Gallery grooving

Singer-songwriter kicks off concert series

A three-weekend original music concert series at a Hopkinton art gallery offers buoyant pop, jazz-infused Americana and bluegrass. It kicks off Feb. 11 with Ariel Strasser, a Boston by way of Minnesota singer, pianist and guitar player with influences ranging from Carole King to Rufus Wainwright. The Honey Bees — chanteuse Mary Fagan and guitarist Chris O’Neill — arrive the following Saturday, with the all-acoustic Hydro-Geo Trio closing things out Feb. 18.

With light refreshments and soothing ambience, the two-hour events are presented by Two Villages Art Gallery and NH Music Collective. Strasser is returning, having performed there last year.

“It’s a really warm and inviting space,” Strasser said by phone recently. “Acoustic music is well-suited to it, and they’re really great people. I’m excited to be back.”

Strasser has released two albums. 2013’s Crooked Line featured duets with fellow songwriter and mentor Chris Trapper. Motivation came out in 2018 and led to a pair of New England Music Awards nominations the following year. She’s assembling material for a third long-player. Among the new songs is “Small,” a gentle ballad about putting things in perspective.

“I’m not sure yet when that one’s going to land, but hopefully soon,” she said. “It’s about staying grounded and remembering that the little things you agonize over sometimes don’t have as much power as you believe that they do, and understanding that we’re really just a small piece of this large universe, and remembering that when we get bogged down.”

The singer-songwriter came to New England to study musical theater at the Boston Conservatory, now a part of Berklee College of Music. There she “found a love of songwriting and sort of latched onto that even more, but my theater roots definitely feed into my songwriting, in terms of lyrics and things like that.”

Her songwriting process varies. “Sometimes I’ll be inspired by something I see and the lyric will come from that and I’ll want to set it to music,” she said. “Other times I’ll be sitting with an instrument and the musical idea will come to me and I’ll find the gibberish that goes with it, then figure out what the song means later. It just depends on the inspiration.”

Along with performing, Strasser runs ArtsBridge, an organization that helps aspiring young performers find arts colleges. “I run programs for theater, voice, fashion students,” she said. “It’s a cool opportunity to work with high school kids who are really talented…. It’s definitely inspiring to see people at that stage of their life where they’re on the brink and excited about everything.”

The two-week summer camp has a job fair vibe. “They learn about the different programs and what works for them and also what different schools like to see,” she said. “They’re learning about the process through the eyes of these different college faculties…. It’s definitely a valuable experience for them.”

Performing, however, remains Strasser’s passion, and she’s excited about upcoming shows, both the solo Two Villages set and an in the round show with fellow songwriters Katie Dobbins and Audrey Drake at Hermit Woods Winery on Feb. 22, also organized by NH Music Collective.

“As an artist, I love so many different parts of being in this world, but I really love playing live,” she said. “I don’t know if that comes from theater or just me, but that’s definitely my favorite…. Solo shows that are real listening room type places are really fulfilling for me. I feel like you can see the songs land.”

Audience interaction, she continued, “is the one thing you can’t replace online. There’s so much we can do on the internet, but live shows … those you can only do one way and that’s to show up. So I hope to see some people out there, and I’ll just keep playing as much as I can.”

Ariel Strasser
When: Saturday, Feb. 11, 4 p.m.
Where: Two Villages Art Society, 846 Main St., Hopkinton
Tickets: Donations accepted at the door
More: and

Featured photo: Ariel Strasser. Courtesy photo.

The Music Roundup 23/02/09

Local music news & events

Music & Art: The Currier’s weekly Art After Work series continues with a Songwriter Round in the Winter Garden. Three local talents, Alli Beaudry, Paul Nelson and Kevin Horan, will be swapping songs at the free event, with a full menu including cocktails available; members receive a 10-percent discount on victuals. Take in the gallery or enjoy a half-hour guided tour of the museum, which begins in the lobby. Thursday, Feb. 9, 5 p.m., Currier Museum of Art, 150 Ash St., Manchester,

