Thursday, June 9, 2011

A la Mexicana

Even with my jaw wired shut, I've been determined to find a way to enjoy the food of my people - Mexican food.  After all, it was the Mexican ointment Vitacilina (thank you Tia Maria!) that saved my face, knees, and hands after this bike accident from hideous, permanent scarring.  I have a commitment to my heritage and will not deprive myself from the food that makes my heart content.

The first of my "Latin smoothies" was not too adventurous - Mexican rice.  Fortunate to have my mom visiting from CA to assist me for a week post-surgery, this was among my first requests (I was too drugged up on 2 medications then to make it myself).  And it was delicious!  One week later, I attended my friend Alex's BBQ and decided I would cook up something using ingredients that I could no longer enjoy and would soon spoil in my fridge - chicken enchiladas.  Yes, I will admit, it was a small torture to cook and smell all the delicious aromas and spices knowing that I couldn't eat my finished product.  But after sitting at the patio table for 15 mins watching others savor the dish, I asked to borrow the blender and with chicken broth and strainer in hand, I blended 2 enchiladas.  Ahh...let me tell you, they hit the spot.

Next came the guacamole smoothie (see recipe in prior blog).  I'll admit that the first round of the guacamole was a tad bit too spicy.  And add the fact that I can't sneeze without pain, I knew I was taking my love for food to the next level and was determined to enjoy every last sip of my guacamole smoothie.  The childhood cravings followed soon thereafter.  Bread or tortillas on their own were out of the question, but beans, eggs, potatoes, and chorizo (Mexican sausage) soon found their way to the blender.  One evening I was so indecisive about wanting to fulfill my craving yet knowing I needed to take in a veggie smoothie, that I made one refried bean smoothie followed by an asparagus and onion smoothie.  Sorry folks, you do what you gotta do to feed the hungry monster.

This week I decided that with limited hours in the day to cook, blend, and strain, I was going to be productive food wise even while I slept.  I dusted off my slow cooker and decided I would cook up carnitas over night.  If I didn't have my "grill," these carnitas would been the base for some darn good tacos to enjoy.  But don't worry, at least while I slept, in my dreams I was enjoying those savory tacos.  On those occasions when I can't even muster the energy to organize a meal for the slow cooker, I do rely on restaurant meals.  A shout out to my friend JC who showed up with Chipotle and Coronas for dinner one night.  One of those burrito bowls was sufficient for two nice sized smoothies and I could just about taste each of the food components - meat, rice, beans, lettuce, salsa, sour cream, and guacamole.
If you decide to join me on my blending adventures, here are the recipes for the aforementioned meals:

Mexican Rice Smoothie
- 1 cup of white rice
- 1 can of tomato sauce
- 1/3 cup of finely chopped white or yellow onion
- 1 tbsp of finely chopped garlic (preferably chopped garlic in oil that can be store bought)
- 1 tsp of cumin
- 1 tsp of salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1 1/2 cups of chicken broth (preferably warm)
- 2 1/2 cups of water (preferably warm
- 1/4 cup of spicy tomato sauce (optional based on tolerance for spice)
- 3 tbsp olive oil

Place 2 tbsp olive oil into warm sauce pan.  2-3 minutes later add onion and saute until golden.  Add garlic and saute until lightly brown.  Add rice and saute for 10 minutes.  Add tomato sauce (and spicy tomato sauce), 1 cup of chicken broth and let smmer for a few minutes while stirring.  Lastly, add salt, pepper, cumin, and 2 cups of water.  Cook covered for 25-30 minutes  Rice should be very soft once cooked and over half of the liquid would have evaporated with the cooking.  Once cooked, allow rice and cooked broth to cook for a bit.  When ready, place into blender adding the remaining olive oil, water, and chicken broth.

Chicken Enchilada Smoothie
- Packet of chicken breasts
- 1 large white onion
- 3 whole carrots
- 5 peeled garlic cloves
- 1 packet of Mexican-blend shredded cheese
- 1 can of enchilada salsa
- 1 cup cooking oil
- 15-20 corn tortillas
- 1 tsp each of salt, pepper, oregano, and Adobo seasoning

In large pot, boil 5-6 cups of water, sufficient to hold all chicken with plenty of broth.  While water comes to a boil, season chicken with salt, pepper, oregano, and Adobo.  Separately, chop into 1.5 inch large chunks half of the onion and all of the carrots.  As water starts to boil, place onions, carrots, and garlic cloves.  Stir for a few minutes then add seasoned chicken breasts.  Cover and cook for 45 minutes or until chicken is extremely tender and easy to shred.  You may stir occasionally while cooking.

