What is this thing called picky

I’ve been reading a lot of stories from parents about their child’s picky eating habits. The despair is apparent: how can I get my child to try new things? How can I ensure that they get a healthy, balanced diet?

Well, speaking as an autistic adult: don’t. I was a very picky eater as a child, and I am not a picky eater anymore (apart from a few exceptions). And frankly, this is DESPITE everything my parents did in forcing me to try new foods and finish everything on my plate. I used to dread dinner time. Now it’s my favourite meal of the day.

Because I started cooking for myself.

Picky eating in autistic kids is not obstinacy or temper tantrums to get candy. It’s tied up with a whole boatload of sensory issues: not only taste, but also smell, texture and temperature. Most of us are far more sensitive to these things than you realise. That’s why some autistic kids don’t like crisps, or ice cream, or bubblegum… things you imagine every child would like.

Maybe I can show you by listing examples of the things I would and wouldn’t eat as a kid.

Vegetables

You know, the big one. The one every parent freaks out about, because if you’re not eating your veggies, you’re going to DIE. Or something. So let’s look at how I kept myself from dying so far.

© Katrien | Praetershoek

I liked broccoli but only if it wasn’t boiled too long. Spinach, only if it was nearly pureed. Green beans were alright. I was quite fond of string beans as well, but only sliced very thinly (my mother had a special slicer for that, pictured on the right). My favourite vegetable was curly kale, mashed with potatoes. Other than those five, I hated all boiled vegetables. I hated them so much, that I scooped them behind the radiator at my back when nobody was looking, or hid spoonfuls in my pockets. I also hated to eat anything in which I couldn’t identify the vegetables. Vegetable soup was a nightmare, mostly because of the texture of boiled onions and leek. I didn’t start to eat onions until I was 19, and then only if they were sliced razor thin. Leek took me even longer, age 25. I didn’t eat tomatoes until I was about 22. Tomato sauce was OK provided it was pureed to death, but not my favourite. And other vegetables? I discovered a marvelous thing once I started living on my own: I could eat them raw. Carrots, cauliflower, endives, beets, cabbages, courgette (zucchini), even fennel have all been added to my veggie repertoire now that I’m an adult. All raw. I love veggies. What a difference from when I was a kid. If only my parents hadn’t forced me to eat them boiled.

Fruit

I loved and still love cherries. Oranges and clementines have always been a favourite of mine. The tarter the better. I couldn’t stand overly sweet oranges, not to mention the ones that were sort of chewy and dry. I also had to spend about half an hour picking off every last bit of pith. I’ll call it attention to detail, but the adults around me called it exasperating and neurotic. Now that I’m an adult, I fortunately have a higher pith tolerance. Strawberries were more complicated. I love them plain, but process them in any kind of way and they became my most loathed fruit enemies. Strawberry jam, strawberry yoghurt, even strawberry ice cream: YUCK. It was a combination of taste and texture: processed strawberries are completely different from fresh ones. Bananas were and are still only OK if they are slightly green, with absolutely zero brown spots. The texture of brown banana is still grueling to me.

© Kornelia Häfele | Wikipedia

I could only eat apples if they were rigorously de-cored, and not with an apple corer because that would still leave pieces of core. Pieces of core even made me refuse apple pie if I found any of it inside. I hated the taste of grapes. I still can’t stand seedless grapes as an adult. Peaches, apricots, and plums were only edible if they were skinned, again a texture issue. In line with the tartness of oranges, I also loved and still love any type of berry: raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, whitecurrants, gooseberries. It probably helped that we grew most of those in our back garden. My favourite was gooseberry, cracking the skin and then sucking out the juicy flesh. So while I was very specific about the ways in which I wanted to eat fruit, fruit was never the nightmare for me that vegetables were.

Dairy

I was breastfed and then got formula for a couple of months until I was about 12 months old. I stopped drinking milk after that. It used to worry my mum that I wasn’t getting enough calcium. She shouldn’t have worried, because I’m an absolute cheese fiend. One of my first words was cheese. When people asked me what I wanted on my sandwiches, I always said “Cheese!” even when I meant something else. And even as a little kid, I preferred the stronger tasting and aged cheeses (I discovered blue cheese when I was about 14, and fell utterly in love). I also ate a lot of plain yoghurt, with little or no sugar added. Fruit yoghurts tasted artificial to me and were too sweet. As an adult, I still eat enormous amounts of cheese, but I’ve also added ice cream (yes you’ve read that correctly, I didn’t like dairy based ice creams as a kid), sour cream and other dairy products to my diet. I still can’t stand sweetened yoghurts or milk, though.

