RSS Feed

Author Archives: My Lovely Bites

Apricot Crostata

Apricot Crostata

What is that one cake or sweet that reminds you of your childhood the most?

If you asked me I’d say crostatas, the pie-looking tarts commonly filled with jam my grandmother used to make. Every Sunday morning I would go to my grandma’s house,  where I was welcomed by the smell of a scrumptious Sunday lunch. But what interested me the most was what was hiding in the dark living room, where all the cakes were left to cool down. And that’s where I would always find a crostata, its warm homemade jam tempting me have a taste, just a bite.

It’s been a few years since I’ve had a crostata, I’m not sure why I haven’t made it since leaving Europe. Maybe I never had enough people to bake it for, since it’s a tart I always shared with friends and family, or maybe baking it myself reminds me too much of when others used to bake it for me – and of how quickly time flies when your not paying attention, only to wake up one day and realise that you have to bake your own tarts.

Whatever it was, it’s no longer relevant because I made my first “Australian” crostata just last week and I intend to bake many more from now on! To my surprise, it was a lot easier to make than I remembered, and super-quick, too!

Crostata Recipe

Italian Shortbread Pastry (Pasta Frolla)
Translated from

500 gr Cake Flour ( or All Purpose/Plain Flour)
250 gr Unsalted Butter (cold, cut in pieces)
Pinch of Salt
4 Egg Yolks
200 gr Icing Sugar
1/2 tsp Vanilla Essence
500gr Apricot Jam (Filling)

1. Place the flour, salt and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer and mix on medium speed until the mixture resembles bread crumbs.

2. Pour the flour on a flat surface and create a volcano (!), then add sugar, egg yolks and vanilla. Quickly knead until the dough is smooth and elastic.

4. Wrap the dough in cling wrap and let it rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

5. Your Pasta Frolla is now ready to be turned in a Crostata!

Plain flour worked well for me, however, for best results or more complex pies (for example a braided edge), I suggest you use a flour low in gluten (cake flour), as this will make your dough more elastic and easier to shape.

1. Preheat oven at 180°C

2. Grease a loose base tart pan (I used a 24cm, but there’s enough dough for a slightly bigger one). If using a tart pan without a loose base, line with baking paper.

3. On a floured surface, roll half the dough with a wooden rolling pin until 5mm thick. Line the tart pan with the dough, cutting the extra pastry with a knife and making sure there are no holes or air bubbles. Spread the apricot jam evenly with the back of a spoon.

4. Roll the other half of the dough, then cut 1cm/1.5cm strips. The more precise you are, the better the crostata will look once baked. Apply the strips on the crostata, horizontally and vertically, pinching the edges slightly to secure.

5. Bake at 180°C for 30/40 minutes or until the crust is a nice golden brown. Let it cool in the pan before attempting to remove.

Slice of Crostata

Does it look delicious? Because it most definitely was!
I’ve been working on my photography, I know I’ve got a very long (and probably steep knowing my luck) road ahead of me in terms of photographing food but I’m trying to improve bit by bit.

So, what is the food that reminds YOU of your childhood the most?
I’m curious, don’t keep me hanging!

Your excitable baker,

Flavours of China (Part 2)

Are you ready to be captivated by the beauty of China once again?

In this second (and last) part I will take you to Chengdu, Chongqing, Guiyang, Guiling and Hong Kong: we’ll talk pandas, amazing waterfalls,giant statues and stunning city views! :D


Xi’an was the last stop I shared with my awesome travel buddy Rebecca, and when I got to Chengdu all alone…it felt weird. Add to that the fact that my hostel didn’t have a good common room and that the weather was rainy and grey and there you have my mood plunging to new depths. And that’s when I decided that I wanted to spend a day doing absolutely nothing but walking around with no rush, no place to go. I followed the river for quite a while, since water makes me happy and calm, then I stopped to watch a group of old men trying to fish – they were a bit confused by me at first, but we silently rejoiced together with smiles when there was some sort of catch and, when I got back to my hostel after some sort of socialisation, I was in a much better mood. I didn’t go sightseeing much around Chengdu, I spent one day at Chengdu’s Panda Base and another around Leshan, where I saw the amazing Giant Buddha.

