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We might not have pizza every Friday night, but we almost always have take out.  It's the cook's night off!

Tonight we ordered Thai food and thought this drink would compliment it well.  We first discovered "Liquid Trouble" at a restaurant somewhere in NJ (can't remember) while celebrating my husband's 40th (we rented a limo to drive us and our pals and is probably why I can't remember the restaurant...just the drink!)  It's basically an alcoholic Arnold Palmer.  We've hear folk's appropriately call this drink a John Daly...very much an alcoholic golfer version of Arnold Palmer.  It's a great summer drink, easy to make, cool and refreshing and a no brainer.

All you need is some form of iced tea flavored vodka (Firefly is pictured...notice the now empty bottle), lemonade and iced tea.  We prefer to buy the cheapest iced tea and lemonade possible or even better a premixed iced tea lemonade combo...also super cheap.  I fill a glass with ice, pour in the vodka about 1/3 of the way up. Follow with 1/3 lemonade and 1/3 tea.  Stir and to be fancy add a wedge of lemon.  Add more vodka as you see fit.  Surprisingly these drinks do not sneak up on me even though they go down really easy.  Again you will notice I am trying desperately to hold on to summer!

Cheers!  XO Martha

Click HERE to link to more great cocktail recipes!

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As kids, whenever we were reluctant to do something, or in particular eat something new, my ever teasing father would say, "C'mon try it!  It'll put hair on your chest!"  Eventually we figured out that this was one of my father's favorite sayings, but I do remember a period of time when I was afraid of having my skinny, flat and pale torso look anything like my father's rather hairy chest.  My father's cajoling naturally applied to vegetables and for my brother Jimmy meatloaf.  (He detested meatloaf.)

My mother worked with a "bribe" system that she would surely have called a "reward" system.  She didn't make dessert every night.  More like once or twice a week.  But if we were having meatloaf or something else we didn't care for she'd bake a chocolate cake....my brother's kryptonite!  We had to eat X number of bites to earn dessert.  It did kind of work....but some of the errors in that plan are a story for another day.

Now that I'm the mom, I understand the battle to get the right kind of food into my kids.  For the most part I am lucky.  My kids are good eaters and usually quite adventurous eaters.  But my kids are average American kids so my real battle is to keep them from becoming lazy eaters.  You know, the people who grab the first thing they see because it's easy, or fast, or because they can use a party or special occasion to excuse their poor choices.  I'm pretty sure this is a very sore subject with a lot of people!  

One of the biggest things I've learned as a mom is that "choosing your battles" is a very real and serious thing.  Almost every day I have to pick my priorities with the kids.  My son has some learning differences that often make behavior, homework and general following directions rough...that also means battling over food is low on the list.  

I remember one of the bigger fights in our house was over eating the crusts on the bread of our sandwiches.  Looking back, I can't for the life of me figure out why it was such a battle for us to eat the crusts on our bread.  The crust is no more nutritious than the inside....not that the wonder bread we ate most of the time had any nutritious value.  Was my mom just tired of taking the time to cut it off?  Did she think it was wasteful? Was she just messing with us?  I wish she was alive so I could find out the reasoning be hind it!  I'm also wondering if this was just her way of wearing us down everyday.  What I do know is the battle over crust on our sandwiches is not something I'm going to sweat.  The kids usually eat the crusts, but for some odd reason not on peanut butter sandwiches.  I have a great kitchen gadget, "a biscuit cutter" like a cookie cutter, but bigger around and with a nice high handle (for good leverage).  I almost never use it to cut biscuits, but I use it all the time to quickly chop herbs, or to cut the crust off the sandwich.   Is it worth me worrying or fighting over? No.  Is it a little wasteful? Yes, but I usually eat the crusts...it'll put hair on my chest.

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Not the clearest pic of my dad's hairy chest, but I love it. It's 1976 on Fort Lauderdale beach, where my dad grew up. I also love beach pics because my dad isn't wearing his ever present glasses....that were very "Clark Kent" 70's....which makes other photos look very dated! Plus you can see how much my son Joe looks like my dad sans glasses!
 
