On dinosaurs and astronauts: Houston’s wonderful cultural resources

hello kitty astronautAbove: yesterday’s outing was to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, where I couldn’t resist buying Georgia P a Hello Kitty astronaut. Georgia, who’s now 3, calls the space center “the real astronauts.”

It still happens all the time.

When I’m on the road and people learn that I live and am raising a family in Houston, many respond with a knee-jerk reaction like o, I’m so sorry or Houston? How’s that going? or even — and this came from a relative — how can you live around all those awful people?

There’s no getting around it: Houston, like Texas in general, has a horrible reputation beyond its city limits.

Sadly, the hard-line republicans from Texas have given their state a bad name in the American consciousness. And it’s a real tragedy for the rest of us because Houston is actually a very liberal and ethnically and culturally diverse city.
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2007 Barbaresco for a one-in-a-million friend

barbaresco giamello vicenzianaYesterday’s lunch found me in North County San Diego at the home of a one-in-a-million friend.

He had prepared cheeseburgers and I had brought a bottle of 2007 Barbaresco Vicenziana by Silvio Giamello, a wine that I had cellared in my wine locker in San Diego since its release.

I wanted to bring a Nebbiolo with some age on it: our get-together was long overdue and I was excited to see my old friend; I wanted to share something memorable with him.

You see, he’s that one-in-a-million friend with whom I played in a band and wrote some of my first songs back in high school in La Jolla.

He’s that one-in-a-million friend with whom I went through my teens, the acne, the insecurity, the Duran Duran concert where we locked our keys in the car, the visits to the gym trying (unsuccessfully in my case) to “beef up,” the first experiences in a recording studio, the prom…

Later, he’s that one-in-a-million friend with whom I played in bands in Los Angeles and with whom I went on tour as a cover band in Italy.

In our teens and in our twenties, in high school and then in college (me at UCLA and he at Loyala Marymount), we experimented, played music, partied, and learned through joy and sometimes bitter disappointment about the challenges and rewards of our southern Californian upbringing.

We ended up not opening that bottle yesterday with his burgers.

You see, he’s also that one-in-a-million friend who is battling aggressive melanoma.

We decided, instead, that we’d open it a year from now when he’ll have complete the next phase of treatment.

“In another year,” I told him, “it will only be better for the age.”

I’m looking forward to tasting that bottle and so is he.

Ceri Smith’s Biondivino as if in a dream of Italian wine (hag urim sameach yall!)

rocche del gatto pigatoAbove: the Rocche del Gatto Pigato blew me away with its freshness and rich minerality. It was such a stunning pairing for the takeout Vietnamese that Ceri treated us all to on Wednesday night. This wine was a lovely discovery for me.

It’s hard to describe the emotion that I experience when I visit Ceri Smith’s amazing Biondivino wine boutique in Russian Hill, San Francisco.

The walls of the shop are lined with a literally oneiric selection of my favorite Italian wines and a smattering of wines that I’ve never seen before and am thirsting to taste.

Cappellano, Castell’in Villa, Giacomo Fenocchio, Cavallotto, Crociani… Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it?

best georgian wine san franciscoAbove: the nose on the Orgo Rkatsiteli was like a stroll through an apricot orchard. Ceri has been to Georgian wine country and has been instrumental in turning San Francisco on to these stunning wines.

But the most incredible thing about the shop is its wonderful salon character.

After our Bele Casel Prosecco tasting on Wednesday night, Ceri and Zach Zito, who helps her manage the busy store, kept the shop open and continued to receive wine shoppers as we drank Pigato and munched on delicious Vietnamese takeout.

Some would stop and have a glass of wine. Others would grab a bottle and hurry on to their holiday party.

It’s simply a magical place for Italian wine and Italian wine lovers.

Of course, our dinner and confabulation had been preceded by an entirely brilliant pairing of Bele Casel’s Prosecco Col Fondo with the Brescian caviar that was served as I poured the wines for guests.

Thank you again, so very much, Ceri and Zach, for hosting me and Bele Casel’s wines. I LOVE your shop…

In other news…

hanukkah candles 2014 houstonI managed to make it home yesterday from the west coast in time to light candles with the girls.

I lit the three candles as I said the prayer and Georgia P asked me why we don’t blow out the candles like we did on her birthday.

The candles represent something that happened a long time ago, I told her. It was a really special moment for me as I watched her watch the candles burn.

Tonight before we sit down for dinner, we’ll light four candles (the photo above is from last year when we were still Austin).

Tomorrow, Tracie P is going to make us all her awesome latkes.

Happy Hanukkah, everyone! Hag urim sameach!

Happy Thanksgiving from the Parzen Family & wishes, thoughts & prayers for Ferguson

jeremy parzen wifeHappy Thanksgiving from the Parzen Family.

This year has been one of the highest highs and the lowest lows.

I flew back to Houston yesterday afternoon from Boulder where I attended the Boulder Burgundy Festival and mingled with leading wine professionals, winemakers, and wine scene glitterati.

After Tracie P and I put the girls to bed, she made me a wonderful risotto alla parmigiana and we opened a bottle of our favorite Fiano d’Avellino.

