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Merry Christmas from us :)


A Christmas Message

A very special Christmas message from Chris & the gang at ASJ Publishing


Christmas 2009

Christmas 2009.

What a year this has been. This year has seen many ups and downs for this writer. Unfortunately, it does seem that there have been more downs than ups, but that is life, and we live and learn from the experiences and teach others the things we have learned.

This journey of mine, as a writer, has seen many accomplishments, and has in itself, taken many turns into new and previously unchartered waters. Waters, that I had never thought possible even for me.

But these tides that I have gone through have seen countless blessings, both small and great. And while the experiences of these has been a blessings, there also comes a new level of self-awareness and responsibility. Not only for me as an individual, but also as a person in the public eye.

I have got to meet some new friends in my trek, both in person and online, and I hoped I have inspired some people along the way.

No other joy can be compared though to the birth of a child. One dream that had eluded me for a great many years. But, all is in Gods timing, and that timing came about on May 12th of this year when our house was blessed with a son, David Lindley.

Of course, there have been many hurdles along the way of being a parent, but that joy remains as I know in my heart that I write because of my family. They are a great inspiration.

As I reflect on this Christmas, I am reminded that although it is traditionally thought of a time for receiving, I would like to reflect for a moment on one thing. On this day, a Saviour was born. To some He may mean a religious icon that we worship twice a year, for some maybe not at all, and for others, a way of life. It is a time of remembrance and giving. A time for sharing, a time for reflection, a time for celebrating.

However you decide to spend this Christmas, whether you spend it with family, your friends, your distant relative you see once a year, your co-workers, your neighbors cat…. Just remember this:

Drink Responsibly, Be thankful for this time when we can fellowship with family, friends, loved ones, and even those you may not like.

If I can encourage anyone this day, I would like to encourage you to do one thing for one person. Whether that person has a dream or is in need this season. Give to someone and make this Christmas a blessing for them. They can be anyone, a friend, a stranger, a relative you have not talked to in many years.

One act of kindness this season can make a difference.

You may have heard this a million times already, but I want to encourage you to try it, then post your act of kindness on this wall.

Have a wonderful Christmas one and all.

C.A. Milson

Pumpkin Pie

Another Christmas has come and gone, and this year, I must say, has been really fantastic!

We started our Christmas a little early this year. Now, although in Western society it is common to exchange gifts on Christmas Day, here in Russia, the western tradition of Christmas on Dec 25th is not seen as a religious holiday, and for Russians, Dec 25th is a normal work day.

So as mama goes to her regular job at the kindergarden before the sun rises each morning, we decided to do our gift giving last night.

Without going into details of who got what, I will just say this: That last night was the best Christmas Eve I have had in some years.

Now getting onto the food, which is everyone’s favorite. Without a doubt, the Christmas celebration (or as my sister calls it “Festival Of  The Feasts“),  is about the one time of year when one can get together with family and friends and eat them out of house and home)  🙂

Yesterday, we started the food preparation later in the day. I started with my famous Pork Roast. Now, I will say here that finding a market that sells pork with the crackle on it (the skin) is really hard to come by, just as it in the US. (I guess this brilliant idea comes courtesy of the Heart Foundation). But in my opinion, the crackle is one of the best parts of having a roast pork to begin with. Not only is the crackle good to eat (if done right), but it also seals in the natural flavor and juices of the meat.

Okay, so my famous pork roast is a trade secret, and I wont give away any details on what I use in the preparation, but to give you all a hint, I use around a dozen secret herbs, spices and sauces in my recipe 🙂 Needless to say, the end result is nothing short of spectacular (not my words, but the words of everyone who has had the fun of trying my home cooking)

Now comes the gravy. Gravy is not a big thing here in Russia, but this year it was part of our new tradition.

To make the gravy I use the juices from the roast. Pour this into a pan and bring it to the boil over a low heat. Mix some flour and water and add this to the gravy, stirring continuously until done. Add salt to taste, but really you don’t need any extras if you have done this right.

Now comes the part which we all love. The Pumpkin Pie. This is my own recipe so try it and see if yours turns out the same.

