Christmas Songs: “Why Can’t It Be Christmas Every Day Of The Year?” by Lila Jane and Georgia

“Christmas Songs” week continues today with the Parzen Family Singers holiday ditty from last year, “Why Can’t It Be Christmas Every Day Of The Year?” sung by Lila Jane and Georgia.

That’s a photo of the sisters, below, from earlier this year when the weather was still warm enough for them to perform their “pandemic flash mob” concerts on the street outside our house.

They go to a music magnet elementary school. Across our neighborhood, at the same time each week, kids from their music program would set up and play songs from their Suzuki Method books for neighbors. It was a program organized by Lila Jane’s awesome cello teacher, who’s also our good friend.

The health crisis has been so tough on kids, our own girls included. But music has been such a great balm for them: They both take piano lessons, Georgia plays violin and guitar, and Lila Jane plays cello. And on many weekends, we jam together, write songs, and I teach them about the recording arts (something I enjoy immensely).

All the photos in the video above are from last year. It was wonderful to revisit them and to remember what life was like at our house before the pandemic. It’s still going to take a while but it will be like that again…

I hope that their song and video can bring a little bit of sunshine into your lives today. Thanks for listening. And Merry Christmas from the Parzen Family!

Christmas Songs: “(General, Please) Keep My Baby Safe This Christmas Eve”

“Christmas Songs” week continues on the blog today with a Christmas song I wrote together with my Nous Non Plus bandmates in 2011. At the time, Tracie and I were still living in Austin where we wrote, performed, and produced our album “Freudian Slip” (a track from that record recently appeared in “Emily in Paris”).

Austin music legend David Garza helped us produce the album and played on nearly all of the tracks. Another Austin great, Kyle Thompson, played drums.

The song was inspired by a Southern Californian blogger who called herself “Marines Girl.” Tracie and I followed her as she wrote about what it was like to be married to someone who was stationed overseas.

My loyal and ever-ready bandmates, always ready to embrace my crazy ideas, lovingly helped me flesh out my original idea for the song. It’s one of the few English-language tracks we ever recorded and David plays an amazing guitar solo on it.

I’ll never forget the moment we played it for our record company: They were like, “you wrote a sad Christmas song?” Needless to say, they refused to release it.

But it’s one of my all-time favorites from our catalog and I loved writing, performing, and recording it.

Those are lead singers Céline and Jean-Luc with David in the photo below (at EAR studio where we did most of the live tracking).

Here’s a short clip of us rehearsing with David and Kyle in our living room in Austin. Most of the band was stayed with us while we were making the album and we did some of the tracking in my home studio. It was one of those really great times in our lives. Tracie and I were still newlyweds and we were just beginning to try to start a family…

And here are some random images from Nous Non Plus over the years.

I sure miss those times but it’s also wonderful to listen to these songs. It’s like each one captures a moment, a memory, and a feeling that could have only happened at that particular place and time.

Thanks for letting me share it with you here. And I hope you like the track. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Christmas Songs: “Nothing Good Rhymes with Santa Klaus”

From the department of “you can talk about your Donald Trumps and Rush Limbaughs”…

Like every songwriter who happens to be a nice Jewish boy from a nice Jewish family (read: my mother’s other sons are both lawyers), it’s always been a lifelong dream of mine to write a great Christmas song.

In keeping with the holiday spirit this year (and with the knowledge that so many of you are stuck at home chained to a computer screen and thus might be more open to some hokey Christmas jingle divertissement than in a normal year), today I’m sharing one of my favorite roasted chestnuts, “Nothing Good Rhymes with Santa Klaus,” a song I wrote, performed, and recorded with our friend and writer extraordinaire Gwendolyn Knapp in Houston in 2018.

December 2018, you ask? It feels like a lifetime since we wrote the lines:

I read the Sunday Papers about the world’s faux pas
You can talk about your Donald Trumps and your Rush Limbaughs
When you’re eating at your drunk in-laws
Talkin’ ’bout the war on Santa Klaus

Please note that the plural of faux pas is pronounced foe paws.

That’s me and Gwendolyn, below, playing a gig as The Go Aways (iTunes link for our one album released) in the time before the time of the pandemic and what a good time it was.

Thanks for being here, thanks for listening (and for helping to make my childhood dream come true), and most importantly, MERRY CHRISTMAS YA’LL!

More good Christmas music (well, I guess “good” is a relative term) is on its way!

Please help us raise just $150 for MLK parade 2021 in Orange, Texas.

Please donate to our GoFundMe here. Just $150 to go until we reach our goal! Thank you for your support!

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.
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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

Another great new wine bar in the midwest.

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.

Giving a heartfelt shout-out today to Sunday Vinyl, the new Denver wine bar by the Boulder-based Frasca restaurant group.

