A tale of teeth and the travails of an enforced liquid diet.
Note to reader: This is a piece that I wrote out of a desire to understand. Unable to do something I took for granted, this experience has immeasurably deepened my appreciation for the act of eating. Read this in the same way you would eat something you like: slowly and when you have the luxury of time.
I, supreme lover of sugar, have never had a cavity. I attribute this to a fastidious, four-step tooth cleaning procedure done twice a day. In addition, and according to my dentist, I have beautiful teeth, with nary a crown or filling to be seen. But I recently have two days worth of dental surgery done to remedy a moderately severe problem — a problem that my periodontist attributes to “…your genetic predisposition to it.” Before I get it done I tell my friend, Gina about it and she replies in all seriousness, “Please tell your dentist not to pull out your sweet tooth, lest she do a grave disservice to all of us home bakers!”
After the procedure, my periodontist warns me that I need to strictly adhere to a liquid diet for five days. “You’re going to have to drink your dessert, Lori,” she admonishes me, knowing full well what I do for a living. Already, visions of milkshakes frolic in my mind’s eye and I embrace the challenge excitedly.
I research on liquid diet menus because it’s my nature to be prepared and do things right. According to my readings, a liquid diet “… consists of foods that are normally liquid and foods that turn to liquid when they are at room temperature – i.e. ice cream, etc.” It continues, “Foods in this diet also include strained (creamy) soups, and beverages like coffee, tea, juice, and smoothies.
I learn that liquid diets are usually too high in carbohydrates and sugar and low on protein, so I strive to maintain a diet that meets my nutritional requirements. Though I’m tickled by the thought, this isn’t the time to go gangbusters on eggs and milkshakes. Still, I want to have some protein with every meal, it’s essential to my recovery and will keep me feeling satiated, though it’ll be a stretch to reach my daily requirement of 46 grams.
Feeling woozy and with my face still tight from the anesthesia, the first thing I have is this apple cider vinegar (!) drink. I sip it slowly in front of my computer while jotting down my liquid diet menu. The liquid is slightly sweet then alarmingly acidic as it rushes through my nostrils then smacks me with cinnamon. All I can say is, it’s a good thing I’ve been known to drink vinegar at the dinner table; I’d hate it otherwise.
Dairy is an excellent source of protein and nutrients so I’ve bought different kinds of milk and cheese to liven things up. Variety kills monotony, after all. I make a wet cappuccino with soy milk, and a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice (strained to remove the pulp) fulfills my serving of fruit.
For lunch one day, another beverage. I’m taking a break from peanut butter (a standby on my regular diet) because I find a bottle of almond butter. I blitz it with plain yogurt, banana, water, and honey for a satisfying smoothie. Mmm, so far, so good and satisfying!
The suggestion of blending cooked chicken breast or ground beef with strained soups doesn’t appeal to me so I keep it simple with vegetable soups that I make from scratch. Here’s my super chunky – read: thick – tomato soup. Its acidic edges are smoothened out with a smidgen of sugar and cream. A dollop of cottage cheese contributes variety. But oh! what I wouldn’t give right now for a slice of bread, rustic and crusty! As if on cue, a twinge of pain rings through the right side of my mouth.
One evening, we have a family dinner at a Chinese restaurant. I try not to cast doleful looks at the crispy noodle-coated shrimp, the twice-fried fish in sour sauce, and the scallops. Propping my elbow on the table to hold my chin up – akin to propping up my soul, really – I’m determined to be happy with my bowl of hot and sour soup which, sadly, is neither hot nor sour. When I tell my mom how my liquid diet’s been going, she cautions me, “Don’t overdo it on the yellows and oranges – carrots, pumpkins, papaya – or your skin will turn yellow!” I don’t know if that’s true, am despairing right now, but I know that this papaya-orange juice I make the next morning makes me feel slightly better. In an effort to make my liquid meals more special, I use my prettiest glasses, place them on my cheeriest plates – anything to inject joy into my meals.
My post-workout liquid meal: celery-pineapple smoothie, milkshake made with soy milk and chocolate protein powder, and water of course.
It’s been a few days and I have recurring dreams of holding a T-bone steak in my hands and gnawing on it. Or crunching down on an entire crispy pata, skin only. Or working my way through an entire bag of Astro Boy Cheese-Rings (family size). The images make me wince inwardly but they keep me clenched in their maws. My teeth feel tender when gingerly pressed on with a finger but they look normal when I peer at them in the mirror. My moods veer from feeling reproachful towards my teeth (“After I’ve taken such good care of you, you do this to me!”) to bright-eyed hopefulness (“Okay, we’ll work together on getting back to chewing.”) I’m at a loss: I prided myself on the strength and massive chewing power of my teeth, and now I’m bereft of it.
I unload my grief on a few close friends and they’re quick to offer sympathy. “Focus on what you can enjoy, Lor,” K reminds me. “Hair spa, mani, massage, maybe? I can lend you my Wii and you can box comical cartoon characters.” The next day, as if psychic, Therese lends me a bottle of her Chanel nail polish and I use it to get my nails done in a color I dub “dead eggplant.” (I’m admiring my digits as I type this.) Ian sends over pints of his ice cream: Tibok-Tibok, Leche Flan, and Maple Bacon Pancake. Eric Chao of White Hat wanted me to try their new yogurt cheesecake but drops off tubs of frozen yogurt instead when I apprise him of my condition. I melt down the icy goodies, dub them ice cream shooters, and drink four of them as a meal one day.
