Takeoff time

Birds, In Theory celebrate debut album

Legend has it that Michael Clarke joined The Byrds because he looked like Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, not due to his drumming skills. The similarly named Birds, In Theory, a local band celebrating their debut album at The Shaskeen on March 9, has a close but slightly different story.

Its drummer, Nick Matsis, admits that he had more enthusiasm than talent when he joined high school pals Tim Dacey and Shawn Murray to form the pop punk band Eagle Jesus. The name changed, to a riff on the conspiratorial belief that birds are fake creatures created by NASA, when Dave Maloof came on as drummer post-pandemic and Matsis moved to bass.

The band’s sound coalesced with a seasoned new member behind the kit, offering a sonic fury favorable to fans of Green Day, Blink-182 and Bowling for Soup. It was a change that delighted Matsis.

“I can’t drum to save my life and that guy is a machine,” Matsis said self-deprecatingly by phone recently. “I taught myself drums playing Rock Band on the Xbox.”

A song from the forthcoming record Aviary jokes about this, along with the dichotomy between the band’s more and less polished musicians. “Guys, Where Are We?” includes a few moves that Maloof and lead guitarist Dacey handle with ease; rhythm guitar player Murray and bassist Matsis, not so much.

“That’s the only song we really changed time signatures in,” Matsis said. “We would get lost playing it at first because me and Shawn aren’t great at changing time signatures, and Tim and Dave are classically trained. So they’re like, ‘Guys, what are we doing? Where are we?’”

Other standout tracks include the slow-burning breakup song “Cover Story” and “Tourniquet,” which builds into a rager and showcases Dacey’s shredding blended with Matsis’ chugging rhythm guitar, and Maloof and Murray locked in on rhythm. This new freedom enhanced the making of Aviary.

As a trio, “we just couldn’t get as fancy as we wanted in the writing process,” Matsis said. “Dave, he’s a big Travis Barker fan; he can get in there and play anything as fast or complicated as he wants. Having that in the recording room was amazing, because he was getting that stuff done in one or two takes…. It made it so much easier.”

Birds, In Theory cites a variety of influences. Matsis is a big fan of Balance and Composure, particularly the Pennsylvania band’s 2011 LP Separation. “Shawn’s more into pop punk and indie, Tim used to be in a death metal band,” he said. “Dave’s into anything from Blink-182 to instrumental prog metal. It’s definitely a range.”

Their lyrical mood is informed by bands like The Wonder Years and Car Seat Headrest. “‘Tourniquet’ is about watching someone you thought you knew kind of change over time, and ‘Reflections’ deals with not wanting to take your emotions out on the people around you and just trying to communicate that it’s not them,” he explained. “A lot of our songs are more down, emotionally charged. Maybe not in the most positive way, but we like to make them fun.”

With a new record to celebrate, they’ll top the bill at The Shaskeen, but they’re also part of many multi-band events in the area.

“We’re lucky that we’ve been close-knit with a lot of people over the last few years and we played so many shows,” Matsis said, “That’s fun for us because we like playing with our friends and seeing our friends play.”

Beyond that, “My only hope is more new bands come around,” he continued. “This is actually our first time playing with Promise Game, so that’s exciting … I just hope the kids keep coming out and making music because there’s only so many 31-year-olds like us that can still get out there.”

Birds, In Theory w/ Promise Game, Cozy Throne and Oziem
When: Saturday, March 9, 8 p.m.
Where: Shaskeen Pub, 909 Elm St., Manchester
Tickets: $10 at the door, 21+

Featured photo: Courtesy photo.

Watch these movies!

A preview of the Oscars

If I ran the Oscar ceremony — which will this year air on Sunday, March 10, at 7 p.m. on ABC — my goals for the annual event would be: (1) to convince people to watch movies, (2) to convince people to watch these, the nominated movies, and (3) to give the presenters and winners enough space to say funny or touching but mostly funny things.

To the last point, see Steven Yeun winning a Golden Globe this year (where he realizes his life mirrors the plot of Frozen) or Adam Sandler winning anything — this year’s People’s Icon, 2020’s Indie Spirit award. That’s what you want at an award ceremony. Maybe just give Adam Sandler some kind of award every year — at least you’d have all of New Hampshire tuning in.

To the movie-watching goals: The Oscars stand as the answer to everyone who complains nothing but superhero movies gets released anymore. Here are a bunch of movies, only two of which are Marvel-related — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (nominated for visual effects; available for rent or purchase and on Disney+) and Spider-Man: Across the Universe(nominated for Animated Feature Film; available for rent or purchase and on Netflix) — that were in theaters (or will be, in a few cases) and are now largely available for your viewing pleasure in your house.

