Shanah tovah (שנה טובה). Parzen family New Year letter.

Let us turn our heads heavenward and, while thanking Him for sparing so much human life, beseech G-d to restore health and well-being to those who are suffering!
— Chabad.org

Shanah tovah (שנה טובה). Happy new year, everyone.

The last year has been a good one for our family — poo, poo, poo!

Georgia is enjoying fifth grade, her last at our elementary school. She has really begun to excel in the music program there. She plays violin and takes private lessons at the school, a music magnet, and she continues to take piano lessons with a private teacher outside of school. Yesterday, after I met her for lunch at school, she gave an impromptu piano concert for the entire fifth grade in the cafeteria! It was really magical. She’s also started taking tennis lessons, which she really enjoys (especially because tennis was Tracie’s sport in high school).

Lila Jane continues to take cello at school and piano privately. She’s also in the advanced choir at school. Next month, her school choir will sing the national anthem at the Houston Texans’ football game! (The choir teacher is a Grammy-winning children’s choir maestra and so the group gets some cool gigs like this. They are insanely good.) She also continues to write elaborate comic strips (pages and pages long, with illustrations, dialog and narrative). And she’s also become a writer for the school’s nascent paper. Last night, she was so eager to write a report that she insisted on bringing her laptop to the dinner table.

Both girls are starting to speak a little Italian and they are begging me to take them to Venice next summer (we’ll see!).

Tracie’s new career as a realtor also continues to flourish. Even though the market isn’t as “hot” as when she first began, her hard work and devotion have really paid off. We are a dual-income family now and that’s helped us accelerate our path to our financial goals.

Now that she is more steady and confident in her professional life, I’ve begun to travel for my work a bit more. I still do all the caretaking when I’m in town and I do nearly all of the cooking, which has reignited my culinary skills (that has been really fun).

The new focus in my work is my translations of ancient Italian texts on wine. A University of Toronto imprint has already agreed to publish my first one (a 14th-century work) and we already have a second and third book lined up in the series. It’s immensely rewarding for me to combine my skills and experience as an academic with my knowledge of viticulture.

As the old folks used to say (and I’m getting to be one of them), poo, poo, poo!

We have too many blessings to count.

The world beyond our home often seems perilous and precarious these days. But our home life and our community is an oasis where the girls are growing up healthy and safe — the greatest blessing in our lives.

On this Rosh Hashanah (new year), we pray for our sisters and brothers in Ukraine and Puerto Rico, we pray for the Venezuelan migrants, we pray that our leaders may rise to the occasion with grace and wisdom as our country and the world face seemingly unsurmountable challenges. We pray that our children and all children may be safe.

Shanah tovah. Happy new year.

Let us all simply shower one another with blessings!

Parzen family guide to La Jolla. Our favorite restaurants and places to visit.

The Parzen family just got back from our yearly summer trip to La Jolla, California to visit our family and friends there. It was an awesome trip.

The following are our favorite places to visit, updated based on our last stay there.

La Jolla is a lot more crowded than it used to be. And the traffic there has become challenging to say the least.

But as long as you don’t waste half of your day driving in and out of town, it’s still a fantastic place to vacation.

That’s the view walking down the hill toward the Children’s Pool in the photo above, one of the best places to watch the sunset. And you invariably find seals and sea lions on the beach there and on “seal rock” just a stone’s throw up the coast (literally a stone’s throw).

El Pescador Fish Market, a La Jolla institution since my childhood, remains our favorite seafood destination.
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We won’t forget Uvalde. Now is the time for action. Please vote, mobilize, speak out, donate, support, and believe that change is possible.

Houston’s light rail seemed the wisest way to get to downtown for Friday’s Black Lives Matter Houston, Fiel, Moms Demand Action rally for gun sense and protest of the National Rifle Association’s trade show.

On the train siting one row ahead of me were a woman and a man — she in her late 60s, he in his 70s. There ages became apparent over the course of their conversation. They were long-time acquaintances, Houston natives who happened to run into each other on the way to the event. Children, grandchildren, retirement, and milestone birthdays were among their topics for catching up.

