George the Gator

September 4, 2011

After services at Rev. B’s church this morning in Orange, Texas, we headed over to Peggy’s on the Bayou where I met George the Gator (above).

Technically, George is “homeless,” one server told me, but he returns every couple of weeks for the French fries and other food that guests offer him. I’m not sure how they know that George is a he but they recognize him by the hole in his snout that never healed after someone shot him there.

Here in Coonass country, “po’ boy” can be pronounced with the accent on the second syllable: poh-BOY.

The oyster po’ boy was pretty good.

We got there too late for the gumbo (they’d sold it all already)… :(

Peggy’s not kidding when she says her place is on the bayou!


Boudin balls and Brunello (and a Ringo Starr anecdote)

May 3, 2011

In case yall don’t know what boudin balls are, yall don’t know what you are missing!

Boudin balls are a specialty of Cajun cuisine: you form balls using uncased boudin (pork and rice sausage, commonly found in Louisiana and East Texas where Tracie P grew up) and then you dredge in flour and cornmeal and then you fry.

For Easter this year, Pam brought steaming-hot, freshly fried boudin balls over to Mrs. and Rev. B’s house (she lives just a few blocks away). I paired with an 06 Brunello di Montalcino by Il Poggione that I’d been saving for the occasion. I wrote about it over at the Houston Press, the Houston alternative rag, where I am now a regular contributor on wine. Here’s the link. Fun stuff…

Speaking of Easter, what Easter celebration would it be without memaw B’s deviled eggs?! Man, they’d be worth the drive to from Austin to Orange alone! Love that stuff! Also excellent with the Brunello, where the acidity and tannin the wine cut through the fattiness of the filling like a Bowie knife!

Speaking of balls, I am reminded of something I once heard Ringo Starr say. It was back in 2003 and the French band was asked to open for Ringo at the now defunct Bottom Line in the Village. (You can imagine how thrilled I was to get to do this! It was an amazing experience. Nora Jones — at the height of her fame — also appeared with Ringo that night. Incredible!)

After sound check, Ringo was totally cool and signed autographs for all the folks who managed to make it in through the extremely tight-security (I got to be there because we sound checked after Ringo’s band). At one point, this dude brought him a baseball and asked him to sign it. To which Ringo said, “I’ll sign just about anything, but I don’t sign balls.”

So, there you go…


Xmas eve gumbo and Prosecco

January 2, 2011

Took a week-long break from work and blogging over the Xmas-NYE holiday but now I’m back! Where do I begin… to tell the story of how great a love can be? Buon 2011 ya’ll!

Uncle Tim’s Christmas eve gumbo, made with his housemade deer sausage. Note how the potato salad is served in the gumbo. That gumbo alone was worth the 4.5 hour drive through the heavy rains that fell that night on Hwy 290 and I-10. A delicious reward at the end of a white-knuckle road!

Tracie P and I had been saving a flight of Adami Prosecco (sent to us as samples) just for the occasion. Great pairing and a super fun Christmas eve in Orange in East Texas, on the Louisiana border.


Rev. B’s birthday and the BEST chocolate cake

July 4, 2010

Yesterday, we celebrated Rev. B’s 60th birthday in Orange, Texas, where Tracie P grew up, on the Lusiana [sic] border. All the Johnson and Branch families were there, all the children, the Croakers and even the Manascos were there, too.

Mrs. B made homemade chili for DELICIOUS chili dogs and all the fixings for perfectly sized hamburger patties.

Tracie P made what everyone said was the BEST chocolate cake ever (and it was), now our official family chocolate cake recipe (if you’re real nice, maybe I could be convinced to share the recipe).

Jason M’s key lime pie — made with 20 key limes — was pretty spectacular, too. He made it fresh, just for us. It was rich in flavor but wonderfully light in mouthfeel. If you saw all those tattoos on Jason, the thought of him holding a pastry syringe doesn’t immediately come to mind. But man, that dude has a way with whipped cream!

Happy, happy birthday Rev. B! Know that we love you a lot and that I couldn’t have asked for a better father-in-law… :-)

Did you know that Rev. B is a blogger, too?

Happy fourth of July, ya’ll!


