Last night, after Windhorse was quiet in her cot, I put the cup of tea I had made three hours earlier into the microwave for the third time. As it reheated, I contemplated the greyish broccoli in front of me, wondering whether I should still put it on our faina pizza. It was the last of the broccoli, which I had intended to blanch for a minute, but instead it had been left to boil for about ten minutes, then been left steaming in the saucepan, probably for as long again. It was limp and soggy. It possibly resembled broccoli the way my grandparents served it 60 years ago. It looked horrible.
Usually we eat together, but last night the dinner preparation had been interrupted by a difficult nappy change, an unexpected trip to pick up L who had an evening audio conference and was held up because a train had crashed on our line, and multiple attempts to calm and distract Windhorse, who had reached the end of her tether. Shared faina had gone out the window. Bath night had gone out the window. Windhorse had helped make herself a scrambled egg, steamed veggies and pita bread – the distraction calmed her down and it was ready in a few minutes – and then all my effort went into getting her to bed as early as possible.
Back to the faina. I put on a few pieces of capsicum, and then, having ascertained that there were no other pizza compatible vegetables in the fridge, I put on the broccoli and cheese and put it in the oven.
I remembered my tea, took a sip, burned my tongue because I had misjudged the time required to reheat two thirds of a cup of lukewarm tea, and sat down at the table. I felt like crying. Or shouting. Or punching a wall. Or going to bed. Except all of those options felt too hard, and so I just sat and thought about the day.
It had felt like the hardest day of my life since becoming a parent. It is possible that there have been days that felt harder at the time – I may have been experiencing that special variety of amnesia that parents have probably evolved to have because without it no parent would contemplate having another baby ever again – but right then that seemed unlikely.
I thought about the conversation I’d had recently with friends of older children, who had assured me that it would keep getting harder, and wondered how it could possibly get harder still.
It had started with the first nappy change of the day. We had an early appointment with a doctor, so there was a limited amount of time to change Windhorse’s nappy, but still time to allow for the usual drawn out process. I have realised that forcing her to come to the nappy mat before she is ready still leads to a drawn out process but with more anguish. So, I changed pretend nappies on all the toys she put on the change mat. Then I practiced Pennie Brownlee’s “gesture of invitation” and also verbally invited Windhorse to come to the change mat. She patted her nappy and said “Meeee!” indicating that she understood that I had finished the toys’ nappies and it was her turn next, but then she ran away and crawled underneath a chair, giggling. I waited. Then I told her again that it was time for her to have her nappy changed.
“Yes, it’s your turn. Come and lie down.”
This went on for a while, and then I said “OK, I am going to get some other things ready. Let me know when you are ready for a change.”
“Meeeeeeeee!” Windhorse wailed, getting distressed and slapping her nappy.
“You want a change now? Great, come and lie on your mat.”
“Ok, I will come back in a minute.” I left the room and Windhorse started crying.
“You really want it changed now?”
“Great.” I sat down and patted the change mat.
“Windhorse, we need to go out to the doctor soon.”
“Aaah.” Windhorse mimed putting a stick on her tongue so the doctor could check her throat.
“You have to have a clean nappy on before we go out. You have been in that nappy all night and it is soaking.”
“I am going to count to five. If you don’t lie down on your mat before I get to five, I will pick you up and put you there.”
“Nooooo!” Windhorse wailed. “Meee!”
“One… two… three… four… five. OK, we are running out of time so I am going to pick you up and put you on the mat.”
I tried to pick her up but she slipped out of my grasp and crawled under her cot. I held her ankles and dragged her out, then rolled her onto the mat. She screamed, and tears rolled down her face. She flipped over and tried to escape. I managed to get her wet nappy off. I gave up on the cloth nappy I had lined up and reached for a pull up. I managed to get it onto one of her kicking legs. I tried to pull it on the other but she kicked the first leg out. Repeat. Repeat.
Then I came up with the ingenious trick of putting my hands through both leg holes, grabbing both her feet with my hands, and… oh wait, I needed another hand to pull it up. Or maybe I could use my teeth? Windhorse was screaming and thrashing around. Then she pointed at the cloth nappy. “This!! This!!” Sometimes she gets even more worked up when she has been expecting one thing (the cloth nappy) and I do another (the pull up). Sometimes I go back to the first thing and she calms down.
“Windhorse, do you want to wear the cloth nappy?”
“Ok, that’s fine.” I started to put it under her. Seriously, sometimes this is the magic solution. Not yesterday.
“No!” Windhorse wriggled away and crawled under her cot.
“You have to have a nappy. I am going to put you into this pull up.”
I dragged her out, got the nappy over both ankles using my ingenious technique, and then held her kicking feet with one hand while I pulled the nappy up with the other. I got it as far as her knees, put she was pushing it off as hard as I was pulling it on.
“This! This!” she sobbed. OK, I tried the cloth nappy again.
“No! No!” Windhorse screamed, punching the floor with her fists.
I tried the pull up again. More screaming, more punching, her expression somehow conveying a mixture of rage, anguish, despair and betrayal. “This! This!” Since I was failing, again, to get the pull up onto her bottom, I tried the cloth nappy again, and this time she lay still, and I put the nappy on, and then (a small miracle) she let me put her in the first pair of trousers I reached for. Then I gave her a cuddle and asked if she wanted to choose which socks to wear, which instantly cheered her up because she has new socks to choose from (trains or ruru).
