A New Old-Fashioned, an appetizer and Buttermilk Graffiti

Welcome to Cook the Books‘ April/May selection:   Buttermilk Graffiti.  You can read the announcement post here.


Buttermilk Graffiti by Edward Lee is a good companion piece coming off our reading of The Cooking Gene by Michael Twitty (the October/November selection).

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)

“Beneath the surface of any recipe is a complex tale of history and family, of time and place” (178).  Lee’s food vision and heritage is a “traditional” American one—“kimchi had to be made with Jamaican chili powder instead of Korean chile flakes.”  Just like we learned while reading The Cooking Gene, cultures collide in our melting pot and our food comes out better for it.

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 for 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.


I read Buttermilk Graffiti when it first came out and I had every intention of reading it again in its entirety before I posted.  Instead, I was just able to revisit my bookmarks.  I do recall, with fondness and vivid imagery, Lee’s tales of food in New Orleans, his travels with Lundy in her old van, and his polka adventures in the north.   I also recall his desperate attempts to connect with the Islamic culture in Dearborn.
I will pick up every Lee publication.   Smoke and Pickles strikes me more of a cookbook.  Buttermilk Graffiti is more of an homage and love letter to American melded culture and its food.
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.


New-Fashioned (with thyme and blackberries)

Lee has this image with the recipe in Smoke and Pickles.

Edward Lee (from Smoke and Pickles)

“Everyone’s got their own modern twist on the old-fashioned.  It’s a great classic cocktail, but all too often it’s overly sweet—and the idea of adding a maraschino cherry doesn’t scream refreshing and natural to me.  Blackberries and thyme are a great pairing, and they play nicely together with the bourbon.  This is elegant, contemporary, and a great way to celebrate an old classic” (Smoke and Pickles, Kindle location 3768).


  • 3 blackberries
  • 2 fresh thyme sprig
  • 1/2 t. brown sugar (Lee uses brown sugar cubes.)
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
  • 1 orange slice (I used cara cara oranges.)
  • 2 oz. bourbon
  • 1 good large ice cube
  • splash of club soda


Lemon Thyme

  1. Take the thyme stem and skewer one of the blackberries (to mimic the idea of a cherry on a stem).
  2. Place the brown sugar in a bottom of an old-fashioned glass and add the bitters, orange slice and the remaining two blackberries and thyme sprig.  Muddle.  Pour in the bourbon, fill with ice and stir.  Top off with the club soda, garnish with your thyme-blackberry “cherry,” and serve immediately.

We adore a good old-fashioned and I have to say that this is my new New-Fashioned favorite.   I may start adding brown sugar to my traditional recipe (along with other berries and herbs).   Great cocktail, truly!



In “Accidental Fast,” Lee is wanting to explore the Islamic culture that has settled in Dearborn, MI.   He finds that a difficult task but he is resolute in his quest.

What can one call hummus?  Lee says it’s a raging debate.  “For the most part, I tend to side with the purists.  Black bean hummus isn’t hummus (it’s just gross).  But I do call this [chanterelle hummus] a hummus, because the chanterelles remind me of chickpeas in flavor and color” (Kindle location 1333).

Even though Lee cautions to not make this hummus with anything but chanterelles, I did.  I thought it tasted pretty good but not having a comparison to judge, I will defer to Lee (obviously).  If you can get chanterelles, do .

Mushroom “Hummus”

Edward Lee (but I took a few liberties)

Great as a snack or spread on a pita for a lunch meal.


  • 10 garlic cloves
  • 6 T. olive oil
  • 16 oz. mushrooms (Lee calls for 1 1/2 lbs. chanterelles.)
  • 3 t. salt
  • 1/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil
  • Juice of 3 lemons (about 6 T.)
  • 1 T. tahini
  • 1/2 t. red pepper flakes


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  2. Place the garlic cloves in the center of a piece of aluminum foil.   Drizzle 3 T. of the olive oil over them and wrap in the foil, sealing the seams tightly.  Roast for 30 minutes, or until the garlic is softened.
  3. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, toss the mushrooms with the remaining 3 T. olive oil and 1 t. of the salt.  Spread on a baking sheet and roast for about 15 minutes, until the mushrooms are cooked through.
  4. Transfer the roasted garlic, with all its oil, and the mushrooms to a blender.  Add the extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, tahini, remaining 2 teaspoons salt, and the red pepper flakes and blend on high speed to a smooth puree.  If it seems too thick, add a little water a spoonful at a time until you get the desired consistency.  The hummus will keep, covered, for 1 week in the refrigerator.