 
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Both my husband and my son get the Sunday blues.  It must be genetic.  They spend the whole day worrying about the next day being Monday...and miss the day I like see as a "free space."  I have always loved Sundays, maybe because I was born on a Sunday or maybe I just come at it from a different angle.  Sunday is not the dregs of the weekend, it's the first day of the week...a new beginning.  I grew up going to church most every Sunday and I still do.  I love it.  I am so thankful that I have faith, a hard core belief system, and I'm sad for the many friends of mine who are missing out.  At several times in my youth going to church was a chore, but somewhere along the line my mother's mantra of "Going to church is not what we do....it is who we are!" sunk in.  It is who I am, I am part of the church, and now a days going on Sunday morning is the way I start my week.  It's like pushing my re-set button.

Sundays are also important because my family always has dinner together.  This is a bit of a novelty in a household where Daddy rarely makes it home for dinner on weekdays.  Often we widen the circle and go to my in-laws or they come to us.  It's a real bonding time and one where we catch up and prepare for the week ahead.

This Sunday was not ideal.  Clue number one: I't's Tuesday and I'm blogging about Sunday. At 10 AM Sunday morning I was not in church, I was at a Jewish funeral home attending a service for a 26 year old named Jessica.  She had been one of my campers back in my college years working summers as a camp counselor.  I was not close to her but followed her life via her step-mother who happens to be one of my mother-in-laws good friends.  Usually you go to funerals to support the family, acknowledge the loss and celebrate the life.  I really went for the family, but left feeling truly uplifted and inspired.  Jessica was born weighing 1 1/2 pounds and not expected to live more than a week.  Her lungs were a constant source of illness and worry, underdeveloped, weak, and by the end of her high school career she needed a lung transplant.  She received a second lung transplant about 4 years ago, but a few weeks ago her body started to reject the "new" lungs, she became very ill and mixed with her other health issues her body just couldn't recover.  Jessica was an amazing artist who's niche was etching pet portraits and anything in nature.  But she also became a staunch advocate for organ donations.  She was part of a group that legislated and changed how organ donation works in NJ.  (Before you had to check and sign that you would donate your organs on your driver's license registration, now you have to check and sign to opt out of donating.) I was really glad I went as it was a real celebration of her life and I felt privileged that I'd had a chance to know her.  

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My day was already off kilter.  Trying to get it back on track I thought some Jewish comfort food was in order.  Growing up in South Orange, NJ, I had a lot of Jewish friends.  Most of my Jewish friend's mother's were more "order out" gals as opposed to the home cooked meal type, so I didn't really learn any tricks from them!  But just growing up where I did exposed me to: knishes on street carts; lox and cream cheese at every deli; matzah brei; and every self respecting diner in NJ has matzah ball soup on their menu.  Soup is always comforting.  It's warm, you can't gulp it down too fast, so it's a kind of relaxing, and it's filling.  Matzah ball soup also happens to be the only kind of soup my daughter will eat.  I guess it was my shot at a little chicken soup for the soul...and for the most part I think it worked.
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when you first drop the balls in they look puny...don't worry they puff up!
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Here's how I make my Matzah Ball Soup...be forewarned this is not fancy and I take a lot of short cuts!

1 box of matzah ball mix (usually comes with two packages to a box, make both)
3 boxes of organic chicken stock (one of the best inventions ever....or use your own stock.)
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
3 leeks sliced thin
3 carrots chopped up
3 stalks of celery chopped up
1/2 an onion
1 Tablespoon of parsley, fresh or dried
Salt and Pepper

First I follow the directions on the matzah ball box (add eggs oil, water, stir) and mix the matzah meal.  Then put it in the fridge to set up and chill while I start the soup.

Next I put the oil in the bottom of a big soup pot.  While it heats up I start chopping the veggies and toss them into the pot as I go.  Once the veggies are nice and tender (about 7 minutes) add the chicken stock.


