The Holiday Season at Canela Antigua

The lead-up to Thanksgiving had been big, and while December had started quietly, I was hoping for a boost in business as we got closer to Christmas. The second Tuesday of the month coincided with the start of Hanukkah, and as I prepared to co-host our monthly Shabbat group for a Hanukkah dinner, I tested out doughnuts.

Testing out the first round of Canela doughnuts.

Anyone who knows me well was probably wondering what took me so long to finally roll out doughnuts in my shop! After all, I love them so much. But this holiday, and its tradition of fried foods, presented the perfect motivation to get going. I made a small batch in the bakery, just to see how everything would work out. The dough resulted in only fourteen or fifteen doughnuts, and the first customer in the door that day wanted to buy a whole dozen! I unfortunately had to tell him that I had limited this special product to two per customer. I both wanted to let as many people try them as I could, and also receive a variety of feedback.

The customer responses were unanimously positive! And while I’m not sure when I can put doughnuts in the regular rotation, I was at least confident that I had a good recipe for use in the bakery.

Volcano beauty behind me on my way to the morning hike.

The view from Cerro de la Cruz.

Gifting ideas from Canela Antigua.

As the week progressed, things remained mostly slow in the bakery. As I learned of more and more expats leaving town for the holidays, I began to wonder if business would stay slow the rest of the month. Pie and ice cream orders for Christmas were nowhere near what they were for Thanksgiving, and I became concerned about the fresh three-kilo can of pumpkin filling I’d purchased. I certainly wasn’t going to eat any of it!

With Jeffrey back in town, that did mean that I could go back to pub quiz. Not that I couldn’t go when he was gone, but considering I didn’t usually get home until an hour or more after I typically go to bed, it was much more exhausting and stressful to do it when I had to rise early to start the baking. That first week back was, I believe, a team composed of Bethany, Carlos, Montgomery and Petra, and we won. It was a nice way to get back into the swing of quizzing!

Thursday of that week, the 14th, was the six-month anniversary of Canela, and we held a big promotion that day. Anyone who made a purchase was entered into a drawing for a free dozen cookies and another winner would receive a free holiday pie. The anniversary day was a very busy one, which pleased me quite a bit. The next morning, we did our first-ever Facebook Live post, and drew the names out the hat. We had a regular customer, Olenka, in the shop, as an unbiased observer and…wouldn’t you know it, her name was the first one I drew!! She was shocked to have found out she had won. It was pretty funny. (Click here to watch it!)

Latkes in the pan for the Hanukkah party.

Bethany manning the frying station.

Lotsa latkes.

The day after the anniversary was a Friday, and the day of the big Hanukkah party. Bethany had committed to spending the day in the bakery and helping me get everything ready. There were potatoes and onions to grate for latkes, and doughnuts to fry. Plus all the regular bakery business! It turned out to be the worst (lowest) day of sales in Canela’s six-month history, which while disappointing, also meant that Bethany and I could fry latkes, and then doughnuts, without interruption.

There was a little snafu with the doughnuts, as it appeared that the yeast was left out of the dough…so they turned out more like cake doughnuts. I was really upset, and Bethany assured me that people would love them no matter what. She also urged me to not tell anyone about the missing yeast. But I held my products and work to such a high standard, and I was disappointed in the result, that I couldn’t help myself that evening. I didn’t want anyone to think that these were my doughnuts. But after the first few people all told me how much they loved the doughnuts, I stopped. And while I told her this that night, I’ll say it again here, “You were right!” I shut my mouth.

The deviled eggs that almost made it to the party.

Friends gather at some of the extra tables set up for our evening.

The Hanukkah party spread.

We squeezed about thirty people into the bakery that evening for a lively and fun evening. The latkes and doughnuts were a big hit, and everyone else’s contributions were equally delicious. I had been worried that unlike previous dinners, which had been held in someone’s home, that there wouldn’t be enough room for the kids to spread out and run around. And while they did end up keeping themselves well-occupied, it ended up coming at the expense of my little garden. Julio, my wonderful gardener, wasn’t going to be pleased when he showed up the next time!

