WHAT is a hyperfixation meal, you may ask.
Well, it’s a huge sigh of relief on a plate.
It’s a safe, woolly, security blanket. No new information. Everything is familiar. A food meditation. For me it is a moment of calm and the absence of any extra sensory stimulus to process.
The same meal. Preferably on the same plate and with the same cutlery. If it wasn’t for Mental Health TikTok, I would have never even realised there was a word for it. Or that it’s something many neurodiverse people have in common. Or that not all people do it.
All my life I’ve been able to eat a specific meal for weeks or months on end. Until I fixate on something else and off I go. Over and over again until I’m so sick of it that I never want to see it again.
Yes, it sounds like the eating habits of a toddler.
A trauma bond with pineapple pizza
My hyperfixation meals are usually something containing chicken. For a long time, it was Diva Pizza's Thai chicken pizza. I imagine your eyes rolling back in your head right now, dear reader. Yes, this food writer dares to mention pineapple in the same sentence as pizza. But I must confess, the truth is much worse…
Yes, the horror of pineapple on pizza. But with it, chicken cooked in a Thai coconut sauce, a bunch of fresh coriander, with cheese, on a pizza. I tasted it in the year 2000 in Observatory for the first time and we immediately formed a trauma bond. A fierce love without rhyme or reason.
For a long time, in the years afterwards, I forgot about it. Shortly before the Covid pandemic, when I was going through an extra-difficult time and desperately needed a security blanket, I rekindled it. I ordered it so many times while driving home from work that even the Diva delivery guy tired of my face. I forgave myself.
The butter chicken curry from Bukhara restaurant or Woolworths’ ready-meal version was, depending on the time and budget, another favourite. Then there was also the phase of Fry's fake chicken burgers with baked beans.
The Lintvelt cult
I suspect my strange little apple didn’t fall far from my two dear parents’ tree: my smart father with his perfectionist ways and my mother, who was never really like other mums. No one in our house batted an eyelid that we had more or less the same lunch and dinner for two decades.
The foods on my brother’s plate couldn’t touch one another. My mother with her bunch of grapes on the plate. And my father who sat down with military precision for an identical meal every day — any deviation in texture or cutlery could ignite a thick and dangerous atmosphere.
Life outside the Lintvelt cult unnerved me. The rules were different and very focused on pretence. The first time I took a loved one home, the person remarked in the car on the way back to Cape Town: “Your family is very eccentric, do you realise that?”
On the spectrum
Over the past three years or so, I first slowly and gradually and then suddenly realised with a shock that I am on the spectrum. Neurodiverse. Autistic. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I’m not exactly sure what label belongs on my jamjar, because I hate labels.
And yet it was a huge relief to be able to look at my life in reverse. Several seemingly unrelated things took on a different meaning. None of my loved ones seemed too surprised by the news. It’s hard to see what’s on your own label when you're inside the jamjar, even if it’s clear to others.
The other day I listened to a talk by Katherine May, a keen observer and fantastic writer, who found out late in life that she was autistic. She says life always felt like a computer game that she played on hard mode, without knowing it. Now she knows.
I tell my therapist that I’m relieved: all the energy spent over the years trying to fit into boxes can now be spent on my own creativity. Finally abandoning the big self-help project. And placing my focus on my own needs and the conditions my little plant needs to bloom.
We’re not all like that, I want to be able to go and say in all the places, through all the years, where I tried harder to fit in than to be myself. And now, mercifully, without feeling ashamed.
And so, without feeling any shame, I will be eating my current hyperfixation chicken all winter long. I share the recipe below.
I put on some reggae music and pull the bag of shallots closer. “No more fighting / No more fighting” — the sounds drift through my house on a rain-soaked evening. The fight with myself is over.
Chicken stew with tomatoes and olives
If you only have an hour, use a good-quality cooked rotisserie chicken. Just believe Aunt Aletta. But if you have a little more time, feel free to use 1 kg raw chicken portions of your choice — just be patient with the cooking, because you want the chicken to fall off the bone and for that the temperature needs to be low and the cooking slow.
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 medium shallots, chopped
- 1 large carrot, finely chopped
- 100 g chorizo, 10 cm long (optional)
- 350 g mushrooms, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 240 g tomato puree
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 sticks of rosemary
- 3 sprigs of thyme
- 100 g black olives, pitted
- 1 can of white or black beans, drained
- 1 whole cooked chicken, cut into portions
- handful of parsley, chopped
- handful of basil, chopped
- ground salt to taste
- Using a large heavy-bottomed pot that can go straight into the oven, sweat the shallots in half the olive oil until soft then add the carrots and chorizo. All this will take about 15 minutes with the lid on.
- To save time, fry the mushrooms in the rest of the olive oil in a second pan until most of the moisture has evaporated, then add them to the pot of onions.
- If you use raw chicken with skin, you can now put in the extra effort to brown it quickly in the mushroom pan in extra olive oil. Be careful not to fry it for too long — high heat and a sizzle works best, as you only want to colour the skin and not cook the chicken (this will result in a dry dish).
- Pour the garlic, tomato puree, cherry tomatoes, paprika, pepper, rosemary and thyme into the pot and let it simmer for 10 minutes.
- Heat the oven to 180ºC. Add the olives and beans to the tomato stew. Add salt to taste. Pack the chicken portions in the sauce. Cover the pot and place it in the oven for 20 minutes. OR: If you started with raw chicken, lower the heat to 150ºC and place the covered pot in the oven for 40 minutes. Take a look and if it still doesn’t fall off the bone, turn up the heat a bit.
- Taste and add salt as needed. Sprinkle the parsley and basil over the dish. Serve with boiled baby potatoes or polenta.
♦ VWB ♦
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