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Fare Start, Seattle, tasted on March 31, 2005 I have written many times about my priorities when it comes to eating. It's really all about flavor for me. Ultimately if the food tastes great and special, I don't care hugely about other things like service, decor, and even cost. But for the first time last week I was influenced by something other than the taste of the food. A couple of months ago DebDu started volunteering at a Seattle organization called FareStart. FareStart trains homeless people to work in restaurants and other food service businesses. Through a partnership with local restaurants Fare Start places 80% of its graduates in jobs. This simple strategy is making progress helping the homeless and being incredibly effective. And they do it all through food.

Every day of the week FareStart serves food to roughly 2500 people. It provides food to homeless shelters, does catering, and also has its own restaurant where it serves lunch in downtown Seattle Monday through Friday. And every week on Thursday night FareStart invites a guest chef, typically from a local restaurant to cook dinner. And from what I can tell, every Thursday night is packed. On the night we went the guest chef was Heath Swanson of McCormick and Schmick's Harborside. Chef Swanson, some folks from his restaurant, a crew of volunteers (on this night from the Microsoft alumni network), and of course the folks in training from FareStart cooked dinner. Things started off with Living Butter Lettuce Salad with Julienned Jicama, Dijon Ranch, and Pink Peppercorns. The salad was followed by Cedar-planked Salmon, Northwest Berry Beurre Sauce with Herb Roasted Potatoes and Fresh Asparagus. For dessert we got Fresh Northwest Berry Shortcake with a Buttermilk Biscuit and Vanilla Cream.

Honestly, the food was fine. And for the first time, I didn't really worry about it too much. There was an energy in the room that I haven't seen at any restaurant in Seattle. The closest thing I've felt to it was the energy at Balthazar in New York. But FareStart's restaurant isn't a hip huge French bistro. It feels Scotch taped together. The equipment in the kitchen is ancient. FareStart is currently in the middle of a capital campaign to renovate another downtown building into a nicer facility. I hope they don't make it too nice. The "low-endness" of their current restaurant is part of what gives it charm. Strangely enough, the decor, the service, the price, and (warning, heresy follows) even the food is not a huge factor much because it just feels good to eat there.

 

     
     
     
     
     

 

 

 

 

 

   

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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