It was also evident that they were both heading to the rally. At one point, the woman mentioned to the man that this was her first experience in activism. To this he responded that he had protested only one another time in his life… during the Vietnam war.

These first timers weren’t sure where they needed to get off the train. That’s when their fellow rider spoke up and assured them that Main Street Square was the right stop.

After I spent about an hour and a half at the main protest, I headed over to the protests across the street from the convention center where the NRA was holding the first day of its trade show. The two Houstonians who rode the light rail with me were already leaving. The sun was hot and they had arrived without water or a good hydration plan.

I hope they’ll come back the next time. Maybe with some extra water, sun screen, and some snacks this time (top provisions for activists).

Tracie and I have been protesting with Moms Demand Action for years now. We’ve also block-walked for candidates that support expanded gun restrictions. We were part of a historic wave of activists who flipped our historically GOP-controlled district after decades of a Republican rule that dates back to Bush senior who was once our district’s congressperson.

The only way we are going to affect change in our nation’s and state’s gun laws is by voting and raising voter awareness. We have already been active in the Beto campaign and you can bet that we will be out there block-walking for him as the campaign ratchets up.

People, if you care about reducing gun violence in our country, now is the time for action: please vote, mobilize, speak out, donate, support, and believe that change is possible. It may not come during this political cycle. But as a famous winemaker once said, sometimes the battles most important to fight are the ones you know you are going to lose.

If you live in Southeast Texas, please reach out to us to find out how to get involved. It’s going to be a long hot summer and we’ll bring the water, sunscreen, and snacks (for real).

Please don’t forget Uvalde. Please don’t forget Buffalo. Please don’t forget Pittsburgh. Please don’t forget Columbia. Please don’t forget the 1979 Cleveland School shooting, which happened in San Diego where I grew up (I was 12 at the time). The list goes on and on and on and on…

Tracie and I will be out there at the next rally for gun sense in this country. We hope you’ll join us.

Image via Wikipedia Creative Commons.

Natural wine in Palm Springs? Yes, it’s true and it’s wonderful.

Just had to give a shout-out this week to John Libonati (above) and his awesome natural-focused wine shop Hyphen- in Palm Springs. Yes, Palm Springs!

For a lot of folks who grew up in southern California like me, Palm Springs was often a destination for visiting relatives, family get-togethers, and long weekends just a few hours away from home.

But in my adult years, those get-aways always meant bring your own wine because you’re not going to find much there. Let’s face it: beyond Sherman’s Deli, Palm Springs is not exactly known as a fomo food destination.

That’s all changed now that John, a lovely man from a storied New York restaurant family, has launched his shop. Organic is the baseline, he told me when we visited earlier this week. He wants to get his clients to get out of their “Rombauer” mind set. And it’s working.

Yesterday, during a visit with a hipster colleague in San Diego, news of natural wine in the desert was met with glee.

“I’m going there this weekend!” he exclaimed. “Where is this place?”

He was pleased to know that you’ll find it right on California State Route 111 as you drive into town.

John ran restaurants and night clubs in the city roughly around my same years in New York. It was so much fun to reminisce about some of the characters and players from that now lost era when cool bands still played at CBGB. Natural wine began to become a thing around that time as well.

It’s great to see John spreading the good word to the Golf Capital of the World. Be sure to check his shop out when you visit. You’ll thank me.

On Italian Liberation Day, thinking of our sisters and brothers in Ukraine…

Above: an image captured in Milan in 1943. Note the Duomo in the background. Image via Wikipedia.

By April 19, 1945, the occupying Nazi forces had begun to leave Milan. A few days later, the city was liberated by Italian partisans and by April 27, the U.S. 1st Armored Division had entered the city.

