Grain-free Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

I’m so excited my heart feels like it’s jumping up and down in a thousand different places!

Since we booked our return tickets to Rome on Monday, I haven’t been able to stop thinking (and talking) about anything else.

Grain-free Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Because the trip was decided on so last minute (in less than three weeks’ time we’ll be in Italy!!), there’s a ton of adrenaline coursing through my veins.

I feel just like an energizer battery fully charged.

Grain-free Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

My mind’s filled with a list of to-do items, like booking accomodation, finding restaurants where we absolutely must dine at, as well as trying to budget everything into place.

Grain-free Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

I’m so incredibly pumped and am running on a happiness high!

And, it doesn’t hurt that everyone I talk to about Italy is just as excited as I am, either because it brings back beautiful memories to their minds, or because Italy simply has to amazing power to put anyone in a good mood.

Grain-free Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

I know the next couple of weeks will be crammed packed with checking out accomodation reviews, restaurant rankings and ratings, as well as itinerary planning, but this is definitely a good kind of busy.

Between emailing various friends all over the world for their wise travelling tips (renting a car or taking the public transport?); comparing hotels’ locations and prices (Trevi, Rione Monti or Vatican City?); and trying not to freak out from excitement, I am also trying to enjoy every moment, because life sure is wonderfully sweet right now.

Grain-free Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

You know, sweet and delicious, just like this amazingly moist carrot cake covered in a rich cream cheese frosting.

Oh, and if you were to sprinkle some chopped walnuts on top, it gets even better.

Grain-free Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Why don’t you sit down and have a slice with me, and just soak in the beauty of this moment?

Grain-free Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

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Walnut Pesto Zucchini Noodles

I didn’t know that it was possible for my heart to sing with so much joy.

After seven whole years, from that particular autumn in 2007, I’m finally heading back to the place which captured my heart and never let it go.

Walnut Pesto Zucchini Noodles

This was a very on-the-spur-of-the-moment decision.

While Juan and I have always fantasized about returning to Italy – land of my Tuscan dreams – I’d never expected that we’d make the trip there this year. And not to mention, next month. We were talking about it one day, and then asked ourselves, “why not?”.

So…we finally asked for leave from the office and bought our plane tickets this week, and I’m bursting with excitement and joy that’s almost quite impossible to describe in words. I’m estatic!! Beyond ridiculously happy!

Walnut Pesto Zucchini Noodles

And best of all, I get to visit this beautiful country – whose beaches are so stunning they take your breath away; whose people speak a language so full of life and passion; and where food is just an incredibly large part of its culture – with Juan, and we get to create beautiful memories together in Italy.

A few years ago, my original plan was to go to Italy to live someday – whether it be for a few months or years, I wasn’t sure. Yet, because the future is uncertain, and I’ve resolved to focus on the here and now, the current and the present, I think a ten-day trip to the South European boot-shaped country will do me much more than just good.

Walnut Pesto Zucchini Noodles

We’ll fly from Buenos Aires to Rome, where we’ll spend a couple of days in the Italian capital, which I’m so anxious to visit.

There are the ruins, the Colosseum, the Vatican and mostly, the people. I want to soak and immerse myself in the Roman culture, and as the saying goes, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”. Argh!! Just thinking about it makes me want to scream out in happines, and these days, reading Rachel’s blog makes me wish I was already in Rome.

I’ll even forego my grain-free diet for these ten days just to be able to dip freshly-baked bread in locally-pressed olive oil, lick my oil-stained fingers with unabashed confidence and then sigh in absolute bliss. I’m dreaming of generous helpings of cheese with white wine, and finishing each meal with the digestive limoncello. I want to run from galeteria to galeteria and taste all sorts of gelato flavors – I’m gunning for hazelnut, nutella, pistachio and whatever other exotic flavors they have – bring it on!

Walnut Pesto Zucchini Noodles

From Rome, we’ll catch a train or a bus South into Naples, where the ingenious concept of pizza was born, and hometown of my friend Suzy’s husband Francesco.

I’m planning on visiting the pizzeria which is supposedly where the first pizza Napolitana was served; and bite into it’s thick crust and melting cheese without a single ounce of guilt. We might stay there for a night if we like the city enough, and the next morning, we’ll head further south straight to the Amalfi Coast.

Walnut Pesto Zucchini Noodles

Perhaps we’ll rent a car (I’m crossing my fingers – Juan will be driving so it really depends on him) – and I have wild visions of us cruising along the scenic seaside highway in a convertible, the roof down, my stylish sunglasses on, and a scarf barely holding my hair together as it flies in the salty sea breeze. What wouldn’t I give to live that dream, that will soon become a reality!!

We’ll probably make Sorrento our base, and explore the rest of the Amalfi coast from there – Positano (bellisimo!), Ravello and Amalfi, for sure. If we have the time, we’ll even squeeze a day or two for Capri, the island which Suzy insists on me visiting.

The pictures I’ve seen of the towns along the coast remind me of my time in Cinque Terre, where brightly colored houses are propped on hills and small pathways constructed for the people to walk on, single file. There is the gorgeous landscape, of greenery and cliffs, set against the breathtaking backdrop of the turquoise blue sea.

