Serving up laughs

Post-Thanksgiving comedy show at Rex

Since all the crack-of-dawn flat-screen TV sales moved online, the day after Thanksgiving has become a time to recover and shake off the tryptophan, along with any memories of oversharing relatives. The way comedian Emily Ruskowski sees it, there are a lot of people among that crowd who could use an escape to some laughs.

“Black Friday is a lull, when people are home and looking for something to sort of decompress from travel or holiday stress,” the Massachusetts native, who started in standup while going to graduate school in Washington, D.C., and has worked in her home region since 2013, said by phone recently. “Comedy is a great thing to do during those times, if only to get away from your family for a few hours.”

To that end, she and three of the region’s top comics will gather at the Rex Theatre in Manchester on Nov. 24. Ruskowski, a finalist in the 2018 Boston Comedy Festival, is a natural storyteller with sharp timing. Her bits include one about “aggressive meat hipsters” working in Portland, Maine, restaurants where the farm is a little too close to the table — who needs to hear every step in the preparation of goat stew?

“They’re not wrong, their food is incredible,” she said. “They’re just very, very passionate about it.”

Sharing the stage are Dan Boulger, who won the BCF in 2006 and is a regular at places like Headliners and Laugh Boston, and Amy Tee, who likes to appear in a suit and tie and poke fun at her androgynous appearance. “You’re probably wondering what bathroom I’m going to use,” she’ll quip. “It’ll be the one with the shortest line, I guarantee you that.” Rounding out the bill is Boston’s Tim Champa.

“I could not be more excited about this lineup, it’s just A+ all-around top tier,” Ruskowski said. “It’s going to be just such an incredible show, I can’t wait.”

Ruskowski got into comedy by acclamation — enough friends told her she was funny that she decided to give it a try.

“I didn’t know what the entry point was,” she said. “Then my friend was like, ‘Oh, you go to open mics, and there’s one near my house; I’ll go with you.’ I was just hooked from that.”

The same people urging her to try standup helped Ruskowski mine the jokes in her story-based act. “My friends would say, ‘There’s a lot of punches in there’… they would help me work it out,” she said. “I’m so grateful to them for encouraging me, because doing comedy is one of the greatest joys of my life. I’m so lucky to get to do it.”

When she moved back to New England, Ruskowski broke into the regional scene in an atypical way. “My biggest comedy contacts were people who had gone to high school and college with my sister,” she said. “People were like, ‘She’s Audrey’s sister, she’s cool because Audrey is very cool.’”

Since then she’s managed to land in a number of comedy circles, appearing at the alt-leaning Shaskeen in Manchester, doing mid-level rooms like The Rex and Portsmouth’s Music Hall Lounge — she’ll be at the latter in mid-December, and opening for Gary Gulman at Boston’s Wilbur Theatre last September.

During the day, Ruskowski works as a mental health professional, helping young people. “Don’t applaud, I’m doing God’s work,” she’ll tell crowds, adding with a smirk, “at least that’s what they say, so they don’t have to pay us.”

She has one hilarious bit about taking a job satisfaction survey during the pandemic, asking for more money and receiving a fleece jacket instead. “That’s what you everyone wants to wear, right, hospital-branded attire? Like you showed up in an ER naked, and that’s what they sent you home in.”

That said, the counseling job does help the comic hone her act.

“Teenagers are a very tough audience,” she said, recalling one young girl complaining that Ruskowski didn’t really care about her — she was only there because it was her job. “I said, ‘You’re right, I am here because I’m paid, and wouldn’t it be weird if I wasn’t? If I was just a random adult who came to your school to ask personal questions, you probably shouldn’t talk to me.’”

Emily Ruskowski’s Thanksgiving Leftover Laughs w/ Dan Boulger, Amy Tee and Tim Champa
Friday, Nov. 24, 8 p.m.
Where: Rex Theatre, 23 Amherst St., Manchester
Tickets: $25 at

Featured photo: Emily Ruskowski. Courtesy photo.

