Musical politics

Chadwick Stokes plays party at Rex

Matt Wilhelm was elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives in 2018, and became House Democratic Leader after last year’s midterms. Wilhelm’s first campaign, however, was centered on culture. In 2015 he led what turned out to be an unsuccessful effort to reopen Manchester’s Rex Theatre as Old Sol Music Hall.

He doesn’t regret failing; it launched him in politics. “It got my vision out there; I was able to connect with members of the community,” he said recently. “They understood what my values were and were willing to stick with me.” The Palace Theatre would ultimately buy the venue, and the renovated Rex held its first show in October 2019.

Wilhelm is happily throwing a birthday party at the Rex on May 18. It’s a fundraiser for Strong Circle PAC, which supports House Democrats in their efforts to retake the State House next year. Chadwick Stokes, of the activist bands Dispatch and State Radio, will perform a solo set at the soiree.

Wilhelm and Stokes are friends and colleagues. They met at UNH on Election Day in 2001, after Dispatch featured at a show there. A year later, the group began its first U.S. tour. Wilhelm, then a sophomore at Plymouth State, joined as an intern.

“Their career had kind of skyrocketed over the course of that last year,” Wilhelm said. “This was a real DIY band, a grassroots, word-of-mouth, Napster-driven, independent success story.” He did marketing, street team work, and some videography for Under the Radar, a DVD released in 2002.

This marked the beginning of a decade-and-a-half career in the music industry. Along with managing tours, lighting and concert merch, he co-directed Calling All Crows, a nonprofit organization named after a State Radio song. This felt a lot like community organizing to Wilhelm, providing a foundation for leading his party in the House.

“I’m a cultivator of that community … saying, here are our priorities, here’s how we rally around them, and here’s how we make progress on the issues that we care about,” he said. “In a lot of ways, it set me up for Old Sol, then set me up to launch a campaign.”

Wilhelm grew up listening to his parents’ Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young records and continues to believe in music’s power to affect change. “There’s a lot of folks that will say that was done in the ’60s, that music and activism went away,” he said, “but it’s pretty clear it didn’t.”

Stokes is proof of this sentiment; his music and politics are intertwined. That’s why he’s doing the benefit.

“As a musician, I want to use the platform I have most effectively to help people like Matt do the real nuts and bolts of policy change and legislation,” he wrote in an email. “My music is political like Matt’s politics are musical.”

The Rex set will likely range across Stokes’ career.

“I’ll probably be playing a lot of solo stuff, like ‘Chaska’ and ‘Pine Needle Tea’ and then a smattering of State Radio and Dispatch, and hopefully some new ones,” he wrote. He also expects to unveil one or two songs from a rock opera he’s working on, tentatively titled American Refugee.  

Wilhelm is pleased to be mounting a show at the venue he once hoped to turn into an arts hub. “It’s exciting, and in so many ways a long time coming, having Chad here in Manchester at the Rex,” he said. “The campaign wasn’t initially successful, but a bunch of different partners came together, including the mayor and the Palace, and made it a reality. Now I’m working on political campaigns, and so it’s kind of fun to bring it all together.”

There will be birthday cupcakes and a cash bar at Wilhelm’s birthday bash, and benefactor packages are available. Wilhelm approaches the evening buoyed by the energy he saw from Gen Z and millennial voters last November.

“I’m more hopeful knowing that there are young people coming of age right now who aren’t willing to accept the status quo and will be pushing for progress in all sorts of different ways,” he said. “I think this next generation isn’t going to let us … rest on our laurels.”

Matt Wilhelm’s 41st Birthday with Chadwick Stokes
When: Thursday, May 18, 7 p.m.
Where: The Rex Theatre, 23 Amherst St., Manchester
Tickets: $50 and up at

Featured photo: Chadwick Stokes. Courtesy photo.

The Music Roundup 23/05/18

Local music news & events

Pop-tastic: A three-band pre-weekend show has Donaher, a Manchester power pop quartet that recently appeared at Boston’s annual Rock ’n’ Roll Rumble and will play the side stage when the Goo Goo Dolls close out the season at Bank of NH Pavilion in late September. Girlspit and Cool Parents complete the bill; the latter is a funny and punky combo with songs like “WebMD is Ruining My Life.” Thursday, May 18, 8 p.m., Penuche’s Ale House, 16 Bicentennial Square, Concord. See

Southern man: With Gary Rossington’s death, Lynyrd Skynyrd lost its last original member, but Artimus Pyle carries the torch, touring with a tribute to lead singer Ronnie Van Zandt. Pyle joined Skynyrd on drums for Nuthin’ Fancy in 1974 and a few years later survived the plane crash that killed Van Zandt and five others. After a drawn-out legal battle, his film about the crash, Street Survivors, was released in 2020. Friday, May 19, 8 p.m., Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A St., Derry, $40 and up at