Texas Cajun Heritage Festival, Orange, Texas

May 16, 2010

From the “if you could see through my eyes, if you could hear with my ears, if you could smell and taste with my nose and palate” department…

cajun fest

Uncle Tim (right) won the competition for best potato salad.

cajun fest

But Tim’s gumbo is always a winner in my book. Man, that stuff is TASTY!

cajun fest

Vincent is from San Diego like me, although he “ain’t been there in a ‘coon’s age,” he told me.

zydeco

These kids played like real pros. I guess it’s because it’s in their zydeco blood.

cajun fest

The dancing tent at the festival wasn’t exactly what you would call a “smoke-free” environment. The band was most definitely smokin’ too!

cajun fest

Word to the wise.

cajun fest

My Tracie P and I loved us some crawfish pistolettes.

pistolette

The pistolettes were stuffed with crawfish étouffée.

hoghide

Jaybo and his “Hoghide Cracklins” tossed in Cajun seasonings were awesome.

cracklins

Jaybo revealed his technique to us.

annette pernell

Annette is a “baker of all things delicious” and man, let me tell you, she ain’t lying.

annette pernell

Annette’s “Mississippi Mud Cake.”

singing cowboy

The evening ended with grilled steak dinner back at Rev. and Mrs. B’s house. Pepaw really seemed to enjoy my guitar pickin’.

Thanks for reading, ya’ll!


More wine and cinema, Italian and Italian (and thoughts on ya’ll vs. y’all)

January 5, 2010

san dona del piave

Click here or on the image to view a short documentary (infomercial) about wines produced in the Veneto, made in 1969.

A lot of folks commented and/or retweeted my post from the day before yesterday, on Wine in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. Thanks to all for the link love! :-)

This morning, I poked around in the Archivio Luce website (the Istituto Luce was founded by the fascists to create propaganda films, LUnione Cinematografica Educativa or The Educational Cinematic Union) and found this clip from 1969 about the “ichthyic wines,” i.e., the seafood wines of the Veneto.

The short film (essentially an infomercial for the Canella winery in San Donà del Piave) is interesting for a lot of reasons. Tocai, Verduzzo, Merlot, and Cabernet from the Veneto (Tocai and Verduzzo to pair with seafood, Merlot and Cabernet with roast meats and game), are top exports to the gourmets of the world, says the narrator. But the thing I find the most fascinating is the music and the chipper style and feel of the film — reminiscent, however distantly, of the feel of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita.

Watch the clip and let me know your impressions.

In other news…

Thanks to all the folks who retweeted yesterday’s post! :-)

lunar

I wanted to post another picture of Tracie B’s peepaw and meemaw (above) since Tracie B pointed out to me that peepaw wasn’t smiling in yesterday’s photo (it was the only one I could find with a glass of orange wine in it).

He just turned 90 and well, you don’t ask a lady her age, but the two of them are pretty amazing: peepaw may not be as spry as he once was but they both get out to all the family functions (meemaw drives) and they enjoy all the festivities, food, fixings, and the wines, too…

Honestly, there are not a lot of options for fine wine in Orange, Texas, and Texas retailers do not ship within the state. It is legal for out-of-state retailers to ship here but few have jumped through the hoops that allow them to do so. If Lunar made it to Orange, Texas, on the Lousiana border, it was ’cause Tracie B and me brought it! :-)

Thanks for reading!

In other other news…

In recent months, I’ve received a lot of comments (even some ugly ones) about my usage of the expression ya’ll. I addressed some of the linguistic issues and implications in this often heated debate in a comment thread the other day and would like to repost it here for all to consider. Thanks for reading!

“My thoughts on the (often heated) ya’ll vs. y’all debate.”

@TWG and IWG the ya’ll vs. y’all question has become contentious at times! There’s no doubt in my mind that the “more correct” inflection is “y’all” since nearly everyone agrees that the expression is a contraction of “you all”. I also believe it is the more correct inflection because it is the more common: orthography and the “correctness” of language are determined by usage and frequency. There are more occurrences of “y’all” than there are of “ya’ll” and so “y’all” wins as the “most correct.”