While the soup is coming to a boil, get out the chilled matzah meal, wash your hands in cold water and start forming balls.  (Kids are a great help with this.)  I like to make my balls about the size of large walnut.  They "grow" or puff up when they hit the boiling soup, so make sure you don't make 'em too big.  

Drop the balls into the boiling soup, reduce heat, add seasonings, and cover with a tight lid.  Cook for 20 minutes......serve hot!

 
 
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When I was 10 my family began vacationing on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  We went with my mom's sister and her family and I haven't missed a summer in "OBX" since 1980 (there I go revealing my age again).   My family was "girl, boy, boy" (me, then my two younger brothers) and my cousins were the same pattern just 10 years younger than us.  There was a 15 year range of ages amongst us kids and it was always a lively household especially with various friends of ours joining us at times.  It was always a wonderful two weeks of communal living with a heavy dose of sun, surf, eating and drinking.  At the time I didn't realize what a fabulous model my parents, aunt and uncle were setting for my vacations as a parent.

In high school my boyfriend and future husband, Jed started joining us in NC.  In college my roommate, Mara and eventually her boyfriend/husband, Walt, also started coming along.  A few years after we "grew up" and got married we decided we should stop glomming off my parents, hijacking their vacation and start renting a place where we could invite them to join us!

Now we (Me, Jed, Mara and Walt) are the parents.  Our time in OBX is the two weeks when the kids have 4 parents, mostly to their delight...and only sometimes to their dismay. We all savor our time and enjoy our yearly traditions and the relaxed schedule of beach living.

Margarita's are always on our cocktail menu.  We even bring our margarita maker with us to insure the best quality Jim Doyle Margarita possible. But it seems like we almost always have a cocktail of the year and this recipe was "THE DRINK" of 2011.  Every year the 4 grown ups go out to dinner sans children at the Blue Point Grill in Duck, NC.  Luckily this year we went the second day we arrived and ordered these amazing cocktails that they called "Southern Boys." They didn't actually give us the recipe, we just played around and figured it out and best of all the children (naturally-such talented young bartenders) all know how to make them.  In fact my daughter's Southern Boys always taste better than mine!

Tonight, I made some Southern Boys so I could have a picture to accompany the recipe.  It's a damp rainy September night and they're helping bring back a taste of summer...well, that and we'll be watching the latest train wreck installment of Jersey Shore that we have on the dvr!

Cheers and enjoy...

The Southern Boy

7 mint leaves
simple syrup
lime wedges
Maker's Mark bourbon
ginger ale
ice

Tear up the mint leaves and put them in the bottom of a tall glass.  Add 1-2 table spoons full of simple syrup (depending on how sweet you like things) and muddle the mint (you can use a wooden spoon if you don't won a muddler).  Add about 1-2 ounces (or a jigger) of Maker's Mark.  Fill glass with ice, fill with ginger ale. Squeeze a wedge of lime into the glass and drop it in. Stir once and enjoy!

Click HERE to link to more great Cocktail ideas and recipes!

 
 
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If you've been following my daily entries you've probably figured out a few things about me. #1 I try not to take anything too seriously...including myself.  Life's not worth living, if you can't laugh! #2 I like to drink and I'm not ashamed to admit it.  #3 A lot of my food brings up memories and makes for a (hopefully) good story.  

One thing you probably don't know is I'm a little crazy about meat.  I'm not as picky about organic stuff when it comes to flour, or lettuce...but meat I like to be organic or very high quality.  I also have to deal with suppling a decent amount of it to my son.  He is a real carnivore and refused baby food at 8 months old, opting to steal filet mignon from our forks.  Now at age 10 he is an adventurous eater, but still a real fan of meat, poultry, fish... he is protein boy!  (Perhaps this could help explain why he is 5'2"? His current favorite food is elk meat....that's a story for another day!) This striving to feed my family the best meat products does back fire a bit as my kids love a cheap hot dog or a hunk of pepperoni...but I do what I can.

