There's no need for your bland grocery-store cheeses, as Atlantic Canadian artisanal cheeses can hold their own on any board. Jess Ross, owner of Gold Island Bakery, sells Au Fond des Bois' goat cheeses (aufonddesbois.com) Saturdays in the Halifax Historic Farmers' Market (Brewery Market, 1496 Lower Water Street, 423-2279). Originally from Belgium, farmers Marina and Patrick Henderson's powerful, pungeant goat brie ($7), a product of happy goats that get to scamper through New Brunswick forests, is nothing short of a crowd-pleaser.
For a spreadable cheese, try Fox Hill Cheese's (foxhillcheesehouse.com) cranberry quark, seasonally available at this time of year ($16.50/kg). Garnish your platter with ornamental flowering kale and spicy radishes from Selwood Green Farm. Serve with Boulangerie La Vendeenne's dense Heritage Red Fife bread, one of the few local breads made with hearty Atlantic Canadian wheat. All are available at the Seaport Farmers' Market (1209 Marginal Road, 431-8709).
The Fish Shop at the Seaport Farmers' Market is taking holiday orders for ShanDaph Oysters (varying sizes and quantities available), cultivated in an organic aquaculture farm in the Northumberland Straight and boxed up in a solar-powered packaging facility. Slurp 'em down raw or bake the oysters in crumbled bacon from the Sweet Williams Country Sausage stand at the Seaport Market, your favourite local cheese and bread crumbs. Or, try the Fish Shop's Port Mouton Bay mussels ($1.99/pound). Steam with chives (roughly $2/ounce) and garlic ($10/pound) from Maitland's Four Seasons Farm (fourseasonsfarm.ca, Halifax Historic Market) and Jost Vineyard's spicy, citrusy Habitant Blanc ($10, jostwine.com/, Seaport Market).
Our farmers' market vendors are up to their eyeballs in root vegetables this time of year, so why not take inspiration from Eastern Europe's vegetarian-friendly Christmas Eve menus? Make a yummy Ukranian-style Christmas borscht---a bright-red beet soup--- from a couple pounds of beets, a carrot, an onion, vegetable stock and all-spice, fresh-ground black pepper, garlic and bay leaves.
Farmer Chris de Waal from Getaway Farm (getawayfarm.ca) suggests enjoying a pork crown roast this holiday season. "They're cool because they're really showy," explains deWaal. "They feed a lot of people." Order the crown roast from Getaway Farm's meat counter (roughly $13/pound) at the Seaport Market. The butchers arrange pork ribs in a circle, attractively splaying them out around a bed of their zesty sausage. "Not a lot of places still do it," says deWaal of the traditional favourite. You'll get less meat for your money with a lamb crown roast (roughly $24/pound), but if you're preparing a special meal for just a couple people, it might be the way to go. Try scouring city parking lots for rosehips and season your roast with your own rosehip jelly.
For an easy main, Heppy's Pie Lady (heppys.com) at the Seaport makes "Christmas dinner in a blanket of pastry," a pie stuffed with fresh turkey, potatoes, savoury, onions and bread crumbs, best enjoyed with your own cranberry sauce (you can get a $2 bag of cranberries at Noggins Corner, Alderney Landing Farmers' Market, 2 Ochterloney Street). If you have to feed a whole army of hungry mouths and can take a trek out of the city, you can find anything from elk to wild boar to emu at Oulton's Farm in Windsor (Mike Oulton Meat Store, Hwy 14, 798-4734).
Cranachan, a traditional Scottish dessert, is one of the few holiday treats that you can make using all-local ingredients. Toast Speerville Mills organic oats (available at Local Source Market, 5783 Charles Street, 454-6014) and soak them over night in Glen Breton whiskey (glenoradistillery.com) from Cape Breton or Lunenburg's Iron Works Distillery rum (ironworksdistillery.com, both available at Bishop's Cellar, 1477 Lower Water Street, 490-2675).
Layer the oats with Scotsburn or Farmers whipped cream and previously-frozen Nova Scotian blueberries or strawberries, drizzled in Cosman and Widden honey (novascotiahoney.com, Seaport Market and and Pete's Frootique, 1515 Dresden Row, 425-5700). Then douse the whole thing with rum or whiskey.
Or just save the bottles of booze and honey to offer as a gift at the seasonal party and impress your family and friends with the rich Nova Scotia flavour.
You can be a slacker and still get brownie points from your loved ones over the holidays; everyone loves the person who shows up to dinner with cupcakes. For an easy desert, why not stock up on Hello Cupcakes Strawberry Rhubarb Pie cupcakes, featuring rhubarb cake smothered in cream cheese frosting, fresh strawberries and brown sugar crumble (hellocupcakes.ca, Alderney Landing market)?
As temperatures drop, warm up with some mulled cider, using spice kits ($1.50) and organic cider from Boates Orchard (boatvin.com, Seaport Market). And there's no need to leave guests dry: Make mulled wine using your favourite fruity wine from Lunenburg County Winery ($12.99/bottle, NSLC outlets).