Tears, tantrums, and broccoli soup faina pizza (with recipes)

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.

“Meeee!”

“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.”

“No!”

“Ok, I will come back in a minute.” I left the room and Windhorse started crying.

“Meee! Meee!”

“You really want it changed now?”

“Yes!”

“Great.” I sat down and patted the change mat.

“No!”

“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.”

“No!”

“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.”

“Nooooo!”

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?”

“Yes!”

“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.

Faina Pizza

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.

Variations

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.

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The picture is actually of kale, caper and preserved lemon faina pizza; also delicious.

The delights of summer

Christmas this year has been delightful. This year, we don’t have a baby anymore, we have a toddler. Windhorse can run around in the sunshine. She exclaims “Oooh!” at the sight of presents. She takes decorations off the Christmas tree and tries to put them back on. She has discovered that strawberries and vegetables come from the garden. Oh, wonders! She says “Stawby, Stawby, Stawby,” which started off meaning strawberry and now means anything desired.

Two of Windhorse’s cousins moved to Seattle just before she was born. They’ve come back for a Christmas visit and have met her for the first time. She is having so much fun with them and her Wellington cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents. She loves having people around to play with and talk to, and the days have been filled with chuckles and giggles and squeals of excitement. She has been kicking and throwing balls, playing peekaboo, splashing in paddling pools, swinging and sliding at the playground, digging in the garden and playing at the beach.

The beach! Last year Windhorse was quite uncertain about it, but this year on Boxing Day she was absolutely gleeful. Sand! Sand to pick up! Sand to dig! Wet sand! Water! Waves to run from! Waves to fall into! Water to jump in! Sticks to dig with! Sticks to draw with! Dogs to point at! Birds to point at! The fun seemed limitless.

It is such a delight watching her enjoy the summer.

Christmas day was busy and noisy and fun. When I was a child, Christmas gatherings usually had 3, 5 or maybe 6 people. This Christmas 27 of us gathered for lunch, including all Windhorse’s grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, and two sets of great aunts/uncles.

There was an amazing spread for lunch. I’m not too modest to declare that our contributions to the Christmas table were absolutely delicious… and they disappeared quickly too. They were so scrumptious they need to be shared more widely, so I will leave you with our contributions to the menu, and recipes for these dishes. I can’t eat much dairy and I made a dairy free dessert so I could indulge in a bit of cheese in the salads. The salads would be yummy without the cheese as well. I’d put extra hazelnuts in the courgette salad if leaving out the cheese.

Happy festive season!

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Christmas 2013 Culinary delights 

Sweet Beetroot & Nectarine Salad

Courgette and hazelnut salad

BBQ tofu with pomegranate molasses marinade and BBQ sweet peppers

Rose, pistachio and pomegranate creamy dreamy meringue dessert (too fancy to be called Eton Mess)

Dairy-free rose, pistachio and pomegranate creamy dreamy meringue dessert (too fancy to be called Dairy-free Eton Mess)

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Recipes

Sweet Beetroot & Nectarine Salad (adapted from two Ottolenghi salads).

4 beetroots

100g almonds

20g honey

15g Dijon mustard

25ml cider vinegar

30mls olive oil

1 clove of garlic

½ tsp ground allspice

Salt and pepper

4 white nectarines, sliced into wedges

180g creamy blue cheese

50g small lettuce leaves (not iceberg) or mesclun

50g rocket leaves

Set the oven to 200C. Wrap the beets individually in foil and bake for 40-70 minutes, depending on size. To check, push a sharp knife through to the centre of each one – it should be soft all the way through. Set aside to cool, then peel and cut into a rough 2cm dice.

Turn the oven down to 170C and toast the almonds for about 10 minutes. When they have cooled, coarsely chop them.

To make the dressing, whisk together the honey, mustard, vinegar, olive oil, garlic, allspice, a small pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper (if the honey is very thick, melting it first will make it easier to blend in).

To create a visually splendid salad, arrange the leaves on a platter and lay the beetroot and nectarine wedges on top. Sprinkle with the almonds and crumble the blue cheese over the top. Drizzle dressing over everything.

Alternatively, to ensure everyone in the crowd gets a bit of everything in their serving, throw everything into a bowl and mix it all together. Everything will end up stained with beetroot but it’ll taste wonderful.

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Courgette and hazelnut salad

50g toasted hazelnuts

4 courgettes

1 block of feta

A few sprigs of mint

Olive oil

Balsamic vinegar

Lightly toast the hazelnuts in the oven or in a frying pan. Slice the courgettes very thinly (you can use a vegetable peeler to get extra thin long ribbons). Cut the feta into small squares. Shred the mint leaves. Arrange in a dish and drizzle with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar. So fresh and summery.

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BBQ tofu with pomegranate molasses marinade and BBQ sweet peppers

1 block of firm tofu

A few mini peppers or Hungarian peppers

Marinade

1 tbsp pomegranate molasses

1 tbsp tomato paste

1 tsp lemon juice

½ tsp cumin

½ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp paprika

A pinch of smoked paprika

A pinch of cloves

A pinch of chilli powder

Salt and pepper to taste

Cut the tofu into slices about 7mm thick.

Mix all the marinade ingredients together and roll the tofu in it. Leave to marinade in the fridge.

Don’t leave the tofu on the BBQ for long or it will dry out. If you’re not a tofu fan, just give BBQ mini peppers a go. They are so sweet and juicy and melt in your mouth delicious.

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Rose, pistachio and pomegranate creamy dreamy meringue dessert (too fancy to be called Eton Mess)

2 cups of crumbled meringues (you could buy plain but we made Ottolenghi’s version of rose and pistachio meringues – recipe here –  and they were divine! We used most of a batch in the dessert)

1 cup of crumbled pistachio macaroons (we used the recipe below but you could just use more meringues to keep it simple – we went all out for Christmas day extravagance!)

500mls cream

2 tsp rose water (or more if you are using plain meringues)

1 punnet of strawberries

1 pomegranate

Pomegranate molasses or pomegranate juice

A few chopped toasted pistachio nuts.

Slice the strawberries. We left the strawberries to macerate in a mixture of pomegranate molasses and pureed strawberries. Nigella leaves them to macerate in pomegranate juice.

Pop the seeds out of the pomegranate.

Whip the cream until it is thick and incorporate the rose water towards the end. Mix most of the meringues and macaroons into the cream, leaving a few for the top.

Put a layer of cream/meringues/macaroons in the bottom of the serving dish, followed by a layer of strawberries, pomegranate and a drizzle of pomegranate molasses if you have it. Alternate layers to fill the dish, ending with a creamy layer. Sprinkle the remaining pieces of meringue/macaroon, a few pomegranate seeds, chopped pistachios and rose petals on top.

Serve before the meringues dissolve!

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Pistachio macaroons

1 eggwhite

25g ground almonds

25g ground pistachios

100g castor sugar

½ tsp vanilla essence (optional)

Whisk egg white until starting to thicken. Continue whisking while adding the sugar and whisk until stiff. Whisk in remaining ingredients. Drop teaspoonfuls of mixture onto a tray lined with baking paper. Bake at 170C for 15-20 minutes (until just starting to brown around the edges).

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Dairy-free rose, pistachio and pomegranate creamy dreamy meringue dessert (too fancy to be called Dairy-free Eton Mess)

Put 300g silken tofu, 300g strawberries and 1 tsp rose water in a blender and process until very smooth. Use this in place of the cream in the recipe above.

Enjoy!

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