Meat and fish

© Kokodrill | Dreamstime.com

My love of meat was extremely dependent on texture. I wouldn’t eat sausages if they had chewy bits in them. I painstakingly removed rinds of fat from everything, including ham and bacon. I wouldn’t eat any type of cold cuts except very thinly sliced “rookvlees” (a kind of smoked carpaccio). Steaks had to be extremely well-done. Funnily enough, I loved such weird things as chicken livers, venison, and rabbit. As an adult, I’ve slowly moved towards liking rare steaks, but I’ve become very picky about quality, and prefer to eat vegetarian if I can’t get good quality meat. I’m still not fond of rinds of fat, but I’ve learned how to cook them to a crisp. Crispy is much better. Texture-wise, I also had to eat everything with knife and fork, even things like chicken legs, because I hated my fingers getting sticky. I didn’t eat spare ribs until I was 27. Any type of fish sent me into a panic because I was scared to death of choking on a fish bone. Even fish fingers had to be meticulously checked for stray fragments. I didn’t learn to like fish until I was in my late twenties, and I still check for fish bones, although not as panicky.

Beverages

In this sense, probably the ideal child, because I only drank tea or water. Even fruit juice and cordials had to be watered down beyond all recognition, otherwise I wouldn’t drink it. I couldn’t stand Coke or other sodas, because they were far too sweet. I liked carbonated mineral water, though. As an adult, I’ve added coffee and most types of alcohol (except alcopops) to this list, but other than that, no change.

Other things

Bread: as a child, only toasted (but not too crispy), especially supermarket bread. And without whole grains in them. And no hard crusts. I’ve come a long way since then, and now I’ll eat any type of bread, although I am still fairly snobby about supermarket bread.
Eggs: only fried or scrambled, and only if the yolks were broken up immediately and the egg was thoroughly cooked. I didn’t eat a soft boiled egg until I was 34. Hard boiled eggs still make me gag.
Vinegar: my nemesis. Just the smell is enough to make me throw up. My two brothers always tried to take advantage of this, by “accidentally” dropping some mayonnaise or ketchup on my chips so I’d refuse to touch them. More chips for them. I still have to be very specific in restaurants about not wanting any salad dressing or other condiments.

This image is enough to make me nauseated. Not kidding.
© Kliek | Wikipedia

You might be thinking to yourself that this doesn’t sound very picky, because the list of foods I would eat was still fairly long. However, it was still a list, and if something wasn’t on the list, I’d have a complete meltdown when forced to eat it. It was nearly impossible to take me to a restaurant because I didn’t want to eat anything I wasn’t familiar with. Once, when I was on holiday in Austria, about age 10, I ate nothing but Wiener Schnitzels at the local restaurant for over a week. This ended with the chef making me the most gigantic Schnitzel I’ve ever seen (about the size of two large dinner plates), to the extreme hilarity of everyone present.

For years, food to me meant being forced to eat things, because that was the way the world worked. It was only after I started cooking my own food that I dared experiment a bit more and develop a healthier attitude. I had control over what I ate and how I ate it, and that helped me to become less uptight about food. Even so, it took me a long while to stop feeling anxious when having dinner at someone else’s house, because I hated drawing attention to my long list of weird food dislikes.

I’ve finally come to the point where I eat and enjoy most foods. But it’s been a very long, traumatic road.

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Lists are an autistic thing, but they’re not an impairment

So, after the success of my huge list of things that I think make me autistic, I figured I’d give it another go. My childhood interview was pretty much a fail (more about that later), so I knew I needed some way to show the diagnostic therapist the impact that the autistic stuff has on my life. Which goes against every instinct I have. Because I hide my vulnerabilities and I concentrate on my strengths. Which is a healthy thing to do. Except when a diagnosis is completely dependent on having a significant impairment. “Needing some acknowledgment and validation” is not a diagnostic criterion yet, unfortunately.