Walnut Pesto Zucchini Noodles

What I remember particularly so, of my days in Italy those many summers ago, is soaking up golden sunshine which leaves your skin toasty and warm, like that of a baby’s fat bottom.

My friends and I would typically start to sunbathe in the earning morning, and when it started getting too hot, we’d troop to a trattoria perched on a cliff, overlooking the waves crashing against the shore, and then get down to eating plates of lip-smackingly delicious pasta.

Walnut Pesto Zucchini Noodles5

I know, pasta is kind of a big deal in Italy, and I might have to take a ten-day sabbatical from my grain-free diet. But in the meanwhile, before I get to Italy, I’m going to start living the Italian life – and eat freshly shredded zucchini noodles with tasty pesto sauce clinging to it. I’m going to eat these bright green noodles with popping red cherry tomates and crunchy walnuts, and I’m going to twirl these noodles around my fork, relishing each bite of it.

As the Italians say….”Mangiamo!” Let’s eat!

Walnut Pesto Zucchini Noodles

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Grain-free Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

There are pieces of my heart all over the world.

In some countries, there are tiny pieces, and in others, large blocks of my heart, and while it means that home is never just in one location only, it also means that I feel a belonging to many distinct cities, sites and places, all at once.

Grain-free Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

Because Singapore is where I spent my childhood, and because it is my birth country, where my dear family and many cherished friends reside, a large part of my heart will inevitably and undeniably always be there.

I’m a Singaporean first, and an international resident second, and a huge part of who I am, and how I think and feel is attributable to my life in Singapore.

Grain-free Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

The Southeast Asian nation’s short history since its independence in August 1965; its cosmopolitan landscape and mish-mash of a culture; and the people, whose stories are as intertwined with mine as the roots of Spanish moss – these are the things that I cling onto, the memories which I keep alive, and the reason why Singapore will always, always be so incredibly special to me.

Grain-free Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

And then, naturally, because four years in any foreign country makes it more familiar than foreign, another large piece of my heart is also here in Argentina, and specifically, Buenos Aires, sometimes also known as the “Paris of South America”.

In this land where passion rules over logic; where strikes are as rampant as empanadas; where football unites the country as one, particularly as seen in the recent World Cup; where the average Argentine is so proud to be Argentine – I feel a sense of belonging that’s also almost as strong as the sense of being on the outside looking in.

I’ve created a life here with Juan, I’ve made friendships from scratch, and I’ve shared tears of joy and sadness with girlfriends whom I wouldn’t have met if I never lived here, and for that I am grateful, and my heart will always sing with gratitude.

Grain-free Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

And then, there is Italy – the boot-shaped country whose Tuscan landscape captured my heart in the August of 2007, and truth be told, has never let it go.

Two weeks of the Italian summer – spent basking in the glorious sunshine on large stones in Cinque Terre; savoring fresh seafood pasta in a restaurant perched on a cliff and overlooking the Mediterranean Sea; walking across the bridges of romatic Florence, then navigating between the canals in Venice – and I had fallen deeply, profoundly in love with a country I had only just come to know.

Grain-free Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

Italy for me, is like my first love – and since that trip almost seven years ago, I’ve always dreamt about returning to this land so beautiful and abundant.

If I close my eyes long enough, I can still smell the salty sea air from that carefree summer; I can remember us four students beginning the adventure of our young lives; and I can feel my heart, beating hard enough as the memories come rushing right back.

Grain-free Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

And the food, my goodness, the food! Mamma, mia!

I remember eating pasta, from a trattoria along the slope of a village in Cinque Terre, my sunglasses propped above my head, and then pasta from a ristorante somewhere in Venice, staring at the pouring rain outside; and I was utterly fascinated by the existence of pasta in so many shapes, sizes and colors. I recall stuffing myself with pizza slathered with tomato sauce and generous portions of mozarella cheese – the strands of melted cheese in threads as I bit into the pizza, my awkward mouth full of heavenly Italian cuisine.

And then, you know what else comes to mind? The four of us buying a large bottle of Nutella, and eating it spread on toast in our hostel patio, overdosing so much on Nutella that I had a sore throat that lasted me one whole week.

Grain-free Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

There might be a possibility that my long-awaited wish to visit Italy again might just come true (sometime very soon!). And so I must celebrate! I must, I must, I must!

I’m taking the two flavors that make up Nutella – chocolate and hazelnut – to create these cookies that are absolutely, decadently divine.

These are cookies made with a melted butter and dark chocolate base, with chopped hazelnuts spread all over the batter. What you get is a soft, brownie-like cookie interlaced with crunchy hazelnut bits – doesn’t that sound like heaven on earth, just like Italy?

Oh….Italia! I hope to see you very soon! 

¡Hasta pronto!

Grain-free Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies


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Grain-free Strawberry Almond Galette

Grain-free Strawberry Almond Galette

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Gluten-free Oatmeal Walnut Cookies

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Gluten-free Banana Chia Muffins

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Grilled Eggplant Sesame Dip

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Grain-free Honey Ricotta Cake

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Baked Garlic Parsley Potato Wedges

Baked Garlic Parsley Potato Wedges

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