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Life is funny sometimes.

One day you can be traveling down a road—a path that you’ve journeyed on for a long while, a place you’ve always known—and then suddenly the next day be pushed onto another, one that you didn’t see coming, one that you had no idea existed.

This is where I find myself now.

I’d visited a doctor friend for help with something that’s bothered me for a while, and while I was there, he took some blood just to make sure all looked good. At my follow up visit, I learned that the tests uncovered a couple of things that I hadn’t known about.

This included the fact that I am gluten intolerant.

Gluten, of course, is the protein that is found in wheat and other grains. It’s everywhere. And being intolerant means I can’t eat anything that has gluten in it.

My immediate reaction was, “Well, I don’t even eat that much bread or pasta!” But then a mental check of many “once-a-week” treats brought these things to mind: French Toast at Saturday brunch, Sunday morning chocolate croissants, mid-day Wednesday chocolate chip cookies.  But the quantity doesn’t really matter.  Even a small amount, I’ve learned, can send the digestive system into a tailspin for those who have issues with gluten.

I suddenly identified myself as THAT person.  You know her.  Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally, the high maintenance friend, finicky with her food, completely rewriting a chef’s recipe because her way tastes better.  Or so she thinks.  The one who insists on controlling every single thing, who leaves no room for error, the perfectionist who needs to have everything just so.

I don’t want to become that.  Because deep down, I believe there is an order to the world, and that when you relax and allow the flow of life to carry you along, magic is revealed.

In the last week, I’ve felt enveloped with support. Kindness. Understanding.

I’ve seen the beauty of strangers at Scarpetta, a family favorite and one of the tastiest Italian restaurants in New York.  There, the staff generously and unpityingly guided me through the menu, pointing out all of my options.

And they guided me to this dish, amazingly succulent and perfectly representative of the season. The photo doesn’t do its deliciousness justice.

Scarpetta_Scallops

Seared scallops with spring peas, morel mushrooms and a lemon-riesling foam had bursts of bright, fresh flavors and satisfied my hunger for food that nourished my soul.

I’ve felt the warmth of familiar friends at my favorite restaurant Neta, which I’ve written about before on these pages.  This visit was preceded by an email warning of my new food restrictions and was met with the reassuring response, “You’ll be fine.”  And I was.  An omakase chef’s tasting was gluten free, but just as heavenly as it’s ever been.

Neta_Tuna, Uni, Caviar

Sushi of tuna, uni and caviar – words fail me in describing how utterly decadent this was.  These were bites of comfort infused with kindheartedness.

I discovered comraderie on the Gluten Free Girl website.  Finding myself moved by every single page, I alternately cried at the beautifully written and heartfelt words and felt giddy over an abundance of new recipes that my body will love. This site made me feel less alone in my new world.

Sometimes the unexpected can lead to moments of grace. Though life may put you on a different path, the journey can be just as sweet—if not sweeter—than before.

At the end of some years you look back and feel unchanged by the days past, as if an inertia had settled in and each day had a similar rhythm and feel and light to it.

This was not that year for me.

This was the year where the ground underneath me always felt shaky, when expectations never manifested in anticipated ways, where I often would rather stay cocooned under the covers than to face another day outside. Yet despite all that, in this year, I got up, got dressed and showed up for myself.

This year was the year I left the most difficult work experience of my career. That environment – challenging on its best days – taught me about myself and my strength and my character in the face of the naysayers who felt the need to define me, though they didn’t know a thing about me. It taught me about believing in myself, even when everyone around me was alternately ignoring me or telling me I wasn’t good enough. It taught me that sometimes people decide not to like you, and there is nothing you can do about it. And that, ultimately, it is more about them than it is about you.

Paradoxically, it also taught me that it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to wear sequins to work. That it is fine to dress as if every day was a celebration. That fabulousness is not relegated to the nighttime. I will take that lesson with me wherever I go.

Perhaps most valuable of all, it taught me that I never want to use the word “fabulous” again. Ever.

This year was the year I left that job for another that makes me feel as if I’ve landed on the other side of the world. The sun isn’t always shining, but more often than not, the forecast is partly sunny instead of completely clouded over. I am working harder than I ever have since I started working at 17, but I also have never been more supported or rewarded for it. I even won an award.

