Feels like the first time: heading back to Italy after more than a year and a half.

Breakfast with the family this morning brought on an emotion not felt in more than 30 years: this erstwhile Medieval poetry and now wine scribbler is heading back to their spiritual homeland since being away for more than 18 months.

And it feels like the first time.

As the girls were getting ready for summer camp, an old and addled box of photographs found its way to my desk.

That’s a photo of me, above, in Ostia (the Roman coastal city) in 1987 during my first academic year in Italy on the University of California Education Abroad Program, the only curriculum at the time that allowed students to study side-by-side with Italians — with instruction in Italian.

That experience forever shaped my professional and personal life.

By year’s end, my first piano bar gig came along.

That’s me, above, playing my very first show at the Bar Margherita on Piazza della Frutta in Padua.

The person in the lower right-hand corner is Ruggero Robin, one of Italy’s top jazz guitarists. He would become my first friend in Italy and we would play countless gigs together when music was the income that kept me afloat during my studies.

This guitar player was way out of their league when they they played with Ruggero but the money was always decent and we would always have a blast together. (If you’ve ever been to VinNatur, you might have heard Ruggero play. He’s super tight with the Maule family.)

In normal years, this Italy-bound traveler would go to their spiritual homeland six times a year, between teaching, researching and tasting, trade fairs, and client visits. There was one year when I made nine (!!!) trips to Italy in less than 12 months.

But after being separated so long from my signora, this one feels different. It feels big like that first time, that first contact, that first kiss with the country that would become my lifeblood in so many ways. It even made for the connection between me and my life partner, Tracie, mother to our children.

On Sunday, I leave for three weeks of teaching at the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont. There will be some good eating and drinking, too. And maybe even some music.

Sister Italy, my alma mater, where would I be today without you???!!!

I can’t wait to leap into your arms and feel your embrace!

Wish me luck and wish me speed. See you on the other side…

Falling In Love Again, a new song for Tracie P by Parzen Family Singers

It’s been a great summer for our family so far and it’s been a magical time in our lives as we can get out again and our work is thriving.

And… I’m falling in love again.

“I’m Falling In Love Again”
written, performed, recorded, and produced
by Parzen Family Singers
Baby P Studios
Houston

Do you ever wonder
How the stars aligned
Strangers passing in the night
Honky tonks and wine

What was it that caught your eye
When I happened to pass by
Was it just that note I wrote
In a long ago July

Every little bit of sunshine
Every little bit of rain
Every little bit of joy and laughter
Every little bit of tears and pain

Every little bit of sunshine
Every little bit of rain
I’m falling in love again
I’m falling in love again

When I was a little kid
They told us a fairytale
All you had to do in life was to
Set your ship to sail

Find the perfect lover
Then it may come true
What makes the world go round & round
When I first looked at you

Every little bit of sunshine
Every little bit of rain
Every little bit of joy and laughter
Every little bit of tears and pain

Every little bit of sunshine
Every single day
I’m falling in love again
I’m falling in love again

Who could ever know
How much our love would grow
Who could ever see
What our love could be

And as you look at me
It’s no mystery
I’m falling in love again
I’m falling in love again
I’m falling in love again
I’m falling in love

Happy Juneteenth! A holiday long observed in Houston and now federally recognized.

Image via congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee’s Twitter.

Happy Juneteenth!

It’s a wonderful feeling to know that our nation has made a long-overdue step in the right direction. Yesterday, President Biden signed S. 475 into law, “the ‘Juneteenth National Independence Day Act,’ which designates Juneteenth National Independence Day as a legal public holiday.”

While many of our fellow Americans are just becoming aware of Juneteenth for the first time, the holiday has been celebrated here in Houston for generations. It was in nearby Galveston that Juneteenth had its origins. Before the end of the 19th century, it was already being observed each year in Houston proper.

In her recently published collection of essays about Texas, On Juneteenth (Liveright, May 2021), Harvard Law School professor Annette Gordon-Reed recounts her memories of celebrating the holiday when she was growing up in segregated Conroe, a city about an hour north of where we live today.

Houston congresswomen Lizzie Fletcher (who represents the district where we live), left, and Sheila Jackson Lee, center, announced the Juneteenth National Independence Act on Juneteenth 2020 in Houston (image via Fletcher’s Facebook).

The bill was first introduced by Houston congresswoman and legacy civil rights activist Sheila Jackson Lee in February of this year. It was co-sponsored by Houston congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher, who represents the district where we live.

