Savour the season

Colleen Forer of Yummy Cookies will have her gingerbread houses for sale at A Taste of Ottawa: Westboro Holiday Food Market on Dec. 9. (Photo: Jean Levac)

Let’s be realistic: few of us have the time or resources to pay a visit to the elves up at the North Pole before Christmas. But if you’re looking to meet the makers of inspired seasonal gifts, consider some options much closer to home.

Christmas markets — perhaps following in the centuries-old European tradition — are springing up all over in the weeks to come. They are not only great places to get gifts, you can stock up on all sorts of fabulous things to eat while getting a taste of the area’s fresh spirit of homegrown food creativity.

“Ottawa has an up-and-coming food scene,” says Amanda Lunan, better known as Mandi Loo of Auntie Loo’s Treats, a funky vegan bakery on Bronson Avenue at Gladstone. “These markets really give you a sense of what’s going on in Ottawa’s food community. You get the person-to-person contact.”

Here’s a taste of six of the don’t-miss markets coming up.

Carp Farmer’s Market Christmas Market

What: One of the oldest, and most charming, Christmas markets in the region, the 23-year-old Carp Christmas Market makes it magical with outdoor vendors selling fragrant wreaths, Christmas trees and bacon-on-a-bun under the stars on Friday evening, but it continues Saturday and has 60 more vendors indoors too.

Vendors: 67, all of them selling what they grew or made themselves, making the Carp Farmers’ Market the largest producer-based farmers’ market in Eastern Ontario.

Don’t miss: Highland Blue and bloomy Madawaska are just two of the award-winning Lanark Back Forty Artisan Cheeses that the new owners of the raw ewe-milk cheese company, Jeff and Jenna Fenwick, will have for sale.

Special note: An outing to this Christmas market feels all the more festive if you round it out with a visit to one of the great nearby pubs: The Swan at Carp, The Cheshire Cat or the new Alice’s Village Café.

Where: The Carp fair grounds (the indoor exhibition halls are all wheelchair accessible.)

When: Friday, Nov. 30, from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 1, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Admission/parking: Free, though non-perishable donations for the West Carleton Food Bank are encouraged.

More: www. carpfarmersmarket.com

Ottawa Tea Festival

Kimiko Uriu is putting on Ottawa’s second annual Tea Festival this Sunday. (Photo: Bruno Schlumberger)

What: The second annual festival in Ottawa devoted to all things tea, with most of Ottawa’s independent tea retailers on hand selling teas and gift baskets (several pairing tea with locally made chocolates and even brownies.) Presentations will be made hourly at the festival on everything from a traditional Japanese tea ceremony to Bollywood dance.

Vendors: 25 booths, from the Tea Association of Canada to Gatineau’s Cha Yi tea house.

Don’t miss: Get a taste of the tea that won the North American Tea Championship. Ottawa’s Kimiko Uriu, the festival’s organizer, will have her rare Jin Jun Mei tea for sale. From China’s remote Wuyi Mountain area, this naturally sweet tea can be steeped seven times without becoming bitter. It doesn’t come cheap: she may offer a special festival price, but it usually goes for $30 for 30 grams.

Special note: Boozybrownies, the newest collection from Ottawa’s Carolina Foresti, will be available at the show and would make great Christmas gifts for the non-teetotallers on your list; $2 each or $12 for an attractive box of six, they include Bailey’s Irish Coffee, Amaretto and Bourbon Dulce de Leche (dulce de leche recipe from Foresti’s native Brazil).

Where: The Ottawa Convention Centre (Sunday workshops at other ByWard Market locations.)

When: The festival goes from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 1. Four additional workshops, including a $45 five-course tea-and-food pairing dinner, will be held on Sunday, Dec. 2.

Admission/parking: Admission is $15. Pay parking is available at the Rideau Centre (which is also on dozens of bus routes).

