Category Archives: Breadcrumbs in the wilderness

Is the gluten-free tax break broken?

Tax season is upon us! This year, even the IRS is procrastinating: because of last year’s shutdown, the opening date has shifted to January 31st, although free-filing opens today. But I never submit my tax forms until the very last possible moment, anyway. Instead, I spend every day till the drop-deadline thinking, “I should really do my taxes.”

Some people like to get it over with. Me, I prefer a constant, underlying, slow-burning stress culminating in a miserable, last-minute sprint to the finish line, followed by form letters from the IRS demanding I fix the sloppy errors I made. That way, I can enjoy tax season year-round. (Just another instance of that procrastination problem I’m working on.)

Since the deadline is April 15th, it’s nowhere near time for me to do anything about my taxes, but I’m at least thinking about them.

This year, my mind is on the gluten-free tax deduction (more info on that here). How worthwhile is it to count up my medical (including more expensive food) expenses, figure out if they exceed 7.5% 10% of my adjusted gross annual income, and file that extra piece of paper on the last day possible?

[Edit, 1/25: According to the IRS, it’s actually 10%, not the often-cited 7.5%, which applies only to those who are, or whose spouse is, over 65 years old.]

Since this was my year of diagnosis, I might be in a good place to qualify: My medical expenses included about a billion copays for doctor’s appointments and exams. A billion times $30 definitely exceeds 7.5% 10% of my income.

Plus, though I rarely buy packaged gluten-free food products, I do pay more for certified GF grains, beans, breakfast cereals, etc. I also buy staples with no direct analogue, like my largely unused package of xanthan gum, which are entirely deductible. (For items like sorghum flour, I’m less certain: there’s no direct analogue, but wheat flour is close. Anyone know the deal?)

If my record-keeping last year had been a little more organized than stuffing all of my receipts into my tote bag, allowing the tote bag to get rained on, then throwing out the mass of soggy paper, I could tell you if those extra pennies added up enough.

But I know I’d hit the benchmark if I could add in other hidden costs of a gluten-free diet that the law doesn’t address. For example:

  • The difference between the cheapest beer and the cheapest GF drink choice at every bar. This is always at least $1, and at Housing Works I recently paid $7 for the house white—more than double the price of a $3 PBR. At least it went to a good cause.
  • All the chocolate I’ve had to buy myself when I feel sad about having a disease
  • My smartphone, whose purchase I justified primarily to be able to research foods on the fly (though I use it for way more)
  • Gluten-free restaurants, which are always, always, always more expensive than the restaurants I used to frequent
  • Any of the far-too-generous number of dollars family and friends have laid out to allow me to feel safe eating at their homes
  • The all-new pans, containers, utensils, pantry staples, etc., that I bought in case the old ones were contaminated
  • My time—which is money, if not all that much in my case—spent:
    • Cooking my own meals, even when I really, really want takeout
    • Reading package labels, researching online, and calling manufacturers directly
    • Explaining to people why I can’t eat X, Y, and Z
    • . . . and why I can still eat Q, R, and S
  • Damages for my years spent sick, miserable, and undiagnosed

All that considered, I’d only really be happy paying no taxes at all—a gluten-free free lunch—or, maybe the government could pay me to be gluten-free. After all, improved health makes me a more productive member of society. The eligible write-offs don’t even begin to cover it.

Is that so much to ask? (Throw in the NCGS folks, too, whydoncha.)
Original photo @ Darya Mead | Flickr

Of course, I know everyone has to make purchases they wish they didn’t, spend time doing stuff they’d rather not, and generally speaking lead a life that doesn’t allow for enough pursuit of happiness. Having celiac disease isn’t the worst way to have to do all that, and, without getting too far into politics here, I’m happy enough to pay taxes in theory (in practice, I wonder where they’re all going).

Though I’m not sure it’s entirely “broken,” I probably won’t go for the deduction this year. There’s a good discussion of how worthwhile it is on No Gluten, No Problem, which helped talk me out of it. Even if I dug through my bank and Amazon records for something approaching receipts in the case of an audit and tallied it up, I’m not confident I’d find the gluten-free tax break worth my time. Besides, I don’t pay a lot of taxes anyway. I’ll just do what I do best and think about it instead.

Do you apply for the gluten-free tax deduction? Will you this year? Are you a procrastinator or an early bird? And what hidden costs of gluten-free get on your nerves?

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This site has moved.

If you happen to have spruestory.wordpress.com bookmarked, please change that to www.spruestory.com and come find me there. (All of my old posts, as well as every post from here on out, can be found there.)

See ya!

Dear gluten (it’s me again),

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Almost a year. And I’ve been thinking. That letter I wrote . . . maybe it was a bit hasty. Oh, I’m not taking anything back. I still hate you. I walk by cafes where you sit and avert my eyes; I see you on the subway and change cars; I tell my friends I won’t show if you do.

