The Love and Art of Baking: Elizabeth’s Story

By Emma Kushnir, WorkStory Ambassador at Western University

Elizabeth Hodgins’ adventure in baking started at Niagara College in the Baking and Pastry Arts program.  There, she learned how to make everything from wedding cakes to French macarons. While going to school, she also worked in the pastry department of Queen’s Landing an award-winning hotel in Niagara-On-The-Lake.   After finishing her program, she returned to her hometown of Perth, Ontario to work at the Fieldhouse Bakery & Takeaway. She has also started doing private pastry work in her own business called Elizabeth’s Pastries.

At the Fieldhouse. Elizabeth works nights as a baker -- making cookies, squares and pastries.  She explains that “Fieldhouse has an emphasis on supporting local farmers, and using natural ingredients in their baking. I personally feel that a product can only ever be as good as the ingredients you use to make it. Therefore the opportunity to work in an environment with people who have a similar philosophy about food is very satisfying. Despite being in the early days of my job here, I already feel right at home and am happy to go to work every day.” As for her future goals, while working at Fieldhouse she hopes to continue to learn and absorb everything she can, as well as be involved  through the next year’s wedding season in the newly launched wedding cakes part of the business.  

There are many special skills involved in the profession of baking.  A crucial one is organization. According to Elizabeth “If you are messy, unorganized, or careless you will not succeed in the pastry industry. Attention to detail is a must. For my current job I think the eagerness to learn and absorb information is also vital.  Multitasking.  Creativity.  And an  understanding of the science of baking…all crucial.”

When asked why she loves baking and her job, Elizabeth explains that it is the perfect combination of art, skill and science. “Pastry is much more than throwing everything in a bowl and turning on the mixer. The order that ingredients are combined and react together, the way you handle your mixture, the final baking or decorating procedure…they all contribute to the finished product. I love the satisfaction of taking raw, basic, ingredients and creating something beautiful, both to taste and to look at! There is a magical world of pastry that most people don’t know exists!”

What inspired Elizabeth to pursue this career?   Family!  Elizabeth grew up in a family with talented baking women and she was by amazed by their ability to make cookies from memory or make beautiful homemade cakes from scratch.  She recalls that she first got really interested in the career at a young age while baking with her grandma and making mini pies from her leftover crust scraps. “Like many have said before me, food is one of the most powerful triggers of memory. Specific smells and tastes often remind us of the most special times that bring family and friends together.  I feel that baking is a timeless art that will only continue to bring people together. I wanted to be the next generation of bringing people together, just with an elevated artistic twist.”

The biggest decision Elizabeth had to make was where her schooling adventure was to begin. She explains, “Nothing in life comes without a few challenges. I think the only real challenge I would say I faced would be my doubt in myself, or my confidence in the ability to make a career from baking cookies. After high school I took two years to travel and decide what I really wanted to do. When some people would ask what I had decided to go to school to study, and I would reply baking, I wasn’t always greeted with complete enthusiasm or confidence that I would succeed. But I decided to prove these people wrong!”                                

Elizabeth’s career advice?   “I think the only thing there is to be said to anyone figuring out what to do, career-wise, is to do what makes you truly happy!  My mom has always been a strong advocate of the ‘do what you love and you will never work a day in your life’ idea. I think that when I sat down and thought about what I loved to do most in my spare time, baking was the answer time and time again. Do what makes you happy, because with happiness comes passion, and with passion you will succeed.” 

Check out Elizabeth’s Pastries Page on Facebook at:

https://www.facebook.com/Elizabeths-Pastries-1479999805659906

Making a Career Change for the Better

By Annette Dawm, WorkStory Ambassador

Ashlyn Joyce works as a Registered Practical Nurse (RPN) in a Long-Term Care Facility, which is a job she loves because “it is never dull or boring”, especially since she primarily works in the “locked dementia unit”. There are a wide variety of behaviours that are exhibited by the residents and because they  are battling an unpredictable disease, they can also become unpredictable themselves. It is important to realize that they cannot help the way they are and it takes a special person like Ashlyn to take care of them.

Being a Registered Practical Nurse can be very rewarding, but also incredibly sad, so Ashlyn advises others to “laugh every day”.  Unfortunately, she acknowledges that “you'll have hard days when your favourite resident will pass away, but you need to be able to get through the hard times.... I find that laughing is one of the best ways to get through those rough times.”

One of Ashlyn’s most rewarding moments came when a resident told her that she was good at her job and that she “will go far in life”, thanks to her kind and caring nature. Ashlyn finds that by taking a few minutes out of her day to talk with her residents, it helps build a “therapeutic connection” while getting to know them “on a personal level”.

Throughout her academic career, Ashlyn realized that healthcare was her “destined field”, but not before she went down a different path in hopes of becoming a teacher. Initially her studies began at Brock University: “I started out gearing my life towards teaching math and French, but after I finished my first year of that, I knew it wasn't for me. So, on a whim... I signed up for the Personal Support Worker (PSW) course and loved it.” Ashlyn graduated as a PSW from Niagara College. She then took a year off to work and save enough money in order to continue her studies as an RPN at Fanshawe College and “hasn’t regretted a day since”.

When teaching didn’t work out as planned for Ashlyn, she feared that her parents may never speak to her again. She was very open with her parents about needing to make a change, and they knew how she felt: “...when I dropped out of university I was terrified my parents would disown me” she said. So, this fear motivated Ashlyn to come up with a back-up plan geared towards nursing in order to stay in school. “[I] ended up loving my decision to change programs” and, as she puts it, “you'll never know what you enjoy doing if you're living in fear of pleasing others.”

Ashlyn hopes that if others can relate to her situation, that they do what makes them happy in terms of living their own life. Today, she and her parents have a more positive relationship, now that they’ve seen Ashlyn pursue something that she loves: “They're proud of me” she remarked, “and [they] said I'm good at what I do and I obviously enjoy doing it. So as long as I'm happy, they are too.”

  Ashlyn made the most of attending various schools and encourages others to “take every opportunity they can to keep learning and expanding their knowledge base” wherever they are. She advised that “You never know what lies ahead, so keep asking questions and taking everything in, because one day it will all come to use.”

Although Ashlyn’s career path didn’t lead her to a classroom, her residents are much like students. They require the adequate attention and emotional support she provides: “It always keeps me on my toes because anything could happen” she explained. Whether the residents are going through a medical or emotional issue, she has to be there, “to assess them quickly and provide the necessary support to them.”

Also like many teachers, Ashlyn loves that she is able to make a difference in people’s lives, “no matter how small that difference is”. Every day, whether it is through helping others, getting to know someone, or taking the time to laugh, Ashlyn Joyce finds validation that she has made a career change for the better.

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More on Karen’s brewmaster story…