My dissertation advisor Luigi, who was born in Milan in 1940, used to love to tell the story of one of his earliest memories. It was an icy cold day in 1945, as he remembers it, when he watched a bare-chested German solider sitting atop his tank as it left the city. Luigi, who was five years old at the time, had survived both the Allied bombing of Milan and the Nazi occupation. In his mind, the soldier’s machoism was an expression of his unfettered defiance and pride as German forces retreated in the face of the American advance.

On this April 25, Italian Liberation Day, a national holiday that commemorates the Italian partisans’ victory over the Nazi occupation and the Fascist regime, it’s hard not to think of our sisters and brothers in Ukraine.

From 1945 when Milan was liberated, another two decades would pass before Italy rebuilt its economy. Luigi’s father had been killed in 1943 by the Nazis in Greece in what is known today as the Cephalonia Massacre. Think of what young Luigi and his single-mother faced in terms of rebuilding their lives. He would ultimately become a migrant after winning a scholarship to study in the U.S. in the 1950s.

In 1945, when the first wave of Neorealist films began to be released, viewers saw for the first time the severe personal and emotional toll of war victims and refugees. The most iconic of those is arguably “Rome, Open City,” where director Roberto Rossellini blended quasi-realtime war footage and person-on-the-street actors who had no professional experience (Fellini was one of the screenwriters).

While Americans were accustomed to seeing state-sanctioned war footage, this new media form reshaped the way movie goers understood the local human toll in a war that hadn’t been fought on their continent.

As we watch the nonstop coverage from Ukraine via mainstream and social media, many commentators have noted that there has never been a European war where news consumers have such unmitigated access to what is happening on the ground. Thanks to media’s immediacy today, the human toll and the resulting desperation are streamed daily into our homes and on to our phones. In many ways, our perceptions of the war find a parallel in what movie goers must have experienced when they saw films like “Rome, open city” (1945) and “Bicycle Thieves” (1948) for the first time.

Today, on this Italian Liberation Day 2022, more than 75 years after WWII ended in Europe, we must never allow ourselves to become immune to the suffering of the Ukrainian people at the hand of Putin — our generation’s Hitler. If Italy’s path to recovery gives us any indication of what the Ukrainians will face even after the conflict draws to an end, we must remember that it will take decades for life there to return to normal.

G-d bless our sisters and brothers in Ukraine. Please consider giving to Unicef’s Ukraine child refugee fund. This link takes you straight to the donation page. Thank you and happy Liberation Day.

Buona festa della liberazione. Let’s pray that one day we will all be free.

Parzen family Passover letter.

Please consider giving to Unicef’s Ukraine child refugee fund. This link takes you straight to the donation page. G-d bless our Ukrainian sisters and brothers. Thank you.

This year as we prepare to celebrate the Passover, our family knows how fortunate we are to enjoy good health and security. With everything going on in the world today, we take time each and every day to tell each other that we love each other and to let each other know that we support one another.

We also talk every day about the war and we make sure to remember and pray for our sisters and brothers in Ukraine. Even the girls have a sense that we must not ever allow ourselves to become immune to their grief and suffering.

Georgia and Lila Jane have both been doing well in school. And we all enjoy their music.

Georgia plays violin and piano and is in advanced choir at school. Lila Jane plays cello and piano and is in beginning choir.

Tracie’s work is going really well (poo poo poo!). And now that the wine business is back in full swing, my work is also going well.

We are much closer to our financial goals than we could have ever imagined in 2022. The light is appearing at the end of the tunnel, which is great.

Tracie has done an amazing job and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t remind her that she makes our lives whole.

We will be celebrating the Passover tomorrow night with family friends here in Houston. And on Saturday, we’ll drive out to Orange to celebrate Easter with Tracie’s family.

In the early months of the pandemic, when Italy became the first western country to face the challenges of the health crisis, I adopted a new motto for my online presence: dum vita spes. Where there is life, there is hope. Those words resonate even more deeply today.

The Parzen family wishes you a happy Passover and a happy Easter. We will pray that by the next Passover, we will all be free.

Chag sameach.

Where homage to tradition is transcendent: Cotogna in San Francisco, one of my best meals this year.

