Thursday, June 6, 2019

Buttermilk Graffiti Round Up

I apologize for my tardiness in posting up the April/May roundup for Buttermilk Graffiti by Edward Lee.    It seemed like this was a popular read for the CTB group.  I know that I enjoyed it and am a big enough Lee fan (read almost-stalker) that I read Smoke & Pickles while I reread this book.  I would also love to travel to Kentucky now!   
As Lee writes on his website, we met lots of amazing people and traveled many miles with him on his "Chef's Journey."  He also explains that although there are no accompanying photos for his recipes, you can see the people, places and foods in a photo gallery here.  (It's even organized by chapter.)

Without further adieu, let's get to Culinary Adventures with Camilla.   Cam is almost always the first one up with her post and this time was no different!  She writes:
Although a few regionally inspired recipes are located in each chapter, this is not cookbook per se. It is, as Lee writes, "the story of American foods. It is a recollection of people and places that help paint an image of where we came from and where we're heading. ...The story of American food is one of transformation. Any international cuisine changes once it lands on the shores of America" (pg. 5).
The transformational recipe that she chose was Matcha Beignets from Lee's New Orleans travels.

Beignets were a popular choice and Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm also fried up some NOLA sweet treats.  Wendy used her own recipe for beignets for her own Mardi Gras party.  
Wendy loved the book.  
The book is written by States and Cities visited by Lee, who traveled the USA searching for food from different cultures that have become part of our American lifestyle.  He writes with humor and tenderness.  I found him to be caring, generous, respectful and kind.  Lee is the kind of person that I would love to sit down with and share a meal and some conversation.
 Amy's Cooking Adventures posted up next.  Amy also enjoyed the book and sums up Lee's food philosophy nicely.  

Lee’s specialty is fusion cuisine, but not in the “break all the rules” trendy way.  No.  Lee believes that our experiences change and shape us.  And those experiences, those twists on a recipe because we can’t get those ingredients in our area, that is what makes fusion cuisine. It’s about the heart and the memories, that’s what makes good food.

Although she loves Lee's take on melding cuisines, she did not love the recipes in the book.  She ended up adapting one of Lee's recipes:  Pollo a la Brasa.  

One of the CTB co-hosts, Claudia from Honey from Rock was next up with a melting pot meal.  Claudia found Lee to be a "very empathetic fellow" but saw his recipes as "out there."  That being said, she did find inspiration.
Though Lee puts together some unusual recipes in this melting-pot memoir, I did get a bit of cooking inspiration from him.  In the chapter entitled "Nigerian Hustle", I was drawn to a dish of spicy beef skewers.
Here's her meal of Kalbi Beef Short Ribs (using her pressure cooker) served with rice and kimchi.

Another CTB co-host was up next.   Deb from Kahakai Kitchen featured perhaps the most unusual dish:  Pickled Sweet Peppers & Pickle Juice Gravy with Biscuits.   (Doesn't this sound delicious in a weird way?)
Deb was familiar with Lee from Mind of a Chef  and his competitive TV appearances (Top Chef and Iron Chef) but she had not read any of his writings.  She may have found a new favorite author.
...his unique perspectives and passion for food and the people who cook it made it a win for me. I like his appreciation for the people he meets in his cross-country explorations and how descriptive his writing and storytelling is--it isn't surprising to read that he graduated magna cum laude from NYU with a degree in English literature before turning his skills to cooking. I really enjoy his approach to food too--with his unique combinations of cuisines and ingredients. He made me want to hang out with him in the car and in the kitchen.
I totally agree.  It looks like he could haul a few more people in that convertible.  

I was next up with two different recipes:  Mushroom Hummus and a "New Fashion" cocktail.
Since I was hosting, I had high hopes of doing a dish that truly showed a melding like matcha beignets or mango-jalapeno fries.    Or, something creative like butternut kraut.  Instead, I was intrigued with Lee’s Bourbon chapter in Smoke and Pickles (which I highly recommend as well) and Lee’s non-traditional hummus from Buttermilk Graffiti‘s “Accidental Fast” chapter.

Our fourth CTB co-host, Simona from bicriole, also enjoyed Lee's writing:
Lee is a great storyteller: he brings the readers with him in his travels, inside every eating establishment he visits, next to every person he talks to. Together with the more factual details of his 16 stories, each centered around a place with specific food traditions, he shares doses of personal opinions, memories, experiences.
His writing inspired her to make a dish that exemplifies here own background, origins, travels and  experiences:  carciofi, fave e salsiccia (artichokes, fava beans and sausage). 

