Tuesday, January 6, 2015


"True happiness comes from the joy of deeds well done, the zest of creating things new."
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

 Spices lend zest to a dish, a mad dash of chipotle, a defiant dusting of cumin and coriander, a generous helping of harissa, an assertive grinding of pepper, a brazen dollop of wasabi, a determined squirt of lemon juice. A shaving of zest. North African, Thai, Chinese, Cajun, zestful cuisines that hurry the taste buds, titillate the tongue, entertain the palate all incorporate something zesty or two to each recipe, never a dull dish, be it savory or sweet. Spiced, seasoned, flavored with a bite. A dish spiced, seasoned and zested like life.

 A café corretto, an already zesty shot of espresso, dark, rich, almost thick, dizzy with energy-giving force, and a heady splash of something strong, something zesty be it grappa, brandy, cognac or sambuca. Men dressed in expensive suits or market-vendor whites, lined up and standing at the counter of an Italian café or bar for their morning coffee and brioche, each one in front of a steaming café corretto in a tiny demitasse for a morning kick. Something zesty to start the day. A helping of liquor added to give the coffee a bit of a bang, or a slug of espresso added to the cup to help along the booze. Like a shot of whiskey to chase down the beer, a shot of grappa to add a burst of heat followed by a lingering warmth to coffee. A bit of zest to start the day.

 Joy in the chase, zest in the pursuit.

 Zest as verb, zest as noun, zest the act of scraping, peeling the outer skin, the colorful bits, the zest, from a lemon, a lime, an orange, spitting out from the tiny holes of the zester. Beware the pith, soft, spongy, white and bitter. A very light but sure hand will guarantee that only the outer flavorful skin is flicked off, leaving random scratches across the surface of the fruit, giving it rather the appearance of a balding old man. Zesty.

 Find a small heap of zest on the tabletop, cutting board, bits stuck to your fingertips or spattered willy-nilly all over the counter. The zest pinched up and stirred into soup, a sauce, or blended into batter, folded into pastry, whizzed into sugar, the zest adding flavor and zest to your food. More zest than juice if one wants a bit of zest.

 Tiny specks of zest like freckles, like grains come shooting out a microplane zester or clump together damply, or long, slender strips curl up and over the claw-like zester with a single row of five small holes, a rather old-fashioned zester these days that no one except I seems to use anymore but don’t I love to watch it slide over the peel leaving five parallel scratches along the fruit like claw marks, like racetracks, like rake marks in soil, the zest curling up and drooping over in great ringlets like Rapunzel's hair? A knife will yield wide swathes of zest, thick bands of zest, the better for steeping in creams or simmering in sugar syrup for candied peel. A zesty snack.

 It has never ceased to amaze me the force of zest. Scrape the zester down and over the outside of a citrus fruit and out pops a wet clump of bright color, somehow brighter, more neon than when on the fruit, zest spitting citrus oil, heady with the scent of a hundred such fruit, more than just the one can possibly produce. Whack the long, narrow blade of a thousand tiny holes, each hiding a sharp blade, against the side of the mixing bowl to dislodge the clump, the damp zest, push off what adamantly clings to the steel careful not to zest the skin off of the tips of your fingers. Fold into the batter, cream, sauce, dough, to add lovely flecks, lively fragrance, a bit of zest.

 Be ever so careful not to zest your fingers at the risk of changing the color of the batter.

"Zest is the secret of all beauty. There is no beauty that is attractive without zest."
- Christian Dior

 I have always dreamed of being a great beauty, a vibrancy and zest that drives men wild, an exotic charm and intrigue that has men throwing themselves at my feet, begging to follow me to the ends of the earth. But, alas, I am not. I do not. No striking beauty am I, and I am too often self-doubting and shy to be zestful, exuberant and spirited. Alas, I must squirrel down into the dark corners of my soul and dig up that thing they call inner beauty, I must bring to light my zest for life, unearth a piquancy of personality, concoct a very heady mix of zip and zing. Sigh. This is hard work, but the challenge does inspire a certain zest.

 A little zest goes a long way. A dash of spice that lends zest to the sauce; heat. Piquancy that adds zest to life, bite.

 But although not a great beauty, and despite not always shining like a brilliant star, I do try and capture that zest for life in the way I do things, the way I dress or speak. For two years or so, I taught English at the private school my sons attended and I would sweep through the heavy front doors and clatter down the hallway towards my classroom, waltzing in wearing a stark black and white large-patterned houndstooth wool coat, a hat dipping rakishly over one eye, or a Chinese kimono-cut mustard yellow coat that billowed around me as I walked. My older son would beg me, plead with me, chide me to be less spirited, less conspicuous, more discreet. Less zestful. My younger son has always requested I be a bit more restrained in my chattering to teachers, to strangers, on social media, sharing secrets, telling jokes, asking too many questions and nosing out private confidences. A bit less zest, a bit less spice, a bit more conservative, is all that they have ever asked. But where is the fun in that? I had no desire to blend into the crowd.

 These days, that zestful appearance, wild clothing, bright colors has more often than not been replaced by colorful language, cheeky idioms and spicy double entendres, zestful language to add zest to any conversation or piece of writing. I sometimes draw a blank stare, leaving my listener muddled. Or a roll of the eyes, discreet or not, when I have added a bit too much zest to the batter. It has always amused me to play with language, kick it up with words and expressions, tossing in interesting quotes or abstruse references, like a good shake or three of hot Tabasco to a sauce or a generous dose of chipotle to the scrambled eggs, lemon juice or something boozy to almost anything. A fanciful, zestful rhythm, a playful cacophony of sounds, joyful, zesty verbal acrobatics, language as music, conversation as a game.

 "Zest. Gusto. How rarely one hears these words used. How rarely do we see people living, or for that matter, creating, by them. Yet if I were asked to name the most important items in a writer's make-up, the things that shape his material and rush him along the road he wants to go. I would only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto."
- Ray Bradbury 

Almost like a Mojito, this frittata with mint and lime is a refreshing little bite that you can easily make as a quick lunch when you need a moment of comfort. One day I will add a little rum just to see what it tastes like but for now this way is more than enough for me!

Serves 1

2 eggs
zest of one lime, if you want you can add a little lime juice as well
1 scant tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
2 tbsp freshly grated parmesan cheese
black pepper

   Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until blended. Heat up a little olive oil in a small skillet and then pour in the batter. Fry on both sides before serving, I suggest with a little crisp salad. 

  Share on Tumblr


  1. A life without zest or spice is not worth living! Like you I crave that piquancy and dislike blandness.

    Fabulous post. Both of you never cease to impress me with your glorious art.

    Best wishes for the New Year!



  2. Just reading this has inspired some zest in whatever we do. Isn't it funny how children prefer their mothers to have less of it? That made me giggle. I second Rosa: we're always impressed when we pop in for a dose of your creative and talented duet offerings. Ilva's frittata sounds deliciously intriguing - especially as in Corsica we make an omelette with cheese and mint et voilà. Adding a touch of lime would be wonderful! A very happy New Year of Plated Stories!

  3. Beautiful! The wonders of a little zest can never be underestimated.

  4. I love this. It's nearly impossible to find mint here in Taiwan, and I love cilantro, so I will be making substitutions, but I want lemon all over my eggs now.

  5. I can't go a day without some citrus in my life. We grow, limes, oranges, lemons, Meyer lemons, blood oranges and kaffir limes. Basically, my garden is a citrus grove. I use the zest as a seasoning in most of my food. I just love the stuff.