Cake for Breakfast


“What kind of cake is that?” One of my colleagues pointed with the cake spatula and turned to those of us standing near him in the buffet line.

Another colleague answered, “I don’t know, but it looks awesome.”

“Let’s call it Awesome Cake!” someone proposed. And the mousse-filled, layered, and chocolate-dense cake was called Awesome for the rest of that evening staff meeting, at which food is always served to compensate us for working late and to keep our energy up during long discussions.

Angie was in front of me in the line. As she filled her plate, she asked me, “Are you having Awesome Cake?”

“None for me,” I replied. “I prefer something with nuts.” And I put some egg-salad sandwich triangles and a bite-sized walnut square on my plate. No one else at the table seemed to pass up the Awesome Cake.

Resisting the cake was easy, because I didn’t really want it nor had I planned for it. One thing the discipline of diabetes has forced me to do is think about which foods are good for me, and which foods aren’t but that I nevertheless want. When I indulge, it’s usually a premeditated act. If one can plan ahead for giving in, well, that’s what I do.

This weekend, my daughter Grace, who is 12 years old, browsed through the new issue of Cooking Light with a pack of sticky notes in her hand. She marked the pages of recipes she wanted to try, and she announced she would be cooking and baking in the days ahead. On Saturday afternoon, she made this cake with fluffy frosting.

A slice of cake, baked by Grace

It was cooled by 8:30pm, and Grace frosted it (using half of the frosting and discarding the excess). We wrapped it up and put it away without eating any, because of the late hour. On Sunday morning, we sat down to cake for breakfast. That’s my slice, pictured in the photograph above, in the moment before I ate the first bite. We each had a glass of milk, too.

What does this post, which includes a link to a recipe for chocolate cake, have to do with diabetes? A lot. When I was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 1992, for months I followed the prescribed diet to the letter. I ate about 1800 calories a day, split across 3 meals and 3 small snacks. I took four injections a day, two with a mix of short- and long-acting insulin (Regular and NPH — remember those?) and two with short-acting only. My A1C was midway between 6.0 and 7.0, and my doctor was pleased with how all the pieces fit together and the seriousness and rigor with which I maintained control. It was wearying.

I recall the day I asked him for permission to have some dessert and a little variance from my structured menu (lunch: 2 carbs, 3 proteins, 1 fruit, 1 veg, and 1 milk). “Dr. A., would it be okay if I had some cake at the Passover Seder this week?” We were heading to New Jersey to celebrate with my in-laws.

“Of course!” Dr. A. said this enthusiastically, without hesitation. “You have diabetes, but you must also enjoy life. Within reason.” We spent a few minutes discussing an insulin strategy, and I had a piece of the flour-less, unleavened chocolate cake at the first Seder. After a long time without sweets, a sliver satisfied me.

I do eat cake occasionally, if it’s homemade and a flavor I like. I’ll take a good oatmeal cookie when I can get one. If my mother has baked a fruit pie (she reduces the sugar), ah, that’s heaven.

I try hard to indulge in a diabetically responsible way. I analyze the carbohydrates per slice, I calculate an insulin dose based on my personal ratio (1 unit: 15 g carbs), and I eat during the day, when I’m up and moving around and exercise can help by increasing insulin sensitivity.

On Sunday, I bolused 3.4 units of Humalog for the 52 grams of carbohydrates indicated in Cooking Light’s nutrition facts for the cake. I ate slowly, and when the cake was gone I pressed my fork tines into the crumbs and ate those too. Two hours later, my BG was where it should be, at 118.

Today: no cake. After Sunday’s breakfast, I sliced up the rest and put it away in the freezer. It really is enough to have a treat every once in a while. The satisfaction lingers.

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