Off topic: After a groundbreaking seven-season run with Full Frontal, Samantha Bee shifts from politics to personal with her new show Your Favorite Woman. “I really am expressing myself as a woman … really hoping to achieve some kind of catharsis,” she told the Washington Post. “It’s a departure for me.” Bee’s first foray into touring is described as a multimedia show that’s paced differently than standup. Saturday, May 20, 8 p.m., Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 S. Main St., Concord, $48.25 and up at

Blues man: Beginning with the formation of his group Morblus in 1991, guitarist Roberto Morbioli has made a name for himself in the blues world, garnering comparisons to, according to one critic, “Eric Clapton and a young Stevie Ray Vaughn.” Another said his mix of “funk, soul, shuffle, swamp, second line and everything else [is a] relentless feast for the ears.” Lately he’s been joining Willie J. Laws for the Italian Texas Guitar Battle. Sunday, May 21, 5 p.m., Village Trestle, 25 Main St., Goffstown. See

Funky guest: Singer, keyboard player and Mica’s Groove Train leader Yamica Peterson joins a weekly open session dubbed Monday Muse. Lisa Guyer, who once put the Mama in Mama Kicks, launched the open session to highlight area talent and stimulate the regional musical community. The house band includes Guyer, John Mederios, Geoff Bates, Nate Comp and Steve Baker. Monday, May 22, 7 pm., Stumble Inn Bar & Grill, 20 Rockingham Road, Londonderry. See

At the Sofaplex 23/05/18

The Lost King (PG-13)

Sally Hawkins, Steve Coogan.

Based on the true story: Philippa Langley (Hawkins), who suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome, takes issue with the standard Shakespeare version of the English King Richard III wherein his hunchback has made him “a villain.” Her research into Richard leads her to join the Richard III Society and eventually to start looking for the then-unknown resting site of his remains. Along the way, she negotiates her relationship with her ex-husband, John (Coogan), who she needs to move back into the family home so she can leave her job and pursue the Richard search full-time. And, she talks to Richard (Harry Lloyd) himself.

Even Richard, an apparition Philippa knows is just her own head working stuff out, suggests her search for him is something of an obsession, which points to one of this movie’s (maybe intentional, maybe not) running themes about how we view the passion projects of those who don’t have the cover of officialdom. As a woman who deals with a health difficulty, Philippa is shown being regularly thwarted by a bunch of smug dudes “there, there”-ing her, both in her Richard search and in her regular life. There’s a scoffing “she’s an amateur” tone that everyone takes with her — until her theories are shown to have merit and then she’s sort of shoved out of the way. The movie’s handling of this doesn’t always completely fit with Hawkins’ teary and fragile-seeming portrayal — it’s like the story is trying to say something about women, academia and who gets to claim history, and Hawkins’ performance more suggests a shaky woman having a midlife crisis. The result is a movie that tells an interesting story but can at times feel slight and somewhat “this film could have been a magazine article.” C+ Available to rent or own.

Ghosted (PG-13)

Ana de Armas, Chris Evans.

Farmer Cole Turner (Evans) has a meet-cute with tentative plant-buyer Sadie Rhodes (de Armas) at a farmers market. They end up going on a date, which turns into a night-long hang and sleepover. Cole returns home to the family farm all besotted and convinced Sadie is someone special — even though she’s not returning any of his way-too-many texts. When he realizes he left his inhaler with her, he AirTags it and finds out Sadie is in London. I’ll go surprise her, he says, it will be romantic! It will be creepy stalking, everyone tells him, but Cole heads out anyway, only to be knocked unconscious just as he’s getting close to Sadie’s location. He wakes up and finds himself tied to a chair and about to be tortured for a secret passcode by a group of bad guys who are convinced that he is the super spy known as The Tax Man. When a gun-toting Sadie shows up to rescue him, Cole realizes that his one-night stand might be ignoring his texts for more reasons than just his suffocating neediness.

Cute, right? No. Sure, Ghosted has some occasionally cute elements — I think Evans and de Armas get maybe one good line delivery each; Amy Sedaris plays Cole’s mother and is fun. But otherwise the movie has the smooth oily feel of processed cheesefood but without the satisfying tang. It’s the kind of bland nothing that comes to mind when streaming network executives talk about “content.” It makes me sad for movies and worried about Ana de Armas, who has suffered through Blonde and Deep Water and The Gray Man and now this and really deserves better work. C Available on Apple TV.

