Sunday, January 29, 2012

(Celiac) Medical Tax Deduction Threshold to Rise in January 2013 from 7.5% to 10%

I was randomly surfing the internet, when I came across an article that noted that in January 2013 (just a little less than a year from now) the medical deduction threshold would increase to 10%. Let me back up and explain, but first let me say that I am not an accountant so you should consult yours before filing your taxes.

The medical deduction gets dragged out every spring and lots of Celiacs get excited before they read the fine print. In a nutshell, (again consult an accountant for details) one can deduct the amount of their medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI). For those who have a medical diagnosis for their gluten free diet, they can add the difference between the cost of a gluten containing item and its gluten free counterpart to their medical expenses. They can only deduct the full cost of items that have no counterpart (xantham gum is the common example here.) (There are lots of other details, see the article linked to below for the full scoop from an actual accountant.)

Personally, I feel that unless you pay for your own health insurance or have large non-gluten related medical expenses you will never meet that 7.5% cap. I have never met anyone properly taking this deduction (I have met a couple of people who are incorrectly taking this deduction and warned them so).

And that brings us to the article I found. I won’t link to it because even though it was fairly moderate, it was published on a website that isn’t and I don’t want to bring political bias here. As part of the 2010 Healthcare law (known to its supporters as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and to its detractors as Obamacare) the Medical Itemized Deduction will rise from 7.5% to 10% starting in January of 2013. According to Wikipedia, the bill proposes generating 15.2 billion dollars via this change so it isn’t as if the act does away with unreimbursed medical expenses. Now, I haven’t read the entire act (it’s well over 2000 pages) so I hope this looks worse than it is . . . because it looks like it is cutting a deduction (and thereby raising the amount of taxes paid) on the sick? That just seems wrong to me.

Does anyone claim this deduction currently? Have you begun to look at how things will change in 2013? Please comment below, but please keep it civil and as non-partisan as you can!

If you are interested in learning more about this deduction, I found a discussion of it from a CPA here: The Celiac Tax Deduction; What's New? He covers the deduction itself, how to calculate it, what you can claim, how to document it, as well as HSAs and FSAs, and finishes with the changes coming as part of the PPACA. I’ve seen articles by him on this subject in the past so he definitely appears to be the authority on this.

Other articles you may be interested in:

How to Find a Celiac Support Group

Gluten Free Travel Tips

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Restaurant Review: Pascarella Bros. Delicatessen (Chatham, NJ)

I recently had the pleasure of eating at Pascarella Bros. Delicatessen (34 Watchung Avenue, Chatham, NJ 07928). I had emailed them a couple of weeks ago to confirm their bread was also dairy free (they have Udi’s so yes) before including them in the latest update to my list of Restaurants in NJ with a Gluten Free Menu. They’re an old school style deli (with a couple of small tables to eat in) of the type I haven’t been in in years.

Grilled Chicken and Avocado on a Gluten Free Bagel
at Pascarella Bros. Delicatessen in Chatham, NJ
(my apologies for starting without you!)
Their website only notes that they have GF bread, GF bagels and GF wraps so I was a little taken aback at what I found when I arrived. Yes they have Udi’s bread and bagels (the also had a GF bread by Whole Foods that contained dairy). But, they also have a standing freezer case of pre-prepared foods that you can take home. In addition to the gluten containing versions of each, they had gluten free meatballs, gluten free stuffed shells and gluten free chicken parm (sadly none were dairy free but they will make all but the stuffed shells DF with advanced notice). They also label their soups if they are GF as well. They have successfully catered both GF and GF/DF events in the past.

It turns out that the son of one of the two brothers (the Bros. in Pascarella Bros. Delicatessen) has Celiac disease. That seems to make for a very careful staff (who’d want to get the boss’ kid/nephew sick?) and I was very happy with how my sandwich was prepared. They made it off on the side, then wrapped it in heavy foil and panini’ed it.

