Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Favorite Holiday Recipes by Margot Justes

In many of my baking recipes you will detect an underlying theme-rum-the wonderful aroma of rum adds a festive touch to the baking process, and Myers’s is an excellent dark rum.

½ cup of butter (1 stick)
1 large can of evaporated milk
2 oz bitter chocolate (I only use Ghirardelli chocolate)
12 oz semi sweet or dark chocolate chips (I use dark chocolate 70% or higher)
2 lbs sugar (4 ½ cups)
12 oz dark chocolate
½ lb marshmallows
1 ½ tbsp Vanilla
1 cup of chopped walnuts (I use 2 cups)
1 cup of raisins (I soak mine in dark rum overnight, and mix the rum and the raisins.

Combine butter, canned milk and sugar, stir over medium heat until sugar is dissolved, cook to a boil, about 5 minutes.

Turn off heat and add marshmallows, stir until melted, add the 3 types of chocolate, one at a time, stir until each is dissolved. Add vanilla and nuts, raisins with rum and stir.

Line a cookie sheet with saran wrap, extending the edges; pour the fudge into the cookie pan, spread evenly with knife or spatula.

Let dry for 2 days. Invert the fudge unto your counter, remove saran wrap and let dry for another 2 days. Cut into squares and serve.

This recipe makes quite a bit of fudge, I cut it all up and store in a sealed plastic bag, or tin. My family loves the fudge; usually it doesn’t last very long. Makes a great gift too.
Banana-Nut-Rum Bread
½ cup cooking oil
1 cup sugar
2 eggs-beaten
4 or 5 ripe bananas-mashed
2 cups Flour (I use whole wheat)
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup chopped nuts
1 cup of chocolate chips
1 cup of raisins (I soak mine in rum overnight)

Beat oil and sugar together. Add the beaten eggs and banana pulp and beat well. Add the dry ingredients, milk and vanilla. Mix well and stir in nuts, raisins with rum, and chocolate chips. Pour into greased and floured loaf pan (9 x 5 x 3) I use lasagna pan, cooks more evenly.

Bake in preheated oven at 350 F for about an hour. Cool well before cutting.

Rum Balls
2 1/2 cups Vanilla Wafers
5 1/2 cups ground walnuts
1 cup of honey
1 cup of rum
1 cup or as needed confectioner’s sugar
Mix all ingredients, form into small balls and roll in sugar. I usually let them sit on foil paper for a day or so and then arrange on platter. You may need to sprinkle them with additional powdered sugar.

Poppy Seed Cake
This one takes time, but if you like poppy seeds, you’ll love this coffee cake.
1 cup of milk
1 package of active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 cup of butter (2 sticks)
1/3 cup of sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
4 1/4 cups of flour
2 tsp vanilla

Scald milk, cool to a warm temp, add yeast and 1 tsp sugar; stir to dissolve yeast. Let stand for about 10 minutes. Yeast should puff up in the milk.
Cream butter, add 1/2 cup of sugar, beat in eggs and salt. Add flour alternating with yeast mixture. Knead on floured surface. Place in greased bowl and cover. Let rise until doubled.
Cut dough in half and roll it out the length of your cookie sheet, spread the poppy seed filling and form into a log, sealing the ends. Put on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  The two rolls should fit on cookie sheet. Repeat with the second batch of dough.

Poppy Seed Filling (double the recipe for the two cakes)
1 can of poppy seed filling (I use Solo)
Rind of 1 lemon
3/4 cup of chopped walnuts
11/2 tsp vanilla
3/4 raisins
Mix all ingredients and spread on rolled out dough.
1 egg slightly beaten and 1 tsp of water; mix egg and water and brush on cakes.
Let the cakes rise for a couple of hours, brush again with egg mixture, and then put in pre-heated oven at 350F and bake for an hour. Cool and enjoy.

Hot Chocolate
This is my version, with extra dark chocolate.
1 8 oz glass of milk, I use skim. (I conserve calories wherever I can...she wrote laughingly)
1 Tablespoon dark unsweetened Ghirardelli cocoa (I like the unsweetened cocoa, the flavor is much stronger)
4 squares Ghirardelli 72% dark or 2 tablespoons Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips

Heat milk and cocoa, make sure cocoa and milk are well blended, use a small wisk if necessary. When the milk is hot take 4 squares or 2 tablespoons of Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips (to taste) put it in and mix until completely melted. You can sprinkle a bit of shaved chocolate on top. Sweeten to taste, or add a few small marshmallows on top.  

