Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Baa Baa Black Sheep Gathering!

I beg your forgiveness, I have been absent.  Not absent-mindedly lost in my own house (always a strong possibility), but on the annual pilgrimage to the Black Sheep Gathering in Eugene, Oregon.  It’s a sheep, wool and fiber arts festival that masks the greater purpose of meeting up with the Fiber Posse ( KnitCents Roue, Outlier's ToadyJoe, Knitting RN, SpinDoctor Sasha and KnitWits Carin among others) and eat our way from one end of town to another.

There are over-crowded hotel rooms (we stayed at Courtesy Inn Eugene-small rooms, but really clean, really cute motel), crazy shopping and an exhibit hall full of sheep. There was a Sheep to Shawl challenge in which a team of artists spun, plied and wove an entire shawl in one day.  There is the Saturday Fleece Sale, in which Jedi Jasmin scopes the hall full of prize-winning fleeces and cleans the place out. Let me back up there.  A separate hall is dedicated to hundreds of shorn fleeces from different breeders submitted for judging.  They are categorized by length, type, color, etc. and as you can imagine, certain breeders have Brand Recognition and a ribbon has star power. 
During the preview we are allowed to check the fleeces in their bags, noting their entry number, and the table number where their category resides. Jasmin assigns our crack team of Fleece Ninjas table and fleece numbers during the preview.  We are then escorted out of the hall while they prepare for the sale and let back in to shop.  There are strict rules: No Running, No Elbows.  I do not run, but as a lifelong Shorty, I Hustle With A Purpose.  Very, Very, Quickly.  Also, my elbows are sharp, but lady-like--they brush demurely.  Team Jasmin never experiences more than 10% loss on planned fleece acquisition.
So there, I give you proof that we drove 9 hours for something more than just dinner at Marchè.  
HAHAHAHAHA!!!!  Didja see, I nearly got that out with a straight face!  We basically drove 9 hours to eat at the phenomenal brasserie Marchè twice, the diabolically addictive Off the Waffle every morning and the bizarre and endearing Pizza Research Institute.  The drive seems to go so very fast when there is Seared Fois Gras at the end of the line. 
Marchè features a seasonal french menu that just goes crazy with deliciousness.  Since we visited twice, I was going to try several different things, but the second time, I had loved the fois and Moules Frites so very much I ordered them again.  The Fois Gras is seared with a crisp, savory exterior on toasted brioche with---fresh peanut butter and strawberry gelèe.  Phenomenal, as the peanut butter blends with the meatiness of the fois and grounds it.  The gelèe is a lovely counterpoint without being the heavy hand of a traditional sauce.  Alexander’s Steakhouse here in Cupertino did the same thing with their Fois Gras mousse, and it’s a brilliant move--what else works so well with something so etherial as the lovely, creamy liver? Not a big sauce, but tiny, happy, pink berry cubes.  Just a little fruity tartness.  Yummmmmmm.
The Moules Frites was perhaps one of the Perfect Meals.  Two identical bowls on a square plate, presented with house made ketchup and mayonnaise, which I did not, unfortunately, remember.  The mussels were steamed to perfection, served with a gorgeous garlicky butter-wine sauce, while the frites were absolute Matchsticks from Heaven.  They were savory, probably tossed in a bit of truffle oil and salt, but were so clean and yummy, they just snapped on the teeth and fluffed on the tongue.

 Alternating mussels with frites, you will finish the mussels and be left with a bowl of bewitching sauce and half a bowl of beguiling spuds.  You should then deliver several frites at a time into the sauce and eat them cereal- style.  You will experience salty, crispy, earthy, oceany, buttery ecstasy. The JoC Fairy promises.
Off the Waffle offers a dizzying array of options topping their legendary Liege waffles.  Crispy thick, belgian-style waffle are covered in fruit, eggs, bacon, yogurt, whipped cream--go sweet, go savoury, then go back and order them frozen by the half-dozen to go home!  Morning 1 I had the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, which bent my strong preference --nay, OCD obsession with separation of anything appropriately requiring syrup and all other items being carefully and distinctly placed on another plate.  This waffle has havarti cheese melted on, then a sunny-up egg and bacon on top.  So I embraced the Spirit of Vacation and Just Did It.  Good Stuff, but I’m still a double-plate girl. 

Morning 2 was The Overachiever, which was tasty and delicious, also healthy with the addition of yogurt, so I got a full banana and probiotics.  Sound utilitarian and unexciting? 
“Fairy, where’s the exotic mountain of awesomeness?  The pile of chocolate and whipped cream and jelly beans???”
Here’s the thing.  Last year, I spent a month in Portland.  GingerMan came for a weekend and we stayed in downtown, where we ate twice at The Original.  They feature a pancake concoction called the Fruit Loop, a play on an Oregon tradition near the Hood River Valley where you drive over hill and dale through the farms buying fruit right off the trees and bushes, fresh jams, nuts and honey.  These pancakes come in a stack of three huge flappers with a layer of cream cheese icing and Fruit Loops Cereal.  Genius.  It was So. Good.  But here’s the thing, these pancakes were so beautiful I could have eaten them plain.  I’m a HUGE butter and syrup gal, but these were perfection--balanced between fluffy and crispy, cakey, bready, and sweet.  I despair of ever replicating these at home.
Off the Waffle achieves Waffle Nirvana in the same way.  I would take them with a small amount of syrup, but they are so crisp and flavorful, really I would go for just a bit of butter and some crunchy sugar and chow those suckers by the stack.  So the toppings I ordered on any given morning were really a superfluous detail. Oh, and the crazy Ginger-Fro dood on the website?  We saw the owner on Saturday, and yes, that's his spitting image.  NO lie.
Friday night we invaded The Pizza Research Institute, a vegetarian pizza place where we spent a idyllic summer evening in their back patio, our huge 18-person table placed next to the upright bass and slide-guitar duo.  The waiter was a champ, the place was classic Oregon, an ineffable, joyful quality and you’ll really need to visit the website and read the menu to understand what makes them special.  I had the Chef’s Special.  It had everything, from curried cauliflower to apricots with ricotta cheese.  Didn’t like the crust, like, at all, but the toppings, the confluence of textures and flavors was offbeat and delicious.  

All in all, I bought a bit of yarn and resisted the fleece, as I only just received the ones I bought at last year’s Gathering back from Shari at Morrow Bay.  She’s a brilliant, skilled and totally conscientious fibre processor and it’s a whole box full of happy.  So it was easy to simply play for Team Jasmin and come home with money still in the bank.  I indulged in some Stitch Jones ( a Portland gal- She Goes To Eleven!), and Huckleberry Knit’s Silk and Silver.  


A breathtaking fingering weight,  I immediately balled the Garnet silk,  delicately flecked with silver, utilising Knitmore Girl GigiDaaahhhling as ball winder and J’s epipen as a nostepinne and plowed straight into the Citron Shawl.  BTW, HOOORAH for Knitty patterns on the iPhone--we did all this sitting outside the fleece sale hall on Saturday afternoon!

The ride home was short--I finished up to section 4 on the Citron and we drove flat out for home in time for late dinner and bed.  GingerMan had a hotdog and CSA box carrot sticks waiting, and while the sight of a ginger boy with a short 'hawk and a long, flaming beard holding dinner is heavenly, I already hold a certain and unique homesickness for the place I call my second home.  
So I do beg your indulgence for my absence, the journey was arduous and long, but I did it all for you!
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