Simple non-icky vegetable soup

I used to be a very picky eater. Very. Between the age of 9 and 14 I only ate unsweetened yoghurt with granola (but only if it wasn’t too crunchy), spinach (but only if it was finely chopped and no cream added), toast with a kind of carpaccio (but only very thin slices without obvious rims of fat or sinews), and toast with margarine and semi-sweet chocolate sprinkles. I gradually branched out, but by the time I was an adult, the list of things I simply wouldn’t eat was still a mile long.

Only after I moved out and learned how to cook for myself did I start to appreciate foods that I’d never in a million years thought I’d like.

Example: onions. Horrible slithery things. I could always tell them apart from the rest of the food, even in a stir-fry or a stew. Soup was even worse. They seemed to float to the surface, waiting until I put my spoon in, and then ambushing me so I could never have a spoonful of soup without an onion in it.

When I no longer had someone putting onions in my food and telling me I wasn’t allowed to pick them out, I could relax and start to experiment with onions. First by cutting them in really really really tiny pieces. TINY. Cutting up one small onion easily took me 30 minutes. But that was ok. Nobody was staring at me. Nobody was making me eat it. If I didn’t like it, I could throw it out. The pressure was off.

And I found I actually quite liked onions. When they weren’t slithery.

To honour non-slitheryness, here’s my first recipe. It’s a very simple lightly creamy soup with not too much going on, taste or texture wise.

The main problem here is the beef ragout. This is not ragu, as you can probably tell from the picture. It’s a mixture of beef stock, flour, and gelatine. I have no idea whether it’s available in other countries. The reason I added it is to make the soup a bit thicker and creamier so that the contrast with the texture of the vegetables won’t be as big. So you can also use another thickening agent like cornstarch if you have no idea what beef ragout is.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 litres (6 cups) of normal tap water
  • enough powdered stock for 1.5 litres (6 cups) of stock (in my case, 3 tablets)
  • 400 ml (1.5 cups) of beef ragout OR thickening slurry
  • 0.5 courgette (zucchini)
  • knife
  • whisk
  • 2 litre (2 qt.) soup pan

Preparation

If you are going to use a different thickening agent, prepare this first.

  1. Take the soup pan, add the water, and bring it to a boil.20130731_175851
  2. Dissolve the powdered stock in the boiling water. This takes about 5 minutes.
  3. Turn the heat low and add the ragout or slurry.
  4. Stir a bit. Don’t worry about lumps. Keep it simmering on a low heat.
  5. Cut the courgette in slices (as in the picture above).
  6. Stack a couple of slices and cut them in strips. Repeat until all the slices are cut.
  7. Get the whisk and vigorously beat the soup to get rid of lumps.
    If you’re clumsy like me, you might want to turn off the heat first and let the soup cool down a bit before whisking.
  8. Whisk some more. You really don’t want any lumps.
  9. Add the strips of courgette.
  10. Heat up the soup for 2 more minutes. The courgette should be warm but not cooked.

Serves about 4 people. Nice with toast or bread sticks.

The idea behind this soup is that the courgette stays firm instead of becoming gooey and slithery. Also, the strips are easy to see and don’t ambush your spoon. Courgette doesn’t have a very overwhelming taste and the texture is nice when it’s not cooked. At least in my opinion.

Advertisements

Paying attention

IMPORTANT. READ THIS FIRST.

In this post, I’m going to be looking at biological stuff. After I finished writing, I realised that this could be easily read as advocating for a “cure” for autism. Nothing could be further from what I want to say. I don’t want to be fixed or cured. “Cure” thinking has done and is still doing so much harm to autistic people, that it almost stopped me from publishing this post.

However, I think the link between depression, ADHD, and autism could still do with some examining. Maybe we’re all part of a really broad spectrum. Maybe we’re all differently wired in a similar way. Maybe we can be who we are without feeling horrible or being made to feel horrible about it.

Maybe we aren’t alone.

© fotovika - Fotolia.com

© fotovika – Fotolia.com

In an earlier post, I wrote about how important it is for me to do things that activate my reward centre. I speculated that the lack of achievement in housekeeping was the reason my reward centre wasn’t lighting up with nice juicy dopamine, and so I didn’t have enough motivation to do any regular housekeeping. This is how recreational drugs work, and sex, and food, and any other pleasurable activity: they increase dopamine levels which in turn activate your reward centre.