We Have a Ghost (PG-13)

Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Anthony Mackie.

And David Harbor as the titular ghost, called Ernest, in this odd mash of comedy, whodunit, serious family drama and supernatural caper. I feel like any two of those might have worked in this tale of a family — teenage Kevin (Winston), his parents Frank (Mackie) and Melanie (Erica Ash) and older brother Fulton (Niles Fitch), who move into an obviously haunted house. Kevin is the first to see Ernest, who appears to him as a moaning ghoul. Perhaps it’s the combover or the bowling shirt, but Kevin just shoots a video of Ernest and laughs. Eventually, the two become buddies, even though Ernest can’t talk or remember anything about his life. When Frank finds out, he is also not particularly scared but he does see a viral video and possible money-making opportunity.

There’s Frank’s whole scheme using Ernest as his shot at the big time, there’s Frank and Kevin’s shaky relationship and the mystery of how Ernest came to be. But the movie also goes into Kevin’s burgeoning whatever with neighbor teen Joy (Isabella Russo), the search of discredited scientist Dr. Leslie Monroe (Tig Notaro) for proof of ghosts and the hucksterism of “medium” Judy Romano (Jennifer Coolidge). Parts of this are promising with bits of decent performances but none of the pieces ever really fit together. C+ Available on Netflix.

The Mother (R)

Jennifer Lopez is, as the internet says, mother in The Mother, a line I’ll bet at least 60 percent of movie reviewers use when discussing this movie.

Partly because it’s true, partly because it’s right there and partly because Lopez’s character in this violent — but, aw, sweet! — Netflix movie is, as far as I can tell, just called Mother or maybe, as IMDb calls her, The Mother.

We first meet her when she is attempting to inform on some bad dudes to the FBI, who are doing a remarkably incompetent job of getting information out of this totally willing witness. Only Agent Cruise (Omari Hardwick) seems to be listening at all when she assures them that Adrian (Joseph Fiennes), bad dude No. 1, knows where they are and is on his way to kill him. No, he’s not, we’re perfectly safe, bluster bluster, says one of the other agents, right before he’s shot in the head.

But Lopez isn’t the sort of informant who just sits back and lets herself be assassinated. Despite being real pregnant, she saves Cruise when he is shot using, like, superglue and she manufactures an explosive from household products that seems to take out Adrian when he finally corners her. He stabs her in the belly before she blows him up but she makes it to the hospital and delivers a healthy baby girl.

Though Lopez is eager to hold her infant daughter, Edie Falco playing a no-nonsense FBI higher-up is all “not so fast, lady.” Because Adrian’s body was not recovered from the burning bathroom where Lopez left him and because Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), bad dude No. 2, is also after her, the only way Lopez can keep her daughter safe is to give her up. Lopez gets the recovering Cruise to promise that he’ll make sure her daughter is adopted by good people, send her a photo of her daughter every year on her birthday and let Lopez know if her daughter is ever in trouble.

A dozen years later, Lopez’s character has made a Spartan life for herself on the outskirts of a small Alaskan town where the general store shop owner is a war buddy and where she spends her days hunting caribou for food and doing other survivalist off-the-grid activities. Then she gets a non-birthday bit of communication from Cruise, leading her to head to Ohio where her now 12-year-old daughter Zoe (Lucy Paez) lives with her adoptive mom (Yvonne Senat Jones), who gets to be an anguished protective mother as well, and a dad (Michael Karl Richards) whose face is I think always out of focus? Whatever, dads are not the point of The Mother, where either Hector or Adrian might be Zoe’s father but Lopez doesn’t want either anywhere near Zoe.

It seems the bad dudes have, however, found evidence of Zoe’s existence and whereabouts, which is why Cruise reached out. Quickly, Lopez kicks into protector mode, doing everything she can to fight the men who come to kidnap Zoe and to retrieve her when a surviving henchman manages to whisk Zoe away.

Eventually, Lopez takes the lead in hiding Zoe, even teaching her a little self-defense. What passes for humor and personality in this mostly laughs-free, character-minimalist movie comes as Zoe tweens about eating “Bambi’s mom” and hating Lopez —all with a very “gah [eyeroll], Mom” energy.

To lean further on dated slang for description, The Mother lands somewhere on the scale between “meh” and “cromulent.” This sure is a movie that exists — one might say of The Mother. It doesn’t have the Jennifer Lopez legit badassness of Out of Sight or the cheesy hysterics of Enough but it is, you know, a thing your eyes can watch. It’s fine, is I guess what I’m saying. It lacks the energy that would make it “heck yeah!” action fun but it has a whole subplot involving a Lopez and a mother wolf and the silly self-seriousness of that isn’t terrible. B-

Rated R for violence, some language and brief drug use, according to the MPA at Directed by Niki Caro with a screenplay by Misha Green and Andrea Berloff and Peter Craig, The Mother is an hour and 55 minutes long and available on Netflix.

