When you are autistic, cooking your own meals can be more challenging than others give it credit for. One of my new year’s resolutions for 2012 is to cook more, and I intend to adhere to it. When I say “cook”, I am rather serious about it, I mean “make my own meals, from scratch, from recipes, with good quality ingredients”.
The reason for the strict definition is because I want to get healthier and save money, and I’ve shifted a lot on the idea of “cooking” since I was old enough to use an oven and stove on my own. Most of the time when I was “cooking” in my teens it was either an elaborate special meal, or else nothing more than a two-ingredient dish, a raw assembly of different foodstuffs, or a fry-up, because I had so many different sensory issues with particular foods.
Sometimes I even just had a frozen dinner, which I stopped because I couldn’t stand the textures of the “food” produced from it. This is a challenge to myself, because I know I now have the tools necessary to pull it off, and I know it can make a really positive difference to my health, wealth and independence by learning how to cook meals regularly.
The first challenge is to find cookbooks and recipe websites which are useful to me. The way my mind works isn’t so much, “Oh, I’m hungry, what do I want for dinner? Hm, I think I will make (so and so recipe) for dinner tonight.”, as it is “Hm, I’m hungry, what can I eat that’s available?” I think it will be easier for my brain to transition towards, “Hm, I’m hungry. Let me look in this cookbook/on this website to see what looks tasty.” I’m hoping I can eventually clip favourite recipes to the kitchen fridge so I have a quick reference point on what I’d like, especially for breakfast, which is a crucial meal but often neglected by me.
The actual cooking process is another thing entirely. It’s easy enough to follow the steps set down in the cookbook, if you think of it as a logical point from step 1 to 2 and so on, but the texture, temperature, and smells changing associated with cooking have long been a deterrent for me from cooking meals daily. Certain foods (Tofu, eggs, meat, anything with batter, I’m looking at you) changes drastically during cooking, and the smells and textures can often leave me feeling ill.
That’s where quality of ingredients comes into play: a good, fresh egg from a farmer in Saanich is a lot less likely to trigger my olafactory sensory issues than a generic grocery store egg*, good meat doesn’t have as much of a stink to it and cooks better, and nice vegetables are a lot less slimy when cooked. It’s going to take a bit of experimentation, but I think eventually I can figure out the best way to have a balanced diet without giving my sensory issues trouble.
The biggest factor after sensory issues is energy: I have days, like any autistic, when I am overwhelmed with the world and want to just sort of retreat, and don’t feel like doing much of anything, let alone cooking. Normally on those days I’ll order a pizza, but I think I’m going to try a different approach this year and see if I can cook enough to create leftovers, something that’s never really been my style, so I can resort to those on bad autistic days.
I’ll let my readers know how I progress on this. I didn’t grow up eating home-cooked scratch meals, so this is all pretty new to me, but I think it’s worth it to help me achieve independence on a new level, and take care of my health.
* I grew up with chickens and spent a lot of time around farms and chickens as a child, so my eggs were always fresh, which probably explains this particular sensory trouble at least.