Thursday, December 10, 2015

Mulled Cranberry Apple Cider

For quite some time now, one of my coworkers and I have been planning to make some warm, festive beverages to share at the office. Originally the plan was to do pumpkin cider in celebration of autumnal weather. Buuut we didn't manage to make it happen until after December 1, so something more Christmasy seemed like the way to go.

Enter cranberries. I've shared before, I always associate cranberries more with winter than fall, even though they're mostly mostly in the stores around Thanksgiving. They look festive, and their tart flavor is perfect for brightening up sometimes-dreary winter days.

So last week I whipped up this mulled cranberry apple cider, my friend whipped up some hot cocoa, and our coworkers rejoiced. I've made this cider once before and love the flavors and the ease of prep.

Mulled Cranberry Apple Cider
Adapted from Rachael Ray
Yield: 12 servings (3 quarts total)

2-inch piece of ginger root
1 orange
4 whole cloves
4 cinnamon sticks
2 quarts cloudy organic apple cider
1 quart cranberry juice
1-2 cups fresh cranberries, rinsed (frozen is fine)
Slow cooker

Peel the ginger and cut it into 3-4 smaller pieces. Cut 2-3 slices out of the center of the orange. Then use a paring knife to remove some of the peel from the "heels" of the orange that didn't get sliced. Try to get as little of the white pith as possible, but don't stress about it. Stick the cloves through the piece(s) of orange peel. This basically just makes it easy to fish out the cloves later. (Alternatively, you could just throw in some orange slices and some loose cloves.)

Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker (4-quart capacity or larger). Cook on high for 2-3 hours, checking it after an hour or so. If it's hot enough, turn the slow cooker down to warm. If it's getting too spiced, then fish out some or all of the ginger, cloves, and cinnamon sticks.

  • If you need to expedite this, then warm the apple cider and/or cranberry juice in the microwave before adding to the slow cooker. I warmed my apple cider in the microwave, and after an hour on high in the slow cooker, everything was piping hot. If you're really in a hurry, follow Rachael Ray's stovetop directions.
  • I bought a gallon of cider and roughly a half gallon of cranberry juice. I used half of each to make one batch of this cider. Since I don't normally drink either of these things on their own, I poured the leftover cranberry juice into the cider jug and stuck it in my freezer. I'll pull it out for round two when my family is in town for Christmas later this month. 
  • The above tip sounds frighteningly like a story problem from math classes of yorn: If Karissa has 4 quarts of cider and 2 quarts of cranberry juice, then pours half of it into her slow cooker, how many quarts of juice are left?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Nerdiest Christmas Album Ever