Featured photo: The Mother

Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma, by Claire Dederer

Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma, by Claire Dederer (Knopf, 273 pages)

In 2017, the year that the world learned about the sexual predation of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, Claire Dederer published an essay in The Paris Review in which she tried to work out her feelings about bad men and good art.

Dederer came to the topic not through Weinstein, but through another filmmaker, Roman Polanski, who repulsed her because he had been accused of raping a 13-year-old girl. Polanski’s monstrousness, Dederer wrote then, was “monumental, like the Grand Canyon. And yet. When I watched his movies, their beauty was another kind of monument, impervious to my knowledge of his iniquities.”

Dederer is not the first to squirm uncomfortably in this particular space. The question of what we should do with the art of problematic people has come up regularly in recent years, and nobody seems to have a good answer. Dederer didn’t in her Paris Review essay, but she attempts to craft one in Monsters, A Fan’s Dilemma, an elaboration of the ideas put forth in that essay.

You could read just the essay and have a good grasp of the book, but then you’d miss out on the delightful interior wrestling match in which Dederer engages as she tries to reconcile her desire to be “a virtuous consumer” and “a demonstrably good feminist” while consuming the work of troublesome artists. These are mostly men — Polanski, and Woody Allen, and Bill Cosby, and Michael Jackson, and numerous others, dead and alive, who either have been exposed for beastly behavior in recent years, or who have had old behavior newly scrutinized in the light of new standards of conduct. (Polarization alert: She also paints former President Donald Trump and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh with the broad brush of monsters.)

After Weinstein, the floodgates opened, Dederer writes: “A rock had been turned over and revealed a bunch of sex pests, scuttling around in the newly bright light.” The men “did or said something awful, and made something great. The awful thing disrupts the great work; we can’t watch or listen to the great work without remembering the awful thing.”

Dederer turns over a few rocks of her own; unless you’ve paid close attention to the personal lives of some of these men, you may know their names and their contributions to art but nothing of their personal behavior. Be prepared for the pedestals of Pablo Picasso, the Italian painter Caravaggio, composer Richard Wagner, jazz trumpeter Miles Davis and many others to crash down, as Dederer, who lives on a houseboat in Seattle, muses about her existential dilemma.

In the hands of a less capable writer this could get sort of tiresome after a few chapters. But Dederer is like a dinner guest you don’t want to stop talking because she’s so well-read and interesting (you will likely, like me, come away with a list of other books you want to read) and her writing is delightful and fresh. (She describes one person as looking like “a character from a children’s book about plucky pioneers caught in a blizzard.”)

Dederer’s challenge in Monsters was not in the prose or the thinking, but in stretching an essay to book length, and she does this in part by means of a dubious analogy — whether we are all monsters in our own way. This was how she ended the Paris Review piece: “What is to be done about monsters? Can and should we love their work? Are all ambitious artists monsters? Tiny voice: [Am I a monster?]”

Her principal analogy to the everyday monster is that of the female artist who abandons her children to pursue her calling … not necessarily literally, although that has certainly been done.

“The idea of what constitutes abandonment exists on a continuum,” she writes. That continuum includes shutting the studio door to a child, letting another parent do all the child care, putting a child in day care, going out of town for work for days, weeks or months at a time, and so forth. “Please note that none of these behaviors count as abandonment if practiced by men,” she says. “This is extra-true if the men in question are artists.”

Society excused men-monsters for a long time if they were artists and even more so if they were geniuses, Dederer says. In particular, we’ve given a pass to abusive geniuses like Hemingway or Picasso by giving them the ultimate creative license: license to have demons.

Big monsters have equally big demons; the consumers of art have their own, smaller devils that emerge when we sit in judgment on others. For instance, “When you’re having a moral feeling, self-congratulation is never far behind. You are setting your emotion in a bed of ethical language, and you are admiring yourself doing it. … The transmission of our virtue feels extremely important and strangely exciting.”

The difference between Roman Polanski’s sins and Dederer’s (she confesses to worrying whether she’d made the right decisions about child care even now that her children are grown) is vast, and to tenuously connect them Dederer follows a chaotic path. Her conclusions are likewise unkempt, but still ultimately satisfying.

“The heart wants what it wants,” Woody Allen famously said in excusing his relationship with Soon-Yi Previn. Put another way, the heart loves what it loves, and this also applies to art, Dederer says.