She was eager to hear about the festival but we were both riveted by the unfolding events in Ferguson, Missouri.

I hadn’t even been born, I thought to myself, when the Watts Riots in Los Angeles gripped the nation’s attention.

Here we are, I said to Tracie, nearly fifty years later, and it doesn’t seem like we’ve come far.

Grandma Judy is coming to Texas from La Jolla today and we’ll be heading to Orange, Texas to celebrate the holiday with Rev. and Mrs. B. and the Branch-Johnson families.

We have so much to be thankful for this year: health, prosperity, and the good fortune to experience some of the greatest pleasures in life through wine and food.

But this weekend, the folks in Ferguson will be on our minds and in our hearts and prayers.

Thanks for being here. I’ll see you next week…

Produttori del Barbaresco 2005 Asili & Tracie P’s ragù for brother Tad

best barbaresco 2005 asiliIt’s not every day that we get to visit with my older brother Tad, who still lives in the same neighborhood in La Jolla, CA where we grew up.

So when we sat down to dinner last night with Tad and cousins Joanne and Marty, I pulled all the stops corks: Bele Casel Prosecco Colfòndo, Camossi Franciacorta rosé, Borgo del Tiglio 2011 Collio (blend), and Produttori del Barbaresco 2005 Barbaresco Asili.

The Asili, which I opened about 20 minutes before serving it (I did not decant), was rich and powerful in the glass, with dark red fruit becoming brighter and brighter as the wine aerated.

best ragu recipe meat sauce pastaThis wine has many years ahead of it but I was pleasantly surprised at how approachable it was after just ten minutes. And even in this warmer vintage for Barbaresco (one of the infamous “American” harvests from the aughts), the acidity in this wine was electric.

It paired beautifully with Tracie P’s ragù (above), which she served over rigatoni.

On a very chilly night in Houston, Asili and the bolognese filled the house with wonderful, cozy aromas.

brother tadThat’s brother Tad with Georgia P this morning after breakfast.

It was such a treat to have him here. He’s on his way to Austin later today and then to southern Texas for work (he’s an education expert and consultant).

And it was such a joy to watch him interact with the girls, who couldn’t quite figure out why he looks so much like their dad!

Thanks again, brother, for being here.

It meant the world to us. Travel safe…

Thank you Franciacorta, thank you @SilvanoBrescian, thank you @TerraUomoCielo

vittorio fusariOver the last few years, Brescia and Franciacorta have become my home away from home in Italy.

That’s me (above, far right) with Ben Shapiro (with camera) nearly two weeks ago now, interviewing Chef Vittorio Fusari of the Dispensa Pani e Vini, a focal point for the appellation and the people who grow and make the wines.

Chef Vittorio, you are an inspiration to me in so many things and your cooking is as wholesome as it is thrilling each time I visit.

Sharing a glass of Franciacorta with you on my last day in Italy was a highlight of my trip. Thank you!

silvano brescianiniThat’s me with Silvano Brescianini, left, my friend and client, general manager of the Barone Pizzini-Pievalta winery group and vice president of the Franciacorta Consortium.

Silvano, thank you for your generosity and all that you’ve done for me. I love working with you.

And most of all, I admire and thank you for your pioneering work in organic and biodynamic viticulture.

I really and truly believe that you are making the world a better place for our children and Tracie P and I love your wines (the rosato in particular!).

nico danesiThat’s me with Franciacorta winemaker and consultant Nico Danesi, left, my friend and enologist behind some of my favorite expressions of Franciacorta.

Nico, thank you again for treating us to the extraordinary dinner at Lido 84. A few days after you took us there, I’m sure you already know, the restaurant was awarded its first Michelin star.

It was a great and thoughtful choice and we all enjoyed it merrily. I’m looking forward to when you come back to the U.S.

giovanni arcari franciacortaAnd that’s me with my bromance Giovanni Arcari, left.

Giovanni, what can I say? Our friendship has opened up a magical window into the wonderful world of Brescia and Franciacorta.

Your generous hospitality and your fierce loyalty mean more to me than I could ever express. You are part of our family’s life here in Texas, you know and love my children and my wife, and you are the best friend anyone could ever hope for.

I can’t wait to do a shot of whiskey with you in a Texas honky tonk and take a drive up the coast in California wine country listening to wistful Burt Bacharach.

Thank you, Franciacorta. I’ll be back soon…

On the road again…

innsbruckAbove: Innsbruck, Tryol (Austria) as seen from the air. When I was in my twenties, the view would have thrilled me. Today, it makes me pine for my family.

The unbridled curiosity of youth took me to Europe in my twenties when I spent a decade alternating school years between Los Angeles, Padua, Pisa, and Rome. There was always a scholarship or fellowship (including the Fulbright) that delivered me across the Atlantic and there was always a summer gig in Proseccoland that fed me when the grant money ran out.

A decade in New York followed and so did the yearly trips to the old world. Those were years, too, when I regularly hit the road with rock bands. Back then, I’d drive to Cleveland or even Detroit from the east coast in a straight shot with a van-load of drums and guitar amps.

Today, the thought of departing for Europe fills me with unease.

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