Writing this list took me countless drafts, different set-ups (Word or Excel document? Order by categories or severity?), innumerable tears, and 11 days. It was a really hard thing to do. But it was necessary. I also toyed with the idea of making it funnier by listing examples, but then decided against that because I need this to be as bleak and depressing as possible. I might have to cheer myself up with writing a list of things I’m awesome at. Anyway, without further ado, the list of things I suck at!

FINANCES

I have no overview of my bank account balance.
I don’t pay bills regularly.
I have no idea which bills have been paid and which haven’t.
I have difficulty prioritising payments.
I have no idea of the amount needed to cover my monthly expenses.
I have difficulty assigning budgets.
I sometimes buy things I can’t afford.
I’m unable to save up money for big expenses.
I forget to open letters and bills.
I have problems organising important documents.
I forget to do important things like apply for unemployment.
I forget to return important forms.
I have difficulty replying to important emails.
I have difficulty writing job application letters.
I get upset about making phone calls to companies and organisations.

PERSONAL CARE

I don’t take regular showers.
I don’t brush my teeth regularly.
I have difficulty remembering to put on deodorant.
I wear the same underwear for several days in a row.
I sometimes forget to shave my armpits even when I’m wearing something sleeveless.
I bite my nails and nail beds, sometimes until they bleed.
I pull out my hair.
I pick my nose even in public.
I sometimes forget to go to the toilet and end up wetting myself.
I forget to eat breakfast.
I usually have no energy to make dinner.
I postpone making appointments for the dentist, the doctor, and the hairdresser.

HOUSEHOLD

I don’t do my dishes regularly.
I don’t clean my kitchen work area regularly.
I don’t vacuum and clean my floors regularly.
I don’t clean my toilet and bathroom regularly.
I don’t do laundry regularly.
I don’t maintain my garden.
I don’t tidy up after myself.
I leave my dirty clothes in a pile on the floor.
I forget to throw food out when it’s gone bad.
I often use knives and plates from the day before.
I forget to bring empty bottles to the recycling bin.
I don’t change my sheets regularly.
I sometimes forget to take out the garbage.
I have problems keeping my clothes and shoes organised.
I forget to water my plants.
I don’t clean the cat’s litter box daily.
I have problems throwing away things I have no use for.

WORK

I’m often late.
I call in sick too often.
I don’t know how to pick my battles or agree on small things even when privately disagreeing.
I don’t know how to voice my opinion in an empathetic, non-confrontational way.
I get very upset when my own priority list gets changed by my manager.
I have difficulty handling criticism that I think is unfounded.
I don’t know how to handle tasks I have no knowledge of.
I have difficulty asking for help.
I try to postpone phone calls to customers as long as possible.
I have difficulty answering emails when I don’t have a real answer yet.
I always follow unimportant rules (like no private internet use at work, or wash up your own coffee cups).
I get upset when other people don’t follow those rules.
I get confused when there are implicit rules that nobody says out loud.
I have problems with lying to customers to protect the company’s interests.
I have difficulty handling unscheduled meetings.
I get upset when people are talking close by or when the radio is on while I’m trying to work.
I get upset when a ceiling light malfunctions.
I don’t like company outings that involve more than just having a couple of drinks.
I have difficulty joining coworkers for lunch unless explicitly invited.

FAMILY AND RELATIONSHIPS

I forget to congratulate people on their birthday.
I forget to plan a visit or send a card when someone has just had a baby.
I don’t often take initiative to meet up with family or friends.
I don’t call family or friends to ask how they are.
I forget to give small compliments.
I need to be explicitly told that information is private and not meant to be told to others.
I have difficulty not focusing on solutions when someone tells me about their problems.
I have problems in the early stages of a relationship because I get obsessed with the person.
I don’t know how to keep a conversation going when I’m not interested in the subject.
I rehearse conversations in advance.
I get upset when someone is late.
I don’t know how to talk to others about my own emotions.
I feel more connected to my cat and my books than to most people.
I often have trouble thinking about what someone else likes to do, unless they tell me.
I don’t know how to introduce myself to strangers.
I often say inappropriate things.
I often take things too seriously.
I have problems not interrupting people when I think of something interesting to say.
I get very upset when I think people are not listening to me.
I am too trusting of strangers.