Brew duo: A new-ish brewery approaching its first anniversary hosts live music with Chris Peters and Mike Maurice. Peters is a local singer, songwriter and yoga instructor who’s released a few albums, while Maurice hails from Portland, Maine, and offers keyboard-based music ranging from the lively dance pop of “Like You Are” to more studied jazz and classical pieces such as “Belle Aux Chandelles.” Friday, Feb. 10, 6 p.m., Feathered Friend Brewing, 231 S. Main St., Concord,

Bad romance: Now at a new venue, the Sad AF Collective holds its second annual Broken Hearts Bash in a Concord basement bar. The evening will be packed with emo songs for those who prefer an anti-Valentine’s Day to the actual thing. Cry along with Birds, In Theory (comma intentional), Up Hill Tony and Turner. The latter has quirky songs with titles like ”I’m Not a Cannibal, Today’s Just My Cheat Day.” Saturday, Feb. 11, 9 p.m., Penuche’s Ale House, 16 Bicentennial Square, Concord, $5 at the door, 21+.

Pre-game: Steer clear of big game hype by having an early brunch with music from Marc Apostolides. There’s nothing like mimosas and eggs Benedict to squash awareness that the closest New England is getting the Super Bowl this year is news of Tom Brady’s recent retirement. Apostolides is a 30-year veteran performer who produces the Sacred Songwriter Circle livestream every month, archives available on Facebook and YouTube. Sunday, Feb. 12, 11 a.m., Copper Door, 15 Leavy Dr., Bedford. See

Big Easy love: A Valentine’s Day dinner concert stars singer Sharon Jones performing music from New Orleans. The special single seating event, sponsored by the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce, offers a four-course meal inspired by the Crescent City. A 45-minute cocktail hour kicks things off, followed by soulful singing and food. Dessert and more music follows the break. Tuesday, Feb. 14, 6:30 p.m., Portsmouth Book & Bar, 40 Pleasant St., Portsmouth, $60 each, $120 per couple, $200 for four at

At the Sofaplex 23/02/09

Shotgun Wedding (R)

Jennifer Lopez, Josh Duhamel.

Though she’s solidly in a supporting role, this movie gives a lot of the goofiness to Jennifer Coolidge, who plays Carol, mom to groom Tom (Duhamel).

Tom and Darcy (Lopez) have dragged their loved ones to a beach resort in the Philippines for the elaborate Insta-worthy wedding of Tom’s dreams. But standard wedding-movie difficulties — Darcy’s dad’s (Cheech Marin) preference for Darcy’s ex (Lenny Kravitz) over Tom, Carol’s insistence that Darcy wear her lump-of-whipped-cream-like wedding dress — have the couple bickering, leading to a fight right before they walk down the aisle that ends with Darcy throwing her engagement ring at Tom. Darcy stomps off to enjoy some Champagne and chips but Tom soon runs after her to tell her that all of their wedding guests have just been taken hostage by pirates. As the bad guys negotiate with Darcy’s wealthy dad for ransom money, Darcy and Tom work together — while also fighting about their relationship woes — to try to rescue their guests.

Shotgun Wedding is a perfectly OK lightweight, something-on-while-you-pay-bills watch, but with the talent involved it should have been better. There is a general liveliness that’s missing and the comedy all felt like sort of warmed over middling sitcom shtick. C Available on Amazon Prime Video.

You People (R)

Eddie Murphy, Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Black-ish creator Kenya Barris directed and co-wrote (with Jonah Hill) this movie that is a little bit rom-com and a little bit social comedy with strong middling sitcom vibes.

Ezra (Hill), unhappy finance worker and in-his-element podcaster, does a meet-cute with stylist/movie costume designer Amira (Lauren London). They almost instantly take a shine to each other and are soon being cuddly together despite the difficulties friends (Ezra’s podcast partner Mo, played by comedian Sam Jay) and family (Amira’s brother Omar, played by Travis Bennett) predict that this Jewish man and Black woman will have as a couple. The difficulties start when Ezra meets Amira’s unimpressed parents, Akbar (Murphy) and Fatima (Nia Long), and when Amira meets Ezra’s culturally tone-deaf parents, Shelley (Louis-Dreyfus) and Arnold (David Duchovny).

