Our family jokes about how our dinner conversation is always in regard to what is on the menu for the next meal. We like to eat. We like to eat almost anything, although we also consider ourselves gastronomical snobs. None of us ever stops in at a fast food joint, even in a dire emergency. Food is just too respected among us to ever lower ourselves to the quickie Big Mac or Double Double. We cook from the Julia Child’s cookbooks, research epicurean specialties, and because my parents are Texans we can innately grill any food product, even bananas and turnips, turning them into delicious treats.
Two years ago my then-78-year-old dad, and World Champion chili cook and barbecuer, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. He had just had a knee replacement operation and the doctor said the sedentariness after the surgery brought on the issues related to diabetes. But, chances are, his blood glucose level ranked pretty close to diabetic in the first place.
My family considers ourselves pretty healthy because all of us exercise regularly, almost daily, and we eat fresh produce, the best cuts of meat and the finest ingredients (World class chili includes no pasta fillers and only the highest grade of sirloins. True barbecue sauce never includes sugar). As a family, we get together a few times a year to celebrate holidays and birthdays. Of course, this involves big meals that we all participate in preparing. This past year we had to learn some new ways to make our usual dishes. I was dead set on being disappointed in what was going to be served. Sugar-free chocolate pies? How do you make a roux without butter and flour? Everything would be bland and boring.
Selfish perhaps, but eating is of such vital importance, not just for survival, but a part of our lives’ enjoyment and entertainment, that I set out to make sure that my taste buds were not insulted. The Christmas presents from me that year would be the top notch foodstuffs for a diabetic diet.
I thought this would be a challenge. Besides diabetic candy, which ranks somewhere just above Bridge mix mints and butterscotch, I had never considered what a diabetic ate. I scoured the web for food products I could wrap in bows and shower my dad with under the tree. Turns out that diabetics don’t eat that much differently than we already did, just refocused. Our salads became bigger with lighter dressings. Our condiments focused on vinegar and less oil. We had already been big olive oil users (brought the finest home in our suitcases when we traveled), but too much apparently. And we love butter (see Julia Childs’ Mastering the Art of French Cooking cookbook), but a little dab of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” can’t be detected if the other ingredients are tiptop. Pasta became whole wheat and that just made us consider ourselves more gastronomically elite anyway.
We also began to rearrange our portions. Salads took up one half of the plate instead of one tiny corner. Pasta and rice and other grains and starches were really only a quarter cup, instead of enough to fill a food drop in Eritrea.
I found myself not trying to find good tasting diabetic foods, but realizing it simply meant we only had to re-allot what our family was already doing well.
Still, I had to get my dad something for Christmas, and the history book on cartography and my first attempt at knitting needed an addition. A bottle of agave sweetener I bought at the winery, Adobe Guadalupe in Ensenada, Mexico turned out to be the perfect gift. The sweetener, made from the same plant used to make tequila, is diabetic-friendly.
This summer, my father had his second knee replacement surgery. I went to Texas to help and prepared most of the meals. Every day he checked his blood sugar and maintained a steady level. We had one more challenge added to our cooking–he was taking coumadin, a drug to help with blood thinning for post-operative patients. Green leafy veggies are not allowed, as they counteract the job of the coumadin. But there’s always yellow squash and eggplant and carrots. The squash and eggplant grill especially well, and carrots steamed with a little ginger and cinnamon can make an epicurean’s heart flutter with love.
My dad squeezed a little agave sweetener on a tablespoon of non-fat ricotta for his dessert while we talked about what we would make for the next evening’s meal.