As the leaves start changing colors, as you feel a nip in the early morning air, you know it is time to gear up for the best time of the year. Soon it is time for Christmas shopping, house decorating, party planning and the list goes on. Suddenly everybody seems busy, excited and happy. Festivals are meant to make people happy, after all. The word itself is derived from Latin: “Festivus” meaning happiness. However, for some, who has to stay away from home, the festive season makes them even more lonesome. The chilly wintry nights sometimes do not mean cozy gathering of friends and family for dinner. Don’t spend it watching television and having Chinese take-out. Being an expatriate has its pros and cons. Few know it better that me, having been an expat in over three cities in three different continents over the last three years. I have some ideas for you – something I call the “Lone Christmas Rituals”.
Bake a storm
If cooking an entire meal seems daunting or unappealing, bake some Christmas goodies. The best thing about baking is you can spend a a decent amount of time doing it and it invariably makes you happy at the end of it. If your efforts turn out good, share it with the lucky person next door (or across the street). If not, well, I never found a mixture of sugar, eggs and butter taste bad ever! If you are willing to do more, cook some Christmas casserole or special breads. Play some Christmas carols on the stereo, close your eyes and take the first bite. Check out for our favourite baking recipe this winter at the end of the post.
Unhang those boots
It always pays to be close to nature. If you are close a ski destination, pack a small picnic lunch and go to the slopes to spend your day here. If you are a novice, you might get help from fellow skiers. If skiing is not an option, look for an off-mainstream hiking trail that you can follow. You can even go for a one-day road trip.
If you are in the southern hemisphere, options are galore. Go cycling, surfing if you are near a beach, or just a swim. Most cities put up ice skating rinks and you can rent skating shoes. Even if you have never done this before, it will be a lot of fun. Rinks are usually full of first-timers. You will get many helping hands to help you stand up, if you fall. Have a water body nearby? Rent out a boat!
Capture moments off the streets
.. In the evening take a stroll around the streets. This provides a great opportunity to take some lovely shots. The Christmas lights illuminating the streets or the decorated store windows will provide great photo opportunities. Every city has its own share of areas that are best decorated. Find out which streets or neighbourhoods have the best decorations and shoot to your heart’s content. The best part is if you happen to take a stellar picture, you can convert it to personalized Christmas cards. A lovely and unique way to wish your near and dear ones. RELATED: Learn from the masters: 30 years of photographing New York – through 80’s Bronx, fashion and Hip Hop revolutions Interview: Film, Street and Candid photography since 1970 – with Robert Herman Urban romance: 30 years of photographing intimate couples and life on the streets of New York City
Be a Santa Claus
.. Remember the old tale, how St. Nicolas saved three girls from becoming prostitutes, when he secretly left 3 bags of gold for their father? Well you don’t have to be that generous, but you can still do your share. There are several charitable organizations all across the world where you can make your donation. It does not have to be a big amount, you can even buy a small toy and donate it for underprivileged children. It is the gesture that matters. More than money they actually need love and companionship. If you are up to it, you can spend an entire day with these children, read them stories, sing Christmas carols, play games, share some cookies.
Recipe: Old World Poppy Seed Roll
.. For the baking recipe, here at mygola, we are huge fans of home-baked bread. Tender, soft, sweet yeast bread swirled with a creamy homemade poppy seed filling. Growing up, my mother and aunts always made this Eastern European bread for Easter and Christmas. Looks complicated but is easy enough to make for an old-world treat. I like it best after the second day. Original recipe makes 2 filled loavesChange Servings 1/2 pound poppy seeds 3/4 cup white sugar 1 tablespoon butter, melted 1 teaspoon lemon juice 1/2 cup hot milk 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast 1/2 cup warm water (100 degrees F/38 degrees C) 2 tablespoons white sugar 2 cups all-purpose flour, or more if needed 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 cup butter 1 egg, separated – white reserved Check All Add to Shopping List
- Place poppy seeds into a food processor and process until seeds are ground, about 1 minute.
- Mix poppy seeds with 3/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon melted butter, lemon juice, and hot milk in a bowl; stir to combine. Cover poppy seed filling and refrigerate while making bread (filling will set up and thicken as it chills).
- Mix yeast with water and 2 tablespoons sugar in a small bowl. Allow to stand until the yeast forms a creamy layer.
- Whisk flour with salt in a bowl; use a pastry cutter to cut 1/4 cup butter into the flour mixture until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
- Pour yeast mixture and egg yolk into flour mixture and stir to make a soft dough.
- Turn dough out onto a floured work surface and knead until smooth and slightly springy, about 5 minutes. If dough is too sticky, knead in more flour, about 2 tablespoons at a time.
- Cut dough into 2 equal pieces. Roll each piece out into a 12×16-inch rectangle.
- Spread half the poppy seed filling over each rectangle, leaving a 1-inch border. Fold the 1-inch border back over the filling on all sides and press down.
- Pick up the shorter side of a dough rectangle and roll it like a jelly roll; repeat with second rectangle. Pinch ends together or tuck ends under to prevent filling from leaking out.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; place rolls seam sides down on the baking sheet and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
- Beat egg white in a bowl until frothy; brush the rolls with beaten egg white.
- Bake in preheated oven until dark golden brown on top, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven and cover rolls with a clean kitchen towel until cool to keep crust soft. Cool completely before slicing.