Super Market Sweep

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Win the holiday wars and stay well fed at the New Amsterdam Market

By Regan Hofmann

With the advent of December comes the fall of the farmers markets that dotted the summer city landscape and the rise of a thousand holiday markets, like mushrooms on rotting trees, in their stead. Obscenely ripe peaches are replaced by crocheted scarves, crisp green lettuces by shoddily beaded earrings and impossibly sweet baby carrots with hilariously screen printed onesies.

Yes, you will eventually have to start buying gifts, much as you're loath to broach that hornet's nest of disappointed spouses, interest-less parents and eccentric siblings. But you still have to eat, and we didn't all spend the summer stocking our root cellars with preserves like Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Enter the New Amsterdam Market, a more-than-a-farmers-market tucked under the elevated FDR Drive in the commercially picturesque South Street Seaport. Just a few blocks from the stalls on Fulton Street pushing kettle corn and license-plate purses in the shadow of an enormous Christmas tree, a scrappy camp of tables, chalkboards and benches perches in the parking lot behind what was the historic Fulton Fish Market.

Launched in 2005 as a reimagining of the public market as the center of community activity, and with an eye toward stimulating the practical revival of the Seaport as more than just a tourist mecca, the New Amsterdam Market brings together local farmers, yes, but also craftsmen and independent food merchants of all stripes. On any given week the market may host three farmstands and twice as many bakeries; cheesemongers from as far away as Vermont and a host of candymakers, picklers, foragers and vintners. Oh, and red-hot-hip Blue Bottle Coffee and Luke's Lobster in case you need a snack.

The variety of vendors is what keeps the market relevant through Dec. 18, the last market day of the season-it's also what makes it a great secret holiday stop. Why buy your aunt another Guatemalan friendship bracelet when you could get her an olive oil sampler pack from Olio di Melli. The oils range from sweet and buttery, perfect for drizzling over a delicate winter salad, to grassy and bold, the kind you dip a loaf of bread in and call it dinner. Take her on a virtual tour of Italy and tout the relationships the shop builds directly with olive farmers in the hills of Puglia and watch her fair-trade eyes light up.

And why bore your dad with an artfully blurred framed photo of the Chrysler Building when Brooklyn Butcher Blocks has hand-hewn chopping blocks to add serious masculinity to any kitchen? Beautifully grained cherry or walnut (grown in Western Pennsylvania and milled in-house) boards are a hefty 2 inches thick and come in a variety of sizes, or place a custom order from Nils Wessell, the one-man-band behind the operation.

A number of stalls are outposts of brick-and-mortar operations. For a particularly pork-obsessed pal, Brooklyn Cured, which sells sausages, hams and charcuterie accoutrement, leads classes on sausage making, beginning Jan. 17. If your friend asks real nice, maybe they'll hand over the recipe for some of their special sausages, like lamb with black olive. Ask real nice yourself and maybe he'll make you some -it's the only proper way to repay such a generous gift, after all.

Then there are the inevitable potlucks. While many insist on the social hierarchy that ranks hours spent in the kitchen above all, most partygoers will confess to placing a premium on deliciousness. Bringing homemade Oreos sure makes you look like a superstar, but if they're close to inedible, all anyone's going to remember is how much they want actual Oreos. Avoid the hassle and heartache and head straight for deliciousness with a few of Pie Corps' more ingenious concoctions, like mac and cheese (yes, pie) and chocolate bourbon pecan. Nobody's going to smile politely while looking for a place to stash these offerings.

Some stalls change from week to week, but the core vendor group remains steady. Check for the current list or just head down and surprise yourself. The market is open Sundays from 11 a.m to 4 p.m. through Dec. 18.

Get what remains of the fall bounty at the New Amsterdam Market before it closes at the end of the month. Photo courtesy of the New Amsterdam Market.

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