above, the moody pop-punk sophomore release from Donaher (facebook.com/donahertheband), with a cool T-shirt. Go country with April Cushman’s NEMA-winning The Long Haul and a bull skull hoodie (aprilcushman.com), or gift Faith Ann Band’s raging In Bloom with a piece of their leader’s handmade jewelry (thefaithannband.com).

hoodie featuring illustration of cattle skull with feathers hanging from horns, and words April Cushman above
April Cushman Hoodie.

Concert tickets are a gift that pays off now and later, when the shows actually happen. The two-day Northlands Festival (northlandslive.com) is returning next June, this time with The String Cheese Incident and Phish’s Mike Gordon topping the bill at the Cheshire Fairgrounds in Swanzey. The long-awaited Nashua Center for the Arts finally opens in April, with Suzanne Vega, blues polyglot Grace Kelly and ukulele wizard Jake Shimabukuro all on sale, along with other shows (nashuapac.org).

For the gadget-minded, there are some great options. If you’re feeling really generous, the Beolit 20 from Bang & Olufsen is a perfect gift. It’s a portable Bluetooth speaker that runs around $500, which is entry level for the Danish sound company. Along with pristine output, the unit’s top doubles as a magnetic charge base for mobile phones.

Less lofty is JBL’s Charge 5, a (totally) tubular speaker that’s waterproof and quite powerful. Apple AirPods are always a safe pick; the third-generation ones pack a big bass wallop. For the extravagant, there’s the sleek and powerful over-ear AirPods Max. Just as beautiful is the Ikea Symfonisk Picture Frame, which does not require user assembly, a rarity for that store. It works with Sonos, AirPlay and Spotify Connect.

How thoughtful is the clever offering from Vinylify, a bespoke vinyl album containing a playlist of choice and customized cover art? The site also offers gift cards, a safer choice that will allow your music lover’s imagination to run wild. You can give them some ideas with Easton Press’s voluminous Rock Covers book, which collects more than 750 sleeves from Elvis and onward, organized by artist and spanning rock’s 40-year “golden era” at a pricey $176.

More down to earth are books about classic rock favorites. Bob Spitz, whose past works include an encyclopedic look at The Beatles, has a biography of Led Zeppelin that does a great job with the band’s early days, when its four members were scrappily climbing the ladder and learning the ropes. U2 front man Bono’s Surrender looks back at his life through 40 of his band’s songs.

If fiction is more to your favorite fan’s liking, a good choice is a hardcover copy of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Daisy Jones & The Six with a “She just seemed so fearless” bookmark. The novel traces the rise and fall of a band that sounds very much like the Stevie Nicks-era Fleetwood Mac.

Funko Pop! Rocks plastic figure of Ronnie James Dio in package
Funko Pop! Rocks

Given the recent passing of Christine McVie, now’s a fine time to spin “Don’t Stop” and “You Make Loving Fun” — or marinate in McVie’s own music. There’s a Glyn Johns remaster of her Songbird: A Solo Collection that’s a good choice there. Or go further back in McVie’s career: For the hardcore fan, there’s a limited white-vinyl edition of the 1970 record she made as Christine Perfect on Amazon — an import, naturally.

Everyone loves toys for Christmas, especially music fans. One of the best (and hardest to get) is Funko Pop! Rocks: Iron Maiden Glow In The Dark Box Set (popmarket.com). It includes four 4.5-inch Eddie figures of the English heavy metal band: Live After Death, Seventh Son, Nights of the Dead and Somewhere in Time. When it sells out, there are other items that headbangers will love, like a Pantera set, along with standalones of Ronnie James Dio and Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider.

Featured photo: A bespoke vinyl album containing a playlist of choice and customized cover art through Vinylify.

The Music Roundup 22/12/08

Local music news & events

Songbird: Along with writing achingly beautiful songs, Antje Duvekot is a talented animator who’s made music videos for several of her contemporaries. Lately, she’s collaborating on a long-form project about Holocaust survivor Abe Piasek. Musically, she’s putting the finishing touches on a new, fan-funded album, and she did a stunning duet with John Gorka of Nanci Griffith’s “Working In Corners” that’s up on YouTube. Thursday, Dec. 8, 7:30 p.m., Music Hall Lounge, 131 Congress St., Portsmouth, tickets $37 and $47 at themusichall.org.

Perennial: Boston likes to think of Martin Sexton as its own; though the songwriter’s songwriter is a Syracuse native, he came up busking at T stops and on the streets of the city in the early 1990s. He’s gone on to headline storied venues like Carnegie Hall and The Fillmore. His latest album, 2020 Vision, was made virtually during lockdown. It’s described on the official Martin Sexton website as “a poetically emotive and elegantly evocative pandemic scrapbook.” Friday, Dec. 9, 8 p.m., Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A St., Derry, tickets $40 and $45 at tupelohall.com.

Vocalizers: Before Straight No Chaser, Pentatonix and the Pitch Perfect movies, Rockapella brought contemporary a cappella into many music fans’ lives. The New York vocal group had forebears, but when it was the house “band” on the PBS series Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? its brand of human beatbox-driven harmonizing entered the mainstream. The group’s annual holiday show returns to Pinkerton Academy. Saturday, Dec. 10, 7 p.m., Stockbridge Theatre, 44 N. Main St., Derry, $35 at pinkertonacademy.org.

