The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is the most vibrant part of the country that I saw on my trip in September. The houses are painted bright yellows, soothing blues or even daring reds. Restaurant and shop signs are bold and vivid, in sync with the popular reggae, its heavy bass line and playful rhythm. The loud colors mirror the culture and the rugged geography. The lush green of the forests and the light blue skies are like a canvas on which the locals get creative. San Jose is a little dreary, but once you drive out of the city you’ll notice the explosive colors of this country, that’s sandwiched between the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean. I don’t think any country in the world is as colorful as Costa Rica.
No trip to Oman is complete without a taste of halwa. The word literally means sweet and there couldn’t be a better noun or adjective for this traditional treat that is made from (a whole lotta!) sugar, ghee, eggs and water. Saffron, cardamom and nuts are added to flavor the high-caloric dessert which is served with bitter Arabic coffee, to balance the rich, sweet halwa.
When I was younger, a trip to the Barka Factory for Omani Halwa meant walking into a stuffy building where an old man prepared halwa over a wood fire. That has changed. This time we were told we cannot go into the main factory. I remember that the Barka Factory always had pots of halwa ready for visitors but part of the experience was watching the tough older men stir the ingredients together until they turn into the right consitency. According to a tourism website, “The halwa-making process is a laborious one, with the dedicated chef stirring the gigantic pot of bubbling hot, sticky substance for up to three hours. A momentary lapse in attention and the halwa could stick to the pot and be ruined.” Eventually the dessert will turn either a golden-brown color or slightly darker, depending on the ingredients used.
We passed by the factory yesterday and picked up a few pots for family back home; everyone’s waiting for their share of Sultani halwa (considered the finest type). Lately, people have been cautious about the amounts of halwa they consume as they are more aware of health and nutrition and it’s anything but a healthy treat. Apparently the Sultan Qaboos University is working on a low-fat, low-sugar version of the iconic Omani sweet. So if you’re watching your weight, you might want to wait for that.
Here are some pictures I took when we stopped at the Factory yesterday. I couldn’t resist a few spoons of halwa but I mentally added 30 minutes to my workouts over the next week. I find it impossible to resist traditional sweets (or dessert in general) when I travel. Would you indulge in halwa or a similar extravagant desserts when you’re on vacation? Tell me I’m not the only one. Make me feel better.
I don’t know what your vacations are like but mine tend to revolve around good food and better company.
I’m currently visiting Muscat, where I grew up. It has been a week of delicious meals and unforgettable reunions.
Possibly even better than my last trip in 2009. Roads have changed but my friends are right here ready to pick up conversations where we left off almost a decade ago. Here is a peek into a day in my life while I’m on vacation soaking up the sun and piling on calories.
This week, I closed a fast-paced chapter in my life and I am taking a much-needed break before I plunge into the next hectic phase. I quit my job (again!) and have valiantly joined the ranks of the unemployed – those who sleep until 9 and have gigantic breakfasts upon waking up, then open the windows to let the spring breeze in and throw themselves on the bed to write a long blog post. Y’know, the hard knock life.
Quitting my job was not easy. I handed my resignation in on the first week of January but was required to work for three months. Oh how those days dragged. Yet as much as I wanted out, I couldn’t help doubting my decision. It’s really difficult to leave a job when you have nothing immediately lined up. We have been conditioned to latch on to financial security and the stability that a full-time job supposedly provides. We have been told to hold on to our jobs at a time of economic hardships and rising unemployment. But how often are we urged to do what makes us happy, to avoid stress and to pursue our dream careers? Hardly ever. And that’s why it was not easy for me to walk away from my last job as a social community manager at an advertising agency. There were many aspects of the job that I detested but it was a paying job and I was told to suck it up, give my all, show up to work and be a grown up about it. Eventually, I ignored all the terrible advice like, “you’re young, you should work now and do what you love later,” and “not everyone gets to do what they love, be realistic!” or “don’t quit your job, you need the money,” and walked away.