Wines for Peace: Brunello Consortium auction benefitting Ukraine, Monday, April 11, at Vinitaly. Click here to learn more.

Since the late 1980s, Italian cuisine in the U.S. has been shaped by a tension between traditional- and creative-leaning forces.

Remember the wave of “northern Italian cuisine” that came around in the Reagan years? “Sunday gravy” was out and polenta was in.

The problem was that culinary interpreters often didn’t see these dishes in historical or cultural context. The rich meat- and jus-driven sauces we ate as kids in this country were a derivative of haute Neapolitan cuisine (vis-à-vis Ippolito Cavalcanti).

Polenta, on the other hand, so popular “rustic” and “peasant” (ugh, I can’t stomach that term) movements of the late 1990s, was a dish that many older people in Italy refused to eat at the time because it reminded them of a time when there wasn’t enough to eat (the 19th-century pellagra crisis in Italy was caused in part because polenta had become a staple for economically marginalized families; in the years following WWII, many older Italians in the north will tell you, polenta was all they had to eat).

Making my way over to Cotogna from my hotel in San Francisco the other night, I couldn’t help but remember a chilly winter evening in the late 80s when I stopped a man on the street and asked him if he knew the way to a certain “trattoria,” a name for pseudo-Italian restaurants that had become popular in the second half of the decade.

He did, he responded, but he would only tell me — and I’m not kidding about this — if I pronounced it correctly.

It wasn’t traht-toh-REE-ah, as I had enunciated it. It was traht-TOH-ree’ah, with the emphasis on the second syllable, not the second to last.

It kinda says it all, right there.

In my view and experience, the greatest Italian restaurants in the U.S. have always found a precarious however brilliant balance between the traditional and creative. And my meal at Cotogna was a fantastic example of how respectful homage to tradition can be transcendent.

The carrot sformato (first photo) blew me away with its ethereal texture and subtle dance of bold but elegant flavors. Sformato — properly called a savory custard in English — is all about the texture. It should be firm but light, rich but buoyant. I know already from my Instagram that people agree with me: this dish was nothing short of show-stopping. I loved it.

The asparagus alla fiorentina (second photo) brought to mind trips to San Francisco with my parents when I was a child in the 70s. They would slurp coffee as they inhaled “eggs Florentine” at a swank hotel restaurant on Union Square.

This truly Florentine-inspired dish sang out to me. The flavor — the bontà or goodness as we say in Italian — of the materia prima was nothing short of spectacular. And I loved the play in texture — again, texture! — between the lardons and American-style bacon (which btw is extremely popular in Italy today).

The finale, garganelli with rabbit, also played on its balance of textures and subtle flavors. I loved that the rabbit was ground, not stringy, and the richly flavored pasta was the focus of this dish, not the rabbit. I couldn’t agree or have enjoyed it more.

Paired with the delicious, spicy Ruché Panta Rhei by Valdisole (thank you, Ceri Smith!), this dish became the synecdoche for the entire dinner. For a generation who grew up complaining that there wasn’t enough sauce on the soggy over-cooked and rinsed pasta, it made me feel like we might finally have adolesced.

Thank you wine director Joseph Di Grigoli and team for taking such good care of me. Your work is as inspiring as it is delicious.

How Nebbiolo turned an all-night musician into an Italian wine lover.

Please consider donating to relief for Ukraine. Check out this Washington Post round-up of ways to give.

Above: Nebbiolo currently on deck at our house.

During the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, our weary days and sleepless nights were often filled with long phone calls and Zoom meetings with family and friends.

One of my weekly and sometimes daily chats was with a childhood friend, roughly my age (mid-50s), who still lives in my native Southern California. He’s a full-time musician, a composer and performer of electronica, and a teacher.

He’s also a health nut. Throughout our adult lives, he has been melodically in tune with his body’s rhythms and needs. And even before the pandemic, he was unerringly thoughtful about what he eats and drinks.

And he’s not a big drinker (like me). He’s the “one, maybe two glasses of wine with dinner” kind of guy.