Fiddlacious: Born to play her instrument, Eileen Ivers remembers air fiddling a pink toy guitar at age 3. Since then, she’s earned a reputation as the Jimi Hendrix of the violin from her admirers. Although she’s won multiple all-Ireland fiddle championships and has toured with Riverdance, Ivers is an American, born in New York City. Her upcoming show is Christmas-themed; a highlight of past performances is the devotional song “Holly Tree.” Sunday, Dec. 11, 4 p.m., Rex Theatre, 23 Amherst St., Manchester, $39 at palacetheatre.org.

Hometown: A solo set from one of the area’s leading luminaries, Justin Cohn, may include a song from Rocking Horse Music Club’s rock opera, Circus of Wire Dolls. The singer-songwriter is one of the group’s standouts since he delivered a memorable lead vocal on 2018’s “Everywhere Is Home,” their debut single. Cohn has a great catalog of his own songs; he released the reflective, bucolic “Settlement Trees” at the end of last year. Tuesday, Dec. 13, 9 p.m., Stark Brewing Co., 500 Commercial St., Manchester. See justincohn.com.

At the Sofaplex 22/12/08

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special (TV-14)

Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista.

And in addition to Quill (Pratt) and Drax (Bautista) we get Nebula (Karen Gillan), Kraglin (Sean Gunn), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Groot (voice of Vin Diesel), Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper), Cosmo the Russian cosmonaut dog (voice of Maria Bakalova) and, as the credits say, “introducing Kevin Bacon.” The gang decides Bacon, the awesome hero of Quill’s pre-space Earth memories, would be the perfect gift for a still-bummed-about-lost-Gamora Quill, especially since this happens to be the Earth season known as Christmastime. The Guardians retro rock vibe meshes well with some low-fi elements and the satisfying selection of modern rock Christmas music. The overall tone of this brisk 40-ish minute special is exactly the right mix of goofy (blessings to the very game Bacon), Marvelly and sweet. B+ Available on Disney+.

Spirited (PG-13)

Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds.

Ferrell and Reynolds work on exactly the level they should in this breezy musical riff on A Christmas Carol that feels like the spiritual descendant of 1988’s Scrooged, with Clint Briggs (Reynolds), labeled an unredeemable jerk by Jacob Marley (Patrick Page), as the focus of a Christmas-Carol-ing. Clint is a PR guy whose whole shtick is creating conflict and ruining lives to help his clients. To the Ghost of Christmas Present (Ferrell) that makes him a perfect candidate. His bad actions touch a lot of lives and he offers a much-needed challenge. But, despite the year of planning that goes into the project, the night doesn’t go as planned. For starters, Past (Sunita Mani) and Clint hook up and she exits his look-back early, because awkward. When Present steps in, he is irritated by Clint, particularly by how Clint has him questioning matters from his own life. Not helping is the fact that Present has a crush on Clint’s second-in-command, Kimberley (Octavia Spencer), who can see and talk to Present.

Spirited is cute, in the best way. It is fun to watch; there are some well-used cameos and a nice running joke about spon-con, and the songs are thoroughly enjoyable despite any lack of expertise by the actors called on to sing. B+ Available on Apple TV+.

The Hip Hop Nutcracker (TV-PG)

Cache Melvin, Dushaunt Fik-Shun Stegall.

A teenage Maria-Clara (Melvin) enjoys the start of a young romance with the Nutcracker (Stegall) while trying to rekindle the romance between her mom (Allison Holker) and pop (Stephen Boss) at a neighborhood block party on New Year’s Eve in this 44-minute remix reworking of the Nutcracker ballet. Toymaker Drosselmeyer (Comfort Fedoke) is still bringing the magic but this time the Land of Sweets is a dance club in a nonspecific back in the day when Maria-Clara’s parents first met. The staging is a fun way to play around with the familiar story, and the blend of classical ballet (including a short cameo from Mikhail Baryshnikov) with hip-hop dance is beautiful and technically impressive — something the special takes care to really let you see. If you like a good riff on a holiday standard, this fits the bill and I feel like it is a good way to introduce kids who might have only meh interest in standard ballet to the music and story elements. B+ Available on Disney+.

A Christmas Story Christmas (PG)

Peter Billingsly, Julie Hagerty.

Ralphie, the boy pining for a BB gun at Christmastime in 1940, is now Ralph, married to Sandy (Erinn Hayes), with kids — Mark (River Drosche) and Julie (Julianna Layne) — and living in Chicago. When his mom (Hagerty, taking over from Melinda Dillon, who played the mom in the 1983 A Christmas Story) calls to tell him his father has died, Ralph decides to take his family back to his Indiana town to spend Christmas with her in his childhood home. His mom insists that the family not be gloomy — Dad would have wanted us to have a great Christmas, she tells him. But Ralphie is not sure he can live up to the gold standard for Christmas celebration set by his dad. He also has an approaching deadline — he has spent the year trying to make it as a writer and finding no takers for his 2,000-page sci-fi novel.

This movie has cute moments featuring cast members of the original movie. But it is long and wearingly eager. Be Nostalgic! Feel the Holiday Cheer! Oh, That Ralphie! I would say, “It’s fine to have on while doing your holiday tasks,” but the original is available on the same streaming service, so why bother with this so-so imitation? C+ Available on HBO Max.

