I just got home from an eventful week of travel. I first headed to Santa Monica to lead a farmer’s market tour and do a tofu cooking demo with the Gourmandise School; I also taped a radio segment with Evan Kleinman of KCRW’s Good Food and visited with Bee Yinn Low to prepare her family's laksa noodle soup.
The night that I arrived in Los Angeles, I got rear-ended coming home from dinner with my friend Victor Fong. No one was hurt but ironically, right before I realized that the car approaching me was not going to stop, Victor was saying how my 2001 Honda Accord was in such great shape. Then I realized that the vehicle behind us was not slowing down. I took my foot off the brake to absorb the shock of whatever that was coming.
Anna, the young woman driving the Nissan Sentra that hit my car fell apart crying, having had a flashback to a fatal accident involving her little brother. She didn’t have her license with her, was driving a borrowed vehicle, didn’t have the car insurance information, AND had just moved to Los Angeles. She called her father in North Carolina and handed me the cell phone to talk to him. Oye, I felt bad for her fragile state. What an LA story.
Remembering what a kind woman had told me a few weeks earlier when, in a Whole Foods parking lot, my shopping cart rolled away and dinged her car hood, I said to Anna, “Everything will be okay. It’s just a car.”
The next day, I went to a body shop for an estimate and to make sure I could still safely drive the car; eventually, I had to drive back to Santa Cruz. Figuring that I’d get an honest answer, I asked the estimator, “What would you advise me to do if I were your sister or mother?”
He responded with these memorable takeaways:
- A car’s actual bumper is an unattractive piece of rebar (metal). That’s what protects you. What we think of as a bumper is just decor. Mine looked sad but not bad.
- There can be hidden/unseen damage so don’t rely on a cursory visual estimate. He refused to give me an estimate. However, he did me the favor of looking underneath my car and saw that there was a wrinkle in the rail/frame (a costly thing, sign of hidden damage).
- When you’re far from home, check to make sure you can drive your damaged vehicle home to get it repaired there.
- At a stop, look in your rear view mirror.
The car accident has been a minor inconvenience, mostly because I have to deal with folks in another time zone and a rattling muffler that loves to make noise in slow traffic. But I just reminded myself that it’s just a car. A week after the accident, I am home and the insurance process has inched forward.
DIY Tofu @ Cooking Light Headquarters
Part of the week’s travel led me to Birmingham, Alabama, where Cooking Light magazine headquarters are located. I’d never been to Alabama and found it to be lovely and low-key; they like to keep it that way, I was told. The leaves were showing their fall colors.
Executive food editor Ann Pittman invited me to demo and teach her and the staff a few Asian cooking techniques. We came up with a list of things to cover, including homemade tofu. I brought my favorite soybeans and soaked them overnight in an ice bucket in my hotel room; the next day, I drained and transported the plump beans in the plastic bag that I found in the ice bucket.
At the Cooking Light test kitchen, I set up 4 stations and had people make soy milk and tofu from scratch. As editor Phoebe Wu suggested, I had the group taste plain soy milk because most of them had never unadulterated, fresh soy milk; they assumed that it was like Silk, the stuff sold in boxes. They drank up nearly all the medium soy milk that was made, deeming it delicious.
When people unmolded their tofu, recipe tester and developer Robin Bashinsky marveled, “I never thought you could make tofu. I assumed it just came in a tub!” I left a mold and some coagulant and beans for him and Phoebe to tinker with. They both said they wanted to make tofu again.
Ann posted a recap of the DIY tofu session on the magazine’s blog. I loved that she wrote this: “From start to finish (well, after soaking dried soybeans overnight), it only took about an hour and a half. And it was So. Much. Fun.”
It was. We were like a bunch of kids in the kitchen, exchanging knowledge and trying new things. Their virginal reaction to making tofu was like mine a few years back: It seemed like such a miracle to derive a delicious food from a little bean.
Birmingham Eats, Drinks, and Museum
Cooking Light staffers were new to making tofu as much as I was new to Birmingham. They hosted me with generous southern hospitality. We had tart-sweet Alabama barbecue at Dreamland because their other favorite spot, Saw's was closed on Sundays. The unassuming John's City Diner downtown had well-prepared sandwiches and southern sides; Ann and I went there for lunch.
Birmingham's vibrant food scene is partly led by chef/restaurateur Frank Stitt, and we went to Bottega for dinner one night. Beverage-wise, Good People makes a refreshing canned IPA. My hotel was fortuitously across from the Red Lion Lounge, the epitome of a cheap dive bar, I was told. Indeed, it was an interesting scene. A Costco-size bottle of Tums sat on the bar for customer’s convenience and my draft Bud Lite was $2 at happy hour.
Birmingham played a pivotal role in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, and Ann accompanied me to the Civil Rights Institute. It was located across from the historic 16th Street Baptist church that was bombed in 1963. Go if you’re ever nearby or in Birmingham.
I flew back to Southern California on Tuesday night, and my mom had dinner waiting. On Wednesday, I drove seven hours home. The muffler rattling wasn’t bad on the highway. I also cranked up the stereo.
Got tips on dealing with car accidents or good eats/drinks in Alabama? Let us all know.