Sunday, June 22, 2003

You could call her, nicely, Greek fest's cookie monster

Food stuff

Chuck Martin

Sophia Guethlein looks tired but relieved - relieved that her day of baking Greek cookies is over, and probably more than a little relieved that I've arrived too late to help her.

"We just put the last batch in the oven," she says, doing her best to sound disappointed.

I asked her to let me help make the kourambiethes - crescent-shaped butter cookies showered with powdered sugar - for the Panegyri Greek Festival next weekend at Holy Trinity-St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Finneytown. But Guethlein has been working with 25 volunteers since 8 a.m., mixing, rolling, cutting and baking hundreds of dozens of cookies. The last thing she needs is to baby-sit some fumbly-fingered newspaper guy in the church kitchen.

[IMAGE] Sophia Guethlein makes these Greek cookies every year.
(Gary Landers photo)
| ZOOM |
Guethlein was thoughtful enough to set aside a few cookies for me to nibble. If I can't learn how to bake them, I must know what they taste like. Of course.

"Taste the butter?" she asks.

I'm in midbite, sticking my mouth out as far as I can, looking like a camel chewing cud, hoping to avoid getting powdered sugar all over myself. The sugar on top of these kourambiethes is no mere shower - it's a blizzard. The fine white stuff is piled in drifts on top the cookie.

"Some people put on more sugar than others," Guethlein says, looking around to make sure no one is listening.

But underneath all that sugar, I taste a warm, crispy butter cookie. Sheer goodness.

"The key is Land O'Lakes unsalted butter and Gold Medal flour," Guethlein says. "Very simple."

Perhaps that explains why the little cookie, which also is served at Greek weddings and holiday celebrations, is second only in sales to baklava during the three-day Panegyri Festival. Guethlein and her cookie bakers are stashing away more than 4,000 kourambiethes, but that still won't be enough for the hungry.

The diligent bakers are now mopping up the kitchen battlefield - sweeping and wiping down tables. Powdered sugar is everywhere - on the floor, on blouses, on arms and the tips of noses. Guethlein wears no sugar stains, though. Perhaps because the woman in charge has been expertly dusting kourambiethes longer than anyone else here.

She has worked at Panegyri since it began 30 years ago. Her mother, Petrula Economopulos, who immigrated from Greece in 1927, also cooked for the festival.

Guethlein married a German, but like many church volunteers this time of year, Guethlein is Greek through and through.

She also organizes the festival volunteers and supervises the serving of the dinners inside the church during Panegyri - more than 2,000 meals Friday to Sunday. She'll be on her feet in the kitchen from 9 a.m. until "whenever" every day. For nearly a month, Panegyri is her life.

"I just love it," Guethlein says.

I grab a box packed with a handful of warm kourambiethes for the road, maybe feeling a little relieved I missed my Greek baking lesson. Who knows what kind of damage I would have caused with powdered sugar.

As I leave, I encourage Guethlein, who has stopped for a moment to lean on a table, to get some rest.

"I am resting," she says.

If you go

What: Panegyri Greek Festival.

When: 5 p.m.-midnight Friday, 3 p.m.-midnight Saturday, and 1-9 p.m. next Sunday.

Where: Holy Trinity-St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, 7000 Winton Road, Finneytown.

What: Greek food, cooking demonstrations, music, folk dancing and church tours.

Admission: $2 or two non-perishable food items per person.

Information: 591-0030 or Web site.

Miscellaneous: Limited parking near church. Free parking is available at St. Xavier High School with free shuttle buses running every 15 minutes. No parking on church grounds.

Food suggestions: Your stomach is only so big, so here are a few recommendations on what to eat from festival veteran cook, Sophia Guethlein:

Roast leg of lamb, rice and green beans, Greek salad, Pastichio (casserole of ground beef, macaroni and bechamel sauce), Galactobouriko (vanilla and cinnamon custard encased in phyllo)


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You could call her, nicely, Greek fest's cookie monster
Lick that weather: Get soft-serve anyway