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.
With the arrival of December, it meant two critical things: 1) Christmas season was fully upon us here in Guatemala; and 2) Jeffrey was back from his time in the States. The two go hand-in-hand, because with a more experienced Alis and the return of a lead baker, that means some of the heavy burden of the bakery can come off my shoulders. It also meant that not only did I not have to get started at 6 am everyday to bake the bread and start the next day’s bread dough, but also that I could step away from the bakery as needed, or desired. I could run errands during the day, instead of after we closed. I could go to the city. I could relax. I could stay in bed a little later. I was so excited about what this meant for me!
It’s been about a month since my last post, and while business has been kind of slow, a lot has transpired in that time period. From a broad bakery standpoint, August-into-September was very quiet. Having never been in Antigua during this time of year, I didn’t know in advance that September is the deadest month of the year. From the boom of July, to a moderate pace in August, as I approached September, I could see what people were talking about.
So while the volume of sales wasn’t what I’d seen before, the relative quiet of the time of year allowed for us to innovate in the bakery and look ahead at expanding our menu and variety of offerings.
My first full week in Antigua, as a resident, kicked off bright and early Monday morning with a trip to El Mástil, to get an EcoFiltro. Without water I can drink, and Internet I can use, I wasn’t going to move into my place. Mindy and Carlos had been very accommodating and I didn’t want to take advantage of their hospitality. Hopefully I could solve both of these problems quickly.
This time, having received some guidance from Mindy, I was able to find the store located behind the mercado. I selected an EcoFiltro quickly, but decided to look around before moving on. Unlike most hardware stores, where you can wander the aisles, everything is on display behind cases when you walk in. You have to go up to the counter and place your order. Then, you bring a receipt to the cashier and pay for it. After that, you bring it to a different counter where they either hand you the item(s), or they direct you to the back, to pick up the larger stuff, where a fourth person has now been involved with your purchase.
Once the decision was made in early February that I would, in fact, take my baking to Guatemala, I tried to make the most of my final month in Los Angeles. It was going to be hard to leave, with my family and friends (both old and new) there. I never expected upon returning that I’d only be there a year, but it was an extra year I never expected to spend so close to all these wonderful people, so I look at it as a bonus from that point of view.
I first discovered the magic of XLB (“soup dumplings”) while on the Curiosity Crawl during pastry school (first post here, final ranking here). Din Tai Fung is famous for their XLB, among other things, and started in Hong Kong before opening some places in the US. These were smaller (some pork, some pork and crab) but still very good. But I don’t think anything beats Shanghai Dumpling King.
Upon returning from my scouting adventures, I was busy wrapping up the final Smorgasburg of 2016, fulfilling an enormous holiday order I’d received, and then getting ready for the annual cousins’ Christmas – which happened to be a Chrismukkah celebration this year with the first night of Chanukah falling on Christmas Eve. It was without doubt a fantastic and tasty few weeks.
When I accepted my current job, over the phone from San Francisco, my schedule was supposed to be Sunday to Wednesday. Truly an awesome schedule, especially when you considered that my shift starts at noon. It gave me most of the standard weekend, which is pretty rare in the bakery/restaurant biz. Alas, I got to LA and after my training ended, that schedule didn’t fit the bakery’s needs. We agreed on a new one, Wednesday to Saturday. Still a good schedule, leaving me Saturday mornings free and giving me all of Sunday. (Why four days a week? It both fit their needs, and also mine. I wanted to dedicate a day of the week to my own work, at trying to get a bakery launched.)Continue reading