So, how was the sandwich? Terrific! First, there are some deli sandwiches I would never order on GF bread for fear the bread wouldn’t hold together, however, with an Udi’s bagel that isn’t an issue. That also meant it took me forever to decide what I wanted to have. As I explained to them, I’m used to only having one or two GF/DF options when I dine out – a full deli board of possibilities was overwhelming!

One final note, my sandwich on an Udi’s bagel did fall apart while I was eating it – but it’s not what you are thinking! The bagel held together fine, however Pascarella Bros makes a real deli sandwich – you know, the kind you need both hands to manage. All those chicken breast cutlets were just too much to keep together!

Overall this is a great place and definitely somewhere I'd go for lunch again!
Pascarella's Deli on Urbanspoon

Other restaurant reviews you may be interested in (and that have GF/DF sandwiches):

Plum on Park (Montclair, NJ) Review

Cheeseburger in Paradise (Iselin, Secaucus, and Wayne, NJ) Review

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Dairy Free / Gluten Free Turkey Cutlets

This was one of my favorite meals growing up and the first thing I learned how to cook. It converted to GF/DF pretty easily – use gf bread crumbs and sub out olive oil instead of butter. I like it best with a side of fettuccine in dairy free alfredo sauce.

This can also be made egg free by substituting 3 tbps of plain soy yogurt plus a tsp of water instead of the egg.

Dairy Free / Gluten Free Turkey Cutlets served over rice
1 egg (or 3 Tbsp soy yogurt + 1 tsp water)
1/2 cup GF bread crumbs
1 pound Turkey Cutlets
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup water
2 tsp gf chicken bullion

How to prepare gluten free turkey cutlets:

Add egg to a shallow pan or dish and beat with a whisk. (Or mix 3 Tbsp soy yogurt and 1 tsp of water if going egg free.)

Add gf/df bread crumbs to a second pan.

Dip each turkey cutlet in the egg (or yogurt mixture) and then in the gf bread crumbs to coat. Set aside.

Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the cutlets and brown on each side (about 3 minutes a side). If they don't all fit at once; fry them in batches.

Return the browned cutlets to the pan and add the water and bullion. Bring the water to a boil and then lower the heat and simmer covered for 30 minutes (or more) until tender. If the cutlets are not fully covered by the water, rotate the cutlets (top to bottom) at least once during this simmer.

Serve covered with the juice from the pan. Enjoy!

Serves 4.

Other recipes you may enjoy:

Dairy Free / Gluten Free Swedish Meatballs in Sauce

Dairy Free / Gluten Free Chicken and Rice

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Restaurant Review: Organic4Life (Caldwell, NJ)

I had pancakes for breakfast . . . in a restaurant!

I’ve been hearing a bit of buzz surrounding Organic4Life (401 Bloomfield Ave., Caldwell, NJ 07006) and finally got to try them out this past weekend. I had walked past them when I went to Bangkok Kitchen but they were closed for the evening already.

The restaurant started out catering to the blood type diets (AB, B, A, and O) but with a menu that was already mostly gluten free they quickly realized the GF potential. They removed most of the rest of the gluten from their menu to prevent cross-contamination with the exception of some Ezekiel bread that has its own separate prep area (ha, take that wheat-eaters - your food has to go off in the corner to be made!).

Now while there is Ezekiel bread, they also have gluten free bread (and gluten free rolls, and all their pasta is gluten free, and they make gluten free pancakes, and gf French toast, and I could go on and on!) And, if you haven’t bought into the blood type diet there is one unified gluten free menu (it’s not in the bound menus, just ask for a print out copy).

Gluten Free / Dairy Free Pancakes
at Organic4Life in Caldwell, NJ

My only issue with the unified menu is it doesn’t have every item – they left off anything with Ezekiel bread (although they can use GF bread instead). Some of the omissions were near duplicates (Beef with Broccoli of the O menu lost out to Steak with Broccoli off the B menu) but since I have so many secondary food issues (green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, etc), I would have preferred a complete unified list to save some flipping back and forth. The reminder of the dishes were naturally GF from their descriptions (even if they weren’t Organic4Life prepares everything fresh, are super accommodating, and are super careful)!