Violent Night (R)

Santa Claus gets bloody in Violent Night, an entertaining oddity of an action dark comedy holiday movie that is, despite a lead-character moppet and lots of Christmas Magic, the hardest of hard Rs and decidedly not for kids.

But also, were it not for the skull-crushing (accompanied by real A+ foley work) and the gushing fountains of blood, this is kind of a sweet and sentimental movie about family and Christmas. Very ew but also awww.

Young Trudy Lightstone’s (Leah Brady) Christmas wish is for her estranged parents, Linda (Alexis Louder) and Jason (Alex Hassell), to get back together. They sort of do so for Christmas at the heavily armed and protected compound of extremely wealthy grandma Gertrude Lightstone (Beverly D’Angelo), Jason’s mother. Trudy worries that Santa won’t know what she wants because Jason never took her to visit him. To make up for this, Jason finds an old walkie-talkie and gives it to Trudy, telling her it’s a magic device that will let her talk to Santa.

Little do any of them know that at that moment Santa Claus (David Harbour) is drowning his sorrow about the greed and faithlessness of the world with many beers. When he gets to the Lightstone mansion, he brightens at the homemade cookies Trudy has left for him and even more at the nearly 90-year-old whiskey he finds at the bar. He’s enjoying his treats while relaxing in a massage chair when he hears gunfire.

That would be Mr. Scrooge (John Leguizamo) and his band of Christmas-theme-code-named hired guns attacking the Lightstone compound. They take the family hostage to raid the safe that they’ve learned contains hundreds of millions of dollars in cash. Trudy uses her walkie to call Santa for help, and Santa, because he’s just killed a Scrooge henchman and now has his walkie, answers.

As it turns out, before he was Father Christmas, Santa was a giant-hammer-wielding Viking. Trying to help the true-believer Trudy rekindles both Santa’s Christmas spirit and his Viking bloodlust, and Harbor does a good job at selling both. Equally fun (and I think having fun) is D’Angelo, who is great as a hard-driving businesswoman with a mostly awful family. The mix of petty rich people, a plucky kid (Trudy has just seen Home Alone and took some notes), a bunch of “like pirates but dressed as elves” bad guys and the tenderhearted Viking Santa somehow works.

Violent Night doesn’t feel like a new holiday classic, but it is a tart little kick that somehow still brings some Christmas-y cheer. Cheer and gore. B

Rated super R for strong bloody violence, language throughout and some sexual references, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Directed by Tommy Wirkola with a screenplay by Pat Casey and Josh Miller, Violent Night is an hour and 52 minutes long and distributed in theaters by Universal Studios.

Featured photo: Ralph Fiennes in The Menu.

Now is Not the Time to Panic, by Kevin Wilson

Now is Not the Time to Panic, by Kevin Wilson (Ecco, 243 pages)

It’s another mundane day in the suburban household of Frances Eleanor Budge when she picks up the phone and hears a writer for The New Yorker say, “The edge is a shantytown filled with gold seekers.”

Frances numbly replies, “We are fugitives and the law is skinny with hunger for us,” as her daughter bangs on drums in the background and her husband makes a household repair.

After hanging up, refusing to answer the writer’s questions, Frances reflects, “Our life, which was so boring and normal, was still happening. Right at this moment, as everything was changing, it was like my life didn’t know it yet.”

Thus begins Now is Not the Time to Panic, the new novel by Kevin Wilson, whose previous work includes The Family Fang and Nothing to See Here. From that strange phone call, it’s a wild, comic ride, as Wilson takes readers back 21 years to when Frances, or Frankie, as she was called, was a teenager with a secret.

The teenage Frankie, who lived with her mom and three triplet brothers in Tennessee, was an aspiring writer with a lot of time on her hands when she met Zeke, an aspiring artist. The two bonded over animosity toward their absent fathers, their misfit natures and their boredom.

One day, while trying to think of something to do, Frankie remembered that there was an old Xerox copier in her garage that her troublemaking brothers had stolen from a supply building at the high school. It had previously only been used to photocopy the triplets’ body parts, and now wasn’t working. But Zeke figured out that it was only a paper jam, which he fixed. “This could be fun,” he says. “We could do something weird with this.”

Zeke suggested that Frankie compose a few lines, “a mystery or riddle that no one can solve,” and that he would illustrate it. Frankie complied, and Zeke produced an illustration that was equally odd, with a hellscape of shacks with roofs caving in, wild dogs, children in beds and two “giant, disembodied hands, the fingers withered and jagged, almost glowing” reaching in the direction of the children.

That night, they distributed 63 copies of the poster around town – on telephone poles, in the windows of businesses, in random mailboxes. The next day, they made 300 more. “The whole experience felt like what drugs must have felt like,” Frankie reflects. “It was the high of doing something weird, not knowing the outcome. I imagined my wild brothers had felt this so many times that they were numb to it. But for Zeke and me, well-behaved dorks, it was amazing.” It took a while, but soon a local reporter wrote about the mysterious posters, which he deemed sophisticated, suggesting the quote came from a famous French poet. Zeke and Frankie continued to distribute them, unnoticed. Theories begin to pile up. Some people said the posters were the work of a drug cult and were an ominous threat. The newspaper ran a story under the headline “Evil comes to Coalfield.” Meanwhile, other people in the town started making copies of the poster and hanging them up, too. One person was putting them on top of a water tower when he fell off and died.