The Music Roundup 23/11/23

Local music news & events

Blues rocker: Discovered at 16 by Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics, Joanne Shaw Taylor has an impressive list of adherents including Stevie Wonder and Jimmy Cliff. With a string of blues chart-topping albums, she’s often boxed into the genre, but Taylor said recently, “I’m a soul singer and a pop-rock writer and it all just kind of jumbles together, because I’m hugely influenced by blues.” Friday, Nov. 24, 8 p.m., Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 S. Main St., Concord, $34.75 and up at

Dead revival: Spending an evening with Zach Nugent’s Dead Set delivers more than a tribute act. Prior to launching the effort, which grew out of a weekly residency in Burlington, Vermont, Nugent was in ex-JGB member Melvin Seals’ band. Beyond that, the guitarist is a lifetime fan of the jam band standard setters. When he was 8 he received a Dead-themed elementary school graduation card. Saturday, Nov. 25, 8 p.m., Nashua Center for the Arts, 201 Main St., Nashua, $33 general admission at

Super group: Rock, funk and soul all-star group A Band of Killers was created by Johnny Trama, a Boston guitarist who’s played in Dub Apocalypse, Toussaint & The China Band and many other area acts. It features Tim Gearan on lead vocals and guitar, keys player Darby Wolf, Sonya Rae Taylor on vocals, Mark Hickox and Thomas Arey on bass and drums and guitarists Ryan Taylor and Kevin Barry. Saturday, Nov. 25, 6 pm., The Stone Church, 5 Granite St., Newmarket, $15 at

Song painter: With a voice that one writer enthused “goes down like red wine over good conversation,” Anna Paquin has five albums to her credit, with a new EP due next year. Sunday, Nov. 26, 1 p.m., Contoocook Cider Co., 656 Gould Hill Road, Contoocook; see

Still standing: In the early days of MTV, The Fixx reeled off a string of hits, including “Red Skies,” “Stand or Fall” “Saved by Zero” and the smash “One Thing Leads to Another.” Lead singer Cy Curnin and guitarist Jamie West-Oram also contributed to Tina Turner’s Private Dancer album, appearing in her “Better Be Good to Me” video. Their classic lineup is still intact, apart from a few changes at bass. Tuesday, Nov. 28, 7 p.m., Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A St., Derry, $40 and up at

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (PG-13)

Coriolanis Snow grows from an ambitious teenager into the guy who will one day be Donald Sutherland in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, a prequel to the Katniss-era Hunger Gameses based on the book by the same name.

In the movie’s main timeline, Coriolanis (Tom Blyth) is a high school senior or something who is trying to win a big scholarship that will not only cover his university tuition but also get money to his family. The Snows were once a big noise in the Capitol, the ruling city of Panem, the dystopia where all this business is set. But then there was a rebellion and both of Coriolanis’ parents died and now they are sort of shabby gentry with Coriolanis and his big-sister-like cousin Tigris (Hunter Schafter) living with their grandmother (Fionnula Flanagan) in an apartment they can’t quite afford. On the day when Coriolanis expects his winning of the Plinth Prize to be announced, the school’s head Casca Highbottom (Peter Dinklage, who seems like he’s really trying) tells the top students that they have one more task before anyone’s getting any scratch. They will all become mentors for competitors in the upcoming Hunger Games, a death match ritual featuring children from the 12 Districts the Capitol rules.

The Hunger Games, now in their 10th year, are not the hot-ticket reality show Super Bowl-like blowout they are in the later movies. Their ratings have declined so much the ruling government seems on the fence about whether they should still have them. Dr. Volumnia Gaul (Viola Davis), a games designer and bio-weapons designer and general nutcase, is really insistent that they continue and I think hopes the mentors will jazz them up a little. Though why exactly is unclear. As viewed in this movie (and actually, in the whole series), the Hunger Games seem like a waste of time (and an easy target for dissenters) for this authoritarian regime that seems to be having enough trouble just keeping itself out of civil war.

Anyway, victory by the competitors in the games will mean victory for the students competing for the Plinth Prize. And “victory” doesn’t necessarily mean being the last gamer standing. It can also mean having a competitor with a compelling story who gets people to tune in. Lucky for Coriolanis, his mentee is Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler, having fun with what she’s given). When Lucy Gray’s name is called during the reaping, she responds with a knowing smile. As she walks to the podium, surrounded by whispers, in a fancy Belle Epoque-y dancing girl dress, she stops to put a snake down a girl’s back and then she sings a defiant little song into the mic. A member of a tribe of traveling musicians, she’s known for twangy folk tunes and boyfriend seducin’. So much more personable than the girl with tuberculosis!

Snow quickly figures out how to play the publicity game element of the Hunger Games, helping to develop some of the elements — donate to your favorite player! — that will become an important part of the Games in the later years. Also giving hints to what the Games will become is a theatrical weatherman named Lucky Flickerman (Jason Schwartzman) who is trying to make this show all it can be.

Dinklage might be the guy doing more Serious Acting than this movie warrants, but Schwartzman seems to be the guy really finding a tone and leaning all the way in with it. His Lucky doesn’t exactly fit with the vibe of the rest of the movie, but he’s definitely the film’s most entertaining element.

