I was recently reading online about a tax break allegedly offered to those with celiac disease. According to said sources on the internet, it seemed that if one was willing to save all of their food receipts they would be able to deduct the difference between the cost of gluten free food from the “regular” stuff.  How cool, I thought, I pay $4.99 for 4 hamburger buns at Whole Foods while my neighbor across the hall spends $1.99 for a pack of 8. That could really add up. Well if the celiacs can do that for gluten free food, I thought, perhaps someone like me who must buy alternative foods for milk, corn, AND soy in addition to wheat and gluten would be able to take advantage of this deduction.

I thought it would be a really interesting exercise to both see what I spend to eat (I suspect my monthly food costs approach that of a “regular” family of 4) and also to see how much I might be able to deduct from my taxes (who wouldn’t be interested in filling up that pesky Schedule A?). I’ll admit to having a little bit of an obsessive streak and this was something super productive to obsess about. I’ll also admit to being a bit of a skeptic so before embarking on the “save every receipt” challenge, I wanted to confirm this deduction in the tax code.

I began at the IRS website in Publication 502 Medical Expenses. The only medical exemption for the cost of food I could find was for food that is prescribed by a doctor for the purpose of weight loss. I thought, surely there must be some mistake. I read at least 5 different sources who talked about the ability of Celiacs to take deductions for food costs. Where were they getting this from? I looked at some of the IRS citations they used and found that these too did not cover regular groceries but instead would allow you to take a deduction for the cost to attend a medical related conference or to receive reimbursement for meals as part of a  hospital stay. Maybe I was missing something. Not one to back away, I phoned the IRS yesterday to find out where this hidden regulation might be. I mean surely it had to be somewhere. People were talking about it on the web! 45 minutes and two representatives later my suspicions were confirmed. There are NO tax breaks for people who need alternative food for anything other than prescribed weight loss. The IRS does NOT permit you to take a deduction for food that is part of your regular nutritional needs.

Those of us who have changed what we eat due to food allergies, food intolerance, or celiac disease pay a tremendous cost. The financial one is obvious as MUCH of what we NEED to buy costs more than the unsafe alternative. I suppose I could never eat a sandwich again and save the $6 I spend on a loaf of bread every couple of weeks but I shouldn’t have to. In a world that places food at the center of just about everything we also pay an emotional cost as we figure out how to fit in when we can’t just pick it up off the shelf and throw it in the cart.

I was disappointed to find out the gluten free tax break doesn’t exist but it was a good reminder that we have to be judicious about investigating claims we read online.  Just because it’s posted or tweeted or re-tweeted doesn’t make it so.

Of course, if you are a tax accountant and have some additional information, I’d love to hear it.

Going dairy free almost 5 years ago, I thought my ice cream days were behind me. I had tried Rice Dream but it lacked the smoothness that good old Baskin Robbins and Cold Stone Creamery had always provided. Because of my soy allergy, the “better” dairy free alternatives were off limits. I love Ciao Bella sorbet but it doesn’t take the place of a good old bowl of ice cream.

Browsing on twitter a few weeks ago, however, I came across a contest being hosted by @reluctantveggie from reluctantveggie.com. She was talking about a new dairy free ice cream that used coconut milk instead of the traditional non-dairy substitutes. I admit I was a little skeptical but I can’t resist an online contest so I checked out the Luna and Larry site she was sending people to (you can find it at http://www.coconutbliss.com/).

For maybe the first time ever, when I read the ingredients I saw that I could eat every single flavor. To my great delight a few days later I got the good news from @reluctantveggie that I was one of the three winners of a free pint.

Thursday night I took my coupon and ventured out to the deluxe Whole Foods in Lincoln Park. I knew they would have the widest selection of flavors and I was not disappointed. I bought the Mint Galactica which had rave reviews on reluctantveggie.com and scooped myself a bowl as soon as I got home.

What I found was the smoothest, creamiest ice cream I may have ever tasted. It might actually taste even better than the “real” thing. The first thought that went through my head was “this is bliss”….even without the name on the label there would be no other way to describe it.

Thank you Luna and Larry’s for making it and @reluctantveggie for talking about it. I have a new favorite in the freezer.

