Editor's note: The Greek-American Festival beings at 11 a.m. Friday and noon on Saturday and Sunday.
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Ethnic festivals -- so plentiful in town this time of year -- are all about sharing a heritage and introducing others to your culture and sometimes your religion.
At least, that's the theory. The practice, though, is more focused.
According to surveys taken of their attendees, the two reasons most people cite for coming to the Greek-American Festival are the food and the pastries, said festival publicity chair George Sarantou.
The 42nd annual festival, which runs Friday through Sunday, will have music and dancing, art and crafts, and even tours of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral.
But the festival is really about food. So it also will offer moussaka, souvlaki, pastichio, gyros, chicken with oregano, dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), and much, much more.
On a recent Monday morning, about 20 members of the church were busy making koulourakia, butter cookies beloved for their twisted shape. The enticing aroma of the cookies baking could be smelled even outside the church's education building, where the festival will be held.
Koulourakia are butter cookies with a twist -- vanilla (the ones made for the festival have Greek vanilla, of course) and almond extract. Though made with relatively little sugar, for butter cookies, they are sinfully rich. According to Susie Doukides, who was overseeing the cookies' production, every Greek house has a stash of them stored away for guests, for children or to eat with coffee.
There are plenty of them stored away for the festival. Some 2,500 of the buttery delicacies were made; they will be sold in packages of six for $2 or 13 for $4. That will not feed the crowds of 20,000 or 25,000 expected to come to the festival, which is one of the area's largest. But there will be plenty of Greek pastries for all, from baklava (including coconut baklava and chocolate-almond-rolled baklava) to the honey nut cake called karithopita and the custard wrapped in phyllo crust called galaktobouriko and finikia, a spiced cookie dipped in a honey syrup and sprinkled with ground walnuts.
All of the pastries for the festival begin with workshops presented by the Philoptochos Society, a nationwide philanthropic organization that serves as the women's society for the church. Many of the people baking the cookies are members of the society, plus friends and people who want to learn how to bake the traditional goodies, including a handful of men. Some were mixing the dough, some were scooping it out into equal-sized portions, some were rolling it into a snake and then twisting it, and two people were delicately painting the tops with an egg wash for a better color and a shine when they are baked.
"It is an assembly line. Everybody has their job and everybody does it very well," Ms. Doukides said.
Along with Greek dances and the sale of clothing, jewelry, food, and Greek Orthodox icons, the festival will also include three lectures on Greek language and culture: Greek Language 101, with Dawn Anagnos (Friday, 8 p.m.); Greek Culture Olympics, a game testing knowledge of Greek culture (Saturday, 4:30 p.m.), and My Big Fat Greek Orthodox Baptism, with seminarian David Mynihan.
Always popular is the Taverna, where Greek and domestic wines and beers are sold. As in previous years, the Taverna will also be equipped with large-screen televisions tuned to the weekend's football games. And as an added bonus, once again the televisions will be raffled off on Sunday.
And for people who have tried the food and want to learn more, the festival will also offer its popular cooking demonstrations. Becky Skiadas will show how to make the crowd-pleasing saganaki-- flaming cheese -- at 7 p.m. Friday. Presbytera Ann Hadgigeorge will demonstrate the making of tiropitas -- cheese pie -- Saturday at 6 p.m. On Sunday at 2:30 p.m., Roula Manton will make the walnut cake known as karithopita, and at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, George Kamilaris of Georgio's Cafe International will demonstrate how to make his restaurant's famous pastichio, which some people compare to a Greek lasagna.
The festival will be at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral, 740 N. Superior St. It is open from 11 a.m.-midnight Friday, noon.-midnight Saturday, and noon-7 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free on Friday from noon-3 p.m.; it is $4 Friday from 3 p.m.-midnight, $4 all day Saturday, and $1 all day Sunday. Children 12 and under are free with a parent. For more information, call 419-243-9189.
1 pound butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon baking powder
⅓ cup warm milk
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
6-7 cups flour
1 egg, beaten (for egg wash)
Preheat oven to 350°.
In a large bowl, cream butter well. Add sugar and beat until well creamed. Beat in egg, yolk, vanilla, and almond extract.
In a small bowl, add baking powder to warm milk. Add to butter mixture and mix well.
Add baking soda to flour. While mixing, gradually add flour into bowl. Add enough flour to form a soft, but not sticky, dough.
Pinch off a piece of dough and roll into a 6-inch rope. Twist into a two-strand braid, like a twist-tie, or into a sea-horse shape. Place on cookie sheet.
Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake until light brown, about 20-25 minutes.
Yield: 105 cookies
Source: Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral.
Contact Daniel Neman at email@example.com or 419-724-6155.