Fall Never Tasted So Good

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When I was 20, I had to have all 4 of my wisdom teeth removed. I diligently received x-rays throughout my childhood to monitor the pointless little guys, and although they were always there burrowed in the back of my jaw, it wasn’t until I was 19 1/2 that they suddenly became a problem. I started having intermittent jaw pain, and I definitely needed to get them out within the coming months. Soon after this started, we discovered that not only did all 4 of them have to come out, but 3 were impacted, meaning that they were actually hiding below my jawbone. Faaaaantastic.

The surgeon told me that, generally as people got older, the recovery from surgery would be harder. Since I was 20 at the time, I thought she was overreacting. Wasn’t I in my prime?

I was wrong. I should have listened. I’ve been rather unlucky in life medically and have encountered everything from accidentally swallowing a retainer to getting hit by a car. I’ve broken my leg, I’ve torn tendons, I’ve had multiple surgeries. The torn ankle tendon and subsequent surgery to repair said tendon was by far the worst, but a close second was the surgery to remove my wisdom teeth. I should have known that something terrible was about to happen when my surgeon suggested that I wait until my summer break in college to ensure that I wouldn’t miss a couple weeks worth of classes. Of course, my 20-year-old-self back then was, honestly, just plain stupid. I should have seen all the signs.

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My first indication that recovery was about to be just plain awful was when I woke from general aesthesia (another indication- no nerve blocks or localized anesthesia for me), was when I was confused as to why my mom was waiting for me. (Why wouldn’t she be?) I then immediately asked my boyfriend at the time, of all things, for a cupcake. After that I tried to walk, a wheelchair materialized.  (Or was it there the whole time?) Later, as my boyfriend pulled the car around, I asked why he bought a new car (He didn’t), when we were going back to college (ummm, 2 months still, it was only May), and if Zoe was here (My Golden Retriever, the glaring answer is a definite and resounding no.)

After sleeping my stupor off, my mom gave me the news that 2 of my impacted wisdom teeth actually broke during the removal process, meaning that each tooth had to be removed piece by piece. This meant that things might be a tad more painful during the next couple days, and the swelling might be a little more than normal, even more so than what was initially anticipated.

Well, friends, I’ve always had a bit of a large, round face, but the swelling from this was unreal. I had to keep ice on my jaw around the clock, and my mom even cleverly designed her own “wisdom teeth ice pack” for me to use. She took two long socks, tied them together at the end, placed the bottom of the now U-shaped socks under my chin, filled each sock with ice, and then secured it in place with a knot at the top of my head. I was humiliated. She was proud. When the doctor called to check up on me, my mom told her that she had a new idea for a patent. Thanks, Mom. (I would show you a picture of this but..ummm….I don't have any. yeah.)

The next few weeks (yes, weeks!) of recovery were intense. Even though I followed all the strict guidelines, I developed dry-socket in 3 places, meaning that 3 of my nerve endings were exposed to the elements. I couldn’t eat anything solid for the first 10 days. Pudding was even too intense for me. I slept 12 hours a day; meal replacement shakes became my best friend. I tried to eat a French fry once and I cried from the pain. A friend brought me an ice cream cone, and to my dismay, I couldn’t even finish it. There are few things worse than wasted ice cream. (I've been making up for it ever since ;) )

I received some prescriptions for fancy medicine to help with the pain, but the most effective treatment, by far, were gauze pieces soaked in clove oil by the doctor, then packed into my open wounds. Since my dry-sockets were so bad, I had to go to the doctor’s office every 2-3 days to get these clove-y gauze pieces taken out and exchanged. This was also one of those “ah-ha” moments for me: I realized that sometimes herbs, plants, and food, are actually a much more effective treatment than any prescription.

In the end, I turned out just fine. The terrible recovery was just as the doctor has said, but I came out of the whole thing with an appreciation that I should really listen to the advice of people who have years of experience. But now, here’s the twist to this story: I developed a severe aversion to cloves. This isn’t that surprising, especially if you understand the basics of classical conditioning (think Pavlov’s dogs) and behavior. Essentially, during my recovery, I had been conditioned to associate the taste and smell of cloves with intense pain and all-around feeling crummy and terrible.

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It actually wasn’t until the following fall, when foods spiced with cloves came around, when I noticed how great my aversion was. Just the smell of pumpkin spiced scones made my stomach churn, pumpkin pie brought back vivid memories of surgery recovery, and smelling straight cloves made me go from happy to nauseous in 10 seconds flat. It took me years, literally, to overcome this aversion. I am currently 26, and it wasn’t until a last year where I could really, fully tolerate straight cloves in food. I still cannot smell ground cloves without flashbacks and slight nausea, but I have now been happily (obsessively) enjoying pumpkin things for a few years now.

This is why, dear readers, that I have developed a recipe that uses actual ground cloves (although not a terrible amount). It has a great taste of fall, is wonderfully aromatic, is both sweet and savory, and makes for a wonderful presentation. (Dinner party, anyone?) I realize it is not pumpkin, but acorn squash is a squash we should really start paying attention to. Its going to make a comeback one of these days- just watch.


autumn-spiced stuffed acorn squash

Serves 4

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For the squashes:

  • 2 whole medium sized acorn squashes
  • 1 cup pitted dates
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp. fish oil
  • 2 tsp. chili powder  (or more if you wish it to be more spicy)
  • ½ tsp. Himalayan pink salt
  • Dash of ground pepper
  • ½ tsp. onion powder

For the ground beef:

  • 1 lb. organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised beef
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • ¼ tsp. ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp. ground allspice
  • ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. ground sage
  • ½ tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup chopped kale 
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Slice each acorn squash in half, making 4 “bowls”. Scoop out seeds and discard.
  3. On the bottom of each squash half, remove the tip but cutting with a knife. This allows the squash to sit on a baking sheet without toppling over.
  4. In a food processor, combine the dates, chili powder, salt, pepper, onion powder, fish oil, and olive oil. Pulse until all ingredients are incorporated and dates have broken down into a wet but crumbly paste.
  5. Place each squash half on a baking sheet, bowl side up.
  6. Take date and spice paste, and line the inside of each squash evenly in a layer with a spoon until all mixture has been used.
  7. Place date-lined squashes (on their baking sheet) onto the middle rack of the oven.
  8. Bake squashes at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees. Continue baking at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.
  9. While squashes are baking, heat the olive oil in a pan. Add the spices and the ground beef. Cook on medium-high heat until thoroughly browned. Add kale to pan, and cook for 2-3 minutes longer until kale is cooked but not limp. 
  10. After squashes have finished baking, remove from oven, fill with ground beef, and serve immediately. 

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