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My Language Study Plan: September 2018

I really enjoy studying languages and I do think they come a bit easier to me than they do to others.  I’ve studied Spanish in High School for three years, German in College for two years and have been studying French as an adult for a few years now.  I’m not fluent in any of these languages, but when I find myself surrounded by these languages, it starts to click again.  I get re-energized on language study after spending a couple days surrounded by another language.

Part of my language study plan - reading a newspaper

Grabbing Le Monde at the airport is a solid part of my language study plan.

I’ve taken a few months off from my official French Language Study, and I’ve decided to start it up again.  I’m going to take a basic French Literature class in September.  We’ll be reading and discussing Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince.  I’m going to make September my French Language month.

In addition to this class, I’ve got these additional items on my list to push my French brain:

  • Read the entire Le Monde, that I picked up while in Singapore
  • Watch 7 Jour Sur La Planete (a 30 minute world news show in French with French subtitles) each week
  • Use Duolingo four times a week

My goal for September, obviously isn’t to be fluent in the month, but just get back into the swing of things.

Do you set language goals for yourself?  What recommendations do you have for me to make it through September and beyond?


Rosemary Salt – Preserving Fresh Herbs

It is that time of year – our gardens are roaring into full production.  We’ve just started getting our tomatoes, but our peppers have been coming in for a couple of weeks and our eggplant will be ready for harvest by the end of the week.  We’ve had a great crop of fresh herbs for almost two months now.  We can’t use all the fresh herbs that we’ve grown, so we’re doing everything we can to preserve them.  I’ve been making and freezing fresh basil pesto every week now, I’ve also started making flavored salts too.  I made a half cup of rosemary salt this weekend and thought I’d share my simple recipe that is so easily scalable – make a half teaspoon or a cup, it’s the same process.

Here’s what you need to make a tablespoon of rosemary salt:

Rosemary Salt

Another way to preserve fresh herbs

1 Sprigs rosemary, stemmed and roughed chopped
1 tablespoons sea salt

  1. Place the chopped rosemary and salt in a mortar and pestle (I didn’t use the M&P, I just used a knife to chop the salt and rosemary into a finer powder

Finished product – Rosemary Salt

You can use the rosemary salt on anything and everything that could use a little pop of rosemary!  Try it as you roast some vegetables, on steaks or chicken before they hit the grill, or to finish off a salad.  Personally, we love it on pork chops.

Prepped and ready for the grill

Do you make flavored herb salts?  Do you have an easier process?  What are your favorite flavor combinations and how do you use them?

A Peloton Milestone – 200 Rides in the Books

As this post publishes, I’m in the midst of my 200th ride on the Peloton Bike.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Peloton, let me school you.  Some say that Peloton is an exercise bike, which is true, but it is so much more.  Peloton offers live streaming classes at least half a dozen times a day, seven days a week.  Plus there is a library of a few thousand previously recorded live classes on-demand for you to ride whenever you want.  Peloton employs a dozen full time instructors teaching a variety of classes both on and off the bike.  The classes have varying music styles as well as class types (Low Impact, Climb, Tabata, High Intensity Intervals and Power Zone, to name a few).  Between the live and on-demand classes, you can easily find a ride that suits you from a workout style to musical preferences.

Peloton Exercise Bike

The Peloton Bike! A beauty, isn’t she?

Unlike traditional stationary bikes at home, this one feels more engaging as you are actually working out with other people all over the world.  The large tablet screen on the bike includes a leader board that ranks you against other people riding (or who have ridden that same ride) – another level of encouragement.  The tablet also shows about a dozen important stats relating to your ride, including cadence (leg speed), bike resistance, output (a combination of the first two), heart rate, time and others.

There is a strong feeling of community with Peloton.  There are Facebook Groups, Regional/Local Meet Ups, and if you ride frequently enough, you’ll start to see the same people on the Leader Board and you can follow them and keep up with their work outs and even ride together.  It’s more than a traditional stationary bike.

The Peloton bike arrived in May 2017 and we started riding immediately.  Unlike many of the vocal users online, I wasn’t addicted.  Let’s be honest, I’m not an avid “work out guy”.  I hate working out.  When I was younger I could eat anything I wanted and never gain an ounce.  Not so much any more.  That’s why we got the bike.

Fast forward 14 months and I’m crossing my 200th Ride Threshold.  I enjoy riding the bike.  I absolutely feel stronger (both in pure muscle strength and heart and lung capacity).  When I wake up, I don’t have the urge to jump on the bike though.  Once I am on the bike, I do find it encouraging to ride with others.  I will frequently zero in on someone near me on the Leader Board and make sure to push my self hard enough to beat them at the end.  Being competitive on a bike that goes no where in your basement is really easy with the Peloton.