Eventually, the story goes national and makes it to 20/20 and Saturday Night Live, and reporting on it wins a Pulitzer for The New York Times, and someone opens a restaurant called “Skinny with Hunger” and so forth. The “Coalfield Panic” becomes so legendary that random people start taking credit for it, but they are shown to be hoaxes, and Frankie has lost touch with Zeke and gone on to live her ordinary life. Which is why she is so unnerved when the writer for The New Yorker, an art critic, starts calling repeatedly, threatening to expose her.

On one level, this sounds like a madcap adventure, something that Christopher Buckley (Thank You for Not Smoking, Florence of Arabia) would write. But there is a poignancy that underlies the story, which is billed as a coming-of-age novel but is much more. It’s also about the source and meaning of art, and about how events from the past forever influence our life. “You hold on to something for twenty years, the expectations and possibilities bend and twist alongside your actual life,” the adult Frankie says.

While the ending wasn’t what I had hoped for (and perhaps not what Frankie and Zeke would have wanted either), Now is Not the Time to Panic was a joy ride from start to finish and moves easily through its two-decade time span like a fast-flowing river. It’s not the great American novel but it doesn’t pretend to be. It’s something even better: a novel that makes you laugh and think and is simply a pleasure to read. B+

Album Reviews 22/12/08

-(16)-, Into Dust (Relapse Records)

Come to think of it, it’s been a while since I covered a sludge-metal album, which is weird, because I usually get a lot of jollies out of that genre: usually you can count on hearing stuff that treads some sort of middle ground between Black Sabbath and Melvins, depending on whether or not the singer can actually sing at all. These guys are from Los Angeles, and this, their eighth album, is more or less a conceptual trip that revolves around living a generally miserable life, starting with “Misfortune Teller,” a borderline math-metal joint in which an eviction notice is served to some poor dude in the wake of Hurricane Irma; singer and second-banana guitarist Bobby Ferry does a pretty good Crowbar imitation, indicating that their template pays obeisance to the genre’s gold standards. “Dead Eyes” is good stuff too, aping the vibe of early Ministry; “Scrape the Rocks” shoots for doomy Kyuss respectability and largely succeeds. A

Journey, Freedom (BMG Records)

Didn’t get to this one when it first landed in my inbox in July, but as always, it’s a good bet that half the people who were big fans of this arena-rock band back in the day are totally unaware that they are still at it. Yes, the legend continues, after guitarist Neil Schon married the bleached blonde who, with a previous loverboy, had somehow crashed an Obama party when he was still president, and then there was the one about how, after singer Steve Perry had had enough of it, they hired a new singer after seeing him karaokeing Journey tunes on YouTube. I’ll gladly cop actually to liking some of the jacked-hormone stuff that was on their 2005 full-length album Generations, and there’s more of that here, with the morose-rockout-morose opening tune “Together We Run,” the Escape-microwaving sounds of “Don’t Give Up On Us,” and so on. No new tricks here, but that’s the punchline; when you’ve become an AOR meme band there’s no need to ditch the original formula. A


• Yikes, Dec. 9 already, and me with a mere paucity of albums to talk about, because all the albums have already been released and are being loaded onto Santa’s magic sleigh, to be dropped off at the homes of people who still buy things like albums and asbestos flooring! But wait a minute, folks, there are actually a few new records that have hit my all-seeing radar, starting with NIKSHOWW, a rapper from someplace or other, Google only found like 100 things associated with the guy, but he’s obviously a highbrow bookworm type, as he was a feat guest on Fiction Fake’s “L. A. U. G. H (Laugh at Ugly Generic Hoes),” which, you can tell by the title, is commonly played at retired accountants’ 50th wedding anniversary bashes. Oh, who is this guy anyway, let’s just move this along, his forthcoming new album, Anxiety Ridden Isolationist, his second. Not a lot of info to be found on this album, but his latest song on Spotify, “Fatal Shot,” is okay once you get past the subtle-ish Autotune. The beat is comprised of gloomy piano and (spoiler) trap drums, and his flow is pretty cool even though his lines (sample lyric: “Everybody that’s in tune knows I’m in a different lane / I will fulfill my dreams of controlling center stage”) are kind of — OK, massively — contrived and old, like if people rapped in ancient Egypt, these are the kinds of rhymes they spat for the entertainment of mummies and whatever. But that’s OK!

French Montana is a rapper from Morocco, or more specifically Casablanca, the largest city in Morocco, and I shall talk briefly about his new album, Coke Boys 6, here in my column. Feats will include Max B, D Thang, Cheese, Kenzo B and Stove God; it’s the sixth installment of his Coke Boys mixtape series, the first since 2020’s Coke Boys 5. Montana’s mushmouthed style is fun in its way; there’s a sample of “Money Heist Edition” on Instagram if you’re curious to hear how “underground” he is (not very, judging by the rather unadventurous 1970s girl-group-flavored beat.