GF Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

In recent years I’ve grown increasingly jealous at the ease in which “regular” eaters can bake fresh out of the oven chocolate chip cookies. I like to bake as much as the next person but some nights I want warm cookies without the extra fuss of pulling together all those ingredients and making all of the substitutions my allergies require.

Enter French Meadow Bakery Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. In addition to being GF, they’re also lactose free, peanut free, and casein free. Even better for me (though they don’t mention this on the package) they are also corn and soy free.

15 minutes from freezer to plate.

A great treat on a cold night.

So on top of trying to find baking recipes that don’t include flour, I’m also one of the millions who is trying to count calories without sacrificing sweets and taste altogether. I found a great easy peanut butter cookie recipe on delightfullyglutenfree.com and adjusted it to save a calorie or two*.

Peanut Butter Cookies
Here is my modified recipe:

1 egg
1/2 cup splenda sugar blend for baking
1 cup Skippy Natural Super Chunk

Mix all ingredients together. Roll dough into small balls and place on cookie sheet (my batch made 27 cookies). Use a fork to make crisscross patterns and bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 12 minutes. Watch them the first time you make them so you can tell when it’s best to take them out. Mine were done in 11 minutes—careful not to burn them (you’ll know).

*By my calculation, each cookie is about 60 calories.

Whenever I go out of town, I stop in the local grocery store to see what they have in the gluten free and/or natural food aisles. Most people take for granted how so much of the food we see in the grocery store is influenced by geography. But the reality is many products on the allergy free market are only locally or regionally distributed.

I was in Maryland this past weekend for my high school reunion (Go Wootton Patriots!) and stopped at the local Giant to pick up some “in case of emergency” snacks for the weekend. Perusing the gluten free section I discovered a product line I hadn’t seen in Chicago—Aleia’s (read about them at www.aleias.com). There were a few varieties of their cookies on the shelves but the one that caught my eye was the almond horn.

I am very fortunate to NOT have nut allergies and as a result they’ve become a staple of my allergy free diet. The almond horn cookies looked good through the window on the bag but I almost always find the better something looks the more likely it has butter or milk on the ingredients list.

Not this time though. I was thrilled to find the ingredient list limited to only 4 things—-almond paste, sugar, almonds, and egg whites. The cookies taste just as good as they look. The texture may be the most authentic cookie texture I’ve tasted in the wheat free market.

Next step—seeing if I can get my local Whole Foods to put them on the shelves here in Chicago.

How can you not carry a product with the tag line “life is sweet without wheat”.

Delicious Simple Chili

October 18, 2009

When the weather starts getting cold, the chili craving sets in. I have some great “from scratch” recipes but sometimes I don’t want to go to all that trouble. And therein lies the rub because most seasoning packets for chili are filled with things on the not-for-me list. Today, however, while cruising my local Trader Joe’s I came across a packet of spicy chili seasoning by Simply Organic (www.simplyorganicfoods.com).

Finally a chili mix with no added corn or soy or milk. Better still, they use rice flour for thickening instead of wheat flour so it’s a great alternative for gluten free eaters as well.

Chili

Directions:

Cook 1 lb. ground beef. Drain and return beef to pan.

Add one 15 oz. can of beans and one 14 oz. can of diced tomotoes to meat.

Mix packet into saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes or until desired thickness.

How easy is that?

Dear Peanut Butter Cookie Larabar,

You saved my life again tonight. I was at my 7th work related evening event in as many days and for the third day in a row (and 6th out of 7th time overall) the food provided was off limits for me because of my food allergies. In my old (pre-diagnosis) life I never used to think about what would be served at a cocktail party. I’d pick up my glass of wine and dive into whatever appetizers were handy.

But these days, I can’t do the cheese fondue
or the puff pastry filled with meat
or the pigs in a blanket
or the mini sliders
or the cheese tray
or the cute little quiches

So I grab the glass of wine (or the rum and something) and stand around watching everyone else eat. But after one or two drinks on an empty stomach it’s time for my “in case of emergency” bar. Yes, dear Peanut Butter Cookie Larabar, you have become my standby, my go to food when nothing else is available.

Not too sweet.
Not too salty.
Available in and out (!) of Whole Foods.
Low in calories and fat.

Thank you.
I’ll say it again.
Thank you.

I couldn’t have made it through the last week without you.

