Dolce Zitella's Latest Post, Girl Talk, Life Lessons

About My Blog: Dolce Zitella

typewriterWelcome to my blog Dolce Zitella.  Doesn’t it sound like a decadent dessert?  It’s not.  For those of you whose roots do not trace back to that lovely boot-shaped country, let me translate.  Dolce Zitella means “sweet spinster.”  That’s right, I’m a woman of a certain age who’s never been married.  It’s okay with me, but the word spinster seems to press a lot of women’s buttons.  I mean, really, it’s only a word.  But if shrouding the word in a layer of mystery and romance makes some people feel better, so be it.

While I have something to say about being a single woman, that’s not all I have to say.  So it doesn’t really matter if you’re single or married, younger or older.  After all, my younger sisters – I used to be you.  Whether you’re adding highlights and lowlights, dying your hair “granny gray,” or covering your gray, whether your hot body is the reward of working out or the result of menopause induced hot flashes – we’re all part of the same sisterhood.

Like you, I’m just trying to balance career with the rest of my life, whether it’s spending time with family and friends; meeting a new man; being proactive about my health; trying out a new recipe; embarking on my latest home improvement project; taking a night class; engrossed in a book; binge watching a television series; or searching for that perfect shade of red nail polish…

Dolce Zitella will be updated on alternating Thursdays.  Visit and bring your friends.

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Dolce Zitella's Latest Post, Mothers and Daughers

Cookie Day

christmas-cookies

The following is an updated re-post from December 2016.

“Gotta stop at the market on my way home and pick up some more butter,” my officemate announced.  “The cookie factory is open for business.”

She was in the midst of a chopped pecan, chocolate chip, sanding sugar, pre-Christmas baking frenzy.  I’ve been there myself many times.  But I’m sitting it out this year.  Because in a few days, I’ll be home for Christmas, enjoying my mother’s sweet and delicate holiday treats.

Every year, about a week before Christmas, my mother (picture an Italian-American Martha Stewart) puts on her apron and some Christmas tunes – cue up Darlene Love singing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” – and embarks on a baking marathon known in our family as “Cookie Day.”

Her butter cookies are made with a cookie press and decorated with chocolate or brightly colored sugar.  Her almond crescents are rolled in confectioner’s sugar while they’re still hot.  The thumbprint raspberry linzers and Italian sesame seed cookies are especially labor intensive.  And the pizzelle are painstakingly made one at a time on the stovetop.

As a teenager, I loved assisting her in this holiday tradition as she prepared the various types of dough, then decorated, and baked the cookies.  Once we got into a rhythm, there was no stopping us.  The moment a tray came out of the oven, the next one went in.  Carefully, the oven-hot cookies were set on the parchment paper lined kitchen table to properly cool. When we ran out of space on the kitchen table, I got the idea of using the ironing board, so we lined it with parchment paper, and placed the overflow cookies there.

Since he retired, my dad helps out on Cookie Day.  At least he calls it helping.  But my mother’s on to him.  She makes him whistle, so he can’t sample too many of the homemade Christmas treats.

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Zitella's Favorite Recipes

Let’s Talk Turkey

The following is a re-post from November 2016.

Whose idea was it to make turkey the traditional Thanksgiving dish?  Do you think the pilgrims actually served turkey stuffed with cornbread and celery at their feast?  After all, Plymouth is right on the ocean, so they probably ate fish.  Maybe we’re all supposed to be dining on the Thanksgiving Lobster.  I’m just saying…

Okay, so I’m not crazy about turkey.  One or two slices of the bird, and I’m good.  The next day, you open the refrigerator and remember just why they call it foul.

For me, turkey day is all about the sides.  I can’t wait for the mashed potatoes, the green beans with the onions, cranberry sauce made from scratch, and kernel corn slow baked in a ramekin.

sweet-potato-casserole

One of my favorite sides is an easy sweet potato casserole with a hint of vanilla that can be made ahead and reheated in the microwave.  I’m happy to share the recipe with you.

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Whether you like apple, pumpkin, chocolate, or my personal favorite – lemon meringue – I’ll bet the expression, “life is uncertain, eat dessert first” was coined with pie in mind.  In fact, instead of nicknaming Thanksgiving “turkey day,” I’d opt for “pie day.”  And the next morning while all the shoppers are jockeying for a parking space at the mall so they can get in on the Black Friday sales, I gonna sleep in and eat leftover pie for breakfast.

Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Pie Day!

