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On Sunday we took a trip to Malargue, the mountain town where clear air and clear water  create an ideal environment for two activities: observing the heavens and raising trout.  Sky and water combined to make this an exceptionally satisfying day.  

Following Route 40 up and over a ridge of the Sierra Pintadas that borders San Rafael, the landscape levels out on a plateau known as Pampa Amarilla.  There's a salt lake Salinas del Diamante to the south of the highway and dry desert land to the north and straight ahead a view of three majestic Andean snow-capped peaks.  Our driver points out El Sosneado, the site of the airline crash in 1972 that tragically took the lives of many members of a Uruguayan rugby team.   The survivors headed west towards Chile seeking rescue, a rugged journey that took several months.  Had they chosen to walk eastward, they would have arrived on the Argentine pampa and found help within a day or two.  Every year, parents and relatives of the team members make a special pilgrimage to visit the mountain grave. 

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At intervals across the hardscrabble desert ranches where Black Angus cattle graze on sparse vegetation and gauchos can be seen riding their horses, plastic tanks stand out like strange beige mushrooms amidst cacti and sagebrush.  The Pierre Auger Observatory in Malargue has installed 1600 water tanks as part of an international project designed to attract and record cosmic rays.   The inside of each tank is a completely dark environment until cosmic rays enter and electromagnetic shock waves produce light.  Solving the mystery of high energy particles  is the goal for  280 scientists from 70 countries involved in the project.  Where do they come from?  How can  energy be harnessed for use here on earth?  What do cosmic rays tell us about the origin of the universe?   A few questions to ponder on the two hour drive to Malargue....
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Pierre Auger Observatory in Malargue
About 12 km  outside of town, past the Dique Blas-Brisoli and Rio Malargue, a dirt road leads to a trout farm called Cuyam-Co Truchas.  This family business includes a campground, a series of freshwater pools for raising fish and a restaurant where trout is featured on the menu.   A worker catches, kills and cleans the trout that will be served for our lunch. 
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The restaurant overlooks the pools where trout are swimming.
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A worker scoops fish from the pond.
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The trout are cleaned.
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The restaurant fills up with families enjoying Sunday lunch.
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Slices of smoked trout and trout pate are served as appetizers.
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The foil-baked trout is moist and delicious.
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A perfect pairing with the fish.
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Remains of a fine meal
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Ambrosia, a light-textured, lemon-flavoured polenta dessert.
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"We have heard so far the voice of life on one small world only.  But we have at last begun to listen for other voices in the cosmic fugue." 
                                                                                                 - Carl Sagan
 
 
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.
 
 
When I studied  Cultural Conservation at the University of Victoria many years ago, one of the assignments was to complete an inventory of buildings.  The houses on one city block were recorded, photographed and evaluated using a weighted scoring system.  A building's significance was determined according to criteria such as historic features, style, condition, authenticity and age.   This exercise was a preliminary step in the process of heritage designation and long-term preservation of the city's architectural gems.   The lesson learned was that you have to know  and understand what is out there before you can protect it.
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I read with interest an article in Los Andes newspaper reporting that a team of high school students is creating an inventory of trees in the district of Guaymallen, near Mendoza city.   The students each have a section of the city to work on, and are busy recording location,  identifying species and evaluating the overall condition of individual trees.   What a great project for raising environmental awareness and laying the groundwork for an arboreal preservation plan!

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Trees at the edge of the canal on our finca
Canadian scientist Diane Beresford-Kroeger would applaud this endeavour.  In her 2010 book "The Global Forest" she stresses the importance of trees as "healers" of the planet, while explaining their vital role as hosts for diverse insect and bird life, and as anti-erosion and anti-famine plants.    She states that the Western forest has not been intelligently managed since the Middle Ages, when a seven-year renewable cycle meant continuity, and 64 items of market value were carefully harvested from the sustainable woodlot.   Beresford-Kroeger promotes the idea of creating a bioplan for one's farm that includes the addition of trees at the edges of the cultivated agricultural field.  


"A bioplan will walk organic farming one step further to increase the biodiversity of native species of plants and animals.  Quite often an organic farm, good though it may be, can be a desert, too, if the farm is just composed of mile upon mile of crops in an empty acreage.  The forest must come back to the farm in the form of an orchard, nut orchards and set-asides of select trees. "

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If you want to reintroduce a forest to your property, Beresford-Kroeger has these suggestions: 
  • Choose quality seeds or saplings  of species native to the local area, selected from the oldest, healthiest specimens.  These epicenter trees are the most resistant to drought, climate change, and pestilence.
  • Mix deciduous and coniferous trees.
  • Post bird boxes to encourage wildlife presence, (their manure adds necessary nitrogen and an assortment of plant seeds to the forest floor).
  • Allow wind to pass through, bringing spores for lichens, mosses, ferns and mushrooms.

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Alamos, a windbreak for the vineyards
Beresford-Kroeger would also be pleased to know that I am reading  the Kindle version of "The Global Forest" which was delivered in paperless format.   She points out that the sex hormones in trees called "gibberellins" are bleeding into the large bodies of water where trees are milled for the pulp and paper industry.  This huge  hormonal load is being dumped directly into our drinking water and xenochemicals  can now be found in the bodies of all mammals, including humans.   As she so eloquently says, "The broken forest is in our children's tears."

At her country home near Ottawa, Ontario,  Beresford-Kroeger has planted and cultivated, over a 30 year period, an incredible garden comprised of over 6000 species of trees, shrubs and flowers.  She also maintains a seed bank for the future, and is actively working to educate people about methods for the renewal and preservation of biodiversity.  


"The civilized world has not put a finger on the pulse of nature. It has ignored the pattern in which nature works, as if man himself is an independent species apart from the web of it.  The truth is that man is only one species and he stands on a fragile platform of life that is but a whisper away from death.  There is some time left.  There is time for a different way of thinking in which man can rethread the needle and sew a life for the future."

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Bodegas Los Toneles ( the barrels)  is located in Guaymallen at Bandera de los Andes 1393.  The winery boasts an excellent restaurant and conducts guided tours of their facility with wine-tastings.   Owned by the Millan family, Los Toneles  produced this bottle of  2 Estacas Chardonnay 2008, with its aroma of tropical fruit and toasted bread, a medium body and a pineapple finish.   We paired the wine with a citrus salad that celebrates the fruit of our trees -  grapefruit and orange segments, walnuts and green olives -  tossed with arugula, butter lettuce, endive and thin slices of goat cheese.   A bottle of 2 Estacas sells for 15 pesos.

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Citrus Salad
 
 
Mendoza's irrigation system is unique in all of Argentina.  Water supplied by glacial run-off from the Andes  flows through a system of reservoirs and dams, canals and ditches to convey moisture to fields, orchards and vineyards.  Gravity driven flood irrigation was the brainchild of the Incas,  whose basic engineering concepts still work today to facilitate agriculture in a dry desert zone.
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Steel gates control the flow
Written into  the deed to our property of 7.5 hectares, is a clause that allows us 9.5 hours per week of irrigation time.  We pay an annual fee for water usage and must keep our bill up-to-date, otherwise the water rights can be reallocated to another finca.  A schedule of hours distributed by the Water Co-operative outlines start and finish times for all of the farmers on this  street who access water from the roadside riego.  Sometimes  our turn for irrigation occurs during the middle of the night, and at other times it takes place during the day.  Our worker is responsible for closing off the neighbour's gate and opening our own to allow water to flow onto our alfalfa field.  There is a spirit of mutual respect and co-operation inherent in the whole  system. If your crop needs extra water, you can usually find someone down the road who is not using their turn and will gladly give you additional hours.  If you're not available to irrigate during your specified time, you can work out a trade with another farmer.   The weekly give and take of such a vital resource keeps neighbours on good terms.  

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Winter riego, clean and dry
At the beginning of June the water is completely shut off at the dams.  The imposed dry spell of about 6 weeks is an opportunity for cleaning the system and making any necessary repairs.  Each finca owner is required by law to clean the riego of the immediate upstream neighbour, clearing any weeds and debris that might obstruct the flow of water onto the land.  This is  usually done by burning the vegetation in and around the canal, and working the channel smooth with a hoe.  An inspector of waterworks comes around to each finca to  make sure that the cleaning has been completed.

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Summer riego, flowing


We look forward to July 14th, the day when the water returns.  The babbling of the stream that fills the canal is a welcome sound, a harbinger of spring and renewed growth.  It is a gentle assurance that the cycle of the growing season will soon start all over again, and the land will produce an income.  

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We buy fish during the dry times at Pescaderia Puerto Deseado on Av. Balloffet.   The most economical  fish to buy in this shop is merluza or hake.  Our South African friends tell us that hake is used for bait in their country, but it's the only fresh fish available in San Rafael.   We purchase four milanesas, which are filets covered with a seasoned breadcrumb mixture, ready to be fried.   

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The fish dinner pairs well with Cabrini Chardonnay 2005.  This wine has notes of green apple, mushrooms and damp vegetation,  followed by an acidic finish.  It comes from Perdriel, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, from a bodega established in 1918 and operated today by the fourth generation of the Cabrini family.    A bottle of Cabrini Chardonnay costs  19.90 pesos.  Four milanesas de merluza cost 14.99 pesos.

Here's a link to an excellent seafood cookbook entitled "A Good Catch" by Jill Lambert.   I picked up a copy during a trip to Wolfville, Nova Scotia and was delighted to find my son Nick Nutting listed as a contributing chef, with his recipe for octopus included in the collection.  This book offers sustainable seafood recipes from the top chefs in Canada, while promoting the idea of eating locally harvested,  fresh, nutritious fruits de mer.  

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My homemade Coulommiers has matured from tasteless milk curd to strong cheese and is calling for release from the fridge.   Sitting out on the kitchen counter prior to tasting, the cheese receives several hours of admiration and by dinner time yields like a soft down pillow under the pressure of my thumb.  It has developed a velvety white bloom, a wrinkled rind and an aroma that can only be described as "barnyard."  
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The first wedge reveals a creamy, pale yellow interior that oozes gradually out onto the plate.  The milk and mushroom flavours of the cheese are contrasted with a tart rind.   There's a pleasant nutty taste that's a bit unusual and I wonder if the neighbour's cow might have been grazing under the walnut trees that grow on his finca. Walnuts can be poisonous for horses, but what about cows?  Maybe Argentine bovines have a taste for nuts, a secret craving that ends up enhancing their milk.  

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Transforming a pail of fresh milk into a round of mature cheese is a craft gleaned from art and science and for some, the miraculous process is akin to a religious experience.  "Cheesemaking has enriched my spiritual life," says Mother Noella Marcellino, the Benedictine nun whose passion for cheese is the subject of the PBS documentary"The Cheese Nun."   Her experiences  making artisanal cheese at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Connecticut led her to pursue  a Ph.D in microbiology and a Fulbright scholarship to do scientific research in France.  She examined the fungi Geotrichum candidum in the Auvergne region caves and identified 14 strains of the bacteria that grew in the ripening rooms of seven cheesemakers.  Mother Noella is a strong advocate for preserving biodiversity in the cheesemaking process.  In addition to her ongoing work making Bethlehem cheese at the abbey, she has become a popular lecturer, a consultant to artisan cheesemakers  and adviser to the cheese industry in the United States.  She believes that cheesemaking is her calling and has devoted her life to the vocation.

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Coulommiers can be successfully paired with white or red wine, but on the advice of a Frenchwoman who knows her fromage, we serve our cheese with a glass of champagne-style sparkling wine and a slice of green apple.  It doesn't need crackers or bread or anything else on the side.  The effervescent, dry Duc de Saint Remy Extra Brut is made in the province of San Juan, using the French methode champenoise for elaboration.   A blend of Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, this sparkler comes from the Saint Remy bodega established by Swiss-born brothers Hector and Manuel Maglione who emigrated to Argentina in the 1920s.   The contrast between earthy aged cheese and youthful bubbly is delightful, with the champagne's fresh citrus notes offsetting the pungent density of the Coulommiers.  A bottle of Duc costs 18.19 pesos at Vea supermarket.  

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Nuns in San Rafael
 
 
Spanish artist Antonio Camba is showing a new series of paintings entitled "Fronteras" at the PHI Espacio de Arte in General Alvear.  The abstract canvases  are polychromatic and white-on-white  compositions that refer to the experience of being a foreigner in a new country.  
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Antonio Camba
The layers of colour in each work vary from clean-edged stripes achieved with masking tape, to blended areas of scumbled colour.  The strata can be read as the individual's borders or limitations in the face of new experiences; the lines defining character pressured into direct contact with an unfamiliar environment, mindset and lifestyle.   There are instances where colours harmonize and other areas where tension is tangible, a dialogue represented by the formal juxtaposition of old and new, warm and cold, flexible and rigid, ragged and exact.  

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The Camba series reminds me of handmade Argentine textiles traditionally patterned with irregular striped sections of colour punctuated with white lines.  We have a rug in our livingroom  from Salta that is made from organically dyed wool, handwoven by a native artisan.  The design is asymmetrical and non-conforming, with the occasional protruding knot of wool adding texture to the piece.  It's as if the maker was playing by ear, improvising as the threads were added and used up.  Weaving requires the binding together of a warp (long vertical threads) and a weft (threads woven horizontally) to make a unified fabric.  As foreigners we sometimes assume that assimilation means a loss of identity or a challenge to totally re-invent one's self.  Perhaps our adaptation to a new place should be more like the process of weaving, where each thread is integrated into the whole cloth, but still retains distinct and meaningful characteristics.  

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After attending the vernissage in General Alvear, we enjoyed a slice of Squash Strata, a dish made from butternut squash layered with cheese and bound together  with an egg and milk wash.  This oven-baked vegetarian casserole paired well with a glass of Castel Semillon-Chardonnay 2008, a white blend that combines the lively citrus notes of Semillon woven into the fig and honey flavours of Chardonnay.  The Semillon provides a long finish with reduced acidity.  This wine agrees with seafood, eggs and subtle rice or vegetable-based meals.  A bottle of Castel costs 13.50 pesos at Vea supermarket.

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Antonio Camba's exhibition continues until May 17th at the PHI Espacio de Arte, at Zamenhof 46 in General Alvear.  Hours for viewing  are Wednesday to Saturday 10:00 am -12 noon and after siesta from 6:00-8:00 pm.    A farming community located about an hour's drive  southeast of San Rafael, General Alvear is home to the descendants of Russian, Polish, Japanese, Italian and Spanish immigrants.  Like the Camba paintings, the town is a fine example of a cultural tapestry woven from varied threads.  

 

Quinces

03/30/2010

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I was working outside in the yard when the men came to our gate and started clapping. The applause was not a gesture of appreciation for my skills as a gardener;  this is the customary way to get a person's attention in rural parts of Argentina.   It's not acceptable to enter a property and knock on the door if you want to communicate with someone,  but it's okay to stand in the driveway and clap your hands until they come to you.   The trio, an old grandfather,  son and grandson,  asked politely if they could pick the rest of our quinces.   Of course,  I let them in.
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I recall my son Nick (now executive chef at Wickaninnish Inn on Vancouver Island) making a terrific quince tart for dessert one Christmas, but I hadn't had much direct experience with quinces until we moved to Argentina.    In Canada only rarely do they appear in the produce section of supermarkets, but in this country they grow with wild abandon along the canals, roadsides and back lanes.   I've learned some interesting things  about this lumpy, rock- hard fruit that is so bitter in its raw state that it's inedible.  Full of pectin, quinces can be used to make a tasty jam that never fails to set and has the side benefit of maintaining a healthy liver.   Quince seeds can be boiled to make a gooey substance that does double duty as both a hair gel and a cough syrup.  Whether used for grooming aid, medicine, or food, the quince has an enchanting fragrance that suggests rose petals, ripe pears and narcissus.  

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We offered a ladder to the men, but it soon became obvious that they really didn't need one, as the common Argentine method for harvesting quinces involves whacking the tree branches with a heavy stick.  This technique may look heavy-handed, but neither fruit nor tree is damaged if it's done correctly.  Grandfather picked up quinces from the ground, filling several potato sacks. 

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Grandson was assigned the task of wading into the canal to collect the fallen quinces as they came floating downstream.  He scooped them up quickly and tossed the fruit into a pile by the side of the road.  For a ten-year-old boy, this is a satisfying, fun job.  He tells me that his mother makes jam with the quinces and sells it at the market.

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Another good product made from quinces is dulce de membrillo, a fruit paste that is often  served with a slice of cheese for dessert or on a piece of toast for breakfast.   With a lot of time and effort (peeling, chopping, cooking, baking)  you can make this yourself or  you can buy it ready-to-eat at Vea supermarket for about 5 pesos.

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We pair the dulce de membrillo with a slice of goat cheese and San Felipe Tardio Roble 2007, a smooth, sweet, white wine blended from Chardonnay, Gewurtztraminer and Semillon grapes. Elaborated  by Bodega La Rural in Coquimbito, Maipu, San Felipe is aged for five months in French oak and has the honey/vanilla/toast flavours that complement the tang of quince paste on cheese.  We add a few almonds to our dessert plates, and the combination is divine.     A bottle of San Felipe costs 22.50 pesos at Vea.

The quince can also be a muse, as seen in the 1992 movie" El Sol del Membrillo" directed by Victor Erice.  The documentary records the efforts of Spanish artist Antonio Lopez as he works to complete a painting of a quince tree.  The pace of the movie is very slow, reflecting the pace of the artist as he struggles to capture the quality of light and essence of the tree.   Here is a clip, just a taste of this wonderful film about creativity.  

 
 
Today marks the autumnal equinox in the Southern Hemisphere, the day when the sun's position directly over the equator makes the hours of light and darkness equivalent.  As fall approaches,  the equinox is an occasion  for celebrating the harvest and the abundance of good fruits and vegetables we've enjoyed throughout a long, productive summer.  
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We cleared the last tomatoes, squash and corn from the garden and ploughed the plot in preparation for fertilizing and re-planting next spring.   The row of yellow corn (choclo) grew to an impressive height of three meters (bringing to mind Carl Sandburg's high, majestic "Laughing Corn") and yielded  several bushel baskets full of fat cobs.  We shared the crop with our neighbours and the Catholic nuns who run an orphanage in Rama Caida.   With six remaining ears I  made humitas, a traditional Latin American dish which consists of a ground corn filling wrapped and steamed  in a husk.   

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The standard method for making humitas involves grating or grinding the corn by hand,  but I like to cut the kernels off with a knife and use a food processor to speed up the work.  Basil and onions are added to the corn mash which is then fried with butter until the mixture is creamy and thick.  Our South American corn tends to be drier and less sweet than North American varieties, so the addition of a little milk and sugar helps to make the right consistency and improves the flavour.   The filling is spooned onto the center of the boiled husk and the edges are folded in at the sides to create an envelope.  A thin strip of husk is used to tie the humita securely before placing it in the steamer for 20 minutes.

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There are many variations of the humita recipe, some using eggs and cheese or hot peppers.  This simple version makes a delicious side dish for lunch or dinner or can be eaten with bread at breakfast.   We served our humitas with ham and fresh tomato slices and paired the equinox  meal with  Cafayate Torrontes 2009.

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Produced by  Bodega Etchart in the province of Salta, this wine is rich with floral aromas, a mouth full of plum, apple, citrus and pineapple, and a smooth finish.  The Torrontes grapes are harvested  from 25 year old vines grown on 120 hectares of land near Cafayate.  The area has a luxury wine resort, Vinas de Cafayate which offers comfortable accommodation,  a gourmet restaurant and superb views of the surrounding vineyards and mountains.   A bottle of Cafayate Torrontes costs 13.50 pesos at Vea supermarket.

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Our grapes are now turning from green to purple,  a stage the French call "veraison" and the Spanish refer to as "pintura".   Another month of ripening and they will be ready to harvest, but today I'm judiciously plucking a few of the still-tender leaves from the vines to make a batch of dolmades.   
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Malbec grapes
I try to select leaves that are bright green and pliable from the lower parts of the vines, so as not to disturb the canopy that provides dappled  shade to the grapes.  Too much harsh Argentine sun on the clusters can spoil the fruit, and direct exposure also attracts birds who will gladly finish off the grapes before they have had a chance to mature. It seems that Mother Nature designed the blush of the fruit to be a signal to wildlife, an invitation to come and feast at her table. 