Last night time was tight in the afternoon, but I luckily had enough time to pick up something for dinner and prep it...I needed a "plan ahead/stick it in the oven and come back an hour later" kind of a meal.  I knew just the thing when I saw organic chicken legs and thighs on sale!  Usually legs are cheaper....not always true with organic meat, but I lucked out with a sale!  A few years back I was good friends with an amazing gal, Ilona Pfeffer, who also happened to be a chef!  She has since moved back to her native home of Israel and sadly we've lost touch but her easy, creative and delicious meals are still sticking with me.  This dish was her creation and a QUICK FIX favorite that's good in the oven or on the grill!

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I poured the chick out of the zip lock bag and into a roasting pan.
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An hour later the chicken is perfecto!
             Roasted Cranberry Balsamic Chicken Legs
                                         Oven 350



1 can cranberry sauce
1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar dressing 
                   (I used up what was in my fridge)
2 packages of chicken drumsticks, thighs or whole legs, 
    skin removed.


After washing the chicken (I'm a little nusto, I wash all of my meat) and removing the skin (you can leave it, if you dig that) put it in a large zip lock baggie with the can of cranberry sauce and dressing.  Zip it shut and toss it to coat and stick it in the fridge.  Sometimes I leave it overnight to really get the flavor to set in but a few hours will do.

When you're ready to cook, pour the contents of the bag into a roasting dish or a pyrex pan and arrange the pieces so none of them overlap.  You can also spoon berries onto the pieces.  Cook in 350 oven for an hour.

I like to stick baked potatoes in the oven too.  With the lower temp it takes the potatoes an hour to cook through.  The lower oven temp also helps set in the flavors of the marinade in the chicken.  

Note: you can make this with breasts, but the dark meat pieces are really great with this marinade!

Click HERE for more Feast - Dinners for the family and friends


 
 
I think everyone must have "leftover night" where you try to re-heat and consume all the half empty tupperware containers encapsulating dinners past.  Our neighbors (who were big take out/restaurant diners) called their leftover night, "Doggie Bag Dinner." We called it "Eat Up the Refrigerator Night" because that was my mother's goal...to make room in the fridge for grocery shopping the next day. Sometimes we grumbled, but mostly we liked that it was a like a big untidy smorgasbord spread across the counter and filled with options!  You see, until we were older, there was never a choice given for dinner.  Mom made it and we ate it!  But, Leftovers=Options, Choice and Control!
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Yesterday was typical, going all day long, dropping kids at school, meeting my Tuesday tennis group at 9, then volunteering at my church's consignment shop until 2.  I had just enough time to swoon over my email from Susan Branch and cook dinner before back to school night...for both kids! Time to make something fast...and eat up some veggies that would soon be headed for the garbage if we didn't get to 'em.  Did I mention I'm out of propane, so a fast grilled dinner was out...phooey!

I made "Veggie Jumble" with leftover shredded grilled chicken breast and linguini.  It's EASY and I feel like as long as I have an onion and some mushrooms, the rest of the veggies I add don't really matter...it's whatever is on hand.  I make "Veggie Jumble" about 2-3 times a week.  I like to eat it on salad (that way you almost don't even need dressing and I like the way it wilts the lettuce) or on top of meat or pasta or just as a side dish.  You can do it on a cook top....or wrapped in tin foil on the grill.  Last night I added the cold cooked chicken when the veggies were almost done and then covered the pan with a lid while I drained the linguini.

Veggie Jumble (recipe also found under Delicious and Healthy)

1 chopped onion
1-2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 red pepper sliced
1 zucchini sliced
1 eggplant sliced (with or without skin...I prefer less skin)
1 T olive oil
Spices to taste

Coat a large skillet with the oil and set it over a medium flame.  I like to add the onions first, give them a head start, then add mushrooms and other veggies depending on how I like them (if I include carrots or celery I start them with the onions).  I usually add zucchini and eggplant after the rest have cooked down or else they get too mushy.  I cover the skillet with a lid and stir it occasionally.  If I'm adding "leftover meat"  I add it the last 5 minutes...just to reheat it.  It usually takes 15-20 minutes.  I find that onions and mushrooms are necessary for the saucy liquid it renders.