I had the opportunity to visit early this year before the pandemic lockdowns while on a business/fun road trip with Paolo Cantele, one of my best friends.

That’s the venue’s signature turntable, above. Pretty friggin’ cool, right?

The folks at the Frasca group just know how to do it right.

That’s the lobster pasta, above, at their (newish) Tavernetta restaurant, adjacent to the wine bar.
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The best wine bar I visited this year was in Tulsa.

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!

Normally at this time of year, I’d be leafing through my photographs and notes from the last 12 months and picking out favorite shots from my top visits, tastings, and meals.

As far as 2020 is concerned, the pickings are slim but not without some wonderful memories.

In late February, Paolo Cantele, one of my best friends in the business, and I made our last road trip for the entire year to promote his family’s wines. We started in Houston with a great event at Vinology. Next was Dallas with a sold-out dinner at the legendary Jimmy’s. And since we were on our way to Boulder for another packed wine tasting at Boulder Wine Merchant, we decided that we should try to organize an event in Tulsa, a city where I’d never been but where, I had heard, there was (and is) a vibrant progressive wine scene.

After researching possible venues, I cold-called Matt Sanders (above) owner of the fantastic Tulsa wine destination Vintage Wine Bar.

After a roughly 10-minute conversation, he agreed that he would let us host a tasting of Paolo’s wines there.

There’s not really anything so remarkable about that other than the fact that Matt, such a gracious and massively talented wine professional, took a chance on a couple of complete strangers.

Paolo and I ended up hanging out all night after our event (no surprise there), drinking mostly high-end California Chardonnay (one of Paolo and me’s shared loves).

The offerings at Vintage Wine Bar would have been right at home in Oakland or Brooklyn. And meeting and interacting with Matt reminded us of how wine and the global wine community never fail to bring us together — even when on a first date with a new city. We had such a blast that night.

Matt, if you’re reading this, please take it for what it’s worth: a love letter to one of my favorite wine bars in the country and one of the coolest wine people I’ve met in a long time.

I know Matt and co. are doing well thanks to their Instagram. And I can’t wait to get back there when Paolo and I make our next trip. It’s one of the first things he and I are planning to do once we can connect in person again.

Earlier in the day, Paolo and stopped to eat chicken fried steak at Marilyn’s in McAlester, Oklahoma.

It was everything we dreamed it would be: a cozy, homey all-American dinner serving biscuits and gravy at all hours of the day.

We even got trolled by a very large and farty Trump supporter who took us for a gay couple (Paolo’s leather may have been the trigger). It was right around the time that Rush Limbaugh was huffing and puffing about Pete Buttigieg being gay. So I can understand our fellow diner’s concern.

The lady behind the counter (below) seemed to feel bad about it. And she even gave me an ice tea (unsweetened) to go.

Man, I love America. And I miss it even more.

Thanks for being here and be sure to check out Matt Sanders’ super wine program in Tulsa! I can’t wait to make it back!

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.

Lini Lambrusco featured in Food & Wine. Congrats to some of the best people in the biz.

Above: winemaker Fabio Lini, one of the greatest sparkling winemakers I know, pours the wine, center. And that’s Alicia Lini, his daughter and my cherished friend on the right.

In January 2007, my then employer sent one of my colleagues and me to Italy as a bonus for a successful year in the New York City food and wine scene. I was working for an Italian restaurant and importing group at the time. And while my boss gave us a budget and simply told us to have a great time, I was determined to source a classic method Lambrusco for the company.

Nice work if you can get it… My colleague Jim and I ate at all the great restaurants in Emilia that were on our list. And at each meal, we asked what the owner’s favorite classic method Lambrusco was. The name that kept coming up, over and over again, was Lini.

(At the time, nearly all Lambrusco was produced using the tank method, whereby both fermentations were carried out in a stainless steel tank, the first not pressurized, the second pressurized. Classic method or “bottle fermented” Lambrusco is made using a technique lifted from Champagne whereby the second fermentation is carried out in bottle and the wines are disgorged before the final bottling.)

In April of that year, our boss tasted the wines with us at Vinitaly and it was decided: we would import Lini and make the wines the centerpiece of our fall campaign at the restaurants, including a swanky new downtown location we were opening.

It was my first “up at bat” as a wine trade marketing specialist. And it was Alicia’s as well. By the end of the year, we had landed coverage in the Times, Men’s Vogue, Food & Wine, and on WNYC. By the end of the season, Lini had been christened the sparkling toast of the town — literally as well as figuratively!

It was also the beginning of my deep bond and cherished friendship with Alicia and her family.

The events of that year indelibly shaped both of our lives as professionals. For Alicia, they showed how her family’s soulful wines could reach the greatest heights. And to me they gave the blueprint for a career in wine and food marketing.

