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?

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Ariane March 10, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Oh man, this looks wonderful. I’ve really enjoyed your photos, your recipes, and (most of all, really) your stories. Its wonderful to have a friend who uses also uses food as love language and then shares it with the rest of us, especially since I tend to only share my food/love with a few people.

I’m going to indulge myself for passover this year (haha, yeah, I know) and make those orangettes to go with the home made macaroons. Real candied fruit instead of those day-glo ones we used to get :-)

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Jenn March 10, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Thanks so much Ariane – it’s so great to have a friend who just “gets” food the way you do :) haha about the day-glo candied fruit -enjoy the orangettes!

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Janet NZ March 10, 2011 at 11:01 pm

Hi Jenn – I follow your blog because I love the photos! You make the food look so good, I could lick the screen. (I also love the food – I have celiac disease). I have recently started a food blog, and while I do not aspire to a world-wide audience, I want my ‘recipe book’ to be as beautiful as it can possibly be. This post is really encouraging because it is helpful to know that, even though you do such glorious work, you still have doubts. I have a very long way to go to get to where you are now, but I will keep trying.
Regards

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Jenn March 10, 2011 at 11:28 pm

Oh thanks you! And yes, I very much have doubts about myself – all the freaking time ;)

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Julia @ DimpleArts Photography March 10, 2011 at 11:34 pm

Jenn, thank you so much for this post. As I read it, it was as if I was looking in the mirror. I have the same exact frustrations and insecurities. It’s good to have this type of inspiration to do better and that things don’t have to be perfect and in reality photography is very subjective, as my friend reminded me the other day.

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Jenn March 10, 2011 at 11:49 pm

Thanks – at the risk of being too cliché, I think the journey will be overall more enjoyable if I stop focusing on the end, and just enjoy the ride :)

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Rosa March 10, 2011 at 11:46 pm

Like you I am my own worst critic. I am a perfectionist and hate being mediocre. A very destructive way of thinking as it sometimes makes me loathe myself in a very self-destructive way…

You flower picture is nonetheless wonderful and unique. And yes, photography like beauty is a very subjective thing.

Cheers,

Rosa

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Jenn March 10, 2011 at 11:51 pm

Thanks Rosa – I think your food and photos are lovely just the way they are :)

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JulieD March 11, 2011 at 1:47 am

Your photographs are so beautiful. I know what you mean about being a perfectionist and being particularly hard on yourself. I do the same thing!

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Jenn March 11, 2011 at 7:28 am

Thanks! I think many of us do the same thing :)

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Rivki Locker (Ordinary Blogger) March 11, 2011 at 3:56 am

Your photos are inspiring, Jenn, and it was so great to read about your journey. I am a new-ish food blogger and was really able to identify with your story (the first part of it, anyway!). I celebrated my first two foodgawker acceptances recently, but have had so many rejections that it can get discouraging. I know you don’t feel it’s about equipment, but…do you have any tips specifically for photographing indoors, in the evening? I do all my cooking and photographing at night (i work full time during the day) and it’s such a struggle to get the lighting right. I do have a Lowell Ego light but it just isn’t the same. Any tips? Thanks so much for your inspiring post this evening.
— Rivki

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Jenn March 11, 2011 at 7:35 am

Oh thanks!!! As far as photographing indoors at night, this is currently an area I avoid as I do not yet own any supplemental lighting (but I would like to learn!). If you check out my photography tutorials page under the resources, there are some links under lighting that might be of use – and the strobist 101 series linked at hte top is useful no matter what type of lights you have. But I think in that list somewhere is a tutorial by Jaden of Steamy Kitchen about Lowel EGO lights specifically, and she shows pullbacks of her setup an reflectors. Also in that section check out the post by spicie foodie.

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Rivki Locker (Ordinary Blogger) March 15, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Thanks so much Jenn. I will check those out. I appreciate your input.

