Life Cafe Blog

Full Moon Life Café Tuesday Night Poetry Readings and Zombies in Tompkins Square Park in the 1980s – Part 2

This is an excerpt from the up-coming memoir by Kathy Life, “How Life Began: A Story of Hope, Love and Huevos Rancheros at Life Café in the East Village of New York City”

We didn’t sell much on poetry nights because everyone was focused on reading and listening and because writers, like artists, didn’t have much money to begin with. But the readings were good for us; they put the Cafe on the map. Our name got spread around word of mouth and the readings helped to build a reputation and to build the business.

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Frankie Lymon’s Nephew reciting poetry at Life Cafe around 1982

An Excerpt From Suburban Ambush by Robert Siegle:

Patrick McGrath recalls the importance of Life Cafe before it became, as he puts it, ‘deeply uppified,’ and our open mike poetry Tuesdays. He said it was through Life Cafe, for example, that Rose, Texier, and McGrath formed the friendship that led to their work together on Between C & D. ‘I just opened up to something,’ Catherine Texier says, ‘I felt it. There’s this sense that people are reading what you’re writing and you’re reading it aloud, and it creates an environment and gets you immediate feedback – and an impact in terms of stimulating us. We were there and part of a ferment.’”

Bar at Life Cafe around 1982

Bar at Life Cafe around 1982

At the real crazy readings, during the course of the night, I had to step outside to take a break and get a breath of fresh air, as it was so intense and smoky inside. One evening I escaped for a few moments just outside the door on Avenue B. The towering canopies of the American elm trees in Tompkins Square Park opposite us were lit from above. I looked up beyond them and saw a huge full moon early in its rise. That was when I picked up on a distinct sense of uneasiness in the streets. I looked around and saw there were more crazy people, drug addicts and drunks wandering around than usual and they were more animated. With a brief sense of relief, I realized none of them noticed me. But then I heard shouting and yelling followed by loud howling from deep within the Park. It was like a zombie movie in our backyard. It was primeval and menacing.

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Life Cafe on Avenue B Side around 1982

I moved closer to the Café door. So, okay, I said to myself – which is worse; stay out here and maybe get attacked and dragged into the park by a pack of blood crazed werewolf zombies, or go back inside and into the cozy reality of our known craziness? Sounds a silly choice to have to make, like a joke I know, only it wasn’t.

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John Farris at Life Cafe around 1982 before he ran the Tuesday Night Poetry Readings

The realization hit me; there was nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. Even packing it in for the night and going “home” meant walking through the crowd in the Cafe to get to the back where we lived. Once there I’d be pretty much trapped by the noise and the energy out front. I felt like I was between two dark and crazy worlds and the only place to go was to fall through the dark vault that I felt was opening up beneath me. I shivered, and shook the thought out of my head. “Get a grip girl and get back in there!” I told myself. I was needed in the Cafe to manage the floor. I focused on that, took a final deep breath and dove back into the mad melee. I think that was a deciding moment in my life; no matter how crazy it got, I wasn’t going to give up. This was my place, and my place was here, no matter what.

Life Cafe Regulars outside on E. 10th St. & Ave. B

Life Cafe Regulars outside on E. 10th St. & Ave. B

Tune in for Part 3 of  Zombies and Poets of the 1980s Lower East Side, coming soon


Full Moon Life Café Poetry Readings and Zombies in Tompkins Square Park in the 1980s

This is an excerpt from the up-coming memoir by Kathy Life, “How Life Began: A Story of Hope, Love and Huevos Rancheros at Life Café in the East Village of New York City”

David Life used the Café as a stage to present his ideas, which were taking on a bizarre ilk. On to the walls in eccentric and fantastical combinations, he installed discarded objects from the streets: toys, wooden masks and broken trophies. It was like the street was coming inside. One item was a WWII bomb to which he screwed a wooden laughing Buddha on the end. He began showing art by the locals, good and be locals, and created his own art, oftentimes painting right onto the building. His mythic cartoon-like animals stared down at you with lashing tongues and bulging eyes daring you to come in.

Founds Objects turned to Art Installation on Walls of Life Cafe East Village NYC

Founds Objects turned to Art Installation on Walls of Life Cafe East Village NYC

In 1982, the SSI guys living off of disability were the first to hang out like semi-permanent human fixtures. Ira Bruckner, a poet who lived a couple of doors down, occasionally came in for coffee.

