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Goodbye wisdom teeth, hello mush
On a tedious post-dental extraction diet, Covid-19 restrictions in hospitality, plus, whether or not a sorbet can be defined as a snack.
Nau mai, haere mai. Welcome to The Boil Up, The Spinoff’s weekly food newsletter. Written by me, Charlotte Muru-Lanning. It’s lovely to have you here!
I’ve spent the last 10 days recovering from having my wisdom teeth removed – here’s my food diary for that period.
Tuesday, day one:
This was the surgery day, which I’d been dreading since the day I booked it. You can’t eat before general anesthesia, and in the seven waking hours leading up to heading into the operating room, the natural urge to snack or chug back a glass of water was all encompassing.
While I waited before the surgery I took a photo of a little cartoon in my magazine: a tiny fish with the label “yesterday’s problem”, being eaten by a slightly bigger fish called “today’s problem”, which was about to be munched up by the far bigger fish “tomorrow’s problem”. I thought it was funny in a cute way at the time, but in hindsight perhaps it should have seemed funny in a more foreboding kind of way.
I was asleep for the surgery and woke up in the operating room feeling like my entire mouth had disappeared, but was handed an orange-coloured ice block by the nurse. It’s difficult to eat an ice block without a mouth.
Dinner that night was half a can of lukewarm Wattie’s “very special” creamy chicken soup and a lot of pills.
Wednesday, day two:
If you’ve not had teeth removed before, you’d likely be surprised (as I was) at the level of dietary restrictions that come in the ensuing days or weeks. In the lead-up to the surgery I’d been warned by numerous wisdom teeth buffs of the dreaded “dry socket”. I won’t get into the gory details in a food newsletter but it means that what should form on top of the extraction sites either doesn’t form or is dislodged – and I’d been told it was “horrifically painful” and could last for weeks. Beyond just soft food, straws are a no-no (suction is bad), as is rice (or literally any other similar food which can get stuck in the holes), along with spices and acidic food (which can aggravate the site).
In preparation, I’d stocked up on bananas, fancy Greek yoghurt, hummus, sorbet, Angel Delight instant pudding, eggs, instant miso, potatoes (to be mashed) and homemade individually portioned soups – a roasted garlic, a leek and potato and a roasted carrot – which I froze. Four days worth of totally soft food before I’d be able to start introducing a little more variety. I began jotting down and photographing everything I ate.
Thursday, day three:
Another banana smoothie for breakfast, roasted carrot soup for lunch with a side of avocado and mashed potatoes served in a pretty bowl for dinner.
My type-C personality gained some kind of weird satisfaction from being this pre-prepared and thoughtful about the kai I’d eat in recovery – like the Martha Stewart of post-wisdom teeth surgery (Martha Stewart has had her wisdom teeth removed too). I envisaged myself typing up some kind of fun newsletter rundown of the smushy yet imaginative four days’ worth of food, with a title like “the restrictive delights of post-wisdom teeth surgery eating”. I had no inkling of how quickly the novelty would wear off. My lesson, on reflection, is that some things in life can simply not be romanticised.
Friday, day four:
My chipmunk cheeks have subsided significantly, to a size more like that of a quokka. Another banana smoothie, roasted garlic soup and a lukewarm tea for lunch, an extremely soft macaroni and cheese which I eat without chewing and a glass of Thai milk tea for dinner. Lots of antibiotics and pain medication.
Saturday, day five:
This is the day I’m meant to start feeling better, and yet I wake up in pain hell – despite being on some pretty gnarly painkillers. To take my mind off the radiating throbbing and in need of a change of scenery, I take a trip to one of my favourite places: the supermarket, to buy feta cheese, smoked salmon and a can of whipped chocolate mousse.
In the evening, I craft a grazing plate of smoked salmon, mashed avocado and soup with feta cheese. For dessert, chocolate mousse from the can. I can barely speak.
Sunday, day six:
Today I can only manage a deeply unaesthetic bowl of mashed banana with some yoghurt to eat with my medication before my dad drives me to A&E – my dental surgeon reckons I have the frightful dry socket.
There’s a tangential link between food and the issue of universal free dental care, not just because our teeth are so important when it comes to our enjoyment of food, but also because arguments against such policies often involve the idea that money would be better spent on prevention through education around sugary foods and drinks. Prevention is important but it would be remiss of me not to note how prohibitively expensive this has all been – and my eating habits haven’t had any influence. I, thankfully, have insurance which has covered most of the cost, but without it, so far it would have cost me $5,550 plus a $75 trip to White Cross, and $35 in prescriptions (dental prescriptions aren’t subsidised under the new scheme).
Monday, day seven:
I head back to the surgeon in the morning, who confirms not just one but two dry sockets, along with some other issues. Another day of pain and nausea. To take my mind off all that I consume a media diet of videos from Koroneihana, Trinny Woodhall styling tips, and Desperate Housewives. For dinner my boyfriend makes me a silly haute cuisine-esque plate of salmon, spinach puree and a quenelle of mashed potato.
Tuesday, day eight:
Being on a mix of painkillers and antibiotics non-stop for over a week does some weird things to your body. Especially your brain (which feels like a sieve) and perhaps even more so to your tummy. I’ve lost 4kg, my face looks wan (as Trinny Woodhall would say), I feel ridiculously feeble and I still can’t speak.
Wednesday, day nine:
The Nutribullet has been both friend and foe over the last week and a bit. I have no idea what I’d have done without it, but I’m also so sick of the mush it makes. Even with the nausea, I’ve had cravings for particular food, or more specifically food textures. I’ve found myself daydreaming about the suspenseful slurp of drinking boba tea, the chew of chicken gizzards, the concentrated, almost intimate experience of eating whole prawns and mussels, the alternating textures as you bite through a burger, the gulping of chongqing noodles, the variating crunchiness of Cheds, popcorn and radishes and the dry crumb of vanilla birthday cake.
Thursday, day 10:
The ceaseless sloppiness of food during this period has driven me to a heightened awareness and I’ve ended up delving into the brain chemistry behind the sensations of food textures. There are evolutionary reasons for why we enjoy or dislike particular textures, and in 2014, a “sonic chip” experiment showed that chips which are louder to eat taste better. As someone whose happiness leans on food, learning the extent to which texture, not just taste, drives positive brain responses to food has been enlightening – if not slightly frustrating when I can’t do anything about it. For now at least, back to my mush.
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The weekly snack
Minoo feijoa sorbet, $5.20 from Countdown: Whether or not it’s accurate to define sorbet from the tub as a snack might be up for some kind of lively semantic debate. But in the aftermath of having your wisdom teeth removed, where you’re doomed to a diet which steers well clear of the deliciousness of chips, lollies, biscuits, crackers and anything else snacky and joyful, I’d say it counts. Minoo has been making gelato and sorbet in Auckland since 1992, and I have faint memories of their branded cartons being unearthed from the freezer on special family occasions circa 2001. Back then, their flavours were memorably sharper and more refined than the cloyingly sweet supermarket own brand ice creams which dominated at the time and there was cursive on the branding – to a young me, Minoo was the height of dessert elegance. And I’m so glad to have revisited this eleganza in a supremely inelegant week for me. While I’m not into fruit for the most part, feijoa is one of the few exceptions to the rule. With my modern-day palate applied, this sorbet is still delightful. For those disinclined to feijoa’s grit, there’s none of that here. Its taste honours the real fruit rather than any artificial imposter, but I’d love it more if it had leaned into the weirder, more astringently floral notes of the feijoa. 8/10
Talk next week!
Hei kōnā mai, Charlotte