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InTolerantChef March 11, 2011 at 10:20 am

I just wish I could photograph as well as you Jenn.
You’re so right, cooking is theraputic. Even chopping my way through a 10kg box of mushrooms is very zen. I try to engage all my senses, smell the herbs as they’re crushed, listen to the sizzle of the pans, feel the heat of the hot plates with my palm to gauge temperature. Sometimes switching off from the actual ‘end product’ and breaking it down into stages let you refocus and enjoy the journey. (especially when cooking 100lts of chicken chassuer in a pan the size of a single bed) :)

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Jenn March 11, 2011 at 9:26 pm

wow 10kg of mushrooms!! One def. would have to find a zen place to get through 10kg! I’m glad cooking is therapeutic – especially since we can cook every day if we want :)

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Sherri March 11, 2011 at 5:39 pm

I am a watercolor painter with all of the same feelings that you describe. Since I started painting with watercolors(only about 6 yrs ago) it has been a slow and journey. I have had to check my perfection at the door. I found that the best pieces are the ones that are not perfect but have evolv4d into something so beautiful that I couldn’t have imagined at the start. And by the way, your pink flower photo is beautiful, my first thought when I saw it was what a wonderful painting it would make. Continue to create!!!

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Jenn March 11, 2011 at 11:48 pm

Oh thanks! Yes I have to learn to let go of perfect more, and to just play – something I am constantly reminding myself :)

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Maria @ Scandifoodie March 11, 2011 at 7:19 pm

This looks like such a perfect treat! Lovely photos :-)

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Jenn March 11, 2011 at 11:48 pm

Thanks!

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Christine March 12, 2011 at 4:56 am

Thank you so much for sharing this, Jenn. I love your attitude toward this – life is journey where you keep on learning and growing. I struggle a lot with perfectionism and failure in pretty much every aspect of my life. The timing of you posting this was perfect as in the last week I was confronted by a so-called failure on my part, which was incredibly difficult for me as my first instinct is to take all the blame (because I’m a failure, right? So it *has* to be me.) Accepting that most of it had nothing to do with me was difficult but an important step in my journey in life.

I’m totally with you on the scientific thinking – sometimes it’s so easy to get caught in the technical aspects of things and forget to enjoy the art of making and photographing food.

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Jenn March 12, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Thanks Christine – me as well, I happened to talk about photography but this extends to so many parts of my life… accepting the journey often is very difficult!

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The Cilantropist March 12, 2011 at 8:09 am

I can totally relate with your photographic journey, because I am on a journey of sorts myself! My photography has definitely evolved a lot in the last year, and it is amazing for me to compare some of my first photographs with the ones I shoot today. I still have a lot to improve on and I work on it daily, striving for that unattainable perfection that always seems to be out of reach! But sometimes you do have those photos that you know are techincally ‘incorrect’ that you just end up loving – and I think that is still awesome bc you have to love what you do and love what you create. You have BEAUTIFUL photos so looks like your journey is a succcess! Oh, and congrats on foodbuzz top 9 today :)

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Jenn March 12, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Thanks so much!! I think my new-found attitude will make things less frustrating for me – a bit more relaxed and fun, and I’m hoping that it will show through in my photography :)

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Anita Menon March 12, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Excellent post. I go through such introspection phases but mostly they end without any closure. I think writing about it, makes a lot of things come out from the dark.

All I want to let you know is when you feel down and out about not being the best ( by your standards), you have to remember that you and your blog are such an inspiration to so many like me. For that alone, you should give yourself a pat on your back.

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Jenn March 13, 2011 at 10:57 pm

Thanks – and thanks so much for the encouragement!!

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Claudie March 12, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Your chocolate and orange sabayon is beautiful photographed! And your flower too, even if you find technical imperfections in it. In fact, there is sometimes more beauty in the flaws than in the perfection ;)

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Jenn March 13, 2011 at 10:57 pm

Thank you! Yes I think there is beauty to be found everywhere, even in imperfections – sometimes it is the imperfections that make something beautiful.

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sonia March 12, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Wonderful bowl of orange and chocolate sabayon. .. ! I would love to give it a shot asap and congratulation s for top 9, a well written post…great job !!!