The Lumineers are an alternative folk band from Denver, Colorado. They enjoy such healthy pastimes as playing unnecessary cellos and wearing cabbie hats in order to hide bald spots or Martian antennae, whichever. The band’s principals are heavily into Top 40 radio regulars like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, so, no there is no black metal or chopped-and-screwed sampledelia on this album, a 10th Anniversary Edition of their debut LP, The Lumineers, but I did check for that just in case. “Stubborn Love” is probably the most popular tune from this album, a loping number you probably mistook for an Arcade Fire B-side the first time you heard it; definitely a Tom Petty vibe going on there.

• We’ll wrap up the week with singer/actress and iconic punk fixture Nina Hagen, who will release her 14th album, Unity, this week! Fun fact, when Angela Merkel ended her 16-year chancellorship of Germany last December, she chose Hagen’s song “Du hast den Farbfilm vergessen (You Forgot the Colour Film)” as one of the three tunes to be played at her Großer Zapfenstreich military leaving ceremony. Yes, that’s what happens to old punks, they become the opposite of punk. The title track of this new album is a funky, Warhol-esque pastiche of “woke” epithets and bad singing, but don’t let that stop you.

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).

Wine for the host

Give the gift of bubbles or reds

At this “most wonderful time of the year,” there will be plenty of dinners, parties and gatherings of all sorts, and you want to bring something special to the host, your favorite family member or good friends, but you may not know what they will be serving or where exactly their tastes may lie. I offer the following suggestions of a wine to bring along to your next event or to gift.

Nothing says celebration like Champagne! There are many to choose from, and they need not be expensive. Among the many offered, I recommend the Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial (available at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets, priced at $44.99, reduced to $41.99). This is one of the most sought-after Champagne brands in the world, with almost three centuries of history behind it. The color is that of golden straw, with a very slight green highlight carried in the glass. To the eye it is, what else? Sparkling! The nose is full of green apples along with some citrus, minerality and the yeast of a fresh brioche. To the tongue there are notes of apple, peach and pear carried through on the fine, tiny bubbles. This is a wine to be savored with the best of company and should never make its way to the bar alongside the buffet.

Our next wine comes from the winery of Joseph Carr, the 2020 Josh Cellars Central Coast Pinot Noir, (available at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets, priced at $17.49, reduced to $14.45). The color is a rich ruby red with slight blue notes. The nose has cherry and strawberry that carry through to the tongue, adding a bit of chocolate, ending with notes of smoke or leather, coming from the toasted oak. This is an all-around, all-purpose wine that can be paired with a roast turkey on the sideboard, or served alongside soft cheeses like brie and Comté, or stuffed mushrooms and roasted vegetables. This wine comes from prime pinot noir producing regions that include Arroyo Seco, Monterey and Santa Lucia.

Our third wine is a 2019 Decoy Red Wine (available at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets, priced at $22.99, reduced to $19.99). This wine is a blend of 35 percent cabernet sauvignon, 27 percent merlot, 16 percent zinfandel, 8 percent petite sirah, 5 percent malbec, 5 percent petite verdot, 2 percent syrah and 2 percent carignan. With a deep red color, this wine has full aromas of blackberry, plum and dark cherries, with hints of spice. There are supple tannins in this full-mouth lush wine that is perfect for pairing with that prime rib holiday roast! While priced to be placed on that bar, alongside the buffet, this wine can be thoroughly enjoyed at an elegant dinner party.

Raspberry jalapeño spread

Another weekend, another social gathering, right? If it is an at-home occasion, you may need to bring an appetizer to share. Since we are all busy hustling and bustling, why not bring a homemade snack that is simple yet addictively delicious?

This recipe is a play on the ’80s classic of cream cheese topped with jam. However, it is a recipe with much more depth but not much more effort. First, we are starting with goat cheese. While cream cheese is nice and creamy, its flavor is one note. Goat cheese offers a nice bit of tanginess for the base. Then we get to control the flavor of the spread topping the goat cheese. Raspberries are the star, but there are other elements. Sugar is added to brighten the fruit. Feel free to add half the amount and check for sweetness levels. Finally, there is minced jalapeño. Nothing like a little heat to make a snack more memorable. Of course, you also can adjust the amount of heat. Like minimal heat? Use only half the jalapeño. Like a lot of heat? Include the ribs and seeds.

Now, the only decision you have to make is the type of crackers to serve with this spread. I personally like a whole-wheat cracker for the crunch and flavor, but the options are limitless.

Make the raspberry jalapeño spread early in the day and let it chill all day long. When it’s party time, simply pour it over your goat cheese, grab your crackers, and you’re ready to go!

Raspberry jalapeño spread
Serves 4-6

2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 jalapeño, seeds and ribs removed
8 ounces goat cheese

Combine raspberries and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat.
Stir occasionally, using some force to smash the raspberries.
Dice jalapeño finely.
When sugar is dissolved, add jalapeno.
After spread begins to boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the spread thickens.
Remove from heat; refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours.
Place goat cheese on a small serving plate; top with raspberry spread.
Serve with crackers.

Featured Photo: Raspberry jalapeño spread. Photo by Michele Pesula Kuegler.