A sitcom with this premise could have more room to be nuanced and specific in its observations; as a movie, a lot about the stuff happening here — the blending of families and cultures and the parental impulses toward acceptance or judgment — is shorthanded into broad caricature. What saves this movie from complete unlikability are the small moments between characters. Louis-Dreyfus brings something of a real person to her scenes, London and Hill have cute chemistry, Jay and Hill have a low-energy comedy bit “yes and” charm. I don’t know that I’m in a hurry to sit through this movie again, but in small bites, it rises above its basic setup. C Available on Netflix.

80 for Brady (PG-13)

80 for Brady (PG-13)

Four talented actresses deserve better than the bland oatmeal that is 80 for Brady, a Girls Trip-meets-Last Vegas-style comedy.

Longtime buddies and Massachusetts residents Lou (Lily Tomlin), Trish (Jane Fonda), Maura (Rita Moreno) and Betty (Sally Field) have been getting together to watch the Patriots play football for nearly the whole of Tom Brady’s career (the movie takes place in 2017). They stumbled on a game while hanging with Lou after her chemo treatments and have now become such superfans that they even have a pre-game ritual, with everybody needing to sit in a specific spot or do a specific thing (Rita must drink tea, Lou must knock over chips). They love the whole team — Trish is even the successful author of a steamy fan fiction series about Gronkowski — but their particular shining star is Tom Brady, especially to Lou. Lou even hears Tom Brady (playing himself) urging her on when she decides to find a way to get tickets to the quickly forthcoming Super Bowl LI in Houston. When the ladies’ favorite sports show announces a plan to give away a four-pack of tickets, Lou is certain she’s found a way to make her dream happen.

The women make it to Houston, each dealing with her own stuff: Lou seems desperate to make this an experience to remember, Trish fears that she’s about to repeat a pattern of falling in love too fast when she meets ex-football player Dan (Harry Hamlin), Maura is trying to move on after the death of her beloved husband, and Betty’s beloved husband (Bob Balaban) is driving her nuts with his neediness. None of this is terribly well-examined and all the women remain kind of flat — Tomlin and Fonda’s characters more than those of Moreno and Field, who get to be more lively.

The movie’s slate of non-professional actors — Tom Brady, Guy Fieri, Rob Gronkowski — does not lead to a lot of stunning performances (though Guy Fieri gets off a pretty good throwaway joke). But it’s the flatness of the lead performances that is more disappointing. To describe the movie in Guy Fieri terms — he runs a hot wings contest in the movie — 80 for Brady not only never enters Flavortown, it stays on the far outskirts. I’d compare the movie to ketchup when it bills itself as hot sauce but ketchup has vinegar and this bland affair could use a bite of acid. The movie is so mild in its comedy, so restrained in what it lets its four lead actresses do and so shallow in the way it develops the characters’ stories that it feels slow and dragging even though it is only an hour and 38 minutes long. C

Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some drug content and some suggestive references, according to the MPA on Directed by Kyle Marvin with a screenplay by Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins, 80 for Brady is an hour and 38 minutes long and distributed in theaters by Paramount Pictures.

Knock at the Cabin (R)

A couple and their daughter are menaced by four strangers and the possibility that they might have to make a terrible choice in the underwhelming thriller Knock at the Cabin from director M. Night Shyamalan.

Eric (Jonathan Groff), Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and their daughter Wen (Kristen Cui) head to a cabin in rural Pennsylvania for a family getaway. Eric and Andrew are hanging out on the porch when on the other side of the house Wen is approached by Leonard (Dave Bautista). A Dave Bautista-sized man with a Dave Bautista voice, Leonard is nonetheless gentle when talking to Wen about the crickets she’s capturing to put in a jar for study and his desire to be friends with her and her dads. She sees other people appear and makes a run for the house, closing doors behind her and frantically telling her dads to come inside. Leonard and three other people — who we eventually learn are Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Adriane (Abby Quinn) and Redmond (Rupert Grint) — come to the door and ask to come in. Eric and Andrew sensibly and politely tell them to buzz off, after which the group smash their way into the cabin.