Fletcher was first elected to congress in 2018 in the blue wave that delivered the House to the Democrats. She was the first progressive to be elected in our district in a generation. Her seat was once held by George H.W. Bush back when Houston was still one of the most deeply segregated cities in the country.

Tracie and I will be celebrating by going out to dinner with good friends and taking the girls to some of the gatherings planned for tomorrow at the historic Emancipation Park (which also played a role in the early Juneteenth celebrations).

There couldn’t be a better day to be in Houston! Happy Juneteenth!

Pete Wells gets the Tex but not the Mex. What the American intelligentsia gets wrong about Texans, our culture, and how and what we eat.

Even some of the most informed food writers don’t realize that what they call “fajitas,” the cornerstone of Tex-Mex cuisine, has its origins in Mexico’s discada cooking culture. That’s the carne asada plate, yesterday, at my favorite Tex-Mex restaurant in Houston, Taqueria El Sole de Mexico #2.

“Tex-Mex is probably the least respected of America’s regional cuisines,” wrote venerated Times food and restaurant critic Pete Wells in the paper this week. “In part this is because, like some Texas politicians, it doesn’t always stand up to scrutiny once it leaves the state.”

His uninformed, puerile mockery reminded me of something one of my close California family members said to me contemptuously after I had moved to Texas to be with Tracie.

“How can you live there,” they asked, “with all those awful people?”

I wonder how many Texan politicians Mr. Wells or my relative can name beyond Ted C. Maybe Ken P.? Beto, of course. But without resorting to a Google search, can they name one Black politician from Texas? Beyond Ted C. and maybe Julian C., do they know the name of any other Brown Texas politician?

And that’s what Wells and my relative all get wrong about Texans and our culture.

(In all fairness to Mr. Wells, he has famously, although perhaps disingenuously, written that he “likes” Texans.)

No English is spoke at my favorite Tex-Mex place, where “fajitas” are the number-one menu entry. You can also order a burrito smothered in queso. It’s as Tex-Mex as you can get.

I would have never said this to my relative (and luckily neither they nor their spouse read my blog!) but I would have liked to ask them: beyond all the “awful” White people you think you know from Texas, what about the Brown and Black people? Are they awful, too?

And that’s where the American intelligentsia gets it dead wrong.

Yes, there are a lot of “awful” White people in Texas who have disenfranchised Black and Brown people for generations. And those same awful White people continue to suppress the voice of Black and Brown people at the voting box and they continue — less successfully in recent years — to segregate Texans. But that’s because those awful White people are still in power, as anyone who reads the Times surely knows.

And here’s where the Tex-Mex analogy comes into play. The only Tex-Mex that Wells knows is the “White Tex-Mex” of big box players like Chuy’s and Pappasitos and the faux Tex-Mex that New Yorkers eat. He gets the Tex but he doesn’t get the Mex.

Tex-Mex didn’t originate in European cookery. It’s actually Brown-people cuisine that has been contaminated by White gastronomic traditions.

Case in point: fajitas.

Even Wells will agree that the griddle-fired, intensely seasoned meats are the cornerstone of Tex-Mex cuisine. And he shouldn’t be surprised to learn that their origin lies in the discada cooking of the Mexican — not Texan — countryside.

Earlier this month, I interviewed Chef Luis Jiménez de S. whose cloud kitchen brand Bell Pepper Fajitas is debuting in Houston in a few weeks (I was writing a press release for his PR firm). His group is based in Del Rio on the Tex-Mex border. But Chef Luis had joined our call from Mexico where he lives and cooks — you guessed it — Tex-Mex!

We spoke at length about the origins of Tex-Mex and how it is a reflection of classic Mexican cuisine. He was keen to talk about its farming-community and family-friendly character, two elements that inform his menus for Bell Pepper Fajitas and his other immensely popular concept, Amacate.

I remembered our conversation as I dug into my carne asada yesterday at Taqueria El Sol de Mexico #2, which is located in a Tex-Mex row in a Spanish-speaking Houston neighborhood not far from our house. There are roughly 20 similar restaurants along a mile-long stretch of road. I haven’t visited them all but based on my past experiences, fajitas and queso — another pillar of the Tex-Mex canon — are on the menu at most of them.

I took a look around. There were no Texas politicians there (I know where Ted C. eats in Houston btw but that’s another story for another time). There were no awful White people there either. There were no White people there at all.

Just a bunch of Texans enjoying lunch on a beautiful spring day in Houston, the ranchera music blasting away.

