Arroz con Leche (Milk Rice Pudding)

There are two realities that I’m currently living right now.

Arroz con Leche (Milk Rice Pudding)

The first one, which I frankly prefer, is that of me traipsing the cobbled streets of Rome in the warm mid-summer sun; or suntanning on huge flat rocks along the Amalfi Coast, the salty sea air and light breeze tangling up my hair. The sun sets at half-past eight, and as it slowly disappears into the horizon, I breathe in deeply and fill my lungs with deliciously sweet air.

In this same reality, I also see myself on an impossible mission to try all gelato flavors available in the boot-shaped country, where I hope to practice my non-existent Italian as well as eat as much pasta and pizza humanly possible.

Arroz con Leche (Milk Rice Pudding)

The second reality, one I honestly wish would just morph into the first, are these currently harsh winter days in Argentina – the past weekend has been hard on someone who fears the cold as much as I do. I leave the comfort of my well-heated apartment wrapped up in as many layers as an onion, my coat buttoned all the way up to my neck, with my scarf stuffed into my coat to trap as much warmth as I can.

It’s incredibly uncomfortable to wear such insane amounts of layers – I miss walking the streets in a sundress and sandals, as I would in Singapore – and having to peel off one layer after another is quite a chore. It gets dark before six in the evening, and the night seems way too long.

Arroz con Leche (Milk Rice Pudding)

Unfortunately, for the next two weeks at least, the second reality is my truth, after which I can indulge in the first for a short, but sweet vacation.

In between staying indoors as much as possible, drinking steaming cups of tea one after another; and wrapping myself in ridiculous amount of clothes, it is also time for thick, warm food. 

Arroz con Leche (Milk Rice Pudding)

In winter, more than any other season, my body craves comfort in the form of rice.

This is nothing surprisingly since I’m Asian and always will be – and I toggle between risottos, porridge, fried rice and now, milk rice pudding (or “arroz con leche” as they call it here).

Arroz con Leche (Milk Rice Pudding)

The last is a smooth, creamy pudding of milk and rice that is formed after about an hour of being slowly heated with lemon peel on the stove.

As the hour passes, you’ll have to be sure to constantly stir and scrape the bottom of the pot to prevent the pudding from sticking, and the pudding transforms from being very liquid to thick and rich, perfumed with the smell of citric lemon. Add in some sugar towards the end, stir some more, and then it is ready.

Arroz con Leche (Milk Rice Pudding)

At this time, all that’s left to do is to scoop up a generous helping of warm pudding into a large bowl, sprinkle some ground cinnamon on top, and dig in, letting the pudding warm your stomach and your soul.

Arroz con Leche (Milk Rice Pudding)

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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 happiness, and these days, reading Rachel’s blog makes me wish I were 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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