Sunday, September 22, 2013

New Prosforon bakers always needed!

Prosforon ("Offering") is the altar bread used for communion, literally transformed into the body of  Christ during the Eastern Orthodox Divine Liturgy. And it does not come from a bakery.

It is offered by a congregant who has baked 5 loaves stamped with a religious seal at home and brought them to church, usually with a list of family names (living and deceased) to be read during the service. 

 A few days ago, I was lucky to get a Prosforon-baking lesson. It took place in a home kitchen where my grandmother Eugenia Sarris had given my teacher that very same lesson. I am sure there is more than one kitchen in Stockton/Lodi/Tracy where that happened -- just like other women taught their daughters and friends over time, passing on a tradition of serving the church in this most meaningful way.

It's not so difficult to bake these loaves, just important to pay attention and make them exactly as proscribed -- beautifully round and smooth, lightly-browned with a clear-cut seal. It's a labor of love dependent on good yeast, purposeful kneading and no bubbles. (Before baking, 12 pricks with a toothpick are made at an angle around the seal, with four more around the inner square and one in the middle to facilitate the priest's work preparing the sacrament.)

At St. Basil's, one congregant bakes the Prosfora for every Divine Liturgy during an entire month. Sometimes it's not so easy to line up 12 bakers for this important task, so new volunteers are always needed to keep up the baking tradition that has been so much a part of St. Basil's Church life for 84 years. 

How about you? Baking lessons (if needed) will be provided. I can vouch for that!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The REAL Stockton Farmer's Market

Many farmers from as far as Fresno sell their wares at the Saturday Farmer's Market in downtown Stockton. It takes place on Lafayette under the freeway...just a stone's throw from where the original St.Basil's Church on Stanislaus used to be, and not too far from the poultry store where you can still get chicken feet. 
Gorgeous vegetables and fruits of all kinds -- some of which I was totally unfamiliar with -- are set out for your inspection and purchase. And all manner of fish and seafood including many sizes/types of cuttlefish, are also on display. It's a sight to behold! 

I could picture my father Steve stalking the numerous  colorful pepper displays in search of his beloved jalapenos, especially now that Centro Mart over on Alpine and Franklin no longer exists. And my mother Angeline would, I am sure, have drooled (figuratively, not literally) over the beautiful crabs I saw -- not unlike those we used to buy at the iconic Busalacchi Fish Market on a part of Channel Street that no longer exists either...
Never before had I seen seen a prickly-looking bitter melon or sweet potato greens or hairy wild potatoes or tiny eggplants the size of cranberries.  And how about the ginger still on its long stalk, who knew?
And just so you know, nice big bunches of dandelion greens ("horta") were available for $1 a bunch. Now, that's a really good deal that you won't be getting over at the Delta College Farmer's Market. The REAL Farmer's Market is a real super saver, plain and simple!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Stacey L. Davis of Gardena Avenue

2445 Gardena Avenue today
Saddened to open the Stockton Record yesterday and find an obituary for Stacey L. Davis, our long-time neighbor on Gardena Avenue. Stacey was born around the time we moved to that neighborhood, had two brothers Brad and Bruce Long, and like us attended Daniel Webster Jr. High and Stagg High. The Longs were always good neighbors, a tradition upheld by Stacey and her husband Jim Davis, with whom I visited yesterday afternoon.  The Davises were always kind to my parents in their later years, especially when they were locked out or had some other issue/emergency.

And it turns out that Stacey, in addition to being an oncology nurse, was an avid horsewoman -- and "past president of the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Mounted Posse, riding in the Honor Guard in many local parades in addition to providing posse security at the Asparagus Festival and at Lincoln Center events."  You might think you know someone, but then you really don't...

As I might have reported before, a Papapavlo's employee bought my parents' house back then -- and Jim now tells me that her parents may well be moving into Bessie and George Pappas' house on Oxford Way, just around the corner. So the beat goes on!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Walking in his father's shoes (literally)...

I noticed something yesterday afternoon at the coffee reception after Thea Bessie Pappas' Trisagion Service at St. Basil's. I asked Andy Pappas if the shoes he was wearing were Knapp shoes; not only were they Knapp shoes, but his father's Knapp shoes!

The man next to him (Vasilios Veziris) then said he was wearing his father's pants. Indeed, I had taken some of both my mother's and father's clothes when they passed. I no longer fit into my father's khaki shorts, but some day, hopefully, I will be wearing them again. My mother's blouses, no problem :)

Uncle George Pappas used to sell Knapp shoes on the side -- when he wasn't working for one of the local grocery stores. We all would give him a hard time, calling the shoes "space shoes" for their oddly-shaped toe boxes. But the work shoes were pretty standard-looking, and in high demand amongst Greek-Americans (like my Dad Steve and George Marmas) and others. Then, of course, Uncle George became a mainstay of the Papapavlo's Restaurant operation.

George Pappas may be gone, but his shoes keep working on.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Tradition: Dancing for Bessie Pappas

Just sitting here near the outdoor stage at St.Basil's Greek Festival, waiting for the Greek dance performance by the church's groups. (Reminds of my days at the American Farm School in Thessaloniki when folk dancing was a major preoccupation of mine -- and I had even organized a student Pontiako dance group, but that's another story..)

It is nearly overwhelming to see so many kids aged about 13-18 involved in performing traditional dances here in the year 2013. There are 2 groups, Keravnos and Astrapi, directed by Maria Karapanos: "We dance to honor tradition and those who came before us." 
Elliana Pappas (2nd from left)
This performance is being dedicated to the late Bessie Pappas, whose granddaughter Elliana dances in the group. She is Andy and Jennifer Pappas' daughter. "Thea Bessie" was a linchpin in the family's very successful Papapavlo's Restaurant. Her funeral is this coming Wednesday.

Here they come -- but just wait a minute! It's a group of 8 small people called Kali Parea (Good Company), directed by Rodama Veziris. Ti omorfa paidhia  ("What beautiful children").

And now for the main attraction: dances from several regions of Greece by about 20 young people who look like they really love it. Gives me hope that these dances and traditions will last a lot longer than we will...Opa!

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Gyro Sandwiches by Debbie & Company

Debbie Marmas Buck
Just finished chopping a few tomatoes behind the scenes at the St. Basil's Greek Festival Gyro Booth. It's run by the indomitable Debbie Marmas Buck and her crew. You can get a "tasty beef/lamb combo" or "delicious chicken" sandwich for $7. Opa!

I have known Debbie since childhood. Her dad George Marmas was the G in the S&G Market which he and my dad Steve had on Yosemite and Acacia in Stockton. My parents baptized her brother Peter, who now lives in Mesa, AZ. Most importantly, Debbie is a mensch.

Her gyro-making crew includes son Garrett -- the church priest's right-hand man and new president of the Stockton AHEPA -- on the  grill.  Daughter Nikki is one of the sandwich makers. It's a family affair times X 25 counting all her many friends/volunteers.

The booth is sponsored by parishioners, including local members of the Xanttopoulos Family. They're backing a winner!

Debbie's crew seems to look forward to the craziness of making GYROS the most successful outside food booth. Indeed, it is almost 6 pm and starting to cool down from the earlier 100 degree temps. Yep, people are starting to line up in the confines of special crowd control chains...

Who doesn't want a gyro sandwich made by Debbie & Company?

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Friday, September 6, 2013

Yalaktoboureko X 10

Here I am observing the making of ten -- yes, I said 10! - yalaktoboureka (a delicious Greek custard-filled, filo dough dessert.) Unfortunately, I cannot tell you why, or where they are going...but they will soon be sold for $3 a slice.

Layering the filo dough
This is quite an undertaking, which my friend Gayle has organized with military precision -- 6 stations in all...The butter, Cream of Wheat, milk, vanilla, and dried orange peel are pre-measured in small bowls -- ready to mix together and heat. The pan is then put in a sink full of cold water to cool it off a bit, so when the beaten eggs are added they won't curdle. 

A buttered 12"X18" baking pan is lined w/ 7-8 filo dough leaves, buttering each layer and cross-layering them so as to avoid potential syrup leaks. Then the custard mixture is added. Then more fila, scoring the top (one way only). And the yalaktoboureko is ready to be baked at 325-350 degrees (depending on your oven). Last but not least, 1 1/2 c. syrup (sugar & water, simmered until thick and then cooled) is poured on top and distributed evenly. Not too much syrup, please!

Gayle and the finished product

Viola! When I add the pictures to this blog post you will see exactly what I mean...But just so you know: when I grow up, I want to be a yalaktoboureko-maker, too.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Monday, September 2, 2013

St. Basil's Food Festivals, Past & Present

Steve X. (2006)
Getting ready to get on a jet plane to Stockton for the St. Basil's Greek Festival (aka "Food Festival").  It'll be my first one since 2006. That was my Dad's last one, and we both worked pretty hard that weekend. The 3-day festival is the church's biggest fund-raiser, but not exactly easy money.  A lot of people work very hard, starting many weeks before.

These days, the festival takes place on the church's March Lane campus. In the beginning -- that would be 1959 -- it was held at the Stockton Civic Auditorium. That was a VERY big deal for us Stockton Greek-Americans.

Quality Control
There is rich history of festival articles in the Stockton Record, and several featured my parents. In 1982, "Preparing pastries sweet assignment for Greek festival" talked about my Mom Angeline's hope to soon be able to finally step down as Sweets Chair after 10 years of doing that. But in the 1988 article "Taste of Greece," she is still at it!  In both articles, she talks about the importance of quality control: "..because the ones on top brown on top and then need to go to the bottom to brown on the bottom." And she heaps praise on all the ladies that make the sweets sales such a success.

It should also be noted that a 1989 article featuring my Dad Steve was entitled "Beware of Greek serving  fine food."  We are reminded that: "Between festivals Xanttopoulos and his wife manage the church social hall."  There was no end to their involvement/devotion to St. Basil's, and they weren't the only ones.

Chris, Oly & Paula (2006)
I am really looking forward to being at the festival this year, both to do my part and to see everyone.  No one, after all, knows what next year will bring...I'll be in the Sweets Department, of course -- and if I'm lucky, I'll get a turn in Debbie's Gyro Booth. See you this Friday, Saturday and Sunday (September 6-8). Opa!