Eat, drink and be merry...

The Carpenters farm shop.

The Carpenters farm shop. - Credit: Archant

Becky Alexander is getting excited in the run-up to Christmas...

Wasn’t the St Albans Christmas lights switch on terrific this year? My family had a lovely time and it was great to see so many local stalls lining the streets.

I had delicious beef brisket chilli from Jon’s Streatfood, and the girls chose roast pork and bratwurst from the Christmas Market stalls by the Vintry Garden. I also really enjoyed visiting the Dylan’s Alpine Ski Lodge stall and my Grey Goose vodka cocktail was fab (great vintage ski outfits too!). The girls loved the hot chocolate from Hatch, who will be at the Christmas Market until December 18 and outside the Clock Tower too in the week before Christmas.

I also went to the Childwickbury Christmas market and had delicious spicy butternut squash soup from Parker & Vine. They were taking orders for Christmas cakes; you can choose how your cake is decorated, with glazed fruits or icing snowflakes or trees. I am not sure if they will have many left by the time you read this, but do pop in there to find out and pick up some of their perfect-looking mince pies. They also do great winter salads if you want a little balance!

Earthworks had their annual Christmas fair a week ago and on a crisp, sunny winter day it was a great opportunity to explore the site and see the new barn.

I had a delicious homemade mince pie, and bought a couple of gifts. They will be at the St Albans farmers’ market and their charming bug hotels and reindeers would make lovely gifts for keen gardeners. Their winter veg is so fresh (and unofficially organic) so go early to buy some.

Rock Pop Candy on Holywell Hill had a stall at the switch on, and I went in there recently and found some really quirky stocking fillers including chocolate iPhones, candy canes, ‘mis-fortune’ cookies and lots of American sweets. They also had baking kits for around £10, including one to make your own Christmas puddings in mugs which would be a great gift idea.

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On George Street, Canteen have now opened a little deli where you can find lots of locally-made foodie things, including I Am Cocoa chocolates. The shelves are filled with preserves, and I think you could make a very nice gift hamper from here. Just over the road, tucked down the little alleyway by Four Nations is Thirty Nine 10 which sells a wonderful selection of wine. This is where to head for something special to drink over Christmas and meet Ferenc the very knowledgeable owner.

If beer is more your thing, Farr Brewery near Wheathamstead is open from December 10-23 (11am–3pm weekdays and 11am–5pm weekends) so you can see inside the brewery and pick up some festive beers. I think that will be a nice escape from the hectic town centres.

If heading out that way, pop into Carpenters in Sandridge too, which has transformed this year into a very stylish farm shop. They have an excellent selection of foodie treats and good-value hampers, and excellent fresh vegetables. They also do a good range of kitchen gifts.

The St Albans farmers’ market is this Sunday (11), and the Harpenden farmers’ market is on Sunday December 18. You will be able to pick up hams, cakes, cheeses, preserves and gins as well as the everyday essentials we still need at this time of year. Look for the Redbournbury stall for their famous mince pies.

And as a present for yourself, Oaklands college is running their Christmas Cookery Course on December 20 and 21 again. You will make a three-bird roast (serves 12), learn how to prep Christmas dinner, make mulled wine and a dessert. The price is 65 pounds and all ingredients are included and you take everything home, ready for the big day.