Discover more from CAFÉ ANNE
It's Stew York City, Baby!
Plus! My Doorman is a Dog Man!! Good news about Marcos!!!
Welcome to Issue #80 of CAFÉ ANNE!
Lots of news this week. First, some of you may recall my doorman John Santiago, who I profiled in my second issue ever about his drone obsession and wrote about more recently when I chronicled the progress of the two rubber band balls he was making out of rubber bands donated by the mailman. I am delighted to announce he has launched a new Instagram account, DoggyDoorman, to document the dogs who live in my building and around the neighborhood, including my very own Minnie. Check it out! If you love dogs!
Second, Rob Hinchcliffe, who writes the excellent London in Bits Substack newsletter, a sort of UK counterpart to CAFÉ ANNE (except it’s devoted to actual city news), interviewed me about one of my favorite topics—the antics of NYC Mayor Eric Adams. I got to rattle on and on about the rat thing, the stealing-french-fries-from-babies thing, and a bunch of other things. Check it out! If you love weird mayors!
Finally, I am very happy for the opportunity to thank a whole bunch of new paid subscribers. Alligators in the Sewers shoutouts to Laurel W., Carey L., Paul R., L. Meyerson, Claude S., Sam S., Alice G., Heather B., and Steve L. Your willingness to pay for something you can get for free helps keep CAFÉ ANNE free for everybody but you!
I am very excited about this week’s issue, of course. We’ve got a great update on Marcos Ramos, the Trader Joe’s panhandler. Also, an account of Perpetual Stew night in Bushwick, an event in which more than 40 strangers contributed ingredients to a communal stew—and then ate the results! Please enjoy.
CAFÉ ANNE UPDATE
Good News Maybe It Seems!
I had started to feel a little worried about Marcos Ramos, the homeless panhandler outside Trader Joe’s on Court Street I interviewed last month. We had been texting every day, but then his replies abruptly stopped. And when I went grocery shopping last Sunday, he was nowhere to be found. Uh-oh. He’d been a reliable presence outside the store every morning for more than a year!
When I returned to Trader Joe’s on July 4, I was relieved to see Mr. Ramos back at his regular spot, asking for change and offering to work.
“My phone broke!” he said, as soon as he saw me. He zapped me his new number from his new phone so we could stay in touch.
Then I told him the good news: after reading about how Mr. Ramos was saving for an e-bike so he could make food deliveries—a job he could get without a permanent address—30 CAFÉ ANNE subscribers donated a total of $885.25.
“Oh that’s great! God bless them! Thank the Lord!” he said.
Our conversation was interrupted by a sudden thundershower. I ran into the supermarket and Mr. Ramos went off who knows where.
But he texted later that morning with even better news:
“I haven't told u but I now am not homeless! Breaking Ground got me a nice room. I share a community bathroom & shower. The place serves us 3 good meals a day, the place also has a community t.v room. I am now in the process of filling out my housing application. Then I can get my 1 bedroom apartment. I am so grateful.”
I met Mr. Ramos in front of the Trader Joe’s again on Thursday to give him the donations, and we chatted about his new digs. He’s staying at the 78-unit Williamsburg Safe Haven near the J-M Broadway subway stop in Brooklyn, and is very glad to be sleeping indoors after nearly two years on the street.
“Every day I wake up happy!” he said.
The nonprofit is helping him apply for a permanent apartment in public housing. Meanwhile, he still needs to work, and is looking forward to making deliveries. He was planning to head straight to an e-bike shop Manhattan. “It’s going to be a tricycle, not a regular bike,” he said. “It’s got the two big wheels in the back, and a box, so I can put my deliveries in there and do ten or twenty at a time.”
He asked me to thank all the donors. “And I’ll pray for them, “ he said, “so God can bless them double!”
It’s Stew York City, Baby!
I first learned of Perpetual Stew Club from a reader who emailed me about the event. Some folks in Brooklyn, it seems, were hosting a weekly stew supper at a public playground in Bushwick. Anyone could show up, add a random ingredient to the pot, and eat the results.