Cathy from Delaware Girl Eats found a family connection with Lee's writing.  We don't typically think of West Virginia as a melting pot but Cathy's own family brought their Italian food and culture to the area.
Edward Lee highlights this in his book, Buttermilk Graffiti, in the chapter on his travels throughout that state.  He comes across a woman named Alba, who said that her family came to West Virginia generations ago to work in the factories. "And we never left", she said. 

I also liked that Cathy mentioned Lee's introspective look into food, noticing that his own biased palate might be to blame for his first bite of a pepperoni roll.  
Cathy's pepperoni rolls came from an authentic family recipe.

Since this round-up is posting at the end of the week, you will notice that the June/July announcement post for Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton is up.  Simona is hosting.  (Simona is also hosting Novel Food #36 from now until July 7.)

Thanks for hanging in there with me and being patient!   I am now off to search for my copy of BB&B.  See you all in a couple of months.  Enjoy the summer!

Monday, June 3, 2019

June/July selection: Blood, Bones & Butter


This book was suggested to me and I am excited to read it with you all and see how the reading inspires us in the kitchen.

Before Gabrielle Hamilton opened her acclaimed New York restaurant Prune, she spent twenty hard-living years trying to find purpose and meaning in her life. Blood, Bones & Butter follows an unconventional journey through the many kitchens Hamilton has inhabited through the years: the rural kitchen of her childhood, where her adored mother stood over the six-burner with an oily wooden spoon in hand; the kitchens of France, Greece, and Turkey, where she was often fed by complete strangers and learned the essence of hospitality; Hamilton’s own kitchen at Prune, with its many unexpected challenges; and the kitchen of her Italian mother-in-law, who serves as the link between Hamilton’s idyllic past and her own future family... By turns epic and intimate, Gabrielle Hamilton’s story is told with uncommon honesty, grit, humor, and passion.
Blood, Bones and Butter traces nearly all of Hamilton’s life and career, from an unmoored childhood through her triumph at Prune, which didn’t end the search for a sense of place and peace that is the overarching theme of this autobiography, as of so many others. It’s a story of hungers specific and vague, conquered and unappeasable, and what it lacks in urgency (and even, on occasion, forthrightness) it makes up for in the shimmer of Hamilton’s best writing. 

Deadline for contributing your post: Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Remember that anyone can participate in Cook the Books: simply pick up a copy of the selection from your local bookstore or library, take inspiration from said reading, cook and post the inspired dish. We look forward to having you read and cook along with in this selection period and beyond. New participants are always welcomed with open arms! (Leave a comment here or check out our Guidelines page if you have any questions.

This selection brings to a close the current set of four: be on the lookout for a post where we announce the next four selections.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Buttermilk Graffiti: April/May Announcement

Buttermilk Graffiti by Edward Lee is a good companion piece coming off our reading of The Cooking Gene by Michael Twitty. Lee  traces his own food comforts and influences.  Along the way he establishes connections for all Americans as he travels the country looking for a national cuisine — ”that tension between two vastly different cultures creates something new” (Kindle location 129). Even the title talks about the melding of Edward:
The title of this book, Buttermilk Graffiti, is poetic shorthand for my life. Buttermilk is the iconic ingredient of the American South, one that I not only learned to cook with, but grew to love. Graffiti is the art form that first inspired my identity, the thing that connects me to the memories of my youth in Brooklyn in the 1980s. (Kindle location 102) 
I devoured this book in record time and I am confident the CTB members will as well. (Lee was an English major and I think it’s evident in his writing and style.) Lee travels on his quest to Louisiana, Massachusetts, Brooklyn, Michigan, Florida, Appalachia (with Ronni Lundy), the Mississippi Delta, Alabama, Connecticut, Washington, Texas, New Jersey, Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Illinois. I’ve listed the states/regions he visits here, but Lee is journeying to each area for specific cuisines in specific cities (like the slaw dog and or food of specific cultures). 

