WHIDBEY RECIPES | Scientists sure know how to step on my (dancing) feet

I’ve recently come across some very distressing information I’d never heard or read before. It has to do with becoming successful and/or wealthy, and what I’ve learned is that many of us may have missed the boat entirely.

According to Malcolm Gladwell, author of “Outliers: The Story of Success,” it isn’t how smart or even how talented you might be that will carry you to extraordinary heights of success, fame or wealth; it’s how many hours you spend doing whatever it is you’ve chosen as your path.

Scientists who’ve done extensive research into what makes some people extraordinary say that a high IQ and level of talent are no guarantee of success.

According to their long-term studies into the lives of highly successful people, one of the most significant factors is what these scientists have dubbed the “10,000 hour rule.” When

I read what that rule actually entailed, I couldn’t help but feel much discouraged.

I quote: “When we look at any kind of cognitively complex field — for example, playing chess, writing fiction or being a neurosurgeon — we find that you are unlikely to master it unless you have practiced for 10,000 hours. That’s 20 hours a week for 10 years. The brain takes that long to assimilate all it needs to know to achieve true mastery.”

They go on to use Bill Gates as a prime example of the rule. By the time he dropped out of Harvard after his sophomore year to try his hand at starting a software programming business, he’d already spent about eight hours a day, most days of the week, programming on whatever mainframe computer he could access. In other words, he’d racked up seven consecutive years of programming practice, well over 10,000 hours. Few people in the world at that time had as much computer practice as Bill Gates, and we all know what became of him

Why am I discouraged? Well, because I do have an IQ over 130 (or at least that’s what it used to be), and I’ve been writing fiction or something close to it for more than 20 years, but I’ve certainly not reached anything like major success. That’s not the real problem, however, nor do I have regrets about not becoming a chess genius, a neurosurgeon or atomic scientist. My distress over the 10,000 hours rule has to do with dancing.

Tap dancing became a major passion far too late in my life, and I know I’ll never be Ginger Rogers, but I did think I might have a chance at being a really cool tap dancer, maybe even qualify for “The Follies,” if I ever wanted. But, even though I’ve now been taking tap dancing lessons for anywhere from one to three hours a week since September 1995, no way does that add up to 10,000 hours.

According to my calculations, rough but close enough, at the rate I’m tapping now, I’d have to keep it up for at least another couple of decades to come anywhere close to the required hours. Either that, or I start tapping at least five hours every day and, at my age, that isn’t going to happen.

So, now you can understand why I’m sorry I came across Mr. Gladwell’s highly acclaimed book.

It’s quite clear that no matter what I choose to pursue at this point in my life,

I don’t have enough years left to wrack up 10,000 hours of practice time unless I go at it night and day.

Does this mean I’ll just accept my non-famous fate and give up tap dancing? Heck no; tapping is my therapy and major exercise and until my feet won’t move, it’ll be part of my life.

But thanks to Mr. Gladwell, I am forced to come to terms with the fact that you who follow this column, along with all my family and friends, will never, alas, see me on “Dancing With The Stars.”

One more dream, scuttled by scientific research.

RECIPES

There is one field in which I am talented (well, maybe not famously talented, but not bad), and happily, I’ve certainly accumulated far more than the necessary 10,000 hours of practice, and that’s cooking. And, if there was such a thing as becoming famous for recipe collecting, I’d easily have done the 10,000 hours, which is why I have a virtually endless supply to share with you.

Risotto, as many of you know, is high on my list of ways not only to stretch food dollars but make an interesting entree or side dish in a short amount of time. Once you master the basic risotto technique, you can be very creative with what you add and it’s a dream dish for vegetarians.

Here are two of many dozens of my risotto recipes, the first one with mussels because they’re easily attainable here on the island. Along with a salad, this is a delicious and easy main dish.

RISOTTO WITH MUSSELS AND TOMATOES

2 lbs. fresh mussels in the shell, debearded and rinsed clean (throw out any cracked or broken ones, or any that don’t close tightly when pinched)

¾ cup finely chopped shallots, divided (see instructions)

1 cup dry white wine

2 T. olive oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1 cup canned tomatoes, with their juice

2 cups Arborio rice

4 cups chicken broth, homemade if possible, or low-sodium canned, heated

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley or cilantro

1 T. lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Grated Parmesano Reggiano or Asiago cheese (optional)

In a large pot, combine the mussels with ¼ cup of the shallots and the dry white wine. Bring to a boil over high heat; when boiling, cover, reduce heat to med. and cook for about 5 min. or until the mussels open. Remove from heat, leave covered for 2 more minutes, then strain the mussels, reserving the liquid (about 2 cups). Keep about 18 mussels aside to use on top of the risotto; remove remaining mussels from their shells and chop coarsely.

Make the risotto: Heat the oil in a heavy 4-quart pot over med.-high heat. Add remaining ½ cup shallots and garlic and cook, stirring, until they begin to soften (1-2 min. and be careful not to burn the garlic) Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with oil; cook about 1 min. more. Add the tomatoes and reserved mussel liquid and cook until it is mostly absorbed by the rice. Add the broth,

½ cup at a time, stirring after each addition until liquid is almost completely absorbed, then adding next ½ cup. Continue until all but ¼ cup of broth has been absorbed. When rice is tender but still firm (about 20 min.), turn off the heat. Add remaining

¼ cup of broth, the chopped mussels, parsley, lemon juice, salt and pepper and stir well to combine.

Serve in warmed bowls, garnished with grated cheese, if desired, and topped with the whole mussels. Serves 4.

Note: This can also be made with fresh steamer clams; steam clams and follow same instructions.

And for you vegetarians, or as a hearty, delicious side dish for meat eaters, this delicious risotto is best if you use very fresh mushrooms, preferably shitake, but crimini or portobello are also excellent.

MUSHROOM RISOTTO WITH FRESH SPINACH

3 T. olive oil

4 oz. shitake or other fresh mushrooms, stemmed and sliced (you should have about 2 cups)

Salt, to taste

2 T. unsalted butter

1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped

2 cups Arborio rice

½ cup dry white wine

6 cups vegetable broth (or chicken broth), heated

2 cups packed fresh spinach leaves, rinsed, dried and finely chopped

½ cup freshly grated Asiago cheese, plus extra for adding as desired

Freshly ground black pepper

¼Heat 2 T. of the oil in a heavy skillet over med. heat. Add mushrooms, season with salt to taste and cook, stirring, until they are tender (5-7 min.). Turn off heat; set aside.

In a 4-qt. pot, combine remaining oil and 1 T. of the butter over med.-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until the onion begins to soften (don’t brown it). Stir in the rice and stir to coat the grains; cook 1 min. longer.

Add the wine and cook, stirring, until it is mostly absorbed, then add broth,

½ cup at a time, stirring well after each addition until the liquid is almost absorbed, then adding next ½ cup. Reserve ¼ cup of the broth to add at the end.

When rice is tender but firm, about 20 min., turn off the heat. Add remaining

¼ cup of broth and remaining tablespoon of butter, cooked mushrooms, spinach and

½ cup cheese, stirring well to combine. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper and serve immediately, with additional cheese on the side to add as preferred. Serves 4-6.

Note: Some vegetarian friends prefer the spinach very coarsely chopped; do it however it pleases you and yours.

Margaret Walton can be reached at falwalcal@msn.com.

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