Eventually, we get to the part you’ve probably seen in the trailers where Leonard explains that the four of them have been tasked by visions and some mysterious force to come and find this family. The family must, as families throughout history have done, make a horrible choice: sacrifice one of the family members or watch as the world ends through a series of plagues and disasters. Eric and Andrew reasonably call BS on this but then, as they decline to make a choice, Leonard turns on the TV to show Eric and Andrew the first series of disaster their unwillingness to participate has unleashed.

This movie reminds me of a rollercoaster, slowly click-click-clicking up toward the top. Except in this case the “top” is a long shallow climb and the down is a half-foot drop.

There are two not-stupid, medium-intriguing questions at play here: Could you sacrifice a beloved family member to save all of the world (and no copping out by one selfless member sacrificing themself)? And, could a group of people be manipulated into believing they are on a quest from God when really they’ve been pushed into a group delusion by the internet?

Both of these little puzzles make for potentially interesting story telling, but the movie doesn’t really dig in to them. Instead Dave Bautista just repeats that “one of the three of you has to sacrifice themself” over and over while we get little glimpses into the life of Eric and Andrew via flashback. Not a lot of character development or personality depth, more just like “here’s the time when they first saw baby Wen at the hospital” or “here’s the song they were listening to on the way to the cabin.” Aside from some basic name-age-occupation facts, we don’t get a lot of personality on the other characters either. Maybe Shyamalan felt like this story was more plot-driven, about the questions raised and the story twists and not about character relationships. And, OK, that’s not a terrible storytelling choice but that means that the twists, thrills and puzzles need to be compellingly presented, and they’re just not here. C+

Rated R for violence and language, according to the MPA on Directed by M. Night Shyamalan with a screenplay by M. Night Shyamalan and Steve Desmond & Michael Sherman, from the book The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay, Knock at the Cabin is and hour and 40 minutes long and distributed in theaters by Universal Studios & Vacation Home Productions.

Featured photo: 80 for Brady.

Ms. Demeanor, by Elinor Lipman

Ms. Demeanor, by Elinor Lipman (Harper, 304 pages)

I’ve never before finished a book and thought, “That was delightful,” but that’s the phrase that kept running through my mind as I transitioned from the fictional world of Ms. Demeanor to the bleak reality of New Hampshire in winter. It was a bright spot in a string of cold, gray days, and it’s a step up from the typical beach read romance, with a unique plot, witty writing and fun, well-developed characters.

Protagonist Jane Young, a spunky, sassy lawyer, is under house arrest for public indecency, having been caught on camera by her nosy neighbor as she was enjoying an intimate moment with a coworker on her semi-private rooftop.

This house arrest leads to Jane meeting an amusing cast of characters, including cute, age-appropriate Perry Salisbury, whom she learns from her doorman is also under house arrest, also for a white-collar crime. (I said it was a unique plot, not necessarily a believable one — regardless, a nice change from the average fictional meet-cute.) I like that Perry is just a normal dude. In many chick-lit-type novels, the male characters who end up with the female protagonist are often portrayed as pompous jerks who eventually show that they have a kinder, softer side worth loving, or as friendly next-door-neighbor types (as opposed to an actual neighbor, a la Perry, who is neither annoyingly friendly nor a pompous jerk). He’s a great foil to Jane, pretty chill and tolerant compared to her less relaxed, quicker-to-anger vibes.

Lipman’s minor characters are well-developed and quirky. There’s Mandy, another building dweller Jane introduces herself to, because why not, being stuck there for six months, and there are Dani and Krzysztof, whom Jane meets because of their relation to the old woman who called the cops on her. Even Perry’s parents are hilarious, his mom especially, being all posh and snotty but also likable somehow.

This book features a lot of relationships of convenience. Jane and Perry’s relationship is transactional at first, starting with food — Jane is trying her hand at making food from the 1800s and posting her cooking videos on TikTok, and she agrees to make meals for Perry as well, which gets her a bit of a paycheck and helps him curb his fast-food habit. That quickly transitions to a friends-with-benefits situation.