“Critical thought must bow its knee to love of the work — if something moves us, whoever we are, we must give that something at least a small degree of fealty.” That is, after all, what we do with our families, which are the “unchosen monsters” that we love. A

Album Reviews 23/05/18

Gridfailure and Interstitia, Sunyata Ontology (Pax Aeternum Records)

Imaginative collaborative album from North Carolina-based Interstitia (the noise-rock nym adopted by Graham Scala) and New York-based Gridfailure (a solo project from David Brenner, also of Diminishing). This is underground aggro ambient, if I’m going to try to put a finger on it; the aim is to evoke visions of “a disparate not-too-distant dystopian America, with military/espionage tactics, civil unrest, off-the-grid cults and militant factions, covert government police, the takeover of artificial intelligence, and the looming threat of nuclear catastrophe more realistic than ever.” As always, some of that isn’t reflected in the offerings here, but it does deliver a lot of grimy, spooky noise. Opener “Call Of The Black Hand” sounds like an electric shaver fitted with phase-shifter effects, which is in the ballpark; “Omega Agency” is more along the lines of Rhys Fulber’s Noise Unit project, meaning it’ll appeal to goths and people like that. Worth your while if you like apocalyptic underground-DJ tuneage. A-

Esther Rose, Safe To Run (New West records)

I can hardly believe the hype that’s washing over the landscape with regard to the fourth rather pedestrian country-indie album from this New Orleans-based chanteuse; pound for pound, all the praise from Pitchfork Media and whatnot has reached the same level of ridiculousness — OK, in an indie sense — that Katy Perry’s first record rode in on. I mean it’s all fine and everything, a little bit ’90s-moonbat pop, a Natalie Merchant aftertaste and whatnot, wrapped in four-chord Joni Mitchell-ness and such. This isn’t to say it’s bad or anything — I wouldn’t dare at this point — but it’s not everything you may have heard it is. Lyrically it’s about running and staying in a literal-but-really-not sense, and in order to enhance that vibe she brings in Alynda Segarra (from Hurray for the Riff Raff) for a tune, in a move that the pressed-for-way-too-many-descriptors Pitchfork wonk saw as genius, being that both ladies make albums that “juggle the personal and the public so well.” Wheel reinvented? Um, no. But it’s nice, and all that stuff. B+


• May 19 is a magical day, not just because it’s a Friday but also because many new rock ’n’ roll albums will be “unleashed” upon the unsuspecting masses, who will buy them in bulk just so the “artists” who made those albums won’t yell at them or whatever! Since it’s getting near barbecue season, when everyone needs good wholesome, dishwasher-safe, almost-sort-of-rockin’ tunes to listen to while the kids run around with Super Soakers until the dads flip out and yell, we should probably first talk about the new album from Dave Matthews Band, Walk Around The Moon! I’m sure the title track will be a terrific example of modern AOR radio rock, so let’s go listen, ah, here we are, it’s a live version! Well I’ll be horn-swaggled, it’s more like Blue Oyster Cult than the “serious version of Barenaked Ladies” twaddle he usually puts out. His voice is trashed, so maybe the vocal line is OK, but I can’t guarantee it

• Good lord, I’d almost forgotten the fact that quirk-folk superstar Sufjan Stevens even existed! Note to self, I really must either begin to care more about quirk-indie-electronica-folkies or stop pretending that I do! Whatever, as always, the fascinating thing about his new album (Reflections, which will be released in a few hours) is trying to guess which weird outfit Stevens will wear during his concerts. Will he be “owl boy,” “Good & Plenty-striped licorice boy,” or will he suit up in some sort of variation on the stupidness 1980s-era Elton John used to wear when he really wanted people to stay away from him? I don’t care, but maybe a quick distracted listen to the new single, “Ekstasis” will do the trick! Well, that’s interesting, the tune is a neoclassical piano piece with a few edgy, dissonant moves and whatnot, so if neoclassical piano music played by someone who dresses up like an owl is your jam, it’s your lucky day!

• Endlessly annoying 1960s songwriter Paul Simon is a million years old, and he was once the singing partner of Art Garfunkel before trying to become Jimmy Buffett or whatever that whole deal was. He was married to Carrie Fisher for a year, right after she played Princess Leia in Return of the Jedi, and once she calmed down from that whole experience, she realized that she’d married Paul Simon and pleaded insanity or whatever she did to get out of it. Simon’s new full-length is titled Seven Psalms, not to be confused with the Nick Cave album, which literally came out last year and hence Simon should have known to name his album something else, and he has not released a single as of this writing, just an album trailer on YouTube, obviously just to irritate me, and yes, it worked. Yes, there he is, hanging in the studio, singing some stuff. Yuck, whatever this teaser song is, it’s all serious and maudlin, with some lyrics about getting someone to forgive him. There is a string section and a choir and it pretty much sucks, let’s finish off this column before I lose my marbles.