Let’s be honest: Texas restaurants haven’t really been enforcing the mask mandate. Abbott’s decision to lift the requirement, while reckless, won’t make a difference.

Image via Adobe Stock.

Let’s be clear: when Texas governor Abbott issued a mask order last summer, it didn’t require all Texans to wear masks in public; it required Texas businesses to require that their customers wore masks while frequenting their places of business.

And let’s be honest: Texas restaurants, which have been allowed to offer some capacity of dine-in service for the better part of the last 12 months, have done little to enforce the mask mandate. And most restaurateurs have only cursorily observed the capacity limitations.

But then again, what could have restaurateurs actually done to enforce the mandate? While most are not reckless, people who have frequented restaurants over the last 12 months generally didn’t recognize the importance and urgency of wearing a mask. If they were hanging out in restaurants, they clearly didn’t put much stock in donning a mask for the safety of others. And after all, even with the mask mandate in place, you still needed to take the mask off to eat and drink.

Beyond the Quixotic challenges of enforcing mask mandates and dining capacity restrictions, the restaurants still open are mostly just trying to survive. When you’ve poured your life’s savings and work into a restaurant and you’re barely getting by, what are you supposed to do when someone enters your business without a mask and proceeds to order a $200 bottle of wine?

Our family decided early on not to frequent restaurants (although we support restaurants by doing take-out orders at least a couple of times a week). But I have spent time in dining rooms on more than one occasion over the last year. No one at our house is going hungry and we have little to complain about, all things considered. But the scarcity of work has forced me to take every copywriting job I can get. And sometimes, those gigs require my physical presence, whether to sample the food or take a photo of a chef or restaurant interior.

The bottomline is that restaurants in Texas have done little to enforce or even observe the business mask mandate. Even those restaurateurs who recognize the wisdom of mask wearing and social distancing have had little choice but to accept the fact that guests often refuse to wear masks. Nearly every occasion that I have spent time in a restaurant, masks were overwhelmingly “optional.” And I’m only relating my experience in Houston, a major metropolitan area. When we’ve traveled outside of Houston to visit family, we’ve seen restaurants packed with maskless guests as if there were no pandemic at all.

I believe that Abbott’s decision to lift the mask requirement is as reckless as it is myopic. But that’s not going to change what’s been happening in Texas restaurants over the last 12 months.

Houston wine community mourns the loss of one of its own. Remembering Thomas Moësse.

The Houston wine community mourns the loss of one of its most beloved members this week, sommelier Thomas Moësse. He passed away earlier this month in New York City where he had been living for the last few years.

Thomas was a world traveler, polyglot, and a top wine wine professional, equally admired by his peers and his guests alike.

Born in the United Kingdom, Thomas moved to Houston as a teenager but spent his summers in the Loire Valley where his family had roots and where he first learned to love wine. After attending college in New York, he returned to Texas and began working in Houston restaurants. His wine appreciation ultimately led to multiple certifications as a professional sommelier and wine educator.

In 2018 he returned to New York and the following year he became the wine director at one of America’s most celebrated Italian restaurants, Felidia in Manhattan, where he oversaw one of the city’s best wine lists and led seminars and tastings for its who’s-who list of guests.

Before moving to the east coast, he was the wine director and one of the founders of Vinology, the popular wine bar and wine shop in city’s West University district. He was also the wine director at one of city’s temples of Italian gastronomy, Divino, a long-time favorite destination for food and wine lovers.

I knew Thomas well and had the wonderful opportunity to taste with him in Houston and in Italy on many occasions. He was one of the best tasters I’ve ever shared a bottle with. And his passion, devotion to his craft, and knowledge of wine were were world class — an inspiration for all around him, including me.

He was also a man full of joy for life, for great food and wine, for great music, and — most importantly — for his friends. He was always ready to lend a hand at tastings and events, always ready to speak on a panel or offer advice and share his insights and dining recommendations.

Sit tibi terra levis Thoma. You will be sorely missed by your friends and community here in Texas. Our small world of wine won’t be the same without you.

Click here to learn how you can support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

NEW SONG: “I Can’t Wait For The Eight Nights Of Hanukkah.” Happy Hanukkah, everyone!

Please consider giving to our GoFundMe to raise funds for the MLK Day 2021 parade in Orange, Texas where Tracie grew up and where we’ve been protesting a newly constructed neo-Confederate monument since 2017. Thank you for your support.

In a normal year, the Parzen Family usually hosts 2-3 blow-out parties a year, each with a kids music recital and parents jam session (sometimes lasting late into the evening).

