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Kathleen Hill: The evolution of ‘olive season’ and more

Olive season in Sonoma?

To fill what seemed to be a winter “slow time” in tourism in Sonoma, Wendy Peterson, then executive director of the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau, had the bright idea of celebrating the olive, Sonoma Valley’s second largest agricultural crop.

The festival became a three-month adventure with all sorts of events, large and small, with the very first Martini Madness at the old Marioni’s, where Mary’s Pizza is now on the Plaza. Then it moved to the barracks. Gary Saperstein was general manager of the Girl & the Fig at the time and he and Wendy Peterson filled Cambros (cooler on wheels) with ice and rolled them in the rain from the restaurant down Spain Street to the Barracks.

Eventually there was an olive market during the day and a dinner in the tent behind City Hall and it always seemed to rain on the event. The festival (which was not referred to as a “festival”) eventually included an always sold-out Feast of the Olive at Ramekins Culinary School with Bay Area radio personalities such as Liam Mayclem and Joel Riddell joining Saperstein as emcees. Sonoma chefs collaborated in the Ramekins kitchen to produce several-course dinners, each utilizing the olive in their creations. That tradition ended along with the olive festival, unfortunately.

But one event that has endured is Martini Madness, which brought together the creative juices of both MacArthur Place general manager Bill Blum and Out In the Vineyard co-founder and current interim Visitors Bureau executive director Saperstein.

This year nine local bartenders competed in the “martini” contest. Since the olive festival no longer exists, olives are no longer required in bartenders’ concoctions. Previously guests enjoyed chocolate dipped olives, olive juice, and other creative olive products. This year “martinis” were topped with everything from marinated carrots to candied bacon, and not olives. The candied bacon topped B&V Whiskey Bar’s bourbon-based Manhattan with sweet vermouth.

Best Martini Overall went to Saddles’ bartender Brian Richards, possibly because his cocktail most resembled a martini. He used cucumber-infused Grey Goose vodka, fresh lime juice, cucumber water, super fine sugar, pink peppercorns, and a cucumber wheel (thin slice) as a floating garnish.

Best Use of a Garnish went to Steiner’s Pink Taco Martini created by Nathaly Duffy made with Grey Goose vodka with Veuve Cliquot champagne, pineapple purée, and cranberry juice, with an actually tasty pink pulled pork taco attached to the glass.

Hopmonk Tavern’s bartending team created the winner in the Most Creative category using Bombay Sapphire Gin with freshly squeezed lemon and lime juices, lemongrass, blueberry simple syrup, and a splash of guava juice and egg whites.

Sonoma Grille composed a Scarborough Fare martini with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme with Grey Goose vodka, ginger beer, and limoncello. Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn’s 38 Degrees North entered with carrot- and ginger-infused Grey Goose topped with bacon and pepper bourbon foam. Kenwood’s Palooza offered Gin & Juice adding agave orange aperitivo, ginger candy, lime and lemon to Bombay Sapphire Gin. Carneros Bistro’s Watusi introduced chamomile to Grey Goose vodka, grapefruit, pepper and coriander topped with Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Blanc. The Girl & the Fig’s Winter Bliss started with Bombay Sapphire Gin and added blood orange and Meyer lemon, topped with a cardamom meringue garnish.

More olive doings

Ron Chapman, as leader of the Mission Olive Preservation group that saved and grafted many of Sonoma’s first olive trees, brought the last 25 of those trees to our Sonoma School Gardens a few years ago.

Last week he told our School Garden coordinators how to care for those trees, many of which are huge and thriving. Here is what Chapman says, and his handy information can be used by any of us with one to a whole orchard of olive trees.

“Mission Olive trees should be pruned between the end of winter and before blossoming. The olive typically blossoms in April.

“Once the olive begins to form, olive fruit flies can lay their eggs, so traps available at Sonoma Mission Gardens and Wine Country Garden and Nursery can be set to control some of the flies particularly if you put the trap in the middle of the tree. The traps should be used throughout the growing season until the olives are harvested.

“Olives should be harvested for oil when the green olives start to turn black or dark. A mixture of 60 to 70 percent green olives, and the rest black olives, yields a pungent, tasty oil. Olives that fall to the ground should not be included, and all olives should be stripped from the tree.

“The discarded olives should be placed in a sealed plastic bag and put in the garbage, not the yard waste. Otherwise, the olive fly larvae can hatch in the ground and return the following year.”

Muscardini Cellars celebrates fifth

Michael Muscardini will hold a fun anniversary party to celebrate the first five years of his Kenwood tasting room in what he calls the Red School House, on Saturday, Jan. 27. Full Circle Band will play on the deck from 1 to 3 p.m., followed by T-Luke & the Tight Suits from 4 to 6 p.m. There is no admission charge, but wine and Tips Tri-Tips Trolley food are available for purchase from 1 to 6 p.m. 9380 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood.

