Net sensation

Mia x Ally take viral act on tour

The curious lockdown revival of a 600-year-old folk tradition was the catalyst for an inventive pairing that has, among other things, produced a recasting of “Free Bird” for violin and bagpipes. In late 2020 a Scottish singer posted a pair of sea shanties — collective songs from the maritime trades — to TikTok. Another vocalist added a bass harmony layer, and soon more began stitching in parts.

It caught the attention of electric violinist Mia Asano, who dueted on a subsequent batch of videos. Bagpiper Ally Crowley-Duncan was also taken by “musicians adding their parts and creating this massive session-style experience with all this instrumentation.” She collaborated on a few with a mutual musician friend.

Out of this digital milieu the two became mutual fans and eventually collaborators. The world of rock music has never seen anything like Mia x Ally, but the duo’s unique approach to their instruments has won kudos from some of the genre’s best, including Metallica. It’s also amassed that most coveted of modern currencies, internet virality.

Before joining up, both were building big audiences on TikTok, Ally on her traditional bagpipes with a custom key-extending chanter (the note-producing tube at the bottom of the bag) that she helped design, and Mia with her seven-string Flying V electric violin. In a recent Zoom interview, the two discussed how they came to see their instruments in a different light.

Mia was classically trained from age 5.

“I had a deep love for classical music, but a deeper love for alternative styles,” she said. “In middle school I discovered electric violins; after that I knew what I was going to do for the rest of my life.”

The violin, she added, “is a really gate-kept instrument, and the classical community is really intense. Both Ally and I have a lot of similarities in those ways with our upbringing and our experience with our instruments, so we both have a deep love for showcasing everything they are capable of.”

Also the product of a musical household, Ally played multiple instruments growing up, taking up bagpipes at age 12 as a way to bond with her Scottish stepfather after he legally adopted her. “I’ve been able to see the saxophone, piano and flute transcend their more traditional and classical roots,” she said, “but there aren’t a lot of avenues where the bagpipes have been able to do that.”

In high school she transcribed Ozzy Osborne’s “Crazy Train” to bagpipes and played it with a rock band she’d formed.

“The reaction kind of flipped my brain around into wanting to see the bagpipes in that light more often,” she said. “I love that style of music, always have, and it was really cool to be able to offer it to people on an instrument that I love, but in a way that they weren’t expecting.”

After an extended TikTok friendship, the two performed together for the first time in Boston, on St. Patrick’s Day. Mia was attending Berklee, and Ally had a show sponsored by Barstool Sports. “She messaged me and said, ‘Would you like to meet up and record some collaborations together?’ and of course I said yes,” Mia recalled.

Their version of “Shipping Up to Boston” was a viral smash, and they soon hit the road for a run named after the Dropkick Murphys song, their first release as a duo.

“We like to say it sold out our first tour — that’s how a lot of people found out about us, and the first time we realized how many people love us,” Mia said. An accompanying video, shot across the city at Fenway Park, City Hall and other landmarks, was “essentially a love letter to Boston.”

The current tour, which stops in Derry on Jan. 6 and includes shows in Boston and Vermont, comes in the wake of their debut, Mia x Ally: The Viral Hits. The EP includes their distinctive reimagining of the Lynyrd Skynyrd hit that’s arguably the most requested song in rock history. Both released it solo before recording it together.

“We realized there was actually an appreciation for hearing ‘Free Bird’ in that way,” Ally said. “We knew that we wanted to make it something bigger.”

Playing live, the duo is about more than classic rock covers, even playing some original songs. “Our shows have every kind of music from pop, rock and Celtic,” Mia said. “We have jazzy moments; I play a classical piece at one poin t… we throw everything in there. It’s to showcase our diversity. Music is the most important thing to us; it’s not just about the showmanship, but that’s also important. We have a lot of musical integrity.”

Featured photo: Mia x Ally. Courtesy photo.

The Music Roundup 24/01/04

Local music news & events

Spindizzy: A biweekly EDM version of open mic night has Vermont DJ Montel Tucker as a featured guest. Working under his stage name, Mighty Thicc Ladd, Tucker is known for his dubstep and hard bass house sets and has appeared at the Equinox Festival and the Hyperglow series in his home state. First come, first served signups for Open Decks start at 8:45. Thursday, Jan. 4, 9 p.m., 603 Bar and Grill, 1087 Elm St., Manchester. See

Throwback: Rap into 2024 at the New Year, Old School Hip-Hop Dance Party as DJ Skooch and her guest DJ Mam hold forth for an evening of golden era selections from Grandmaster Flash to the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy and NWA. Expect “classic beats [and] iconic rap anthems, the dance floor will be alive with the energy of hip-hop’s roots and the timeless beats that shaped the genre.” Friday, Jan. 5, 8 pm., 3S Artspace, 319 Vaughan St., Portsmouth, $15 at

