Yesterday marked the beginning of the annual Greek Festival at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church here in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I am just making my way around the world this month! This is family tradition for us. My mother’s family is from Greece, near Sparta. (Yeah, we’re totally awesome like that.) Greek food is comfort food, but it is not quick food. But, man is it good! I look forward to this all year round. In Tulsa there aren’t many Greek restaurants, and nothing that serves anything remotely like homemade Greek food. Every year my mom and I split the same thing.
Chicken Souvlaki with Rice Pilaf (I don’t know what they do to that rice to make it so good, but the experiments begin post haste!) Souvlaki is little pieces of meat grilled on a skewer. Wow, I had this for dinner last night, and my eyes automatically just closed and I made uncontrollable yummy sounds….maybe, I need to go back! Then there is the Greek salad with lettuce, big hunks of feta, tomatoes, pepporcini, onions and dressing. The Athenian Platter is just full of goodness. Dolmades are grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs. They actually sell these in the small market they have set up near the bakery…mmmm….the bakery…okay, I’m back. Then of course there is more feta, and Kalamata Olives. Then comes the filled pastries. Spanikopita this is one of my favorites. Spinach and feta wrapped in buttery flaky phyllo dough, and tiropita is like the spanikopita but without the spinach. We have to get extra spanikopita, because it is our favorite.
When you enter the festival, there is a big striped tent and a really long line…for food. You’re given a menu and a little pencil to mark your choices. As the line weaves back and forth, you cross a couple of beverage stations on the way to place your order. The first has Greek wine and ouzo. Have you ever had ouzo? This is an anise flavored liquor. (anise tastes kind of like licorice) While it comes in a shot glass, trust me, this something to be sipped. When the liquid is at room temperature it is clear, but when it gets cold it turns a milky white color. In the small market near the bakery…mmmm…the bakery…sorry! They had a t-shirt that read “one ouzo, two ouzo, three ouzo…see you next week.” Now, my mom says that when she was a kid the older members of the family would sit around and drink ouzo and eat feta. (This does not sound appealing to me, but I’ve never tried it.) I’ve never had more than two glasses of ouzo, and I was….happy….and my head was…warm. It was nice. I’m not sure what three would have done though. This may be why the men have a dance where four guys carry a table and another guy dances on top of it. (The things men do….) This year, having attended on a weeknight, I decided to forgo the ouzo for a Greek lemonade. I think my mom was disappointed. She may have wanted to share my ouzo too.
Speaking of dancing, they have dancing at the Greek festival too! All ages come out to perform for the festival goers. From the young children to adults, they don their traditional costumes and take the stage. They have someone to explain the dances, and teach you a few Greek words as the evening goes on. He’s also usually the guy that gets the crowd going with “Opa” being shouted enthusiastically by everyone. I’ve generally found that if someone yells “opa” at a party, that’s the person who knows how to have a good time!
So you get to have your dinner and watch all the dancing and listen to the wonderful Greek music play in the background. The atmosphere is friendly and loud…just like any Greek family would be. If you didn’t bring friends with you, you’re likely to meet some along the way or make some new ones!
Now, you may be wondering why I keep getting distracted by the bakery. (or maybe not, but I’m going to tell you about it anyway) This is because you don’t know….you may have tried baklava, the flaky layered dessert with nuts and honey syrup. You may have enjoyed my favorites, kourabiethes. They are almond butter cookies covered in powdered sugar. Some of you may have tasted the finikia that is dipped in honey syrup or the koulurakia that twisted and crunchy and perfect for dipping in coffee. But have you had a baklava sundae? I hadn’t. They take the crumbles from the baklava, and sprinkle it over a scoop of vanilla ice cream….then they drizzle honey over it. This is perfection. The ice cream cuts through the sweetness than can be a bit overpowering from the baklava and honey and…it took a lot of will power not to lick the bowl. (I’m not joking.) I recommended this to people as we were leaving, and I was still muttering “baklava sundae” under my breath as we drove home.
I can’t believe I’ve never tried this before. My friends in Chicago would keep the crumbly baklava bits when I made the cookies at Christmas and put it on ice cream, but I never tried it. I HAD NO IDEA!!! Generally, after spending four hours in the kitchen, I didn’t want to look at the stuff any more. However, I have seen the error of my ways, and baklava sundaes will be eaten this year! (Sorry, I may have gotten a bit carried away.)
Holy Trinity is a gorgeous church as well. The stained glass windows are beautiful. They are gracious enough to give tours during the festival, and someone is available to talk to the Orthodox faith. This year we were all veterans of the Tulsa Greek Festival, but we always make sure the newcomers get to see that the church’s beauty matches that of the people who make this festival an annual tradition for all of us.