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January 10-16, 2007

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Drinking with Olives

By Patricia Lynn Henley

Care for a dash of cucumber in your olive martini? The California cucumber martini by Murphy's Irish Pub was the people's choice winner in last year's Martini Madness contest in the Sonoma Valley. Mix 1 ounce Roth vodka, 3/4 ounce pear juice, add a dash of simple syrup and some cucumber chunks. Shake with ice--using a martini shaker, of course--so that the seeds and pulp of the cucumber separate. Strain and pour. Garnish with both a cucumber slice and an olive, because the annual Martini Madness competition is part of the three-month-long spice-up-the-winter-doldrums known as the Sonoma Valley Olive Festival.

The martini contest started five years ago with an audience of about 50. In 2006, more than 600 adventurous martini lovers jammed into a tent at the Lodge at Sonoma, sipping innovative entries from two-ounce plastic martini glasses.

"Everyone gets to vote on their favorite martinis, but last year for the first time we had a panel of judges as well," explains Wendy Peterson, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau, which coordinates all the olive festival activities.

This year's Martini Madness theme is "Olive the World." The judging criteria includes the creativity and flavor of the martini, table decorations related to the martini and theme, and--most importantly--the integration of the olive in the martini.

From 5:30 to 7:30pm on Jan. 12, bartenders from leading Sonoma Valley restaurants will vie to create the world's most fabulous olive martini. Each year they get even more creative with their entries, but the exact ingredients remain top secret until they're unveiled at the competition.

Lodge at Sonoma, 1325 Broadway, Sonoma. $25. 707.996.1090.>

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