Laughter: Boston standup favorite Will Noonan appears at a Nashua movie house. Noonan was named the city’s Best Comedian by The Improper Bostonian in 2018 and released his latest special 50 TikToks at Once on YouTube earlier this year. Saturday, Jan. 6, 8:30 p.m., Chunky’s Cinema Pub, 151 Coliseum Ave., Nashua, $20 at

Originals: NH Music Collective’s first First Sunday event of the year is a Run Like Thieves release show; the rootsy power trio’s Live from Revelry Studios EP dropped in late November. Songs like “Tell Her Goodbye” and “Mama Come Get Me” have a crunchy blues rock feel that fits nicely with fans of modern acts like Chris Stapleton along with classic rockers — think Cream and ZZ Top. Sunday, Jan. 7, 6 p.m., Bank of NH Stage, 16 S. Main St., Concord, $15 at

Rhythmic: Formed out of a Brooklyn residency in the early 2010s, SunDub is a female-fronted reggae band that mixes a classic sound with bluesier elements. The septet “aims to honor the roots of Jamaican music while offering [a] unique ability to combine soul and funk sophistication into their art,” according to their website. Also appearing are Mighty Mystic and Green Lion Crew. Sunday, Jan. 7, 8 p.m., The Goat, 50 Old Granite St., Manchester, $20 (21+) at


A scaredy duck overcomes his fears of the unknown to take his family on an adventure in Migration, a totally acceptable, completely fine 97 minutes of kid-friendly entertainment.

Mack (voice of Kumail Nanjiani) tells his ducklings Dax (voice of Casper Jennings) and Gwen (voice of Tresi Gazal) cautionary bedtime tales about little ducks who venture out on their own only to be killed horribly by assorted predators. Mom Pam (voice of Elizabeth Banks) doesn’t appreciate these nightmare-inducers and she wishes Mack could just cool it with the constant anxiety. When a flock of migrating ducks visits the family pond, Pam is enchanted by tales of the glowing waters of Jamaica and Dax is enchanted by the girl duck in the flock who’s about his age. The family tells Mack it wants to migrate but Mack is dead set against it — until the agreement of an even more homebodied Uncle Dan (voice of Danny DeVito) has Mack rethinking his determination to never leave the pond.

Thus the next morning the whole family, including Uncle Dan, sets out on their trip to Jamaica — though, this being their first migration, they get a little lost and wind up flying into first a storm and then New York City.

In New York the family befriends a pigeon named Chump (voice of Awkwafina) and a tropical bird who is himself from Jamaica named Delroy (voice of Keegan-Michael Key). There is also a side trip to a somewhat too perfect duck paradise and the occasional menacing by a chef who is really dedicated to fresh duck a l’orange.

There are some slow moments but there are also pratfalls, bird goofiness and at least one poo joke. This wasn’t a laugh riot for my kids like the recent Leo but nor was the audience loudly fidgeting as during parts of Wish. The animation, without being particularly revolutionary, is very good and the flight of the birds and the brilliance of their feathers is very eye-catching. The message, such as it is, hits some very general ideas about trying new things and not getting stuck in fear but we don’t get traumatic backstories or disturbing psychology. It’s all very, well, fine. B-

Rated PG for action/peril and mild rude humor, according to the MPA on Directed by Benjamin Renner and Guylo Homsy with a screenplay by Mike White (yes, that one), Migration is an hour and 37 minutes long and distributed in theaters by Universal Pictures.

Maestro (R)

Bradley Cooper presents his Leonard Bernstein for your consideration in Maestro, a biopic focused on Bernstein’s relationship with his wife Felicia.

The movie bookends itself with an elderly Bernstein (Cooper) giving a television interview — with the movie starting with him playing the piano and talking about seeing the ghost of Felicia (Carey Mulligan) and ending with him saying “any questions?” and I was exhausted before we even jumped to the black and white 1940s flashback.

There we see Lenny, as he’s mostly called, meet Felicia at a party that seems to be filled with theater and literary luminaries as well as friends and family, such as Lenny’s sister Shirley (Sarah Silverman). The movie gives Lenny and Felicia’s relationship the feel of a whirlwind romance (even though Wikipedia and other sources suggest a more “it’s complicated” state of things for some four or five years before getting married); Felicia ultimately seems to propose marriage with a charming “let’s give it a whirl.” The gist seems to be that they are genuinely deeply in love and that Felicia is well aware that Lenny has had relationships with men and will likely want to continue having relationships with men into their marriage.

