Last Nag of the Old; First of the New


This is a Public Service Nag:

January 1 is an Octave Day of the Nativity of the Lord, and the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.

It is a Holy Day of Obligation. (Translation: Faithful Catholics are Obliged to attend Mass today!)


According to this illustration, St. Joseph circumcised our Lord.

Incidentally, the Basilica of St. Mary Major houses relics from the crib of Jesus in an ornate container made of gold and silver, which is shaped like a crib. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the relics were likely brought to Rome in the pontificate of Pope Theodore (640-649), who was a native of Palestine. The relics consist of five pieces of wood board taken from a Sycamore tree, “of which there are several varieties in the Holy Land.” These pieces might only have been “mere supports for the manger itself, which was probably made from the soft limestone of which the cave was formed.” The relics are exposed for veneration by the faithful every Christmas Eve. DSC_0029


One Year Ago Today…

I was alone and in the Eternal City. I spent the day walking from church to church, admiring the intricate nativities and decorations for Christmas. As I walked, I prayed: for the Church, for my family, for my friends, for the Holy Father’s intentions. I attended mass. I prayed for my own special intentions. Then, in the evening, I managed to secure a ticket to vespers, with His Holiness Benedict XVI.

His Holiness Benedict XVI on December 31, 2012

His Holiness Benedict XVI on December 31, 2012

Observing the Holy Father that night (wheeled in on the movable platform during the procession), he seemed frail, and tired. He coughed during some of the prayers, and his voice was thin and wispy. I fretted a bit over his condition, and brought home a new prayer intention — for his health and strength.

Following Vespers, the Pope rode the Popemobile into St. Peter's Square to greet the faithful, and bless the Nativity

Following Vespers, the Pope rode the Popemobile into St. Peter’s Square to greet the faithful, and bless the Nativity

I love Pope Francis; he is what the Church needs now. But Benedict XVI holds a special place in my heart. I love how he writes and how he thinks. I love how he reminded us that Catholicism is spiritual and intellectual, how nothing the Church teaches should be dumb or fail to make sense, how we can apply the light of reason to our faith and receive illumination and enlightenment.

And he did all of these things quietly, with humbleness, without ever trying to be anything other than what and who he was. He is the counterpoint to the Catholic “star quality” of JPII and Francis.

He is, in a sense, the only pope who could resign, and that absolute freedom and trust that he placed in God is something the entire Church will continue to draw from in the future. His legacy is the dismantling of the papacy as a power structure and its restoration as that of Universal Pastor, Servant of the Servants…

Please, for the new year, offer a prayer for His Holiness Benedict XVI, and also offer a prayer for His Holiness Pope Francis. We are blessed this year that two popes live and breathe, and that this reality strengthens the Church is her mission at this time.

Final Christmas Prep: Apples and Oranges

Holidays and tradition go together, and at Christmas more than any other time. We are drawn into the homes of loved ones and friends, where we find warmth and comfort, and many reasons to celebrate. Final Christmas Preparations are under way, and I thought I’d share a little bit of detail on what our holiday visitors can expect this year.

A few weeks back, I blogged here and here about an experiment, making “dry-hopped cider”. After completing the primary and secondary fermentation, I recently kegged the cider and dry-hopped it with about 2 ounces of “Calypso” hops. The Calypso is one of the newer hop varieties with an extremely high Alpha (i.e., potential bitterness) — 17%. Since dry-hopping doesn’t involve boiling the hops, very little of the potential bitterness goes into the (in this case) cider, instead imparting the “volatile esters” of the hops which are associated with subtler flavors and aromas. Characteristic flavors and aromas of the Calypso include tropical fruit, citrus, apple and pear.


Apples (Dry-Hopped Cider) and Oranges (Religious Liberty Ale)

I’m very happy with the results from this experiment. The cider has a light, perfectly clear, light golden straw color, and the carbonation is crisp and reminiscent of sparkling wine. Aromas include apple (obviously) which give way to a wider bouquet of citrus and melon. The first thing that came to mind when I tried it was an off-dry white Italian wine (sometimes frizzante) from the Moscato grape. Because the cider itself is so light, there is a slight bitterness from the hops, but it is not at the expense of the underlying fruit. Especially on the back of the palate, the cider mimics some characteristics of a light lager. Success!

Second, I also kegged five gallons from the latest batch of Religious Liberty Ale, a “flagship” beer in the Quartermaster portfolio. The ingredients of the beer are rather simple: 2-row, 40L (and a little toasted), and a single hop: the Cascade. In this case, the Cascades are fresh from the 2013 harvest. As a pale ale, it provides the best of both worlds: sufficient flavors of malt and biscuit to balance the 40 IBUs from the Cascades, and then a nose full of oranges and citrus from dry-hopping with an ounce-plus of additional Cascades. If I were forced to choose just one beer to drink forever, this would be it.

