I left my heart in Houston…

bush airport united terminalIt seems like it was just yesterday that I walked through this terminal with you on my shoulders.

“Look at all the people, daddy! Look at the airplane, daddy! Daddy, daddy, daddy, we’re going to blast off!”

In fact, it was earlier this week that your sister, mother, you, and I returned from our unforgettable trip to California together.

From the “school bus” that I rode from the parking lot to the pizza concession where we shared a slice (you cheese, me pepperoni), every footstep and every terminal announcement remind me that I won’t be seeing you for another fourteen days.

All the old folks tell me, “cherish these precious days with your little ones; they’ll be grown before you know it.”

I’ll be counting the days, the hours, and the minutes until I’m reunited with you, sweet girl.

Wish me luck, wish me speed. And keep my heart safe for me here in Houston because I simply can’t take it with me…

best beach in del mar california

La Jolla won’t annoy ya… California, here we come!

la jolla california blacks beachThat’s Black’s Beach in the photo, above, one of California’s most famous nudist beaches — at least when I was growing up in La Jolla in the 1970 and 80s.

It’s also a great surf spot and when I was a kid, they used to take generators and beer kegs down there and put on some pretty rowdy rock shows (for real).

When you hang out at the Torrey Pines Glider Port above, you can often see the silhouettes of manta rays and dolphins swimming in the clear waters below.

In the distance, you can see one high-rise on the point. That’s the La Jolla Cove and the building is “939” on Coast Blvd., where my grandparents once lived and where my mother still lives to this day.

We’re heading there tomorrow for a long weekend with my family: our niece Amalia will be bat mitzvah on Saturday and we’ll be there for the services and party.

It’s a big occasion for our family for another reason. Most of our California family has never met Lila Jane, who just turned two. So it will be wonderful for them to get to know the Texas side of our family a little better.

As much as I love being a Texan, being married to a gorgeous and generously loving Texan, and raising our beautiful little Texans, Californian is still who and what I am.

I’m lucky that I get to spend so much time there and thrilled to be taking the girls there at this time of year.

As Mel Tormé says in his wonderful operetta “California Suite,” La Jolla won’t annoy ya… (here’s the link to moment when the song “La Jolla” appears and the entire work — give it a listen! — is embedded below).

Tomorrow night we’ll all fall asleep to the sound of waves crashing on the Children’s Pool. And Friday morning we’ll take the girls to see the seals who sunbath on the sand there (Lila Jane, in particular, is really excited about that!).

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

In the meantime, SURF’S UP!

A letter to my daughters on my 48th birthday

new binocularsGeorgia P and Lila Jane, my sweet girls.

Today is my forty-eighth birthday.

I wish I were at home with you today to celebrate. But I’m traveling for work this week in California, where I grew up and went to school. We’ll celebrate together when I get back.

It’s so incredible to think about how much the world has changed from the time I was your age until now.

When I was your ages, we had rotary-dial telephones, vinyl record players, and televisions.

Today, we watch music videos of astronauts on the International Space Station and listen to our favorite songs on high-resolution smart phones that are thinner than a chocolate bar.

The first astronauts to reach the moon landed there when I was about Lila Jane’s age and 8-track tapes hadn’t even been invented yet!

The world has changed a lot in the nearly half a century since I was born.

And today, even in the short time since mommy gave birth to you, the world continues to change at breakneck speed.

Over the last few weeks alone, our family has witnessed some remarkable cultural and social milestones in our country that neither mommy nor I could have even imagined when we first met each other in 2008.

Affordable health care for the less fortunate among us; marriage equality that will help bolster family life and remove a stigma from many of our sisters and brothers; and a new dialogue on racism in our country that — mommy and I hope — will make our country a much better place to live for all people.

I’m more proud of being an American than I ever have been. You are Americans, too. And I’m glad that you two are growing up in a world more tolerant than the one that mommy and I grew up in.

Our family and our life together make me think a lot about how the world has changed and how it is changing every day.