• And finally, ack, some people have literally no shame, because here we go, folks, look, David Crosby from Crosby Stills Nash & Young just recently died, but without missing a beat, here comes Graham Nash, the most useless one out of the bunch, with a new album, called Now! If you still drive a 1962 Dodge Dart with peace signs on it, you know that Nash is the skinny English dude who wrote like only one song that the other guys could tolerate playing at Woodstock and whatever else, the ground-breaking ceremony for the Great Pyramid of Giza or whatever other hippie festivals those guys played during the Swingin’ Sixties. The single, “A Better Life,” is flower-power ukulele-folk, and I swear I’ve heard it before, but all the weakest songs on CSNY’s 4 Way Street were written by this guy, so it’s all a wash, whatevs.

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).

Strawberry whoopie pies with a secret ingredient

It’s almost strawberry season in New Hampshire. While we await their arrival, let’s make something full of strawberry flavor that doesn’t need fresh produce!

The key to the flavor in these whoopie pies is the freeze-dried strawberries and strawberry Jell-o powder. Freeze-dried berries are a go-to ingredient for me, but Jell-o is something I almost never use (a.k.a. my secret ingredient). However, as I tested (and retested) this recipe, I found that the Jell-o was the key to this strawberry-centric treat.

There are two ingredient notes for this recipe. First, be sure to use regular Jell-o. I did not test this recipe with the sugar-free version, so I’m not sure how it would impact the final product. Second, you can use any milk you have on hand. Whether you use almond, soy, full-fat, low-fat, etc., the recipe will be just fine.
Now enjoy a batch of these as we await the arrival of strawberries and the start of summer!

Strawberry whoopie pies with a secret ingredient
Makes 10 pies

½ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 Tablespoons strawberry Jell-o powder
1¼ cup freeze-dried strawberries, ½ cup ground
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon table salt
2½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup milk
red food coloring, optional

½ cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1¼ cup freeze-dried strawberries, ½ cup ground
2 Tablespoons milk
½ teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place melted butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, and beat with paddle attachment on speed 2 until smooth.
Add eggs, one at a time, mixing until each is fully incorporated on speed 2.
Add extract, Jell-o powder, strawberries, baking powder, baking soda and salt, mixing well on speed 2.
Use a spatula to scrape down the sides, and add 1½ cups of flour.
Mix on low; scrape sides with spatula, add milk, and mix until fully blended.
Add remaining cup of flour, and mix.
Add food coloring, and mix until fully combined.
Scoop approximately 1½ tablespoons batter, and place spaced evenly, onto parchment paper-lined baking sheet. (Will take two batches to bake all of the batter.)
Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until cakes spring back when touched.
Allow to cool for 2 minutes on baking sheet.
Transfer to baking rack to cool completely.
In a stand mixer combine butter, powdered sugar, strawberries, milk and vanilla extract; mix on low speed until combined.
Spread the flat side of 10 cakes with the frosting.
Top each with another cake.
Serve or store in a sealed container.

Featured photo: Strawberry whoopie pie. Photo by Michele Pesula Kuegler.

In the kitchen with Adam & Laura Rexford

Husband-and-wife team Adam and Laura Rexford of Manchester are the in-house bakers at Angela’s Pasta & Cheese Shop (815 Chestnut St., Manchester, 625-9544,, regularly experimenting with different seasonally inspired flavors of baked goods and treats like scones, cookies and whoopie pies. A baker at Angela’s since 1998, Laura Rexford met her husband while completing an internship as a culinary student in the bakery of the Omni Mount Washington Resort in Bretton Woods. Adam Rexford, who received a baking degree from Johnson & Wales University, would join the Angela’s team a couple of years later.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

Laura: Mine is a rubber spatula, for savory [items] and for baking.

Adam: Mine is a bowl scraper.

What would you have for your last meal?

Laura: Definitely a turkey club, with rice with peas in it. And a Painkiller.

Adam: A rare burger … and an Old-Fashioned.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

Adam: River Road Tavern [in Bedford]. … When I order a burger there I order it rare and 98 percent of the time it comes out perfect.

Laura: My favorite local spot is Shorty’s Mexican Roadhouse. We go there every week after our bake! They have the best bartenders and the menu is easily adapted for my dairy allergy.

What celebrity would you like to see trying something that you’ve baked?

