Sunday, July 26, 2009

Garlic and Jelly Beans

We have just returned from a few days in northern California, where we visited the Gilroy Garlic Festival and the Jelly Belly Factory.

We had heard of the garlic festival when we lived in So Cal, but never made it up that way. After driving up and down I-5 several times the last couple years, for our move to Portland, the garlic festival was given higher priority on our weekend travel list. We love garlic and it sounded yummy. When I told people we were going, I got lots of great advice from everyone who had been there before. It's a 3-day fest, from Friday-Sunday, and one of my friends recommended going on the Friday to avoid the Saturday crowds and traffic. That plan worked well with PH's schedule, and it was a good plan. Although, Friday did seem pretty packed with people. I heard one of the vendors saying that Friday is usually the "slow" day, but that this year's Friday was definitely not slow. So, I can't imagine what Saturday would have been like, and I'm glad we got there before all the food had sold out.

Our first stop was garlic bread, made with garlic grown right there in Gilroy. So, so delicious. The first thing I noticed when I looked at the garlic bread, was that the spread seemed to be an olive oil, rather than butter. The second thing I noticed was that they were NOT skimpy with the garlic. The bread was covered with crushed, soft garlic. We each got 2 slices and they lasted about 2 seconds.

Then we headed over to the next booth to get garlic steak tacos. Also delicious. I am getting hungry just writing this.

Then we headed over to "Gourmet Alley" to try some more high-end fare. We were told that the scampi was to die for, so PH ordered some and declared that it lived up to its reputation, and was worth the drive from Portland. I don't really like the texture of shrimp, but I had a bite and admitted it was absolutely delicious, if you could pretend the squishy shrimp was a squishy clove of garlic.

There were arts & crafts vendors and garlic shopping as well, of course. We bought braids of local garlic to bring home, and a souvenir beer mug. They didn't serve garlic beer. I thought they might, only because I have been to the Oxnard strawberry festival where they served strawberry beer.

People dressed up festively. Garlic Tshirts (from previous years' festivals, and a "Stinkerbell" shirt), beanies shaped like heads of garlic, garlic jewelry. An old man came dressed as a garlic bulb, wearing a cowboy hat decorated with garlic braids. It was fun to see so much love for garlic.
When we were stuffed, we left the festival and walked around Gilroy. Gilroy is full of the most polite people I have ever seen. Near the festival park, kids set up stands selling water, or sometimes just giving water away. People in their driveways said hello to us as we walked by, something that does not happen in our current neighborhood here in Portland, which we always comment as being one of the most annoying/rude things about our neighborhood.

We ate dinner at one of Gilroy's many, many, many Mexican restaurants. Were we happy to see Mexican food. It was awesome. It was early in the evening and so at the time, we shared the restaurant with only one other table, a group of locals who were exceedingly friendly and polite as were all the other locals. I guess that is normal for a small town? I am not used to it. And let me be clear, it wasn't the annoying kind of friendly where they are talking to you nonstop when you want to be left alone. They really were both friendly and polite. I couldn't help noticing it.

The restaurant was located in a section of Gilroy labeled "historic". I assume it was indeed historic, but it was strange because it was mostly vacant and there were notices taped up in all the storefronts. "No occupancy" by order of some local bureaucrat, presumably because of the separate "Warning: unreinforced masonry building" notices, which were taped up next to the cryptic "This place is important" signs. For every 10 vacant storefronts, there might be one that was still occupied. So, I wasn't entirely clear on what was going on. I wondered if the "no occupancy" order went into effect only after the vendor had moved out, due to the economy or whatever? It didn't seem like the vendors were forced out due to the URM status, since there were still a few that held on, and it didn't seem that those storefronts were retrofitted when their adjoining neighbors were not. And "this place is important". I don't remember who placed the signs, but it wasn't the Gilroy Historical Society. I thought it might have made a bigger impression if they explained why, or what the issue was. A Google search and visit to the Gilroy Historical Society website turned up no explanation as to what is going on on this street. Although clearly the depressed economy is a major factor in the huge number of vacancies, it still appears that there is some red tape holding up the seismic retrofitting or some other issue preventing occupancy. Yet the GHS website shows a meeting agenda from last month that makes no reference to this street or this issue at all.

The next day, we went to the Jelly Belly Factory and took the free tour. It reminded of our tour of the Tillamook cheese factory, but also felt a bit like Willy Wonka when we saw candies on conveyor belts traveling from who knows where to who knows where. It was pretty cool. Here is a picture outside the factory.

We bought a ton of jelly bellys, probably enough to last us for a year. But we couldn't help it!

We learned that the Jelly Belly Factory used to be in Portland before it was in NoCal. But it wasn't the Jelly Belly Factory back then. They hadn't discovered Jelly Bellys yet. They made candy corn. They had to move because of the weather, among other things. I will have to find out where the candy corn factory used to be.

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