Although some online recipes tell you to use molasses or a cream substitute, I came up with this brilliance when I discovered that here in Russia such items are pretty much non-existant.

Pre-heat your oven to 220 degrees.

BASE: For the base lets start with the basics:
250 grams plain flour
4 large eggs
60 ml cold water
125 grams unsalted butter
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Blend ingredients until you have a thick batter. Batter is properly mixed when it has a thick texture. Spread evenly in a pie dish and put in fridge for about an hour. (or put in freezer for half an hour). (This will let the base give a firmer texture and easier for your baking).

Next, lets go onto the filling. What I use here is:
1 large pumpkin
3 large eggs
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon vanilla sugar

Cut the pumpkin into small pieces and place in a large pot. Boil pumpkin until tender. Once tender, take off heat and allow to cool. Next, peel the pumpkin and put into a blender. Add eggs, sweetened condensed milk, cinnamon, ginger and vanilla sugar. Whisk until well blended and thick.

Next up, pour the puree evenly over the pie crust until you have a thick layer. Place in oven. Cook for approx 30 minutes until done. Pie will be done when you can stick a knife in the center and it comes out clean.

Serve with instant whipped cream.


Russian Christmas

In Russia, Festival of Winter is celebrated instead of the religious festival of Christmas but still Christmas lingers in some parts of the country. Traditional Russian Christmas involves special prayers and a fast of 39 days til the first star appears in the sky on Christmas Eve (which falls on 6th of January in Russia). Thirteen days after Western Christmas, on January 7th, the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates its Christmas, in accordance with the old Julian calendar. It’s a day of both solemn ritual and joyous celebration.

After the 1917 Revolution, Christmas was banned throughout Russia, along with other religious celebrations. It wasn’t until 75 years later, in 1992, that the holiday was openly observed. Today, it’s once again celebrated in grand fashion, with the faithful participating in an all-night Mass in incense-filled Cathedrals amidst the company of the painted icons of Saints.

Christmas is one of the most joyous traditions for the celebration of Eve comes from the Russian tradition. On the Eve of Christmas, it is traditional for all family members to gather to share a special meal. The various foods and customs surrounding this meal differed in Holy Russia from village to village and from family to family, but certain aspects remained the same.

An old Russian tradition, whose roots are in the Orthodox faith, is the Christmas Eve fast and meal. The fast, typically, lasts until after the evening worship service or until the first star appears. The dinner that follows is very much a celebration, although, meat is not permitted. Kutya (kutia), a type of porridge, is the primary dish. It is very symbolic with its ingredients being various grains for hope and honey and poppy seed for happiness and peace.

Once the first star has appeared in the sky, the festivities begin. Although all of the food served is strictly Lenten, it is served in an unusually festive and anticipatory manner and style. The Russians call this meal: “The Holy Supper.” The family gathers around the table to honor the coming Christ Child. A white table-cloth, symbolic of Christ’s swaddling clothes, covers the Table. Hay is brought forth as a reminder of the poverty of the Cave where Jesus was born. A tall white candle is place in the center of the Table, symbolic of Christ “the Light of the World.” A large round loaf of Lenten bread, “pagach,” symbolic of Christ the Bread of Life, is placed next to the Candle.

The meal begins with the Lord’s Prayer, led by the father of the family. A prayer of thanksgiving for all the blessings of the past year is said and then prayers for the good things in the coming year are offered. The head of the family greets those present with the traditional Christmas greeting: “Christ is Born!” The family members respond: “Glorify Him!” The Mother of the family blesses each person present with honey in the form of a cross on each forehead, saying: “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, may you have sweetness and many good things in life and in the new year.” Following this, everyone partakes of the bread, dipping it first in honey and then in chopped garlic. Honey is symbolic of the sweetness of life, and garlic of the bitterness. The “Holy Supper” is then eaten. After dinner, no dishes are washed and the Christmas presents are opened. Then the family goes to Church, coming home between 2 and 3 am. On the Feast of the Nativity, neighbors and family members visit each other, going from house to house , eating, drinking and singing Christmas Carols all the day long.