Between stew nights at the playground, the cauldron goes back to the organizers' apartment to keep simmering. Stew Club had already met three times this summer and so far, more than 100 strangers, who learned about the event on Instagram, Reddit, Twitter and TikTok, had contributed to the stew.
I checked the Stew Club website.
"Hey stew lovers," it said. "Craving something steamy? Wanna make friends in NYC? Join me and some strangers at stew o'clock (7pm ET) at a park in Bushwick. Bring an ingredient for the pot (no meat please).”
“Next stew: Wednesday, July 5 at Fermi Playground in Bushwick! Come at 7pm sharp!"
It included a FAQ:
What ingredient should I bring?
Anything you want. That's the fun of it. I will say that if you're in the grocery store feeling utterly paralyzed by choice, broth!!!
Is the stew vegetarian? Vegan?
yes and yes
Can I bring beer?
Can I bring bread?
Is the stew actually good?
completely depends on the day
Is it weird if I show up alone?
nope, most people do
The site also included a stew log recorded by Annie, one of three organizers, which she began when she started the stew at home back on June 7. Some excerpts:
June 9, 2023: I've added lentils and carrots
June 12, 2023: Added dill that someone brought last night. Boy was that a mistake.
June 13: 2023: Looking for someone named Stew or Stu to be the guest of honor
June 14, 2023: Can't find anyone named Stew or Stu. Willing to accept a Sue.
June 15, 2023: A day of anxious anticipation (I'd say anti-stew-pation, but I don't want anyone to think I'm anti-stew). The first public stew event is tonight.
June 17, 2023: The stew burned a little. The pot was set on "high" (stewpid mistake) and some of the potatoes got glued to the bottom. Hoping this adds a "toasted" or "smoky" flavor. Morale, I admit, is quite low.
June 18, 2023: Another stew party today. It was the most flavorful yet...Didn't count attendees but guessing 50ish, mostly from the neighborhood.
June 21, 2023: It's Stew York City baby. I was at the grocery store and a girl in the broth aisle looked at me and said "are you stew girl?" My heart nearly leapt out of my chest.
June 22, 2023: The 10-quart pre-seasoned cast iron cauldron I ordered from Walmart.com was supposed to come today. It didn't come. Wanna know what did come? A twin size box spring. I'm on hold with Walmart customer service.
July 4, 2023: Today is technically Independence Day in America, but it's more "Day Before Stew" day to me.
I decided to attend the July 5 event and invited a few people to come along. I emailed a link to my "friend" Aharon, and told him I was attending. His response:
"2nd person to send me this! 2nd person to gross me out!"
I tried my neighbor, Shelly. She nodded as I explained the concept. "Nope!" she said. "I will not be party to that."
I went by myself and was among the first to arrive. Hajin, one of the organizers, was busy arranging seltzer and sliced bread on one of the picnic tables. The underground event was already being sponsored by a local bakery and a soda maker.
She told told me the stew was on its way.
"I read that Annie bought a giant cauldron from Walmart," I said. "How does she get it over here?"
"Last time was so difficult, and we made so much stew, they bought a dolly to transport it," said Hajin. "I'm kind of nervous to see if it's going to work. We bought a bungee chord to reinforce it. But it looks so funny on the dolly."
Annie and the stew arrived shortly after, as did a load of stew tee-shirts. "We made some merch to defray the cost of the stew ingredients and so forth," said David, the third organizer. "I'm going to set up a little merch table."
The playground quickly filled with roughly four dozen guests, most of them first-time attendees. Annie gathered us in a circle.
"This stew has been cooking for 27 days now," she said, noting the iron pot now resting on a picnic table. "As you can tell, it’s in a cauldron that is not cooking. But this is an offshoot, and the rest of the stew is cooking in my apartment."
"There's name tags here," she continued. "And there's seltzer that a seltzer brand sent because they like the idea."
"Is it stew-flavored?" asked a guest.
Annie had us introduce ourselves and announce what we’d brought for the stew.
"I brought rosemary," said Conner.
"Carrots, mushrooms and spices," said Peter.
"Spinach," said Richie.
"Spinach," said Skyler, giving Richie a dark look.
