Soon, in your respective part of the world, the sun will set on 2012.

Many of you will spend today lamenting the past year; what was good, what was spectacular and what went horribly wrong. The best life is one that contains a smattering of all of the above, even the horribly wrong. This is not just because the bad helps us appreciate the good, it is because the bad leads us to the great.

No year made that more true for me than 2012.

My year began with a seemingly positive opportunity that went wretchedly awry. Everyday was completely cockeyed, presenting a new challenge that made it harder and harder not to hate people. It was a setting that drew out the worst in everyone around me. When combined with not eating as much smoked brisket as I would have liked, it resulted in a pretty crappy couple of months.

As my modus operandi has always been, and will always be, never regret anything, I soldiered on. I knew that eventually equilibrium would be restored. Then that horribly wrong part led to the good and then the spectacular.

In May, I moved with my husband to Split, Croatia, a little piece of paradise on the Adriatic sea. Life has been ascending in the right direction ever since.

I’ve met people who have gone above and beyond to be incredibly kind, giving and courteous; started a successful business; and explored an insanely gorgeous and undervalued country.

Most importantly, I’ve completely changed the way I cook.

I can cook Indian…well!

In my former residence of Orange County, California, you couldn’t throw a chopstick without hitting a Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean or Japanese restaurant or market. I was seriously spoiled. But here in my new seaside town, Asian food is nonexistent. There is no lemongrass, no hot peppers, no rice noodles, no bok choy, no oyster sauce. I had to work 12 steps to adjust.

But this disadvantage turned into an opportunity. Queue the era of Indian food. I had never cooked Indian at home, ever, but since this cuisine is mostly about spices it was a perfect match. I had mountains of spices from my days as a spice-hoarder that were screaming to be used. Now I am a master curry-er, the queen of tandoori, the goddess of garam masala.

I covered my bases. 

I also my make all my own stocks, from beef to fish to chicken to veal. There are no pre-made boxed stocks here. Maybe some bouillon cubes, but come on, that’s like flavoring your soup with Doritos.

My gravies are richer, my soups are meatier, my sauces are more viscous and my stews are more flavorful. If I ever end up back stateside, I’d still stick to making stocks at home.

Cows and pigs fear me.

Butchers in Croatia are old school. Big carcasses hanging from mighty glistening hooks dominate the display. There are a few pieces of meat, a tenderloin or two, some cevapcici (meat in tube form), sausages and local prosciuttos, in cases for purchase. But if you want anything beyond, say a chuck roast, ribs or a nice flank, it must be custom cut. As meat cuts vary from country to country and I do not yet speak Croatian well at all, research must be done on my part.

In the States, I’d pick up the package with a sticker that read “chuck roast” on it and be on my way. Now, I must research where that cut is on the animal, what it should look like and how to communicate it to the butcher. Then the butcher yanks down the animal, and with a few cleaver maneuvers has a slab of freshly cut meat ready for me. It’s kind of awesome.

I can say that, without a doubt, I could have never gotten here if not for the horribly wrong part. And so, I am definitely looking forward to what 2013 has to offer. So far on docket: another business (and possibly a cookbook) is on the horizon, a touch of Austria, a dose of Texas, perhaps a chunk of Israel, if I’m super lucky I’ll find myself in Asia towards the end of the year and, of course, definitely more cooking and more eating.

Happy new year folks and eat well in 2013!

Sara from Texas

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