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

Lady Earl Grey, Crumpets & Prince Harry’s Spare

Tea and crumpets while reading Spare is a great way to enjoy one of the world’s top-selling memoirs.   A review of Prince Harry’s Spare

If you decide to read Prince Harry’s book, Spare, why not set the mood and “fancy a cuppa” with my favorite Lady Earl Grey and some Marimite* crumpets?  I made some crumpets recently, and they are good tasting. A bit crispy when toasted and, with a tad of butter, they are the perfect addition to some English tea. You might even try making tea with homemade crumpets while reading my review of the book.

To begin with, Prince Harry’s Spare was actually written by a ghostwriter named John Joseph Moehringer, a Pulitzer-winning journalist. While reading this memoir, you understand that Prince Harry is probably not interested in sitting long enough to read or write a book. He’s too busy constantly trying to escape his life as a member of the Royal Family. Since he has the means to do so, Harry escapes often. He’s flown Apache helicopters in the British Army, visited orphanages for children with Aids, volunteered in Australia as a jackaroo, hiked the North and South Poles with disabled veterans to bring awareness to their cause, and has traveled often to his beloved Botswana to relax.

Yet, despite Harry’s incredibly privileged life, he struggles with emotional health issues and has dealt with his depression through excessive drug abuse.  The most salient message that I gained from reading Spare is the reminder that no matter how wealthy people are or how much economic and political power they have acquired, their challenges are the same ones many of us face — sibling rivalry, strained parental relationships, coping with grief, and the desire to find true love.

Of course, Harry’s life is uniquely complicated because he is a Prince and is subjected to lifelong exposure to the British media frenzy and exploitation.  The media’s strategically planted stories about Harry (and now Meghan) and the Royal message, “never complain, never explain,” contribute to Prince Harry’s anger, frustration, and ultimate disillusionment.  Even more striking is his family’s lack of loyalty and support.  The memoir reveals that, in England, the status of the British monarchy is paramount. It means that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are best kept quiet and out of the limelight. For Harry, the inability to defend himself and his wife against relentless accusations coupled with his lack of autonomy is suffocating. He refuses to acquiesce.

Overall, Moehringer’s writing provides us with a compelling lens from Harry’s perspective. It allows Harry a voice that has long been suppressed. The chapters are short, and the stories of Harry’s adventures are often humorous.  The Los Angeles Times printed an entertaining article titled “Todger, Tiggy, Biro, and Spike: A glossary of Harry’s Britishisms for “Spare” readers. It explains colloquialisms for American readers who may be unfamiliar with many amusing Britishisms.

By the end of the book, the reader can not help but like Prince Harry and sympathize with him. He is adventurous and bold. He is a person who is trying to deal with his circumstances, maintain his health, and be a good husband and father.Β  Despite all this, I remind myself that Prince Harry is privileged and connected beyond my imagination. He’s wealthy and intelligent enough to pursue a lifestyle to which he has been long accustomed. It is rumored that Penguin Random House paid him $20 million in advance just to put his memories in print – a true princely sum.

— Check out the links below! Carole

Warburtons Crumpet Recipe — by recipetineats

How to eat: crumpets  — The Guardian

*What is Marmite? – Food Network

Todger, Tiggy, Brio and Spike: A glossary of Harry’s Britishisms for Spare Readers – Los Angeles Times

The Paris Library

Did you know that during WWII, the librarians at The American Library in Paris delivered books to their forbidden Jewish patrons right under the noses of their German occupiers?

This captivating novel, The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles is filled with wartime suspense, the nuances of friendship, romance, betrayal, and fascinating historical information about The American Library in Paris.

Much to my delight, it also had plenty of French food mentions!

The Library of Paris begins in 1939 when Odile Souchet, a young Parisian, applies and is hired for her dream job as a librarian at The American Library in Paris. With the war underway, Odile, her family, community of colleagues, and friends increasingly face the turmoil of France’s Nazi occupation. Her brother, Remy, enlists in the war and Paris becomes increasingly repressive. The public library is under constant scrutiny. In spite of this authoritarian environment, the librarians commit to the continuation of promoting free ideas by remaining open and even secretly delivering books to Jewish patrons no longer allowed to come to the library.

Throughout The Paris Library, the plot also weaves the reader into another time and place. Lily is a teenager living in Montana in 1983. A French language and culture enthusiast, Lily is fascinated by her widowed French neighbor Mrs. Gustafason, the future Odile. Lily and Odile become fast friends as Lily begins language lessons and Odile’s secret past unravels. The two form an intimate bond that allows Odile to help Lily navigate changing family life and jealousy in friendship. Likewise, Lily encourages Odile to reconnect with her past.

I want to thank my cousin Amy Chapman Biegaj. She messaged me this spring and suggested that I read The Paris Library. I am so grateful to her for the recommendation!

As always, I am including a recipe to accompany this novel. It is a Leek and Potato Soup that I made while reading The Paris Library. Surprisingly, this soup was tasty especially topped with fresh chives from our spring garden.

Leek and Potato soup is known as a diet food for French women. This morning when I got up, I could have sworn I felt several pounds lighter! — πŸ˜‰ Carole

Once Upon a Chef – Potato Leek Soup

The Paris Library Book Club Questions and Food Ideas

Janet Skeslien Charles: The Paris Library – Author Interview (a terrific interview)