This movie falls somewhere between “the dark education of a could-go-either-way Coriolanis Snow” and “a guy who starts off as an ambitious opportunist remains ambitious, sees opportunities.” As the Games progress, Coriolanis’ desire to have Lucy Gray be successful for his own goals turns into actual desire for Lucy Gray. They are, for a while, in love. Or either one or both of them is playing a long con to use the other for their advancement in this morally bankrupt society. Or life is complicated and both things are true. Intellectually, I like that the movie lets you read the story it’s telling in a few different ways. In fact, the more I thought about the way this movie’s character motivations were constructed, the more interesting I found it.

After the fact.

In the moment, sitting in the theater, this made for some very slow, boring storytelling. I know who Snow is going to become and this movie doesn’t really give me a reason to care how he got that way. And I feel like I’m watching the teen soap operaversion of Hunger Games dystopia — it’s all smaller, snottier and more high school. The big scary Panem Capitol and its rulers don’t even seem quite as all-powerful and authoritarian here as in the original movies — they are basically every familiar aristocracy of rich jerks you’ve ever seen anywhere, from Gossip Girl to, like, real life.

I’ll give the movie this: It’s visually interesting in a “huh, neat” kind of way, with its riff on a past that sort of fits with the future we see in the original films. But “huh neat” is not enough to sustain two hours and 37 minutes of movie. C+

Rated PG-13 for strong violent content and disturbing material, according to the MPA on Directed by Frances Lawrence with a screenplay by Michael Lesslie and Michael Arndt (from the book by Suzanne Collins), The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is two hours and 37 minutes long and is distributed in theaters by Lionsgate.

The Holdovers (R)

A grumpy classics teacher is forced to babysit the kids left at a Massachusetts boys school for the Christmas holiday in 1970 in The Holdovers, a movie directed by Alexander Payne.

Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti) is the most “Paul Giamatti character” of Paul Giamatti characters. A classics professor who eats and sleeps his job, he is a surly tyrant to his students, difficult with the school’s headmaster (Andrew Garman) and just sort of awkward around everyone else.

After handing out a bunch of D and F grades on a test to his students, berating them about their performance and general intelligence and assigning them homework during the break, Paul finds out that he will also be working over vacation. The teacher who had been expected to stay at the school to watch the handful of boys who weren’t going home weaseled out of the assignment and the headmaster, still mad that Paul wouldn’t pass an important donor’s son, makes Paul do it. Not only do the boys have to stay at school but they must all move to barrack-like lodgings in the infirmary because the heat will be off in their normal dorms. And Paul has decided that they need a regular schedule of outdoor exercise (in the Massachusetts winter) and study. And they all have to eat together in the school dining hall, where food is cooked by Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), who warns Paul not to expect anything too great because there won’t be any new shipments of ingredients until the new year.

Mary, the head of the dining services, is stuck at the school in a different way — her son Curtis was a student but recently died in Vietnam. She feels like she needs to stay in this place, the last place they were together, at least for this, her first Christmas without him.

Eventually, the handful of boys is whittled down to just one — Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa), a boy who was told at the last minute by his mother that he needed to stay at school so she and her new husband could have a honeymoon. Deeply resentful and heartbroken about this, Angus is also generally having a hard time. He’s been kicked out of a few previous schools and doesn’t have close friends at this one. He’s mourning the loss of his father and is angry about how his mother has moved on. And Angus and Paul have the natural irritation for each other that two people with a lot of the same qualities can easily have.

Three people trying, sometimes failing, to deal with the stuff life has thrown at them is the core of this movie and these three people forming an unlikely, temporary family unit makes up the bulk of what moves the story along. This very familiar kind of tale plus the very conscious 1970s vibe of the movie (right down to the “film” hisses and pops that kick off the movie’s audio) and the “everything you expect from a Paul Giamatti character” nature of Paul shouldn’t work, it should feel like the most done of “it’s been done” movies. And yet, for me, it all came together. That was a nice, kind movie — was my reaction, which sounds damning but wasn’t. It all coalesces — the core three performances, the little moments each actor gets to show you into the layers of their character, the most sitcom-like humor. The Holdovers was quietly charming and tartly gentle. B+

Rated R for language, some drug use and brief sexual material, according to the MPA on Directed by Alexander Payne with a screenplay by David Hemingson, The Holdovers is two hours and 13 minutes and is distributed in theaters by Focus Features.

Featured photo: The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

The Wake-up Call by Beth O’Leary

If I were a trendy person, I would call this book “mid”: just fine, mediocre, middle of the road. The Wake-up Call is fine for what it is — a predictable entry in the women’s fiction category.