Your most loyal customer,

Liz

If you live in Chicago, check out one of these upcoming classes at Whole Foods:

Gluten-free Baking (October 8- 6 p.m.) Whole Foods South Loop

Gluten-free Baking (October 11- 3 p.m.) Whole Foods Halsted

Travel to India (October 24-6 p.m.) Whole Foods Lakeview

Chef Susan from Cardamom Kitchen demonstrates the how-to’s for you and then you get a chance to sample the goods. Last month, I went to a gluten-free demo of hers at the Whole Foods on Halsted. Turned out I couldn’t eat the sugar cookies she made that day, but it was cool to be in a room with other people who face some of the same challenges that I do. Whole Foods has been doing a great job offering services and products for those with Celiac Disease. I’m super envious of my friends who can walk down the gluten-free bakehouse aisle and eat whatever looks good. So far, not a single product for me, but I’m going to keep working on them to expand their offerings for people with multiple allergies.


Gluten Free Pizza

If it looks like a barbecue chicken pizza and tastes like a barbecue chicken pizza. Then it must be a barbecue chicken pizza.

And not only is it a barbecue chicken pizza but it is a milk, wheat, corn, AND soy free barbecue chicken pizza.

Who knew such a thing was possible? I certainly didn’t in the early days after being diagnosed with food allergies. I thought for sure my pizza eating days were behind me. And then I discovered Nature’s Hilights Brown Rice Pizza Crust in a health food store. I had never imagined you could make a pizza crust out of brown rice and potato. And yet that is the complete ingredient list in what has become a staple in my allergy free diet.

So, here’s the world’s easiest Gluten Free pizza recipe

1 Nature’s Hilight’s Brown Rice Pizza Crust (available at Whole Foods in the frozen section)

1.5 oz. of sheep cheese (also at Whole Foods…I like the peccorino or goat gouda)

5 oz. of Muir Glen Organic Pizza Sauce (though you can find this where the “regular” people shop, I actually found it’s cheaper at Whole Foods–crazy!)

thaw the crust in the refrigerator overnight

preheat oven to 500

place crust directly on center rack for 4 minutes

take crust out of oven and top with sauce and cheese

return to center rack for 7 minutes

To make a Gluten Free BBQ Chicken Pizza substitute 1/4 cup of JB’s Fat Bow Chipotle Barbecue Sauce  for the pizza sauce and add 3 oz of cooked chicken breast

Quick, easy, and delicious.

A new Flat Top Grill recently opened down the street from my office on Wabash in the loop. I’d been impatiently awaiting the opening as a friend who has Celiac had told me this was a safe place for him to eat. When the two of us go out to eat, we joke that if I can eat it there’s about a 95% chance he can eat it, but if he can eat it, there’s like a 25% chance I can. I tried not to get my hopes up.

Flat Top Grill is made to order stir fry where you make your way through a large bar of goodies (meat, veggies, sauce, etc.) and then hand your bowl off to a cook to do the rest. On huge signs above the food is a list of suggestions for people with allergies/sensitivities to wheat and soy. Huge step in the right direction, but for me only half of what I needed to know.

When we arrived at the restaurant there was a 15-20 minute wait. I asked to speak to the manager and see if I could get the scoop on how to eat milk, wheat, corn, AND soy free. Mani Santiago, the Kitchen Manager came over to speak with me. He assured me there were choices I could make to eat safely. He brought over an allergy book that in addition to wheat and soy included information for people allergic to dairy, corn, sugar, and garlic among other things. The listing was really comprehensive and Mani went back to the office and made copies that my friend and I could take with us.

There are lots of great choices for people with allergies. All of the ingredients on the bar are fresh so it’s an opportunity to eat allergy free AND healthy. Flat Top Grill makes every person’s meal made to order. For those with food allergies, they provide a white stick that you include with your order that signals the chef to cook it in a separate area to avoid any cross-contamination. My one gripe (and I already told Mani this) is that the only major allergy free sauces are water based so it would be nice if they had some dry spices (which are usually allergen free) on the bar so people like me could add a little kick to their food (or even better a flavorful milk, wheat, corn, soy free sauce but I know this is a bit of a pipe dream). And, of course if they added Red Bridge or New Grist gluten-free beer to the menu, I might become a daily customer. As it is, I will no doubt be going back sometime very soon.