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Life Lessons

Change of Life

My grandmother’s generation called it “the change of life.”  But nowadays, women of a certain age call it what it actually is: menopause.  Me, I like the phrase “change of life,” because it evokes the notion that when you reach a certain age, you’ve lived long enough that there’s not much left that scares you, and you’re willing and open to taking chances.  There’s the belief, and even the expectation, that you can actually change your life in some grand way.  Granted this takes a great leap of faith, with no guarantee of the eventual outcome.  But if you possess the will to change, the conviction to stick with your decision, and have support and encouragement from some friends or family, well…

Case in point: a friend of mine with a cool studio apartment and a great job in Manhattan left it all behind and moved to Denver.  For a man she was dating who swore he would never get married again.  Ten months later, they were engaged.  In a few months, they’ll be celebrating their seven-year wedding anniversary.  Another friend took a chance on an old house in the country that needed extensive work.  As she and the realtor stood in the kitchen, my friend turned on the faucet, and thought: if water comes out, I’ll buy this house.  The water flowed and it turns out buying that house not only changed her address, it changed her livelihood and led her to a new love.

Now I know what you’re thinking – these sound like the plots of Hallmark Channel movies, but I promise both are completely true.

However, unlike all those entertaining Hallmark movies, where the heroine always finds true love in the end, I stand firm in my belief that a happy ending can be anything you want it to be.  Which brings me to my “change of life.”

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be leaving my job of nearly 17 years.  As the news spread through my office, the same questions were posed to me.  Where are you going?  What are your plans?   And when I answer – that I don’t know exactly where I’ll land – I’m met with various reactions.  Some think I’m a little crazy, while others are proud of me, excited for me, and at least one colleague wishes she could do what I’m doing.

My change of life is not about a man.  It’s about how I want to spend the next years of my life.  It’s about purpose and well-being.  It’s about faith and resilience.

As a writer, I’m big on symbolism.  We are deep in October so everywhere I turn, in my quiet neighborhood, as well as on the city streets, I see mums in rich autumn hues of burgundy, pumpkin, and gold.   Mums are generally under-rated when compared to other flowers, like cheery tulips or romantic roses.  But, while tulips are synonymous with spring and growth, let’s face it, their delicate stems easily flop over.  And the roses of summer are fragrant but they are hard to grow.  Mums can weather change, and they don’t wither on the first cold day.  Just like women of a certain age who aren’t afraid of much, mums remain hearty and resilient.

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Girl Talk

A Big Ol’ Bag of Epsom Salt

Everybody’s talking about self-care.  It’s the new buzz word.  But it means something different to every woman I know.  It might be daily yoga practice for one haggard working mom, while it’s all about reclining on the couch binge-watching Hallmark movies for another working gal.  My mother is very clear about self-care:  she just wants some quiet time to read a good book.  My office mate’s self-care takes place in the kitchen, with flour, sugar, butter, and a rolling pin.  Me, all I need is a bathtub full of hot water and a big ol’ bag of Epsom salt.

Epsom salt, really?

Yup.

Since Epsom salt is having a moment, I’ve noticed a few new fancy label options that may be infused with lavender or eucalyptus.  And you may prefer that.  But for me, the whole point of Epsom salt is its purity – no dyes, chemicals, or added fragrance.  Just a tried-and-true medicinal that works.  This stuff is chock-full of magnesium and when I dissolve two cups of it in my bath water and soak for 15 minutes, I get the same benefit as a pricey massage.  In fact, a large bag of Epsom salt costs about five dollars whether you buy it in the drug store or super market.  But please don’t let that hefty bag detract you.  You could store your Epsom salt in a pretty footed glass apothecary jar or a kitschy vintage tin to add a decorative touch in your bathroom.

Trust me on this.  An Epsom salt bath will relax you, relieve your aches and pains, and help you get a good night’s sleep.  Now that’s self-care!

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Best of Boston, Life Lessons

September in Boston

Emerson UnionThe following is a re-post from September 2016.

“They’re baaaack…”   At summer’s end, nearly a quarter-of-a-million college students descend upon Boston.  They arrive in SUV’s and with U-Hauls that get double and triple parked along the city streets.  It’s a chaotic and familiar scene that jars my memory, transports me back to a September when I was a student.

My classes took place in a cluster of century-old brownstones that was Emerson College.  The Back Bay streets I walked were lined with gas street lamps, and every statue and church marked a piece of history.  There was no quad, no field house, no bookstore, nothing even remotely resembling a traditional campus – this was an urban campus.

The city was filled with a new kind of student – their oxford shirts and Shetland sweaters were packed away in their parents’ attics.  These young men and women were costumed in vivid colors, leather jackets, tight black trousers, walking boots, male and female alike wearing haircuts as short as their fathers had worn thirty years before.  They liked to gather in front of the Mass Communications Building and smoke clove cigarettes.  Their energy was palpable and it made me feel as if I were in the midst of a bizarre 1980’s new-wave cartoon with loud, clashing colors.