Last night I served it over linguini and put parmesan cheese on top.  Yummy!

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In process....
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The finished product!
 
 
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I love all things Susan Branch.  If you click the little button on the left it will take you to her amazing blog...and into her world.  But before you do, you should know who she is....what you DON'T KNOW?  You need ME to fill you in? Gladly!  I was introduced to Susan Branch and her amazing work in 1993 when I received her cookbook, Vineyard Seasons, as a wedding gift from a family that I used to babysit, and craft and cook with.  I fell in love!  Susan Branch hand writes and draws and paints every inch of her books...including the isbn number and copyright stuff at the beginning.  The books are incredible and you feel like it was made just for you...and you feel like she's one of your friends, not just another cook book guru or catty craft lady!  Her books and other charming merchandise are among my favorite things to give as gifts. Don't believe me...check out her book, Girlfriends...amazing.

I decided to check out her blog...since she is a HUGE roll model in life let alone on the internet!  It is of course the most charming and homey place on the web.  I wanted to be sure it was cool with her that I write about her wonderful cookbooks for our "Brilliant Cookbooks" section and also wanted to see if I could link her site from my references.  I figured her staff would send me back a reply or maybe an auto response and...OMG!  She wrote me back...she likes my nick-name AND she read my page AND she left a comment (go right now and read it!) THE Susan Branch commented on my page....WOWIE-KAZOWIE!  

Check out more about her great cookbooks in our "Brilliant Cookbooks" section!

XO Martha/Eebie....maybe I should change to Susan/Eebie?

 
 
Look at the picture of my baking pantry.  It's a mess, it needs an over haul, it needs me to stop buying pancake and waffle mixes that my children beg for in the store.  But cleaning cupboards is not on the to do list this week, with back to school nights, dentist appointments, field hockey games, etc.  So, what does yours look like. If it's neat and perfectly categorized we might not be able to be friends. Cupboards and pantry's have doors on them for a reason! So, I'll close it up...hope the kids that are over for playdates don't find out my messy pantry secret and you'll have to keep the secret too!


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Why or how we came to love cooking is the topic this week.  I had to think about this one.  I didn't have a big Paul on the road to Damascus conversion.  For me cooking was always a part of being taken care of by my mother, so it never occurred to me that I shouldn't like it.  Cooking is also associated in every celebratory event from deck parties to weddings, and you know how I love a party.  So liking food was always just there.  

By age 10 I wanted to be able to cook or to prepare meals and desserts on my own.  In part because I love to try and figure things out AND I also knew it was a way I could help my mother out AND (best of all) it's product could be enjoyed and admired by many!  

So I started small, with the usual scrambled eggs, grilled cheese, pasta.  It went well, but I soon discovered that the real reward (and compliments) came with desserts!  I went through a huge kick where I made pudding.  Thinking more about that it must be in my genes because my daughter went through a flan phase at age 10...gosh did we eat a lot of flan in the Zobitz household in 2008.  I even took cake decorating classes for most of my middle school years.  You should have seen my fancy Wilton cake decorating case.  So I learned how to make cakes look as good as they tasted!  My mom was a good cook and decent baker, but she was happy to give me the full time job of "pastry chef" in our household.

By high school I was baking cookies weekly for Jed and I was the official pie maker (and still am) for Thanksgiving.  College was a great time of experimentation in my own kitchen, as well as several of Jed's apartment kitchens...many of which were ill equipped.  Then I "grew up" and made those fantastic ramen noodles during our lean post college years.

I think most people like to cook because they like to eat.  Here's where I differ.  My first priority in cooking is to show how much I care.  Feeding people is basic nurturing 101, you are literally caring for their health and feeding their body...and hopefully their soul.  I made birthday cakes for my family celebrations as presents...because the time and love put in really was a gift.  I baked for Jed away at college so he'd know I'd spent the time thinking about him. I cooked for my dad when my mom was away visiting her parents so he wouldn't be lonely and to show him how grown up I really was.  I bring friends dinners when they need a lift.  It's purposeful on many levels, and as a "Martha" I'm always full of purpose.

