We often speak as though we must earn the right to enjoy our lives. The pleasures of being alive are couched in this language of deserving. It can be as innocuous as thinking I've been working really hard this week, I deserve to buy this thing -- dress, bottle of olive oil, what have you -- or it can be as dangerous as This person has hurt me deeply, (s)he doesn't deserve to be happy. Who am I to say what I, or anyone else, deserve? My buying whatever thing isn't really connected to how hard I've worked this week, and someone else's happiness isn't really connected to what they've done to me. I want to buy X, so I moralize why I should have it -- and I want X person to be unhappy, so I moralize why it should be so.
No matter the extent to which we are religious or philosophical, we as individuals hold our own moral codes -- and we can see them in action when we talk about what we, and those around us, deserve. This moralizing becomes tricky when we look at these scenarios another way. What happens when I want this thing, but I don't have the money or This person was horrible to me, but look at how happy (s)he is. What about what I deserve? What about what that person deserves? I've decided that, for me, it's healthier to stop myself from moralizing, and ask the real questions behind what I deserve. Is this (buying X or wanting X to be unhappy) worth my money/time/effort? Do I have the money/time/effort to spend? If I am completely willing and able, I don't need to couch my decisions, to buy something or put something behind me, in this language of morality. I make the decision and follow through -- that's it.
I'm sure you didn't come here for my philosophical musings, and so, I present you with cake. This is no ordinary cake -- it starts like a bread, with yeast. It's a traditional pastry from Florence, ubiquitous in bakeries around the time of Carnival, in late February. It's scented with orange and vanilla, and is an excellent snack with coffee for these sunny, melty days, when the air feels more like spring -- wet and smelling like new grass -- but still holds on to the chill of winter. This also happens to be the perfect time to buy yourself tulips, because you can, and you are more than completely willing.
Schiacciata alla Fiorentina
3/4 ounces (20 grams) fresh yeast dissolved in some warm water (or 7 grams instant dry yeast bloomed in some warm water)
3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) lard (or, less traditional, softened butter)
1/2 c (100 grams) sugar
1 egg plus 2 egg yolks
Zest of 1 orange
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)
Powdered bittersweet cocoa for dusting (optional)
In a medium bowl, combine the flour and yeast (along with the water) until you have a dough. The original recipe didn't specify a specific amount of water, but you can start around 1/2 c. Cover with a clean towel and place in a warm, dry spot to rise for about one hour or until it has doubled in size.
In another bowl, beat together the lard (I went the less traditional route with butter), sugar, eggs, orange zest, vanilla and salt until well combined. Add the butter mixture into the yeast dough and beat until combined. Place the dough in a buttered rectangular tin, cover with a clean towel, and let rise for 2 more hours. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F before the dough has finished rising.
Bake for 30 minutes or until the surface is golden brown and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Turn onto a wire rack to cool. Once cooled completely, dust liberally with powdered sugar.
If you are feeling crafty, cut out a mask of the Florentine lily and dust with cocoa powder.