“Kourambiedes is like a piece of cake,” declares Juli Sarris, joy and a hint of relief mixed in her vowels, parading in color-coordinated blue. “Baklava is like … OMG!” she adds with a dramatic flourish. But the baklava baking session doesn’t show up on the schedule for another two days.
While many of us savor the last weeks of summer, having zero desire to muse about pumpkins and changing foliage, Sarris and her crew – the hat and hairnet brigade – push it to the limit in the kitchen at Sts. Peter and Paul Greek church in Boulder, Colo., as its 18th festival, Taste of Orthodoxy, races into view on the weekend of September 10.
In 2019, Sarris reports, 600 pieces each of kourambiedes, koulourakia, and paximathia were made. That year, “we sold 1,000 pieces of baklava, so that’s our goal for this year too.”
From his treasury of inexpressible wisdom, God knows our every movement. He knows how to play to our individual strengths.
Sarris, a professor of education at the nearby University of Colorado flagship campus, knows her unique assignment as kitchen coordinator. She’s a study in kinetic energy, the total package, while simultaneously a balm for the soul. “For reasons that escape me,” she asserts, a bit bewildered. “I’m the person that gets things done.”
It was Otto von Bismarck who said “laws are like sausages. It’s best not to see them being made.” Thankfully, the 19th-century prime minister of Prussia never mentions a word about grabbing a front-row seat to see Greek pastries take form.
With a watchful eye on baking pans crowded with kourambiedes, she races over to line up containers in neat rows that brim with the recipe’s elemental ingredients: powdered sugar, almonds, eggs, and butter. By the time she finishes arranging them, it resembles a queue of aircraft waiting for the OK to take off.
As Presbytera Kedrann Dotson gingerly slides trays of the early batches of the Greek treats into one of two (or is it three?) gas ovens, other hardy volunteers begin shuffling in. Energized, caffeinated and ready to mingle with flour, water, eggs and, of course, free-floating observations, some more mundane than others. And no time clock to punch.
“Oh, there’s the paximadi queen!” enthused Sarris, as she greets Mary Chamis Lymberopoulos. As she gears up to make her contribution, I press for a bit of intel about her background. So what brought her to the Front Range, where plains shake hands with peaks? She said Cleveland was her original home. After marriage, she found herself in Austin, where her husband was pursuing a doctorate. In 1964, they moved to Boulder. “It was wonderful,” she recalled. “Very small. Everyone knew each other.”
Before Boulder had a Greek church, she recalled, she and her family drove to the Assumption of the Theotokos Cathedral in Denver. It was a moving adventure on an old toll road that charged a quarter to ride. “I had two little children. By the time we got there, they had burped up their food.”
Another member of the elite team, Pam Torrance, bounced in, sleeves rolled up, heart and soul in tune. Heart and soul in gear – sleeves rolled up. Forty-eight hours earlier, during coffee hour, Torrance was seen scooping homemade vanilla ice cream from a deep plastic bucket.
Ice cream, though, isn’t the only goodie she shares after Divine Liturgy. “I made homemade Belgian waffles last week,” she announced proudly. “We have seven waffle irons here.” Staging the festival, she explains, is a big deal. “If you don’t do it, it’s going to die with you. It’s a party that we celebrate and the kids see it.”
COVID-19, says Nick Karis earlier, dealt a serious blow to the psyches of many at the church who were mentally in the zone of unveiling another festival. “It was a terrible void. You lost something important to you. It’s gone.” His young granddaughter, who had been looking forward to working in the souvlaki booth, “cried for a week.”
An hour passes and the room sizzles like a well-oiled baking pan. Crunchy and cozy.
There’s scattershot lament over Boulder not fielding enough Greek eateries. Casual conversation bursts forth about how, when all is said and done, it’s the Arab members of the church who outshine their Greek counterparts at turning out Greek dishes. And, with plenteous pride, chitchat unfurls about turnout. Once the event hits its stride, claims one, the traffic volume around the church rivals a Colorado Buffaloes home football game.
Holding forth with her spatula is Viktoryi Wall and her daughter Dinara. Wall, a native of Belarus, said she craves the social interconnectedness at the sessions. “I didn’t know anybody here,” she recalls as another pan slides into the oven. “Greeks are very opinionated,” she jokes, laughing. “They taught me how to make Greek coffee. This feels like family.”
As more pans neatly arranged with four horizontal rows of raw dough are oven-ready Sarris, tongue firmly planted in cheek, grumbles about her position of authority, lending her gifts out of love and humble service. “Why do I have to be the one that gets things done,” she asks, cracking a smile as another package of unsweetened creamy butter shows up. “Don’t get me started about the roof. There’s three layers of shingles on it!”