St. George Festival celebrates 30 yearsWritten by Tony Gonzalez | | email@example.com
St. George Cathedral gives Chuck Cassis a raw deal. As treasurer and past chairman of the cathedral’s annual festival, Cassis purchases the raw ingredients for the festival’s signature home cooking.
No simple trip to the grocer, Cassis orders 400 pounds of flour, 200 pounds of sugar, 120 pounds of walnuts and 350 pounds of lamb. Then he orders 240 more pounds of lamb for meat pies and an extra 250 pounds for 11,000 rolled grape leaves. He adds 200 pounds extra flour for zalabee fried dough. Finally, Cassis tacks on 350 pounds of lamb for other cooking.
“The people of our church make all the food here,” Cassis said.
Food forms the center of St. George’s 30th Annual Family Fun Fest, July 27 through July 30. The Lebanese food, to no surprise, hinges on lamb, but comes amid exotic names such as kibee, fatoosh, tawook, falafel and baklawa.
When the church members gather to prepare a dessert like baklawa, they use the cathedral basement, start before 9 a.m., and have coffee brewing.
For baklawa, a group of roughly 20 women butter and layer phyllo dough sheets, which flutter thinner than paper. Once layered, ground walnuts and pistachios are rolled inside.
For many, the baklawa techniques have been passed through generations. Ann Brothers said her grandmother flapped the thin dough in the small hours of the night to avoid heat and shooed her away when she tried to film her.
“She never measured,” Brothers said. “She said ‘you just keep doing it and you learn.’ ”
This year’s festival features a Middle Eastern coffee bar and, new to the festival, an arghileh (hookah).
“We’re trying a few new things,” Cassis said. “It’s grown every year except for last. Last year was a slow year. We’re trying to make our thirtieth our best ever.”
The festival includes attractions for young and old, including an adult camel for rides and a baby camel for petting.
“I’m a camel-holic,” Cassis said.
Cassis first booked camels from Wilson Camel and Pony, a Southern Indiana company, four years ago.
“It’s fun, it’s not jerky or anything that bad, it’s just fun to ride on, sitting that high riding on an animal,” Cassis said. “We’ve had people in their 80s ride on it. It’s not a galloping race.”
The festival also features a live band, Al-Layali of Cleveland, and dance performances Friday through Sunday by Middle Eastern dance ensemble Leyla and Lapis Lazuli.
Led by professional belly dancer Leyla, the group will aim at more folkloric and traditional dance, she said. Leyla will dance with four long-time students in pieces choreographed to music.
“It’s very joyful, family-friendly dancing,” Leyla said. “The focus that makes it different from Western dances is there is an earthiness and weightiness in the feet and hips. You feel like a tree with roots.”
Dancers will perform a slow taxim, as well as faster beledi. The group dances at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and at 4 p.m. Sunday.
“I haven’t let it be MTV glitz and glam,” Leyla said. “It’s about the music.”
Interested visitors may view a cathedral tour or shop at an Orthodox bookstore in the cathedral’s vestibule. The tours are guided to provide answers about Orthodox beliefs, Cassis said.
St. George’s Family Fun Fest, July 27-30
St. George Cathedral, 3754 Woodley Road, (419) 475-7054
July 27: 5-10 p.m. • July 28: 5 p.m.-midnight, $3
July 29: 2 p.m.-midnight, $3 • July 30: noon.-9 p.m, $2