"I'm Stu and I brought a sweet potato!" said Stu.
The crowd went bananas.
"Do you have your ID? Can we verify?" said Annie. Stu presented his driver’s license to prove he was truly a Stu.
After the introductions, I made a beeline for Stu.
"Can I interview you for my blog?" I asked.
"Oh my God, sure!" said Stu.
"You're famous!" said his friend Turquoise.
"I think you're the first Stu to show up at one of these events," I told him.
"That's what I'm told," said Stu. "It's an honor and a privilege. And overwhelming!"
"Is this the biggest night of your life?" I asked.
"It is, for sure, in the running," he said. "It's the biggest stew-related night of my life."
I took their photo. "How do you pose with a sweet potato?" asked Turquoise.
A line formed at the stew table. One-by-one, each guest added their ingredient to the pot—shredded beets, beans, a mysterious packet of red spice—before Annie served them a bowl of stew.
"Hope it's good!” she said. “Who knows?!"
Folks stood around the playground in small groups, chatting and gobbling stew. Tate, a 27-year-old software engineer from Park Slope, said it was better than he expected.
"I didn't even know if it was safe to eat,” he said. “27 days is a long time! A lot could go wrong.”
We examined his bowl. "It's got good flavor," he said. "There's some interesting spice thing going on. We've got some beans. This might be squash. Potatoes? Green onions, scallions. A lot of carrots!"
"I'm disappointed that nobody brought anything that shouldn't be in a stew," I said.
"Yeah, everyone's worried they'd the one person to ruin it,” said Tate, who brought red lentils and broth. "Conceivably, who knows how long this is going to go on? People are going to be living with the consequences of what we bring for a while."
"Another thing," I said, "I tried to get some people to come with me and they were like, 'That's disgusting.'"
"Yeah? That's fair.” said Tate. "Honestly, that's fair. I don't judge them for that."
Andersen, a tour boat captain, had come all the way from Staten Island, a 90-minute journey by train and ferry.
"That's terrific!" I said. "I bet you’re the only Staten Islander here."
"Probably," he said, "That's usually the case."
I asked what he thought the attendees might have in common.
"I think they all have a sense of community," he said. "This is a tradition from the Medieval Ages, where you’d have a soup in a communal space and they'd just keep everyone fed, keep everyone happy.”
Not everyone was stew-ready. Finn, a Manhattan theatrical costumer, and Kat, a model who lives in Bushwick, confined themselves to dipping bread in the broth.
"I realized there were a lot of textures going on, and for me that's not going to work," said Finn.
"I have OCD," said Kat.
"I don't really like beans, which is kind of getting in my way," added their friend Sonia, a student. "But I'm taking strategic bites. I think there's something for everyone."
"I think so too," said Finn. "I think that's the beauty of doing a community stew meetup. You get people with all different food desires and they combine and making something really beautiful."
I told them how my friends declined to attend for aesthetic reasons.
"You don't have to eat it! It's not about the stew!" said Finn.
"I was going to go out for drinks with a friend of mine,” said Sonia, “But I said, ‘I need to go to this. I can drink anytime. This is like a once-in-a-lifetime thing!"
I asked how they'd describe the crowd.
"The remnants of a Pride parade," said Finn.
"Gay people love stew!" said Sonia.
It was time to try the stew. Annie me ladled a big serving into a paper bowl. I scurried off to the far side of the playground to dine undisturbed.
The stew was rich, dense, and occasionally chewy. It tasted like every dish I had ever cooked in college, all mixed together.
I tried to identify the ingredients.
"Potato," I said aloud. "Onion, green bean, carrot, kidney bean, unidentified bean, green thing, green thing, corn, bean thing, green thing, parsnip? yellow thing..."
Cheers erupted from the other end of the playground. The guests had gathered in front of the jungle gym for a giant group photo.
"One, two, three, everybody say 'stew!'" said Annie.
"STEW!" they shouted, and jumped in unison.
Jesus. Kids the days!
When I left at 8 pm, the pot was nearly empty but the stew party was still raging. And five days later, I'm still alive.
Perpetual Stew Club is planning additional events. Check the site for updates.
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