Maybe I shouldn’t have read this right after finishing Remarkably Bright Creatures, which is thoughtful, intelligent and unique; this is a very different kind of book, meant to be light and fun. And it was fun, but it’s also forgettable, sharing the same tired plot as so many other rom coms before it. I personally am tired of plots that only exist because the two main characters keep misunderstanding each other and have an unbelievable inability to communicate.

The book alternates chapters between main characters Lucas and Izzy. They hate each other! But do they? The premise is that they work together, and the previous Christmas Izzy had written a card to Lucas telling him she was interested in him. But, big shocker here, he never got the card! And thus ensues a year of miscommunication that so easily could have been rectified if Izzy had just talked about why she was so damn upset.

The hotel that they work at is a great setting, and the supporting characters are far more interesting than Izzy and Lucas. There are mysterious guests, quirky guests and lonely guests. The rest of the staff is more compelling than the main characters too.

And then there is the ring subplot; the hotel is going under, so they’re trying to sell off unclaimed items that guests have left behind. There are, somehow, several diamond rings. So the staff sets out to find the people who belong to the rings, and Izzy and Lucas turn it into a competition of sorts, and it ultimately leads to some surprises that had the potential to make the book different from others in this category but were handled in what seemed like a slapdash way.

Ultimately, I wish O’Leary had put more effort into the stories and people behind the rings and less into Izzy and Lucas’s many, many frustrating experiences together — frustrating to them and frustrating to the reader who just wants to shake them and say “Just speak out loud what is in your head and everyone will feel better!” C+

The Good Part by Sophie Cousens

Meanwhile, I devoured The Good Part. Also in the women’s fiction genre but with a much fresher take on relationships and a more thoughtful reflection on life, it was a captivating read. Were there predictable parts and unbelievable moments? Of course. Is the general trope similar to Big and 13 Going on 30? Sure. (Cousens noted as much in her author’s note.) But The Good Part offers a new twist, and Cousens’ writing is engrossing, moving the story along at a quick and entirely enjoyable pace.

Lucy Young is in her mid 20s, unhappy with her job, her dating life and her living situation. An encounter with a wishing machine prompts Lucy to wish that she could skip to the good part of her life. When she wakes up, it is 16 years in the future. Her body has changed, she has a good-looking husband, a nice house and an important job, and she’s the mother of two.

The rub here is that her memories between the time she made the wish and the present are gone. She has no idea how she got to where she is in life, and she doesn’t know what to do. She doesn’t know how to do her job, manage new technology or parent her toddler daughter and 7-year-old son.

The dialogue between Lucy and her son Felix is hilarious. Felix knows right away that this isn’t his mom — this is an alien imposter. When she tells him what she thinks might have happened, he sets out to find the wishing machine that could transport her back to the time of life she left behind. The way their relationship develops over the span of the book is heartwarming and, more importantly, believable.

And of course Lucy also gets to know Sam, this stranger she apparently married and had children with. Sam handles her memory loss with the right combination of compassion and sadness. He reminds her of some of the things she’s been through in the past 16 years, and it’s not all good — which is seemingly why she skipped those parts. But it also means she missed out on some of the good stuff: meeting Sam, her wedding day, the births of her children. She’s left to wonder whether it was worth it.

The Good Part is the perfect combination of thought-provoking and funny, and the characters are loveable and real. It’s a stellar example of what women’s fiction has the potential to be. A

Album Reviews 23/11/23

Gale Forces, Highlights Of Existence (self-released)

Well, I don’t mind this at all. As often as I’ve been disappointed by the last few months’ worth of Los Angeles bands darkening my door, there’s a lot of cred here, starting with the roster, which includes ex-members of Engine Kid and This White Light, along with a guy who’s still in AWOLNATION. The raucous music that’s on this LP isn’t hard to describe; there’s a lot of Aughts-era stoner rock to it, buoyed by a “brown” sort of guitar sound that typifies Trail Of Dead, and frontman Jade Devitt’s voice (he collaborated with someone from (((Sunn O))), by the way) evokes U2’s Bono on Nick Cave juice; that is to say it’s energetic but not hopelessly commercially shrinkwrapped. The end result is a bunch of tunes that are too cool for sports-bar rock but still quite accessible; SST Records would have loved this stuff as a companion product to Redd Kross and bands like that. A

dreamTX, Living In Memory Of Something Sweet (self-released)

