On the Main Road in Southold stands a charming, typically East End–style converted shingle house with an open front porch and bright-red awning. This is The Giving Room, where yoga devotees will find a warm, vibrant studio in which to practice and meditate and where everyone will find phenomenal juices and smoothies in the adjoining health food shop. The welcoming shop houses a long farm table with embroidered Indian pillows and shelves stocked with NoFo granola, the Giving Room’s own curried trail mix and other locally sourced dry goods. At the counter, one may order an array of cleansing and refreshing juices (or take one home in a Mason jar from the mini-fridge), homemade soups or a hummus wrap, and of course smoothies.
There is a reason why the Giving Room’s smoothies are so good: They begin with homemade alternative milks (or “mylks,” if you’re in the know). Almond, cashew and hemp milks are handmade on the premises, by order. They are raw, free from any preservatives or additives, and they are delicious. Co-owners of the Giving Room, Paula DiDonato & Judy Teeven, opened the shop in 2013 next door to their yoga studio “with the intent of creating an environment for spiritual and physical wellness,” Paula explains.
“As the studio grew, we wanted to offer our clients organic, healthy options to complement their yoga practice and to further support their path to wellness.” The Giving Room quickly felt the demand for alternative milks and healthy, healing drinks devoid of additives but filled with locally sourced ingredients.
“Almond milk was part of our original offering when we first started a small juice bar in the back of the yoga studio,” Paula explains, adding that cashew milk was next, “as we started to offer raw oat bowls with fruit and nuts, because cashews are a natural and delicious addition as ‘milk’ for the oat bowl.”
Nut and seed milks mimic well the taste and texture of dairy milk, work great when baking and in coffee drinks like lattes. They are perfect for vegans and those with dairy sensitivities, or autoimmune diseases like endometriosis, where soy is counter-indicated. Mylks are generally more nutritious and can be better for the digestive and sinus systems than cow’s milk.
“The vast majority of our clients prefer nondairy milk as it’s less in calories and fat than dairy milk. Also, many of them simply prefer the taste,” Paula says. “The health benefits people mention most are the fiber, healthy fats, protein and nutrients in almond milk in particular. Almond milk helps clients lower their blood sugar levels and potentially lower blood pressure. Almonds also have powerful antioxidant benefits to help prevent disease and aging.”
Alternative nut milks are growing in popularity—so much so that there aren’t enough local makers to keep up with the demand. Ask around and you’ll find a surprising number of people looking for raw, locally made nut milks. More than a few Brooklyn and Long Island–based mylk companies have surfaced over the last four years, only to close or narrow their supply to one or two coffee bars close to their operations. Board of Health restrictions on raw foods, as well as high demand and a high price-point, make producing and supplying true organic, non-additive mylks a difficult business to master.
Sisters Carolyn and Susan Flood founded and operate NotMilk out of Brooklyn, and sell fresh nut milks made solely from almonds, cashews, macadamias, walnuts and dates. Selling to Manhattan and Brooklyn cafés and shops and several area pickup locations, NotMilk also offers a subscription of local delivery service in New York City only, as the Flood sisters have vowed to keep a low carbon footprint.
A locally made mylk model makes sense, since fresh nut milks must be consumed within three to four days. NotMilk’s leftover meal (the residuals after straining) is used to make delicious, gluten-free treats. Environmentally sound practices are a consideration when using almonds for mylk, since most almonds come from California, where almond farms use massive amounts of a scant water supply.
At the Giving Room, Paula and fellow juicers Jen and Kaitlin gave me a taste of the lightweight putty-like meal after demonstrating how they make their almond milk by straining soaked and blended nuts through a fine nylon bag. They suggested many kinds of baked goods can be made with it. The staff also demonstrated making hemp milk—then turned the various nut and seed mylks into two very different smoothies and a hot tonic.
Which brings me to the question: Can’t you make your own alternative mylks? The answer: of course you can!
Of all the nice qualities the staff of the Giving Room possess, a can-do attitude is paramount. Armed with a jug of water, bottles of almonds, cashews, dates and hemp seeds, and two Vitamixes, this crew is up for anything mylk-wise. In the half-hour I hung out at the Giving Room, they’d made enough gorgeously colored concoctions to send me home with several Mason jars—from a pistachio ice cream smoothie (made without pistachios or ice cream, though it sure tastes like it is) to a warm hemp milk, turmeric and cinnamon toddy to a plain—but not plain tasting—almond milk.
These talented women made it all look so easy—and to some extent making raw nut milk really is. The drawback is its short shelf life. Paula warns it starts losing its fresh flavor after day two. On the other hand, it takes no more than five minutes to make a fresh batch. Alternative milks, like many locally sourced artisanal foods, take more time and slightly more skill than their store-bought counterparts, but the rewards may far outweigh the lost convenience. They are certainly more than worth a try.