I don't really remember how this book ended up on my to-read pile. It's not a book club pick; I don't remember a friend recommending it. In any case, after pulling weeds in my yard, I sat down with Natalie Tan's Book of Luck & Fortune by Roselle Lim.* Then I stayed in bed the following morning to finish it. It was the perfect weekend read.
On the Page
If you believe in the existence of ghosts and their ability to appear to certain people...and if you believe in the magical, healing powers of food, you will enjoy this book. I do. And I did!
Set in San Francisco's Chinatown, Natalie Tan has been estranged from her mother for seven years when a neighbor calls with the news that her mother has died. But she already knew from a premonition. With a heavy heart, Natalie heads back to San Francisco.
The reader follows Natalie through her recognition that she wants to reopen the restaurant that her grandmother ran, to reinvigorate the neighborhood businesses, and to settle down and plant roots.
"I shook my head. I had to stop thinking this way. Failure wasn't an option, not in love and not for the restaurant. I printed out he business license form and placed it with the others.... The folder had become bloated like an overstuffed dumpling" (pg. 112).
Lim addresses cultural norms, filial guilt, and touches on mental illness (Natalie's mother Miranda was agoraphobic). So, it's not a wholly light read. But I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
"'As far as I know, Miranda never saw anyone to treat her condition. I think it was a source of tension between her and your grandmother. Your laolao didn't know how to deal with her depression and anxiety. My parents tried to convince her to get help for Miranda, but Qiao didn't understand. Mental illness isn't treated as well as a case of arthritis in our culture'" (pg. 88)
Given that the main character is a cook who is opening a restaurant, you can guess that there is no dearth of food or culinary inspiration.
"I dispatched the onions into a neat pile of translucent half crescents....The next ingredient involved the bouquet of coriander resting at the edge of the counter. I pulled a generous clump from the bunch and plucked the leaves from their stalks in my culinary version of he loves me/he loves me not" (pp. 125-126).
"I laid my feast out on the kitchen table. Draped over beds of jasmine rice, thin pork chops seasoned with lemongrass showcased charred stripes from the grill. Cold summer rolls with translucent rice paper glimmered with riotous colors from the mint leaves, vermicelli, and shrimp filling. Emerald coriander leaves peeked out amid slices of barbecued pork, in golden, crusty baguette sandwiches called bahn mi" (pp. 187-188).
On the Plate
I was inspired into the kitchen by the recipes in the book that were all without measurements by the way! Daniel, her prospective boyfriend, addresses that when she cooks for him. "'I've always been fascinated by the lack of measurements. It seems to be the common sign of a true chef.' He took out two large bowls and two plates from the upper cupboards. 'My parents shared cooking duties. They made decent meals, but it was always from someone else's recipes'" (pg. 156).
I actually plan to make three of her recipes. But this was the first: Minced Pork in Lettuce Cups (pp. 245-246). And I didn't do a very good job of following her list, especially since I am unfamiliar with mushroom soy sauce, skipped the mushrooms and wine completely, added onions, and used more spices. But we did agree on her notes: "This dish is a marriage of different textures: the crispness of the lettuce, tenderness of the pork filling, and silkiness of the sauce. This dish is to encourage temperance. Serve it to those who need restraint added to their impulses - just as the lettuce hold the filling together and keeps it from falling out" (pp. 246-247).
Ingredients serves 4
- 1 C diced onion
- 1 C diced carrots
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1 T oil
- 1/2 C fresh green peas
- 1 T soy sauce
- 1 t sesame oil
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 T mustard
- 2 T hoisin sauce
- 2 T chili garlic sauce
- organic, washed and dried butter lettuce
Heat oil in a large, flat-bottom pan. Add in the onions and cook until they begin to soften, approximately 3 to 4 minutes Stir in the carrots and cook until they begin to soften and the onions are beginning to turn translucent, approximately another 5 minutes.
Add in the pork and use a wooden spoon to break up the chunks. Cook until the meat is completely browned. Stir in the peas and cook for another minute. Season to taste with the soy sauce, sesame oil, and freshly ground black pepper.
Whisk together all of the ingredients to make a smooth sauce.
Place the pork in a bowl alongside the lettuce cups and the dipping sauce. Serve immediately. Let diners create their own lettuce wraps.
*This blog currently has a partnership with Amazon.com in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to Amazon.com and search for the item of your choice.
Click to see what everyone else read in July 2019: here.