In the kitchen with Carlos Dorado

Carlos Dorado of Hollis is the chef and owner of Effin Sauces Co. (effinsauces.com, and on Facebook and Instagram @effinsauces), a producer of an organic apple cider-based vinegar hot sauce made with bell and habañero peppers known as Sweet Lava. Originally from Spain, Dorado graduated from Johnson & Wales University with a culinary degree and would later go on to run a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Miami, Florida, called The Lunchbox — it was there, he said, that he started offering bottles of his sauce on each of the tables. After living in Florida for about a decade, Dorado relocated to the Granite State, where his wife Kaleigh was born and raised and where the family has resided since 2018. Bottles of Sweet Lava are produced in a local licensed commercial kitchen and sold at nearly two dozen farm stands, country stores and other businesses across southern New Hampshire. The Dorados are also working toward opening their own commercial facility, where they plan to expand the Effin Sauces product line.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

I have one knife that I only use for making the sauce. It’s a 10-inch Shun that I sharpen with a whetstone every time I’m going to start a batch. … I feel like a chef is as good as the sharpness of his knife.

What would you have for your last meal?

A few years ago I ate at this restaurant in Sicily, and [I had] a homemade pasta where they emulsified sea urchin with egg yolks. … That has been the best meal of my life, and so if I can ever have it again, it will be a dream come true.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

I have a few. … The first one is Yoshimama on Amherst Street [in Nashua]. … Any time you go there, you will eat well. The fish is always fresh and they are very polite and very nice. The second one is Greenleaf in Milford, because I really admire what [owner and chef] Chris Viaud is doing. He’s doing a great job and getting the recognition that he deserves. … Then the third one is the Michael Timothy [Dining] Group, because I really feel that that guy is the Midas around here. Everything that he touches turns into gold.

What celebrity would you like to see trying your Sweet Lava sauce?

Adam Sandler. I grew up watching his movies … and now I live in his home state, which I’ve always thought was so cool. I’ve always dreamed of him trying the sauce.

What is your favorite thing to make with your Sweet Lava sauce?

I love to make a very rich stir-fry … with anything that I can find, a fried egg on top and then the Effin Sauce on it. Delicious.

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

One thing that I really love about New Hampshire, which is really hard to find in the rest of the United States, is the culture of enjoying things that are locally produced.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

Every once in a while, I get a little nostalgic about Spain. I like to do what I call Spanish nights at home. … I’ll buy some shosito peppers, rub some tomato on toasted bread, [or] make a Spanish tortilla with potatoes. … Sometimes I manage to get lucky and find some octopus. We boil it and then serve it with olive oil, paprika and sea salt. Very simple, but delicious.

Shrimp taquitos
From the kitchen of Carlos Dorado of Effin Sauces Co.

3 small flour tortillas
8 ounces peeled and deveined shrimp
1 avocado
1 mango
Lime juice
White vinegar
Salt and pepper
Effin Sauces Sweet Lava hot sauce

Bring a pot of water to a boil, then add one tablespoon of white vinegar. Add the shrimp and turn down to simmer. Cook for around six minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp pieces. Transfer the shrimp to an ice bath to cool them down, then roughly chop them. Cut the mango and avocado into small-diced pieces. Combine the shrimp, avocado and mango in a bowl, then toss them with the lime juice, salt, pepper and Sweet Lava. Distribute the mix evenly on the tortillas and enjoy.

Featured photo: Carlos Dorado. Courtesy photo.

Gather around the table

Where to go to have a festive holiday feast

Several Granite State eateries will have their doors open for limited hours on Christmas Eve (Saturday, Dec. 24), and a couple of them plan to serve you on Christmas Day as well. Check out this list of where you can go to celebrate the holidays with a special festive feast. Did we miss any holiday meals that you know of happening at a local restaurant? Let us know at food@hippopress.com and we’ll include it in the next issue.

• Enjoy a special chef’s Christmas cheer menu at Colby Hill Inn (33 The Oaks, Henniker, 428-3281, colbyhillinn.com) during several designated days in December with seatings from 4 to 8:30 p.m. The gardens will be professionally lit with holiday decorations, and the multi-course menu will feature a variety of a la carte items to choose from. The Colby Hill Inn is also hosting a Christmas high tea event on Sunday, Dec. 18, beginning at 12:30 p.m. The cost is $60 per person and includes a first round of mimosas, followed by your choice of holiday-inspired cocktails or the famous “Cosmic Christmas punch.” All attendees will receive free entry to the Inn’s Winter Wonderland Barn Market, held the same day from noon to 7 p.m. and featuring local crafters and live music.

• A Feast of the Seven Fishes at Bedford Village Inn (2 Olde Bedford Way, Bedford, 472-2001, bedfordvillageinn.com) will be on Thursday, Dec. 22, from 5 to 9 p.m. in its great hall. The dinner will be served buffet-style with several chef-attended stations, featuring items like fra diavolo, lobster and crab-stuffed sole, baked clams casino, hake puttanesca, a pasta station with various sauce options and accompaniments and an Italian dessert station with tiramisu, cannolis, chocolate mousse cups, biscotti, Italian cookies and other assorted treats. A cash bar will also be available. The cost is $95 per person (21+ guests only) and reservations are required.

