Every cloud has a silver lining. When one door closes, another one opens. These are aphorisms and are usually quoted to jog a depressed person into a semblance of cheer. I detest aphorisms, mainly because they are quoted by people who want to bring a patch on your situation without really trying to understand the struggle you are in. Yet at the heart of these proverbs there is a kernel of truth. God is in the business of overcoming our comfortable assumptions in life and He is completely intentional about refining our lives even through difficult circumstances or people.
I don’t often blog about my health issues – but it is almost 3 years since I was catapulted into the world of needles, glucose monitoring and insulin needles. To this day I am not certain if I have type 1, type 2, or type 1.5 diabetes. All I know is that there was little warning but I started off needing insulin as my hypo counts were off the charts. I did not have the risk factors or the gradual slide into insulin resistance that most type 2 diabetics do, but was unceremoniously dumped into the deep end – a half hour session with the diabetic nurse on how to use my hypocount monitor and an insulin pen and that was it. I am grateful that somewhere in the early days of just learning to cope, while sneakily surfing about diabetes management at work, I discovered Dr Richard Bernstein, whose diabetes management philosophy made so much sense and brought order into my disorder. Dr Bernstein was a type 1 diabetic since his early teens, and as an engineer, started using a blood glucose monitor for himself and discovered the way to manage his condition with diet and medication with the degree of obsessive precision that only engineers have. He discovered that by controlling the carbohydrates in his diet and precise calibration of insulin doses that he could control his sugars in a way that was unthinkable in prevailing medical wisdom. And as medical professionals didn’t quite buy what he was saying, he went back to school in his 40s and became a trained medical professional himself and has since been teaching others how to manage their diabetes in a way that truly prevents long term complications of the disease.
One of the key strategies he offers is a low carbohydrate diet that does not exceed 30g a day. Which is what underpins my way of eating now and the reason for the very existence of this blog. And it is only in the past 1-2 years that I have been seeing a lot of news and videos about the new villain, sugar, which is thought to be the main culprit of the obesity epidemic in many parts of the world, and pretty much validates my strategy of eating now. However, navigating a low carb diet is not easy as most processed food actually carry a significant amount of hidden carbs. Secondly, Asia is the rice bowl of the world! It is very hard for Asians to give up rice or noodles as these are staples in our food culture. Yet eating low carb over the recent years has been achievable and I have had a blast figuring out recipes and innovating with different kinds of wheat or rice substitutes. Which to me is truly my silver lining and my open door because I think that if I didn’t have to follow a low carb diet, I wouldn’t have been pushed to be so creative in cooking and baking.
So where am I three years on? My last HbA1c was 5.5%, which is not as low as some people can get their levels to if they follow a very low carb diet, but unthinkably perfect if you look at most diabetics’ results. I do work and need to eat out a good proportion of the time, and I suppose this level is reasonable enough (well to give perspective my first HbA1c which is a measure of glucose control over the previous 3 months was 14.5 %). My diabetologist and I have mini-arguments about how insulin dependent I am – my contention is that I am very insulin dependent because the slightest deviation in what I eat can instantly cause a spike in sugars, and I even know if I am falling sick because my sugars will start to rise before I actually get full blown symptoms. His contention is that I must be not that bad because my HbA1C levels are so good; but I discovered that I am probably his only patient who is a true carb-Nazi which may be the reason why I seem to be bucking the trend in his clinic. But I’m grateful that he allows me to do what I want to do to manage my condition and doesn’t give me grief about going for foot care reviews – the previous time I was in clinic I was taken aback when the nurse wanted to schedule me for a podiatry consult which I refused to go for as I have kept my sugars in ideal range and do not have any peripheral neuropathy as a result. Apparently the poor man does get audited about how many of his patients are going for appropriate monitoring of complications and I have now entered his list of non-compliant patients 😄.
One of the tricks about making low carb eating successful is that the recipes have to be easy and quick. I am literally too busy and meals have to be whipped up in 1/2 hour or less. Just this week I had a craving for fried rice which is a well loved and iconic dish in Chinese cuisine. Nothing can be more evocative than the image of a Chinese chef, sweat dripping off his head into a Good Morning towel slung around his neck as he wields his wok and spatula over the roaring flames of a gas stove. This is the kind of dish that needs consummate skill to develop the slightly seared smell to the stir fried dish that we know in local parlance as Wok Hei (literally the smell of the wok). Unfortunately most kitchens are not equipped with such mega powered burners and we usually get a tamer version of fried rice. And I don’t think cauliflower rice can actually have wok hei because there are just not enough starches to be caramelized over high heat. So my other strategy is to amp up the flavors of the rice instead, which is why preserved olive leaves that are salty with plenty of umami flavor, are the ideal counterpoint in this dish. Olive leaves are easily available in most Chinese groceries and are cheap and handy (well at least they are cheap in Singapore…).
Chinese preserved olive leaves…slightly ominous looking, but smack full of flavor.
I’ve always been a little nervous about buying preserved foods; the truth is that traditional salting and pickling has been superseded by a frightening array of chemicals. So except on occasions for sheer convenience, I do dip into a tub of preserved vegetables or bean curd. What is scary is that these little bottles often come without any caloric or carb counts, but I figured for preserved olive leaves at least the carb count would be not too bad as it is a vegetable preserved in salt and oil and there isn’t any sweetness in it.
So here is the preserved olive “rice” recipe – a super quick simple meal that should satisfy without the guilt of rice.
Fried Olive Leaves Rice
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 1/2 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
- 2 tbsp of shirasu (Japanese anchovies – alternative meats like sliced bacon or spam would also work well)
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
- 2 tbsp preserved olive leaves
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp fried shallots (optional)
- 1-2 tsp 老干妈 chilli sauce
- Using a food processor, chop the cauliflower florets into rice-like small pellets.
- Heat up 1 tbsp oil in a non-stick frying pan over low heat.
- Carefully pour the beaten egg into the pan, swirling it to get an even, crepe-thin layer of omelette. Flip over when set and cook a little more till just cooked. Slip the omelette onto a cutting board and roll it up into a cylinder. Slice thinly and set the omelette strips aside.
- Heat up another tbsp olive oil in the pan over medium heat. Add chopped onions and fry till fragrant and slightly caramelized.
- Add the chopped cauliflower and stir fry. Add the salt and ground pepper. Fry for about 3 – 4 minutes till cauliflower is cooked but not soggy.
- Add the shirasu and olive leaves and stir through.
- Plate the cauliflower and olive leaves fried “rice” and top with some fried shallots and the omelette strips.
- Serve hot. If you have a love for spicy, serve this rice dish with some 老干妈 chilli (a recent awesome chilli sauce I discovered which can be found in NTUC).