Dani and Krzysztof, meanwhile, are looking for green cards through any means necessary so they don’t get deported back to Poland. They ask Jane to hook Krzysztof up with anyone she knows who might want to get married, like perhaps her twin sister Jackleen, who is saved from the absurdity of even considering that plan because when Jane mentions it to Mandy — a quirky woman who apparently has no qualms with marrying someone, anyone, because her biological clock is ticking — Mandy jumps on the opportunity.

Some of Ms. Demeanor’s plot seems to go off the rails at times. For example, there’s a possible murder situation that isn’t really resolved — but that didn’t bother me at all because a resolution wasn’t really the point. The whole cooking on TikTok thing, which Jane is doing because for some unknown reason her sister has been asking her to for years, was kind of pointless. Jane cooking for Perry would have made just as much sense without that, though it may be more that I don’t understand how people use TikTok. Like, she’s making very old-school foods while complaining about her current house-arrest situation — why would anyone care? But my teenage kids tell me it’s normal to follow random people doing random things. My daughter was just watching a total stranger getting ready for a first date while talking about the guy’s red flags. So, there’s that.

The easy, witty writing made me want to keep reading no matter which storyline Lipman was on. Plus, it’s a quick read with those deliberately short chapters that make a book hard to put down (just one more chapter, I thought many times). I think the readability is one of the reasons it’s so delightful. Sure, there’s no going back to read over gems of sentences; this isn’t Shakespeare by any stretch of the imagination. It’s fast-paced and fun and at no point trying to be a contender for a Pulitzer Prize. So if you’re looking for serious, this isn’t it. B

Album Reviews 23/02/09

Nervous Eaters, Monsters + Angels (Wicked Cool Records)

If you’re old enough to have been part of the Boston rock scene when the success of The Cars lured in all the drugged-out saps, um, I mean record company reps to check out every band in the city, or even if you just listened to a lot of WBCN FM back then, there was no way to avoid this local band’s most popular hit, “Loretta” (you know, the one that went “when I talk to Loretta, cool slacks and sweater”). This Steve Cataldo-led roots-punk quartet nailed down a major label deal with Elektra Records in 1980, and that was about it; the LP was widely dissed as “not very punk for a punk record,” but in retrospect, the New York Dolls’ vibe was roughly in the same ballpark. Anyhow, this album is their first record since a 1986 EP, and the push single seems to be “Hop Sing Said,” a mellow-ish mid-tempo tune that’s kind of Dinosaur Jr.-ish. “Wild Eyes” recalls early Stones, “Superman’s Hands” is oldschool jangle-pop; “Last Chance” is pure ’80s radio-bubblegum. At worst, the songs are good and it sounds like they had fun doing this. A

ASCO, “Lacrimosa” (CAOS Records)

You know, it’s a wonder these Beatport-begging techno DJs get any press outside of 5 Magazine, Traxsource and whatnot. I say that because there’s always very little information to be found about them, which would be fine with me if all the artists wanted to remain anonymous or semi-anonymous, but I don’t think they all do. That goes double for this guy, the search for whose biography wore me out after 10 minutes and now I don’t care anymore: Ooh, you’re such an edgelord, whoever you are! But that’s not to detract from this guy’s music, don’t get me wrong. He’s been cruising along quite well over the last few months with a couple of neo-disco tracks (“Born Slippy” and “Fortuna”), and now this, a future-rave-style rendition of one of the most famous classical choir pieces in history, a part of the Dies Irae sequence in the Roman Catholic requiem mass. A real orchestra and choir help out here; it’s half orchestral and half buzzy-beetle-noise-electro, with no recognizable drop. Not my kind of jam but times have, unfortunately, changed. A