They live a very chic life, with a lovely mid-century modern apartment in the city and preppy country house in Connecticut and it’s all very fashionable with cigarettes and erudite conversation about art. Over time, though, Felicia, who takes care of the couple’s three children and tries to balance her own career with family and Lenny’s fame, starts to feel pushed aside by and resentful of Lenny’s affairs (and of his fame? The movie doesn’t address Felicia’s relationship with Lenny’s career as much as it feels like it should) leading to relationship turmoil that never seems quite resolved, but then she gets cancer and Lenny stays by her side until the end.

I don’t have a lot of firsthand experience with Leonard Bernstein but I do get the sense that Cooper is doing a very good Bernstein. There’s a voice, mannerisms, facial expressions, the mid-Atlantic whatever — it all has the feel of something exquisitely crafted. But all that production design of Cooper’s Bernstein really gets in the way of a view of Lenny as a person with an interior life who has this deep connection to music and at least one serious romance that he feels compelled to give up because even in his relatively more accepting world of the arts, he just couldn’t love who he wanted and still reach the heights in his career he wanted to reach. I found myself marveling at Cooper’s whole Bernstein creation without feeling much of a connection to the actual person.

In some ways we are seeing Lenny as Felicia saw him, but we also aren’t really getting much interiority of Felicia either. This movie feels oddly all on the surface — I feel like most of Lenny’s personality is delivered via recreations of interviews and Felicia has a few scenes where she sort of monologues her personality, like “here are all my current emotions.” The result is that, while these two people and their relationship are relatively interesting, I didn’t really feel like I was getting to know either of them.

Dream Scenario (R)

Nicolas Cage is the man of many people’s dreams in Dream Scenario, a fun little horror movie about going viral.

Paul Matthews (Cage) is at one point described as a “nobody man,” which feels accurate. A college animal-biology professor with a wife, Janet (Juliet Nicholson), and two daughters, Hannah (Jessica Clement) and Greta (Star Slade), Paul nevertheless has an aura of disappointment and neediness about him. He meets up with someone he knew years ago to confront her about using his research in her upcoming paper and the conversation quickly devolves into him basically begging to be credited. When his daughter dreams of him, he stands by passively as she is sucked into the sky; later he tries to convince her of his real-life (very minor) heroism years earlier.

It turns out a passive Paul has been getting around. An old girlfriend runs into Paul and Janet and tells Paul that she has also had dreams about him, where he is just sort of walking through a scene. Later he overhears two students talking about his appearance in their dreams. An acquaintance tells him about a conversation he had where two women realize they’d been seeing Paul walk through their dreams. When the ex-girlfriend publishes a piece about her Paul dreams, he receives messages from countless other people who say he has also appeared in their dreams. At an ordinary lecture, he suddenly faces a packed auditorium with college students eager to ask him questions, tell him their dreams and later take selfies with him. He does an interview with a TV news show; he is told by a marketing firm that there may be an opportunity for him to do a sponsorship with Sprite. Yes, a man also shows up at his house and tries to kill him, but overall Paul seems to be enjoying his weird fame as a sort of quirky cameo in people’s dreams.

Then something happens. Does it have to do with his groupie-like encounter with a young woman from the marketing firm? Or is it just the inevitable arc of this kind of random fame? Whatever happens, the Paul in people’s dreams goes from benign to violent and Paul the real person finds himself receiving the vitriol earned by his dream doppelganger.

So maybe Sprite is out but how would he feel about going on Tucker Carlson to talk about cancel culture?

The movie touches on issues of social media and the commodification of everything, even infamy, but I feel like it’s the performances, specifically Cage’s, that really makes it work. Cage is great as the always slightly sad, figuratively sweaty Paul. You almost feel sympathy for him but Paul’s response to everything, from being briefly “cool” to suddenly being shunned, is just the right mix of entitlement, desperation and helplessness. It’s a performance that manages to be unflattering and somewhat mean to Paul but also give us glimpses of relatable humanity. The movie is also packed with very good smaller parts: Tim Meadows as a college dean, Dylan Baker as the friend whose dinner parties Paul deeply wants to attend but is never invited to, Michael Cera as the wonderfully insincere marketing guy. B

Rated R for language, violence and some sexual content, according to the MPA on Written and directed by Kristoffer Borgli, Dream Scenario is an hour and 42 minutes long and is distributed by A24 and available for rent or purchase.

American Symphony (PG-13)

Jon Batiste holds an armful of Grammys and later visits his wife in the cancer ward in the heartbreaking and lovely documentary American Symphony.

Suleika Jaouad has a book on the New York Times bestseller list at the same time her health is failing, Jon Batiste explains. She had leukemia about a decade ago, the subject of her memoir Between Two Kingdoms, and in 2021 she learns she’s had a recurrence. Batiste wins Grammys, works on a symphony he will play at Carnegie Hall and spends his days in hospitals as his wife attempts to regain her health after chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. The whiplash of these different worlds is acute but Batiste hangs on, sometimes curling up in bed and talking through the suck of his situation to his therapist but then getting up and going to work. He also balances what must be the weirdness of the photoshoots and the fashion and the talking to Anna Wintour of it all with the work of pulling together a symphony that draws from a wide swath of American musical traditions. We see snippets of the finished work here, enough to make the performance seem deeply cool and I spent a good amount of time looking for that PBS American Masters-like presentation of it (couldn’t find it, yet).

