Dining Reviews

Santa Cruz Holiday Markets Set Up Shop

A primer on locally made gifts, from artisan wreaths to small-batch chocolate

UCSC Arboretum wreaths are one of many locally made gifts now available at the Downtown Farmers Market’s annual Holiday Fair addendum. PHOTO: JULES HOLDSWORTH

Holiday honey, artisanal ciders, aromatic wreaths—it’s time for the annual Holiday Fair at the Downtown Farmers Market, now through the last Wednesday before Christmas, Dec. 19.

If you’re in gift-giving mode and looking for some unique, distinctive goodies, then you’ll love this holiday expansion of the downtown market. Selected local artisans will be showing their finest handmade goods to add to the fun of the already abundant al fresco scene.

The sensory joys of holiday wreaths made by the UCSC Arboretum are frankly irresistible. Gorgeously designed and arranged succulent wreaths are one of the Arboretum’s specialties. Truly vibrant, bristling with a lively mix of textures and more than 50 shades of green, these wreaths are legendary among collectors.

And who wouldn’t love an artfully designed potted plant or dried flower bouquet? Only the Grinch! Handmade pottery makes an ideal gift, so don’t miss the stoneware collections from Santa Cruz Pottery and LizzeTee. One-of-a-kind aprons, pot holders and shopping totes from seamstress Violet Resser, or handmade beeswax candles—such a luxury—from R+K Honey Bees. And yes, there are tons of intriguing gifts everywhere in the eclectic market—wines, cheeses, small-batch chocolates, preserves, organic body products, and the old-fashioned stocking stuffers: citrus and pomegranate.

If you think of the Downtown Farmers Market as one-stop holiday shopping, you would be just about right. And many of the holiday vendors and their wares will also be on site each Saturday at the Westside Market through Dec. 22.

Gifts Galore

The Homeless Garden Project Holiday Store is now open at 1338 Pacific Ave. in downtown Santa Cruz—between El Palomar and the Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company. Store hours are 11 a.m.-7 p.m. through Dec. 6 and 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Dec. 7-24. This is one of the most delightful holiday gift pit-stops; from jewelry to textiles, teas and cookies and herbal soaps. Gorgeous stuff.

Pumpkin Pie Final

Our panel moaned in unison at the first (and last) bite of Beckmann’s pumpkin pie. While I’d put it neck and neck with Kelly’s for the top slot, I could easily be convinced that this is the Holy Grail of pumpkin pies. On every level—texture, flavor, tenderness—Beckmann’s excels. The crust is so delicious it’s worth eating all by itself. And while the actual slices are not quite as thick as Kelly’s or Gayle’s or the Buttery’s, they are just fine.

A small pie retails at $11.99 and provides four adult-sized slices of pie. Three, for those with larger needs. Leading with nutmeg and ginger, the first bite unfolds into a rich pumpkin flavor laced robustly with cloves and cinnamon as well. Confident spices. Complex pie, not too sweet. Firm, creamy texture, and that wonderful tender, flaky butter crust make this an outstanding example of the classic autumn dessert.

Here’s a pie I would serve at a holiday diner and claim to have made myself. That’s an endorsement.

At Shopper’s, New Leaf, Whole Foods, and the Aptos Farmers Market.

Cookie of the Week

Il Biscotto’s local, handmade almond cookies, in an orgy of various traditional Italian shapes and sizes, are available at the farmers markets these days. The mouth-watering array at last week’s Westside Market included four types of GF cookies, and we’ve been enjoying the Lady Almond cookies—chewy, dense with almonds, honey and nutmeg—for the past week. $10/dozen.

Post-Turkey Interlude

Sushi! The perfect palate cleanser between holiday dinners loaded with turkey, gravy, stuffing, and traditional desserts. Hamachi nigiri, tekka maki, spicy tuna roll, etc. Head on over to Sushi Totoro to reboot your palate with the bright flavors of seaweed and wasabi.

1701 Mission St., Santa Cruz. Open for lunch and dinner daily.

Christina Waters was born in Santa Cruz and raised all over the world (thanks to an Air Force dad), with real-world training in painting, music, winetasting, trail running, organic gardening, and teaching. She has a PhD in Philosophy, teaches in the Arts at UCSC and sings with the UCSC Concert Choir. Look for her recent memoir “Inside the Flame” at bookstores everywhere.

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