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Blanched leaves
The leaves are dropped into a pot of boiling water to blanch them.  The filling, prepared from ground beef, rice, parsley, mint, and green onions is spooned onto the leaf, which is then folded in on the sides and rolled like a cigar.  The trick is to get the bundle to stay neatly wrapped during the next step, which involves simmering  in a pan of water flavoured with slices of lemon.  I solved this problem by taking a hint from the bales of alfalfa that are rolled and tied with twine in our field.  A stem of chive from the garden, secured like a ribbon around the rolled leaf ensures that the dolma will  keep its shape during cooking.  

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Dolmades
The Greeks claim that dolmades were served on Mount Olympus with nectar and ambrosia.  We serve them cold, as an appetizer paired with a glass of Etchart Privado Torrontes 2009.  This deep golden-coloured wine has aromas of lime, green grapes and flowers, and is nicely balanced with light acidity and fruit flavours in the mouth.  The finish lingers with a hint of vanilla.   An excellent substitute for nectar and not as harsh as retsina.   Bodega  Etchart is located in the Valle de Cafayate, where a particular microclimate at an elevation of 1700 meters produces the very best Torrontes grapes.  A bottle of Privado costs 10.25 pesos at Vea supermarket. 

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The small sprig of rosemary that I planted last year has evolved into a  shrub that's starting to take over the herb garden.   Shakespeare's Hamlet  comes to mind each time I walk past the spiky plant, the line where Ophelia says to Laertes:  "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance, pray, love, remember..."  Funny how memory work from long past school days resides permanently in the brain, though I can't recall where I left  my reading glasses last night.
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Rosemary
I picked one bunch of rosemary to add to my polenta, and another to add to the brim of my straw hat, as a natural memory aid.   The Greeks encouraged students to twine the herb into their hair while studying, to improve learning.  The pungent fragrance is enough to clear the head, and the pine oil flavour of rosemary lends grace to a bland staple like cornmeal.
Argentine polenta is made from a sub-tropical variety of corn called "flint" that differs from types grown in North America and Europe.  It is harder, but more nutritious, with less starch and more protein content.   The sun-dried kernel grinds to a finer grain, which means reduced cooking time, less stirring on the stove and a smoother, creamier end result.   

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My recipe is a version of the "Barefoot Contessa" Ina Garten's  inspired polenta.  The cornmeal is cooked on the stove for a few minutes in milk and chicken stock seasoned with rosemary, garlic and red pepper flakes.  Off the stove, I stir in freshly grated parmesan cheese and then spread the thick mixture like cake batter into a pan,  allow it to cool, and place it in the refrigerator.   About two hours later, the chilled polenta is sliced into triangles which are lightly dusted with flour before being pan-fried in a little olive oil and butter until golden.  This twice-cooked polenta is a great side dish for meat or seafood, and can be made ahead for the many potluck asados that take place during the summer.   

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We found a bottle of Finca Natalina Ugni and Chenin Blanc 2007 on a dusty back shelf at the local mercadito.  Ugni Blanc,  or Trebbiano as it is called in Italy,  is a highly productive,  very acidic grape grown in France for making brandy.   It blends well with the Chenin to create a wine with citrus aromas,  clear tropical fruit flavours and a hint of coconut.  Bodega Putruele, located at the foot of the Andes in the Tullum Valley,  elaborates the wine and exports it to Russia, China, the U.K, the U.S and Finland.   The bodega recently underwent a 1.3 million dollar renovation, with new bottling equipment and stainless steel tanks for fermentation.   This bottle was purchased for 8 pesos, and the bag of polenta was 1.57 pesos at Casa Martin in Rama Caida.    And before I forget, here's a link to a wonderful poem by Billy Collins entitled "Forgetfulness."   The video version is narrated by the poet himself.  

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