Chengdu Panda

But let’s talk Pandas! :D Chengdu Panda Base can be reached both via expensive tours available at any hostel/hotel or by taking a couple of buses: you’ll see where you have to stop because there’s a huge panda statue in the middle of a roundabout right in front of the entrance to the Base. I had never seen a panda before, they are the laziest and cutest animals out there! I’ve seen so many eat laying on their backs and using their tummies as little tables…and yes! If you go early enough you’ll see them all active and moving around – so an early morning is definitely recommended. Otherwise you might end up only seeing sleeping pandas, which are surely cute but, trust me, looking at them wobbling around is quite a lot better.

 LeshanLastly, Leshan. Now, can you see the row of people up there, close to the Buddha’s head? No? It’s THAT big. More precisely, it’s a statue of a seated Buddha 71 metres tall carved in the side of a mountain overlooking two rivers. It’s not only the biggest stone Buddha in the world, but it’s also (by far) the tallest pre-modern statue in the world. It’s overwhelming, it literally takes your breath away (or maybe it was the terrible humidity of early July?). It was just beautiful. Leshan is also a beautiful city, and quite modern, and if you stop there you really can’t miss a hike of Mt. Emei. I was only in Leshan there for a quick bite before going back to Chengdu – I hadn’t eaten all day! If you visit the Giant Buddha, make sure you bring food with you unless you want to buy some overpriced, and probably expired, packaged food from some of the stalls inside the park.

I stayed at: Chengdu Traffic Inn – it’s basically a hostel using the back rooms of a hotel, so the rooms are quite good. Bathrooms are ok, but there’s not really a good common room so I found it difficult to meet people. Probably more suited to couples or groups. It’s extremely close to the long distance bus station.

ChongqingChongqing Food
Chongqing is not a city that attracts too many backpackers, although it’s a booming city with a lot to offer (I mean, their metro is in the sky!). Only a few hours’ train from Chengdu, Chongqing is special in many ways: it’s its own municipality, it’s one of five National Core Cities (with the likes of Beijing and Shanghai) and, as shown above, it’s where the Jialing River (left) merges into the Yangtze River (right) creating this beautiful contrast of colours.

While there I was also able to have a look at the Three Gorges Museum, a part of which is dedicated exclusively to the construction of the controversial Three Gorges Dam. Although I do love a good museum, by the time I got out I was famished. But luckily Chongqing has a whole street dedicated to food, full of restaurants, dessert shops, fast food…anything you could imagine. And it’s only a short walk to the city centre, where all the classiest shops and best brands are located. I had lunch with a nice hot pot, with the hot side being particularly superspicy. Not a surprise, considering that Chongqing is only a short stroll from Sichuan, the region known for its mind-numbingly spicy dishes!

If you have the time and money, consider going on a cruise on the Yangtze river from Chongqing to Yichang: the Three Gorges are apparently some of the most beautiful sights in the area! You will also get a chance to see the Stone Sculptures of Dazu (in case the Giant Buddha wasn’t quite enough!) and, if you wanted to go further, you could cruise from Chongqing to Shanghai in only 7 days! It’s definitely on my to-do list when I go back!

I stayed at: Yangtze River International Youth Hostel – right on the Yangtze River, this hostel was nice. Bathrooms are good, although they can get quite busy, and the dorms are tiny but good enough for a short stay. The staff was incredibly helpful, and there are free activities in the common room such as making dumplings. It’s also relatively close to the railway station, which is great if, like me, you need to catch a midnight train!

GuiyangGuiyang Food

Guiyang is an AMAZING city. I don’t know why I fell head over heels in love with it, but maybe that has to do with it being the most challenging city I visited. How challenging, you ask? Well, the only hostel in the whole city is so hidden it took me a good two hours to find it (and two hours in the morning heat, after a 17-hour train ride and with a huge backpack…not recommended) and they don’t really have a 24/7 reception, so you really need to wait until everyone’s awake to get settled. It’s no-English challenging, with the receptionists being the only people that could sort of understand me. It’s the city where I got the most stares, where it was the most difficult to understand how the transport worked and where I really got to use my pocket dictionary. But it was so beautiful, so charming. It just breaks my heart to be here telling you to go visit because I know that when it will become the touristy town it deserves to be…it will change. And, did I mention that I had the most delicious food in Guiyang? I did, and it’s those little “crêpes” shown above. I don’t know what they were made of: probably rice, cornflour? You then got to choose your filling by combining fresh and pickled vegetables, fold the crêpe and bite a piece of savoury heaven.