So what about dairy free? Each menu has a number of vegan items and they will work with you to get the dairy out of other items if possible (some may require advanced notice). They have almond milk and vegan cheese as well (but no vegan butter). Other than four of the desserts, most of the menu items appear to be DF already! (The final two desserts are vegan.)

So how was breakfast? Amazing! I had gluten free / dairy free pancakes with a side of turkey bacon. The pancakes were thick and hearty (I suspect whole grain flours but didn’t ask) and delicious! The turkey bacon was thin and tasty. There was no vegan butter for the pancakes but they did have real maple syrup!

Just a couple of other thoughts: The restaurant is BYOB. The owners also have a training studio two doors down on Bloomfield Ave (west towards Fairfield) where they do one-on-one nutritional/weight loss coaching. They also do meal plans, offer delivery, and offer take out.

One final note: please check the hours on their website/call them before going. They are closed on Sundays and they’re only open until 7pm during the week and 8pm on Friday/Saturdays as of this writing.

Overall this restaurant is fantastic! The food is fresh, very reasonably priced (especially for organic) and they are super careful. This is somewhere that I definitely plan on visiting again!
Organic 4 Life on Urbanspoon

Other restaurants you may enjoy are listed here:

Gluten Free Restaurant List

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Even More Gluten Free Restaurants in NJ!!! (24 Independents, four chains, three quickserve/fast food, and two bakeries)

Ok, technically, they are restaurants in New Jersey with gluten free menus but you get the idea!

Single Location GF Restaurants:

Bangkok Kitchen (391 Bloomfield Avenue, Caldwell, NJ 07006). They flag almost everything on their online menu with a GF if it can be prepared gluten free which leaves about four items that cannot. The in-restaurant menus are not flagged however so be sure to mention you need gluten free as some items that are flagged online are not naturally gf and need to be slightly modified.  I've eaten here and loved it, read my full review of Bangkok Kitchen.

Bella Vida Garden Cafe (406 N. Broadway, West Cape May, NJ 08204, Bella Vida at the Beach, Ocean & Buttercup, Wildwood Crest, NJ 08260) – the Cape May location has GF pasta, rice non-dairy cheese and/or GF bread for $3 more. The Wildwood Crest location only has GF bread for $2.50 more. Emailed them to determine if the bread contains dairy and never heard back.

Bibi'z (284 Center Ave, Westwood, NJ 07675) - they don't have their GF menu online but they have a menu that flags both Vegan and Gluten Free items. I hope to try this restaurant soon.

Bona Vita Osteria (37 Maple Street, Summit, NJ 07901) – they list gluten free pasta on their website.

Carlucci’s Grill (335 Princeton-Hightstown Road, West Windsor, NJ 08561) – the gluten free menu has pizza and pasta as well as a long list of gluten friendly entrees. This is a small chain of six restaurants (2 in NJ, 4 in PA) but only two of them list a GF menu on their section of their website, this location in West Windsor and the Carlucci’s Grill in Yardley, PA.

De Marco’s Pizza (1926 Union Valley Road, Hewitt, NJ 07421) – has GF Pizza and GF pasta only.

Due Mari Pesce E Vinoteca (78 Albany Street New Brunswick, NJ 08901) – offers Gluten Free Pasta. I’ve never been.

Edison Pizza Restaurant (2303 Woodbridge Ave, Edison, NJ 08817) – small GF selection, GF penne, or 3 types of parmagean. It appears from their website that no sides of GF pasta are served.

Forte (182 Bloomfield Avenue, Caldwell, NJ 07006) – has GF pasta upon request. [Note: they also have a location at 485 Rt10W in Randolph, NJ 07869 but there is no online menu for that location.]

