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Go Greek for a day at Greek festival April 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Diaspora Festivals.

If you want to eat, drink and dance Greek for a day, the 11th Annual Palm Desert Greek Festival at St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church of the Desert is the place to be this weekend.

What started out as a small festival, to raise money to pay the mortgage on the new church 11 years ago, has grown into one of Palm Desert’s signature events, says Ana Storton, the event’s spokesperson. The festival, usually held in late February, was moved because Easter fell on the same date for all Christians.

“It’s usually earlier in the year,” Storton says. “We’re hoping the weather is good.” On Thursday, crews were making repairs and resetting tents that had blown over in the strong winds that hit the Coachella Valley during the week. Last year’s festival attracted more than 15,000 visitors from all over Southern California, “And we’re expecting about the same number this year, too,” she says.

The festival has definitely grown over time. The first couple of years, most festival-goers were locals. “We’re getting a lot more visitors from all over,” she says. While everyone wants the festival to continue growing, “we don’t want it to get so big we’d have to move,” she says. “A couple of years ago the Pasadena church held their festival at the Rose Bowl, while it was nice, it just didn’t feel the same.”

The festival is a chance to experience Greek traditions, tastes and sounds. “It’s a chance to share our culture with everyone,” Storton says. The best part of that sharing? “When the Americans get up to dance,” she says. Bands play all day long, and there are dancing lessons several times a day. Hesitant at first, “aren’t we all?” she asks, “it’s much fun to watch them loosen up and have a good time.”

What you’ll find >

The food: Not to be confused with pastries, which are a class by themselves. There’s spanakopita, triangles of filo dough filled with feta cheese and spinach; gyros, thinly sliced lamb with tzatziki (yogurt and cucumber sauce); Greek chicken with lemon juice, Greek oregano and olive oil; Greek-style leg of lamb and paidakia, country-style lamb chops (these sell out quickly); loukaniko, sausage served with pita, olives, feta cheese and lemon; pastitsio, seasoned ground beef with a Beschamel sauce; Greek fries with Mizithra cheese and seasonings; dolmades, stuffed grape leaves; feta cheese and Kalamata olives in horiatiki Greek salad.

Pastries: A class of food by itself. There’s baklava, filo dough with chopped nuts and honey; koulourakia, traditional Greek cookies; kourabiethes, more melt-in-your-mouth cookies; galaktoboureko, custard wrapped in filo; loukoumathes, feather-light golden puffs smothered in honey and sprinkled with cinnamon and nuts; pasta flora, pastry dough filled with jam; diples, rolled pastry drenched in honey.

Kafenia: An outdoor Greek coffee house where you can drink strong Greek coffee and enjoy your pastries.

Zorba’s Bar: Retsina, Metaxa, Ouzo and Greek beer, along with American beer, wines, soft drinks and water, too.

Entertainment: Where do you start? St. George’s has invited dance troupes from the Folk Dance Festival rather than professional dancers. Troupes of kids through young adults present dances from all over Greece in authentic costumes. “The kids practice all year and need an audience to dance for,” Storton says. “And they’re so much fun to watch.”

Levenia: a traditional Greek bazouki band, noon-9 p.m. both days; demonstrations of Greek folk dancing, 2, 4 and 6 p.m. both days.

Hercules Kidz Zone: Children’s area with a bounce house, giant inflatable slide, dunk tank, face painting. Paid pass required.

Cooking demonstrations: Learn to make baklava pastry at 1 p.m. Saturday or dolmathes, stuffed grape leaves, 1 p.m. Sun.

Agora marketplace: Ethnic groceries and spices, artwork, jewelry, Byzantine-style icons.

Church tours: Guided tours with the Rev. Theodore Pantels, better known as Father Ted, or other area priests at 12:30, 2:30, 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. both days, with discussion of the iconography and answer questions throughout the tours.

11th Annual Palm Desert Greek Festival
11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sat.-Sun., April 14-15
Where: St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church of the Desert, 74109 Larrea St., Palm Desert Cost: $2 admission Information: 568-9901; www.palmdesertgreekfest.org

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