My favourite colour is…Mexican pink!

If you asked me what my favourite colour is, for years I would have said purple. Now, I do love the myriad shades of purple, particularly the hues closest to Amaranth, but I also harbor a soft spot for pink. I find it difficult to admit this in a world that associates pink with little girls, meek ”femininity” and all things soft and gentle (not that there’s anything wrong with these attributes). But if you want to be taken seriously as an adult woman, you are often told to shun pink and stick to  serious black or grey. I think that’s such a shame because we’re denying ourselves a huge spectrum of beautiful colour, and the arbitrary association of colour with particular cultural signifiers restricts our aesthetic experiences. Ironically, pink was actually a masculine signifier (as a muted form of the ”manly” red), and pale blue was the ”feminine” colour until the mid 20th century.

Recently I have discovered Mexican pink, which is a vibrant purplish pink that is used in the traditional clothing of Mexico, particularly in the brightly coloured shawls and craft art. This hot pink colour actually symbolises Mexican identity (I am envious!). The colour was named in 1949, when the Mexican fashion designer, Ramon Valdiosera, utilised the colour in his designs.

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Late summer cuisine

As summer steadily draws to its close, I have been busy making the most of the seasonal plenitude. I was very pleased with the dish showcased below, which I discovered in my little BBC Good Food book of pasta. The name of the dish is pasta Primavera ( Italian for spring). In essence, however, a pasta primavera is any pasta dish that emphasises vegetables. Evocative of spring and the vibrant green of summer (when there is no drought that is!), the dish also includes myriad herbs  (my one contained basil, parsley, and mint). All the vegetables come together to celebrate, a veritable cornucopia of the season’s best produce, a symphony of flavour and colour.

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The next chapter in my seasonal cooking adventure will focus on blackberries, corn on the cob, plums and apples. Blackberries are already making an entrance, and so I decided to make a blackberry and apple crumble.004

In contrast, the cherry season is drawing to a close, so I gave them a joyous Sunday breakfast sendoff with this Clafoutis, which is a French fruit custard desert, involving eggs, milk, and a small amount of flour. 002

Autism for me

Autism is often talked about in very impersonal, objective terms, in arcane and confusing language that is overly medical and academic.

But to better grasp autism you have to ask the person with autism what it’s like for them. Autism is not an abstract entity but a lived experience, and no two lived experiences are alike; the following is only my version of what autism ”is for me” day to day.

Autism is:

Constant alertness, bombardment, too much information, too much noise, too many demands and not enough bandwidth to process it all, resulting in a never ending anxiety.

Autism is:

Fingers in ears when sleeping, headphones and predictable white noise (to block out unsolicited  noise) when reading, total, exhausting focus with the prospect of being distracted by noise at any random instant a constant menace.

Autism is:

This book needs to be read this morning, will it be noisy and will this interfere with the plan?

Autism is:

A shooting jolt in the stomach as footsteps are heard, thump thump, above, then silence…but when will the next noise come, and, oh no, I need to whisper this sentence out emphatically again in order to wrench the meaning out of the silent text.

Autism is:

Following passions assiduously and independently on my own terms, doing my own thing, living my own life, regular patterns and order to be found in food, cooking, and reading, curiosity and a never ending  need to accrue new information about the world.

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Autism is:

Distraction, lack of focus caused by noise competing for attention, irritability and anger when routines are interrupted and disorder and chaos replace beauty and peace; needing to know what is happening in detail, needing to go to bed at the same time every night, and fear that tiredness will render me completely incompetent, thereby affecting my intellect and ability to learn and function.

Autism is:

Fixation on the plan, wariness of straying outside my comfort zone and existing patterns of living, yet a paradoxical willingness to collect new experiences (food, books) that are the subject of an intense collecting obsession.

Autism is:

Obsession and total pursuit of an idea, thing or image, over and over and over again.

Autism is:

Procrastination, zoning out, aimless slumping in a chair not knowing what to do and where to go or how to live.

Autism is:

Excitement in the face of perfection, tasty food, a good book completed or a challenge overcome.

Autism is:

Feeling like a child in an adult’s body, running and jumping with abandon, overcome with energy that is so intense it’s  bordering on uncomfortable.

Autism is:

Pacing on toes round the kitchen, flapping arms and hands, unconscious random giggles when alone and undisturbed.

Autism is:

Mess, disorganised papers that are screaming out to be put away, but the energy has already been spent following interests or important routines.

Autism is:

Social confusion, disconnection and isolation; difficulty visualizing verbal explanations and taking in information at the pace people expect;  socializing (from reciprocal conversation to listening) is unnatural and arduous, yet important to avoid the feeling of not existing and having no value.

Autism is:

Difficulty empathising or delayed empathising. Not understanding the thoughts and feelings of others, at least not emotionally, and feeling bad about this because I want to care but the feelings don’t come on cue, and sometimes never come at all; feeling out of my depth when people cry and difficulty dealing with emotions, my own and that of others; avoiding peoples’ emotions as much as possible; repressing or ignoring feelings as not relevant; sudden bursts of angry energy that disappear as fast as they come; intellectualising everything.

