Gaudete Means Rejoice!

FullSizeRender 4As the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday seems a turning of the corner within the liturgical season. We begin to “Rejoice!” as we approach the Nativity of our Lord.

As a family, we marked the occasion by putting up our Christmas decorations. The Christmas tree will remain festooned only with lights until the 22nd or 23rd when we’ll decorate it with all the ornaments and everything else.

I decorated a little, but most of what I did on Sunday concerned another highly important thing, beer! I managed to brew a big batch (almost 25 gallons) of Religious Liberty back in October. It was ready to keg.IMG_0579

I decided, for fun, and since I’m somewhat lacking in variety this year (it’s been far too busy!) to mix up the dry-hopping.

Religious Liberty is normally all Cascades in the boil, and then also dry-hopped with Cascades. The result is a very “citrusy” pale ale, specifically orange flavors.

I decided to dry-hop two of the five kegs the regular way, but then also make a “Christmas Liberty” version, still dry-hopping with Cascades but also adding an equivalent amount of Simcoes, which are known for having a “piney” or “resinous” aroma.

Finally, since only four kegs fit in my kegerator at once, I decided to “cask” the last keg (which for me, means letting it sit at cellar temperature for 2-3 months to allow it to carbonate naturally).

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Comfort and Joy

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God’s love for us pours out in superabundance.

The Incarnation is for us. We are given to understand through the Incarnation that God does not seek slaves or servants, blind adoration or sycophantic adulation. God wishes to give an entirely voluntary, free, and honest LOVE, for our own good.

We are given an image, in the Incarnation, of our worth. For God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son. This sacrifice is not remote. Rather, it’s directly connected with Jesus’ human nature.

God comes to know His people: by becoming vulnerable, by relying upon a man and a woman for his physical and emotional needs, by entering into communion with those he loves, and eating, drinking and sharing stories and time with them. Inasmuch as God lowers himself, he likewise raises us up to a new dignity in creation.

May the Light which comes into the world tonight fill your hearts, bringing peace, love and joy. I pray that you and all dear to you have a miraculous Christmas, and that God may bless you now and always.

Polemic Contra “Elf on the Shelf”

Christmas is not magical season. Magic (apart from that which originates from the demonic) is not real. Telling children to believe in magic and fiction in connection with the Nativity of Our Lord is a huge mistake.

Source: Flickr; Author: Davitydave; Creative Commons License

Elf on the Shelf: good little “Big Brother”, always watching. Source: Flickr; Author: Davitydave; Creative Commons License

I’d prefer not to fritter away the credibility and trust I’ve built up with my kids on selling fairy tales. There’s no Elf on the Shelf for the Quartermaster’s kids, as insurance against this foreseeable utterance: “Why should I believe you when you say God and Jesus are real? You said the same thing about Elf on the Shelf and Santa Claus!”

Elf on the Shelf strains the whole Santa thing — which has been grossly perverted by our secular consumer culture — to a point of ridiculosity. I intensely dislike the idea of coaxing good behavior from children with a season-long bribe. “Be good, or Santa won’t bring presents!” That’s true, because, getting stuff is the “reason for the season”?

As if we needed another reason to resist the whole Elf on the Shelf mania, a digital technology professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology says that Elf on the Shelf teaches kids “…..a bigger lesson, which is that it’s OK for other people to spy on you and you’re not entitled to privacy.” This professor argues that the idea of Elf of the Shelf reporting back to Santa each night “sets up children for dangerous, uncritical acceptance of power structures.”

I would have to agree. Countless millions of children are being raised in the belief that a creepy little doll watches them during the month of December, and helps a fictitious dispenser of mammon to determine whether any pellets will drop into their cages at the end of the maze. Should the government ever decide to install a similar device for year-round monitoring — under the guise that it will be used for “safety” and to determine what “services” each family needs — it will be all the more palatable, thanks to Elf on the Shelf.

Elf on the Shelf is just another warped way that the secular religion known as Consumerism draws ’em in young, conditions ’em to want and buy, and then finally lets ’em down with the realization that the thing being sold was a total lie.

Catholic parents: things like Elf on the Shelf cheapen Christmas and betray the truth that Christmas is real. Our focus should be on the reality: an infant — both fully God and fully human — was born 2,000 years ago to an Immaculate Virgin. He didn’t come to bring Xboxes and iPads. He doesn’t condition His love upon good conduct. He isn’t a minion who watches us and reports back the Big Guy.

Jesus is the Word. He is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises. He is the once-for-all sacrifice for our sins. He is the door through which we enter into salvation. Giving our children their first introduction to their Savior — and encouraging them to prepare their hearts for Him — is our primary obligation at Advent and Christmastime.

Elf on the Shelf is a $15 hindrance in our mission as Catholic parents. As he sets his gaze on our kids, he diverts their attention — and ours — in an utterly wrong direction. Send Elf on the Shelf home to the landfill.

Sloth, Greed, and Avarice on Offer *Outside*, Nevermind the Store

For the annual post-Thanksgiving gluttonyfest known as “Black Friday”, and it is truly black indeed for the craven souls who worship at Mammon’s altar on this high unholy day, there are already shoppers camping outside a Best Buy store here in California, who will have waited 22 days before November 28, in order to be “first in line” for “deals” on….. who knows? They don’t know what’s for sale and how good the deals are because the promotion fliers haven’t even been printed yet! In other words, they don’t even know what they’re waiting in line to purchase. Make no mistake: this isn’t a bread line. It isn’t even a line for a thing. It’s a line where people partake in a lie, and not a particularly good one, i.e., getting a “deal” is really important and will fulfill that which is empty.

“’Some people say we’re crazy,’… adding that such comments don’t bother her in the least.”

Not crazy. Sad.

Buon Natale! Some Roman Nativity Scenes…

Nearly every church in Rome has a Nativity. Most are incredible marvels. Little lights in every village window and stars in a field and some even have animation. Walt Disney could’ve hired as “Imagineers” some of the craftspeople who build these things. Some favorites from last year (2012):

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This one was definitely one of the most intricate:IMG_0018

This isn’t a Nativity, but something else really cool (I’ll have to check my notes/pictures to see if I have the correct info, but I think it’s a model depicting the various rites and cultural aspects of the Church, thus all the little spires and towers and things surrounding the massive dome in the center):IMG_0016

One of the more charming things about the Nativity scenes is that some are shown in the context of the local scenery, like this one with a basilica in the background:IMG_0014

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This was the Nativity in the Piazza Navona (it’s fun to look at the little plaques and signs showing what group or church committee is responsible for the display):IMG_0012

Part of the Nativity inside St. Peter’s Basilica:
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The Nativity outside, in St. Peter’s Square:IMG_0002

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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.

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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!