Apples and oranges! Beyond compare, and yet complementary to the other.

Did you know that in the history of the Church, December 23 and 24 were often considered days for fasting? On Christmas Eve, we try to make something special and festive without it being “over the top” (which we save for the feasting on Christmas), and so we invite everyone to come and have a bowl of New England Clam Chowder later in the evening before heading off to midnight mass. Because we all love chowder, it doesn’t feel much like fasting at all. 

roastFor Christmas Dinner, an entire bone-in USDA Choice standing rib roast is currently air-drying in the beer refrigerator in the Brewhouse, on its way from an initial weight of just over 22 pounds down to about 17 or 18. Beef contains an awful lot of excess water, and you can concentrate that delicious, roasty, beefy flavor by allowing it to age in a cold, dry environment for a period of days, or even weeks. I generally try to age a roast this size at least a week, but even two or three weeks is good. While the meat loses excess moisture and concentrates flavor, the microbes actually begin breaking down the tough protein fibers. As it does this, it develops a rind and the exterior color of the roast darkens which imparts a funky smell. Beef (but not ground beef) and funk is a good thing.

IMG_2824With a standing rib roast, and Yorkshire pudding, and brussels sprouts and confit potatoes, our family Christmas Dinner has a definite British quality to it, and so we traditionally have a steamed pudding. This year I got around to making the pudding a little later than usual, but it has had a couple weeks to “ripen” and should be great as usual. I always use suet to make the pudding — because any other way it’s not truly a Christmas pudding — as well as enormous red, purple and yellow raisins, dried cranberries (I know, not traditional), chopped green apples, citron, spices and brandy. On Christmas Day it will get steamed again for about two hours, we’ll light it on fire using flaming brandy, and serve it with hard sauce also made from brandy. Every year, a 19th-century silver shilling goes into the pudding. The slice containing the shilling wins a prize. We always cut a slice “for Jesus” so that the prize has a chance of going to the church.

Merry Christmas!


3-in-1 Christmas Gift Idea: Buy Coffee, Help a Catholic Mission, and Provide a Just Wage

AgricultureJuan Ana Coffee is one of the projects connected to the San Lucas Tolimán Mission at Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. Started by Fr. Greg Shaffer nearly 25 years ago with 6 families, it has grown to provide a constant wage for more than 650 families. The Juan Ana Coffee project does not qualify as “Fair Trade Coffee” — commonly understood as the right coffee to buy — because it actually pays the farmers and workers involved in coffee production more than Fair Trade guidelines allow.

DSCN0144-2All money is returned to the Coffee Project which allows for the continuing support of the farmers and their families. The coffee is grown at high elevation, 5,000+ feet in rich volcanic ash soil under shade canopies. All milling, drying, storage, roasting and packing are done locally by the people of Guatemala.

The coffee is really good. No fancy flavorings or additives, just rich coffee flavor. Products include whole bean regular and dark roast (we prefer the dark roast), and ground regular roast. The dark roast can also be used to make espresso (which is the way I use most often). Coffee is individually vacuum-sealed inside a cloth bag. Coffee costs $9 per pound, plus shipping (buy a lot at one time to reduce the cost of shipping).

Go to and click ‘order a bag’!

Feast Day for St. Lucy: the Baby’s Name Day

This December 13, we celebrate the “Name Day” of our youngest. St. Lucy was a fourth-century Roman martyr and virgin. Her name is included in the Roman Canon of the Mass. The Collect from today’s Mass:

May the glorious intercession of the Virgin and Martyr Saint Lucy give us new heart, we pray, O Lord, so that we may celebrate her heavenly birthday in this present age and so behold things eternal. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

StLucyFirstTombShe is frequently depicted holding a plate in front of her with her own two eyes upon it, because in refusing to marry her betrothed, a pagan, her eyes were gouged out as punishment. It is said that God miraculously restored her sight, adding dimension to what could be characterized a rather gruesome depiction. You can read a bit more about her by going here

IMG_3137She is a Patron(ess): against hemorraghes; authors; blind people; blindness; cutlers; dysentery; eye disease; eye problems; glaziers; hemorraghes; laborers; martyrs; peasants; Perugia, Italy; saddlers; salesmen; stained glass workers; Syracuse, Sicily; throat infections; writers.

Christmas Gift Idea: Every Catholic Family Needs a “Pope Chart”!

Back in the day, especially pre-Vatican II, a properly appointed Catholic home would at least have a crucifix and portrait of the reigning Roman Pontiff.

popechartIt’s a little bit difficult to find, but one of the great apologetic tools that children can really “get” is the “Pope Chart“. It’s a large poster, suitable for framing, that includes a picture and short biography for all 266 popes throughout the 2,000-year history of the Church, beginning with St. Peter. 