Though my teeth ache from time to time, my sweet tooth (some have said, my “sweet teeth”) starts acting up. I yearn for sweet. I start daydreaming of cake with thick tufts of frosting. I imagine pressing down on the moist crumb with the roof of my mouth and…
I make butterscotch pudding instead because I know it’s something I’ll be able to enjoy without taxing my teeth. I bake it extra slow in a water bath, the resulting super silken texture caresses my teeth while the grains of fleur de sel that I top it with send up a spark of saltiness that makes me simultaneously sigh and shiver. Ohhh! I end up having to hide the last portion deep in the fridge because my Bin and Boo end up liking the pudding a little too much too.
So far I’m eating three to four times a day but my satisfaction is quickly waning. All my food is monotonous in texture because I’m only sipping or spooning something in. They say that there are two types of eaters – you’re either all about flavors or textures. I’m the latter, most definitely. It’s the various pronouncements as I chew of smooth, rough, crispy, chunky, sticky, gooey that largely make up my enjoyment of eating. And I’m awakened to the grave realization that: without chewing, eating is nothing. Right now, I want to chew on this hot chocolate. So, using only my front teeth, I gingerly chew on the wedge of chocolate teetering precariously on the cup’s edge. It melts in protest – liquid once again.
Eating out on a liquid diet
Longing for freedom from deathly monotony, I ask my Bin to take me out. “I’m going to drown from all this gad-dang liquid!” I moan. We have to think long and hard about where to go because although I’d give my right arm for a burger right now, it’s not exactly a wise choice. We end up in Jamba Juice because it’s an ideal time to try it out.
The Peanut Butter Moo’d is similar to what I whip up at home. It’s quite the meal with bananas, peanut butter, vanilla yogurt, soy milk, and their proprietary Chocolate Moo’d Base that I find somewhat slimy. I’m not crazy about this drink but I appreciate that Jamba Juice offers lifesaving convenience for those who can’t make their own smoothies at home.
Moseying on over next door, I’ve been to Slice before but my liquid diet makes me see it with new eyes.
I find sweet solace in the Choc-Nut Coffee, smooth and creamy with a very piquant bitter note at the end.
Though I’m not yet allowed to chew, I give in to desperation and order the Brown Rice Arroz Caldo. Though I’m using the roof of my mouth to “chew,” the hot soup perked up with ginger and calamansi lifts my sagging spirits. The brown rice tastes especially healthful but I’m forced to leave the sizable chicken chunks on the side.
I remember Slice’s Banana Pudding from previous visits, and I think it may be the only one of its kind sold in Manila. Such a simple, sufficient dessert and I’m especially grateful for it now. Discs of banana alternate with chunks of chiffon cake, and a ribbon of custard is threaded throughout. I like it very much but manage to eat very little of it.
Learning how to chew again
So far, I’ve turned down several offers to dinner and postponed home baker requests to be featured on DCF. But then my friend Chef Him Uy de Baron reminds me that I’m expected at Nomama’s 1st anniversary. “I’ll puree the ramen if I have to but please come, Lori,” reads his message.
I gird my teeth in preparation and go.
I pick at the majority of the 6-course meal but the highlight is the Wagyu Beef Cheek Ramen. A dark, almost black block of beef sits brooding, a moat in a milky broth while tangles of ramen noodles peek up enticingly. My eyes never stray however, from the pleasure center: the perfect round of a perfectly poached egg. My mouth waters uncontrollably. Suddenly, Him appears from out of nowhere. “Don’t worry, the beef’s really good and soft as anything,” he assures me. “And I knew I’d get you with the runny yolk.” His eyes glint mischievously through his glasses.
Sticking with what I’m comfortable with, I sip some soup. It sears, scattering a trail of seasonings down my throat only to be caressed quickly after with the creaminess of milk. Then slowly, ever so slowly, I bite down on a bit of beef, the fingers of my free hand clenching anxiously. The beef cheek is silky-soft, tender to the tongue and touch. By dint of some terrific force, I’m able to chew it. My spirits fly and confidently, I pierce the egg with a chopstick. Its resplendent glow stains the soup, its brightness a beacon of hope that I will be able to chew normally again one day.
Despite my misgivings, I survive and eventually thrive on the imposed five-day liquid diet. My periodontist is impressed with my “liquid line-up” and asks me to draw up a sample meal plan for her other patients. With my doctor’s clearance, I’ve now graduated to a soft diet and I dream of eating steak for Christmas. Always a fast eater, I now eat more slowly and I take smaller bites because anything else is an impossibility.
Being unable to chew has informed me as an eater. Truly, without chewing, eating is nothing. But eating, even without chewing, is also meant to be relished.
*Jamba Juice & Slice are next door to one another at G/F Bonifacio High Street Central, West Superblock, 7th Ave cor 29th St Fort Bonifacio, Taguig.
*The Wagyu Beef Cheek Ramen will be available at Nomama beginning October 2012.