Thursday, September 13, 2012

Korean Style Cold Bok Choy: Why practice?

For KY - you continually challenge me and make me try harder.

I've been on a bit of a quest recently to improve the quality of practice, everywhere I have a chance.  Mostly this means that Daughters and Son are subjected to some strange experiments, but it also bleeds over into my work volunteering at schools and in Sunday School.  What is the goal?  Be more efficient in practice.

I've been reading the book, Practice Perfect, and I haven't even gotten that far in it (Rule 2 out of 42) but I keep going back to the one point daily.  The rule is to "Practice the 20" which according to the book is about deciphering and analyzing which 20 percent of the things that are most important are you going to practice 80 percent of the time.  In the books words, " become great, you should focus more on practicing the 20 percent of things that most create value than the other 80 percent of things you could plausibly spend time on" (29).  Now, this looks like a lot of things to a lot of people, so I've been thinking and mulling over what it means for me and those with whom I have the most contact. (Children and students.)

I decided to apply a little of the book to Daughters' swim practices, because I am currently their teacher.  It makes for more flexible scheduling and allows me to take advantage of the pool when it is less busy.  Daughters have been doing tons of laps with me, over and over and over again, and in my mind, I figured, yes, this is practice.  But repeatedly I kept on seeing the girls not improve their stroke, but rather deteriorate in their stroke, and as I am not a swim teacher, I couldn't figure out HOW to help them.  I was good at getting them into the water and forcing them to swim their 800 to 1200 yards when we had a chance, but in terms of refining and perfecting their stroke, not so much.  I questioned, WHY ISN'T IT GETTING BETTER!!!

The book challenged me to rethink what I was asking them to do.  I wanted them to get better at the complete strokes, the complete movement across the pool, but what I needed to do was to break down those strokes into small drills to force them to improve on tinier parts.  I had assumed that since Children "knew" how to swim, that they no longer needed to practice the smaller parts of each individual stroke since CLEARLY (not) they had already learned the stroke.  The problem I didn't realize was that knowing and MASTERY are two different things and I needed to move them towards mastery.  The way to mastery?  Practice 20 percent of the important things they need to do 80 percent of the time.  I wasn't clear what that was, but I challenged myself to rethink our 40 minutes in the water to make it more efficient.  What I came up with was it wasn't the distance that we did in 40 minutes, but it would be how we would use the 40 minutes to be better.  32 minutes of our 40 minutes would be spent on drills, which would essentially distort and focus individual swimming techniques and make Daughters strengthen specific areas.  8 minutes, I decided to just have them swim as they normally had, full complete strokes.

I researched a few drills and brought them to the water today.  I explained to the girls the math behind the practice - 80% spent on working on smaller parts of the stroke and 20% on practicing the full stroke itself.  What was so interesting is that as an experienced swimmer, there wasn't a significant difference in my doing drills versus the full stroke.  Of course I felt more stretched and pushed, but I didn't flail on the drills. Daughters however, despite having been proficient and good on whole strokes STRUGGLED through the drills.  In one, I asked them to swim on their side and kick  with their heads relaxed and one arm pointed straight up in the water and the other relaxed at their side and neither of them could swim straight across without swerving.  It took 5 lengths of that drill in order for them to figure out how to position their bodies and get their legs and arms long and balance on their side and still kick.  We ran through a few other drills and then I allowed them to swim the whole strokes.  After months of no improvement, I could clearly see improvement in their overall strokes.

It's a lot more work trying to figure out the smaller pieces to work the practice. but I can say that from this small experiment (and there have been many tiny little ones this week as well) that I'm ready to alter how I view practice.  Encouraging and pushing mastery of the small fundamentals truly impacts the overall growth and improvement.  This totally also applies to cooking.  Mastery over smaller things - choosing the right produce, chopping, boiling, sauteeing, blanching, all work together to make a great meal.

I've decided to focus on (drill) a particular Korean technique, a classic Korean technique for making many green vegetables - blanching and then squeezing out the excess liquid.  I love this method of cooking vegetables because it can be made ahead and then seasoned at the last minute.  It's the same technique I use to make the spinach side dish, ubiquitous at so many Korean restaurants.  I applied this technique to bok choy, with the idea that I could make a side dish that would have a similar feel as spinach, but just done with bok choy.  The results were great and Children and friends gobbled it down.  There is room on seasoning, by adding soy sauce or other things to make it fit the flavors you're looking for, but the technique of blanching and squeezing out the liquid is one worth learning.  

Korean Style Cold Bok Choy
Serves 4

1 lb bok choy
¼ teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon crushed sesame seeds

Fill a large pot with water and add a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil.

While water is boiling, prepare bok choy. Trim the base of the bokchoy, cutting off the stem, so that the bokchoy separates into individual leaves. Wash well.

Once water is boiling, add bok choy all at once and stir, mixing into the water, allowing to cook for 1 minute. Remove from heat and drain all the water.

Arrange bok choy in a ring in your colander,so as to promote cooling of the bok choy.

Once bok choy is cool enough to handle, take a handful, and squeeze, removing excess water from the bok choy. Repeat until all bok choy has been squeezed.

Lay bok choy out on a cutting board and cut into 1 inch sections. Bok choy can be chilled at this point and dressed before serving OR can be dressed and served immediately.

Over bok choy, sprinkle salt and toss well. Taste and add more salt if desired. Drizzle sesame oil and add sesame seeds and toss together again. Serve immediately.

Printable recipe

If you're interested in the book on practice.


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Melissa said...

This is exactly what I was looking for! Excited to pair it with the bulgogi my 9 year old requested for his birthday dinner. :)


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