He was an argumentative bugger, a rude hot wire, and a loose nut. One quiet afternoon when the usual guys were inside with their coffees and chess boards he walked in front of the Café, peered through the open arched window from where we sold ice cream, yelled some obscenities, then hurled the table fan sitting on the windowsill into the middle of the Café, supposedly at someone, who, no one knew. As tolerant as David was, that was the last straw. David banned Ira from Life for life.Life Cafe circa 1985

I thought Ira wasn’t really crazy, because he had these long moods of intelligence and empathy. For instance, before the fan incident, he did something constructive. In a challenging tone he said, “David, why don’t you have poetry readings here?” “Okay, Ira. Why don’t you organize them?” He set up the Life Cafe Tuesday Night Poetry Readings.

Writers came to read and vent their considerable angst. But Ira was too unpredictable and then there was the fan-throwing incident. So Dave took a chance and invited John Farris to take over, a good friend but another loose canon. Fortunately, he very ably steered his anger and intolerances toward society organizing the readings and reading his own work. He was good for Life. He knew everyone who was anyone in the literary world in and around the neighborhood.

The readings were free and open. All you had to do was sign up (this was before “open mike” got the name) and, unfortunately, anyone did. Before each reading, people gathered around the tables decorated with collages from our vintage Life Magazine collection and ordered coffees and something cheap to nibble on, much to my chagrin. I was always trying to figure out how to get them to spend more money so I could pay the rent and utility bills. To those we knew we sold shots of Puerto Rica rum in their coffee for an extra buck. 2539

Thick cigarette smoke accented with marijuana hung in the room like smoke before the fire. Life Cafe readings were wild. There was often a heckler in the audience, and one, a woman with wild hair, was potentially dangerous. When she yelled, everyone in the house shifted nervously. Occasionally a brave poet would rant back if that night’s heckler wasn’t too threatening; it was a cacophony of verbal anarchy, a word dart competition and the poet was the dartboard.

During full moons the streets tended to be more rowdy than usual and the lunacy spilled off the street and into the Café.

Those were the toughest nights. I had to work the floor during those readings because the Café was packed and we needed to keep a closer watch over the crowd, which couldn’t be done from behind the counter where Dave was. He was too busy making espressos and small change.

Tune in for more Zombies and Poets of the 1980s Lower East Side, coming soon.


TOMATO LOVE

DIGGING DEEP IN MY PANTRY FOR THE FOOD OF LIFE CAFÉ by Kathy Life

“Life Salad” Menu Picture Riddle for Life Cafe by John G. Sunderland

This is an adaptation from my forthcoming book: How Life Began: Finding Hope, Love and Huevos Rancheros at Life Café in New York City.

This series is about the heritage of the Life Café menu and the food that was on that menu. Many of the recipes originated years ago in the old pantry of my youth, way before I came to New York City and are intricately connected to the history of Life Café and its humble beginnings.

I’m going back, pulling out jars of the preserved tomatoes I made that were inspired by those my mom use to make each summer. And I’m digging into the bags of brown rice and dried beans that I took along on my two-year American road trip with my young husband at the time, David Kirkpatrick (now known as David Life) cooking up wild berry pies and bean and veggie stews over log and mud campfires.

I hope this project nourishes you as it has me over the decades. And I hope you take pleasure in the read and the recipes. There’s more coming!

We were only married a few years. The unrealized hope of a loving marital relationship caused conflict inside me that I couldn’t shake. I looked okay on the outside when I wasn’t throwing myself on the ground in tears; but really I was a total mess.

As David went about with his pals busy with their art and antiquing, I tried to shake off my loneliness. It was probably more than that; it may have been depression. I compensated by expanding my universe from inside the house to the outside and the patch of land around us. There I told myself I would plant my heart in the garden that I would make under the sun and the trees and not in my husband’s shadow.

I planted a vegetable garden and taught myself how to preserve the harvest. I became obsessive. Once I started working the land I couldn’t stop until I was totally wiped or the sun went down and I couldn’t’ see anymore.

The physical work of the garden absorbed me completely, both mentally and physically. Ladies, if inside both you and the home is an emotional desert, go outside and create a garden. I did. With every turn of the sod, I buried my crushing depression. It wasn’t the garden I was planting, it was me. I needed to grow, blossom and bear fruit.