• We’ll see a whole bunch of hot new rock ’n’ roll albums hit the streets on Feb. 10, as we draw ever closer to kissing this winter goodbye, can you even believe how fast it’s gone? And look, bonus, it’s a new album from acid-dropping loons Brian Jonestown Massacre, called The Future Is Your Past. I’m actually pretty happy about that. I think the last music I heard from these guys was either 2016’s Third World Pyramid or more probably 2010’s Who Killed Sgt Pepper, but it’s all good. The band is still led by Anton Newcombe, whose hobbies include hiring/firing every musician he meets and making the Dandy Warhols feel uncomfortable, and this is his, um, I mean the band’s, 20th album, a milestone no one would ever have predicted. You never know what you’ll hear from this band; usually it’s noisy neo-psychedelica, and a quick run-through of the album’s title track is pretty much what you’d expect: slow, dank, jangly early-’60s acid-rock, sort of like Donovan, that kind of thing. At least there’s normal-ish singing on this tune, and there you go, that’s about it for the 411 on this one, because Anton couldn’t care less if he made any money from his music, and that’s why he’s rich.

• Hey, man, what is this, an aughts-indie revival? Look there, gang, it’s New Jersey-based indie rockers Yo La Tengo, with their new album This Stupid World! I’ve owned a few Yo La Tengo albums over the years and have never really listened to any of them more than once; there’s synergy going on right now in this column, because this band uses roughly the same basic ingredients as Brian Jonestown Massacre — noise-pop, shoegaze, etc. — but the output is usually boring. At this writing the latest teaser tune is “Aselestine,” a lazy, sort-of-folk-ish song that’s sort of like Wilco meets Guster. I know, I probably should have posted a trigger warning before saying such a thing, but anyway, there you have it.

• Dutch dream-pop lady Annelotte de Graaf goes by the stage name Amber Arcades, and she’ll be releasing her fourth album, Barefoot On Diamond Road, in just a few hours! Interestingly, she holds a master’s degree in law, and worked as an assistant for war crimes tribunals at the United Nations; as of 2016 she held a position “assessing the claims of refugees granted asylum in the Netherlands who are seeking to have their families brought over.” The single, “Just Like Me,” is a weird little minimal techno joint that sounds like Aimee Mann after listening to way too much Aphex Twin.

• We’ll bag it for the week with the latest from Kelela! She is a former telemarketer from Washington, D.C., who got a spiffy record contract from the ever-trippy Warp Records, so she is now an alternative-R&B singer with a second album, Raven, out this week! She first hit the sort-of-big-time with 2005’s Hallucinogen, an EP that goes over all the disturby nonsense that happens during the beginning, middle and end stages of a relationship, except it’s all in reverse chronological order. Anyhow, this new album, which I’m required by law to take seriously because it’s on Warp Records, of course, is, artistically, intended as “a reaction to feeling alone as a black femme working within dance music,” which, granted, is probably pretty difficult, I mean, just look at what Steve Aoki gets away with just because he’s a white male. Whatever, she might get more love for this album if the rest of the songs aren’t like the title track, which is basically afterparty glitch-tech improv that makes no sense, but no one likes good music anymore, so who knows.

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).

Make it a cava

A different way to sparkle on Valentine’s Day

It’s Valentine’s Day, and you want to create an amazing dinner for the one you love, but your food and wine skills need a little help. You want it to be special and not just a DoorDash or Grubhub delivery. You want to be themaster of the meal. After all, it is a special day that deserves that special meal, prepared, and not purchased by you!

For this special day, I chose to go to a venue to shop for that perfect dinner: Angela’s Pasta and Cheese Shop, on Chestnut Street in Manchester. I have patronized Angela’s since their very beginnings on Union Street in 1980, through their move to Chestnut Street in 1994, and I can’t begin to count the number of times I have been there. I have cultivated a taste for the different homemade fresh pasta, along with the variety of imported dried pasta.

If you can boil water, you can make pasta. Pick up a jar of sauce, or better, some Angela’s homemade sauce, fresh bread, and you are on your way! A salad or antipasto completes the meal, which can be finished with luxurious chocolates.

What kind of wine goes with pasta? A dry sparkling wine goes very well with a cream-based sauce like alfredo or if the pasta is simply dressed with extra-virgin olive oil and freshly grated Parmesan. A good cava from Catalonia is the perfect match for this dinner. The cava can be opened along with the antipasto course and will continue to pair well with the pasta. If there is a drop or two left in the bottle, it will work nicely with rich dark chocolate, as its minerality and high acidity will contrast nicely with the rich, creamy, smooth texture and intense flavor of the chocolate.

