The ability to create something that’s both beautiful and edible takes creativity and talent. And when this talent is paired with a full-time, busy job, that talent is even more amplified. CHG is chock-full of talented bakers. Here’s the story of two of them.
A self-taught cookie artisan
CHG’s communications specialist, Liz Van Halsema, has found her niche in baking and decorating cookies. She discovered her passion for baking when she needed to pay off student loans, and luckily she had some connections.
“My friend worked at a bakery, and she knew I had a knack for drawing since we were in the same art class in high school,” Liz shares. “She got me a job, taught me the ropes, and, after a few weeks of practice, I finally got the hang of it.”
Liz worked at the bakery for a year, then left the bakery for a job in marketing. “I wasn’t sure I’d decorate cookies again.”
But our passions have a way of grabbing hold of us, even when our life’s path has taken us in a completely different direction. So when a friend had a birthday party, she thought her cookies would make a great gift. Then another friend had a party, and it only gained more momentum from there.
“I started making them more and more and realized I actually liked learning new techniques and recipes on my own,” she shares.
Liz says this is how she just naturally fell back into baking and decorating cookies after reentering the workplace. She was happy to once again be able to get back to doing something that brought her so much joy.
How a Toll-House recipe inspired a love of decorating
Senior client services specialist from our Weatherby Healthcare division, Onieka Napoleon, discovered her love of baking and cake decorating at age 13 when she baked some Toll House chocolate chip cookies. After initially relying on recipes on the back of bags of chocolate chips and following recipes on the backs of Carnation milk cans, Oneika’s true talent began to shine when she would just use what ingredients she had on hand to make whatever she could.
Though her baking may have taken a back seat for a bit, she rediscovered her passion when in 2012 Weatherby had a Thanksgiving potluck, and the rum cakes she baked were a huge hit.
“That reignited the fire, so to speak,” Oneika recalls.
Why the love of baking?
“Watching cookie-decorating videos on Instagram is sooooo soothing,” Liz says. “I swear making cookies is the best stress reliever. Plus, it feels good to make someone’s day with a personalized treat.”
And when Liz says “personalized,” all you have to do is use your imagination. She’s made everything from a naked cat (no judgment from Liz, we all love our pets no matter their looks), to a drawing of the exterior of a family’s house for a family reunion, to stunningly decorated cookies for a family’s Thanksgiving — and everything in between.
Much like Liz, Onieka loves to see the joy her baked goods bring to others. Her niche is cake baking and decorating, and she’s found joy in being part of a nonprofit organization that donates cupcakes to a local hospital’s oncology department. She’s also found joy in gifting her baked goods to an adult daycare facility.
“On occasion, I’ve had the pleasure of delivering to the daycare center,” shares Onieka. “The way their faces light up at the sight of me bringing in the two dozen cupcakes makes it all worthwhile.”
Baking’s not without its horror stories
You could say baking is a scientific art form, requiring accurate measuring of all the different ingredients. Too little of this or too much of that can ruin a whole batch — and waste a few hours. Onieka remembers one time where she miscalculated.
“I was mixing a batch of butter-cream frosting. I needed a half cup of liquid, and rather than grab my quarter measuring cup and doubling it, I grabbed my half cup, turning my frosting into soup. I called that one a loss. To save time — and batter — I could’ve doubled the batch, but my mixer wasn’t big enough. Needless to say, I pay more attention to my measurements.”
And even though the batch of cookies Liz made turned out perfectly, she had the misfortune of almost shipping a dozen of them with a typo — of the customer’s name — on each and every cookie. Luckily, she was able to make it back to FedEx and recover the delivery before it was sent.
“I had to remake those cookies from scratch and pay a few extra dollars to get it expedited,” she recalls. “Now if I have an order, I make a few extra cookies just in case I make a major mistake, and I spell check everything!”
While baking is an art form that seemingly has no relation to the work that Liz, a communications specialist, and Oneika, a client services specialist, do at CHG, there are aspects of baking and decorating that they both bring to work with them every day. They’re also able to use their learnings from work to better their skills when crafting their baked goods.
“I actually took home a lot of what I learned in Lean sessions about process improvements,” Onieka shares, “and put a process in place so that I’m never trying to remember if I already added an ingredient to the mix. Minor things like that can easily ruin a recipe.”
Passions with parallels
Liz has learned better time-management practices: “It’s hard to have a full-time job and keep a side hustle going!”
Writing alone is a form of craftsmanship, and Liz does this day in and day out. She’s using her words to communicate and express herself, and she’s found that baking and decorating cookies is just an extension of that. They both are started from “scratch,” and every step is important, from beginning to end.
“I love the feeling of starting something from scratch and ending with something you’re absolutely in love with,” Liz says. “And when it brings joy to other people — well, that’s icing on the cake (err…I mean cookies!).”
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