More: ottawateafestival.com

Ottawa Farmers’ Market Christmas Market

Caitlin and Kyle White of Milkhouse Farm and Dairy in Smith’s Falls will be selling their fresh sheep’s milk cheese and lamb sausages at the Ottawa Farmers’ Market Christmas Market. (Photo: Jean Levac)

What: This is the big one — the second edition of the hugely popular Christmas Market held last year in Lansdowne’s Aberdeen Pavilion, put on by Ottawa’s Farmers’ Market, with guest vendors from other farmers’ markets in the region, as well as former Ottawa Farmers’ Market vendors. It’s the market that almost didn’t have a home, before an 11th-hour offer from the Ernst & Young Centre saved the day (or, more accurately, four days.)

Vendors: More than 100, with about 70 selling edible items, all sourced locally.

Don’t miss: Incredible fresh sheep’s milk cheeses, a feta and a hard cheese, from Caitlin and Kyle White, the newlywed couple behind Smiths Falls’ new Milkhouse Farm & Dairy (both cheeses are $4.40 for 100g). And now they’re also offering three flavours of lamb sausages, including a Greek one made with their feta ($12 for six sausages).

But there are so many other don’t-miss stops. Did you know that Pascale makes her butterscotch ice cream with real Scotch and real butter? ($12 for a half pint). And don’t you just need a jar of her salted hot chocolate for after carolling? ($15 for 750 mL that you can dilute with milk, coffee or beer). Or, get hot chocolate on a stick, a perfect stocking stuffer, for $2.50 from Hearty Bakery (which also makes gorgeous baubles that look like Christmas-tree ornaments but are made of dark chocolate, for $14.) And, speaking of pretty, you’ve got to taste and see the candy-cane-and-white-chocolate macarons from Pretty-Fours (get a six-pack for $10 that also includes such flavours as salted caramel, gingerbread and mint chocolate). The elves couldn’t possibly do as well.

Special notes:

1. If you want one of Pascale’s $50 ice cream yule logs (and you do), you should pre-order at pascale@pascalescicecream.com.

2. See free chef demonstrations this Sunday (Dec. 2) at the Christmas Market, showcasing tasty ways to use the vendor produce. Christopher Lord of Union 613 will team up with George Wright of Castor River Farm to prepare a pork dish at 10 a.m. At 1:30 p.m., recent Gold-Medal-Plates winner Jamie Stunt from Oz Café will partner with Rosemary Kralik of Tiraislin Farm to make a yak dish.

3. If you go Dec. 9 or 16, you’ll also be able to visit the Originals Craft Sale — two shows and a chance to wrap up all your Christmas shopping for one parking fee.

Where: Ernst & Young Centre (formerly the CE Centre) at 4899 Uplands Dr. Accessible on OC Transpo routes 97, 99 and 147.

When: First market was held Sunday. Next ones will be Sundays Dec. 2, Dec. 9 and Dec. 16, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Admission/parking: Free admission but parking is $7.

More: ottawafarmersmarket.ca

Urban Craft

Amanda Lunan, better known as Mandi Loo of Auntie Loo’s Treats, will be selling her candy-cane crunch, orange chocolate and pumpkin chocolate cake pops for $2.50 each at four upcoming markets: Handmade Harvest, Urban Craft, Westboro Holiday Food Fare and Ottawa Locavore Artisan Food Fair. (Photo: Wayne Cuddington)

What: Billed as “Ottawa’s first and only monthly craft market, featuring the freshest and hippest vendors … in the heart of Hintonburg.” Show producer Krista Leben says the December market will put even more emphasize on gifts than usual. “We want it to be the one-stop shop for handmade gifts for all ages and all types of people.”

Vendors: 26, seven of which will be selling edible items

Don’t miss: Auntie Loo’s irresistible fudgey cake pops, $2.50 each and completely vegan. Choose Candy Cane Crunch, Orange Chocolate or Pumpkin Chocolate, or get a mixed dozen. (If you miss Auntie Loo at this show, you can also catch her products at Handmade Harvest in Carleton Place the same day, Ottawa Locavore Artisan Food Fair Dec. 8, or the Westboro Holiday Food Fare Dec. 9.)

Special note: If you call at least 48 hours in advance, Auntie Loo will bring your order of frozen “take and bake” Christmas morning cinnamon buns or scones (cranberry almond or gingerbread) to the show for pickup, letting you fill your home with wonderful aromas while turning out fresh-baked vegan treats with no prep on your part ($15 for six; call 613-238-2566).

