The Zabar’s Catalog, The King Arthur Catalog, and the Devious Plan in Which Zingerman’s Will Play No Role

As you can imagine, our household receives several food-related catalogs in the mail. I don’t mean food magazines — we actually don’t have any subscriptions to any food magazines right now. I mean catalogs: lists of food items we can buy from various specialty purveyors. We are very loyal to the good people at King Arthur Flour, and Penzey’s, for example. We also get catalogs from Zabar’s and Harry and David (though we’ve never once placed a Harry and David order; I’m honestly not sure why we get their catalog) and I will even count the Vermont Country Store as a food catalog because half the time the things I order from them, in my infrequent orders, are edible.

With the Vermont Country Store, if I’m placing an order, it’s either edible or it’s soap.

We recently received a food catalog I hadn’t seen in a while — the Zingerman’s catalog. Zingerman’s is a famous delicatessen out in Ann Arbor and I’m sure it’s a pleasure to go there but in all the years I’ve looked at their wares in the catalog, I’ve never once been tempted to order something.

Now, Zabar’s: Zabar’s is another thing entirely. The Zabar’s catalog is a situation where 80% of the pages have something I’d happily order and consume in one sitting. I would not sniff derisively at a package of smoked belly lox; I would be perfectly happy to consume their babka, even the cinnamon one; a dozen bagels? Absolutely.

But Zingerman’s. They have all kinds of fancy anchovies and bacon and bread and cheese and none of it rings any bells for me. Ok: the bacon, I guess it’s obvious why I wouldn’t want to order that. But if they had some duck bacon, I might well spring for that: we like duck bacon. But they don’t have any.

And this year, I was opening the catalog with a very open mind, because we agreed that the gifts we give to each other at Chanukkah and Christmas this year should be food-oriented. The idea is that the gifts we give each other will get eaten up or used up, and not sit around gathering dust for the next ten years becoming something I eventually have to throw out or repurpose. This concept was devised when our daughter, now eight and a half years old, ripped the King Arthur Flour catalog from my hands while I was sorting the mail a few weeks ago. “I need a pen,” she said.

“You need a PEN?” I asked skeptically. But I handed her a pen. She promptly settled herself down at the dining table and began circling things. “What is this,” I demanded.

“I’m marking the things I want,” she said. And boy howdy, did she. She wanted mixing bowls and she wanted cooky mixes and she wanted a bread box and she wanted a butter dish and she wanted various kinds of flour. I pointed out that we already own two butter dishes* and a bread box, and that I already have all the types of flour I need, and that with these things, we had no use for cooky mixes. She marked baking pans (mostly USA brand) and a Thermapen. I said, “We have a Thermapen, you’ve seen me use it a million times.” “But this one’s RED,” she said. I couldn’t argue with that.

If we ordered everything from the King Arthur Flour catalog that my daughter circled, we would have to install a second kitchen somewhere in our apartment to hold it all.

But it inspired what would be a much larger conversation about gift-giving this year. And when the Zabar’s catalog arrived a couple days later, my husband and child both paged through it thoughtfully. “I wouldn’t mind getting kippered salmon for Christmas,” my husband said.

“I like cake,” my daughter reminded me.

I’ve been trying to get into the spirit of things. I ordered for myself an expensive (i.e. costing more than $3.50) bottle of tomato vinegar. Tomato vinegar is something I’ve been using very very sparingly because my first bottle is nearly empty and I don’t want to run out of it entirely. (I bought it myself because I am positive no one in the family would think to get one for me as a gift, but it definitely qualifies as a quality gift item.) I’m hatching a plan for my daughter’s Chanukkah presents — I think I have an excellent concept that will be very easy to execute — and I’m slowly devising a list for my husband. If everything goes as I think it should, then we will certainly have some objects sitting around, six years post-Christmas and Chanukkah, but the majority of our holiday loot will be used up, long-since enjoyed, a happy memory.

The best part, really, is that the shopping will be, for once, just as much fun as the giving — even for my shopping-averse husband. I think. Fingers crossed. (Note to husband, if he’s reading this: we could use some new potholders, badly. Those, if they’re nice, I won’t mind if they’re still hanging around  the kitchen six years from now.)

*at the time I wrote this piece, we did own two butter dishes, one of which, regular readers know, has come to an untimely end thanks to the goddamned cats.

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