My case for movie watching and for the Oscars itself, would go something like this:

Oscar nominates popular movies! Including those aforementioned Marvel-character films, four of the films in the 2023 box office top 10 are nominated for Oscars, the other two being the two sides of the summer movie-going event known as Barbenheimer — Barbie (nominated in seven categories; rent or purchase and on Max) and Oppenheimer (nominated in 13 categories; rent or purchase and on Peacock). Also nominated are top-20-box-office earners Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One(nominated for Sound; rent or purchase and on Paramount+) and Elemental (nominated for Animated Feature Film; rent or purchase and on Disney+). See? You’ve heard of those movies. You may not have liked Elemental — and I’d agree with you in that — but you’ve heard of it.

Oscar nominates fun movies! Barbie, my favorite movie of 2023 and my pick for Best Picture, is super fun — from its detailed attention to the toy-doll-ness of Barbie and her world to absolutely everything to do with Ryan Gosling’s Ken, including the song “I’m Just Ken,” which is nominated for Original Song and will likely be performed during the broadcast. Other fun films include Original Song nominee Flamin’ Hot (on Hulu & Disney+), the Eva Longoria-directed true-or-whatever story behind Flamin’ Hot Cheetos; its self-conscious tall-tale-ishness is goofy fun. The Creator (nominated for Sound and Visual Effects; rent or purchase and on Hulu) is a very wide-tent futuristic tale about AI robots and humanity’s difficult relationship with them. My pick for Animated Feature Film would be Nimona(nominated in that category and available on Netflix), a very fun underdog quest movie that my older elementary-and-up kids have watched multiple times (as the shape-shifting girl warrior Nimona would say, “metal”). I haven’t seen it yet but Godzilla Minus One (nominated in Visual Effects) is the first Godzilla movie to ever receive an Academy Award nomination and I am generally pro-Godzilla-movies.

Oscar nominates movies that make you appreciate your streaming services! Rustin, featuring the nominated lead actor performance by Colman Domingo; Nyad, nominated for Annette Bening’s performance in lead actress and for Jodie Foster’s very good performance in supporting actress; Society of Snow(an International Film and Makeup and Hairstyling nominee), and May December, nominated for original screenplay, are all Netflix movies (where you can still find them), as is Best Picture nominee Maestro(also a nominee in six other categories). Napoleon(nominated in Costume Design, Visual Effects and Production Design), the bloated biopic that isn’t a terrible watch, and Killers of the Flower Moon, a solid Martin Scorsese movie (nominated in Best Picture and nine other categories, including the outstanding Lily Gladstone for best actress), are both Apple Films, and while they had an initial theatrical run they are now available to Apple TV+ subscribers to watch (as well as for purchase).

Oscar’s Best Picture list includes some comedies! American Fiction(five total nominations; available for purchase) and The Holdovers (five nominations; rent or purchase and on Peacock) are both solid, laugh-out-loud for-grown-ups comedies. Past Lives(two nominations; rent or purchase and on Showtime) also has its funny moments, even though it is a quieter almost-love story. I heartily recommend all three.

Oscar, of course, nominates serious films for when you want to get serious and watch films. The Zone of Interest(nominated in five categories; available for purchase) is a harrowing movie about a really horrifying thing (the Holocaust and the willing participation of one family therein) and yet it was also excellently well done and totally worth seeing. The same could be said of documentaries Four Daughters (rent or purchase and via Kinko Film Collection), about one Tunisian family’s difficult history, and 20 Days in Mariupol(rent or purchase and via PBS.org), about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the two strongest of the three documentary nominees I’ve seen. They are difficult to watch yet important and well done films. The Eternal Memory(for rent or purchase and on Paramount+) is also heartbreaking — the tale of a couple trying to hold on to each other even as one is losing his connection to himself from Alzheimer’s. Of the other documentaries Bobi Wine: The People’s Presidentis available on Disney+ and To Kill A Tigerdoes not yet appear to be available.

Back to the best picture nominees: Anatomy of a Fall (nominated in four other categories; available for rent or purchase) is a serious drama that examines the unknowability of a relationship via a murder trial. The previously mentioned Killers of the Flower Moon is at its strongest when it is telling the story of the Osage and attempts to steal their oil money. Poor Things (11 total nominations; available for purchase) is maybe my second least favorite Best Picture nominee (after Maestro) but perhaps this is a movie I need to give a second look to. And even if I don’t ultimately love — or even like — it, arguing about your serious films is a fun part of the movie fan experience.

