Even the most creative individuals occasionally find themselves stuck in a rut, or as they say in Spanish "ser esclavo de la rutina."  Working in the same location,  using the same method, approaching the same subject matter, employing the same style, ad nauseum, can be a mind-numbing trap for artistic types.   When art-making loses its lustre and spark, it's time to cut loose, break out of the studio,  seek new experiences and get back into joy mode.  
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Valle Grande
Artist Kate Kirby and her friend Vicky Stuart have organized a get-away program for visual artists that allows painters to practise their craft, while enjoying the scenic environs of San Rafael, Argentina.   "Art in the Andes" includes art instruction, accommodation, all meals, sightseeing, wine-tasting and more, as part of a combined education/travel package.  It's like summer camp designed for grown-ups.

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Finca la Susana
The Stuarts, a Scottish couple whose family has been established in Argentina for three generations, play host to visiting artists in their gracious Victorian country house. Finca la Susana has a lush perennial garden, a swimming pool and a large screened-in porch that's ideal for summer gatherings.  The grounds provide plenty of interesting locations for plein air painting, but if garden subject matter seems too tame, the desert,  Sierra Pintada mountains, Valle Grande and the snow-capped Andes are not far away.  Instruction is offered on a one-to-one basis by Kate Kirby whose background includes 11 years of teaching experience at the Open College of Art in the UK.  Both Vicky and Kate are graduates of the Edinburgh College of Art, where observational drawing was taught as an essential skill, one that serves as a solid foundation for painting.  They encourage the use of sketchbooks,  facilitate group discussions about art-making, and help individuals to discover and develop a personal style.  

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At work outdoors
Kate explains that she adapts her painting and drawing program to meet a variety of objectives.  "If the client is a complete beginner, I can provide a structured teaching approach for however many days are required.  Alternatively, if an established artist wants to spend time here and just wants to be pointed in the direction of interesting landscapes and then have a chat about their work at the end of the day, they are welcome, too. (And of course anyone at any stage in between can participate.)"  
The atmosphere for this art adventure  is informal, relaxed and open-minded because after all, it is intended to be a holiday - a  refreshing  break  from the usual routine.

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In keeping with the Scottish theme and in the spirit of experimentation,  we opened a bottle of thistle and tartan-labelled Caledonia Torrontes/Semillon 2008.  Ronald MacKay, who hails from Coupar Angus, near Dundee, Scotland produces this wine from the grapes grown on his finca in Rama Caida.  He also owns and operates a  nursery which sells quality vinifera rootlings for five varietals.  The Finca Caledonia website offers some fascinating historical tidbits regarding Scottish settlement in Argentina.  This lightly-oaked blend of fruity Torrontes and  dry, citrus Semillon is a pleasant, elegant vino, perfect for summer porch-and-patio days.  

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Scotch eggs
I made Scotch eggs, a simple-to-prepare treat that's ideal  fingerfood  for Sunday brunch, a picnic or a tailgate party.  In the UK, this is pub food, a hearty snack enjoyed with a pint.  The eggs are boiled for 8 minutes, peeled and cooled, then covered evenly with a layer of pork sausage meat.  I spice the meat mwith nutmeg, cinnamon and a little  grated onion.   The meat-covered eggs are then rolled in dry breadcrumbs and deep fried in hot oil for about 1o minutes, until thoroughly browned and crisp on the outside.  These eggs can be eaten warm or cold, and are great with a spoonful of mango chutney.  For an unusual  variation on the Scotch egg recipe that's become a big hit in Manchester, England, have a look at this article from BBC news.
A bottle of Caledonia Torrontes/Semillon sells for 16 pesos at La Cava wine store.
The all-inclusive rate for "Art in the Andes" painting holiday is 400 pesos per day.

Here's an image of a Kate Kirby painting that I purchased at a 2009 exhibition of her work at Casa Burgos in San Rafael.  It's a piece that lifts my heart every time I look at it. 

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'Once More' mixed media, by Kate Kirby
"The Last Knit" an animated film directed by Laura Neuvonen of Finland,  gives a humorous account of creativity that leans toward obsession, the exhausting struggle to relinquish a familiar routine and the exciting discovery of a new source of inspiration.  Sometimes letting go is the hardest part of change.
 
 
Sometimes good things come together in the most fortuitous way.   While browsing through the cooking section of a secondhand bookstore in Montevideo, I came across a 1960s copy of the  Pennsylvania Dutch Cookbook.    It's a paperback edition (in English) that served as a gift from New Holland farm equipment dealers to their clients.  The back cover offers a message from the company.  "To the modern farm wife and mother everywhere, this book is dedicated as a tribute to her contribution to the all-important task of feeding the men who feed the nation." Packed with good old-fashioned recipes, this treasure from rural America was an unexpected gem to find in Uruguay, of all places!
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Back home on the finca a few days later,  I was sitting on the terrace reading my new cookbook when our neighbour Felipe arrived at the gate, offering a gift of two giant heads of red cabbage.  He owns a successful market garden which produces the most beautiful fruits and vegetables  in Rama Caida.  I knew exactly how to use his generous gift; Pickled Red Cabbage was featured  in my vintage cookbook.  The method involves shredding the cabbage and salting it in layers in a pail, then weighting the top of the pile with a plate and a brick.  The cabbage has to sit for 30 hours, and is then packed into jars and pickled with a hot, spiced apple cider vinegar and sugar syrup.  The magic of the process occurs when you pour the pickling syrup over the cabbage.  There's an instant transformation from deep purple to bright pink, an event that thrilled me as much as any Pennsylvania Dutch farm kid.   The end result is a preserved coleslaw with  brilliant colour, zesty flavour and plenty of crunchy nutrition.  

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Magic!
We teamed the cabbage with traditional chorizo sausages cooked on the grill.  These are 100% pork sausages spiced with hot pepper and nutmeg.  They are sold at the local mercadito on a string and cost 12 pesos for 6 fat links.  I have tried cooking them on the stove, but found that the grease content is really too high for pan-frying.  Chorizo are designed for the outdoor asado and when pierced during cooking, the fat drains off easily into the fire.

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The meal needed a bold wine to compete with the strident flavours of pork and cabbage. 
We selected Familia Ripa Malbec , which is produced by bodega La Abeja, the oldest winery in San Rafael.  The malbec has juicy plum and blackberry aromas, fleshy volume and rich fruit finish.   The history of the local  boutique bodega is outlined on their website.  Familia Ripa sells for 10.50 pesos at Vea supermarket.


For Christmas, I presented Felipe with a jar of my pickled red cabbage.  It was a modest gift, just a small contribution to the all-important task of feeding the men who feed the nation.  

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