Adam: That’s such a hard question because I’m kind of cynical toward the whole celebrity life anyway. I don’t know.

Laura: Yeah, I would say, just like a regular everyday person. We want everyone to enjoy our stuff.

What is your favorite thing that you offer at the shop?

Laura: I’m not a breakfast kind of person — like, I’d rather have a sandwich. … My favorite thing to eat, though, would be one of Adam’s quick breads. Right now we have a lemon glazed poppy seed bread that’s delicious.

Adam: Probably just new flavor ideas for ricotta cookies and whoopie pies. … The mini whoopie pies have been going like crazy.

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

Adam: Laura and I have kind of talked about this, and I think it’s just small bites.

Laura: Yeah, like, with the whoopie pies, it seems like that’s something that someone would buy to maybe share, whereas [with] the 12-pack you can have one with lunch and then save the rest of the pack for another time, and you’re not feeling guilty about it because it’s so tiny.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

Laura: I really don’t care to bake or cook at home, so Adam does it all.

Adam: Yeah, I literally do almost 95 percent of the cooking at home. Probably one of my favorite things is doing beer can chicken on the grill.

Anise ricotta cookies
From the kitchen of Adam and Laura Rexford of Angela’s Pasta & Cheese Shop

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 15-ounce container whole-milk ricotta cheese
3 Tablespoons light cream
2 teaspoons anise extract
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
For the glaze (stir until combined):
1½ cups powdered sugar
3 Tablespoons water (more for a thinner glaze, less for a thicker glaze)

Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add and beat in the eggs, ricotta cheese, light cream and anise extract until smooth. Add the flour, baking powder and salt to the wet mixture and mix until smooth. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Scoop the dough (about 2 tablespoons each) onto parchment-lined cookie sheets, leaving about 2 inches between scoops. Bake for 15 minutes, until the edges are slightly golden. Let the cookies cool completely. Dip cookie top into the glaze and sprinkle with nonpareils.

Featured photo: Adam and Laura Rexford, in-house bakers at Angela’s Pasta & Cheese Shop in Manchester. Courtesy photo.

Greek eats return

Nashua’s St. Philip Church to bring back food festival during 50th year

It has been more than 1,400 days since St. Philip Greek Orthodox Church in Nashua was last able to hold its annual food festival in its traditional format. On Friday, May 19, and Saturday, May 20, the church will bring back its longstanding two-day tradition of Greek eats, live music, dancing and more. This year’s event, the first in-person festival since 2019, happens to coincide with the church’s 50th anniversary.

“We tried to bring it back as best we could to the original format,” festival co-chair Jamie Pappas said. “I think everybody will be pleased. I know that there’s a big buzz going on in the city, that people are excited that we’re back. And to be honest, we’re excited to be back, too.”

Since January, church parishioners and volunteers have been hard at work preparing all the food to be presented at the festival. Covid, Pappas pointed out, came along right in the middle of preparations for the 2020 festival. She said that, while church members have pulled off several successful takeout-only pop-up food events over the last few years, they have not planned a traditional festival post-pandemic until now.

A variety of homemade Greek meals will be available to walk-in attendees, including marinated lamb and chicken slow-cooked over an open fire, as well as dolmathes (stuffed grape leaves), spanakopita (spinach pie) and pastichio, a Greek pasta dish with ground beef and a béchamel sauce. The made-to-order gyro booth is making its return, Pappas said, as is the pastry table, featuring traditional sweet treats sold a la carte like baklava, loukoumades (fried dough balls) and all kinds of homemade cookies. Greek coffee will also be available to try.

“We’ve always had some sort of a Greek import table or booth, but we’re expanding it a little bit to make it almost like a marketplace, where you’ll be able to find things like ingredients used in the Greek cookies,” Pappas said.

On both days, local Greek-American dance band Ta Pethia Orchestra will provide live music. At 6 p.m. on Saturday there will be a special performance by Sons & Daughters of Alexander the Great, a professional dance troupe.

“We had them a long time ago and they are coming back again, so that’s exciting,” Pappas said.

As in years past, there will be plenty of tented seating to enjoy your food just outside the church, or you can take your meal to go. Rev. Paul Bebis, Pappas said, will be on hand to give tours and answer questions about the church.

Pappas said the festival’s return signifies the beginning of the church’s 50th anniversary celebration. A special gala is planned for Nov. 4 at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Nashua.

“We are eternally grateful that people continued to support us through the pop-ups … and we can’t wait to open the doors and have people come in and visit us again,” she said.

