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Church Members Make Middle Eastern Sweets for Annual Bazaar

Members of Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church prepare baklava and maamoul, two of more than 14 desserts offered at the fall bazaar.

For many members of the Saints Peter and Paul Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church midsummer means gearing up for the annual fall bazaar. Twenty volunteers gather during the months leading up to the bazaar to make the food that will be sold to the more than 4,000 people expected to attend.

"It takes a village to prepare for the bazaar," said Madelyn Nader, who is co-chair of food along with Mary Sahouri.

". We have already prepared spinach pies and kafta, a burger-like dish," Nader said.

Sahouri's mother travels all the way from Houston to help make the deserts. Originally from Palestine, Nijmeh J. Zayed  has been helping out for years. According to her daughter, she is especially good at decorating the maamoul, a pretty, little round pastry filled with finely ground walnuts, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg, and topped with powdered sugar.

Zayed painstakingly rolls the dough between her hands to form a perfectly round ball. She then packs a long-handled wooden mold with the dough and bangs it out on the table. This traditional wooden mold can be found at most Middle Eastern markets. 

The latest in decorative maamoul molds are made of rubber and have a small pin that pushes the dough out. Although using molds mean the pastries have a more professional look, many cooks prefer the handmade creations.

Using a small metal tool, she gently, but firmly crimps the dough in a multitude of designs. This and the untrained eye probably can't tell the difference. The last step is to decorate the pastry.

The church draws members descended from all regions of the Middle East, so the names and ingredients of the deserts may be slightly different depending on the region, country, or even the town where one comes from. According to one, baklava from Greece is made with honey while baklava from Lebanon uses a sugar syrup. For most, these distinctions are not noticeable. But for this group, the distinctions are rooted in childhood smells, tastes and memories.

Twenty-five 11-by-19-inch trays of baklava are being made on this hot summer day. This means one box of fillo is used for each tray and the sheets are layered with butter. Three cases of butter are used. This baklava is for purchasing by the piece. Additional smaller trays will be made the week prior to the event by individual donors and sold by the tray.

More than 100 church members will volunteer to help at the bazaar Sept. 23-25. Sherrie Zacharia plans to make 100 dozen date cookies at home to donate. Mamma Lucia's restaurant will donate food and others will organize the children's events and vendors.

A tray a food will be sent to the local television stations to encourage publicity, and 3,700 will be distributed in the community. All proceeds go to the church's general operating fund and cover about a third of the church's yearly expenses.

"This event is a labor of love. We treat attendees as if we had invited them to our house," said bazaar chair Barbara Abraham.

The last task of the day is for Father George Rados to cut the baklava. He does this slowly and with precision. When asked why this task is set aside for him, a member said, "Because he is good at it."

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