You can of course use sugar or sweetened cocoa, but it's the good cocoa and dark chocolate that gives it the added richness. It is a delicious treat, and easy to make. 

I love hot cocoa, and use the Bialetti machine to speed the process up a little. It heats up and froths the milk at the same time. I even use it to froth a large quantity of milk for cappuccinos, and lattes.

These are among my favorite recipes during the holiday season that starts with Halloween and ends with the New Year.

I wish you much joy and peace.

Margot  Justes

Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Return to Rome by Margot Justes

It was a packed one day in Rome and my first transatlantic cruise,  time just didn’t allow for more. On this cruise we would stop in  Livorno, Italy-Cartagena  and 3 of the 7 Canary Islands in Spain, and Agadir, Morocco in Africa,  the final destination was Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

For the longest time I wanted to see the Borghese Galleries in Rome. Usually you have to book months in advance, but I was lucky. I walked through the beautiful gardens up to the Villa Borghese, and was told they were sold out. I must have really looked dejected, and the woman took pity on me and sent me downstairs to the ticket counter.  She told me sometimes they have returned tickets.

I did as I was told, and they had a couple of extra tickets if I was willing to wait three hours. Waiting was not a problem, first and foremost, the gardens are positively stunning and vast, there is a museum shop on the lower floor, along with a cafeteria that offered excellent coffee, and delicious paninis, I chose ham and cheese and it was yummy. 

The Borghese family arrived in Rome in the late 16th century, and the villa dates back to the early 17th Century.  There are two floors and twenty rooms filled to capacity, the collections is vast, it is one of those places that is so packed you don’t know where to look first, and it is overwhelming. I prefer galleries that aren’t quite so crowded. You will find works of Bernini, Correggio, Raphael, Rubens, Titian and Caravaggio to name just a few masterpieces exhibited.

The amazing collection is not to be missed, the self guided tours lasts 2 hours, and there is an audio option. The tours are staggered, and they only allow 350 visitors per tour; time and number of people are strictly controlled.

I came away inspired by the works of Bernini-he of the fountains of Rome fame-along with the magical fountains, he was a magnificent sculptor. The collection is massive and in reality for me, the two hours were enough.  There is just so much crammed into the available space, and the collection is so massive that I was on overload. I walked back to the hotel in the rain, and that wet breath of fresh air felt good.

I did make the most with my time in Rome. I walked through the Borghese Gardens and Galleries, I saw the finished renovation of the Bernini Fountain below the Spanish Steps, and had a delicious dinner-homemade pasta cooked al dente with porcini mushrooms and Parmesan Reggiano. It was a packed day and by the end I was exhausted, and slept like the proverbial baby.

The next morning the hotel provided a scrumptious buffet breakfast filled with various breads, sweet rolls, cakes, cheeses, hams, eggs and all the espressos and cappuccinos I could drink. My kind of breakfast.

There was an adventure I hadn’t anticipated. The driver picked me up from the hotel and off I went to the Civitavecchia Terminal, the Port of Rome. The driver stopped at the security gate at the terminal and had a lengthy conversation. I should have known something was wrong; the discussion at the security gate and the fact that I couldn’t see the ship should have given me a clue that not all was well. I didn’t even think twice about the rough waters lapping against the wall as we neared the port. I thought maybe we’ll have to be tendered because the ship was docked elsewhere.

The ship was indeed docked elsewhere, in a different location, and in fact in a totally different port in another city altogether. As the driver informed me-the seas were too rough and Civitavecchia is very rocky; the ships already there couldn’t get out, and new arrivals couldn’t get in. My ship was stuck in Naples.

There were buses lined up along the terminal, the passengers and the luggage were loaded on said buses and off we went on a three hour ride to Naples to board our ship.  Celebrity Cruises handled it really well, they provided water and snacks-heaven forbid you should be on a cruise and not have food.

Once we arrived in Naples, the check-in was relatively painless, and we were on our way, the first stop the next day was Livorno, Italy-the port for Pisa and Florence. I had high hopes of finally seeing Michelangelo’s David.

Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Blood Art
A Fire Within

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fresh Market by Margot Justes

A glorious Saturday morning, the temperature was mid 60’s, the sun was shining brightly, and I was finally able to visit the Fresh Market on King St. in Alexandria. An event that is held every Saturday, and is well worth a visit.