Gather ‘round, ye children come
Listen to the old, old story
Of the pow’r of death undone
By an infant born of glory.
Son of God, Son of Man.
By far the nerdiest Christmas album I own—and hands down one of my favorites—is Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God. It’s usually the first CD I listen to each Christmas season (yes, I still use CDs) because it does such a good job of setting the scene and putting Christmas in context. Now, I like Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree just as much as the next person, but ultimately Christmas is about a God who craved relationship with and wholeness for God’s people—so much so, that this God did the most radical thing I can think of, and became human, stepping into our shoes, into our swaddling clothes, into our mess. And Behold the Lamb of God does an excellent job of telling the story of this God, this people, and this baby. It begins with a teaser of the story to come. A movie trailer, if you will, highlighting the hero of the story.
Instead of going straight to Bethlehem, we instead begin in Egypt, where we meet Moses, Pharaoh, the enslaved people of Israel, and a Passover lamb. We hear the cries of a people who long not only for deliverance but also for God’s mercy and closeness even as they find deliverance.
Lord, let your judgment passover us
Lord, let your love hover near.
Don’t let your sweet mercy passover us
Let this blood cover over us here.
This longing continues as these people enter the Promised Land and seek strong leaders: Moses is dead, Joshua isn’t kingly enough, and what they need is a king. Saul is a disappointment, though David is pretty awesome. But eventually exile happens and “the people of God are scattered abroad.” They ask the prophets if they’ll ever have another king like David—one who’s wise, loved by the people, and powerful “with a sword in his fist.” And Isaiah responds that yes, a King is coming, but he’ll be different than expected. As the years stretch on, Israel’s longing for Messiah—for ruler and deliverer—intensifies:
Our enemy, our captor, is no Pharaoh on the Nile,
Our toil is neither mud nor brick nor sand.
Our ankles bear no calluses from chains yet, Lord, we’re bound.
Imprisoned here we dwell in our own land.
Deliver us, deliver us, O Yahweh, hear our cry
And gather us beneath your wings tonight.
Our sins they are more numerous than all the lambs we slay.
Our shackles, they were made with our own hands.
Our toil is our atonement and our freedom yours to give.
So, Yahweh, break this silence if you can.
And at the end of this song, we catch a glimpse of Yahweh’s longing that mirrors Israel’s:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I have longed
To gather you beneath my gentle wings.
I think that what I like so much about this first portion of the album is the desperation and the honest treatment of pain in the lives of God’s people. Most Christmas music is festive, happy, celebratory. These songs revel in the pleasures of sleigh rides and jingle bells, marvel over a child in a manger, and paint pictures of angelic choirs filling the sky with their brilliance and good news. And this is good! God becoming human is remarkable and worthy of every praise we can muster!
Also, sometimes life is hard. And it’s comforting to find a collection of songs that doesn’t gloss over that. It’s been a rough year for me and some of my close friends. As a community we’ve dealt with loneliness, burnout, many miscarriages, work and financial uncertainties, death. And it’s been a rough year for our country and our world. It’s nearly impossible to log onto Facebook without seeing some fight break out over whether we’re destroying our planet, or whether refugees and immigrants are coming here as terrorists and/or freeloaders, or whether members of the LGBT community are abominations, or whether racism is still a thing, or whether this religion or people group or political party or fill-in-the-blank is offending me or challenging my rights, or . . .
Deliver us, deliver us, O Yahweh, hear our cry
And gather us beneath your wings tonight.
I love that in this album, there is longing and deliverance, sorrow and praise. Because the centuries of slavery, imperfect leaders, exile, and growing distance from God made the arrival of the Messiah that much more powerful and miraculous.
As the story continues to unfold, we get a review of Christ’s lineage through a playful little song called Matthew’s Begats. You know, Abraham begat Isaac who begat Jacob and so on? Kind of a brilliant song, if you ask me, and unlike any other Christmas song I’ve heard! We then meet Joseph and Mary and follow them to Bethlehem. We hear Mary’s pained cries and see her and Joseph in a non-glamorous and far more realistic birth scene: in a cold, unclean stable, with “blood on the ground,” “tears upon her face,” and “no mother’s hand to hold.” We join the shepherds in marveling at the angels’ proclamation that the Savior—this king from David’s line, this long-awaited Messiah—has arrived! We join in the angels’ unfettered hallelujahs, then slip quietly back to the stable for the ballad that serves as the climax for this story that has taken centuries to unfold.
Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away our sin.
Behold the Lamb of God, the life and light of men.
Behold the Lamb of God, who died and rose again.
Behold the Lamb of God, who comes to take away our sin.
There’s a celebratory reprise of the album’s opening song, calling us to “sing out with joy for the brave little boy, who was God but made himself nothing,” followed by a no-frills recording of the simple chorus of O Come All Ye Faithful. And then tucked away at the very end of the CD is a recording of Andrew Peterson’s little boys singing a song that many of us learned as kids: “Our God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do.”
I always assumed Peterson threw that in there because he wanted to show off his sons’ cuteness. And maybe that was part of his motivation. But if you think about it, the song actually fits pretty well. Because our God is so big! Our God is mighty enough to do crazy things like delivering an entire nation out of slavery, bringing them priests and prophets to facilitate relationship, sharing their griefs, fiercely pursuing a fickle bride, and dwelling among us as a baby, then a kid, then a man who overturned social and religious norms and demonstrated his power by choosing humble sacrifice over political and military prowess.
Indeed, there is nothing our God cannot do.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

All quotations taken from various songs on Behold the Lamb of God by Andrew Peterson, originally released in 2004.