Oscar reminds you that interesting movies can come in all sizes. The 15 movies nominated in the three shorts categories — animated, documentary and live action — are a good reminder that film is a storytelling medium that creators can use in all sorts of ways. See shorts.tv/theoscarshorts for updates about watching the packages of films at home. Individually, films you can watch now include all the documentary nominees — The ABC’s of Book Banning (Paramount+), The Barber of Little Rock (via The New Yorker), Island in Between (via The New York Times), Nǎi Nai and Wài Pó (Disney+) and The Last Repair Shop(Disney+), my favorite of the ones I’ve seen from this very strong bunch, which is about kids, their musical instruments and the people who fix them. In the animated short category, I could find Letter to a Pig(for rent via Vimeo), Ninety-Five Senses(find it via docplus.com) and Pachyderme(for rent via Vimeo). In the live action category, I found The After (Netflix), Invincible(for rent via Vimeo), Knight of Fortune (for rent via Vimeo), Red, White and Blue(for rent via Vimeo) and The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar(Netflix).

Oscar can remind you of all the other movies you can see. Go to abc.com/shows/oscars and print out your ballot. Sure, you can use it on March 10 to predict the winners and place your friendly snack-based bets with your fellow Oscar watchers. But you can also use it as a “what to watch” guide the next time you’re fruitlessly scrolling through your streaming services. And then head to filmindependent.org/spirit-awards for their list of 2024 nominees — you’ll find some overlap (American Fiction and Past Lives are also in their Best Feature category) but you’ll also find new movies to check out. Ditto the Screen Actors Guild Awards (sagawards.org), which has more overlap but also TV nominees; the Bafta Awards (bafta.org), Oscar’s British equivalent, and the Golden Globes (goldenglobes.com/nominations/2024) with its drama, comedy and “Cinematic and Box Office Achievement” categories. Watch these movies, watch other movies, just keep watching movies.

Dune: Part Two (PG-13)

The Fremen help Paul Atreides, gifted with both visions of the future and preternaturally good hair, fight the weirdos of House Harkonnen in Dune: Part Two, a movie about sand and vibes.

Previously on Dune: Paul (Timothée Chalamet) and his mom Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), who is pregnant, had to run off and hide in the deserts of Arrakis, the planet from which comes Spice — a space fuel that can also make your eyes blue. House Harkonnen, which had controlled Arrakis but was stripped of the Spice trade by the Emperor, attacked the Atreides base on Arrakis and killed Paul’s very hot father Leto (Oscar Issac), previously head of House Atreides and Duke of Arrakis. The Harkonnen are now back in charge of Arrakis but are fighting an insurgent war with the Fremen, the indigenous people of Arrakis who would like all of these Spice-hungry imperial families to just go home.

Paul and Lady Jessica are hanging out with the Fremen in part because that’s the only way they can survive the desert, in part because some of the Fremen think Paul might be their messiah and in part because Paul has been dreaming about Chani (Zendaya), a Fremen girl who he’d like to ask “hey, how you doin’?” Stilgar (Javier Bardem), leader of that particular tribe or whatever of Fremen, is pretty sure Paul is the messiah and says increasingly crazy things about following him. Chani is not impressed with all this religious fervor her maybe-boyfriend is inspiring — and how much worse it could be in the fundamentalist south of the planet — but she doesn’t seem to let that get in the way of sharing a tent with Paul.
Meanwhile, Lady Jessica, a member of the order of magic-y religious-y ladies called the Bene Gesserit, spends a lot of time talking to her unborn daughter, who talks back and can also talk with Paul sometimes via dreams (I think?). Jessica has been made a Reverend Mother of Arrakis, which is helping her push this whole “Paul is the Messiah” thing which she does a bit out of genuine belief maybe but mostly out of a sense that it will help him survive and gain the power that comes with a Fremen army.

Also meanwhile, the Harkonnens are finding themselves losing Spice production equipment to the Fremen rebels. When Glossu Rabban Harkonnen (Dave Bautista) can’t get the Fremen in line, his way-crazier, even creepier younger brother Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen (Austin Butler) shows up to bomb stuff and be super evil.

Further meanwhile, the Emperor (Christopher Walken, whose character has a more elaborate name but who I always just thought of as “Emperor Christopher Walker”) is watching all this drama from afar, afraid that the other families will find out he was behind the fall of House Atreides. His daughter Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh) helpfully narrates some of this information; she mostly hangs around and looks concerned until the end when it becomes clear that she will have more to do next time if there is a next time.

