May 24, 2011

CF115 – OPA! Well… Almost!

CF115 – OPA! Well… Almost!

Show Notes for CF115

Welcome, folks to the Catholic Foodie, where food meets faith. I’m your host Jeff Young. And today I have a special treat for you. You see, next weekend, Memorial Day weekend, is Greek Fest here in New Orleans. And I have pulled together some video and photos from previous years to share with you. I want to show you why we love the Greek Fest so much, even though we are not Greek. The Greek Fest is really nothing more than the “church fair” of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in New Orleans. But we are Roman Catholic. Yet we never miss it! I wish I could say it was due to some ecumenical outreach of ours. But, it’s not. In this short episode I hope to show you why we go. So, sit back, relax, and grab your windex and spanakopita, and enjoy the show.

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Is Your Lucky Day

As I mentioned in the Intro, the annual Greek Fest is the church fair of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in New Orleans, Holy Trinity Cathedral. It’s a beautiful church, constructed in the traditional architecture of Eastern churches: beautiful domes atop, and an out-of-this-world iconostasis within. It really is a sight to behold. When you enter the church, you know you are on holy ground. It is a sacred place, and the atmosphere exudes holiness. And that is certainly a tribute to the Orthodox.

Now, I say that the Greek Fest is the annual church fair of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral. And it is. But it is also more than that. I mean, we are talking about the Greek Orthodox Church. It’s Greek, as in it comes from Greece. And there is a rich culture there. And that is why my little family of Roman Catholics go to the Greek Fest every year.

If you remember, Char’s family is Lebanese. We talked about the Lebanese culture quite a bit way back on episode 9 of the Catholic Foodie (Marhaba Habibi). We also talked about Greek Fest on episode 20 (Opa! Greek Fest 2009) and episode 75.

Now, Greek and Lebanese are not the same thing, but they are very similar. The food, the music, the dancing, the focus on family…. All of it is very similar, which is why we love the Greek Fest so much. Even spiritually, there are great similarities. The Universal Church is so big. And in 1054 AD there was the Great Split between East and West, between Roman Catholics and the Orthodox. Even in Roman Catholicism there are many rites: Latin, Byzantine, Reuthenian, Coptic, Maronite, Melkite, and many others. Lebanon is the seat of Maronite Catholicism. St. Maron brought the gospel to Lebanon very early in Christian History. And the Maronites have always been united with Rome. I am fortunate to have been exposed to a number of Catholic rites in my lifetime, and I have a great love and appreciation for the Eastern Catholic Church. In 1995, Blessed John Paul II wrote the encyclical Ut Unum Sint (that they may be one), I was overjoyed to read his analogy of the East and West… He said that They are like lungs, and we need both of them to breathe. And one of the beautiful things about this analogy is that “breath” is an image of the Holy Spirit.

Going to the Greek Fest each year, gives me a chance to admire the beautiful icons and the rich symbols of our faith. There is so much more that unites us than divides us.

Then there’s the food….

OK. I admit it. We. Love. The. Food. No other way to put it. The Gyros is my favorite. But we also enjoy the Souvlaki (pork or chicken). You can also get lamb sausage. And, speaking of the lamb…

Every year I spend time watching the guys roast lambs on a spit. They usually have four going at a time. And it takes 4 to 6 hours to roast a lamb. I am simply fascinated by this process. It’s not something you see every day.

Now, after watching them year after year, I finally asked last year if I could help sew one up. You see, the lamb is cut on the underbelly from top to bottom. In order to roast it on the spit, the bar that is inserted in the lamb has to be bolted to the lamb’s back. After that, the underbelly of the lamb has to be sewn up. That creates a sort of “oven” within the lamb. So it cooks from both the inside and the outside as it spins on the spit. A really neat process, actually. And it smells… heavenly!

So, last year, I talked with Capt. Mattheos (Matt), who is the captain of the lamb-roasting crew, and asked if I could help. He was happy to welcome me among them. I had a ball. There’s nothing like working a bit of magic in the kitchen… or on the grill, or rotisserie. It was a thing of beauty, folks. They put very little on the lamb to season it. Salt, pepper, and oregano. That’s it. And it is so juicy and delicious!

Besides the lamb, there are lots of other good eats. I already mentioned the Gyros and Souvlaki. But there’s also fried Calamari with Feta and lemon. And the Feta Fries: Greek-style fried potatoes prepared with a special blend of Greek spices and covered in feta cheese, served up hot. I love those! Greek Salad: with Feta Cheese, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, special greens, and their Greek vinaigrette dressing. Comes with rice-stuffed dolmades.

And then there’s a traditional Greek dinner: It includes tiropita, spanakopita, pastitsio, meatballs, and a Greek salad with dolma (stuffed grape leaves).

And for dessert… Wow! Home-made Greek pastries…. Over 20 different traditional ones, including Baklava.

Is it any wonder that we love the Greek Fest so much?

Last year was a first though. Not only did I help with the lamb, but our kids ending up working in the grocery area, helping to sell the spices, home-made Feta cheese, fresh pita, and Kalamata Olives. They had a ball.

So, if you are in the New Orleans area Memorial Day Weekend, you can join me, the Catholic Foodie, at the Greek Fest. And, until next time…. Kali Orexi!

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