As a child canning was something I’d watched my mother do for years, and a lot of what she did was a mystery. Now married, I taught myself the specifics. Dave and I never had enough money so I quickly learned the fiscal sense of growing, harvesting and preserving.

I remember one hot afternoon when I was eleven when I helped my folks harvest tomatoes in our back yard.

I was a picky eater, but the tomato in my hand called to me. It was still warm from the sun; I took a bite. When my teeth pierced the skin the delicious flavor burst in my mouth and the juice ran down my chin – pure, and fresh. It was the mother’s milk of the earth. That single tomato planted in me seeds of the essence of real fresh food.

Back in our little kitchen Mom’s tomato canning process took over for days. First she blanched whole tomatoes in boiling water in deep white enamel pots to remove the skins making the kitchen a sweet tomato-scented steam bath.

Next she dipped the tomatoes in cool water, slipped off the skins then crushed the pulp of each tomato with her hands over a large pot, added salt and pepper and brought it to a boil. While that was heating up she filled an even larger blue and white-speckled enameled pot with water and put that on to boil too; into it went her Ball canning jars. The jars went in and came out on a wire rack. Boiled and baptized they were now ready to receive.

Now timing was critical. Once the jars were sterilized, she quickly poured the steaming hot stew into them, set the rubber-lined lids on top of the rims and lightly screwed on the collars, carefully placing each jar onto a rack on the kitchen table to cool overnight. As I passed through the kitchen I’d hear the jars “pop” on their own as they formed a vacuum seal. That “pop” meant they were ready and our future as a family was secure.

Months later while getting dinner ready she’d call down to Dad, “Bring up a quart of tomatoes, would you Tony?” He’d built a pantry in the basement to store all her canned tomatoes and the pickles she made from the cucumbers he grew. There were also canned green beans and homemade applesauce down there. Like secrets, at the back of the highest shelf were the jars of the wild mushrooms he hunted during the fall in the woods. I wouldn’t touch them; they looked slimy, evil and dangerous, like witches’ spells he didn’t understand. Of course they weren’t, at least to him. I sat head in hands at the table as Dad heartily sucked them up. I watched and waited while he wiped his lips and burped. But that was the worst of it; he didn’t up and die. Mom and Dad weren’t that happy together, but the kitchen is where they came together.

My mother served her stewed canned tomatoes in little side bowls chummed up to plates of steaming hot boiled ring bologna, boiled peeled potatoes and her homemade applesauce. We’d smother the potatoes with margarine (butter was too expensive for her budget), salt and pepper. The flavors melded simply and wonderfully. This was one of our Lithuanian family’s favorite meals and it was heartily delicious.

For my second garden season I was buried in even more tomatoes. I’d already canned enough of them to get us through the winter. What to do? I had to act quickly. I got a “eureka” moment – homemade tomato juice! I followed my stewed tomato recipe but strained the seeds, added oregano, basil and thyme and reduced the liquid. I was so proud of myself; I’d produced the deep red elixir of tomatoes picked fresh off the vine in glistening glass jars bursting with life-giving enzymes, vitamins and minerals. I can taste it now.

But there were still tomatoes left and I was beginning to run out of steam. I decided to make tomato sauce. Fran, my lovely mother-in-law, told me it was a good idea and that instead of going through all the canning, I could store the sauce in the new Ziploc freezer bags that just came on the market. And, she said, lay them flat in the freezer so they took up less room.

She was right, as always. It was easy to pull a bag of homemade spaghetti sauce for two, four, or ten people, however many showed up at any given time.

The recipe below was used many times at Life Café, but for economy of time and space, we used canned instead of fresh tomatoes at the Cafe. Use the sauce straight on the pasta of your choice topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Or, use it as a base, adding seafood, mushrooms. You can also add carrots, honey or  dash of sugar to add sweetness to it.

Don’t worry if you don’t use the sauce the same day you prepare it. In fact, it’ll taste even better the next day.  Once cooked, you can store it up to 5 days in the refrigerator. Otherwise, freeze it until needed.  Yes, spoon it in those new-fangled zip-lock freezer bags in the portion sizes that suit you. Just remember to store them flat to save room!