Lee’s recipe called for 1/2 c. of water to be added the food processor.   I left it out.  Mine was still a bit loose.   Maybe if one used the correct amount and the correct kind of mushrooms, the water might be needed.

Yield: 4

Because of the delicious grilled pita from a recent Greek Salad recipe, I brushed a couple of pitas with olive oil, grilled them and used them as dippers.   I am totally positive that Lee would judge this as just as gross as black bean hummus since I didn’t use chanterelles.  It was extremely creamy and The Hubs commented that he would not have guessed it was mushrooms.  It made a great lunch.  (It reminded me a bit of mushroom pate.)  I kept thinking how good it might be as a pasta sauce.   I am sure it will firm up a bit in the fridge with the olive oil.  

Another great lunch included spreading a couple of tablespoons of the hummus on a grilled pita, topping it with a handful of spring mix, and sprinkling it with red wine vinegar and salt and pepper.   YUM!

I will also add a bit of thyme to this next time.

Lee’s wisdom and wit is sprinkled throughout:

  • “New Orleans is a city you must visit when you’re young and foolish but return to when you’re wiser and still searching for your dreams” (228).
  • “I like foods that punish the uninitiated” (321).
  • “I loved the aroma of hot dogs simmering in a toxic bath of their own pollution”(779).
  • “The only binary is life and death.  Everything in between is a potluck dinner “(2104).
  • “Food is trust, and trust is intimacy” (2264).

One of my favorite Bourdain (RIP) quotes is “You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together.”   Lee echoes this:  “If you really want to know someone, you have to eat what he has eaten (184).”   What a good lesson for us all.

Want to join Cook the Books?  The deadline for contributing your post is Friday, May 31, 2019, so you still have some time.   Leave a comment on this post or email me at eliotseats@gmail.com with your contributing post.  

For the next selection for the June /July edition, Simona (from briciole) picked Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton.  I also read this book when it first was published.  I hope I can find my copy because I certainly want to reread it.   Look for an announcement post around the first of June at Cook the Books.  
I’m sharing this post with Foodies Read.

8 comments to A New Old-Fashioned, an appetizer and Buttermilk Graffiti

  • Mae

    Your mushroom hummus looks great! I read “Buttermilk Graffiti” a few months ago, and on my blog I said “This book, I would say, is jut OK. Edward Lee, the author, seems to try too hard to be bold and imaginative. Sometimes I found him to be sort of a shadow of another famous Korean-American chef, David Chang.” I also read “The Cooking Gene” and liked it, and I read “Blood, Bones & Butter” and liked it somewhat. Great book selection you have!

    best… mae at maefood.blogspot.com

  • I love lemon thyme so much that I am trying to add them to almost all my foods 🙂 That mushroom dip looks droolworthy! Have a wonderful weekend, Deb!

  • Liz

    Ooh, love that garnish in the old fashioned! Perfect for summer. And I’m super curious about the mushroom hummus—it sounds wonderful!

  • Two great recipes and I want to try that mushroom hummus.

  • What a great garnish and flavoring for your Old Fashioned (should be a New Fashioned) the skewered blackberry on thyme!

  • I’m sure I would enjoy the mushroom hummus you created. Like you I would use another mushroom as I can’t imagine how much 1 1/2 pounds of chanterelles would cost and that is if I could find them.

  • A great cocktail always gets my attention. Mind if I sip virtually?

  • Lee’s note on black bean hummus made me laugh out loud. I marked the Mushroom “Hummus” recipe for when I get a gift of chanterelles (I have zero mushroom identifying skills) but good to know that it is nice even with other mushrooms. I loved the book and am thankful you chose it for our CtB club 🙂