Huangguoshu Waterfall

But why did I go to Guiyang in the first place? Well, there’s one thing abut me you don’t know yet : I LOVE WATERFALLS (you can see more waterfall porn on my Pinterest here). I love how the water falls (duh!) and how dangerous yet beautiful they are, how calming, how powerful…and just a few hours train/bus out of Guiyang is Huangguoshu Waterfall, one of the largest in East Asia! The whole Huangguoshu park actually comprises many more minor falls (of which I sadly only got to see a few due to time constraints) with Huangguoshu being the tallest (77.8 metres) and largest (101 metres). And that’s why I simply could not miss it! It is as beautiful and as amazing as it looks, and it was super busy when I got there. And did I mention that there’s a cave behind it and that you can walk behind this amazing wall of water? Yes, it was awesome.

I stayed at: Guiyang Backpackers Hostel - it’s the only hostel in Guiyang (as of Nov 2012), so you don’t have much of a choice. It’s a good place, the staff is super helpful and nice, the rooms are amazingly spacious and the mattresses are basically non-existant (although that’s a common feature of most Chinese hostels I stayed at). The bathrooms are a whole different story (but they’re clean)…

GuilinI was really tired when I got to Guilin, so my plan to got to Yangshuo (a little town in the middle of karst formations, extremely beautiful) went out the window. I just could not get myself to board another train/bus/boat so I just spent three days in Guilin. I don’t know why everyone says Guilin is not worth more than a day…I found enough to do in three days and could have wandered around for three more! I was lucky, too, because I met a friendly local girl with whom I went around quite a while after she finished work…late night shopping, restaurants, she even brought me to see Guilin’s artificial waterfall at Lijiang Hotel when I told her how much I loved waterfalls! The whole side of Lijiang Hotel is transformed in a waterfall at 8.30pm  every night, with lights, music and waterworks. It was so peculiar! But the best sight of all is portrayed above: a walk by the glistening water at night, stopping to see the Sun and Moon Pagodas’ while having shaved ice desserts.

You really can’t miss a walk by the Li River, as well as going to see  the Elephant Trunk Hill (you can pay to get up close, or you can go along the Li River and see it from afar for free). A day or two in Yangshuo should be a must, as it’s much more scenic than Guilin, but the city has enough to offer to keep you quite entertained.

I stayed at: Ming Palace International Youth Hostel - great little hostel, they have cats!! I had been missing my two furry babies so much, it made my day when I got there and saw these two cute little kittens :) Bathrooms are also really good, and you can choose to have a female-only dorm if you want. Quite close to all amenities, convenient location. I recommend this place 100%.

Hong KongAnd then I got to Hong Kong, my final stop before going back to Sydney. To be fair, I had been to Hong Kong before, but I never seem to be able to fully enjoy it because I was super tired both times! This time around though, I did go around a bit more – I went to The Peak, for example, which is where the above photo was taken. I went to Mong Kok markets, I did some shopping (finally!! I had been using the same two outfits for almost 5 weeks!), bought make up, had my hair done…if I was to die on the plane back home, at least I wanted to die pretty! :)

Hong Kong is a city that always leaves me wanting more but at the same I could never be there for more than 3/4 days at a time, it’s just stressful and not green enough for my inner nature-loving self. I also noticed (and this is in no way meant to offend anyone) that people in Hong Kong seem to be a lot less open/friendly than their Mainland counterparts. I think it’s due mainly to the how quickly things seem to happen in Hong Kong, how busy everyone is/seems to be. And then again, I wasn’t there long enough to get to know anyone too well so this is purely my first impression. I missed the Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island, but I’m planning to have at least another stopover in HK  (and possibly Macau) so I’ll make sure to check it out next time!

 I stayed at: Yesinn Hostel (Fortress Hill) -what an awesome little hostel! I was in a dorm with amazing beds, an awesome bathroom, great furniture …I couldn’t have asked for more! Highly recommended!