Remove chicken and shred into medium sized bowl.  Strain broth and add 1/2 cup to shredded chicken to maintain tenderness.  Finely chop remaining white onions.  Warm tortillas by microwave or stove.  In medium-sized sauce pan, warm enchilada sauce and 1/2 cup of broth.  Stir and taste, adding more broth to calm sauce spiciness.  Warm a separate saucepan with add 1/4 cup of oil.  Take one warm tortilla and place in saucepan with, lightly coating each side with oil and let extra oil drip off before transferring to saucepan with enchilada sauce.  Coat tortilla and transfer to platter.  Add about 2 tbsp of shredded chicken, a small handful of chopped onion and shredded cheese, and carefully roll enchilada.  Repeat for each enchilada until platter is full, using about 1/4 cup of oil each time for the first coating step.  Cover with remaining shredded cheese and plate platter into oven at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.  For blending, place two enchiladas with 1 cup of broth in blender.

Refried Bean (Frijoles Fritos) Smoothie
- 1 can of whole pinto or black beans
- 2 tbsp of vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup of sour cream
- 1/2 to 1 cup of water

If you're lucky enough to have time, make the beans from scratch.  

Warm medium-sized sauce pan and add oil, coating pan.  Place homemade or canned beans into oiled sauce pan and bring to a simmer.  With potato masher, mash beans and add 1/2 cup of water if juice from beans begins to dry out.  Transfer mixture to blender, adding sour cream and 1/2 cup water.  Should blend into very smooth mixture easy for slurping thru a straw.

Egg, Potato and Chorizo Smoothie
- 2 eggs beaten
- 1 cup milk
- 1 over-baked potato (or 2 small potatoes)
- 2 inches from chorizo sausage
- 2 tsp of vegetable oil
- 1 cup of water
- Salt & pepper to taste

In small saucepan, warm 1 tsp of oil and add chorizo, cooking over moderate heat.  As chorizo cooks, it will begin to fall apart.  Be careful not to burn the chorizo.  Separately, add milk, salt, and pepper to eggs and beat until mixture is fluffy.  Eggs will cook in 3-5 minutes.  They will maintain a liquid consistency even once cooked.  Place scrambled eggs, potato, chorizo, and water into blender.  Once blended, taste for salt and pepper. 

Chipotle Smoothie
- 1 burrito bowl ordered with desired items
- 2 cup of chicken, beef, or vegetable broth (based on bowl's content)
- 1 cup water

Place half of the burrito bowl contents into blender, 1 cup of broth, and 1/2 cup of water.  Blend and add additional liquid if needed.  One burrito bowl renders plenty for 2 hearty smoothies. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Commonly Asked Questions