I think the intent of cooking as caring was always there but it wasn't until I was on the receiving end that it hit home.  When I was 26 both of my parents got sick.  My mom had uterine cancer and my dad had a cancerous polyp in his colon.   The weeks after my mother's hysterectomy our friends and neighbors were incredible.  We had full hot dinners delivered every day for weeks. Each dinner brought them a visit as well as a meal full of well wishes and prayers and hope. It was just six weeks after my mother's surgery when my father had a brain aneurysm burst.  We spent a week around the clock in the hospital touch and go, but in the end it was go, my dad did not survive.  Following that there were months of dinners, lunches, and even breakfasts that were given just to share the time or show their support.

I still make dinners for friends who've just had babies, or lost loved ones.  But they know what I know now. I'm not just making it to feed their bellies, it's so they know I'm their by their side weather it's cheering their successes or grieving their losses. Food is for the body....cooking is for your soul.

XO
 
 
What was I thinking talking about pizza when there's a the way more interesting subject of alcohol!  Friday is supposed to be the day to share our best, or newest cocktail or maybe just the one you invent because it would be such a shame to put that bottle back in the cabinet with just an inch of liquid left in the bottom.

Much like "I like to cook, but love to eat."  I love to eat, but I really LOVE to drink.  Yup...I do.  I think a lot of people are afraid that the whole world will frown down on you for admitting you like liquor.  But, I don't give a hoot.  I'm not a total booze hound and I actually spend a lot of time avoiding alcohol, just because of the calories involved.  I grew up with parents who drank, mostly socially and I think set a really healthy and realistic model of alcohol use in my adult life.

My parents were smart drinkers.  They usually were the one's hosting the deck party, and most of the guests were neighbors, so drunk driving never seemed to be an issue.  They also were clever enough to make us think that mixing the drinks was a privilege that we had to earn, because it was such a fun and important chore.  Now, that I'm the parent I know perfectly well that teaching your kids to mix the drinks has many benefits, including guaranteeing a properly made beverage when you are no longer capable of mixing one yourself...because you've already had one too many.  

All I know is children in our family are expected to know how to make margaritas as soon as they can reach the sink.  Don't gasp -It really is a wonderful life skill that most of my family had used in the food service industry...and beyond!  Plus, margaritas were my dad's thing.  Some of my favorite memories and photos of my dad are of him surf fishing in North Carolina.  He would spend hours wading in chest deep or sitting in his little beach chair fishing.  The essentials that he brought with him: the bait bucket, an igloo cooler for the fish he caught and his squeeze bottle filled with a margarita.  Since 1980 (when I was 10...ah heck, now you know how old I am!) I've spent two weeks of every year at the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  Our beach vacation there never really begins until we've made our first pitcher of margaritas.  My dad died 15 years ago and since then we've dubbed them "Jim Doyle Memorial Margaritas" and we always toast the creator when we slug them back!
Summer is over but if you need a little taste of it before fall sets in this drink will help get you there.  It's also super easy....great project with the kids....won't daddy be happy to see what you've made when he gets home!
Jim Doyle Memorial Margaritas:

Take 1 can of limeaide, any size, we prefer minute maid brand, open it and dump in a blender.  Fill the empty can with tequila, dump it in the blender.  Fill the can again, this time with triple sec, dump it in the blender. Fill the can with ice, dump in the blender.  Mix thoroughly.  Pour into glasses and give each portion a little topper of Grand Marnier and a lime wedge.

You can switch things up and swap out the triple sec with peach schnapps.  Or just throw a few fresh peaches that are about to go bad into the blender.  Yummy...but strong...add water to thin if you can't hack e'm.


PS A few years ago we were down at our best friend's in Delaware and we went with them to a party in their neighborhood.  A man offered me a drink and told me they were the best margaritas...I had to try one...it was called a Jim Doyle Margarita or something after some guy who used to make them.  I accepted the drink, smiled and told him I knew how good they were, Jim Doyle was my father.