Saturday, September 09, 2023

Weekend Cooking: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

I know I am very late to the party but I have just finished reading Lessons in Chemistry. This book was voted as best debut novel in the Goodreads Choice Awards in 2021 and it was even a Cook the Books choice earlier this year. I did start reading it then, but review books got in the way so put it to one side.

This month, my read on a theme book club theme was science and so this was my chance to finally read the book. Actually I wasn't the only one to read it as several people in the group chose this book. I also listened to a book called The Botanists Daughter by Kayte Nunn so it was a busy science themed month for me.

So after the good intentions and the false start, what did I think? I really loved it. Once I restarted it again, I read the whole thing in less than 24 hours and I loved it!

Elizabeth Zott is a very unusual for her time. The role of a typical 1960s woman is not for her. Not staying at home to be a housewife, not waiting for her husband to arrive home with dinner on the table. She is first and foremost a scientist, but that is not easy in a world where people, or more precisely the men in charge, don't believe that women have what it takes. She has had to deal with sexism and much worse. She ends up working at Hastings Institute and you better be sure that she isn't going to put up with anyone's rubbish. There she meets fellow scientist Calvin Evans, a man who is destined to win the Nobel Prize. After a rocky start, Elizabeth and Calvin realise that they are destined to be together, and so they build their unconventional life together. 

When tragedy strikes, Elizabeth finds herself out of work and so she sets up a laboratroy in her kitchen so she can continue her important work, even helping out her previous colleagues, for a price. After all, now she is a single parent to her daughter Mad and owner of Six-Thirty the dog. 

Elizabeth knows that it is important to ensure that her daughter's nutritional needs are fully met. She is therefore incensed when she realises that one of her daughter's school friends is eating Mad's carefully planned lunches. She confronts the child's TV producer father who is stunned.  He sees an opportunity to start a cooking show starring Elizabeth. Right from the beginning she is perceived as being difficult as she will not conform to the norms. For example, she insists on wearing a lab coat, and she insists on speaking scientifically. The bosses don't believe that this is what the viewers want to see, but for the women watching it is a breath of fresh air, empowering them one recipe at a time

Meanwhile, we learn about both Calvin and Elizabeth's pasts, about science, rowing, food and so much more. The book is very clever, it is funny and it is also sad. I recommended this book to my former boss and when she finished it she texted me at 7 o'clock in the morning to say that she had cried and it was all my fault. She is not normally a crier at all!

It would be remiss of me not to mention the secondary characters, in particularly Six-Thirty the dog. He is one of the more unusual animal characters in fiction.

I am sure you can tell that I really enjoyed this book, and I am very excited about the upcoming TV series which is due out in October. Here's the teaser trailer:

I thought I would share a quote from the book where Elizabeth is making...well....I am sure you will be able to tell what she is making, although I haven't ever seen it described this way before!

Holding an egg in the palm of her hand, she turned to him. "Here's a tip, Six-Thirty: never crack eggs on the side of a bowl - it increases the chance of shell fragments. Better to bring a sharp, thin knife down on the egg as if you're cracking a whip. See?" she said, as the egg's contents slipped into the bowl.

Six-Thirty watched without blinking.

"Now I'm disrupting the egg's internal bonds in order to elongate the amino acid chain," she told him as she whisked, "which will allow the freed atoms to bond with the other similarly freed atoms. Then I'll reconstitute the mix into a loose whole, laying it on a surface of iron-carbon alloy, where I'll subject it to the precision heat, continually agitating the mix until it reaches a stage of coagulation.

"LaLanne is an animal," Calvin announced as he wandered into the kitchen, his T-shirt damp.

"Agreed," Elizabeth said as she took the frying pan off the flame and placed the eggs on two plates. "Because humans are animals. Technically. Although sometimes I think the animals we consider animals are far more advanced than the animals we are but don't consider ourselves to be." She looked to Six-Thirty for confirmation, but even he couldn't parse that one.

I am also sharing this review with the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge and with Foodie Reads hosted at Based on a True Story

Weekly meals

Saturday -  
Sunday -  Out for dinner
Monday - 
Tuesday - 
Wednesday - Pork Nachos
Thursday - Thai Red Beef Curry 
Friday - Takeaway

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page


  1. I loved this book and I didn't know they were doing a tv series!

  2. I remember those days of mixed emotions regarding working out of the home or not. My mom was a stay at home, but by the time my generation got into the game, it often was no longer a choice. I will look for the series...

  3. I wasn't sure about this book but you have convinced me!

  4. I enjoyed this book. I'm excited about the series.

  5. I also really liked the book and it was a great choice for a book group as lots to discuss. It was awfully sad! Thank goodness for the dog. I felt the daughter didn't need to be so unbelievably precocious, however.