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An Olympic 'Honey Token' Fest

Watch the Games with a dozen guests

Sunday, August 22, 2004; Page M07

There's a famous Greek proverb: "All is well and the honey is sweet." Life would certainly be sweeter if we could be in Greece with other hard-core Olympics fans, sipping retsina -- a piney, tangy wine -- at a sidewalk cafe and people-watching. Short of that, our big Greek family decided a close second would be to throw our own "We'd Rather Be in Athens" party, where guests could cheer the games on TV while sampling homemade delicacies.

No Olympic fest would be complete without the gold, and for us, that's a recipe for loukoumades -- airy, crispy pastries that were the first prizes awarded to winners of the ancient Olympics. (Poet Callimachus, in the third century B.C., called them "honey tokens.") Our clan has embraced the treats for generations: Yiayia (that's Greek for "grandmother") stoops over a pot of sizzling oil, a Mount Olympus-size pile of the creations beside her. All 13 of her grandchildren (and their friends) stand nearby and "help" -- that is, watch intently while trying to sneak a handful -- but she often whacks intrusive hands with a wooden spoon, yelling Greek profanities and shooing us away.

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Loukoumades are exceedingly easy to make: Dollops of dough are fried to a golden brown, then drizzled with lemon-laced honey and powdered with cinnamon. Traditional cooks squeeze the batter through their hands, squirting it between thumb and forefinger and easing it into the oil. (If that's not for you, it's perfectly fine to scoop it with a spoon.) The sweets are best eaten steaming hot and chased with something cold. We tracked down Greek beer -- Hellas, Athenian and Mythos -- for $9 a six-pack at Chevy Chase Liquors (5544 Connecticut Ave. NW, 202-363-4000).

If the weather permits, you can evoke a Hellenic setting by arranging your food outdoors, taverna-style. Start people off with savory hors d'oeuvres, such as grilled Halloumi cheese and lemon wedges; the mint-flecked sheep's-milk cheese is about $6 a pound at Middle Eastern markets. Then bring out the loukoumades and be sure to pass around plenty of Aegean-blue napkins: Your guests won't want their hands sticking together every time they clap for their favorite Olympic champion. Kristin and Marianne Kyriakos

Loukoumades

Ingredients

2 1/4 teaspoons (or one 1/4-ounce packet) active dry yeast (such as Fleischmann's RapidRise)

1 tablespoon sugar

2 cups warm (105- to 115-degree) water

1 egg

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Vegetable oil (preferably safflower, corn or canola)


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