Which I suspect there will be, as Dune: Part Two, for all that I will forget most of that plot by the time Part Three shows up, made $82 million in its opening weekend, according to IMDb. And I predict it will likely match Dune: Part One’sbig Oscar nomination haul next year — Part One had 10 nods, with six wins: Production Design, Sound, Visual Effects, Original Score, Cinematography and Film Editing. I fully expect it to be very competitive in those categories again, as well as Costume Design and Makeup and Hairstyling (two categories it was nominated in in 2022 but didn’t win). Will it get Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay nominations like it did last time too? Maybe, why not — it straddles the line between beautiful art and movie that gets its own commemorative popcorn box. Part Two looks beautiful, just as Part One did, but maybe feels like even more of a feat because this world isn’t brand new and we get more of the shades-of-brown Arrakis and the black-and-white Harkonnen home world. It’s lovely and creepy, according to what it needs to be, and I really did find myself dazzled by little details like the Bene Gesserit robes given to Lady Jessica or the fancy if kinda stupid headpieces worn by Princess Irulan. I mean, a lot of this doesn’t hold up to deep thought — it’s 10,000 years in the future and we’re still doing billowy capes? — but don’t ask a lot of questions and it looks great.

I feel like Part Two is also an improvement on Part One’s glacial pace. Sure, a merciless editor could have tightened this puppy up a good hour and we wouldn’t have lost anything, but I didn’t mind spending time in this world. The push and pull between Paul’s desires for Freman support but uneasiness with Fremen worship is moderately interesting and I am not too bothered by the generally chilly relationship between Paul and Chani because they’re both fully Movie Stars. Which I guess is how I feel about all of the characters. Everybody looks great — does not in any way resemble a human person and not just a game board piece — but they look great and hold your attention while on screen.

It’s all fine, is what I’m saying, Dune: Part Two is fine — like, better than average for a popcorn movie if not dazzling me with brilliant story or dialogue. But is that really why most of us are here? The big worms are cool, the “waaah”s on the soundtrack are unsettling and the sand looks so much more photogenic than sand is in real life. B

Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, some suggestive material and brief strong language, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Directed by Denis Villeneuve with a screenplay by Denis Villeneuve and Jon Spaihts, based on the novel by Frank Herbert, Dune: Part Two is two hours and 46 minutes long and released in theaters this time by Legendary Features Productions and Warner Bros.

Featured photo: Dune: Part Two.

The Women by Kristen Hannah

The Women by Kristen Hannah (St. Martin’s Press, 480 pages)

I am not, generally speaking, a lover of historical fiction, but something about the way Kristen Hannah does it is so right: a rich blend of shocking truths, visceral emotions and captivating characters. She did it well with Four Winds and spectacularly with The Nightingale, and she does it again with her latest, The Women.

The Women is set in the era of the Vietnam War. I am not a history buff, which is probably why I don’t veer toward historical fiction often, so I’m not sure if I wasn’t paying attention when being taught about the Vietnam War in school, or if it was just never talked about in a way that made any kind of lasting impression. Or at all. In any case, it was news to me to read that veterans coming home were spit on and shunned, and that the government, for a long time, wasn’t sharing the depth of the devastation that was happening overseas.

Frances McGrath — Frankie — joins the Army as a combat nurse and heads off to war at the age of 21. She’s following in her brother’s footsteps and hopes — naively — to make a place for herself on her dad’s “heroes wall,” which features photographs of all the men in the family who have served their country.

But when she tells her parents that she’s signed up for a tour, they’re horrified.

“‘Take it back. Unvolunteer.’ Mom looked at Dad. She got to her feet slowly. ‘Good Lord, what will we tell people?’”

It wasn’t the future that her parents expected for her, or that society approved of.

“Frankie had been taught to believe that her job was to be a good housewife, to raise well-mannered children and keep a lovely home. In her Catholic high school, they’d spent days learning how to iron buttonholes to perfection, how to precisely fold a napkin, how to set an elegant table.”

Instead, amidst the backdrop of war, Frankie grows up. We watch her lose her innocence as she’s confronted with gruesome injuries and innumerable deaths at work, deplorable living conditions, oppressive weather in the form of heat and monsoons, and a social scene that includes a lot of drinking. She arrives as a young girl who doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink and easily turns down propositions from married men. She’s not the same girl when she returns to Coronado.

Hannah splits the book into Frankie’s time at war and the years following her return. Both time periods are bleak for Frankie, for obvious reasons when she’s at war and for some pretty depressing reasons when she comes back home, including that the country seems to have turned on its veterans. On top of that, few people believe that women served in Vietnam. Her parents, whom she so badly wanted to impress, pretend she wasn’t there.

Through it all, fellow Vietnam nurses and “hooch” mates — bunkmates — Barb and Ethel are by Frankie’s side whenever she needs them. They show her the ropes when she arrives, and they show up at her door when she’s spiraling downward at home. The three women come from very different backgrounds, and despite the divergent paths they take when they return to the U.S., they never lose touch. More than once, Barb and Ethel prove to be Frankie’s lifeline. It’s a beautiful friendship, adding bursts of color to an intrinsically dark story.