The “Holy Supper”

Christmas Eve dinner is meatless but festive. The most important ingredient is a special porridge called kutya. It is made of wheatberries or other grains which symbolize hope and immortality, and honey and poppy seeds which ensure happiness, success, and untroubled rest. A ceremony involving the blessing of the home is frequently observed. The kutya is eaten from a common dish to symbolize unity. Some families used to throw a spoonful of kutya up to the ceiling. According to tradition, if the kutya stuck, there would be a plentiful honey harvest.

Traditionally, the “Holy Supper” consists of 12 different foods, symbolic of the 12 Apostles. Although there was some variation the twelve foods are:

1) Mushroom soup with zaprashka; this is often replaced with Sauerkraut soup
2) Lenten bread (“pagach”)
3) Grated garlic
4) Bowl of honey
5) Baked cod
6) Fresh Apricots, Oranges, Figs and Dates
7) Nuts
8) Kidney beans (slow cooked all day) seasoned with shredded potatoes, lots of garlic, salt and pepper to taste
9) Peas
10) Parsley Potatoes (boiled new potatoes with chopped parsley and margarine)
11) Bobal’ki (small biscuits combined with sauerkraut or poppyseed with honey)
12) Red Wine

It was once common practice, on Christmas Eve, for groups of people masquerading as manger animals to travel from house to house, having themselves a rousing good time, and singing songs known as kolyadki . Some kolyadki were pastoral carols to the baby Jesus, while others were homages to the ancient solar goddess Kolyada, who brings the lengthening days of sunlight through the winter. In return for their songs, the singers were offered food and coins, which they gladly accepted, moving on to the next home.

Ded Moroz and Yolka

The origin of Santa Claus is in St. Nicholas. He was born in Asia Minor at at the Greco-Roman city of of Myra in the province of Lycia, at a time when the region was entirely Greek in origin. Due to the suppression of religion during the Soviet regime, St. Nicholas was replaced by Ded Moroz or Grandfather Frost, the Russian Spirit of Winter who brought gifts on New Year’s. He is accompanied by Snyegurochka, the Snowmaiden, who helps distribute the gifts.

The Christmas tree (Yolka) is yet another tradition banned during the Soviet era.To keep the custom alive, people decorated New Year’s trees, instead. Since ornaments were either very costly or unavailable, family trees were trimmed with homemade decorations and fruit. Yolka comes from the word which refers to a fir tree. The custom of decorating Christmas trees was introduced to Russia by Peter the Great, after he visited Europe during the 1700’s.

Why January 7?

In ancient times, many, mostly unreliable methods had been used to calculate the dates according to either the lunar or solar cycles. By Roman times, the calendar had become three months out with the seasons, so in 46 BC, Julius Caesar commissioned the astronomer, Sosigenes to devise a more reliable method. This, we know as the Julian Calendar and was used widely for 1500 years. The month of his birth, Caesar had named Quintilis, but the Roman Senate later re-named it Julius (July) in his honour. In those days, February had 30 days every 4 years.

However, this calendar was still 11 minutes and 14 seconds longer than the solar year, so that by the year 1580, the calendar had accumulated 10 days off again. In 1582, therefore, Pope Gregory XIII corrected the difference between the sun and calendar by ordering 10 days dropped from October, the month with the least Roman Catholic Feast days. His calendar, we know as the Gregorian Calendar, which is used in almost all of the world today. Pope Gregory made further changes to keep the calendar in line, which on average is only 26.3 seconds longer than the solar year. The Gregorian Calendar is so accurate that it will take until the year 4316 to gain a whole day on the sun.

That year, 1582, October 5th became October 15th and was immediately adopted in most Roman Catholic nations of Europe. Various German states kept the Julian Calendar until 1700. Britain and the American Colonies didn’t change until 1752, but Russia and Turkey did not adopt the Gregorian Calendar until the early 1900’s.

January 7th by the Georgian Calendar would have been December 25th by the old Julian Calendar and is therefore why it is still Christmas Day for the Russian Orthodox Church. Many Russians will have celebrated along with the rest of us and will then celebrate again on the Orthodox date.

New Year Eve instead of Christmas

When the communists took power in 1917 they banned the open expression of religion. While it was easy to pray at home, the Russian people were concerned about giving up their traditional Christmas celebration.

