Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Annual Greek Festival, a Favorite Summer Tradition

I met Maria at auditions for the school play in my Freshman year of high school.  She got a small role and we both volunteered for make-up crew.  The school was doing Dracula so we were excited with the ghoulish creativity we could discover.  We discovered we liked the new wave of British music in the early and mid 80s - Duran Duran, Sting,  New Order, as well as a deep respect for Queen, Pink Floyd, and the 80's U2.  Bod Geldof was our hero; the founder of Band Aid and Live Aid.  We both read his autobiography.  We became good friends quite quickly.

She lived close, so we carpooled for rehearsals.  I'll never forget the first time I was invited into Maria's home.  I knocked on her back door.  Her father opened the door with one hand and held a long, thin, meat carver's knife in the other.  He only had to lean down and over a few inches from where he was in the kitchen to the back door.  He was slicing meat off a large bone which I'd never seen before.

As he opened the door to let me in I said hello.  With a straight, but sincere face, wide eyes and friendly voice, he held out his knife straight to my face with a few chunks of meat, which did smell delicious, and said,

"You like lamb?  Taste.  It's good."

How could I refuse, especially with a knife in front of my face?

Actually, I wasn't that intimidated, with the lamb or Maria's father, especially with his welcoming smile and wide eyes. I  knew I was going to taste something wonderful.  I instantly loved lamb and Greek hospitality.  It reminded me much of the bare-bones sincere hospitality my family gave to long time friends.  Later in high school, her sister and my brother joined the theatre, music and arts crowd as well.  We, with a handful of others backstage became a tight group, often hanging at our house or Maria's house discussing the arts.

Our two high school friends with their kind father, a friend of theirs on Crete, and their beautiful, kind, mother, who makes the best baklava, pastisio and stuffed zucchini blossoms. 2001
Through the years I remember when their mother was making a kitchen full of pans of baklava for the Festival: light, flaky phillo pastry with a walnut and honey filling for the annual festival on Memorial Day Weekend.  I fondly remember helping my friends and their parents pass trunk loads of baklava into the large kitchen packed with volunteers and trays of other Greek delights the night before.

My brother, our group of theatre friends and I enjoyed when Maria and Tina performed their traditional dances they've learned the through their church.  We'd cheer them on, get a juicy grilled souvlaki, sit on the steps of the church and wait until the parents have had their time socializing.  Souvlaki is a skewer  of chunks of pork marinated in lemon, garlic and oregano, grilled to perfection, served on a lightly grilled pita with onions, tomatoes, and tzatziki sauce (yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, lemon and dill).  My husband now looks forward to at least two at the festival and two to take home each year.

Souvlaki: marinated chunks of pork, onions, tomatoes and tzaziki sauce on the side

TheGreek Fests have not been the same without my close high school friends.  The family has since moved back to Crete and are all doing well.  I haven't been able to visit them since October of 2001, so it's been too long.

Greek dancers, like our friends used to do
Click here for a video of the dance!

Until I can see them again someday I make it a point of going to the Greek Fest each year.  I'm happy to say I've shared my tradition with my husband and other friends and family through the years.  I need my Greek food fix, Greek music and dance, and the chance to spend time with family and friends, new and old.

Cousins enjoying gyros

Lots of folks at this Cleveland tradition.  During the festival, everyone is Greek.

The end of one of the indoor food lines
More people!

Not the best photo of the Cleveland Skyline from their parking lot, but you get the idea.

My friends' family's village on Crete.  Accessible only by ferry, as there are no roads or cars in this remote area. 1997

My friend and her grandpa on Crete. 1997

My friend relaxing with a frappe. Crete 1997


  1. Reading this post made me hungry! I love Greek food, especially baklava and tzatziki. I'm half-Polish, and there is a salad that's similar to tzatziki, made with cucumbers, dill, and sour cream. The photos were a nice accompaniment to your reminiscences of your Greek friends and their family's hospitality. It's great that you keep in touch with them, and I hope you get to visit them again soon! Looks like Cleveland's Greek Festival is foodie heaven! Loved seeing the dancing. Reminds me of the Polish Club get togethers my family and I went to when I lived in Cincinnati.

    1. Kris, your Polish salad sounds much like the Hungarian salad Grandma made - cukes, onions, sour cream and cider vinegar.

      I simply LOVE tzatziki!

  2. A close friend of mine is choir leader in our local Greek Orthodox Church. Every month they have a public dinner which my wife and I attend. Even though I'm not a meat eater I still find plenty of good food to eat, and the warmth of the people, their gaiety and conviviality is infectious. I've become friends with their oldest member, a 96 year old woman named Dottie, who used to own and run a Greek restaurant here in town. I often run into her while I'm walking downtown, and we always have lively and interesting talks.

    1. Thank you for sharing! I would love the Greek churches around here to sponsor monthly dinners. How lucky you are! Yes, there are many vegetarian dishes. I noticed in another post you like Greek potatoes. I have a blog entry with a recipe i found that came close to what I remember.

  3. Charlene, great story about Maria’s father and the lamb. What a lovely family and wonderful friends! Hope you get to visit them in Crete again soon. I love lamb too and baklava. I never had Souvlaki but it sounds and looks delicious. How nice to have that Greek Fest there. Nice photos too, makes me want to go to Crete and eat Greek food!

  4. Tzatziki with pita and I'm happy!
    Funny thing with the knife and the lamb ... ;-)