Having said that, a little research reveals that the earliest inflection is “yall”, written without the inverted comma denoting the elision (btw, an entire chapter of my doctoral thesis is devoted to the history of the inverted comma and its early usage to denote elision in the transcription of poetry in incunabula in 15th-century Venice tipography — no shit!). It appears in transcriptions of early 20th-century African-American (read “black”) parlance. So, technically, the most correct form is “yall”.

Having said that, “ya’ll” is an accepted form and I’m not sure why it evokes so much ire among observers. I, for one, will continue to use “ya’ll” because I like the way it mirrors the dialectal pronunciation of the vowel cluster, where the greater aperture of the “a” seems to take precedence in the enunciation of the contraction and elision.

Language is by its very nature a balance between idiolect (a language spoke by one person) and dialect (a regionally inflected and mutually comprehensible corruption of a standardized linguistic code).

In other words, “ya’ll” feels just right to me and I know that everyone understands it. So, as they say, if it ain’t broke? ;-)

Clearly, I’ve spent some time thinking about this.


Peepaw drinks some orange wine (in Orange, Texas)

January 4, 2010

lunar

Above: Tracie B’s peepaw (grandfather) turned 90 this month. He and meemaw still live in Orange, Texas where Tracie B grew up. He tasted Movia’s Lunar with us over the Christmas holiday — orange wine in Orange, Texas on the Lousiana border!

This morning, when I read McDuff’s fantastic post about drinking Lunar under a full moon on New Year’s eve and his excellent treatment of the importance of the cycle of the moon in the discourse of natural and biodynamic winemaking, I couldn’t help but remember that we opened a bottle of the same wine, the 2005 Lunar by Movia, with Tracie B’s family in Orange, Texas over the Christmas holiday.

lunar

Above: Tracie B and I shared our bottle of Lunar with the B family as Tracie B was preparing her dumplings for the chicken and dumplings we ate the night after Christmas day.

I highly recommend McDuff’s post to you. And while not everyone is as crazy about Movia’s Lunar as McDuff and I are, it’s worth tasting: whether you enjoy it or not, it pushes the envelope of natural winemaking in unusual and perhaps unexpected directions. I, for one, enjoy it immensely and prefer not to decant it (although winemaker Aleš Kristančič recommends decanting). Peepaw and meemaw both seemed to enjoy it…

In other news…

fellini

Above: Tracie B and I agreed that we would have been better off going to see the new Chipmunks movie instead of the lame excuse for a movie otherwise known as Nine.

I’m going to break my rule of never speaking about things I don’t like here and tell you that the new movie Nine (a musical about the life of Federico Fellini) is a travesty, a lame excuse for a movie, and is wholly offensive to the grand tradition of Italian cinema and one of its greatest maestri, indeed one of the greatest filmmakers and artists of the twentieth century, Federico Fellini.

Here are some of the more awful lines from the movie, sung by Kate Hudson (fyi, Guido Contini is the name of the Fellini character played by Daniel Day-Lewis).

    I love the black and white
    I love the play of light
    The way Contini puts his image through a prism
    I feel my body chill
    gives me a special thrill
    each time I see that Guido neo-realism

It makes me wanna HEAVE. The folks who wrote and made this movie should be ashamed of themselves and should be barred from the movie industry entirely: there is no book to speak of, the songs and lyrics were seemingly written as a high-school drama class project, and the premise (Contini’s inescapable and pseudo-Italianate womanizing as an aesthetic disease) is entirely offensive to the Italian nation and its grand historic artistic sensibility — whether figurative or literary.

There’s no doubt in my mind that I would have found more aesthetic reward and intellectual enjoyment if we had gone to see the new Alvin and the Chipmunks movie, which was screening in the theater next to ours.


Fishes, wishes, and thanks this Christmas

December 24, 2009

grigliata di mare

Above: “Grigliata di Mare,” Amalfi Coast, photo by friend and colleague Tom Hyland.

