Out To Lunch

Out To Lunch

I went out for lunch yesterday. It struck me later that this was the first time I’d eaten out since before I began my transition, more than 18 months ago. But that didn’t even occur to me until hours afterwards: I was far too preoccupied. You see, I was meeting a young lady.

11742805_10203708980319697_4483407513116153502_nI wanted to make a good impression. It was a lovely, sunny day so I wore this new red dress (rather daring for me because it barely comes down to my knees) with a pair of red heels and spent nearly 30 minutes doing my face and hair. Excitement wrestled with nervousness as I drove into town.

I felt good; I felt confident as I walked from the car to the restaurant. It was five minutes of twelve: I was a little early which suited me. I would have time to get settled and make myself comfortable. It was early for lunch so the place wasn’t too busy and I could choose where to sit: I decided on a small two-seat table by the window where I would be able to watch for her arrival.

A waiter brought a menu; I explained I was waiting to meet someone and just ordered a sparkling water. I browsed Facebook to pass the time while keeping one eye on the passers-by. Nervousness crept in: what if she was late? What if she didn’t come at all? Would we get along face to face? We’d only chatted online before this.

I needn’t have worried. She arrived just a few minutes later and saw me through the window. She smiled and gave me a little wave; I reciprocated. She joined me at my table, ordered a water–still to my sparkling–and we started to talk. Somewhere during this we ordered food and ate but the meal was definitely a sideshow to the main event. Not that we didn’t enjoy it, it’s just that we were deep in conversation. Quite something for two people who are usually uncomfortable in social situations.

It was over too soon. She had to head off to work shortly before three, so after paying the bill we walked back to our cars. We hugged before parting and it felt wonderful. We will meet again.

I’m still working through my memories of yesterday: such a wealth of images, impressions and emotions. The pleasure of building a relationship with my daughter after so many years, the many ways in which she reminds me so much of myself. It’s difficult for me to connect the young woman I met with my memories of her as a baby and infant.

More than anything I feel so happy and grateful that she contacted me and that we are becoming friends. I feel a bond that I did not expect, a reawakening of the feelings that had languished, forgotten, in the dusty attic of my mind. I’ve missed so much of her life that I’m not sure I deserve to be invited back in with such welcoming acceptance. She is open, honest, caring and intelligent, and I am so proud to have her as my daughter.

Eating (dis)Order

Eating (dis)Order

I came across this post by bunnyhopscotch and it made me think about my own eating habits and preferences. While I don’t consider myself extreme in these regards I am aware, because of frequent comments from my wife in particular but also from my mother when I was growing up, that some of my behavior is unusual.

Order and predictability are very important to me – I like to know what to expect in advance and I hold a mental image of these expectations. If the reality is significantly different then that causes me to react – this can range from a mild disappointment to a full-blown meltdown. This is very difficult for non-autistic people to understand: many of them enjoy surprises and find repetitive experiences to be exceedingly dull. I’m not that way; I enjoy the comfort of regularity, of familiarity. If I get exactly what I was expecting then I could not be happier.

One of my favorite meals is spaghetti bolognese; whenever my wife asks me what I would like to eat that is the answer (I don’t know why she bothers to ask unless it is in the hope that one day I will say something different). She gets bored preparing the same meal so often, with no variation in the method or ingredients. I would happily eat this every day – the longest I have managed was to have it for every meal for two weeks before she refused to serve it again on the grounds that she was sick of the sight of it! (I had chilli instead the week after.)

The paradoxical thing is that I am not a fussy eater: there are very few things I will not eat and I do not have any food allergies or other digestive trouble that would restrict my diet. What I do have is a fairly rigid set of routines around eating. I’ll start with the arrangement of the food on the plate – all the individual elements must be separate and any sauce or gravy can only be poured over certain items. Gravy on sliced meat, roast or mashed potatoes is good; on sausages, chops and steaks, greens or most other vegetables is bad. I don’t like different elements to be mixed on the plate – it’s not good if, say, the peas get mixed up with the carrots.

I will also generally eat the parts of the meal in some order. Non-potato vegetables are always first, starting with the small, numerous items such as peas or corn. Then would come larger items: cauliflower cheese or mushrooms, before getting on to the potatoes and finally the meat. With meals such as chilli and rice (uniformly mixed together) I have a different approach: I will start at the edges, squaring the shape, and work inwards towards the middle maintaining that shape with its straight sides; mashed potato is the same.

There are other things: bread and butter must be in whole slices and if stacked the buttered sides must be together. Any cutlery accompanying the meal must not be in contact with the food prior to me starting to eat. Except for bread/salad and condiments there must be no combination of both hot and cold items on a plate.

I’m also a little unconventional in my use of cutlery. As much as possible I will use only a fork or spoon, held in my right hand. I transfer the fork to my left hand if I need to use a knife – I can’t use a knife with my left hand – but will put down the knife and pass the fork back to the right when I’m done. I need to keep the cutlery clean as I’m eating which means I have to put the fork or knife into my mouth or lick it to remove any visible food – very delicately in the case of a sharp steak knife!

This last habit – putting the knife in my mouth – raises my wife’s hackles every time she sees me do it. It turns out she was taught that this is ill-mannered. Trouble is, not doing it puts me on edge because then the knife is dirty, so I can’t win. In general my wife is pretty good about accommodating my “peculiarities” where food is concerned, but she will keep on about the knife in mouth thing.

There are other little things but I’ve covered the main points here. From the outside I have been informed that my eating habits appear restrictive, repetitive or downright strange but from my side it is simply the way I am – I’ve always been like this so I don’t know any different.

Food for Thought

Food for Thought

I have never been a particularly fussy eater, but there are some things I don’t like and avoid. Raw tomatoes used to make me gag: it was a combination of the texture – mouth feel – and the taste. As I’ve aged I find I generally enjoy them, but if the tomato is under-ripe I still find myself gagging on it. Cooked tomato has never been a problem. I can’t eat mussels or clams because of the texture and flavor but enjoy calamari and prawns.

I’ve never enjoyed dealing with meat, such as chicken portions, or fish that contains bones. I find the painstaking picking through in search of the bones so they can be removed before I take a mouthful to be tedious and I usually give up after a while, leaving the rest untouched. This is at odds with my strong inclination to finish whatever is put in front of me.

That inclination causes me problems with my weight: rather than just eating enough at a sitting I will continue to eat as long as food is available until I cannot physically consume any more. I don’t feel hunger to any great degree and can generally eat a full dinner regardless of the hour or whether I have already eaten. Buffets are a particular problem for me – I feel obliged to try to eat everything that has been laid out, as if it had been served to me alone. I feel that I’m breaking a rule – committing some transgression – if I leave food. I guess this is a result of being brought up to clean my plate – I subsumed this as an almost-inviolable unconscious behavioral rule.

The only ways I have found to deal with this are avoidance and strict portion control. Despite knowing that it is not the best option from a health point of view I will skip meals, often eating just one meal a day. I figure that it is better to do this than to overeat. The second way, controlling the size of portions, requires the cooperation of others such as my wife who prepare my meals. Even though I remind her from time to time, I find that the size of my dinners creeps up. The first sign I usually get is that my clothes are starting to become tighter and less comfortable.

I do enjoy food. I derive a lot of pleasure from eating foods that I enjoy and do not get bored eating one of my favorite dishes day after day. As an example, I have eaten home-cooked spaghetti bolognese with garlic bread on more than half the days of the past month and enjoyed it equally on each occasion. If it weren’t for my wife getting bored preparing the same dish repeatedly I would happily eat it every day.