Since acquiring my grill, I have received many questions curious to learn what it might be like to live “a day in the life of the jaw wired shut.”
1)      How long will your jaw be wired shut?
My doctor’s original estimate was 6 weeks, with worst case scenario 10 weeks.  Currently, his quote is at least 8 weeks based on healing achieved thus far.  Not all jaw fractures are the same.  Some can be healed with only 2-3 weeks of being wired shut.  In extremely severe cases (i.e. jaw is purposely broken), it could be up to 3 months.  Mine was severely fractured along the upper right side.  Although I landed on the left side of my face when I made impact on the pavement after flipping over my bike, it was the intense impact on one side that put pressure on the opposite side.
2)     Can you talk at all?
Yes and no.  I cannot speak normally as my tightly clenched teeth and locked jaw are unable to move.   However, if I’m in a quiet room and close to the listener, I can be somewhat understood if I speak slowly and with a lot of phonetic emphasis.  It is quite tiring though to hold more than a 5-10 min conversation.  I’ve made some attempts with phone calls, but only a fraction of what I say is actually audible.  It took me nearly 3 weeks to make this progress with “talking.”
3)     Are you able to move your jaw at all?
Nope, the thing is firmly locked down and wired shut.  The idea is that I should NOT be able to move it at all to allow for the fractured bones to heal properly.
4)     Can you stick your tongue out to taste food?
Sorry folks, all of my tasting and drinking has to be thru a straw (see response #3).  But I love to play that prank on people to ask them to let me taste some of their food and it takes them a few seconds to remember that I can’t actually do that!
5)     Are you in a lot of pain?
The pain was most intense for 2-3 days post-surgery then has diminished (then again, I have a high tolerance for pain).   Pain medication was provided  that I used for about a week.  The jaw does ache on a daily basis, usually when I’m fighting off sneezes or yawns.
6)     How many smoothies a day do you drink?
I consume at least 10 smoothies daily.  5 or more of these are food-blended smoothies, where I’m commonly blending chicken, beef, pasta, eggs, potatoes, and vegetables.  The remaining are fruit and yogurt smoothies, milkshakes, and Protein Milks.  I’ve also tried to buy every form of liquid I can find for blending – broths (chicken, beef, and vegetable), milks (normal milk, soymilk, almond milk, Keifer yogurt milk), juices (orange, apple, cranberry, pomegranate, mango, and lemonade) and even nutrition boosted waters like coconut water.  Places like Trader Joes also sell various boxed pureed soups.  Aside from milk, protein is added to smoothies via whey, soy, and hemp protein powders as well as peanut butter, almond butter, and sunflower seed butter. Mango butter, apple butter, and honey have no protein value but are great to add just a hint of sweetness or better yet, help disguise the disgusting taste of my liquid vitamins
7)     Can you brush your teeth?
My main dental hygiene device is a water pic.  I combine this with small Colgate “Wisp” brushes , “Easy Brush Dentek” cleaners, and mouth wash.    
8)     Are you able to travel?
Airplane travel is discouraged because the jaw might experience significant pain at high altitudes which forced me to cancel flights (including one to San Diego - bummer!).  However, as the jaw begins to heal and since I’m accustomed to travel regularly, I’m hoping to make short airplane travel possible in the coming weeks.  Local travel via car or train is do-able, however, many pre-cooked meals, plenty of blending liquids, and the portable blender have to come along.  Access to a kitchen is a must if travel is going to extend more than 6 hours.
9)     What happens if you have difficulties breathing or start choking?
I carry a Suture Removal Stray in case of an emergency.  The contents of this kit include scissors, forceps, and a gauze sponge in case the heavy bands need to be urgently cut to allow air to re-enter the passage way.
10)  Can you still train and do normal exercise?
Unfortunately, my triathlon training came to a screeching halt the day of my bike accident.  To allow the jaw to properly heal, I am to refrain from heavy exercise or activities where I strain my jaw muscles and/or I would require the ability to exhale from my mouth (i.e. swimming).  Also, because of my atypical liquid diet, my energy level is extremely low, making even long walks or an easy spin class very tiring.  I did attempt recently easy pool jogging for 20 mins (hard to keep up this schedule in crowded pools though) and recently picked up power walking. 
11)   How much weight will you lose?
Common weight loss estimates quote 15-20 pounds, depending on length of time that one is limited to liquids.  I’ve lost 8 pounds in 3 weeks (which is significant for a small person like me) and it is likely that my body will shed a few more.  Fingers are crossed that my intake of smoothies every 1-2 hours will stabilize the weight loss. 
12)  Do you have difficulties sleeping?
I am typically a heavy sleeper.  That being said, sleep quality during this period is subpar because I have to sleep on my back with some incline.  My body also craves much more sleep (and even the occasional nap) than it ever has.  Given that I am unable to breathe through my mouth during sleep, I am also very dehydrated in the morning, enough that my lips are often sealed shut and have to be pried open.

13)  Are you able to work?
Yes, however, I am certainly improvising.  Thankfully technology enables me to continue with most of my work tasks via email and Blackberry.  I also carry a notebook everywhere that I go and have support staff to assist me with client calls.  One of the most effective forms of communication is via note cards that I typed up while at home on bed rest.  Given just how many questions I was asked in the few days post-surgery, I typed up notes cards  of responses to questions and even questions I could ask someone to keep a converation going.  My friends or work colleagues were particularly amused by the following ones:

14)  Will you be able to eat normally once your jaw is no longer wired shut?
No.  I was under the impression that once my grill was removed, I would be good as new.  Unfortunately, the severity of my jaw injury combined with its lack of use for an extended period, will require the jaw muscles to re-build their strength and flexibility, a process predicted to take up to 6 months.  Trust me though, I am lining up all those restaurants and foods on my wish list for those post-grill and post-healing days.
And my favorite question – What do I miss most since my jaw has been wired shut?  Here’s the short list.
Top 10 “Misses” of the Jaw Wired Shut:
1)     Eating
2)     Talking
3)     Laughing Out Loud & Smiling
4)     Controlling My Weight
5)     Training & Exercising
6)     Sleeping Well
7)     Brushing My Teeth & Tongue
8)     Sneezing & Coughing Without Pain
9)     Traveling Without Fear of Hunger
10)   Protecting Others (I can’t yell, save someone from drowning, etc.)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Portable Blender

Since having my “grill,” I have worried about either having access to a blender at all times or carrying enough blended nutrition to last me for a good 3-4 hour stretch.  But who says one needs to be limited in travel when the blender can be brought alongside?  Folks we are talking about one of the best tech toys out there – the portable blender.