Gourmet CafĂ© Italian Bistro (136 Baldwin Road, Parsippany, NJ 07054) – they flag their menu for items that are naturally gluten free as well as those that can be modified to be gluten free. Only GF Pasta selection is a GF Spinach Ravioli (which I doubt is DF!).  I haven’t been yet.

The Grain House Restaurant (225 Route 202, Basking Ridge, NJ 07920) – I usually would shy away from a restaurant with the word “grain” in its name but they flag the gluten free items on their menu and that ends up being almost half of everything listed!

Hunan Gourmet (357 Route 9S, Manalapan, NJ 07726) – They have an extensive gluten free menu but it includes items that are labeled as ‘battered’, are in a soy ginger sauce, or are in a brown sauce. They don’t denote how these items are gluten free and they list other items as being without soy sauce so I’d be sure to double check everything with the staff.

La Piazza Trattoria (101 Newark Pompton Turnpike[23 South], Little Falls, NJ 07424) They don't have a website and I can't find a menu online, but they have a GF menu in the restaurant.  (They're on facebook here: La Piazza but still no menus.)  They have gluten free pizza and can serve any of their pasta dishes GF as well.  They also now have a couple of GF entrees.  I've sampled their food at a couple of meetings of the Fine Grind GF Club and it was quite good.

Lovin' Oven (62A Trenton Ave [Rt.29], Frenchtown, NJ 08825) – Has GF(gluten free) and V (vegan) marked on their menu. Haven't been there yet but a quick warning, they only take cash.

Martini Beach (429 Beach Ave. Cape May, NJ 08204) - has GF menu where non-gf items are crossed out. Dairy free might require a little extra work here.

Molino's Takeout Restaurant (219 South Main Street (Route 9), Cape May Court House, NJ 08204) - This takeout only italian restaurant/pizzeria offers GF pasta for an extra $3. I've never been.

Organic4Life (401 Bloomfield Ave., Caldwell, NJ 07006) – this restaurant is completely gluten free. They have four menus, one for each blood type diet (AB, B, A, and O). They have a number of vegan items on each menu and serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. Even if you don’t follow the blood type diet the food looks really good. [Note: check their website/call them for hours, they appear to close at 7pm Mon-Wed.]  Read my review of Organic4Life.

Pascarella Bros Delicatessen (34 Watchung Avenue, Chatham, NJ 07928) – According to their website they can make most sandwiches using gluten free bread, bagels, or wraps. I emailed them and the bread and bagels were DF as well (they were out of stock on the wraps so they weren't sure).  I ate here recently and it was terrific, review coming soon.

Piccolo Trattoria (800 R. Denow Road, Pennington, NJ 08534 and two locations in PA). – They have GF pizza and they offer GF spaghetti for $2 more. I’ve never been.

Scampi's Seafood Restaurant (198 West Main Street, Somerville, NJ  08876) – pretty nice gf menu, lots of grilled and broiled entrees but the also have pasta and rolls for an additional charge.

Seaglass Bar (Dune Drive & 78th Street, Avalon, NJ 08202). Has a gluten free menu. I’ve never been.

Tutti Toscini (1491 Brace Road, Cherry Hill, NJ 08034) - has GF pasta for $1 more.

Vesuvio’s (221 Millstone Road, Perrineville, NJ 08535) – has a gf section to their menu including gf pizza, gf pasta and naturally gf entrees (grill chicken parm, etc.) I’ve never been.

Wildflower Earthly Vegan Fare (501 N. High St. / Village on High, Millville, NJ 08332) – Another cool looking vegan restaurant. Their menu changes weekly and they clearly flag their gluten free options. Last week’s GF highlight? Gluten Free Jersey Fresh Apple Pie! Millville is really far away for me but it might be worth the drive!

Gluten Free Bakeries in NJ:

Desserted Pastries (605 North Haddon Ave, Haddonfield, NJ 08033) - This bakery has a menu of GF baked goods for special order only – cookies, sandwich bread, pizza dough, cupcakes, cakes, pie dough, hot dog buns and brownies. They state on their website that they will try most of these dairy free (egg free, soy free, etc) if possible and are willing to try other baked goods on special request. They are also a dedicated Nut free bakery.

