Chemistry in Life

“I make brownies on my bad days,” Elizabeth confessed. “I’m not going to pretend that sucrose is an essential ingredient required for well-being, but I personally feel better when I eat it. Now let’s get started.” – Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

It is exciting to review a recent best-selling novel, Lessons in Chemistry, written by Bonnie Garmus. It’s a fun, clever novel that appeals to feminist sensibility. It is about the chemistry of food and chemistry in life.

The main character, Elizabeth Zott, abruptly gets fired from her position at the prestigious Hastings Research Institute for being unwed and pregnant. The setting is the late 1950s and early 1960s and unwed pregnancy was considered shameful. At Hastings, Elizabeth is perceived as a manipulative temptress and an embarrassment to the company. Unafraid to approach life head-on, Elizabeth is pointedly straightforward and determined to confront the blatant sexism and misogyny she experiences first-hand.

Due to her good looks and outgoing, distinctive personality, Elizabeth is offered the opportunity to be a host on TV cooking show, Supper at Six. Unemployed, she is immediately attracted to its lucrative salary and accepts the position. However, Elizabeth refuses to read the cue cards as requested. Instead, she uses food and chemistry metaphors to empower women to embrace and pursue their professional aspirations. The show becomes wildly popular.

Success in baking and cooking is chemistry. Knowledge about the chemistry of food (ingredients) enhances flavor and can also improve the results. When I first started experimenting with making wild yeast, I remember how magical it was. Combining invisible microbes in flour, the air around us, and even the skin on our hands help make wild yeast.* Three years later, I still think it’s miraculous. Most significantly, understanding the science behind creating wild yeast gave depth and legitimacy to my baking.

This type of legitimacy is what Elizabeth gives women viewers every night during her show Supper at Six. As a result, women tune in and are captivated. While reading Lessons in Chemistry, I became familiar with Gretchen Carlson and recently, Abby Grossberg’s lawsuits. The connections between Elizabeth Zott’s fictional world and our current world couldn’t be more apparent.

Doggedly curious, here is our favorite pet Josie checking out Lessons in Chemistry. (Perhaps Josie was interested the character, Six-Thirty, who is the brilliant and protective family dog,)

There is a terrific Book Club Kit document that provides a letter from the author, book group discussion questions, and two recipes with chemical notations — Better Living Through Brownies and Elizabeth Zott’s Cocktail for the Disenchanted Woman. A link to the delightful chocolate brownie recipe that I used as well as access to the Book Club Kit document is below.

Also… not surprisingly, Apple TV Plus has produced a new drama series based on Lessons in Chemistry. Its debut is this fall, 2023. But read the book first. It’s terrific.


Helpful Links

* Where does yeast in sourdough come from? – The Pantry Mama

Best Homemade Brownies Love & Lemons

The Book Club Kit Knopf Doubleday

Interview with Bonnie Garmus Barnes and Noble

Official Teaser Trailer for Lessons in Chemistry Apple TV Plus

Celebrating 3 Years of Sourdough Baking

“…no one is born a great cook. One learns by doing.”– Julia Child

In March 2020, I discovered sourdough. As they say, good can come from the challenges we face. And, indeed, that is what happened to me.

While working at home during the Covid 19 pandemic, I could not locate dry yeast in the grocery stores, so I decided to see if I could grow my own. I began by reading everything I could about making wild yeast and discovered sourdough starters. The process of making my own yeast seemed overwhelming, but through experimentation, I applied what I read. My first starter began with starchy potatoes and flour. My second experiment was a mixture of flour and water. Since I was unsure what the starter should look like or when or how to use it, it took me a few weeks to understand how it all worked. Quite a few of my early baking attempts using my sourdough starter created baked goods that tasted and looked terrible.

Now I have improved greatly! Before baking, I begin to prepare the levain.* First, I take my oldest sourdough in the jar from the refrigerator and stir the hooch* back into the dough beneath it. The starter becomes very watery. Then I add and mix almost equal amounts of room temperature water (yes, I use Vermont tap water) and one and a half times the all-purpose white, wheat, or a combination of flour. More flour is added until I am stirring a thickish batter-like dough. I select the correct size glass jar for the amount of starter, and especially during the winter months, I warm up the jar with hot water and pour it out before adding the sourdough. A black sharpie marks the height of the sourdough. Over the next few hours, the sourdough gases intersperse the dough doubling its height. The texture is beautiful and is ready to use in your baking!

I use the levain that I need for the recipe and put the remaining portion back into the refrigerator.

Since those early days, I can’t believe how successful my sourdough starter has been. Three years later, I am still using that same sourdough starter by adding water and more flour. Bread, baked desserts, pizza dough, and pancakes have never tasted so delicious as they are with my homemade levain or discard sourdough starter. Of everything I have made, the most challenging has been crusty french baguettes. It has taken quite a long time to learn to make these look authentic. I am still working to improve them.

Crusty Overnight Sourdough Baguettes topped with black and white sesame seeds and a hint of anise seeds.

Finally, I should mention that experimenting with sourdough baking is both messy and fun. Flour and dried sourdough can often be found in my hair, between my fingers, stuck to my clothes, and hardened on kitchen cabinet doorknobs. Still, as I scramble around the kitchen measuring by grams, scooping, leveling, folding, and stretching the dough, I am joyously doing what I enjoy and sharing yummy food with my family too. — Carole

Below are some successful sourdough recipes referenced in this post. Good luck trying them out.

Sourdough Crackers Recipe — King Arthur

Grinder Rolls (soft) – Baking Sense

Crusty Overnight Sourdough Baguettes – Somebody Feed Seb

Terms Used:

*Levain is the portion of a sourdough starter prepared for a specific recipe.

*Hooch is the fermented liquid that separates from and collects on the top of your starter. The hooch should be somewhat clear and smell a bit pungent. It should not be moldy or black.


Hello! I am excited that you’ve come to my recipe blog! My name is Carole and I am a retired middle school librarian who loves to cruise the Internet for delicious recipes to try. I enjoy researching and collecting recipes and have discovered many of them from incredible food developers. As a side interest, I also started posting photos of my baking and cooking on Instagram and gave credit to the creators of these recipes. Much to my surprise, food developers wrote encouraging comments and appreciated that I shared my photos. It was so fun to hear from them!

It was during the beginning of the pandemic, when I had a bit more time that I began imagining a blog/website where I could share the recipes that I have found and tested myself. That idea is the basis for this site. I thought it might be fun for me to collect and share recipes with others as well as post food related information that I discover along the way!

I hope that you will join me in my food journey by following my blog posts, exploring this library of recipes and reading the tidbits of information on the blog and overall site. Check out the links to great food posted on this site and try them out. Let me know what you think! Get inspired and have fun! β€” Carole @vermontgiardiniera

Vikalinka ~ Julia Frey ~ Walnut and Raisin Sourdough Bread