You are changing and growing, too: every day you surprise mommy and me with new vocabulary, new games you like to play, and puzzles you solve. And every weekend, when we play music and sing in my office, you amaze me with how quickly you learn new melodies.

But more than anything else, you both amaze mommy and me with your sweetness and your empathy. We’ve seen both of you take care of one another when you’re hurt or sad. And we love the sweet kisses, caresses, and pats on the back that you give us to show us that you love us.

Today, I’m forty-eight years old and I couldn’t be more proud to be your father. You fill our lives with light and joy and I can truly say that these years, since you were born, have been the very best of my life. I never could have imagined the change that you would have brought into our lives. And every day, I know I am blessed to be here with you and mommy.

Thank you for the best birthday I’ve ever had, sweet girls. Thank you. I love you.

Daddy

binoculars for kids

The Confederate flag and me

In 1968, a year after I was born in the South Side of Chicago at Michael Reese hospital, Bobby Rush founded the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. Institutionalized violence against black men in urban areas in the U.S. was so severe that Rush and his fellows felt compelled to arm themselves to protect their communities.

But there were no Confederate flags displayed in the city at that time — at least I can’t remember any.

In 1970, my family moved to gilded La Jolla, California, where Jews had been excluded from buying property until a University of California campus was established there in 1960.

There was only one black kid in my class at Bird Rock Elementary. His name was Michael Green and he and I were friends.

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The cycle of life: hag sameach and happy Easter to all

recipe shank passover beefAbove: in preparation for Erev Pesach tomorrow, I roasted a beef shank early this morning. I rubbed the shank with kosher salt and then extra-virgin olive oil. Then I roasted it in a 450° F. oven for 30 minutes to get it brown and crispy on the outside and finished for another 30 minutes at 350°. And yes, wow, whole wheat matzot! I could have never imagined that when I was a kid…

“Meet Annia Lucilla, our easter lamb, a true Roman,” wrote my friend Hande yesterday in a post on her Facebook. She’s a top Italian wine educator who grew up in Turkey and now lives and works in Rome. “Getting to know my meat before it hits my plate reminds me of the sacrifice feasts of my childhood.”

I thought of her post early this morning, Texas time, when I got up before the girls so that I could roast a beef shank for our Passover seder tomorrow night.

Of course, I didn’t get to meet the cow whose shank I bought yesterday at a local market. And we’re going to be having Jewish-style brisket for our main course tomorrow night: the shank serves solely as a symbolic component — the centerpiece — of our seder plate.

But her note and my own “sacrificial lamb” remind me of how the Passover, Easter, and the renewal and rebirth of spring are ancient traditions that bind us together in our humanity.

This year, Erev Pesach (the first night of the Passover) falls on Good Friday. The confluence reminds us that Easter has its roots in the Passover (most agree that Jesus’ “Last Supper” was a Passover celebration).

And Passover — as Jewish scholars widely acknowledge — has its roots in ancient pagan celebrations of spring.

In the Passover legend, the z’roa is a symbol of the Pesach sacrifice, a lamb that was offered by the ancient Jews in the Temple of Jerusalem on the first night the Passover festival. But the expiatory sacrifice of a lamb in springtime dates back to the Romans and beyond.

Just think of it: in a time before monotheism, the arrival of spring and warmer temperatures and the renewal of the vegetative cycle were gifts from the gods.

(On Saturday, btw, my client Bele Casel in Asolo posted an image of first bud break on its blog.)

It’s not hard to imagine why they were inspired to slaughter a lamb as an offering.

Here at the Parzen household, we’ll be celebrating the Passover tomorrow night with my mother, who’s flying in for the holiday. And then we’ll be heading to Orange in East Texas to paint Easter eggs and celebrate the holiday with Tracie P’s family.

I’ll be taking a break from the blog and from work until next week as I reconnect with family and recharge my spirits: it’s a time for renewal and rebirth.

O and we’ll be pairing 2013 Cirelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo with our brisket tomorrow night.

Hag sameach — happy festival — and happy Easter to all! See you next week…

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…