Karen Sheer

Hey there!

I’m so happy you are here!

A ZEST FOR LIFE is my home where I can share my style of cooking with you. I’m hoping you are inspired to cook for yourselves as much as you can.

I believe in delicious, homemade food to nourish us – and spend much of my day testing recipes and compile them for you. I’m obsessed with cooking! My focus is using the best possible ingredients and learning new and trusted techniques from cuisines the world over.


I field lots of questions and thought it might be helpful to answer the ones I am asked most frequently.

How would you describe your cooking style?
I get asked this question often… sometimes it is – what is you favorite thing to cook?! My cooking style is an attitude- to look at the ingredients on hand, make it flavorful and “lighten it up” without sacrificing flavor. This can be achieved by reducing some fat, salt or sugar – or by boosting concentrated flavors from citrus, garlic, seasonings and herbs. I’m cooking with vegetables more and more. They have a wider prominence in my recipes and are no longer just a “side dish” but an important element of many recipes.

Over the years I have changed-up many ingredients I use. More lower glycemic sugars, only expeller pressed oils – and I spend lots of time finding the best tasting produce and fruits at farmers’ markets. My cooking style can be whimsical – Puerto Rican inspired one day; classic Southern style the next.

There’s the obvious benefits of eating healthier.
Those who follow a healthy, well-balanced diet reduce their risk of chronic diseases and can benefit from an elevating energy level. Who wouldn’t like to look better and feel a whole lot better as well? I choose to eat a rainbow – different colored fruits and vegetables daily.

Who is your biggest influence?

Without a doubt, Alice Waters. A great day was when I met her and got a personal tour of her Chez Panisse kitchen!
She has changed the way many of us eat. Use local, organic, sustainably sourced food is what I learned from her. Let ingredients shine too and don’t complicate.

Any cooking tools you are passionate about?

I have been cooking non-stop since the mid-eighties after graduating from The New York Restaurant School – so yes! I have many favorites.

I have fallen in love with vintage table top accessories and vintage cookware. I frequently visit antique shops and have a great collection of enamel coated cast iron baking dishes and pots. They are aesthetically beautiful – but the best part is their incredible performance! They do not burn and they clean up easily! Most are from Holland (now called The Netherlands), Belgium and Germany. The thick enamel coating comes in enticing vibrant colors… and they are less than half the price of their contemporary new versions. My kitchen is also stocked with many All-Clad pots and pans.

I truly trust my army of kitchen machinery; Vitamix, Kitchen-aid, Cuisinart, 4 cup food processor, high-power coffee mill (for grinding spices), dehydrator and a professional Italian ice cream maker.

I could not live without many zesters, graters, rubber and metal spatulas, offset cake spreaders, salad spinner – with a metal base (how many plastic ones have a I ruined?), glass and stainless bowls of many shapes – and my favorite thing: a collection of vintage little glass bowls in every size.

This might be too much information, yet I also have a collection of vintage lemon juicers and squeezers (true to my “a zest for life” name!)

Why are commercial food preservatives such a no-no?

I do not buy products with commercial preservatives. So I read a lot of labels! I’m writing an article on “the biggest commercial food offenders.” For instance… I write a lot about “natural flavorings” and since the FDA does not regulate the word “natural” the name is added to most products, who’s companies want you to think it’s wonderfully natural. “Natural Flavors” are chemicals made in a laboratory, sold to food manufacturers to alter flavor.

They are included to boost taste and add a proprietary flavor to the manufacturer’s product. No manufacturers are transparent about the ‘Natural Flavor” ingredients they are made with. Most likely include hidden GMO’s, gluten and msg among countless allergens.

Same with Citric Acid. Sounds inviting and lemony and tangy… it’s not. As a food additive it is manufactured using a mold that feeds on corn syrup glucose. Yuck. That’s why I make my own mustard – but you can find organic mustards without this stuff at some stores.

Now onto something more positive!

What are you favorite things to cook?

I guess I’m a cooking nerd – I just love to cook anything, all the time! Even while vacationing, I would rather have a kitchen to use! Well, I do have a few favorite ingredients… obsessions – they are apparent in my categories: Everything Tomatoes, I Love Garlic!, My Love of Rhubarb and Zesty Citrus Recipes. I enjoy making my own salad dressing (I eat a lot of salads!) and have a few varieties within reach in my fridge. Soup is definitely another favorite! I usually double a recipe and freeze some in 2 cup containers, then a healthy lunch is just a reach away. Now to pie! Making pie is an art, and I enjoy the cathartic process of creating a flaky crust with a perfectly sweetened juicy filling. (Black Raspberry pie anyone?)

A few years back I was filmed and appeared on The Food Network’s show “Follow that Chocolate” using Scharffen Berger Chocolate. It was certainly a thrill to have and entertain the host, Gordon Elliot, in my home for the day – as he watched and the crew filmed me making a pretty labor intensive Devil’s Food Cake, which we then brought to a party for them to enjoy. The party guests surely enjoyed every bite of that cake which I thought was still a tad warm, because I did not have enough chilling time! No one knew but me; the warm cake with molten filling was heavenly.