“Crisis or no crisis, Italians won’t say no to fish on Christmas eve,” says the daily dose of Italian wine news that finds its way to my inbox this morning. The tradition of eating fish on Christmas eve stretches back to the middle ages and beyond. Its origins lie in a monastic tradition of fasting as part of the holy rite: in a gesture of self-awareness and sacrifice, one “does without” the richness of fatty meat and milk reserved for feast days. Of course, as the bold statement above reveals, the tradition has been turned on its fish head, as it were: across the western world, we consume seafood delicacies on Christmas eve as an expression of luxury. Where I lived in the north of Italy, eel was served on Christmas eve. In the south, where Tracie B lived, a grigliata di mare (as in Tom’s photo above) might be served. (Alfonso posted interesting insight into the myth of the Dinner of Seven Fishes — yes, a myth! — here.)

gumbo

Above: Uncle Tim is an amazing cook and his gumbo is no exception. In Coonass country, where Tracie B grew up, east-Texas style gumbo is served on Christmas eve. When we visit with Tracie B’s family, Uncle Tim and I sit around and talk about food for hours.

Tracie B and I have a lot to be thankful for this Christmas, as we get ready to head east to her family’s place in Orange, Texas (where she and I will be eating Uncle Tim’s excellent gumbo tonight).

It’s been quite a year: I started a new job in the wine business shortly after I moved to Austin only to start over again during the summer when the company I worked for experienced its own financial difficulties. Somehow I managed to land on my feet and things are looking up for 2010 (I think that the loving support and tender words of my sweet and amatissima Tracie B had a little something to do with that).

However much we struggled financially, Tracie B and I are well aware of how lucky we are to be working and we are painfully aware that some in our business continue to struggle.

jeremy parzen

Above: Tracie B and I are getting married next month! Photo by the Nichols.

Crisis or no crisis, our lives have moved forward in wondrous ways I never could have imagined before Tracie B came into my life.

Thank you, everyone, for all the support and well wishes in 2009 and beyond. It’s been some year and as much as I’m glad it’s over, I’ll be sad to see it go: it’s filled with bright memories, even in the darkest times, of the first year of a new beginning and a new life — la vita nova.

Thank you, Mrs. and Rev. B and the entire B family, for welcoming into your lives and hearts. I’ll never forget the first time I met Tracie B’s meemaw and she explained me, “Jeremy, we’re a huggin’ family! Give me a hug…”

And thank you most of all, my beautiful beautiful Tracie B: words cannot begin to express the joy that your love has brought into my life. I love you, I love you with all my heart and soul and every fiber of my body.

Happy holidays to everyone, everywhere…


How her life Italian became mine (and our very first wine)

July 15, 2009

Above: The first wine we ever tasted together was Moncontour sparkling Vouvray. Tracie B had a bottle waiting for me in my hotel room the first time I came to Austin to visit. “Champagne,” I said. “No,” she corrected me. “It’s Vouvray.” I guess you could say that she had me at “hello.”

Stranger things have happened. When I got on a plane to come visit Tracie B in Austin, Texas in August last year, she and I weren’t strangers but we had never met in person nor had we ever spoken on the phone. We had been emailing probably ten times a day since our first exchange on July 15, the day after my birthday, one year ago today.

Above: This photo was taken the second time I visited and the first time we went to my now favorite (and Tracie B’s all-time favorite) Austin honky tonk, Ginny’s Little Longhorn. I was most definitely in the “pesce lesso” or “boiled fish” stage, as Franco used to tease me happily. That’s an Italian expression for “you’re so in love that the expression on your face looks like that of a boiled fish” (more or less). Franco’s family agreed with his assessment.

When my beautiful Tracie B and I became friends on Facebook a year ago today and began emailing and messaging furiously, I had known of her existence for some time: I had learned about her blog in early 2008 when I read her comments at Italian Wine Guy’s blog and started reading about “her life Italian.” IWG (aka Alfonso) and I had become friends through blogging, as had he and Tracie B. I really liked her “sassy” comments, as she likes to say, and when I started reading her blog, I was immediately enchanted by her honest writing style, with its Texan- and Neapolitan-inflected twang, and her funny insights into her life as an “ex pat” in Italy. But what impressed me the most was her sharp palate and her immense talent for describing wine. I was already a fan, but from a distance.

Above: In October, I surprised Tracie B for her birthday with Willie Nelson tickets. Back then, we had a long-distance relationship and I would come to visit with her in Austin about once a month. We hadn’t started talking yet about me moving here but the Texas flag in the background was a certain sign of things to come!

