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July 6, 2006

Heading: Talk of the Table, photo of Bob's new grill

The BBQ and an Accidental Volunteer Interlude


I'd been thinking about getting a gas-fired barbecue for some time. In my 20-plus years working in professional kitchens I spent a lot of time tending grills -- it was one part of my job I always enjoyed, that primal food/fire experience. And I miss it.

My wife Amy would point out that our charcoal-fueled Weber kettle is always available, tucked away in the garage, but I've always found it too labor-intensive for use outside of special occasions. Dragging out a bag of charcoal and getting the briquettes to the right temperature just takes too much time and finesse to do it on a regular basis. I've eyed a few of those big rolling carts, but I knew Amy would never give up a corner of her garden as a parking space.

Then, in a flyer from a Eureka chain store, I saw a picture of this modern, high-tech, tabletop BBQ. It looked cool and seemed just the right size to fit on the table on our porch. There was no information with the photo, so Amy called the store.

"Oh, that's the new Weber Q," she was told, and no, they did not stock them. Instead we were directed to an online store. I skipped the store's site, googled the Weber® Q site and found what I was looking for. A zippy BBQ that spoke in cartoon bubbles informed me that "Everyone knows small is the new big!" A chart comparing the fit of burgers, dogs and shrimps on the barbie showed that the Q 200 was the size I wanted. (There are smaller and bigger models.) A link to "dealers" directed me to my local Ace hardware store (although I'm sure they are available elsewhere, Pierson's for example). I vowed to own one before the Fourth.

On Friday I was invited to a Sunday barbecue at Hank's. "Anything special I could bring?" He had some vegetarians coming and wondered if I might bring a supplemental BBQ. "I think I can," I told him.

Saturday morning, after hitting a couple of great yard sales, including one that included a breakfast of Willoughby's famous hash browns (a topic worthy of another column), I found a parking space behind my neighborhood hardware store, Hensel's. They had the Q I wanted and with help from a "helpful hardware man" I carted it and a couple of propane canisters up to the counter. By chance, the digital age that brought me there was out of order: The store's Internet connection was down, which meant only cash sales. I lingered while a manager tried resetting the modem, but no luck. Some bigger system was hiccupping. I decided to hit my bank's cash machine. About $200 should do it.

The route to my bank took me across the Arcata Plaza, which, as on any summer Saturday was teeming with farmers and shoppers. I said a couple of hellos on my way across, checked in with Henry for a couple of sample olives and ran into someone who was carrying some fine looking zucchinis. "Where did those come from?" She pointed to Grady's Green Fire Farm booth.photo of zucchini squash, "great for grilling!"

On my way back, cash in pocket, I stopped to buy a few zukes. It was late in the day, the market would close soon, but there was still a pile of lovely green Italian squashes, a few yellow ones and some of those that look like little space ships. A sign on the table said, "Great for grilling." I was at the right place.

As I was making my purchase, a woman came along accompanied by a man in overalls carrying a stack of boxes. Melissa Reynolds explained to Grady's assistant that they were with the Farmers' Market AIDS Project. Could they leave a box for leftovers? Of course they could.

I'd heard about the project, and I'd always meant to volunteer. I figured now was the time -- fate had brought me to that stand at that moment -- and I asked if I could help. Of course I could. Melissa explained that they'd need help sorting food into boxes about a half-hour later. "Just come to the back of the Bank of America near the ATM around quarter to 2." That gave me plenty of time to get my Q, which I did, loading it in the back of my station wagon before I made my way back to the bank.

A squad of volunteers was waiting: a couple of sorority sisters from Gamma Alpha Omega in sweatshirts with the appropriate Greek letters, a smiling beauty from Straight-up Americorps, the guy in overalls, another guy in a hemp hat, some friends of Melissa's visiting from out of town with their baby and a whole family, one of whom was coming and going with a hand truck, bringing in box after box of unsold produce, a trickle at first, then three or four at a time.

Dozens of boxes and bags marked with specific addresses in Arcata, Eureka, McKinleyville, Trinidad and points beyond began to fill up. Lettuce, spinach, Chinese cabbage, apples, basil, tomatoes, even bunches of flowers were distributed evenly, and lots of squash, including some I'm sure came from Grady's.

At some point Melissa asked the sorority sisters if they could do deliveries. No, they had walked to town and had no vehicle. I stepped forward. I could do that. I was given a list of places in Arcata to drop food.

Before we were done, Melissa took time to thank everyone who'd helped in this, the first distribution of this year's project. (It's been going for 14 years.) She had volunteered before and now had agreed to lead it. Saturday was her 30th birthday, and she was so happy because everything worked well, her friends were there, there was plenty of help and boxes were full. It was a good day. She smiled with that glow that comes when you know you are doing the right thing.

I was ready to take off on my small route, but first I snagged a flyer from Melissa. "Volunteers needed," it says. "If you can spare 1-2 hours on a Saturday afternoon, please come join us." Contact Melissa at 616-5080 or earthbabe@excite.com, or just show up behind the bank at around 2 p.m. any Saturday.

The way it worked out I only had three boxes to deliver. At two places no one answered the bell and, as directed, I left the food by the door. At the last, a roommate answered explaining that the recipient was on the phone. "Does he have to sign anything?"

"No, just enjoy the food," I replied handing him the box. As I turned my car around, a hobbit-like guy came from the house to thank me and wave goodbye. "My pleasure," I told him -- and it was.

Back home I unpacked my new grill. Amy had bought some hamburger and I cooked up enough for the whole family, along with tasty slices of Grady's zukes, coated with olive oil and sprinkled with my special grilling spice mix. (I'll give you the recipe another day.)

It was a great meal, as was the barbecue at Hank's on Sunday, where I spent the afternoon manning two grills, mine and Hank's, cooking chicken, cheeseburgers, sausages, salmon and albacore on his, lots of squash, peppers, onions, even little baby carrots on mine, along with a package of rubbery tofu dogs. It was all good. I was in BBQ heaven. Thank yous were offered for my work. It really was my pleasure.


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