And with a photo of home, the northern suburbs of Sydney, I conclude this not-so-brief account of my backpacking adventure through China! This journey taught me so much about myself, about others, and about the amazing world out there! I hope you will consider China as the destination for your next adventurous holiday, you will not regret it :) And especially you, prospective solo woman traveller reading this blog – GO! Don’t let your gender or fears stop you from travelling alone, you will be amazed by the things you’re capable of!

Keep being awesome peeps!

Flavours of China (Part 1)

When I got back from Italy last February (you can read more about it here), I felt ready to take over the world. I had finally challenged one of my deepest fears: flying. I had taken a long haul flight alone and, although the fear will never leave, I learned to accept it and deal with it.

Now, I must have liked the adrenaline a lot because, not even three months later, I was yet again on flight all alone. Yet again it was an impulsive last minute decision. This time though there was no family waiting for me at the airport, no familiar faces, not even the same language because….

I went to China for 5 weeks!

Shanghai -Zhujiajiao
Xi’an – Terracotta Army
Chengdu – Pandas & Leshan
Guiyang – Huanggoushu
Hong Kong

Background: I don’t speak Chinese, I’d never been to China before.
So, why China people ask (as if there must be a good reason behind that choice)? I’ve always been fascinated by China, ever since a huge Chinese family moved near my house and their children became my playmates. I’d go to their house, where there were all these things I’d never seen before, all these  hieroglyphics…after all, living in a small town in Italy meant having almost no connection with anyone but Italians, so my first encounter with this new culture sparked curiousity. They invited me, my grandma and grandpa (this was back in the early 2000s) to one of their Chinese New Year celebrations where there were black eggs and all sorts of delicious yet mysterious stuff. Can you imagine an elderly Italian couple at a Chinese New Year celebration?  It was awesome. They’re still friends to this day. Plus, last year, when it was time to choose my minor at university, I choose Sociology, although Chinese would have been my first choice. It turned out Sociology was the wrong choice, because I’m going back for summer courses and I’ve changed my minor back to Chinese…

It was the best trip of my life. I’ve felt alone and vulnerable at times, yet I was able to prove myself that I can do it, that I can be alone, that it’s ok not to have a plan…life sometimes shows you the way. Being a very controlling person, very anal, very precise…it was like a breath of fresh air. I landed in Shanghai and realised that I had no idea what I was doing, that for the first time ever I was in a place so completely different from anywhere I’d been before. I hadn’t had time to contemplate what would be waiting for me on the other side until I actually got there. It was also the most tiring and draining 5 weeks of 2012, and when I got back to Sydney I was exhausted. Backpacking is mentally and physically exhausting, but so so so worth it.

I travelled by train and bus, only flying Sydney-Shanghai and Hong Kong-Sydney…which meant I travelled a total of more than 110 hours by train, mostly overnight, with the longest being over 18 hours straight. I travelled in hard sleepers, which made me feel like merchandise on a shelf, but it was oddly enjoyable. I want to go back so badly because there’s so much China I haven’t seen yet!

I’ll try and quickly give you a overview of Shanghai, Zhujiajiao, Beijing, Pingyao and Xi’an in this first post, and I know it will be a very long post. But hey, if you’re planning a trip to China anytime soon, it’s worth a read.

Shanghai Shanghai FoodShanghai, you charming yet cloudy cloudy city! I was in Shanghai for 5 days and not once you dared show me the sky, let alone the sun. Not once! I loved Shanghai, I did. But it was possibly the worst city to be welcoming me to China, because it was so hot and humid, and so terribly smoggy, that by the end of my 5 days I was wondering weather I would see the sun at all in 5 weeks. I sometimes felt as if there was not enough oxygen in the air, no joke. But I met the most awesome people there (yes, you Miami Pilot Guy & Seraph!) and ate delicious food from food stalls…yum! I love street food, and this loves comes from my childhood trips to Venezuela where I learned that delicious food is not supposed to be of the sanitised kind. I’m lucky, too, because I can digest anything and everything (the only time I ever got a sick from food was after having a Wendy’s milkshake. Go figure.). Noodles, dumplings, Uyghur dinner (middle photo), fried veggies on the corner of the street, spicy lamb that was supposed not to be spicy…it was all amazing. And my first hot pot in China (first photo), where I discovered my love for needle mushrooms and sesame sauce! You really can’t miss a walk from Nanjing Rd to The Bund at night, a day in the History Museum, Old Shanghai, the French Concession (although it’s damn expensive to eat/drink there) and, why not, the Sculpture Park!