A 2019 Sumarroca Reserva Brut, available at Angela’s at $19.99, is the perfect accompaniment to this meal. This cava is made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes that grow in the Sant Sadurní d’Anoia region, just a few miles west of Barcelona, Spain.

According to the website for Bon Vivant Imports, a combination of several microclimates throughout the fields where Sumarroca wines come from, generated by warm climatic influences from the Mediterranean coupled with protection from the Montserrat mountains, and more than a dozen different soil types, makes for a wide range of still and sparkling wines from this region.

The bubbles rise in the glass, are persistent and tickle your nose. I agree with Bon Vivant’s description that the wine has aromas of wild strawberries, raspberries and slight floral notes of rose petals with flavors of cranberries and rhubarb. As advertised, this is a very crisp, dry and refreshing cava.

Featured photo: Photo by Fred Matuszewski.

Mocha latte cookies

It’s less than a week to Valentine’s Day! What better way to show someone you care than by delivering (or mailing) a batch of homemade cookies? Even better, these cookies are filled with chocolate, which so many people crave.

The ingredients in this cookie are pretty straightforward. There are just two key notes. First, you must use instant coffee for these cookies, unless you want a cookie that is bitter and hard to chew. Second, although the cookies are topped with only a sprinkle of coffee sugar, it’s definitely an important part of the recipe. It elevates the coffee flavor in every bite.

Head to the store and get all the ingredients you need. This may be the most delicious, and thoughtful, Valentine gift you could give.

Mocha latte cookies
Makes 20

Cookie dough
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ Tablespoons instant coffee granules
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
Coffee sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon instant coffee granules

Make the coffee sugar
Combine ¼ cup granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon coffee in a food processor.
Pulse until the coffee granules are the size of grains of sand.
Set aside.
Make the cookie dough
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Combine butter and both sugars in a bowl.
Beat on a medium-low speed, using either the paddle on a stand mixer or a hand mixer for 4 minutes.
Add egg, and beat again, scraping sides to combine.
Dissolve 1½ tablespoons of coffee granules in vanilla extract in a small bowl.
Add to dough, and mix until combined
Add flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, stirring until combined.
Add chocolate chips, mixing until distributed.
Line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper, then scoop heaping tablespoons of dough onto the prepared tray.
Repeat, leaving a couple inches between cookies.
Flatten the cookies slightly using the back of a spoon or your fingertips.
Sprinkle a small amount of coffee sugar on each cookie.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown.
Allow to cool for 4 minutes, then transfer to a baking rack to cool completely.

Featured Photo: Mocha latte cookies. Photo by Michele Pesula Kuegler.

In the kitchen with Mike Brieger

Mike Brieger of Northwood is the general manager and chef of Woods Grille (284 First New Hampshire Turnpike, Northwood, 942-9663,, which opened in the space formerly occupied by Umami Farm Fresh Cafe in August. A longtime friend of Woods Grille owners Heather and Pete Heigis, Brieger has more than three decades of experience in the restaurant industry, in both management and cooking. The eatery’s menu highlights include “gourmet grille-wiches,” or signature sandwiches featuring your choice of a protein, from a beef burger patty or grilled chicken to a veggie burger or portobello mushroom. Woods Grille is also unique for offering baked Tater Tots in lieu of french fries, complete with several signature dipping aiolis to choose from. Other items include house salads — with the option to turn each into a wrap — and tacos with fish or chicken.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

My cast iron skillet is a favorite for sure, and then I also love to cook with my chef’s knife, my Mac Mighty. It was a gift for my 50th birthday and I love it.

What would you have for your last meal?

I would go to The Beach Plum and get a giant lobster roll. … I usually only get it once a year, but if it was going to be my last meal, it would be that.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

If my wife and I are going out, we’re looking for something really awesome. We like to go down to Portsmouth, either to Cure or we would go to [Ristorante] Massimo and sit at the bar.

What celebrity would you like to see eating at Woods Grille?

This is controversial, but I’m a New Yorker at heart and so the answer right away is Derek Jeter.

What is your favorite thing on your menu?