Life Cafe circa 1997

ELEMENTAL MARINARA SAUCE from Life Café, New York City

Enough sauce for a pound of pasta

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 garlic cloves, sliced

½ white onion, diced

35 oz can whole peeled tomatoes (no not crush)

1 teaspoon dried oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

½ cup fresh chopped basil or 3 tablespoons dried

Sauté the onions in about 1-2 tablespoons olive oil for about 10 minutes until they’re transparent. Add the garlic and sauté 3 more minutes (don’t let the garlic turn brown or they turn bitter). Add the whole tomatoes with liquid and dried spices. (Hector, head cook of Life Café, said leaving the tomatoes whole helps neutralize the acid.) Bring to a simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat. If using fresh basil, add it at this time. Mash the tomatoes with a potato masher to the consistency you desire.

 


LIFE’S FAMOUS VEGGIE CHILI MADE IN SPAIN

December 6, 2012 – A few blast from the past photos of the earlier days at Life Cafe that you may enjoy . . . . and then on to the CHILI !

Ice-T during a Law and Order Shoot at Life Cafe East Village

Life Cafe around 2010

Early Life Cafe, East Village

Life Cafe, New York City, around 2002

I was missing the old days and feeling the need for the spice and warmth of Life Café’s famous Veggie Chili a few weeks ago. But I was missing three important ingredients: CHILES! Dried Guajillo, Pasilla or Chile Negro or Poblano (the dried form of the Chilaca chile) and Ancho, those dark, rich, flavorful Mexican spices that give heat and depth to the dish.

What was I to do? Go shopping! The local markets offer vast quantities of fruits, vegetables, olives, cheeses and even an incredible assortment of very fine used clothing. I was confident I would be able to find dried chiles.

They grow very big cabbages in Spain

Totana Outdoor Market

At the Wednesday Totana Market there is a spice vendor. The aroma of his spices in his bins, which you can smell 10 feet away, is sublime, no comparison to the little glass jars you get in a supermercado (supermarket).

Looking into the Spice Vendor’s Bins

Searching through the Spice Vendor’s Bins

He didn’t have the Mexican chiles. Spanish food is not hot like the summer temps of the country. Rather, it’s mellow and lush, like the population. I had to improvise like I’m known to do in the kitchen. I usually prepare meals from the ingredients I have on hand. Anyone can do this, if you don’t mind cooking Bohemian! I’m still formulating precisely what that means, just for fun. But basically, it means make do with what you have, grow it if you can and keep it simple using fresh, seasonal ingredients, the basis of much of Spanish cooking.

Being bohemian – art lived at both Life Cafes

For the “made in Spain” chili recipe, I used locally grown dried nora and what all the market vendors called pimento chiles. As far as I can tell, these are dried red peppers and taste sweet. Because they’re not hot, I added a couple of tiny dried hot cayenne peppers from my pepper plant in my windowsill herb garden to give my chili some heat. In the end I was lucky to find mirasol chiles. I read that they are known as Guajillo in their dried form, which are one of the main chiles used in traditional mole sauces. I also added about five sun dried tomatoes to this chili paste to give it more intensity, seeing as I didn’t have Hector’s blend at hand.

Getting ready to make Life’s Famous Veggie Chili in Spain

Below is a version of the actual Life Café Veggie Chili Recipe that I revamped last year with the help of Hector, the head cook at Life Café Bushwick.

Hector and his Bushwick kitchen gang. (Illustration by John Sunderland)

I told Hector I wanted a chili that was less tomato-based and built more around beans, legumes and veggies. Hector enhanced the chili spice component wonderfully with his blend of spices in the chile paste. It’s rich, flavorful and warming.

My favorite way to eat Life Chili is for breakfast with a poached egg, short grain organic brown rice and a sprinkle of sharp cheese. It satisfies my craving for Life’s Breakfast Burrito. What a great way to start your day! For me, it’s also an antidote to missing Life Café!

Life’s Famous Veggie Chili made in Spain with grated cheese on top

This recipe makes about 5 quarts, or around 10 hearty bowls. It keeps well in the fridge for several days, and it gets better over time. If you don’t think you can use it up within a week, freeze it in 8 to 16 ounce portions in freezer bags to thaw and use whenever you need it – for a Life Chili Omelet, chili topped with melted cheese as a dip for crispy tortilla chips or in a bowl over brown rice topped with melted cheddar and jack cheeses, the Life Chili Deluxe. At Life Café, we used Life’s Veggie Chili as an ingredient in many of our classic dishes, including quesadillas and in the early days, stuffed potato skins topped with melted cheese. Yumm.