I have learned that confidence doesn’t fly away forever. It can bury itself in the ground and lay dormant for a time, just waiting for the springtime and some sunshine to nurture it back to life.

This was the year I took myself on vacation. I discovered that there is a place with a pace so slow and air so fresh that I felt altered by it. A place where calm was normal, where a stillness moved through me and stayed a while, quieting the voices in my head who never cease the constant conversation.

This was the year I tired of watching the housewives, no matter how “real” or imagined they seemed. I learned that the escape of watching other people live their made up lives was no match for the glorious messiness of my own. I realized that it is time to turn off the chaos of their lives and to focus on cleaning up my corner in the world.

This year was the year I found community at a neighborhood restaurant, even though it’s nowhere near my own neighborhood. There is comfort in a place where everyone knows my name, where I’m welcomed with smiles and a beautiful meal, and where I’m sent on my way with my favorite dessert and a hug before I walk out the door. Next time you are in the West Village of Manhattan, go to Neta…get the omakase and be prepared to swoon.

This was the year I struggled with balance and saw that I desperately need to cultivate a more meaningful personal life. It’s all personal, really, this life. It’s just that a richer, fuller life is about more than work. It’s my continual struggle, but I’m determined to conquer it by reclaiming a seat at the table with friends and their children, with family who may not see enough of me. The to-do list will always be there, but children grow up, friends grow close to other people and family learns to rely on others for support.

This was the year that I understood that you cannot be a support to other people if you have not filled the water in your own well. Insomnia has been a regular night time visitor, but I’ve remained determined to be stronger than it. Vegetables have been my loyal friends, even as I insist on supplementing the meals – okay, sometimes replacing entirely – with cheesy, ooey, gooey things that have little nutritional value. I’ve learned that sometimes comforting yourself is only acceptable in food form. But I also know that food is the best medicine and moderation is a proper way of mothering yourself.

This was the year that in spite of the turmoil, the chaos, the uncertainty, I learned that I was enough. I am enough. Me, just the way I am. I hope to keep remembering that.

And that is my wish for you in 2013.  No matter your circumstance, no matter where you are in your life, you will live your year grounded with the knowledge that you alone are enough.

Sushi has never been my thing.

My first taste was in college.  The guys I was with gave me a massive piece to try, peer pressuring me to put the entire piece into my mouth.  It was a fishy tuna roll, squishy in texture and horrible in taste to my polluted sophomore year taste buds that were used to french fries, sodas and candy.

I wanted no more of that for a very long time.

Over the years, I’ve dabbled in sushi, usually with cooked choices like tempura rolls and eel and the occasional yellowtail with scallion roll.  And then for my birthday this year, a couple of friends took me to Neta.

It changed everything.

Nestled on a side street in the West Village of New York City, Neta is unassuming and sparsely decorated. The food, however, is simply beautiful, both visually and on the palate. A combination of small plates and sushi rocked my culinary world.

One of the most inventive and unique dishes I’ve ever eaten: Barely cooked and strikingly fresh scallops with luscious bites of uni (otherwise known as sea urchin) meld together perfectly with a slightly salty hint of garlic soy butter and tang from a squeeze of lime.  Heavenly.

Supremely fresh crab meat (the chef told me it was from Vancouver on this day) over a julienne of cucumber and lightly dressed in a dashi vinaigrette – with a citrusy back note – was refreshingly delicious.

Toro tartare and Petrossian caviar was delightfully decadent.  It comes with two squares of toast, but I felt indulgent and preferred it straight up.

Uni porridge was exquisitely creamy and rich, like a Japanese risotto, and topped with shavings of summer truffle.

Miso avocado tofu rolls sound like they would be a mushy mess, but they were perfect vegetarian bites.  The salty tang of the miso beautifully accented the creamy textures of the avocado and tofu, while the rice added just enough bite.

Neta only serves a few desserts, and I sampled the summer truffle ice cream. I am a truffle lover, but even I wasn’t sure how it would translate in a sweet dish. It was beautiful – a familiar ice cream base that is delicately sweet, with just enough of a punch of earthy truffle. It had me swooning.

While Neta is not inexpensive, I keep thinking of reasons to go back for its beautifully clean flavors.  Hopefully, I will see you there.

Neta, 61 West 8th Street, New York, NY 10011; 212.505-2610

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