Autism is:

Copying others, learning how to socialize via intense effort and conscious application, appearing to socialize well yet no one sees the furious paddling beneath the mask.

Autism is:

Often invisible to the casual beholder (well, if they don’t live with me, that is!) but all too visible to me, 24 hours of the day; appearing to be no different to anyone else, yet experiencing the world in a very different way.

Autism is:

Trying to fit in by conforming to the social rules, but stumbling around like someone trying to fit a key into a lock in the dark.

Autism is:

Attempting to socialise while feeling tense and as though I am on a precarious ledge that could give way at any moment, exposing my vulnerabilities.

Autism is:

Those eyes are boring into my soul, I can’t think, the glacial balls are too distracting, need to look down to focus on the words and formulate my response, but they might think I am being rude and I don’t want  to be judged so  I try and look at them anyway.

Autism  is:

Feeling vulnerable in a world that does not understand you and that constantly misinterprets your actions; a fear of being disbelieved, trivialised, overlooked and excluded.

Autism is:

Not mild but a total existence that affects every element of my life, for good and bad.

Autism is:

Tiredness, disrupted sleep, aches and pains.

Autism is:

What the heck are emotions? one moment and then complete involuntary explosions the next, followed by self-recriminations and endless rumination.

Autism is:

Slow processing, an intelligence that is not always accessible, meanings lost, facts forgotten, and consequent feelings of stupidity and failure.

Autism is:

Endless words stored in colour, such as aleatory, atrabilious (can’t believe I remembered that one, and spelled it right too, after only seeing it written this morning); a ordered inner universe of coloured months, days, numbers and years, a need to categorise, collect, try out, improve, experience, and control as many aspects of the world as possible, and to never stop trying to succeed.

 

 

 

31 years old, a reflection

 

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I turned 31 years today (Friday the 27th July, 2018). Yet inside I don’t feel as though I have changed significantly from when I was the 8 year old girl above, celebrating my birthday at the Stratford Upon Avon caravan site I visited every summer holiday.  I suspect that because I am autistic, I have followed my own developmental path that separates me from my age peers. I’ve never been in a relationship, never had a proper job, and I spend a lot of time alone because I struggle with socialising and do not have the strong social drive that occupies non autistic people. Inside I can be playful, strong willed, egocentric, and I’m often unable to see someone else’s point of view, resulting in what some might label  as childish behaviour.

That said, I continue to make small gains each year in terms of my confidence and ability to challenge my fears and OCD.  Last year I have achieved the following:

  • Developed a new friendship with another autistic woman
  • Ate at several new cafes in my area, including having chips at a local pub with my new friend
  • Began cooking fish, first with support and then on my own (I had huge OCD contamination fears around handling and eating fresh fish)
  • Began cooking all meals at my new flat, increasing my independence
  • Went on several trips to Brighton, including to the Brighton Pavilion  and the natural history museum on a supported outing; with a friend; and traveled there once on my own
  • Can confidently travel to Horsham on my own
  • Went on a supported outing to Guildford- first time I had looked round the town
  • Attended a new autism social group, run by Autism Hampshire. I used Google maps to find the venue, and traveled there all on my own! (I only went to a couple of meetings, and stopped attending because it was too noisy and unstructured, but was a good challenge)
  • Presented an Aspie Trainer talk on women and autism three times, at different venues
  • Presented an Aspie Trainer talk on autism and sensory issues for the first time
  • I was interviewed about autism for a local radio station
  • Took part in a colour perception research study at Sussex University
  • Began my you tube video channel at the end of 2017
  • Went to Portsmouth on my own several times, including my  first visit to the Natural History museum
  • Created an organisational system for my files with my support worker’s help, which has brought a bit more order to my life and has helped me develop my cooking skills
  • Developed my interest in food by becoming very interested in seasonality or what foods are currently growing in the UK
  • Had a cognitive assessment, which showed that I have a very high verbal IQ, but have severe non verbal challenges
  • Began going on regular outings, on my own, to Arundel
  • Ate twice ( teacake and then scone) at new cafe in Arundel

A few changes have also taken place this year. At the end of 2017, I stopped volunteering at AGE UK (which I had been doing for just over 5 years) because I was struggling to mask my autism and needed more space for myself. This decision, while not easy, has definitely improved my stress levels.

My support worker of 10 years announced that she was leaving a month ago, and I said goodbye to her earlier this week (although we will keep in touch).  I feel sad that she is leaving and uncertain about the future, but am trying to focus on the positives in my life and to keep challenging my anxiety.

Finally, on Thursday,  I baked a cardamom, banana, cranberry, and green tea loaf cake for my birthday (with thanks to my support worker who gave me the recipe from a Waitrose card).

 

 

 

My day in food

I thought I would write down what I had to eat on one random day. My daily eating habits are quite varied because I enjoy experimenting with different recipes.

