Amblin' Alameda: Tuesday was food day

Amblin' Alameda: Tuesday was food day

Morton Chalfy

A volunteer hands out holiday meals at the Alameda Food Bank warehouse, in 2010. Photo by Michele Ellson.

Tuesday was food day. We didn't plan it that way, but that's the way it worked out. First there was the Alameda Farmers' Market: Grapes are back and sweet somehow, apples are in abundance, greens piled up as usual and many more root vegetables are appearing weekly. We stocked up, stowed the produce away in a cooler bag and continued to our next destination, which was not very far away at all.

The Alameda Food Bank is situated on a weirdly configured corner. The address is 1900 Thau Way, and it can be entered from Constitution Boulevard. My sweetie and I had signed up as volunteer help for the hours from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. It was our first time (though I'm sure it won't be the last) and we learned on the fly what we were doing.

Distribution of food usually starts at 4:30 p.m., but during the holiday season it begins at 3:30. The task we were assisting with was receiving food donations and repackaging them into easily picked up bags for different sized families.

“Let's see, one onion, four potatoes, two apples, two oranges, two carrots, and is that it?”

We packaged the veggies, then helped with canned goods, soups, rice, breads and a few random goodies.

The management of the food bank is intelligent and even-tempered and has a focus on getting the food to the people who need it. The other volunteers were knowledgeable, helpful and efficient so that by the time people were lining up to receive the food the food bank was prepared to give it out.

The need is great in this time of transformation and constrained budgets, but food is donated every day and redistributed with very little cost. Major retailers like Trader Joe's, Safeway, Lucky and the merchants at the Farmers' Market send food over every day and should be commended for their ongoing efforts. Volunteers do the grunt work and keep the costs down. Very few activities can deliver as much camaraderie, helpfulness to others and the feeling of having done a good deed as four hours at the food bank. Highly recommended.

And then we went from one end of the food spectrum to another. We had been invited to a presentation in San Francisco promoting olives from Spain that evening and were of two minds about going. We didn't know how tired we'd be after our stint at the food bank, but in the end the lure of a meal prepared around olives (a great favorite of us both) proved sufficient to get us out of the house.

The event was held at a restaurant named Canela (2272 Market Street, San Francisco), owned and operated by chef Mat Schuster. Since it was a PR event we expected to be treated well and were. We expected an array of olives and Spanish wines and were not disappointed. What we did not expect was the incredibly good and tasty food we were served.

First up was a croqueta of cheese and olives deep fried to form a crust. One to a customer was not enough, as I found myself eating the third and eyeing a fourth. One small dish after another followed, including a pinchon (food on a skewer) which alternated seared white fish with olives and was truly delectable. Our tastings were accompanied by a Rioja wine which was light and extremely drinkable.

I am not usually a foodie; in fact, the family laughs at my “it's okay” response to meals they usually get and despair of ever hearing me wax rhapsodic over food. But this was something special. To run into a chef who produced such appetizing fare which by its goodness made us feel wealthy just by eating it is an event to be noted, and so I do.

The day had become a food day and everything about it was pleasant and positive. The farmers' market replenished our larder from people we consider neighbors since we see them at their stands twice a week, the food bank replenished our faith in our fellow humans and Canela surprised us with its quality and deliciousness. Great staff as well.

If love is food for the soul then Tuesday's food day was soulful love for the body and mind.