Bayou Eats | Mylk Belly
article by VANELIS RIVERA
photography by KELLY MOORE CLARK
Sweets may be good for the soul but rarely does their reputation extend beyond an indulgent treat. Even when holistic-minded bakers venture into the world of ingredient substitutions in an effort to present more nutritional value, the end products are shunned, chalked up to not as sweet or of a particularly unconventional texture. Even then, one home baker found herself fresh out of options and braved the wilds of vegan, keto, and gluten and dairy-free sweets. Mixing superfoods and organic ingredients, Allison Cook is dishing out some creative, delicious, and more importantly, nutritional sweets that may just turn the average dessert craving into a sumptuous experience, even for the most avid skeptic.
Cook, a Monroe native, started baking for herself when she began experiencing severe digestive issues. “And so, when I found health and wellness, I became obsessed with it, in an unhealthy way I think. But see, I’m a health and wellness junkie,” she asserts. It became progressively more difficult to satisfy her very active sweet tooth without feeling the unfortunate consequences. Her wellness quest began when she was living in New Orleans working at a juice bar. There, she discovered the surprising delight of raw vegan desserts. “I loved it because it made me feel good,” she emphasizes, adding that when she moved to Austin, Texas a lot of her time was spent smoking out the healthiest desserts. She was unsure of what kind of options to expect by the time she moved back to Monroe, but was stunned that there were few and far between. So, she turned to her kitchen.
“I started vegan, but I’m not vegan,” says Cook, listing common alternative ingredients in vegan baking that she first experimented with—almond flour, coconut oil, cacao powder, almond butter, peanut butter, and chia seeds. This led her to use adaptogens (herbs and plants, like mushrooms, with particular health benefits) like reishi mushroom powder. One of her first creations incorporating these exciting ingredients was inspired by her love of chocolate. Cook’s The Healthy Twix bar is clean and simple and is made with coconut flour, coconut oil, cacao powder, maple syrup, almond butter, reishi, and sea salt. It is organic, gluten-free, dairy-free, and free of refined sugar. And so, the more she baked, the more she shared with friends, and, to no one’s surprise, the more they wanted to know where they could buy her desserts. It didn’t take her long to approach the owner of one of her favorite food stops, Dana Milford at For His Temple Family Foods. “She’s the one that really inspired me,” says Cook. And so began the birth of Mylk Belly sweets, which can now also be found at Fiesta On Eighteenth.
Another of Cook’s first sweets to make it out to the community incorporates one of her favorite superfoods, one that is most notable for its bright color. Blue spirulina is a type of algae that is used for its health benefits, including its nutrient-dense and antioxidant properties which support detoxification and promote a healthy gut. The Superfood Balls, “taste like a sugar cookie ball but are loaded with the endless benefits of blue spirulina,” informs Cook. The bite-sized balls are made with oats, almonds, MCT oil, coconut oil, maple syrup, blue spirulina, vanilla, and sea salt. “Our bodies need help digesting and detoxing. “If these two systems are working, our bodies are happy,” says Cook, adding, “It took me a while to figure this out, but once I did I became obsessed.” For her, The Superfood Balls beautifully encompass her aim to make tasty sweets that are also packed with nutritional value.
“Every ingredient I use is organic,” proclaims Cook who also uses minimal natural sugars like raw local honey, pure maple syrup, dates, monk fruit, and coconut sugar. “These are less glycemic, easier on the body, and the first three have many health benefits,” she adds. As a result of her baking bravado, she now has a prominent sweets menu. Her Pecan Pie Bars are gluten-free, vegan, and free of refined sugar, and are made with locally sourced pecans from Double P Farm. For date lovers, the Almond Joy Dates are made with dates, shredded coconut, coconut milk, maple syrup, almonds, coconut sugar, and sweetened chocolate. Her recent favorite has been another chocolatey treat. The Paleo Whoopie Pie is made with grass-fed gelatin, locally pastured eggs, almond flour, cacao powder, coconut sugar, maple syrup, local honey, baking soda, coconut oil, vanilla, and Himalayan salt.
Every now and again, Cook turns to gluten and dairy for her bakes, but only using ingredients of the highest quality. In her Pumpkin Sourdough Chocolate Chip Cookies, she uses einkorn, an ancient grain with low gluten, and grass-fed butter, an excellent source of fat with many health benefits. “Quality is key in my opinion.” Her einkorn sourdough is also a prime ingredient in her Sourdough Strawberry Pop Tart, and Sourdough King Cake featuring Nancy’s probiotic cream cheese. Another unexpected Mylk Belly concoction may not be remotely related to dairy but could be used as a substitute. From the very beginning of her alternative food adventures, making her own almond and cashew “mylk” was at the forefront of her priorities. “Cashew milk is really easy,” she says. “I make this every week and use it in my coffee, recipes, and smoothies.” Her homemade glasses of milk were also inspired by her stint in New Orleans, as well as the discovery of how difficult it is to find alternative milk products that are not drowning in potentially harmful additives. To make, she begins by soaking the cashews overnight, and in the morning they go into her Vitamix with some water, blended for two minutes, then she adds some dates or maple syrup, and voilà, you have cashew milk. “You don’t even have to strain,” she adds.
The more Cook devoured her menagerie of sweets, the more she began to feel the best she had in a while. “I think to feel your best, you might as well eat healthier desserts. They taste good, and it starts to change your tastebuds.” As someone who grew up eating a lot of “junk food” and processed foods, she can relate to those who have an aversion to trying new foods. “I think people’s taste buds are accustomed to a certain type of flavor like super sugary,” she says. For this reason, she strives to keep flavor in mind when conceptualizing her sweets. “No, dessert isn’t healthy,” she says, adding, “But I think that my desserts have nutritional benefits inside of them. And they’re lower in sugar and easier to digest.” In fact, many of her hormonal issues greatly diminished when she changed her diet. For many, this shift is easier said than done, but Cook finds the best way to go about change is to keep it simple. “I think, making it fun and not being too strict because I’ve been strict with it before, and I didn’t do well with that. And so, the desserts make it fun,” she says. Even then, Cook has learned that eating too many of her sweets, as she tends to do while mixing and baking in her kitchen, is not advisable: “You know, too much sugar is never good regardless of the source.” She does, however, want to emphasize the ability to indulge your sweet tooth with a treat that also has nutritional value.
“I’m a very holistic person,” emphasizes Cook, who relies on good food, movement, meditation, and breathwork to be at her best. Mylk Belly is just an extension of this lifestyle and one she shares with her community out of love. Through Mylk Belly, Cook invites you to train your taste buds one holistic sweet at a time.