As this posts, I’m actively riding a 90-minute ride with instructor Matt Wilpers.  Matt is by far the most frequent instructor I’ve used (82 of the 200 rides).  He focuses on Power Zone Training (Google it) and that was my main focus for the first portion of my bike ownership.  It’s easy to follow along and it’s based on easy to understand stats and metrics.  I’m a numbers nerd.  I ended up getting a little burned out on this type of training and branched out.

Since I’m a numbers guy, I thought I’d share some graphs that I found interesting.  Yes, Peloton does allow you to grab your ride data and pull it down directly into an excel file for all your numbers nerds out there.

I’ve technically ridden 2,193 miles since getting the bike over 6,915 minutes while burning 102,867 calories.  Does that mean I’ve actually lost about 29 pounds (a pound is about 3,500 calories).  No of course I haven’t.  I’ve actually gained about 8 pounds since I started riding.  I don’t think my eating habits have changed all that much, and my clothes don’t fit all that differently (definitely not tighter), I just know that I’m stronger.  If you are looking for weight loss, you’ll need to really focus on your eating habits. You can’t really exercise away a truly awful diet.

I’m happy with our purchase of the Peloton.  I find myself setting individual goals like: Ride Every Day This Week, Ride 5/10/20 Days Straight, Burn 5,000 Calories This Week, etc.  It keeps me motivated.

Are you a Peloton enthusiast?  If so, follow me – yes, my Pelo Name is TimFoolery, so it’s pretty easy to track me down.  Who are your favorite instructors?  Any advice for keeping me motivated for my next major milestone?  Any other of my stats you’re interested in?

Cook Books – Use ’em or Lose ’em!

We have a ton of cook books. Cook books always play a major role as Christmas gifts too. Each year we probably add half a dozen to our library. In general, we look at the book immediately after unwrapping it.  Then we make these great plans on all the new things we’ll make, then fail to execute.  When we have a dinner party or a free weekend, we’ll pull a cook book and find something new.  The book goes right back to the shelf afterwards, not to be explored again until another special occasion..

Cook Book Shelves

Our cook book shelves are overflowing

Cook book shelves

So many cook books and so little time.

I decided that I’d be meat free in January (also chose to be booze free). Needing to expand my meatless repertoire. I pulled A Year in a Vegetarian’s Kitchen – grabbed some post it notes and went to marking interesting recipes. About a dozen of these recipes really spoke to us and since they were vegetarian it fit my nutritional changes for the month.

We loved the recipes we made throughout the month. We tried so many great things in January, we decided to pick another cook book for February and will try this experiment again. While I’m not going to be meatless in February, I do plan to remain as mindful about my food as I was in January. It might be a bit tougher considering we chose Tommy Bahamas Flavors of the Southern Coast as our February book. We found another dozen or so recipes, but these recipes all require more work than our January selections, so adding these to our week night rotation will be tough.

It felt great trying so many new recipes in January and I can’t wait to work our way through this new book. How often do you use your cook books?  Seriously, how often?  Do you dig getting a new cook book as much as I do?  I love to give cook books just as much – it often means that someone will be thanking me for the gift by making something amazing out of their new book too.  Now that’s a win-win!

Vietnamese Roasted Chicken

A few years ago we took a two week trip to southeast Asia – spending a good portion of our time in Vietnam.  I fell in love with Hanoi – the people, the food, the Old Quarter.  I can’t wait to return.  Since a return trip to Hanoi isn’t on the short list (so many places to see and so few vacation days), I like to bring the flavors of Vietnam into our home as frequently as possible.

Since I’m in control of the kitchen this weekend, I pulled out a couple Vietnamese cookbooks and decided to do a simple roasted chicken with Vietnamese flavorings.  When I was single I use to roast a whole chicken and make several meals out of the meat throughout the week.  I haven’t roasted a chicken in a while.

I decided to make  a flavored oil to put under the skin and use as a basting liquid during the roasting process.

Here are the ingredients for my tweaked recipe:

  • One 3.5 pound chicken (for two people, which is enough for two entrees and leftovers for a small soup the following day)
  • 1 tablespoon dried diced garlic
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce (the most quintessential Vietnamese ingredient)
  • 2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons of honey (I used orange honey)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 cups of water

Preheat your oven to 180C/350F.  Rinse your chicken in cold water in the sink.  I like to start with a nice, cold, fresh, clean bird.  Some cooks recommend against this, but I’ve been doing this for years and can’t see stopping anytime soon.

In a medium bowl, whisk the garlic, lemon juice, fish sauce, pepper, honey and olive oil until combined.  Divide this mixture in half – one portion is used right now and the rest is the glaze, used throughout the cooking process.