FEELINGS

I have problems coping with changes in plans.
I always order the same things in fast food places.
I have irrational food dislikes that I disguise as allergies.
I get upset when I’m in a crowd.
I get very upset from loud or ongoing noise.
I get upset in brightly lit environments.
I don’t like having the TV on.
I have problems personalising my environment (like hanging up pictures).
I have problems disconnecting from dreams on waking up.
I have problems watching thriller or horror movies and knowing it’s not real.
I don’t get anything done when I’m sick or in pain.
I get angry when being complimented on something that I think is undeserved.
I get stuck on things needing to be perfect.
I hide in my bedroom for weeks when I feel unable to cope with things.
I hate myself when looking at this list.
I want to be perfect.
I don’t want to be normal.

The Salad Variations

Fried chicken salad

200 grams of chicken breast
75-100 grams of lettuce
4 cherry tomatoes
100 grams of cottage cheese or mozzarella
1 tablespoon of olive oil


This is how I clean chicken breast. I cut off a lot of weird bits, as shown on the left of the first pic. Then dice it into pieces of about one inch, as shown on the right. It’s hard to do this because it seems so wasteful, but part of my “Life As An Adult” motto is that it’s more wasteful to throw out food because I can’t eat it due to ickyness. So. I simply don’t buy meat everyday. And when I do, I’m allowed to cut off the weird bits.

Next, I put a bit of olive oil in a frying pan, just enough to cover the bottom, add chicken pieces, and put it on a medium to high heat. Basically just high enough to make spluttering noises but not so high that there’s oil flying everywhere.

Then I ignore the pan for a while and start sorting out the lettuce. See, the thing is that I really like this mixed bag, but they’ve started putting too much onion in it and that’s smelly and awful. So I pick out all the actual leaves. I can do that, I’m an adult now. Even if it takes 10 minutes.

Which, incidentally, is about the time needed for the chicken pieces to become nice and brown and crispy. Put the lettuce in a bowl and stir the chicken to get it to brown on the other side as well. Be careful of oil splatters.

Next, I want to add the cottage cheese to the salad, but as it turns out the best before date was about a week ago. Yay executive function! Disregarding that, I rely on my awesome autistic senses to taste if it’s gone off. Oh, actually it has. Yay autistic senses! So I use some mozzarella instead, diced into small bits.

Then I slice the cherry tomatoes into quarters. The chicken should be completely done by now so I add everything to the bowl, then add some extra virgin olive oil as a dressing. I don’t use store bought dressings, because vinegar and sugar and lots of crap. This salad doesn’t need it.

You can leave out ingredients or add others if you so wish (cucumber!). That’s the great thing about salads. You can add whatever you like. Except if you don’t like lettuce, then you might have a problem. But even then, fried chicken bits with tomatoes and cottage cheese is pretty yummy as well.

Endive and orange salad

4 endives
4 oranges, peeled and sliced
a small handful of walnuts
3 slices of blue cheese
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil


So, endives. Also called chicory sometimes. It’s a very popular vegetable in the Netherlands. I don’t really like it when it’s cooked. But raw? Yum. I have this thing for bitter tasting stuff. If bitter is your thing as well (there’s a reason chicory root is used as a coffee substitute), then you’ll probably like this salad.

Anyway. Clean the endives, remove any outer leaves that look shrivelled or brown. Slice into small strips, about half an inch wide. I cut off the tip here because it was green, basically the more green the more bitter, but there is a limit to what I can take. After I’ve sliced up the endives, I take out the inner core which is a bit tough and again, very bitter.

Then I cut the oranges into segments.

Once I’ve done that, I add some walnuts, about five of them broken into small pieces. Say a small handful.

For the blue cheese, I’ve chosen a Rochebaron this time, because it’s not extremely pungent and has a very creamy texture, a bit like brie. But sometimes I use a more pungent one like Danish Blue as well. I cut this into small cubes. Not too much or it will completely dominate the salad.

Finish with some extra virgin olive oil as a dressing, together with the juice from peeling and slicing the oranges. Same goes for this salad, play around with ingredients you like and leave out things you don’t like. It’s all good.