St. Philip Greek Orthodox Church food festival
When: Friday, May 19, and Saturday, May 20, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day
Where: 500 W. Hollis St., Nashua
Cost: Free admission and parking; all foods and drinks are priced per item.
Event is rain or shine. Overflow parking and free shuttle services will be available from Stellos Stadium (7 Stadium Drive, Nashua) throughout both days.

Featured photo: Courtesy photo.

Fill your cup

New England Coffee Festival returns

Last year’s inaugural New England Coffee Festival brought more than 5,000 attendees to downtown Laconia over two days to enjoy workshops, vendors, samples and even a competitive “latte art throwdown.” Now the two-day celebration of specialty coffee culture is back for a second year with new features — the event returns to the city with a kickoff panel discussion and outdoor block party on Friday, May 19, followed by a full day’s worth of coffee-related activities scheduled for Saturday, May 20.

“Last year was awesome. It definitely exceeded our expectations,” said festival organizer Karen Bassett, who also co-owns Wayfarer Coffee Roasters in Laconia. “Everyone kept saying that it didn’t feel like a first-year event, and we felt like that was one of the highest compliments we could have received about Year 1, especially where we were just kind of learning the ropes and figuring this out. … This year, we’ve consolidated it to [having] just the Colonial Theatre as the coffee education center, and then the Belknap Mill for basically like the full festival experience over there.”

Admission options include either one-day or two-day passes. The festivities kick off with a panel discussion inside the Colonial Theatre on Friday at 6 p.m., moderated by Alex Stoyle of Revelstoke Coffee in Concord and featuring five area coffee professionals.

“The discussion is called ‘How Did You Get Here?’ and it’s just going to be a super approachable conversation for anyone,” Bassett said. “I think it’s super fun to hear about different career paths in the coffee industry that you may not realize, and just to hear from a lot of these people that maybe started out as baristas and then maybe got a management position in that cafe, or maybe they got interested in the roasting side.”

That will be followed by an outdoor block party on nearby Canal Street, where there will be samples provided by six local breweries in addition to live music and a wood-fired pizza truck.

“Last year we had a welcome mixer at one restaurant and it was really jam packed,” Bassett said, “so this year, we wanted to expand that opportunity to more people to kind of add to that community feel of the event.”

Coffee Festival happenings on Saturday will then include a full schedule of panel discussions, Q&A sessions and workshops, led by local industry professionals and covering a wide variety of coffee-related topics. There will be a total of five workshop locations, all in and around the Colonial Theatre, operating in what Bassett called a “choose your own adventure” format.

“We’re hosting a lot more coffee cuppings, which are kind of like a professional coffee tasting experience, and you’ll be walked through what that all looks like,” she said.

Other workshop topics will include loose leaf teas, elevating your home coffee brewing experience, infusing coffee and spirits and the importance of water filtration. Each will welcome passholders on a first-come, first-served basis.

The last big change for this year’s festival, Bassett said, involves the “latte art throwdown” — that will take place at 3 p.m. on Saturday on the main stage of the Colonial Theatre, and it’s open to the public, although passholders will have access to front-row VIP seating.

A total of 32 New England area baristas will face off in a bracketed challenge testing their latte art skills, with all kinds of prizes awarded to finalists.

“Each round will be different. There may either be a design that they need to pour, or it could be a freestyle round,” Bassett said. “You should be seeing a lot of different types of designs, and there will be a panel of judges who get to pick their favorite. It’s going to be projected up on a screen too so everybody can see. … It was a lot of fun last year. It’s a friendly and fun competition, and it’s pretty fascinating to see what these baristas can do.”

Coffee Festival tickets can be purchased online, or you can get them inside the Colonial Theatre box office on the day of the event. A vendor expo will take place on the third floor of the Belknap Mill on Saturday, and several food trucks will be set up in its parking lot.

“Now that we have one [event] under our belt and are just about ready to have two, the concept behind the coffee and community hybrid-style event is one we don’t have to explain as much anymore,” Bassett said. “It gives people a very different coffee event than a typical industry expo where you go and get inundated with products and services. … It’s being able to both interact with coffee professionals and be able to share that passion with the people who are drinking your product.”

New England Coffee Festival
When: Friday, May 19, and Saturday, May 20
Where: Various locations across downtown Laconia, including the Colonial Theatre (617 Main St.) and the Belknap Mill (25 Beacon St. East), as well as on Canal Street, which will be closed to vehicular traffic between Main and Beacon streets during both days.
Cost: $50 for a one-day pass or $75 for a two-day pass; tickets can be purchased online or inside the box office of the Colonial Theatre the days of the event.

Featured photo: Scene from last year’s New England Coffee Festival. Photos by Raya Al-Hashmi, on Instagram @rayaonassignment.

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