Growing LA's Marianne Cufone and BCBSLAF's Lydia Martin pose in front of the new NOLA recirculating farm container office.
Growing LA’s Marianne Cufone and BCBSLAF’s Lydia Martin pose in front of the new NOLA recirculating farm container office.

By Tina Dirmann

BCBSLA Foundation Staff Writer

Growing LA’s new recirculating farm site in New Orleans hasn’t even officially opened its doors yet (kick-off is set for Sept. 27). But the group isn’t waiting to make the most of its fledgling community learning campus, located at 1750 Carondelet St in uptown New Orleans. Throughout the spring and summer, the site has been home to a series of free community enrichment classes — from fitness and dance to gardening and healthy cooking. 

We were there last week, for the last class of the summer (Oh SO Good – and Not Bad For You — No Bake Desserts class), led by Growing LA’s Project Director Marianne Cufone.  S4WKnapty505MQfEUkKDY9PCcrTN0smEHXtA_2fCjQQ

On the menu? Frozen chocolate and peanut butter banana bites, fresh watermelon cake and super easy dark chocolate mousse. And while every one of these low cal, low sugary desserts was nothing short of delectable, those of us doing the sampling had our own favorites.

“I’m definitely making this for my mom tomorrow,” one young woman confided to a friend seated nearby. Turns out, it was her mother’s birthday the next day, and she hates traditional birthday cake. But this watermelon cake — made of watermelon topped with homemade whipped cream, toasted almond slivers and shredded coconut, sliced strawberries, blueberries and kiwi…. “Mom will love it.  She’s so health conscious, she always complains when we make her regular cake. I’m so excited to make this for her!”

Personally, we loved the chocolate mousse, which is so easy, and nothing short of a magic trick to make!

“This is going to be your favorite mousse recipe ever,” warned Cufone, who is also a founding member of the New Orleans Recirculating Farms Coalition and a professional chef (trained by the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York)!

Ingredients? Water, chocolate, sea salt.

Water + dark chocolate + salt = Magic Mousse!
Water + dark chocolate + salt = Magic Mousse!

Curfone simply whipped 10 ounces of dark melted chocolate with a cup of water and whipped constantly until it turned into a mousse.

“That’s it, punish that chocolate,” Cufone yelled to each cooking student passing through to take a turn whipping the melted dark goo into a fluff. “Show that chocolate who is the boss!”

A few minutes later… indeed… “Ladies and gentlemen, we have mousse,” Cufone declared!

Add a pinch of sea salt and serve. See full recipe instructions here.

Class participant Vincent Rogers, a New Orleans resident, sat in the back row, dipping mini Teddy Grahams into his mousse cup.

We especially loved watching the class go down amongst the large transportation containers currently being converted into an office, a snack stand and shopping hubs for the recirculating farm’s produce and seafood. Amid the construction were large gardening bins for community use (free seeds are passed out at almost every class) and an oversized wooden stage where fitness classes (from Zumba to tango lessons) have been held.

Growing LAGrowing LA and is a Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana grant funded wellness initiative.

The farm campus will take a summer break through September, opening again in October with a new roster of classes and more. With a little luck and lots of hard work, the mini-farm campus will be fully operational by month’s end. The project suffered a short set back recently in a struggle to make all the containers handicap accessible. But solutions are coming into place and a full opening is just weeks away. Details on the opening, schedule of classes and shopping opportunities will be coming soon. Check for updates on the Growing Local Nola or Recirculating Farms Coalition websites.

See you there!