What nobody tells you about cooking

When my mother taught me how to make pancakes at the age of 12, it was mostly because she hated making pancakes in summer when the evening sun was shining right into the kitchen. It would get incredibly hot in there with the sun and two heavy pancake pans constantly in use. And I wanted to learn. Especially how to do the bit with the two pans. Like how do you make sure that one doesn’t burn while you’re busy with the other? My mother is not very good at explaining but she is very good at showing how to do things. So I watched and paid attention and figured it out. (The trick was to keep the flame under the pan not too high, so you’d have more time before burning started to happen).

As I grew older I kept begging my mother to teach me how to cook other things, but she always replied “Read the package, dear.” But what about potatoes? Or green beans? They don’t have packages. “Everything that doesn’t have a package, boil for 20 minutes.” Oh. Right. Does that really work?

As it turns out, it doesn’t. My mum is a great cook but she hates cooking. I have never asked why. It’s probably to do with having three kids and a husband who was never home on time and not having a lot of money when we were growing up. So I had to figure things out on my own. And there was a lot of figuring out to do, because there’s a lot that nobody explains to you.

Salt

“Add salt and seasoning to taste.” How can I tell if it’s to taste when it’s not done yet? I can only taste it after it’s done and then it’ll be too late! And how much is “a pinch of salt”?

My solution: Screw that. I don’t add salt and seasoning until the food is on the plate and ready to be eaten.

White rice

I didn’t manage to properly cook rice until I was 28. It was always soggy or burnt. And I followed the instructions on the package!

The trick: add one fingertip of water on top of the rice. It doesn’t matter how much rice you have. Or how big the pot is. Or how big your fingers are. This does not make sense mathematically or physically. It just works. One fingertip up to the first joint, as long as it’s not a huge pot with only a scattering of rice at the bottom. In that case, find a smaller pot. Bring to a boil on a medium to high heat, then turn the heat low and put the lid on. If you lift the lid after 15 minutes of boiling, you shouldn’t see any water, at most bubbles coming up between the rice. Replace the lid and turn off the heat, then let it sit for at least 10 minutes. You can also let it sit longer (especially if you wrap it in a towel or blanket) and prepare the rest of the meal in the meantime. Perfectly dry white rice.

Risotto (short grain rice)

© Vít Luštinec – Wikipedia

This sounds like a lot of work. Glaze the rice, add a little bit of stock, stir until it’s soaked up, add a little bit more…

My solution: Risotto tastes exactly the same when you dump the entire amount of stock into the pot in one go. It’s simply rice that soaks up a lot of moisture so you add a lot of moisture to keep it moist and creamy. That’s it. How you add it is completely beside the point (although stirring does help). Follow the recipe with regards to glazing the rice in some olive oil, and adding the other ingredients, but ignore the whole “add and stir until soaked up” thing.

This is true for a lot of recipes, actually. Don’t be afraid to try out different ways of preparing things, as long as you’re not cooking for others. People get annoyed when they have to go hungry. For yourself, you can simply make a sandwich if it all goes wrong. And it will go wrong often. Very very often. That’s OK.

Fish and meat

How can you tell if it’s done? If you cut it open and it’s not done yet, you can’t put it back in the pan because then all the juices run out and the butter or oil starts sputtering.

The fish trick: you can simply fry on one side only. That saves the trouble of trying to turn it over without the fish falling apart, as well. Keep the heat low and wait until the topside doesn’t look raw anymore. Done!

The meat trick: this works best with beef and other red meats, but also with poultry and pork. Push slightly on the top of the meat and feel how springy it is. You can use either your finger or a fork.

Is it as springy as the meat of your thumb when you gently touch the tips of your thumb and index finger together? Then it’s still raw inside.
Is it as springy as the meat of your thumb when you gently touch the tips of your thumb and middle finger together? Still pink inside, but not bloody anymore.
Is it as springy as the meat of your thumb when you gently touch the tips of your thumb and ring finger together? Well done.

Veggies

I used to loathe – ABSOLUTELY LOATHE – nearly every cooked vegetable. Except fava beans and spinach, for some strange reason. But when I moved out I figured out something really shocking:

I don’t need to eat things I don’t like and still eat healthy meals.