                                                                                                                                     Breakfast

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”Black forest” overnight oats  with cherries, chocolate, grated pear, cocoa powder and yogurt  (BBC Good Food recipe)

                                                                                                                                    Lunch 

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Sourdough toast topped with peanut butter, and a strawberry, raspberry, banana and honey salad (a weight watchers recipe – no I’m not trying to get thinner than I already am, but I seek inspiration wherever I can find it!)

                                                                                                                                      Dinner

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Roasted ratatouille (courgette, aubergine, tomato and garlic) with penne pasta and cheese (BBC Good Food recipe).

                                                                                                                 A rather special dinner

On another day  I  made these courgette, mint, lemon and chickpea egg fritters in my frying pan,  served with cherry tomatoes, feta cheese and mint, a recipe which I discovered in the Waitrose food magazine. I was very pleased with how they turned out.

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Food update

Its been a busy couple of weeks in the kitchen. On Monday morning I made blueberry, lemon and poppy seed muffins, following a Waitrose recipe card; a  rare reprieve from my regular reading routine (I had just finished the scholarly philosophical primer Irrational Man).

Not being able to resist temptation, I ate two only a few minutes out of the oven. It was a delight to send two warm ones to my dad, because a pleasure shared is a lot more fun!

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I have also been experimenting with rye bread. As a child, rye bread was my bete noire or culinary black beast. My parents served the full bodied bread every Sunday breakfast, in place of the much preferred wheat bread. To disguise its taste I slathered the bread in honey, jam, or butter. By analogy, everytime the weather was muggy, sticky, and replete with flies, I would call it a ”ryebready day”!. I have no idea what people thought when I said this, because I forgot or did not care that others would not necessarily share my particular association.

There are many food items that I detested as a child that I now enjoy as an adult, such as peanut butter, kale, rice (I had to mix a ton of mayo into it in order to stomach the grains – yuk!),  runny eggs and spinach.  Knowing that my taste has evolved, I decided to try rye again and give it the benefit of doubt ( a trick of all good philosophers). Rye bread is a well of nutrition and contains very few ingredients, unlike the pap that we often call wheat bread, with its additives, sugar, E numbers, vegetable oils and a pile of substances I can’t even name.

In order to find inspiration, I stumbled upon a Jamie Oliver recipe for rye bread topped with mashed beetroot, cottage cheese, hummus, avocado and seeds.

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Moving in a slightly more maverick direction, I am busy testing out the rye bread Wimbledon: strawberry, banana and Greek yogurt. I’m not sure yet if this combination is quite up my kitchen (to pardon the pun) , but time will tell.

On the porridge front, I am trying a range of summery mixtures, including this ”Summer porridge” from the BBC Good food website.  I simply blitzed blueberries with milk, which I then mixed into raw oats and left to soak for 5 minutes, while I periodically gave it a stir. I topped the porridge with sliced kiwi and pomegranate seeds.

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Finally I can’t resist presenting a case of strawberries in love. I found this pair in a punnet of less than perfect strawberries (I think they meant more than perfect; it is humanities’ fault that we can’t appreciate nature’s blurred lines).

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It was with some regret that I yanked the conjoined duo apart.

We should all buy nature’s ”unwanted” specimens. By doing so we both limit food waste and advocate on behalf of the irregular and diverse.

Trip to Preston Park

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Yesterday, a rather chilly and grey June day,  I visited Preston Park manor house on a supported outing. I had never been to Preston Park before, and was glad that the place gave me very good vibes. Preston Park is a leafy, hilly outcrop of Brighton, and the Edwardian rows of terraces and houses nestled within the tree topped hills is aesthetically pleasing.

Preston Park manor house is a very short walk from the station, and is open to the public between April and September. As a disabled person I got in on the concessionary charge of just over £3, while my support worker got free entry.

The manor house is surprisingly big, and it has several stories, including a basement and attic.  The house is set back from the busy road and overlooks a green park that you can view from the French windows.

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My favourite room in the house was the reception/drawing room, where distinguished guests would engage in gossip before being summoned by a gong to dinner. I liked the airy, spacious layout,  and the high ceiling with ornate carvings and chandeliers.  That would be the life:  reclining on the chaise longue with a  good book and mug of coffee.

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There were several bedrooms in the property. I would like to own a bed like the one below, because the curtains can be pulled to create a perfect sensory den.

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The basement was my least favourite part of the house. This was where the servants slaved away ‘below stairs’, preparing food for their master’s elaborate parties. The air was stale and it felt claustrophobic and oppressive, which made me feel slightly out of sorts. I stayed long enough to take a few photos, but was relieved when I climbed back up the narrow, windy staircase and into the light of day.

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I had a good time at Preston manor and came away with a bit more visual insight into how the well to do lived in Edwardian England. Part of me also wishes that I had enough money to buy a house like this (minus basement and servants) because it would provide the perfect setting for a civilised, quiet and bookish existence.

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https://brightonmuseums.org.uk/prestonmanor/