What Life Café Veggie Chili-enhanced dish can you astonish your friends with??

Note: you can get even more creative. Just make the chili paste and use it for other chile-based recipes, like enchilada sauce, or a sauce for Chicken with Red Chile Sauce and Sausage (Pollo con Salsa Rojo y Chorizo). I can’t wait to try it myself, only I’m going to use turkey chorizo.

Some of the Good Old Staff in the Good Old East Village Life Cafe

 

 

 

 

LIFE’S FAMOUS VEGGIE CHILI

Make about 5 quarts

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 cup Spanish onion, diced

4 cloves chopped fresh garlic, minced

1 medium green pepper, chopped

1 medium red pepper, chopped

3 cups chile paste (recipe below)

1 cup carrots, diced

1 cup celery, sliced

1-14 oz can black beans

1-14 oz can cooked pinto beans

1-14 oz can cooked kidney beans

1-14 oz can cooked lima beans

1-14 oz can cooked chickpeas

1-14 oz can cooked lentils

1 cup frozen corn

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano (Mexican if you can find it)

1/2 zucchini, diced

1/2 yellow squash, diced

1 cup textured vegetable protein (TVP)

2 cups vegetable stock or water

Sauté the onions, garlic, peppers, carrots and celery in oil for 5 minutes until the onions turn translucent. Add chile paste and cook for another 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the beans. Bring to a boil. After 10 minutes add the corn, cumin and oregano. Bring to a simmer for 10 minutes. Add zucchini, squash, TVP and vegetable stock. Cook for another 30-35 minutes on low heat. As the TVP absorbs the liquid it will soften and expand.

 

CHILE PASTE

2 garlic cloves

1 medium Spanish onion

5 whole dried Guajillo chiles

2 whole dried Pasilla chiles

1 whole dried Ancho chiles

2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoon white vinegar

2 teaspoon dried oregano, Mexican if you can find it

2-1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

 

Boil all ingredients for 3 minutes or until the chiles are soft in 3 cups water. Cool and blend in small portions in a blender until smooth.

Makes about 3 cups


life. more than a cafe.

A lovely response from my last newsletter from an old regular from East Village Life Cafe. Must share this YouTube video with you!

He said in an email to me:

“from a life regular, with no where to go.
you’ve seen it before, but enjoy it again.
robert”

life. more than a cafe. If this link doesn’t work, go to youtube.com and type in the title. That’ll get you there.

Thank you Rob.

Happy New Year


REMEMBERING YOU THIS HOLIDAY SEASON. SEASON’S GREETINGS!

ENJOY A FEW SCENES OF THE OLD DAYS AT LIFE CAFE AT THIS TIME OF YEAR . . . .

Shamus the Christmas Elf at Life Cafe 983

Celebratory Drink at Life Cafe 983

Mark at Life Cafe 983 at Christmas

A real good Christmas Party at Life Cafe 983

Shamus and Kathy at Life Cafe 983 for Christmas

Seasonal Pick, Menu Picture Riddle by John Sunderland

Santas at East Village Life Cafe

Kathy Life and Chris Baker at Life Cafe 983

Christmas Brunch at East Village Life Cafe

Torello and Nada at East Village Life Cafe

At the East Village Life Cafe at Christmas Time

Life Cafe East Village Staff at Christmas

Patrick McDonald photo shoot at Life Cafe East Village

Christmas Lights, Life Cafe East Village

Life Cafe 983 at Christmas from outside

CHEERS! At Life Cafe 983 Bushwick, Brooklyn

East Village Life Cafe 1995

A Bushwick, Brooklyn Snowman


CHASING CHILIES IN LOCAVORE MARKETS, ORGASMIC TOMATOES AND FALLING IN LOVE WITH ROMESCO SAUCE

Life Café NYC on Tour

Turning Chili Under the Sun in Mazarron, Spain, October 2012

The rays of the midday sun still burned hot on my skin, but the usual breeze across the campo felt much colder. Autumn is in the air and on this particular day I got a hankering for the warming taste sensation of Life’s Veggie Chili.

