It was exciting to think about what Thanksgiving might bring to Canela Antigua. I know there are plenty of expats who’d be in town for the holiday, but would they go with the known quantities of Thanksgiving pie-making (such as Epicure or San Martin), or would they give the new guy a chance?
Bethany helped me decide on the flavors to offer, and it was fun to announce it and see what would happen. While waiting for the orders to start rolling in, I wanted to test the pies out and iron out any kinks. I’d made everything before…but never here, and never with the current set of ingredients and equipment.
I had picked up a big can of pumpkin on our trip to San Lucas a week before, but wasn’t going to crack it open until closer to the end. But I wanted to try out all the other fillings, and also make sure the pie crusts would work well in the disposable pie tins I had purchased. One of the downsides to making big batches of pie/tart dough at Tartine in San Francisco was that it almost became muscle memory. And that meant that I just kind of went through the motions here (although with a much smaller batch) and actually skipped an important step in the mixing process. Because of that, I was left with enormous chunks of butter in the dough, which I predicted (correctly) would melt out in the oven and leave big gaps in the crust.
So, with janky crusts, this round would merely allow me to test the fillings. All was not lost, and both the chocolate cream and the lemon buttermilk fillings tasted great, despite the weird crust. I took the test round of chocolate cream pie with me one night to the Hardisons, to serve as the dessert for the evening. They loved the filling…and only one person, their friend Nate, actually thought the crust was great.
Luckily, the crust was an easy fix because all I had to do was NOT skip the critical step and all should be just fine. Now, I had to wait and see how many orders came in.
Since the beginning of our game nights, Paul had been saying, “We’ve got to teach you ‘Settlers.'” Well, after countless rounds of Phase Ten, Rummikub, and plenty of other games, it finally happened. I had heard of Settlers before, but had never played it. For those unfamiliar with it, it’s something of a builder game, where you’re trying to construct roads and settlements and cities in such a way that you earn critical game points and get to ten before your opponents do. The more people who play, the trickier it is. I enjoyed the challenge of a new, complicated(ish) game, and while beaten handily the first few times, I’ve been getting better.
The Sunday before Thanksgiving was one of the busiest days I’ve ever had, and was the biggest day of sales ever in Canela’s history. We sold out of the 100-plus bagels, we ran out of babka (both slices and loaves), ran out of sourdough bread (selling over 20 loaves) and were reloading the cookie trays constantly. It was crazy! And for the first time ever, we had customers walk in to have lunch and found no free tables! (Fortunately, they squeezed in at the biggest table and joined someone who was already sitting there.)
On Monday night, Andy hosted another one of his popular Friendsgiving celebrations. I knew about two-thirds of the people there, which made it a lot of fun. There was a great mix of food, and we all had a fun time catching up and chatting. There were some old De la Gente staff I knew, some new ones, and a random assortment of other friends of Andy’s.
Despite cutting off the pie orders the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (that’s eight days out, not one), people kept calling or texting to see if I could still make them pies. This was exacerbated (in a good way) by customers April and Brian, who bought five pies to bring to an event the Friday before the holiday. This led to six or seven additional orders in the ensuing days. I was able to say yes to almost every order that came in up until late Monday of Thanksgiving week. After that, we were locked in with our pie crust and filling batches and that was it.
Tuesday was a crazy day of rolling out pie doughs, blind-baking crusts, baking filled pie shells, and more. With four pie varieties, it was a little bit less organized than I would have liked. I learned quickly that I should have used the time before the big bake to roll out all the pie dough and freeze the unbaked crusts. It would have been much easier to just pull them out and bake them from frozen, instead of going through all the steps the week-of. (I’ve taken those lessons to heart right now as I prep for Christmas orders.)
The base recipes for most of my pies were designed for 9″ pie crusts, and the disposable tins I had purchased were only 8″. And while I successfully scaled down the other recipes, I somehow miscalculated the pumpkin recipe. So with all the extra filling, I took an extra pie crust, rolled it out to fill my deeper, ceramic pie plate and made a super-big pumpkin caramel tart. I had it for sale, by the slice, in the shop on the day before Thanksgiving, when everyone was picking up their orders. I figured, maybe a last minute buyer would want to take some or all of it with them.
