At the subway entrance on the southwest side of Union Square, I caught sight of what looked like one of Santa’s reindeer, his head bashfully bowed, as though he was going to have to deliver some unpleasant news. Given the array of things to chose from for holiday giftgivers at the annual Union Square Holiday Market, which I visited on opening day on Friday, it might have been that he would have to let the elves know that, this year, some of their services might not be needed. Or maybe, like me, the little guy was thinking that he needed to find a place to rest after sampling all the delicious wares of the food vendors at the market this year.
This year, some of the folks whom I know from other markets are at Union Square for the first time, which will be very handy for those who like to give edible gifts for the holidays. As usual, there are things to eat on the spot while taking a break from shopping, actual food items to take away as presents, and some interesting stuff that could make unique packages to deliver during the holidays. I definitely saw lots of ideas for stocking stuffers for some of the members of my family and, oh, one or two things that I could gift to myself, too.
Macaron Parlour always has some of the most colorful and vibrant displays at any market with rows of brilliantly-hued delicate morsels arranged in their cases.
I picked up a sweet, savory, smoky Maple Bacon Cream Cheese one to start of my tour of the market. Some of my other favorites of theirs are the Nutella and the Red Velvet Cake.
Another one of my favorite people with whom to catch up is Allison Robicelli, whom I caught up with in her festively-decorated stall, all sparkly with lights and gold balls.
(Butternut squash cake, vanilla buttercream, candied pumpkin seeds, butternut squash seed oil)
I decided to go with the Butternut Spice Cupcake, as she’s been mentioning on her Tumblr feed that it will soon go back into their Top Secret Flavors Vault until next Fall. I didn’t want to miss out on the moist, mildly spiced and sweet squash cake generously topped with vanilla buttercream and sprinkled with toasted, candied pumpkin seeds, which I think they could sell just on their own, they were so delicious.
She introduced me to the new – just released that day – Pecan Pie Brownie, which looked so chocolaty and rich that it almost derailed me from picking out another cupcake. I munched on the Pear Cardamom Ginger cupcake, as I’d really been wanting to get my hands on that one since I’d seen it announced, as we caught up about our respective holiday plans. I wish all cakes for the season had this great blend of zingy ginger and warm cardamom along with the sweet, floral honey frosting.
Allison is also selling Sea Salt Macaroons, the coconut kind, by Danny Macaroons at her stall. Moist, chewy coconut baked until the shell is just set then drizzled with luxuriously buttery sea salt caramel to give it a bit of richness and pop from the salt. These would also be perfect at the holiday table on a dessert display plate, even if it is the one that you made in elementary school in art class where the person is as big as the tree.
We all know that finding that little something jammed into the toe of a holiday stocking is an extra special surprise. “Santa” at our house used to put in those small boxes of Whitman’s Samplers from time to time. While I would encourage treats from Liddabit Sweets at any time of year, these are also delicious tidbits to introduce to your family and friends as well. Last year, I played helper elf and handed out these to folks in my family young and old.
Sweets fiends know all about Momofuku Milk Bar‘s infamous Crack Pie, big chewy soft cookies, and cereal milk creations. Good thing then, that to keep everyone going for their shopping excursion at the market that they have a stall filled with their signature goodies.
Inspired by the places around that their travels take them to source local handmade goods, the folks at Rubyzaar have created a line of big, chewy cookies with names like Kasmir, Casbah, and Hoi An. I think I could have gathered up one of each kind just to discover what theses minds were concocting when they dreamed up these flavors.
For more traditional holiday sweets, Breezy Hill Orchard has large gingerbread boys and girls, Gingersnaps, and their Greenmarket staple Apple Cider Donuts for sale. They also have hot apple cider to keep you warm while you walk around in the market.
Chocolate-covered soft, spicy gingerbread? Yes, please! This is just one of the sweet treats that are at the stands for German Delights. They also have marzipan and cookies as well as other goodies bringing a bit of Central Europe to Manhattan.
Stuffed Artisan Cannolis have been at a few markets I’ve visited this year. Their small-sized Italian treats are filled with creamy, bold flavors, including seasonal ones like pumpkin.
With several cheerful yellow trucks stationed around town, you’ve probably seen their waffles hungrily consumed by sweets-mad New Yorkers. They are back again at this market cheering up shoppers with their fluffy-crisp creations that you can top with fruit, chocolate, whipped cream, and their completely addictive Spekuloos spread (tasting like the cinnamony, Belgian cookie of the same name). I tried to gift a jar of this delicious accompaniment last year and ended up keeping it for myself instead.
Another European edible that is a staple at their holiday markets has also set up shop in Union Square: the Crêpe. What I love about these is watching them spread out the batter on the griddles, pushing it around until it is a paper thin layer, and then deftly flipping it with one motion using a long spatula. My homemade ones never turn out this well.
Market veteran and recent Chocolate Show attendee, No Chewing Allowed, has created a truffle that literally melts in your mouth. Grab a morsel from the sample tray, place it on your tongue, and let the deep chocolate taste spread all over your tastebuds like a luxurious wave.
After tasting NuNu Chocolates last year, I became a fan of their deep, dark chocolate combinations. They also have a store where they hold tastings where there is also a cozy place to pull up a chair for a warm chocolate drinks on cold winter days.