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Jenn March 13, 2011 at 10:58 pm

Thank you, hope you like it!

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Anthony Shelley March 12, 2011 at 6:16 pm

This looks so beautiful. I’m envying hardcore. :)

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Jenn March 13, 2011 at 10:58 pm

Aww thanks!

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Eugene @ Food and Scent March 12, 2011 at 11:22 pm

Your photography is true to life and I enjoy how vivid the colours are. You made those raspberries look like RASPBERRIES. Congrats on the top 9 .. I’m waiting for my turn haha. I’m still battling depressions from being rejected by the photo sites. Good work!

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Jenn March 13, 2011 at 8:50 pm

Thanks so much!! Don’t get depressed about rejections from photo-sites – it’s just one editor’s opinion and I see gorgeous photography from so many talented people that gets turned down all the time – it’s better to think of it as “my style is just different” rather than “i’m not good enough” – I know it’s hard to do (and something I struggle with myself) but in the end I think it’s a better attitude to take :)

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Junia @ Mis Pensamientos March 13, 2011 at 12:40 am

beautiful recipe + photography!

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Jenn March 13, 2011 at 8:48 pm

Thank you!

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Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite March 13, 2011 at 11:00 pm

Jenn, you know this post couldn’t have come at a better time for me.

I am *such* a perfectionist and have such high standards for myself yet I put myself in the position where I am not able to achieve everything I want to the the best of my ability and then I get mad at myself, and in this case, very sick. And it’s like a vicious circle.

The past couple of weeks have forced me to reevaluate a lot of things in my life and focus on how far I have come in certain areas and not how far I have to go. In my case, I need to get rid of a few commitments (which I am in the middle of doing) and start afresh, focussing on what makes me happy and what I think I can achieve, instead of looking at things as being insurmountable and unachievable.

Two things I know I can work on (and which make me happy, importantly) and make strides are cooking/ baking and certainly photography and your idea of “taking it one manageable goal at a time, moving forward with each step” needs to be on Post It notes all around my house and work. Also, embracing photos I love, even if certain photo sites don’t or if they are not technically perfect is something I need to focus on.

Thank you for expressing this, what many of us feel, so succinctly.

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Jenn March 13, 2011 at 11:23 pm

Thanks Mardi, I’m glad this helped – wishing you all the best for a speedy recovery – and as for the photos, I think it really is all about attitude and self-confidence :)

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Peta March 14, 2011 at 3:05 am

Well obviously us perfectionists are not alone and really need to calm down a bit and not be so hard on ourselves, that’s what I need to do anyway. Personally I love your photo of the pink flower and the recipe sounds delicous. thanks for a great blog

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Jenn March 14, 2011 at 8:07 am

Thank you! Yep, I have been very happy to know I am not the only one who struggles with this :)

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Sprinzette @ Ginger and Almonds March 16, 2011 at 3:49 pm

I can’t believe I’ve only just found this blog – your photos are stunning. And your recipes inspired.

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Jackie Baisa March 21, 2011 at 10:19 am

I really truly do not even understand in the slightest bit what is wrong with the aperture (or anything else) in that flower photo!!! It’s perfect. The flower ITSELF is not (it’s got some brown spots, etc.) but it’s got character! It’s just lovely. So, it must be your scientist brain kicking into gear that makes you think (at times) that photography is an exact science. :-)

Me? I don’t take it too seriously. I shoot what looks pretty to me. Plain and simple. Yes, I study it. Yes, I strive to be better. Yes, I’m critical of my work now and then. And yes, I’m always amazed when others (especially other phtoographers!) are excited about my work. It’s kind of mind-blowing. But in the grand scheme of things, I just simply don’t take it all too seriously. Sometimes a photo isn’t perfect, but does it serve the purpose? Does it capture the essence of what I’m trying to convey? Yes, it does.

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Jenn March 21, 2011 at 11:12 pm

Ha that flower is as Springtime as I can get at the moment, maybe after the past couple warmer weeks we’ll have more Springtime appearing…. I love your care-free attitude – I def. think I get in my own way at times…

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