Special Christmas Eve meals

Christmas Eve Dinner at Bedford Village Inn (2 Olde Bedford Way, Bedford, 472-2001, bedfordvillageinn.com) is happening on Saturday, Dec. 24, with seatings from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. A three-course prix fixe menu will be served in the Inn’s dining room, followed by a grand dessert buffet and cash bar in its great hall. The menu will feature your choice of an appetizer (pistachio and chevre croquettes, braised lamb and ricotta ravioli, crispy calamari, Dunk’s Mushrooms bisque, seared scallop “BLT” or black garlic French onion soup); a salad (local kale and Swiss chard or chicory and beet); and an entree (grilled filet mignon, Robie Farm pork tenderloin, herb-grilled swordfish loin, short rib pappardelle, savory mushroom Wellington, rosemary-rubbed Christmas rib roast or New England seafood pot au feu). The cost is $110 for adults and $55 for children ages 10 and under. The Inn’s Trattoria Fondi will also be open for breakfast from 8 to 10:30 a.m. and for dinner from 4 to 9 p.m. on Christmas Eve, serving its regular menu in addition to some specials.

Special Christmas Day meals

Christmas Day Buffet at Salt Kitchen & Bar (Wentworth by the Sea, 588 Wentworth Road, New Castle, 373-6566, saltkitchenandbar.com) is happening on Sunday, Dec. 25, with seatings from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in its ballroom. The menu will include deluxe chilled salads, a New England raw bar, fresh seasonal fruit displays, a Belgian waffle station, an artisan cheese display, a deluxe carving station with herb-crusted prime rib, seasonally composted hot entrees, an Italian antipasto station and a Christmas dessert display. The cost is $89.95 per person and $26.95 for children under 12.

Christmas Dinner at Salt Kitchen & Bar (Wentworth by the Sea, 588 Wentworth Road, New Castle, 373-6566, saltkitchenandbar.com) is on Sunday, Dec. 25, with seatings from 1 to 9 p.m. The three-course holiday menu will feature signature options like sous vide New York strip steak, seared scallops, brown butter-roasted halibut and wild mushroom ravioli. The cost is $69.95 per person and $26.95 for children under 12.

Christmas Dinner at The Wild Rose Restaurant (Stonehurst Manor, 3351 White Mountain Hwy., North Conway, 356-3113, thewildroserestaurant.com) is on Sunday, Dec. 25, with seatings from 2 to 8 p.m. The four-course dinner includes your choice of appetizer and Caesar salad, along with your choice of an entree, the eatery’s signature sourdough bread, seasonal vegetables, dessert, coffee and tea. Available appetizers include scallops wrapped in bacon, shrimp cocktail, Jonah crab cakes or apple cider pumpkin bisque. Available entrees include roasted turkey, aged and pit-smoked prime rib of beef, the Wild Rose (shrimp, scallops, lobster and Jonah crab meat served with a garlic basil Parmesan cream sauce and tossed with house tomato rose fettuccine), grilled rack of lamb, filet of cod with a lobster cream sauce, roasted half duck, Faroe Island salmon or pumpkin ravioli. Featured desserts will be flourless double dark chocolate torte, vanilla bean creme brulee, blueberry cheesecake and chef-made caramel pecan ice cream. The cost is $78 per person and reservations are required.

Open on Christmas Eve

900 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria (50 Dow St., Manchester, 641-0900, 900degrees.com) will be open until 6 p.m.

Airport Diner (2280 Brown Ave., Manchester, 623-5040, thecman.com) will be open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Alan’s of Boscawen (133 N. Main St., Boscawen, 753-6631, alansrestaurant.com) will be open until 6 p.m.

Americus Restaurant (LaBelle Winery, 14 Route 111, Derry, 672-9898, labellewinery.com) will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Bar (28 Burnham Road, Hudson, 943-5250, find them on Facebook @thebar.hudson) will likely be open until about 7 p.m.

The Barley House Restaurant & Tavern (132 N. Main St., Concord, 228-6363, thebarleyhouse.com) will be open until 5 p.m.

The Bistro at LaBelle Winery (345 Route 101, Amherst, 672-9898, labellewinery.com) will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Buckley’s Great Steaks (438 Daniel Webster Hwy., Merrimack, 424-0995, buckleysgreatsteaks.com) will be open from 4 to 8 p.m., serving its regular menu in addition to some seasonal specials. Reservations are being accepted now.

Chez Vachon (136 Kelley St., Manchester, 625-9660, chezvachon.com) will be open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.

CJ’s Great West Grill (782 S. Willow St., Manchester, 627-8600, cjsgreatwestgrill.com) will be open until 5 p.m.

The Common Man (25 Water St., Concord, 228-3463; 304 Daniel Webster Hwy., Merrimack, 429-3463; 88 Range Road, Windham, 898-0088; 10 Pollard Road, Lincoln, 745-3463; 60 Main St., Ashland, 968-7030; thecman.com) will be open from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve at its Concord and Merrimack locations, with gift card sales available until 4 p.m. The Lincoln and Windham locations will be open that day for gift card sales only (from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Lincoln and from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Windham). The Common Man’s Company Store in Ashland will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., while its Claremont restaurant will be closed.

Copper Door Restaurant (15 Leavy Drive, Bedford, 488-2677; 41 S. Broadway, Salem, 458-2033; copperdoor.com) will be accepting reservations until 8 p.m. at both locations.

CR’s The Restaurant (287 Exeter Road, Hampton, 929-7972, crstherestaurant.com) will be open from 4 to 8:30 p.m., serving an a la carte menu with holiday specials and its most popular dinner items. Reservations are required.

The Derryfield Restaurant (625 Mammoth Road, Manchester, 623-2880, thederryfield.com) will be open until 6 p.m.

