A Banner Day at Caoba

With the busy weekend, and my first Saturday market, behind me, I was able to look ahead to a calmer, but still full week. Just like with Smorgasburg last fall, gearing up for the first outing was the hardest. Now I had systems in place, plenty of dough ready to go, and all the little things (signs, business cards, etc.) in order.

Monday morning bread. The best looking loaf I’ve made so far.

Trying to build off the success of Caoba, I scheduled myself for making and selling bread every weekday of the week except for Friday. That would be my Caoba prep day. The week began with the best-looking loaves (to me) that I’d produced since arriving. Bread is such a tricky beast, you never really know what variation (if any) might have taken you to that next level.

Parque Central views.

The bread business was a little quieter during this week, with some sales, but still a decent amount of leftover bread. I hate waste, so I dropped some off at the lawyer’s office, and gave some to others who I was seeing. (And saved some for my morning toast!) Meanwhile, I adjusted the batch sizes I was doing for the rest of the week so I wouldn’t have as much work and dough go for naught.

Rise and shine, it’s time to make bread.

One of my pastry school friends was having issues with her bread-making, and I was trying to help her out. This sequence of photos, intended originally just for her, does do a nice job of showing some of the steps along the way. Most specifically, her issue was how much the dough rising, so my photo sequence illustrates how things evolve during the course of a morning.

Country sourdough after the initial mix.

Three hours later.

Not wanting to stand pat on my menu for Caoba, I began working on some new items. The fudge walnut brownies were an easy choice, as it’s a go-to recipe and provides me with both a gluten-free and a vegan option. But banana bread is popular here and I thought that that would be something fun to add to the Canela Antigua repertoire.

Mmm….banana bread.

With that out of the oven, I went into town to go the mercado. I was having Mindy and Carlos over for dinner – my first guests – and had some additional shopping to do. I had already had chicken delivered, so that was fine, but was shopping for veggies and fruit.

Freshly cut, freshly fried camote (sweet potato) fries.

Like most busy mornings in the kitchen, I nibble and don’t eat properly. But as the day dragged on, I could have had a proper lunch when I was out. However, with dinner fast approaching, I didn’t want to fill up. So I got the snack above from a relatively-new shop in town. They do regular fries and sweet potato fries. You can have them simple, like I did, or top them with all manner of sauces and meats and veggies and cheeses. But the best part, for me, is that they cut your potatoes to order! Nothing sitting around in a bin all day. So yummy.

Back home, I prepped for dinner. It was going to be a relatively simple spread – roasted chicken, roasted broccoli, and then a dairy-, egg-, and gluten-free dessert so that Mindy could enjoy! I knew my brownie was a go, and it’s something Mindy already likes, but I wanted to go bigger and share something new. I had searched out some vegan ice cream recipes and earlier in the day had prepared one. I was surprised at how well it turned out, although the texture was a little off. Nevertheless, it made for a perfect capper.

Vegan dessert – coconut coffee ice cream on a warm brownie.

It was fun to have them over, and we broke out our favorite card game, Phase 10, after the meal. I’d hoped to teach them one of my family’s beloved card games, but the night got too late and we postponed that for the next time.

Babka for days.

Friday morning, it was time to hit it hard for Caoba. I had all the cookies to bake, all the babka to roll out and bake, as well as do all the packaging and labeling. And while I wasn’t selling bread out the door that morning, all that did was keep me from having to answer a knock every so often. With my biggest production of bread ever – twelve loaves – getting ready for the next morning, I was doing plenty of bread work.

In retrospect, there was no reason I needed to save it all for this day. The babka, in particular, is the most laborious and would actually be better made a day earlier. I’d make sure to do so the next week. In the meantime, I ran through everything as efficiently and carefully as I could, trying to stay out of Kimberly’s way as she cleaned (and I re-messed).

First sourdough challahs.

