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Awake at the Whisk: April 2009

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Making Fudge for Festa di Vino

Tomorrow, I will make fudge with a homeless woman.

Patricia is a graduate of a job-readiness program for homeless women where I work. Over the last two months, I have seen her amazing transformation occur like a butterfly from its cocoon.

Patricia graduated UCLA in 1976 and worked for over 30 years in the mortgage and banking industry. In 2007, she wanted to make a career switch. She was also suffering from a lack of confidence and belief in herself. She moved back home to Sacramento where her retired parents live, and started looking for work. But finding herself in a terrible job market in a down economy, Patricia had no luck. Her self-esteem grew worse. Her relationship with her parents became strained, because they were living on a fixed income and she felt she was a burden on them. This past winter, not wanting to be a drain, she left her parents' home and spent 10 days, homeless for the first time, sleeping in city parks without eating.

Eventually, she learned about the services offered to homeless people in Sacramento, and within a few months had found shelter and was enrolled in Women's Empowerment. The social workers there helped her identify her true passion: cooking. Importantly, they helped her rebuild her self-esteem. Patricia says, "I was expecting a homeless program. But homelessness was a side-bar. This was more of a life program. Now I believe in myself again."

Patricia has always been a cook, helping her mother prepare meals, whipping up a batch of her favorite spaghetti or chicken. Yet, before Women's Empowerment, she hadn't considered cooking professionally. Through the program, she learned to investigate training options in culinary schools, and had an interview this week for a program through the Charles A. Jones culinary program where she will learn to be a line-cook, and eventually hopes to work her way up the ladder. Through Women's Empowerment, she also earned a certificate in nutrition and cooking class, led by an instructor from UC Davis Extension's Food & Nutrition Program. Every Friday during her training, without fail, Patricia could be found creating a new recipe with fellow Women's Empowerment classmates, and preparing lunch in the Women's Empowerment kitchen.

This Saturday, Women's Empowerment has been invited to take part in the Point West Rotary Festa di Vino food and wine tasting event. Our nonprofit will be the charity beneficiary. The grand affair will feature top local restaurants and the hottest wineries. Women's Empowerment will host a booth, and we have invited Patricia to put her culinary creativity to work. She will be preparing fudge at the Women's Empowerment kitchen and sharing samples at the Festa di Vino event--the first big step toward her culinary dreams.

When I invited Patricia to join me at this event, I presented her with a recipe. She took it home and called me the next day. She had done research on how to make the creamiest, best fudge possible. Her culinary instincts are spot-on, and the fudge we will make tomorrow promises to steal the show!

Women’s Empowerment Fudge

3 cups sugar
5 ounces unsweetened chocolate
4 Tblsp unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 Tblsp light corn syrup
2 Tblsp highest quality vanilla extract
1 Tblsp almond extract

Grease an 8 X 8” pan and set aside. Combine first five ingredients in a saucepan and stir until chocolate is melted over medium heat. Bring mixture to a rolling boil. Turn to low heat until a candy thermometer reads 234 degrees. Remove from heat. Add butter and allow to melt without stirring. Cool mixture to 130 degrees. Add extracts and mix only until combined. Pour into greased pan and cool until firm. Cut into 1-inch pieces to serve.

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