The nights are getting colder as winter approaches and in the late afternoon gathering kindling has become an essential ritual for families in our neighbourhood.  Finca houses are modest dwellings, poorly-constructed, devoid of insulation and designed to stay cool.  Fireplaces offer the only source of heat and when evening temperatures hover around the freezing mark, country folk endure a bitter chill that seeps into cement or ceramic-tiled floors and lingers until noon the next day.  
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Keeping warm in Argentina is not like keeping warm in Canada, where  efficient central heating, fibreglass-insulated walls and roofs, and double-glazed windows create an effective barrier between indoors and out.   Our defence system here consists of handmade fabric "snakes" that plug drafty window wells and door cracks, heavy woollen shawls, thick slippers, hot water bottles and a goose down quilt for the bed.  When the sun sets behind the snow-capped Andes, we bundle up and hunker down.

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Kindling
While wood fires and comforters offer low-tech solutions for combatting the cold, I have discovered one high-tech device that is a lifesaver in this season.  Kindle!  The  new e-reader allows me to download books from Amazon.com in seconds at a reasonable cost, without requiring a computer.  My entire library is now stored in a handy, lightweight device that fits into my purse and can travel anywhere.  Kindle allows me to make personal margin notes, add bookmarks, save clippings, search for a word or look up its dictionary definition at the flick of a switch.  When it's time to make dinner,  I  use a text-to-speech feature and listen while the book is read to me.   Reviews of Kindle often wax nostalgic for the texture of print on paper, coffee rings on faded covers and dog-eared pages, but I'm actually not missing any of those bookish attributes.   In a country where English-language books are nearly impossible to find and imported books are taxed at a prohibitive rate of 50% on the cover price, Kindle is truly the answer to my prayers for open access to literature.

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I have some catching up to do with reading material, as I've missed so many of the newly-released North American and European titles.  My Kindle  can hold 1,500 books, so I'm just getting started with "The Pattern in the Carpet"by Margaret Drabble, "The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science" by Richard Holmes, "Solar" by Ian McEwan and "Netherland" by Joseph O'Neill.  While kindling, I can't resist snacking on luscious, chewy coconut and dulce de leche squares from Belen bakery.

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Dulce de Leche liqueur made by Tres Plumas is our preferred fireside drink.  There's an historical connection with Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson which adds intrique to this rich-tasting, caramel dessert liqueur.  A bottle of Dulce de Leche liqueur costs 14.99 pesos and six coconut squares can be purchased from the bakery for 8.50 pesos.

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Los Andes
 
 
The apricot harvest is here and in spite of an early frost, a hailstorm and gale force winds, our trees have produced more fruit than we can handle.  We are now at the point of giving away boxes of the fabulous fruit to anyone who visits us or passes by on the road! 
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Jam
I made a batch of apricot jam first thing  in the morning, by adding lemon juice and sugar to the crushed fruit and boiling until thick.  By noon, I was  preparing several crates of the fruit for drying.  The apricot doesn't need to be peeled - thank goodness-but has to be cut in half, pitted, dipped in a water and sodium sulphite solution (a preservative which retains the orange colour and the vitamin content) before being  laid out to dry on our wire  mesh pergola.  After three consecutive days of dry, sunny weather, the apricots will be ready to be brought in and stored in plastic containers.  

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After lunch and a brief siesta, the late afternoon activity was preserving apricot halves with syrup and Hesperidina, a unique aperitif.   This liqueur is made from bitter orange peel, sugar, alcohol and herbs, and has been a popular Argentine drink since 1864 when Melville Sewell Bagley first introduced the product in Buenos Aires.  It has been touted as a digestive aid, and it is true that the flavonoids in citrus fruit peel and membrane are soothing to the stomach.  Whether medicinal in value or not, Hesperidina adds a special zesty flavour to my apricot preserves, which are best  served with a slice of almond pound cake. 
The rest of my apricot windfall was used to make a sorbet.  Pureed fruit,  sweetened and frozen for a few hours, becomes a refreshing dessert or palate-cleanser between courses.  We serve this at the end of a  lamb chop meal.   A bottle of Hesperidina sells for 11.85 pesos at Vea supermarket.

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Sorbet