Monday, October 19, 2009

Down Memory Lane via Marlena Spieler

A couple of friends (and bloggers) and I are about to embark upon a project. We are going to make recipes from Jewish Marlena Spieler, and blog about it. Photos too! I was reading the author's acknowledgements in the back of the book and so googled her dad, Izzy Smith. I found this 2001 article in the SF Chronicle so decided to post it. For more info about Ms. Spieler, go to or check out her cookbooks on Amazon.
A perfect picnic for dad and Joe DiMaggio by
Marlena Spieler...

Wednesday, June 27, 2001.

When I was born, my arrival was announced on the radio - as part of the sports report.

It was a harbinger of things to come. I've never ever excelled in sports, but radio, on the other hand - now you're talking. Or rather, now I'm talking, and talking and talking, usually about cooking and eating and, well, having adventures.

However, my birth was big sports news because my dad, Izzy Smith, was a baseball player. He was famous in Sacramento, where I grew up, and while he never became a famous national hero, his buddy Joe DiMaggio did.

During World War II, they both played on the same team, based in Hawaii. I have a photo of them, the picture all grainy and black and white, my dad and Joe DiMaggio and a few other famous faces, all looking very, very young and handsome.

Those who asked Joe DiMaggio about Izzy Smith usually got the reply, "Yeah, Izzy. What a ball player! What a guy!"

We were always proud to have a dad known by everyone in town - Izzy Smith, what a ball player! In fact, he is in the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame. You can go there and visit.

Sadly, neither my brother nor I inherited his great talent. It must break my dad's heart, at least a little. As a child, I couldn't even hit the ball with the bat, let alone hit it in the right direction, nor could I run fast between the bases. As far as catching the ball in the outfield, I was terrified and covered my face or just ran out of the way.

I dreaded baseball season as much as my father looked forward to it. My Phys Ed excuses became a wonder of creativity, and if I couldn't get my mother to sign 'em, well, I just had to do the writing myself. And people wonder where I got such a well-developed medical vocabulary.

My brother played Little League, but I think he shared my idea that a ball heading - at an alarmingly high speed - right for your head was not a good thing. I vaguely remember him trading baseball cards, and he once caught a baseball at a Giants game that was later signed by Willie Mays.

Whenever I did get dragged to a game, I might not have followed the plays, but I did get caught up in the excitement. The sound of the organ playing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" gave me shivers, and the excitement of the players running onto the field was pretty heady.

And then the thrill of the hot dogs, wrapped in paper and carried in a steam hot box hung around the vendor's neck. "Dogs! Get your hot dogs right here!" I slathered mine with more mustard than any sane person would (I still do) and my dad always let us have sips of foamy beer from his cardboard cup, daringly illegal for my very law-abiding father.

Some people don't associate baseball with food, but I, of course, do, although it might be that I associate everything with food. I can tell you that Gordon Biersch serves up some fine brew at Pacific Bell Park, along with the garlic fries. And I can also wax lyrical about our baseball evening picnics.

On particularly hot Sacramento summer nights, my mother would pack up dinner or my dad would drive to a local stand and pick up fried or grilled chicken, or a bag of hamburgers from the local burger joint that served a deliciously gooey dressing of shredded lettuce, mustard and mayo. Sometimes we had barbecues. I may have never excelled at baseball, but I became very good at picnics and barbecues.

We lay on a blanket in the sweet cool grass after a long, hot dog-day of summer, then unpacked our goodies and ate dinner. By the time we were finished,

the ball game was about to begin.

Later in life, my brother, though he was never really good at baseball, surprised us all by playing basketball on the Unicef basketball team in Beijing. He played until his untimely death; basketball was just one of many things we didn't know about him, and it seems he played very well. I know my dad was as proud of him as if it had been baseball.

My dad's life still includes baseball. When spring comes around, he starts visiting the local games. In the evenings when it cools down, he stops off at the diamond, sizing up the Little League. He loves Pac Bell Park and the Giants, and supports the Sacramento Rivercats, too.