And, of course, there are men, many of whom vie for Frankie’s attention. Love happens, in complicated and heartbreaking ways. But those are secondary stories, really; there is no doubt that Hannah’s intention is to give a voice to the women who served in Vietnam.

Although this is a work of fiction, Hannah makes it very clear in her author’s note and acknowledgments that she did a lot of research and talked to a lot of people who experienced the war, so I have to believe that most of Frankie’s experiences were not embellished or exaggerated. Hannah also notes that she originally used fictional names of places, but her Vietnam War readers felt strongly about keeping those details accurate, so the settings are all real.

There are a couple of moments toward the end of the book that seem somewhat contrived, but this is a small quibble, and honestly, the whole story might seem contrived if you didn’t know it was based in large part on real experiences.

Hannah superbly blends the heaviness of war with the frailty of humans at their most vulnerable — and often at their best. A

Meghan Siegler

Album Reviews 24/03/07

Andy Pratt, Trio (Thrift Girl Records)

For 20 years, this jazz bandleader has worked in the Chicago area as a guitarist, vocalist and composer, performing solo and with top local musicians in various configurations. One of his own tunes, “Happiness Is Home,” was a semi-finalist in the 2016 International Songwriting Competition, indicating he’s been around the block many times prior to this LP, in which he fulfills his desire to give his own spin to a variety of classic songs in a straight-ahead jazz setting. Five oldies from the Great American Songbook are here, including a laid-back take on “We Three (My Echo, My Shadow and Me),” which showcases Pratt’s even-tempered, rather pleasant baritone thrumming above barely-plugged guitar lines and a brushed-snare beat, your basic cocktail-lounge ambiance in other words. None of this is hard to listen to, as you’d expect, although Perez Prado’s “Patricia” is something of a curveball instrumental mambo meant to give Pratt the chance to stretch out a bit. A —Eric W. Saeger

T.S.O.L., A-Side Graffiti (Kitten Robot Records)

Believe it or not, this iconic Huntington Beach/Long Beach, California, hardcore-punk band (the acronym stands for “True Sounds of Liberty”) is still around, nearly 50 years after releasing records on — oh forget it, I can’t even count how many record labels have indulged them — and dabbling with such genres as deathrock, art punk, horror punk and hard rock. All told, they’re quite a bit like The Damned, not that anyone reading this who’s well-versed in this band’s history isn’t well aware of it, but just to drive home the point, there’s a hard-rock version of “Sweet Transvestite” (from The Rocky Horror Picture Show) included in this set that’s good for a chuckle. There’s also a semi-serious version of “What a Wonderful World,” its lyrics rewritten to reflect the completely horrible times we live in today. Other than that it’s Vegas-hardcore business as usual, with under-3-minute songs here and there (“Low-Low-Low” is particularly cool). A —Eric W. Saeger


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

March 8 is a special day of new albums, just like every Friday, and you can’t stop it. Yes, March, my second least-favorite month after February, who’s got the remote, can we fast-forward to beach time, that’d be great. First up this week is a new album from The Libertines, also known as “the Loot Crate version of Kasabian” if you’re a meanie who says mean things. No, actually, they’re OK, don’t flip out, and plus, their frontperson Pete Doherty was dating Amy Winehouse, so at least one person took them seriously. OK OK, I’m trying to be nicer, stop yelling at this newspaper or everyone in the vape shop will wonder why you’re acting crazy, let’s calm down. I know that my words have consequences, so I’m trying to take it down a notch, because yesterday I saw the episode of Loudermilk where the singer whose album he dissed in Rolling Stone tells him to stay out of her life, even though he was trying to apologize for destroying her career. I don’t want to have that happen to me, so I will be nice to this new Babyshambles, um, whatever, Libertines album, which is titled All Quiet On The Eastern Esplanade. Wait a minute, folks, the first tune on this album, “Shivers,” is pretty decent indeed, sounding sort of like Elbow. There’s a fractal guitar thingamajig buoying the chorus in fine style, which is something I’d like to see more bands doing, not that they ever take my advice, and so overall I’m pretty impressed. Another tune, “Run Run Run,” is more along the lines of what we’re used to from these guys, sort of like Sex Pistols all sobered up and trying to get on the radio so the straights will listen to them. Not very eventful but it’s OK.