Rache’s doughnuts were still hanging out the next morning.

Overall, though, it was nice to be with all these wonderful people in our growing group. And I especially look forward to someone else hosting the next one! I had my own little personal treasure hunt the next morning, as I found some of the gluten-free and vegan doughnuts that Rache brought sprinkled in amongst my herbs. I found another one on Sunday morning.

Testing out a bagel egg sandwich on a Sunday morning.

Saturday was a mild day in the bakery, although much better than the dismal Friday. Sunday, however, provided a big boost. Bagel Sundays are almost always great days and while this wasn’t an enormous boost, it was the biggest day of the week by a decent margin. Meanwhile, Bethany got the idea of sending a bagel egg sandwich with Paul as he went to help set up things at their church. He could show it off and maybe build up some interest in bagel egg sandwiches for the whole set-up crew the next week. It was a delicious-looking concoction and had I not already had two bagels for my own breakfast, I would have made one for myself!

Lunch at Cerro San Cristobal.

The view, looking south, of the Panchoy Valley.

After the Hardisons left church, they swung by the bakery to pick me up and we all headed to a town just outside of, and above, Antigua for lunch. I had told them I hadn’t been there before, but it turned out I had. As soon as we got out of the car, I remembered it as the place that Mindy and I had gone to three years ago for a very slow, very disappointing lunch outing. I said something about this to the Hardisons and, to my surprise, they had also had the same experience and hadn’t been back for three years either! The way they had been talking about it, I assumed they’d been up there recently and liked it, and I took that to mean – upon arriving – that things would be better. We all got a good laugh out of that.

And, in general, it was better. While the food was unremarkable, it was decent and served in a timely fashion by waiters who were attentive and helpful. We all decided that we would give them another three years and try it again. On the plus side, the view was remarkable and the time spent there was relaxing and casual. While we were there, Antigua’s football (soccer) team was competing for the championship of the national league. While the stadium was in the town north of Antigua, Jocotenango, we could hear the cheers of the crowd carry through the valley after Antigua won the game. It was fun to be a part of.

Antigua’s soccer team’s victory parade through town.

The championship fun continued when Bethany and I went into town to find Antigua jerseys for the boys. She chose to venture out into Parque Central just as the victory parade was entering the square. We got stuck in mounds of people, and despite her expectation that jerseys would be sold in the square – like two years before, when Antigua also won – we were hard-pressed to find anyone selling them. We could have bought almost anything else imaginable…but not jerseys. We ended up finding one in E’s size, and later found one in A’s size. And while I wouldn’t normally have chosen to go into the middle of Antigua during such a crowded celebration, the atmosphere was electric and exciting.

Paul and the boys know a lot about the Antigua soccer team, and were excited to learn that – like a few years before – the after-party was being held in the private home/ruins located next to their apartment complex. One of the managers invited us to attend, and I was curious to check it out. There appeared to be a sizable contingent of the team there, as well as friends and family members. We ended up chatting (in English) with a Costa Rican player, who had spent his first season with Antigua, and was soon heading back to Seattle, where he plays for their MLS team. Everyone, though, was very nice and the boys got their jerseys signed by a variety of their favorite players.

Group shot with one of Antigua’s players during the after-party.

A gets his poster signed.

And E gets a jersey signed.

Holding the championship trophy.

As Hanukkah progressed, Bethany decided we should have a fry night to celebrate. Onion rings, french fries, and all manner of vegetables were cut, dipped and fried. As we got started, everyone was excited and eagerly munching on things as they came out of the fry pan.

However, as the evening progressed, and the platters filled up, we realized we had prepped too much. Bellies were full (of grease) and the sight and smell of the food was making us all ill. I can definitely take some of the responsibility for that, as I encouraged more broccoli to be included in the mix.

Veggies sit in the batter before frying.