I stayed at: The Phoenix Hostel, Shanghai - highly recommended, very close to the city centre, the Bund, Museum, and the bus station.

ZhujiajiaoZhujiajiao FoodIf you go to Shanghai, you really can’t miss Zhujiajiao. Or you can, depending who you ask! It’s a couple of hours’ bus from Shanghai and it’s quite difficult to find the right bus and to understand how it all works but it’s worth it. I met zero foreign tourists there, as apparently it’s very popular with Chinese tourists rather than foreigners…a big plus for me. Zhujiajiao is also called “the Venice of China” and as it’s a city on water just like its European counterpart. Small streets, little houses…it’s great to get lost in there. However, you might want to hurry up as there were some really nasty huge buildings being constructed at the edge of town, and the whole place might lose its’ charm to skyscrapers someday. Now, as with every tourist attraction in China…it’s touristy, you can feel it in the air that it’s somewhat artificial. This doesn’t mean it’s not nice, but don’t expect the traditional little village sort of thing. If it’s on Lonely Planet (I hate LP with a passion), then forget about the “traditional Chinese experience”. Greg, my American foodie friend, found this place to be really sad, although I quite enjoyed it, if only because it made for some nice photos…it really depends! But hey, Zhujiajiao is the only place where I got to try snails, mashed with unknown herbs…well, to be honest, I have no idea what I was eating most of the time while in China, so definitely not recommended to people that are afraid to get out of their comfort zone. Another note on eating in Chinese restaurants, especially if not in the main cities, is to get used to people staring. And by staring I mean having restaurant staff sit in the table beside yours, turn their chairs towards your table, get comfy and watch you eating. I believe we might have been quite entertaining because those old ladies were smiling and laughing the whole time…but they were so cute and tried to their best to please us, so I didn’t really mind.

Beijing Beijing FoodAfter taking the first of many trains, a trip that revealed to be much more pleasant than I expected, and finding myself in a crowd in front of Beijing Railway Station with no clue where I was supposed to go, I got to my hostel in the Hutongs early in the morning and was welcomed by, you’d never believe it, sun and a clear blue sky! I’ve been told it’s not very common but, for the entire 8 days I was in Beijing, it was sunny and hot and beautiful. Shortly after getting to Beijing I met Rebecca, an awesome British girl with whom I ended up sharing a good 1/3 of my journey, and was lucky enough to join her and her friends for a walk around the 978 Art District, a hike on Badaling Great Wall and dinner in a delicious hot pot restaurant.Great Wall of China

Did you notice that, although I was theoretically travelling alone, I was always eating and sightseeing with people? That’s probably the most amazing part of the whole backpacking experience, the fact that the things that keep me from talking to people I don’t know in Sydney don’t seem to apply to travelling-me. The normal boundaries I’d put up with people I meet at uni just don’t exist when I’m  “out there”. Yes, sure, there’s always a degree of suspicion at first because, after all, you don’t know these people, but it disappears pretty quickly. Travelling makes us all more genuine, maybe because of the tiredness, or maybe because we don’t have any of the social restraints we experience at home – no one knows you there, right? You can be exactly who you are.

Rebecca and I pretty much went to all the temples and other historical attractions of Beijing ( Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, History Museum, Temple of Heaven, Lama Temple, Summer Palace, and, last but not least, Mao’s Mausoleum where we got to see the man himself!) as well as going for a stroll on Wangfujing Street and sampling food from the awesome Wangfujing Night Market. What food, you ask? Well scorpions and starfish, of course! Although it was really difficult to say no to the likes of sheep penis, spider king, centipedes and beetles, let me tell you. Scorpion tasted just like popcorn, it was actually quite good and I had two. Starfish, on the other hand, was pretty awful: it was salty, had a weird consistency and smelled/tasted like dead fish. Weird food apart, I really loved Beijing, all its temples and gardens…there was so much more to discover, I will definitely go back soon!

I stayed at: Happy Dragon Courtyard Hostel – cheap accommodation in the hutongs, quite good (although the common bathrooms are not so special, if that’s your main concern consider another hostel) and Lucky Family Hostel – brand new hostel in the hutongs, awesome bathrooms, good location (bit difficult to find the first time) – highly recommended!