After Tracie B and I had been emailing, Facebooking, and otherwise messaging for about a month, IWG serendipitously suggested that I come out for Tex Som, the annual Texas sommelier conference, held in Austin last year (this year in Dallas). I couldn’t make it on those dates and so I asked Tracie B if I could come visit her anyway. She said yes and so the San Diego Kid booked himself a room at a B&B not far from where she lives.

Above: That’s us on New Year’s 2009 in Austin, just a few weeks after I drove out to Texas in my beat-up old Volvo from San Diego where I had been living.

We never spoke in realtime or in real life until that very first day she came to pick me up at the Austin airport back in August. In the months that followed, I must have come to visit Tracie B three or four times. In a lot of ways, our courtship was very old-fashioned: we would write each other every day, describing our daily lives and our lives past and our hoped-for lives future. I would send her mixed CDs of my favorite music, mostly country, and lots of dedications of songs that expressed what I was feeling for her.

Above: In February, Tracie B accompanied me on tour in France with my band Nous Non Plus. We had one of the most memorable meals of my life, lunch at the Tour d’Argent. It was a beautiful, clear winter day in Paris and I’ll never forget the way the sunlight shone on Tracie B’s face, reflecting up from the Seine.

In November, Tracie B made her first trip westward, to see where I lived and to meet my family and friends. By then, we were already deeply connected and the pangs of love that came with every goodbye were too much to bear and it was during her visit that we first talked about me moving to Austin. Later that month, I met her family for the first time when Tracie B took me home with her for Thanksgiving in Orange, Texas where she grew up.

Above: In March, Tracie B surprised me with Merle Haggard tickets. We’re both huge country music fans. That night was one of the most fun ever.

You see, when I met Tracie B, my whole life changed (you may remember the post I did, not too long ago, Just some of the reasons I’m so smitten). I’ll never forget when I first told Jayne and Jon about Tracie B and how I was going to visit her for the first time. “She’s an amazing writer,” I told them, “she loves food and wine, she has a fantastic palate, she loves country music, she’s beautiful, and she can cook like nobody’s business…” And Jon turned me and said, “AND she can speak Italian?” (Sometimes Tracie B and I speak in Italian, her with her Neapolitan accent, me with my Veneto accent! It’s hilarious.) By December, we had decided that I would move to Austin and I packed up my car and headed east and rented myself an apartment here. It was the smartest thing I have ever done (not that I am known for doing smart things).

Above: In April we went to the Texas Hill Country Food and Wine festival gala in Austin. I don’t know how a guy could be prouder than having a beautiful lady like Tracie B on his arm.

You see, Tracie B is simply the most lovely creature on this God’s earth that I have ever seen. And her cover-girl beauty is matched by the immense generosity of her heart and her bright spirit. Through her love and her affection, her devotion and her tenderness she has brought once unimaginable joy in to my life. I’ve fallen madly in love with her and just can’t imagine my life without her. She is my “Phantom of Delight”:

A perfect Woman, nobly planned,
To warm, to comfort, and command;
And yet a Spirit still, and bright,
With something of angelic light.

And so her life Italian has become mine.

Above: In May, I gave Tracie B this 1930s diamond and blue sapphire ring and asked her if she would marry me and she said yes! We are getting married in January 2010 in La Jolla and then we’re going to celebrate with friends and family at Jaynes Gastropub. I would venture to say that we’ll probably blog it, too! ;-)

When people ask us how we met, we tell them the story of how we learned of each other’s existence through our blogs and then were introduced online by a mutual and virtual friend whom we had both met through blogging. We courted, sending each other secret messages through our blog posts: remember the kiss I blew from the stage in Germany last September? Sometimes, on Saturday and Sunday mornings, we sit around her living room drinking coffee, blogging and reading blogs, sending each other messages on Facebook and emailing each other. Ours is a bloggy blog world and we love it.

It’s our life Italian now and I love her. I love her thoroughly, completely, absolutely, immeasurably, undeniably, undyingly, ceaselessly, tirelessly, unflaggingly… I thank goodness for the day I started my blog way back in 2006, just to keep a journal of good things I drank and ate. Blogging has delivered more rewards — personally and professionally — than I could have ever imagined. (Click here to read her version of our story).

Coda: We’ll be serving that same sparkling Vouvray by Moncontour to our wedding guests as they arrive next January.

*****

She Was a Phantom of Delight
—William Wordsworth

She was a phantom of delight
When first she gleamed upon my sight;
A lovely Apparition, sent
To be a moment’s ornament;
Her eyes as stars of Twilight fair;
Like Twilight’s, too, her dusky hair;
But all things else about her drawn
From May-time and the cheerful Dawn;
A dancing Shape, an Image gay,
To haunt, to startle, and way-lay.

I saw her upon a nearer view,
A Spirit, yet a Woman too!
Her household motions light and free,
And steps of virgin liberty;
A countenance in which did meet
Sweet records, promises as sweet;
A Creature not too bright or good
For human nature’s daily food;
For transient sorrows, simple wiles,
Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears and smiles.

And now I see with eye serene
The very pulse of the machine;
A Being breathing thoughtful breath,
A Traveler between life and death;
The reason firm, the temperate will,
Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill;
A perfect Woman, nobly planned,
To warm, to comfort, and command;
And yet a Spirit still, and bright,
With something of angelic light.


Sunday poetry: For You, O Democracy (red, white, and rosé)

July 5, 2009

Above: We spent the Fourth of July in Orange, Texas, along the Louisiana border where Tracie B grew up.

Had you told me a year ago that I was going to fall in love with a gorgeous Texana and move to Austin, I would have told you you were crazy. But, then again, stranger things have happened. I can’t complain: for all of its surprises, life certainly has been good to me so far. Yesterday, Tracie B and I celebrated the birth of our nation with her beautiful family in Orange, Texas, along the Louisiana border (pronounced LUZ-ee-AH-nah), where Tracie B grew up.

Above: Tracie B’s Uncle Tim — an outstanding cook — used his grill as a smoker. He stuffs his bacon-wrapped jalapeños with cream cheese and chicken (or duck when he has it).

Living in the South has been an interesting experience for the San Diego Kid. There’s perhaps no other place I’ve lived in the U.S. where people feel such a strong tie to culinary place and culinary tradition. And I can’t imagine a warmer welcome anywhere in the world.

Above: “Low and slow.” That’s the mantra of Texas Barbecue. The centerpiece and litmus test of any Texas barbecue is the smoked, dry-rubbed brisket, smoked for 10-12 hours at 200-225° F. The “depth” and evenness of the pink “smoke ring” are two of the criteria used to judge Texas barbecue.

Yesterday, we were the guests of Tracie B’s Aunt Ida and Uncle Tim who were also celebrating their return to their home: flooding and storm damage following hurricane Ike had forced them out last September. What a difference a year makes…

Above: Tracie B’s Mee Maw’s deviled eggs paired beautifully with the Bisson Golfo del Tigullio Ciliegiolo, which has become my new favorite barbecue wine and probably my favorite rosé for the summer of 2009. It was the hit of the flight that Tracie B and I brought to the party.

Tim, an excellent cook (his gumbo is off-the-charts good), made barbecue and Tracie B and I opened a bottle of Inama Soave, Bisson Golfo del Tigullio Ciliegiolo, and Villa di Vetrice Chianti Rufina — a tricolor summertime triptych.

Above: Ida and Tim live on a bayou. They only recently moved back into their home. The backlog of reconstruction in the area kept some people out of their homes for nearly a year.

Yesterday’s celebration made me think of this poem by Walt Whitman.

from Leaves of Grass, 1855

For You, O Democracy

Come, I will make the continent indissoluble,
I will make the most splendid race the sun ever shone upon,
I will make divine magnetic lands,
With the love of comrades,
With the life-long love of comrades.

I will plant companionship thick as trees along all the rivers of America,
and along the shores of the great lakes, and all over the prairies,
I will make inseparable cities with their arms about each other’s necks,
By the love of comrades,
By the manly love of comrades.

For you these from me, O Democracy, to serve you ma femme!
For you, for you I am trilling these songs.

Above: At the end of the night, the glow of the DuPont plant down the road lit up Cow Bayou. The image reminded me of the first part of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at the original Disneyland in Anaheim.

Happy Fourth of July, y’all! Thanks Ida and Tim and thanks Mrs. B and Rev. B for having me!


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