Dallas, Texas,-based multi-instrumentalist and producer Nick Das is looking into techno reinvention after spending a few years chasing Drag City Records cred the way his fellow Texans do. He hatted out for Woodstock, New York, to inhale the spiritual air, promptly finding himself roasting in July without air conditioning, so this collection obviously has some trippy life stories behind it. “Get Around” has a tribal bend to it, evoking sunburnt neo-hippies jumping and dancing crook-legged; it’s celebratory, yes, but it’s also pretty gothic in its way, and I definitely like the muzzled no-wave guitar sound. “Elated” aims for the same sort of emotional bliss; like a sort of shoegaze 2.0, it’s sexless but rave-y, with multi-tracked faraway chant-like vocals begging the listener just to let go and be elated over something, whatever it might be. I’m sure a lot of writers will file this under dream-pop for the convenience of it, but it’s more than that, a very listenable mystery-meat I found particularly blissful really. A+


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• Nov. 24 is the day after Thanksgiving, aka Black Friday, and wouldn’t you know it, as always, even though Black Friday is the holiest of shopping days, very few albums will be released, assumedly because all the bands and artists and record company Men In Black know that people won’t be buying albums, they’ll be trapped at the mall, in the Apple and T-Mobile stores, trying to buy just the right glorified Tamagotchi for their ungrateful little Jacobs and Marissas, waiting around for some store clerk (who knows even less stuff about smartphones than they do, if that’s even possible) to take pity on them and answer their technical questions, like “Where’s the ‘on’ button?” (By now I’ve probably given away the fact that I hate smartphones; being an OG software engineer I see them as nothing more than walkie-talkies that tell you the weather). But anyway, Friday is a day that ends in ‘y’ and that means incorrigible songwriting addict Robert Pollard has written enough sort-of-songs to release a new Guided by Voices album whether I want him to or not! When last we left Pollard, federal agents were unable to confiscate his recording equipment owing to an obscure constitutional clause called “artistic freedom,” and so, for what, the 10th time this year, I’m again tasked with peering through an electron microscope at his latest songwriting outburst, an LP titled Nowhere To Go But Up, in an effort to find something to like about it. When last we left this nonsense, it was July and our intrepid hero had just released Welshpool Frillies, which had a song that I said was OK, not that I can remember anything about it, so I’ll have to take my word for it. OK, aaaand I’m riffing, let’s listen to the new single, “For The Home,” there it is, on YouTube. It starts out with some unplugged Led Zeppelin III weirdness, which would have been fine if Pollard had simply left it at that and maybe yodeled over it, but no, here we go, he rips off Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in The Sky,” hoping that there are three people left on the planet who’ve never heard that song and they’re Guided By Voices fans. It’s cool enough but pointless.

• British indie band Spector enjoy making borderline pub-rock for sports bars, you know, that goop that sounds important and edgy even though it’s not, and suddenly you’re saying to the waitress, “Sure, I’ll try the extra-hot wings,” and then you regret it. Their bandleader, Fred Macpherson, is influenced by ’80s/90s swill like OMD, Spandau Ballet and Ultravox, but I’m going to listen to the new single “Driving Home for Halloween,” from their fast-approaching new album Here Come The Early Nights, nevertheless. Oh lol, this is so gross, the tune’s faux-punk AOR hook is something you want to get out of your head as soon as it catches hold, it’s like a gothy version of the worst Kaiser Chiefs song you’ve ever heard, and there’s no escaping it. Absolutely terrible.

Take That is a British dance-pop band that’s won zillions of British music awards, meaning that no American has ever heard of them except for me, just now. This Life is their ninth studio album, and the title track is — aw, I can’t snark at this, it’s nice and dancey, a dumb piano-pop thing, sort of like Andy Grammer or Billy Joel, and at least the video doesn’t have a runway model in it pretending to be a normal person.

• We’ll end with all y’all putting on cowboy hats, because country dude Chris Stapleton releases his new one, Higher, this week! He’ll be at the Bank of NH Pavilion for three days next August, tickets are going fast, and in the torchy new single “I Think I’m In Love With You” he sounds like a cross between Bon Scott and Peabo Bryson! Yee-haw, you have to love it!

Spice cookies

Things you probably didn’t know about your spices:

(1) They probably taste like sawdust. Did you know you’re supposed to replace them? Whole spices like whole nutmeg or cinnamon sticks can probably last a year or two, but ground spices have a shelf life of about six months. Baking powder and baking soda should be replaced twice a year, too. Date all these when you buy them, so you remember how old they are.

(2) Most spices are way better when you grind them yourself. Buy a very cheap coffee grinder and set it aside for things like cumin, cloves, coriander and allspice. Use a micro- plane grater or the tiny-hole side of your box grater for nutmeg. (Seriously, grate some fresh nutmeg and smell it. It will be a revelation.)

(3) Some spices would probably be better if you ground them yourself, but are too much trouble: cinnamon, cardamom seeds, dried ginger and cayenne pepper.