The reason why I was thinking about rewards and dopamine is because since about the beginning of June, I have been really struggling in several areas of my life. I started a new job after being unemployed for 10 months, I decided to quit smoking, and I got referred to a mental health clinic for an autism diagnosis. Maybe a bit too much to cope with all at once.

But was that all?

Normally I feel pretty damn good whenever I manage to actually do something, even in my bleakest moments. Look, I did the dishes! The rest of the house is still a mess and I haven’t paid the bills in over two months, but screw that, I did the dishes! I’m awesome! Now, that sense of pride seemed oddly muted. Was this depression? It didn’t seem to be, I was feeling very overloaded with work and smoking and autism but not necessarily sad or down. Overwhelmed, unable to deal with sensory stuff, pretty normal for me in that kind of situation. The muted feeling was new.

And then I made a brain leap. That’s how it felt. My brain jumped up and landed in a different spot. A spot labeled “dopamine”.

You see, I was a very heavy smoker. Think 45-50 cigarettes a day. So when I decided to quit, I asked my GP for varenicline because I’d heard good things about it and figured it would be the support I needed in overcoming my dependency. It worked like a charm, the first day I used it I was down to 23 cigarettes and after 5 days I smoked about 8 a day. Instead of 50. And it didn’t cost me ANY effort. I just didn’t feel the need.

How does this work? Well, nicotine, like other addictive drugs, makes your dopamine levels peak. So there’s an instant reward when your nicotine receptor gets activated. Varenicline prevents this reward by making the nicotine receptor less sensitive, and at the same time mimics a low level of dopamine so you don’t go cold turkey.

So I was weaning myself off my dopamine addiction. And lowering my overall dopamine levels.

And suddenly I didn’t like alcohol as much. I didn’t pay my bills. I couldn’t keep my house clean. I hid in my bedroom. I bought things I normally never eat, like crisps and chocolate and cakes. I had a very low threshold for loud noises and bright light. I nearly broke down at the thought of having to take the train to work. I couldn’t focus on my work as easily as I used to do. I began compulsively refreshing my Facebook feed and email and rapidly switching from one browser tab to the next. I started stimming heavily (whereas I could have sworn I didn’t ever stim. Nope. Not me. Not stimmy at all).

I started thinking that maybe there was a blog post in this. So I looked up dopamine on Wikipedia, googled some stuff. And then I stumbled onto this.

We usually think of dopamine as a chemical messenger that is related to things like reward or drug addiction. But more properly, dopamine signaling has to do with salience, how important something should be to you at any given time. Dopamine spikes are associated with the pleasure of drugs or good food or sex, but they also say “PAY ATTENTION TO THIS”.

This is from an article called The Dopamine Side(s) of Depression and it looks at several behavioral studies done with mice to look at how dopamine works. Go read it. It blew my mind.

Because besides the “Pay attention to this” effect – which I’m starting to think could be part of why sensory processing disorders, for example difficulty to filter out background noise, occur so often in autistic people – the research also looked at the role of dopamine in social defeat stress.

You take a normal mouse, and put him into a cage with a bigger mouse. The bigger mouse “owns” that cage. He’s a retired breeder and very aggressive. He will usually launch himself right at the poor intruder mouse, beat him pretty badly, resulting in a “social defeat”. The mice are usually separated very quickly so the larger mouse doesn’t injure the intruder, but the defeated mouse is partitioned off in the case, where the aggressive resident can still threaten and bully the poor guy.

The mice that were given high level dopamine stimulation showed signs commonly seen in 10 day social defeat (less social interaction with other mice, less inclination to engage in pleasurable activities)… after only 2 days.

Let me repeat that for you. The mice that were bullied and beaten up showed signs of depression MUCH FASTER after giving them high levels of dopamine.

Are we on to something here?

Depression. Hyperfocus or the lack of focus. Unable to filter sensory input. Decision making (assigning priorities). Even motor skills are commonly linked to dopamine.

But social behaviour is a new one for me.

Can autistic people simply be part of the large group of people who are differently dopamine-wired?