Where: The GCTC, Holland and Wellington

When: Saturday, Dec. 1, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Admission/parking: Free admission and on-street free parking (though limited.) Accessible from OC Transpo buses 2, 16, 86 and 176.

More: urbancraftmarket.com

Ottawa Locavore Artisan Food Fair

What: The third annual Christmas market affectionately known as the LAFF and featuring some of the city’s top food artisans.

Vendors: More than 20, from Hummingbird with its excellent bean-to-bar chocolate to Kawalsa with his low-salt, high-flavour salsas.

Don’t miss: michaelsdolce will be offering a set of 10 tiny jars of jewel-coloured jams for $20, great for host gifts or stocking stuffers, and some featuring limited-edition flavours such as strawberry-and-chili.

Special note: Go for lunch. Stone Soup Foodworks will be inside offering such irresistibles as parsnip-and-pear soup and maple-chipotle pulled pork sandwiches while Relish the Flavour food truck will be outside offering chimichurri beef tacos and vegan chickpea curry.

Where: Memorial Hall, 39 Dufferin Rd., adjoining Crichton Cultural Community Centre in New Edinburgh

When: Saturday, Dec. 8, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Admission/parking: Free (a silent auction will be held in support of the Ottawa Education Network’s School Breakfast Program)

More: ottawalaff.ca

A Taste of Ottawa: Westboro Holiday Food Market

What: This is the first public event organized by a delicious and enterprising new group, the Ottawa Specialty Food Association, formed earlier this year. The association was spearheaded by Andrew Craig of Major Craig’s Chutney and the show will include everything from his pomegranate icewine chutney to Life of Pie’s tourtières and fruit cakes. Could preparing for Christmas get any sweeter?

Vendors: 22, all up-and-coming Ottawa food artisans

Don’t miss: Yummy Cookie’s Colleen Forer will be there with her delectable chocolate-dipped shortbreads, savoury shortbreads and gorgeous gingerbread houses that taste even better than they look. Find her tested and favourite adaptation of Martha Stewart’s recipe for her gingerbread cookies below.

Special note: Go for lunch. Yes, again. Relish food truck will be in the parking lot serving homemade tacos and its famous doughnuts while the Flatbread Pizza company will be flipping made-to-order artisan wood-fired pizzas. No need to cook on this weekend when you’re so busy getting ready for the holidays.

Where: Westboro Masonic Hall, 430 Churchill Ave. at Byron.

When: Sunday, Dec. 9, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Admission/parking: Both are free, but donations to the Westboro Region Food Bank are encouraged.

More: osfa.ca

Yummy Cookie’s Gingerbread Cookies

Colleen Forer of Ottawa’s Yummy Cookies makes her gingerbread houses and cookies using this recipe, adapted from Martha Stewart. She says it makes a sticky dough that’s a bit tricky to work with, but worth it for the flavour and melt-in-your-mouth texture.

Makes: 16 large cookies

■ 6 cups (1.5 L) all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface

■ 1 tsp (5 mL) baking soda

■ 1/2 tsp (2 mL) baking powder

■ 1 cup (250 mL) unsalted butter

■ 1 cup (250 mL) packed dark-brown sugar

■ 4 tsp (20 mL) ground ginger

■ 4 tsp (20 mL) ground cinnamon

■ 1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) ground cloves

■ 1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) coarse salt

■ 2 large eggs

■ 1 cup (250 mL) unsulfured molasses

1. Sift together flour, baking soda and baking powder into a large bowl. Set aside.

2. Put butter and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix on medium speed until fluffy. Mix in spices and salt, then eggs and molasses. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture; mix until just combined. Divide dough into thirds; wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate until cold, about 1 hour.

3. Preheat oven to 300 F (150 C). Roll out dough on a lightly floured work surface to 1/4-inch (1-cm) thick. Cut into shapes with cookie cutter. Space two inches (5 cm) apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper, then refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.

4. Bake cookies until crisp but not dark, 12 to 14 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks. If desired, decorate with royal icing piped from a pastry bag. Once set, cookies can be stored between layers of parchment paper at room temperature for up to 5 days.

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