PingyaoPingyao FoodHalfway between Beijing and Xi’an is the old town of Pingyao, a nice stop-over that will make your train trip to Xi’an a little less endless. Also known for being one of the best ancient cities of China, this walled town is definitely a good change from the busy Shanghai and Beijing! However, it’s also the mother of all tourist traps and I wouldn’t recommend spending more than two days there: first, it’s expensive, and second, once you have a walk around the city, it gets pretty boring and depressing. At least, that’s how I felt after a while…but that might have been because of the terrible experience of seeing a group of dying kittens in the street. See, I don’t cry. But damn, I cried like a baby after that, and I still get all teary thinking about it. Nothing hurts more than meowing kittens standing in a corner…ok ok ok, I was sad. But the city was nice, just a bit repetitive (the menus were basically the same everywhere) and quite expensive (I would have gone on a walk on the town wall but it was more than 100RMB, too much for my broke self with another 3 weeks of travel to go!). We had cold meat, a specialty of the area, plus buns and dumplings, as well as fried braided bread (not in photos). And that first yellow crepe-like thing? I’m not too sure myself, it tasted egg-y and it was filled with seasoned cold meat. Interesting.

I stayed at: Yamen Hostel – nice common room, good shared bathrooms (much better than the Beijing ones, and by Pingyao my standards had plummeted anyway…)

XianXian FoodThe last place I’m going to talk about in this first part is Xi’an. After spending one day too many in Pingyao, going back to a bigger city felt good and I really liked Xi’an ( by now you should have noticed that there is not one single place I didn’t like, I really did love China!). Rebecca, whom I had been travelling with since Beijing, and I even found a Walmart! What a treat. Anyways, Xi’an was a great place and I would have spent even a bit longer if I could have. The main attraction in the area is, of course, the Terracotta Army (well worth the 150RMB entrance fee) and the feeling one gets upon entering the first of three hangars of 6000 life-size statues and horses is indescribable, overwhelming to say the least. Can you believe they’ve been unearthing and working on these statues since 1974? And there’s still so many that are being reconstructed as we speak.
Terracotta ArmyBut Xi’an has other things to offer beside the Terracotta Army, like the Muslim Quarters, Bell Tower (pictured above) and Wild Goose Pagoda (which I only got to see from a distance). Although by this stage I was a bit over markets full of overzealous sellers, I still enjoyed the smells of spicy street food (lamb, especially) and roasting nuts. I even succumbed to one of those delicious peanut crisps that were made before out eyes, which I stupidly didn’t even take a photo of. Although it was surely one of the most crowded markets I went to, the Muslim Quarters were not that bad – I just didn’t have the money to enjoy all I would have wanted to try! :) Another little gem that I quite liked exploring was an underground market (close to Walmart) selling all things cute and sparkly and pink, plus clothes, perfumes, shoes …everything. You need to bargain, no doubt, but there’s quite a few things I found really hard to say no to! But what about the last photo? That’s a single package spicy boiled egg and a packaged chicken foot. It’s not too uncommon to find these in Sydney (I quite like hot chicken feet when I have yum cha) but I know my friends and family in Europe would find it extremely weird. Worth a try, you might be surprised!

I stayed at: XiangZiMen Youth Hostel – NOT recommended. Firstly, they gave us only one key to share between the two of us, which was ok but, especially  since we were in a dorm, I would have expected two keys, but whatever. But then, the toilets were dirty as hell. And by that (don’t read if you’re easily disgusted) I mean there was blood on the toiled bowl and it wasn’t cleaned for as long as we were there (5 days)… Lastly, because of some mix up at check in, we both paid a deposit of 100RMB and got back only 50RMB each, which I was especially not happy about. Oh well.
And we finally got to where I tell you that you’ve done such a good job reading this whole thing, I’m so proud :) I’ll reward you with a sneak peak to Part 2 of my backpacking adventure to China. Are you ready?

Chengdu Panda

Cuteness Overload!
(Chengdu Panda Base)

Want to see more pandas, more waterfalls, more pagodas?
You better check out Part 2 next week!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 90 other followers

%d bloggers like this: