5 months ago

Opa, y’all! It’s time for Birmingham’s Greek Festival

It takes a village to put on Birmingham’s beloved Greek Festival.

For months before the event, now in its 47th year at Holy Trinity-Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral in downtown Birmingham, hundreds of people from this city’s thriving Greek community work together to prepare. They cook, they bake and they practice centuries-old dances. They are doing what they have always done – what people still do in villages all over Greece – creating a celebration and inviting people to join them.

Some 30,000 people will show up for this year’s three-day festival Oct. 3-5. Many are Greek. Most are not, and that’s just fine. “It’s a time,” says Sonthe Burge, “when everybody gets to be Greek for the weekend.”

Burge is chair of a cookie committee that started working early in the summer with a series of cookie workshops to make a single kind of pastry – koulourakia, the twisted, buttery one.

“It’s a great cookie,” she says. “It’s just really nice … it’s more of a butter cookie that’s not super sweet. So it doesn’t go in the category with the baklava or the melos (melomakarona). They have a syrup and are so much sweeter. This is more like a biscotti. Like a Greek biscotti.”

By the time she and her teams are done, they will have made more than 1,600 dozen of these cookies. They will sell them for $10 a dozen, and they very likely will sell out of all 19,488 pieces by Saturday morning.

Burge’s crews of 50 or so volunteers for each two-day workshop include women (and some men) of all ages who work with a few church employees to measure, mix, roll, shape, butter and bake the sweets. Young mothers drop off their children at mothers’ day out and come to the church kitchen to work – and learn – alongside older women who could roll and twist these cookies in their sleep. In the banquet hall, yayas and papous, who no longer want to stand in the kitchen sit at tables and bag the baked koulourakia.

And this is just one variety of sweets that you’ll find at the Greek Festival.

“We have koulourakia, which we’re making today,” Burge says. “We have baklava; that’s what most people are familiar with, and we are really known for our baklava. (That committee will make nearly 25,000 pieces.) We have kourambethes, that’s a Greek wedding cookie (there are 9,034 of these), and then melomakarona, which is a honey spice cookie (more than 6,000 pieces of this labor-intensive pastry are made), and we have Greek donuts (these loukoumathes will be fried to order).”

There’s also chocolate baklava; almond crescents; and kataiffi, made with shredded filo, walnuts, honey and cinnamon.

Each of these cookies has its own workshop and committee chairs; Stephanie Dikis and Fanoula Gulas are in charge of the baklava. Claudia Deason handles the melos. Teresa and Tony Petelos take care of the wedding cookies. Burge, a registered and licensed dietitian nutritionist who knows her way around a kitchen (Greek and otherwise), helps with other workshops, but she says she’s in charge of the koulourakia “because we use my mother’s recipe.”

It’s an old recipe. “My mom is 88, and I’ve been working here and helping with this workshop probably for 30 years,” she says. “It was a recipe that I grew up, as a little girl, making at home. So this recipe has been around, and it’s tried and true and tested. It’s one of my favorites.”

Of course, there are lots more foods at this free, family-friendly festival.

Appetizers and entrees include pitas (filo triangles filled with feta cheese or spinach and feta); dolmathes (stuffed grape leaves); lamb souvlakia; Greek-style chicken; Greek salad; pastichio (a kind of Greek lasagna topped with béchamel); beef and lamb gyros; and a veggie plate with rice pilaf, Greek-style green beans, a Greek salad, spanakopita and tiropita. These savory dishes are individually priced. Everything is handmade.

Burge particularly likes the pastichio plate. “It’s something that you don’t get often. We make our own béchamel, and you also get the spanakopita and tiropita on the pastichio plate, which is really a special treat.”

All this is available to eat there or take away. You also can use the drive-through, which is available all three days from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. No need to call ahead and place your order. The festival folks rely on some of the same technology and techniques used by local restaurant owners, so this couldn’t be easier.

All-day entertainment includes the George Karras Band, DJ Disco Hristo and local dance troupes ranging in age from kindergartners to high schoolers.

“I always encourage people to go into the cathedral,” Burge says. “There are church tours that are guided, and also you can … just take one on your own.” This is the fourth oldest Greek Orthodox parish in the Southeast. The basilica features a stunning Byzantine interior with stained glass, and the iconography is beautiful.

The Greek Festival is lots of fun, but there’s a serious side to all this, too. The festival has donated more than $3 million to local and national charities, including Magic Moments, The Bell Center, The Exceptional Foundation, Ronald McDonald House, Firehouse Ministries, Alzheimer’s of Central Alabama, Pathways, Family Connection, The WellHouse, Jimmie Hale Mission, Safe House, The Alabama Kidney Foundation, MS Society and Greater Birmingham Ministries.

The Birmingham church has an active Philoptochos Society, which is one of the largest women’s philanthropic organizations in the U.S. (although men also can be involved). Just recently, Burge says, the national organization sent $25,000 to the Bahamas for disaster relief.

“We’re all part of something bigger … all across the country … we all belong to this national organization, and we’re just a little microcosm of it here in Birmingham,” she says. “So in Birmingham, our mission is to help the needy, to help the poor. And we give money to different sorts of organizations. We’ve paid for equipment and different things at Children’s Hospital. We also have a scholarship fund for members of our church – for children who are graduating from high school going to college.”

The local chapter’s biggest fundraiser is the sale of frozen pans of pastichio during the Greek Festival. Becky Kampakis is in charge of the pastichio.

“So we make all the large pans that the men will cook and serve for the festival,” Burge says, “but then we make about 15 (hundred) to 16 hundred small pans that we sell for $40. A pan will feed nine to 12 people. They’re frozen, and they will last for a year (in the freezer). Cooking directions are on the label.”

Proceeds from the frozen pastichio sale allow the group to fund its mission work for a year.

The Greek Festival, Burge says, “is a way to share our heritage with all of Birmingham. It’s a chance for us to give back to this community. That’s one of the things Greek people are known for – their hospitality. … If you … know Greek people, they always want to feed you, and that’s why, I think, so many of the best restaurateurs in Birmingham are Greek. … It’s natural, it’s innate, they have it in their blood, and they can make good food. And they enjoy doing it. They enjoy serving others.

“And I think that’s a huge joy for us, too. As hot as it can be and as tiring as it can be, it’s just a joy to see people come out and want to be a part of it.”


47th Annual Birmingham Greek Festival
Oct. 3-5, 2019
10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
At Holy Trinity-Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral (307 19th Street South in downtown Birmingham)
205-716-3088
www.bhamgreekfestival.com

 

Here’s how to do the Greek Festival:

  • Come early for those koulourakia cookies. They probably will sell all 19,488 of them by Saturday morning, if not before.
  • Get your pans of frozen pastichio early, too. They will sell out quickly.
  • Eat downstairs to enjoy the dancing and live music.
  • Eat upstairs in the banquet hall, which seats 500, if you want air conditioning; you can still hear the music, and some dancers perform up there, too.
  • At night, they put tables on the street. Eat there, and pretend you’re in a Greek taverna.
  • Look for hostesses monitoring the lines to tell you which is moving fastest.
  • There’s free parking at the former Liberty National parking building (one block away on 21st Street between Thirrd and Fourth avenues).
  • Visit the Greek Market Place for Mediterranean and Orthodox Christian souvenirs.
  • From 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., you can order anything from your car. Meals, cookies, frozen pastichio. You don’t have to call ahead. Just drive up and place your order.
  • Make sure you visit the church between 10:30 a.m. and 9 p.m. It is beautiful, and parishioners will be there to answer your questions.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

14 hours ago

Alabama’s Warrior Met Coal announces historic Blue Creek mine development

Brookwood-based Warrior Met Coal on Wednesday announced that they will begin development on a new “world-class” longwall mine near its existing mines located on the Blue Creek reserves in West Alabama.

Met coal is the type of coal sometimes referred to as coking coal. Unlike the thermal or steam variety, met coal is used as a vital ingredient in the steelmaking process instead of being utilized for power generation.

The new Blue Creek development is expected to have the capacity to produce an average of 4.3 million short tons per annum of premium High-Vol A met coal over the first ten years of production. It is one of the last remaining large-scale untapped premium High Vol A met coal mines in the U.S.

“We are extremely excited about our organic growth project that will transform Warrior and allow us to build upon our proven track record of creating value for stockholders. Blue Creek is truly a world-class asset and our commitment to this new initiative demonstrates our continued highly focused business strategy as a premium pure-play met coal producer,” Walt Scheller, CEO of Warrior Met Coal, said in a statement.

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The company expects to invest approximately $550 to $600 million over the next five years to develop Blue Creek with expected spending this year alone of approximately $25 million to kickstart the project.

Based on the current schedule, Warrior Met Coal expects first development tons from continuous miner units to occur in the third quarter of 2023 with the longwall scheduled to start up in the second quarter of 2025.

The company trades on the New York Stock Exchange and as such must report specific financial details on the project. This included the company projecting a “net present value” of “greater than $1 billion over the life of the mine with a projected after-tax internal rate of return (IRR) of nearly 30% and an expected payback of approximately two years from initial longwall production.”

Warrior Met Coal previewed this project at a Yellowhammer News event in 2019.

RELATED: Study: Alabama coal industry has nearly $3 billion impact; met coal reserves to last centuries

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

14 hours ago

‘Gender is Real Legislative Act’ advanced by Alabama House committee

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House State Government Committee on Wednesday advanced the “Gender is Real Legislative” (GIRL) Act.

The bill, HB 35, is sponsored by State Rep. Chris Pringle (R-Mobile). Pringle is the chairman of the committee. The vote on Wednesday was 8-4 on party lines in favor of giving the legislation a favorable report. The GIRL Act now heads to the full House for consideration.

HB 35 would require Alabama public schools to make sure every entrant in an athletic competition is sorted by the gender on their birth certificate. The bill also forbids any state, county or municipal government/agency from providing a facility to a single-gender competition that allows a transgender entrant.The GIRL Act exempts any event that is specifically designed to have both boys and girls as competitors.

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“Gender is real. There are biological differences between boys and girls that influence athletic performance. The GIRL Bill seeks to support female student-athletes, so that they may compete against each other and not have to compete against male students with an unfair advantage,” Pringle has stated. “Liberal Democrats are always trying to accuse us of refusing science, but gender is a real biological truth. It truly defies logic that anyone would deny science and want male students to compete in female sports.”

During Wednesday’s meeting, a first-grade girl from the Birmingham area called on the committee to support the bill. The girl said it was only “fair” that student-athletes be sorted by the gender on their birth certificate and that she not have to compete against boys.

A full public hearing was held on the legislation last week, when State Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham) made some interesting remarks about Auburn legend Cam Newton while speaking against HB 35. Rogers in a subsequent interview then called for mandatory genetic testing of all public school student-athletes.

Pringle is currently running in the competitive Republican primary race for Alabama’s First Congressional seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope).

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

14 hours ago

Jessica Taylor ‘appalled and disgusted’ at Doug Jones’ abortion comments — ‘He is unfit’

Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) once again finds himself in a negative spotlight back in his homestate.

Jones was caught in a video on Wednesday laughing about abortion and mocking a question about the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.

Jessica Taylor, a conservative Republican candidate in Alabama’s Second Congressional District, reacted strongly to Jones’ remarks.

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In a statement to Yellowhammer News, she said, “As a Christian, and as a mother, I am appalled and disgusted that Doug Jones would act this way.”

“Defending the unborn has been a pillar of my campaign since day one,” Taylor continued. “Doug Jones’ blatant disregard for the rights of the unborn further demonstrates that he is unfit to represent us in Washington. Pro-life values are Alabama values. As a conservative, I will always fight for our Alabama conservative values in Congress.”

Taylor has been endorsed by the prominent national pro-life group Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List in her AL-01 primary bid.

SBA List also bashed Jones’ latest comments in a separate statement.

“Senator Doug Jones has proven once again that he is no moderate when it comes to abortion on demand through the moment of birth. Alabama’s Democratic senator may think it is ‘stupid’ to question his abortion extremism, but rest assured, his constituents take respect for human life very seriously,” stated SBA List president Marjorie Dannenfelser.

“With a record of voting in favor of late-term abortion more than halfway through pregnancy and forced taxpayer funding of abortion, Sen. Jones has repeatedly betrayed Alabamians, siding with the radical abortion lobby and fellow extremist Democrats in Congress,” Dannenfelser concluded. “Their agenda is dramatically out of step with the people of Alabama and the strong majority of Americans – including 55 percent of Independents and 43 percent of rank-and-file Democrats – who support compassionate limits on abortion after five months of pregnancy, when science clearly shows unborn babies can feel excruciating pain. If Senator Jones refuses to protect innocent unborn children, he won’t be laughing come Election Day.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

15 hours ago

Reading aldotcom in large doses might affect your perspective, cognitive abilities and reasoning skills

How out of touch are al.com’s employees?

Very.

Read John Archibald or Kyle Whitmire any day and you will get that answer. These guys have been railing on Alabama government for years, and even they would tell you that they have done a pretty poor job of convincing anyone that their positions are the way the state should go.

To describe them as failures is an insult to actual failures like Hillary Clinton, who al.com obviously endorsed before she was obliterated by Alabama voters.

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So, it should come as no surprise that the average readers of al.com are equally as out of touch with the average Alabamian because they are consuming a daily digest of anti-Alabama liberal media bile that could best be described as irrelevant and antagonistic to the politics and culture of the state of Alabama.

Former Yellowhammer News editor-in-chief Cliff Sims said it best when he called them a sports blog with a liberal bias.

Because of this, it should come as no surprise that they are attempting to pass off an online poll of their readers as representative of anything close to the opinion of the state of Alabama, but here you go.

Actually, it doesn’t seem like that at all. Even Ramsey Archibald knows that.

Nationally, according to a Pew Research poll in late 2019, 69% of Americans favor some kind of legalization of marijuana. Of those who want to legalize marijuana, 59% want recreational and medical legalization and 32% want just medical legalization.

That’s a national poll — this is Alabama.

Love it or hate it, like the employees at al.com do, you have to acknowledge that there is nowhere near 83% support for recreational marijuana in this state.

Instead of legalizing marijuana, we might want to consider limiting the consumption of al.com for some of their readers whose brains are clearly being damaged by the content.

All polls like this do is show that the readership of al.com is far-left, out-of-touch and completely irrelevant in Alabama politics — just like the authors they read.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.

16 hours ago

2020 Mardi Gras ships to be docked in Mobile February 21-26

The ships docked in Mobile for the 2020 Mardi Gras celebration will be the USS MCFAUL and the USCG CUTTER GANNETT, per an announcement from the Alabama State Port Authority on Wednesday.

The two ships will berth at GulfQuest on South Water Street in downtown Mobile. The USS MCFAUL is scheduled to arrive on February 21 at 11:00 a.m., and the GANNET is set to arrive on February 24 at 9:00 a.m.

Both ships will be available for touring by the public. The MCFAUL from February 22-25 and the GANNET on February 25-26.

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The MCFAUL is an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, the 24th of its kind in the U.S. Navy. Her commanding officer is Commander Rusty J. Williams. The ship gets her name from war hero Petty Officer Donald L. McFaul (1957–1989).

The GANNET is a Protector-class Coastal Patrol Boat manned by the U.S. Coast Guard. When she is not being toured by the public, the GANNET protects America’s coastal waters and fisheries after launching from her homeport in Mobile.

Full information for the public tours included below as a courtesy of the Alabama State Port Authority and the United States Navy:

USS MCFAUL (DDG 74) Welcome Ceremony and Public Tours Info

  •   Welcome Ceremony:  11:00 am, CST, Friday, February 21, 2020. Alabama State Port Authority, Pier 2.  Gates open at 9:30 am (CST).
  •   Public Tours:  February 22-25, 2020 between the hours of 8:30 am – 11:00 am and 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm (CST) Pier 2 Terminal, downtown Mobile, Ala.
  •   The gate entrance is located on the north side of the Mobile Convention Center on Water Street, Downtown Mobile, Ala.
  •   The Public is welcome, but all visitors are required to wear closed toe/heel shoes and carry valid identification.  All guests will undergo security screening prior to entry to the facility.

USCGC GANNET Public Tours Info

  •   GANNET will moor at 9:00 am (CST) on February 24, 2020 at the GulfQuest Maritime Museum, 155 S Water Street, in downtown Mobile, Ala.
  •   Public Tours: February 24 between the hours of 11:00 am and 3:00 pm (CST), and February 25-26 between the hours of 10:00 am and 3:00 pm (CST).
  •   The Public is welcome, but all visitors are required to wear closed toe/heel shoes and carry valid identification.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.