From the fall necessities like pumpkins and squashes, to vegetables and fruit. There were fresh breads, scones, jams and all the things you’d expect from the market, along with jewelry, local pottery, an author selling an illustrated children’s book, and artists.

One such artist, Len "Leonardo" Garon ( even graciously consented to be photographed with his work. A versatile painter his work includes landscapes, monuments and dogs, among other scenes. The award winning artist displays his work right in the market, but his work is in the art collection of the White House, as well as other galleries. He is well established and I love the fact that he participates in the local weekly event.

It is a delight to walk through the market, and I hope to go every Saturday if possible. There is a coffee stand, and a few steps away, fresh scones and rolls are available for a quick al- fresco snack. Further down the way, a local bakery was selling artisan breads that would make your mouth water. The best part, it is walking distance from the apartment.

I continued on to the waterfront, and heard the Umbrellas of Cherbourg being played. I tipped the musician, we chatted briefly, I told him I haven’t heard that melody in years and it brought back many memories for me. I walked away, and heard Under Paris Skies, of course I stayed and listened. It was indeed a perfect morning. I came back to the apartment and started writing.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks



Saturday, October 11, 2014

Fall by Margot Justes

The summer disappeared, and now it’s practically the middle of October, and I wonder where the time went. Then I realize, I put a house on the market, sold the house, packed, moved to another state and  spent three weeks in Europe in July-that is where my summer went.

Now fall is upon us, the leaves are slowly changing color, it’s cooler, rainy,  a bit foggy in places, and actually it’s my favorite time of the year because for me it is also the beginning of the holiday season.

Friends are coming to visit for a few days next week, and then we’ll drive to Myrtle Beach. I’ll be back in time to get ready for a trip to Rome and my first transatlantic cruise; the cruise starts in Rome and ends in Fort Lauderdale. I’m still celebrating my retirement last year.

There are unique stops on this cruise, I’ll visit Livorno, Italy, the port for Florence, Italy and it will be my first visit to Florence-to say I’m looking forward to it would be an understatement. The stops also include Cartagena, Spain, Agadir, Morocco, and the Canary Islands. Then seven days at sea, where I hope to make a real dent in A Hotel in Venice. I would love to finish the manuscript by the end of this year.

In the meantime I’m looking forward to seeing the fall colors in Virginia, and how the holidays are celebrated here. I’ve been told that Williamsburg is beautifully decorated for Christmas, and it’s only a two hour drive. I’m amazed how much there is to see in this part of the country, and it is all relatively close.  

This morning I finally took a look at the pictures from the July trip, and will share some with you. I plan on writing a few blogs about the places I visited. The one that stood out by far is Malta-I want to go back and spend some time there, a week or two would be perfect.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Alexandria by Margot Justes

I have not been consistent with my blogs-nothing new there-having settled in Alexandria, I love playing tourist-the history here is simply amazing, and there is much to see everywhere you turn, and as a result I have not focused on my writing. Recently I have had readers actually ask when A Hotel in Venice will be out, and that was my impetus to get back to work and plan my days. I’m a writer I actually need to write.

Until I find a place to live, whether a condo or a boat, I have settled in a one bedroom apartment, talk about downsizing-I had to think twice about buying toilet paper at Costco because there is so little storage in the apartment. What I do have is a big walk-in closet, and guess where the toilet paper went. I call it my little ‘black hole’ everything goes in there.

I absolutely love it. Alexandria is at once urban and suburban. Filled with history, a quaint and charming old town packed with restaurants, boutiques, antique shops,  historical buildings and tourists, a gorgeous water front, easy access to DC, just hop on the Metro and you’re there in 15 minutes, or take a water taxi and 20 minutes later you’re at the National Harbor, MD. The Alexandria Harbor also boasts a converted torpedo factory that now houses about 24 artists, their studios/galleries are open to the public free of charge. It is heavenly.

I thought I’d miss the suburban life, I spent many years raising my daughters in the ‘burbs’- now I find the vitality of urban life, the sound of cars and sirens, the Metro going by, construction- all exhilarating and life affirming. There is soul pulsing in this city.

The National Science Foundation is building its headquarters here, along with NSF, new condos and apartment buildings are rising fast to accommodate the influx of new blood.

In the meantime this last week progress has been made in my writing, and I’m actively looking for a place to live on a more permanent basis. That being said, I have a trip planned to Annapolis on Tuesday. I have read that it is quite a beautiful place to visit, and only about 45 minutes from here.

I’ll post a few pictures from the area, and you can see for yourself what a wondrous place it is.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks