Fall Greek Festivals

The eating and dancing continues through summer into fall. The following list includes Greek festivals organized by churches around the US. I’ve only attended a few in the San Francisco Bay Area but imagine those in other parts of the country are similar and worth exploring. In many of the communities listed it’s a rare opportunity to get a taste of Greek food, music, and culture. And there are usually activities of interest to people of all ages.

10 – 12 August 2012 • Greek Town • Danforth Avenue, Toronto, ON, CANADA

18 – 19 August 2012 • Saint George • 1111 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN

24 – 26 August 2012 • Resurrection • 20074 Center Street, Castro Valley, CA

24 – 25 August 2012 • Holy Trinity • 330 Lakeside Drive NE, Grand Rapids, MI

24 – 26 August 2012 • Saint George • 2219 N. Orchard Street, Fresno, CA

25 – 26 August 2012 • Saints Constantine & Helen • 1224 Alabama Street, Vallejo, CA

31 August – 2 September 2012 • Sacramento Convention Center • Sacramento, CA

31 August – 3 September 2012 • Saint Barbara • 480 Racebrook Road, Orange, CT

1 – 2 September 2012 • Holy Cross • 900 Alameda, Belmont, CA

1 – 2 September 2012 • Saints Constantine & Helen • 43404 30th Street West, Lancaster, CA

1 – 3 September 2012 • Assumption • 5761 East Colorado Street, Long Beach, CA

6 – 9 September 2012 • Saint Demetrios • 721 Rahway Avenue, Union, NJ

7 – 9 September 2012 • Saint Sophia • 324 S. Normandie Avenue, Los Angeles,CA

8 – 9 September 2012 • Saints Constantine & Helen • 3459 Manchester Avenue, Cardiff By The Sea, CA

13 – 16 September 2012 • Holy Trinity • 10 Mill Road, New Rochelle, NY

14 – 16 September 2012 • Civic Center of Anderson • 3027 MLK Jr. Boulevard, Anderson, SC

14 – 16 September 2012 • Saint Demetrios • 1955 Kirker Pass Road, Concord, CA

14 – 16 September 2012 • Holy Trinity • 30 Huntington Boulevard NE, Roanoke, VA

15 – 16 September 2012 • Annunciation • 313 Tokay Avenue, Modesto, CA

20 – 23 September 2012 • Saint Nicholas • 697 Asheville Highway, Spartanburg, SC

21 – 23 September 2012 • Saint Barbara • 2300 Church Road, Toms River, NJ

21 – 23 September 2012 • Annunciation • 245 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA

22 – 23 September 2012 • Saint Katherine • 9165 Peets Street, Elk Grove, CA

28 – 30 September 2012 • Holy Trinity • 227 Cumberland Avenue, Asheville, NC

28 – 30 September 2012 • Archangel Michael • North Hempstead Beach Park, Port Washington, NY

5 – 7 October 2012 • Saint Elpis • 810 West Poythress Street, Southside, VA

copyright © 2012 by N. A. Diaman, all rights reserved

Olive Oil Exposed

Tom Mueller began his 13 August 2007 New Yorker article, Slippery Business, with an incident that is sadly typical.

Two decades ago a tanker freighter filled with hazel nut oil in Turkey eventually arrived in Italy, where the cargo was described on official ship documents as olive oil from Greece. Passing through customs unchallenged it was bottled, perhaps as part of a blend, and sold to consumers as real olive oil.

The author provides convincing evidence of widespread fraud that continues both in Europe and the United States. Over the last five years he’s continued researching the subject worldwide.

Extra Virginity by Tom Mueller, W.W. Norton, 2012, is a fascinating book and a must-read for both food lovers and health advocates.

He not only uncovers the abuses in the industry but also highlights individuals who are attempting to reform and promote the benefits of an authentic high-quality product. He interviews both those accused, and in some cases convicted, of selling lampante (lamp oil) as extra virgin, and others who continue to champion practices and safeguards that will insure the sale of honest and healthful olive oil.

Some of the largest Italian distributors of olive oil are supplying inferior oil to consumers through supermarkets nationwide.  Too often the Italian flags and appellation found on bottles is part of the scam. Mueller writes that more than half of what is sold in the United States, a rapidly growing and totally unregulated market, is bogus.

He includes advice about shopping and storing extra virgin olive oil and lists sources he believes are reliable in his book as well as his web site.

I was glad to find several growers and bottlers in Northern California listed and am enjoying the oil of one family-owned company he cited several times during a recent interview on a local radio station. Others may find Australian, Italian, or Spanish olive oil to their liking.

Do read this book!

copyright © 2012 by N. A. Diaman, all rights reserved

US Greek Festivals

May Day is celebrated in Greece in two ways. It’s a traditional celebration of spring with picnics and family outings. Also it’s a commemorated with militant labor marches.

During my last visit to Athens I experienced a bit of both. On my way to a large park in the north of the city I walked along streets closed to traffic including buses, passing crowds of people headed toward Syntagma, which faces the Parliament.

I spent the afternoon sharing food and drink with mainly young people in a shaded area. A majority of them were Greek, others were from Turkey, Bulgaria, Germany. Perhaps three-dozen of us socializing and enjoying the good weather. A temporary respite for those who still faced a jobless future after completing their education.

In the United States there are many Greek festivals sponsored by Orthodox Churches from late spring to early fall. Below are some I’ve found:

9 – 12 May 2012 • Annunciation • 32 East Ross Street, Wilkes-Barre, PA

11 – 12 May 2012 • Annunciation • 573 N. Highland Street, Memphis, TN

17 – 20 May 2012 • St. Sophia • 440 Whitehall Road, Albany, NY

17 – 20 May 2012 • St. George • 1200 Klockner Road, Trenton, NJ

18 – 20 May 2012 • Nativity of the Theotokos • 1236 Spotswood Furnace Road, Fredericksburg, VA

18 – 20 May 2012 • Annunciation • 1100 Napa Valley Road, Little Rock, AR

18 – 20 May 2012 • Sts. Constantine & Helen • 265 W. Third Street, Mansfield, OH

18 – 20 May 2012 • Ascension Cathedral • 4700 Lincoln Avenue, Oakland, CA

18 – 20 May 2012 • Prophet Elias • 223 Church Street, Santa Cruz, CA

25 – 27 May 2012 • Church of the Nativity • 1110 Highland Drive, Novato, CA

31 May – 3 June 2012 • Sts. Constantine & Helen • 60 Traverse Road, Newport News, VA

31 May – 3 June 2012 • Holy Trinity • 250 Gallows Hill Road, Westfield, NJ

1 – 3 June 2012 • St. Nicholas • 3109 Scio Church Road, Ann Arbor, MI

1 – 3 June 2012 • St. Nicholas • 1260 Davis Street, San Jose, CA

2 – 3 June 2012 • St. Andrews • Mission Plaza, Downtown, San Louis Obispo, CA

Dance! Eat! Enjoy!

copyright © 2012 by N. A. Diaman, all rights reserved

Great Greek Eats

Greek food is more than dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), spanakopita (spinach pie), and avgolemono soupa (egg-lemon soup). Many Greek cookbooks include these and other well-known favorites. They’re on the menu of every food festival, in the table of contents of every church recipe book, and what we remember eating at grandmother’s house.

I rely on Greek Cooking For The Gods by Eva Zane, 101 Productions, 1970 for the basics. However, that book is out of print. Modern Greek by Andy Harris, Chronicle Books, 2002 is a wonderful alternative. The later book is beautifully designed and filled with full-color photos throughout.

Anyone who wants to delve more deeply into the regional food of Greece should check out The Glorious Foods Of Greece by Diane Kochilas, William Morrow, 2001. The book covers each of a dozen regions of the country: the foods typical of each, what is usually available, and numerous recipes gathered from local cooks she met during her travels while researching the book.

The first dish I prepared from her book was the cheese and squash pie from Hania on page 420. I wanted to replicate one of several courses served by Maria on her balcony in Athens one summer night a couple years ago. Since then I also cooked savory pies from other areas that are now a part of my culinary repertoire.

Kochilas is a New Yorker with roots on the island of Ikaria. She currently lives in Athens and has a cooking school on the northern side of the island. She has her own web site, dianekochilas.com, and quite a few videos on YouTube.

copyright © 2012 by N. A. Diaman, all rights reserved

James Beard Finalists

The 2012 finalists for the James Beard Foundation Award for Best New Restaurant include: Altura, Seattle (Italian); Bistronomic, Chicago (French); Fiola, Washington, DC (Italian); Isa, New York City (Mediterranean); Petite Jacqueline, Portland, ME (French); Pistou, Burlington, VT (American/French); Tertulia (Spanish); and Zeppoli, Collingwood, NJ (Italian).

Three of the nominees for Outstanding Chef are: Tony Mantuano of Spiaggia, Chicago (Italian); Frank Ruta of Plena, Washington, DC (Italian); and Nancy Silverton of Pizzeria Mozza, Los Angeles (Italian).

Outstanding Restaurant finalists include: August, New Orleans (French); Balthazar, New York City (French); Patina, Los Angeles (French); Picasso at Bellagio, Los Vegas (French); and Vetri, Philadelphia (Italian).

And for Outstanding Restaurateur: Frank Bonanno of Bonanno Concepts, Denver (Italian); Richard and Larry D’Amico of D’Amico & Partners, Minneapolis (Italian); and Piero Selvaggio of Valentino Group, Santa Monica (Italian).

Piero Selvaggio

I enjoyed both the food and ambiance of Valentino Restaurant during a trip to Southern California perhaps twenty years ago. Selvaggio, who was born in Modica, Sicily, has been in the restaurant business for over forty years and is already the recipient of many prestigious awards.

copyright © 2012 by N. A. Diaman, all rights reserved

Guest Chef

Guest Chef, a relatively new restaurant in the Rockridge District of Oakland, California, was inspired by the many pop-up restaurants proliferating in the San Francisco Bay Area. Real estate developers Scott Cameron and Jerry Boddum decided to provide a permanent venue for aspiring chefs to try out their skills on a rotating schedule. I’ve never eaten there but it’s an intriguing concept.