In fact, there’s been some research done that shows that if you enjoy what you eat, you eat more slowly which helps digestion and enables your body to derive more nutrients from your food. Besides the obvious fact that enjoying stuff is pretty awesome in its own right.

I still detest boiled carrots

I still detest boiled carrots ( © Bill – Fotolia.com )

My solution: try out everything raw first. It turns out that a lot of vegetables don’t need to be cooked and have a FAR more pleasant texture when they’re raw. You need to be careful and only do this in small amounts, since some plants have toxins in their skins or leaves to keep away insects, like potatoes and beans. But you can usually find information on that online. Just make sure to check your sources. And remember: one bite won’t kill you. Plants that are that toxic are not for sale in supermarkets. So give it a try and see if you find something you like. Just because recipes say you need to prepare a vegetable a certain way, doesn’t mean it’s the only way.

Cook the scientific way

In closing, check out the site below, Cooking for Engineers. It takes cooking to an entire new level and doesn’t assume anything is true until tested. For example the Kitchen Notes section, where he looks at how food actually becomes brown through different methods of adding heat, and the Cooking Tests section where he sees if the Beer Can Chicken idea actually works and tries out different ways of cooking bacon. The recipes in the Recipe File all have clear pictures of each step and very handy charts at the bottom with ingredients and preparation steps.

© Michael Chu - Cookingforengineers.com

© Michael Chu – Cookingforengineers.com

Absolutely brilliant.

Rainbow soup

20130825_202111
So I decided to make rainbow soup today.

It’s not actually called rainbow soup. I just like it and it’s got a lot of colours so that’s why.

I don’t really feel like doing an official recipe so I’m just going to show how I made it.

Starting with about two handfuls of green beans.

I hate green beans when they’re stringy or have big beans inside or are gigantically overcooked. Other than that I quite like them.

If you want to make sure they aren’t stringy, there’s a trick to cleaning them. If you sort of use the knife to pull the tip of the bean towards you while cutting, you can get the string to come with as well. I hope the picture sort of shows that.

It’s really hard to take a picture while holding a green bean in one hand and a knife in the other.

I cut the beans into small pieces, probably around 1-1.5cm. I guess that averages out around 0.5in. Does it matter? Not really.

Then there’s the big pot of chicken stock. Two litres. I’m lazy and I always use ready made stock from jars. It’s just so much easier.

I prefer jars to making stock from cubes because this way I can just put it in the pot without thinking about it. I do add plenty of water because I don’t usually like very salty food.

This is called a lombok. It’s a chili pepper used in Indonesian cooking. I’m not actually cooking Indonesian food this time but it’s the most common pepper available in the Netherlands. I think it’s a variation of the Cayenne pepper.

I like lomboks because they’re spicy but not insanely so. Plus they have an awesome red colour.

This one is about the size of my hand.

There’s a couple of ways to clean chili peppers. I prefer cutting them lengthwise and then scraping out the seeds and interior.

The more of the orangey interior (seed ribs) you remove, the milder the taste will be. Today I’m not interested in sniffles so I’m removing most of the insides.

After that I’m cutting them into small strips.

I’m mostly doing it for the colour.

Then it’s on to the tins.

Crispy mais. I don’t know what’s so crispy about it. It’s just maize kernels. Or corn kernels. You know what I mean. There’s a picture.

I always make sure to buy the kind without added sugar. Seriously. Maize is sweet enough already. Silly people.

I drain off the water in the tin before adding the contents to the chicken stock.

It’s starting to look pretty.

Green, yellow, and red.

I had to put in quite a bit of effort to get this picture. The maize kept sinking to the bottom of the pot. And as with the green bean and the knife, it’s a bit hard to take a picture while stirring soup with a really big ladle and making sure the pot stays in place.

The sacrifices I make for this blog.

Another tin!

Diced tomatoes. No idea why this tin is in English, since it’s actually a Dutch brand.

This step in the preparation might be a leftover from when I didn’t eat tomatoes. What I do is I take the diced tomatoes and rinse them about a thousand times till I only have the bits of tomato meat left and no juice.