• Wow, thanks, you shouldn’t have, it’s dark-shoegaze pioneers Jesus and Mary Chain, with a new album, called Glasgow Eyes! What a career these fellas have had, racking up Top 40 singles and getting into a brawl with the cast of Riverdance (boy, I wouldn’t want to get kicked in the shins by a Riverdancer, you know?). This new album is only their second in 25 years, the first since 2017’s Damage and Joy, and its teaser single is “Jamcod,” which is purported to combine “dark electronica with some crunching guitars,” let me just go to the YouTube and see about that. Hm, I’m definitely hearing some “dark electronica,” if that’s what people are calling krautrock these days (I just can’t keep up with it all, fam!) and there’s gratuitous noise in there, per their usual recipe, then it goes into some other hard-rocking stuff, and so on and so forth. It’d be nice if the song actually went somewhere and ended up accomplishing something, but these guys hate each other, don’t they? Oops, never mind, the guitarist who used to get in fights with one of the brothers isn’t there anymore. I wonder why.

• Ack, look out, New Hampshire, Judas Priest has a new album coming out Friday! One thing I learned right away when I moved up here from Mass was that you people love the Preeeeest, like, if the New Hampshire state song isn’t “Breakin’ The Law,” I just don’t know! OK, OK, I know, shut up and tell us about this new album, Invincible Shield, here I go, wearing my weatherbeaten reporter’s hat! One song is called “Panic Attack,” in which the synth rips off the weird line from Rush’s “Tom Sawyer,” and — wait, don’t get mad, Granite Staters, the rest of it is fine, some butt-kickin’ power metal, my butt is totally kicked, and such!

• And finally, it’s famous nepo-baby Norah Jones, with her newest full-length, Visions! “Running” is the single, a laid-back urban-asphalt jam with Echosmith-esque vocal harmonies. As always, it’s cool, darn it all. —Eric W. Saeger

Molasses Patties

from the 1950 Betty Crocker Cookbook

4 cups (124 g) Cheerios – how long have these been heart-shaped?

1½ cups (210 g) salted roast peanuts

1½ cups (319 g) brown sugar

¾ cup (255 g) molasses

½ cup (113 g) water

4 teaspoons vinegar

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

1½ teaspoons baking soda

In a large greased bowl, combine the cereal and the peanuts.

In a large saucepan, combine the brown sugar, molasses, water, vinegar, and cream of tartar.

Over medium heat, bring the molasses mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Continue boiling, until the mixture comes to a temperature of 250ºF — this is what no-nonsense grandmothers and aunts used to call the “soft-ball” stage.

At this point you will need some way of measuring the temperature of the hot molasses syrup. One option is an old-fashioned frying/candy thermometer. Another is a whisk with an integrated thermometer — I like this option a lot; it allows you to multitask. You can continue to stir and still keep track of the temperature.

I would add a note of caution, however. There are two parts to this whisk/thermometer — it’s a probe thermometer that is pushed through a small hole into the whisk component. The electronic thermometer doesn’t like to get wet, so as I was cleaning up after making this candy, I congratulated myself on remembering to pull the two components apart before washing them. This turned out to be difficult. The molasses candy was very sticky and had set up more firmly than I expected. I decided to pull with more effort, only to rip the whole thing in two. As I stared down at the loose wires jutting out from the broken thermometer base, I swear they looked judgmentally at me for my betrayal.

As soon as the molasses syrup reaches 250ºF, remove it immediately from the heat, and stir the baking soda into the mixture as quickly as possible. It will foam up and look really cool.

Pour the hot, foamy syrup over the cereal-peanut mixture, and stir to combine with a well-greased spoon. The key term from this point forward will be “well-greased.”

Let the mixture sit and cool for a few minutes, which will give you a chance to grease up your hands.

Using your well-greased hands, form the cereal mixture into 2-inch patties and press them down on a well-greased silicone mat or a well-greased sheet of parchment paper. As greasy as this whole endeavor is, when you get about three quarters of the way through the patty-making process you will wish you had greased everything even a little bit more.

Let the patties sit for half an hour or so before eating any of them, and let the remainder harden up overnight.

A note about cleaning up: The best tool for cleaning your mixing bowl and saucepan seems to be a stiff-bristled kitchen brush. You might be tempted to use the green scrubby part of a sponge, but you’ll end up going through several of them, which you will end up having to throw away. A brush will not only make reasonably fast work of cleaning up; it will also clean itself of any candy residue. This brush may become your new best friend. Name him.

If you haven’t run the gauntlet of candy-making before, this is a pretty good beginner’s project. This is a good candy, with a low effort-to-reward ratio. In 1950 Betty and her ghost writer wrote that these candies are “like caramel corn,” which they are, in a way. There’s no actual popcorn involved, of course, but the Cheerios and the peanuts stay crunchy, without the annoying hard bits of corn kernels that stick in your teeth with actual caramel corn. These are chewy candies that taste mildly of molasses, Cheerios and salt. They are excellent with a mug of tea.

They just need a more exciting name. Ernesto, perhaps? Bruno? Fanaka, Queen of the Amazons?