For those who just enjoy watching someone make something, this documentary is thoroughly engrossing. Batiste clearly has ideas about what he wants but also gives his symphony space to develop as the many musicians dip into it. It’s fascinating to watch the process. Equally engrossing is Jon and Suleika’s relationship. They both have their work but Suleika’s is sort of pushed out of reach by the effects of her medications and she has to find other outlets (she turns to painting, and just the idea that she has to find some way to create while medicine sort of happens to her is interesting to contemplate). In the middle of these new troubles this longtime couple decides to get married, and the movie gives you a window into what that means for them, with all the difficulties and optimism.

American Symphony manages to be honest but hopeful, occasionally sad but not maudlin. And it’s a great little window into an artist I think I only really knew on a surface level. A

Rated PG-13 for some strong language, according to the MPA on Directed by Matthew Heineman, American Symphony is an hour and 44 minutes long and distributed by Netflix, where it is streaming.

Featured photo: Migration.

Everywhere an Oink Oink, by David Mamet

Everywhere an Oink Oink, by David Mamet (Simon & Schuster, 225 pages)

The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer famously described talent as hitting a mark no one else can reach, while genius hits a mark no one can see. Then there’s David Mamet, a man of both talent and genius, whose writing no one can follow. Not that he can’t write plays and scripts. But his new memoir is a rollicking hot mess.

Mamet is a Hollywood luminary whose screenwriting credits include The Verdict, The Untouchables and Wag the Dog, among other films. He has worked in entertainment for half a century, first as a playwright in New York before he was lured to California to work in movies, a move that he quips was a demotion.

Today, Mamet is both a Hollywood insider and outsider, although he is likely a little more outsidery than usual right now, given the title of the book — Everywhere an Oink Oink — and Mamet’s description of himself as “embittered.”

This is a man with tea to spill, and it’s delightfully acidic, at least the parts that we can comprehend.

Writing in staccato, Mamet seems to want to get stuff off his chest, the quicker the better. He has a dim view of many people in Hollywood — producers in particular — and the direction the industry has been headed in. (He really doesn’t like DEI, or diversity, equity and inclusion, programs, either.) He darts from topic to topic, eschews the socially accepted norms of capitalization, and drops names as if they were hot potatoes, though not ostentatiously. It was just an occupational hazard for him to rub elbows every day with A-list actors and D-grade producers.

His point, best as I can tell, is that the entertainment industry in the 20th century was fun and rewarding for those directors and writers who could “make it happen.” (Making it happen amounted to “getting the asses into the seats, keeping them there for two hours, and sending them out to tell their friends.”) Not so in the 21st. For that, he blames “Diversity Commissars” and “corporate degeneracy” for boring the audience out of theaters with their insistence on lecturing them.

“The hegemons, as they grow fat, become less sassy, and the confusion about objective (making money by supplying a need) caused by affluence attracts exploiters as the sun calls forth maggots from a dead dog.”

This is apparently the problem that most of Hollywood has had with Mamet — they acknowledge his genius, but then the thing in front of them, despite its occasional captivating and startlingly original phrasing, is so strange that ultimately they pass. He admits, “no one out there, in forty years, liked my scripts” — except for the actors, five directors and the audience. He was frequently told, “I so respect your work, I love everything you’ve ever written, except this.”

But somehow he managed to make a 40-year career there, enough to fill a book with anecdotes, like the time he sat next to Jane Fonda at a dinner and didn’t recognize her, the time he hugged Anne Heche (“and if she was Gay, she at least during that hug was bisexual”), and the time Dino De Laurentiis and Ridley Scott visited him in Martha’s Vineyard to talk him into writing the script for Hannibal. (He did, and they hated it, of course.)

There are also stories about people he doesn’t identify, such as the “Very Famous Singer” who required that everyone in the orchestra sign a statement vowing they would not look at her. (That is true, apparently, of many directors and stars; rank and file workers are warned to never catch their eye.)

The book is entertaining and revelatory in parts, a self-indulgent screed in others. It is illustrated with cartoons by the author.

And alas, there is little here to encourage aspiring screenwriters, of which he says, “The self-deluded feel they ‘have a script in them,’ not realizing that it’s in them, as they have neglected to write it down. Should they actually do so, they will hate it, as it will have nothing to do with how it felt when it was ‘in them.’