You see, I have become quite the expert on “moving on” having quit three full-time positions between 2008 and 2013. People told me that I was able to leave jobs because I am not entirely dependent on that pay cheque as I still live at home. They might have a point but the driving factor for me was not financial; I left jobs in search of that dreamlike happiness that comes with doing what I love, day in and day out. It takes a lot of courage to pursue dreams as they are shrouded in so much ambiguity. There is absolutely no certainty or clarity when you’re about to leap forward in an attempt to achieve a goal you have been fantasizing about for years. My journey has been full of doubts and anxiety as well as crippling blows from family, friends, acquaintances and even academic institutions, but with the solid belief that everything happens for a reason, I have continued to move forward. I’ve also taken steps back, stumbled and taken a few falls along the way, but that’s just life, non?
I write this post to thank all those who have read my scribbles, cheered me on, believed in me, provided moral support, guidance, recommendation letters and ice cream. I’ll keep blogging about my journey, the places I see, the people I meet and what I hope to achieve. Occasionally, I’ll write about food and sometimes I’ll whine a little. Bear with me and keep reading. Leave a comment every now and then. Be safe. Be kind. Life is short, do what makes you smile.
With love, F.
And that’s what I call talent!
You wake up tomorrow morning to find all your plans have been cancelled for the next seven days and $10,000 on your dresser. Tell us about your week.
On any other day, I’d have a mature and responsible answer ready for this sort of question. You know, like I’d fund an organization, start a business or find some way or another to create work for myself and more responsibilities. Like an adult. But not today. Today I’m feeling selfish (or realizing that I need to take care of myself before I crash and burn).
I’ve had an off
day week or two. Everything is catching up with me and I’m ready to collapse. Preferably on 800 thread count, 100% cotton sheets pulled tightly across a plush California king mattress. Soft jazz in the background, beautiful views and a silent AC that keeps the room nice and cool so I can hibernate.
If I found $10,000 on my cluttered dresser, I’d think it was a trap. But then, I’d immediately book a first class $3,000 ticket to Phuket, Thailand and check myself into the Sri Panwa for a week. I’d request the one bedroom pool villa (with ocean view) and happily pay the $5,000 dollars that would cost. With about $3,000 left over I’d get daily massages and an endless supply of tropical fruit and fresh juices. I can practically smell the fresh orchids in my room. I desperately need this a vacation and right now, I want $10,000 so I can disconnect and destress.
PS. Don’t leave a comment under this post pretending to be my friend. I am not taking anyone.
I felt oh so grown up on the first day of every school year but the real change took place when I started seventh grade.
My school, which loosely and arbitrarily followed the British education model, put great emphasis on the jump from elementary (first to sixth year) to secondary school. A small graduation ceremony was held in our honor at the end of our sixth year. My classmates and I proudly walked the stage and shook hands with the Head of Elementary. It was a modern-day coming of age ritual where we literally and enthusiastically waved goodbye to that chapter of our lives. As I crossed that stage, in front of emotional parents, relieved teachers and very young elementary students, I sensed that I was growing up. I shook hands with Mr. Brian – that, in itself was a privilege for he was a tall, serious man who ran his section of the school like a colonel commanding a mid-sized regiment. He had a full beard, kind eyes and was known to be unforgiving with tardy students. He was well-respected (or feared, to be honest). He told me he was very proud of me (I was quite the honor-roll nerd) and that I would do well in secondary school. I realized that I was leaving the safety of the classrooms and corridors that I knew, heading to a different world. The idea left me excited but also a little sad and apprehensive.
That different world happened to be in the same building.
The elementary and secondary schools were separated by a mere floor, but for years I was only used to walking up the first two flights of stairs to reach my classes. Now I had to take two more flights to get to the right floor! At the time, the steps leading up to the second floor seemed unfamiliar, unbelievably wide and steep. There were many recognizable faces, too – kids that I grew up with, my friends’ siblings, neighbors, girls from my swim team – but I was terrified. They were all grown ups whereas my classmates and I were fresh out of elementary. We were going to be at the bottom of that chain, an inconceivable thought after ruling the school for a year as the biggest, tallest, loudest kids around.
All my nervousness, however, did not dampen my spirits as I picked up my backpack on the first day of school and headed to the car. My mother fussed, trying to fix my hair and push a lunch box in my hand. I vehemently refused, stuffing my sandwich and juice into my book bag instead. I had no time to explain the concept of social suicide to her but I knew I had to fit in. I was a grown up and I had conform.