Additionally, I was preparing my first sourdough challahs for a Shabbat dinner that I’d been invited to. It was a potluck at the home of Jay and Jill, who I’d met at Rache’s seder. They were expecting twenty or so people, so I was taking care of challah and some of the dessert. After my challah debacles of a few weeks prior, I was very excited at how first the dough, and then the final product, turned out. Not quite as golden as normal challah, but it looked and felt right!

Shabbat potluck.

What a fun evening it was at Jay and Jill’s! I believe I was the only person there without a family, although one other person like me ended up not making it. Didn’t bother me, except for the occasional high-pitched scream of one of the many in the under-7 crowd. Some families I knew (Rache and Kurt), some families I almost knew (Nikki and David, who were at the Passover seder that I was too sick to attend) and some brand-new families. It was a festive, fun, relaxing evening. The food was great (latkes, chicken, salads, veggies) and the challah was a big hit.

For dessert, I brought a babka and a selection of cookies. Those were also a home run! But the challah may be the keeper and amongst this crowd, they could all be regular challah customers. I had thought it would be fun to make challah on Fridays, whether or not selling to those who celebrate Shabbat, but the more time I spend here, the more I realize how many Jewish people there are in Antigua!

When I got home, it wasn’t too late. But I couldn’t bring myself to fire up the oven and bake off the two rounds of bread. It was either stay up late until it finishes, and it’ll be nicely cooled and ready for the morning. Or, get up early enough to do two rounds and hope the second round will be cool enough to transport. I chose the early bedtime and the early rise.

Saturday morning, I was up at 4:30 and baking my sourdough. Almost everything else was ready – signs made, cookies and other items packaged and labeled. My boxes were loaded and ready to go. All I needed was the bread. After selling seven loaves the week before, I hoped I wasn’t overdoing it with a dozen. I’d soon find out!

By virtue of being one of the top ten sellers the week before (out of thirty or so vendors), I got to pre-select my table. That meant I didn’t have to get there as early – which was good, because that gave my bread more time to cool. When I got there, I quickly set up and was ready to go in short order. I changed up the display a little bit – getting rid of the cookie jars and just having a small stack of each individual item out on a dish. It worked out quite well.

Making customers happy!

Chorizo sandwich lunch at Caoba.

Unlike the week before, when I just nibbled on my samples all day, I actually ordered lunch from the Annie & Felix Cafe at Caoba. And boy was this sandwich good! Oh wow – the fillings, the sauce, and of course Felix’s bread. That allowed me to power through a day that was at turns cloudy, sunny, hot, cool and rainy.

Not much left with 30 minutes to go.

Overall, it was an amazing day. I brought about 20-25% more items than the week before and sold out of everything except for a few blondies! Babka – from four loaves to six…sold out! Bread, from seven to twelve? Sold out! I’m not sure I have the capacity to do much more than a dozen loaves of bread, but I can certainly churn out more babka, more banana bread, and more cookies for the next week!

Amongst the many familiar faces I saw at Caoba – both friends and repeat customers – was Rache, and she let me know that in the late afternoon, she was gathering with some others for some wine and apps and a walk around their neighborhood. Was I interested?

Well, I was exhausted! And I knew by the end of the day, I’d just want to go to sleep. However…why not? I could rest on Sunday! So instead of having Gerberth, my driver, take me home, we loaded up my much-emptier plastic buckets and headed to Rache’s. Despite some earlier rain, it was a fun evening and I was so glad I made the choice to go. We had some wine, we walked to a park where some of the kids could play, and I finally got to officially meet Lily and her family. They were the other guests at the seder I missed, although Lily and I briefly “met.” She had handed me matzo ball soup when I sick and picked up the cookies I’d made. This was a much more enjoyable meeting!

By around 8 pm, however, Rache (and everyone, likely) could see that I was spent. I got in a cab, left my stuff in the entryway, and went straight to bed. I was so excited that I had almost nothing on my agenda on Sunday, because I couldn’t wait to do NOTHING. And with a day of relaxation ahead of me, I closed my eyes and drifted off to dreamland.

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