You can't climb uphill by thinking downhill thoughts." Zig Zigler
Today, being a beautiful and not too hot day, I walked back from the shops. It's a really pleasant and fairly varied walk, but I have to say that it always seems as if it's uphill all the way. Which is odd because Eltham must be higher than where we live here.
So I'm going to think it through. First of all you climb up the hill from the shops to a flat road that you walk along for a short distance. There are actually three roads leading up the hill from the shops and today I chose the steepest for some reason. Now I haven't been walking for some time - at least a week, and so by the top of that street I was very glad to walk the few yards across the road and a few more down slightly. But then it's up again. In fact the steepest burst of the whole walk, with a very brief respite along a street before it too turns uphill again for what seems like an age. A slight dip, more gentle slope upwards, slightly down then sloping upwards again. At last some flat road and a tiny bit of down, flat, slightly down
and gradually up, turn the corner, down a bit and then, when you are nearly home you are faced with this, which actually doesn't look quite as bad in these two photos as it does when you are actually there. It really is quite long and quite steep. So I struggle up the first bit - bent right over with the effort, until I reach our street - the road on the right in this picture, but no relief round the corner for the first part is still uphill - a slight joyful bit of down and a final haul uphill to my front gate. Thankfully the last yards are downhill. Mind you if I am going on my other regular walk to Montsalvat and back, the drive is pretty punishing - for an old lady like me. I have occasionally got to the top and thought I could go no further! It sometimes take a bit of effort to make myself go on.
But you push on don't you and here's a funny thing. That hill in the photos above seems to flatten out when you reach it - well to the eye, but not the legs. This photo is taken just before the corner of our street, and the road ahead looks pretty flat in the photograph and actually to the eye as well. Believe me it is not. It's an optical illusion because my body is definitely telling me otherwise at this point. The whole walk must also be an optical illusion because, as I said, Eltham must definitely be uphill from here. I guess it's the route you take, because if you come back from Eltham along the main road, then it's a pretty flat walk for the first third, uphill for the next and downhill - mostly - for the third. If you go the middle way it's steeply up and steeply down all the way. A kind of rollercoaster.
And because, on my walk, I am ultimately ending up at the bottom of the hill by the river, then I don't even get the massive uplift of the view. Although I do get the relief of being able to sit down and relax.
At least when you set out from Eltham you can't see all the ups and downs you have to negotiate.
I am no mountain climber so when, back in 2010, I was confronted with this - Montségur in France - the Cathar castle in South West France, which the Cathars made their last stand. Looking at it you would think it was impregnable, but alas not and they were all massacred eventually, A most beautiful spot with a most cruel history.
We had decided to 'do' Montségur that day, but I have to say that when I got to the carpark and looked up - we are aiming for that flat bit of castle on top of that rock - I really thought I could not do it. In fact when we got to the pay booth which is just in those trees, I almost gave up there and then. But an old lady - even older than I told me that if she could do it (she was on her way down) I could too. So I paid my money and struggled on, probably holding everybody else back. I cannot quite remember how long it took us to climb but it was a long time. It was summertime too so it would have been warm. Anyway my friends, my husband and I kept going. The car park gradually diminished in size:
And the view became more and more spectacular. And amazingly I got there!
The grin on my face says it all really. What a sense of achievement. And what a view. And just for the icing on the cake we met a fellow Australian who informed us that Julia Gillard had just become Prime Minister. Joy for all of us. We won't think about the postscript to that. Suffice to say "Bring back Julia". At the time though it was just one more amazingly wonderful thing.
Perhaps unlike my walk back from the shops though, the actual walk was not as difficult as it looks from the car park. Not that it was easy, but of course you do not walk straight up the mountain - for mountain it certainly felt like. No you wind around and around or back and forth - I can't quite remember which, but mostly it is not a steep scramble. A few years before we had also 'done' Peyrepeteuse - another impossible looking Cathar castle, but I could not find the photographs of that experience. Very similar though.
"The way to paradise is an uphill climb whereas hell is downhill." Al-Ghazali
The Cathars would certainly have thought so. I think they were all burnt at the stake - although, of course, being deeply religious, they would have thought that Paradise was on the other side of that hell.
The Uphill Climb is, of course an oft used metaphor for life. Grit your teeth and climb and you will achieve paradise. Besides think of the exercise - and the view - as you make the climb. But you can also apply it to cooking.
These days, and I include myself in this, we don't tackle the difficult when it comes to food. As I said recently, who makes consommé these days? Not even most of the chefs of this world it seems. We are all too busy to spend the time cooking a ragù all day for our Spaghetti Bolognaise. We are daunted by a long list of ingredients and a couple of pages of instructions. But we shouldn't be.
Let me give you one example from Ottolenghi - Cobb salad with mango and lime dressing. I chose Ottolenghi as he is modern, trendy and notorious for complication and long lists of ingredients. The recipe is from my recently acquired Shelf Love, but I think probably you can access all the recipes within online. This one has a list of 20 ingredients and 7 steps to the finish. So you might look at it and think no - everything on that plate must have to be prepared in some different and complicated way. Too hard, and too much of a faff. Which by the way is one of my new favourite words I think,.
But like the Montségur climb it's actually not that complicated. You have to make a dressing - 5 seconds in a food processor,. You have to cut a few things up and you have to briefly fry a few ingredients. But really it's an assembly job and and assembly of whatever you want as well, It doesn't have to be the same mix. He even shows you how to plate it. So not hard at all.
And incidentally, and perhaps another reason I chose this recipe, it takes care of several of those 30 different plant based foods you should eat. And it could be fun as well. Unleashing your creativity in the kitchen is akin to climbing a daunting mountain. The reward in this case, is not the view - it's an empty plate - although the sense of achievement would be the same. Well I think so anyway. What can be better than giving pleasure to others?
Cobb Salad by the way is an American dish named after Robert Howard Cobb the owner of the Brown Derby Restaurant in Hollywood. Whether he invented it himself or whether it was one of two of his chefs, Robert Kreis or Paul J Posti - in 1929 or 1937 is also disputed. And there are apparently 'rules' about what goes into it, but fundamentally it is a fridge raid dish and therefore infinitely variable as Ottolenghi says:
"Dig through your cupboards, rummage through your fridge and freezer, use what you can and what you have, and then build from there - all the while keeping the spirit of abundance and fun."
There are some mountains that only the top mountaineers can climb - the Michelin starred chefs of this world. There are smaller ones that very fit and experienced people can manage - more ordinary chefs and very talented home cooks (not me) and then there is everything else, down to the small hills between here and Eltham shops that the rest of us with our varying abilities can manage. And If you break them down - one step at a time - then just about anyone can manage it - even something that looks completely undoable. So it is so sad that so many do not even try. After all you feel much more satisfied making something a bit 'special' even if it is easy.
And if you come across one of those recipes that looks easy and turns out not to be - like my flattened looking hill in those photos further up the page, then never mind. Keep going and think how good you'll feel when you get to the top. Don't think those downhill thoughts. Although maybe thinking of the downhill to come, the moment you sit down to eat, might be a good thing.
It really can't be uphill all the way. Even if you get to the top of Mount Everest, you can't stay there. You have to come down to earth again. And look I got to the bottom of Montségur even if I'm not exactly grinning. Quietly pleased I think.
POSTSCRIPT - THE LAST OF THE 2s
Today is that very special date 22/2/22. All the twos.
"We won’t see this sequence again until 2/2/2222" Style Caster
Well if you don't write the year out in full. It's also the last palindrome date for some time. The next is not until February 3 2030. 03/02/2030 or March 2 2030 if you are American - 03/02/2030
So what is the something special for you today?