Once Bisi got over the fear of the first night at the hospital, she actually had a great time. She felt pretty good. Now that she’d been diagnosed and was on insulin, her blood sugar was down closer to normal. This meant that her brain was no longer directing her to drink huge amounts of fluids to flush out all the extra sugar in her body. It also meant that she was able, once again, to get nutrients from her food. Insulin serves as a “key” to unlock cells and let them take energy from the food we eat. Because Bisi hadn’t been producing any insulin, her food was going right through her, which is why she had started losing weight.
Children’s Hospital also does a great job of making things as fun as possible for their patients. Bisi spent hours in the playroom, drawing, playing air hockey, making bead bracelets. She got to spend a lot of uninterrupted time with Mark and me, which was nice for all of us, despite the circumstances. Her roommate, a four-year-old girl diagnosed the day before Bisi with type 1 diabetes, taught Bisi to make a poster and place it on the window, so the construction workers in an adjacent wing of Children’s would make their own sign saying hello. Bisi also spent a lot of time making a rainbow “BISI” sign to put above her bed. She hates being called her real name—Elizabeth—and had to endure hearing it with each new doctor, nurse, or resident who entered the room. She hoped that the sign would set them straight.
But perhaps the most exciting thing that happened while she was there was that she was given Dishing it Up Disney Style: A Cookbook for Families with Type 1 Diabetes, published in conjunction with the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical company, the maker of the insulin Bisi needs with her meals. For a girl who’s obsessed with Disney characters, particularly Ariel, this was a thrilling gift. She immediately started paging through it and planning meals. We decided that on our first night home from the hospital, we would make Ariel’s Turkey Pilaf. Mark and I were thrilled too—the idea of cooking from scratch, which I do all the time, had suddenly become scary. How would we count all the carbs and figure out her insulin dose? This book counted them all for us, plus it was something that made Bisi feel special in a positive way. She kept on asking me, “Mommy, this cookbook is only for people with type 1 diabetes, right? It’s not made for anyone else.”
We made the turkey pilaf, and it was delicious. But as we started understanding more about carbohydrate counting and selecting more recipes from the cookbook, we became a little less enthusiastic about the hold the cookbook had on our daughter. A diabetic can’t process carbs without insulin. So the more carbs we include in Bisi’s meals, the more insulin we need to give her. It used to be that diabetics tended to be on severely carb-restricted diets. With the insulin regimen Bisi is on, the basal/bolus method, the idea is that she uses insulin on a sliding scale, to match whatever carbs she chooses to eat. But to us, it made sense that Bisi’s meals should healthy and relatively low-carb, so we wouldn’t have to be giving her tons of outside insulin. Yet the Disney cookbook was filled with relatively high-carb recipes like Prince Phillip’s Baked Potato Wedges (39 carbs for twelve pieces), Rapunzel’s Chicken and Biscuit Pie (35 carbs per serving) or Pinocchio’s Peach Raspberry Cobbler (45 carbs).
I know I’m being incredibly cynical here, but it was hard not to imagine Eli Lilly’s profits inching a tiny bit higher each time Bisi or another diabetic child ate one of the starchy and/or sugary meals in the Disney/Lilly cookbook. After all, the more carbs someone eats, the more insulin she needs to process it.
Still, Bisi loves Ariel, and she loves the pilaf. I decided to adapt the recipe to make it a little more healthy and a little lower carb (I changed the rice to quinoa, halved the raisins, and upped the vegetables). I also made it gluten free by making my own pilaf seasoning mix (more on the gluten free later). We ate it last night, and while Bisi said she preferred the original, she polished off two bowls of the new version.
Bisi’s Turkey Pilaf*
(Note, I’m including the very approximate carb count to give people a sense of things; I divided the total number by 8, and got 28 carbs per serving. I had never looked at a carb label or counted carbs in my life before Bisi’s diagnosis, but now, by necessity, I’m obsessed.)
1 onion (8 carbs)
4 carrots (27)
8 cups of fresh baby spinach (essentially no carbs)
1.25 pounds lean ground turkey (no carbs)
1 cup of dried quinoa (116)
2 cups of water
2 tablespoons butter (no carbs)
½ cup raisins (62)
¾ cup pine nuts (12)
Salt to taste
1. In a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium-high heat, cook the turkey, breaking up the meat, for about 5 minutes, until it starts to brown.
2. Meanwhile, peel and chop the onions and carrots.
3. Add the onions and carrots and cook for 3 more minutes.
4. Rinse quinoa, and add it along with 2 cups of water, butter, and pilaf spices (see below) to the turkey mixture. Stir well.
5. Add the raisins, pine nuts, and spinach. You will need to add the spinach in batches while it cooks down.
6. Cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes. Add salt to taste
Pilaf spice mix (from CDKitchen)
1 tablespoon instant chicken bouillon
½ teaspoon curry powder
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon dried parsley
*Adapted from the Dishing It Up Disney Style cookbook.