Life Lessons from Cooking – Chocolate and Orange Sabayon

by Jenn on March 10, 2011

in Dairy Free,Desserts,Gluten Free

Chocolate Orange Sabayon Valentine's Dessert, Glowing in the Afternoon Sunlight

I’ve always been one to strive for perfection. After all, aren’t we all encouraged to set high standards for ourselves?

Having high standards is great, but perfection is an evil thing when you think about it.  By definition unattainable, it incites obsession and destroys self-confidence. Perfection is what happens in an ideal world.  But the world isn’t perfect, and one can’t become a superhero overnight.  It just doesn’t happen.  Logic tells us this, but if you let the idea of perfect get to you too much, you will just set yourself up for disappointment – every. single. time.

This is something I struggle with.  I’m the first to admit that I am my own worst critic, and if something isn’t 100% awesome I am likely to only see that which makes it so rather than the things that are wonderful.  On the plus side, this attitude is a powerful motivator to push myself to progress and move forward – however, constantly picking out all my flaws makes it nearly impossible for me to take a compliment, and inside I am more often than not a deep up-welling of insecurity. I’m not saying that high standards are bad, just that it’s important to be realistic.  Realistic goals are achievable, and give you chances for success and a confidence boost.  Realistic goals keep you from the inevitable burnout that always comes with trying for perfection.

And sometimes it’s good to be imperfect, and to make mistakes.  And to embrace those mistakes.

Sometimes, total mistakes can be beautiful.

Pink Flower

The pink flower above is currently my desktop background.  Technically, it’s a terrible photo.  The aperture is way too wide, and most will say the blur from the petals reaching up out of the plane of focus is way too distracting.  That’s probably true.  Ok, it’s totally true, and normally I’d just leave it at that and send it, rejected, off into the delete pile.  But there’s something about the color that I love, and I have decided to embrace my flaws a bit more.  I want to keep my high standards for myself so I can continue to push myself, but to understand that I’m not going to get there overnight and to accept that I am on a journey.

There was a time when I constantly got rejected from the large food photo sites (who am I kidding? I still am constantly rejected!).  For the longest time I just told myself, well, if I can make a perfect photo that could be right at home on a magazine cover, then it will just have to get accepted (ha because that’s a useful goal, right?).  So I just told myself I needed to take a perfect photo.  The only problem?  Two years ago I didn’t know much more than how to push the shutter button let alone how to stage or even expose a photo.  It was totally unrealistic.  Heck I hardly know what I’m doing now, it’s still unrealistic.  The other problem?  There really is no such thing as perfect art, only different interpretations.  By focusing on only the technical aspects, my scientist brain gets in the way and I lose the art of the experience.

So instead, I’m starting to make more of a concerted effort to remember that it is all a journey, and that I’m not alone – I’ve got so many great friends and family who support me and offer me advice and encouragement.  I recently wrote a post on Food Bloggers Unite about my photographic journey, and it was so therapeutic to write.  Because looking back at where I started and how far I’ve come has helped me so much – it served to give myself the confidence I need to have the motivation and inspiration to improve.  And I see that the more I photograph, the more I realize just how much of a true passion this whole endeavor really has evolved into.  Understanding my journey has helped me to give for myself real concrete and achievable goals, rather than just the abstract and unattainable “be perfect”.  When I remember this, all of the excitement comes back and all the frustrations are left behind.

Now, I feel like I have a path on which to go forward, a way to progress through the wide forest of the yet unknown that I still have to learn.

Where are you Springtime???

Paths are important in so many things in life.  For example, I want to become a better gluten free baker.  Rather than just tell myself to be better, I joined the Gluten Free Ratio Rally.  Now I have a very walkable path to become a better baker.  Each month a new challenge arises, but with the help and support of so many wonderful people as we collaborate together.  I feel like I can push myself in ways that will actually allow me to improve, and I know I am just going to love being involved for that reason.

What I found most interesting, is that despite all my introspection as I am often wont to do in times of frustration, what actually revealed my “epiphany” of sorts was cooking this dessert, as it too is all about steps.  I love how the kitchen can teach you anything, and that it doesn’t always have to be about food.  I made chocolate and orange sabayon for my husband on Valentine’s Day.  Then I made orangettes.  And I dipped strawberries in tempered chocolate (without a thermometer! I really need to buy one of those sometime…).  I topped it all with whipped cream, and finally added a few raspberries for fun :)  Each piece contributed to the final dish, and the dessert would have been lacking if it were missing any of the components.  But one can’t make the whole dish at once.  Like any recipe, it’s a series of steps.  Small increments forward, and when finished you can look back and see how far the food has come, transformed from the simplest of places.  Really, cooking any recipe embraces this philosophy – it’s something I love about being in the kitchen.  Cooking is therapeutic in its own right.

I don’t know why it took me so long to realize I needed to take the same attitude with photography as well. So here’s to coming out of a mental slump, pushing ahead with inspiration, and taking it one manageable goal at a time, moving forward with each step.

Do you push yourself? How do you keep your goals realistic?


Chocolate and Orange Sabayon, very minorly adapted from Citrus and Candy
One note – I actually liked this with a bit less chocolate than the original. I felt that it was getting too rich and weighing down the sabayon with a full 150g of chocolate, so I stopped at 100g. It was still really rich.

Prep Time: 20 min for making sugar syrup and chopping chocolate
Total Time: around 1 hour

  • 150g sugar
  • 150g water
  • 100g chocolate, chopped
  • 4 egg yolks, beaten
  • zest of an orange

*Note can be dairy free if you use a dairy free chocolate

  1. Add water and sugar to a pan and slowly bring to a boil, stirring often. Once all the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and let cool.
  2. Add some water to the bottom of two double boiler and bring to a very low simmer. One will be used to cook the eggs, and one to melt the chocolate.
  3. Add chocolate to one double boiler to start it melting, stirring and watching it every few minutes.
  4. To the beaten yolks, whisk in the sugar syrup. Then whisk over the double boiler until a thick and ribbon-like texture. This took me a fair bit longer than the 8-10 minutes originally listed (20?). Keep checking on the chocolate too – remove from heat as necessary so that it doesn’t burn while you are whisking the eggs. It’s a bit of a juggling act to monitor both at once.
  5. When eggs are ready, remove from heat, continue whisking for a couple minutes. Then fold in the chocolate and zest.
  6. Pour into serving bowls and refrigerate or serve warm, your choice.