During the closures, he was completely isolated. But his work, thanks to video conferencing, was robust. He could teach and contribute to recording sessions remotely and he would often stay up all night composing, recording, or collaborating with other musicians.

But his isolation also posed a wine consumption problem. For someone who had relied on by-the-glass programs at his favorite eateries (for that “one or two glasses”), it was frustrating to pick up a bottle curbside at his local wine shop only to discover that the wine would lose its vibrance after just one or two nights.

That’s when he started asking me for recommendations. I would scour his wine retailer’s website for wines that would suit his palate and budget.

But it’s also when I suggested to him that he spend a little more than he usually did.

“If you buy the right wine,” I told him, “it will stay fresh for many days, even more than a week.”

And that’s when I recommended that he increase his budget to allow for some classic-style Nebbiolo. At the time, there were some extremely attractive deals on retail wines. With just $35 or so, he could even afford the close-out Barolo or Barbaresco. Especially given the unsure times, he was reluctant to spend more than $20 on a bottle of wine. But he said he’d give it a try. His first big purchase was a Barbaresco by Castello di Verduno (a favorite of mine).

I’ll never forget the night he called me, a week later, joyous at his discovery that the Nebbiolo remained fresh over the course of even six days. He would drink one glass each evening. And he was even more geeked to report that the wine got even better over the course of the week.

And that’s how an all-night musician became a lover of Italian wine.

Yesterday when we spoke on my way home from a wine dinner I had presented in town, he talked about his discovery of “acidity” in wine and how that was the key to great wine — and wine that lasts more than a day or so once opened.

“YES! Acidity!” I told him. I couldn’t agree more.

I love my friend and the role he has played in my life is — literally — immeasurable. It couldn’t be more rewarding for me to know that great Nebbiolo plays a healthy and wholesome tune in his life.

One evening recently, after he had listened to some new recordings of mine, I shared my insecurity over my waning musical abilities. “No, no, no,” he said. “Your music is great! I love listening to it.”

“Thank you,” I told him, “that means the world to me. Nobody listens to my music anymore but you.”

“Remember,” he said, “I’ve believed in your music since you we were 12 years old.”

I’m glad that he believes in my wine recommendations, too, and I’m blessed to have him as a friend.

Help us raise an MLK billboard over the neo-Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas where Tracie grew up.

In 1969, the Houston-based art collectors and civil rights activists Dominique and John de Menil purchased the third “multiple” of “Broken Obelisk” (above), a sculpture by 20th-century American artist Barnett Newman. They planned to donate it to the city of Houston where it was to be displayed at City Hall. But when the city of Houston learned that the couple planned to dedicate the work to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who had been assassinated by a White Supremacist the previous year, the city refused the gift. Rebuffed by the city government, they decided to install the sculpture on the grounds of the Rothko Chapel, designed by artist Mark Rothko and completed in what is now Houston’s museum district in 1971.

(Read about the legacy of this work in Houston here. Warning: the link contains graphic images of vandalism by White Supremacists.)

Our daughters, ages 8 and 10, have visited the site many times over the years. It’s always a magical visit for our family, although our girls are still too young to understand the sculpture’s historical and present-day significance.

Given the history of racist violence in southeast Texas, where Tracie was born and where we have lived for the last nine years, it was devastating to learn that White Supremacists planned to build a neo-Confederate memorial along Interstate 10 in Orange, Texas where Tracie grew up and where we spend a lot of time with our children.

In 2017, despite Herculean efforts by the Orange city government to stop them, the Sons of Confederate Veterans completed the “Memorial of the Wind,” featuring Lost Cause battle flags, including the Confederate flag — now a neo-Confederate flag.

The following year, Tracie and I began protesting the site regularly. And we also began raising money to display an MLK billboard across the road.

(Our efforts are documented on our site, RepurposeMemorial.com.)

Because of health concerns, we won’t be organizing a protest on MLK Day 2022, Monday, January 17. But we will be raising a billboard. And if we can raise enough funds, it will stay in place throughout Black History Month (February).