“They may then attempt to wrestle the thing closer to The Feeling they had, but they’ll never get it closer, as the feeling, which felt like an idea, was only a feeling — their attempts are like a chef saying he wanted to make the couscous taste like the First Day of School.”

If aspiring screenwriters do want some concrete advice, however, it’s to concentrate all your efforts on plot, not dialogue. He considers dialogue extremely unimportant and says that a good outline is the bulk of the work.

Perhaps the best aside in the memoir is in a chapter titled “Lime Rock,” in which he wanders into a fascinating description of the power of stories.

“From the time we cry, we make sounds to influence those around us. With the exceptions of joy, hurt, or surprise, this is, in fact, the sole reason anyone makes these sounds.

“And we all love to tell stories. They are, after all one means — their other excellences aside — for immobilizing a group (audience or dinner party). That is, for exercising power.”

The stories told here, however, are so poorly organized that their power dissipates, leaving the power with the reader who may choose to put the book down — or, in the parlance of theater, leave their seat.

“The study of history can be reduced to the simple phrase: ‘What the hell happened?’” Marmet eventually concludes. The same can be said of this book. C

Album Reviews 24/01/04

Save Ferris, “Xmas Blue” (self-released)

This one came in too late to be included in the pre-HannuChistmaKwanzaa column. This teaser single from a 2024 LP from the Orange Country, California, ska band comes with some interesting sidebars for us to go over, the first being the song’s background itself. It’s a girl-sung rootsy dancehall track that does have a Christmas-y feel to it; it’s not some sort of annoying ’90s-ska phone-in at all, but anyway, the lonely-at-the-holidays-steeped lyrics revolve around the trials of a friend of singer Monique Powell who “went through a hard divorce, and even two years later was still so obsessed with his ex-wife that it was borderline stalking.” Sucks that anyone has to be without a love connection any time of the year, but another thing to know is that this is the band’s first release under the newly launched music community platform We Are Giant, which, local musicians should note, helps give a social media edge to unknown bands who could use a boost, this by connecting more intimately with fans. Good for them, I say. A —Eric W. Saeger

Patrick Wolf, A Circling Sky (self-released)

Unbeknownst to most, this 40-something British singer-songwriter is one of the most talented and idiosyncratic musicians of his generation, with a run of critically hailed albums, notably Lycanthropy in 2003 and Lupercalia in 2011, the latter of which saw him incorporating viola, Celtic harp, dulcimer, baritone ukulele, piano, harpsichord, analog synthesizers and re-sampled field recordings in his music and collaborating with the likes of Marianne Faithfull, Tilda Swinton, Patti Smith and others. Imagine what you’d get if Mark Oliver Everett from The Eels wanted to make tuneage for steampunk conventions and you’re pretty close, at least going by this set of B-sides and rarities, which includes the front-facing “Godrevy Point,” a gently apocalyptic track full of from-the-mountaintop reverb propelling the odd little collection of instruments on board. Nick Cave is another touchstone here, if that’s your bag. A —Eric W. Saeger


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• Nice, way to hurry things along, 2024, the first general-issue CD release Friday of the year is Jan. 5! It is an election year, fam, and at this rate it’ll be the last one before the whole system melts down, so it was sure nice knowing ya, but whatever, there are albums on trucks headed to stores, including a new one from British grime rapper Ghetts, On Purpose With Purpose. You hip American kids probably know him from his days with the grime collectives The NASTY Crew and The Movement, but nowadays — wait, what, you’ve never heard of NASTY Crew or The Movement or any grime collectives to begin with? I’m kidding, of course you haven’t, bands and artists from the U.K. might as well be from the planet Neptune for all American listeners care, even though garage-grime has been a lot more fun and cool than American hip-hop for, what, 10 years now? Twenty? But that’s OK, when did American hip-hoppers ever get anything wrong, aside from all the PR stunts they fell for, in other words, absolutely, don’t pay attention to grime, just because it’s better than U.S. corporate hip-hop in every single way. Wait, don’t get mad, here, forget I said anything, let me go check out this album and report my findings, for your reading pleasure! So, the LP starts out with “Daily Duppy,” comprising a dream-time beat and Ghetts’ impeccably enunciated British blatherings; it has a little trap-drumming going on there so American audiences can understand that it’s some sort of rap or hip-hop or whatnot, be sure to listen to it with a parent or guardian in case you have any questions.

LastWorld is a band whose music is targeted at “fans of Journey, Bon Jovi, Night Ranger, Alias & The Storm,” got that, guys?, and what that means is — wait, what does it mean, I’ve never heard of “Alias & The Storm,” am I being trolled (OK, I looked, there’s no such band, so they probably mean a band called Alias and another one called Storm, oh forget it)? Whatever, LastWorld, a two-piece consisting of Jim Shepard (all instruments) and David Cagle (all vocals) will release a new album titled Beautiful Illusion this Friday. The kickoff single, “Never Gonna Let You Go,” is a big bouquet of hair-rawk hooks that blends Journey, Bon Jovi, Night Ranger, and — wait, we already talked about this. Right? No, seriously, if you liked White Lion, a band that wrote all their songs to “Billboard specifications,” you’ll like this, probably.