The New Year’s holiday tradition was re-invented to include a decorated tree, and introduced a character called “Grandfather Frost.” Known as “Ded Moroz,” Grandfather Frost looked very much like the western “Santa Claus” or “Pere Noel”

Ded Moroz was a character that existed in the pagan culture, centuries earlier. For a time, Christmas was all but forgotten. In fact, it was generally celebrated only in small villages, where the citizenry was far from the prying eyes of the Party.

Today, Christmas is celebrated again, on January 7. But, to date, New Year’s remains the bigger event.

An Australian Christmas

For people in the Northern Hemisphere, Christmas is all about cold mornings, large hot lunches, and snow. In Australia, Christmas is celebrated during the summer months with no snow and log fires for us! For Australians it’s about sun, the beach, and often inappropriate large hot lunches, though our Christmas Cards and traditions usually depict those of colder climates. Australians have Christmas Trees, Father Christmas, Christmas Carols and gifts which are a familiar Christmas scenario.

For the majority of Australians, Christmas Downunder experiences all the seasonal variations of a Summer Down Under…..electrical storms, floods, hailstorms, cyclones and bushfires. But 80% of the time they are blessed with blue skies and depending on the Australian location, temperatures ranging from 25 – 34 degrees centigrade.

Australia is a multicultural country and with this, the traditions we have are often mingled and derived from a mixture of other countries. Australia, although huge in size, has a population of just over 20 million people. Our country is a harmonious mix of many ethnic groups. Our backgrounds are very varied, with people having connections with England, Scotland, Ireland, Northern Europe, Russia, Italy, Greece, Spain, France, Middle East, Vietnam, China, Japan, Thailand as well as North and South America. So you can imagine that each of these national groups brings the colour ,customs and festive rituals of the Christmas celebrated in their respective homelands. Australians are able to appreciate culturally diverse Christmas celebrations.

House decorations in Australia are not usually as elaborate as in the United States, although there are plenty of decorations and symbols, and even a few wreaths. Because it is warm weather, there are many native plants in bloom. These are easily picked for decoration around the holiday season – orchids, Christmas bells, and the like are common.

Christmas is special to the majority of Australians for it is their Summer Holiday season and students especially are “wrapping” up their school year. That means sitting for end of Semester tests or exams and waiting for their results, as well as getting ready for the Summer Holidays. For the majority of Australian students this means …SUN….SURF….SHOPPING. For students it means an end to homework and school studies and the beginning of lots of time for family, relatives and “mates” (friends).

Traditional dinners have been replaced with family gatherings in back yards, picnics in parks, gardens and on the beach. For many, it is the occasion to be with friends and relatives, to share love and friendship and not to forget, the exchange of gifts in the traditional manner. For many, it is a time to enjoy and consume massive quantities of food.

So how do we REALLY celebrate Christmas? Christmas for childen means presents, and lots of them! When I was a child, traditionally in the weeks leading up to Christmas, we would decorate the house with tinsel, Christmas lights, and a large plastic Christmas tree would adorn our front entrance. Christmas was an exciting time of year. Next to Easter and my birthday, it was my favorite time of year! 🙂

Every Christmas Eve, I would put a “Christmas pillowslip” (stocking) at the end of the bed and try to stay awake to wait anxiously for Santa Claus to arrive. Of course, I always fell asleep and never saw Santa arrive, but when I awoke in the morning, my pillowslip was filled with toys and goodies of all kinds. Each year was as exciting as the previous. I would throw off my bedsheets and open my presents from Santa while everyone else in the house slept.

In more recent years, I had the pleasure of spending Christmas with my sister in New Zealand. Although we had forgone the traditions we experienced as children, we still decorated the house with Christmas lights and various other decorations, and on Christmas morning we would sit around the Christmas tree and exchange presents we bought for each other. Of course, there was always one of us who would dress up like Santa and give out more gifts, which added to the magic that is otherwise “Christmas”.