Definitely our fish tacos. … It’s mahi mahi that’s blackened on the grill, and it’s got a little shredded cheddar cheese, some fresh shredded cabbage, diced tomato and our homemade pickled onions. We top it with a little fresh avocado and our homemade chipotle aioli and people just love it.

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

A lot of people are going toward plant-based eating. Not only just vegetarians, but people who eat meat maybe once or twice a week are avoiding meat for a couple of days to try and improve their healthy eating habits.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

It’s simple, but just some good old-fashioned shrimp scampi.

Mike’s amazing short ribs
From the kitchen of Mike Brieger of Woods Grille in Northwood

1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
1 28-ounce can tomato sauce
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
4 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 Tablespoons dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 bay leaves
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 Spanish onion, sliced
3 pounds short ribs

Season the short ribs with salt and pepper and brown in a cast iron skillet for a couple of minutes on each side — be sure to brown the ends as well. Set aside. In a large soup pot, combine all of the other ingredients and bring up to a steady simmer. Add the short ribs to the soup pot, cover and reduce the heat to a very low simmer for approximately three to three-and-a-half hours. Stir and skim the fat periodically. Serve over a bed of egg noodles and top with a pinch of shredded Parmesan cheese.

Featured photo: Mike Brieger, general manager and chef of Woods Grille in Northwood. Courtesy photo.

Soup-er flavors

Epsom soup/chili/chowder cook-off returns

Dozens of local soup, chili and chowder makers will be vying for your palate during Epsom Central School’s annual cook-off, which is set to return for its 10th year on Monday, Feb. 13, from 5 to 7 p.m. inside the school’s gymnasium.

Originally conceived as a much smaller fundraiser mostly among the school’s teachers and staff, the cook-off has grown considerably over the last few years. The event did have to take a hiatus in 2021 due to the pandemic, but was able to return in full force last year to a resounding success, school business secretary and cook-off coordinator Stephanie Colvin said.

More than 45 entrants are expected at this year’s cook-off, ranging from community members and teachers at the school to even a local girl scout group that will be participating. They’ll compete across a total of three judging categories: soups, chilis and chowders.

“We’re also doing a junior competition right alongside it during the day, where we’ll have our sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders all making something within their class,” Colvin said, noting that each class is producing two slow cookers’ worth — one will be available at 2 p.m., and the second one during the cook-off in the evening.

For tasters, tickets to the cook-off will be sold at the door and will include access to up to 10 four-ounce sampling cups per attendee for adults and five sampling cups for kids ages 10 and under, along with sides of corn bread. Part of the fun is that you never know which different flavors of soups, chilis and chowders you may encounter at the cook-off in any given year. Many entrants, Colvin added, like to give their offerings unique names.

“There’s a chili entry called Real Firehouse chili … and one called Chicka Chicka chickpea veggie chowder, which is kind of a mouthful,” she said. “Then we’ve got a creamy Parmesan Italian sausage soup, one called an Ultimate white chicken chili, and one called Lavender Haze, so there will be all kinds of different, kind of funky ones.”

A panel of judges gives entrants a score based on a 10-point scaling system and adds them all up at the end of the night. Winners from each of the three categories receive a “Souper Bowl” trophy, and the top vote getter also wins a $50 gift card. Two People’s Choice recipients from each category are awarded ribbons.

Proceeds from the cook-off, Colvin said, help fund various student activities at Epsom Central School, including field trips and clothing needs.

10th annual Epsom Central School soup/chili/chowder cook-off
When: Monday, Feb. 13, 5 to 7 p.m.
Where: Epsom Central School, 282 Black Hall Road, Epsom
Cost: $8 for adults and $6 for kids ages 10 and under (includes access to up to 10 four-ounce samples for adults and up to five samples for kids, plus cornbread). Tickets are sold at the door while supplies last.
More info: See “10th Annual ECS Soup/Chili/Chowder Cook-off” on Facebook, or email cook-off coordinator Stephanie Colvin at

Featured photo: Donna Lancaster (left) won first place in last year’s cook-off for her bacon shrimp corn chowder. Courtesy photo.

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