The Emerson Library windows overlooked the Charles River.  The water was calm but I could imagine the prep school trained crew teams from the Cambridge side of the river out in the early morning, their movements synchronized, their breath coming in steamy huffs.  I never got up early enough to actually go down to the Esplanade to watch them.  I would’ve felt out of place there.

It was an odd mix of scenery, of philosophy, of fashion.  At first I didn’t know exactly where I fit into the picture.  But this was where I belonged.  I found my niche.  My peeps.  My voice.  And although I knew it was not possible, that September, I wished that for once, time could stand still.

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Zitella's Favorite Recipes

Summer Brunch

In February 2016, in a blog post titled Let’s Do Brunch!” I suggested that the cure for the frigid temperatures, along with a case of the winter blues, was to host a weekend brunch.  What could be better than a delicious array of warm comfort foods, all displayed on a brightly decorated table?  Besides, you don’t have to get up early; you get to eat bacon; and you have permission to pour some prosecco in your OJ or vodka in your tomato juice even though it’s not quite noon-time.  Brunch remains, in my opinion, a highly underrated meal.

Now it’s August, and the heat is on, so the fare is light and fresh, and the table set in cool, tranquil hues.

Here’s my idea of an easy-peasy summer menu:  a pitcher of iced coffee, a fresh fruit salad of juicy melons and red and blue berries, Greek yogurt, a simple egg frittata made with fresh herbs and garden tomatoes, and one of my all-time faves, lemon-poppy seed muffins.

Decorate your table in rich shades of cobalt and turquoise.  And, if you can, dine al fresco.  Invite a few friends, sit back and relax on your deck or terrace, or around the picnic table in your yard.  A simple meal, lively conversation, and good company is my recipe for a great summer brunch.

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

 

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Life Lessons

Walking on the Moon

Although it happened fifty years ago, I vividly remember the night Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.  I was eight and my brother was five and my father woke us in the middle of the night and hurried us downstairs to the family room and our large black and white television set.  The screen’s blue glow was harsh on my sleepy eyes, and although it was summertime, the air conditioning gave me a chill as I stood there in my pajamas.  Mom ran and got my bathrobe.

This was not the first time my father had summoned us to the television to watch the astronauts.  I knew their names: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins.  I knew this mission was Apollo 11, and I knew that they had landed on the moon in a place called the Sea of Tranquility.  My father loved this stuff.  He read nothing but science fiction paperbacks by writers like Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury and he talked to my brother endlessly about UFO’s and what supposedly happened in Roswell.  Me?  I found the whole idea of space a little bit scary, but as I watched the contrasting images on the television screen – David Brinkley; the men in the control room, who all looked alike with their short haircuts, black-rimmed geek frame eyeglasses, white shirts and skinny ties; and finally the spacecraft itself, which was partially shrouded in darkness – I felt the same anticipation that comes on Christmas Eve.  In a few minutes we were actually going to see a man walking on the moon.

Even in the best of circumstances, our television reception was only so good.  Now add to that the quality of the moon-to-earth image, and it was no surprise the picture was snowy and no amount of adjusting the rabbit ears would make it clear.

“There he is!  There he is!” my brother exclaimed when Neil Armstrong emerged from the lunar module.  We couldn’t see his face through the shiny black face shield of his huge bubble helmet.  Instead, we saw a reflection of what he saw – the spacecraft and the spotlights.  When Neil Armstrong finally walked down the steps of the spacecraft and stepped onto the moon, we all cheered and clapped our hands.

As the coverage continued the next day, the clip of Neil Armstrong stepping from the ladder onto the surface of the moon was replayed again and again.  And we all watched it as if we hadn’t seen it before.  When I finally asked my father, “Why did you make us get up in the middle of the night to see this when we could’ve just seen it today?” he answered with a crack in his voice, “Because last night it was history.”

My father has always been a pragmatic man, but with his because last night it was history remark, he’d managed to be poetic.  I took his words to heart, realizing that big things were happening in the world, many of which I was still too young to fully understand or take part in.  Just like Roswell, the names of places had taken on new and deeper meanings.  No longer simply locations, Vietnam, Chappaquiddick, and Woodstock referred to a war, an accident, and a concert.  Even more than history, that summer I became acutely aware of pop culture, and began to understand how art, music, and literature reflected all that was happening.

I was twelve years old when knew I wanted to be a writer – something my practical yet perceptive father already surmised.  He once admitted to me, “Ever since you were a little girl, I knew you marched to a different drummer.”  I don’t know if this path is what he would have chosen for me; I’ve never asked him that.  But he’d accepted it without question and, realizing why it was so important for me to witness the moment in history when a man walked on the moon, had encouraged it.

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