Fresh tomatoes are not an option (even though I actually like those now) because the skins peel off in a nasty way and peeling them beforehand is a lot of effort.

I might try peeled tomatoes but I’d have to rinse those as well. And they feel icky when you’re cutting them up.

So rinsed diced tomatoes it is. Rinse rinse rinse. Not much left when I’m done rinsing.

Without the juice the soup doesn’t become a red cloudy mess either. We want rainbow soup, not tomato soup.

(Oh, on a side note: at my supermarket they have like half an aisle filled with different types of tomatoes. It is 100% impossible for me to pass it without starting to sing “Let’s call the whole thing off” softly to myself).

Time to clean and dice the chicken breast.

Yeah, I know you can get pre-diced chicken breast. But I’m very particular about icky bits in my chicken. I’ve learned how to eat (and love) other parts of grilled chickens, but breast definitely needs to be skin and tendon free. So usually I prefer buying a whole breast and cleaning it myself. I’m better at it than their machines.

You don’t want to know how often I find bits of bone.

Potatoes next. (Potayto! Potahto! Let’s call the whole thing off!)

I use a specific potato breed called “Eigenheimer” from Friesland. The Dutch have a thing about potatoes. But any fluffy, starchy potato will do.

What I want is for the bits of potato to become soft and crumbly when I eat them. But they shouldn’t be dissolving while still in the soup. I don’t want thick starchy potato soup.

So now we’ve got our pot of chicken stock, filled with green beans, chili pepper bits, maize kernels, diced and rinsed tomatoes, diced chicken breast, and diced potatoes.

Let’s go and bring that mother to a soft boil.

I usually aim for about 30 minutes. The chicken and potatoes need plenty of time to cook.

While the soup is softly bubbling to itself, I’ve got time for my favourite part.

Coriander. Cilantro.

I love it. A lot of people hate it.

That’s ok. Autistic people know everything about “irrational” dislikes of food so nobody here is going to force anyone to eat something they don’t like.

I’m just going to make you look at it.

Pretty green leaves. So pretty.

And now I’m going to take my big-ass knife and destroy the pretty green leaves.

Chop chop chop!

Well, I’m not that fast. This is a really sharp knife and I still can’t feel the tip of my left ring finger from where I cut into it with this same knife in January. So… proceed carefully. But thoroughly.

I need very finely chopped coriander.

Because I’m going to make meatballs! And my experience with not-so-finely chopped coriander is that it’ll end up everywhere (plate. frying pan. hands) except inside the meatballs.

Lean ground beef. Seasoned with some fresh black and white pepper and a pinch or two of salt (I use literal pinches. Like what I can pinch between my thumb and first two fingers). Again, I’m not that fond of salt but you can add more if you want.

Next, I add the coriander, a small egg, and some bread crumbs.

The egg and bread crumbs are purely optional, I only add it because the meatballs turn nice and brown when frying with a bit of egg in the mix, and it makes it a bit easier to roll the balls and not have them fall apart in your hands or while frying.

But it does make everything a lot ickier to touch. So I can understand if you skip this part.

Knead the meat until it starts feeling like bread dough. If it’s still really sticky and slippery, add some extra breadcrumbs. You literally want a bread dough feel. That’s the easiest for rolling the meatballs.

(This feeling is not applicable when not using egg and breadcrumbs. Then you’re on your own. I’m so mean).

Take a bit of meat about the size of your thumb and roll it between your palms in a circular motion until you get a ball.

I always try to minimise amount of washing up, so I usually put the meatballs directly into the frying pan. Not heated up yet. Just a little bit of olive oil to prevent them from sticking to the pan and a small pat of butter (about thumb size) for the nice frying action later on.

Repeat lots of times until you run out of meat.

Then turn on the heat underneath the frying pan and fry the meatballs until they turn brown, on a high to medium heat. Depends on how much it’s splattering. I don’t like splatter, it always ends up on my hands and then I have burns and that hurts.

Turn off the heat under both pans (yes, the soup was still softly boiling, remember?) and add the meatballs to the soup. Again, try to avoid splatter. Boiling soup is hot.

What do you mean, accident prone? I only have cooking mishaps about once a month or so.

And it’s so worth it.

Look. RAINBOW SOUP!!!

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. 😉

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.