Cool breeze, hot sun. It’s autumn on the Campo

Life’s Veggie Chili was the first hot menu item I served at Life Cafe in 1982 on the corner of 10th Street and Avenue B in the East Village neighborhood of New York City. Chili was cheap to make, warming and healthy. The local bohemians got a cup for 50 cents. And if they had an extra buck, they got it served over short grain brown rice and topped with grated cheddar cheese. The dish was a full protein meal for vegetarians like me and David Life, my husband at the time. I made sure I got the most nutritional buck out of my food staples.

Now in southeast Spain, I examined the list of ingredients for the Chili Paste in the Life Cafe recipe, a vibrant blend of dried chilies and spices. Garlic, Spanish onions, salt, vinegar, oregano, dried thyme – check, check and double check; I had them all. Nada on the whole dried guajillo, puila and ancho peppers. I no longer had the Mexican delis on Wyckoff Avenue in Bushwick, Brooklyn to raid. Instead I travelled to the nearby towns of Totana and Mazarron during market days with John’s sister Ann and Terry his brother-in-law, local residents. Thank heaven for them and their car. And they knew the roads.

Ann and Kathy Life at Market

Big healthy radishes

John checks out the dried fish at Totana Market, Murcia

Lady locals gossip in front of the olive vendor’s stall

The Moroccan Vegetable Vendor

There is a lot of this fresh and exotic squash

Just picked tangerines, Totana Market

I found the Nora chili, round, fat, glossy dark red. From the Internet I found it’s not hot at all, rather it has a mild, sweet flavor that gives a deep red color to dishes. It’s grown right here in the Murcia region. Now that’s real locavore!

Nora chili on far left

Discovering the Nora chili lead me to Romesco sauce, a classic Catalan condiment originating from Tarragona in Northeastern Spain. Made with roasted tomatoes, nuts, olive oil, vinegar and toasted bread, it’s an accompaniment to all types of dishes, like fire roasted or grilled seafood and vegetables. It also works as a sandwich spread on fresh baguette. I thought how  great it would be on Life’s Grilled Chicken Sandwich in place of chipotle mayonnaise.

calçots

During Springtime in Catalonia entire towns gather in the public square for a calçotada, an annual flame-licked ritual of grilling calçots (a large spring onion) over an open fire. The sweet alliums are served blackened from the ashes of vine-fed flames. Revelers slide off the charred outside layers and dip the silken centers into Romesco sauce. The Spanish appreciate the life in their food. Take tomatoes for example; slice open a fresh tomato here and the aroma can be orgasmic. So it’s not surprising that tomatoes can drive Spaniards a little crazy. Have a look at this link — it’s enough to put you off your ketchup, or spread it on all over! La Tomatina Festival 2012 

Wiping off the tomatoes and putting them back safely into the fridge, I refocused on the Romesco sauce. I just had to make some. The bit of work was worth it. The end product is thick like pesto with the color of rust. The nuts lend it texture and the bread gives body. John couldn’t stop raving about it, saying it was Moorish; spicy and original, a new taste. Try this recipe. It’s one of many variations, and all are good.

Tune in to the next blog to find out what happened to the Spanish version of Life’s Famous Veggie Chili!


THINKING OF OUR FRIENDS

LIFE CAFÉ NYC ON TOUR

November 6, 2012

U.S. Presidential Election Day

There have been showers off and on all day today here in “sunny” Spain and the temperature has dropped 10 degrees from the balmy 76 Fahrenheit it was a few days ago. I’m told it does that this time of year. The semi-desert landscape that surrounds us is turning deep green. This is good. The rains, carefully managed in reservoirs and irrigated in this area, cause a bounty of produce to flourish in the mineral-rich campo soil in this, Europe’s garden.

On the campo, in an almond grove

Little did I know, as my husband and I sailed on calm waters away from New York City on August 28th bound, eventually, for Spain, that after a few shorts weeks a ferocious lady called Sandy would pay the City a fearsome call.

I remember how frightening the warnings about Hurricane Irene were only a year ago. I recalled that in the film “An Inconvenient Truth” there was a warning that the Lower East Side would someday be under water, a reminder that the East Village is only a few feet above sea level. After seeing the film, a friend quickly sold her house on 11th Street near Avenue C and moved her entire family safely into a new house in  Midwood on the far northwest end of Manhattan.