(4) Small containers of spices at the supermarket are startlingly expensive, but if you buy them from an Indian market, a two-pound bag will cost less than the coffee you bought on your drive there. But then you end up with way more cumin or poppy seeds than you can possibly use before they hit that one-year mark.

(5) If at all possible, store your spices on their sides in a drawer, instead of a cabinet. They have a way of migrating to the back of a cabinet, and if you’ve put them on a high shelf, you will forget that you ever bought them. They’ll hang out with that bottle of vegan Worcestershire sauce and the dip mix you bought at that gift shop that time, having sad conversations in a sort of all-spice production of The Velveteen Rabbit.

(6) Every once in a while, bake something that uses a lot of different spices.

  • 2 cups (212 grams) rye flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • ¾ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper – ½ teaspoon if you are stout of heart
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ¾ cup (149 grams) white sugar
  • ½ cup (99 grams) vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup (85 grams) molasses
  • About 1/3 cup of sugar to coat the cookies

Heat the oven to 325º.

Combine all the dry ingredients — the rye flour, salt, spices and baking soda. I don’t know why sugar is treated as a wet ingredient, but it is. It’s just one of those unanswerable mysteries.

Whisk the oil and sugar together, then add the egg. It should pull together into a rough batter.

Mix in the molasses, then the dry ingredients.

Using a tiny ice cream scoop or a spoon, roll the dough into 1½-inch balls, then roll them around in the sugar.

Place them on a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or a piece of parchment paper, about 2 inches apart. This will probably take two baking sheets.

Bake for about 15 minutes. If your oven runs hot, it might take a little less time, and longer if it runs a little cool. If it’s like mine, you can never be certain what it will do, so you should probably start checking on the cookies at 12 minutes.

Let the cookies cool on the tray.

Not only do these spice cookies taste good; they are a confidence-booster. They come out very round and crinkly. These might be the most professional-looking cookies you bake this year. The rye flour and the molasses deepen the flavor and provide a bass note to the spices.

Could you play around and replace some of the spices? Probably. I’ve made these with smoked cinnamon and they were pretty good. Ground cloves might be another way to add some zing.

You’d be rolling the dust by grinding caraway seeds and using them, but now that I just thought of it, I’m going to try it.

This is a good dress rehearsal for the holidays and makes you inventory your spice drawer.

Featured photo: Spice cookies. Photo by John Fladd.

Which wines?

Experts recommend Thanksgiving wine pairings

By Renee Merchant

Looking for wines for your Thanksgiving meal? Three local wine experts have pairing recommendations.

Hors d’oeuvres

Beth Waite is the co-owner and general manager of Averill House Vineyard, a family-owned winery in Brookline. She advised serving a mulled wine with your Thanksgiving hors d’oeuvres.

“Mulled wine is one of our favorite things to introduce during these cooler months and into the winter season,” she said. “It’s pretty much like a snuggle in a glass.”

You can easily make mulled wine in a slow cooker, she said, by adding red wine, particularly a cabernet or a fruity wine, with apple cider, cranberry juice and a mulling mix that has cinnamon and nutmeg in it.

“I personally enjoy a pinot noir that has some blackberry to it,” she said. “That fruit note really adds to the body of the mulling mix.”

Mike Appolo is the owner and winegrower at Appolo Vineyards, a boutique winery in Derry. He said his pick for a pairing with Thanksgiving hors d’oeuvres is a sparkling white wine.

“You want something that would cleanse your palate,” he said.

He mentioned Appolo Vineyards’ sparkling wine called Bee Wild as a good option.

“It’s a brut,” he said, “which means it’s a little bit sweet.”

Al Fulchino is the owner and winegrower at Fulchino Vineyard in Hollis. He said he likes to “start off real simple” in a pairing with a rosé or a blush.

“We have a pinot noir rosé, called Amoré, wonderful for the first light appetizers like, let’s say, shrimp or scallops,” he said.

Then, for the heavier appetizers, you could serve “something a bit more serious,” he said, like a pinot grigio or a sauvignon blanc. A red wine would work too, he said.

“[Try] a sangria wine or a montepulciano, a nice red with not a lot of tannins, but [that] has some body to it,” he said.

A tip for serving red wine, Waite said, is to open it 30 minutes before serving to give it time to breathe.

“That will open up a lot more of the body of the wine,” she said.

Main course

Fulchino said a chardonnay or a pinot grigio will go well with a variety of Thanksgiving meals. If you prefer a red wine, he said, try a cabernet, sangiovese or pinot noir. He suggested Fulchino Vineyard’s pinot noir called 603.

If you’re having turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy for the main course, Waite recommended a pinot noir.

“It’s a classic wine to go with the Thanksgiving dinner,” she said.

