"Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune" Book Discussion and Mocha Mint Cupcakes Recipe

Updated on July 1, 2019
Amanda Leitch profile image

I wish to inspire readers, teachers, and book clubs to bake along with their reading and promote discussion about the books we've enjoyed.

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Natalie Tan has always loved cooking, and wished for nothing more than to help her mother overcome the agoraphobia that keeps her confined to their second-floor apartment, and to run her grandmother’s now-closed restaurant together. But after failing out of cooking school, Natalie leaves her mother behind in San Francisco to learn about cooking from restaurant kitchens across the world. After seven years, she returns for her mother’s funeral, heartbroken and lost, even having broken off an engagement. But one of her kind neighbors reads her fortune in the tea leaves: to succeed at reopening her grandmother’s restaurant, she must cook three meals for three struggling neighbors from her grandmother’s secret cookbook. Each recipe has a different magic ability, and only be reuniting the neighborhood and saving their street in Chinatown from becoming condos can she achieve the success she craves, find forgiveness and honor her family’s legacy.

Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune will make you desperate to try your hand at cooking Chinese dishes, show you how perception affects joy, and how a neighborhood can come together through the magic of food and love.

Perfect for Fans of

  • Contemporary fiction
  • Chinese culture
  • Self-empowerment stories
  • Cultural heritage stories
  • Overcoming obstacles
  • Books about food
  • Magical realism
  • Romantic dramas
  • Women’s fiction

Discussion Questions

  1. Natalie Tan’s favorite comfort food in her time of need was yin-yang fried rice. What makes a food comforting? What are some of your favorite comfort foods?

  2. Natalie said that “We Chinese wore our guilt like jade: pressed against our skin, displayed with pride, and always inherited.” Who laid guilt on her? How is guilt displayed or linked with pride? Do you know of other cultures (Hispanic, for example) that often lean heavy on guilt to motivate the next generation?

  3. While Natalie dressed in black for the funeral, what color did everyone else wear, the customary color for non-family members? How is this different from other cultures? (feel free to do some research-hint: Hispanics and red)

  4. After the funeral, to go into mourning, what color did Natalie wear? How is this different from other cultures, for example, the English? (hint: think of the first season of Downton Abbey, or research this question).

  5. What did Natalie choose to ask her grandmother, given that she could only ask one thing? What did Miss Yu give her in response, something given years ago by Natalie’s mother for safekeeping?

  6. How many recipes did Natalie need to cook, for whom, and why? How did this work out and what change of plans did she have to make?

  7. How was each recipe like magic, or a prescription to aid people in need? What were some of the anecdotes about them that you remember, or helps they offered? Why do you think they did so?

  8. What kindnesses had Natalie suppressed memories of and why? Have you ever been guilty of doing the same?

  9. Why had Natalie learned to live without love? What happened to her engagement, or her father, and how were these connected?

  10. Natalie asked herself what she had overlooked while she was here (in San Fran), and did she “not see because I’d refused to”? How would you answer her?

  11. Why did Natalie think the best part of any relationship was the beginning? Do you think a couple married for 20 or 50 years would agree or disagree, and why? When do you think it is?

  12. Natalie used peppermint chewing gum to help stop her tears when cutting onions. What tricks do you know of or use to help with this? (Personal Note: My mother taught me to fold a bit of paper towel under the onion when cutting, so it absorbs the juices that make your eyes water. Plus, it makes it easy to carry to a hot pan and dump instead of trying to hold a large, awkward cutting board over the pan).

  13. Though she didn’t realize it, how did each of her neighbors help Natalie’s mother after she left?

  14. What type of sculpture did Daniel take Natalie to see in Union Square? Why did all of these sculptures bring her such joy that she kept up with them online while she was away? Why do you think Daniel took her there?

  15. How would the neighborhood die if Older Shen sold his business through Melody Minnows’ realty company?

  16. “Sharing a meal always brought family and strangers together”—have you ever found this to be true? If you’ve never hosted an event like this, consider having your neighbors or friends or coworkers over for a meal and see what magic stirs.

  17. Who unexpectedly loaned Natalie the money for the restaurant repairs? What were his three conditions and reasons for them? Do you think he was a generous, kind man after all?

    18. What did you think about the final revelations about Natalie's father?

The Recipe

Daniel was a pivotal character in this book. When Natalie met him, she noticed “an irresistible aroma of roasted coffee, dark chocolate, and a hint of spearmint clung to him.” To imitate these aromas, I created a cupcake that contains coffee in two forms, dark cocoa powder, and a hint of mint just in the cake. Also, Natalie used peppermint chewing gum to help stop her tears when cutting onions. Mocha is typically used to mean coffee and chocolate, so here is a recipe for my

Mocha Mint Cupcakes with Mocha Frosting.

