Valentine’s Day is meant for romantic lovers, true. But at this time of year, I like to ponder love in the broader sense or as ’90s girl group En Vogue asks, “Love, love. What is it? What is it?”
I would put forth that the person who really loves you is the one who actually wants to hear about your stomachache or your bad hair day. It’s the one you call when you had a scary tire blow out on the freeway. It’s the person who accepts your gluten-intolerance and takes it into consideration when buying you a treat.
Lynn Griffiths, owner of three-month old Katie’s Bakery in Pasadena, understands this impulse to care for the special needs of loved ones and has dedicated her life to creating delicious treats for people with dietary restrictions. Lynn’s daughter Katherine (Katie for short) became sensitive to gluten about 12 years ago. Symptoms like stomachache, rashes, even purple ears were the telltale signs.
Then Griffiths learned her daughter was also lactose intolerant. Back then, there was little on the market for those with sensitivity to gluten, let alone lactose. Griffiths, a trained pastry chef, started coming up with ways to make snacks her daughter could eat without feeling like she was missing out. She also didn’t want her daughter to feel like an outsider at school carrying weird-looking bags of kibble.
Glutens are basically the glue that holds a baked good together — navigating that was challenge number one. Without butter or milk to bind the gluten-free flours, she had a second challenge. She was not a fan of the taste and texture of the gums (such as guar gum) other bakers used as binding agents. It took Griffiths three years to figure it out, but she found a way to hold a gluten-free, dairy-free baked good together. And Griffiths’ famous tea cake was born. Looks like a muffin, tastes like heaven. There’s a delicacy to the crumb and a vigor to the flavors — flavors like orange, banana, chocolate and coconut — that make these treats really special ($3.25). She won’t reveal her “million-dollar secret” but it has to do with the special grinding technique of her brown rice flour.
To test her limits even further, Griffiths strove to meet yet another dietary restriction, that of vegans. No gluten, no dairy and now no eggs. Grape seed and coconut oil became her friends. According to Griffiths, vegans are a tight bunch with a strong social media network. They’ve been coming steadily to her shop to try her vegan cookies and cupcakes. My son’s vegan girlfriend and I were not overly impressed with the oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies, perhaps because they’re made with gluten-free millet and oats which may impart the unusual, slightly medicinal flavor. But we loved the chocolate chip nut brownie and chocolate frosted cupcake. A plate of these would be a good choice for an office party (12 minis for $27). Those that care would appreciate that they’re vegan and gluten-free. Those that don’t care would never know the difference.
Besides the tea cakes, cupcakes, cookies and bliss balls (what Griffiths calls the “mother lode” since they’re gluten-, dairy- and egg-free), Katie’s Bakery serves up a mean cup of coffee. Jaguar is a Mexican artisan coffee brand and they have it in drip form, Americano, cappuccino, latte, etc. I sprang for their breakfast special one morning, which features three scrambled organic eggs, a cup of drip coffee and a tea cake for $10. I enjoyed eating it at their outdoor cafe tables and felt comforted afterward.
At this point, the eggs are the only savory item on the menu but that’s soon changing. Griffiths has found a local chef who makes gluten-free Jamaican patties (pronounced pat-TEES). Both chefs hail from the West Indies and patties are something Griffiths has sorely missed, she tells me. I was able to try a sample, and they are tasty little bites. Caribbean spices permeate the moist, generous ground beef filling. The turmeric-laced crust breaks apart like a good pie crust should, not heavy and doughy as empanadas can be. About the size of a large pocket watch and with the look of a small meat pie from Simple Simon’s time, one or two of these with a spicy chai tea latte would keep you going all afternoon.
There are a few smoothies on the menu at Katie’s as well ($7.50). The Almond Butter smoothie is particularly good with house made almond milk, almond butter, banana, golden flaxseed and stevia or agave. The freshly squeezed lemonade is all organic.
For Lynn Griffiths, Katie’s Bakery is a labor of love. Knowing how scary it can be to see your child suffer, she is happy to be an honest resource for all those concerned about dietary restrictions. She guarantees that Katie’s is a dedicated gluten-free bakery, one of only a handful in Los Angeles. Not one speck of wheat flour touches the kitchen. Every ingredient is organic and non-GMO. She’s a “bit of a nut” about cross-contamination and thoroughly vets every product used and sold in the store.
She tells the story of a woman who came in with Lyme disease. “On top of the pain,” the woman said, “my doctor says I can’t have baked goods, which are my favorite.” After asking Griffiths to swear it was safe, she took a bite of a product and started to cry. “I never thought I could enjoy this again in my life,” she said.
“There’s a very real connection between joy and food,” says Griffiths. “I feel I’m doing something worthwhile. I’m grateful I could figure it out.”
This Valentine’s Day, consider giving your sweetheart or loved one a box of goodies that will bring joy to their heart, not pain to their tummy. Katie’s Bakery products come in pretty brown paper packages too, ready to be tied up with strings. Happy Valentine’s Day!
11 W. Dayton St., Pasadena | (626) 714-7400 katiesglutenfree.com