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Every year my grandmother calls me on the telephone to ask me what I'm giving up for Lent. As a child, my choice was always a half-hearted attempt at giving up swearing, soda, or candy. This wasn't too hard for a girl who wasn't allowed to swear in school, preferred to drink juice, and didn't consider cookies to be candy.
As an adult, I've occasionally used Lent as an excuse to curb bad habits. For the next forty days I will pick up every call on my cell phone. For the next forty days I will clean the dishes as soon as they are dirty. For the next forty days I will stop giving people evil looks when they sit in front of me at the movies or put their bags on the seats in the subway.
In truth, I like the idea of Lent. I like that there are periods in the year to be gorging and there are periods to be living more simply. So that is what I am focusing on this year— forty days of simplicity. My mantra will be: Cut out the clutter. Focus on what needs to be done. Live more simply and closer to the earth.
You'll notice that shunning sugar is not on my list, and, according to Gina de Palma, it isn't on the Italian agenda either. On the Babbo website, she posted a recipe for Walnut and Orange Spice Cake, explaining that Italians will eat this egg-free cake during Lent. (The idea is that going egg-free is a form of abstinence.)
I went further, swapping in earthy whole wheat flour and and taking out the nuts. The dough is spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and black pepper. I added black pepper because, to me, a hint of black pepper says earth and the savory tempers the sweet. Olive oil adds moisture to the crumb and a fruity note that's highlighted by fresh orange juice and zest. The overall flavor is a nutty, slightly spicy cake with a bright burst of orange. I bake the dough in a ten inch pan so that it comes out low and flat. I'll serve it plain in thin, austere slices.
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