Recipe for Disaster Photo by: Claire Bilderback

Recipe for Disaster

It may not be nice to fool Mother Nature, but it sure makes life more comfortable.

By Leslie Bilderback 01/01/2012

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Winter has reared its frosty head. As soon as it drops below 70 degrees I get concerned. I have never been good in the cold. People in snowy climates have things like long underwear and down jackets. All I have are lots of cute cardigans that I can layer. 
Recent events have prompted me to be a little more prepared. I think enough time has passed that we can objectively reflect on the hurricane force winds, and perhaps get ready for the next inevitable gust-astrophe. (As a champion of made-up words, I am formally registering my complaint to the folks who dubbed the event “Wind-ageddon.” C’mon, you can do better than that!) I am not usually one to live in fear of pending disaster. After 9/11 we put together a nifty emergency kit, but sadly, I forgot about it, and a few years later I discovered that the water had leaked, turning the power bars to mush and the batteries into radioactive kryptonite.  
We weathered the recent storm with little incident. Four days with no electricity meant no Internet or cellphone power, and the kids were forced to talk to Mom and Dad, which ended up being quite nice, at least for me. As it turns out, they are lovely people. Apparently, though, lack of power makes it impossible to learn anything. The kids had two days off from school, which in snow country makes sense, because kids can’t get to school. But that wasn’t our problem. I kept trying to dump them off, to no avail. The main issue was lack of light in windowless classrooms. I find this problematic on two levels: First, Abraham Lincoln studied by candlelight, so I reject the premise that it’s impossible to study in a class without electric lights. On the other hand, windowless classrooms? Yikes! No wonder kids hate school. If I had been in charge, I’d have made each kid bring a kite to school and distribute keys.
A coffee shop at our new Fresco Community Market a few blocks from home became the local charging station. It’s alarming how dependent we have become on electricity. I finally understand what all the resource-war alarmists are talking about. I was only fighting for one outlet with a few neighbors. Imagine if access to power was really limited, and we had to compete with Canada for it. We’d be a goner for sure. First of all, Canada is accustomed to the cold so they’d outlast us. Second, they’d probably send in some of those tough hockey players who don’t mind getting into a rumble because they’ve got that great health-care coverage. O, Canada!
To our relief and delight, we discovered we had a fireplace. Whoever came up with that fireplace idea was a genius. It really heats things up! And our lantern provided plenty of light, though by day four we ran out of propane canisters and had to head out for supplies. Driving around town was like a real-life drivers-ed training video, as we swerved around downed trees and live power lines.  I kept waiting for a ball to roll out in front of me, chased by a little kid.
The merchandising wizards at the hardware store thoughtfully made all the essentials easy to find. Propane, Presto logs, lamp oil, lanterns, flashlights, generators, super-colossally-long extension cords, chain saws and branch trimmers were pulled out onto the sidewalk, probably to keep us from loitering in the warm, well-lit store for too long.
Overall I viewed the time spent unplugged as a mental vacation. It was nice to be free of telemarketers and that circus that is the Republican Party’s quest for a candidate. The absence of alarm clocks was nice, too, although I prefer to be awakened by the sound of tweeting birds, not the steady hum of generators and roaring chain saws. (It would have been a great time to be a chain-saw murderer, as no one would have thought to question the noise.)
I have a feeling that our gusty winter is by no means over. And though L.A. this time of year is usually known for its crystal-clear skies, it’s not a bad idea to get ready for the next big one. In that spirit, I have compiled a must-have list for our next emergency kit. Behold:

The Recipe for Disaster 
1 French press pot and some good coffee It doesn’t matter what has just happened. If I don’t have coffee, you’ll discover what a real disaster is.  
3 to 5 boxes Ritz Crackers Even warm cheese on the edge of turning moldy tastes great on a Ritz.
1 case canned sardines Lots of nutrition packed in a tiny can, including loads of protein and calcium (from all the tiny bones).
1 jumbo jar Nutella I could have written peanut butter here, but really, why would you opt for peanut butter when you could have Nutella? 
1 box Cap’n Crunch You’ll need sugar for energy, and this stuff stays crunchy in milk a long time. Not that you’ll have milk.   
1 box powdered milk Crisis averted.
1 package paper napkins Just because it’s an emergency doesn’t mean you should forget your manners. Also, dirty ones can be reused as kindling.  
6 to 8 power bars These will be the last thing eaten in the emergency kit. You’ll probably have to fight for them, so pick a flavor you know no one else in the family likes.  
2 boxes of matches You could use a lighter here, but matches are cooler. Especially the strike-anywhere kind.
Flashlights (one for everyone in the house) Never lend your flashlight to anyone. Ever.
1 good lantern Also, an instruction guide to lantern operation.   
Down sleeping bags (one for everyone in the house) This is the warmest thing ever invented. If I were smart I would add sleeves to it and produce an infomercial.
Hats with earflaps These things are miraculous. Yes, you’ll look like a hipster-dufus. But at least you’ll be warm.  
4 pairs toe socks It is amazing how cold it can get between your toes.  
2 Chapsticks (not lip gloss) Unless you are cruising the emergency shelter for a date.  
1 case Pellegrino water If you’re going to force me to pay for water, it had better be damn good water.
1 copy Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter You’ll feel warm in comparison.  
1. Combine contents in a big plastic tub or garbage bag.
2. Wait for disaster to strike.
3. Feel superior because you were prepared.  

Leslie Bilderback is a certified master baker, chef and cookbook author. A South Pasadena resident, she teaches her techniques online at


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