Papa Ganache Vegan Bakery (25 Church Street, Keyport, NJ 07735) - vegan bakery with lots of WF options listed online. I emailed to confirm that WF is gluten free and it is but they warned that they are not a dedicated facility.

GF Chains:

Kona Grill – (511 US Highway 1, Iselin, NJ 08830) – I’ve never been to a Kona Grill but from their website it appears to be asian inspired cuisine. They have a gluten free menu, a vegetarian menu, and a vegan menu (they’re a little hard to find on the website, try looking under ‘lifestyle menu’). Will definitely be trying them at some point.

Loving Hut (Ledgewood, NJ and Matawan, NJ) – This 100% Vegan restaurant has the items that are either already gluten free or that can be made gluten free flagged on their menu. (At least at their NJ locations, other out-of-NJ locations don’t have the menu flags.) I haven’t been here yet.

Miller’s Ale House (coming soon to Mt. Laurel, NJ) – has a gluten friendly menu (hamburger no bun, etc.).

Red Hot & Blue (2175 Route 70, Cherry Hill, NJ 08002) – their allergen menu lists the eight major allergens as well as MSG and sulfites. There are quite a few items that are both GF and DF!

GF Quick Serve/Fast Food:

Jersey Mike's Subs (multiple NJ locations) – this sub shop offers all of their subs without bread as a “sub in a tub” (i.e. served in a plastic container with fork and knife). All their sandwiches can be made this way except the chicken parm and meatball subs. They have an allergen chart on their website that includes the eight major allergens as well as sulfites, sesame, MSG, Autolyzed Yeast Hydrolyzed Protein, and nitrates. They include gluten in the wheat column. I ate here recently and found cc to be a concern - they have lots of crumbs flying around from cutting open the bread. 

PB and U (Coming soon to Moorestown, NJ) – has GF/DF bread and notes on their websites the steps taken to avoid cross-contamination.

Rita's (multiple NJ locations) – their allergen chart shows the 8 major allergens and specifies casein in any products that contain it. All of their ices are gluten and dairy free, their other products may or may not be.

Whew! That's it for now but if you know of a restaurant that I am missing from my list of NJ restaurants with gluten free food please use the contact me option in the left menu to drop me an email and let me know!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Gluten Free Cart at Prudential Center (Newark, NJ) continues to amaze! (Restaurant Review)

The Gluten Free Cart at the Prudential Center was the first ‘restaurant’ I reviewed on this site last year. They’re actually even better this year! They’ve made (and continue to make) some exciting improvements.

Gluten Free Hot Dog and Gluten Free Brownie from
the Gluten Free Cart at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ
[sadly the relish is almost certainly cross contaminated]
First up, they now offer individually wrapped cookies/brownies from Gilbert’s Goodies. Considering what one would pay for a similar gluten containing snack at the arena they are actually reasonably priced. These are a nice addition to the Glutino pretzels and potato chips they already offered.

I’ve never actually had a grilled sausage sandwich from the cart since I’m also allergic to pork, but the Grainless Baker rolls that they use for them are now dairy free as well. The cart sometimes has Grainless Baker hot dog buns that are also dairy free too (and much better than the Ener-G hot dog buns). [The woman at the cart is very helpful and will gladly let you check the ingredients on the rolls or anything else, just ask – she’s used to me double checking everything!]

As I mentioned last year, they have individual mustard packs but the only relish/sauerkraut available was at the regular condiment stands which are open and almost certainly cross contaminated. But guess what was new last night? They are now serving sauerkraut at the GF cart itself, and it is behind the glass where wheat-eating hot dog bun customers can’t get at it!

I really have to applaud the management at the Prudential Center for catering to us and continuing to improve their offerings. Wouldn’t it be great if there were options like this everywhere we went?