I was so alarmed at the potential damage of Irene in 2011 that I moved equipment from the basement of Life Café upstairs to the dining room. Being on the corner of 10th Street and Avenue B, I expected flooding up to the basement ceiling. At home we plastered big ‘X’s” on our south-facing windows with duct tape. Instead, we were spared.

This time, watching on the Internet and TV from Spain, we were awe struck and horrified at what was happening with a strange mixture of fascination and a sense of guilt that we weren’t sharing the worst of times and keeping Life Café open. But it was a relief not to be in the East Village where the sea came up out of the East River and finally overcame the streets and filled the basements of the Lower East Side.

The night Sandy began to batter the mid-Atlantic region, I took a break from watching the awful news unfold on TV and walked outside onto our porch. A blazing full moon glared down as I looked up into the still clear night and realized it was the same moon that was causing the horrific storm surge to rage into the Northeast coast. Mother Nature has no conscience…

We hear another storm is threatening to assault the East coast very soon, a cold one. We hope you will all fare through it safely.

And we hope all America fares safely through the election and the results as well. Take care, our friends. Our thoughts are with you.


A GREAT QUEEN AND A DRESSED UP CRAB

October 12, 2012

LIFE CAFE NYC ON TOUR —

Hello Lifers.

We’ve been gone awhile and we have truly missed you! With big Life changes come adjustments. And we’ve had plenty. After 31 years of running Life Cafe in NYC, it was time to put it behind us and reconnect with John’s roots in Europe. John said I deserved to go out in style (I couldn’t say no!) and so he booked us passage on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 to Southampton, England.  The great ship is the largest liner in the world and has to be the classiest.

New York City in the background, top deck QM2

The QM2 was berthed at Red Hook, a short taxi ride from our old apartment near Bushwick. The sun blazed down on the top deck from where we had glorious views of New York Harbor. At precisely 5pm the great whistles blew, the sun glinted on the towers of Manhattan and the ship cast off. As we sipped our G & Ts (the very English Gin and Tonic) and pulled away from the dock, Frank Sinatra sang out “New York, New York”. It was a moment to bring tears to a glass eye!

NYC from the top deck of the QM2

Being a guest on the QM2 was an amazing experience; we had the North Atlantic to cross in seven luxurious days and nights. It was all so new for us. It was luxury on steroids.

A foggy Atlantic Ocean

I had visited Europe and Britain but not for an extended time as I’d always had Life’s business to come back to. For John the trip was a return to familiar pastures in England. But Spain was going to be a completely new experience for him too.

All meals aboard the luxurious liner were “White Star” sumptuous so as we were to begin our quest for down-to-earth fare once we found ourselves on terra firma, we had a long way to tumble back down to Bohemia. Meanwhile, High Tea was very grand!

 

Serving High Tea

Beautiful presentation

Good tea indeed and very lovely service as well

I was the only one not wearing white gloves

Once we landed in Southampton where The QM2 docked, we had to get up country to York. From there we made our way over to John’s favorite seaside haunt, Flamborough Head, a little known rocky limestone promontory which sticks out five miles into the North Sea. His generous sister and brother-in-law, Ann and Terry, graciously offered us the use of their luxurious caravan where they promised we would have a comfortable buffer as we transitioned into our new life.

Speedy non-stop train trip across the British countryside aboard the CrossCountry Train from Southampton to York

John had waxed hungrily all along the way about the delicious yet simple foods of his childhood connected with trips made with his grandparents to Flamborough in the fifties. There they had a caravan (“trailer” if you’re American) called “Rosea” that hung on fast to its site on top of a cliff through long and stormy winters, and welcomed them back in Spring with hissing gas mantles, salty air and scary insects under pillows.

Flamborough Head

John wanted me to try first Gammon (Ham Steak) and Eggs, the same as they ate at a pub on a stop along the 70-mile journey over to the coast in his grandfather’s Ford Popular. We enjoyed a very excellent rendition of the dish at the Rose and Crown in Flamborough Village.