In truth, all that avoiding you has taken a toll on my social life. But mostly, things have been better. I smile wider, I laugh louder, and I can’t recall the last time I pulled a Myrtle. But I can’t say I’ve been quite as happy as I’d hoped. I thought you were the only thing holding me back—now I fear there’s more.

Still, everyone says I’m better off: my friends, my sister (once your pal, she too has given you up), and even my doctors, not that my love life is any of their business. Certainly, my parents have been happy enough to see you replaced at family gatherings.

Replaced? Yes, I admit, there have been a few new sweethearts. The Whipped Pastry brownies, the King Arthur Flour vanilla cakes, the flourless peanut butter cookies, the Everybody Eats baguettes, the Food Should Taste Good and PopChips . . . It’s been a whirlwind. You may call it promiscuous, but I prefer “keeping busy.” And, by the way: not to brag, but they’ve been good. Almost as good as . . .

Do you know, gluten, that you cause me physical pain to this day? I dropped all that tissue transglutaminase on your doorstep, but instead of a whole new life I found a donut-hole in my heart. You haunt me; you obsess me.

Kindly do not misunderstand. I don’t want you back (several systems in my body wouldn’t stand for it). But here we are, in the thick of the holiday season, and you’re cropping up at all the parties, grinning in that rye old way of yours, trying to get a rise out of me. I hope this isn’t too bold—I can be honest with you, right? We’ve known each other a long time—but just the smell of you makes my mouth water.

I started 2013 with no resolutions, dear gluten, but by the end of January, you’d given me one: stay away—far away—from you. And I’ve been good. I’ve stuck to my guns. It hasn’t even been so hard: it’s in my DNA to hate you.

Still, you and I both know your very purpose is to form bonds, and Stockholmy though it may be, I feel your pull. I’ve scanned too many appealing pictures of you online, eyed you regretfully from across too many crowded rooms. I think I’ve gotten away, then snap! I’m back in the cereal aisle making doe eyes at the Cheerios. Something about you is . . . elastic.

So I wonder if, maybe, I should let you back in. Just a little. A taste. How’s this: At one of those parties, we can both get a little tipsy, and one thing can lead to another, and then for many days to come I can thoroughly regret it as my friends berate me for my lack of will, and I lie in bed, clutch my stomach, and cry for what shall never be. You’re happy, I’m unhappy, and we both get a nice little reminder of my 2014 resolution. Good, right?

I guess what I’m asking is, gluten, what are you doing New Year’s Eve? Because I’ve got a sloppy midnight kiss with your name all over it. All you have to do is show up dressed as a cake pop.

Yours wafflingly,
Molly

P.S. Gotcha, sucker.

Dear reader: If you’re looking for more that’s-kinda-weirdness about love and gluten, try this song, about 48 seconds in. And if you liked my letter, please share. You, I truly do ❤.

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What I learned this weekend: 8 lessons about gluten-free food and family

My dad used to be a teacher, and to this day retains a penchant for educating. As kids, we knew we could ask him questions we were “just curious about” and rely on him to tell us all he knew…which we could then furiously transpose onto our homework sheets, which was of course the point all along. (When he caught on, he was not pleased.)

And Mom homeschooled my brother and me for the early days of our educations: Patrick through fourth grade, and me through second. Homeschooling may account for a few oddball tendencies in both of us, but that’s not really the point of this blog post.

The point is, it’s no wonder I developed a desire to teach. Both my parents had been modeling it since, I imagine, day one.

This past weekend, my sister and I visited for my mom’s birthday. We spent much of our time at home cooking together, in a paper-towel-covered kitchen using all-new definitely-safe gluten-free cookware and ingredients, testing recipes for my mom’s blog.

As is always the case, while visiting, I learned a few things. Here are some:

  1. If you put a head of garlic in a bowl, cover it with a lid, and shake it vigorously, it will unpeel itself. At least, some of it will.

    I suppose "vigor" is subjective.

    I suppose “vigor” is a subjective word.

  2. Adapting a non-gluten-free recipe really isn’t as simple as subbing in a gluten-free flour blend.
  3. But cakes underbaked in the middle can become bundt cakes at a moment’s notice.
  4. And still taste great.

    gluten-free spice cake

    No one ever would’ve known…except Mom was modeling honesty this weekend, too.

  5. Going gluten-free hasn’t decreased my seasonal allergies. It’s just that I’ve been living in a place with no natural flora or fauna. Back in Massachusetts, land of the beautiful fall foliage…a-choo!
  6. Parents have way more fun after their kids move out:

    brandy cocktails

    I also (re)learned that I don’t really like brandy.

  7. Socca is still the best thing in the world, but panisses are definitely in the running. (Check out David Lebovitz’s recipe, which is similar to the one we used.)

    Is there anything that can't be made out of chickpea flour?

    Is there anything that can’t be made out of chickpea flour?

  8. My parents are the best parents a gluten-free gal (or two) could ever want.

I already knew the last one, but just want to be sure you do, too.

What have you learned about food and life from your family? Have you had any kitchen mixups or success with new recipes recently? And, for god’s sake, have you tried socca yet?

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