Edward Lee is the author of Smoke & Pickles and Buttermilk Graffiti. He is the chef/owner/culinary director of numerous restaurants in Kentucky, Maryland, and D.C.  I first became aware of Lee through his role in the Emmy Award-winning series The Mind of a ChefFermented, a feature-length documentary, is another recent project (2017). He splits his time between Louisville, KY and Washington, DC. 

Deadline for contributing your post is Friday, May 31, 2019.   Leave a comment on this post or email me at  

Monday, April 1, 2019

Crazy Rich Asians: The Roundup

It's Roundup time again at Cook the Books Club, and we're throwing a fabulous party for our most recent selection, Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan.  Plenty of food and drinks are being served up here for a truly wild and crazy feast.  So, I hope you'll join in by clicking on the links, and sampling all our delicious entries.  I have given just a taste of each to whet your appetites.

First up, right off the bat, and just in time for Chinese New Years, was Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm, with a Happy Hour cocktail, perfectly themed, the well known and infamous Singapore Sling!  Cheers!

Wendy summed it up well, saying: "Let me tell you, I loved this book. I especially loved the asides that the author put in when describing a word or expression or saying. This book made me laugh out loud. I loved those characters I was supposed to love and despised those characters who I was meant to despise. It is not a deep read by any means. It is a fun, light-hearted look at the culture of the "old" rich vs the "new" rich in China and the extravagances that they enjoy. It is a love story, that predictably has a happy ending when the "good" guys go off to a rooftop garden in search of a Singapore Sling."

Next in was Amy of Amy's Cooking Adventures, bringing us some very tempting Ginger Pork Pot Stickers with Homemade Wonton Wrappers. Oh, yum!

She had this to say:: "While I enjoyed the movie, in a train-wrecky kind of way, as this librarian typically says – the book was better!...While the movie was like being unable to pry my eye away from a train wreck, the book (with all its explanatory footnotes) made me pause and say, “Wait.  Is this for real?” According to a brief google search, yes, the story of Singapore high society (book and movie) is fairly accurate…yikes…"

Almost simultaneously, Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla, arrived with Laksa Noodle Soup, for the celebration, which she said was: "Inspired by the Crazy Rich Asian passage about laksa.  I decided to make some for dinner. I've made laksa before - with roasted pumpkin and acorn squash - and it's such a warming, comforting bowl. I wanted to try my hand at a composition with shrimp, fish cake, tofu, and hardboiled egg halves." 

Camilla says she actually preferred the movie, commenting: "I rarely prefer a movie version to a book. But that was definitely the case with Crazy Rich Asians.

Then Debra of Eliot's Eats jumped in with her double feature - movie and book, celebrating both with a Mock Singapore Sling, for those of you who want to skip the alcohol while enjoying this tasty traditional drink.

She said: "I’m glad I watched the film before I read the book.  There’s a surplus of aunties and cousins and I’m not sure I could have kept them all straight without some visual references from the movie.
Although I was intrigued by some of the characters (mainly Astrid), I found the footnotes to be the most hilarious parts of the novel.   I will pick up the other two books in the trilogy (mentioned above) just because I want to see how things work out.

Next along, bringing a tasty Singapore treat, Chicken Satay with a Spicy Peanut Sauce, was Lynda of  Reviews, Chews & How To's.

Lynda said: "I enjoyed the book a lot and whipped my way through the entire trilogy shortly before the movie came out. The intrigues and drama are the sort that clearly matter a lot to the characters involved, and for the most part were so far removed from my own life that the whole thing was just fun escapism."

Simona of Bricole brought us some lovely Popiah -  Vegetarian Spring Rolls with Jicama, inspired by a scene she read about that didn't make it into the movie, where Rachel has a popiah-making party. Absolutely fresh and delicious looking morsels.

Simona said she read the book "in just a few days.  It was a modern version of a Victorian novel set mostly in Asia, particularly the island state of Singapore."  And that, "The intensity of feelings reminded me of food discussions in Italy: food is at the heart of our identity. That is one reason why I approach preparing a dish from a different tradition with as much respect as I can, not only as a set of ingredients prepared in a certain way, but also as the celebration of a culture.

From Cathy of Delaware Girl Eats we have some delectable Pan Fried Pork Dumplings, which were part of a restaurant theme dinner she attended, given to feature foods from the book and movie.  Everyone got to try making dumplings. What a treat!