Each chef is given an opportunity to showcase his/her cooking skills for a two-week period, giving adventurous diners a chance to sample the food. Several of the people scheduled to cook incorporated Mediterranean influences.

Eva R. Ciammetti, a New Yorker, whose parents settled in the US from Abruzzo, L’Aquila, Italy, learned to cook rustic Italian food from her mother and grandmother. She currently cooks Sundays in Fairfax, CA, teaches cooking in Sebestapol, CA and is active in Slow Food San Francisco.

Paul Skrentny, popular at street fairs and private parties, was the third chef in residence. The food he presented included strong Spanish influences.

Antonio Capezutto, the current guest chef, offers simple and authentic food from his native city of Naples. He learned his skills in his mother’s trattoria long before moving to San Francisco with his American wife and their daughter.

Guest Chef, located at 5337 College Avenue, Oakland, California, serves only dinner Tuesday through Sunday. More information is available at 510.658.7378 or info@theguestchef.net.

copyright © 2012 by N. A. Diaman, all rights reserved

Spaghetti With Nettles

I shop for organic produce at the Ferry Plaza Famers Market in San Francisco every Saturday morning and buy stinging nettles when they’re available. I caution anyone handling them that they need to either use tongs or wear rubber gloves because the green in its raw state irritates the skin. I like to eat stinging nettles with pasta.

The ingredients needed for the two-serving recipe that follows are: about ½ pound fresh stinging nettles, 6 ounces dry spaghetti, ½ cup raw or toasted pecans, ½ cup crumbled feta cheese, 6 olives, 2 cloves garlic or one stalk green garlic when in season, 1 ounce canned anchovies, olive oil, a large cooking pot, a colander, kitchen shears, a serving bowl or platter, a garlic press, and a kitchen timer.

This dish doesn’t take long to prepare and is best served immediately. I start by putting everything I need on the kitchen counter. I fill the pot with cold water and light the burner to heat it. I weigh the spaghetti so it’s ready. I put the colander in the sink and begin dumping the stinging nettles into it in batches and using the shears to cut it into smaller pieces so it doesn’t form clumps when it’s cooked.

Whenever the water reaches the boiling point, I slide in the spaghetti, setting the timer for ten minutes from the water resumes boiling. I make sure to stir the spaghetti once softens to separate the strands. It takes more than ten minutes for it to become al dente but the timer gives me a bit of advance warning to keep an eye on it while I complete the preparations below.

I break the pecans into pieces in the serving bowl, add the crumbled feta, remove any pits from the olives and cut into small pieces before also adding them. I clean the garlic and push through a garlic press or slice the green garlic and add to the other ingredients. I chop up the anchovies as fine as I can and add them along with the olive oil they’re packed in plus a bit more olive oil.

Just before the spaghetti is done I turn off the burner, add the stinging nettles to the pot and press down any that aren’t submerged. They take about a minute to cook. I return the colander to the sink where I drain both the pasta and greens. Once all the water is removed, I add the cooked spaghetti and nettles to the bowl and mix well before serving.

image & text copyright © 2012 by N. A. Diaman, all rights reserved

Butter To Olive Oil

In The Food Of France, published by Knopf in 1958, Waverley Root divides French cuisine into three domains: butter, lard, and oil. The book is a delightful tour, province by province, describing what is eaten and how it is prepared.

When I read the book I was already a Julia Child fan, preparing meals for my friends from the first volume of Mastering The Art Of French Cooking, Knopf, 1961. I had a set of Le Creuset enameled, cast iron cookware and some of the other kitchen tools she recommended. I enjoyed the many rich sauces containing butter and cream.

My introduction to French food was in San Francisco just a few years earlier. Roderick, my roommate at the time, received money from his parents in England for his birthday. Instead of spending it on himself he generously invited his ex-girlfriend, Jill, and me to have dinner with him at Chez Marguerite, a small North Beach restaurant.

The meal began with escargot traditionally prepared with butter and garlic. I ordered filet of sole in a Mornay sauce, Jill had the tournedos and Roderick Châteaubriand. I don’t remember dessert; perhaps it was Crème Brûlée.

I couldn’t imagine not having butter daily with meals, preferring sweet rather salted butter most Americans use.

Visiting my father in Greece, where he lived after his retirement, most of the food his wife cooked was served swimming in oil and tomato sauce I left uneaten. My father praised the benefits of olive oil while I held firm to my preference for butter. The virtues of the Mediterranean diet weren’t widely publicized then.

Athens lunch, 2004

However, years later when consuming fatty foods became problematic for me, I gradually cut down on my personal use of butter. By then I more often cooked Italian rather than French food. Now during summer I make pesto weekly with fresh organic basil I buy at the Saturday famers market and eat it with homemade fettuccini I also make from scratch.

I still keep sweet butter in the freezer for recipes that require it but it’s no longer in my daily diet. I’ve definitely developed a taste for olive oil and can’t imagine living without it.

image & text copyright © 2012 by N. A. Diaman, all rights reserved