The joys of the season are upon us! The farmers market offers the best in fresh produce and other market products to create unique and delicious holiday gifts that your recipient will surely enjoy.

Forget the mall, the crowds and the hectic pace. Visit the farmers market for an enjoyable shopping experience. You'll find everything you need for feeding a hungry crowd at a holiday party: gifts to bring to your host or hostess, and amazing fresh produce, honey, baked goods, fresh eggs, flowers, jams and jellies, olive oils, and more to fill gift baskets to the brim.

Citrus (oranges, tangerines, pomelos, mandarins and lemons) is good right now, kiwi fruit is arriving, and the famous San Francisco Dungeness crab will be here, all great for the holidays.

Here are some holiday party and gift ideas to get you started.

  • Appetizers: You'll please your party guests with fresh California cheeses from Achadinha Cheese Company, olives from Home Maid, oranges from Diaz Farm, and apples from Rainbow Orchards for appetizers.

    Add a fresh baked thinly sliced baguette from Le Croissant and you have it made. Or tear bread into chunks and add some olive oil dipping sauces from Bistro Blends.

  • Hostess gifts: Take a colorful poinsettia or bouquet of seasonal flowers from Ochoa or Sunrise nurseries to your host or hostess, or a gift of olive oil and balsamic vinegar from Bistro Blends.


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  • Decorating your home: Pick up some lemons and tangerines, stud them with cloves and fill a big bowl with them for a wonderful holiday aroma. Add tangerines and lemons to the holiday wreath on your front door for some seasonal color.

  • Gifts: Fill baskets with fresh carrots, celery, onions and other seasonal veggies from Nuñez Farm, add soup bowls, spoons and recipes for a homemade soup basket; pick up jams and jellies, fresh breads and croissants, local honey from Diablo Creek Apiary, and fresh-squeezed orange juice for a breakfast basket.

    Select a variety of flavored olive oils and balsamic vinegars and some crusty bread for dipping for a gourmet basket; choose several homemade ravioli flavors, pastas, sauces and olives from Home Made, and fresh bread from Michelle's Golden Brown Breads for an Italian dinner basket; pick out a variety of handmade soaps from Delta Moon Soaps for a spa basket.

  • Give to those in need: Think of others this time of year. Fill a basket or recycled shopping bag with fresh fruits and vegetables, breads, jams and jellies, cheeses and honey and give to your local food bank. Take a selection of poinsettias and other cut flowers to nursing homes and hospitals, neighbors and friends to brighten their day.

    Don't forget to slow down, take time to savor the taste of the season, talk to friends and neighbors, and thank your farmers for the bounty they bring you throughout the year.

    We wish each and every one of you the best season possible!

    Citrus and Goat Cheese Crostini

    1 baguette (sliced diagonally, 1/2 inch thick)

    Olive oil (for drizzling)

    Salt and pepper

    2 tablespoons blood orange juice or regular juice

    1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar

    1 medium shallot

    1 teaspoon honey

    2 tablespoons olive oil

    1/4 teaspoon salt

    1/8 teaspoon pepper

    3 cups baby lettuce greens

    4 ounces goat cheese

    2 to 3 blood oranges or navel oranges (cut in segments)

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the baguette slices on a baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Drizzle evenly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until crispy.

    Combine the juice, vinegar, shallot and honey in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Continuing whisking and slowly stream the olive oil into the bowl. Season the vinaigrette with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust for seasoning with more salt and pepper if necessary.

    Add the baby greens to the vinaigrette in the bowl and toss gently to coat the greens.

    To assemble the crostini, spread baguette slice with a thin layer of goat cheese, top with a small bunch of the dressed greens and two blood orange segments.

    Farmers markets are open rain or shine.

  • The Concord farmers market is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays, year-round, at Todos Santos Plaza, at Willow Pass Road and Grant Street.

  • The Clayton farmers market is closed for the season. Visit www.pcfma.com or call 800-949-FARM (800-949-3276).

    The Time is Ripe is a monthly column written by Vince Scalise, market operations manager, and Debra Morris, promotions coordinator, for the Pacific Coast Farmers' Market Association. Contact them at mrcarrot@pcfma.com.