Gluten-free agents

Kathy Johnson poses with a display of her gluten-free products.

Kathy Johnson poses with a display of her gluten-free products.

Photo By Allison Young

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One loud food alarm to wake up the American diet in the last quarter century has been the gluten-free revolution. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates one in 133 Americans has celiac disease, which greatly impairs the digestive process in the intestines, causing pain and constant discomfort. A gluten-free diet is the only existing treatment.

Kathy Johnson knows that all too well, she has celiac disease and that’s why her husband Tim, a retired Aero Space chemist decided to become a baker. “We wanted to have a place where people could come and know the food was safe to eat and had a delicious flavor,” said Kathy, a nutritionist and institutional dietician. Originally from Fresno, the two spent 20 years in Mexico as missionaries.

Millet, sorghum, sweet rice flower, tapioca and garbanzos are the basis for all the breads and pastries. The binding agent to replace gluten is xanthan gum (commonly used as a thickening agent and stabilizer, made of five sugar derivatives). They offer 135 items and distribute their products to places like Walden’s Coffee Shop, Emerald City and the Great Basin Community Food Co-op.

For the past three years, in this small working environment with tables for lunch holding a couple of dozen folks, Haven has been discovered by newly diagnosed people with celiac on any given day. The menu offers sandwiches like roasted turkey, ham with Swiss, chicken or tuna salad, pesto chicken and provolone, and a fresh veggie item, all $7.25. There’s pizza by the slice ($2.95) or a whole pie ($10.95), with all kinds of toppings, including fresh veggies, bacon, pineapple, and pepperoni.

Salads go from chicken Caesar to Oriental ($7.25), and there’s a kids’ menu with grilled cheese or six-inch pizza ($4.95). Homemade soups (bowl $2.95), and a combo with a salad ($6.95) make a well-balanced, really complete lunch menu. Hot entrees with soup or salad ($7.50) include things like spinach or ham quiche, lasagna, macaroni and cheese, chicken pot pie, carnitas burrito with beans and rice, and, what I ate, chicken green sauce enchilada.

Kathy wanted me to try her lentil soup. Full of legumes, a little tomato and some Worcestershire for a savory tang, there was a hearty flavor with every spoonful. The enchilada was made with millet and topped with mozzarella and a verde sauce on the side to add just a little heat. If anything, it was moister than the traditional corn flower enchilada without losing any of the flavor. The chicken was generous and nicely seasoned.

Application of “eating with your mind first” comes into play when you see “gluten-free” on everything. You think, “Will it taste different from what you expect?” It did not.

There are plenty of pastries and breads to choose from and 95 percent of what Haven offers is both gluten and lactose free, and about 80 percent of its products are also soy free, and they cater to those with special allergy needs. There is a great assortment of breads ($5.95-$6.25) including sourdough, Hawaiian multigrain and raisin/cinnamon. I tried the savory bread with flavors of onion, rosemary and a touch of vinegar for a tart, hearty flavor. It was made with tapioca, rice flour and garbanzo, giving a firmness great for toasting. Buns and bagels are $5.75 for half a dozen.

As for the desserts, everything from baked donuts to éclairs ($2.50-$2.95). I tried the award-winning lemon bar ($2.50). It was creamy, with just enough sweetness to balance the lemon-tartness atop a light, flakey crust. Then came the oatmeal-raisin cookie ($2.50) which melted in my mouth—so moist with chewy raisins, and that light, brown-sugar caramel taste—sublime!

When George Bernard Shaw said, “There is no sincerer love than the love of food,” he didn’t know Kathy and Tim Johnson, but clearly that’s how they feel and that’s why they created Haven.