John Fladd is a veteran Hippo writer, a father, writer and cocktail enthusiast, living in New Hampshire.

Featured photo: Molasses Patties. Photo by John Fladd.

Would-be presidents, Adam Sandler

Red Arrow shows famous visitors in online photo album

Presidential hopefuls love to have their pictures taken in diners. And primary candidates make absolutely certain to visit one of the Red Arrow diners — well-known diners in New Hampshire — particularly the mother diner in Manchester.

This makes sense to Amanda Wihby, co-owner and COO of Red Arrow, who says that visiting a diner gives candidates a chance to meet with Granite Staters from every walk of life.

“Diners are the focal point of a community,” she said. “All types of people want comfort, and we specialize in comfort food.”

The Red Arrow regularly posts photos of celebrities who eat there on an online photo album at redarrowdiner.com/category/famous-guests. It isn’t surprising that the most recent photos are predominantly of politicians — though scroll down to September 2023 and you’ll find Adam Sandler, who regularly dines at the Red Arrow and has a burger named after him.

Wihby says that sometimes the diner’s staff has advance notice of when a candidate will come to the diner, but there’s always the possibility of a surprise visit.

“Sometimes a campaign team will get in touch with us a week ahead of time; sometimes it’s a day. There are times when the Secret Service will show up and we’re like, ‘OK, I guess we’ve got a candidate visiting,’” she said

Even the ad hoc visits are not as disruptive as you might think.

“Most of our staff are veteran employees. They’ve been with us a long time, and they know how to make sure everyone is taken care of, no matter what’s happening up front,” Wihby said.

According to Wihby, these are some of takeaways from this season’s candidate visits:

• Nicest Candidate:Sen. Tim Scott — According to Wihby, he had the press wait outside during his visit, took a coffee pot around to all the customers and gave them refills. Afterward, he went into the kitchen to talk to the staff there.

• Hardest-Working Candidate: Nikki Haley, who visited four times. “She put in a lot of effort. She’s a good example of retail politics.”

• Best Tipper: “None of them pay; it’s always the campaign manager. But the servers never complain — let’s put it that way.”

What did they eat?

Tim Scott: An Arrow spinach omelet, with grits and wheat toast.

Vivek Ramaswamy: Veggie quesadilla.

Donald Trump: A Trump Tower Burger and a chocolate shake.

Dean Phillips: A peanut butter and chocolate chip waffle.

Featured photo: Tim Scott at the Red Arrow. Courtesy Photos.

The Weekly Dish 24/03/07

News from the local food scene

Potato chip day: In honor of National Potato Chip Day (Thursday, March 14) Averill House Vineyard (21 Averill Road in Brookline, 244-3165, averillhousevineyard.com) will host a curated potato chip and wine pairing on Friday, March 15, through Sunday, March 17, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Pair four of Averill House’s wines with gourmet potato chips. Tickets are $30 per person. Participants can reserve tickets by phone or online via Eventbrite.

Books and beer: To Share Brewing’s (720 Union St. in Manchester, 836-6947, tosharebrewing.com) book club meets at 6 p.m. on the second Thursday (this month March 14) of each month. This month’s book is The Wishing Game by Meg Shaffer. RSVP to info@tosharebrewing.com.

More books and beer: The next meeting of Northwoods Brewing’s Books and Brews book club is Monday, March 25, at 6 p.m., discussing Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. See northwoodsbrewingcompany.com.

Blankets and beer: Pipe Dream Brewing (49 Harvey Road, Unit 4, in Londonderry, 404-0751, pipedreambrewingnh.com) will host a Chunky Knit Blanket workshop on Saturday, March 9, from 1 to 4 p.m. Learn how to make a chunky knit blanket, with Jill from the Cozy Company. Spots are limited. Contact Jill at thecozycobyjill@gmail.com to sign up for the workshop.

Kiddie Pool 24/03/07

Family fun for whenever

Play pickleball

•. Mini Pickles – Pickleball for Kids is being held at the City-Wide Community Center (14 Canterbury Road in Concord), where kids ages 10 to 14 can learn the fundamentals with coach Mel Crane every Friday from March 8 to March 29, 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Fee is $50 per resident, $60 per non-resident. Visit concordparksandrec.com.

Reading & storytime

• Get your reading engines running with Horse Powered Reading at UpReach (153 Paige Hill Road in Goffstown), a program to help kids ages 8 and up build and strengthen reading skills by connecting with horses, according to a press release. Classes start Monday, March 11, and will run through April 15, from 5 to 6 p.m. Space is limited and the cost is $200 per student; financial aid is available. Visit upreachtec.org or reach out to allison@upreachtec.org.