Flavorful marinate / glaze for my Vietnamese Roasted Chicken

Flavorful marinate / glaze for my Vietnamese Roasted Chicken

GENTLY slide your fingers under the chicken skin on the breast – being ever so careful not to tear the skin.  Once a nice deep pocket has been made around the breast, spoon in a few tablespoons of the seasoning and rub it all over the breast meat (again, under the skin).  Flip the chicken over and make an ever so slight slit through the skin on the chicken thigh.  Slide your finger through the little slit and make another pocket of space on the thigh and the drum stick.  Spoon in a couple tablespoons of the flavorings and ensure the entire thigh/drumstick is covered.  Repeat on the other thigh/drumstick.

If your chicken was like mine – and I’m sure it is – you’ll need to truss the legs together so they don’t flop to the side.  If they do, they’ll end up cooking faster and being very dried out.  Just Google the best way to truss a chicken.  I will admit that chicken and I danced a bit in the kitchen sink. He just didn’t want to be bound.  I eventually figured it out and the only thing that was bruised was my ego.

Place the chicken, breast side up, on a rack in a roasting pan.  Fill the bottom of the pan with water – make sure the chicken itself isn’t touching the water.  You aren’t cooking the chicken in the water, mind you, the water will slowly evaporate while the chicken roasts, keeping it more moist.

Flavors packed under the skin and all trussed up. Let's hop in the oven!

Flavors packed under the skin and all trussed up. Let’s hop in the oven!

Before you throw the birdie in the oven, use the marinade to glaze the chicken breasts, thighs and drumsticks (the skin this time, since you’ve already flavored the area between the meat and the skin).  Place the chicken on the center rack of your preheated oven.

I set my timer for 60 minutes (our oven is a bit temperamental).  I also set another timer for 10 minutes – at which time I’d reglaze the chicken.  Until the bird was done, every 10 minutes I reapplied the glaze.  Popping the oven door open every 10 minutes definitely delayed the cooking time, but it made the skin so flavorful – it was totally worth it to me.

About 50 minutes into the cooking process, the breast and thighs were getting a bit dark, so I covered them with aluminium foil – this allows the bird to continue to cook, but keeps the direct heat off the skin so it doesn’t char.

I mentioned a few days ago the importance of using a instant read thermometer when checking the temperature of your steak – you must do the same thing with your chicken, moreso actually.  After 60 minutes check your check in the thigh and the meaty part of the breast – though don’t touch the bone or the empty cavity with the thermometer as it will give a false reading.  The temperature the first time I checked came in at 130F.  I cook chicken to 160F then remove from the oven, and let the carryover heat finish the cooking process.  I reglazed (this was the sixth and final reglazing time) and closed the door.  I waited another 15 minutes and checked the bird again – he had reached 163F.  I removed him from the oven and let him cool for a bit.  The water in the roasting pan had all evaporated at this point too.

I moved the bird from the roasting pan to a cutting board and after about 10 minutes of him just hanging out, I carved  both breasts and both thighs/drumsticks and plated them.  I was concerned that my goal of using the leftover chicken for a Phở the next day wouldn’t happen, but luckily after the bird cooled more (and after we ate our lovely dinner) I was able to pick off another 3/4 cups of meat (breast, thigh, the oysters and whatever other little bits I could find).  This should work perfectly for our quick Phở lunch on Sunday.

Back to the roasted bird.  The meat was so moist and tender, even I was shocked.  The flavors of the bird were there, but still quite subtle.  I think I was expecting a bit more of an intense flavor.  Don’t get me wrong, it was amazing.  I will definitely make this again – and when I do, I may try to accompany it with a spicy Vietnamese inspired dipping sauce.

As I said before, I fell in love with Hanoi, much more so than Saigon.  The flavors in Northern Vietnam (to me) seem much more blended.  Fewer spices and peppers are used and there is a much greater depth of flavor.  This dish reminded me of a quick appetizer we had one evening while biking outside of Hanoi.

I paired this with some asparagus and broccolini.  I threw some butter, olive oil and some shallots in a frying pan on medium high heat until the shallots were soft and fragrant.  I removed the butter/shallots and tossed in the veggies, covering tightly with a lid.  The hot pan on direct heat added a little crunchiness to the asparagus and broccolini, while the lid kept in their moisture allowing them to cook quicker.  After about 6 minutes they were tender  – but still with a nice crunch.  I plated them, drizzled the butter/shallots over top and sprinkled some sesame seeds and crushed peanuts as a condiment.  We use the sesame seed/peanut mixture quite a bit with veggies – and as a separate condiment when we make homemade curries – the crunch and saltiness is quite nice.

Final Product - carved, plated. It was delicious - and very easy to make.

Final Product – carved, plated. It was delicious – and very easy to make.

Do you have a Vietnamese go-to recipe you’d like to share?  Do you prefer the food of Northern or Southern Vietnam more?