In my sister’s house, the usual Christmas Lunch consisted of roast pork, roast turkey, roast potatoes, pumpkin and other hot vegetables as well as salad, cold ham, cold chicken. The traditional Christmas meal may either be taken in the middle of the day which is the hottest part of the day or in the cooler evening hours. With some families opting for a celebration meal as dinner on Christmas eve. In some households, Christmas Dinner may be a barbeque in the backyard or a picnic on a beach. The evening meal is leftovers from lunch.

Currently everyone is beginning to get ready for the “silly season“. Everyone is busily planning Christmas break-up parties. Children are writing letters to Santa Claus. Decorations are being bought and set up. Shopping centres and malls are experiencing record breaking crowds. In homes, many of the traditional Christmas rituals are being followed. Many children are helping to decorate the family Christmas tree. Australians have yet to follow the American ritual of getting “real” Christmas trees……though some do use gum tree branches. Children are learning Christmas Carols so that they may be sung at festive occasions such as public “Carols by Candlelight” and school concerts. Christmas stockings are being hung in homes….though fireplaces are in short supply. Cards galore are being written and posted. Everyone awaits…….the anticipation is high!

It must also be mentioned that Australians consider Christmas a time for remembering the true meaning of Christmas………a time for remembering the birth of Jesus and the spiritual meaning of Christmas. For many, Christmas will begin with families attending a midnight mass. 70% of Australians are either Catholic, Anglican or Lutheran. After the midnight Mass, a little sleep is attempted. For many, the children in various households, wake up the family at dawn. Gifts are unwrapped and the joy of Christmas begins. For many with relatives and friends overseas, it is a mad scramble to get an early phone call to relatives worldwide.

In order to celebrate an Australian Christmas in your house this year, consider displaying a map of Australia on the wall. Use an Australian animal, like a kangaroo or koala, as the gift or favor of choice for your guests. Create a beautiful tree with wooden decorations, tinsel or garland, and the fairy, angel or star on the top. Serve up a picnic instead of dinner, with champagne and pavlova, (a meringue dessert that is topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit). Or if you choose to serve traditional Christmas plum pudding, offer ice cream or cream on the side. The Christmas pudding during Australian gold rushes often contained a gold nugget; the lucky person who found it was considered to be blessed with good luck for the coming year. These days the gold nugget is replaced with small favors; consider adding these to your pudding.

This year will be my first Christmas in Russia, so although I will be celebrating the traditional Orthodox Christmas with my family, I will also be bringing a little bit of Australiana to Russia with celebrating Christmas “Aussie” style, with lots of decorations, roast pork, roast chicken, roast vegetables, salad, and not to forget, lots of presents for my family!  🙂

Happy Holidays everyone!

C.A. Milson

Australian Recipe: Pavlova

The Pavolova was first created in 1935 by Chef Herbert Sachse of the Hotel Esplanade in Perth, Western Australia, to celebrate the visit of the great Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova.

4 egg whites
1 cup superfine sugar (granulated)
1 tablespoon corn flour (cornstarch)
half pint whipped cream (one cup)
strawberries or your choice of fruit such as passion fruit, kiwi fruit…

Place egg whites in a clean glass bowl. Beat slowly until frothy, then increase the speed and beat until stiff.

GRADUALLY add the sugar, beating well after each addition. (When all the sugar has been added, the mixture should be shiny, very stiff, and should stand in peaks.) Gently fold in the corn flour with a metal spoon.

Line a cookie sheet with brown paper and grease it lightly. Pile the meringue mixture on it

Slow-bake the mixture at 150°C (300°F) to dry all the moisture and create the meringue, approximately 45 minutes. This leaves the outside of the Pav a crisp crunchy shell, while the interior remains soft and moist.

When cooked, turn off the oven and leave the door open to let the Pav cool on the oven shelf – this helps to prevent the middle of the Pav from collapsing (although if it does collapse, generous application of cream hides any mistakes)

When cold, peel off the paper and transfer to a serving platter.

Slice the strawberries in half. and roll in icing sugar (confectioners sugar), and refrigerate.

Cover top of the Pav with whipped cream about 1 hour before serving.

N.B. Turn the Pav upside down before decorating with cream and fruit because the bottom is less crispy than the top after cooking and, unless you serve it immediately after decorating, the “top” absorbs moisture from the cream.

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