Epoch Gastropub (The Exeter Inn, 90 Front St., Exeter, 778-3762, epochrestaurant.com) will be open during its normal dinner hours, from 5 to 9 p.m.

The Farm Bar & Grille (1181 Elm St., Manchester, 641-3276, farmbargrille.com) will be open until 3 p.m.

The Flying Goose Brew Pub & Grille (40 Andover Road, New London, 526-6899, flyinggoose.com) will be open until 5 p.m.

Foster’s Boiler Room (231 Main St., Plymouth, 536-2764, thecman.com) will be open from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., for dinner and gift card sales.

Fratello’s Italian Grille (155 Dow St., Manchester, 624-2022, fratellos.com) will be open until 8 p.m.

Friendly Red’s Tavern (22 Haverhill Road, Windham, 437-7251, friendlyredstavern.net) will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Giorgio’s Ristorante & Bar (270 Granite St., Manchester, 232-3323; 524 Nashua St., Milford, 673-3939; 707 Milford Road, Merrimack, 883-7333; giorgios.com) will be open until 4 p.m. at all three locations.

Granite Restaurant & Bar (The Centennial Hotel, 96 Pleasant St., Concord, 227-9005, graniterestaurant.com) will be open for dinner from 4 to 8 p.m.

Hanover Street Chophouse (149 Hanover St., Manchester, 644-2467, hanoverstreetchophouse.com) will be open from noon to 3 p.m., serving its regular menu.

Lakehouse Grille (281 Daniel Webster Hwy., Meredith, 279-5221, thecman.com) will be open from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

MT’s Local Kitchen & Wine Bar (212 Main St., Nashua, 595-9334, mtslocal.com) will be open from 4 to 8 p.m., serving its regular menu in addition to some seasonal specials. Reservations are being accepted now.

Murphy’s Taproom (494 Elm St., Manchester, 644-3535, murphystaproom.com) will be open from 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.

Murphy’s Taproom & Carriage House (393 Route 101, Bedford, 488-5975, murphystaproom.com) will be open until 8 p.m.

The Pasta Loft Restaurant & Brewing Co. (241 Union Square, Milford, 672-2270, pastaloft.com) will be open until 7 p.m.

The Puritan Backroom Restaurant (245 Hooksett Road, Manchester, 669-6890, puritanbackroom.com) will be open until 4 p.m. both inside the restaurant and for takeout.

The Red Arrow Diner (61 Lowell St., Manchester, 626-1118; 137 Rockingham Road, Londonderry, 552-3091; 112 Loudon Road, Concord, 415-0444; 149 Daniel Webster Hwy., Nashua, 204-5088; redarrowdiner.com) will be open during its regular business hours at all four locations — the Manchester location is open 24 hours, while the Concord location is open from 5:30 a.m. to midnight, and the Londonderry and Nashua locations are both open from 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The Red Blazer Restaurant and Pub (72 Manchester St., Concord, 224-4101, theredblazer.com) will be open until 6 p.m., according to function coordinator Tamra Burke.

Route 104 Diner (752 Route 104, New Hampton, 744-0120, thecman.com) will be open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Second Brook Bar & Grill (1100 Hooksett Road, Unit 111, Hooksett, 935-7456, secondbrook.com) will be open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., while the bar will remain open until 5 p.m. that evening.

Surf Restaurant (207 Main St., Nashua, 595-9293, surfseafood.com) will be open from 4 to 8 p.m., serving its regular menu in addition to some seasonal specials. Reservations are being accepted now for any size party.

T-Bones Great American Eatery (25 S. River Road, Bedford, 641-6100; 404 S. Main St., Concord, 715-1999; 39 Crystal Ave., Derry, 434-3200; 77 Lowell Road, Hudson, 882-6677; 1182 Union Ave., Laconia, 528-7800; 311 S. Broadway, Salem, 893-3444; t-bones.com) will be open until 5 p.m. at all of its locations.

Temple Street Diner (200 Temple St., Nashua, 521-7133, templestreetdiner.com) will be open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., and will also be accepting special orders for lamb shank, baked ham or 12-ounce boneless steak dinners.

Tilt’n Diner (61 Laconia Road, Tilton, 286-2204, thecman.com) will be open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Wild Rose Restaurant (Stonehurst Manor, 3351 White Mountain Hwy., North Conway, 356-3113, thewildroserestaurant.com) will be serving its regular dinner menu from 5 to 8 p.m.

The Wild Rover Pub (21 Kosciuszko St., Manchester, 669-7722, wildroverpub.com) will be open until 7 p.m.

Zachary’s Chop House (4 Cobbetts Pond Road, Windham, 890-5555, zacharyschophouse.com) is scheduled to be open its regular hours, from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Open on Christmas Day

Murphy’s Taproom (494 Elm St., Manchester, 644-3535, murphystaproom.com) will open at 5 p.m. that evening.

The Red Arrow Diner (61 Lowell St., Manchester, 626-1118; 137 Rockingham Road, Londonderry, 552-3091; 112 Loudon Road, Concord, 415-0444; 149 Daniel Webster Hwy., Nashua, 204-5088; redarrowdiner.com) will be open during its regular business hours at all four locations — the Manchester location is open 24 hours, while the Concord, Londonderry and Nashua locations are all open from 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Featured photo: Courtesy photo.

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