Please give to our GoFundMe here.

The City of Orange tried unsuccessfully to block the construction of the memorial, which lies on private property owned by the Sons. But they did manage to limit the height of the flagpoles so they can’t be seen from the freeway. It sits on MLK Dr., one of the town’s major arteries. For the people who have to drive by it every day, it is a reminder of the racist violence that has plagued the city since Reconstruction and beyond.

Our hopes that the site will be repurposed are dim. But we are committed to reminding the community, half of which is black, that the conspicuous public display of racist paraphernalia is unacceptable today. As a famous winemaker once said, sometimes the battles you know you will lose are the most important ones to wage. We will never abandon our efforts.

In recent weeks, I have been inspired by the words of critical theorist and activist bell hooks, who passed away this month.

In her 1994 essay “Love as the Practice of Freedom,” she wrote that “the moment we choose to love, we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love, we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.”

Tracie and I continue to love Orange, Texas and the people who live there. They are our people and we know that love will ultimately triumph there.

In the meantime, we hope you will consider giving to our campaign. And if you cannot give, please share the link with your community.

Click here to donate.

May G-d bless Orange, Texas. May G-d bless the neo-Confederates. May G-d bless us all. Thank you for your support and solidarity.

Parzen family Christmas letter and NEW ALBUM by Parzen Family Singers. Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas and happy new year from the Parzen family!

Our family, like everyone across the U.S. and the world, have faced the challenges of the covid era as best as we could. All in all, we’ve been extremely fortunate. And our lives have also been filled with many blessings over the last 12 months.

Georgia turned 10 this month and Lila Jane celebrated her eighth birthday in July.

Both girls are doing well, getting good grades at school and playing piano (both) and violin (Georgia) and cello (Lila Jane). Both girls are also in their school’s choir program.

They both made the cut for the “performers” orchestra at their school this year.

One holiday season highlight was their performance at the mayor’s tree lighting festival. It was their first taste of playing on a big stage, with lights and cameras etc. And the entire event was produced as a holiday show by the local ABC affiliate. It was amazing to watch the girls watch themselves on TV! They loved it! As did their parents.

The biggest news of our year was that Tracie went back to work full time for the first time since Georgia was born in 2011. In early 2021, she obtained her realtor license and by April she had already landed at an old line Houston firm.

She has thrived over the last eight months and the results have been amazing. And it’s been wonderful to see her enjoy her new job so much. As the old folks used to say, poo poo poo… After all the setbacks of 2020 (when my work evaporated), we are closer to reaching our financial goals than ever before.

With Tracie leaving the house early each morning and generally coming home after the girls have finished school, I’ve taken on a lot more of the parenting, which has been awesome. My days are tighter than ever but I’ve been enjoying the extended time I get to spend with the girls and working on music with them.

My work picked up again early this year and it’s actually turning out to be a good year for me work-wise.

The Slow Food University brought me over to Italy twice this year to teach, my sixth year with the graduate program there. And I’ve been traveling about once a month to California to sell some wine wholesale, which has also been a rewarding experience, especially because I’ve been able to spend more time with my mother, who’s 88 now.

All in all, there’s not much to complain about these days. We are all concerned about health and safety in the coming year. But after 2020, we feel confident we’ll make it through. Like families across the U.S., we’ve adjusted to the new normal and are making sure to stay as safe as possible.

As we’ve spent more time at home over the past 12 months, the girls have become more interested in the recording arts. And they sing on a couple of tracks on our new album, “Falling in Love Again.”

A couple of YouTubes follow and you can hear the whole album here.

The title track is one of the three love songs we recorded for Tracie on this one. And “Whatever Happened To” is a French pop-inspired song that just bubbled up in me like vintage Bollinger. It was such a thrill to share it with my old bandmates. They concurred it would have made the cut back in the day!

Georgia, Lila Jane, Tracie, and I wish you and yours a merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year. Please stay safe, remember the neediest, and keep kindness in your hearts. May G-d bless us all this holiday season. Baci e abbracci a tutti.