Everyone — and I mean, EVERYONE — is invited and welcome and there’s always plenty of great wine, food, and music to share.

But over the last few years, our Hanukkah parties have become the pièce de résistance. That’s because of Tracie’s (now) famous latkes and jelly-filled donuts which she makes on the spot, sometimes for 50+ people!

We’re really bummed that we can’t have our holiday party this year. So instead we made this video with images from years past. The superb photos from last year’s party come by way of the amazing Annie Mulligan, our friend and fellow Parker parent.

Happy Hanukkah, everyone! Raise a glass to freedom!

I Can’t Wait For The Eight Nights Of Hanukkah

From the album It’s So Easy In America Tonight (November 2020)
available on the Terrible Kids Music label
Written, performed, and produced by
Parzen Family Singers at
Baby P Studios
Houston, Texas
Engineered by daddy.

Something’s happening soon
And I’m over the moon
And it’s going down tonight

You know it’s gonna be fun
Cause it’s the number one
It’s the Festival of lights

I can’t wait
For the eight
Nights of Hanukkah

Dreidel I will play
As you light
The menorah

Way back in history
Judas Maccabbee
set his people free

And then miraculously
The oil burned more than a week
It was so beautiful to see

I can’t wait
For the eight
Nights of Hanukkah

Dreidel I will play
As you light
Your menorah

Light the candles
Sing the songs
Say the prayers
All night long

Watch the candles glow

Please help us raise money for the MLK Day 2021 Parade in Orange, Texas.

Please donate to our GoFundMe here.

Above: the last MLK Day Parade was held in Orange, Texas in 2018.

Tracie and I have joined forces with our friend MaQuettia Ledet, founder of Impact Orange, to organize the 2021 Martin Luther King Day parade in Orange, Texas where Tracie grew up.

On MLK Day 2021 (January 18), at 10 a.m., marchers will walk from Solomon Johnson Park  to the steps of the Heritage House Museum in Orange.

All marchers will be asked to wear face masks and to social distance. At the end of the route, the marchers will be asked to disassemble. There will be no speeches or presentations at the end of the parade.

All necessary permissions have been obtained from the City of Orange and the Orange Mayor’s office. And the Orange Heritage House Museum has agreed to let marchers disassemble in front of the museum.

This fundraiser will pay for the special events insurance policy, which covers the marchers and the City of Orange. The insurance is the only element not yet in place.

The historic MLK Day Parade, a beloved Orange tradition, has not been held since 2018.

Repurpose Memorial and Impact Orange are pleased to revive this cherished event and to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thank you for your support. We hope you will be able to join us as we celebrate the life and work of Dr. King.

Please donate to our GoFundMe here.

“The time is always right to do right.”

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
From “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution”
June, 1965

Read the speech in its entirety here.

CHRISTMAS SONG 2020: “A Different Kind Of Christmas” by Parzen Family Singers

Happy holidays, everyone! Thanks for being here. The Parzen family hopes you and loved ones are all healthy and safe.

Please check out Parzen Family Singers’ new Christmas song “A Different Kind Of Christmas” (in the video above) featuring Georgia on vocals.

And please check out our 2020 album on Band Camp here and below.

Happy Thanksgiving! Wishing everyone a happy and healthy holiday season. Stay safe and know that you have friends in Houston.

Love, the Parzen Family

*****

It’s So Easy In America Tonight
Written, performed, recorded, and produced by the Parzen Family Singers at
Baby P Studios in Houston, Texas.
Engineered by daddy.
All Rights Reserved/Copyright Parzen Family Singers 2020
Available on Terrible Kids Records.

A Different Kind of Christmas

As Georgia says at the end of the track, “believe in the year.” This year’s Christmas is like no other before it.

It’s So Easy In America Tonight

Inspired by Van Jones’ observation on the evening that it became abundantly clear that Joe Biden would be the country’s next president: “It’s easier tonight to tell your kids that character matters…”

White Man’s Kinda Blues

About an 83-year-old aggrieved White man who hopes Democrats will die when Joe Biden takes office.

Where There’s Love

A love song written in the time of a global pandemic, racist violence, and economic catastrophe for too many Americans. It seemed their stars were crossed. But where there’s love, there’s nothing lost.

Have Mercy On Me

A covid-19 blues.

All They Need (Parzen Family TV Theme Song)

If the Parzen Family where an early 80s sitcom, this would be their theme song.

In the Corners of My Mind

A man looks into the deepest, darkest corners of his mind and is surprised by what he finds.