I get a lot of catalogs. I mean A LOT of catalogs. Not sure why, exactly, except that I do a good portion of my shopping online. Sometimes I picture all those direct marketers sitting in a dingy back room somewhere, smoking stogies and wearing green accountants’ visors, bartering names and addresses: “Frankie, I’ve got a live one here in Williamsburg. Likes cooking, and shoes. What’ll ya give me for her?”
On this lazy Saturday I gathered a bunch of catalogs—the ones I didn’t just toss immediately, either because I’ve ordered from them before or they had something pretty and sparkly on the cover—and separated the wheat from the chaff for you, my dear readers. As it turns out, my choices center on three companies, each with a unique geographically-driven point of view.
If you order quickly and pay appropriate shipping charges, you could have most of this in time for Aunt Fanny’s Chanukkah party. Handy-dandy links for ordering are supplied. And don’t be shy—if you know of some great food-related gift, let me know! I’m always on the lookout for an interesting new gadget or ingredient…
First up comes Zingerman’s, my all-time favorite food purveyor. When I was considering a foray into the gourmet-shop world, I flew out to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to take a couple courses at Zingtrain, their extremely-casual-yet-totally-serious business school. I freakin’ love this place. The deli is without a doubt the best I’ve ever tasted—sometimes I dream about their Detroit St. BBQ sandwich: shredded chicken breast in a wonderfully tangy sauce, with applewood-smoked bacon and cole slaw on grilled sourdough bread. Oh. My. God. I’m a Jewish New Yorker so I was a little hesitant to try their pastrami, but it, too, kills. As good as Katz’s, but in a totally different way—they’ve got this groovy college-town vibe that’s unlike any traditional deli you’ve ever been to. S and I are talking about taking our next road trip through the Midwest just so we can stop here. The baked goods are out of this world—some of the best bread I’ve ever tasted, and the hot cocoa coffee cake makes me weep with pleasure. Oh, and did I mention the sauces and condiments? Ari Rosenzweig, one of the owners, travels the world to find the most spectacular flavors, the most authentic ingredients, and the ultimate examples of whatever they carry. I sound like an ad, I know, but Ari actually taught one of the courses I took and he is The Bomb. If I wasn’t already with S, I’d have been throwing myself at him. Although he’s married too, so I guess that wouldn’t have worked out, but you know what I mean… OK, on to the recommendations:
Rockin’ Reuben Sandwich Kit: They’ll send you everything you need for a feast for four—their incredible deli meat, Jewish Rye or Pumpernickel, homemade potato salad, garlicky pickles, and even the brownies for dessert.
Big Bakehouse Bonanza Box: This is a gift I’d LOVE to get: a little bit of everything from their outrageously good bakehouse.
The Weekender: A meal plus, it’s got everything from fresh-baked Farm Bread to French-style salami to Buenos Aires brownies (made with dulce de leche!).
Zingerman’s Bread Club: If you know someone who’d rather work their way through a well-thought-out bread basket than eat their main course (um, hello? That would be me) this is the ideal gift. Monthly shipments of some of the best bread in the US!
Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating: S, if you’re reading: I. Want. This. Book. For the wannabe-foodie, who knows that aged balsamic vinegar is a good thing but doesn’t know why, or for the kitchen whiz who buys intriguing-sounding ingredients and then can’t think of how to use them, Ari’s got the answers. Just check out the endorsements from Corby Kummer and Joan Nathan! They recommend sending it with a Zingerman’s gift card, which strikes me as a fine idea indeed.
Hot Cocoa Coffeecake: I brought several of these cakes home with me, and in a matter of days they were gone. Every chocolate lover’s dream: rich, fudgy, but not at all overwhelming. Comes in two sizes: Nosher and Fresser. Guess which one I’d want?
Swinging further west, we hit Napastyle, a wine-oriented foodie catalog. This is the source of the indispensable utensil I have dubbed the Squadle, and indeed, it is the first item on my list:
The Squadle (or Square Ladle, as Napastyle prosaically calls it) is the serving piece I turn to again and again. It gets every last bit out of a round pot—don’t ask me how—and is a thing of beauty and elegance, to boot.
Chocolate Plates & Mugs: White stoneware with adorable chocolate-themed illustrations on them, these just look fun. What would please a chocoholic more? Well, maybe some crazy-good chocolate, but I’m saving that recommendation for the very end…
Oakville Console: I don’t really expect someone to give this as a gift, but it’s just so gorgeous—and so reasonably priced, for what it is—that I wanted to show you. It’s the kind of table I would love to have in my kitchen or living room, elegant and useful at the same time.
Provencal Porcelain Salt Cellar Set: I have a bunch of different salts on my counter, and this struck me as a lovely yet practical way to keep them nearby.
Diamond Fingers Sharpener: I have no idea if this really is as good as they say, but it looks way cool, doesn’t it? And considering that I sliced deep into my thumb the other day when a blade slipped off my steel, there’s something to be said for safety-consciousness.
Ottimista/Pessimista Glasses: I LOVE these glasses. The idea of sipping red wine out of a plain drinking glass really soothes me—it’s so homey and warm. And these are clever and stylish, too—not to mention a really affordable gift for any wine-lover (or Italophile).
Vintage Italian Coasters: Another reasonably-priced gift for the wine-loving Italophile, these are sweetly charming rubber coasters featuring vintage Italian wine labels.
From Napa we zoom back across the country, to Maine’s own Stonewall Kitchen. S and I spent part of our honeymoon up there, and we saw Stonewall stuff everywhere we went (not to mention its ubiquity in gourmet shops all over the place). Recently, I received their catalog for the first time ever, and while it’s filled with their famed preserves and condiments, it’s also got some really neat kitchen-stuff.
Stainless Steel Mini Food Mill: I’ve wanted a food mill for some time now, but a) I didn’t want to introduce yet another gadget to my kitchen that there isn’t necessarily room for; and b) they’re not so cheap. This one is small AND inexpensive.
Antiqued Cottage Pedestals: I wish I’d seen these before my wedding—we had a cupcake cake, and it was much trickier than we expected to find something appropriate to display them on. Now, these sweet little pedestals are the perfect thing for a cupcake cake, but they’re also pretty and useful for just about any other occasion you can think of.
English Ironstone Breadbox: This unbelievably gorgeous piece is perfect for the bread-lover in your life. It’s a little pricey, sure, but if you’re looking for a creative way to present an engagement ring to your bread-baking girlfriend, what could be better? Stonewall also carries an assortment of platters, mixing bowls, and mini-tankards in these lovely blue floral patterns.
Taste of Maine Collection: An assortment of Maine-centric jams, mustards, and syrups. Yum.
All-Clad Nonstick Griddle Gift Set: For the pancake lover who (God forbid!) wasn’t impressed with my recipe for Oatmeal Pancake Mix—a high-quality nonstick griddle, packaged with Stonewall’s own Farmhouse Pancake and Waffle Mix.
And now, flying back across the country to Washington state for one last treat—the most incredible, most crawl-a-mile-on-broken-glass-fabulous confection, the thing your chocolate lover will be talking about (and thanking you for) MONTHS from now: Fran’s Dark Gray Salt Caramels. Imagine the richest, most buttery soft caramel enrobed in smooooth dark chocolate, then sprinkled with a crunchy pinch of gray sea salt. Trust me on this one, my friends. Fran also has a new cookbook out called, naturally enough, Pure Chocolate, which would make a terrific accompaniment.
Well, that’s it for my round-up. Hope you found something you liked! I know I did…