See my extensive recipe list… that’s what I like to cook!

What’s with your obsession with food & style?

An obsession is described as an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind. I’m obsessed with cooking as it proves to be soothing and encourages my creativity. Cooking to me has the capacity to engage all the senses. My kitchen is a place of experimentation and continuous learning… nibbling, tasting and eating.

The pleasure I get from teaching and feeding people is incredible. That simple act of seeing many enjoy my food & recipes, makes all the work worthwhile. We all respond enthusiastically when our food is ravishingly pleasing – the balance of texture and colors. I love the “styling” aspect of a photo shoot. I have too many collections to name, most of them are vintage accessories which add another form and layer.

Over the years I have been building a personal style. Vintage accessories – a mainstay in my photo shoots are an element of my style as I have vast collections of beautiful things to work with. From turn of the century ironstone platters and mid-century serving pieces to hand embroidery linens –  these items add an extra element of design. Besides my obsession with sourcing food ingredients to cook with, yes – I have an obsession with everything vintage as I am always adding to my collections shopping at flea markets, thrift shops, resale shops and antique malls.

Are you gluten free? I see a lot of these recipes on your site.

I am not strictly gluten free, but my husband is. So, I have spent a lot of creating gluten free recipes that are worth it… taste like the real thing, or super-close. Although…I love bread! I’m offering two recipes for Panzanella Salad – one gluten free, one not. Sometimes you just gotta have the chewy ciabatta with its crispy crust. I will say, it’s easy today to cook gluten free for yourself.

How easy is it to source and eat whole foods?

It’s certainly easy in warmer months, where you can buy fruits and vegetables (chicken and eggs too) right from the grower at a Farmers’ Market. Other than that, become a knowledgeable consumer – ask questions and read labels! I’m always asking someone in the produce isle “does the garlic come from China?” I prefer domestic with no chance of being bleached and problems that arise from traveling a far distance. Read labels and decide for yourself what preservatives you want to avoid. Many products can now be bought online too, that are superior in quality.
Whole foods are as close to their natural form as possible while still being fit to eat and as they only undergo the bare minimum of processing, if any.
Unprocessed, whole foods retain their nutrient density which may be removed when foods are processed.

What are your thoughts on GMO’s and the importance of buying Organic?

The term “organic” refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed. While the regulations vary from country to country, in the U.S., organic crops must be grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes (GMOs), petroleum-based fertilizers, and sewage sludge-based fertilizers.

Organic began chiefly as an argument about the environment.
The use of genetic engineering, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs), is prohibited in organic products.

I believe buying “organic” – you’ll avoid the chemicals, preservatives, and hormones that conventional farms often use to treat their foods.

I also source out locally grown food, and ask the farmer about their growing practices.

To me, organic produce tastes better, has lower levels of pesticide residues, does not contain GMOs, is better for our environment and has more beneficial nutrients (although this has been debated.

That doesn’t mean organic foods will supercharge your health — you’ll just be at less risk of exposure to potentially harmful substances.

The Environmental Working Group released its annual Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce, also known as the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen.
Dirty Dozen – highest amount of pesticides in produce. Worth taking a look!
Generally, consumer knowledge of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) is low.

A hotly debated topic – humans have selectively bred crops for thousands of years for desirable traits, yet genetic modification offers these results in a single generation vs. twenty generations.

I purchase products with the butterfly verified The Non-GMO Project logo, I try very hard not to consume GMO modified food.

GMO crops are engineered to resist glyphosate (an herbicide), the main ingredient in Monsanto’s weed killer product Roundup.
5 Genetically Modified Foods You Should Never Eat: Corn, Soy, Sugar Beets (is a plant whose root contains a high concentration of sucrose and which is grown commercially for sugar production), Aspartame and Canola (I’ve ditched Canola years ago and use expeller pressed oils in their place.)

Genetically engineered corn contains the highly toxic gene Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), which Monsanto introduced in the 1990s to make plants immune to Roundup, which is Monsanto’s weed and insect killer.

The use of toxic herbicides like Roundup (glyphosate) has increased 15 times since GMOs were introduced.
Many studies have indicated that the use of pesticides even at low doses can increase the risk of certain cancers.

The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit organization focusing on genetically modified organisms. The organization began as an initiative of independent natural foods retailers in the U.S. and Canada, with the stated aim to label products produced in compliance with their Non-GMO Project Standard, which aims to prevent genetically modified foodstuffs from being present in retail food products. The Non-GMO label began use in 2012 with Numi Organic Tea products.

I don’t see any recipes that are super-quick?

Well, they are all not so labor intensive!
It is my style to write a lengthy “method” section – so you will be successful with the recipe. Many times the ingredient list gets long because I love many garnishes, they enhance a dish, and sometimes integral to the final taste. Sometimes a lengthy recipe is quite simple to prepare. Guess I would say I’m not the kind of cook who mixes together 5 ingredients.

