Friday, November 26, 2010

Gilly’s Christmas Playlist ’10 -- Track 1

Really, How Should We Celebrate Christmas?

Why and how do we celebrate Christmas? Each year, how do we acknowledge the unprecedented notion of love and connection that a God would step down from the sky into human flesh to help His people?

We all have an answer, sometimes a proud one, and the answers are very diverse. Even in a society that has long allowed workers and students to stay home to celebrate this certain holiday, there is deep disagreement on the basic questions of how and why. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be, for example, bumper stickers that read “Keep Christ in Christmas.”

Last year, the musical fad was Andrea Boccelli, as he brought his rich voice to a very unoriginal yet gaudy production of Christmas carols, from the poetic meditations on Christ’s birth (which few understand or appreciate) to shallow and playful songs like “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” which he sang on PBS while surrounded by a bunch cute winter-bundled lip-syncing kids with braces.

More interesting last year was the seeming assault on the staunch materialism of Christmas in our society. I was then involved in a church plant, for example, which was going through the materials of Advent Conspiracy, an international movement looking to restore Christmas again to be “world-changing,” challenging the materialism and stinginess of typical Christmas giving and encouraging Christians to give compassionately as Christ (in his birth, life and essence) would give: to the poor and needy (in all forms of the words).

This idea was not limited to the church. Starbucks gave an increasing portion of their proceeds to help the AIDS crisis in Africa, and gave a free CD with any purchase of $15 or more. Talk show host Stephen Colbert wrote and performed “Another Christmas Song,” lyrics of which are a brash parody against how the commercialization of Christmas has jumbled or ignored its history and tradition and even blinded us to the Tiny Tim’s of the world. The bridge reads:

“Young ones starving on a dead-end street
Taped up tabloids on their frost-bit feet
Hear what they carol as they huddle for heat”

I think this theme (rightfully) should somewhat return this year.

In our strive to be like Jesus, if we were to model our celebration of Christmas based on the original event, the beginning of Christ’s physical presence on earth, what would it look like?

We’ll go further next week.


“The Wexford Carol” - Yo-yo Ma & Allison Krauss

I actually found this song two years ago from a “free iTunes pick” redeemable card. Ma uses his well-recognized cello skills to achieve a Uillean pipe-like tone, along with some guest instruments, to bring the tune back to its Celtic roots. Allison Krauss steps out of her typical folk and country self and brings her substantive straight tone to the table. The lyrics are a poetic delivery of the narrative of the Christmas story, and they open with a seeming call to worship for any Christmas season:

"Good people all, this Christmas time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done,
In sending His belov├Ęd Son."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ode to Chai

I haven't yet sent an application to The Food Network, but my primary (actually, only) area of (remote) connoisseurship is that of the chai tea latte. In the past half-dozen years, it's risen from a mere curiosity to my first-choice purchase at a coffeeshop, should they have it . . .

Living on a college dorm floor that was brimming with proud traditions, I was first introduced to chai in a little live music and coffeehouse setting on my floor known as Chai Lounge. It was in raw teabag form, black, hot and homemade, and very disgusting. Still, under peer pressure and wanting to honor my dorm floor's tradition, I forced myself to finish the whole cup.

It was actually because of the working man's need for caffeine that I further acquainted myself with the chai tea latte. With few exceptions, I don't acquire taste, which is why I struggle to gulp all forms of alcohol and coffee (yes, even after working at Starbucks for three years). Nonetheless, I needed a source of caffeine to energize myself for those 4am shifts at Starbucks and to prevent the headaches that would likely follow. Chai tea lattes to the rescue.

I prefer my chais with a complementary flavoring. Cinnamon, caramel and nutmeg help to make the chai concentrate, so additional flavoring would accentuate. Peppermint and toffeenut do well to tag along with chai's little tang, whereas vanilla, hazelnut and white chocolate tend to over-sweeten. Chocolate and coconut are love-it-or-hate-it, and fruit syrups or juice blends have never worked for me.

Stores vary greatly on how many or few options for chai are available. Tea bag? Latte (with tea bag or concentrate)? Blended with ice? Mixed with fruit juice? Unsweetened or only sweetened? I've yet to go to many stores, but I've been to a few. Here are some reviews:

Starbucks arguably has dominated the tea market among chain coffeeshops, primarily due to their business with the popular tea manufacturer, Tazo. Also, being my longtime employer, I've had a lot of exposure to their chai. It seems that the non-resale concentrate Tazo delivers to Starbucks is better than any other chai Tazo produces (e.g. the concentrate available in boxes at Barnes & Noble). It has become my standard for the right balance of sweetness and tang in the taste of a chai tea latte.

Caribou, for those unfamiliar, is growing chain of coffeehouses based in the Minneapolis metro and expanding to the Midwest and West. Their appeal is their more laid-back atmosphere and lodge-themed and serene interior design, contrary to the trend where quiet and peaceful coffeehouses become quick, loud, come-and-go fast-food joints. I find their chai a bit disappointing, however.

Below is a growing list of places where I've had a chai tea latte. Reviews are available upon request, as rare as requests may be. Operators are half-heartedly standing by.

Atrium Tea Room (Sheboygan Falls, WI)
Daydream Cafe (Sheboygan Falls, WI)
American Club place (Kohler, WI)
Weather Center (Sheboygan, WI)
Panera (national chain)
Chocolate Chicken (Egg Harbor, WI)
Brew-Ha-Ha! (regional chain, DE)
South Bend Chocolate Company (South Bend, IN)