In the end, I didn’t sell a single slice…in the shop. But I brought the slices to Impact Hub that afternoon and sold half of them. Then, back home, I wrote to a customer who had asked if I had anything extra or unsold, and he hustled over and bought the remaining four slices! And so it came to be that four days after setting a record for best-ever day at Canela…I had a brand-new Best Day Ever.
With the bakery closed on Thanksgiving, and the bread dough for Friday made on Wednesday (but not baked), I had a day to myself. I did spend a chunk of the morning prepping for the Thanksgiving dinner at Bethany’s. I was letting her handle the desserts, and I had a variety of savory things to make: stuffing (using Canela sourdough bread), roasted camote (as close as you can get to a sweet potato here), and one other item that eludes me right now.
Unfortunately, Paul had taken the boys up to the mountains for Thanksgiving, and so they wouldn’t be with us. But we invited some other friends to join us and we were all looking forward to a fun evening. Bethany and I pledged to finish our work by noon so that we could head down to Caoba and have a relaxing lunch there, before we headed back home to finish our work for the day. My only day off is Monday and that is the only day Caoba is closed, so I don’t get to enjoy their great food and atmosphere much anymore. So I was eager to head over there, have a great meal, and relax a bit. It was a lovely day and we both enjoyed being there. It’s a nice walk, too, so it makes for a good opportunity to stretch our legs.
Around 4 pm, everyone started gathering at Bethany’s. While only two people have to avoid dairy, eggs and gluten, it ended up being a mostly vegan meal. Carlos roasted a chicken, and that was the only exception. But despite what you might think, we had a delicious meal. And the upside to it was that while we all feasted heartily, none of us felt stuffed to the gills afterwards. And once the sun went down and the cornhole games came to a close, we headed inside for dessert and more conversation.
It was exactly the kind of Thanksgiving I like to attend (or co-host): small, relaxing, casual, and delicious. Most of the people were new to Bethany, but the conversation flowed easily amongst us all and I’m sure everyone will be back in the near future for more games out on the grass.
Three years ago, after leaving Chicago and before heading to San Francisco, I spent three months in Antigua. That period included Thanksgiving. Back then, I had a very formal (catered) Thanksgiving at Barbara’s house (where I was staying at the time) and followed it up the next night with a more casual – and similarly near-vegan – affair at Andy’s house with the De la Gente crew. It’s fun to celebrate Thanksgiving here, as it provides an additional opportunity for us estadounidenses to get together and celebrate (and eat).
In retrospect, I should have closed the bakery the day after Thanksgiving, too. It seemed like most of my clientele was sleeping off their big evenings. It was a very quiet day and there was a lot of sitting around and not a lot of selling. Things were similar on Saturday, but picked up a bit on Sunday with another successful bagel day. It was one of the lowest Bagel Sundays we’ve had…but it was still a much better day than the previous ones (nearly as much as Friday and Saturday combined).
The weekend ended, as it usually does, with game night at the Hardisons. Paul and the boys had returned from their week in the mountains the day before, in time to watch the Iron Bowl (both Paul and Bethany went to Auburn, and this is the rivalry game against Alabama). So to wrap up my week, we played games outdoors – como siempre – and then relaxed inside once it was dark. I was looking forward to my day off on Monday and what would be the last week in the bakery before Jeffrey’s return. I couldn’t wait to have him back, as it would finally give me the flexibility to sleep a little later and have time during the day to take care of other business (or no business at all), as desired.
It was hard to believe that December was nearly upon us and with Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror, I was already thinking about what to offer for Christmas! I was hopeful there’d be similar business – or better – but with the slowdown of traffic in the shop, I began to wonder if more expats were leaving town for the holidays and things might be quiet into the new year. Only one way to find out…