Hannah Kaminer is an Americana group from Asheville, North Carolina. They want people to stop saying they’re an Americana band and instead tell all their friends that they’re a country music band, which I refuse to do because of my journalistic principles, and because I am a jerk most days. The band’s third studio album, Heavy On The Vine, is on the way, and you can check out the title track on YouTube. The song is an Americana take on the typical Mazzy Star B-side, with lots of slidey dobro, a synth that sounds like dobro, a fiddle, and a drummer on a drum set that has like three pieces to it. It’s very pretty and dreamy for a totally Americana song.

• And finally we have someone from Florida recording under the stage name Tegu, with a new album titled Forest Hills, which was recorded in one 24-hour block of lo-fi improvisational mayhem. It features an ingredients list consisting of, and I quote, “field recordings, tape loops, vocal haze, FX, and thrifted Yamaha keys.” Given that, you already know pretty much what it sounds like: breezy soundtrack-ish stuff, with hazy synths, bluebirds chirping, etc. It’s OK. —Eric W. Saeger

Saved by a salad

I have to admit there have been a lot of cookies over the past month or so.

And cake and homemade ice cream as well.

And, of course, beer and wine and cocktails.

And, now that I look back on it, a truly injudicious amount of melted cheese.

In fact, for the past week or so there has been a herd of angry wildebeests rampaging through my digestive tract. If I don’t eat something green soon, I’m not entirely sure I can control them. I’m long overdue for a salad.

Looking for an authoritative expert on salads, I consulted a tragically overlooked seminal treatise on the subject, Thomas J. Murrey’s 1885 classic, 50 Salads (By the author of 50 Soups). Mr. Murrey clearly took his salads seriously.

“Of the many varieties of food daily consumed,” he writes, “none are more important than a salad, rightly compounded. And there is nothing more exasperating than an inferior one. The salad is the Prince of the Menu, and although a dinner be perfect in every other detail except the salad, the affair will be voted a failure if that be poor.”

He continues, “It is therefore necessary for those contemplating dinner-giving, to personally overlook the preparation of the salad if they wish favorable criticism.”

The Prince of the Menu, indeed. At this point I’m with him on Team Salad, although I have to imagine his cook or his wife was not impressed with his personally overlooking their salad-making to make sure there were no salad shenanigans going on.

His actual recipes, however, seem to be of extremely variable quality. There is a Cherry Salad, for instance, which sounds delicious — fresh cherries marinated in three types of alcohol. But others, like Pigeon Salad and Frog Salad, are clearly of a particular moment in history. And yet others really seem to have been phoned in. Eels Mayonnaise calls for two ingredients, eels and mayonnaise. His Mint Salad calls for adding fresh mint to a salad.

I seem to be on my own here. What I want is a proper tossed salad — not a macaroni salad, or a Jell-O salad, or a lobster salad — a simple tossed, green salad.

At the risk of sounding Murreyesque, I also have some strong feelings about salad:

(1) A tossed salad shouldn’t have more than six ingredients, including the dressing. Any more than that, it gets too busy and the flavors get in each other’s way.

(2) A good tossed salad should be exactly that: tossed. Individual bowls of lettuce with dressing poured over the top are clumsy at best, and at worst depressing and a sign of poor moral character. The salad should be made in a large bowl, dressed, then thoroughly tossed with a set of tongs.

(3) Lettuce: There are two tribes in Lettuce Nation: crisp lettuce and tender lettuce. I fall strongly on the side of tender lettuce, but if you are a Romaine enthusiast, could I ask that you chop it reasonably well, so your guests aren’t left gnawing on Romaine stems?

Here is the salad I made tonight:

My six ingredients are Bibb lettuce; canned diced tomatoes (obviously, fresh tomatoes would be better, but there won’t be any good ones for another eight months); a diced avocado; shredded, mixed Italian cheese; sesame sticks, and a maple Dijon vinaigrette.

Maple Dijon Vinaigrette

  • ¼ cup (80 grams) maple syrup
  • 3 Tablespoons (32 grams) finely minced shallot
  • 2 Tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon Canola oil
  • 1 Tablespoon whole-grain Dijon mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced

Put all ingredients in a bowl and whisk vigorously. If you have a miniature blender — a Magic Bullet, or something similar — that will work even better.

In addition to flavor, the mustard brings lecithin, an emulsifier that ties everything together. The maple syrup brings sweetness, and the vinegar brings acid, but the star of this dressing is the shallot. This is worth making once a week.

