You would think going out to eat falafel would be easy for someone allergic to milk, wheat, corn, and soy as none are necessary ingredients. But you would be wrong. Wrong, that is, until you discover falafill at 3202 N. Broadway in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. I came across them on my way home from the gym to the parking garage this evening.

One criteria of a great falafel ball is a crispy crispy outer shell. You would be amazed at how many places use bread crumbs of some sort to get that outer crisp going. NOT this place, and for that I am thankful.

Here the falafel is as it should be. Ground chick peas, garlic, onions, and spices. Period. No fillers of any kind. Even better? They fry them in canola oil. And if that wasn’t enough, they have a combo with french fries that are not only delicious but absolutely the biggest portion out there for the price (a mere $2.25).

The staff is well versed in the ingredients of ALL of their products and came over to the table to see if I had any questions about any of the toppings or salads on the self-serve topping bar. Things with gluten are clearly identified which makes it easy for those who need to easily avoid. AND, they offered to get me fresh toppings from the back if I was worried about cross-contamination.

This is allergy free dining at its best. No extra cost, great service, and the freshest ingredients.

You can check out their website at eatfalafill.com.

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For the most part, I’m a social drinker but what that means shifted dramatically once my allergies were diagnosed. Instead of kicking back with a beer in front of the bears game with friends I’ve been forced to choose between a glass of wine or something with rum in it as I had determined those were the safest things for me to drink. Wine and a salad isn’t much fun when everyone else is drinking beer and eating nachos. I only recently discovered gluten free beer but had rarely seen it outside my local jewel or whole foods.

Until last night.

I met friends out at Glascott’s on Halsted and Webster in Lincoln Park and when I walked up to the bar to order a drink, there on the shelf with all the other bottled beer was Redbridge. Redbridge in all its gluten-free deliciousness. It’s pretty funny how few places carry Redbridge since it’s made by Anheuser-Busch but after last night I’m hopeful that’s starting to change.

When you start eating allergy free you’re forced to give up many simple pleasures. First and foremost is dessert. Love giving waiters the chef’s challenge at dessert time but it’s rare that I get to have a post-meal treat with my friends.

I’m hosting a holiday dessert party in a couple of weeks and I’ve spent the last few weekends trying to bake different desserts on a quest to create a table full of allergy free treats. A good friend was out recently and had a goat cheesecake and thought of me (thanks KB). She sent me a similar recipe and with two quick substitutions it became allergy free for me.

You can find the recipe at http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/goat-cheese-cake-with-mixed-berries

I substituted all-purpose gluten-free flour for the all-purpose flour and powdered sugar made from tapioca (rather than the traditional corn). That’s it—everything else in the recipe worked for me. Mild, slightly tangy taste. A definite keeper for the party.

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.