So much…

We were laughing so hard at the end, at how sick we all felt. There were piles and piles of food, and none of us wanted to go near it. We made up a big plate for the security guards at the complex and planned to bring some into the bakery the next day for Alis and Jeffrey.

Lighting candles and reading a story on the 7th night.

With friends of mine, and friends of friends, traveling often between the US and Guatemala, it’s easy enough to get items I need brought down. And as Hanukkah and Christmas approached, I thought it would be fun to have some of my favorite picture books down here with me to share with everyone. And so, on the 7th night of Hanukkah, after we lit the candles, I read Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins to the Hardisons. With the room illuminated solely by the menorah’s candlelight, it was a perfect atmosphere for this particular story. There are many things I don’t miss about teaching, but I do miss reading books aloud. So this was a lot of fun. I had two more in store, one for the last night of Hanukkah and one for our joint celebration of Christmas.

Tray ready for a child cookie-decorator.

We held our first party, during business hours, at Canela, the week before Christmas. Using Bethany’s cookie cutters, we came up with a fun set of a dozen sugar cookies to provide each child and (literally) whipped up batches of frosting for decorating the cookies. Bethany and I figured that with Jeffrey and Alis in the front, running the bakery, we could handle up to a dozen kids in the back for the party. In the end, we ended up with seven and that was plenty! I think I’d cap future parties at eight kids.

The party in full swing.

One child’s box of decorated cookies.

While we were quite prepared for this party, including activities for the kids to do after their cookies were done, and grilled-cheese-and-tomato-soup lunches for everyone before leaving, we still learned a bit about how to set this up for the future. I’m planning to try for a monthly kids-friendly party at the bakery. In addition decorating cookies (heart shapes for Valentine’s Day), we thought maybe a pizza-making class would be a fun one too. So many options!

Another gorgeous morning up at the cross.

As Christmas weekend approached, the whole pie and ice cream order business was much more manageable than Thanksgiving. This was partially due, of course, to fewer orders. But it was also because we were much better prepared. All the crusts were prepared days ahead of time and just needed to baked off and filled according to the pick-up schedule. And with fewer pie varieties on order, it was a lot easier to prep. The apple pie filling was made all in one big batch, and then we baked those as needed. Everything about it, generally, went smoother. The only hiccup was that we had a little bit of a cookie-crust mixup with one pumpkin pie and one ice cream pie. We ended up not just remaking both to give the customers what they wanted, but we also found buyers for the mismatched-crust pies. So I sold two more than I had planned!

Doughnuts on Christmas Eve, the final day before the break.

Christmas Eve was the last day of operation for 2017, and so with little prep work to do, it was easy to pull off a round of doughnuts to accompany the bagel business. We made a bigger batch than the previous time, dipped them in both regular and strawberry glazes, and then waited for the customers!

My doughnut models, in front of the doughnut sign.

These two, my very loyal fans and supporters, enjoyed the doughnuts and were happy to serve as poster boys for a future doughnut promotion. We purposely hung that doughnut sign on the wall, weeks ago, to force me to accelerate the doughnut-making process.

With a nine-day closure coming up, we were busy all throughout the weekend. Friday and Saturday were very busy days, and we actually sold so much babka that we had to make more on Sunday. And Sunday itself, even with an early closing time of 2 pm, wrapped up as the second-best day ever in Canela’s history. It was a great way to go out, and it sent me into my week-and-a-half long vacation on cloud nine.

Everyone asked, “Where are you going while you’re closed?” And the general expectation was that I would be traveling. But running a bakery in Antigua meant that I rarely got to enjoy Antigua or Guatemala itself. So with the exception of one outing into the city planned with the Hardisons, the only thing I wanted to do was not run the bakery. I could read. I could walk around town. I could go to Caoba and not rush through a meal. I could climb up to the cross later than 6 am. I could play board games and lawn games with the Hardisons. I could go to pub quiz without caring how late things went. I couldn’t be more excited!


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