Featured photo: West 75th. Photo by John Fladd.

In the kitchen with Chelsea Annett

A self-taught baker and a caretaker by nature, Chelsea Annett has a love for baking and cooking that sprouted when she was a young adult conversing with farmers and learning how to use seasonal ingredients. She was a special education teacher for 14 years before establishing Table, through which she provides baked goods and locally sourced, seasonally inspired food at farmers markets and now at her new location in Concord (55 N. Main St., Suite B), open Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

My must-have kitchen item is a bench scraper. It has so many functions: cutting butter into dough, slicing and lifting dough and scraping the counter to clean up.

What would you have for your last meal?

I have way too many favorites to choose a last meal but probably freshly picked strawberries that are still warm from the sun or a perfectly ripened tomato. I feel like you can actually taste the sunshine.

What is your favorite local eatery?

My favorite local eatery right now is probably Sour Joe’s pizza. Greg, the owner, is another person with a passion working so hard to pursue his dream. And I love that he uses a sourdough crust. It’s unlike any other pizza around here.

Name a celebrity you would like to see eating in your restaurant?

I would love to see Erin French from The Lost Kitchen enjoying something I made. She has exquisite taste and is involved in her community of food growers and makers.

What is your favorite thing on your menu?

I always get asked [about] my favorite thing that I make. Right now I offer a galette on Saturdays that is pretty outstanding. It’s flaky dough that is folded around cheddar cheese and thinly sliced sweet potato and then we crack an egg over the top and bake it until it’s just set and top with a sprinkle of sea salt. The original favorite which is still at the top of the list is the brown butter chocolate chip cookie that is made with sourdough. It’s incredible.

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

I don’t really know what the biggest food trend in New Hampshire right now is. I tend to steer away from trends. I am interested in food that comes from someone’s heart and is their passion. That’s the best food. Not trying to be anything else.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

My favorite thing to cook at home is sourdough bread. I love all the components of it and I’m fascinated by the process.

Rosemary Shortbread
From the kitchen of Chelsea Annett

2 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold butter
Maldon sea salt

Heat oven to 325°F. Pulse the sugar, salt and rosemary in the food processor. Add flour and pulse several times. Cut butter into small pieces and add to the flour mix. Pulse until the mixture looks like sand. Press dough into an 8” parchment-lined pan. Prick dough with a fork and sprinkle with Maldon salt. Bake until golden brown, 40 to 45 minutes.

Featured photo: Katie Pope of Confections by Kate. Courtesy photo.

Live free and dine

Gourmet takeout market and culinary school opens in Nashua

On Wednesday, Dec. 20, Hollis resident Karen Calabro opened the doors to Live Free and Dine, a gourmet takeout market in Nashua offering meals made with locally sourced ingredients and cooking classes for all ages.

Calabro knows first-hand how transformative healthy eating can be, having started her own journey to a healthier lifestyle 15 years ago by making healthier food choices and creating meals from scratch, resulting in a 152-pound weight loss. As a professional chef, she aims to bring healthy options to those in her community.

“During Covid I was watching how restaurant after restaurant was going under, how quality was going down … [due to] the product shortages and the fact that there’s less and less variety now to some extent ….’’ she said. “I make things from scratch and I live very close to the earth and I wanted to make [that] kind of food for other people as well. … I just felt like somebody who has a background in culinary as long as me who has so many friends who are just fabulous, fabulous chefs and all these really great farms around me, I thought, ‘Gosh, this is really a no-brainer for me.”

Working with local farms and stores, Calabro offers ever-changing seasonal breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert menus with vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free options that can be ordered a la carte in store or online for pickup. Items include Italian sausage, Korean candy pork belly, blueberry poppyseed pancakes, valhalla rose turkey, ginger molasses cookies, tiramisu, fruits of the forest pie and more.

Calabro’s professional journey in the food industry started when she was 13 years old, but her cooking experience dates back before that when she would help her mother cook in the kitchen for parties she would host.

“I [remember] as a child being the one in the kitchen doing the food and production with her by her side. … We would host parties for upward of 80 to 100 people. This was just the two of us and this is as a young child I learned knife skills.”

Knife skills are among the things Calabro will teach in her classes, beginning with rudimentary skills and tricks of the trade.

“I almost feel like people want to learn to cook a different dish and meal and everything, and that sounds romantic, but really it would be better for you to learn basic skills and [for me to show] you how to do those things and then [you can take] those skills back to the kitchen ,” she said. “It’s a professional culinary education, and you’re going to be working in a commercial kitchen that has commercial equipment.”

With safety in mind, classes for young children won’t have them working with anything hot or sharp, but will instead teach them how to measure, mix and combine ingredients while introducing them to the idea of making their own food.