I couldn’t be more thrilled to see Alicia, her family, and her family’s wines featured in the December 2020 issue of Food & Wine. Ray Isle, executive wine editor for the masthead, visited the Lini family last December for their Saint Lucy’s Day celebration. His wonderful dispatch includes the Lini family’s personal recipes for their traditional Christmas meal.

I wish I could share the entire article with you here but I can’t, of course. I do encourage you to check it out. It’s worth the price of admission and more.

Warmest congratulations to Alicia and her family! They are some of the nicest people in the wine trade and I love how Ray captured the joy they put into their wines and everything they do.

Dulcis in fundo: Alicia will be joining us on Thursday, December 17 for my final virtual wine dinner of the year here in Houston at Roma restaurant, my client, where I’ve been hosting the events every week since the late spring.

Just let me know if you’d like me to save you a spot for an evening of bubbles and great food.

On wine and good health in the pandemic circa 1348 (my Georgetown Humanities Initiative lecture).

Above: Sandro Botticelli’s “Banquet in the Pine Forest” (1482-83), the third painting in his series “The Story of Nastagio degli Onesti,” a depiction of the eight novella of the fifth day in Boccaccio’s Decameron (image via Wikipedia Creative Commons).

When esteemed wine educator Karen MacNeil upbraided me last year for writing about a wine and its effect on my metabolism, it only reminded me of what a soulless wine writer she is. And her pungent words came to mind this week when I delivered a virtual lecture on wine as an expression of Western culture for the Georgetown University Humanities Initiative.

One of the topics covered in my talk was wine as portrayed in Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron. For those unfamiliar with the work (one of the pillars of the Western canon), the backdrop of the 100 tales told by the young Florentine nobles is the Black Death (Plague) of the mid-14th century. The pandemic reached his city around 1348.

In the introduction to the collection of novellas, Boccaccio describes wine consumption habits of Florentine citizens during the health crisis, their excesses and their moderation, and the role that wine plays in achieving good health.

In the work’s afterword, he returns to the subject of wine and moderate consumption.

“Like everything else,” he writes, “these stories, such as they are, may be harmful or helpful, depending on the listener.”

    Who does not know that wine is a very fine thing for the healthy… but that is harmful for people suffering from a fever? Shall we say it is bad because it does harm to those who are feverish? Who does not know that fire is extremely useful, in fact downright necessary for [hu]mankind? Shall we say it is bad because it burns down houses and villages and cities?

(The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, translated by Wayne A. Rebhorn, Norton, New York, 2013.)

As evidenced in the passage above, Boccaccio and his contemporaries believed that wine, like fire, was “downright necessary” for humankind.

In Medieval Europe, wine was prized for its ability to balance the “hot” and “cold” of foods and dishes. “Hot” wines were ideally served with “cold” foods and inversely, “cold” wines were best paired with “hot” dishes. These were not gradations of temperature, spiciness, or alcohol content, but rather indicators of humoral composition.

The humors of the drinker, and the place and time of consumption, also came into play.

“Once the nature of a given wine was determined,” writes Medieval scholar Allen J. Grieco, “it still remained necessary for a consumer to respect at least four other conditions.”

    First of all it was necessary to know the humoral constitution of the persons who was going to drink the wine. Secondly, it was important to determine what food was going to be eaten with it. Thirdly, it was necessary to take into account the time of the year in which the wine was to be drunk and finally, it was also important to consider the geographical location in which the wine was to be consumed.

(“Medieval and Renaissance Wines: Taste, Dietary Theory, and How to Choose the ‘Right’ Wine [14th-16th centuries],” by Allen J. Grieco, Mediaevalia, vol. 30, 2009, The Center of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Binghamton University, The State University of New York.)

Boccaccio’s belief that wine was necessary for humankind is widely reflected in the 15-century treatise “On Right Pleasure and Good Health” by Renaissance writer Bartolomeo Sacchi “Il Platina” (see Platina. On Right Pleasure and Good Health, a critical edition and translation of De honesta voluptate et valetudine by Mary Ella Milham, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, Tempe, 1998).

Pairing the right wine with the right food (and at the right time and in the right place) was one of the keys, he writes throughout the work, to good metabolism and healthy living — echoes of Boccaccio.

Today, wine scribblers like MacNeil embrace only aesthetic, hedonistic, and commercial values in their reviews and “educational” materials. Nearly universally, they fall short of embracing the human and humanistic currency of wine. They ask only how is this wine made?, how does this wine taste? and what’s its commercial value? without ever addressing the role that wine may play in metabolism and more generally in achieving balanced, good health. They write of lifestyle while ignoring life and living itself.

I can’t imagine a more soulless wine culture. With so many wonderful examples of wine writing over the ages where wine is viewed as vital to human experience, it’s a wonder that the current generation of wine mediators have failed us so grossly.

Maybe if MacNeil and her followers would drink a more human wine, they wouldn’t have such a prickly stick up their arses.