It sure doesn’t feel like Christmas outside. At 85 degrees in the middle of December, L.A. residents (remotely like me), are more than pleased with every little reminder that it’s the holiday season. This time of year, we relish the scent of our freshly cut pine tree with its string of bright cranberries and popcorn. The first seasonal candy cane or peanut brittle is an experience we’ve awaited since last year. We cozy up and sip our apple cider (or hot toddies), and we remember that even though, baby, it’s not cold outside, ‘tis still the season. Little by little, as the holidays sneak up on us, our priorities shift to treating ourselves and treating our loved ones. For that reason, I just have to say: If you missed Artisanal LA’s Holiday Pop-Up Shop downtown this past weekend, you missed out. (Psst, I’ll still provide you with enough tips to pick out goodies from the individual vendors.)
By the Fire
If you’re craving something decadent or looking for a cute gift for a sugar fiend, it seems s’mores are all the rage - with good reason. These babies are awesome.
At the inaugural Artisanal LA event in November, I was swept away by the brilliance of combining the flavors of peanut butter and marshmallow into a pie by I Heart Pies. While I Heart Pies was not a vendor this time around, Crust by Stephanie Jayne Shaiken definitely was. With an adorably decorated country Christmas theme and precious packaging, Shaiken presented her fabulous interpretation of a s’more pie.
With gooey flame-licked marshmallows atop a homemade milk chocolate ganache and homemade graham crackers, this pie was a fanciful interpretation of the best damn s’more you’ve never had.
And then I tried her butter pie. C’mon really, people? It’s butter – the best ingredient ever - IN A PIE. Yep, that’s about all I have to say about that.
Just a few booths down was Gotta Have S’more, featuring the “s’muffin.” Cute name, even cuter product, with holiday flavors to boot. We are talking a mini muffin full of mallowy, chocolaty goodness with seasonal flavors of candy cane, pumpkin ganache and eggnog. You know these things are addictive, because founder and owner Carmen Lindner formerly had a ban against butter and sugar in her home. After a little idea took shape in the form of muffin-shaped s’mores, butter and sugar quickly became a mainstay as the business took off and the resulting s’muffins should become a mainstay as your Christmas stocking stuffers. Believe it.
Where There’s Smoke…
Dark, smoky flavors were a big trend around the shop, too. Chef/owner Alessandra Innamorato of olive shop Orgasmo de la Boca, was inspired to create her smoked pickled garlic olives during her four years spent in Spain, where vats of pickled garlic are sold at market. This flavor of olives, among others, can be found at Wine Expo in West L.A., for the olive lover in your life.
The “Smoked Cheese Crack” sold at the Mothercluck booth was aptly named, with smoked Anaheim peppers laced between a layer of cheddar cheese and thin cracker. Through the process, the cracker is softened as the cheese and smoked peppers sink into it, turning the cracker almost into a soft (addictive) flatbread. Creator Karen Clemens also featured several preserves made from produce from her urban homestead, a favorite being cranberry pomegranate.
And if you wanted to spread some magnificence across that addictive flatbread of Clemens’, Cast Iron Gourmet had some great choices for toppings. Chef/owner Rashida Purifoy knows her comfort food and has added pimiento-bacon cheese spread and bacon chutney to her array of flavorful products. When mixed together, the two spreads create that salty, sweet and cheesy combination that hits all the rights spots. Sure, this would taste good on Mothercluck’s Smoked Cheese Crack. But hell, it tastes just as good on Saltines.
Purifoy also introduced her Winter Bacon, a thick, juicy bacon spiced with allspice, cinnamon, apple cider and cardamom. Basically, the bacon tastes like winter – in a good way.
Who doesn’t like to get saucy every once in a while? For a healthy take on marinades and dressings, Jon Rollo’s Greenleaf Gourmet Chop Shop served up a variety of flavors all made from the freshest organic produce. Jon’s Citrus Basil Vinaigrette, a vegan dressing, had a light, refreshing lift with a creamy finish, while the Nonna’s Basil Pesto was rich and cheesy without being overwhelming.
Some surely like it hot, and if any of these people are on your gift list, I highly recommend the Caribbean Spice Sauce from All Spice Café. As a marinade or even a dip for chunks of pineapple, this sauce serves up a bit of a kick with a smooth texture and would be great over chicken, fish or even veggies and pineapple.
Let It Flow, Let It Flow, Let It Flow
After I’d thoroughly exhausted my taste buds between the spicy and smoky flavors, I made my way to the boys at the Cold Brew & Cola booth to cool off my burning tongue. Rod Edwards and his brother mixed up a little concoction of cold-brewed coffee with eggnog. Personally, my favorite choice was their mix of cold-brewed coffee, frozen coffee cubes and Mexican Coca-Cola. Think of a coffee-flavored Coke float, and you’ve got the gist of this sweet drink. The mixture is charming, as is Edwards’ marketing method: He rides a bike cart around North Hollywood selling the beverages out of the cart. We think this might be the next food truck. Just wait and see – we called it here first.
For another fantastic holiday drink option, Morning Glory Confections had a Chai Spiced Cocktail Sugar, in adorable round tins. This cinnamon-y sugar would be the perfect rim on a winter cocktail, like a dark and stormy or a hot toddy.
And then, in the morning when you’re recovering from the hangover, brew some tea and toss in a couple beautiful snowflake-shaped sugar cubes from Gourmet Sugar Company. These would make beautiful gifts for a person who loves tea or coffee.
Because by now, I was one chocolate sample away from a hyperglycemic rage, I resigned myself to looking at the adorable handmade products, such as the niche aprons over at Maggie Mae Apron Co. For the fangirl in your life, pick up a comic-book themed apron. They even have mini versions for mommy-and-me gifts.
The homemade soaps over at PLU (which stands for People Like Us, in case you’re wondering) smelled wonderful, with scents such as tobacco vanilla and vanilla mint. The soaps are made of goat, soy, oil and beeswax.
Miss Fruitfly was in the mix, too. I wrote about this vendor a month ago, and I still can’t say enough about how much I love the screenprinted L.A.-centric tea towels and other designs here.
After my stomach began to settle, I wandered out of the shop back onto Santee and back into the warm sun. As I walked among the hordes of people perusing the street shops, I remembered just how glad I am to live in L.A. Who needs Christmas weather when there are so many creative, talented people who can gather together to bring the holidays to us?
All photos by Jessyca Dewey
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