Mocha Mint Cupcakes with Mocha Frosting

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Ingredients

For the cupcakes:

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, preferably unbleached
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp espresso powder/fine granules, (I use café bustelo)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp peppermint extract
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz) hot, strong, fresh coffee

For the frosting:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 tbsp fresh coffee
  • 2 tbsp espresso powder/fine granules, (I use café bustelo)
  • 2 tbsp heavy cream, half and half, or whole milk

Mocha Mint Cupcakes with Mocha Frosting

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Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 325° F. In the bowl of a stand mixer on medium-high speed, use the paddle attachment to combine the granulated sugar and oil for two minutes. While those are mixing, in another smaller bowl stir together flour, baking powder, cocoa powder, salt, espresso powder, and baking soda.
  2. To the oil/sugar mixture, add the sour cream, peppermint and vanilla extracts, and mix for one minute. Drop the speed to medium-low speed and add the eggs, one at a time. When those are combined, drop the speed of the mixer to the lowest speed and add one-third to half the flour mixture. Allow to combine, then add the rest of the flour mixture and mix until just combined. It should look dark, shiny, and thick. Stop the mixer and pour in all of the hot coffee, very slowly. Scrape down the insides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Turn the mixer back on to medium-low and mix for about 2 minutes, until the batter is suddenly glossy and the coffee/cocoa smell comes pouring out.
  3. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners. Fill each cupcake liner about two-thirds full with batter. Bake for 17-19 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out with crumbs, not raw batter. Allow the individual cupcakes to cool completely (minimum of ten minutes, preferably fifteen) on a wire rack or cutting board before frosting them. Makes 14-16 cupcakes.
  4. For the frosting: whip 1 stick (one-half cup) room temperature salted butter in the bowl of a stand mixer using the whisk attachment on medium speed for about a minute. Add the vanilla extract, half of the powdered sugar and drop the speed to low. Mix for about 20 seconds, then add the heavy cream (or half and half), and alternate with rest of the powdered sugar, espresso powder, and cocoa powder, then the coffee last. Stop the mixer to scrape the insides of the bowl if needed, removing all the powdered sugar from the sides. When the powdered sugar disappears, increase the speed to medium-high and mix until combined. Frost onto fully cooled cupcakes. I used an XL star tip. Garnish with a small mint leaf, if desired.

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Similar Reads

This is the author’s first book. One book mentioned within it is a classic Chinese novel called Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and also the comics Lao Fu Zi.

Other Chinese cultural stories, some romantic, some about overcoming struggles, are This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee, and one with bits of magic called The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo.

Another cultural book about cooking is Like Water for Chocolate, and one about the magic of cooking is Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen.

For a book about a magical first day meeting the love of your life, Korean food and culture, and Jamaican culture in NYC, read The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon.

For books about San Francisco, try All of Us with Wings by Michelle Ruiz Keil, or Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev.

For more magical realism, try The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan, The Little Shop of Found Things by Paula Brackston, or Beartown by Fredrik Bakhman.

For books about making a life in California, read Frankly in Love by David Yoon about a Korean-American boy and his parent’s guilt, or The Shortest Way Home by Miriam Parker about a young woman who tries to save a Napa Valley winery.

Notable Quotes

Such was the vulnerability of grief: every act of concern was felt more deeply, for the path to the heart was clear. It mattered not who was offering, this was what I needed now, and I was grateful.

If my regrets and wishes were fireflies, the brilliance of their dance would turn night into day.

We Chinese wore our guilt like jade: pressed against our skin, displayed with pride, and always inherited.

Your laolao cooked from her heart, and that’s why her food was the best in Chinatown.

There was a beauty in the rituals, a comfort to be found in the thousands of years of tradition that endured.

How could I choose a single question when I had been robbed of a lifetime with her? To distill a sea of wishes into a single drop was impossible.

Your grandmother’s dishes sang across the tongue. They tasted delicious, but it was more than that. It was the way they made you feel.

There was no point in being angry at ghosts.

The best cooks doubled as magicians, uplifting moods and conjuring memories through the medium of food.

Eating was a selfish act, and sometimes one requiring privacy. True consumption was carnal.

Men assumed wooing is a onetime effort. If she had been wooed during her marriages, perhaps she wouldn’t have been as wealthy, but she would have been happier.

The key to the most successful dish was to first seduce the eyes and the nose, for if the dish failed in this, no one would want to take the next step of tasting it.

My grandmother and my mother were strong. Their strength was mine.

Luck is all about making the right choices. You’re making your own good fortune.

If I could kiss him forever, it would still not be long enough. In that moment, he was everything I wanted and needed.

Everyone is worthy and deserving of love...there is always hope for redemption.

I understand that we Chinese love misery and self-flagellation, but we also should seek every scrap of joy we can get.

Ma-ma had said once that you never truly knew a person until you’d seen them angry.

Food possessed the remarkable ability to heal and bring people together.

You are the agent of your own fate. It doesn’t look like it now, but all is not lost.

You have a gift, and a vision that is your own. You need both to succeed.

Sometimes when something is broken, we can’t fix it. Instead, we can make it anew.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Amanda Leitch

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    • profile image

      Naude Lorenzo 

      5 months ago

      I read that book and love it, the recipe sounds delicious, we must try it soon, thanks Amanda.

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