Restaurant re-openings

The Girl & the Fig hopes to reopen Jan. 26 after its winter spiff-up. Palooza in Kenwood has reopened in Kenwood, as have Aventine and Glen Ellen Star in Glen Ellen. Glen Ellen Inn owners Karen and Chris are working like crazy to finish their re-do on the restaurant, saying, “Luckily we have the Secret Cottages open, which helps not only us, but all of the restaurants in Glen Ellen, I hope!”

Crisp and crisper

Crisp Valentines pop-up shop and the Girl & the Fig will co-host a first ever Valentine’s Day pop-up at Fig-owner Sondra Bernstein’s the Rhone Room next to Fat Pilgrim and Harvest Home on lower Broadway on Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 13 and 14. Crisp fans will be able to indulge in and purchase Andea Koweek’s chocolate chunk salt cookies from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Order the cookies 48 hours ahead at figcaters.com/popup-shop. You will also find heart-shaped “Oreo” cookies, salted fig caramel and chocolate and strawberry macarons and vanilla, chocolate and strawberry mini-cupcakes. 20816 Broadway, Sonoma. 9:30 to 4 p.m. both days.

Danny Fay on George MacLeod

With permission from Danny Fay, we share his tribute to George MacLeod, originally posted on Facebook because it illustrates such a beautiful picture of the two men.

“If you’re in need of a toast this evening, may I propose honoring the late George MacLeod, a legend in the Sonoma Valley Wine Industry and a grape grower and vintner for 40-plus years. The self-proclaimed ‘Old Patron,’ George passed away over the weekend at 96 years young. In short, he was the grandfather I never had. George was such an inspirational man with a huge heart, wicked humor and a unique passion for his land, his grapes and his people. He took me under his wing for the last decade and taught me about life and grape growing. I’ll never forget the hundreds of patio lunches and miles of vineyard walks we enjoyed together over the years. George passed me a lot of wisdom, but the most powerful message he told was ‘do everything with love and affection. Thank you for so many memories George, I’ll miss you mightily. You can watch some of George’s stories on the Legends series of at sonomavalley.com.

Locally we also lost Phyllis Serafini last week. Many people knew her as a teller at Sonoma Valley Bank, but she was a great Italian-American caterer as well, organizing huge dinners for various Italian-American and Italian Catholic organizations, as well as an Italian food booth at Plaza events. And just a fun person with a voice much bigger than her little body.

Internationally, we lost the great Paul Bocuse, the great French chef, instructor and businessman. More on Bocuse next week.

Instant Pot alert!

Many new Instant Pot owners missed the instantly sold-out class recently given at Ramekins Culinary School (they hope to schedule another class soon).

In the meantime, Sonoma’s Williams-Sonoma has scheduled an Instant Pot class on Sunday, Feb. 4 from 1 to 3 p.m., according to Instant Pot sleuth Catherine Clemens Sevenau. Acting manager Kathy Cheregini says if the class sells out W-S will schedule another one. 605 Broadway. Twelve spaces, Cathy 7-O was the fourth to sign up. $30.

Cochon Volant new Fridays

Rob Larman has started TGI Pork Fridays at his Cochon Volant Smoke House on the first Friday of every month February through April. With 50 percent off on all pork, Larman offers barbecue baby back ribs for $9 a pound, pork shoulder at $8.50 a pound, a barbecued pork or Carolina sandwich, or chipotle pork cakes for $5 per order. Eat inside or out or take out. 18350 Sonoma Highway, Sonoma. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday through Sunday, 509-5480. Cochonvolantbbq.com.

Corner 103 chocolate lunch

Lloyd Davis, owner of Corner 103, will hold another Chocolate Lunch at Suite D on Saturday, Feb. 10, featuring some combinations even I haven’t imagined. Enjoy an early chocolate Valentine’s Day five-course chocolate infused lunch, on your way to becoming chocolate infused yourself.

Chocolate fans will enjoy a ricotta brioche toast with cayenne-chocolate ganache, water cress and candied parsnips, dark chocolate dipped squash, cocoa nib crusted scallop with potato rosti and white chocolate beurre blanc, cocoa braised short rib with cocoa butter whipped potatoes with crispy kale, and hazelnut chocolate cake with chocolate covered bacon, all accompanied by Corner 103 wines. $85. 1 to 4 p.m. 21800 Schellville Road, Sonoma. Tickets at Corner103.com.

Liam Watson wins Good Food Award

Glen Ellen native Liam Watson took a slightly alternative route to gold medals by learning at a seminar in sustainable agriculture at the Regenerative Design Institute and Commonweal Garden in Bolinas, offered at a community college in Santa Barbara.

According to his mother, Anita Watson, Liam eventually moved to Bolinas to work at the institute and simultaneously worked weekends at Marin Sun Farms in Pt. Reyes. Their head butcher trained Liam, who moved on to a job at Thistle Meats in Petaluma, where he has now worked for two years.

Both of those years he and Thistle Meats have won first in the country at the Good Food Awards, which precede the Winter Fancy Food Show held last weekend in San Francisco’s Moscone Center.

Liam’s first triumph was a melt-in-your-mouth duck liver mousse, and this year’s win was Milano Salami. Two national firsts in two years at Thistle, and Liam is only 28. Going places for sure, but he is probably happy right where he is.