And he still can throw the ball around, hit it, run the bases - give him a call any time and I'm sure he will offer to take you to the park with his ball and bat. Especially if you bring the picnic.

My dad's tastes run to all-American food, much to my distress when I see an alluring exotic restaurant and we're on the way to a steak-and-salad joint. However, he has a secret gastronomical passion - raw garlic. If you can't find him elsewhere in the house, you can find him hanging around the garlic drawer, nibbling on a few raw cloves. Just like me.


Serve this with a plate of olives and a basket of raw vegetables: strips of red pepper, cucumber, fennel, wedges of ripe tomato, a handful of crisp tender blanched green beans. Adapted from Oded Schwartz' ''Fast and Fresh Mediterranean'' (Kyle Cathie Publishers).

4 ounces country-style bread, such as pain levain, crusts removed

6 to 8 garlic cloves, peeled

Juice of 1 lemon, or to taste

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt, to taste

Place the bread in a shallow bowl and cover with water. Set aside for about 5 minutes, or until the bread is completely moistened. Squeeze dry, then transfer to a food processor.

Add the garlic and process until incorporated.

Add the lemon juice and process until very smooth.

Slowly add the olive oil, starting with a few drops at a time, proceeding gradually to a thin, slow, steady stream as if you were making mayonnaise.

Season with salt, give it another whirl to emulsify, then cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

This keeps well for up to 1 week in the refrigerator.

Yields about 2 cups.

PER TABLESPOON: 75 calories, 0 protein, 2 g carbohydrate, 7 g fat (1 g saturated), 0 cholesterol, 22 mg sodium, 0 fiber.



2 pounds chicken wings, each cut in half

6 to 8 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 to 2 tablespoons anise-flavored liqueur, such as Pernod (optional)

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cumin

Large pinch of ground cinnamon

3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Shredded lettuce or other greens, for garnish

Lemon wedges, for garnish

Combine the wings with the garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper, optional liqueur, the cumin, cinnamon and olive oil.

Mix well, until the chicken wings are coated with the marinade.

Let marinate at room temperature for about 1 hour.

Better still, tightly cover the container and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Prepare a fire in a barbecue grill.

Grill the chicken wings over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, turning them from time to time, until they are cooked through, crisp and lightly browned/charred in spots.

Serve hot, on a little bed of shredded lettuce, or tender watercress, or any little green.

Serve with lemon wedges alongside.

Serves 4.

PER SERVING: 390 calories, 23 g protein, 4 g carbohydrate, 30 g fat (7 g saturated), 94 mg cholesterol, 91 mg sodium, 0 fiber.



4 garlic cloves, chopped

6 tablespoons softened butter, preferably unsalted

Juice of 1/2 lime

1/4 teaspoon chili powder, or to taste

Several large pinches of ground cumin

Salt and cayenne pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro

1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 ears of fresh sweet corn, husks pulled back away from kernels

Mix the garlic with the butter, lime juice, chili powder, cumin, salt, cayenne and cilantro.

Grill the corn, turning, until the ears are lightly charred.

You don't want them to overcook, just slightly scorch, which brings out the corn character.

While the corn is cooking, brush with a little olive oil if the kernels seem either dry or in danger of sticking.

Remove the corn from the grill and slather with the garlic-chile butter.

Serves 4.

PER SERVING: 270 calories, 3 g protein, 18 g carbohydrate, 22 g fat (11 g saturated), 47 mg cholesterol, 18 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.

Marlena Spieler, a food writer who divides her time between the Bay Area and London, is the author of more than 30 cookbooks and is a regular contributor to BBC Radio. You can e-mail her at

This article appeared on page WB - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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1 comment:

Melly/Melody/or Mel said...

MY step dad, Jack Troseth, played for the Indians and I'll bet he played against Izzy. I'll ask him! They went all over the country. He played with Billy Martin..long before he was The Yankees coach.