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St. Michael's volunteers cook up festival delights

| Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, 8:55 p.m.
Marilyn Forbes I For Trib Total Media
Longtime volunteers Joanne Hasnaver and Laura Nicholas are baking Syrian bread for the festival.

From the hand-rolled goodness of the grape leaves to the flaky layers of the sweet baklava, the volunteers at St. Michael's Antiochian Orthodox Church have been working for weeks to prepare all the food that will be available at their annual fest.

“We have been cooking and cooking,” event co-chairwoman Valerie Flizanes said of the preparation for the one-day event scheduled for Sept. 7. “We have pretty much been cooking non-stop now.”

Flizanes co-chairs the event with Sara Armanious and the pair are joined by dozens of volunteers to bring the event to the public every year.

The event attracts people from all over who are looking for homemade Mediterranean cuisine — with a little American flavor added for those who may want it.

“We started out years ago with just a dinner that we would have twice a year,” volunteer Joanne Hasnaver said. “We decided to have something a little bigger so we did a few dishes. We added a few things over the years, like the chicken, because not everyone likes lamb. So we came up with a few things to have something for everyone.”

The festival attracts hundreds of hungry patrons.

“They are lined way out the door before we even open and we always sell out,” Hasnaver said. “We never dreamed it would get this big.”

The menu will include grilled lamb shishkabobs, grilled chicken, St. Michael's Rice, lubee (a lamb stew with green beans), grape leaves, spanakopita (spinach pie), pastitsio (baked pasta), salad, pita bread, baklava, nut rolls, apricot and poppy seed rolls, Simboosic, Syrian bread and gyros.

The volunteers also make larger quantities of certain items that are frozen and ready to be sold and taken home for later enjoyment.

“It's really hard to say what are the favorites because people seem to like everything, ” Flizanes said.

Working on certain dishes on different days, the volunteers pride themselves on all of their food being prepared from scratch.

“Everything that we make, everything, is homemade,” Flizanes said. “We made 12,500 grape leaves and we rolled each one.”

The volunteers come together for weeks in advance and spend days in preparation, sharing their time cooking.

“I enjoy doing this and it's nice for all of us to get together,” volunteer Laura Nicholas said. “I've been doing this now for over 50 years.”

Items can be purchased for takeout or visitors can sit down and enjoy a meal in the large social hall.

“We fill up our freezers getting ready for this,” Flizanes said, adding that no matter how much they make, they sell out. “We don't have any more room to make anymore food.”

The Rev. John Nosal, the church pastor, said festival visitors go out of their way to find him to rave about the food.

Marilyn Forbes is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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