Today I made a trek to the south  Austin farmers market armed with a cooler and a 10-pound bag of ice. Since I had plans to stay in town for a few hours, I hoped that my preparations would keep my purchases fresh until I got home. Quite fortunately, a thick layer of clouds blanketed the city and the temperature remained surprisingly mild as I wandered through the maze of vendors, dogs, and baby strollers.

Bromeliad

Bromeliad

In addition to a large selection of colorful local produce, I was taken in by the variety of other offerings — homemade soaps, grass-fed beef, goat cheese, buffalo jerky, sushi, rotisserie chicken, popcorn, nuts, clothing — everything was tempting!  Pears, figs, purple hull peas, and oyster mushrooms (as well as a stunning bromeliad) came home with me today.

Oh, yes – there were also cupcakes. After the not-so-great GF bakery experience, I was a bit hesitant to try baked goods again. But when I got to the Hill Country Cupcake booth I was mesmerized by the gorgeous selection of delicately iced and decorated cupcakes on display. How could something so angelic in appearance taste anything but heavenly?  I took a chance and requested the GF cupcake and was told they had four flavors available.  Well, in for a penny, in for a pound — I asked for a  4-pack so I could sample them all (actually, strawberry had sold out, so I got an extra chocolate one to fill the space).  I carried my precious little box back through the market to the car, arranged it carefully in the cooler to keep the cakes upright, and went about my day.

A sampling of GF varieties from Hill Country Cupcake

A sampling of GF varieties from Hill Country Cupcake

The cooler did a great job of protecting all of my purchases  while I ran errands and had lunch; the buttercream on the cupcakes was absolutely perfect when I got home.  This evening I sat down with a cup of tea and a chocolate cupcake.  To my complete delight, the cupcake was wonderful!  Dense and with a lovely crumbly texture, the rich chocolate cake was perfect all by itself  — but even better with the swirl of chocolate buttercream and sprinkles.

Anyone in ATX who hasn’t tried Hill Country Cupcake should give them a try!  (OK, so I know that my blog doesn’t have any followers, but still – these cupcakes deserve word-of-mouth advertising.)  With flavors like cinnamon and sugar, cookies and cream, strawberry shortcake, banana pudding, triple chocolate threat, lava fudge, and spring daffodil lemon, who could resist?  I’m pretty sure the ones in my fridge won’t last beyond the holiday weekend.

It seems I’ve found a surprisingly simple solution to ending my long-term misery.  If only a doctor had suggested a food allergy/sensitivity at some point in the last 7 or so years, I might not have lost such a big chunk of my life.  And in a perverse way, I’m thankful that my new ENT told me that he doesn’t prescribe compounded medications and — as a patient with chronic sinusitis — I shouldn’t expect any improvement and I should just get used to it.  Because if I had found another sympathetic doctor who wanted to ease my symptoms with medication, I may not have reached the end of my rope and put myself on an elimination diet.  It’s been a month now, and it seems that wheat and/or gluten is the major culprit.  My life is a bit upside down, but I appear to be all the better for it.

IKEA pot

IKEA pot

I’m cooking more, eating out far less, and reading labels like never before.  Over the last few weeks I’ve discovered that I don’t have enough pots to cook rice, beans, and a vegetable at the same time (I usually make simple meals in a shallow “everything” pan).  I can make a single-serving of soup or enough to feed an army – but nothing in between.  So on a recent trek to IKEA, I hit the kitchen section in hopes of finding something to cook a reasonable volume of soup.  After a lot of indecision, I finally picked out a charming little 3qt stainless steel pot (which is highly polished and difficult to photograph, by the way).

IKEA jars

IKEA jars

I also found some practical glass jars for storing my bulk grains.  I’m gaining a healthy distrust for plastic and don’t want it to be in prolonged contact with food or beverages.  While I prefer stainless steel for it’s sturdiness, most steel canisters are expensive and too large to comfortably grab one-handed.  I’ve looked at jars from Target to The Container Store and all of them are heavy, slick, and again too large to pick up easily.  However, these jars have a comfortable 4″ diameter and — the best part — the frosted glass has a significant texture that allows for a secure grip.   While I’m not terribly impressed with the wimpy seals, I do appreciate the window in the lid that allows for a peek a the contents without having to open the jar.  If these things hold up well  (i.e. the lids don’t fall off and I don’t drop or smash the jars to pieces) I may have to pick up a few more.  At $4 each they are an affordable option for the pantry.

Wild rice, brown rice, and buckwheat (all GF grains)

Wild rice, brown rice, and buckwheat (all GF grains)

As I adjust to the lack of commercially-prepared food in my life, I will experiment with baking tips and recipes provided by very kind GF bloggers.  I found a GF restaurant that serves wonderful meals, a GF bakery that has lousy-tasting baked goods, and a grocery co-op that offers a fantastic GF banana bread.  I’ll probably continue to try items advertised as GF, but doubt I’ll go out of my way for them.  Frankly,  I’m just happy I can still eat tortilla chips and salsa.

This breathing-easier thing is still new to me.  I lie down at night and am shocked that I can breathe through my nose.  I settle in to watch a movie and wonder when I’ll have to put the DVD on pause so I can put ice on my face just to get some relief.   I sleep most nights instead of going through a half box of tissues during a 12-hour face-swelling-closed episode.  As each day goes by I have a little more hope that I’ve found the underlying problem.  Nearly 30 days of intentionally avoiding gluten and I’m breathing much easier.  I’ll continue with the acupuncture, herbs, and yoga for a while to see if I can stabilize enough to stop the asthma, eczema, and hives.  Things are looking up.  Here’s hoping it continues.