Monday, August 24, 2009

Plantation And Restaurant

It's been a while since I've posted a picture of the plantation out on the balcony, but that's because, at the moment, I think we're preparing for a funeral.

Here's the overall picture. As you can see, the jalapeno on the left is doing okay, as is the serrano in the lower right, but what's up with the tomatillo? Granted, this is a very badly-lit photo, but here's the tomatillo closer up:

The leaves look like they've had all the chlorophyl sucked out of them, and are greasy and droopy. Further investigation showed tiny webs between the leaves, with tinier dots in them. Some kind of spiders or mites? Whatever, they're killing the plants, and I suspect it's too late to save them.

This morning, I noted the same webs on the jalapeno, but the leaves there seem healthier. The problem with both of the chile plants, though, is that leaves -- bright, shiny, deep green leaves -- is all they have. Are we ever going to see flowers there? I hope so. There should be nice enough weather through October, though, so there's still hope there. But too bad about the tomatillos: they sprung up so nicely and quickly that I was really hoping I'd be able to cook with some of their fruits.

If anyone out there has any suggestions, of course, I'm all ears.

UPDATE: As you can see by the comments, and if you're on Facebook you can see even more, dish soap in a weak solution sprayed on these beasts (spider mites) is supposed to control them. I've also been advised to replant the plants, which I'll do when/if they're a bit stronger, but it happened I was out of dish soap anyway and just picked up a sprayer for three bucks along with it. Then I went out onto the balcony and, I hope, committed some genocide. Or mitocide, anyway.

* * *

Meanwhile, after returning from the market on Saturday, I hit a wall. I cooked a pasta sauce with some fresh tomatoes I got there, but my creativity was waning. (So was my sense of taste: since I've gotten off the regime of many pills I started with and now just do a spray twice a day and one pill, I've been having episodes of loss of taste, and that happened Saturday and, as we'll see, Sunday nights).

Since my financial situation has improved somewhat I took a close look at the numbers and decided on a luxury: instead of cooking something Sunday night, I'd go eat out at an inexpensive restaurant. At the top of my list was Moroccan food. I've never had any, and there are a number of places around here which look promising. One I've had my eye on was Les Jardins de Marrakech, on the other side of the hill from me. I went to check that it's open on Sundays and, seeing that it was, and that it was cheap enough, I went back about 9pm.

Interestingly, it occupies a building where there's a shrine to St. Roch, and those plaques mentioning that the bench where he rested after returning to town was there. It's a heaving neighborhood, filled with students and gay guys out on the town, and most of what was around me was bars and restaurants and kebab stands. Like everyone else at all the other restaurants, I sat outside. It was a warm evening, and the street scene was going full tilt, so it seemed to be a good idea. I say "seemed to be": despite the narrow streets, there are people who drive them, so that if you're sitting curbside, you'll get the occasional car. The first one got as far as where I was sitting and had a change of heart and backed up. The second one cruised by very slowly and got through. The third one's driver stopped a Vietnamese woman and asked her to ask me to get out of the way. Since there was almost a foot between me and the car, I declined and waved the woman through. In fact, the only one that didn't seem to have much of an idea was a garbage truck, which managed to nudge my chair as it came through.

Service at Les Jardines was incredibly slow. They may have only one burner in the kitchen, given how slowly things came out to my fellow diners. I had a plate with some tiny potato cubes with parsley, a few chick peas, and three black olives on it deposited in front of me, and the somnolent waitress took my order. When the little pichet of rosé wine appeared, it was clear that my smell/taste was way diminished. (Although at least I didn't order the Moroccan rosé, which another diner did; I was astonished at its grey-pink color and hoped it didn't taste like it looked).

Eventually, my appetizer showed up. Briwate poulet was described as being filled with chicken, parsley, coriander and spices, but what I got was two deep-fried triangles a little over an inch on each side with some chicken inside. There may hae been parsley, coriander and spices, but I couldn't see anything other than chicken, and it also occurred to me that the triangles could have been taken out of the oil a few seconds earlier; they were pretty brown. There was a sort of desultory salad with it, and this meant that I got bread. And the bread, dense, white, and with a salty, crunchy crust slightly burned on the bottom, was darn good.

That course was cleared, and 40 minutes later out came my tagine. I'd ordered lamb tagine with olives and lemons, since I've been wanting to try Moroccan preserved lemons for some time. Now, if you're not familiar with the tagine, it's not just the dish, it's the thing it's cooked in, as the picture here shows. You assemble the ingredients in the bottom half, put the funnel-shaped top on and throw it in the oven, so it's kind of a baked stew. The dish put in front of me was bubbling so violently I had to wait several minutes before I dared taste it. Of course, I couldn't taste it, so it was all sort of a waste. On the other hand, there were notes I could detect -- my taste wasn't 100% gone -- and among them were sour (which I was getting from the wine) and salt (which I was getting from the bread), and I was getting nothing but grease from the tagine, which was a huge number of turnips, potatoes, and some carrots covering up two pieces of lamb, bone in. There were two tiny slivers of lemon, and not an olive to be seen.

The whole thing came to €25.50, which was what I wanted to spend, and yet I felt I'd just been served some watered-down version of Moroccan food for French people. There are certainly enough Moroccans around here that there must be a good Moroccan restaurant or two, and maybe my having selected one in the student ghetto meant I didn't get anything near what I would have gotten if I'd wanted to walk over to the Figuerolles district, where the Moroccans actually live.

On the other hand, if I wasn't going to be able to taste it anyway, at least the liberation of being able to go out for a meal for the first time in over three months felt good. The street scene was better than television, and getting out of the house, sitting there in the night air, and letting someone else do the cooking meant that I don't regret a minute of it. With any luck at all, I'll be able to do this more frequently in the near future, and with more luck, I should be able to taste what I'm eating.


  1. Hello Ed,

    I'm back from Aveyron. Have you heard from Peter?

    Maybe you could prepare some "purin d'orties" (nettles in water). It's a pesticide and also a fertilizer. You could find nettles along the Lez :-))

  2. Also savon de Marseille in water might work.

  3. i'm going to second Marie's soap comment -- we babysat the tomatillos for two weeks while suzy was away, and had a similar outbreak -- weird webby stuff, leaves drained of color -- too. a couple of applications of a light soapy water (from a misting bottle) seemed to get rid of the webs, but the leaves never really were the same...

  4. Spider mites are common problems in dry climates. They will die to pesticides, but I don't use those on veggies. Ordinary dish soap, or even a blast of water in the sink or tub can get rid of them. Can take the plants a long time to revive, since they have to grow new leaves (the old ones never will return to normal, as Aimee said).

  5. They are likely spider mites. In addtion to treating the plants and leaves with a soap mixture, you may also want to replace as much of the soil as possible. These spread fast to indoor plants so don't be tempted to take your outside plants indoors when the weather cools. On non-edible plants I get more aggressive with tratment and use a Pyrethrin based insecticide.

  6. We have a Moroccan restaurant near my home in Cleveland. (I think the restauranteur missed a left turn at Albuquerque and got lost.) I had a tagine of monkfish there Friday night. I thought the old Spanish wine we ordered might overpower the monkfish, but it turned out that the spiciness of the tagine overpowered both the fish and the wine. It was wonderful, though.

    I just looked up the wikipedia page on monkfish, and discovered that the common variety is actually a northwest Atlantic catch, not Mediterranean. I may have eaten a less common fish, also called monkfish, that is used in Catalonia.

  7. Wouldn't it be simpler and, in the long run, possibly cheaper as well to have the polyp surgically removed? Perhaps there are now non-invasive procedures for that, i.e, similar to what was used for the investigation but with a scalpel as well as a camera mounted at the end of the snake.

  8. Sure, but I think he'd rather see what he can accomplish without surgery first. I mean, who wouldn't?

    He does surgery right there in the office, though, so I'm sure if he has to, he will. And I'm not at all discounting the possibility that the drugs, which I'm not even half-through with might work.

  9. A fertilizer high in phosphorus will force the blooms and fruiting. So, bone meal added in when you replant, perhaps.

    My jalapeno plant has produced, in total, one and a half very small peppers. And this is in California. In comparison, yours seem ahead of the game. Good luck.

  10. You might need to re-pot the tomatillos for space reasons too – they seem to be bushy things, given the opportunity. I performed an intervention on the tomatillos and put them in a bigger pot, then treated them to some fertiliser, and that's when I got the sole tomatillo. Just going to add some more...

  11. Enjoyed your piece on Mike Seeger!

  12. Regarding Mike Seeger, my husband and I were living in New York in the early days of the New Lost City Ramblers and were lucky enough to get to know Mike (a bit) and John Cohen (a bit more since he helped us with our harmonies on several occasions. We also ran into Tom Paley in a shop on Carnaby Street in 1966 and had tea (what else?) with him. Those were great days, especially in the Village. In fact, I was working at The Fat Back Pussycat one Sunday morning when Bob Dylan came in for coffee after an all-nighter of song-writing. We knew each other from paling around with John Herald of the Greenbriar Boys, so he asked me if I wanted to hear the song he just wrote. Sure, Bob, says I. The song was "Blowin' in the Wind". I was the very first person to hear it and I told him I thought it was pretty good.
    About jalapenos: I grew some one year in our garden near Le Mans and the crop was huge. I think it's probably best to grow them in the ground. Those nasty mites can be flushed away with water, but it's rather late in the season for any fruit to develop. Don't be discouraged. All good things grow in their own time.
    Unless you're really in funds, it's getting harder and harder to get a good meal in a restaurant in France. We eat home or eat at friends' houses. It's no sacrifice if you are an avid cook. We do what you do, go to the market twice a week and bring whatever looks good or interesting home and cook it up.
    We enjoy your pieces on NPR and sincerely hope your rent gets paid. You don't want to be singing "Moving Day Blues" anytime soon.
    Laurie Graham

  13. A piece on Mike Seeger: where?

  14. Olivier: right here

    Laurie: great reminiscence, and I think you're wrong about restaurants around here, at least. A pretty cash-strapped friend and I had a fantastic, if basic, meal at one of my favorite local places and the two of us got out for €38 including a demi of a good local rosé. And we got to pay for some of it with restaurant checks, too! Need to find me some more of them.


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