I say this is for kids, but really it’s a fascinating teaching tool for everyone. In our old house, we had a long hallway going to the bedrooms that had a large bulletin board on one of the walls. Since it was a “family area” part of the house, we’d pin up all sorts of things and not worry if it looked very messy: schoolwork, art projects, photos and cards from friends and family. We also pinned up the Pope Chart there, and I often found myself staring at it. I’d count how many Pope Alexanders that we’ve had or check and see who the first Pope to take the name Leo was. Once I read an article about an antipope and had to check the chart to see if he was listed there. The Pope Chart is simply a great way to learn a little Catholic history!

There are a couple different versions of the chart; the one we found also provided a smaller poster with the papal heraldry, which is interesting too.

Something about the fact of the Apostolic Succession — the unbroken line of bishops and popes reaching all the way back to the very beginning, when Jesus renamed Simon saying, “Thou art Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my Church…” — really resonates with kids. They understand the whole “who started it” idea, and this chart helps them see where Catholicism comes from.

And, if you get someone on your list a Pope Chart, you can share with them the fact that you don’t just find charts on paper in our Church! Sometimes, the church itself is the chart! Today, the Vatican News service posted a picture depicting the addition of Pope Francis’ medallion to the “chart” that ornaments the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls:

Francis outside wallsLike the Pope Chart, the Basilica has a medallion for each pope throughout history, spanning the transept and nave. [If you want to get the prophecy kooks stirred up, ask how many spaces for medallions remain in the Basilica!]. It’s especially cool to find a Pope Chart, including the one linked above, that uses the same medallions as the ones at St. Paul Outside the Walls for the picture of each pope!

“…that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him…

…our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country…” – Thanksgiving Proclamation issued by President George Washington, at the request of Congress, on October 3, 1789

It is right and just.

And I wish you and yours, and everyone you love a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving.


Thankful for... children, or dogs, who rigorously test the durability of figurines. Thankful for... my beautiful and amazing wife. Thankful for... family and friends, loved ones near and far, in Heaven and on Earth. Amen.

Thankful for… children, or dogs, who rigorously test the durability of figurines. Thankful for… my beautiful and amazing wife. Thankful for… family and friends, loved ones near and far, in Heaven and on Earth. Amen.

Spiritual Dryness and Salt of the Earth: Let’s Talk Turkey

“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Matthew 5:13).

Some things are best when they’re dry. For example, your underarms. Diapers. The carpet. Since the invention of carpeting, no one has ever actually said, “Oooh, the carpet is really wet, hooray!” Nor does one ever glory in the dirty diaper or say, “Look at that guy’s armpit stains — bully for him!”

However, dryness in prayer or one’s spiritual life is generally to be avoided. While there are sometimes Providential reasons that God permits us to become spiritually dry, we are not usually meant to remain in this condition forever. When one is spiritually dry, the life in prayer is brittle, crumbly; there isn’t much substance, or fruitfulness at the moment.

Even if one earnestly seeks God, is engaged in devotional prayer and reading, and frequently receives the sacraments, it is still possible to wind up “walking in the desert” at times. In fact, each of us should expect this journey, and the reality of it is part of Catholic spiritual tradition. God (like a loving parent) is always fostering our own spiritual growth, which sometimes requires us to learn to live without “good feelings”. Sometimes the medicine itself is unpleasant, but nonetheless healthy.

God sometimes permits spiritual dryness, but I suspect that He — like all rational beings — cannot abide a dry turkey. A turkey should never be dry. Dry turkey is bad turkey. You can bet that if there is food in Heaven, there is no dry turkey. Conversely, dry (and flavorless) turkey is probably on every table in Hell. The answer to a dry turkey (or really, any dry flavorless meat) is essentially the same as the answer to spiritual dryness: salt. 

If we are spiritually dry, we may find it difficult to follow our Lord’s command to be “the salt of the earth.” It might be possible to attend mass or persevere in prayer, but it is frustrating to see others partaking in the full richness of the Holy Banquet or getting somewhere in their prayer life while personally everything feels immobilized.

Being the salt of the earth means that the life in Christ is supposed to have flavor. When we truly live the way that Jesus wants, we are able to savor what is good, wholesome and nourishing about creation. If we try to live outside Christ’s love or if we try to walk in the desert alone — without asking God to journey with us — all of the good things that may be present to us in our life are dry and ineffective at bringing us to the joy that we know is available.

We can banish spiritual dryness, and we can add flavor to our lives (and food), by adding salt. Salt locks in the goodness of a piece of meat. It creates a chemical gradient that literally traps moisture inside the cells it inhabits. This is why when you take in too much salt, you get bloated and retain water. All of that salt in your body is holding in extra fluid, keeping you from becoming dry! When you brine a turkey, the same thing happens, making it next to impossible to dry it out during cooking. 