How would you explain your style for everyday vs. entertaining?

Even serving dinner on weeknights, I have use my favorite vintage accessories; sometimes dishes, serving pieces and napkins.
When entertaining I add many more layers, from my collection of napkin rings, vintage linens, English vases, pressed glass plates, mid-century dishes… I have a lot of vintage collections!

Can I share your content including recipes and photos for uses beyond my own cooking?

Thank you for asking! My content is protected! This site is the result of hours of my time. I love to share it with the world, I love that the world wants to pass it on. I invite you to share my content with people who love cooking, want to learn about cooking, and everyone in between. But, as I said, the content on this site is protected. Work can not be used, adapted, copied or published without my permission. And, please feel free to contact me to discuss how you might like to use my content. I am sure I will be thrilled to comply!


Why A Zest For Life?

Zest is a kind of zeal or enthusiasm. If you’ve got a zest for something, you put your whole heart and soul into it. People who live with that same kind of spice are said to have “a zest for life.” In other words, they live their lives with a lot of flavor and gusto.

Adding a little zest from citrus – and their juices, is a way to enliven many recipes too!


A final note:

We’re not all born great cooks, but the beauty of cooking is, despite your skill level, you can still reap the rewards of the process. You can try new things, take big risks, enjoy the therapeutic activity and learn from your mistakes.
You and your family will reap huge benefits from cooking at home with healthful ingredients you choose, without the many chemicals that is laden in processed foods, or the extra fat and sodium in restaurant cuisine.

A Zest For Life is very meaningful to me. It is a collection of recipes that spans over 30 years of laborious work – and I have loved every minute of it.
After graduating from The New York Restaurant School my career trajectory was in full motion.
I alone produce this website; and have learned so much about photography, food styling and technology (with special thanks to my son, Gary!)

Following a recipe with a sense of purpose and creativity is what cooking for yourselves is all about… lets get started!

Karen Sheer
Greenwich, CT


Contact:

To contact, say hello, discuss a recipe or share one, send an email to: karen@azestforlife.com


To say hello, discuss a recipe, share one, or have a comment - I would love to know what you think!

    • Richard Greenberg
    • 17 Dec 2020
    Reply

    THIS IS WONDERFUL. WHAT AN IMPROVEMENT. WELL DONE

    1. Reply

      Thank you dad – and thank you for your supportive nature. You have been a big part of this adventure and I am always so happy to serve you delicious food and for your understanding that I have found my grove. I love you.

  1. Reply

    Karen!! What an exciting day. Congratulations on the release of your new website. The Q & A defines your outlook which is so key to your cooking. Clicking into the recipe section for me was like opening a gift. So enticing, colorful and filled with both the recipes I know and love, and potential adventures. Truly exciting for those of us who clean up from one recipe only to start another. One of my great joys in life is our cooking friendship that started, you got it, in the 80’s. I have always cooked with my mom, grandmom, children (son too!) and will always talk shop (recipes, methods, ingredients) with all interested cooks. I have learned so much from your dedication and zest to this art, and I’m so happy that out of ALL the art forms where you excel, you’ve chosen one that is such a part of my life too. It’s a special connection. Even my husband knows about your rainbow eating– he says if a potatoes not purple, he’s not sure it’s for Karen.

    Cooking, serving, entertaining, is the backdrop to spending time with those we like and love, see everyday or rarely. And then there’s the joy of just grabbing that fresh-baked anything when passing through the kitchen. The cooks are the keepers of it all– and for those of us at the helm of that, well , even though it’s an enormous committment to do it right, we share in the joy it offers.

    This new site represents a near lifetime of research, talent, time and learning. The flavors and artistry of the final product is unmatched. What a coffee table, or in this case, Kitchen Table 4-color book this would make. Hope to see that soon.

    Thank you committing to continuing to share with all of us. I, and all those to whom I’ve recommended “A Zest for Life” look forward to many more years with “Zest” as a well-loved resource. XOXO

    1. Reply

      Thank you Lisa! Your encouragement over the years has given me the confidence to keep cooking. As a good cook yourself, we can both say we are successful in teaching our kids, the next generation, the joys of learning to cook for themselves. So many of my recipes have become your home’s staples, and I love when you express to me ” I’m cooking your celery root bisque… again.”
      I think we would both agree to this: “I’m just someone who likes cooking and for whom sharing food is a form of expression.” — Maya Angelou

    • Shari Beth Michael
    • 28 May 2021
    Reply

    Karen,

    Your website is fantastic and for anyone reading this, I’ve been so honored to watch Karen make magic with her cooking. What stands out is the amount of love and enthusiasm that is infused with every thought and touch Karen has for her passion. The flavor and presentation go beyond yet flow from within you with incredible ease and joy.
    You picked the perfect name “A Zest for Life”

    Shari

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Karen's obsession with food and style