Rijsttafel

This is not going to be an actual recipe, but a description of a fairly typical Dutch thing called “Indische rijsttafel”. I’m not going to spend a lot of time describing what it is because there’s plenty of resources available for that. What I am going to spend some time on is explain why “rijsttafel” is a picky eater’s idea of heaven.

Eating out is always stressful for someone who has trouble deciding what he or she wants. This is not just “being difficult”, it’s the difference between a snapshot decision for a neurotypical person and an overwhelming multitude of equally valid choices for an autistic person. How do you decide? It’s not that easy. And what if you hate whatever you ended up choosing because everyone was staring at you and waiting for you to make up your mind? The social rules governing complaints about food are another minefield that’s nearly impossible to navigate.

This is why I love rijsttafels. In Dutch Indonesian restaurants, you sit down, someone decides how much money you’re willing to spend per person, there might be a few extra questions about what kind of rice everyone wants (white, yellow, fried, or sticky – easily solved by just getting every kind) and that is it. Next thing you know, there’s about 40 different dishes being served out. You can be as picky as you like and simply start by eating some rice, then if you feel confident or relaxed enough, try a very small spoonful of whatever looks non-threatening. THIS IS HOW EVERYONE EATS RIJSTTAFEL. It’s awesome.

So in case you ever get the chance to eat at a Dutch Indonesian restaurant, I thought it would be nice to show you some of the dishes that you may encounter.

Nasi Putih Nasi putih White rice. Think that’s fairly trigger free with regards to texture and taste. Unless you don’t like rice.
Nasi Goreng Nasi goreng Fried rice. Usually contains bits of egg (with omelet texture) and fairly easy to spot bits of cooked ham and leek. Can contain other things as well. Took me years before I could eat it, too many different textures going on.
Nasi Kuning Nasi kuning / koening Yellow rice. My favourite. Slightly sweet coconut taste but dry, not sticky.
Lontong Sticky rice cakes. You don’t see them very often. Fairly mushy, tastes of white rice and water.
Daging rendang Daging rendang Looks terrible, but it actually tastes brilliant. Slow cooked beef in a creamy lightly-spiced sweet coconut sauce.
Daging Smoor Daging semor / smoor Another one that looks terrible but isn’t. Slow cooked beef in a sweet-spicy soy sauce.
Daging rudjak / roedjak Slow cooked beef in a thick spicy sauce.
Daging Bali Daging bali Slow cooked beef (noticing a theme here?) in a very spicy sauce (made primarily with crushed chili peppers)
Satay Sateh / sate You guessed it, satay. Comes in several different forms, although the most common is chicken (ajam) with a medium spicy peanut sauce. Texture of the sauce is usually very smooth.
Sateh kecap / sate ketjap Same as above but instead of peanut sauce, it’s served with a spicy-sweet soy sauce, a bit sticky. Much nicer in my opinion.
Telor Telor Means egg. Can come in several varieties like “Telor Sambal Goreng” (the most common one, a spicy currylike sauce). I can’t stand hard-boiled eggs so I avoid them.
Sayur Lodeh Sayur lodeh / sajoer lodeh Several different vegetables lightly boiled in coconut milk. Usually contains cabbage, green beans, carrots, and bean sprouts. Sometimes also tofu or tempeh. I like it but wouldn’t recommend it if you don’t like slippery veggies.
Sambal Goreng Boontjes Sambal goreng boontjes My favourite vegetable dish ever. Green beans in a sort of coconut / chili pepper stew. But the green beans should still be chewy instead of mushy. Sometimes they get it wrong and then I’m really disappointed.
Atjar Pickles. Atjar tjampoer is mostly cabbage and carrots, and atjar ketimoen is mostly cucumber. Vinegar which means I stay away from it, so no idea what it actually tastes like.
Tempeh goreng A pressed soy bean product. Cut in small pieces and fried in a spicy sauce. Very peculiar, sort of sticky texture, spicy and sweet taste. I really like it.
Krupuk / kroepoek Prawn crackers. Can be a bit odd at first because the air bubbles in the crackers sort of suck on your tongue. OK, that sounds weird. But it is actually quite a funny feeling. Like cheese puffs.
Seroendeng / serundeng Toasted shredded coconut with sugar and spices
Pisang goreng Battered and deepfried banana. Nothing wrong with that.
Spekkoek Cake made out of extremely thin layers of vanilla and a sort of spice cake batter. Moist and sweet, but not overly so. Texture is almost like pancakes. If you are not so sure about wanting to try Indonesian food, at least try this. It’s spectacularly yummy and it’s a lot of fun trying to peel the layers apart even though other people will think you’re weird for doing that. But who cares. 😉

America’s Medicated Kids

I didn’t know Louis Theroux had done a documentary on this subject: young children who get put on drugs for mental disorders. I have to admit I’m sort of scared to watch it, because either Louis Theroux is going to agree with the parents and take a huge fall off the pedestal I’ve put him on, or he’s not going to agree with the parents but it’s all going to be hopeless anyway as long as we keep seeing these children as problems who aren’t trying hard enough to fit in.

(I watched the first 5 minutes and so far I’ve already spotted the first professional saying of a 10 year old autistic boy that he’s improved so much because he makes more eye contact now. Seriously. Out of all the issues to focus on).

Update: since posting this, I have to admit I’ve adjusted my opinion on this issue. Yes, I still think people medicate too quickly and for reasons that have nothing to do with the kid’s wellbeing and everything to do with the world this kid is supposed to live in. The documentary gives a few poignant examples of that.

However, on the other end of the spectrum are kids like Charlie. Charlie feels better on meds. After reading his story and the way his parents have tried so hard to get him off meds, I have to say that yes, this sounds like a good solution for him (of course I don’t know him personally and I am not his therapist, but the story describes very clearly how Charlie’s wishes on the matter were listened to and taken into account).

So that means I was wrong to judge so harshly. I encourage you to read the blog at Outrunning the Storm and to watch the video here and make up your own mind. My opinion on the matter is not really that important. The important thing is to keep trying and keep questioning and never accept someone else’s ideas as a matter of fact UNLESS THEY ARE THE ONES AFFECTED BY THAT IDEA. That is all.

A day in the life

9:15am
That’s nice. Cat has allowed me to sleep in for a change.

9:20am
Get dressed in clothes I remembered to pick out yesterday evening (based on criteria of cleanliness and making me feel confident and pretty enough to go to outdoors festival thing). Feed cat. Check to-do list and remember to put on deodorant.

9:28am
Make tea and remember to have breakfast. Yay me! Another item off my to-do list.

9:35am
Spend 5 minutes agonising over what to do with my hair. I should have made an appointment at the hairdresser’s about 2 months ago. At least I took a shower yesterday so don’t have to worry about hair also being greasy.

9:45am
Check bag for necessary items (purse, keys), put jacket on and go to bicycle shop. I want to exchange the second-hand bicycle I bought there for another one because I don’t like the tires on this one, they make me fall over when I try to turn a corner. I should have done this the week after I bought it. It’s now been 3 weeks.

9:47am
Discover the bicycle shop is still closed. This upsets my schedule. I need a bike before 11:00am.

9:52am
Nice man from launderette next door notices my trundling back and forth and tells me bicycle man is on his way.

10:03am
Bicycle man arrives and I explain why I’d like to exchange the bike I bought from him. He asks me for the receipt. I reply that I’ve lost it but if he needs it I’ll go back home and look for it, no problem, I understand, I’ll go home now then? I think my voice sounds fairly panicky. He says it’s ok, he remembers selling me the bike.

10:23am
Finally manage to choose one bike from all the ones he has for sale. I should take my time and consider all the options but I feel like I have to make a choice. And this one looks nice and it’s more expensive than the old one which sort of makes up for my guilt about returning it weeks later and without a receipt.

10:26am
Get home and realise I’m 34 minutes ahead of schedule. Make more tea and read some blogs.

11:03am
Look at clock and notice I’m now running late. Oh bugger it. Check bag for necessary items (purse, keys, phone, sunglasses, sunscreen, deodorant, scissors, plasters). Tell cat goodbye and cycle to train station on new bicycle.

11:10am
Spend next 10 minutes trying to wrestle bicycle up and down train station staircases to get to correct platform. Luckily the 11:25am train is late.

11:25am
The announcer says something something mumble something 11:25 train to Amsterdam will depart mumble mumble. There really are a lot of people on the platform. Why can’t they shut up so I can hear what the announcer says? Panic slightly, then tell myself fuck it, if train departs from a different platform I can simply take the next train. Relax.

11:32am
Train arrives. I’m not going to be in Amsterdam at 12:00pm. And I don’t have a hand free to text or call my friend to say I’m running late, because the train is super crowded. As in, we’re standing on the balcony. With three bicycles. One lady in a wheelchair. 8 Spanish tourists. And a very loud hen party, 3 of whom are trying to find the toilets.

Empty train balcony (photo by Recensiekoning)

11:57am
Arrival at Amsterdam Central Station. I’ve reached the point where every time one of the hens screams, I screw my eyes shut and hunch my shoulders. I know this makes me look like a nutter. I don’t care. I just want to get off. When the doors open I manage to hoist my bicycle out without tripping, falling down the gap between the train and the platform, crashing into someone else, or making a complete idiot and/or nuisance of myself. Victory.

12:04pm
Realise that my headlong flight out of the station has been in vain, because I need to go back in and find an ATM. Fuck. Do I have to?

12:12pm
Finally on my way. Bliss. Sunny weather, bicycle. I’ve lived here long enough to know the fastest ways to get somewhere, but also the quietest and most scenic ways. Guess which one I’m taking. It’s beautiful out here.

12:24pm
Arrive at beer festival location which is a farm out in the middle of nowhere. Not that many people here yet, which is why I wanted to get here early. Lots of choice in food and beers. Start feeling panicky again because there is no leaflet listing where to find what. I don’t like having to make a choice while people are looking at me expectantly. I don’t know what I feel like having. I end up having a low alcoholic beer from the last stall in the line up because it’s set up under a large tree and the dappled light is soothing and they look like nice people and I don’t want to walk back because people might think I’m being rude. Their beer turns out to be very nice.

12:30pm
Friend arrives! I always feel less conspicuous in company and this is a close friend who knows I’m dealing with the autism stuff right now and who is the first of my offline friends to know about this blog.
*waves at offline friend*
Spend next hour or so just talking and trying out food and beers. Having fun! Also take some new pictures for blog header.

14:00pm
Small anxiety spike because ex shows up. I get along OK with ex but he always says very rude things about good friend. I don’t know how to deal with that. Decide to try and focus most of my conversation resources on friend and not worry about being rude to ex, because tough titty.

14:30pm
More people arrive. Another good friend joins group. Getting more crowded. Still having fun though. Although the music is a bit distracting. Maybe I should pace myself. But I’m having fun!

15:00pm
First friend has to leave because he’s having people over for dinner. Awww. It’s now getting so crowded that someone has to stay with seats at all times to prevent them from being taken by others. Sun is also getting very hot. Decide to move to a quieter spot with ex and other friend. Turns out quieter means less crowded, but louder music. Still having fun though!

16:00pm
Can’t remember much from this point on. People. Sunlight. Music. Talking everywhere.

17:00pm
Realise I need to go home. Well, should have gone home about 2 hours ago. Another friend is here and he’s doing this spiel with my ex about therapists saying I have no right to decide what’s best for me because well, autism obviously means I’m not capable of coherent thought and it’s really funny. But I notice my responses are getting flatter. So I should probably head home.

17:35pm
Actually say out loud to my friends that I should probably head home because I’m getting tired. Say goodbyes.

17:50pm
Cycle back to train station. Still gorgeous weather and gorgeous scenic route. Very nice. More traffic on road though. Have to pay attention.

18:04pm
Decide that it’s more practical to leave my bicycle across the water because that’s where I can pick it up when I cycle to work. Take the ferry behind the station to drop off my bike on the other side. Am fast enough locking my bike that I can take the same ferry back. Score!

18:24pm
Take more pictures for blog header. Realise I’ve just missed the train back.

18:36pm
Next train arrives. I get a seat to myself. Not for long. Two minutes later I get joined by four boisterous males in their early twenties. I know this because they proceed to talk about their own ages, the ages of the girls they could be dating, and the age of the boys their sisters are dating (one of the sisters is dating a Russian who is 5 years older than her and whose parents have a speedboat and a dacha on a lake somewhere), for the next 25 minutes. I feel old when they start talking about a girl born in 1996. I’m honestly trying not to pay attention and to concentrate on what I’m reading. But I can still recall most of their conversation a day later. It isn’t even interesting. How fucked up is that.

19:02pm
Thank god I can get off the train. Oh. Just thought of something. Bugger. Because I took my new bike to the station this morning, and that new bike is now in Amsterdam so I can use it for my work commute, I don’t have a bike here at the station to get home. Will have to take bus. Bugger McBuggerypants.

19:03pm
Call friend in UK while walking to bus station because this is usually a good time to reach him. Talk on phone for what probably amounts to an hour. I think. Somewhere in that time I must have gotten on a bus and got home. No idea what time though. I think I might be talking too loudly on the phone. In English. People probably hate me. I always hate people who talk too loudly on their phones when on the bus. And instead of talking about my day so I can start calming down, I talk about all sorts of things that are among my special interests right now and I’m getting more and more hyper by the minute.

20:10pm-23:00pm
No idea. Complete blank.

23:00pm
Realise I’m really really tired. Go to bed. Read for half an hour, then turn off lights.

00:15am
Still awake.

2:00am
Still awake. Images from day still going through my head. Reliving conversations. Not in an anxious or worried way but I keep going back to things. Can’t let it go. So tired.

2:15am
Give up trying to fall asleep and start reading book again.

4:15am
Turn lights off again. Fall asleep.

5:30am
Wake up again. Go downstairs to get some water. Fall back asleep after about 10 minutes.

7:02am
Get woken up by cat biting my foot because his food bowl is empty. I love my cat. Honestly.