• Get reading and dancing at Water Street Bookstore (125 Water St., Exeter, waterstreetbooks.com) with a book-signing launch party for Mary McCrary The Irish Dance Fairy on Saturday, March 9, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. There will be Irish step dancers and giveaways at the event.

Science time

• Join the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire (6 Washington St. in Dover) for Science Fridays. The first session, Friday, March 8, runs from 10:30 to 11 a.m. and the second session runs from 2:30 to 3 p.m. Each week is a new experiment, and your ticket is included with regular Museum admission. Science Friday drop-in programs engage children in experiments and activities that focus on fun and act as a jumping-off point for learning about science concepts, according to a press release. Museum admission is $12.50 for adults & children over 12 months of age, $10.50 for seniors age 65+, and free for Children’s Museum of New Hampshire members as well as children under 12 months of age. Visit childrens-museum.org to sign up for a spot.

All aboard the Maple Express

• Hop on the Maple Express at Charmingfare Farm (774 High St. in Candia) to celebrate Maple Month on Saturday, March 9; Sunday March 10; Saturday, March 16, and Sunday, March 17 (March 8 and March 15 for school groups) with multiple admission times throughout the day starting at 10 a.m. with the last train departing at 2 p.m. The horse-drawn or tractor train ride transports you into the heart of maple sugaring within a thriving farm and is designed for all ages, according to a press release. Participants will stop at an authentic maple syrup shack and learn about the maple trees, and tastings are encouraged. Admission is $29, free for children 23 months and under. Go to www.visitthefarm.com.

Save the date

Kitty-Corn! Author Shannon Hale and illustrator LeUyen Pham visit Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St., Concord, 224-0562, gibsonsbookstore.com) on Friday, March 29, at 6:30 p.m. for a storytime with their newest book, Bubbly Beautiful Kitty-Corn. The two also worked together on Real Friends, Best Friends, and Friends Forever, as well as the Princess in Black series. Hale is the author of several YA books as well as the adult novel Austenland. See more about Hale at shannonhale.com and find Pham on Instagram @uyenloseordraw.

On The Job – Rachel Mack

Co-Owner of Loon Chocolate

Rachel Mack is the co-owner of Loon Chocolate along with her sister, Sara Steffensmeier, in Manchester. (This interview has been condensed.)

Explain your job and what it entails.

We have two great chocolate makers who help us make the chocolate. … I do most of the work setting up the shop here in the front, getting things ready on the operation and production side of things.

How long have you had this job?

Myself and my sister had bought Laurel Hill Jams and Jellies in February of this past year, but buying Loon Chocolate in June was really when everything changed and it became this full-time job.

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

I had worked in finance for years and years, enjoyed the work … but I wanted something different. … Once we had gotten through [Covid, 2020 and homeschooling] I was looking at what was next — was I going to go back to a corporate job or was I going to do something else? — and that’s why we started with the jams and jellies as something on the side to fill the time while my daughter was at school and to keep me busy and mentally challenged. … It worked so well, that’s why we moved so quickly into taking over the chocolate as well. The chocolate is the majority of our time.

What is your typical at-work uniform or attire?

Our merch that we proudly wear that has our logo of ‘Live free and eat great chocolate.’

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

We had a big shipment we had to send out in the fall leading up till Christmas and it was to a customer who wanted things a very particular way. If you are in a large business you can send that off to the shipping department and they can deal with it. … When you are a small-business owner you have to do it all. … but it really is fun to have each one of these challenges that you are faced with. That really is the hardest thing. Every day you walk in you don’t know what new thing you are learning that day.

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

There is a quote I heard recently, and I know I am going to screw it up, so I apologize, but it was, ‘don’t worry about the right decision, make your decision right.’

What do you wish other people knew about your job?

I wish I could just magically let everyone know … every detail about where the chocolate comes from because I think it is fascinating,

What was your first job?

My first real job, I was 16 years old … I worked for … Suncoast Motion Picture Company.

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

I was so stressed at the beginning of starting all this … and my husband really helped me and he was like, ‘Just say yes. Say yes to the challenges that come to you. … Do the scary thing and great things are going to happen.’ It was absolutely true.

Zachary Lewis

Favorite book: I love a journey. I loved The Hobbit.
Favorite movie: I know people don’t like Return of the Jedi, but I am going to say Return of the Jedi.
Favorite music: U2.
Favorite food: Any sort of Mexican food.
Favorite thing about NH: I just love the personality. The general vibe. People in New Hampshire are kind, and they don’t stress too much.

Featured photo: Rachel Mack. Courtesy Photo.

Stay in the loop!

Get FREE weekly briefs on local food, music,

arts, and more across southern New Hampshire!