Friday, December 24, 2010

Good Night

Friday. The holiday mail order season always ends the same way—a calamitous rise and then utter quiet. After going nonstop for two weeks, every hour of every day, with four hundred people opening and closing doors and shouting over food, the hollowness at the end of December 24th never ceases to feel eerie and strange. It's desolate inside the building. The shelves are empty, their contents shuttled to other peoples' homes, scattered across America. There, people are noisy. Here, our phones are silent. This is the view out the darkened windows of our Service Center, where our holiday lights are still hanging. Good night.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Thursday. We wound down the last shipping day before Christmas, taking orders up to 2pm, shipping out 2,000 boxes. As the building emptied of food and treasure, once invisible things returned to view. Like signs. Every business has them. There are the "Please!" and "Don't!" appeals meant to save you from a terrific accident. There are the location signs that let you know It's OK Dear, You're in the Right Place. And there are my personal favorites, the arcane checklist and process signs that make sense to locals only. Out of context they read like poetry.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Last Big Day

Twenty four hours left before the last box leaves. At this point J and Shalette speak only in code,  a secret language that warehouse leaders everywhere understand. Ask them how it's going and the answer might be "I'm waiting for recomb to finish so the PL can take off the holds then I can run tomorrow's sheets and start the first prep slice." Exactly.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Scenes from The Line, Two Days Left

We've been packing boxes twenty-four hours a day for the last ten days. There are two more days, another seven thousand boxes, and we're done for Christmas. People are very tired and getting slaphappy. Here are scenes from the warehouse this afternoon, just before today's final orders left.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sugarplum Fairy

Monday. The sugarplums arrived. I had a case FedEx'd from Portugal to solve some customer problems we had created. The phone call with the receiving agent was funny: "There's a lot of no English on this box. I need to ask you a few questions about what exactly these things are." Yes, Virginia, sugarplums are real. And, apparently, very in demand. They're made by nuns. Maybe that has something to do with it.

The view outside our warehouse as the moon rose.
Tonight there will be an eclipse.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

French Roasting

Sunday. We placed a large order for French Roast coffee today. I took a few pictures of Asa roasting it  this afternoon in the Coffee Co's red roaster. French Roast is our darkest roasted coffee,  cooking the longest at the highest heat.

When he opened the chute blue smoke came out and it crackled as it poured.
He said, "It's practically on fire."

The freshly roasted beans are "stirred" by these arms while a fan sucks air through, cooling them rapidly.

Cooled, the coffee rains into large garbage-bin sized tubs where it's held till it's bagged.

Now in the bin. Just-roasted coffee does not smell like the lovely coffee we know.
It smells like carbon dioxide, which it's exhaling at a tremendous rate.
It takes a couple days for the aroma to appear.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Totally Baked

Saturday. We're going to ship about 30,000 loaves of bread this week. That's meant record baking levels at Zingerman's Bakehouse. They've scheduled 12 hour shifts and are making more loaves today— 9,000 — than ever before. They're still all made by hand with an attention to detail that is hard to fathom. Below are pictures I took today inside the bakery. All the while I shot there was a single man hand peeling New Mexico roasted chiles for the Chile Cheddar bread. He was the only one standing still. Everyone else was practically running from table to oven.

Some forgotten trivia I remembered today: the first year I worked at Zingerman's Mail Order we did our holiday shipping out of the Bakehouse. Every day I dusted flour off of all the food. Our biggest day was 113 boxes. This year it's 9,500.

8 Grain 3 Seed going into the second oven.

Tubs of Chocolate Sourdough mix, forming it into rounds at the bench.

Chocolate Cherry, ready to go on the rack to the oven.

Chocolate Cherry, slit with a razor on top, heading into the stone hearth oven.

Pecan Raisin getting slit with a razor before heading into the oven.

Farm Bread baskets, before they're floured and the dough is added.

Farm Bread proofing, one stop on its 18 hour journey from flour to finished loaf.

Shawna, Bakehouse bread leader, figuring out how many loaves her crew can bake tomorrow.

Frank, the Bakehouse's founder.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Late Night Tinned Fish Tasting

Friday. It's 10:30 at night, time to taste some Spanish tinned fish in the Service Center. Albacore and Yellowfin tunas from Ortiz. You wouldn't think that this kind of thing would generate a lot of Oohs and Aahs. You'd be wrong. I previously wrote about the maker, Ortiz, here and here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Views From Above

Thursday. The last picture is our bread bagging station. We still haven't found a better way to bag bread than by hand. Actually, that goes for almost everything we do. It's all done by hand. It's just that with bread you really feel it. When you bag fifty thousand loaves in a month you can't help but notice. These days, a little over a week before Christmas, our warehouse smells like a bakery.