After some disappointing attempts at restaurants to ask them to blend and strain items from their menu, my supportive friend Alex showed up with up with the “Bosch Mixxo Cordless” – a chargeable, portable blender – at one of our favorite eating spots, Shake Shack.  With beef broth, water, and extra Shack sauce, we successfully blended a Shack Burger (minus cheese to avoid messiness).  We received several puzzled looks from nearby tables and one very curious mother and son stopped by to inquire once they saw me slurping away.  The burger smoothie was enjoyed with a must-have milkshake (I chose neapolitan flavor on this visit).  We opted out of the French Fries, however, I might just bring my own potato smoothie (see prior post) as a burger complement for the next trip.  To round out our culinary tasting adventures, we also visited a nearby food fair and savored blended sorbet.  

While a blended burger may sound rather unappetizing, it can help partially fulfill a meat craving and begin to provide the body with those fatty nutrients that are absent from the more common fruit smoothies.  Every day has been an experiment to see how my energy level sustains or wanes and if I'm consuming enough protein, fat, carbs, and calories to begin to resume a more daily routine.

It is quite common for individuals with a jaw wired shut to lose a minimum of 15 pounds.  Prior to the accident, I was a strong, athletically slender 126-128 pound female, working out 6-7 days a week, and eating 5-6 times per day to fuel my body.  In the 3 ½ weeks since the accident, I've lost a noticeable amount of weight and strength.  While the lack of exercise has certainly led to diminishing muscle strength, the body is simultaneously also processing of all of my meals to be liquid given their lack of solid consistency and “feeding” on my muscle.  Previously, a hearty meal to help repair my body from an endurance training session would have kept me satisfied for 3-4 hours.  Today, a similar meal in liquid form might sustain me for 1-2 hours.  

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Temporary Freedom

This morning I woke up an extra hour early to cook.  While cooking in the mornings has become part of my normal routine, later that day I would have a follow-up visit with the surgeon and he would temporarily remove my heavy bands.  And I wanted to take full advantage of those precious minutes of freedom to shovel food into my body and give my mouth a proper cleaning.

My food of choice - Red Lentils and Boiled Eggs (separate, of course)

I know, not the most glamorous food.  Trust me, I would've loved to enjoy a nice crisp Caesar salad, delicious juicy steak, and fresh piece of sourdough bread, just to name some favorites.  But I had to think intelligently and make the most of food that I could eat quickly with minimal chewing and high nutritional value.  Smart choice because when those bands came off and I began moving my jaw again, it was still quite painful.  Apparently my jaw kept slipping to one side (wish I could've taken a picture of that!) and we did several practice runs to get the jaw back to its correct alignment before new bands went back on.  This visit was also particularly painful because my "grill" seemed to reject all the bands the doc tried to put on, causing several bands to pop or rip against my gum line (I thought I was going to punch someone each time!).

Still optimistic that I'll be one of the better cases of 6 weeks of being wired up (worse case is 10 weeks).  2 1/2 weeks in so far.  Some of my more notable meals today included:

Oatmeal Smoothie with "Butters" & Vitamins
- 1/2 cup of quick oats
- 2 cups of water
- 1 banana chopped
- 1 cup of milk
- 1 tbsp peanut butter
- 1 tbsp mango butter (can substitute honey)
- 1-2 tbsp liquid vitamins

Add quick oats to boiling water.  Stir constantly and add banana pieces. Cook for 3-4 minutes until oats are tender.  Place milk, peanut butter, mango butter and liquid vitamins into blender.  Add cooked oats with water.  I found that my liquid vitamins tasted repulsive and often killed the taste of the oatmeal (or any smoothie for that matter).  But with the "butters" combo, the taste was nearly 100% disguised.

Guacamole Smoothie
- 2 ripe avocados
- 1 lemon (or 1 tsp of lemon juice)
- 1 medium sized tomato finely chopped
- 1/3 cup of finely chopped white or yellow onion
- 1/4 cup of finely chopped cilantro
- 1/2 cup vegetable broth (best chilled)
- 1/2 cup water
- Salt & paper according to taste
- 1 tsp chilli powder (based on tolerance for spice)

Mash up the avocados completely.  Add lemon juice, pepper, and chilly powder and whip until creamy.  Toss avocado mixture into blender and add remaining ingredients.  Broth usually has sufficient saltiness, however, add salt if needed.  Good source of natural vegetable fat and protein.  

Red Lentil Smoothie
- 1 cup of red lentils
- 3 cups of chicken broth (1 quart box), more if needed
- 1 small onion finely chopped or grated
- 1 tomato chopped
- 1 tbsp garlic minced
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- Salt & paper according to taste
- 1 lime (optional)

If possible, soak the lentils over night.  This will speed up the cooking and soften them further for blending.  Melt butter in saucepan.  Add onions and cook until they are translucent for 4-6 minutes.  Add tomato and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add lentils and coat evenly with mixture, cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add broth and bring to summer.  Continue to stir lentils often.  45-55 minutes of total cooking time.  Sufficient liquid should remain for blending.  Season to taste with lime juice, salt and paper prior to blending.