In the middle of that nappy change were some moments that made me feel horrible. When I was using force to pin my child down. When she cried and screamed and seemed to feel it was the worst thing that had ever happened to anyone. When I saw the anguished expression of someone who seemed to feel she was being tortured and betrayed by someone she had trusted. And I don’t want to torture my child, so it was one of the worst moments for me in what continued to be a trying morning, followed (after several apparently happy hours in childcare, where she was lying serenely having her nappy changed when I arrived to pick her up) by a hard evening for both of us.
I drank my tea, and felt sad and tired and like I was failing as a parent.
Then I remembered that we had made it to the doctor, only ten minutes late, and she had said that Windhorse’s chest sounded perfect, and I was thankful for the health of our child. Then I remembered that it was Tuesday, which meant that the next day L would be the primary caregiver, and I was thankful that L is able to spend one weekday each week with her daughter. I remembered friends who have had a house fire, and I felt thankful that I hadn’t forgotten the broccoli for longer and caused a house fire. I remembered that some don’t have enough to eat, and felt thankful for the broccoli that I had ruined. Then I remembered that we had both beer and chocolate biscuits in the house, which is almost as cheering as having two new pairs of socks to choose between.
I know there are people who face far greater struggles as parents. I know there may be greater struggles ahead for us. I have no idea how I will cope when I’m not even competent enough to change a nappy. But I made it through a challenging day. Without hitting my toddler, myself, or even a wall. For that, I am thankful.
And you know what? Melt-in-the-mouth broccoli-soup-flavoured (which is a very different flavour to lightly cooked broccoli) pieces on a faina pizza are not bad. Not bad at all.
We first encountered faina when visiting a friend in Uruguay. He took us out to a pizzeria and ordered “pizza a caballo” (pizza on horseback). We were served a normal pizza and a round flatbread made with chickpea flour. Our friend demonstrated the correct way to eat this – by putting a slice of the faina (the chickpea bread) on top of the pizza, making a sort of sandwich. It was delicious. A few days later at a cafe we found out you could skip the pizza base and put the toppings straight on the faina. It’s gluten free, delicious, and transforms pizza into a nutritious meal for vegetarians with the added protein and iron. It has become a favourite meal, with countless variations. The cheapest source of chickpea flour round here is Indian shops where it is called chana flour.
Basic faina recipe
1 cup chickpea flour
A pinch or two of salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 cup water
3 tbsp olive oil
Sift the chickpea flour into a bowl and stir in the salt and pepper. Slowly add the water, whisking as you go to so it doesn’t form lumps. Stir in 2 tbsp of olive oil (Some recipes have more oil and a lot more salt. I sometimes leave the oil out, it’s still tasty, perhaps a little less crispy). Leave the mixture for at least half an hour so that the flour absorbs the water.
Put a cast iron skillet in the oven and heat to 220°C (we’ve also made a larger serving of faina on a heated baking tray – it needs to have a decent rim as the mixture is quite liquid – but a skillet is best). When it is hot, take it out, quickly pour the remaining tbsp of olive oil into the pan and swirl it around, then pour in the chickpea mixture. Put it back into the oven.
If you are adding pizza toppings, leave it in the oven for a few minutes, until it has set enough to spread sauce on. Take it out, put your favourite pizza sauce and toppings on it, and put it back in the oven until the cheese has melted and the edges of the faina are golden and crispy. The sauce must be very thick, otherwise your faina pizza will be soggy.
Rosemary and parmesan faina
Stir 3 tbsp grated parmesan cheese and a bit of finely chopped onion to the mixture. Sprinkle rosemary and rock salt on top. Bake until crispy.
Vegan pesto faina
Make a pesto of sundried tomato, herbs, pinenuts or sunflower seeds and olive oil, and spread over the faina once it has set, then bake until crispy.
Broccoli soup faina pizza
Prepare faina mixture. Make pizza sauce by simmering half a tin of chopped tomato, 2 cloves of garlic and a tbsp of basil. Get distracted by a shouting toddler. Remember the sauce when it is very thick and just about to burn. Put some broccoli florets in a saucepan with a little water. If you don’t like the flavour of broccoli soup and prefer your broccoli with a little bite, you might want to blanch it for a minute and then strain it. Otherwise, boil until the broccoli is mushy. Turn it off just before the water boils away, narrowly avoiding another kitchen fire. Cut up a small green capsicum. Strain a few olives. Grate some cheese. Pour some oil and then the faina mixture into the hot skillet and put it back in the oven. Once the faina has set, quickly but carefully spread the sauce on top, scatter over the toppings, finishing with the cheese. The “carefully” bit is important, so as not to injure the faina, but more importantly so as not to injure yourself with a very very hot skillet. If you are clumsy like me you might want to do this bit wearing long oven gloves. Put the faina pizza back in the oven until the cheese has melted and the edges are golden and crispy. Sit. Relax. Enjoy.
The picture is actually of kale, caper and preserved lemon faina pizza; also delicious.