She said Averill House Vineyard’s blackberry pinot noir, called Truly Cinematic, is a must-try.

“It has a lighter body and kind of like a fruit-forward profile, and it’s very versatile,” she said.

According to Appolo, a white wine pairs best with a turkey dinner. He said that if you prefer a wine that is less dry, you might want to try Appolo Vineyards’ wine, Sonrisa.

“[It] has a little bit of an orange muscat and seyval blend, so that one’s a little bit sweet, and it tends to go with a great variety of foods,” he said.

To finish the feast

For dessert, Appolo suggested a mulled wine, like a glühwein.

“It’s a German word that means smoldering wine. It’s made to be served warm … with [a] mulling syrup,” he said, “That would go great with dessert because it’s got spices, orange zest and cinnamon.”

If you are serving pumpkin pie, Waite said she has two recommendations: an earthy red wine, like a nebbiolo, or a sweeter wine, like a port.

With an apple pie, she said, she enjoys a dry or semi-dry white wine, like a riesling or a sauvignon blanc.

“It just has a really nice acidity that complements the apple in that dessert,” she said.

Fulchino recommends a small glass of dry wine to balance the sweetness of your dessert.

“It doesn’t have to be over-the-top sweet for a dessert wine,” he said, “[it] could be lightly sweet, and that’s just enough, and sometimes that’s the dessert by itself.”

Appolo said not to be afraid to explore new types of wine.

“Don’t treat wine like it’s a big mystery thing that you have to be an expert in to enjoy,” he said. “Just be adventurous.”

Featured photo: Averill House Vineyard Truly Cinematic. Courtesy photo

Jingle all the way

Tour of New Hampshire’s wineries

Tour wineries throughout New Hampshire this holiday season during the New Hampshire Jingle Bells Winery Tour running on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. through Sunday, Dec. 17.

“It’s a self-guided tour through … 12 different wineries in the state of New Hampshire … [ranging] all the way from the Seacoast area up to the North Country, all the way out to the western country in Westmoreland, so it basically encompasses the whole state,” said Lewis Eaton, former president of the New Hampshire Winery Association and owner of Sweet Baby Vineyard in Hampstead, one of the participating wineries. “You get a whole month to do it and each winery provides wine samples. You also get a food component to go with it and you get an individual ornament from each one of the wineries.”

Sweet Baby Vineyard will offer four one-ounce pours of any of the 20 wines on their tasting board with lots of fruity options such as blueberry, peach, apple, raspberry and strawberry, and freshly baked cookies and brownies made by a local baker. You will be able to pick from two ornaments, a logoed glass ball or a compostable seed packet shaped like a snowflake that you can toss in your garden in the spring to plant wildflowers.

Other participating wineries are Appolo Vineyard, Averill House Vineyard, Black Bear Vineyard, Cabana Falls Winery, Crazy Cat Winery, Flag Hill Distillery & Winery, Hermit Woods Winery, both LaBelle Winery locations in Amherst and Derry, Seven Birches Winery, Squamscott Vineyard & Winery and The Summit Winery.

“We encourage you to do it as your Christmas shopping, so if you’re going up to the North Country … to shop at the outlets or anything like that you can hit a couple of wineries up there, [or] when you’re on the Seacoast shopping,” Eaton said. “The weekend after Thanksgiving is generally the most busy time for the Jingle Bell Tour because people are out Christmas shopping and just burning time.”

At LaBelle Winery participants will be able to sample whatever wine they choose and enjoy a citrus, ginger and thyme crisp or a double chocolate crunch shortbread to have with their samples or take home. For those with food allergies or sensitivities, dark chocolate-covered cranberries will also be offered.

Each winery will be competing in the Holiday Spirit contest, so after you’ve gone to each one, make sure to go to the New Hampshire Jingle Bells Winery Tour and follow the guidelines to vote for which winery was best decked for the holidays for the chance to win a gift basket filled by the wineries.

“It’s such a nice program because it introduces the public and wine lovers to a good number of New Hampshire wineries,” said Michelle Thornton, the marketing and business development director at LaBelle Winery. “A lot of people may have not ever been to all of them and this gives them the opportunity to go.”