Produced in small batches, using minimal processing, Raaka Chocolate aims to bring out more of the natural aromas and tastes of the cocoa beans themselves. Their bars mixed with spices and flavorings heighten the chocolate flavors from the beans they use.
Remember peeling back the plastic to uncover two tubes of glossy, salty, meaty jerky? Slim Jim‘s were a snack of choice, too, for my now-vegetarian brother when we were growing up. I can still remember their chewy, kind of meaty texture. It wasn’t really for me. Now, I’ve discovered artisan Beefy Jerky like that from Kings County Jerky Co. and my mind has been opened to how steak-like and richly-flavored well-dried, grass-fed beef can taste when put in the hands of careful craftsmen. The Korean Barbecue brings together the flavors of soy, chili, garlic, and sesame in layered harmony with each chew. It’s probably my favorite of the flavors that they do.
Earlier this year, I discovered The Brooklyn Salsa Company‘s products and knew that they had a hit on their hands. With salsa flavors inspired by and named after the five boroughs, they’ve captured the personality of each of our city’s component subsets in a tasty jar. Eaten straight up or used in recipes, these flavors will liven up any meal or give some zip to your dishes.
The soups from Taste of Persia looked like they’d fit the bill for providing warm comfort while checking out the vendors at the market. I just wish they hadn’t hidden all of their goodness in the metal containers where no one could see them.
Usually when I run into Mighty Balls, the line is so long that I take a pass and go over the next available food stand. This time, I took the plunge and got in the queue. That was a delicious decision. A perfectly-formed meatball with a hearty tomato sauce, topped with pungent cheese. This was a great snack to keep me going while I combed the market for some more presents. They also sell jars of their sauces at the market.
Another market-friendly nibble is a pretzel from Sigmund Pretzel Shop, who also has a shop on the Lower East Side. Try their sharp, briny Feta & Olive or their earthy, cheesy Cheddar & Truffle, and don’t forget to add on a side of their spicy, tangy housemade mustard.
Local roaster Dallis Bros. Coffee is brewing up steaming cups of joe for flagging market goers at their stall. They also have bags of their beans for sale along with other coffee-making implements.
Other winter warmers can be found at German Delights which has Hot Apple Cider along with Gluehwein (spiced, mulled wine) for sale alongside their other treats.
If you are looking for a gift that will keep giving even after all the holiday wrapping paper and bows have been scooped up off of the floor and tossed into the trash, perhaps a beer making kit from Brooklyn Brew Shop should be on your list of things to pick up this year. The kit contains all the gear to whip up a batch of one of their flavors like the Chocolate Maple Porter or Gingerbread Ale, to name a few of the ones they have.
Another do-it-yourself option for home beverage making is also on sale at the market in the form of Kombucha Brew Kits. This fermented drink has become very popular over the past few years, making appearances at many of the markets around town.
For me, winter afternoons are about curling up on the sofa with a hot mug of aromatic tea. Miss Tea has a range of selections of infusions and herbal blends as well as tea accessories. The fragrance coming from this stand was so soothing and warm that I could have just hung out there for a while soaking it all in.
Other Food Things
The brightly colored fabrics and bold designs make this stall a standout at the market amidst all the other ones with their more muted winter tones. My eye was drawn to this warmly toned tiffin, which they have along with other enamelware, and I could feel the promise that it brings of a meal of fluffy rice, richly spiced dahl, and other culinary delights all in portable form.
These striking cake cutters caught my eye, too, as I also pre-shop for gifts that I need for other occasions throughout the year. These, I thought, would be a unique wedding present for a modern couple. She also has other decorative housewares on her website, too.
For the oenophile in your life, these Vintage Wine Boxes might make the perfect gift. This stand had cases of various sizes and shapes for sale, some with various decorative touches or vintage labels.
Then, to go with the wine boxes, perhaps some funky NYC-inspired coasters would be a good gift. These ones from High Fidelity Design come as single units or as a set. These would also make a fun present for anyone’s apartment, so they also go on my hostess gift ideas list.
I really liked these items last year, so I’m glad to see this company come back to the market for another season. NY Cruets has beautiful, hand-blown containers for holding oil and vinegar. With these gracing your table, every meal becomes a special occasion.
To pair with the above products, The Filling Station has a wide array of vinegars and flavored olive oils. I’ve used their standard one in my everyday cooking. Last year, I gifted their fragrant, citrusy Blood Orange oil to some friends who received it enthusiastically. They also have flavored salts as well for sprinkling on and finishing dishes with an extra bit of pizazz.
Another spice shop at the market is Spices & Tease. I just love to walk by their display gazing at the gorgeous colors of all their mixes and rubs and inhaling all the wonderful fragrances. They sell several different options for packaging up their creations so you can pick out a few of them to give to your favorite food-focused person.
The Unemployed Philosophers Guild has some of the most whimsical and quirky gifts that I saw at the market. It’s like walking into one of the knickknack stores downtown that carry lots of random things. The mint tins would make great stocking stuffers for some of the adults in the family. I have a few friends who would enjoy the shot glasses and mugs, so those might give me some other possibilities to put underneath the tree.
For me, the holiday markets are a great way to pick up some unique finds for presents, whether for the upcoming festivities or later on in the year. It is also a way to support local artisans and makes a great afternoon out with friends as well, mugs of steaming cider or gluehwein in hand, munching on a waffle or other food item. This was always one of the delights of living in Europe, so I’m glad to see that it is thriving here, too.