Cathy commented that,: "While the book is wildly popular, I'm not one of those fans, feeling that it's just too over-the-top. However others tell me they feel that in chronicling the lives of outrageously rich Asians, he delivers a tale filled with guilty pleasures, brisk repartee and wretched excess." 

I, Claudia of Honey from Rock, brought a pot of spicy Malay style Chicken and Sweet Potato Stew to the party, my recipe culled from several cookbooks, Asian and Malay.

I truly enjoyed Kwan's book, and found it both entertaining and fascinating. As I wrote, "The people featured in this novel are not just rich, but crazy rich. Also, some of them, plain crazy. But, happily for our purposes at CTBC, Singaporeans are food obsessed. Lots of fabulous food is eaten, discussed and argued over, very much a local pastime."  However, to tell the truth, after starting in on his sequel, decided I'd had enough already and didn't finish it.

And, last but certainly not least, Deb, my fellow Hawaiian co-host, arrived with some comforting, tasty Chinese Egg Drop Soup. Just the thing to settle our stomachs after all the party food and drink.

She says she did enjoy the book, but "but the fun and vibrant film won me over more. the movie streamlined the many family members and plot lines and was easier to digest and you could see all of the food and clothes and wealthy excess rather than read about it. On the other hand, the film does cut a lot out and I appreciated Kevin Kwan's detailed footnotes about the slang, descriptions of the dishes, etc.

As we say in Hawaii, Aloha and A Hui Ho, thanks for contributing and coming to the party!  Now it's over to our next host, Debra of Eliot's Eats, and the April-May Cook the Books Club Selection, Buttermilk Graffiti.  Enjoy your reading!

Monday, February 4, 2019

Our February/March Pick: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

 From first hearing about Crazy Rich Asians, our new CTBC pick, I had to read it.  And, starting off at #379 on our local library reserve list did not stop me. Plus, after reading the reviews, I thought it would be a fun pick for Cook the Books Club, which I am hosting this round.  

The action is set mainly in foreign climes, South East Asia, in the present time, but with a particularly alien culture of people.  Living in Hawaii, as I do, and with the presence of a large Asian population, this book was doubly intriguing.  First, because I haven't come across any of these crazy rich people, despite having also visited Hong Kong and Malaysia and Singapore. They don't frequent the same places and are not like you or I, apparently.  Of course, I was also curious to see what their eating habits would be like, with money no object.  The book does have plenty of outrageous, sometimes strange people eating interesting and delicious sounding food. So there's lots to get inspired by. 

I truly enjoyed reading this novel, especially Kwan's sarcasm and humor, as well as for the up close glimpse of an alternative life style and tantalizing food.  Like reading about people on Mars. 
From Publishers: 
"Kwan's debut novel is a fun, over-the-top romp through the unbelievable world of the Asian jet set, where anything from this season is already passe and one's pedigree is everything. When Rachel Chu's boyfriend, Nick Young, invites her home to Singapore for the summer, she doesn't realize how much gossip she's generated among Asian socialites around the world. To Rachel, Nick is a sweet, intelligent history professor-and the first man she's imagined marrying. To the Asian billionaire set, he's the gorgeous heir apparent to one of China's most "staggeringly rich" and well-established families who virtually control the country's commerce with their ancient fortunes. As soon as she steps off the plane, Rachel is ushered into the opulent world of castle-like estates and mind-boggling luxury. As if the shock of realizing the scale of Nick's wealth is not enough, she must also contend with a troupe of cruel socialites who would absolutely die before they let Singapore's most eligible bachelor get snapped up by a no-name "ABC" (American-born Chinese). 
 A witty tongue-in-cheek frolic about what it means to be from really old money and what it's like to be crazy rich." 
For double the fun, if you'd like to participate, we are doing another tag team event, a movie tie-in with Food N' Flix, hosted by Debra of Eliot's Eats. Their deadline is February 28th for the film reviews and food inspiration.  For information on how to join in, hop over to the Food N' Flix link.

The sky is the limit where the food is concerned here.  Singapore street food, gourmet Chinese restaurant cuisine in Hong Kong. or Peranakan Straits fusion. 

 Our deadline for submissions to the reading round at Cook the Books Club is Sunday, March 31st.  Please drop a note in the comments section here with your link when complete, or email me,, so no one gets left out.  Enjoy your reading! And Happy Chinese New Year! or xīn nián kuài lè!