2023 Jingle Bells Winery Tour
Where: at participating wineries
When: Saturday and Sunday through Sunday, Dec. 17, from noon to 4 p.m.
Cost: Tickets are $55 for single admission and $100 for couple admission. Purchase via eventbrite.
More info: Visit their Facebook page @NHJingleBellsWineryTour

Appolo Vineyards
49 Lawrence Road, Derry
Averill House Vineyard
21 Averill Road, Brookline
Black Bear Vineyard
289 New Road, Salisbury
Cabana Falls Winery
80 Peterborough St., Jaffrey
Crazy Cat Winery
365 Lake St., Bristol
Flag Hill Distillery & Winery
297 N. River Road, Lee
Hermit Woods Winery
72 Main St., Meredith
LaBelle Winery
345 Route 101, Amherst
14 Route 111, Derry
Seven Birches Winery
22 South Mountain Road, Lincoln
Squamscott Vineyard & Winery
70 Route 108, Newfields
Sweet Baby Vineyard
260 Stage Road, Hampstead
The Summit Winery
719 Highway 12, Westmoreland

Featured photo: LaBelle Winery. Courtesy photo.

The Weekly Dish 23/11/23

News from the local food scene

Breakfast and dinner with Santa: Have breakfast with Santa at Hampshire Hills Athletic Club (50 Emerson Road, Milford) on Saturday, Dec. 9, from 8 to 11 a.m. and dinner on Sunday, Dec. 10, or Monday, Dec. 11, from 5 to 8 p.m. The breakfast buffet includes options such as French toast sticks, muffins, fresh fruit and avocado toast. Tickets are $25 for adults and $12 for children under 12. The dinner buffet offers fried chicken, barbecue short ribs, broccolini and cheese, mac and cheese and a dessert bar. Tickets are $30 for adults and $15 for children under 12. Visit

Calumet bourbon dinner: Enjoy a five-course dinner with five bourbon expressions on Tuesday, Dec. 12, at 6:30 p.m. at Ya Mas Greek Taverna & Bar (275 Rockingham Park Blvd., Salem). On the menu are charred heirloom beets, blackened pan-seared salmon, chicken tiki masala and a berry tart. Tickets start at $125 and can be purchased via eventbrite.

Holiday recipes: On Wednesday, Dec. 13, LaBelle Winery (345 Route 101, Amherst) hosts a cooking with wine class featuring holiday recipes including a greeting eggnog cocktail, candied kielbasa, deviled eggs with LaBelle Seyval Blanc filling, LaBelle red wine caramelized onion dip, baked brie with LaBelle red wine fruit compote and LaBelle wine pairings (riesling, cranberry riesling and malbec). Chefs will make the meals in front of you and you’ll be sent home with a recipe card. Tickets start at $43.40 and can be purchased at

On The Job – Allison Clarke


Allison Clarke, from Bedford, owns Allison Clarke Photography.

Explain your job and what it entails.

I am a senior portrait and wedding photographer. So I’m either there on someone’s wedding day to capture everything as it unfolds, or when you’re a senior in high school and you get your photos done, I’m the person that does those.

How long have you had this job?

I’ve been doing this for eight years.

What led you to this career field and your current job?

I actually started my business when I was in high school. It was a passion and a hobby that turned into a job.

What kind of education or training did you need?

I went to school for photography for my freshman year of college, [but] then I realized that what I had left to learn to run a successful photography business wasn’t so much on the photo side; it was on the business and marketing side. So I finished my degree at Southern New Hampshire University in marketing.

What is your typical at-work uniform or attire?

If I’m editing photos, I’m just on my couch in comfy clothes. If I’m at a senior session, I just wear basic everyday clothes. And then, for weddings … I want to blend in with the guests … so I try to wear something that is professional but also looks like formal wedding guest attire.

What is the most challenging thing about your work, and how do you deal with it?

Time management and being your own boss can be difficult. … I like to set daily goals for myself. … I try to use calendars and to-do lists … to stay on top of things.

What do you wish you’d known at the beginning of your career?

In a career field that is very artistic, it’s really easy to compare yourself to others. … You’ll always be growing and changing your style and adapting and learning. There’s no use in comparing yourself to people around you. The only person you should compare yourself to is your past self.

What do you wish other people knew about your job?

I wish people knew it was more than just clicking a button. Running a photography business is a full-time thing, and we do way more work behind the scenes than people realize.

What was the first job you ever had?

It was actually this. I started my business in high school, and it was my first job.

What’s the best piece of work-related advice you’ve ever received?

If you want something, grab it by the horns and go full force into it. … It’s very difficult to … start something from the ground up, but as long as you put your absolute all into it, have confidence and lead with passion, it’ll all work out in the end.

Five favorites
Favorite book: Harry Potter
Favorite movie: Any classic comedy
Favorite music: Indie folk, like Noah Kahan
Favorite food: Pancakes
Favorite thing about NH: It’s an hour to the White Mountains, an hour to the beach and an hour to Boston. There’s a lot to do in a short distance.

Featured photo: Allison Clarke. Courtesy photo.

Stay in the loop!

Get FREE weekly briefs on local food, music,

arts, and more across southern New Hampshire!