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Katie McQuaid's Scene in Manchester: Ali Baba Whole Foods Festival is exotic, and right next door

January 26. 2014 9:55PM

As a sucker for unidentifiable packaged foods, Ali Baba Whole Foods Festival is right up my alley, with aisles of exotic packages with names and ingredients written in foreign languages.

During my first trip to the Second Street store last week, I threw caution to the wind and purchased something I had never seen before called Helva. I was confident it contained pistachios, but knew nothing else about the dish until I took it home and Googled it before eating. It is an interesting sweet treat enjoyed in the Middle East and other parts of the world.

But I was surprised to discover Ali Baba is much more than an ethnic market. It's a cross between the A-Market natural food store on South Willow Street and Hannaford, with many all-natural, organic and gluten-free options displayed right alongside the more mainstream. It's easier to be a smart and selective shopper when the organic almond butter is offered right there next to the Skippy Creamy.

In addition to the aisles of packaged foods, Ali Baba also has fresh produce, a counter with meats and cheeses, and a café that serves kebabs, wraps, salads, pizza, pastries and gelato. The website also says there is a bar, but it wasn't anything I noticed during my 8:30 a.m. visit.

Finally, Ali Baba has amazing pita bread. It's really thin and chewy, and reminds me of the kind that Pappy's Pizza uses to make its famous steak and cheese subs. A very friendly Ali Baba employee told me the bread is baked fresh a couple of times a week. I know I will be back for more.

Dining with The Donald

I had to give up my seat at last Tuesday's Politics & Eggs event at Saint Anselm College, so I sat in Donald Trump's seat instead.

Trump was the very captivating guest speaker, and unknowingly stole Mayor Ted Gatsas' seat at our table. I graciously got up so the mayor could have my chair instead, and realized the last available seat had Trump's name on it.

Yes. He was very nice. Yes. I stole the place setting card with his name on it (and gave it to a Saint Anselm student). Yes. His hair is real.

Shenanigans at Shorty's

I have had the privilege of working with many wonderful people at Shorty's Mexican Roadhouse, where I have been employed off and on since I was 17 years old. My husband and I (we met while working there in 1999) had a chance to catch up with many old friends at last week's Shorty's alumni reunion.

Organized by former employee Scott Moreau, the unofficial homecoming at the Manchester location was attended by staff from many of the branches, some of which are now closed. Sarah Sweeney, who now has a son who works at Shorty's, hit the nail on the head when she said the restaurant was a uniquely special place to work. I thank her and many other women like Tara Schneider, Krisy Baker Looney, Stephanie Zevos Welch, and Margaret Allard, for making my first real job fun and unforgettable.

And I was happy to find out that Bill Cote and I are not the only marriage match made at Shorty's. Melanie (Tafe) and Matt White met while working at the former Newington location.

NH365.ORG Wine Events of the Week

Put an end to winter weather whining with some wining and dining during New Hampshire Wine Week.

A selection of this week's wine tastings, wine socials and wine dinners taking place across the state can be found at, including the 11th annual Easter Seals Winter Wine Spectacular this Thursday.

From 6 to 9 p.m., ticket holders can sample more than 1,500 varietals of wine from their own Riedel Crystal stemware, and taste food from local restaurants.

In addition to the expected raffles and silent auctions, this year's event throws some new shopping technology into the mix.

The New Hampshire Liquor Commission has launched a mobile app that will enable visitors to use their mobile devices, phones or tablets, to explore the various wine products, make tasting notes, and even order their favorite selections from the event and have them delivered to a liquor store near them.

There are a very limited number of $65 tickets available for the Grand Tasting. Proceeds from the event will go to support Easter Seals programs for children with disabilities and special needs.

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