Thanksgiving 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

Thanksgiving is coming up. If you’d like to exorcise dryness from your turkey this year, start the day before by making a brine:

1. Find a container big enough to hold the turkey in your refrigerator. A clean bucket will work. I have a food-grade tub with a plastic lid that I use.

2. Fill the vessel with a gallon of warm water. Dissolve at least a cup of salt and a half cup of white granulated sugar. You can add other flavors, herbs or spices (oranges, lemons, onions, garlic, apple cider, apple cider vinegar, black pepper, bay leaves, dry basil, dry oregano, dry thyme, red pepper flakes, etc.) if you like.

3. Add a gallon of cold water, or a mixture of cold water and ice.

4. Submerge the turkey (you can add a little extra water to get it completely submerged, if necessary) in the brine. Cover the vessel and refrigerate it overnight.

5. On Thanksgiving, prepare the turkey by removing it from the brine, drying it with paper towels, and roasting it the way you normally do.

This method will elevate the saddest, cheapest, lowest of the low of all frozen supermarket turkeys. You will find a turkey prepared this way almost impossible to distinguish from the finest, most expensive organic fresh free range turkeys.

Metaphorically, being salt gives spiritual and actual flavor to anything that we season. Jesus doesn’t say that He is the salt; He says that we are! We, the whole Body of Christ, through the Church, are meant to combat spiritual dryness by being “salt of the earth” to one another.

Our “salt” is the joy that we hold; it is the light that we are not meant to put under the bushel barrel. Salt is the great equalizer in our spiritual lives just as it is in cookery! Without the Christian community — without others in our life who season us and give life its flavor — we are not good for anything other than to be trampled underfoot.

So, be the salt to others, who you can support in their spiritual dryness. Ask God to send you someone salty in your times of spiritual dryness.

And, use some salt to brine your Thanksgiving turkey, so that no one needs to feel like they are walking in the desert at your holiday table!

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An Experiment: Dry-Hopped Hard Cider


In the latest issue of Zymurgy Magazine, there is an article in which different strains of beer yeast are compared for making apple cider.

The article points out a common misconception (one that I held until I read the article) that dry champagne yeast is what’s commonly used to ferment apple juice into cider.

Apparently in England (and where else would we look for guidance on how to make cider?) it is a common practice to use beer yeast instead. While champagne yeast will ferment cider very dry and leave little if any body (imagine the tart crispness of sparkling wine), the right strain of yeast for making ales will produce a cider that is off-dry and retaining a juicier mouthfeel.

For this experiment, I bought 6 gallons of “fresh pressed” Kirkland Signature Apple Juice from Costco, total price out the door was $27, which makes it comparable to a cheaper batch of home-brew. If it is successful, in the future I might consider sourcing something that’s been kept under refrigeration and left unpasteurized for a truly special batch of cider.

I tasted the juice and like it very much. It has a nice level of acidity and is not over sweet. The juice is not from concentrate and made from apples grown in the U.S. I used 5.25 gallons for the batch, and put the rest in the fridge. We never buy fruit juice for the boys to drink, except for “Saturday Morning Breakfast” when we have orange juice. The jug of apple juice will be gone by tomorrow.

Someone has also already thought of adding hops to cider for flavoring. Two commercial ciders are reviewed in the same issue, featuring dry hop additions.

Hops are most usually added at the point when it’s time to boil the liquid (“wort”) that ultimately becomes beer. “Dry-hopping” is when you add more — dry — hops to beer that has already been completely fermentedUnlike hops that are boiled during brewing (boiling causes the “alpha acids” in hops to be released, which makes beer bitter), dry-hopping beer doesn’t make it more bitter; only the “volatile compounds” (i.e., flavors and aromas; mostly aromas) present in hops are released into the fermented beer. 

The idea with dry-hopping a cider would not be to make it bitter, instead it would be to impart some some additional fragrant and flavor characteristics, making the cider at least smell like a hoppy, apple-y beer.

And I have way too many hops, which is why I’ve been dry-hopping everything (also, I LOVE hops and I love the flavor and aroma boost you get with dry-hopping) and doing beers with huge “late-hop” additions, so making a cider for Thanksgiving that is off-dry and featuring some floral, fruity aromas from a few ounces of Calypsos sounds just right to me. I pitched a Wyeast French Saison that I would not have otherwise used now that summer is over, which in beer throws off some really fruity esters.

The cider will actively ferment for at around a week and then will mature for several additional weeks before it is transferred to a keg, carbonated, and served. It should be ready by Thanksgiving. We’ll see what happens with this interesting project.