With decades of experience, even working her way up to sous chef at the Torrey Pines Sheraton Grand in San Diego, Calabro says the creating Live Free and Dine has been a learning curve.

“The problem has been nobody has ever done this before, so we’re kind of trying to figure out how we can service people in the best way we can and what kind of food we can produce,” she said.

Live Free and Dine
Where: 650 Amherst St., Suite 6, Nashua
Hours: Wednesday through Friday, noon to 7 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Weekly Dish 24/01/04

News from the local food scene

Paint night at Spyglass Brewing: Paint a 16×20-inch canvas while enjoying a free drink included in the ticket price with All Ways Art at Spyglass Brewing (36 Innovative Way, Nashua) on Thursday, Jan. 11, at 6 p.m. Tickets are $45 and can be purchased at

Winemaker’s dinner: Enjoy a winemaker’s dinner on Friday, Jan. 19, at 6:30 p.m. at Zorvino Vineyards (226 Main St., Sandown). A seasonal charcuterie and artisanal bread display with Vintner’s Select Semillon and Z Labs Chocolate Tangerine wine will be served at the welcome reception. The first course will be roasted winter squash grilled leek and Gruyere savory bread pudding with Zorvino Vineyards Gewurztraminer, followed by fig and pomegranate glazed “kurobuta” pork with Zorvino Vineyards Estate Grown Marquette for the entree. Dessert will be chocolate ganache and caramelized banana tart with Z Labs s’mores. Tickets are $85 and are available at

Cookie decorating: Kate Soleau from Posy Cottage Cookies will be at Station 101 (193 Union Square, Milford) on Tuesday, Jan. 23, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. for a winter-themed cookie decorating class. All necessary supplies will be provided for you to take home a box of six or seven cookies. Station 101 also offers beer, beverages and snacks for additional charge. Tickets are $70 and can be purchased via eventbrite.

Willy Wonka wine dinner: LaBelle Winery’s (14 Route 111, Derry) Vineyard Ballroom will be decorated with Willy Wonka-themed decor for their four-course Willy Wonka wine pairing dinner on Saturday, Jan. 27, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. The first course will be tomato, basil and smoked Gouda bisque paired with a fizzy lifting drink. For the second course, baby green beans, shaved Brussels sprouts, roasted squash, cranberries, farro, herbs and honey rosemary balsamic will be served with LaBelle Rose. The entree will include LaBelle Red Wine braised short ribs with whipped potato, roasted herbed carrots and demi glace, paired with LaBelle Malbec. Dessert will be blueberry crumble cheesecake with red wine blueberry and streusel crumble paired with blueberry pie martini. Tickets are $85 and can be purchased at

On The Job – Neva Cole

Museum communications director

Neva Cole is the communications director for the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire in Dover.

Explain your job and what it entails.

I get to promote all the awesome things that the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire offers, including its two floors of hands-on exhibits, field trip opportunities, classes, play-based learning and parent and educator resources.

How long have you had this job?

It will be nine years this June, 2024.

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

I previously worked at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester as a communications specialist, but on top of that I work as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator, specializing in children’s books.

What kind of education or training did you need?

I went to Syracuse University for Illustration, then got an MFA from Lesley University. People joke a lot about how an art degree is pretty niche and you can’t do much with it, but in my experience it taught me to think outside the box and how important it is in any position to be able to prioritize quality work and creative problem-solving.

What is your typical at-work uniform or attire?

Well, working at a children’s museum definitely makes dressing for work fun. My favorite thing to wear is a dress decorated with dog drawings, rainbow leggings and T. rex earrings. And of course all staff dress up according to the season or holiday — the entire month of October is open season for costumes.

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

Unfortunately, most of the work I do occurs behind a computer. But all of our staff, regardless of title, take time every day to get out from behind our desks and walk through the museum to interact with the guests, wave to babies, play trains with toddlers and offer help to parents and grandparents.

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

If only all 20-somethings could have the confidence of 40-somethings. At this stage of my career I know when to say no. I know when to admit I don’t know the answer to something, and that that’s totally fine.

What do you wish other people knew about your job?

Nonprofit work is so challenging and rewarding. I love what I get to promote and how it impacts the community. And I love that I get to be a part of something that I experienced as a kid and carry traditions forward for my own daughter.

What was the first job you ever had?

My very first job was a respite provider for a family with a child on the autism spectrum. I was 13 and I loved it. We would play games, run around his backyard, go for walks and play.

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

My ideas matter, and it’s important to speak up and speak out for the things you believe in. — Angie Sykeny

Five favorites
Favorite book: East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Favorite movie: The Princess Bride
Favorite music: Taylor Swift
Favorite food: Guacamole
Favorite thing about NH: The fall

Featured photo: Neva Cole. Courtesy photo.

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