Gammon and Eggs as served at the Rose and Crown

Rose and Crown Pub, Flamborough Village, UK

Kathy Life (center) poses with Bianca (left) also known as “B”, our server and daughter of Jerry Ellis, the owner of the Rose and Crown. Holly, right is their excellent cook

This was all very well (and delicious). As for me, I yearned to discover what a Dressed Crab was.

How Dressed Crab and Lobster are sold in the UK

The Dressed Crab

A Dressed Lobster

The delicacy was introduced to me by Alf, one of our formal dinner partners in the Britannia Restaurant on the QM2.

Kathy Life, Susan and Ann, Britannia Restaurant Dinner Partners

John, Alf and Mark, Britannia Restaurant Dinner Partners on the Queen Mary 2

Alf would say no more than it was the only civilized way to buy and eat crab, which perked my curiosity.  I also discovered John’s Granddad, Harold, couldn’t resist fresh North Sea crab on occasion, even though he was allergic to it! Luckily, I was able to acquire one side-by-side with my personal favorite, Lobster, both freshly harvested less than a half mile away from where we bought them in Flamborough and cooked, seasoned then dressed right there on premises.

Dressed Crab and Lobster for sale in the backyard shop

Lobsters get dressed for dinner too

Local Customers at the Fishmonger, West Newk Seafoods

Arthur, left, the owner of West Newk Seafoods with his employee Chris. “The finest fish and seafood in the area.”

Fishing Boats off Flamborough Head

Once we settled ourselves into Ann and Terry’s comfortable caravan, it was time to undress our dressed crab and make it the star of a very special crab salad served traditionally with brown bread and a refreshing glass of dry white wine.

Crab Salad with Brown Bread

The Dressed Crab Enjoyed for Lunch at the Caravan

It was a fine ending to a dressed up crab

 


COLD SOUP IN HOT NEW HAMPSHIRE – WATERMELON GAZPACHO

August 15, 2012

While Life is more than just food, food is also Life! Let’s eat!

Colorful Seasonal Gazpacho Ingredients

It was mid-July and it was 96 degrees in southern New Hampshire where we’re setting up our US home base. To keep cool, I’m making a refreshing, hydrating, cold summer soup, Watermelon Gazpacho, inspired by two things – heat (jalapeno) and cold (watermelon). Gazpacho was made frequently in the summer time at Life Café. I made this special soup with assistance from my sister Jeanne. I love cooking the most when I do it with friends and family!

There are numerous varieties of gazpacho. It’s the sangria of soup and there are infinite possibilities. So don’t be afraid to adjust the ingredients to your liking. And it’s vegan. If you happen to have green or orange bell peppers on hand, you can use them. Just make sure your watermelon is ripe and sweet for more flavor. You might also like to try substituting half the orange juice with pineapple juice. Some recipes call for tomatoes. And you might prefer fresh mint leaves to the parsley. Go with the flow, let the seasonal produce you have on hand be your inspiration.

 

WATERMELON GAZPACHO

Serves 6

Dice into ¼ inch pieces:

2 cups sweet, ripe watermelon

1 seedless cucumber

1 small yellow bell pepper

1 small red onion or sweet Vidalia onion

Mince:

2 medium cloves garlic

1 small fresh jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced (optional)

 Chop:

Fresh parsley and/or cilantro to make 2 tablespoons

 In a blender or food processor, process until pureed ½ cup of the watermelon, along with:

2 cups orange juice

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, cold pressed

 Transfer to a medium bowl, along with the remaining ingredients. Add:

 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice and salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

 

Putting Watermelon Gazpacho Together

This is the perfect dish when it’s hot and you don’t feel like eating. But when you eat it you’ll want more (try it with corn chips) and you can have as much as you want without guilt. You’ll astonish your meal guests with this soup; who’s ever heard of mixing watermelon with garlic and jalapeno! But you’ll get rave reviews all around. The marriage of these ingredients is an unexpected and exotic blend of flavors. Use it as a first course or a surprising and colorful contribution to a summer potluck – just be sure to serve it in a clear glass bowl to show off the colorful ingredients.

This soup can be made several hours before serving. Some say it’s better served the same day it is made and others insist that refrigerating it overnight enhances the flavors. In this case, you might want to use half the jalapeno as the heat increases over time.

The Palate of Your Seasonal Ingredients Give this Soup Its Color

Enjoy Life and its food.

Kathy Life